“Thank you,” I said. “I came back to this place to find something, to connect with something lost, to reunite if not with my whole self, then with a piece of it. What I’ve discovered is that this thing is not here. In fact, it is nowhere. I have learned that my name is not my name. It seems you all know me and nothing could be further from the truth and yet you know me better than I know myself, perhaps better than I can know myself. My mother is buried not far from this auditorium, and there are no words on her headstone. As I glance out now, as I feel the weight of this trophy in my hands, as I stand like a specimen before these strangely unstrange faces, I know finally what should be written on that stone. It should say what mine will say: I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY.” –Percival Everett
Four months ago, when I first read this epigraph in our course syllabus, my notions about this class, English in college, and college in general were admittedly foggy. I didn’t know who Percival Everett was. I didn’t know where the passage was quoted from. I didn’t know how relatable the epigraph would prove to be when reflecting upon it again in December.
Percival Everett’s poem “6” from the Logic section of his book re: f(gesture) is, interestingly enough, not about six, but rather about seven. The poem opens with “Seven men / can be obliterated” (Everett 70). Following this, seven becomes the focal point of the poem, mentioned seven times including this first instance. I found this intriguing and definitely ironic; why is seven so important that it’s in the spotlight of a poem called “6”?
A few weeks ago in class, Dr. McCoy asked us to line up in alphabetical order by last name. For a relatively large group of people, I think we were able to accomplish the task pretty quickly. Everyone seemed to have a general awareness of where in the line-up they would fall. Having been ordered in this way for most of our public lives, we had grown used to it. While discussing this later in the class period, my classmates and I questioned why we often situate things alphabetically. Thinking of dictionaries, The Bedford, work cited pages, and indexes, we determined that the reason is ultimately to make things easier to organize. Many people learn their ABCs when they’re very young children and they don’t ever forget them; it makes sense to use something so deeply ingrained in our heads to organize most of our lives.
My classmate Sarah brought up an interesting point, however; what even is alphabetical order? Why are the letters even listed in the specific order that they are? Everyone in my group laughed a little; none of us knew the answer to these questions, and we felt a bit silly–why are we so keen on following alphabetical order when we don’t even know why the order exists in the first place?
Percival Everett’s abecedarian set of poems Zulus from his book re: f(gesture) comments on the importance of naming children. On two separate occasions, the speaker states, “Always name offspring” (Everett 20, 28). Zulus makes a statement on the power of names, and their necessity in forming identities; it highlights the tragedy that can occur when a name–the first gateway into identity–is carelessly left blank.
The cautionary phrase is first evoked in the “F” section of Zulus: “F is for Frankenstein, / who did not name his baby. / Always name offspring” (20). I have actually just read the romantic novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley in my Nature of Inquiry class, and the speaker’s statement could not be more accurate. Many people think (myself included until I read the novel) that “Frankenstein” is the name of the re-animated monster in the story, mainly because modern-day media often portrays it as such. In actuality, Frankenstein is really the last name of the scientist who creates the monster, Victor Frankenstein. In the original novel, the monster is nameless, generally referred to as the “creature.”
In Percival Everett’s re: f (gesture), the abecedarian poem Zulus contains a multitude of allusions to a variety of people, places, stories, and more. In sifting through these many references, one in particular stood out to me among the rest. The speaker states, “H is for horrors, / so full of them we dine, / for humanity, / on bent Kantian trees” (Everett 22). I had never heard of a Kantian tree before, so using the logic of my last blog post (Archive and Intertextuality), I took to my favorite archive–Google–to see what I could find.
On Monday, Professor McCoy allowed us to take a mini field trip around campus with the mission of finding as many “archives” as we could. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an “archive” as “a repository or collection especially of information.” As my group and I would soon discover, these repositories can be found in a variety of forms, from the library to a bulletin board to a tree. We even discussed how people could be regarded as archives as well; their brains act as a repository for all the memories and experiences they’ve had in their lifetime. I was keeping a record of all the examples we discovered, and I became a bit overwhelmed; I could barely keep up with the quickly lengthening list. As my group member Liz put it, “The world is your archive!”
In Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier, Percival Everett (the character) warns Not Sidney, “‘Don’t be a sheep, Mr. Poitier'” (90). The professor cautions against joining the herd; it seems he thinks people should be their own person, not just blindly follow the crowd. In my opinion, the novel attempts to evoke a conversation about conformity and its dangers; what are the repercussions when people try to fit in with the herd–with the status quo? I would like to explore this within the novel as well as in regards to our discussions about literature and film in class.
During our class period on Friday, it became Susanna’s job to yell “The ship!” every time the philosophical problem of Theseus’ ship was applicable to some aspect of Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier. Indeed, Susanna said this on multiple occasions (and with amazing delivery!) throughout our discussion. In particular, I would like to examine how this pesky problem applies to the formation of Not Sidney Poitier’s identity in the novel.
While reading Frenzy, I frequently found myself exclaiming the age-old complaint of “That’s not fair!” Injustice seems to run rampant in the novel, and I can’t seem to resolve this with the usual justification of “Well, life’s not fair.” In our class discussions, I kept coming back to the disconnect between the rulers and the ruled as an explanation for this unfairness; how can a god, who lacks the propensity for human feeling, control the lives of mortals with any semblance of justice?
“Thank you,” I said. “I came back to this place to find something, to connect with something lost, to reunite if not with my whole self, then with a piece of it. What I’ve discovered is that this thing is not here. In fact, it is nowhere. I have learned that my name is not my name. It seems you all know me and nothing could be further from the truth and yet you know me better than I know myself, perhaps better than I can know myself. My mother is buried not far from this auditorium, and there are no words on her headstone. As I glance out now, as I feel the weight of this trophy in my hands, as I stand like a specimen before these strangely unstrange faces, I know finally what should be written on that stone. It should say what mine will say:
I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY.”
The first time I read this epigraph in the English 203 syllabus, I had little knowledge of what this class would entail, except for what I could extrapolate from the course description. In all honesty, I didn’t even know what the word “epigraph” meant. That being said, the quote still struck me; the exact thought that popped into my head was something along the lines of “huh, that’s relatable.” Everett, in this quote, captures the image of a person lost and searching to find themselves again. I think on some level, many people have been that person trying to “connect with something lost;” I know I have.