The interesting thing about irony for me is that real irony is far more sincere than earnestness. To accept the absurdity of a situation is to accept the humanness of it. Utter sincerity suggests a kind of belief that one knows all there is to know about a given circumstance. That is not to say that one should ever make light of serious and grave and important issues, but that open and genuine intellectual curiosity should never be a casualty in any situation. Irony is not always funny. Humor is not always ironic. — “Coming Home from Irony: An Interview with Percival Everett, Author of So Much Blue”
For my first blog post titled “Humorous and Dramatic Irony,” written all the way back in September, I chose the epigraph above concerning irony and sincerity. Therefore, I find it only fitting that I once again choose this epigraph in order to illustrate and communicate my own growth throughout this course as I write this final essay; I feel, if I were to choose another one of the epigraphs, I would not be able to achieve the same depth in the analysis of what I’ve learned in this course. Though the epigraph above might not be as simple or subjective as, say, the “suspicious pants” tweet, I feel that with what abilities I’ve gained taking this course, I will be able to fully and adequately dissect both this epigraph and my own journey through English 203: Percival Everett Intertextual, and the throughline that runs through them.
I began this course with the goal of improving my skills at analyzing narrative and understanding storytelling; a goal that, now, seems to not quite line up with the core of what makes up English 203—what we learned ended up being a lot more philosophical and a lot less storytelling-oriented that I had originally anticipated. I suppose, then, I should pull irony into this part of my personal story. This class is an English class that seems more philosophical than the usual English course (I say “usual” loosely in this context; I’ve only taken two English courses at Geneseo so far, and English 203 was one of them), as even though we paid attention to key definitions of literary terms (common dives into The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms come to mind) the questions that were asked in the classroom generally surrounded philosophical ideas, such as the Ship of Theseus. Which is an idea that, over a long period of time, you continuously change the parts of an object out for new parts, if then, after you have changed out all of the parts, that object could still be considered the same object.
I realize that though the quote contained in the epigraph above concerns more than just the idea of irony, I have boiled down its meaning to just discovering where irony has displayed itself within my own experiences in this class. This is not my intention. Though, yes, the last passage considered how irony has cropped up due to my own expectations being thwarted through what we’ve learned in this class, the quote also considers how through noticing irony in the events of our everyday lives, we may become privy to the underlying humor that surrounds the choices everyone makes—and I believe my expectations being thwarted follows this idea. I came to Geneseo to learn how to be a better writer—a writer of fiction, specifically. And I expected to learn about fiction and narrative in this class—and though I did indeed learn about those things, I learned about them in a way I did not quite expect. This, in the end, is humorous to me, specifically because Percival Everett’s writings were the opposite of what I expected. Possibly because, in the end, I did not have many expectations to begin with.
Before this class, I had heard nothing about who Percival Everett was. I only knew that, during Freshman Orientation last July, I had to take an entry-level English course in order to pursue an English major on the Creative Writing track. In fact, the only true reason I chose this course aside from the requirement for my major was because of Percival Everett’s name—I am partial to medieval romances such as King Arthur, and Percival was the name of one of the Knights of the Round Table (until, in later legends, he was replaced by Galahad, usually cited as Lancelot’s son and pursuer of the Holy Grail). I had no expectation that this course would have anything to do with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table—the professor who had assisted me with signing up with my courses, Dr. Paku, had told me that Percival Everett was an African-American author and most of his work was recent. But, ironically, maybe that differentiation from what I usually spent my time studying was what caused me to enjoy this course so much.
Alongside the new textual material that was unfamiliar to me, I was also confronted with new forms of submitting my writings—that being in the form of blog posts. I have found throughout my time spent in my class, that I greatly enjoy this form of writing. I find myself leaning comfortably into a conversational format—and I find it much easier and more fluid than the essay formats that have been ingrained in my brain since middle school. By beginning with a concrete fact such as a quote from one of the texts or a definition for a word or phrase, I can then go on to elaborate on the abstract idea that was inspired by that phrase. This all began with that first blog post “Humorous and Dramatic Irony” and the epigraph that I was given. I believe that starting with a blog post that forced me to use an epigraph allowed me to naturally move into this structure that I’ve practiced with my blog posts—that being starting with a concrete, and ending with an abstract. In later blog posts, if I did not begin with an epigraph, I almost always began with some concrete quote or definition.
In fact, before beginning English 203, I had already known what an epigraph was. I thoroughly enjoyed the idea of them and had used them in my fiction writing beforehand. In my writing, before starting a new chapter, I would first write an epigraph commonly depicting a piece of written work from the world I was writing about. Because I wrote medieval fantasy, this would commonly be a letter or excerpt from a fictional book. I find it ironic, then, that now I am able to use them in my academic work—I find it enjoyable, and as I stated previously, I adapted quickly to the format and naturally derived my own system of writing blog posts from it. Though this detail may seem inconsequential to this reflective essay, I find it important to point out the little details that impacted my time in English 203. Though I had to abandon some familiar ways of writing, I was also able to retain some of the enjoyable formatting that I had practiced previously. I just enjoy the idea of epigraphs. Aesthetically, they look good on the page, while also providing important context for the written work of the writer’s that follow.
To begin to conclude, and to point out another irony, I would like to draw specific attention to Everett’s works that we analyzed in class. Specifically, the Greek myth-adaptation Frenzy and the experimental comedy I Am Not Sidney Poitier. As stated previously, before coming to this class I considered myself practiced in analyzing classic and common storytelling arcs and techniques. I knew what the Hero’s Journey was, knew about inciting incidents and falling actions, and knew about character archetypes and how to write a generally cathartic story. However, as I elaborated on in my “An End Goal of Catharsis” blog post, in this class I was exposed to radically different ways of writing novels. Frenzy’s deconstruction of madness through the questioning and answering of the god Dionysos and his assistant Vlepo allowed me to witness how a story arc doesn’t have to be the center of a narrative, and I Am Not Sidney Poitier’s incorporation of allusions to The Defiant Ones (1958) and Lilies of the Field (1963) showed me how intertextuality has the ability to communicate a much deeper meaning in literature, even if that allusion and intertextuality may tread too closely to plagiarism. In the end, the story arc, plot, and characters aren’t what make a novel hold a deeper meaning—it’s what you do with that story arc, plot, and characters that promotes questioning and deeper contemplation.
Finally, to return to the epigraph that I used earlier on in the year, Everett stated “to accept the absurdity of a situation is to accept the humanness of it… that open and genuine intellectual curiosity should never be a casualty in any situation.” Throughout my time in this class I have accepted a handful of absurd situations—from stating a fact in class wrongly, to waiting until the last two days before the deadline to submit my last two blog posts. But that is humanness. Absurdity, and the second half of this quote, curiosity. I find it incredibly remarkable that the human mind has the capability, and even the inclination, to look back on what we’ve done and accomplished and find the ironies and coincidences that were never intended. Absurdity and curiosity. Perhaps, beneath learning all of the literary theory and writing forms, that’s what I took away most from this class. If we do not keep these two truths in mind: absurdity is humanness, and curiosity is remarkable, we might lose sight of many things in our lives and the way we learn. So with that, I conclude with this: there is so much to be gained in looking back and reflecting, and even more to be gained if one explores what might be ironic and unexpected throughout it all.