Words Are Cheap, But They Can Turn Out Expensive

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.” (Percival Everett).

The quote above is an excerpt from Percval Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier. This was also the epigraph that inspired my first blog post this semester. Upon reflecting on this quote I can now see the full weight these words have on this course. The main message from this passage is the concept of identity. The passage hints at questions such as “who am I?” and “who am I to others?”. Identity is something that Percival Everett has talked about in numerous interviews. For example, in an interview on November 15th, 2012, Everett addressed his interest in identity stating; “Well I think that every work of art is about the theme of identity of some kind and there’s identity of the work itself. So, in that way I’m fascinated by it. I’m also fascinated by it, not only racially, but I’ve always been fascinated by that thing that is self-identity.”. It is easy to see the theme of “self-identity” throughout the works by Everett my class has read this semester. The novels Frenzy and I Am Not Sidney Poitier both depict characters searching for the idea of self identity.

In Frenzy the character Vlepo is who is searching for his identity. A being created by the god of wine Dionysus, Vlepo’s existence is dependant on the life of his creator. Neither human or god, Vlepo searches for his identity within the novel. This is shown in this interaction between Dionysus and Vlepo; “Dionysus smiled. ‘You’re not like them.’ ‘Then who am I like?’ ”(Everett 88-9). In I Am Not Sidney Poitier, the character Not Sidney Poitier struggles with his identity as a young black man who looks strikingly similar to Sidney Poitier, and even shares a very similar name. The character of Percival Everett says it best when he and Not Sidney are discussing Not Sidney’s identity. “ ‘I know, I know, you’re Not Sidney Poitier and also not Sidney Poitier, but in a strange way you are Sidney Poitier as much as you’re anyone.’ ”(Everett 102). Upon reading these two examples I became aware of the scope in which the literature we have read this semester emphasise the idea of identity.

This is my understanding as it is now, that identity is a crucial part to the works we have read; but what does this mean in terms of my take away in this course? Going back to that first epigraph I would like to note my original take away, so I may show the growth that has taken place this semester. I said in my first blog post “Many times it is hard to see an author’s perception of a story because we are so caught up in our own interpretations and ideas. My goal is to be able to read a work of literature and see the lens which the author is using to perceive an idea that has been said before.”. Looking at this now this is the exact opposite of what my feelings are now. Now, I have an understanding that it doesn’t matter what the author intends, it matters what the text is stating. Everett himself said in an interview from August 23, 2017:  “I never speak to what my work might mean. If I could, I would write pamphlets instead of novels. And if I offered what the work means, I would be wrong. The work is smarter than I am. Art is smarter than us.”.

My understanding of literature throughout this course has taken a complete 180, and I am happy because of it. I came into the first class of English 203 a scornful person who lived in a world of absolutes. I even defended scorn in class at one point. However, through class discussion and interpreting Everett’s work on identity I have grown to be able to see the grey in the world and the benefits of it. In all honesty I feel more emotionally fulfilled by the world around me when I view it in the way this course has taught me. My family has always known me to be a stubborn, fiery spirit, stoked with anxiety. This course, and Everett’s work has given me the ability to let things go. When something angers me, or makes me want to be scornful, I am more understanding and forgiving.  I have shifted from a predominantly fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

In Everett’s book of poems Re: f(gesture) the poem Zulus is a catalog of references to other texts, and events. One poem that is referenced is one title The Beasts by Walt Whitman. This poem follows a narrator’s desire to leave human torments behind, and their admiration for the animals. “They do not sweat and whine about their condition; They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins; They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God; Not one is dissatisfied- not one is demented with the mania of owning things.”(Whitman). My mentality at the start of the semester was akin to the human torments that The Beasts describes. I sweated over my condition, and I was dissatisfied. As I stand now, I am much more content with what, where, and who I am. 

In other words, this course has been a sort of therapy for me. Anxiety and the torments of being human clouded my sight to the beauties of humanity. These beauties are something I discussed in my post titled Subjective Perspective of (Logic). “There is a certain beauty in the fact that humans can even communicate at all, yet we fail to acknowledge it because it is so routine.” As a person with an anxiety disorder, it is easy for me to be frantic and hastey. My life was swept in the routine nature of day to day life, and I failed to see the beauties of life that I see now. Much of my growth that occurred during this course stems from the simple words Professor McCoy said in her comment on my first blog post; “SLOW DOWN. This REALLY applies to you!”. Professor McCoy in this case was referring to my writing but it was also what I needed to do with my way of life. I needed to slow down and appreciate the beauties around me. 

It is clear to me that over the course of this semester my identity has changed quite a bit from the anxiety ridden, close minded writer I once was. This change and growth of identity can only be credited to my peers, Everett’s writing, and Professor McCoy herself. By reading works such as Frenzy, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, and Re: f(gesture) I have a better understanding of what identity meant in this course, and how my growth in my own identity was a very Everettian transformation. This is my take away from Everett’s message of identity. Identity changes, as did my own identity did over the course of this semester. As has become somewhat of a habit in my blog posts, I will leave you with some lyrics from a song. This song I believe summarizes the message of self-identity transformation, and my take away from this course. It summarizes where I was before this course and leaves me with a message that is very Everettian. This song is called Tenderness by General Public from 1984.

“I don’t know where I am but I know I don’t like it

I open my mouth and out pops something spiteful

Words are so cheap

But they can turn out expensive

Words like conviction can turn into a sentence”

Links to previous blog posts mentioned;

Conversion From Scorn

While searching for inspiration for two more blog posts, I found myself rifling through interviews of Percival Everett, hoping I could further understand his thinking. I stumbled upon an interview of Everett written by Matthew Dischinger of VQR (a national journal of literature) in the summer of 2015. Here Everett says; “I have pretty strict rules about interpreting my own mission or my own works. It’s not my place. I’m a writer. I make novels, and then I stand away and let the novel do the work. What I think it means, what I want it to mean, it’s not only useless, but it’s pointless. It doesn’t affect it. It doesn’t matter.”

This quote prompted me to reconnect with a thought I had mentioned to Professor McCoy while reading I Am Not Sidney Poitier. While reading the (as the paratext calls it) novel, I noticed an attribute in the character Percival Everett that made me question the nature of our study into Everett(the author)’s work. In one particular scene Not Sidney is talking to Percival Everett, and Everett reveals a bit of his character. “Listen, Mr. Poitier, I’m going to hip you to the truth. I’m a fraud, a fake, a sham, a charlatan, a deceiver, a pretender, a crook.” (Everett 101). Here Everett admits to Not Sidney that he is in fact not what his students perceive him to be. This idea seeped into my own thinking as I was frustrated with the author’s writing up to this point in I Am Not Sidney Poitier. I asked myself if the author was admitting to the reader that he himself is a pretender. At the time I found this very compelling. Annoyed and scornful at my inability to analyze the author’s purpose in writing this novel, I found it easy to say that the writer, Everett, was not as profound as this course made him out to be. In my heat of scorn I found this an easy and satisfying understanding. My understanding was false. 

It is clear to me know, with the 20/20 vision that is hindsight, that there is some truth in my initial thought. It is true that it is possible that we as readers interpret more from texts than the authors intended, but that does not make Everett a fake, in fact it is part of the nature of writing. Everett admitted himself that “What I think it means, what I want it to mean, it’s not only useless, but it’s pointless.”. This is why Professor McCoy’s small lesson from the beginning of the year has grown to the subject matter of this blog post. That lesson is; we cannot assume the author’s intent, only our own interpretation of text. 

The Bedford Glossary defined the term interpretive communities and noted “that the meaning of a given text may differ significantly from group to group… no interpretation is likely to be considered valid by everyone.” (213). What I saw as a characteristic of a fraudulent writer (to put it harshly), was in fact a characteristic of beautiful writing. A piece of writing that can birth endless different interpretations is the sign of a great text. It is undeniably profound when the writings of one person can spur interpretation across all walks of life, through many interpretive communities. 

For much of my literary career I have had a somewhat close-minded view of literature. They way I understood it was that there is a set meaning that the author wants to get across. Much of that comes from things such as state and school testing, where there is a correct answer to “what the author means by..”, or “what the text is implying is…”. By reading the interview above of Everett, I now see that it doesn’t matter what the author means, it matters what it means to the reader. Literature does not lend itself room for the selfish writer. Publishing one’s work is an act of vulnerability and charity. To present your mind to the face of criticism, in hopes that someone can enjoy your voice shows that as an author you cannot expect people to see what you may see in your work. 

Seeing as this is my final blog post, I thought I would write a brief thank you. I am so unbelievably grateful to my fellow students, Professor McCoy, and Percival Everett, for expanding my mind and to developing me into a greater writer. This semester alone has been more eye opening and changing for me as a writer than any other year of my formal education. Thank you for letting me be vulnerable with my work and give it to you all. We may not all see eye to eye, but that itself if the beauty of writing. Let us not forget that. I leave you all with some words from Yusuf Islam.

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out

And if you want to be free, be free

‘Cause there’s a million things to be

You know that there are

And if you want to live high, live high

And if you want to live low, live low

‘Cause there’s a million ways to go

You know that there are

Alphabetical, Alphashmetical

Okay boys and girls, time to get analytical! 

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms defines structure as “the arrangement of the material in a work, that is, the ordering of its component parts…”. With this understanding of structure it is easy to assume that alphabetical order is an assignment that presents order and structure. However, in Percival Everett’s Re: f(gesture) this notion is challenged through the poem Zulus

In my blog post titled The Beasts (linked below) I said “The poem Zulus is a poem ‘organized’ in alphabetical order.”. The reason I placed “organized” in quotation marks was, in a sense, as a foreshadowing to this post. The fact that Zulus is in alphabetical order challenges the idea of structure based on name. Although the poem adheres to alphabetical order at face value, the actual content of the poem has little structure. For example as each letter progresses ideas jump from one to another. In the F section it talks about how “F is for fuck” then immediatly is followed by the latin phrase “finis coronat opus”, then Frankenstein. Although it is possible I just cannot see the structure the poem is creating, it seems that Zulus is pointing out the absurdity of alphabetical order as a form of structure, as it only organizes by name, not content.

This relates to an activity our class pursued some weeks ago. The activity was simple, we were to order ourselves in alphabetical order by last name and then repeated the process by first names.  As I stood in my place and looked next to me to see who was next to me, I was struck with the realization that the people to the left and right to me were so different from myself. I am a tallish white man in a sleeveless black band t-shirt, and the people next to me were not the same genre of person as I was. This idea lead me to the point Zulus emphasizes about this false structure of order. When one reads the poem and see the subject matter that lies next to one another it is clear that many of them have nothing to do with each other.

What Zulus also does at some points is shift from alphabetical “order” to order of thought/ content. For example in the G section the alphabetical order is ditched to give actual order to the sentences stated. “G is for sodomy. G is for Goya, who knew.” (Everett 21). Alphabetical order gives a false sense of structure and order. It is based in name only, not the content of the subject. There is no reason that ketchup should be paired next to kete (a new zealand woven hand basket) in the alphabet if one looks at how the objects relate to one another. The only reason it is because some of the letters are the same. 

Alphabetical order isn’t universal either. The word for a cat here in the U.S is not the same as it is in Italy, there for their alphabetical order is different than ours. There are few things in the world in this world that are free from human “order” or perspective. One of these things is number. If me and a man from another country with a different language sat down and attempted to organize animals by name alphabetically, we would have completely different orders. However, the number of the animals could be agreed upon. Numbers seem to move past human perspective and cultural norms. Re: f(gesture) also touches upon this idea in Logic. “Seven men lost, but not seven. Seven is, will be.”(70). Although alphabetical order does not present actual concrete structure, number does. 

What are we to do with this concept of structure? In our society we sent standards, we expect everyone to adhere to. It is not wrong of us to exist in this way, but it does raise opportunity for conflict. When someone doesn’t adhere to these societal structures, we bring scorn upon them. When someone doesn’t act just, and so we shame them. We must ask ourselves if there is any real, tangible reason to bring scorn against people all because they did not abide by the fabrications our society has created. Zulus’ discussion of alphabetical order is a small example of the false standards of order and structure we set in our society. If we try to be understanding of those who don’t follow our structural standards, there will be less conflict.

The Beasts

“O is for owning things

‘… Demented with the mania…’

A bad idea in general.”

This is an excerpt from Percival Everett’s Re: f(gesture), in a poem titled Zulus. This was an excerpt that, when I first read it, caught my attention immediately. I can not explain why in particular, perhaps it was the phrase “demented with the mania” tapping into my love of Poe, and Burton. Either way, I found myself attracted to this phrase. The poem Zulus is a poem “organized” in alphabetical order, and is composed of almost entirely allusions to other texts, or other events. I figured that the first step in finding any perceivable meaning in this excerpt was to go down Everett’s rabbit hole of allusions. 

After some time searching I found the phrase “demented with the mania” is from a poem by Walt Whitman titled The Beasts. This poem is told from the first person perspective and describes the narrator’s desire to be one of the animals in the wild. The narrator provides their desire with substantial reasoning, and that reasoning raises beautiful philosophical notions. For example, the narrator speaks of the animals “They do not sweat and whine about their condition; They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;”(Whitman). This poem presented itself to me as a poem by a man sick of the negatives of the human condition, of human society. This perspective seems very Everettian to me. Much of what Everett’s writing invokes, is a sense of disparity at the state of humanity. Everett seems to scoff at the sensitivity of today’s society, and the lack of resilience in much of today’s thinking.

Everett was interviewed on April 15th, 2019 by The Rumpus, where he explained some of his disdain when asked how the current political climate inspired his new book, The Book of Training by Colonel Hap Thompson of Roanoke, VA, 1843: Annotated From the Library of John C. Calhoun. This is a fairly long excerpt from the interview but I do not want to take away from Everett’s response, as I see every word as important. 

 “I mean, I had white friends coming up to me and saying that they felt like their life was over because Trump was elected, and I said, ‘Well, that’s cause you’re white. The shit’s never hit the fan for you before.’ So, part of it was thinking about how the shit has always been in the fan for us as blacks, and part of it was all these slave narratives being portrayed in pop culture and literature. 12 Years a Slave, give me a break! I am not interested in 12 Years a Slave. I’m interested in one hundred and eighty-five years a slave!”

Here we can see Everett’s similarities to Walt Whitman’s narration in the poem The Beasts. Both Everett and Whitman invoke a disdain for the whiners of the world, when in fact they have not much to whine about. I do not mean to be political and say that the election of Donald Trump is something that shouldn’t be seen as a destructive decision on the part of the U.S, I am purely pointing out Whitman and Everett’s perspective on, as Dave Chappelle put it, “brittle spirits”.

In a world where there are actual injustices why sit and complain about the small ones? I am currently finishing my History of Black Lives Matter class, where we trace Black oppression from before the Reconstruction Era to today, and how it lead to the Black Lives Matter movement. In this class we learned of the many racial injustices plaguing the U.S to this day. With an understanding of these forms of oppression today, I am personally peeved when I hear someone complain about the nominal things in life. When people complain that they are offended by something someone said such as “are you sure you want more food?”, or any other number of rude comments. Of course that person is rude, but we must think of these things in the perspective of what others around us go through. I do not meant to rant, I simply state these things because I found myself connecting to the thinking Everett and Whitman displayed in their respective texts.

In many of my blog posts I have talked about reserving scorn, about being more kind, but there is a very important distinction I believe I should make. Reserving scorn does not only mean to be kind to those you meet, it also means to move on from the scorn of others. When someone insults you, we can not let it beat us down, we can not let it define our future days. If we let scorn define who we are to become, we will not be what we could be. From personal experience, I was bullied as a kid. I was overweight, a consequence of genetics, and strange, a consequence of creativity. I, however, did not let my bullies determine my future. I lost weight, became my highschool’s rugby captain, and played with the band Wilco before 10,000 people. I know I can get too grand and philosophical with some of my blog posts, but I believe that understanding Whitman’s, Everett’s, and my thinking can help reserve scorn. We not only must reserve scorn against people we do not connect with, but with people who use scorn against us. An eye for an eye leaves the world blind, and it is incredible that a sentence is ever understood.

Peace, Love, and Understanding

Percival Everett’s “Body” intervenes in the kind of disciplinary tensions that Joe Moran outlines in “Science, Space, and Nature.” More specifically, the poems may be understood as shedding light on the ridiculousness of isolation between disciplines. Through the poems themselves, “Body” illuminates the fact that science can be taught through a humanities lens, and humanities can be shown through a science lens. This idea of lenses is something I have discussed before in a blog post. My blog post titled “Passion For Perception” (linked below) from September discusses the idea of how lenses are the significant aspect of what makes things unique. However, Everett’s “Body” is not discussing the significance of lenses rather, it is discussing that there is too much significance put on the separation of these lenses. “Body” is an academic paper written as a humanities project. It is a jab at those who perpetuate the significance of categorization. The idea that “Body” presents stems from Everett’s own personal thoughts on the ideas of genre, and other forms of segregation. 

Everett was quoted in a 2012 interview stating “ I don’t believe in genres. There are some things that are formulaic and then there’s things like detective fiction, science fiction and they are not totally interesting… But stories of stories and literary art transcend any notion of genre.”. Everett expresses his distaste for genre and categorization directly in this interview, but it also bleeds into his work. By now I assume most of my readers have seen the terms “New Criticism” and “Intertextuality”, but for those who haven’t  I will give a brief definition of the two terms. According to the Bedford, New Criticism treats texts as “self-contained and self-referential and thus based interpretations on elements within the text rather than on external factors”. According to the Bedford, Intertextuality is “the condition of interconnectedness among texts”. “Body” is a poem that, if looked at with a New Critical lens, is breaking down and analyzing different parts of the human anatomy. However, with a more open minded, intertextual analysis one can see Everett’s message of anti-structure and literary freedom.

 As a writer myself, I can understand the message “body” is alluding to. This poem is challenging the standards of genres and the divide between disciplines. One of the beauties I see in writing is the freedom, or at least the illusion of freedom. When writing it is liberating to create a world all to yourself and do whatever you can imagine, but when you want an audience you have to bend to the will of genre standards. The freedom of individualistic writing is squashed once someone attempts to gain a larger audience, because it must be more easily marketed when it is a one genre story. This however is more of Everett’s personal opinion that seeps its way into “body” rather than the message “body” itself revealed to me.

 Through the existence of the poem itself, “Body” is challenging the separation between disciplinary writings. It is challenging the idea that if you are a creative writer you cannot written about the challenges of a scientific experiment, or the processes of the human body. It is also challenging the scorn that english writers put onto the sciences as being “not creative”. “Body” is expressing a desire to nullify scorn by understanding the fluidity in the mind’s ability. I am sure that there are many scientists who could (with practice) make great creative writers, and there are many writers that could (with practice) be great scientists. There is an unnecessary amount of scorn given between disciplinary fields, when each field has its worth because of its academia. Anything that challenges the mind and is a pursuit that benefits people should not be faced with scorn because it is not something one finds interesting.

Now what can we do with this lesson? Again It seems Everett is teaching us to be less scornful by being scornful to scorn (say that ten times, fast). My answer, which may or may not coincide with Everrett’s intention, is to learn to appreciate all academic and scholarly pursuit. I personally am not a huge science person and have found myself critiquing the sciences because they are challenging and unenjoyable. After reading “body” I have a greater appreciation not of the sciences themselves, but those who pursue the sciences. It takes a smart and dedicated person to enjoy something that I find dull and challenging. My hope for the readers of this blog post is to come to appreciate all forms of scholarly pursuit, and maybe even branch out a bit with your interests. As students we limit ourselves by thinking of ourselves in categories of “english major” and “bio major”, when in fact we are all just students seeking knowledge to better ourselves. Who are we to deny the knowledge someone wishes to bestow upon us, even if it isn’t something we find enjoyable? This is not to say you must like all fields of academia rather we should accept the fields as an admirable pursuit, and reserve scorn. To cap this blog post off I will leave you all with some lyrics from a song written by Nick Lowe, which Elvis Costello sang. The song is called “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” and I believe it captures the essence of this blog post and many of my previous posts.

As I walk through

This wicked world

Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity

I ask myself

Is all hope lost?

Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?

And each time I feel like this inside

There’s one thing I wanna know;

What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding?

-Nick Lowe

Link to “Passion For Perception” below


Mosaic People, Just Ships In The Dark

“Does my memory of you consist in parts? Simple, component parts? Ascending and descending segments, your curve in space. Are you a composite? Or are you a whole, your name, all of you at once, a simple element?” 

Much like my last blog post, this post begins with a quote from Percival Everett’s Re: f(gesture), from a poem titled (logic). This quote alludes (at least in my mind) to a concept that was discussed in our class while reading Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Piotier. This is the thought experiment of the “Ship of Theseus”. The Ship of Theseus thought experiment revolves around a scenario where the greek hero Theseus’ ship is falling apart so it is restored plank by plank over time. The question raised by this scenario is; is the ship of Theseus still the same ship that left when his journey began? Or has it become new ship as each one of its component parts have been replaced? This is a very rudimentary explanation of this thought experiment, but it will suffice for the purposes of my discussion. It seems that (logic) is making a reference to the philosophical question that this thought experiment raises. 

Prior to reading the quote cited above, I had not considered a real world application of this thought experiment. It had always seemed to me that this philosophical inquiry remained purely within the context of Theseus’ ship. I had never attempted to branch this concept into my own reality. On the other hand, (logic) seemingly branches this idea to the human condition, to the human reality. (Logic) questions whether people are made of parts, if we are perceived by our particular attributes, or if we are one whole element in space. My answer to this question is that we are made of parts. 

From a very scientific sense we are made up of billions of cells, each one dying at one point in our life span. Technically speaking we are made of component parts that are constantly replaced, in other words we are much like Theseus’ ship. Theoretically the person we are born as isn’t the same person say in 20 years time. That is in a literal sense, but if one looks at it in terms of how we grow, we are not the same person as when we were young. From personal experience, over this semester I can safely say that I have become a different person. Through learning lessons from Professor McCoy, and Everett’s writing, I have had my outlook on life altered greatly. I have said this before in my posts, but my life has changed from a structured reality to one of fluidity. What was once black and white is now grey, and I am better off because of this. This is just one of many examples from my personal experience, but I am sure if you took the time to reflect you could see how you have changed since you were young.

 I am not the same Kevin as I was at the beginning of the semester, but I cannot attest to the experiences of others. This change and growth was only possible through the fact that I am a composite being comprised of joy and sadness, experience and inexperience, knowledge and ignorance, and two strands of DNA compiled into one. To imagine people as fixed beings is to fail to fundamentally understand humans. Humans are fluid creatures constantly changing, yet trying to live in a world ruled by structure. We can not be as Everett puts it “a whole, your name, all of you at once, a simple element”. I am not Kevin the individual being, unlike no other in the world. I am my father, and mother, I am my brother, I am my friends. My being is so directly tied to the existence of others that I cannot say I am a whole, one person. I am a composite. 

When I first saw the quote by Everett, “I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY”, I thought I had an understanding of the meaning that was grounded, but upon writing this post I have found new meaning in it. No one can be themselves when they are constantly changing, there is no standard of who someone should be in order to be “themselves”. We are composite beings and when one of those aspects change we become a new person, we become ourselves. The past versions of ourselves live only in memory and recollection, who we have become is who we are. I can truly say that I am not “myself” today and I will never be “myself” again, I will only be who I am. 
People are composite, parts of a greater world put into a mold of flawed design. Once we understand the fluidity of people scorn can be decreased. Fluidity lends an inherent attribute of growth, and if people can learn and grow from the things that bring scorn upon them, they can bar themselves from such scornful action. I don’t mean to change this to a “self love” blog post but there is something to be said to the fact that understanding that we are constantly changing, it is easier to appreciate how amazing we truly are. Each one of us is a mosaic of culture, and upbringing whose existence is so miraculous, it is hard not to appreciate ourselves when you think deeply about it. Neil Degrasse Tyson said that the number of people who could be born, won’t be. All of my life I have heard people talk of the “miracle of life” and for most of my life I didn’t get it. I took people for granted, their existence as inherent. Through (logic) I can appreciate the beauty of humanity much better than I once could. I do not say I believe in miracles, but I believe in people. We are all just ships wandering in the dark without a clue where we are going, fixing ourselves as we crash into the waves.

Subjective Perspective of (Logic)

“A queer conception, sublime logic.” 

This quote is taken from Percival Everett’s collection of poems Re: f(gesture), under the poem (Logic). When I stumbled upon this line while reading (Logic), something felt familiar. First I suppose I should break down what I interpreted from this quote before I explain the familiarity I felt. It seems that (Logic) is discussing the idea that to everyday people logic is understood as what is “common”,  “normal”, or “simple” in terms of action or thought. It is often paired with the idea of acting logical. However, the poem seems to point out that logic itself is not simple, it is rooted in perspective. Logic has no definition in The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, but the Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “a particular way of thinking, esp. one that is reasonable and based on good judgment”. It seems that logic is presented as a universal concept of reason. The idea of whether something is logical or not is accepted as a set line, a standard that is never defined but should be easily understood. This quote from (Logic) is begged the notion in my mind that there cannot be a universality in logic because what is reasonable to one may not be reasonable to another. 

I discussed in my first blog post the significance of perspective. I noted how an important step in writing is not necessarily the content, but the lens in which we present it. It seems to me that (Logic) is presenting a different significance to perspective, that is: subjectivity. The Bedford defines subjectivity as “Broadly speaking, subjectivity is associated with the internal reality- with perceptions and thoughts arising and based in a given individual’s mind- and thus with bias and relative truth.”. Using this idea of subjectivity, when reading the excerpt from (Logic), one can see the point it is making regarding logic. The idea of logic is strange and beautiful, that there should be a universal standard of thought when people are objectively subjective creatures. People will always think, write, and speak with bias. There is no instance where a writer can be completely objective, and why would we want them to? Subjectivity is what gives a writer a voice. When I read the works of Poe, Huxley, or even Everett, I do not engage with the writing because it is an objective analysis of events. I engage because I enjoy the writer’s voice, their subjective perspective is what my mind enjoys because it is allowing me to an interesting way of thinking. Subjectivity is the essence of what engaging writing is, and what being human is. However, this is what makes the idea of logic so strange. In spite of our subjective nature we attempt to set a universal standard as to what we consider “common thought”. 

This leads me to the “familiar” feeling I had mentioned previously in this blog post. When I first read the excerpt from (Logic), it immediately reminded me of the quote our class was introduced to by Professor McCoy at the beginning of the year, from Percival Everett’s Erasure. “It’s incredible that a sentence is ever understood. Mere sounds strung together by some agent attempting to mean something, but the meaning need not and does not confine itself to that intention.”. This quote notes the beauty in language, interpretation, and perspective. It is miraculous that through the utterance of sounds, we are able to change the world around us, to convey meaning. This is very similar to the “Sublime Logic” that (Logic) discusses. There is a certain beauty in the fact that humans can even communicate at all, yet we fail to acknowledge it because it is so routine. We set standards of reasoning and communication that when not achieved, a person is faced with scorn. 

What can be taught or taken from this message? We should attempt to take a moment to appreciate the beauty in our routine human function. We should appreciate the strange nature of logic, how it is never defined but always expected. For myself, I have lived in a very black and white world, right is right and wrong is wrong. Reading the works of Everett, and understanding that the world is grey has lead me to be less scornful and angry. When someone insults me I am more easily able to see that the communication we are attempting is strange, beautiful, and more complex than it seems. I am able to forgive, with the understanding that each of us is just trying to do our best. I am happier now that I have an appreciation for logic and communication. Communication is key into a functional life, yet it is so unbelievably ambiguous and subjective. If we take the time to appreciate the complexity of language, we are more likely to be forgiving of miscommunication. We should try to take a moment and appreciate that it is incredible that a sentence is ever understood.

Names and Presumption

by; Shelagh Neeley, Audrey Minton, Molly Brown,Hailey Cullen, and Kevin Reed

In our English 203 class, we recently viewed the film Lilies of the Field. The film follows a black man, Homer Smith, who is driving through rural Arizona when he comes across a small farm where nuns are working. There are five nuns in total; Sister Gertrude, Sister Elizabeth, Sister Agnes, Sister Albertine, and head nun, Mother Maria. He stops and asks them for water to fill his car. Once he does so,  Mother Maria abruptly asks him to fix the roof of their home and Homer hesitantly agrees. When he finishes the roof, Mother Maria insists he stays the night. She claims that God sent Homer to the nuns to build them a chapel. Instead of leaving, Homer agrees. During this process, the nuns offer hospitality, and show Smith their care for the community in which they reside. These women exhibit a saintly nature with their initiative to build the community a chapel. The names Sister Gertrude, Sister Elizabeth, Sister Agnes, and Sister Albertine reflect the same kind nature as their character suggests.  The only nun that is rude and aloof to Smith is Mother Maria. The name Maria means “bitter”, which is an amusing parallel to Mother Maria’s bitter nature. 

 In the novel, I am Not Sidney Poitier, by Percival Everett, the main character,  Not Sidney, experiences similar events to those of the real Sidney Poitier’s characters in his films. Not Sidney encounters nuns in the book who are based off the nuns from Lilies of the Field. Their names are changed to Mother Irenaeus, Sister Origen, Sister Eusebius, Sister Firmilian, and Sister Chrysotom. Although these characters may share some similarities, they are not the same. The nuns from the novel appear greedy and selfish while asking Not Sidney, “do you have our money?” (Everett 197).  Mother Irenaeus even concerted with Thornton Scrunchy, a swindler, to get Not Sidney’s money. “Sister Irenaeus and the man were shoving bills back into what I recognized as my satchel” (Everett 228). A nun is generally thought of as pure and god-like, however, the nuns in I Am Not Sidney Poitier certainly do not fit that description. The nuns’ characters in the novel are rude, and in Mother Irenaeus’ case, criminal.

 Looking into the origins of the names chosen for these nuns, we see that Everett chose saintly or saint-like names. Irenaeus was a Greek bishop who was most known for widening the Christian community. “Origen of Alexandria, one of the greatest Christian theologians, is famous for composing the seminal work of Christian Neoplatonism, his treatise, On First Principles.”(Moore 2019). Eusebius’ writings related most to Christianity. He was an influential bishop, he was not a saint. “Firmilian Saint Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, one of the greatest prelates of his time. He urged Dionysius of Alexandria to attend the council of Antioch, held to repudiate Novatianism.”(2005) John Chrysostom, “the great preacher”, wrote sermons. 

In Lilies of the Field, the nuns’ names typically reflect the personalities of the women, in contrast to I am not Sidney Poitier, where the saintly names are the antithesis of the womens’ character. It seems that Everett deliberately chose names that misrepresent the characters.

We believe that Everett changed the names of the nuns to say something about how names can sometimes be misleading, and therefore aren’t truly representative of their subjects. This can also be seen in the novel through the character, Not Sidney. The story of the novel is rooted in the concept of identity and its relation to name. The struggle that Not Sidney faces being named “Not Sidney Poitier” is the main source of growth and conflict within the novel. Not Sidney searches for identity outside of the presumption that his name brings. Upon introduction most people have an expectation of Not Sidney based on his name. “‘What’s your name?’ a kid would ask. ‘Not Sidney,’ I would say.  ‘Okay, then what is it? ‘I told you. It’s Not Sidney.’ ‘Ain’t nobody called you Sidney.’ ‘No, it’s Not Sidney’” (Everett 13). As the novel progresses however, Not Sidney begins to care less and less about the presumption his name may bring. At the end of the novel, Not Sidney doesn’t bother to correct people who call him by the wrong name. “She said, ‘I just love you, Mr. Poitier.’ I didn’t know why. I asked her name. She said it was Evelyn. I wrote: For Evelyn, All the best, Not Sidney Poitier” (Everett 232). Not Sidney understands that his name does not change who he is, so he simply lets it go. This lesson can be traced to his experiences while driving across the south. At one point while driving Not Sidney comes across a gas station where he is introduced to a man called Rabbit Toe. “ ‘Are you Rabbit Toe?’ I asked. ‘That’s what they call me.’ ‘It’s not your name?’ ‘That’s what they call me,’ he repeated. ‘Why do they call you that?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know.’” (Everett 169). This is one of many interactions Not Sidney experiences on the road that shape his perspective of name and identity. 

 So, if Everett is trying to make the point that names don’t actually represent what they’re supposed to, why should that matter to the reader? It offers an alternative point of view to the traditional idea that names identify people perfectly. Names that are assigned to represent internal characteristics can sometimes lead to unfair labeling. Labels trap people into a certain identity that they may not wish for themselves. This produces negative stereotypes that are hard to see past. For example, when someone thinks of a criminal, they think of someone who has done something bad or illegal. However, this may not always be the case. Someone could be falsely accused of committing a crime or has been arrested based off of unjust discrimination. Also, the use of saintly names within the novel offers a false representation for the type of people the nuns should be. One of our goals as students is to gain a more thoughtful approach to how we view those around us. It is easy to categorize a person and in a sense dehumanize them by making them a “criminal” or a “saint”. If we are more hesitant to label people, we can gain a stronger understanding of others.. 

Works Cited:

“Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D., with an Account of the Principal Sects and Heresies.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 13 July 2005, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wace/biodict.html?term=Firmilianus%20(1),%20bp.%20of%20Caesarea.

Editors, Family. “Maria – Girl Name: Meaning and Origin.” Babble, https://www.babble.com/baby-names/baby-girl-names/meaning-of-maria/.

Franciscan Media. “Saint John Chrysostom.” Franciscan Media, 13 Sept. 2019, https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-john-chrysostom/.

GotQuestions.org. “Who Was Saint Irenaeus of Lyons?” GotQuestions.org, 7 Dec. 2016, https://www.gotquestions.org/Irenaeus-of-Lyons.html.

Moore, Edward. “Origen of Alexandria.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://www.iep.utm.edu/origen-of-alexandria/.

Nelson, Ryan. “Who Was Eusebius?” OverviewBible, 17 Aug. 2018, https://overviewbible.com/eusebius/.

Pastiche Not Plagiarism

While reading I Am Not Sidney Poitier I found myself many times confused, amused, intrigued, and most often confused. My confusion was easily swept into frustration, as it is so oft to do. However, I remembered Professor McCoy’s advice on scorn, that is to reserve it for what truly deserves it. Sadly my scorn showed its confused face when I became agitated with the novel’s use of reference. On October 25th, My Classmate Susan Dolan noted my frustration with the novel’s allusion to the film The Defiant Ones in her Blog post titled Plagiarism with Purpose. “I remember during this conversation I shared Kevin’s frustration because I also could not recognize what Everett was doing.” (Dolan).” This frustration came, in part, to the lack of understanding I had, but it also stemmed from a moral dilemma I had been struggling with. This moral dilemma was plagiarism. 

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms describes Plagiarism: “In which one author steals a passage or idea from another, passing it off as his or his own and failing to credit the original source.”(Bedford 316). They key to understanding plagiarism, however, is intent. The Bedford goes on to explain that “deceptive intent” is required for any copying to be considered plagiarism. It was with this definition in mind that I faced the plagiarism tutorial Dolan described in her post. Dolan describes that the tutorial states “any reference to facts, ideas, or data that are not considered common knowledge must be properly cited.”(Dolan). Within this course I had been given two standards of plagiarism and asked to uphold both of them. I was made to believe by the Bedford that deceptive intent was what characterized plagiarism, but this lesson was telling me that even an accident could make me guilty of plagiarism. This confusion, again lead to frustration, and scorn. Which standard was I to uphold? 

While searching for the answer to this, I began to better comprehend what I Am Not Sidney Poitier was doing with its parallels between Sidney Poitier movies. Sadly, what comes with comprehension is critical thought, and thus the question was raised in my head as it was raised in Dolan’s; Is Percival Everett guilty of plagiarism? My initial answer was yes. At face value, Everett is using exact lines, and story arcs from movies to fill the plot of his novel. This made me, understandably, upset. Why should I as a student writer be held to a standard that not even a college professor such as Everett himself cannot uphold? Are the Masters not expected to be greater than the students? Roughly 78 pages of I Am Not Sidney Poitier parallel either The Defiant Ones or Lilies of the Field without a citation in sight (I took the time to count them myself). Everrett even prefaces before the novel begins, “All characters depicted in this novel are completely fictitious, regardless of similarities to any extant parties and regardless to shared names.” (Everett). In other words Everett is claiming that all of these said characters are completely fictitious and that he created them himself, seeing as he does not credit them to anyone else. 

Finally I believed I had a just reason for scorn, I was ready to write a blog post about the inequality between student and teacher, the failures of our academic standards, and the ridiculousness of plagiarism. As I was about to begin writing I decided to reserve my scorn, and make sure I had the proper information to support such a presumptive and bold statement. I again turned to the Bedford. As I looked again for the definition of plagiarism I came across the term pastiche. Pastiche is “A literary, musical, or artistic work that imitates another’s recognizable style or pieces together a medley of often incongruous elements from a number of existing works.”(Bedford 316). Yes, as you might guess I was again confused. How was this any different than plagiarism? What was I missing? The key lay in the next few lines of text. Here the Bedford explained “it is sometimes treated synonymously with parody, but is more often distinguished from the latter by its respectful tone.”(316). Pastiche it seems was a loophole from plagiarism. A copy? Sure in some ways, but one of admiration and respect. The intent is key, pastiche is an intent of homage. My scorn began to lessen as I realized that Everett wasn’t plagiarizing. He was implementing a literary device that until now, I hadn’t known. Under the definitions of the Bedford, Everett is not guilty of plagiarism. Without giving it much thought it may seem that he is, but with a more critical lens it is visible that I Am Not Sidney Poitier is making a point. This point however, I plan to explain further in a blog post of its own.

This internal struggle of understanding where the black and white line of ownership and plagiarism left me with an important lesson. This lesson was that writing is never black and white, it is usually grey. Grey is the line between tragedy and comedy. Grey is the line between genius and madness. Grey is the line between Sidney and Not Sidney. Grey is the line between plagiarism and pastiche. As budding writers and students, my classmates and I need this lesson now more than ever. Many of us have learned to write through rigorous structure and clear cut outlines. Now we are in college, where for many of us there is little to no structure, where freedom can either sink us or lift us to new heights. It is through accepting that writing is grey that we can find our own voice and become greater writers. Do not take my advocating for “the grey” as support plagiarism, far from it actually. Rather, I believe we should not let our confusion and scorn force us into decisions that aren’t well thought. Before we label someone guilty of plagiarism, let us think about what their intent was. If I had used this judgment I wouldn’t have been so scornful towards Everett. My tale of confusion and scorn in many ways itself parallels the confusion and scorn Not Sidney faces in his story. My hope, however, is that my life will be seen as pastiche, not plagiarism. 

What I Am(./?)

Back on September 16th my fellow classmate, Ashley Kupiec, wrote regarding the nature of identity in Frenzy “It seems to me that both Everett and Dionysus are really talking about identity and the pesky question of ‘who am I?’ ”. This idea came to my mind as I continued to read our latest novel, I Am Not Sidney Poitier. The nature of identity is a major concept in the novel, as made clear by the title itself,  through its clear cut “I Am” statement. The “pesky question of ‘who am I?’ ”, as Kupiec states, also becomes a driving source of conflict, comedy, and philosophical growth in the novel. 

Not Sidney’s mother died when he was eleven, leaving him with only rumors and memories to answer that pesky question. “My history was shrouded and diced and soaking wet with hysteria and contradiction.” (Everett 29). He never knew his father, never knew any living family, and never even knew why he was named Not Sidney. The latter of these is particularly interesting. The first step toward understanding one’s identity is understanding one’s name and if not understanding it, then accepting it. For Not Sidney, this was a challenge. In highschool when Not Sidney would introduce himself by name as “Not Sidney” the confusion that followed would ultimately lead him to a beating. Not Sidney would eventually grow and become a man who would not take beatings anymore. However, Not Sidney would find that his name would forever be a source of discomfort in his life. Understandably, he came to hold a grudge against his own name. His identity had become tied with the difficulties he faced in life. For Not Sidney identity and name were directly related. “I accepted, then and there, my place in this world. I was a fighter of windmills. I was a chaser of whales. I was Not Sidney Poitier.” (43).

Despite the fact that Not Sidney found his identity tied directly to his name, his own existence is also directly conditional the existence of another person. Not his mother, his father, or his family, but Sidney Poitier himself. Not Sidney feels that his identity is directly tied to his name because the treatment he received from his name shaped the man he had become. However, the treatment he received existed in part because of the existence of Sidney Poiteir himself. In other words, Not Sidney’s identity is tied to Sidney’s existence. Not only does Not Sidney have a name that is contingent on Sidney, he also looks remarkably like Sidney. This idea of dependent identity is also shown in Frenzy through the character Vlepo. Vlepo asks Dionysus, their God, if they were created by Dionysus. Dionysus responds, “I might say your existence depends on me, but nothing more than that.”(Everett 88). Vlepo’s existence, in a much more literal sense, is dependent on Dionysus. Vlepo can only be themself if Dionysus exists. In a similar way Not Sidney can only be Not Sidney if Sidney Poitier exists. But as Dionysus puts it, “It’s not much of a life though is it?-representing a thing.” (49). Dependency on name is a key to Not Sidney’s understanding of identity, but it is an unhealthy existence.

Not Sidney operated under this mindset for some time, until he made his way into college and met Percival Everett, his college professor. Not Sidney takes Everett’s class on “The Philosophy of Nonsense” and finds that it shakes his notions of name and identity. Upon initially meeting and getting to know Not Sidney, Everett sees Not Sidney as many people do upon their first introduction to him, as Sidney Poitier. Everett expresses this to Not Sidney. “I know, I know, you’re Not Sidney Poitier and also not Sidney Poitier, but in a strange way you are Sidney Poitier as much as you are anyone.” (102). As Everett comes to know Not Sidney’s true identity he has an understanding that Not Sidney doesn’t have, that a name does not determine your identity. Everett can be objective about who Not Sidney is, in a way that Not Sidney cannot understand. It is through this objective understanding that Everett sees who Not Sidney is. “I don’t know. You might decide all of a sudden that you’re Sidney Poitier. You’re not, you know. Though you do look alarmingly like him.”(123). 

Everett undermines Not Sidney’s fragile understanding of his identity, but for better or for worse, we have yet to see. I predict for the better. Understanding who you are is hard to do when you’re dependent on someone else. Everett in a way is freeing Not Sidney from his 18 year identity crisis. 

Now to answer the important question, who cares? Why is identity independence important to us? This idea is crucial for my fellow college students and I. For many of us our identities have been dependent on our family, friends, and loved ones. Many of us are taught what we like and who we are to become. Now we find ourselves in a situation of almost entire independence. We are swimming in a vast ocean of knowledge and opportunity with no anchor. This is our chance to explore new things, and find out what we enjoy. This is our chance to find out who we are, and who we are to become. There are lessons to be learned from Not Sidney’s struggle for independence. Now is the time to begin to answer that “pesky question of ‘who am I?’ ”.  The only thing I can hope to do as of now, and what I would advise my peers to do as well, is “Be yourself. Unless you can think of someone better.” (124).

I am a writer of music. I am a blogger of posts. I am Kevin Reed.