If I Am Not Myself Today, Then Who Am I? English 203 Final Reflective Essay

I’ve had an interest in English for quite some time, and I credit that to my teachers in high school. I was constantly encouraged by them to write creatively and find my own writing style, and I was usually praised for my work. With this in mind, I was certain that my college English debut would be just as spectacular as the one I had enjoyed in high school. But English 203 was different. Much different. I came into this class not knowing anything about Percival Everett. Or even what the exact definition of intertextuality was. Percival Everett Intertextuality has challenged me to look deeply not only into writing, but into everything surrounding literature. To find meaning in the meaningless. And while I had lauded myself in the past for having a decently analytical mind when it came to literature in the past, the level of analysis this class required was far beyond what I had done. And to match that pace, I had to change. I had to change both my writing style as well as my way of looking at literature.

One of the course’s epigraphs summarized this change well. The epigraph I chose is from Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier, which tells the story of Not Sidney Poitier, a boy who looks remarkably similar to the famous 1950s actor Sidney Poitier. At the very end of the book, Not Sidney has taken the place of Sidney Poitier, ignoring his past identity and embracing his new self, almost as if he has forgotten about who he was. However, when he is awarded the title of Most Dignified Person in American Culture at an awards ceremony, he gives following speech:

“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:


This quote is the final line of the book, and also acts as a throughline for the book itself. For the majority of the story, Not Sidney is mistaken for Sidney Poitier; and when these people do learn his real name, they either respond with confusion or anger, like when he is beaten up by boys in town for simply introducing himself and explaining his name on page 13. So, when he is given the opportunity to throw away his name in exchange for a better one, it makes sense to me that he would seize it. And yet, as he says in his speech, he is ‘not himself today’. Despite the fact that things are better now, he cannot deny the fact that he’s putting on an act. The person who he was for the majority of the book is who he truly was—who he wanted to be. But the world didn’t want Not Sidney Poitier. “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.” The self that he’s talking about is unclear; after all, it is unclear which ‘self’ the people at the awards ceremony want to see, but Not Sidney tries to be the ‘self’ that they’ve imagined. And just like how he alters himself, I’ve had to alter the way I write in order to match the expected level of this class, and college in general. And while this new style that I’ve taken on in order to keep up with my classes has been noticeably better, I’d be remiss not to admit that it isn’t really me anymore. As much as I’ve tried to include my own voice in my writing, I’ve found time and time again that what works isn’t my personal style, but rather these new techniques that I’ve been taught. And through the constant use of these new techniques, just as Not Sidney’s identity has begun to change, so too has my personal style begun to alter. 

As I’ve continued to write in both this class and other classes, I’ve found that the line between my old and new writing styles has begun to waver. My identity as a writer has been thrown into question, and I feel that the character Vlepo from the book Frenzy, another work by Percival Everett that we read for class, embodies this feeling. Vlepo is an entity surrounded by mystery who acts as a spy of sorts for the god Dionysus throughout the events of the book. Though he is at first satisfied with his way of life, he begins to become more and more curious about his origins and who, or what, he really is. These feelings that he holds culminate when, after telling the woman he loves about his affections and she instead asks for his master, he goes to talk to Dionysus about his identity. The exchange starts with the following sentences: “‘I have a question about my origins.’ I said. ‘Yes?’ ‘What are mine?’ I felt the god observing me. ‘Where do I come from?’” (113) He is not given a real answer, but this question represents what Vlepo is truly concerned about. He doesn’t know who he is. His identity is only confirmed by the existence of his master, and his identity separate of Dionysus is unclear. And similar to Vlepo’s worries about his identity, I too have slowly noticed that I can’t really define where my old writing style stops and my new one begins. While I’ve never really had a trademark style to speak of, I’ve always had a pretty free-form way of writing. And while my new style feels a bit more rigid, I still notice hints of a freer style in my current writing. “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.” Not even I can tell what my writing identity really is. And my chosen epigraph reflects this sense of a wavering identity. 

Percival Everett’s works, or at least the ones that we have read in class, are quite varied. In terms of tone and subject matter, they are often so unalike that they seem as if they were written by different authors. However, the epigraph that I’ve chosen acts as a throughline through each of the works we have read. As I’ve shown, several of the characters in his stories have trouble with their identities, and Not Sidney’s speech is a prime example of this struggle. They are united by this struggle. And I feel that my writing has undergone the same struggle too. My writing has changed so much since starting. I feel that it has become more analytical and more concentrated, which has definitely been an improvement. But it’s different. My writing has undeniably changed. And in line with GLOBE’s (Geneseo Learning Outcomes for Baccalaureate Education) message that all Geneseo students should have practice in the ability “To reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time”, my epigraph has helped me to realize these changes. The quote not only forces me to acknowledge the fact that my writing has changed, but also my view of learning. By becoming more precise with my reading, I’ve begun to take a more in-depth approach to learning about literature. And this improvement is really important to me. 

As a dual major in both Musical Theater and English, I have to do a lot of work in order to keep pursuing both of my passions. There are often times when I’m not entirely sure I can keep up with both at the same time. But this improvement stands as proof to me. It exemplifies the progress that I’ve made in my writing abilities; progress that I’ve made alongside pursuing Musical Theater. And by making me reflect on my progress, my epigraph has encouraged me to stay on my path, no matter the difficulties. College has forced me to change a lot. In the words of Not Sidney, “I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY.” I don’t think I can ever go back to the ‘myself’ I once knew. And, honestly, I think that’s ok.

Symbiosis of Opinions and Claims

During one of the sessions in English class where I worked on a blog post with a group, I was given a sheet to reflect on how well I felt I was doing, along with where my strengths and weaknesses in the writing process lay. I had thought of it as a pretty simple task, and filled it out without much thought. However, when I got the sheet back the next day, I saw that Professor McCoy had left a note. I had written that I was doing a good job in conveying my opinion within the post itself, and she had written that there is a big difference between an opinion and a well-made and evidenced claim. What I gathered from the comment was that, in order for my blog posts to prove a point, they could not be purely opinionated, but rather had to be comprised of well supported claims. However, as I began to think about these seemingly different concepts, I realized that, in order for an essay to work, both opinions and evidenced claims have to be present. 

Before going into the importance of using both opinions and claims, it’s important to understand what each actually means. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, an opinion is defined as “a view, judgment, or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter”. In simpler terms, this means that an opinion is how one decides to view a particular matter using only their current knowledge. A claim, on the other hand, is defined as, “an assertion open to challenge”. And while the definition doesn’t explicitly mention the need for evidence, I interpreted that the claim itself must have evidence in order for it to be challengeable. These two concepts oppose each other pretty strongly, with opinions being one’s personal views and another being grounded in facts. And yet, they also go hand and hand with each other during the course of essay writing; after all, an opinion is necessary for a claim to even exist. 

I feel that my writing in the past has encompassed this synonymousness well. In my fourth blog post, I talked about the book I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett, and how one of the characters within the story, Ted Turner, embodied the random nature of both the book itself and Percival Everett’s style of writing. This was what I considered to be one of my better blog posts, and part of this reason was that I made sure to back up any claims I made with evidence. For example, when referencing the contrasts between planning and randomness, I made sure to mention a quote from the book itself rather than relying on my own assertions. But in order for me to begin making the claim, I had to hold the opinion that Ted Turner embodied randomness. Had I not believed in this claim, my writing would have most likely suffered. At least for me, in order to get the conviction to write, I need to believe in what I’m writing. Otherwise, I’ll feel as though I’m writing lies. Opinions motivate claims. Therefore, in order to write a proper essay, or really any statement-based piece, I feel that there needs to be a balance between opinion and claim.

If a written work plans to make a convincing statement, it needs to include both backed claims and strongly held opinions in order to be cogent. Take Percival Everett’s Re:f (gesture), a collection of three groups of original poems centered around certain themes. The poems that struck me the most was the poem titled “6”, which concludes the book. In the poem, the following statement is made: “Seven men lost, but not seven.” (70) I interpreted this to mean that the concept of seven would still exist even if humans weren’t around, and I found the claim to be pretty interesting. However, as I thought about it more, I realized that the line didn’t really fit the criteria of being a claim. It has no evidence to back it up whatsoever; and although this poem doesn’t try to be too argumentative, it is still contending the nature of “seven”. Without proper support, the statement is nothing more than food for thought, and doesn’t actually prove anything. Though it is unclear as to whether these poems were written to actually argue any points, they seem to hold pretty strong opinions. But that’s all they really are. Opinions. The poems don’t offer any conclusive evidence. Only one side of the coin is present. And in order for the poems to make any solid argument, I feel that, just like in essay writing, they must include the balance mentioned before.  

Not every written piece needs to push an argument. Many famous literary works, such as 1984 or Lord of the Flies, provide the reader with engaging stories and what-if scenarios while not relying too hard on trying to push a belief. But even if it is not necessary, when an argument is made, it must be strong. And in order to be strong, it must have a balance of evidence and opinion. One benefits the other. Their balance is what an argument secure. 

Hiding Pain With Comedy

When I started reading Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier, the first thing I thought was that the book was funny. It had a certain charm to it that was way different from what I had expected that I would read in an English class, and it had a very different feeling than the other work of Everetts that we had read prior, Frenzy, which to me felt much more serious and professional. And the main source of this comedy was the narrator of the book, Not Sidney, who told the tale of his trials and tribulations with a grain of salt, and kept the story interesting and entertaining through his commentary. However, as I continued to read the book, his comedic moments seemed to become more and more sparse. And as I looked back through the earlier chapters, I realized that a lot of the events that he had gone through at earlier points in the book were pretty traumatic for a boy his age. But Not Sidney hides any grief that he might feel. In fact, he holds back on expressing almost any emotion. And because of this, it seems very likely that Not Sidney is hiding his pain behind comedy. 

There are plenty of different traumatizing events throughout the book that affect Not Sidney during the plot, but a major connecting line is racism. In his writing, Everett is unafraid of making it clear just racism how bad racism can get under certain circumstances. For instance, there is a moment in the book where Not Sidney decides to leave Ted Turner’s house and drive to Alabama to decide his own future when he is suddenly stopped by a police officer. He is pulled over, and after not being allowed to show his registration, he is suddenly arrested. When he questions why he is being arrested, the officer laughs at his question and then states, among other false accusations, “And then [you’re arrested] for being’ a [n-word].” (48) Having had experienced mild racism before in earlier sections of the book, Not Sidney is slightly used to racism being part of his life. But the extent of the man’s openness about his racism is pretty shocking to our narrator. However, while he is terrified of the situation, Not Sidney also tells the audience that, “Evolution might have been glacial where they were concerned, but not with me.” (49) Almost as if by instinct, he responds to danger with humor, trying to distance himself from his predicament with a joke about their intelligence. And although this humor is due in part to Everett’s style of writing, the way that it portrays Not Sidney as trying to distract himself with humor gives another layer to the comedic direction that book takes. 

As I read these contrasting moments in the book, where Not Sidney matches the terror of the events that surround his life with jokes, I began to realize that, through portraying this contrast, this book sends a message; that those who are comedic are often the most hurt. Though this isn’t exactly a new concept, it isn’t a topic that I hear mentioned enough. According to Elite Daily, the funniest people are often those who suffered the most in their lives. The article claims that the reason why people find jokes to be funny is because they are true. They offer an unabashed look at our society and use its inherent flaws to make us laugh. And the reason why comedians are good at their craft is because, “Comedians are keyed into what’s really going on in the world, which is a curse as much as it is a blessing.” Not Sidney fits this description pretty well. He’s a very analyzing person, as evidenced by his comments on the difference in intelligence between himself and the police mentioned earlier, and he’s had his fair share of hardship. From his mother dying at the start of the book to failing out of school, his life has been pretty rough. But instead of giving in to despair and terror that could come with such trauma, he turns to comedy. He takes his pain and he uses it to entertain the audience, almost as if to ease the pain of others going through similar scenarios. Due to how much he pays attention to the details of other people, Not Sidney appears distanced from both reality and his emotions. There are very few mentions of him being happy, and when he is there is usually a stipulation, such as when he and his first girlfriend, Maggie, make love for the first time. While he is at first comforted to feel closer to her, he is suddenly reminded of when he was sexually assaulted by his teacher years prior, and a bit of his happiness fades. And yet, despite all of his past trauma, he still tells an engaging story that I felt was full of comedy. And even though he had trouble being happy himself, I think that his humorous attitude served not only to distract himself from reality, but also the reader.

Necessary Compromises

For one of the blog posts that we worked on in English class, I worked with a group in order to examine a movie, Lilies of the Field, and a story that borrows elements of its plot, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, and how the names of their characters impacted their messages. We worked at a relatively good pace during the planning phase, but when we got to the actual essay writing, things began to go awry. While we had a general idea of where the essay was going, we had two different ideas of how to format the essay; while we were able to eventually hand in a well crafted essay, the amount of compromises that had to be made in order to include input from each of the group members was staggering. After this experience, I began thinking about how I had felt that my creative input was stifled throughout the process, and I realized that this need for compromise extended further beyond the scope of my essay writing. In fact, I believe that it extends all the way into the writing of literature itself.

There are many different ways in which authors must make compromises when writing, and one of the most common ways is censorship. According to the current Oxford Dictionary of Media and Communication, censorship is defined as “any regime or context in which the content of what is publicly expressed, exhibited, published, broadcast, or otherwise distributed is regulated or in which the circulation of information is controlled.” In simpler terms, this means that censorship is when publicly distributed content is regulated to be more appropriate for consumer viewing. This undoubtedly applies to literature, as it is also a form of public content. When authors write and attempt to publish novels, there is a process by which their books are judged and refined to be more acceptable. A prime example of this type of censorship can be seen in the distribution of the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. According to The Airship, an independent publishing company located in Montgomery called NewSouth published a commemorative edition of the book that changed some of the language. All of the uses of the ‘n-word’ were replaced with the word ‘slave’, and other words were changed to make the book more inoffensive. Though Twain was not alive to see this altered version of the book, I believe that this alteration went against his original vision of a grounded story about racism in the south. While the views presented in the book are still there and strong, some of the initial integrity of the piece was destroyed, and this was entirely due to censorship. Though it doesn’t destroy a piece, the effect that compromises have on written works is still impactful, both for the author and the reader. 

On the other hand, there are examples of authors who throw compromise to the wind and write whatever they feel, whether coherent or not. The works of Percival Everett are a good example of this principal. One of his books that we read in class was I Am Not Sidney Poitier, a book about the adventures of a boy named Not Sidney. In an earlier blog post, I talked about a specific character named Ted Turner who has a very peculiar habit of breaking off into non sequiturs every time he makes an appearance. And while he certainly is a big source of randomness throughout the book, the story is filled with plenty of instances of unprompted observations, such as the musings of Percival Everett, a professor at Not Sidney’s college, or the comments of Not Sidney himself. Rather than limit himself in his writing by simply writing how he is expected to, Everett seems goes against compromise and write what appears to be random, such as when Ted comments that, “A fellow told me that when he got struck [by lightning] he felt like he had glass in his shoes” while Not Sidney tells him that his teacher failed him. (40) While most other stories that I’ve read in the past stick to mainly plot relevant details and sensible storylines, Everett’s writing is different. His writing bring’s up seemingly random topics and got me to think about topics that had nothing to do with the current story. His style greatly separates itself from the idea of compromise. 

When considering the situation that writers find themselves in in terms of compromising, there seems to be two camps. On one hand, there are authors who change their work, through either forced means or purely by their own volition, in order for it to be considered more appropriate for general audiences. On the other hand, authors like Everett also exist who do their best to defy what is considered normal, and write how they like despite censorship. Both seem to oppose each other, but I believe that including both is the healthiest way of writing. While trying to keep your story and language as acceptable as possible is good for getting your book read by as many people as possible, I also believe that adding your own personal choices and ignoring compromise at times is perfectly acceptable, and also serves to spice up your story. After all, if all writers did was compromise, every story would be the same. And I feel that balance between the two is key to writing a good story.

Allusions Within New Critical Works

In one of the discussions we had in English class, the issue of the allusions came up. We had been talking about the idea of common knowledge, and how the definition of common knowledge is different for everyone, when the topic of New Criticism came up.The question that had been posed was that, if an Allusion was recognized within a written work, could the work still be considered as a part of New Criticism. And I believe that, in order for a work to be looked at with a New Critical lense, it must not have any allusions whatsoever. 

Firstly, it is important to define exactly what New Criticism is in order to understand the limitations of working with it. According to The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literal Terms, New Critics are described as those who treated literary works as “…self-contained and self-referential and thus based their interpretations on elements within the text rather than on external factors…” (287) In simpler terms, this means that those who practice New Criticism view literature as if it exists in a vacuum, where it is not affected by any knowledge of the outside world and simply tells its own story. And allusions are defined in the same book as, “An indirect reference, often to a person, event, statement, theme or work.” (10) Going by these two definitions, an allusion that references some well known source simply cannot be present in order for a work to be viewed with a New Critical lense. In order to make the work isolated, it cannot be influenced by outside sources. And yet, if the reader is even somewhat aware of what is being referenced by the allusion, then their perception of the literature will be altered. In order to keep the work isolated, well known allusions cannot be present. 

However, there is a caveat when it comes to eliminating allusions from New Critical works, and that is the fact that not every person has the same sense of common knowledge. What might be incredibly obvious for one may not be as memorable for another. For example, an article in The Atlantic talks about two Florida dj’s and how they pulled a prank using a lack of common knowledge. According to the article, the radio show hosts claimed that there was ‘dihydrogen monoxide’ in the tap water in the Fort Myers area. What many listeners didn’t realize was that ‘dihydrogen monoxide’ is just the chemical name for water. And due to this lack of knowledge, the panic in Lee County got so bad that utility officials had to make an official statement saying that the water was, in fact, safe to drink. What the two hosts had assumed was common knowledge instead became news that shocked the entire area. The disparity between people’s knowledge can, at times, be quite intense. And this applies to literature too. Since there is no definitie common knowledge that every single person has, not every person will have the same reaction to certain allusions. But even so, I believe that any and all allusions must be removed from a piece in order to be a fully New Critical work.

This belief is encapsulated in the book I Am Not Sidney Poiter, a novel by Percival Everett that we read in english class. In the book, Everett makes several references to the filmography of Sidney Poiter, such as in chapter two, where the main character Not Sidney is arrested and wrongfully convicted simply for being black and later escapes with another prisoner while they are transferring prisons. This series of events roughly mirrors the events of “The Defiant Ones”, a 1958 crime film starring Sidney Poiter that tells the story of two runnaway convicts. However, Everett is careful to never make mention of the fact that these moments within the book are actually allusions to Sidney Poiter’s filmography. And because I knew little about Sidney Poiter when I first began reading the novel, I was unaware of the fact that an allusion was taking place, and instead thought that the plot was going in a new, albeit strangely different direction. I didn’t learn until later on that the entire plot line was ripped from a different source. Had I not know that an allusion was taking place, I would have read the story as an individual piece, and my view would not have been tainted by this specific outside knowledge, which would line up well with New Critical thinking. But this situation most likely won’t apply to every single person who reads I Am Not Sidney Poiter. And in order for the book to match the ideas presented by New Criticism, there would be no allowances for outward references. Therefore, my stance remains; even if an allusion within a work is not understood, as long as it is present, the work cannot be considered with a New Critical lense. 

The Immortality of Seven

In Percival Everett’s “re:f (gesture)”, there is a section of poems titled “Logic”, which contains a series of poems that are seemingly unrelated. However, one of the poems that caught the eye of my group was the poem titled “6”. In this poem, the idea is brought up that seven men can be killed, but the concept of ‘seven’ can’t be destroyed in any way. This got me wondering as to whether or not a concept actually exists outside of the perception of humans, or even sentient life in general, and I’ve concluded that concepts continue to exist even if nothing is around to perceive them. 

On the Merriam Webster Dictionary website, the word ‘concept’ is given two different definitions, both with different implications. The second one defines a concept as “an abstract or generic idea generalized from particular instances.” This simply implies that a concept is just a pattern viewed after several matching occurrences that exist on their own, without anything claiming to be their creator. However, the first definition struck me as being very interesting. It defines a concept as “something conceived in the mind.” This definition implies that a concept is created when it is thought; that it requires a being with cognitive thought to observe an abstract pattern and put a name to it. And yet, though this is the given definition, I don’t believe this to be the case.

For example, a commonly known concept is ‘time’. Everyone is aware of time, one way or another. However, the actual concept of time, at some point, was invented. According to Richard Rudgely, a British author and television presenter, the use of the moon was used to measure the passing of time up to 6,000 years ago. And even before that, it is likely that humans and animals have used their knowledge of time in order to survive. But what about before that? Before humans with cognitive thought and animals aware enough to understand time roamed the earth, did time still exist? I believe it did. Even if nothing is aware of times passage, it still occurs. The sun still rises and falls at the start and end of each day without someone to act as witness. The tree will still change with the seasons when no one is there to observe it. And this idea extends to all concepts. Even if no one is there to perceive the concept, the concept will continue to exist. Not in a physical sense, as concepts like time are not something that can be interacted with. But nevertheless, they will keep on existing. 

And with this theory applying to all concepts, it nonetheless applies to the concept of ‘seven’. The poem itself makes it clear that ‘seven’ has an unchangeable presence, as evidenced by the line, “All men will die, but not seven”. This line can be interpreted to say that the major distinction between the life of a single person and the life of a concept is their length. A human life, no matter how many tactics are used to extend it, will end eventually; at least, with the current technology in the medical field. A concept, however, cannot die. While it is true that a concept is practically useless if there are none around to observe it, concepts cannot really die. If there is a row of seven apples in a row, the amount of apples doesn’t change even if no one knows what seven is. Concepts are immortal, and so is seven. 

However, there is one antithesis to this theory, and that is literature. Books are similar to concepts in the sense that they present ideas to their viewers in a lasting way. However, while a concept will continue after all life has passed, the stories told by books will not. The stories spun and the emotions stirred by novels can’t exist without viewers to witness them, even if the ink from which they are born is still living within the abandoned pages of the book itself. Even the poems presented in “re:f (gesture)”, which presents the idea of these immortal concepts, will die if there is no one there to read and understand them. And because of their finite lifespan, books deserve to be appreciated. Just as one tries to experience a once in a lifetime moment to their fullest since they know it will eventually end, books should inspire awe and admiration because of their mortality. The contents of even the most moving piece of fiction or the most important biography can be forgotten if no one who read it is left. Books can die just like us. We needn’t worry about the health and welfare of concepts, but the life of a book depends entirely on us. 

The Importance of Erasing the Rift

Percival Everett’s “Body” intervenes in the kind of disciplinary tension that Joe Moran outlines in “Science, Space and Nature.” More specifically, the poems may be understood as arguing that it is essential for the divide between the realms of sciences and humanities be erased in order for further understanding of both to be achieved. 

In order to better explain this need, reading even one of the poems included in this part of Everett’s book is enough. Each of the poems describe various parts of the body through less than traditional means, favoring to describe them with several figures of speech and references to either other parts of the body or jargon that sits outside of the average English lexicon. An example of this can be found in the poem The Astragalus, a poem which I assumed to be describing a part of the body. This ‘Astragalus’ is pictured as, “The footfalls down the grade are heavy strides,/ so receive the blows, the echoes throughout,/ through the triangular facet, concave for/ articulation with the external part the connection.” (45) From the given description, it is not entirely clear exactly what ‘Astragalus’ is, what its function is, or where in the body it’s located. In my case, I didn’t understand the picture that the poem was trying to create until I looked up what the title actually meant. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Astragalus is actually a type of plant that has been used as a Chinese medicine for centuries, and can be used as a dietary supplement. Had I not gone out of my way to find out what the title meant, I may have never even known that the Astragalus was a plant rather than a part of the body. However, if I had had a better background knowledge of the scientific terms utilized in the poem, I would have had an easier time in figuring out what it meant. My understanding would have been greater had I taken the interdisciplinary approach that Joe Moran describes—the approach that many refuse to take. 

In chapter 5 of Moran’s novel, Interdisciplinarity, he lists and describes the different views that professionals have about the divide that exists between the sciences and humanities. According to the chapter, both sides view the other as lesser, seeing themselves as being well versed in the more important field. According to a lecture Moran references by C.P. Snow, which was delivered in Cambridge in 1959, “Those in the sciences still tend to criticize humanities scholars for disregarding empirical methods and relying on subjective interpretations; those in the humanities attack scientists, in turn, for a misguided faith in the possibility of absolute objectivity, a narrow conception of useful knowl- edge and an unwillingness to interrogate the broader social, political and cultural implications of their work.” (150) The two spheres of thought oppose each other, but Everett’s “Body” poems exemplify how important it is to consider both. In order to properly understand the poems, one must understand the definition of the words involved, such as the word ‘Astragalus’ that is used in the previous poem. And in order to understand these words, a background in the sciences is required. Likewise, in order for the figures of speech that populate the poems to be comprehended, like the metaphor used when describing the ‘footfalls’, a background in the humanities is required. By formatting his poems in this way, Everett has created a prime example of how confusing literature can get without properly acknowledging these two spheres of thought. 

In addition to simply displaying the necessity of understanding these two fields, I believe that Everett is making a statement by using this confusing style of poem writing. Though it’s never explicitly stated, I interpreted these poems as ways of showing how to make sense out of nonsense. When first looking at these poems at a surface level, they were quite daunting for me. There were several terms thrown at me in each poem that were either completely foreign to me or that I couldn’t understand in their current context. And yet, as I took the time to look up and understand each part of the poem, the picture became clearer to me. I was able to envision the image of the body parts that each poem was trying to invoke as I went back to read them with my newfound vocabulary knowledge. Had I given up after my first glance at what I assumed to be a mess of distracting vocabulary, I would have never understood what each poem had been trying to show me. By forcing readers to take the time to dig into each poem in order to attain a proper understanding, I feel that the poems send a strong message of how there can and will always be reason hidden within chaos. And through the use of the interdisciplinary approach that Joe Moran describes, along with the determination to use that approach, that reason is within reach. 

The Randomness of Ted Turner

One of the books I read in English class was I Am Not Sidney Poiter, a book by Percival Everett about the strange life of a boy named Not Sydney Poiter. One of the most standout characters in the novel was a character named Ted Turner. Ted is the owner of Turner Broadcasting System, a company that Not Sidney’s mom had invested in when it was small and unknown. Ted viewed her investment in his company as, “a kind of symbol or charm for success.” (8) Due to this, Ted decides to help Sydney after his mom passed away, offering him a place to stay while he figures out where to go in his life. However, this is not the most standout feature about Ted. Rather, his defining characteristic is more so his non sequiturs. And though at first these random remarks seem to exist only to add comedy to the plot, I believe that Ted’s remarks also serve the purpose of exemplifying the random nature that surrounds Not Sidney’s life, and how Ted’s unfocused nature mimics the seemingly random references to the filmography of the real Sidney Poiter. 

Firstly, the definition of a non sequitur is “a statement (such as a response) that does not follow logically from or is not clearly related to anything previously said”, according to the Miriam Webster Dictionary. Ted’s behavior clearly mimics this kind of randomness. For instance, after Not Sidney has a terrifying encounter with racism in Alabama, he goes back to Ted to recover from the experience. After talking for a while, conversation of college comes up, during which Ted says to Not Sidney that, “College would be great for you. A time for exposure and growth. For exposure to new and uninteresting subjects. I think they should be called tax cells instead of brackets.” (82). Rather than continue on with the conversation with Sydney about his struggles, Ted seemingly gets bored with the drab conversation, and moves on to the next, more interesting conversation without even a segue. This behavior of his is repeated practically every time he appears in the book, and while it establishes him as a comedic character, the behavior also serves as the central theme of the story. 

Theming is defined in The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms as “The statement(s), express or implied, that a text seems to be making about its subject.” The use of Ted’s non sequiturs establishes the theme of the novel to be randomness, but it is also important for a theme to have a message. And I believe that the theme of the novel is trying to say that, despite however hard we will plan our lives, there will always be an element of randomness involved. For Not Sidney, this contrast between planning and randomness shows itself several times, such as the aforementioned idea of college or when his financial advisor, Podgy Patel suggests that he “…should buy a television network.” (114). Both cases are Not Sidney’s attempts at some form of stability, but each time they give in to the randomness that surrounds his life, by the presence of his professor Percival Everett and the strange shows that Podgy airs on his newly bought network, respectively. In each case, he attempted to achieve some sort of normalcy, only to be thwarted by the inevitable randomness that surrounds him. And Ted is the manifestation of that randomness. 

Finally, there is the connection between Ted and the instances where Not Sidney’s life resembles the roles of the actor Sidney Poiter. Throughout the novel, there are several story lines and dream sequences that seem out of place, such as when Not Sidney dreams of being a slave named Raz-ru who kills his master or when he suddenly gets sent to jail and escapes with another convict. These moments are references to several films starring Sidney Poiter, but they act as diluted snippets of the actual films. However, like Ted’s non sequiturs, these moments also exist to add to the random nature of Not Sidney’s life. By living through these strange circumstances and envisioning himself in these scenarios, Not Sidney doesn’t change much as a character; in fact, he hardly changes throughout the book. Rather, these plot threads exist to demonstrate the randomness of the novel, and to support its overall theme. 

I Am Not Sidney Poiter is a comedy. There’s no question about that. But this comedic nature coexists with a strong message about the pervading randomness that exists in everyday life, and Ted Turner is its figurehead. He represents this chaos in a way that fits with the overall tone of the books narrative, while also demonstrating the extreme of randomness. And he seems to be doing okay for himself. Despite the lack of structure in his life, he has his life together, and he seems happy. And through his example, the book shows the reader that, even though randomness is inevitable, it may not be so bad. And embracing it might not be so bad either. 

The Power of Names in Establishing Character

By: Cole Barber, Hailey Schiller, Ryan Silverstein, Sarah Ramsaroop, and Ashley Kupiec

Lilies of the Field, a 1963 film starring Sidney Poitier, tells the story of Homer Smith and his interaction with a group of poor German nuns. After Smith’s car breaks down he stumbles upon a group of nuns’ modest abode. The head nun, Mother Maria, believes that he is a gift sent from God, and that he will help them pursue the goal of building a chapel. While skeptical at first, he is roped in by the idea of getting paid for his labor. Though he never actually receives payment, he sticks around because of his drive to have something that he built himself. In the novel, I Am Not Sidney Poiter, Percival Everett recycles the plot of the movie, having his protagonist, Not Sidney, go through a similar sequence of events as Homer Smith.  However, certain details of the plot are changed, perhaps most importantly the names of the nuns. By making this change, Everett makes a statement about the power of names; names themselves can reveal an incredible amount about an individual’s characteristics and personal values.

Originally, in the film, the nuns are named Sister Gertrude, Albertine, Elizabeth, and Agnes, along with Mother Maria. These names are all based off of famous female figures in Christian canon. In the novel, though, Everett changes their names to “Origen, Eusebius, Firmilian, and Chrysostom” and changes the head nun’s name to “Sister Irenaeus” (171). Irenaeus, the head nun’s namesake, was a Greek bishop and martyr who introduced Christianity to the current south of France. Origen, an Alexandrian theologian, was known as one of the greatest teachers of Christianity. Eusebius was another bishop from Palestine, who was known for being incredibly well-versed in Christian history https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eusebius. Saint Firmilian was a disciple of Origen and is compared to Dionysus of Alexandria https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firmilian. John Chrysostom was a Church Father who opposed the abuse of power by “ecclesiastical and political leaders” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Chrysostom. Our group noticed two similarities between the five Christian figures that seemed especially prevalent: the fact that they were all men and that they were all against the practice of Gnosticism.

The fact that the nuns in I Am Not Sidney Poitier are named after significant religious male figures is in contrast with the nuns in the film who are all named after female saints. In the time period (around 145BC to 204BC) when the book’s nuns’ namesakes lived, the male gender was considered to be more powerful within the religious and social hierarchy compared to women; women were not seen as strong enough to hold positions of power. Women still struggle to overcome this stereotypical “weakness” in the present day, as well as in the context of Not Sidney’s story line. Perhaps by giving them male names in his novel, Everett is attempting to attribute more power to the nuns by separating them from the “traditional” cliches of women having less power. On the other hand, the nuns in the movie have female names and the screenwriter appoints the head nun, Maria, the title of “Mother.” Compared to the head nun’s title in the novel, which is Sister, Maria’s title has much more power associated with it. This could be an attempt by the writer to show that the nuns can stay on equal ground with men despite their gender. 

Another similarity that all of the nuns’ namesakes in the novel share is their antagonistic views on Gnosticism. According to LearnReligions, Gnosticism is a belief that is characterized by adherence to a dualistic perspective, in which the world is divided into spiritual and physical realms. Gnostics believe the physical aspects of life, such as the use of material goods, is evil; they think importance should only be assigned to the spiritual. The figures Everett’s nuns are named after, mainly Origen and Eusibeus, were known for their avid opposition of Gnosticism; they claimed it to be heresy. The nuns who are named after them support this view as well, as shown when they tell Not Sidney that, “We need a church, and you have been sent to build it” (180).  A church is considered by Gnostics as part of the material world and would therefore be deemed unnecessary and even evil. 

The nuns in the movie share a similar viewpoint as Everett’s nuns; they also desire a physical place of worship, theirs being a chapel. In Lilies of the Field, the nuns are portrayed as being strange, and relying too much on prayer. However, these nuns are vindicated by the end of the movie when their prayer provides everything they would need to build a chapel. Their prayers and desire for a chapel are holy ones, as they want to pray in a blessed space with the rest of their community. Although the nuns’ religious goal is to gain a material space, they are not characterized as being materialists. They only pray for religious materials, and scoff at Homer’s use of his money to buy what they consider to be luxury food items. By changing the nuns’ names to those of prominent anti-Gnostic figures, I Am Not Sidney Poitier emphasizes the nun’s materialism. The narrative therefore establishes that their position in I Am Not Sidney Poitier is a selfish, rather than a pious one.

In having the names of the nuns reflect their personal beliefs, I Am Not Sidney Poitier is commenting on the reality of the nuns’ entitlement; therefore established as being materialistic and vapid in the novel, whereas they are characterized as being devoutly religious and validated in their religious demands in the movie. The novel therefore argues for a more realistic interpretation of Not Sidney’s reality; he ultimately does not discover a higher purpose in giving to the nuns. Instead, he feeds into not only the nuns’ purpose, but his own personal purpose of getting rid of the money that has dictated his identity (164).

When the nuns in I Am Not Sidney Poitier and Lilies of the Field are first introduced, all that is known about them is their names. The nuns’ names serve to establish a contrast between Lilies of the Field and I Am Not Sidney Poitier, changing the implication of the nuns’ actions from benevolent to self-serving.  The names act as an entryway into the characters’ differing desires and temperaments.  The power of names is such that they can build a character without directly characterizing them at all.  

The Difference in Mediums

Recently, in my English class, I read two different stories about the same subject matter, these stories being the play The Bacchae by Athenian philosopher Euripedes and and the book Frenzy by Percival Everett. Both told the story of the god Dionysus, who was angry with the city of Thebes for not worshipping him properly and punished them by filling many women of the city with some form of madness. Though the plot, characters and tone differ, the tales they spin hit the same story beats and arrive at a similar finale. However, their similarities end at the basic plot due to the fact that they are written completely differently. While The Bacchae is a play about a foolish king who falls right into Dionysus’s hands and dies as a result of his hubris, Frenzy is both a more thoughtful and thorough examination of Dionysus’s assistant, Vlepo, and how he and the other characters deal with their suffocating devotions and seemingly meaningless lives. They vary in tone drastically despite identical subject matter, and wind up telling very different stories. However, both have individual merits, and though I did enjoy reading Frenzy more, each has a way of outshining the other, in terms of both medium and tone. 

The Bacchae was written long before Frenzy, and has such retains the authenticity of being the original source of the story. Being a play, the text on its own does not fully capture the same vividness as a novel would, but its ability to be performed benefits its case. By being able to see actors on stage performing the story, viewers of the piece will be better able to understand the emotions of each character through the actors. When an actor wants to convey sadness, they convey sadness. There is no murkiness or ambiguity that often exists in more descriptive writing, and viewers are better able to empathize with actors. By having emotions of characters expressed plainly on stage, the story itself becomes much easier to be understood. As for the text, The Bacchae has the advantage of being straight to the point with its writing. It has an ever present chorus throughout the play that explains each story beat as they happen, and the dialogue doesn’t linger on too many aesthetic flourishes, preferring for the actual performance to convey these. Additionally, The Bacchae benefits from its title of a tragedy. According to The Bedford Glossary of Critical Thinking and Literary Terms,  a tragedy is a somber drama that usually ends in disaster and focuses on a character going through personal struggles. Tragedies are often associated with Greek theater, and with The Bacchae clearly being a tragedy, it’s ending is pretty obvious. This title is an asset to the story, as the audience is less invested in how the story will end and more concerned with how the characters will act to reach that point. By having an already established ending, the story can play with the viewers expectations as they try to guess how the story will end before it is shown to them. This, along with the other listed aspects of the play, make this version of the story worthy of viewing

Frenzy takes the story that The Bacchae established and delvers a much more in-depth and grimmer tale, partially due to its status as a novel. Without the assistance of set design and actors, the story that the author Percival Everett tries to convey is done with much more vivid details. Settings are better described, and each character’s thoughts are more complex due to the limitations of the medium. Because of the lack of visual and aural elements, Everett uses his text to create a picture that’s both more vivid and specific than its counterpart. Of course, the book also benefits from Evertt’s writing, which tells a much more poignant story. In Frenzy, while the city of Thebes is still under the same attack by Dionysus as it was in The Bacchae, the being known as Vlepo takes center stage. Vlepo is quite the unique character, as the only reason for his existence seems to be to serve Dionysus both hearing, seeing, and feeling for his master. As the story progresses, Vlepo’s devotion to his master wavers due to the uncaringness of his demeanor and other’s acknowledgements of his complete devotion to his god. Compared to the play, Everett’s novel takes a much heavier focus on the emotions of its characters, almost as if the plot is a backdrop to the turmoil that exists within each of them. Some characters live for simple things—they prefer to live for a god and do what they wish rather than face responsibilities. Others are absorbed by pride, to the point where they hurt those around them. And due to in-depth style of the book’s writing, these complex emotions are conveyed much more intensely, albeit a bit confusingly. With these two factors, the book does a great job of living up to—and possibly even surpassing—it’s play counterpart

These two stories are intense reads; there’s no denying that. The stories they tell are grim, and they aren’t keen to skip over the more unsettling details. However, both are incredibly well thought out, and benefit from both the ways they are presented and their respective authors. Because of this, I believe that, when compared to each other from an impartial view, they are equally great in their description of the story of Dionysus and the suffering of Thebes, and as such are both worthy of reading.