Is Everett Messing With Us?

Percival Everett is an extremely intelligent author and English professor who has a knack for getting readers to think deeply about his literature. Everett is a genius when it comes to English concepts, expertly manipulating the English language to do what he wants. His writing is sophisticated and calculated in order to get readers to think through different lenses. Everett also uses allusions and references to complicate his stories as well, making his literature that much more difficult to fully understand. Throughout Everett’s works he makes readers ask questions like “what the heck is going on, is that really the end of the book, what is with this title, or is this author insane?”. All of these questions are fair questions to be asked when reading his novel entitled “I Am Not Sidney Poitier”. “I Am Not Sidney Poitier” is very thought provoking for the reader and there are many surprises along the way. These surprises shape the question: Is Everett messing with us?

Percival Everett may just be messing with us when it comes to “I Am Not Sidney Poitier”. There are so many oddities and surprises throughout this novel that completely catch the reader off guard. A few major oddities include Not Sidney’s potential super powers, his mother’s absurdly lengthy pregnancy, his seemingly endless money, his superpowers, Wanda Fonda and the ending of the novel most of all. We find out early in the story that Not Sidney was in his mother’s womb for an extremely long time, “Two years” (3) to be exact. Considering the average time in the womb is only nine months, this length of pregnancy is exceptional. Why Everett would make this an aspect of the story is to be determined by the reader, but I think he is just trying to make Not Sidney seem sort of mysterious and different. Later in the story we come to find out that his mother became very rich by investing her money. Not Sidney said that “When I was two, in 1970, she invested every dime she had in a little-known company called The Turner Communications Group that would later become Turner Broadcasting System” (6). This is by no means impossible, but it is another odd part of Sidney’s life, having an absurd amount of money off of one investment. When he asked Ted’s accountant, Podgy, about how much money Not Sidney owned, Podgy replied with “Let me just say ‘vast.’ The actual figure may frighten you” (27). He also oddly enough has almost no motivation to spend that money either. Most kids would love to spend vast amounts of money on absurd things, but not Not Sidney. He ends up driving a fairly humble car considering the amount of money he possesses and he really only spends a lot of money to get into college. Not Sidney also meets Wonda Fonda, Jane’s interestingly named niece. Wonda Fonda instantly shows a fondness for Not Sidney and she is attached to him the whole time that they’re together. While on Ted’s boat, Wonda Fonda shows Not Sidney this odd cherry tattoo and explains to him that “it has to do with sex” (25). This part of the book is an extremely odd moment, because why would a young girl have a tattoo like this especially for the reason that she explains? The last oddity that I will mention is his super powers, although this book is overflowing with weird occurrences. Not Sidney discovered that he has the ability to “fesermerize” people, which is essentially mind controlling them. He uses this power many times throughout the novel as an attempt to get what he wants from people and more often than not it works. He was going to use it in an attempt to get out of jail and he uses it to get Wonda to take off Jane’s top while on the boat. Not Sidney talked to a judge and “considered attempting a bit of Fesemerization, but I was terribly afraid of the effects of ineffective staring” (49). This quote shows that he really may have this power over peoples minds and the power followed him into adulthood. Instinct may tell the reader that fesmerzation was a figment of Not Sidney’s child imagination, but he believed in his abilities even as he grew older. Not Sidney’s fesmerization abilities are an interesting aspect of the story and Everett really tries to make the power seem real to the reader. There are countless instances that will leave the reader in disbelief of what is actually happening in the story and Everett toys with the reader’s mind in that way.

The final oddity in “I Am Not Sidney Poitier” is the bizarre ending. Everett leaves readers wondering about everything that just happened, as every reader is left waiting for Ashton Kutcher to yell “You just got Punk’d”. The ending is truly incomprehensible unless you are Everett, because he makes Not Sidney announce that he is in fact actually Sidney Poitier the actor. This surprise ending comes out of left field, because there wasn’t much evidence of him being the actual Sidney Poitier prior to the award show final scene. Not Sidney’s story reflects countless of Sidney Poitier’s movies, but to go from living out each movie to then announcing at the end of the movie that he is the actor is mind boggling. The only way that I could equate this final scene is like watching all of the “Star Wars” movies and at the very end of the last movie in the series, Luke Skywalker, the protagonist played by Mark Hamill, tells everyone that he has been actor Mark Hamill all along. The ending that consists of Not Sidney accepting an award as actor Sidney Poitier is a fantastic moment where Everett tricks us all. 

Percival Everett masterfully makes readers question what is actually happening in his novel “I Am Not Sidney Poitier” and it makes the journey through the book all the more exciting.

Is it Nonsense?

I have been thinking about the meaning of nonsense recently and whether or not something is truly nonsense, or whether we just haven’t been offered the knowledge to make it into something that makes sense to us. Often times older literature, such as Shakespeare, can be seen as nonsense to someone who wasn’t offered the knowledge to understand the meaning of what is actually being said. But when pondered and discussed, we can make connections and often make sense of the literature at hand, despite it being difficult to understand. Often times in class I would listen to the conversations at hand and initially be incredibly confused, but when I thought about the conversations post-class I would uncover so much knowledge simply as a result of my classmates comments within discussions. By educating myself on the things that I thought were nonsense in class, I was even able to make some blogs out of the topics discussed. In this post I would like to discuss the “nonsense” within Percival Everett’s novel, I am Not Sidney Poitier and his poetry book, re: f(gesture). 

When we look at the novel, I am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett there is one character who seemingly speaks nothing but nonsense: Percival Everett (more widely known in the novel as Professor Everett). Professor Everett taught a class called The Philosophy of Nonsense, which Not Sidney had enrolled in during his time at Morehouse University. During this time, Professor Everett seemed to constantly spew actual nonsense most of the time, but Not Sidney soon realized this was not the case. He had learned so much from his supposed nonsense, through episodes of learning such as Professor Everett’s mentioning that Not Sidney should avoid becoming “a sheep”(Everett). This piece of knowledge ran into Not Sidney later in the novel when he decided to join a fraternity and saw that the hazing and abuse was not worth becoming a sheep in a sense. Professor Everett offers Not Sidney the advice that if he can “imagine that he doesn’t have limitations” (Everett).  Contextually, this advice seems like something nonsense filled, but Not Sidney takes this advice and carries it with him throughout the novel, moulding it in his own interpretation into something much more significant, perhaps something much more sensical. Although Professor Everett seems to be filled with nonsense, his words actually carry meaning when pondered by Not Sidney. 

Looking into Percival Everett’s poetry novel, re: f(gesture) can offer us some insight into the idea of what nonsense actually is. I want to look specifically at poem 5 in the set of poems titled, Logic. When I first looked at this poem, and honestly most of the poems in this poetry novel, I was confused as to what it really meant. At first it looked like pure nonsense, but after a discussion in class I discovered that it could have many possible underlying meanings. The poem goes as follows: “From rags and dust- a rat is formed in the cellar. It was not there before. Only rags and dust.”(Everett). While discussing this my classmate Liz brought up that this poem conjured up the theory of spontaneous generation, which I had mentioned in my past few blogs. Since I had the opportunity to ponder this with my classmates, the nonsense that I originally saw in this poem slowly faded into something that I could make sense of. 

My question at hand is whether or not true nonsense exists. Is anything truly nonsense if we can ponder and research to our hearts content? I believe that nonsense only exists because we allow it to exist. Since someone believes something is nonsense, it is nonsense in their eyes until proved otherwise. When we look at literature and the idea of nonsense surrounding complex literature, can we even categorize it as nonsense? Nonsense is all about the perspective of the person who is taking in the supposed nonsense. It is only nonsense if we allow ourselves to believe it is nonsense, and it only begins to make sense once we educate ourselves on the subject at hand.

Identity Crisis

            Your name is your identity, it’s who you are. Names are important, and everybody has at least one. Actually, most people have at least three names, you get a first, middle, and a last name; heck, some people get two last names. My brother is special though, he only has two names; I mean, what kind of person doesn’t have a middle name? Anyway, Percival Everett seems to think names are important too. In his book, re: f(gesture), he brings up the importance of names twice. In the poem F, he writes “F is for Frankenstein, who did not name his baby. Always name offspring”. In the poem N¸ he repeats the line, “Always name offspring”. It appears that Everett finds names important. So, when Everett published a novel in 2009 and decided to name his character Not Sidney Poitier, there is a level of importance to it.

            Throughout Everett’s novel I am Not Sidney Poitier, Not Sidney is repeatedly asked about his name. Whenever he tells somebody that his name is Not Sidney, they obviously become confused, as would you if someone said their name but put “not” before it. Because of his strange name, he was sometimes bullied in school. Not Sidney decides to drop out of high school because he’s rich and he can, and he then thinks he’s ready to just drive somewhere and start a new life. He says, “I was a fighter of windmills. I was a chaser of whales. I was Not Sidney Poitier”. This is the point in his life where he decides that he wants his name to mean something. He then leaves home and is immediately arrested for being black. When he gets arrested, he is chained to another inmate who seems aggressive and rude. When Not Sidney is asked what his name is, he simply replies “Poitier”, because this will minimalize confusion, and maybe this time he won’t get punched. Upon his return from jail, he enrolls in college. He thinks that with a degree, he really can make his name mean something. He goes to see one of his professors, who Everett named Percival Everett, and Everett tells him “…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”. As confusing as this may seem around the halfway point of the book, it makes sense in the end. In the final pages of the novel, he shows up at LAX airport, and there are men holding signs that read “Sidney Poitier”, so he goes with them. He is put in a private car and ends up at a film festival where he assumes the place of Sidney Poitier and receives an award. So, Not Sidney Poitier lived his whole life being compared or mistaken for Sidney Poitier to the point that he becomes Sidney Poitier in a way.

            It is strange to think of yourself as someone you’re not. For example, I go by two names. My actual name is Anthony, and whenever I meet somebody, I introduce myself as Anthony. When I get to know somebody enough, they begin to call me by a nickname that my family gave me when I was an infant, Nino. So, throughout my whole life, up until high school I went by Anthony in school, and Nino at home. When I got to high school, my entire personality changed completely. I basically became a whole different person. Around the same time, my friends began calling me Nino too. Now my high school is small, so everybody knows each other. This means that now everybody knows I go by Nino. I was being called Nino in school and at home, and the only people who called me Anthony were teachers, meaning in a way I became Nino. However, this changed again when I went to college. Everybody started calling me Anthony again, so I started introducing myself as Anthony again. Whenever I got close friends though, they would start calling me Nino. This apparently created a problem in my mind that I didn’t realize was there until I solved the problem earlier this semester, a whole year later. When I meet people, and I assume everybody can relate to this, I don’t show them my full self. I become very reserved and don’t let them see who I am until I begin to see who they are. So, I introduce myself as Anthony and they meet only a part of me. After hanging put with that person maybe two or three times, I start to relax around them. Usually, that’s the same time that they would start calling me Nino. So, Anthony was a partial version of me, whereas Nino was all of me. At some point in this semester, I realized that by going by two names, I began to break apart my personality from one person into two. So, at the end of I am Not Sidney Poitier, when he says “I have learned that my name is not my name. It seems that you all know me and nothing could be further from the truth…I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY”, I understand what he means. It doesn’t matter what your name is, or what you go by, who you are is internal. Your name is not your identity. Your name is not who you are.

A̖̘͕̳̻ͨͦ͛͑̎ ͑ͅis̘̬̼͍̻̠̓ͨ̋ͭ̈ͪ ̦ͮf̦̑o̽̒r̻̱͊̓͡ ̛ͫa̟̮̖̥̪̿ͤ̃͑̚͠p̹̙̞̫͇ͅp̻͉̠̠͓͇̯̑̍͆̆̈́̇̓l̙͉͇̽̐̚ḙ̭ͤ̉,̔́ ̊͌̒ͣͦͯͨB̗̰ͤͮ́ͅ ͕͛i̷͚͇̓̅s̪̘̰̈͗̒ ̜̟̰̗̱̮̣f͉̳͈̮͍ͅo̫̪r̠̻̩̯̪̳͖̈ͩ̌ͣ͗̈̚ ͗̀̇͋ͭḅ̩̬̱̐̏̏̏ę̘̖̩̪̗̅̈͋͋̚e̹̫̹͈͚̱͈̾ͬ͂̂̌͗ͣ͢,͑ͮ́̓ͦͤ̈́҉ ̸͖̖̩̬̟̫̅ͦ͂ͤͥͬC̟̹ͅ ̴i̡͉͖̲͚̯ͨͥ̋ͭ̏s̅ͦ ̪̭͇͚̲͜f̲͚͛̀̓ͅor̜̳̼ͦ͐ͭ̕ P͈̺̺ͨ̍̌h́͒̾ͦ̓ͯ͘’ͮ̅ͦ́n̂́͠g̜͊ļ̪͒u̫̜͓̠ͩͧ̆̏i̳̳͔̟ͤͪ̈̓ ̯̻͚̥̻̝̀m̿̑̓̄̋͏̻̱͓͙͈g̣͈̳͙̼͉l͏̹̱̜̣̺̰w͖ͬ’̺͎̰͎ͨ̌́ͣn̳͍̖̮ͨ̌͛̄a̩̝̻̺̺ͅf̖̅h̔́̾ ̦͍̦̲̖̻ͭͬ̂̈̃͌C͘t̛hͪͮ͆̃u̙̠̭̥̲̾̈̓͑̾lͬh͕͞u̵̟ ̿R’l̪̙͖̩̫̯̍̈ͮͥ̽ͭ͢y̼̣̲ͥ͑ͭe͔ͬh ͯͩ͆̐͛w͚̻̣ͬͨ̂g͑ͫ̉̋ͣ̈ͯă̈h͇̜̦̦̩͈̐̎̾͐̓̚’n̂͐͗̅ͩ̓ͭag͕̠̟̙͓ͪͬ̂ͨ̾l fh̹̮̥̺͉tͯ͐̐ͥͬ̚a̙̺͖̥͔̩͆̄ͥ͌̿ͦ͑ͅg͓͕n̛͎̣͙̥ͫ̍̎ͮ…̶

In recent discussions of structure, a controversy has been whether structure is an appropriate tool to measure how much knowledge is disseminated. On one hand, Shelagh Neely argues that “Structure reminds me of a foundation. A foundation that you start off with and work your way up the ladder of writing a paper, a poem, a book, or even a blog post.” From this perspective, set forms, such as the abecedarian, are solid foundations which allow for knowledge to be transmitted clearly. On the other hand, however, others argue that it is impossible for knowledge to be organized in a manner that expresses information coherently. In the words of H. P. Lovecraft, one of this view’s main proponents, “[t]he most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents” (1). According to this view, structure is inadequate because humans are fallible, and cannot connect information enough to discover Truth. In sum, then, the issue is whether we can trust that creative and informational works are created upon a trustworthy foundation, or if the limits of human knowledge are the true “walls” (Neely) that subjectively define our truths. Continue reading “A̖̘͕̳̻ͨͦ͛͑̎ ͑ͅis̘̬̼͍̻̠̓ͨ̋ͭ̈ͪ ̦ͮf̦̑o̽̒r̻̱͊̓͡ ̛ͫa̟̮̖̥̪̿ͤ̃͑̚͠p̹̙̞̫͇ͅp̻͉̠̠͓͇̯̑̍͆̆̈́̇̓l̙͉͇̽̐̚ḙ̭ͤ̉,̔́ ̊͌̒ͣͦͯͨB̗̰ͤͮ́ͅ ͕͛i̷͚͇̓̅s̪̘̰̈͗̒ ̜̟̰̗̱̮̣f͉̳͈̮͍ͅo̫̪r̠̻̩̯̪̳͖̈ͩ̌ͣ͗̈̚ ͗̀̇͋ͭḅ̩̬̱̐̏̏̏ę̘̖̩̪̗̅̈͋͋̚e̹̫̹͈͚̱͈̾ͬ͂̂̌͗ͣ͢,͑ͮ́̓ͦͤ̈́҉ ̸͖̖̩̬̟̫̅ͦ͂ͤͥͬC̟̹ͅ ̴i̡͉͖̲͚̯ͨͥ̋ͭ̏s̅ͦ ̪̭͇͚̲͜f̲͚͛̀̓ͅor̜̳̼ͦ͐ͭ̕ P͈̺̺ͨ̍̌h́͒̾ͦ̓ͯ͘’ͮ̅ͦ́n̂́͠g̜͊ļ̪͒u̫̜͓̠ͩͧ̆̏i̳̳͔̟ͤͪ̈̓ ̯̻͚̥̻̝̀m̿̑̓̄̋͏̻̱͓͙͈g̣͈̳͙̼͉l͏̹̱̜̣̺̰w͖ͬ’̺͎̰͎ͨ̌́ͣn̳͍̖̮ͨ̌͛̄a̩̝̻̺̺ͅf̖̅h̔́̾ ̦͍̦̲̖̻ͭͬ̂̈̃͌C͘t̛hͪͮ͆̃u̙̠̭̥̲̾̈̓͑̾lͬh͕͞u̵̟ ̿R’l̪̙͖̩̫̯̍̈ͮͥ̽ͭ͢y̼̣̲ͥ͑ͭe͔ͬh ͯͩ͆̐͛w͚̻̣ͬͨ̂g͑ͫ̉̋ͣ̈ͯă̈h͇̜̦̦̩͈̐̎̾͐̓̚’n̂͐͗̅ͩ̓ͭag͕̠̟̙͓ͪͬ̂ͨ̾l fh̹̮̥̺͉tͯ͐̐ͥͬ̚a̙̺͖̥͔̩͆̄ͥ͌̿ͦ͑ͅg͓͕n̛͎̣͙̥ͫ̍̎ͮ…̶”

Percivial Everett’s Use of Metaphors and Juxtapostion in the Poem “Logic”

Pervical Everett’s poem titled “Logic,” in the greater anthology of re:f(gesture) uses extremely ambiguous metaphors and juxtapositions to express the idea that concepts, such as numbers, are timeless and unbreakable. Moreover, he details the insignificance of naming, and the ineffectiveness of words to alter anything other than a human being’s understanding of the world. 

Starting with stanza two, Everett writes: “Let us assume X. Even such signs have some place, some language X. Constituent parts compose this reality — molecules, atoms, simple X.” The metaphor comparing X, to the fundamental building blocks of the universe, emphasizes the idea that no matter the name given to a thing (which is itself a name given), it does little to change the composition of that thing. As Everett deems a language X, and atoms and molecules X, he exposes the consistency of existence. Meaning, language X still exists without “X,” while atoms and molecules exist without “X.” Furthermore, take a language — English for example. Without the word “English,” the English language does not decompose. Take molecules and atoms and remove the “molecules and atoms,” and they are still there, composing every part of everything ever been given a name. With this being said, one may as well call them “X,” as their existence can not be defined by a name. 

In stanza four, there is a line that reads: “There are samples of colors somewhere in a case, standards like weights and measures, preserved in Paris maybe, like the meter, sealed in a case where no one can see them.” The metaphor comparing the interminability of ideas to samples of colors and weights being locked in a case somewhere in Paris, emphasizes their timelessness. Color, weight and length are constants in the universe. Color is the visible perception of the electromagnetic spectrum. Weight is the mass of an object, multiplied by the acceleration due to gravity. Length is one of the three dimensions (excluding time). They are constants in the universe, and have been for millennium. Ironically however, the names we give them are not. They change over time, or cease to exist completely if we meet our demise. The aforementioned metaphor exposes the irony of attempting to fetter to a name that which as existed nameless for time uncountable. Furthermore, the segment that says: “…in a case where no man can see them,” continues to accentuate this point, because that is why we as a species, named these abstract principles to begin with. We named them to attempt to touch them, or get close to them. When in reality, they are safely locked away, where no name or phrase will prove to be the proper key. As the names we provide these perpetual things such as “color,” or “meter,” eventually wither and crumble like they will, the things will still stand stubbornly on, until they are given a new name to disregard. 

Stanza five in its entirety continues to express this theme, as Everett pens: “Seven men can be obliterated, burned or hanged or drowned in a lake and forgotten. Men gone, but not seven. Seven men lost, but not seven. Seven is, will be. All men will die, but not seven.” The juxtaposition between the mortality of men, and immortality of “seven,” furthers the notion that there are concepts that unbreakable. The three direct juxtapositions that Everett presents in this quote are: “Men gone, but not seven,” “Seven lost, but not seven,” and “All men will die, but not seven.” These serve to illuminate the fragility of man, when compared to the intangible constructs they create. Although “seven,” was formed by man and represented by him (as does the group of men “obliterated”), seven still far exceeds the lifespan of its creator; as even when seven men are not present, seven still exists, and will continue to exist in the debris, ash, gallows and the lake in which those men drowned.

The notion of existence versus nonexistence, and the futility of names to influence such, is a theme that Everett discusses on multiple occasions. Similarly in his novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier, he demonstrates the irony of the protagonist’s name, Not Sidney Poitier, having no effect on his life course, as he lived Sidney Poitier’s life almost exclusively. However, in re:f(gesture) the stated theme is articulated through the use of metaphors, such as comparing infinite existence to being locked in a case in Paris. It is also articulated through the use of juxtapositions, as perceived by deeming a complex system of microscopic moving parts (atoms and molecules) as the singular letter “X.” It are these devices which allow “Logic,” ironically, to honor its name and present a concept that is as timeless as the ones given in the poem. 

A Criticism of Intertextuality in the Poem “Zulus” from re:f(gesture) by Percival Everett

The inspiration for this post ironically stemmed from a lack of understanding of the poem “Zulus,” rather than an in-depth understanding of it. The poem, which is derived from the poetry book re:f(gesture) by Percival Everett, is one that has taken me for a loop. In fact all of the poems in the book have confused me more than that of any other work that I have read. While it is true that Percival Everett’s register is intentionally murky, but “Zulus” traverses beyond being esoteric, and ventures into simply being indiscernible. Whereas his novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier is bemusing as well, it contains a clear narrative (in terms of plot) that facilitates one’s dissection of the novel when seeking themes. Here there is no clear narrative, and the poem relies too much on Intertextuality. Considering that “Zulus,” is derived from a novel of the same name, by the same author, the work is entirely intertextual. Without proper exposition on the novel, the reader is left fumbling in the dark. I respect esoterism, but it is also impossible to dive into another’s mind. Therefore, “Zulus” overreliance on Intertextuality diminishes its meaning as viewed by a wider audience. 

Firstly, it must be acknowledged that the poem as an abecedarian provides marginal structure to the piece. For context, the denotation of abecedarian is: “An ancient poetic form guided by alphabetical order. Generally each line or stanza begins with the first letter of the alphabet and is followed by the successive letter, until the final letter is reached.” The abecedarian allows the poem to drive on in its agenda, but the problem lies with the reader being unaware of that agenda from the get-go. For example, the starting stanza of the poem begins with: “A is for Achitophel. It was he who put Absalom up to the big naughty.” Not only are the two characters mentioned in this line from the novel Zulus, but this line is also an allusion to the poem published by John Dryden in 1681 titled “Absalom and Achitophel.” This opening presents a relative dual-intertextuality, as it borrows content from not one, but two separate works. Therefore, to view the entire picture that Everett is painting, one must be somewhat familiar with the poem by John Dryden to completely understand this opening. As an English major, I relish the challenge of discerning complex pieces, but old-English, as presented in Dryden’s work, is difficult mountain to scale even for an English major. Overall, there is virtually no promotion a broader understanding by Everett. He instead chooses to cater to a very niche group — one composed of individuals who have read both Zulus and “Absalom and Achitophel.” This pattern of including character names and circumstances from other works, including Zulus, occurs frequently throughout the duration of the mind-rattling read. 

Allusion could also be a form of intertextuality. My favorite high school English teacher is someone whom I admire very much, and he said: “Everything is a text,” on the first day of class. Therefore, historical allusions have every right to be a text, and are therefore subject to Intertextuality. Allusion is denoted as: “An expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; an indirect or passing reference.” With that being stated, Everett incorporates many historical allusions into “Zulus,” and they have a similar impact as the aforementioned use of characters from other texts. For example, the allusion to ancient Greek Philosophy that reads as follows: “A is for Anaximander who said that the element of things is Boundless,” does not involve a well-known philosopher (at least to the common person, and certainly me.) Speaking of which, I did not even know that Anaximader was an ancient Greek Philosopher until I googled his name and read two or three sentences about him. The common reader is simply not going to take the time to research Animaxander and his teachings. While Everett does include greater-known Philosophers such as Aristotle, and Plato, it is the inclusion of names such as Animaxander’s that will trip readers up before they can process the previous allusion. Moreover, the allusion to an 1838 battle between the Boers (dutch farmers) and the Zulus continues to emphasize esoterism over understanding. The conflict between Zulus and Boers is not a widely taught topic in high schools, and is in fact skimmed over rather quickly if my memory serves me correctly, which it usually does. 

Everett’s emphasis on esoterism over enrapturing wider audiences demonstrates the potential pit-falls of Intertextuality. Whether that Intertextuality is expressed through the picking and placing of characters from other works into a new work, or via obscure historical allusions that most likely only a Major in the subject would comprehend; the works insistence on being a culmination of numerous influencers sacrifices public appeal and comprehension. In conclusion, Intertextuality in “Zulus,” allows only a niche audience to read it, and understand at least the majority of allusions and so on. 

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 Ship of Theseus and Identity

According to myth, Theseus was an ancient Greek king who fought many battles, and founded the city-state of Athens. Because of Theseus’ success at naval battles in particular, the people of Athens chose to dedicate a memorial in his honor by preserving his favorite ship. This “ship of Theseus” remained in their port for hundreds of years, and as time went on some of the planks of Theseus’ ship began to rot away. In order to prevent the ship from breaking down entirely, these rotting planks were replaced with new planks made of the same material. However, could the ship still be considered Theseus’ ship, if it was no longer made of the same planks that Theseus himself walked upon? If the bed in the captain’s cabin was replaced by a bed of the exact same make, could it still be considered the same bed Theseus slept on? By placing a new plank next to an original one cause it to absorb some of that older plank’s experience, or does that hold no value?

It is a philosophical question that resembles the sorites paradox (sometimes also called the paradox of the heap). In a similar manner concerning identity, the sorites paradox can be summarized by asking this question: when is a heap of sand no longer considered a heap? By first accepting that removing a single grain of sand cannot turn a heap into a non-heap, what happens when enough grains are removed until there is a single remaining grain? Can this still be considered a heap? If not, when did change from a heap into a non-heap? At two grains? At three? Instead of considering identity directly, this paradox instead focuses on when a change from one identity to another specifically occurred. In the context of the ship of Theseus, this paradox considers when the ship could no longer be considered Theseus’ ship. Is it still Theseus’ ship even when there is only one remaining original plank? Or did the change in identity occur before that? Is there even an instance of change like that? Or does that change happen over a long period of time?

When it comes to philosophical questions like these, I liked to listen to what my common sense tells me. Before diving in to a possible answer to these paradoxes (something that I will not attempt in this blog post, as these theories are called paradoxes for a reason), I like to answer them quickly and without much thought, if possible. It provides a basis for me to go off of. Therefore, to quickly address the paradox of the ship of Theseus, my common sense tells me that if you replace one plank, the ship can still be considered Theseus’. But if you replace the whole ship, that ship is no longer Theseus’. And if you replace the whole ship up until there is only one original remaining plank, then it’s just a new ship with one plank that was part of Theseus’ ship. To address the sorites paradox, I believe that the heap of sand is no longer a heap when one would look and the sand and not call it heap. If one cannot look at two grains of sand and call it heap, then it is not a heap. When this change occurs does not depend on the grains of sand being taken away; it depends on who is observing it and what they consider to be a heap or non-heap.

So what is the point of delving into these paradoxes? If I am not trying to answer the paradox surrounding the ship of Theseus or the sorites paradox, then why am I writing this blog post? Because I believe that, commonly, these paradoxes are applied to what makes us us. Could the question of identity surrounding a material object apply to a sentient person? If a person transfers their mind into a computer, leaving their biological body behind, are they the same person? If a person changes so much over many years, many decades, can they be considered the same person that they were all those years ago? To provide myself as an example, am I the same Liz that entered kindergarten at six years old? Or am I someone else now?

To once again practice quickly answering a paradox before delving in to find or attempt to find a truer answer to the question, my answer is yes. I am still Liz, and I am still recognizable as Liz—I am not a clone or a copy, just a Liz who has grown throughout the years. 

There is a common saying that states the human body fully replaces itself every seven years. An interesting idea, the thought that our body is brand new after seven years—reminiscent of the ship of Theseus, is this the same body that we lived in seven years ago? Unfortunately, this saying has proven false—though others might state that it’s actually ten to fifteen years, the truth of the matter is we do not fully replace ourselves in the matter the saying implies. And, in the end, I don’t think our body replacing itself matters to the question of identity. The difference between the ship of Theseus and a human person is an observation of sentience. We know that we are the same person, because we observe ourself in that way, and know this is true. Just as we might observe a ship in front of us as Theseus’ ship, or just a normal ship.

Isolation in Everett

Bakkos, who is alone amongst the Olympians for his youth along the ancient. In Frenzy, Percival Everett’s adaptation of The Bacchae, pains are taken to emphasize how singular Dionysos is. He is the youngest of the primary twelve Greek gods, and perhaps would have been mortal had he not been re-birthed by Zeus. Dionysos is the only god, and one of the rare myths in which a child is born from a male figure. Even Athena was born from Zeus’s mind, she was never carried within a body, and she never had another parent. Dionysos, therefore is alone in this aspect, being the only Olympian to be twice-born. Everett takes pains in Frenzy to highlight each of the qualities that separate Dionysos from the other Greek gods, and this theme of isolation is one theme that persisted throughout the works of Everett that we’ve read for class.

Starting with a look into Frenzy, almost every character seems to exist alone. Besides Dionysos, who, in Everett’s version of The Bacchae, is a combination of god and mortal, Everett went out of his way to create a character to feel things for the young god. Vlepo, like his master, is isolated on behalf of the nature of his being. Throughout the story, there is much question into exactly what he is, and the bounds of his existence, that is, whether he is capable of human things. As the story closes, he comes to cease his questioning, and almost accept that he will never be like anyone, or anything that he sees. When once he felt love for Sibyl, in one of their final conversations, he is turned bitter and daring, and after she calls him a bitter man, he replies almost without hesitation ‘If a man I am’. Another time, as Bakkos requests him to bring the spirits along that may be Semele, Vlepo comments ‘and we all, god, shade, and whatever I was, filed out of that chamber…’. These quotes seem to identify his conceding to the wretched fate he has been given, and the shift of his mental state makes him cruel. His growing spite and cruelty only distance him more from the world, until neither he, nor Dionysos can tolerate the loneliness they feel.

Everett’s Frenzy concludes with Vlepo killing his master, bothar an act of independent will, and of compliance. In Everett’s variation of the Greek myth, he decides to make Dionysos the only of the Olympians able to sleep, and makes this a grand plot point as bystanders such as Tiresias watch him and ask if the half-god knows the danger of what he is doing, as Dionysos is also the only god that can die. As it happens, the wine god was aware of what his quest for sleep might lead to, as he asked of Vlepo, ‘After I have achieved sleep, real sleep, I want you to cut out my heart from this body and leave it unceremoniously on the ground.’ and proceeded to hand Vlepo the exact knife to do the deed. Everett’s Dionysos was a melancholy man, as aware of his mortality as he was of his immortality should no one kill him. Dionysos  could not bring himself to care about anything after his own discovery that time would eventually make everything meaningless. At one point, after Vlepo accuses him of wasting time with such Bacchic revels, the god responds “‘A waste of time?” he questioned, ‘But there is so much time. Do you know what I mean, Vlepo?” he asked, sadly. “There is just so much of it.’”. Dionysos cannot deal with an immortality of separation and distance, he couldn’t relate to anything, or anyone around him, and thus he couldn’t live with any of it. Separated from the world of mortals with the story of his birth, his parentage, and his powers over men, yet separated from the world of gods by his youth and mortality, Dionysos couldn’t tolerate his distance from the world.Separated from the world of mortals with the story of his birth, his parentage, and his powers over men, yet separated from the world of gods by his youth and mortality, Not Sidney Poitier did not understand how to approach his distance from the world. Throughout Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier, the protagonist begins his life distanced from others. Born of a hysterical pregnancy to a mother all believed to be insane, with no father in sight, and a name that confused most of his potential playmates into what he describes as ‘always receiving beatings from boys with whom I wished to play.’ Not learns to fesmerize purely to make it stop. He is distanced also from reality, through his life frequently slipping into the plot of a Sidney Poitier film, taking hold of him sometimes for months at a time, as in his experience in the South, getting arrested for being black, spending time in jail, and falling into the sequence of The Defiant Ones. Not Sidney’s life is anything but ordinary, and it is nothing that anyone else can relate to. Rather than death as a means to cope with the direction that his life has veered, Not Sidney, by the end of the novel, seems to become Sidney Poitier. This is an almost death that eradicates the confusion of calling someone ‘Not Sidney Poitier’, almost as if he is deciding that, rather than continuing to distance himself from the world, he would rather settle for being someone that he isn’t. Because for him, that falsehood sounds better than isolation.