Percival Everett’s “Body” intervenes in the kind of disciplinary tensions that Joe Moran outlines in “Science, Space, and Nature.” More specifically, the poems may be understood as shedding light on the ridiculousness of isolation between disciplines. Through the poems themselves, “Body” illuminates the fact that science can be taught through a humanities lens, and humanities can be shown through a science lens. This idea of lenses is something I have discussed before in a blog post. My blog post titled “Passion For Perception” (linked below) from September discusses the idea of how lenses are the significant aspect of what makes things unique. However, Everett’s “Body” is not discussing the significance of lenses rather, it is discussing that there is too much significance put on the separation of these lenses. “Body” is an academic paper written as a humanities project. It is a jab at those who perpetuate the significance of categorization. The idea that “Body” presents stems from Everett’s own personal thoughts on the ideas of genre, and other forms of segregation.
Everett was quoted in a 2012 interview stating “ I don’t believe in genres. There are some things that are formulaic and then there’s things like detective fiction, science fiction and they are not totally interesting… But stories of stories and literary art transcend any notion of genre.”. Everett expresses his distaste for genre and categorization directly in this interview, but it also bleeds into his work. By now I assume most of my readers have seen the terms “New Criticism” and “Intertextuality”, but for those who haven’t I will give a brief definition of the two terms. According to the Bedford, New Criticism treats texts as “self-contained and self-referential and thus based interpretations on elements within the text rather than on external factors”. According to the Bedford, Intertextuality is “the condition of interconnectedness among texts”. “Body” is a poem that, if looked at with a New Critical lens, is breaking down and analyzing different parts of the human anatomy. However, with a more open minded, intertextual analysis one can see Everett’s message of anti-structure and literary freedom.
As a writer myself, I can understand the message “body” is alluding to. This poem is challenging the standards of genres and the divide between disciplines. One of the beauties I see in writing is the freedom, or at least the illusion of freedom. When writing it is liberating to create a world all to yourself and do whatever you can imagine, but when you want an audience you have to bend to the will of genre standards. The freedom of individualistic writing is squashed once someone attempts to gain a larger audience, because it must be more easily marketed when it is a one genre story. This however is more of Everett’s personal opinion that seeps its way into “body” rather than the message “body” itself revealed to me.
Through the existence of the poem itself, “Body” is challenging the separation between disciplinary writings. It is challenging the idea that if you are a creative writer you cannot written about the challenges of a scientific experiment, or the processes of the human body. It is also challenging the scorn that english writers put onto the sciences as being “not creative”. “Body” is expressing a desire to nullify scorn by understanding the fluidity in the mind’s ability. I am sure that there are many scientists who could (with practice) make great creative writers, and there are many writers that could (with practice) be great scientists. There is an unnecessary amount of scorn given between disciplinary fields, when each field has its worth because of its academia. Anything that challenges the mind and is a pursuit that benefits people should not be faced with scorn because it is not something one finds interesting.
Now what can we do with this lesson? Again It seems Everett is teaching us to be less scornful by being scornful to scorn (say that ten times, fast). My answer, which may or may not coincide with Everrett’s intention, is to learn to appreciate all academic and scholarly pursuit. I personally am not a huge science person and have found myself critiquing the sciences because they are challenging and unenjoyable. After reading “body” I have a greater appreciation not of the sciences themselves, but those who pursue the sciences. It takes a smart and dedicated person to enjoy something that I find dull and challenging. My hope for the readers of this blog post is to come to appreciate all forms of scholarly pursuit, and maybe even branch out a bit with your interests. As students we limit ourselves by thinking of ourselves in categories of “english major” and “bio major”, when in fact we are all just students seeking knowledge to better ourselves. Who are we to deny the knowledge someone wishes to bestow upon us, even if it isn’t something we find enjoyable? This is not to say you must like all fields of academia rather we should accept the fields as an admirable pursuit, and reserve scorn. To cap this blog post off I will leave you all with some lyrics from a song written by Nick Lowe, which Elvis Costello sang. The song is called “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” and I believe it captures the essence of this blog post and many of my previous posts.
As I walk through
This wicked world
Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself
Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside
There’s one thing I wanna know;
What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding?
Link to “Passion For Perception” below