“I have learned that my name is not my name. It seems you all know me and nothing could be further from the truth and yet you know me better than I know myself, perhaps better than I can know myself.” (Percival Everett).
The quote above is an excerpt from Percval Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier. This was also the epigraph that inspired my first blog post this semester. Upon reflecting on this quote I can now see the full weight these words have on this course. The main message from this passage is the concept of identity. The passage hints at questions such as “who am I?” and “who am I to others?”. Identity is something that Percival Everett has talked about in numerous interviews. For example, in an interview on November 15th, 2012, Everett addressed his interest in identity stating; “Well I think that every work of art is about the theme of identity of some kind and there’s identity of the work itself. So, in that way I’m fascinated by it. I’m also fascinated by it, not only racially, but I’ve always been fascinated by that thing that is self-identity.”. It is easy to see the theme of “self-identity” throughout the works by Everett my class has read this semester. The novels Frenzy and I Am Not Sidney Poitier both depict characters searching for the idea of self identity.
In Frenzy the character Vlepo is who is searching for his identity. A being created by the god of wine Dionysus, Vlepo’s existence is dependant on the life of his creator. Neither human or god, Vlepo searches for his identity within the novel. This is shown in this interaction between Dionysus and Vlepo; “Dionysus smiled. ‘You’re not like them.’ ‘Then who am I like?’ ”(Everett 88-9). In I Am Not Sidney Poitier, the character Not Sidney Poitier struggles with his identity as a young black man who looks strikingly similar to Sidney Poitier, and even shares a very similar name. The character of Percival Everett says it best when he and Not Sidney are discussing Not Sidney’s identity. “ ‘I know, I know, you’re Not Sidney Poitier and also not Sidney Poitier, but in a strange way you are Sidney Poitier as much as you’re anyone.’ ”(Everett 102). Upon reading these two examples I became aware of the scope in which the literature we have read this semester emphasise the idea of identity.
This is my understanding as it is now, that identity is a crucial part to the works we have read; but what does this mean in terms of my take away in this course? Going back to that first epigraph I would like to note my original take away, so I may show the growth that has taken place this semester. I said in my first blog post “Many times it is hard to see an author’s perception of a story because we are so caught up in our own interpretations and ideas. My goal is to be able to read a work of literature and see the lens which the author is using to perceive an idea that has been said before.”. Looking at this now this is the exact opposite of what my feelings are now. Now, I have an understanding that it doesn’t matter what the author intends, it matters what the text is stating. Everett himself said in an interview from August 23, 2017: “I never speak to what my work might mean. If I could, I would write pamphlets instead of novels. And if I offered what the work means, I would be wrong. The work is smarter than I am. Art is smarter than us.”.
My understanding of literature throughout this course has taken a complete 180, and I am happy because of it. I came into the first class of English 203 a scornful person who lived in a world of absolutes. I even defended scorn in class at one point. However, through class discussion and interpreting Everett’s work on identity I have grown to be able to see the grey in the world and the benefits of it. In all honesty I feel more emotionally fulfilled by the world around me when I view it in the way this course has taught me. My family has always known me to be a stubborn, fiery spirit, stoked with anxiety. This course, and Everett’s work has given me the ability to let things go. When something angers me, or makes me want to be scornful, I am more understanding and forgiving. I have shifted from a predominantly fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
In Everett’s book of poems Re: f(gesture) the poem Zulus is a catalog of references to other texts, and events. One poem that is referenced is one title The Beasts by Walt Whitman. This poem follows a narrator’s desire to leave human torments behind, and their admiration for the animals. “They do not sweat and whine about their condition; They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins; They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God; Not one is dissatisfied- not one is demented with the mania of owning things.”(Whitman). My mentality at the start of the semester was akin to the human torments that The Beasts describes. I sweated over my condition, and I was dissatisfied. As I stand now, I am much more content with what, where, and who I am.
In other words, this course has been a sort of therapy for me. Anxiety and the torments of being human clouded my sight to the beauties of humanity. These beauties are something I discussed in my post titled Subjective Perspective of (Logic). “There is a certain beauty in the fact that humans can even communicate at all, yet we fail to acknowledge it because it is so routine.” As a person with an anxiety disorder, it is easy for me to be frantic and hastey. My life was swept in the routine nature of day to day life, and I failed to see the beauties of life that I see now. Much of my growth that occurred during this course stems from the simple words Professor McCoy said in her comment on my first blog post; “SLOW DOWN. This REALLY applies to you!”. Professor McCoy in this case was referring to my writing but it was also what I needed to do with my way of life. I needed to slow down and appreciate the beauties around me.
It is clear to me that over the course of this semester my identity has changed quite a bit from the anxiety ridden, close minded writer I once was. This change and growth of identity can only be credited to my peers, Everett’s writing, and Professor McCoy herself. By reading works such as Frenzy, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, and Re: f(gesture) I have a better understanding of what identity meant in this course, and how my growth in my own identity was a very Everettian transformation. This is my take away from Everett’s message of identity. Identity changes, as did my own identity did over the course of this semester. As has become somewhat of a habit in my blog posts, I will leave you with some lyrics from a song. This song I believe summarizes the message of self-identity transformation, and my take away from this course. It summarizes where I was before this course and leaves me with a message that is very Everettian. This song is called Tenderness by General Public from 1984.
“I don’t know where I am but I know I don’t like it
I open my mouth and out pops something spiteful
Words are so cheap
But they can turn out expensive
Words like conviction can turn into a sentence”
Links to previous blog posts mentioned;