“O is for owning things
‘… Demented with the mania…’
A bad idea in general.”
This is an excerpt from Percival Everett’s Re: f(gesture), in a poem titled Zulus. This was an excerpt that, when I first read it, caught my attention immediately. I can not explain why in particular, perhaps it was the phrase “demented with the mania” tapping into my love of Poe, and Burton. Either way, I found myself attracted to this phrase. The poem Zulus is a poem “organized” in alphabetical order, and is composed of almost entirely allusions to other texts, or other events. I figured that the first step in finding any perceivable meaning in this excerpt was to go down Everett’s rabbit hole of allusions.
After some time searching I found the phrase “demented with the mania” is from a poem by Walt Whitman titled The Beasts. This poem is told from the first person perspective and describes the narrator’s desire to be one of the animals in the wild. The narrator provides their desire with substantial reasoning, and that reasoning raises beautiful philosophical notions. For example, the narrator speaks of the animals “They do not sweat and whine about their condition; They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;”(Whitman). This poem presented itself to me as a poem by a man sick of the negatives of the human condition, of human society. This perspective seems very Everettian to me. Much of what Everett’s writing invokes, is a sense of disparity at the state of humanity. Everett seems to scoff at the sensitivity of today’s society, and the lack of resilience in much of today’s thinking.
Everett was interviewed on April 15th, 2019 by The Rumpus, where he explained some of his disdain when asked how the current political climate inspired his new book, The Book of Training by Colonel Hap Thompson of Roanoke, VA, 1843: Annotated From the Library of John C. Calhoun. This is a fairly long excerpt from the interview but I do not want to take away from Everett’s response, as I see every word as important.
“I mean, I had white friends coming up to me and saying that they felt like their life was over because Trump was elected, and I said, ‘Well, that’s cause you’re white. The shit’s never hit the fan for you before.’ So, part of it was thinking about how the shit has always been in the fan for us as blacks, and part of it was all these slave narratives being portrayed in pop culture and literature. 12 Years a Slave, give me a break! I am not interested in 12 Years a Slave. I’m interested in one hundred and eighty-five years a slave!”
Here we can see Everett’s similarities to Walt Whitman’s narration in the poem The Beasts. Both Everett and Whitman invoke a disdain for the whiners of the world, when in fact they have not much to whine about. I do not mean to be political and say that the election of Donald Trump is something that shouldn’t be seen as a destructive decision on the part of the U.S, I am purely pointing out Whitman and Everett’s perspective on, as Dave Chappelle put it, “brittle spirits”.
In a world where there are actual injustices why sit and complain about the small ones? I am currently finishing my History of Black Lives Matter class, where we trace Black oppression from before the Reconstruction Era to today, and how it lead to the Black Lives Matter movement. In this class we learned of the many racial injustices plaguing the U.S to this day. With an understanding of these forms of oppression today, I am personally peeved when I hear someone complain about the nominal things in life. When people complain that they are offended by something someone said such as “are you sure you want more food?”, or any other number of rude comments. Of course that person is rude, but we must think of these things in the perspective of what others around us go through. I do not meant to rant, I simply state these things because I found myself connecting to the thinking Everett and Whitman displayed in their respective texts.
In many of my blog posts I have talked about reserving scorn, about being more kind, but there is a very important distinction I believe I should make. Reserving scorn does not only mean to be kind to those you meet, it also means to move on from the scorn of others. When someone insults you, we can not let it beat us down, we can not let it define our future days. If we let scorn define who we are to become, we will not be what we could be. From personal experience, I was bullied as a kid. I was overweight, a consequence of genetics, and strange, a consequence of creativity. I, however, did not let my bullies determine my future. I lost weight, became my highschool’s rugby captain, and played with the band Wilco before 10,000 people. I know I can get too grand and philosophical with some of my blog posts, but I believe that understanding Whitman’s, Everett’s, and my thinking can help reserve scorn. We not only must reserve scorn against people we do not connect with, but with people who use scorn against us. An eye for an eye leaves the world blind, and it is incredible that a sentence is ever understood.