- Perspectives on Percival Everetteds. by Keith B. Mitchell and Robin G. Vander, and: The Art of Percival Everett—Rewriting a Black American Narrativeed. by Anthony Stewart
Unless prefaced by notor un-, conventionalis a descriptor rarely, if ever, used in discussions of Percival Everett’s writing, so perhaps it should not be surprising that Keith Mitchell and Robin Vander’s Perspectives on Percival Everettis the first essay collection on this American writer’s work to be published in the United States (two earlier ones having appeared in France in 2007), or that another collection, edited by [End Page 790]Anthony Stewart, appeared in Canada a few months after the Mitchell and Vander book. Unlike the first French text, Reading Percival Everett: European Perspectives, edited by Claude Julien and Anne-Laure Tissut, Mitchell and Vander’s collection does not attempt to “trace [the] author’s evolution” as a writer. And unlike Percival Everett: Transatlantic Readings, edited by Tissut and Claire Maniez, Perspectives on Percival Everettdoes not focus on Everett’s most well-known novel, erasure. Instead, the pieces in Mitchell and Vander’s collection explore “Everett’s interest in identity as formed through language and the materiality of the body” (xiv) via nine new essays that cover a broad range of the author’s œuvre, from underappreciated early novels ( Suder, For Her Dark Skin, and Frenzy) to more recent ones ( American Desert, The Water Cure, and I Am Not Sidney Poitier) as well as examples of his short fiction and poetry. Stewart’s collection of ten essays, which also addresses a broad spectrum of Everett’s work, owes its genesis to a series of papers originally presented at the 2009 Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture, and subsequently revised and expanded for publication in a special Everett issue of Canadian Review of American Studies. (A special Everett section, as opposed to a full issue, was published in Callaloo28.2 .)
I begin by examining the Mitchell and Vander tome. Given this collection’s focus on identity, Jonathan Dittman’s “‘knowledge 2+ certainty 2= squat 2’: (re)Thinking Identity and Meaning in Percival Everett’s The Water Cure” provides a fitting opening essay. Against a theoretical backdrop drawn from the work of Foucault and Barthes, Dittman convincingly argues that Everett uses his 2007 novel “to frame his argument on how people do not exist with a preestablished identity or definition” and to demonstrate how cultural ideologies “can be confronted or altered through the language used to define them, thereby changing the interpretations that had previously existed” (3). Dittman’s comments on Everett’s use of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in particular not only offer insight into The Water Curebut help pave the way for a deeper understanding of Everett’s broader project as it plays out, for example, in his recent novel Percival Everett by Virgil Russell.
Lacan’s Seminars undergird the ensuing essay, Sarah Mantilla Griffin’s study of “forclusion” in I Am Not Sidney Poitier. Griffin aptly sees the novel as “a meditation on language and subjectivity” (21) and does a fine job of putting the text through its Lacanian paces, but in the end she seems bent on diagnosing Not Sidney, whom she understands to be “partially delusional” as opposed to “completely psychotic” (31), at the expense of considering the authorial playfulness that accompanies the protagonist’s struggles for identity and meaning. Happily, Richard Schur demonstrates aplomb in balancing the comic and serious threads of Everett’s fiction in his essay on American Desert, which he regards, in part, “as a postmodern allegory about the perils of abstract identities that are almost completely constructed and distinct from actual lived experience” (78). Although keenly aware of the work of Descartes and other philosophers who have wrestled with the mind-body split, Schur is not about to let...