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MORE BY PERCIVAL EVERETT

Yet whereas these by now traditional instances— whether in Charles Chesnutt, W. Not only does the novel include a double here that does not exist in the parodied hypotext, but the parody changes the racial set-up of the movie as the family to whom the black protagonist comes for dinner is light-skinned black rather than white.

And since this play is so obvious and in your face as the Not has to be spoken whenever its protagonist is directly addressed, I Am Not Sidney Poitier gives this de- vice another turn of the screw. In the context of the play, this phenomenon is used to thematize questions of family, estrangement, but also of racial identity in the late 20th- century United States. And while the play remains ambivalent as to whether or not the fake-Poitier is after human warmth or personal mone- tary gains, the central interest of the play is the quest for something real— real friendship, real attachments, and real family relations—in a world brimming with fakes, the search for substance in a world of surfaces.

Iron- ically, the only real thing Ouisa encounters in this play is the impostor who claims to be the son of Sidney Poitier. As part of its multi-leveled parody, the novel stages several episodes taken precisely not from the life of the actor but from his repertoire of acting performances, presenting Not Sidney live his way through the roles portrayed by his famous lookalike and thereby parodically restaging some of the most iconic African Ameri- can movie scenes of the 20th century.

That is to say, Not Sidney is linked to the black actor—an icon of African American achievement in the realm of pop- ular culture—and thus synecdochically stands in as the ultimate double, condemned never to be the real thing, and, being a mere negation, without Sidney would be nothing. Especially in unnatural narrations such as I Am Not, literary characters are not so much mimetic images of real human beings but, ra- ther, complicate such seemingly straightforward mimetic mirroring of re- ality in fiction.

It is this character—who is metafictional as creator of novels , metaleptical as author, who appears inside the diegesis , and intertextual as he is linked to Erasure and its intratextual reviews —who most clearly explodes the boundaries of mimetic representation and natu- ralizing readings.

If the link of reference of a personal name is broken, how can a complex construction like a novel—or any characters therein—be said to mean anything? Of course, the irony of all of this is that Not Sidney turns out to look exactly like Sidney so that the most arbitrary of signifiers—the name—stands in a non-arbitrary relationship to its signi- fied. Throughout these episodes, Not is repeatedly confronted with who he is—and who he is not—or, more precisely, with expectations of who he is and should be. Not only his role as Sidney Poitier-look- alike makes him—and us—question his identity; particularly as a fictional character, this interrogation also highlights the problematic notion of read- ing this character as mimetically representing somebody else, namely a real-life person whether Sidney Poitier or not.

Asked differently, what happens to an original if it can be substituted—even excelled—by the look- alike? Again, Not—and his literally dead ringer—are being reduced to their blackness and the two most stereotypical roles available for black characters, that of murder victim and murderous criminal. Not Sid- ney tells his own story precisely not as a dirge or a lament but rather in the form of comedy.

Hutch- eon, A Theory 84— Moreover, as a first-person narrator Not Sidney obvi- ously also operates under his own script. I thought that story was really gripping. Leigh, received for his parody of naturalistic black writing, Fuck.

Doing so the novel reveals itself as self-parody and metafictionally takes on the vagaries of representation as they misread Not Sidney in just the way we, as real readers, are prodded to misread the novel as black criticism of white misrecognition. Of course, this can be read as a criticism of the lack of knowledge of and respect for the cultural work of black actors such as Sidney Poitier, who are known as specimen of black success but whose actual work—let alone their true identity—re- mains unknown, unnoticed, and underappreciated.

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I was a chaser of whales. Now, the dead body is no longer the lookalike of Sidney Poitier, famous actor, but of Not Sidney Poitier. Neither is he a horse, nor is the race we are talking about a footrace— or a hoofrace, for that matter. No, our dead ringer is an unwitting impostor in the rat-race of American racial discourse, a reluctant participant in the quest for the real thing, of which he is expected to be an exact carbon copy. Here, the parodic play with original and copy cuts the mimetic link that expects black texts to present dead ringers of blackness in truly postblack fashion.

This relationship of fiction to social reality is crucially at stake in the novel, one dimension of which certainly has to do with the role of black- ness, both within the filmic oeuvre of Sidney Poitier and within the life story of Not Sidney. As Jared Sexton, Frank B.

More generally speaking, I remain hesitant to expect each and every black text always to position itself critically with respect to current social issues of race and rac- ism. After all, as I argue in my Postblack Aesthetics: The Freedom to Be Black in Contemporary African American Fiction, postblack art consciously claims the freedom from having to respond always—and single-mindedly—to racism. For the study of postblack literature more broadly, this has wide-ranging ramifications as it necessitates an approach that neither is simply celebra- tory of African American literature as a subversive counter-discourse by default nor one that views African American literature as a unitary project to begin with as Warren does in order to read it—and declare over—as a literature.

Therefore, we need to do justice to its formal playfulness, innovative liter- ary devices, and intertextual references rather than restrict ourselves to sin- gle-mindedly thematic readings of it through the lens of, for example, crit- ical race theory. Equally importantly, however, we also need to acknowledge that the two seemingly distinct realms of art and politics are inextricably interwoven, especially when dealing with African American literature in light of the continuing power of race today.

Second, we need to be careful not to read the novel predominantly mi- metically. As self- parody and a form of unnatural narration, it does eve- rything it can to destroy any simple referential relationship between text and world and thus refuses to be read as a realistic portrayal of contempo- rary black life.

Therefore it is paramount not to bring to these texts too narrowly con- ceived preconceptions of and expectations about what black literature is, can, or should do, even if we do so with the best of intentions. Even in mocking, parody reinforces; in formal terms, it inscribes the mocked conventions onto itself, thereby guaranteeing their continued existence. Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon.

Directed by Stanley Kramer. Harris, Keith M. New York: Routledge, Directed by Norman Jewison.

Sidney Poitier Movies List

Mason, Clifford. Neal, Mark Anthony.

I Am Not Sidney Poitier

Poitier, Sidney. Russett, Margaret. Stewart, Anthony. Directed by James Clavell. New York: Free Press, Watts, Jerry Gafio. Womack, Ytasha L.


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Chicago: Lawrence Hill, Young, Harvey. Detroit: University Michigan Press, Claudine Raynaud concluded that I am Not Sidney Poitier is a novel flirting with postmodernism and is ultimately about the dissemination of meaning as well as a criticism of the entertainment industry. She showed that the very strict routine observed by the main character in his everyday life is in fact an attempt to frame time and control the reality that surrounds him, until the unexpected resurfaces, first in the form of a phone call.

When he cannot master his own feelings anymore, he is caught up by time and pain, sent back into a world that escapes the categories he has been using so far.

I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett

Going west to spend time with his family, the character accepts to loosen his grip on reality, subjecting himself to a de-familiarization which compels him to reconsider his vision of the world as absolute. His obligation to acknowledge the complexity of a reality he had refused to accept leads him to reconsider his definition of the human. As John Livesey realizes that nothing is absolute, and that words eventually fail to express his feelings, he cannot make sense of what is happening to him and has no choice in the end but to let go, to simply take his place in a reality he cannot master.

All the interventions led to very stimulating discussions in which Percival Everett himself took part, along with the researchers and students who attended the event. American Studies Journal. Contents - Next document.