The Great (White) Wail: Percival Everett’s The Water Cure and Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia
Percival Everett’s The Water Cure asserts that revenge is the US body politic’s calm, right, and proper function. Emerging from John Locke’s functional revenge fantasy, Everett’s novel slices apart Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), especially Query XIV and its white supremacist disquisition that culminates with the infamous “But never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration….” As if in responding to Jefferson’s racist claim, narrator Ishmael Kidder eschews even the appearance of “plain narration,” churns the novel’s “fragments” into a tour de force of philosophical and aesthetic retribution, and forces Jefferson’s work to stand in for the person who may never be punished for raping and murdering Kidder’s daughter.
My thanks to William M. Harrison for reading many versions of this essay.
- Brady, Nicholas. 2013. “Looking for Azealia’s Harlem Shake, or How We Mistake the Politics of Obliteration for Appropriation.” Out of Nowhere: Black Meditations at the Cutting Edge. https://outofnowhereblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/looking-for-azealias-harlem-shake-or-how-we-mistake-the-politics-of-obliteration-for-appropriation/.
- Dittman, Jonathan. 2013. “‘Knowledge2 +certainty2 = squat2’: (Re)Thinking Identity and Meaning in Percival Everett’s The Water Cure.” In Perspectives on Percival Everett, edited by Keith B. Mitchell and Robin G. Vander. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi (Kindle).Google Scholar
- Edwards, Owen. 2012. “How Jefferson Created His Own Bible.” Smithsonian Magazine. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/how-thomas-jefferson-created-his-own-bible-5659505/.
- Erkkila, Betsy. 2004. Mixed Bloods and Other Crosses: Rethinking American Literature from the Revolution to the Culture Wars. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
- Everett, Percival. 1990. Zulus. Sag Harbor, NY: The Permanent Press.Google Scholar
- ———. 2004. “Percival Everett.” Interview by Rone Shavers. Bomb (Summer): 46–51.Google Scholar
- ———. 2007a. The Water Cure. Saint Paul: Graywolf Press.Google Scholar
- ———. 2014. “Introduction.” The Jefferson Bible, 11–31. New York: Akashic Books.Google Scholar
- Everett, Percival, and James Kincaid. 2013. A History of the African–American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond, as Told to Percival Everett & James Kincaid (A Novel). New York: Akashic Books.Google Scholar
- ———. 2015. “Philosophy in the Basement: The Heritage of Ancient Greek Philosophy in Percival Everett’s The Water Cure.” In Troubled Legacies: Heritage/Inheritance in American Minority Literatures, edited by Michel Feith and Claudine Raynaud, 49–68. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Google Scholar
- Griggs, Sutton E. (Sutton Elbert). 1899. Imperium in Imperio: A Study of the Negro Race Problem, a Novel. Public Domain (Kindle).Google Scholar
- Iannini, Christopher. 2010. “Notes on the State of Virginia and the Natural History of the Haitian Revolution.” Clio 40 (1): 63–85.Google Scholar
- Jefferson, Thomas. 1785. Notes on the State of Virginia. Edited by Frank C. Shuffelton. New York: Penguin, 1999.Google Scholar
- Landsburg, Steve. 2013. “Censorship, Environmentalism, and Steubenville.” The Big Questions. Blog, 20 March 2013. http://www.thebigquestions.com/2013/03/20/censorship-environmentalism-and-steubenville/.
- Locke, John. 1689. Second Treatise of Government. Edited by Richard H. Cox. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1982.Google Scholar
- Morrison, Toni. 1970. The Bluest Eye. New York: Vintage, 2007.Google Scholar
- “Muscicapidae.” https://www.britannica.com/animal/Muscicapidae.
- Purchas, Samuel. 1625. Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas His Pilgrimes: Contayning a History of the World in Sea Voyages and Lande Travells by Englishmen and Others. http://archive.org/stream/cu31924065777728/cu31924065777728_djvu.txt.
- Sandhu, S. S. 1998. “Ignatius Sancho and Laurence Sterne.” Research in African Literature 29 (4) (Winter): 88–105.Google Scholar
- Shuffelton, Frank C. 1999. “Introduction” to Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, xvii–xxxi. 1785. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
- Silva, Eduardo Bonilla. 2013. Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
- Tissut, Anne Laure. 2014. “Percival Everett’s The Water Cure: A Blind Read.” Sillages Critiques 17. http://sillagescritiques.revues.org/3496?lang=en#text.