In paperback for the first time, the much-beloved satirical novel The New York Times praised as "both a treatise and a romp"
Baby Ralph has ways to pass the time in his cribbut they don't include staring at a mobile. Aided by his mother, he reads voraciously: "All of Swift, all of Sterne, Invisible Man, Baldwin, Joyce, Balzac, Auden, Roethke," along with a generous helping of philosophy, semiotics, and trashy thrillers. He's also fond of writing poems and stories (in crayon). But Ralph has limits. He's mute by choice and can't drive, so in his own estimation he's not a genius. Unfortunately for him, everyone else disagrees. His psychiatrist kidnaps him for testing, and once his brilliance is quantified (IQ: 475), a Pentagon officer also abducts him. Diabolically funny and lacerating in its critique of poststructuralism, Glyph has the feverish plot of a thriller and the philosophical depth of a text by Roland Barthes. If anyone can map the wilds of literary theory, it's Ralph, one of Percival Everett's most enduring creations.
|Product dimensions:||5.74(w) x 8.18(h) x 0.66(d)|
About the Author
Percival Everett is the author of more than twenty books. He is the recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the PEN Center USA Award for Fiction. He teaches at the University of Southern California and lives outside Los Angeles.
Read an Excerpt
By Percival Everett
Graywolf PressCopyright © 1999 Percival Everett
All right reserved.
My father was a poststructuralist and my mother hated his guts. They did not know - how could they have known? - that by the age of ten months I not only comprehended all that they were saying but that I was as well marking time with a running commentary on the value and sense of their babbling. I lay helplessly on my back and stared up at their working mouth parts, like the mandibles of grasshoppers at work, mindless in their activity.
One evening, my father looked down at me, my mother standing beside him. He was not a fat man, but he was bloated, moving as if he were larger than he actually was. His face looked pulpy and I wanted to, and often did, squeeze his fleshy cheeks and pull. He hated that, and my insistence on doing it, coupled with my lack of speech, led him to say, "Maybe he's mildly retarded."
"Maybe, he's just stupid," my mother said and so stationed herself in my thinking as the brighter of the two. I smiled my baby smile at her, unnerving her on a level that her speech kept her from knowing. "Look at him," she said. "He's smiling as if he knows something."
"Gas," my father said. "He can't be stupid." He was bothered by the thought. "Look at me. Look at us. How can he be stupid?" What an imbecile.
"Lots of geniuses come from people of average or even less-than-average intelligence," she said.
Never were truer words spoken and they hung in the air like a tenacious perfume. My father fanned his nose and stroked the thin beard of which he was so proud and for which he cared like a garden. I looked away from his pudgy cheeks to my mother's soft features. Oedipal concerns aside, I preferred the company of my mother, not simply because of the comfort of her softness and somewhat more compassionate nature, but because she possessed a native intelligence, a subhuman mind, though nothing negative is meant by that, an ability to abandon cohesion to what my father would call the signified. But he, for all his gum-bumping could not begin to understand not only the disconnection, but the connection itself, falling repeatedly into the same trap, the thought that he not only could talk about meaning, but that he could make it.
Unties of Simulacrum
Although they were well on their way to separate ways, I moved things along one evening. I lifted my father's fountain pen from his shirt pocket as he was putting me down for the night. I was nearly one year old and the time and I used his pen to write the following on my crib sheet (pardon my pun):
why should ralph speak ralph does not like the sound of it ralph watches the mouths of others from words and it looks so uncomfortable lips look ugly to ralph when they are moving ralph needs books in his crib ralph does not wish to rely on the moving lips for knowledge ralph does not like peas ralph is sorry he stole da-da's pen
The following morning I awoke to my mother screaming. "Douglas! Douglas!" she called to my father.
Inflato came running to her, his mouth frothy with teeth cleaner.
"Look," she said. "Look at that." She pointed into my crib. I scooted over so they could see better.
"It's not funny," Inflato said.
"I know it's not funny." She looked at him looking at her. "I didn't write it."
"Enough already. It's not funny."
"Did you write it?" she asked.
"No I did not. Does that look like my handwriting?"
"Well does it look like mine?" she shot back.
He stormed out. I could hear him spitting into the sink in the other room. My mother remained and she was staring at me. She believed that my father had not written the message and she know that she had not and, barring some very strange intruder from this realm or another, I was the only other suspect. She left the room and returned quickly with a book, which she opened and handed to me upside down. I turned it over and began to read. She took it back and again gave it to me with the words turned over. Again, I righted the book and read.
"You understand?" she asked.
A weird giggle escaped from her throat and she swallowed it as quickly as it had been issued. She looked as if she were contemplating calling my father back into the room, but she didn't. "And you can read?" she asked.
I nodded once more.
She took the book and read aloud from the first page. At least, she pretended to read from it, as she made up some drivel about bears and a blond girl. I shook my head. She then read, "'One: The world is all that is the case. One-point-one: The world is a totality of facts, not things.'"
Excerpted from Glyph by Percival Everett Copyright © 1999 by Percival Everett. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I picked this up because I really enjoyed "Erasure" by the same author. Unfortunately I didn't find this one nearly as good. The premise of the "plot" part of the book is a baby who refuses to speak, but is can read, write and appreciate literature and literary criticism. I enjoyed this part of the book and did actually laugh out loud once or twice at the baby's wry comments. However, this only constitutes a small part of the book with the rest being made up with satires involving figures from literary criticism. Much of this went over my head. I'm not completely ignorant, and know a little about the subject, but not enough to appreciate the humour of these sections. I found myself skipping these chunks just to get to the "plot" parts, which were sadly too few.
There is nothing better than great satire, especially a great satire of the literary criticism of the 1960s and 1970s - the kind of satire that has you laughing out loud at conversations between Bruneau and Thales (Bruneau: Would you like some water? Thales: Very funny.), God and Barthes, Wittgenstein and Russell, and many others.Glyph, according to its cover, is a novel, but the book is much more than that. There are tidbits of anatomically themed poetry, literary theory, and seemingly random dialogues wrapped around the central text, which are the memoirs of Ralph, age four, reminiscing about his infancy. Ralph is no ordinary child; he is gifted, although no one realizes it, since he will not talk. Then Ralph one day writes a note to his mother. He has a gift for language, which he displays through reading and writing, not speaking. Incidentally, the first book he read was not written by A. A. Milne - it was by Wittgenstein.Ralph has an interesting childhood - his father is a "postructuralist pretender" and his mother is an artist. With the best intentions, they take Ralph to see a psychologist, the evil Dr. Steimmel, and there his adventures begin. He is kidnapped, then kidnapped from the kidnappers. Along the way, Ralph tells the reader what he really thinks of "that Derrida guy" and a whole slew of other has-beens in academic circles, always with Barthes appearing in snippets of conversation, to say, among other things, "I am French, you know."One might assume that the plot plays second fiddle to Ralph's commentaries. On the contrary, the plot is engrossing. I laughed at the satire and cried for Ralph. It was quite an emotional roller coaster, and I reveled in every minute of it. Glyph takes literature to new horizons. I highly recommend it, even if the reader has no experience with literary criticism. Sifting through the jargon for the plot is worth the trouble.