Naming, Not Naming and Nonsense in I am Not Sidney Poitier

Auteur : Claudine RAYNAUD


I am Not Sidney Poitier relies primarily on the joke of the hero being named by his mother “Not Sidney”, a pun that amounts to a “negative” identity or an identity in negation and difference, but that thus opens up a reflection on names and naming. An irreverent reference to (un)naming and to being called out of one’s name, or even to Homer’s “No name”, the text indeed stages a cynical twist on African American nomination and its troubled history. In the wake of Erasure, it explores once again the relationship between language and being, being and meaning, as it revisits the major films in which Poitier starred and simultaneously gestures, among others, towards Ellison’s Invisible Man and Melvin Van Peeble’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and their picaresque plotlines. The corrosive humor relies on constant wordplays and non-sequiturs and a foregrounding of the letter in the dialogues. It also rests on the comic portrayal of characters, such as Ted Turner and Jane Fonda, America’s cultural icons par excellence. Percival Everett “himself” (?) plays the part of a Professor of nonsense in an autofictional mise en abyme of his own writing and authorship. I will focus in this paper on the proper name, an existential emptying out of what stands for identity and uniqueness, here functioning as a sign (of negation) in the “signifyin’” chain. While debunking Hollywood’s use and abuse of the magical Negro, Not Sidney addresses the philosophical definitions of nonsense and negation, the fraud of self-identity, and tests the limits of narrative coherence.


Claudine Raynaud is a Professor of English and American Studies at the Université Paul-Valéry, Montpellier III. She has taught in England and the United States (Michigan, Northwestern and Oberlin). A Fellow at the Du Bois Institute (Harvard, Fall 2005), she headed the nationwide African American Studies Research Group created in 2004 and works at the CNRS. She is the author of Toni Morrison : L’Esthétique de la survie (1995) and numerous articles on black autobiography. Her most significant publications are: “Coming of Age in the African American Novel,” The Cambridge Companion to the African American Novel (2004), ”Beloved or the Shifting Shapes of Memory,” The Cambridge Companion to Toni Morrison (2007) and an anthology of articles on Gloria Naylor (L’Harmattan, 2010). A Hurston scholar, she has just published an essay on her anthropological writing (Afromodernims, Edinburgh UP, 2013).

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Pour citer l'article

Claudine RAYNAUD « Naming, Not Naming and Nonsense in I am Not Sidney Poitier »,
Lectures du Monde Anglophone / LMA, 1, 2015,
Percival Everett

© Publications Electroniques de l’ERIAC, 2015.