Southern Cultures 9.3 (2003) 107-108
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South to the Future: An American Region in the Twenty-first Century. Edited by Fred Hobson. Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lectures, Number 44. The University of Georgia Press, 2002. 108 pp. Cloth $24.95
Georgia, like all southern states, boasts its own traditions. In April there is the Masters, where broadcast money is less important than the exquisite pleasures of total control of the event, where the field is restricted, where elderly white gentlemen with first names like Hootie talk about golf shots of yore, and where seeing the front nine of Augusta National on television is headline news. In the fall there is the Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lecture Series. With forty-four repetitions, the Lamar Lectures are twenty-three years junior to the Masters. But the hold of "tradition" is no less authoritative.
Introductions to serial volumes, like announcements from the first tee, stress continuity, reminding the reader of the champions of the past who have traversed the course: Donald Davidson (the inaugural lecturer—the Bobby Jones of the series), Cleanth Brooks, Walter Sullivan, Lewis Simpson—a roster of the Gene Sarazens, Arnold Palmers, and Slammin' Sammy Sneads of southern literary criticism and history. The benefactress of the Lamar Lectures is "Dolly" Blount Lamar, superbly connected by birth and marriage to the elite of the South when the upper-case "S" was automatic. Eugenia Dorothy Blount Lamar (1867-1955) was a daughter of the South reared in the furnace of Reconstruction. She was Southern Conservatism to the backbone—the kind of antimodern, antiprogressive, static "drag" that Gunnar Myrdal and his ilk loved to hate. President-General of the Georgia Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Mrs. Lamar resisted change as she would have resisted Sherman. She spoke out to the Georgia legislature against votes for women, warning the men that extending the franchise to women would jeopardize white political control. At the premier of [End Page 107] Selznick's Gone With the Wind in 1939, she averred that the film was absolutely true to historical fact. Although she died before the first lecture, it is safe to bet that she would have approved of the choice of Donald Davidson in 1957.
One wonders, though, what Dolly would have made of the millennium volume. To acknowledge the new age, the Lamar Lectures committee changed the format from individual lecturer to a symposium. Fred Hobson, editor of No. 44, claims that "change [is] the keynote of these lectures." "If one is looking for a revolutionary age in the U.S. South," he continues, "it is upon us, and the essays in this volume wrestle mightily with its perils and its promise." But tradition holds its own against revolution. The editor and three of the contributors have deep University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill connections: Hobson, Linda Wagner-Martin, and Joel Williamson are professors there. Thadious Davis is a former member of the faculty. Randall Kenan, whose work is the subject of half of Davis's stylish and provocative essay, is a graduate. As with Augusta National, new members to the club are scarce. Many potential members are named in the introduction and in some of the essays—as leading platoons of cultural critics in the "revolutionary age"—but in the essays themselves one more often encounters old duffers like C. Vann Woodward and W. J. Cash.
Suspicion of the new runs deep in this symposium. Only Davis seems happy to break the hegemony of traditional canons of genre and of the critic's voice and function. Williamson's essay takes up Woodward's venerable attempt to explain the Southern Renaissance, and seems content with the master's understanding of novelists as enigmatic as wizards and their works as mysteries quite separate from the world historians deal with. Edward Ayers, a historian of the South also quite haunted by Woodward, closes the volume with an imaginative monologue by a Generation X'er extrapolated to 2076. "The Inevitable Future of the South," according to Ayers, is to be "consolidated...