Plantation Cartographies and Chronologies
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Plantation Cartographies and Chronologies
Cotton's Queer Relations: Same-Sex Intimacy and the Literature of the Southern Plantation, 1936-1968, Michael P. Bibler. University of Virginia Press, 2009.
Our South: Geographic Fantasy and the Rise of National Literature, Jennifer Rae Greeson. Harvard University Press, 2010.
American Mediterranean: Southern Slaveholders in the Age of Emancipation, Matthew Pratt Guterl. Harvard University Press, 2008.
The Plantation in the Postslavery Imagination, Elizabeth Christine Russ. Oxford University Press, 2009.

In his 1975 essay, "Caribbean Man in Space and Time," Edward Kamau Brathwaite argued for "the concept of inter-structure; that is, the interaction between inner and outer plantation, inner and outer metropole, and the lateral and diagonal relationships between these" (11). His interdisciplinary intervention was aimed in part at writing on the "plantation system," a critique of colonialism that "run[s] the hazard of becoming as much tool as tomb of the system that it seeks to understand and transform" (4). Against such studies of the "outer plantation," which positioned Caribbean agriculture in a dependent relationship to imperial centers, Brathwaite inquires into the "inner plantation," or "cultural life and expression," in order to reveal local agency and creativity (6). Such scholarship, he explained, not only illuminates post-slavery Caribbean cultures—which, he contended, had been largely neglected by researchers—but also provides new insight into global space and time by combining closer attention to local experience with broader, less binary analysis of geographic and economic relations; studies of "inter-structure" would (9), for example, yield new understanding of expressions from the "inner metropole" (8) and a more critical view of the relationship between "'traditional' and 'modern'" (11).

Although Brathwaite's topic and especially the moment of his essay differ from mine, his central questions regarding space and time remain vital and vexing for plantation studies. Whereas Brathwaite writes of research on the Caribbean, the texts reviewed here focus, to a significant degree, on the US South, and each testifies—in part for that reason—to the need for greater nuance in positioning the plantation in relation to global modernity. In the decades since Brathwaite's essay, scholars have created abundant, [End Page 842] productive research on how slavery in the Americas participated in the developing capitalist world, but writing on the US South has also prominently featured a competing postulate that describes the region as culturally isolated. As these authors explain, this thesis has been put forth in writing produced within the region and without, from the colonial era to the present, so they share Brathwaite's concern that an "inherited concept" in studies of the plantation might restrict efforts to understand it (6). Wary as we should be that any representation of the plantation (fictional or scholarly, written in any language of the Americas) must contend with the profusion of images and arguments that precede it, the books reviewed here suggest that parameters previously established (and often illustrated with iconic images) continue to obscure our view.

Such inquiries into spatial demarcations that once seemed secure exemplify two related subfields emerging since the late 1990s; both hemispheric American studies and new (US) southern studies have influenced and should benefit from the volumes under review here.1 As the editors of the collection Hemispheric American Studies (2008) explain, such scholarship approaches "distinct regions in the Americas . . . as products of overlapping, mutually inflecting fields" (Levander and Levine 3), and the plantation—as the editors of Look Away! The U.S. South in New World Studies (2004) propose—constitutes a likely focus for such research, because it became a crucial economic form in regions of North, Central, and South America as well as throughout the Caribbean islands (Smith and Cohn 2). Thus Matthew Pratt Guterl's American Mediterranean: Southern Slaveholders in the Age of Emancipation (2008) provides insight into the practices and ideologies of US slaveholders by situating them among a multilingual, international class—"the master class of the Americas" (6)— and Jennifer Greeson's Our South: Geographic Fantasy and the Rise of National Literature (2010) reveals how the imperialist aspects of US nationalism were formed through interaction with the nation's plantation zones as well as their counterparts further south. Even as such...