- Rooting Memory, Rooting Place: Regionalism in the Twenty-First-Century American South by Christopher Lloyd
Despite its focus on an eclectic array of twenty-first-century texts, Christopher Lloyd’s Rooting Memory, Rooting Place is self-consciously a work of traditional southern literary studies. Early on, Lloyd takes his stand against “the postsouthern—and the interlocking discourses of the global south and new southern studies” (2). Given the radical reconstruction of southern studies over the last fifteen years or so, there is something bracing about Lloyd’s intention “to argue for a rootedness to the South” that remains evident across a range of expressive forms: not only literature but also photography, television, and documentary film. Lloyd even “rehearse[s] Faulkner once again”—and the hoariest Faulkner quote at that—as he pithily insists the South “is ‘not even past’; it is not even ‘post’” (16).
I was unconvinced by two of the ways in which Lloyd situates Rooting Memory, Rooting Place against “critical theory today” (3). First, the introduction offers a dubiously selective depiction of how postsouthernism has been defined. Lloyd challenges three critics: Michael Kreyling, Scott Romine, and myself. He takes issue with Kreyling in particular for “expound[ing] a paradigmatic theory of the postsouth” as detached from regional history and “leaving only the residue of memory” (9). Yet Lloyd’s representation of the postsouthernist view that “the South” survives only “in its reproductions, narrations, and derivations” (2–3) is a partial one. Lloyd acknowledges that my first book sought to tie the postsouthern to “a real material place” (8), but I also insisted that it must account for historical continuities and re-conceptualized it vis-à-vis historical-geographical materialism. This is rather different from presenting the “post,” as Lloyd does, as a radical (even irresponsible) break from regional history and geography and as synonymous with “amnesia” (91) or “deterritorialization” (137).
Second, Lloyd continuously conflates postsouthernism with transnationalism and the new southern studies. Thus we get repeated references to “transnational postsouthern scholarship” (50), “the postsouthern (or new southern studies)” (90), and “the connected disciplines of new southern studies and the postsouthern (as well as the connected movement of the transnational)” (91). Yet little postsouthernist scholarship has engaged with transnationalism: indeed, Romine and I have both argued that much postsouthern criticism remains parasitically mired in the regional because it reads contemporary writers’ intertextuality, irony, and parody only in relation to earlier southern authors (especially Faulkner). Lloyd also overstates the “dominating” role of “transnational and postsouthern [End Page 542] modes of analysis” (72) within new southern studies: for one thing, such transnational work has been mostly hemispheric; for another, he too often assumes that to take the transnational turn is (as with the postsouthern turn) to displace the regional.
In the first chapter, Lloyd focuses on how museums, monuments, and especially novels facilitate “memories of slavery” (21). He complains that Alan Rice’s work on Black Atlantic memorials “demonstrates a particular de-regionalizing tendency that is dominant in contemporary critical theory.” Maybe, but unlike Lloyd, scholars such as Rice and Paul Gilroy have no investment in “the South,” even as a “very specific instantiation” of slavery (28); is it fair to say, then, that Rice “displaces localized Southern examples of memorial practice” (20)? More compelling are Lloyd’s claims for southern “literary texts as moveable and ultimately plural monuments to history” (25). Focusing on Edward Jones’s The Known World and Valerie Martin’s Property, Lloyd’s strengths as a textual analyst emerge, albeit emphasizing certain scenes over broader assessments of each novel.
Chapter 2 considers various texts about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Again, Lloyd is keen to stress the South’s—especially New Orleans’s—regional identity. Yet I doubt many new southern studies scholars would dispute Lloyd’s claim that “the most ethical response to Katrina” is “to see its regionalism as well as its transnational or national coordinates” (55). The examples of an insufficiently regional approach to Katrina that Lloyd cites come from Americanists (Wai Chee Dimock and Walter Benn Michaels) rather...