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After Southern Modernism

Fiction of the Contemporary South

Matthew Guinn

Publication Year: 2000

A provocative reckoning of the challenging new direction southern literature has taken in the works of nine authors

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The literature of the contemporary South might best be understood for its discontinuity with the literary past. At odds with traditions of the Southern Renascence, southern literature of today sharply refutes the Nashville Agrarians and shares few of Faulkner's and Welty's concerns about place, community, and history.

This sweeping study of the literary South's new direction focuses on nine well established writers who, by breaking away from the firmly ensconced myths, have emerged as an iconoclastic generation- -- Harry Crews, Dorothy Allison, Bobbie Ann Mason, Larry Brown, Kaye Gibbons, Randall Kenan, Richard Ford, Cormac McCarthy, and Barry Hannah. Resisting the modernist methods of the past, they have established their own postmodern ground beyond the shadow of their predecessors.

This shift in authorial perspective is a significant indicator of the future of southern writing. Crews's seminal role as a ground-breaking "poor white" author, Mason's and Crews's portrayals of rural life, and Allison's and Brown's frank portrayals of the lower class pose a challenge to traditional depictions of the South. The dissenting voices of Gibbons and Kenan, who focus on gender, race, and sexuality, create fiction that is at once identifiably "southern" and also distinctly subversive. Gibbons's iconoclastic stance toward patriarchy, like the outsider's critique of community found in Kenan's work, proffers a portrait of the South unprecedented in the region's literature. Ford, McCarthy, and Hannah each approach the South's traditional notions of history and community with new irreverence and treat familiar southern topics in a distinctly postmodern manner. Whether through Ford's generic consumer landscape, the haunted netherworld of McCarthy's southern novels, or Hannah's riotous burlesque of the Civil War, these authors assail the philosophical and cultural foundations from which the Southern Renascence arose.

Challenging the conventional conceptions of the southern canon, this is a provocative and innovative contribution to the region's literary study.

Matthew Guinn, formerly an instructor of English at the University of Mississippi, has published articles on southern literature in Southern Quarterly, South Atlantic Review, and Resources for American Literary Study.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xxviii

Postmodernity has come late to southern literature. As recently as the 1970s critics could still expect to encounter new regional fiction that adhered to the established modernist patterns and nuances of the Southern Renascence, could still hope to weather the distant yet disquieting developments of poststructuralism anticipating that the postmodern era might pass by and leave the southern critical industry relatively unscathed....

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Arcady Revisited: The Poor South of Harry Crews and Dorothy Allison

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pp. 1-34

The pastoral mode traditionally has been one of the predominant motifs of southern literature. From the early days of colonial writing, the American South has been characterized as a rural region, one in which the pace of the agricultural life largely dictated the mores...

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The New Naturalism of Larry Brown

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pp. 35-56

In the early 1980's authorship in the South took a quite but an auspicious turn: an Oxford, Mississippi, firefighter named Larry Brown sat down at a portable typewriter and began to teach himself how to write literary fiction. Like his

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Mediation, Interpolation: Bobbie Ann Mason and Kaye Gibbons

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pp. 57-90

So much has been made of Bobbie Ann Mason's status as the "last writer" that the distinction has become almost a cliche. In many southern literature courses either Shiloh and Other Stories In Country is listed as the last text in syllabi on twentieth-century writing, as if her work...

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Atavism and the Exploded Metanarrative: Cormac McCarthy's Journey to Mythoclasm

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pp. 91-109

In 1975 Vanderbilt critic and novelist Walter Sullivan, delivering the eighteenth annual Lamar Lectures at Mercer University, assessed the state of fiction in the modern South. His lecture was entitled "A Requiem for the Renascence," and in reviewing contemporary...

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Into the Suburbs: Richard Ford's Sportswriter as Postsouthern Expatriate

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pp. 110-137

In 1996 Richard Ford received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Independence Day, the sequel to his successful novel The Sportswriter (1986). The award placed him in the company of the other prominent southern writers who had received the prize, among them Robert Penn...

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Signifyin(g) in the South: Randall Kenan

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pp. 138-160

The tenor of contemporary southern literature is more than ever one of revision and renovation—at least among white authors. Yet the revisionist innovations reshaping white literary expression have long been characteristic of African American writing/ the impulse...

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Barry Hannah and the "Open Field" of Southern History

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pp. 161-179

The Civil War has been nearly ubiquitous in southern fiction. As Walter Sullivan has noted, "It is a fact that since 1865 Southern novelists have simply not been able to leave the Civil War alone" ("Southern Novelists" 112). Perhaps the most dramatic event in southern history, the Civil War has served the ideological purposes of generations of southern...

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Conclusion: No Jeremiad

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pp. 180-186

For nearly forty years the predominant mood of southern criticism has been, in Walter Sullivan's memorable formulation, melancholy. As the old order has waned and been replaced by a younger generation of writers less captivated by tradition, the shape of southern fiction has become more diffuse and eclectic— to the dismay of those who would interpret...


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pp. 187-190


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pp. 191-198


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pp. 199-202

E-ISBN-13: 9781604738896
E-ISBN-10: 1604738898
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578062737
Print-ISBN-10: 157806273X

Publication Year: 2000

OCLC Number: 606413506
MUSE Marc Record: Download for After Southern Modernism

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Subject Headings

  • American fiction -- Southern States -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Postmodernism (Literature) -- Southern States.
  • Southern States -- Intellectual life -- 1865-.
  • Southern States -- In literature.
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