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Finding Purple America

The South and the Future of American Cultural Studies

Jon Smith

Publication Year: 2013

The new southern studies has had an uneasy relationship with both American studies and the old southern studies. In Finding Purple America, Jon Smith, one of the founders of the new movement, locates the source of that unease in the fundamentally antimodern fantasies of both older fields.

The old southern studies tends to view modernity as a threat to a mystic southern essence—a dangerous outside force taking the form of everything from a "bulldozer revolution" to a "national project of forgetting." Since the rise of the New Americanists, American studies has also imagined itself to be in a permanent crisis mode, seeking to affiliate the field and the national essence with youth countercultures that sixties leftists once imagined to be "the future." Such fantasies, Smith argues, have resulted in an old southern studies that cannot understand places like Birmingham or Atlanta (or cities at all) and an American studies that cannot understand red states.

Most Americans live in neither a comforting, premodern Mayberry nor an exciting, postmodern Los Angeles but rather in what postcolonialists call "alternative modernities" and "hybrid cultures" whose relationships to past and future, to stability and change, are complex and ambivalent. Looking at how "the South" has played in global metropolitan pop culture since the nineties and at how southern popular and high culture alike have, in fact, repeatedly embraced urban modernity, Smith masterfully weaves together postcolonial theory, cultural studies, Lacanian psychoanalysis, and, surprisingly, marketing theory to open up the inconveniently in-between purple spaces and places that Americanist and southernist fantasies about "who we are"have so long sought to foreclose.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: The New Southern Studies


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pp. 1-1

Title Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-xv

This did not start out to be a book about fantasies. It started out as an attempt to understand why a couple dozen literary scholars of my generation— scholars whose work would eventually be called the new southern ...

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Introduction. What Does an American Studies Scholar Want?

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pp. 1-26

What does it mean to be hip in the twenty- first century? If you’re a baby boomer, particularly in academia, you may still think it has something to do with vocal countercultural politics, with sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll, ...

Part I: Disrupting Everyone’s Enjoyment

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pp. 27-47

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One. Songs That Move Hipsters to Tears: Johnny Cash and the New Melancholy

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pp. 29-49

In her afterword to the 2004 essay collection Loss, Judith Butler applauds “a new kind of scholarship that seeks to bring theory to bear on the analysis of social and political life, in particular, to the temporality of social and ...

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Two. German Lessons: On Getting Over a Lost Supremacy

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pp. 50-64

As displacements of irresponsible white melancholy, the escapist enjoyments of old southern studies scholars and of melancholy hipsters are hardly the worst responses to modernity one encounters. As I was finishing this ...

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Three. Our Turn: On Gen X, Wearing Vintage, and Neko Case

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pp. 65-86

People who aren’t of Naomi Klein’s generation and class may feel little sympathy or even patience toward the bourgeois anomie she chronicles at the opening of “Alt.Everything,” the third chapter ...

Part II:Reconciliations with Modernity

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pp. 87-107

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Four. Two Ties and a Pistol: Faulkner, Metropolitan Fashion, and “the South”

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pp. 89-105

Sometimes the trivia of everyday life can be hard to find pleasure in. One reason my wife and I loved Birmingham so much is that we had moved there from a small town in Mississippi (where my wife had been teaching at a small ...

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Five. Flying without Wings: Race, Civic Branding, and Identity Politics in Two Twenty- first century American Cities

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pp. 106-125

On March 2, 2003, when readers of the Boston Globe opened their Sunday papers and turned to the Parade magazine inside, they may have noticed, with St. Patrick’s Day fast approaching, the full- page Franklin Mint ...

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Six. In the Garden

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pp. 126-135

In May 2003 I was walking through Kew Gardens—the horticultural equivalent of the British Museum—with my English half- sister when we came upon a small ornamental tree. Though a gardener—like seemingly everybody else in England—she was unfamiliar with it. I wasn’t, but we read ...


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pp. 137-150

Works Cited

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pp. 151-164


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pp. 165-176

E-ISBN-13: 9780820345727
E-ISBN-10: 0820345725
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820333212
Print-ISBN-10: 0820333212

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: The New Southern Studies
Series Editor Byline: Jon Smith and Riché Richardson, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 843113654
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Finding Purple America

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Southern States -- Study and teaching.
  • Southern States -- Civilization.
  • United States -- Study and teaching.
  • United States -- Civilization.
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