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Reading for the Body

The Recalcitrant Materiality of Southern Fiction, 1893-1985

Jay Watson

Publication Year: 2012

Jay Watson argues that southern literary studies has been overidealized and dominated by intellectual history for too long. In Reading for the Body, he calls for the field to be rematerialized and grounded in an awareness of the human body as the site where ideas, including ideas about the U.S. South itself, ultimately happen.

Employing theoretical approaches to the body developed by thinkers such as Karl Marx, Colette Guillaumin, Elaine Scarry, and Friedrich Kittler, Watson also draws on histories of bodily representation to mine a century of southern fiction for its insights into problems that have preoccupied the region and nation alike: slavery, Jim Crow, and white supremacy; the marginalization of women; the impact of modernization; the issue of cultural authority and leadership; and the legacy of the Vietnam War. He focuses on the specific bodily attributes of hand, voice, and blood and the deeply embodied experiences of pain, illness, pregnancy, and war to offer new readings of a distinguished group of literary artists who turned their attention to the South: Mark Twain, Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Katherine Anne Porter, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Walker Percy.

In producing an intensely embodied U.S. literature these writers, Watson argues, were by turns extending and interrogating a centuries-old tradition in U.S. print culture, in which the recalcitrant materiality of the body serves as a trope for the regional alterity of the South. Reading for the Body makes a powerful case for the body as an important methodological resource for a new southern studies.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: The New Southern Studies

Front Matter

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pp. ix-x

Any project that takes as long as this one to come to fruition is bound to incur a multitude of intellectual and personal debts along the way. I’m delighted to be able to acknowledge . . .

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Introduction. Recalcitrant Materialities

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pp. 1-27

Early in 1923, Jean Toomer published a three- part poem, a triptych of sorts titled “Georgia Portraits,” in the inaugural issue of a little magazine called Modern Review. This material resurfaced in the book Toomer would . . .

Part One. Bodily Attributes

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One. Manual Discourse: A Problem in Mark Twain’s America

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pp. 31-86

In 1903 the practice of personal identification began a paradigm shift in America. It started with the arrival of a new inmate, Will West, at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. In processing West, the prison’s . . .

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Two. Listening for Zora: Voice, Body, and the Mediat(iz)ed Modernism of Jonah’s Gourd Vine and Moses, Man of the Mountain

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pp. 87-134

Even as it exposes the futility of nineteenth- century efforts to read identity from the body through visual inspection—of hands, skin, finger marks, and other physical indices—Pudd’nhead Wilson flirts with the possibility that . . .

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Three. Writing Blood: The Art of the Literal in William Faulkner’s Light in August

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pp. 135-156

For its August 1995 issue, the alternative music magazine Spin sent a correspondent, appropriately named Eurydice, to San Francisco to explore an emerging sexual subculture, an off shoot of the S/M scene whose . . .

Part Two. Embodied Experiences

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Four. Richard Wright’s Parables of Pain: Uncle Tom’s Children and the Making and Unmaking of a Southern Black World

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pp. 159-215

A century ago, W. E. B. Du Bois took the historical, cultural, and ontological predicament of African American sorrow and made it the basis of a theory of black soul. This theory, which drew in roughly equal parts on the . . .

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Five. Difficult Embodiment: Coming of Age in Katherine Anne Porter’s Miranda Stories

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pp. 216-261

Katherine Anne Porter’s “Miranda stories”—“The Old Order,” “Old Mortality,” and “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”—trace the coming of age of three generations of southern women in and against a turn- of-the- century plantation . . .

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Six. Reading War on the Body: The Example of Bobbie Ann Mason’s In Country

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pp. 262-304

When the subject is war, who has the knowledge, the authority—the right— to speak? Few questions can carry more civic, political, and moral urgency in an age such as ours, when war has come to threaten not just individual . . .

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Coda. Overreading (for) the Body: Walker Percy’s Cautionary Tale

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pp. 305-319

This book began with a rousing call for a body- oriented, materially grounded approach to the too- often idealized and over- intellectualized fi eld of southern literary studies. The next six chapters, drawing on roughly a century of . . .


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pp. 321-364

Works Cited

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pp. 365-398


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pp. 399-412

E-ISBN-13: 9780820343761
E-ISBN-10: 0820343765
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820343365
Print-ISBN-10: 0820343366

Page Count: 472
Illustrations: 9 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: The New Southern Studies