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  • Look Away! The U.S. South in New World Studies ed. by Jon Smith and Deborah Cohn
  • Julie M. Weise
Look Away! The U.S. South in New World Studies. Edited by Jon Smith and Deborah Cohn. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.

While it has become commonplace to study the U.S. Southwest and Northern Mexico in a “borderlands” framework, the map of these borderlands has remained remarkably stable. In Look Away! more than twenty literature and humanities scholars nudge the zone of cultural overlap eastward in an ambitious and wide-ranging collection of essays that challenges conventions of region and nation in the U.S. South and Latin America. The essays, which range in time period from the mid-nineteenth to late-twentieth centuries, apply comparative and transnational frameworks to highlight similarities and connections among the histories and literary subjectivities of two supposedly-disparate regions. In so doing, the contributors use Latin America as a counterpoint through which to evaluate the promises and problems of utilizing postcolonial theory in historical and literary analyses of the U.S. South.

The Introduction, “Uncanny Hybridities,” sets forth a framework for interpreting the history and literature of the U.S. South through the lens of postcoloniality. The editors suggest that the Civil War could be viewed not as a rupture in the region’s history, but rather as merely one more step in Northern capitalists’ attempts to reap the economic benefits of the South’s black labor force and natural resources (3). In this sense, they expand earlier arguments by C. Vann Woodward to argue that the South has much in common with Latin America. Following the lead of theorists such as Dipesh Chakrabarty and Rey Chow, they contend that studying the South as both conqueror and conquered, both U.S. self and U.S. other, highlights the need to move beyond binaries of “colonizer” and “colonized” in postcolonial studies. Thus, the globalization of Southern studies, more so than the globalization of Latin American studies, becomes the collection’s main goal.

Part one, “The U.S. South and the Caribbean,” includes seven essays which seek to remap the U.S. South as part of the Caribbean, the Black Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico (22). For example, George B. Handley’s “A New World Poetics of Oblivion” calls for scholars to adopt a new region of analysis, “Plantation America.” Utilizing a comparative framework, Handley shows that the histories writers struggle in vain to recover from oblivion — histories of slavery and indigenousness which are often prominent in national narratives — are actually hemispheric, not national, in their resonance. Focusing on connections between the U.S. South and the Caribbean, Karen Silvia Gruesz and Gustavo Pérez Firmat focus on the intertwined processes of Southern and Latin American identity formation among Mexican and Cuban exiles in 19th-century New Orleans, and a “Carolina Cuban” writer in the 1990s, respectively.

The five essays in the second section, “Rethinking Race and Region,” explore the limits and possibilities of utilizing a transnational, postcolonial framework for investigating race and identity formation in the U.S. South. For example, Scott Romine cautions that a postcolonial framework should not enable scholars to equate white Southerners with people of color in Asia and Africa, but finds it useful in investigating Southern identities born of trauma. Richard King’s essay re-conceives of Richard Wright in his later years as an intellectual not just of the U.S. South, but of the global black diaspora.

Because of his importance to Latin American writers, William Faulkner becomes a critical site of literary investigation into U.S. South-Latin American connections in Part Three, “William Faulkner and Latin America.” The six essays in this section reveal Faulkner to be a multivalent influence on Latin American writers. Faulkner at once has enjoyed the privilege of whiteness and written through the trauma of defeat; his voice has both fortified and dominated the postcolonial voices of the Latin American writers who have come under his influence. For example, Helen Oakley shows how the U.S. government exploited Faulkner’s resonance with Latin American writers to give moral authority to the United States’ Cold War agenda in...

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