- Two Takes on the Latest Late South
John Lowe's edited collection Bridging Southern Cultures: An Interdisciplinary Approach and Martyn Bone's The Postsouthern Sense of Place in Contemporary Fiction both suppose that whether one thinks that the word southern has any real meaning in our time or not, there still is much to be said about the South. Although the host of groundbreaking essays Lowe has collected into his volume suggests nothing so clearly when they are read together as the wide range of contemporary academic approaches to southernness, the importance of the varied essays that inspire such a collection is affirmed when read alongside The Postsouthern Sense of Place, which underscores how much singular approaches to southernness have left out of our view. Bone, whose book takes up the gauntlet that Lowe's collection throws down, reassesses the end of the South as the Agrarians and neo-Agrarians have defined it in popular culture and literary studies and reconsiders "sense of place" and what the phrase may mean in the Sun Belt South. While there certainly is much with which to argue in Bone's project, his attention to the newest New South via southern expatriates, the urban and suburban South, and the ways in which southernness may be packaged and abstracted by markets, is right on time. [End Page 148]
Lowe begins Bridging Southern Cultures with a discussion of the state of southern studies' efforts to develop a workable "cultural theory" for the region and indicates the purpose of the volume is to "alert readers to the possibilities ahead for the field of southern studies." He points out that there is more to the South than the patrician tradition cited by Aunt Emily in Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, and suggests that the interdisciplinary nature of southern studies will be vital to adding "'good things' . . . to that list." Indeed, though few of the thirteen essays that follow his introduction are likely to make an expert out of the careful reader on their varied topics—musical quartets, pottery, autobiographies, and so forth—the diversity of approaches is impressive, and seems meant to provide more of a taste than a meal in any case. The first of the three major sections, focusing on life writing, includes an essay by William L. Andrews on Mississippi autobiographies and another by Thadious M. Davis on African Americans reclaiming southern identities. The two longer sections of the book, on the arts and on southern history, include among others such wide-ranging contributions as Sue Bridwell Beckam's essay on Depression-era post office art, Anne Goodwyn Jones on "Southernists in Theoryland," and Henry D. Shapiro on the development of theories of Appalachia.
Neither environmental studies nor the urban South get much of a nod here, but certainly there is something from a prominent scholar for almost everyone else—from Faulkner studies to the South Carolina State House flag controversy to John Shelton Reed's delightful "The South's Midlife Crisis." If there is any criticism to be made of Lowe's selections, it is primarily to wonder what one is to do with such a wide-ranging cornucopia other than to dip in at random for pleasure reading: as while each of these exemplary essays works in its own way toward an expanding theory of southernness, some explicitly and some implicitly, its multiplicity means that no clear overarching theory ever appears in the sequence, nor do many of the pieces actively converse with one another. As Lowe acknowledges at the beginning, the idea for this book came out of an American Studies Association panel and then accreted over a number of years. In fact, as its genesis suggests, it may usefully be read as a "best of" collection. Bridging Southern Cultures is less of a bridge, then, than a vista, though the view is of grand, almost but not quite familiar real estate.
Like Lowe, Martyn...