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Southern Cultures 7.1 (2001) 27-37

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The Well Wrought "Durn":
A Postmodern Writer in a Southern World

Anne Goodwyn Jones




Assignment: In the epigraphs below, kindly circle the terms associated with abstraction, generality, anywhere, anyone, and Platonic idealism, and underline those associated with concretion, particularity, somewhere, someone, and Aristotelian materialism.

The ideology of New Criticism began to crystallize: scientific rationalism was ravaging the "aesthetic life" of the old South, human experience was being stripped of its sensuous particularity, and poetry was a possible solution. The poetic response, unlike the scientific, respected the sensuous integrity of its object: it was not a matter of rational cognition but an affective affair which linked us to the "world's body" in an essentially religious bond. Through art, an alienated world could be restored to us in all its rich variousness.

--Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory, 46-7 [End Page 27]

"Shit, Southerners can't grasp anything that isn't couched in a Br'er Rabbit tale. They got cornmeal mush for brains," snarled Morris.

Raymond realized this was probably true. You asked Justin or Morris a question, and you got back statistics, or a quote. You asked Emily or him a question, and you got an interminable anecdote involving several generations, like an Old Testament chapter. He only hoped his condition was curable. He vowed to memorize some of the statistics he'd been reading.

--Lisa Alther, Original Sins, 252

I tried research one summer. I got interested in the role of the acid-base balance in the formation of renal calculi; really, it's quite an interesting problem. I had a hunch you might get pigs to form oxalate stones by manipulating the pH of the blood, and maybe even to dissolve them. A friend of mine, a boy from Pittsburg named Harry Stern, and I . . . presented the problem to Minor. He . . . gave us everything we wanted. . . . But then a peculiar thing happened. I became extraordinarily affected by the summer afternoons in the laboratory . . . I became bewitched by the presence of the building . . . I called Harry's attention to the presence but he shrugged and went on with his work. He was absolutely unaffected by the singularities of time and place.

--Walker Percy, The Moviegoer, 46-7

The terms of science are abstract symbols which do not change under the pressure of the context. . . . They are not to be warped into new meanings. But where is the dictionary which contains the terms of a poem? It is a truism that the poet is continually forced to remake language. . . . Rationally considered, the ideal language would contain one term for each meaning, and the relation between term and meaning would be constant. But the word, as the poet uses it, has to be conceived of, not as a discrete particle of meaning, but as a potential of meaning, a nexus or cluster of meanings.

--Cleanth Brooks, The Well Wrought Urn, 210

Binx Bolling: "If you walk in the front door of the laboratory, you undertake the vertical search. You have a specimen, a cubic centimeter of water or a frog or an inch of salt or a star."

"One learns general things?"

"And there is excitement to the search."

"Why?" she asks.

"Because as you get deeper into the search, you unify. You understand more and more specimens by fewer and fewer formulae. . . . Of course you are always after the big one, the new key, the secret leverage point, and that is the best of it."

"And it doesn't matter where you are or who you are."


"And the danger is of becoming no one nowhere."

"Never mind."

Kate parses it out with the keen male bent of her mind and yet with her woman's despair. . . . [End Page 28]

"On the other hand, if you sit back here and take a little carcass out of the garbage can, a specimen which has been used and discarded, there remains something left over, a clue?"

"Yes, but let's go."

--Walker Percy, The Moviegoer, 70

Let me proceed...


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