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Reviews409 Good Country People: An Irregular Journal of the Cultures of Eastern North Carolina. Essays by Stanley Knick, Chris Wilson, Alex Albright, Milton Quigless, and Tom Patterson. Edited by Arthur Mann Kaye. North Carolina Wesleyan College Press, 1995. 134 pp. Paper, $11.95. Plankhouse. By Shelby Stephenson, with photographs by Roger Manley. North Carolina Weslyan College Press, 1993. 79 pp. Cloth, $29.95; numbered and signed edition with one original print, $ 150. Reviewed by James Applewhite, professor ofEnglish at Duke University. The editor's introduction to Good Country People suggests that this fascinating volume is to be the first of a series. We should hope that this is so. These authors' fresh looks at the complex world of Eastern North Carolina are "irregular" only in their avoidance of academic jargon and any single specialized perspective. Culture as a plural promises a diversity that is immediately provided in the contrast between the first two essays. Stanley Knick's survey of the history and present circumstances of Native American populations in eastern North Carolina gives a brief working definition of culture, along with a series of Native American contributions to that dominant culture we live in and recognize as "ours." Chris Wilson's essay on eastern North Carolina architecture in the antebellum period, with its premise that certain forms embody beauty, works within a value system whose origins are explicitly European. This juxtaposition seems deliberate and in accord with the project of cultural mixture that culminates in the concluding piece: a description of the massively heterogeneous collection of objects in the Belhaven Memorial Museum. The concept behind this volume thus appears to be of a culture or cultures in eastern North Carolina that are of diverse and impure origins and of large, amorphous boundaries, but are distinctive , of interest, and worthy of serious investigation. The approaches include the archeological, the art historical, and the anecdotal. Yet Knick's definition of culture as a "system of shared meanings" does not grapple with the question "shared by whom?" Eva Blount's collection of snakeskins, whale bones, buttons, preserved animal fetuses (usually interestingly deformed), archaic industrial products , along with many further diversities, is used to overwhelm any boundary that might be drawn about this word "culture." Anything that Eva Blount found interesting (or "meaningful") in her almost three-quarters of a century of collecting (beginning in the late nineteenth century) found its way eventually into the Belhaven museum. Tom Patterson approaches its mélange anecdotally, in the company of Roger Manley. The implicit perspective is, I think, that of folk art or "outsider art"—an approach pioneered by Manley . The collection is praised for its lack of professional assemblage: "The random juxtapositions of objects often border on the surreal. Look to your right and there are shelves lined with jars of pickled tumors, fetuses, and snakes; and here on the left we have more than 100 different kinds of foreign currency." Visiting the museum is an art-like experience rather than one of understanding: "Touring this place is a bit like wandering through a theater-size Joseph Cornell assemblage box." Knick's culture as "a system of shared meanings" would seem to perish amid this multiplicity, the key to which is the mind of a single individual. If culture is anything, even a skeleton or a fetus, then how is it a useful category? On the other hand, if culture is a single tradition or style—the decorum of Georgian and Federal architecture handled so gracefully by Wilson, for example—then it may be elitist and exclusive. This volume sug- 410Southern Cultures gests a more rigorous struggle with the idea or issue of culture or cultures than it engages in. Its premises are largely implicit. Since the reader has to construct or at least complete the underlying intent of these essays, he or she is never quite sure if the particular position is that of the author. Knick, for example, in the same paragraph where he defines culture, argues that Native American peoples "know what it meant to be Indian." Under the pressure of European property-holding and disease, Native Americans in the East lost their own languages —yet were able "to hold onto their...


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