In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

In Search of Elvis Music, Race, Art, Religion Edited by Vernon Chadwick Westview Press, 1997 294 pp. Paper, $16.50 Reviewed by William McCranor Henderson, visiting assistant professor of English at North Carolina State University. He is also a novelist {Stark Raving Elvis, IKilled Hemingway), whose latest book, /, Elvis: Confessions ofa Counterfeit King, is a memoir of his experiences as an Elvis impersonator. In 1995 the highly publicized First International Conference on Elvis Presley sent a clear message: Elvis was entering the academy with all the eclectic fanfare that had made him King of Rock 'n' Roll. Though controversial, academic status for Elvis seemed appropriate, since his presence had long been felt everywhere else. But with its proximity to the long-established Faulkner Conference, which preceded it by one week at Ole Miss, there seemed to be something cheeky about the event. Hadn't one of its organizers, Vernon Chadwick, already tweaked the traditionalists by giving equal status to Elvis and Melville in a course nicknamed "Melvis"? In Search ofElvish Chadwick's edition of the major proceedings ofthat first conference (two more conferences followed), an array ofscholarly and nonscholarly presentations that manages to convey both the attractiveness of "Elvis studies" and its confusions. This collection should go a long way toward convincing skeptics that the controversy over Elvis studies (or simply "Elvis," in quotes, as Chadwick names the symbolic totality of the subject) is based on a misunderstanding of exacdy what is being studied, and to what end. After all, anyone who protests that Elvis has been raised illegitimately to Faulkner's lofty level is simply barking up the wrong tree. Faulkner may have been the infinitely greater creative artist (Elvis, after all, never even wrote a song), yet the vast influence of "Elvis" on culture—which seems to go on and on—is something Faulkner (or "Faulkner") will never come close to realizing.Joel Williamson, author of William FaulknerandSouthern History, who is now at work on a similar study ofElvis's roots, puts the matter succincdy: "When Faulkner died, he was dead. This is not true of Elvis." Indeed, it is the "Dead Elvis" (Greil Marcus's formulation) that continues to proliferate and radiate as a potent lodestone for cultural studies and its revolutionary academic agenda—and Chadwick makes no bones about this agenda in his introduction: Reviews 87 "[T]he Elvis conference sounded a wake-up call to university apparatchiks that a new breed ofeducators is demanding historical, racial, class, community, and environmental accountability in the free exercise oftheir creative labors." Engardel Chadwick also makes it clear that freewheeling textualism ("Elvis as text") and a rainbow-coalition style of liberation exegesis are the cardinal signs of his new "insurgent pedagogy." That said, it must be observed that the worst examples of this approach have an Alice-in-Wonderland pseudo-logic to them that fails to convince, since insights tend to be undercut by absurdities. In this collection, Peter Nazareth's "Elvis as Anthology" stands out as the sore thumb. Elvis, Nazareth assumes, held political views that were consciously (ifsecredy) radical and activist; so he quite literally devised subtextual agendas for every artistic move he made, agendas now revealed by the sort of intellectual tea-leaf reading that is Nazareth's stock in trade. Thus the movie StayAwayfoe "is about neocolonialism and the bourgeois dreams of Third World people." When Elvis stutters on "Just Because," it is "a profound political act . . . he was breaking up the imposed colonial worldview (sic), that is, the worldview imposed by the colonialists through their language." " ? Feel So Bad' is about the colonial's loss of center, the center that has been taken away by colonialism." And so on. Nazareth's underlying thesis—that Elvis knowingly devised coded messages to deconstruct the imperial center—is the naked guest at the party, an assertion on the order of "Harry Truman wrote Shakespeare." Intellectual foolishness is one thing, but Nazareth's wheels spin so carelessly, fling so much data into so many bogus congruencies, that his contribution (though intermittendy interesting as autobiography) comes off more as parody than real scholarship. Fortunately, since Chadwick is committed to pulling down barriers between "experts" and the rest of us...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 87-89
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.