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REVIEWS Joseph, Philip. American Literary Regionalism in a Global Age. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 2007. 232 pp. Cloth: $45. This book continues a long critical conversation about the cultural and aesthetic significance of American regional fiction. Like the ghostly tale, regional literature was long considered inherently minor, an art ofthe miniature, though practiced by writers of undeniable talent. Nostalgic, often domestic in its concerns, regionalism (in a traditional valuation) offered a comfortable retreat from the economic and social struggles and epic themes that have been privileged as high seriousness. In recent years, of course, critics like Judith Fetterley and Marjorie Pryse have recovered a tradition ofwomen's regional fiction, and have taught us to see the importance of themes it addressed. Since regions are defined by the interaction ofculture and landscape, the study of regional literature also has been celebrated as more valid, truer to the experience of ordinary lives, than the study of more abstract national issues. Yet resistance to this newfound appreciation for regional literature continues from several critical perspectives. For example, regionalism has been called (by Philip Fisher) a "pathological" response to change, a retreat from our need to innovate and reinvent ourselves. Or, it is argued, rather than representing an alternative to the nation state, regionalism merely reinforces its dominant mythologies. Or perhaps regionalism is simply a kind of tourism, offering snapshots of our summer vacations, something trivial and bourgeois after all. Philip Joseph attempts to mediate among these warring parties by drawing on contemporary theories of civil society. Influenced by Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities, Joseph argues that regional literature, which is based on the relationship of small and larger social groups (or their representatives), can provide models for successful interaction, and "help us to influence where we are going." foseph chooses a small number of works from the 1890s and the early twentieth century that, for him, represent successful negotiations between the claims ofthe cosmopolitan largerworld and the smaller provincial community . These works feature mediating characters whose travels, storytelling ability, or artistry make the kind of connection that Joseph values. Some ofthe choices ofwriter and work are expected, such as Jewett's Country ofthe Pointed Firs; others, especially Abraham Cahan's stories of urban Jewish immigrants, are intended to stretch (some would say too far) the definition of regionalism. Jewett's unnamed cosmopolitan narrator is more than a tourist because she pursues the reclusive residents of D√ľnnet Landing (as evasive as the Fog People of Captain Littlepage's emblematic tale) until she achieves real 124Reviews contact and understanding with them. In Hamlin Garland's "Up the Cooley," a story of apparently irreconcilable division between the brothers Grant and Howard, Joseph finds his mediating figure in the fiddlerWilliam, whose music, expressing the hardscrabble lives of the farmers, joins his listeners in a kind ofcommunion. In Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop, it is art again that provides the cultural mediation. The cathedral ordered by Archbishop Latour combines European Romanesque style, yet is built by New Mexico artisans out of locally quarried stone. Though Mary Austin (who had a different theory of regionalism) hated this hybridization, Joseph joins Cather in celebrating it. Cahan's stories and novels may not be as rooted in landscape as expected of regional fiction, but they chronicle the interaction of an insulated provincial group with a larger society, and show that such a group, in its struggles toward assimilation, can make a contribution to a modern nation . In Zora Neal Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie travels with Tea Cake away from her small, all-black village, and returns to it after his death, adding her experience to the cycle of tales in the community's oral tradition. In a similar way, Faulkner's stories about Flem Snopes illustrate the process by which a disruptive event, such as the eruption of the crazed Texas ponies in Frenchman's Bend, is absorbed by the storytelling of that corner of Yoknapatawpha County. In his introduction Joseph claims that the study ofregional fiction may help to mediate many contemporary issues ofcivil society, that elastic realm between the individual and the state. He even suggests that the rival claims...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 123-124
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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