- Our South: Geographic Fantasy and the Rise of a National Literature by Jennifer Rae Greeson, and: Apples & Ashes: Literature, Nationalism, and the Confederate States of America by Coleman Hutchison
A dozen years ago, Houston A. Baker Jr. and Dana Nelson prefaced a special issue of American Literature with a performative dubbing of the new southern studies. Nelson’s and Baker’s act of naming, influenced by the New Americanists, recognized extant scholarship that revised or resisted the hoary terms and themes often characteristic of southern studies: regional distinctiveness from American exceptionalism, assumptions of southern homogeneity, sense of place, and so forth. Baker’s and Nelson’s utterance also intended to summon further “intellectual, multiparticipant, and revisionary complexity . . . the complication of old borders and terrains . . . to construct and survey a new scholarly map of ‘The South’” (Baker and Nelson, American Literature 73, no. 2 : 243). Nelson and Baker desired to show the centrality of southern patterns of race and labor to United States at large, but subsequent manifestos of the new southern studies call for stretching these inquires further into transnational directions. Jennifer Rae Greeson, one of the contributors to Baker’s and Nelson’s special issue, captures these various spheres for transnational extensions of the American south in her later study Our South; she describes three images of the south at play in Edgar Allan Poe’s elusive Eureka (1848): a domestic south, a hemispheric Latin American south, and “colonized southern sites around the globe” (Greeson 167). These global and hemispheric considerations of the American south enrich southern studies with a sense of the principle Édouard Glissant calls “une poétique de la relation”; however, at the risk of overgeneralization, these relations of the new southern studies remain oriented toward the new of cultural production, southern texts of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, temporal homes of various new and nuevo souths. For example, only one of the fourteen book in the University of Georgia Press’s the New Southern Studies series, Coleman Hutchison’s Apples & Ashes, has a primary focus on the nineteenth century. Thus, these two recent examples of [End Page 223] literary studies from the new southern studies are refreshing. Greeson’s and Hutchison’s work provide excellent opportunities to see what the new southern studies can offer American nineteenth-century studies and, in particular, that debatably southern figure of Poe.
Apples & Ashes locates the project of Our South as part of a recent trend of studies documenting “the othering of the South,” but Our South distinguishes itself from this trend with a historical span from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries and an attention to the colonial contexts for the development of images of the south (Hutchison 210n8). Raymond Williams’s The Country and the City (1973) serves as a model for Our South, as both studies center on “a symbiotic ideological juxtaposition” between two apparently oppositional terms (Greeson 1, 291n2). The first person plural in the title Our South comes from a metropolitan, northern perspective, and Our South tirelessly inquires after the use value for northern writers and audiences of tropes and topoi about the south. In the account of Our South, the image of the south transforms from first, a late eighteenth-century colonial and tropical plantation south to second, a critique of industrial exploitation from the 1830s to the 1850s displaced into the imagery of the slave south, and finally to third, a ruined and defeated postbellum south requiring reconstruction that provided a reference point for turn-of-the-century American imperialism. Our South has a tripartite division around these three images of the south. Each part tracks the emergence, continuance, dissolution, and residue of each image through various literary genres and archetypes.
While Our South has a relatively longue durée perspective, Apples & Ashes engages the flash in the pan of literary production under and...