- Where the New World Is: Literature about the U.S. South at Global Scalesby Martyn Bone
Martyn Bone's new book starts where his previous study ends. In the epilogue to The Postsouthern Sense of Place in Contemporary Fiction(Baton Rouge, 2005), Bone calls on scholars of the U.S. South to change perspectives on the region and its literature by taking a transnational turn. Where the New World Is: Literature about the U.S. South at Global Scalesdemonstrates the relevance of such a call. A major purpose—and achievement—of Bone's latest book is to convince scholars to rethink the U.S. South and its literary representations from a global perspective. In an equally important epistemological turn, the author also contributes to a remapping of both southern studies and American studies by expanding the ways of understanding the South in literature and scholarship.
The preface and introduction include a challenging critical and historiographical discussion of the transnational turn in American and (new) southern studies, building on the debate among historians and literary and cultural critics about the South. They also present the book's theoretical and analytical frameworks—"historical-geographical materialism" and "theories of 'scale'"—in a clear and convincing way (p. x). Positioning himself unambiguously on the historian side of the discussion, Bone asserts the necessity of historicizing and contextualizing his subject, following a recent "materialist turn" in his field and keeping with the evolution of a globalized world (p. 20).
The study covers a rich selection of literary works dealing with the South written by southern and nonsouthern writers from the United States and other countries. The first six chapters—devoted respectively to Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, John Oliver Killens, Russell Banks, Erna Brodber, and Cynthia Shearer—examine how American and non-American writers have "resituated the U.S. South at global scales" (p. xi). The seventh chapter analyzes the fiction of three Asian American immigrant authors—Monique Truong, Lan Cao, and Ha Jin—exploring "the role of migration in reconfiguring the region transnationally" (p. xi). In the epilogue Bone reaffirms his point "that literature about (rather than from) the South is not simply or reductively 'regional'" by applying his approach to the works of four American authors: Toni Morrison, Peter Matthiessen, Dave Eggers, and Laila Lalami (p. xi).
The thesis developed throughout is that, although the South still exists as an identifiable entity, its definition and scope have been reconfigured as a result of economic globalization and its demographic avatars, notably "migration to and [End Page 748]from the region, across and between various regional, national, and transnational borders" (p. xii). Consequently, Bone argues, the South no longer suffices as a scale unit in southern studies and needs to be reconsidered in relation to a range of other scales. He privileges three transnational scales: hemispheric, transatlantic, and transpacific. In choosing to widen his perspective to the largest possible scales, Bone explicitly moves beyond the new southern studies paradigm developed in the last two decades. He specifically addresses what he considers as lingering limitations in the field—namely, a persistence of binary models in critical analysis, the enduring myth of southern exceptionalism (precluding any dialectical interaction between region and nation), and a literary form of nativism based on the assumption that only native-born southerners qualify as southern writers. This original and stimulating approach leads him to engage scholars with revisionist interpretations, including of Hurston, Banks, and Morrison, while reclaiming writers neglected or overlooked by critics (see, for instance, the chapter on Killens). The book brilliantly dismantles enduring analytical tools, notably the black/white and North/South binaries. Bone also succeeds in demonstrating that southern exceptionalism and regionalism have become irrelevant as a result of the transnational turn (see chapter 7 on the transpacific scale), while at the same time reaffirming the relevance of the South as a space of dialectical interaction between transnational, regional, and local scales. All in all...