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JON SMITH Simon Fraser University Response to the Emerging Scholars Roundtable WE ARE COMING DUE FOR ANOTHER PARADIGM SHIFT IN SOUTHERN literary and cultural studies. These revolutions have tended to arrive, in disturbingly good Jeffersonian fashion, about every twenty years. The New Southern Studies (NSS) got going in 1999—a year after Michael Kreyling in Inventing Southern Literature had melancholically declared the field dead—with Scott Romine’s The Narrative Forms of Southern Community, Deborah Cohn’s History and Memory in the Two Souths, and Jennifer Rae Greeson’s Yale Journal of Criticism essay “The Figure of the South and the Nationalizing Imperatives of Early United States Literature.” The baby-boomer attempt to diversify the field had in turn arrived in earnest a little less than twenty years before that, partly in a few younger scholars’ contributions to The History of Southern Literature.(1985),butmostnotablyinThadiousDavis’s1988“Expanding the Limits” essay in the Southern Literary Journal. Before that, Louis Rubin had gotten the field going in the early 1960s in reaction against not only the emphasis in American studies on New England “Puritan origins” but also, not coincidentally, all the bad press the white south was getting in the Civil Rights era. The key word in that history (a history that does reflect progress, however halting and incomplete) is dialectical “reaction”—or, in the terms of some of these manifestos, “blasting” or “critique.” Each generation, by virtue of its experiences, reading, training, and subject positions, has corrected argumentative flaws invisible to earlier scholars that were, to the younger scholars, painfully obvious. While I appreciate the insurgent tone and appropriately lefty politics of many of these manifestos, I don’t quite see that happening yet here. Full-blown revolution is a lot to expect, of course, but when you call your pieces manifestos and model the lead one delightfully after that of a bunch of famously make-it-new Modernists, you’re signaling an intention to play at the paradigm-shift level (which is awesome, please keep it up!). When these essays do critique or blast new southern studies, however, they tend to suggest that new southern studies goes too far, not that it doesn’t go far enough, and we have gotten plenty of that already from old 44 Jon Smith southern studies! So in what follows, I want to tease out, where I can, the parts of these essays that I think really do have the potential to move us forward. The elephant in the room here is the massive critique of “the South” and “southern identity” launched by the new southern studies. “I am not even sanguine that the notion of a monolithic South can be recuperated in U.S. cultural studies in a useful way,” writes Jennifer Rae Greeson (10). Leigh Anne Duck makes a plea for “Southern studies without ‘The South’” (329). Scott Romine writes, “I believe that the idea of the South has been mostly a bad idea” (“MoonPie” 63). I call “the South” an “unhelpful scalar unit” (“Post-postpolitical” 75) and—with the forcefulness that comes from watching gentler remonstrances go unheeded—“a meaningless term, naming nothing but fantasies: either a great, 100-million-resident void at the heart of American studies, or a ridiculously strained attempt at identity politics at the heart of southern studies” (Purple 22). Many undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty at the older “southern lit” PhD places and the big southern studies centers, on the other hand—many of whom already identify strongly enough as “southerners” to want to pursue work in “southern literature” and/or help produce barbecue documentaries—still seem to prefer (to enjoy, as the Lacanians say) performing what Kreyling decades ago dubbed a “Quentissential” ambivalent white southern identity. In a forthcoming essay on southern studies centers, I’ve shorthanded the latest version of this stance, a bit snarkily, as “loving barbecue and hating racism.”TheauthorsofthefrequentlydelightfulESOmanifestoaremore than hip enough to realize what a cliché barbecue is, and I laughed out loud when they blasted “the specialist, the professional, debonaire, good country southerner,” but still: when you bless grits, bourbon, butter beans, day drinking, front porches, and country ham, and blast racism, theAgrarians,StoneMountain,Paula Deen, and Dylann Roof...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 43-57
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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