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DANIEL SPOTH Eckerd College Slow Violence and the (Post)Southern Disaster Narrative in Hurston, Faulkner, and Beasts of the Southern Wild THE STEREOTYPE OF THE EMBEDDED SOUTHERNER, THE SUBJECT WHO, thoughpotentially offered the opportunity to venture beyond his or her “home place,” nonetheless chooses the simple comforts of the local over the wide world, is utterly intrinsic to representations of the region in twentieth-century media. This concept persists despite the unprecedented fluidity of political borders, the ease of travel, the increasingly multicultural makeup of the South, and the proliferation of micro- (pseudo-, quasi-, anti-, crypto-) Southern sites in contemporary culture. Recent critical work by Martyn Bone, Scott Romine, Leigh Anne Duck, and James Peacock, among many others, has insisted that the South (if it exists at all) must be reconceived as more fluid, problematic, varied, and contradictory than historical studies frequently make it.1 The necessity of this change, these authors assert, is at least partially due to the metamorphosing of Southerners themselves—more mobile, less reactionary, connected to the worldat large rather than excluding it.2 All of these readings could be said to be iconoclastic (though steadily becoming less so), effacing the narratives of provincialism, isolation, backwardness, and unity embodied by the period of early to mid-twentieth century Southern criticism emanating from the Agrarian school and its scions.3 This critical debate is about more than simply 1 See also Smith and Cohn; Jones; and Hobson. 2 Michael Kreyling paints this critical shift in broad strokes in The South that Wasn’t There (2010), stating that “postcolonial theory, leading the way for other theoretical projects, is evicting an earlier critical practice” (11). 3 In fact, Smith and Cohn, the editors of Look Away! (2004), offer their choice of title as a straightforward rebuke to this early criticism; they “wish to refute for good the fetishization of community, hierarchy, place, and so on of another ‘Dixie’-titled anthology: the paradigm of white southern nativism, I’ll Take My Stand.” (13). 146 Daniel Spoth probing for the most profitable areas of academic study, however; the stakes of this argument, and its manifestation in literature, film, and other media, are: how does the South, which has perennially been represented as a site of pastoral desire, actually treat the relationship between humans and the land they inhabit? And what does the nature of that relationship—be it stasis, antagonism, convenience, or harmony—say about how we write our own lives, our own use of the land, into narrative? This essay proposes that the frequently postulated fracturing of the South has its roots considerably deeper than recent demographic and cultural changes would suggest, and that this instability manifests itself in terms of the relationship of Southerners with landscape. The most evocative instances for interpreting this relationship are not Wordsworthian paeans to that landscape recollected in tranquility, but accounts of natural disaster. Representing an event such as Hurricane Katrina, Brad Richard claims in “A Poetics of Disaster,” requires an intimate understanding of not only “the bellicose and paranoid Zeitgeist of the post-9/11 world, but also the ecological and economic histories of the Gulf Coast, the histories of race in America, and many other factors” (162). Addressing disasters in written or visual media requires us to come to terms with rapid and radical alterations of the physical and cultural landscape of a place, and with the human actions, histories, and failures that have preceded it.4 Working from this assumption, this essay will read three separate representations of Southern disaster in literature and film—the flood of 1927 in William Faulkner’s “Old Man,” from If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem [The Wild Palms] (1939); the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928 in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937); and the unnamed hurricane in Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012). As I will show, Southern media, rather than reinforcing the stereotype of embeddedness, tends to deconstruct its 4 For example, Chester Hartman and Gregory D. Squires, in their introduction to There Is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster, call Katrina “a shorthand for a set of economic, social, and political conditions that characterize most of metropolitan...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 145-166
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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