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JORDAN J. DOMINY Savannah State University Reviewing the South: Lillian Smith, South Today, and the Origins of Literary Canons WHILE CLASSROOMS OF UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES SEEM THE FRONT LINES in the academic study of literature, literary and critical periodicals have served an important role in forming dominant ideas about American literature and culture. At no time was this truer than during the years leading up to and during World War II, when English departments as we know them today began to emerge, influenced greatly by novel critical approaches and the model of scholarly discourse conducted through the literary quarterly. Many successful quarterlies found university backing, and some, such as Kenyon Review and Southern Review, were edited by English professors who promoted the New Criticism. Unsurprisingly, its tenets became the dominant mode of engagement with literature in classrooms and scholarship for a generation. However, attempts to influence notions about literature have not been limited to large quarterlies with strong circulation numbers. Smaller, non-academic periodicals have certainly had agendas concerning the best purpose for literature, its scholarship, and canonicity. South Today, a small literary magazine edited and published by Lillian Smith and Paula Snelling out of Clayton, Georgia, from 1936 to 1945, highlights this agenda in the particular case of literatures of the US South. The concurrent publication of South Today with major critical quarterlies demonstrates important, divergent trends in how intellectuals and authors in the United States were thinking at that time about the canonicity and the institutionalization of literary studies because of its attention to global politicalandsocialissuesinaliterary,regionalcontext.Scholarlyinterest in a canon of Southern literature arose during the World War II years and coincided with a collective desire for a national literature of democratic values, a desire that eventually led South Today into obscurity. Placing South Today in dialogue with more recognizable quarterlies and the larger magazine culture of the early to middle twentieth century in terms of purpose, editorial policy, and scholarly approach is quite 30 Jordan J. Dominy fruitful, especially in terms of revising predominant narratives of the modern as related to the development of the formalized study of Southern and American literature. Indeed, as George Core stated at a conference on Southern letters celebrating the fiftieth year after the founding of Southern Review.: The critical quarterly as we now know it was largely founded in response to modernism—to the work of writers like Ford,Yeats, Pound, Eliot, and Joyce. At first, magazinessuchasFord’sEnglishReviewandhisTransatlanticReviewwereintended primarily to provide outlets for fiction and poetry; then increasingly the emphasis turned to criticism—a criticism that would explain the obscure and pithy indirectionsofthemodernistmannerandstylebypenetratingitsmasks,illuminating its shadowed modes, and translating its muted voices. The major American literary quarterlies since 1935—the Southern, Kenyon, Sewanee, and Hudson reviews—therefore have existed largely to explain modern literature. (190) This suggests that the advent of scholarly literary reviews was a definitive early indicator of the late modernism Fredric Jameson defines asthe“ideologyofmodernism,”thatis,thecodificationandcanonization by intellectuals, art critics, and literary critics of the artistic practices and works of pre-war modernists, especially high modernists. Jameson calls late modernism “an American invention” and “a product of the Cold War” (165). With strict adherence to codified modernist aesthetics, late modernism valued form over content, and Jameson points to the New Criticism as a key factor in the late modernist turn. Such emphasis in art and literature became significant in the post-war years for America’s battle against communism because it enabled the intelligentsia to keep leftist and progressive politics in check. For late modernism, Jameson explains, “high literature and high art mean the aesthetic minus culture, the aesthetic field radically cleansed and purified of culture” (179). Art and literature with all of its contexts—political, social, or otherwise —strippedbecomes democratically safe, but only in regardstotechnique and forms. The purging of contexts came on the heels of a leftist turn in American culture during the Great Depression, as union membership increased and artists, writers, and intellectuals became more active in leftist politics. At nearly the same moment that publications such as Partisan Review and New Masses began to define and extol to young, aspiring writers a proletarian literature that joined working-class realities,radicalpolitics,andartisticinnovation(Denning201...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 29-50
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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