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part 1 Laying the Groundwork This page intentionally left blank 21 Reimagining Southern Studies Time and Space, Bodies and Spirits charles reagan wilson In Salmon Rushdie’s short story “In the South,” which appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, we meet characters called Senior and Junior, described as “two very old men,” just as they are waking up one morning. They begin at once to speak, with words that were not new to them. “These were ritual speeches,” Rushdie writes, “obeisances to the new day, offered in call-­ and-­ response for‑ mat.” “‘Be thankful we are men of the south,’ Junior said, stretching and yawn‑ ing. ‘Southerners we are, in the south of our city in the south of our coun‑ try in the south of our continent. God be praised. We are warm, slow, and sensual guys, not like the cold fishes of the north.’” Senior disagreed. “‘In the first place,’ Senior said, ‘the south is a fiction, existing only because men have agreed to call it that. Suppose men had imagined the earth the other way up! We would be the northerners then. The universe does not understand up and down; neither does a dog. To a dog, there is no north or south. In this re‑ gard, the points of the compass are like money, which has value only because men say that it does. And in the second place you’re not that warm a charac‑ ter, and a woman would laugh to hear you call yourself sensual. But you are slow—that is beyond a doubt.’”1 Junior’s speech seems that of a southern traditionalist indeed, celebrating the South as a real place, producing a distinctive, appealing character type, contrasted with people of the North, and his mentioning God seems to place southerners under God’s blessing. We might see this as part of a long tradi‑ tion contrasting the North and South in North America. Remember Thomas Jefferson in 1785 contrasting people in the northern and southern colonies: “In the north they are cool, sober, labouring, persevering, independant, jeal‑ ous to their own liberties, and just to those of others, interested, chicaning, super­ stitious and hypocritical in their religion.” By contrast, he said, “In the south they are fiery, voluptuary, indolent, unsteady, independent, zealous for their own liberties, but trampling on those of others, generous, candid,­ without attachment or pretentions to any religion but that of the heart.”2 22 wilson These generalizations became conventional wisdom in the nineteenth cen‑ tury as Americans in general affirmed the stereotypes of southern cavalier and northern Yankee. But Rushdie’s story is not about the U.S. South but southern India, and it’s not the Christian Bible but the ancient texts in Sanskrit that he mentions. Senior, in contrast to Junior, in any event, has an entirely different attitude toward his South. As students of the Global South, we are like Senior, aware that “the South” is a construction and that language is crucial to its inven‑ tion. Yet the particularities of the Indian South figure importantly in Rushdie’s story, beyond social construction. A tsunami in the end brings an environ‑ mentally specific and very tangible death from the Indian Ocean. And the city of Mumbai, where the story is set, is a metaphor, as Rushdie writes, “that city which was neither of the north nor of the south but a frontierville, the greatest, most wondrous, and most dreadful of all such places, the megalopo‑ lis of the borderlands, the place of in‑between.”3 Recent work looking at the U.S. South develops the related idea of the American South as not only a region within the United States but also a “place of in‑between” the northern world and a broader southern world. The latter encompasses, most directly, the plantation regions of the Caribbean and Latin America. The South, from one angle, is the northernmost extension of the plantation system of South America and the Caribbean. More broadly, schol‑ ars increasingly see the U.S. South as a place with connections to geographi‑ cal areas outside the power centers of world capitalism, yet the South is part of the global North as well. Study of globalization’s impact on the South and, more broadly, the Global South is in any event among the most prominent features of efforts to define a new southern studies since the beginning of the new millennium.4 The study of the U.S. South is at...


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