Shadow and Shelter: The Swamp in Southern Culture

Shadow and Shelter: The Swamp in Southern Culture

Shadow and Shelter: The Swamp in Southern Culture

Shadow and Shelter: The Swamp in Southern Culture

Synopsis

To early European colonists the swamp was a place linked with sin and impurity; to the plantation elite, it was a practical obstacle to agricultural development. For the many excluded from the white southern aristocracy--African Americans, Native Americans, Acadians, and poor, rural whites--the swamp meant something very different, providing shelter and sustenance and offering separation and protection from the dominant plantation culture.

Shadow and Shelter: The Swamp in Southern Culture explores the interplay of contradictory but equally pre-vailing metaphors: first, the swamp as the underside of the myth of pastoral Eden that defined the antebellum South; and second, the swamp as the last pure vestige of undominated southern eco-culture. As the South gives in to strip malls and suburban sprawl, its wooded wetlands have come to embody the last part of the region that will always be beyond cultural domination.

Examining the southern swamp from a perspective informed by ecocriticism, literary studies, and ecological history, Shadow and Shelter considers the many repre-sentations of the swamp and its evolving role in an increasingly multicultural South.

Anthony Wilson is assistant professor of English at LaGrange College. His work has been published in the Southern Literary Journal and the Chronicle of Higher Education's online edition.

Excerpt

This book considers constructions of varied Southern identities through the twin lenses of ecological and literary history, centering on a feature of the landscape that has been linked profoundly and uniquely to the American South— the swamp. The swamp occupies an intriguingly complex and liminal space in the Southern and national imaginations and signifies powerfully across discourses of race, cultural and literal contagion, ethnography, and ecology. The mercurial trace that the swamp registers on Southern intellectual history continually inscribes themes of purity and adulteration played out in an array of political, cultural, and psychological contexts. The central paradox that I explore here focuses on the interplay of contradictory but equally prevailing tropes: first, the trope of the swamp as the always present but always denied underside of the myth of pastoral Eden that defined the antebellum South and informs or colors general imaginative conceptions of the South even today; and second, the more recent figuration of the swamp as the last pure vestige of undominated but ever threatened Southern ecoculture, the last bulwark against Southern absorption into the undifferentiated and commodified mass of American culture. The Southern swamps have become shrinking havens for the vestiges of the very culture they once thwarted and frustrated. As the South comes to look more and more like the rest of America, colonized by the relentless progress of strip malls and suburban sprawl, Southern wooded wetlands have come to embody—for descendants of both the white mainstream culture that once sought to subjugate them and the subcultures that once lived among them—the last part of the South that will always be beyond cultural dominion, however illusory that understanding might be. This book maps the cultural shift that enabled this transition in understanding the Southern swamps—the move from a dominant . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.