Inventing Southern Literature

Inventing Southern Literature

Inventing Southern Literature

Inventing Southern Literature

Synopsis

A skeptical view of the way the mainstream has defined & studied southern literature.

Excerpt

Awareness of being imbedded in secular, serial time, with all its implications of continuity, yet of "forgetting" the experience of this continuity.... engenders the need for a narrative of "identity."

BENEDICT ANDERSON, Imagined Communities

Southern literature -- an amalgam of literary history, interpretive traditions, and a canon -- is a cultural product, or "artefact," to be understood just as Benedict Anderson understands the "nations" that fill up the history of the modern era (205). "Identity," in Anderson's study, is not an innate phenomenon but a product culturally and historically fabricated to local specifications by narratives that are more or less cooperative (the narrative of literature cooperative with the narrative of history, for example) and more or less conscious. This is not a breath-taking insight; contemporary literary critics and historians are weaned on the idea of the constructedness of meanings. Students and critics of southern literature, however, have been more rigorously schooled than others in the orthodox faith that our subject is not invented by our discussions of it but rather is revealed by a constant southern identity. From the polemical writings of the Agrarians to recent works of criticism, biography, literary history, and even film reviews, the established formula is repeated, the narrative of forgetting and making continued. It is not so much southern literature that changes in collision with history but history that is subtly changed in collision with southern literature. Inventing Southern Literature is, then, not a counternarrative that seeks to dynamite the rails on which the official narrative runs; rather, it is a metanarrative, touching upon crucial moments when and where the official narrative is made or problematically redirected. Readings of individual novels, when they occur in this work, are not intended primarily as acts of interpreta-

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