Academic journal article The Mississippi Quarterly

"All the Confederate Dead. All of Faulkner the Great": Faulkner, Hannah, Neo-Confederate Narrative and Postsouthern Parody

Academic journal article The Mississippi Quarterly

"All the Confederate Dead. All of Faulkner the Great": Faulkner, Hannah, Neo-Confederate Narrative and Postsouthern Parody

Article excerpt

ACCORDING TO HAROLD BLOOM'S FAMOUS theory of influence, literary "latecomers" have forever fought futile, Oedipal battles to overcome their poetic antecedents. As this "anxiety of influence" exacts its toll, so Bloom sees literary history as a (meta)narrative of decline, free-falling from the English Renaissance, through the Enlightenment and Romanticism, and into "further decline in its Modernist and post-Modernist heirs." (1) When critics construct a Southern literary model of influence, William Faulkner--"the Dixie Limited," as Flannery O'Connor famously termed him (2)--looms large as the (albeit modernist) "Great Original." Upon pondering a quotation from the semi-autobiographical Boomerang (1991), one could be forgiven for thinking that Barry Hannah anxiously envisions himself as an inferior "post-Modern heir" to Faulkner: "All the generations of wonderful dead guys behind us. All the Confederate dead and the Union dead planted in the soil near us. All of Faulkner the great. Christ, there's barely room for the living down here." (3)

At least one critic has leaned toward a somewhat Bloomian view of the literary relationship between Hannah and "Faulkner the great." In The Southern Writer in the Postmodern World (1991), Fred Hobson initially is excited by Hannah's status as "perhaps the boldest, zaniest, and most outrageous writer of the contemporary South." However, when Hobson decides that in terms of "strictly literary influence ... Hannah does not seem to be a direct descendant of Faulkner," a pejorative tone creeps in. Hobson goes on to observe that Hannah is "[l]acking the tragic sense, devoid of Faulkner's high seriousness and social consciousness." This view of Hannah's (non-) relationship with Faulkner links into Hobson's wider "concern" that contemporary Southern writers in general suffer not a surfeit but a deficiency, of healthy literary influence. Hobson here departs from Bloom in seeing influence as less anxious than positive, even necessary: Faulkner's influence becomes crucial to maintain the continuity of "Southern literature" in "the postmodern world." Therefore, it troubles Hobson that fiction by Hannah, Bobbie Ann Mason, Richard Ford and others exhibits "a relative want of power" when compared to the work of Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, and William Styron. (4) If Hobson's theory of Southern literary influence does not in itself produce a gloomy narrative of decline from Faulkner to Hannah et al, his sense of attenuation among the "post-modern heirs" is distinctly Bloomian.

However, in a 1993 article, Michael Kreyling argued that "Hobson's theory of `influence' or continuity [in the Southern literary tradition] leaves insufficient clearance for irony." Building upon Linda Hutcheon's conception of postmodern parody as (among other things) a mode through which contemporary writers liberate themselves from the tyrannous influence of literary history, Kreyling formulates a theory of postsouthern parody. He identifies Hannah's Geronimo Rex (1972) as a text that seems "actively postsouthern" in its knowing reinterpretation of Faulkner's oeuvre. Kreyling cites what one could call the novel's parodic primal scene: Harry Monroe's killing of a peacock called Bayard. The significance of this name is that it stands "for the chivalric southern tradition of heroism and male character"--not least in Faulkner's work, where the "Sartoris clan named every other male child Bayard." (5)

In this essay, I want to extend Kreyling's valuable theory of Hannah's postsouthern, intertextual practice into a more detailed discussion of two short stories that parodically revise Faulkner's representation of "the chivalric southern tradition of heroism and male character." "Dragged Fighting from His Tomb" (1978) and "That Was Close, Ma" (1995) can be seen as rewrites of the early scene from Faulkner's Flags in the Dust (1929, published 1973) featuring Confederate heroes "Carolina" Bayard Sartoris and General J. …

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