Our Decentralized Literature: Cultural Mediations in Selected Jewish and Southern Writers

By Jules Chametzky | Go to book overview

One
Our Decentralized Literature: The Significance of Regional, Ethnic, Racial, and Sexual Factors

INTRODUCTION

The topic presented for our discussion at this meeting is Regionalism, but I have chosen to broaden the subject along the lines in my title, for reasons I hope to make clear in a moment. My basic assumption about "regionalism" stems from a suggestion of Larzer Ziff's in his indispensable study of The American 1890s: that the celebration of local color and regionalism in American literature became, in certain circumstances, toward the end of the nineteenth century a strategy, largely, for ignoring or minimizing social issues of great significance.1 These issues concerned race and class and the new money power; an upheaval in American ethnic composition; far-reaching challenges to older American social assumptions and mores. Such matter called for serious literary treatment; but such matter deeply explored could upset notions of a unified national culture. Local color and regional literature could be accepted

____________________
A lecture presented at the Annual Meeting of the German American Studies Association, 4 June 1971. I want to thank Professors Ursula Brumm and T. A. Riese for their invitation to speak before the association, and Dr. Robert Gottwald, Renate Rott, and Werner Sollors, colleagues at the John F. Kennedy-Institut für Amerika- studien, for their help and advice in the preparation of this paper.
1
Larzer Ziff, The American 1890s: Life and Times of a Lost Generation ( New York: Viking Press, 1968), p. 18.

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