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Outside the Southern Myth

Outside the Southern Myth

Copyright Date: 1997
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    Outside the Southern Myth
    Book Description:

    Noel Polk, the Faulkner scholar and academician, is a native of the small Mississippi city of Picayune. In his career as an international scholar and traveler and in his role as a teacher and a professor of literature he has moved beyond his origins while continuing to be nourished by his hometown roots. Like many other southern men he doesn't fit the outside world's stereotype of the southern male.

    "I almost invariably see myself depicted in the media as either a beer-drinking meanspirited pickup-driving redneck racist, a julep-sipping plantation-owning kindhearted benevolent racist, or, at best, a nonracist good ole boy, one of several variations of Forrest Gump, good-hearted and retarded, who makes his way in the modern world not because he is intelligent but because he's - well, good hearted."

    In Outside the Southern Myth Polk offers an apologia for a huge segment of southern males and communities that don't belong in the media portraits. His town was not antebellum. There were no plantations. No Civil War battles were fought there. It had little racial divisiveness. It was one of the thousands that mushroomed along the railroads as a response to logging and milling industries. It was mainly middle-class, not reactionary or exclusive.

    While evoking both the pleasures and the problems of his past-band trips, a yearning for cityscapes, religious conversion, awakening to the realities of fundamentalist fervor- Polk offers himself, his family, and his town to exemplify an aspect that is more American than southern and a tradition that is not mired in the past.

    As he explores the ways in which his experience of the South defined him, he concludes that his life has been experienced in a parallel universe, not in a time warp. He and many like him exist outside the southern myth.

    Noel Polk is the author of Children of the Dark House: Text and Context in Faulkner (University Press of Mississippi) and editor of the Reading Faulkner Series and of eleven Faulkner texts for Random House, The Library of America, and Vintage International.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-599-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
    (pp. 3-17)

    When I was a lad at Boy Scout or church camp, I’d have to pose with the other campers for a group photo. There were lots of us; we would be lined up in three or four rows like a choir and we would stretch for ten to twenty yards in front of the camera. The camera used to take such a wide photograph was a curious creature that moved slowly from left to right, panning the group as it exposed only a portion of the film at a time, while inside the camera the film rolled from one spool...

  5. A Name for the City, A Shape for the Name: AN ANTI-SOUTHERN HISTORY SOUTHERN HISTORY
    (pp. 18-42)

    Picayune has no center, really—geographical, historical, or metaphorical. It was incorporated into a village, and then into a town just after the turn of the century and named after the leading New Orleans newspaper of the day, theDaily Picayune. Apparently, though not certainly, Eliza Jane Poitevent Nicholson, the editor of thePicayune,gave the name to a railroad stop called Bailey’s Switch in the mid-1880s when the New Orleans & Northeastern Railway laid its tracks. She had grown up in the area, and as owner and editor of theDaily Picayuneshe had agitated editorially about the direction the...

  6. FAMILY: My Father, Flem Snopes
    (pp. 43-74)

    I did not know my father at a time when he was becoming; he seemed always to be the unchanging same, the force I had to deal with until long after he died one summer evening in my twenty-sixth year, massively and unforgivably died, while I was becoming the fluid, negotiating self I was to be for the next thirty years. He died without absolving me of taking up space in his life and, more, without teaching me that only I could absolve myself of that. I have done so, and now in my turn am trying, in middleaged retrograde,...

  7. RACE: The View from Lookout Mountain
    (pp. 75-106)

    Saturday morning, April 25, 1959, I got to the Firestone store around 7:30 or 8. My father was standing in the back with a group of four or five men. I don’t remember who they were: no faces or shapes emerge from the general outline, but nobody was unshaven or wearing overalls or straw hats or smoking scraggly self-rolled cigarettes. They were talking among themselves in ways that suggested the topic was something I was not supposed to hear. My radar was always out for things I was excluded from, so I nodded at my father and went about my...

  8. MUSIC: The Wider World
    (pp. 107-130)

    In 1950 Picayune numbered 6,707 official souls, according to aHammond World Atlasmy parents bought, and which I pored over endlessly. We 6,707 were many more than enough to make us statistically and officially a “city,” and I was gratified to believe myself a city boy rather than a country boy. This was an important distinction; there was a discernible, identifiable difference between city and country folks—dress, manners, carriage; for girls it was makeup or hairstyle; it may have been the school bus—that made city life seem preferable. I spent hours with the atlas going over and...

  9. Class and Manners
    (pp. 131-150)

    Almost from the beginning of the Firestone Store’s existence until the end of my freshman summer in college, I worked with and for my father on Saturdays and during summers. I have only recently come to appreciate what a useful and interesting vantage that perch provided me for meeting a wide and representative variety of people: blacks and whites of the lowest economic rungs, whom I waited on when they came into the store as customers, whose tires I changed while they watched and passed the time talking with me, and into and on top of and under whose homes...

    (pp. 151-206)

    Jesus is lord over picayune: Thus saith signs that mark both entrances to Picayune from the interstate. It was mostly true when I lived there thirty-five years ago, and I suppose it’s still mostly true—even though Picayune in the eighties acquired a reputation as one of the main drug distribution points in south Mississippi, so that one friend has suggested that Jesus is more nearly Drug Lord over the area. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised: the town is well located along the interstate, large enough to attract a good deal of...

  11. Touching Base
    (pp. 207-213)

    A week before Thanksgiving 1992 my Uncle Alton learned that he was going to die, before Christmas, of the same cancer his sister Virgie had died of forty years before. My Aunt Virginia, his youngest sister, called to tell me—or, rather, she had gotten her son Farley, my cousin, to call me, perhaps to save a long-distance call since he and I live in Hattiesburg. Though we lived barely fifty miles from each other, I had not seen Alton, or many of my other relatives, since my father’s funeral in 1968. There’s no particular reason for our not visiting....