Inventing Southern Literature

Inventing Southern Literature

Michael Kreyling
Copyright Date: 1998
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvf2v
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    Inventing Southern Literature
    Book Description:

    "I take...an outward route, arguing that the Agrarian project was and must be seen as a willed campaign on the part of one elite to establish and control 'the South' in a period of intense cultural maneuvering. The principal organizers of I'll Take My Stand knew full well there were other 'Souths' than the one they touted; they deliberately presented a fabricated South as the one and only real thing."

    In Inventing Southern Literature Michael Kreyling casts a penetrating ray upon the traditional canon of southern literature and questions the modes by which it was created. He finds that it was, indeed, an invention rather than a creation. In the 1930s the foundations were laid by the Fugitive-Agrarian group, a band of poet-critics that wished not only to design but also to control the southern cultural entity in a conservative political context. From their heyday to the present, Kreyling investigates the historical conditions under which literary and cultural critics have invented "the South" and how they have chosen its representations. Through his study of these choices, Kreyling argues that interested groups have shaped meanings that preserve "a South" as "the South."

    As the Fugitive-Agrarians molded the region according to their definition in I'll Take My Stand, they professed to have developed a critical method that disavowed any cultural or political intent or content, a claim that Kreyling disproves. He shows that their torch was taken by Richard Weaver on the Right and Louis D. Rubin, Jr., on the Center-Left and that both critics tried to preserve the Fugitive-Agrarian credo despite the severe stresses imposed during the era of desegregation.

    As the southern literary paradigm has been attacked and defended, certain issues have remained in the forefront. Kreyling takes on three:

    reconciling the imperatives of race with the traditional definitions of the South;testing the ways white women writers of the South have negotiated space within or outside the paradigm; andanalyzing the critics' use and abuse of William Faulkner (the major figure of southern literature) as they have relied on his achievement to anchor the total project called Southern Literature.

    Michael Kreyling, a professor of English at Vanderbilt University, is the author of several books, includingEudora Welty's Achievement of OrderandAuthor and Agent: Eudora Welty and Diarmuid Russell.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-776-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. IX-2)

    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...

  5. I THE SOUTH OF THE AGRARIANS
    (pp. 3-18)

    Beyond certain professional boundaries, the study of the literary and intellectual history of the American South still invites a shadow of skepticism—tired skepticism, but skepticism nonetheless. Either there was no relevant history of either type there in the first place, or it was all part of a larger and more significant history. Mencken had a belly laugh in “The Sahara of the Bozart.” What literature? What intellect? “You might be a redneck if…” you thought the South could boast a poet, a symphony orchestra, or a drypoint etcher. A slightly older Yankee critic, Henry Adams, observed moodily in his...

  6. II RICHARD WEAVER AND THE OUTLINE OF SOUTHERN LITERARY HISTORY
    (pp. 19-32)

    When Richard M. Weaver (1910–63) came to Vanderbilt University for a master’s degree in 1932 (he had applied, without success, for a fellowship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), the fervor of the Agrarian movement was beginning to ebb. The soldiers in the Cause were occupied with thoughts of life after crisis. Tate, the envy of his friend Davidson, had always been able to turn down the polemic and turn up poetry in an instant. That flexibility now became a goal of Davidson’s: “And how I do envy you that you can still turn to poetry,...

  7. III RACE, LITERATURE, AND HISTORY IN THE WORK OF LOUIS D. RUBIN, JR.
    (pp. 33-55)

    One problem facing the literary historian/critic of the South is that the significant southern literary figures of this century—those with the means, motive, and opportunity to write a southern literary history (the Fugitive-Agrarian brotherhood, their heirs and successors [chiefly Richard Weaver, as we have seen])—have shown little or no desire or inclination to sit still for the unfolding of historical change and to map its impact on “literature.” Louis Rubin’s statement above is significant for the year of its utterance. Arguably, only a southern literary critic—one schooled in the textual formalism of New Criticism as a literary...

  8. IV SOUTHERN LITERATURE ANTHOLOGIES AND THE INVENTION OF THE SOUTH
    (pp. 56-75)

    In his introduction toThe Invention of Tradition(1983), Eric Hobsbawm classifies “invented traditions of the period since the industrial revolution” according to “three overlapping types”: “(a) those establishing or symbolizing social cohesion or the membership of groups, real or artificial communities, (b) those establishing or legitimizing institutions, status or relations of authority, and (c) those whose main purpose was socialization, the inculcation of beliefs, value systems, and conventions of behaviour” (9). Anyone who has ever taught “the literature of X” using an anthology will recognize herself somewhere in Hobsbawm’s categories. Some anthologies establish communities where none had been perceived;...

  9. V AFRICAN-AMERICAN WRITERS AND SOUTHERN LITERARY HISTORY
    (pp. 76-99)

    What case could be made linking the cultural identities and political interests of black and white southerners within a common heritage, or narrative of identity? The answer lies deep in the chasm of the word “arguably” in Eugene Genovese’s assertion. The history of the reception of African-American writing by southern literary gatekeepers has, until recently, inspired little hope that one identity fits both, that in the compound of African-American-southern, the latter subsumes the former. As the previous chapter on southern literary anthologies demonstrates, the sanctuary had been barred to all but the most accommodating (not only on the matter of...

  10. VI SOUTHERN WOMEN WRITERS AND THE QUENTIN THESIS
    (pp. 100-125)

    In the same paragraph with the sentence above, Louis Rubin lists the names of those “students of the South and its literature” to whom he was indebted in the making ofThe Literary South(1979), his anthology of southern literature. Twenty-two names are called out for thanks: all male. Of more than fifty individually named contributors toThe History of Southern Literature(1985), eleven are women. The name of one woman appears on the title page of the latter book, accompanied by the names of six men. There are no women among the Twelve Southerners ofI’ll Take My Stand,...

  11. VII SOUTHERN WRITING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF WILLIAM FAULKNER
    (pp. 126-147)

    When Dan Young wrote his lament for the departed William Faulkner inThe History of Southern Literature, he was setting out to explore “A Second Generation of Novelists,” southerners writing in “The Recent South, 1951–1982.” The southern literary-critical protocols with which Young (and many others) worked had been largely based on Faulkner’s works, and the fraternity in charge of enforcing these behaviors were linked by a kind of shared sonship to “Pappy,” the name Faulkner cottoned to in his latter years “in the University.” Faulkner’s importance to southern literature can scarcely be overstated. He was, like Michelangelo to an...

  12. VIII PARODY AND POSTSOUTHERNNESS
    (pp. 148-166)

    The death of southern literature is no less a crucial trope than its origin. Both are fraught, in Lewis Simpson’s articulate view, with issues of great pitch and moment historically and morally. “A major motive of the twentieth-century southern literary expression,” he writes inThe Brazen Face of History, “is a vision of social order at once strongly sacramental and sternly moralistic. The vision, integral with its source, the classical-Christian ground of Western civilization, has been fundamental to the moral history of the nation as a whole” (253). For any literary expression to legitimate its claim to being sacramental, the...

  13. IX THE INVENTION OF THE SOUTH AND THE CULTURE WAR
    (pp. 167-182)

    The culture wars that have consumed so much media and political attention in the last decade have thrown the meaning of “nationness” for the United States into question. Polarization in the battle over “values” has brought the South as region and tradition back into the spotlight. Recently, Eugene Genovese has thrown down the gauntlet in his writing on the unquiet southern front in these culture wars. With Confederate flag controversies in several states, a racially motivated killing and subsequently guilty verdict in Robert Penn Warren’s hometown, a recent presidential primary season in which one candidate on the Right cultivated southern...

  14. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 183-194)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 195-200)