Place: The South

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Place: The South

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Redigeret: aug 10, 2007, 1:49 am

What about the South? Do you read literature about the South? By Southern writers? Who is your favorite Southern writer? What are some themes that come out of the South but no other place? What makes literature from the South what it is? Have you ever lived in the South? What are your observations? How was the South like or different from other places you have lived?

In another topic, we have discussed "place," focusing mainly on the West. I thought I'd open a new topic for anyone to discuss the South. I grew up in North Carolina. When I decided to write, all my professors said, "You should read Welty," You should read Peter Taylor." I took a course in "The Literary South."

For a long while, I wanted to be Flannery O'Connor. Her eccentric and somewhat dark views of humanity appealed to me. So did Carson McCullers's.

The label of being a white, Southern, woman writer followed me around. Soon it was an albatross around my neck.

I'd like to hear from anyone who is a Southern writer, who has read literature from the South, who has lived in the South, or who is curious about the South or Southern Literature.

aug 11, 2007, 12:57 pm

I have lived in the South since I was twelve. I don't have enough life experience with the North or West to make any comparisons. Although I've spent the last eighteen years living in Texas, in the Dallas - Fort Worth Metroplex, I don't consider Dallas, or this area the West, it has a small town feel, it's city-ness is provincial. Race, ethnicity, and money, lots of money drive it's politics, but the money gets spent in the way an adolescent that just inherited a million dollars might spend it. Dallas suffers from an annoying boosterism, which I suppose is de rigeur for American cities these days. The Blacks and Hispanics fight one another for second place in the pecking order, while the wealthy white men who run things keep the pot stirred. If the West feels like Dallas, then the West and the South are the same place.

Prior to this, I spent 22 years in Atlanta, a real Southern City. I moved there with my parents in 1966. It was not more than a large bump in the road, not too far from being Marthasville or Terminus. We were with the first big wave of northern immigration, right after the introduction of industrial air conditioning in office buildings. It was the Atlanta of Flannery O'Connor and Lester Maddox, the house where Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind still stood with a historical marker at the front, turned into a slum by time and circumstance and was occupied by one of the first hippie communes there.

I saw Atlanta change from a very large provincial town into a truly international , sophisticated city, it's slogan for a time was the City that Works, and for the most part, it did. The genius of Atlanta was in the white power structure seeing the handwriting on the wall and gracefully yielding power to all of its citizens, unlike Dallas, which still keeps power close.

My in-laws live thirty five miles north of Atlanta, in Cherokee county. They have lived there for the last two hundred years and are the prototypical Scots-Irish southern rednecks. They were not the Regulators or the Klan, just hard-working, hard-scrabble farmers trying to eke out a living from what land could be farmed at the southern terminus of the Appalachian's.

I have observed over the years, that the South has the reputation of being racist, which it was, God-fearing, which it is, and a place for hard living. Most of the hard-living, hard-fighting, hard-drinking I've seen was done by a species I refer to as northern rednecks. People who emigrated from the North wanting to be Southern Good Ole Boys. A most unfortunate and unpleasant group.

Natives to a place carry off the mores and sensibilities of that place with grace and ease, while interlopers who try, usually come off as caricatures, often unpleasant ones. There's an idea for a book, investigate how the influx of northerners has ruined the South. Most southerners I knew were formally gracious with strangers, somewhat taciturn and suspicious of foreigners privately, but once they got to know you the kindest, gentlest people I ever met. But don't stray beyond the lines of community defined appropriate behavior.

Anyway, prior to Atlanta, I lived in Pamlico County, North Carolina during my high school years. After Just those four years I still consider Oriental my home. It's funny how certain things are imprinted on us at different stages of life. It must be because it's the only place I ever lived where I made real, true friends.

Pamlico County is the point of land where the Neuse River, seven miles wide at that point, flows into Pamlico Sound, the larger of the two bodies of water trapped between the Outer Banks and the mainland of North Carolina. It is directly across the river from Cherry Point Marine Air Station, and only a few miles as the crow flies from Jacksonville, where TheresaWilliams grew up.

There were two main occupations in the county at the time, shrimping and tobacco. With the tobacco came a very rigid cast system. these were Faulkner's people, poor white trash and the masters who guided their lives and attitudes while abusing them with hard work and slave wages. the children of these people were either perpetually angry or diligently struggling to get out. For all that blacks and whites worked side-by-side picking, sorting, and budling tobacco for drying Jim Crow died a long, slow death there.

The slow death of Jim Crow was a result of the structure of Southern Plantation society, of which the tobacco farms were the last real vestige, and was mostly driven by the lower class whites protecting their social status. Many of them were scum and knew it, but as long as there was a black man around, by golly, there was always someone else to kick around and Jim Crow, while not exactly aiding such activity certainly abetted it.

Since tobacco has become such a controversial crop many of the tobacco farmers have sold out and the land is being used for Agri-business hog farms. Pamlico county is now a polluted land, the Neuse a polluted River infested with Pfisteria and dangerous to be in. The fish in the river are dying and the face of paradise has been erased.

Lastly, and my congratulations if you have made it this far. I spent a couple of years in Green Cove Springs, Florida. The big news when we moved there was that Walt Disney was in the beginning stages of negotiating for a large tract of swamp land around Palatka for an amusement park. The citizens all felt they had just sold the proverbial acres of land in Florida to the dumb stranger. Hah, little did they know. I wonder how many of those folks were displaced by the dumb strangers?

At any rate, Green Cove Springs was just a sleepy little town on US 17, the main road to Miami, down the east coast of Florida, much like any other Southern town of the '50's. Buzzing with flies, moving slowly yet with purpose through the hot days and muggy nights, filled with earnest folks, living the lives of their fathers and their fathers' fathers before them, celebrating Confederate Memorial Day and the Fourth of July with parades and picnics lazing next to the St. John's River, the only (one of two?) rivers in the US that flows south to north. I was surprised a month or so ago to find Green Cove Springs mentioned in Their Eyes were Watching God. It was such an unremarkable place.

Before Green Cove Springs I lived in Albuquerque for nearly a year, too young and not long enough to get the flavor of the Southwest.

I will never be anything but a Southerner, but not necessarily a good ole boy. I have a love/hate relationship with the South. I can't wait to leave, but when I visit my daughter in Frostburg, Md. or my step-daughter in Boston, Ma. (both Southerners who think they have escaped, he he) I can't wait to get back home. Oh, Lord, what am I going to do?

aug 12, 2007, 6:43 pm

I almost didn't post anything because I certainly don't have anything to say that is even a fragment as eloquent as you, geneg. Nevertheless...

I fear I will always be a "Yankee" -- a secular, pragmatic, stoic, liberal yankee that cannot abide by how long it takes folks to respond to a light turning green down these parts. I have lived in North Carolina now over 10 years. Admittedly in the Triangle which is quite a melting pot these days. I love Southern literature and trying to get a feel for the authentic "old South" I have been reading Carson McCullers, Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Reynolds Price (horrid!) here lately trying to get my mind around the rural South. Fascinating! But I think will always be a bit foreign to me.

I wonder why most people always feel more "home" where they grew up -- regardless of how long they live somewhere else.

aug 12, 2007, 7:28 pm

I was born in Northern Indiana, less than an hour outside of Chicago. I spent only the first five years of my life outside of the South and the next 32 living in it. I do not consider my self a true Southerner. I never took to eating bisquits and gravy or country-fried anything. Well, OK, I DO like fried green tomatoes! I do not like the fact that the South tends not to celebrate ethnicity and diversity, can be close-minded. Yes, I'm a liberal democrat, in the minority where I live.

What I do appreciate about the South is its quiet charm, its "front porch, sit-a-spell" hospitality you can still find in some places. Its history more passionate, some how more hard-fought though equally disagreeable.

As far as authors, I could never get through Faulkner. I like Harper Lee. I didn't even like Cold Mountain though I did like the movie. I haven't really read much Southern fiction. I'm more of an Anglophile!

aug 12, 2007, 7:52 pm

Although I lived in North Carolina from the time I was 1 1/2 until I was 30, the South remains mysterious to me. I can't claim to be an expert on any part of the South. Much of my writing is situated there, mostly as an attempt to understand my feelings about the place where I grew up and the impact of the place on me. My writing is very personal and not meant to reflect anything specific about the Southern experience.

I grew up in Jacksonville, which is a military town. A military town has its own aura. Jacksonville was partly rural, the division between white and black was very pronounced, there was an up and coming middle class, and there were some people of means. The feeling was transient.

Gene (geneg) will know what I mean.

What I do like about Southern writers such as Faulkner and O'Connor is how they deal with race and social class in the South. In Faulkner's work, I often feel that cramped, hot, smothery reality that I often felt trapped in, and I strongly identify with that.

aug 12, 2007, 8:34 pm

#5 - Theresa - I agree with that sense of almost oppressive reality with Faulkner and O'Connor. At times I have to put down their books and just say: "Holy crap, there really were people like this in the not so distant past" I can't get my mind around old-time religion nor the concept of "the Negro" as some sort of a sperarate species fercrissakes. And in Faulkner -- the misogeny! It's mind boggling. The mere fact of sexual desire in a woman is "bitchery and abomination." (granted, his characters are not typically mentally balanced) -- but still.

I do love my adopted home though -- I love the lush heat, the honeysuckle, the magnolias, the creeks, hush puppies, the chivalry, being called "shug."

Oh and #4 Cleo -- sacriledge! -- I love Cold Moutain - it is one of my all time favorite books (and movie adaptations.)

Redigeret: aug 12, 2007, 9:16 pm

#6 jhowell, you said: "At times I have to put down their books ..." Absolutely. Poor Caddy (Sound and Fury); she wasn't allowed to have a sexual identity other than a sullied one. Quentin's quixiotic desire to somehow "save" his sister from herself is not so far off the "truth" of southern women's existence. Southern white womanhood was (is?) much like being trapped in a guilded cage. Do not let the pretty little bird's feathers get "dirty"! The chivalry can be endearing (my husband still opens doors for me, and I love it); but underneath so much of the chivalry are the chains. I can say for certain, it was hard to break those chains.

aug 12, 2007, 9:05 pm

jhowell-I know, I know. I'm the only person who has read Cold Mountain and not liked it! My Father-in-Law gave me the book and was sure I would love it. If it makes you feel any better, I don't like Jane Austen either. (Not that they have anything in common).

aug 12, 2007, 9:19 pm

I will admit, Cold Mountain took some getting used to. About 1/3 of the way through, I began to enjoy it. The prose is dense and the style works well to convey elements of the South, particularly the convoluted thinking (race, gender, social class) and the weather--that hot, thick, sultry feeling.

aug 13, 2007, 8:33 am

#8 - Oh Cleo -- you're killin' me. I am a huge Austenite!

I agree with the 'evil' that lurks behind chivalry here in the South. When I first moved here from Boston having scrapped my way thru college and grad school, with several womyn's ;) studies classes under my belt -- I thought I would smack the first date that opened a door or paid for a meal for me.

However -- I've mellowed. Somehow, I do not find it incompatible to allow myself to be taken care of by a man; yet still be a stong woman of independent means. Go figure.

aug 13, 2007, 11:30 am

To me, the key to The South, is the awareness that it is The South. That and understanding that those here in Middle Georgia refer to the capital city as Yankeetown.

My favorites are Robert Penn Warren, Andrew Nelson Lytle and Larry L. King.

A key reading for my view of The South is The Southern tradition at bay; a history of postbellum thought by Richard M. Weaver.

Redigeret: aug 13, 2007, 1:54 pm

I'm a southerner, raised in large part outside of a major city just south of the Mason-Dixon (but not south enough to truly be "southern"), educated in the South, now living in the wild, wild west. I am also a black woman (funny, this is the only thread where I've felt the need to reveal that!).

I love the South, even with its history, because that's the root of me. It's hard to explain, especially if it's intrinsic, it's something you carry with you. Centuries of vicious racism does leave its scars, and everyone deals with it differently. I don't take it personally because I consider racism to be something hurtful to its bearer, not its recipient. And now there are legal protections, so I don't worry about overt snubs much.... It's an ugly thing to dwell upon.

I recently carried my husband to my birthplace, Atlanta, for the first time, where he was blown away (I think he wanted to move there). People have a lot of misconceptions.

Literarily (a word?) speaking, I love the voices of the South, from Gone with the Wind to the Ya-Yas.

And, yes, the South is mysterious. It's supposed to be.

aug 13, 2007, 6:16 pm

Jhowell, I am one of those rare people who actually feel more "home" where I live now than where I grew up. I never felt "home" where I grew up in Texas. Perhaps it is partly because I was born here in Oregon, and during recess while I was growing up, the other kids always made me be the Yankee when we played Civil War. Also, no one seemed to understand why I liked to read so much. I felt like quite the alien.

I have to agree that Texas is not really the South, though. It is a weird amalgam of the Southern chip-on-your-shoulder reaction to the Civil War, which still has not been overcome (though things are changing), and the Western cowboy individualist culture, which also has a certain chip-on-your-shoulder quality. Sometimes I wonder whether the U.S. in general doesn't have a genetic pool of quick-tempered throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater types, a legacy of our descent from all those restless souls who found it preferable to just leave Europe (or wherever they left from) rather than do the hard and often dangerous work of building a better society right where they lived. Or maybe that's just the story of the human race itself. The more history I read, the more I realize it's all a story of restless wanderers fanning out across the face of the Earth, mixing and mingling and setting off again in a new direction.

Redigeret: aug 14, 2007, 9:14 am

Jhowell, I am a Bronte person myself. give me dark and brooding over happy endings any day! The reason I did'nt like Cold Mountain was Inman's death was too subtle for me. Go figure!

Citygirl, I liked what you said about the South being Mysterious. It seems to be that way in literature anyway!

aug 14, 2007, 1:15 am

citygirl: horray for you regarding your attitude about the South and racism. It's good that you have that draw to a physical place. I never felt at home in the South and it feels alien to me when I return (even though I still have the Southern accent!). I've never had a strong pull toward physical reality, I guess. I live in the imagination. It's a moodling, dreamy sort of life, but it's where I feel at home. When I first moved to NW Ohio, I was depressed and frightened by the flatness and the openness, but now I've come to love it. If any place is "home" in a physical sense, I guess this is it, but I don't have that deep affiliation with place. One of the things that draws me to Native American Literature is the strong connection to place. I've always wanted to know what that was like.

aug 14, 2007, 11:28 am

TheresaW (& everyone), I wonder if a sense of displacement in the South stems from lack of family roots? I noticed that most, if not all of you, have been transplants. Maybe it takes generations for the South to "take." No matter where I go I'll always have a home in Atlanta if needed, and dozens of family members from whom to seek southern comfort. If I didn't embrace my heritage I suppose I'd be running from it. There's no way to escape.

I think that in the southern literature that has really made a mark, family has been a huge theme. The generations are connected to the land.

aug 14, 2007, 12:21 pm

Theresa, you mention your southern accent. The people of eastern NC have the prettiest accent, IMHO, of any accent I've heard in America. There is a place not far from Jacksonville named Harker's Island where Elizabethan English with an Elizabethan accent could still be heard into the sixties.

aug 14, 2007, 2:28 pm

citygirl, you are right. Although I grew up in NC, only my immediate family was there, the rest scattered all around, mostly in Missouri or Arkansas. I never really knew most of my family. Now my parents and one brother are dead and only one brother remains in NC. I have no family here in Ohio, and yet the landscape is in my bones. But I don't think it's anything like you feel for Atlanta.

geneg, Gene, that is a sweet remark. I've always been a little ashamed about my accent. My voice is low, soft, and lilting. Sometimes people on the phone think I'm a child. I've always wanted to be a strong person, but my voice doesn't seem strong to me. I've done readings of my work, and people seem to enjoy it, but I've often wished I had a more powerful voice. It is surprising how many accents there are in the South. Most people don't realize this. Even in NC there are so many accents. Do you have an accent? I bet you do.

aug 14, 2007, 5:19 pm

Besides citygirl, I seem to be the only one here who is not a transplant to the South. Almost all my family is right here in NC and have been for generations. On Sundays my father would say "Let's go for a ride." That meant let's go over to his parents' house to sit and talk with whatever family was there. Which was usually a good number.

As for how it affected me and my 'inner life' and sensibilities, I am really not sure. Southern literature was never an interest of mine, so I have read very little of it.

aug 15, 2007, 3:34 pm

One thing that has struck me so strongly in Native American literature, that I've also found in scattered literature from other places, is how people who have lived for many generations in the same place tell stories about particular trees, boulders, watering holes, etc. Four or five generations ago, at a particular location someone may have been killed (or some other, happier or gentler event may have taken place), and the story becomes attached to the landmark. Over time, every old tree, every bump in the road, has collected a story, so that every natural feature of a particular place becomes saturated with human meaning.

We don't live in that way any longer. It's not only that we move around so much, though that's a big part of it. We come to a new place, and don't know the stories of that place. But also, the places where we live go through so many changes. A new skyscrapers go up where a store or someone's house was, fields and vacant lots become covered with buildings, and a place that once had stories attached to it goes out of existence. And for those old landmarks that do stay in existence, the multitude of people that pass in and out of them, on its own, tends to discourage the development of a common story, because there are simply too many stories and too many people attached to it. We live in a society that is largely anonymous, not so much because of any particular flaws in the way we relate to each other, but simply because we can't be intimate with even a small fraction of the huge number of people we live among.

All that frantic change (and, too often, ugliness) makes me sad. We have a compensation, though, in literature. A good novel or memoir can capture a sense of place so that anyone can share the experience, even if the place becomes (or already is) irrevocably changed.

aug 15, 2007, 4:45 pm

I love your statement, "We have a literature." It shows how important reading and writing are and it may be the only way for many of us to situate ourselves in time and place.

aug 19, 2007, 1:17 pm

I grew up in middle Georgia, and lived in the south all my life until a few years ago. I think Allen Tate's observation that the Southern mind is fundamentally Aristotelian, and the Northern more Platonic, is trenchant. There is, in my experience, in the South an awareness of the body, of the earthy, that seems lacking in the North. Of course, industrialism is trying its damndest to homogenize the world and create a global community by eradicating any sort of local traditions, or by incorporating all the local traditions into a labyrinthine amalgam where all the traditions' origins are lost and, therefore, the traditions cheapened, made commodities.

Donald Davidson talks eloquently about regionalism in his book of essays Still Rebels, Still Yankees, which, due to some of Davidson's unpopular, and often rightfully so, views, is largely unread. But, back to the Aristotelian comment, throughout Faulkner you see characters from the North who are exiles and outcasts, and Faulkner usually presents them as such because their characters are, at core, abstractionists. The South, when it was still a distinct region, focused more on the concrete world, and was rooted more in very tangible and fundamental natural cycles than the north, largely because of the agrarian economy. While Thoreau lived on Walden a few hundred yards from his mom's house, where he could enjoy nature from within a safe context, the agrarian southerner's life depended on rain, sunshine, dirt, drought and flood. Books like I'll Take My Stand argue eloquently for the agrarian cause, and, more recently, the Southern dynamo that is Wendell Berry has led the way for Southern agrarianism, though his work is often claimed by the more new-age environmental conservationists (it makes sense, Berry was friends with Timothy Leary back in the sixties). Other contemporary agrarians in the Southern style are Fred Chappell, James Kibler, and George Garrett (I would say).

But, all of the agrarian talk is geared toward distinguishing what was, and what might still be, the distinctive traits of the South. The South seems to me to be a region that thinks, or thought, from the ground-up instead of from the heavens-down. I think this separation is at the core of Robert Penn Warren's life-long struggle with Emerson. Warren both loved and hated the abstract, transcendentalist tradition rooted in New England Calvinism, and, I think, finally, couldn't bring himself to believe in Emerson's tradition (his "Homage to Emerson" is stellar). Toward the end of his life, an interviewer asked Warren if he considered himself a Southern poet still, after years of living in Vermont. His response was "What else can I be?"

aug 19, 2007, 2:30 pm

#22 JMatthews: This is an absolutely fascinating comment. How would this hypothesis apply to the Midwest, particularly an agrarian Midwest, such as Ohio? Winesburg, Ohio has its share of quirky outsiders, and the dark, forboding nature of the human spirit reminds me of some Southern fiction.

aug 19, 2007, 4:59 pm

My understanding of the Midwest is limited, but I think the frontier culture of the Midwest that you find in someone like Willa Cather isn't more than a stone's throw from the frontier South's beginnings (say, Kentucky). Midwesterners and Southerners just work well together. For instance, that great Midwesterner, Twain, basically lifted his realist/regionalist style from the, arguably, first American realist, A.B. Longstreet, whose famous work is Georgia Scenes.
I too am interested in Sherwood Anderson's relation to the South. The story goes, if I remember correctly, that Faulkner, while in New Orleans writing his first two novels, was a sort of pupil under Anderson. And, fairly obviously, Faulkner, and so many of the Southern fiction crew (O'Connor, Welty, Crews, Larry Brown, etc.) owe their characters to the lonesome folk of Winesburg.
The thing I love about Anderson, and about these fiction writers, is that they take the same characters you find in local color stories, but the characters are no longer aw-shucks cartoons. They're real people, and these writers were able to present them in a sophisticated way, which, to my mind, marks a significant change in American culture when the hinterlands stormed the transcendental blue-blood's castle.
Once the characters are no longer abstract outlines, things rendered so small by the distance of removal as to seem miniatures, a flea circus, once we start zooming in on the characters, we see, no matter how preposterous their situation, they are people, and react probably as we would react within their bleak circumstances. When we recognize them as people, when we see them not from the safety of abstract distance but with a perilous immediacy, these characters stop being stumblebums and start being existential exemplum, contemporary interpretations of Chaucer and therefore Boccaccio and the tradition of art as moral criticism.
Of course, the local color is still popular, which is why a lot of Northerners read Lee Smith, or watch the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and, it seems, decide every Southern man is either a drunk-ne'er-do-well, a fiery old feller devoted to whittling and the tormenting of whippersnappers, or a slow-talking illiterate with great looks: none of whom should ever be taken seriously. That's just old George. That's just Papi. That's just his way, etc.
But, back to the Midwest, Ohio's poets seem to work well in (what I think of as) the Southern mode: James Wright, Rita Dove, William Matthews, (ok, so not Ezra Pound): these poets have the same sort of earthy, grounded, mentality that you find in Southern poetry, which, to my mind, explains why most Ohio poets' work will stand up to the New Critical standards as outlined by the Vanderbilt Fugitives. These Ohio poets keep you minding your feet, even when they're gracefully waltzing you through eternity's ballroom.
But I guess I can't answer your question because I'm not familiar enough with the actual area. I don't know the landscape or more than a few people from Ohio, and, while art can often hint at the mysteries and manners of a culture, I think without living in Ohio I would be remiss to make any argument involving its culture. But, to venture a guess, I imagine Ohioans aren't much different from frontier Southerners, except they didn't lose a war, so their sense of Gothic beauty might not be quite as entrenched.
Sorry to have gone on. I wish I could give a more substantial answer.

Redigeret: aug 19, 2007, 7:52 pm

#24, JMatthews, Please, go on, go on. I am melting at your feet here. I am your disciple, just please speak. (smiles) This comment in particular caught my eye:

"These Ohio poets keep you minding your feet, even when they're gracefully waltzing you through eternity's ballroom."

This is certainly true of Wright. He uses the rudimentary elements of earth (rivers!) to evoke gorgeous moments of transcendence, such as when he says his body breaks out into blossom. Southern Ohio has much of a feel of the South, I think, but you are right. They did not lose a war and therefore lack that gothic quality. For, although Sherwood Anderson seems to have much in common with the southern writers that I love, I don't find his stories to be gothic. There are not many more wonderful stories on earth than Anderson's I think. His characters breath. And I had forgotten that Faulkner was a pupil of Anderson. I guess all of this must have started with Twain for prose, Whitman for poetry.

Ezra Pound was born in Idaho, and then lived in both Pennsylvania and Indiana. But he went to Europe to make his reputation. Talk about abstract stuff. Always with the "new." Imagism, Vorticism, Blast! I have always been much more drawn to his late, late work: what thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross. The stuff he wrote in St. Mary's. His very last cantos.

Thank you so much for your postings here. Take your shoes off and stay.

aug 19, 2007, 8:45 pm

Your theory is so fascinating to me, JMatthews, because I grew up in Texas and have always defined myself in rebellion to certain quintessentially Texan attitudes about how people ought not to get too intellectual lest they become boring, arrogant and untrustworthy (of course, not everyone in Texas shares this attitude, and it's not limited to Texas - but there is a general trend).

And yet when I studied Plato and Aristotle in college, I found Aristotle's view of life eminently sensible and Plato's maddeningly impractical. I particularly disliked Plato's metaphor of the shadows on the cave, which makes the point that earthly life is to be despised. Perhaps I am more of a Texan than I realized. My ancestors were farmers only a couple of generations back, so that has probably shaped me as well.

aug 19, 2007, 9:58 pm

#26 Something that disturbs me is that the South, as it was, was antithetical to most of the ostensibly Southern attitudes that are currently in place. Southerners now think pick-up trucks and gun-racks and Bud Lite and Tim McGraw are the accoutrement of being born below the Mason-Dixon, but, the thing is, the Southern mentality, which, for better or for worse, was rooted in gentility and noblesse oblige, would have loathed the abrasive secular materialism currently masquerading as Southern conservative values. If you've read Faulkner, suffice it to say that the South made the Snopes idols and the Compsons aliens in their own country. Growing up in Georgia, I was very much a rebel, and, only later, did I find that I wasn't so much a rebel as a relic.

aug 19, 2007, 10:21 pm

JMatthews, you said the southern mentality "for better or for worse, was rooted in gentility." I think this is something many people have forgotten or never knew. Your statement brings to mind the difficulty that Breece D'J Pancake had when he went to Graduate school for creative writing in one of the most genteel of southern schools. His roughness, his rebellion, made him an outcast and he felt it. I remember reading about how he went up and down those hallowed halls screaming, "My name is Jimmy Carter! My name is Jimmy Carter!" (Carter had just been elected president).

My family was not poor, but we were far from genteel, and I always knew there was a clear division between "them" and "us." I can remember overhearing a professor in his office saying something condescending about "first generation college students," of which I was one. So I have some idea how Breece felt. I wasn't rebellious like he was, though. (smiles)

aug 20, 2007, 1:16 pm

You have to remember that the South is large, with many different facets. I know that Bud Lite-swilling, Nascar-watching, Toby Keith-listening southerners exist, but I don't know any of them very well. If asked to describe a quintessential southerner, I'd have to say someone who prides herself on graciousness, care in appearance, culinary skills and/or appreciation, staying connected to family, a lovely home, and a sense of never forgetting one's history (or the history of the city you're from), as well as shrewdness hidden or revealed by careful words spoken in honeyed tones, and, of course, hospitality. If there is a "them" and "us," the lines might be drawn in those areas. From that shrewdness, especially from those who did not have educational opportunities, may have come a distrust of anyone who is condescendingly intellectual. As TheresaW's comment about first generation college students reveals, that particular division cuts both ways. I don't think it's unique to the South at all. You can find resentment against the college-educated anywhere.

Redigeret: aug 21, 2007, 2:02 am

citygirl: very true about the first generation college students. I only meant to draw a parallel, however hastily, to one of my favorite writers, Breece D'J Pancake. His school was known for being genteel and he had a hard time fitting in. I meant to say I saw vestiges of that same genteel preconception that college is for the rich and well-bread I didn't mean to imply that such prejudices do not exist elsewhere.

Now, see, when you speak of graciousness, care in appearance, culinary skills, connection to family, and hospitality, a lovely home, I don't associate those things with my experiences of the South at all. Part my my problem with growing up and becoming branded as a southern writer was that people expected me to be like that, but the problem is, I'm not. I see a much darker aspect of the south, the knife behind the words. Not that all the south is like that, but my experiences were like that.

Dorothy Allison's experiences are closer to mine: ramshackle homes, trailers, drunken husbands and fathers, abuse, broken dreams. That is part of the south, too. The class system in the south is breaking down, but at the time I was growing up, vestiges of it were still very much in tact. And that spilled over into my college experience that day I heard that professor's words.

Like all places, the south is very complex, and it is helpful to get as many views as we can. Maybe from the myriad experiences and views we can begin to get a clear picture of this "place."

aug 20, 2007, 4:37 pm

Well, I don't mean to imply that it's all sweetness and light south of the Mason-Dixon. Clearly that's not true! I was just presenting a different view. I choose to focus on the lovelier aspects, but when living in the South I was frustrated with the following things: persistent de facto segregation, bad public education systems, prevalent obesity in some areas, good ol' boys, insularity, social apathy, and, of course, the scars of slavery and Jim Crow. But everyone knows about those things.

32sistercdr Første besked:
aug 20, 2007, 5:25 pm

You know this is a subject that strikes at the very heart of me. This thread has been absolutely fascinating. As a writer who is white, female and 13th generation southern, I feel like I have a strong heritage behind me, yet it's also a swamp that can suck me in and make it harder to find my own voice. The Southern writers that I love include Faulkner (of course) though I do confess to having some difficulty in reading him. I get sucked into the beauty and flow of his language, caught up in the magic of the words and the sounds, the accents and cadences the north Mississippi Delta being so close to those of my own west Tennessee, that I lose track of what is actually happening. I have to read Faulkner slowly. To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my all time favorite books. I love Robert Penn Warren, Walker Percy, Pat Conroy, Ricky Bragg, Rebecca Wells, Truman Capote, Fannie Flagg, Tennessee Williams, Margaret Mitchell, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, Dorothy Allison and Florence King. I love what has been described as the eccentricity and excess of Southern writing, and I love its brutal honesty. I love sweaty tenements of A Streetcar Named Desire and the Ya-Ya's cotillions. I even love John Grisham when his plot isn't about a lawyer caught between the law and the bad guys. I think the comment that has struck me the most was about how the southern culture is rooted in gentility. The reaction to that gentility, whether it comes from cocooned in it to just seeing it from the outside, creates so much of the drama of both being and writing Southern.

aug 21, 2007, 2:06 am

citygirl: I fear that knowledge of Jim Crow is eroding among our younger people. Recently a colleage told me her class did not understand a reference to "lynching" they had run across in one of their readings. They were all totally floored to find out about the mass lynchings in the South.

aug 21, 2007, 1:53 pm

#33, TheresaW,

I wish I were more surprised. Does no one read southern literature? I've gotten much more history from literature than I have from history books. (I'm careful to take it in critically.) For example, it is because of Gone with the Wind that I understand (one view of) the roles of carpetbaggers during Reconstruction and privateers during the Civil War. Roots should be required reading, along with quite a few others.

Redigeret: aug 21, 2007, 2:32 pm

I'm also a lifelong southerner whose ancesters were firmly settled here between 1680-1710. No slave owners, just poor farmers, itinerate preachers and storekeepers. As a former historian I am constantly shocked about how little younger people know about the ante-Bellum south through the Civil Rights movement. It seems that as the generations who had first hand knowledge die out the less savory aspects are completely fading from memory. I recently got a shock when someone explained that the classic Billie Holiday song Strange Fruit was about lynching. Just when I thought I was shock proof I find out something new.

aug 21, 2007, 2:32 pm

citygirl: I couldn't agree more about Roots. This conversation is making me think our university really needs a course in Southern Lit. And I wish history classes would include more literature. And literature classes should have more history in them, too.

varielle: I can recall the first time I saw Hoiday singing Strange Fruit. I later read the song came from a poem that a university professor wrote. Her rendition is simply chilling. If I were to teach a course in Southern Lit, I would show that to my class.

aug 21, 2007, 2:52 pm

I can't listen to Strange Fruit. And, although they are beautiful, magnolias are forever tainted for me because of that song.

aug 21, 2007, 3:17 pm

citygirl: That would be a perfect first line to a novel or story.

aug 21, 2007, 4:51 pm

Thanks, Theresa! You may be right. I'll write it down and keep it handy. Those things are so hard to come up with when you're actually trying.

aug 21, 2007, 5:29 pm

citygirl: ain't it the truth! (smiles)