18 May 2009

Southern Literature Reading List

So, here is my quixotic little reading list. Should keep me busy for the next couple years.

The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor
The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote
Suttree by Cormac McCarthy
Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
Light in August by William Faulkner
Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor
Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe
A Death in the Family by James Agee
Lanterns on the Levee by William Alexander Percy
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty
The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines
The Fathers by Allen Tate
The Collected Stories of Caroline Gordon
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain

17 May 2009

Imaginary Geography

I grew up below the Mason Dixon line in Frederick, MD. Maryland is located in a tricky place geographically. But I don't think I would be on too shaky ground if I were to say I grew up in the South. Summers did get hot there sometimes, I recall, and our state song proudly--disturbingly--proclaims "Maryland! / She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb- / Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!" [1] and was a hit in certain Confederate circles back in the early 1860's.

Yet here in Alabama my accent betrays me: here I'm a yankee. No getting around it.

But all this brings up the question: where does the South begin? Or, to put it in negative terms, where does yankee territory begin?

I found something helpful in a book by Slavoj Žižek, where he wonders the same thing about the Balkans:
It seems as if there is no definitive answer to the question 'Where do the Balkans begin?' -- the Balkans are always somewhere else, a little bit more towards the southeast... Is not this identification of continental Europe itself with the Balkans, its barbarian Other, the secret truth of the entire movement of the displaced delimitation between the two? This enigmatic multiple displacement of the frontier clearly demonstrates that in the case of the Balkans we are dealing not with real geography but with an imaginary cartography which projects on to the real landscape its own shadowy, often disavowed, ideological antagonisms, just as Freud claimed that the localization of the hysteric's conversion symptoms project on to the physical body the map of another, imaginary anatomy.[2]

Similarly the Yankee is always from somewhere else, a little bit more north. I smiled when I read in To Kill a Mockingbird how a pair of sisters from northern Alabama were considered yankees.

Misses Tutti and Frutti Barber were maiden ladies, sisters, who lived together in the only Maycomb residence boasting a cellar. The Barber ladies were rumored to be Republicans, having migrated from Clanton, Alabama, in 1911. Their ways were strange to us, and why they wanted a cellar nobody knew, but they wanted one, and they dug one, and they spent the rest of their lives chasing generations of children out of it.

Misses Tutti and Frutti (their names were Sarah and Frances), aside from their Yankee ways, were both deaf.[3]

What all this means is that to really explore the South it is not enough to journey through the physical landscape, one must also travel about the imaginary landscape. The cotton fields and bayous, the gulf coast and red dirt roads are necessary, but not sufficient. Ideas and Art, Dreams and Nightmare must also be on our itinerary. Luckily, just as in the South there is no shortage of compelling scenery, I think, the imaginary geography is equally compelling.

[1] Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maryland,_My_Maryland
[2] Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird.
[3] Žižek, Slavoj. The Fragile Absolute.


As is likely clear from the less than frequent posting, I haven't been able to blog as much as I would like to (or at all, really). But rather than give up, I've decided to expand the scope of this project: not only will I be reading and writing about the great literature of the South (my reading lists will be subject of a future post), I will also be reading through and commenting about the Southern Agrarians of the early to mid twentieth century--as well as some more recent Agrarians--and two closely related literary groups: the Fugitive poets of Vanderbilt, and the New Critics.

Agrarian Reading List

I’ll Take My Stand
by Twelve Southerners
The Southern Tradition at Bay of Richard M. Weaver
The Art Of The Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays Of Wendell Berry
The Southern Tradition by Eugene Genovese
The New Agrarian Mind by Allan Carlson

New Criticism Reading List

The Well-Wrought Urn by Cleanth Brooks
Understanding Poetry by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren
The Verbal Icon by W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe K. Beardsley

Fugitive Poetry List

Collected Poems, 1919-1976 by Allen Tate
Selected Poems by John Crowe Ransom
The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren

Wish me luck. This may take a few years...