Literarisches Events (in and around Lawrence KS)

  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Thursday, September 11, 7:00 p.m., Spooner Hall, KU Campus.
  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Friday, September 19, 7:00 p.m. Lawrence Public Library. Sponsored by Raven Bookstore.
  • DENNIS ETZEL, JR. & RACHEL CROSS. Lawrence. Thursday, September 25, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • TONY TRIGILIO. Lawrence. Thursday, Oct. 2, 4:00 p.m., English Room, Kansas Union, KU Campus. FREE.
  • CALEB PUCKETT & JUSTIN RUNGE. Lawrence. Thursday, October 16, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • BEN LERNER. Kansas City, MO. Thursday, October 23, 7:00 p.m., Epperson Auditorium, Vanderslice Hall on the KCAI campus, 4415 Warwick Blvd.
  • KRISTIN LOCKRIDGE & ROBERT DAY. Lawrence. Thursday, December 4, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The New Agrarians

My dad, watching Ken Burns' Civil War series, listening to Shelby Foote hold forth: "Hmph. I wonder what Confederate general he thinks he is."

There was an article in the Dec. 11 Chronicle of Higher Education about the Abbeville Institute - named after John C. Calhoun's birthplace: "[T]he group does not endorse secession but does say the idea has moral and political validity. . . . Abbeville's scholars conend, for example, that the Civil War - or as they often refer to it, the War of Northern Aggression or the War to Prevent Southern Independence - was not about slavery (the system was on its way out anyway, they argue) and that the antebellum Southern states had every right to secede." O-Kaaaay . . .  Their web site states that one of their goals is "to explore the metaphysical image of things human and divine to which the Southern tradition bears witness." And the white folks are under attack at the secular humanist universities, don't you know. . . . Jeeeeeezus.

Apparently, this is a group of white, southern academics who embrace the vision of the Agrarians, those 1930s white southerners who yearned for an antebellum south as a kind of Jeffersonian republic (one which, in the hands of Allen Tate, blurred into an agrarian Middle Ages oozing with noblese oblige). It's pathetic enough to be nostalgic for a corn-pone version of a regime based on slavery (or serfdom). How pathetic is it to be nostalgic for a movement that was based on nostalgia? Zip-a-dee-doo-dah. They remind me of a society of eccentric elderly gentlemen who are convinced the plays of Shakespeare were not written by Shakespeare.

One "founding member," Clyde N. Wilson, emeritus historian at the U. of South Carolina, says, "The academic tendency now, because of America's preoccupation with the race question the last half-century or so, is to put the whole Southern history into a dark little cordner of American history." By "preoccupation with the race question," one assumes that Prof. Wilson is referring to what the rest of us know as "The Civil Rights Movement." Of course, a lot of that "preoccupation" (or occupation - of lunch counters, libraries, etc.) happened in the south. And most of the occupying civil rights advocates were southerners. But clearly, for Prof. Wilson, there are no black southerners.

Let me tell you something. I grew up around these clowns (not these particular ones, but ones cut from the same cloth).  And it all boils down to this: they can't admit that the difference between soul food and "southern cooking" is the difference between hog jowls and hamhocks.

If you're surprised to hear a Chinese person speaking with a Mississippi delta accent, then you don't know diddly about the south. If you pretend that such people don't exist, then you're constructing a south ("jury-rigging" one, perhaps?) based on palpable bullshit.

The fact is that this our era of transnational capital is a far cry from the era of primitive agribusiness that characterized the antebellum south. And this bunch differs crucially from the Agrarians. The latter were "values conservatives" before the term was coined: they were anti-capitalist racists. This new generation of apologists is a product of the era of neoconservatism - that marriage of capitalist interests and Nixonian "cultural politics." Abbeville "attracts about $30,000 in donations annually"? And is having its "Seventh Annual Scholars Conference" at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University? And attracts people like Eugene D. Genovese? Why do I detect the whiff of (corporate-backed) neocon dollars at work?

The Abbeville bozos have as much right to embarrass themselves as I do (and god knows I take every advantage of that liberty!) - it's a free country (no thanks to the white south). But you want to get Americans to stop viewing the white southerner as a caraciture? Great! Then stop acting like one!

3 comments:

Susan said...

I can feel the breeze all the way out here in Hawai`i, Joe. You tell 'em!

Equality said...

I've seen as much of the white south as I ever want to right here in Kansas.

Joseph Harrington said...

Excellent point, Equality. It didn't take me long to realize this is a suburb of the south. An Af-Am acquaintance of mine from the south said she picked up on it right away. Needless to say.