The Nation's Region: Southern Modernism, Segregation, and U.S. Nationalism

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How could liberalism and apartheid coexist for decades in our country, as they did during the first half of the twentieth century? This study looks at works by such writers as Thomas Dixon, Erskine Caldwell, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, and Ralph Ellison to show how representations of time in southern narrative first accommodated but finally elucidated the relationship between these two political philosophies.

Although racial segregation was codified by U.S. law, says Leigh Anne Duck, nationalist discourse downplayed its significance everywhere but in the South, where apartheid was conceded as an immutable aspect of an anachronistic culture. As the nation modernized, the South served as a repository of the country's romantic notions: the region was represented as a close-knit, custom-bound place through which the nation could temper its ambivalence about the upheavals of progress. The Great Depression changed this. Amid economic anxiety and the international rise of fascism, writes Duck, "the trope of the backward South began to comprise an image of what the United States could become."

As she moves from the Depression to the nascent years of the civil rights movement to the early cold war era, Duck explains how experimental writers in each of these periods challenged ideas of a monolithically archaic South through innovative representations of time. She situates their narratives amid broad concern regarding national modernization and governance, as manifest in cultural and political debates, sociological studies, and popular film. Although southern modernists' modes and methods varied along this trajectory, their purpose remained focused: to explore the mutually constitutive relationships between social forms considered "southern" and "national."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The Nation's Region is a brilliant study of Southern regionalism, U.S. nationalism, and American literary modernism. It is exhaustively and meticulously well-informed, bristling with cutting-edge reformulations and recastings of established problems and solutions. It is also beautifully written, with prose that is unfailingly lucid, lean, and exact. This book will be a leading contribution to new Southern studies."--John T. Matthews, Boston University

"Readers interested in political history, as well as literature, will find the book to be revealing. . . . The overall thesis, that the nation as a whole found southern exceptionalism, backwardness, and even apartheid to be at times convenient and even alluring, is fresh and provocative."--Kathryn Lee Seidel, H-Net

“Duck has made a worthwhile contribution to studies of the South by focusing on the constructedness of the region's backwardness."--Keith E. Byerman, Journal of American History

"Most readers will find The Nation's Region to be a provocative and thoughtful book that offers some new ways of looking at southern literature."--Robert L. Dorman, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

“Demonstrate[s] some of the possibilities of regional geography in literary studies as we attempt to develop a local sense of the global."--David A. Davis, Modern Fiction Studies

"Scrupulously researched and critically lively . . . an elegant piece of work that deserves to be added to models for future work in the field."--Michael Kreyling, Southern Cultures

"Leigh Anne Duck expertly situates and analyzes a wide range of literary, dramatic and filmic texts. Commanding an impressive mastery of primary and secondary sources, she synthesizes disparate methodologies, including historiography, narratology, cultural studies, sociology, political theory, and psychoanalysis."--Scott Romine, University of North Carolina, Greensboro

"The Nation's Region offers a series of sustained analyses not of sectional difference but of the idea of sectional difference—the South as national exception, as Derridean supplement, as imaginary geography, as chronotope, as toxic dump. Her argument that 1930s debates about the social character of the South opened up a space for narrative experimentation in the work of Caldwell, Hurston, Agee, Faulkner, Wright, and others is extremely cogent and enormously useful."--Eric Lott, University of Virginia

Southern Cultures
. . . scrupulously researched and critically lively . . . an elegant piece of work that deserves to be added to models for future work in the field.
—Michael Kreyling
Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
... most readers will find The Nation's Region to be a provocative and thoughtful book that offers some new ways of looking at southern literature.
—Robert L. Dorman
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820334189
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2009
  • Series: New Southern Studies Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Leigh Anne Duck is an associate professor of English at the University of Memphis, where she is also a faculty affiliate of the Center for Research on Women and the Women’s Studies Program.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
    American and Southern Exceptionalisms 1

part one. imagining affiliation
   one: Region, Race, and Nation 17
   two: Economy Crisis 50

part two. modernist mappings
   three: Erskine Caldwell and the Abject South 85
   four: Zora Neale Hurston and the Chronotope of the Folk 115
   five: William Faulkner and the Haunted Plantation 146

part three. the shifting “south”
   six: Provincial Cosmopolitanism 177
   seven: The Nation’s Region Redux 212

Notes 249
Works Cited 291
Index 331

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