Friday, August 3, 2012

Scott Romine--The Real South: Southern Narrative in the Age of Cultural Reproduction

Evoking the work of Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno, Romine examines “the ‘real’/‘South’: a set of anxious, transient, even artificial intersections, sutures, or common surfaces between two concepts that are themselves remarkably fluid” (2-3).  He argues that “the South’s relatively abrupt entrance into modernity and its aftermath has generated a kind of time-space compression compression, if you will, wherein the South’s cultural and economic ‘backwardness’ relative to the U.S. nation has, ironically enough, placed it in the avant-garde of contemporary poetics” (4).  I’m fascinated by his reading of the Agrarians, who were “not too late for a South already corrupted by a capitalized and industrialized economy, but too early for a post-industrial economy wherein the flexible accumulation of capital would drive, and be driven by, the flexible accumulation of culture” (6).  Observing more recent accounts of the (post)South, Romine looks at both work by Martyn Bone and Jon Smith’s critique of Bone’s work: “narratives of rupture and continuity support tactical (scholarly) projects of different sorts—for Bone, an account of southern cities as dystopian effects of postnational finance capitalism; for Smith, an account of cities as ‘the best things to happen to the South’—and further, that they do so by suturing southern stories to southern spaces” (7).  In Romine’s consideration, his “own definition of the South, such as it is, would be precisely as a field of suture” (7).  He emphasizes the reproductive, reiterative nature of “the South”—“Post-essentialist accounts of the South (as something like a mere geographical container) characteristically reiterate, or at least depend upon, earlier essentialist accounts of what generated such boundaries in the first place” (14).
In his focus on narrative, Romine claims that “Narratives tell of, present, and portray desire even as they use and embody it, and in this doubling lies, I argue, narrative’s distinctive capacity to account, in the broadest sense, for desire’s operations as it is decoded, cut loose from more regulated forms of territoriality, and then reattached more tenuously and flexibly to themed spaces, localities, and artificial territorialities” (24).  Later, he uses this idea of narrative in his definition of culture:
I want to interrogate essentialist productions of the South as they are mapped on a stressed terrain of interlocking and overlapping territorialities, of rapid oscillations  of interpellation and articulation, of similarity and difference.  Instead of a real South, I want to think about the South as Appadurai suggests we should conceptualize culture: in a nonsubstantive way—that is, less a set of properties attached to a location (and still less a coherent “way of life” through which a coherent southern identity is maintained) than a flexible and loosely spatialized archive of “materials” (historical, cultural, material) differently mobilized in acts of situated and articulated difference, multiply embedded in what Kreyling calls narratives of identity (105)
in “the pragmatics (as opposed to the metaphysics) of authenticity” (106).  Ultimately, Romine argues that “we are still using regional culture as a tool to organize spaces, to build environments, and to tell stories,” and it is narratives which “strive to secure identities, cultures, and their locations as real, not fake, continuous, not contingent” (229).  The South is still a viable idea.

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