A Southern Renaissance

A Southern Renaissance : The Cultural Awakening of the American South, 1930-1955

3.25 (4 ratings by Goodreads)
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The upsurge of Southern writing in the thirties and forties, and the literary reassessment of the region's traditions is reflectedshow more

Product details

  • Hardback | 364 pages
  • 142.24 x 210.82 x 27.94mm | 566.99g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195026640
  • 9780195026641

Review Text

From Faulkner to C. Vann Woodward, from the Southern family romance to the new Southern liberalism: a dense,detailed, penetrating analysis that stands as a kind of doctrinaire sequel to W. J. Cash's The Mind of the South. King teaches philosophy and history at the University of the District of Columbia, and he has many, perhaps too many, historical-philosophical arrows in his quiver. He's a liberal, a populist, and a Freudian; he attacks literary, political, economic, sociological, and psychological issues with equal intensity. For King's purposes the Southern Renaissance grew out of the attempts by artists and scholars to deal with the mythic traditions of the Southern family, with white racism, and with the standard interpretations of Southern politics (e.g., the "solid South"). King sees this Renaissance as a three-stage process, moving from cultural melancholia and obsessive repetition of the past (as in Light in August or Will Percy's Lanterns on the Levee), through tragic recollection and despairing confrontation with the past (as in the figure of Quentin Compson from Absalom, Absalom! or Allen Tate's The Fathers), to a critical demystification and transcendence of the past (as in "The Bear" or the work of W. J. Cash and Lillian Smith), where "not only the impossibility but the undesirability of resurrecting the tradition becomes clear." The South - or a small, and highly self-conscious, part of it - recognizes the old fantasies, errors, and lies without becoming fixated on them, and thus awakes from the nightmare of history. There is a catch, however. The analytic, or ironic, mode characteristic of this final phase is marked by a certain sterility. Ike MacCaslin in Go Down Moses acknowledges the guilt that haunts his family and the world he lives in, and liberates himself by renouncing his inheritance - which leaves him radically alone. The ironic historical consciousness of someone like Woodward sees through the futility and destructiveness of Southern society, but has no values or goals beyond itself, "no satisfactory theodicy." All this, as King admits, is a distinctly theoretical approach, but he anchors his abstractions in close readings of a great variety of texts. True, King sometimes overdoes his Freudianism (in arguing that whites associated blacks with "pre-Oedipal drive fragments") or his delight in exposing illogic (in his overblown epicrisis of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men); but he has a lot to say, almost all of it pointed and provocative. A solid performance. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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