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Tara Powell, The Intellectual in Twentieth-Century
Southern Literature (Baton Rouge: Louisiana
State University Press, 2012, \$42.50). Pp. 288. isbn 978 0 8071 3898 4.
Journal of American Studies / Volume 47 / Issue 01 / February 2013, pp 287 - 288
DOI: 10.1017/S0021875812002216, Published online: 12 February 2013
Link to this article: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0021875812002216
How to cite this article:
TED ATKINSON (2013). Journal of American Studies, 47, pp 287-288 doi:10.1017/
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Downloaded from http://journals.cambridge.org/AMS, IP address: 220.127.116.11 on 15 Mar 2015 http://journals.cambridge.org Downloaded: 15 Mar 2015 IP address: 18.104.22.168 of Middle East modernization, moreover, I am surprised that Jacobs does not examine the considerable unease engendered within the corporate sector of the network by
Komer’s concurrent efforts to engage Nasser during the Kennedy years.
With some sympathy, Jacobs writes of the network’s fracturing and eclipse in the wake of the Six Day War. Here, I think, he is tracing one strand of a broader process noted by domestic historians such as Brian Balogh, Julian Zelizer, and others: the political decline of experts amid popular assaults on their privileged status in policy debates. Yet, in spite of the eclipse of the founding generations of Middle East specialists, we seem doomed to cycle through variations on their prior responses to the challenges posed by that region. Matthew Jacobs has provided scholars, students, and policymakers alike with an invaluable account of the evolution of American thought about that area, thereby offering at least a fleeting hope that better-informed decisions might lie in our future.
R O B E R T R A KOV EUnited States Studies Centre, University of Sydney
Journal of American Studies, (), . doi:./S
Tara Powell, The Intellectual in Twentieth-Century Southern Literature (Baton
Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, , $.). Pp. . ISBN .
Among the qualities associated with the US South to bolster the claim of regional distinctiveness, aversion to the life of the mind is commonly deployed. Famously or infamously, depending on the perspective, H. L. Mencken used this marker to map the South as a cultural wasteland populated by abjectly ignorant rubes. Ironically,
W. J. Cash’s landmark study The Mind of the South () goes against the titular grain to demonstrate that the “mind” is really made of heart and soul. Cash’s prototypical southerner acts on passion, faith, and temperament rather than reason.
Even now, as scholars vigorously interrogate southern exceptionalism founded on assertions of essential(ist) regional traits, the allegedly uncurious South pervades media narratives as evinced by discussions of the Tea Party as a decidedly southern-accented national political phenomenon –Cash’s southern “savage ideal” writ large. This extensive cultural history makes Tara Powell’s The Intellectual in Twentieth-Century
Southern Literature seem both timely and long overdue. In this thorough and insightful study, Powell analyzes selected southern authors and texts to make the claim that “the agrarian tradition combined in distinctive ways with the peculiar institution of slavery and the southern literary tradition to promote the stereotype of southerners and even southern literature being notably, even fiercely, “anti-intellectual’” (). In spite of its resonance, Powell contends, “the southern anti-intellectual trope has never been facile, singular, or static” (). To explore this conceptual malleability, Powell focusses on late twentieth-century southern authors who write at the intersection of regional and academic discourses assumed to be in opposition, “to play on the older southern anti-intellectual trope in new ways” ().
The book consists of seven chapters, the first of which lays crucial groundwork for the entire study. Through deft synthesis of material, Powell traces the cultural history of the anti-intellectual trope, identifying three types of southern intellectual that take shape: the “masked,” the “exiled,” and the “dysfunctional.” Powell extends this line from Thomas Jefferson to the Southern Agrarians and Cash, relying quite heavily on Reviews http://journals.cambridge.org Downloaded: 15 Mar 2015 IP address: 22.214.171.124
Michael O’Brien’s work on southern intellectual history. At one point, Powell acknowledges that this approach resists a theoretical framework in order to consider instead what writers themselves mean to be doing, by proceeding from a premise that recognizes that imaginative writers deploy their felt southernness to participate in and respond to nationally, locally, and personally constituted ideas about region. (–)
Significantly, Powell adds that such a project need not be “hostile” to recent critical trends in southern studies “treating regional identity as an ideology about experience rather than necessarily a reflection of an actually exceptional South” (). Indeed, readers in search of a study that troubles and is troubled by conventional regional paradigms will have to look elsewhere, for Powell assumes a rather stable conception of “the South” while still allowing for individual writers’ perspectives on what regional identity and affiliation might mean.
The remaining chapters cover a diverse range of southern authors and texts brought together by Powell’s claim that they share a proclivity for transforming the marginalized status of intellectuals in the South into productive space for creativity. Flannery