Martyn Bone , Brian Ward , and William A. Link (eds.), Creating and Consuming the American South (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2015, $79.95). Pp. 354. ISBN 978 0 8130 6069 9.

Research output: Contribution to journalBook/Film/Article review


The third publication to emerge from the Understanding the South, Understanding America international network, Creating and Consuming the American South is a rich and valuable volume for scholars of the region, expanding old and new southern studies. The collection is a comprehensive study of the ways in which the US South has been created, consumed, and “created for consumption” (1, original emphasis) in local and global contexts. Martyn Bone's excellent introduction, “Old/New/Post/Real/Global/No South: Paradigms and Scales,” signals in its title alone the slippery and often overwrought theorization of the US South today. The book, Bone writes, intends to “reorient our attention to the ways in which ideas and stories about ‘the South’ and ‘southernness’ have social and material effects that register on various local, regional, national, and transnational scales” (1). Most of the essays take seriously this scaling and perspectivizing of southern culture, but a few entries (from Jon Smith and Scott Romine in particular) seek to disrupt even the foundations of the edited collection. Smith, a vocal critic of southern exceptionalism in all its guises, takes issue with the “creating-and-consuming” framework, pointing instead to “post-postpolitical” southern studies, which will be a “southern studies without ‘the south’” (89). Aside from the excess of “posts” (which paradoxically obscure rather than clarify meaning), Smith's essay in effect pushes aside so much of the astute and nuanced work of Creating and Consuming the American South.

Essays in the collection examine a range of topics, but cluster around famous southern staples: food, music, place, race, sex. This is no problem, however, as the authors produce insightful readings through these frames. W. Fitzhugh Brundage's and Romine's essays tackle the actuality of consumption, showing the ways in which the (imagined) South has been pleasurably eaten through various foodways. Andrew Warnes looks to British rock music that has borrowed from (and re-created) the US South, and Adam Gussow examines blues music in rural Mississippi. Reflecting on a festival that he helped organize, Gussow has much to say on music, race and capital in the region. Similarly attuned to music, two essays read New Orleans in particular: from the ways jazz music has been consumed as a city emblem (Anne Dvinge) to the cultural regeneration of the city after Katrina and Deepwater Horizon (Helen Taylor). Building on these, Frank Cha's essay tracks the role of Vietnamese Americans in communities along the Gulf Coast, from New Orleans through Mississippi. In somewhat different territory, E. Patrick Johnson's essay on gay black southerners has much to say about the region's (raced) queerness while also reaching outwards to the larger United States. John Howard, relatedly, examines the short documentary The Joneses to explore transgender and disabled southerners and their constructions of place on and through film. In a more global turn, Deborah Cohn revisits William Faulkner and the ways in which his international State Department visits constructed various versions of the region and nation. Paige A. McGinley looks to the modernist opera Four Saints in Three Acts to show various global Souths interlocking onstage. Michael Bibler's excellent essay on Scott Elliott's novel Coiled in the Heart (2003) takes a different stance, and flags up that the recent turn to the postsouthern and its “world of surfaces and sign can distract readers from the physical, economic, and material actualities of the southern landscape” (117). Bibler thus provides a necessary investigation of climate change and environmentalism in the South. This important topic in cultural studies is yet to find this kind of traction in southern studies, and is therefore of significance to the field.

Tara McPherson's afterword to the collection considers the theme of authenticity, which she sees as threaded through the book (to different degrees and ends), but asks “what this focus on authenticity may be precluding” (318). Springboarding from the present essays, and pointing to the future of southern studies, McPherson “imagine[s] that southernness should not always be our starting point” in scholarship (321). Reflecting on her own critical writing, McPherson thinks that (unlike many of the essays in this collection) southern studies should be “more materialist and less southern,” gesturing away from representation to “conditions of production and the flow of capital” (320). This focus on the South in a network of global forces may yet displace the region from the field of enquiry, but the multifaceted scholarship of this collection alone – so thoroughly interested in the meanings and textures of the South – suggests that Dixie isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of American Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2016


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