A skeptical view of the way the mainstream has defined and studied southern literature
"I take...an outward route, arguing
that the Agrarian project was and must be seen as a willed campaign on
the part of one elite to establish and control 'the South' in a period
of intense cultural maneuvering. The principal organizers of I'll Take
My Stand knew full well there were other 'Souths' than the one they touted;
they deliberately presented a fabricated South as the one and only real
In Inventing Southern Literature
Michael Kreyling casts a penetrating ray upon the traditional canon of
southern literature and questions the modes by which it was created. He
finds that it was, indeed, an invention rather than a creation.
In the 1930s the foundations were laid by the Fugitive-Agrarian group,
a band of poet-critics that wished not only to design but also to control
the southern cultural entity in a conservative political context. From
their heyday to the present, Kreyling investigates the historical conditions
under which literary and cultural critics have invented "the South" and
how they have chosen its representations. Through his study of these choices,
Kreyling argues that interested groups have shaped meanings that preserve
"a South" as "the South."
As the Fugitive-Agrarians molded the
region according to their definition in I'll Take My Stand, they professed
to have developed a critical method that disavowed any cultural or political
intent or content, a claim that Kreyling disproves. He shows that their
torch was taken by Richard Weaver on the Right and Louis D. Rubin, Jr.,
on the Center-Left and that both critics tried to preserve the Fugitive-Agrarian
credo despite the severe stresses imposed during the era of desegregation.
As the southern literary paradigm
has been attacked and defended, certain issues have remained in the forefront.
Kreyling takes on three:
reconciling the imperatives of race with the traditional
definitions of the South;
testing the ways white women writers of the South
have negotiated space within or outside the paradigm; and
analyzing the critics' use and abuse of William
Faulkner (the major figure of southern literature) as they have relied
on his achievement to anchor the total project called Southern Literature.
a professor of English at Vanderbilt University, is the author of several
books, including Eudora Welty's Achievement of Order and Author
and Agent: Eudora Welty and Diarmuid Russell.