A Backward’s/Forward Reflection
The South. All the talk about what is “southern” the past few decades stems from a question that is deeper than the region that my class chooses to call home. Regionalism. Identity. Awareness. The bigger picture. As interest in the South is growing, one has to ask his or her self what the importance of this region is. The interest in “Southern Studies” is not new, per se, but directed towards a new niche.
As long as academic papers have been written, there have always been critiques of regions, encompassing the art, history, and folklore of the traditions. For the South, there have been misconceptions since the dawn of the Americas, but why?
In Dr. Caison’s class this is exactly what we were asked to pursue. From the first day of class when I saw the syllabus I began asking myself, what do all of these things have in common? Putting the South in the backseat, how do these texts, essays, and films fulfill one unique perspective. Today I can answer that question better than I could 12 weeks ago, but the answer is not complete, and perhaps never will be. The whole point of a study is to not answer questions you already have, but to find new questions and sort research into a conclusion. My biggest problem with this class was that I wanted to fit the South into a box that I already decorated with the folklore I had heard, filled with the history I wanted, and decked floor to wall only with the literature I had chosen to read. This was not the South, it was a time capsule of what I wanted people to regard the South.
What I needed was room in my head for new ideas (see above). The South was something personal to me, as a boy born in the South but raised by two parents form upstate New York, everything was new, both to me and my parents. On my dads side he was the first generation born in America from the United Kingdom. On my Mother’s side she was the first generation born in America from Poland and Ukraine, surely I had an identity crisis. As I continued to research for the class, I slowly realized as Lacan and Freud point out, we are all enduring a lifelong identity crisis.
When I took my personal research into account I realized that my preconceived notions (the shoebox) was not necessarily invalid, but it certainly contained fallacies. Trying to pinpoint surreal elements in southern art was a task for me that I had never taken on, as a literature student I usually don’t turn to photography to find answers. What I found was that photography is actually a great medium to grapple the task I set out to do. Just as still images are invented through a photographer and lens, so is identity. While we can attribute a photo to the photographer and even to a make and model of a camera, is it okay that we cant do the same to identity of a person, or even a whole region?
Through the different perspective of discourse that we covered in this class I realized that is ok to not know who the curator of identity is. What is important is to question. Question the motives behind stereotypes. Question why people are categorized in the first place. Question why something is worthy of a study in the first place.
As a so called “southerner” I challenge myself, just as Dr. Caison did, to look beyond the popular discourse of all regions and groups of people. Instead of isolating, try seeing a group in realtion to a larger narrative, see who is writing the narrative, see where other people fit inside the narrative. The South like many other places has both a dark side and a light side. Dr. Caison gave me a new lens to view the South and I choose to keep that lens in my future studies!