The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

THE SOUTH: AMERICA'S ENCHANTED FOREST
I went to see Big Fish last week. I enjoyed it a lot; it was a sweet movie. I'm glad I can still count on Tim Burton to deliver.

While watching, I thought about how integral the setting of the film--the South--was to making it all work. I'm aware that the movie is an adaptation of the novel of the same name, and so plot elements like location were pre-set. Still, as in so many similar stories, the South (or more properly, the idea of the South) plays a special role, unique in American literature.

I've been trying to better crystalize my thoughts along these lines for the past week. Unfortunately, I haven't had much luck; lack of time and inclination to dig very deep, beyond the works of Faulkner, Welty and other Southern greats. I've got some very brief sketchings the lines of what I wanted to get across, and as loathe as I usually am to post incomplete work on this blog, I think I have to cut the chord and do that now. If nothing else, it'll leave a reference point for me to go back to another time. Maybe it'll even inspire someone else to expand further:

I find that the South serves American literature and fiction as a native enchanted land--our version of Europe's Black Forest, filled with oddball characters, gentle creatures and hateful monsters. Built into this conception of the South is that it is part of America, but apart from it; an "over there" that's just far enough away to be otherworldly, but close enough to be famililar.

Of course, this characterization assumes a mindset that, while "national", is decidedly Northern, and specifically Northeastern/New Englander--the traditional intellectual/academic/literary counterpoint to the South in American life. This is no surprise, as the Civil War went a long way toward securing a cultural victory to match the political and economic victory that the North won. It's not a position that's actively maintained, but it's part of the implicit order of things that has been in place for more than a century.