As financially–and perhaps culturally–bankrupted southrons struggled against the surging tide of the Depression, a gifted coterie of southern historians, poets, playwrights, and literary critics “took their stand” in 1930. At the mocking typewriter of satirist Henry Louis Mencken (and others), the likes of Allen Tate, John Ransom, and Robert Penn Warren swung their rhetorical fists. Even today, controversy smolders over just what, exactly, the self-styled Agrarians were resisting. Underpinned by populist, anti-industrialist, and even anti-modern sentiment, the Nashville Twelve grappled with fundamental themes of cultural conservatism and religiosity in the post-WW1 South. More specifically, they concerned themselves with halting the cultural clock; a ballad of sorts to functionalism grounded by a base social mythology that, according to many forward thinkers, did not (and had not) actually function(ed). Troublesome, to say the least, are the inevitable implications of that “Fugitive base” regarding matters of race and citizenship. On one hand, no halfway competent observer would lightly brush aside this dilemma of cultural determinism and racialized agency. On the other, the historical impact of ideas produced by the Agrarians–some good, some bad–on southern literature, and culture more broadly is, at any rate, undeniable. In conjunction with K. A. Porter, Tennessee Williams, and William Faulkner, Warren and company helped refashion the southern intellectual landscape that Mencken so loved to hate. And, in all fairness to the Sage of Baltimore, several aspects of that landscape now owe well to his caustic prodding.
We, on the contrary, are not fugitive poets, nor are we Commodores. Truth be told, there aren’t even twelve of us. The Southern Roundtable is, at its core, not a political mechanism. We are not taking an ideological stand–not one of partisan character, anyway. We are not generally in the business of defining racial mores, social protest, or arresting time to lament the passage of days and cultural structures long below ground–if they ever existed to begin with. We are, however, in the business of historical inquiry and commentary; the history of all things considered southern: cultural, political, social, literary. The Southern Roundtable does not constrain itself to traditional methodological frameworks. As far as we’re concerned, Geography, English, Art History, and Film constitute equally viable lenses to the meandering history of southern culture. These terms constitute our stand. Our interests run the complete topical gamut. From Josey Wales to Flannery O’Connor–you’re in the right place.
With this in mind, Faulkner seems appropriate (on a side note, when isn’t this the case?): “Unless you’re ashamed of yourself now and then, you’re not honest.” Agreeable? Perhaps not. But no one will ever call us dishonest.
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