It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The South Will Rise Again

The quotation below is from "Ecology of a Cracker Childhood", by Janisse Ray (1999), an imperfect book but moving and smart and highly recommended nonetheless.

You can't understand the world today without understanding the American South: it is a keystone. And you can't understand the South by trivializing and villainizing it. These words from Janisse Ray may strike many, from North and South alike, as strange, but perhaps they carry the seeds of some deeper understanding:
When we consider what is happening to our forests - and to the birds, reptiles and insects that live there - we must also think of ourselves. Culture springs from the actions of people in a landscape, and what we, especially Southerners, are watching is a daily erosion of unique folkways as our native ecosystems and all their inhabitants disappear. Our culture is tied to the longleaf forest that produced us, that has sheltered us, that we occupy. The forest keeps disappearing, disappearing, sold off, stolen.
...
We don't mind growing trees in the South; it's a good place for silviculture, sunny and watery, with a growing season to make a Yankee gardener weep. What we mind is that all our trees are being taken. We want more than 1 per cent natural stands of longleaf. We know a pine plantation is not a forest, and the wholesale conversion to monocultures is unacceptable to us.

We Southerners are a people fighting again for our country, defending the last remaining stands of real forest. Although we love to frolic, the time has come to fight. We must fight.

In new rebellion we stand together, black and white, urbanite and farmer, workers all, in keeping Dixie. We are a patient peopple who for generations have not been ousted from this land and we are willing to fight for the birthright of our children's children, and their children's children, to be of a place, in all ways, for all time. What is left is not enough. When we say the South will rise again we can mean that we will allow the cutover forests to return to their former grandeur and pine plantations to grow wild.

The whippoorwill is calling from the edge.

15 comments:

Tony Sidaway said...

"You can't understand the world today without understanding the American South"

Yes you can. Wake up and get over those irrelevant idiots and try to engage with the world. You know, those billions of people who don't live in America and are certainly not living in a particular part of America.

Michael Tobis said...

You illustrate my point.

Don't do that.

You are missing a great deal with such talk, every bit as much as they are. And connecting with them, like it or not, is crucial.

Tony Sidaway said...

I'll come back when you can do something other than "I know what you are, but what am I?"

Seriously, don't talk about "the world" when you're referring to a bunch of loonies in the southern states of the USA.

Michael Tobis said...

If that's not ignorance and prejudice I don't know what is.

I am not referring to "a bunch of loonies", I am referring to a culture that has great importance both because of its strategic geopolitical aspects but also because of its immensely creative culture. (Perhaps you have heard of something called "rock and roll"?)

You can't exclude them from the world even if it made sense to do so. Their isolation and their influence are indeed a scary combination. But treating this immense and deep and contradictory culture as if it were the only place on earth unworthy of respect is not the way to get past the problems they present.

Tony Sidaway said...

No, they're a small part even of your own country. They're stupid and spiteful and must be excluded from all consideration. Just ignore them, they're idiots and, you know this, we all laugh at them. But we're scared because you insist on taking them seriously. Just stop that. If you don't, it's your fault.

Victor said...

"They're stupid and spiteful and must be excluded from all consideration."

Look, one of them just spent 8 years in charge of the US. You may wish to ignore the south of the US but you really shouldn't.

Michael Tobis said...

Well, in addition to the interesting quote I provided, you might consider (limiting to interesting white people...)

William Faulkner
E O Wilson
Jimmy Carter
Al Gore
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Wendell Berry
Truman Capote
Buddy Holly
Elvis Presley
Hank Williams
Janis Joplin
Willie Nelson

just off the top of my head.

All of these people display uniquely southern-USA characteristics, and the world would be far poorer without them.

But since "stupid and spiteful" is "beyond consideration", enough said about that.

ScruffyDan said...

The south represents an important aspect of the Republican base.

Republicans represent an important aspect of US politics.

US politics represents an important aspect of global politics.

So even with this very limited perspective the South is obviously important.

Greg said...

Ok, so the South is important. (I'm not sure *which* President Viktor meant, but Clinton was really from there. His successor, not so much.)

But seriously, how often do you hear a Southern politician on the national stage say *anything* positive about environmental protection, let alone restoration? Janisse Ray makes an interesting case, but isn't likely to become a US Representative or Senator.

So is there a wide gulf between those politicians and their constituents? Not unless Ray's words do a lot more conscious-raising than they have so far.

Paul Daniel Ash said...

To add to mt's list:

Jim Wa-Tho-Huk Thorpe
Hank Aaron
Muddy Waters
George Washington Carver
Nat Turner
Martin Luther M*therf*cking King, Jr.

Generalizing about people is a bad and foolish idea, unless you're talking about people who generalize about people. Those people are all stupid and spiteful and must be excluded from all consideration.

Hank Roberts said...

Thank you, Michael. Good one.

rustneversleeps said...

@ Paul Ash,

Or, as Austin Powers' father (Michael Caine) put it so well:

"There's only two things I can't stand in this world. People who are intolerant of other people's cultures... And the Dutch!"

Pangolin said...

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."_Kay, Men In Black

Exceptional individuals rise from every culture. Not every culture has a palpable majority that lives in flat denial of reality. Not every culture makes a religious fetish of ignorance to the point of making a political platform out of the willingness to corrupt or destroy institutions of education. The South does these things or at least a political majority does.

At this point in time The South appears to be hell bent on auto-eco-genocide. Burn more coal. Drill, baby, drill. It ain't raining in Texas but it's fracking just fine.

Yeah, they're important; like an oncoming train is important when you're walking across the trestle bridge......they aren't stopping and whatever we can do to save ourselves might not get us to safety unless they do.

Michael Tobis said...

Look, I'm not saying there isn't a problem. I'm the one living with Governor Perry. You don't have to tell me twice.

I'm saying the solution to the problem isn't by trivializing and depersonalizing the culture and the people in it, or in failing to recognize its values and those many things it has to its credit, some of them uniquely so.

Jim Bouldin said...

Allman Brothers for the win!

And with special relevance here, this guy in particular:
http://www.chuckleavell.com/blog2/trees/