Call for Papers

It is on a double account that participants to the 2008 French Association for American Studies’ yearly conference will be invited to A Turn in the South. The conference is to take place in Montpellier and its theme will be “Souths”.

Singular South and plural Souths: this is meant as a distant nod to Jacques Darras, poet, explorer and translator of American poetry hailing from France’s north, who once chose to entitle an issue of his journal in’hui “Singular Norths and plural North”. For if the South is singular, “South” has a plural, manifold meaning for the United States.

The singular South

It will soon be twenty years since The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferriswas first published (1989).
It is divided into twenty-four sections: agriculture, art and architecture, black life, education, environment, ethnic life, folklife, geography, history and manners, industry, language, law, literature, media, music, mythic South, politics, recreation, religion, science and medicine, social class, urbanization, violence, women’s life.
Among the questions that seem worth raising is this one, perhaps the most obvious: what might the contribution of today’s American studies specialists – France’s and other countries’ – be to the question of Southern Culture. What, if any, new approaches to things Southern – both present and past – would seem essential? Have the original twenty-four sections lost some of their relevance? Should more crosscuts be created? Is religion, for example, gaining the upper hand over and even edging out politics? Is climate change initiating an economic mutation?
This could be an interesting perspective to accompany the publication of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture – with Charles Reagan Wilson as its general editor – a multiyear project which started materializing in 2006 with the release of its first four installments. We could also discuss the new light the first volumes of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture cast on the United States South.

Such are the questions that might serve as guidelines to this conference, in pursuit of the twenty-fifth volume.

Where is the South?

The South defined as the historical entity comprised of the former pro-slavery states remains a lively and unquestionable academic field as the vigor of Southern Studies shows. It has, however, become almost a tradition to ask whether the region’s specificity remains sufficiently marked to justify the existence of an autonomous field of studies. While welcoming contributions to the continuation of research in well-proven fields, this conference proposes to be an attempt at redefining the shifting borders of ‘the South’.

Although considered a heavyweight of Southern fiction, Cormac McCarthy exemplifies in the geography of his work the porosity of the borders of theSouth. The settings of his ten novels divide equally between the historical South and the South-West or even the West. Could it be that longitude has become more relevant than latitude to a definition of the South?

Plural South(s)

Apart from inviting examination of the United States’ South in its diversity, the plural ending in the above title should be taken as pointing to those places beyond the borders of the United States that are of no small significance to the country. Is the South of the United States not also the North of the Caribbean and of Latin America?

Yet other Souths are of much import to the United States: the South Pacific, the South Pole (remember Arthur Gordon Pym). A dispassionate assessment of America’s involvement in Iraq might appear to be useful. More generally, it would seem interesting to scrutinize the geo-strategic options taken by the United States as a long-standing economically and militarily pivotal nation in North-South relations.

What is the geographical weight of the non-US Souths in the investments made by American firms? What about the Souths appropriated by American writers: Greece, Italy, Morocco, Mexico, or even Languedoc or Provence? Is it only superficial or more in-depth appropriation?

What was and still is today the Americans’ conception of the Mediterranean? That dreamt by the West Indian poet Derek Walcott? Or that which inspired the Southern Agrarian Allen Tate to compose one of his most famous poems? Diachronically, the United States has always been one of the favorite destinations of emigrants from Southern Europe. What about twenty-first century Italian-Americans and all those hyphenated Americans coming from Southern Europe and from other Souths which now seem to have become much more important?

The South(s) and the Others

On the other hand, the South cannot be South of No North, as Bukowski says.

How have those not belonging to the American South represented the region, whether in the past or today? What images of the South, past and present, has the cinema popularized? What does the South mean to the authors who do not come from the South and cannot believe their eyes? Is the South attractive? What fluxes circulate between the South and the rest of the nation? What direction(s) do these fluxes have? What are the links between the South and the rest of the nation? Is the United States undergoing a “Southernization”, as was commonly said in the last decade of the twentieth century?

What is the representation of the South that prevails: that of an opening or of a closure?

Is it still a region acting as a foil, calling into question the relationships between ethnic and racial communities in the most brutal ways?

Or is the South perceived as pursuing, under different avatars, a tradition of intellectual openness? McCarthy again: is the “glen” of the last paragraph of The Road (2006) a distant echo to the influence of the Scottish Enlightenment or is it the sign of the South’s retreat into fiction? Once the hothouse of political figures and thinkers, is the South today losing part of its inspiration, as a result of its “mainstreaming”?

This theme will obviously attract a large audience. Whether people feel like questioning this South—or these Souths—or not; whether the South seems one or many; whether the South considered is plural or single/singular; whether people focus on another (other) South(s) than that of the United States; whether people’s interest lies with geographical or metaphorical Souths, American or not; whether they deal with the South(s), non-South(s), or anti-South(s); all should find a space in this proposed theme.

All proposals—emanating from specialists of literature, linguistics, the visual or non-visual arts, cinema, popular culture, history, geography, urbanism, sociology, political sciences—will be welcome.

Please send panel and individual paper proposals to both Vincent Dussol ( and Nathalie Dessens ( before September 1.