Ghost stories are frequently attached to a particular place—a house, a bedroom, a hallway, or a highway. The stories themselves even take on regional inflections, changing as they are told in different environments. To celebrate Halloween, we sat down with Eric Gary Anderson, Associate Professor at George Mason University to talk about Undead Souths.
Eric describes how, southern spookiness is expanding to encompass more than just Southern Gothic tales. The Southern Gothic describes creative works about self-contained, closed spaces: old, dark houses, for instance. Narratives linked what happened in the architectural interior to what happened in the psychic interior of the characters involved. The genre borrows from European and British traditions, and it focuses on the Civil War, plantations, slavery, airing out the white fears and anxieties associated with the South. While Eric emphasizes that there are some great Southern Gothic stories, the genre has its limits. Together with Taylor Hagood and Daniel Cross Turner, Eric developed Undead Souths: The Gothic and Beyond in Southern Literature and Culture, an edited collection devoted to decentering the Southern Gothic, and interrogating the “undead souths,” or aspects of the South that rise up in troubling, creepy, supernatural, disturbing, or scary ways. Eric also explains that moving away from Southern Gothic provides space to expand beyond British and European genealogies to incorporate and examine Caribbean, Indigenous, and African texts as well.
True Blood, The Walking Dead, The Vampire Diaries, and American Horror Story: Coven are all filmed and set in the U.S. South, which leads us to question how the South functions as a receptacle for creepiness in contemporary supernatural television shows. While the surge might be partially due to economic reasons, Eric describes some of the questions these shows might raise. Specifically, he asks how the political empire, business ventures, and fundamentalist religious dynasties in True Blood might offer a commentary about the South.
We close our conversation by discussing a couple of Eric’s Halloween favorites. His favorite vampire is the titular Son of Dracula who travels to Georgia in a 1940s film, operating under the alias Count Alucard. Eric cites the blair witch from 1999’s The Blair Witch Project as his favorite southern witch.
We would like to thank our special guest this week, Eric Gary Anderson. Eric is an Associate Professor of English at George Mason University where he teaches Native and Southern Studies. In addition to his first book, American Indian Literature and the Southwest, he’s published more than twenty essays and edited volumes and journals. His most recent work includes contributions to Keywords for Southern Studies, Native South, and The Oxford Handbook of the Literature of the U.S. South. Together with Taylor Hagood and Daniel Cross Turner, he also edited Undead Souths: The Gothic and Beyond in Southern Literature and Culture, which we discussed on today’s episode. We would also like to thank William Faulkner’s ghost for his brief guest appearance.
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