In this week’s episode, we travel to Copenhagen, Denmark to sit down with Martyn Bone, a southern studies scholar and Associate Professor at the University of Copenhagen, to discuss globalism and a postsouthern idea on an international scale. We touch on everything from overseas interest in U.S. Southern literature to the U.S. South’s long history with immigration, as well as our hometown Atlanta’s role in this international conversation.
Many students of the southern studies discipline may recognize Martyn Bone’s association with the term “postsouthern.” Martyn explains his role in the postsouthern conversation, citing the scholarship of Lewis P. Simpson and Michael Kreyling as progenitors of the term. Martyn’s goal was to reconnect the term to the material geography of the region, particularly as a term that could help contextualize the socio-economic and demographic change of the U.S. South, as well as reconceptualize the representation and feticization of southern space through postmodern critical theory.
Though the postsouthern concept does indicate change, Martyn emphasizes that the “post” does not mean a complete “moving on” or “breaking away from” -- rather, the term “postsouthern” invites us to rethink the South and its sense of place, particularly on an international level. Globalization is not a new occurence in the South, Martyn explains, and in regards to slavery, immigration, and trans-Atlantic economics, it carries quite a large presence in the geographic region. Though the U.S. South for many decades remained largely unappealing to immigrants, the 1970’s and 1980’s brought on a large wave of immigration, both trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific, and the changing demographics continue to impact how we view the South both as a concept and as an identity. Often, literature helps us understand this phenomenon in a way that numbers and statistics will not allow us to relate to. Martyn outlines how the novel, often written through a first-person narrative, creates a strong emotional response in a reader, and that connection can convey nebulous concepts like migration and demographic change in a more meaningful way than simple data.
Sometimes we cannot help but wonder what international interest the U.S. South and it’s literature could possibly generate for scholars in other parts of the U.S., let alone abroad (indeed, the fact that our humble podcast has attracted an international audience is a pleasant surprise to us!). Perhaps it is the impact of mass media, such as film and music, that has garnered this attention of overseas. Martyn recalls watching Dukes of Hazzard on the BBC in his youth, and the undeniable influence of rock n’ roll on British culture. Perhaps, he speculates, it is the perceived exoticism of the South, with cities such as New Orleans drawing international intrigue. Whatever the reason, these perceptions and images make the U.S. South an area of interest for international scholarship, and through their understanding, a clearer picture of this region emerges as a space characterized by immigration, globalization, and continual demographic change.
For more of Martyn Bone’s work, check out his books The Postsouthern Sense of Place in Contemporary Fiction and Where the New World Is: Literature about the U.S. South at Global Scales.