"This study is both highly original and absolutely persuasive. In her analysis of how southern elites employ a language of mathematics and calculation to naturalize social hierarchies and maintain corrupt economies, Benson identifies what emerges irrepressibly as a central theme and tactic of southern culture. The wonder is that we hadn’t noticed it before. Gracefully written and elegantly theorized, this is a substantial contribution to the field."
—Scott Romine, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
This “narcissistic fetish of number” speaks to a tangle of desires and denials rooted in the history of the South, capitalism, and colonialism. No one evades participation in these “disturbing equations,” says Taylor, wherein longing for increase, accumulation, and superiority collides with repudiation of the means by which material wealth is attained. Writers from marginalized groups—including African Americans, Native Americans, women, immigrants, and the poor—have deeply internalized and co-opted methods and tropes of the master narrative even as they have struggled to wield new voices unmarked by the discourse of the colonizer.
Having nominally emerged from slavery’s legacy, the South is now situated in the agonized space between free market capitalism and social progressivism. Elite southerners work to distance themselves from capitalism’s dehumanizing mechanisms, while the marginalized yearn to realize the uniquely American narrative of accumulation and ascent. The fetish of numbers emerges to signify the futility of both.
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