Finding Purple America
The South and the Future of American Cultural Studies

Jon Smith

A passionate and wide-ranging critique of the current state of cultural studies


"Finding Purple America is one of the boldest and most insightful academic books I have read in years. Surveying a rich range of cultural phenomena—country music, Faulkner’s fiction, hipster fashion, literary theory, and more—Jon Smith demonstrates why the allegedly most backward part of the country has much to teach today’s practitioners of cultural studies. I cannot recommend this book highly enough."
—Harilaos Stecopoulos, author of Reconstructing the World: Southern Fictions and U.S. Imperialisms, 1898-1976

"How can purple seem elusive amid a range of reds and blues? Jon Smith locates the problem in scholarly desire—the quest for a better world that, paradoxically, obscures the one we inhabit. Ranging from witty provocations to nuanced psychoanalytic inquiry—and from Faulkner's fashion sense to Ruben Studdard's rebranding of Birmingham—Finding Purple America provides an incisive and even inspiring argument concerning the contemporary role of the humanities."
—Leigh Anne Duck, author of The Nation's Region: Southern Modernism, Segregation, and U.S. Nationalism

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The new southern studies has had an uneasy relationship with both American studies and the old southern studies. In Finding Purple America, Jon Smith, one of the founders of the new movement, locates the source of that unease in the fundamentally antimodern fantasies of both older fields.

The old southern studies tends to view modernity as a threat to a mystic southern essence—a dangerous outside force taking the form of everything from a "bulldozer revolution" to a "national project of forgetting." Since the rise of the New Americanists, American studies has also imagined itself to be in a permanent crisis mode, seeking to affiliate the field and the national essence with youth countercultures that sixties leftists once imagined to be "the future." Such fantasies, Smith argues, have resulted in an old southern studies that cannot understand places like Birmingham or Atlanta (or cities at all) and an American studies that cannot understand red states.

Most Americans live in neither a comforting, premodern Mayberry nor an exciting, postmodern Los Angeles but rather in what postcolonialists call "alternative modernities" and "hybrid cultures" whose relationships to past and future, to stability and change, are complex and ambivalent. Looking at how "the South" has played in global metropolitan pop culture since the nineties and at how southern popular and high culture alike have, in fact, repeatedly embraced urban modernity, Smith masterfully weaves together postcolonial theory, cultural studies, Lacanian psychoanalysis, and, surprisingly, marketing theory to open up the inconveniently in-between purple spaces and places that Americanist and southernist fantasies about "who we are"have so long sought to foreclose.

The New Southern Studies

Page count: 208 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $69.95

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Jon Smith is an associate professor of English at Simon Fraser University. He is coeditor of Look Away! The U.S. South in New World Studies and is coeditor with Riché Richardson of The New Southern Studies series.