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Disturbing Calculations: The Economics of Identity in by Melanie R. Benson

By Melanie R. Benson

In Thomas Wolfe's glance Homeward, Angel, Margaret Leonard says, "Never brain approximately algebra the following. that is for terrible parents. there isn't any want for algebra the place and make five." Moments of mathematical reckoning like this pervade twentieth-century southern literature, says Melanie R. Benson. In fiction by way of a wide, different staff of authors, together with William Faulkner, Anita bogs, William Attaway, Dorothy Allison, and Lan Cao, Benson identifies a calculation-obsessed, anxiety-ridden discourse within which numbers are hired to figure out social and racial hierarchies and determine person worthy and identification. This "narcissistic fetish of quantity" speaks to a tangle of wants and denials rooted within the historical past of the South, capitalism, and colonialism. not anyone evades participation in those "disturbing equations," says Benson, in which eager for bring up, accumulation, and superiority collides with repudiation of the capacity through which fabric wealth is attained. Writers from marginalized groups--including African american citizens, local americans, girls, immigrants, and the poor--have deeply internalized and co-opted equipment and tropes of the grasp narrative whilst they've got struggled to wield new voices unmarked through the discourse of the colonizer. Having nominally emerged from slavery's legacy, the South is now positioned within the agonized area among unfastened industry capitalism and social progressivism. Elite southerners paintings to distance themselves from capitalism's dehumanizing mechanisms, whereas the marginalized yearn to gain the uniquely American narrative of accumulation and ascent. The fetish of numbers emerges to indicate the futility of both.A quantity within the sequence the hot Southern reviews

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Extra info for Disturbing Calculations: The Economics of Identity in Postcolonial Southern Literature, 1912-2002 (The New Southern Studies)

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Twenty negroes are too many for this place’” (19). What Semmes acknowledges here is an utterly foreign concept to Lacy, who believes that “some people had negroes as naturally as others did not, that it was all chance” (19). Semmes, however, equates the work of these black bodies with the family’s production and profit, exposing to Lacy the glaring imbalance in the books: “Good God, boy, look around you—there hasn’t been any tobacco in the barns for nearly ten years. And how much corn do you think papa makes?

In the novel’s closing scene, he vows dramatically to finish the work of the man he loves “more than I love any man” (306); but just who that man is, ultimately, remains ambiguous. The person he professes such great devotion to is identified only as “he,” a man who could be George as he gallops off into the sunset at that very moment; or it may instead be Lacy’s father, recently killed but invoked in Lacy’s memory at this key moment. Indeed, of the many attempts to interpret the novel’s title, critics most commonly conjecture that Lacy’s central crisis lies in choosing which of his two “father” figures—his actual paternal figure or George Posey—he will follow into his and the South’s future.

115) As Sollors notes, such equations and proofs carried the assurance of Enlightenment positivism, merging mathematics with scientific fact in an effort to “resolve some of the political issues of mankind”; plantation society relied on these equations to reflect the fetish of racial identity, and indeed such mathematics wielded a powerful ability to determine one’s lawful status as chattel, and with it the capacity to strip not only material and psychological wellbeing but basic humanity. Such power lends chilling resonance to the students’ voices in Doris Betts’s fictional classroom in “Beasts of the Southern Wild”: “Count, count.

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