Falling Off the Turnip Truck

"And somewhere, waiting for its birth, /
The shaft is in the stone."

—Henry Timrod

Searching for the "Southern quality" once identified by Marshall McLuhan can be an absorbing and rewarding quest. After all, the South is a vast and varied region, one that has, as things go in this country, a lot of history and a brace of interlocking cultures. But even though the South is there, you still have to search for it: so many interstate highways. Chicken Lickin's, Honda factories. West German pharmaceutical plants, and transplanted Yankees get in the way. When you finally do run into an authentic item or personification of Southern culture, you would know it in the dark. Some months ago I was sitting with some company in the reconstituted basement of an antebellum mansion (complete with its original boxwoods and crepe myrtles, with a sword hanging in the hall upstairs), listening to a 90-year-old lady explain just exactly why Flannery O'Connor was a spoiled child, a malevolent person, a literary fraud, and a purveyor of ugliness. The lady spoke from personal familiarity and was proud she had slammed Wise Blood shut on page 5 back in 1952. She had no intention of ever opening it again!

The worse, the better. Feeling a bit like Quentin Compson listening to Miss Rosa, I was glad there were witnesses to confirm the occasion....

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