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Perspectives on Barry Hannah

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Perspectives on Barry Hannah

The University Press of Mississippi’s impressive Perspectives series contains detailed examinations of Cormac McCarthy, Harry Crews, Richard Ford, and Wole Soyinka. The latest addition to the series is Mississippi’s own Barry Hannah.

Perspectives on Barry Hannah, edited by Martyn Bone,  contains work from scholars such as Melanie R. Benson, Mark S. Graybill, Richard E. Lee, Matthew Shipe, Scott Romine, and others. One of the most encouraging aspects of this collection is the geographic diversity of the scholars. Sure, there are people from Mississippi College, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Texas Christian University. But there are also Hannah scholars from far-flung institutions such as the University of Edinburgh, the University of Southern Denmark, Odense, and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. All too often, it seems like there is a highly insulated, sometimes incestuous, world of Southern critics focusing solely on Southern writing. So the wide-raning geography of these experts is a welcome development. And one that speaks to Hannah’s academic appeal.

Besides being thoroughly well-written and thought-provoking, the essays managed to avoid too much grad school jargon. It’s been a while since my grad school days and I was apprehensive about choking on force-fed diet of “isms” and “posts” and all the other language literary critics love to use. But the majority of the pieces avoided the jargon-trap.

A couple of vocabulary words did pop up with such frequency that, when I took a Big Mac break at my local McDonalds, I expected to hear the fry cook using them. When I watched the basketball games Sunday afternoon, I expected to hear the announcers use these words. Since that didn’t happen, I have to assume that “elide” and “conflation” are two lit crit buzzwords that all the cool kids are saying these days.

Although, here’s a real doozy of a paragraph.

This essay reads Yonder Stands Your Orphan as a culimination of Hannah’s concern with pathological mimicry, as an epic bracketing of a clumsy, inarticulate humanism by representational systems that gravitate toward fantasy and abjection. A mediation on pornography understood strictly and as a wider set of practices through which desire is directed toward an imaginary object, Hannah’s novel imagines a redemptive space in which common decency–in the final analysis, it is little more than that (and for reasons I shall explore, can be more than that)–might operate as social practice. Diagnosing homesickness for the real as cultural pathology, the novel recovers the real as an antidote–that is to say, a desire for reality on the part of numerous characters acts as both the symptom of and prescription for their collective nostalgia. The deeply paradoxical nature of this relation produces a series of utopian gestures, attempts to wed desire and reality that degenerate into patterns of decay, degradation, and burtal abjection. But against the novel’s dominant momentum of monstrous utopias, abject fantasies, and the erosion of reality runs a countercurrent of redemption in a minor key, of the “small acts of kindness” that constitute “almost all of life that’s beautiful” (94). The novel’s ultimate concern, however, is not so much to delineate these acts as to imagine a space wherein they might be practiced. The regime of the simulacrum, of empty performance, and of deadening consumption necessitates for Hannah an apocalyptic humanism organized around the disparate topoi of animals, music (as a form of expression uncorrupted by representation), and Christian redemption (as a vague logic).

Wow.

So if you’re interested in critical interpretations of Barry Hannah, this book is a great place to start. It’s a worthy companion to sit on your shelf alongside Dr. Ruth Weston’s Barry Hannah: Postmodern Romantic.