Sunday, February 22, 2015

Winter Reading in the New South

11st 9lb (time to go up to super-middleweight?); alcohol units 0 (no booze since September 2010); Jamaican Woodbines 6 (early onset of psychosis, give up for Chinese New Year?); calories (not counting this week).

In an effort to get to grips with the culture of the Southern states of America, I have been scouring antique book shops for learned tomes on the history of the region. "The South", by Ina Woestemeyer Van Noppen, I found on a dusty bookshelf at Kudzu Antique Market in the nearby city of Decatur. It is a documentary study of "the Old South" from 1528 to "the New South" of 1958.  Some of the language in the book has since been expelled from use.


Scientific racism

"Everywhere in the South the possession of a certain degree of Negro blood relegates a person to a lower caste from which there is no escape this side of the Pearly Gates".  And there are some interesting observations about the make-up of the Caucasian Southerner. "The maintenance of white supremacy over the Negroes is the essence of Southernism; abolish it and much of the regional consciousness would cease to exist".


Hot Biscuits

Southern cooking is mentioned, too. "Outsiders complain that Southern dishes are overcooked, over greasy, and over juicy. But their absence in strange places is among the potent reasons why Southerners wish to return home."  The author goes on to wax lyrical about hot biscuits "that bind the Southern province together with an authority almost as intimate as White Supremacy," corn bread, fried chicken, the endless varieties of pork -- spare ribs, backbone, fresh ham, boiled, baked or fired country-cured ham. Not to forget the veg. There's string beans, black-eyed peas, collards and "the potlikker left in the vegetable container which is reputed to have nutritive value, especially for pickaninnies." Political incorrectness galore. And I had not even made it past the introduction by Francis B. Simkins.


Alone with Cat

One of the bugbears of being a Trailing Spouse is the absence of the other half. This coming week, the Contessa, my long-suffering wife, is overseas on business, and I am left alone with the cat. Most males, especially ones in the modern age, would use this time to catch up on porn and boozing. I am a bit of a prude about "porn" (a much contested term of definition) and I gave up drinking in 2010 when I turned 40 (not a reverse mid-life crisis, I hasten to add).  And so it's back to winter reading in the capital of the New South. 


My old 1990 edition of A Dictionary of Political Thought


One of my favorite books is A Dictionary of Political Thought by Roger Scruton. I managed to get a revised and updated edition of this invaluable reference guide last year in London. Professor Scruton's dictionary was recommended reading from my Marxist government and politics tutor way back at school. I was much surprised. Our teacher was an up-the-workers stereotype and Scruton is an irascible conservative and controversial figure in the academic world. Once asked on TV what the latest fad at University was, Scruton answered, "Socialism, same as always". Unbeknownst to teacher and classmates, Professor Scruton, at that time, had the unfortunate distinction of living across the road from my gaff in Notting Hill. Because I was young and lairy, he always used to look at me in the street with great fright. It was a lost opportunity. I should have asked him to autograph the book. 



Another controversial figure whom I have been reading is the late R.D. Laing, a ground breaking psychiatrist who put forward the proposition that the mad are not mad, they are merely misunderstood, and perhaps it is society (dot-dot-dot man) that is mad. He expressed this belief in a number of best selling, well received books. One of them is The Divided Self. Unfortunately, my copy is in London and I don't like reading on the Kindle. Luckily, a paperback edition of Laing's The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise was on the bookshelf in Atlanta. Hailed as one of the greatest geniuses of the 20th Century, Laing went out of fashion and some of his ideas were rejected as crackpot. But I have fond memories of Laing swearing at cheeky American students on Television, and turning up drunk on Gay Byrne's the Late Late Show in Ireland.



Next on the winter reading list is Lunar Caustic by Malcolm Lowry. Unfinished, it was published posthumously as a novella by Jonathan Cape in 1963. This little known masterpiece was based on Lowry's two-week stay in the psych ward at New York's notorious Bellevue Hospital in 1935.  The title of the work refers to the name of the silver nitrate formula once used to cauterize wounds. Fortunately, I have a first edition of Lunar Caustic, with pristine dust jacket, on my bookshelf. The true first edition, it must be said, was a French translation for the Paris Review. Nevertheless, I look forward to dog earring its pristine pages with philistine relish.



That's all for this week folks. I am off to watch the rest of the 2015 Oscars. Until next time.


The Male Trailing Spouse