June 2010 Selection: Confederates In the Attic

At our June 2010 meeting, we will be discussing the following book selected by Jim Almy:

Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic, Vintage (paperback addition), 1999.

Here is a summary provided by Jim:

Why has little changed in those parts of the old South that still fight the War of Northern Aggression?  Who sleeps all night in an open field under a thin blanket, no shoes, fetid woolen pants and period blouses, forty-five degrees in a steady rain so they can recreate the imagined suffering of soldiers a hundred and fifty years gone?  Why do people walk out their doors each morning in the south into a world of endless, grinding poverty and embrace it?  In a country so fluid — at least twenty percent of Americans move  once a year, many of them crossing state borders — how does parochialism become so common that we dismiss each other as the “Deep South” or “Left Coast” and comfortably accept the implied prejudices?  Why is willful ignorance and un-education accepted, widely embraced even, in many southern communities?  Who writes history and when do we begin to learn what really occurred?  Who asks, when getting off the bus at the Atlanta tourist information center, “Where are Rhett and Scarlet buried?” And why do the Japanese fly an American Scarlet O’Hare impersonator to Japan to meet with the empress?

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About Ron Boothe

I am a retired professor of psychology living in Tacoma Washington USA.
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2 Responses to June 2010 Selection: Confederates In the Attic

  1. David Gilmour says:

    Jim, Thank you for choosing Tony Horwitz’s odyssey through the antiquarian South. Conderates in the Attic: a great choice, an unusual biographical saga, full of queries as you’ve catalogued above.

    Horwitz’s road-trip through the South visiting folk still occupied by past civil wars, whether the 1860s Civil War to secede from the Union or the 1960s Civil Rights war to reintegrate the whole social population into something closer to the melting-pot myth, really is an anthropological study of folk ways. For my thinking, it’s full of American mythology. Why do people go back to old vendettas to maintain tribalistic divisions that prevail as if unalterable? In a world with wars as we have them ongoing and neverending in the Middle-East, why would grown men want to re-enact a failed war of Confederacy, using all their energy to imitate battlefield abomination of the past? In some ways this is analogous to Don Quixote’s drive to re-enact the lost chivalric knighthood of centuries past, maybe even a fictional, not historical, past, which made him look a very mad, comically dressed-up fellow to those viewing his bizarre behavior. Of course, Quixote was also highly spirited and passionate about his quest. He had a motivation and purpose more vital than the work or routines most other noble or peasant people plodded through. With Sancho Panza as loyal sidekick, he showed a soft, loving, sentimental heart beating within for his companion in toils.

    One interesting thing about Horwitz’s depiction of the Southern Quixotes, with their weird anachronistic customs, manners, and perceptions, was that he didn’t set characters up for ridicule, for readers’ scoffing or feeling superior to. Keeping his researcher’s cool, he was thoroughly interested visitor, curious to find out why the people thought and behaved as they do. His journalistic attitude towards the Southerners fixated on the Civil War might be good today for an assessment of the Tea Bag Party, for this political exhibitionism, whatever the Party members’ motivations and purposes, won’t be so well understood by laughing at them as much as by listening to them and their cry for “Taking the Country Back.” What do they think has been lost that needs to be brought back? In a recent Atlantic Magazine essay, “My Country, ‘Tis of Me,” Michael Kinsley queries the issues, principles, and complaints of the Tea Party Patriots (a picture shows a member wearing a colonial tri-corn hat). He concludes that they are angry about America, about the(ir) vox populi going unheard, and that their rebellion against the present establishment is one of wild discontent. What is the discontent? They don’t exactly know, as a concerted movement, but individually each member is as mad as hell and not going to take this any more! (George’s cry in the film Network). Kinsley asks: “What is the ‘this’ they cannot accept any more?”

    Of the questions in your summary, a good few I felt were discussed at our lively meeting–an exciting conversation of diverse political and sociological subjects–but mostly to allow us to initiate explanations or suggestions. My thoughts about the stranglehold the past can have upon the present will continue, and my hopeful purpose will strive to hasten the time when the dire problems of the present circumstances of living well–even surviving–on planet Earth will rise to the fore as the significant human task. This would mean an awareness of the failures of civilization’s hubristic past but not require re-enacting, reliving, and perpetuating history’s failures. –David G.

  2. Ron Boothe says:

    Mohsen Mirghanbari suggests the following website of photos that tie in with some of the themes we discussed about this book:

    http://www.openmyeyeslord.net/ALookBackInHistory.htm

    and Ron Powers recommends the following collection of civil war photos:

    http://www.mikelynaugh.com/VirtualCivilWar/New/Originals2/index.html

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