The Whole Machinery

The Rural Modern in Cultures of the U.S. South, 1890-1946

Title Details

Pages: 298

Illustrations: 9 b&w images

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 11/01/2019

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5601-3

List Price: $59.95

The Whole Machinery

The Rural Modern in Cultures of the U.S. South, 1890-1946

A reimagining of the flow of modern culture through multiple media

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  • Description
  • Reviews

A familiar story holds that modernization radiates outward from metropolitan origins. Expanding on Walter Benjamin’s notion of die Moderne, The Whole Machinery explores representations of people and places, objects and occasions, that reverse that trajectory, demonstrating how modernizing agents move in a contrary direction as well—from the country to the city. In a crucial reconsideration, these figures aren’t pulled by or into urban modernity so much as they bring alternate—and transformative—iterations of the modern to the urban world.

Upending the U.S. South’s reputation as either retrograde or unresponsive to modernity, Benjamin S. Child shows how the effects of national and transnational exchange, emergent technologies, and industrialization animate environments and bodies associated with, or performing, versions of the rural. To this end, he also exposes the shadow side of the cosmopolitan modern by investigating the rural sources—the laboring bodies and raw materials—that made such urban spaces possible, thus taking a broader survey of landscapes created by the Atlantic world’s histories of uneven development.

In this investigation of the rural modern that considers multiple media and forms of technology, Child’s sources range widely, encompassing a spectrum of texts and their networks of transmission, reception, and signification. These include novels, poems, and short stories but also radio broadcasts, sound recordings, political pamphlets, photographs, magazine articles, newspaper reports, and agricultural bulletins. Folding such expressive artifacts into his larger arguments, Child considers how they both reflect and form modern(ist) culture. The result is a geography of southern modernism that includes an unexpected combination of landmarks, both actual and imagined: Twisted Oak, Arkansas, and Tukabahchee County, Alabama; Manhattan, Manchester, and Moscow; Tuskegee and Gobbler’s Knob, North Carolina.

"There's no great city without its rural shadow," insists Benjamin S. Child in The Whole Machinery, his brilliant analysis of the dialogic and interdependent relationship between the modernized urban sites of early twentieth-century America and their southern rural counterparts. At every turn, Child shows himself to be a deft and nuanced reader of the ways in which those regions presumed to have been left behind by and intransigent to the forces of modernity worked within and against those forces to create alternative spaces of cultural and political possibility. Few critics I know of insist on tackling simultaneously the complex questions of race, class, gender, and environmental degradation and do so with such skill, especially in relation to the so often misunderstood and overdetermined region of the U.S. South. In this age of intensified polarization between urban and rural political cultures that seems indicative of our foreseeable future, Child's scholarship arrives in the nick of time.

—George B. Handley, author of Postslavery Literatures in the Americas

The Whole Machinery is an invaluable addition to the fields of southern studies and modernist studies, as very few literary scholars to date have not only connected the dots between the rural and the modern but also made the rural central to an understanding of it.

—Margaret T. McGehee, Journal of Southern History

About the Author/Editor

BENJAMIN S. CHILD is an assistant professor of English at Colgate University.