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Anybody raised down home--down south: Brother to Dragons and Warren's southern ethnography.

SINCE THE REVISED VERSION OF ROBERT PENN WARREN'S 1953 BOOK-LENGTH poem Brother to Dragons appeared in 1979, (1) numerous scholarly responses have concentrated on the political implications of the poem's central event, the 1811 murder of a slave by two nephews of Thomas Jefferson in rural Kentucky. Such critiques have too often taken for granted that Warren's magnum opus should be considered exclusively as a poem, a generically stable and exclusively literary construct that should be evaluated according to certain inviolable criteria. As Michael Kreyling notes while examining Brother to Dragons, "'Poetry' is the name we customarily give to cultural products that are privileged, by canons of reading and interpretation, to boast the closure, meaning, finishedness that lived history negates" (xi). Such a concept of poetry (which one could extend to literature in general) serves poorly in an examination of Brother to Dragons, because Warren's poem continually destabilizes its own meanings, refuses authoritative closure and finishedness, and presents itself not as a pure poem but as a complex literary hybrid.

The conceptual models developed in works of contemporary or postmodern ethnographic theory--most notably James Clifford's The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art--provide a particularly well-suited critical apparatus by which to examine Brother to Dragons as a work of creative ethnography. Although Clifford's work will serve as the theoretical starting point of this essay, I will refer to other noteworthy contemporary ethnographic theorists in order to address other possibilities for ethnographic literary criticism that such theorists explore. Clifford's status as the pre-eminent theorist of the interdisciplinary connections between ethnography and literature is as yet unchallenged. No other ethnographic theorist has paid a comparable amount of attention to the interdisciplinary possibilities of ethnographic theory and its potential applicability to literary criticism, and Clifford's prominence in recent ethnographic critical discourse is emphasized by the amount of time other critics in the field spend responding directly to his work.

This essay will move back and forth between Warren's Brother to Dragons and ethnographic theoretical texts, reading Warren's works by the lights of the various theorists' comments on the interrelationships between ethnography and literature, and recognizing the similarities between various paradigms of ethnography and Warren's approach to American cultural issues. This approach will call attention to the extent to which the works analyze and construct versions of America and national forms of injustice and complicity, particularly those traditionally identified with the South. Ultimately, however, this juxtaposition of ethnographic theory and Warren's works may prove most useful because of discrepancies between Warren's texts and the ethnographic theoretical models. Noticing the ways the theoretical models fail to accommodate Warren's narrative strategies will provoke readers to consider the ways Warren's works deconstruct themselves and continually complicate the very questions readers might expect them to resolve.

During Warren's lengthy literary career, he published some fifteen books of poetry, ten novels, one book of short stories, six books of non-fiction prose (not counting his literary criticism), one play, textbooks (including the remarkably influential Understanding Poetry with Cleanth Brooks) in multiple editions, and a great deal of critical writing covering everything from literature to broad social issues. Walter Sullivan expresses a conviction--common among Warren scholars--that "The autobiographical element is stronger in Warren's poetry than in his fiction." (2) It is stronger still in Warren's non-fiction prose writings on race. Although one could extend an ethnographic reading of Warren into his novels, the element of disguise surrounding the novels' narrators would ultimately make such a critical pursuit less fruitful than an ethnographic consideration of Brother to Dragons. Whatever autobiographical elements biography-minded critics may discern in Jack Burden of All the King's Men or Jed Tewksbury in A Place to Come To, for instance, Burden and Tewksbury do not pretend to represent Warren directly in the ways that the narrative voices of Brother to Dragons do.

Warren's ethnographic consciousness is evident even before the body of Brother to Dragons begins. The epigraphs to the poem include a passage from W.H. Perrin's 1884 History of Christian County, in which unnamed native informants relate their worldviews to white auditors, and an extract from the 1893 Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology. In his foreword, Warren uses the vocabulary of ethnographic research to explain the origins of his project: "The poem ... had its earliest suggestion in bits of folk tale, garbled accounts heard in my boyhood." Warren then presents the adult poet-ethnographer rummaging through factual accounts of the events surrounding the murder using language that hints at the complexities of voice and viewpoint in the poem to come: "as the poem began to take shape in my head, I went to Smithland and sought out in the dim and dusty hugger-mugger of a sort of half-basement room (as I remember it) the little bundles of court records, suffering from damp and neglect, but sometimes tied up in faded red tape or string" (BTD79, xii).

The poem is on one level--the literal level--a creative work, something generated by Warren's imagination, but there are moments when Warren insists that the events of the poem actually happened, moments that claim for the poem a measure of authenticity. Despite the apparent differences between the poem and standard ethnographic texts, such claims are not necessarily at odds with recent ethnographic theory. In "Textual Play, Power, and Cultural Critique: An Orientation to Modernist Anthropology," Marc Manganaro explains Clifford Geertz's account of the inherent creative textuality of ethnographic accounts: "Geertz's recent book, Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author, affirms an essentially textual approach to ethnography, claiming that the anthropologist's ability to convince is based primarily not upon the suitability or solidity of fieldwork, but upon the very writerly task of convincing us 'that what they say is a result of having actually penetrated ... another form of life, of having, one way or another, truly "been there"'" (16). Warren's parenthetical "as I remember it" shades into his awareness of the fundamental unreliability and inherent creativity of narrative, and suggests a gruesome submerged pun on his attempt to put everything, including the dismembered body of the murdered slave, back together again. The pun serves as a way of distinguishing Brother to Dragons from even the sort of serf-consciously textual ethnography Geertz describes, in that the wordplay indicates another heightened form of attention to textuality at the level of the individual word.

Clifford's introduction to The Predicament of Culture begins with a brief examination of the ethnographic aspects of William Carlos Williams's "To Elsie"--which begins with the oft-quoted declaration "The pure products of America / go crazy" (1). This, quite simply, is the subject matter of Brother to Dragons. Thomas Jefferson himself appears in the poem as the thinker behind the idea of American democracy, and tries throughout the poem to reconcile his deist humanism and democratic ideals with the murder committed by his relatives. Jefferson also wrestles with the idea of his complicity in the killing via his role in perpetuating slavery, and tries to put to rest his guilt over the disgrace and death (apparently by suicide) of his kinsman and surrogate son Meriwether Lewis.

Instead of setting the poem in 1811 and thus producing a fairly conventional historical narrative, Warren takes a radically different approach:
 The main body of the action lies in the remote past--in the earthly
 past of characters long dead--and now they meet at an unspecified
 place and unspecified time and try to make sense of the action in
 which they were involved. We may take them to appear and disappear
 as their urgencies of argument swell and subside. The place of the
 meeting is, we may say, "no place, "and the time is "any time. "This
 is but a way of saying that the issues that the characters here
 discuss are, in my view at least, a human constant. (BTD79, xv)


Focusing on Warren's word choices in the passage above may yield a sort of reductive preliminary understanding of Warren's narrative techniques in Brother to Dragons. In this context the word body seems another grisly pun on the dismembered body of the murdered slave. The repeated use of we suggests a certain commonality between author and audience, and begins the poem's extended process of implicating readers to varying degrees in the systems and actions rendered by the poem. The use of my also prepares readers for the periodic visible intrusion of Warren's first-person voice throughout Brother to Dragons. Warren's claim of universality must strike contemporary readers as inherently suspect. Clifford takes issue with a similar claim implicit in Williams's "To Elsie," and in doing so summarizes the conventional ethnographic-literary project: "The ethnographic modernist searches for the universal in the local, the whole in the part." Clifford explains that "Elsie disrupts the project, for her very existence raises historical uncertainties undermining the modernist doctor-poet's secure position" (4). Elsie's presence as another potential speaking subject undermines Williams's implicit claim to authority in the same way the other speaking subjects in Brother to Dragons undercut--or at least appear to undercut--R.P.W.'s periodic attempts to control their narratives.

Warren complicates his own universalizing claim on a number of levels, and Clifford's analysis of authorial position and power provides suitable material for comparison: "A useful--if extreme--standpoint is provided by Bakhtin's analysis of the 'polyphonic' novel. A fundamental condition of the genre, he argues, is that it represents speaking subjects in a field of multiple discourses. The novel grapples with, and enacts, heteroglossia" (46). Clifford then poses a fundamental question for contemporary ethnographic literature: "Does the ethnographic writer portray what natives think by means of Flaubertian 'free indirect style,' a style that suppresses direct quotation in favor of a controlling discourse always more or less that of the author? ... Or does the portrayal of other subjectivities require a version that is stylistically less homogeneous, filled with Dickens's 'different voices'?" (47). Brother to Dragons answers a single, indeterminate yes to the questions Clifford poses above. That is, Warren creates a sort of synthesis, a literary vehicle that moves--or at least seems to move--back and forth between univocal and polyphonic styles.

Warren destabilizes his own narrative by writing it as a series of vocal exchanges between up to a dozen people, all of whom, with one important exception, are long dead. Warren himself is the exception. He appears in a list of the poem's characters as "R.P.W.: The writer of this poem" (BTD79, 2), narrates certain sections of the poem, and more or less mediates the free-form discussion between the poem's characters, moving in and out of the discussion as a participant-observer. This element of self-reflexivity throughout Brother to Dragons indicates Warren's consciousness of the inherent problems of claims to monologic textual authority. R.P.W. explains the poem's apparently polyvocal form as an attempt to correct for the inherent problems and distortions involved in constructing a narrative out of actual events and records, saying that he had originally intended to cast the narrative in ballad form "but the form was not adequate to the material." R.P.W. decides he must tell the story by a more complex form, but Jefferson replies, "There is no form to hold/Reality and its insufferable intransigence" (BTD79, 31) and so reminds readers of the disparity between even the dramatic vocal poetic form and reality. Questions of the adequacy of particular forms of representation persist in contemporary ethnographic theory, which has increasingly viewed the so-called realism of the classic ethnographic monograph with suspicion. In an interesting coincidence of phrasing and imagery, Manganaro mentions the growing belief among ethnographic theorists that "the vessel of representation is inadequate to hold the cultural truth; rather, Clifford and others echo Nietzsche in questioning the existence of a cultural truth removed from discursive processes" (19). One should not make too much of this resemblance, but the similarities do direct attention to the concerns with representation, authenticity, and the inherently discursive nature of any written account that occupy so much space in both contemporary ethnographic theory and contemporary literary criticism, and so suggest the great potential for interdisciplinary exchange.

By immediately calling attention to his multi-layered presence in the poem, Warren effectively signals readers that Brother to Dragons is a self-deconstructing text. The poem knows and demonstrates how it cannot in fact do what it claims or appears to do, cannot mean what it claims or appears to mean, because it is a work of literature rather than a historical document. Moreover, as Clifford indicates and R.P.W. strongly suggests, ethnographic and historical accounts are always already partial and creative. Because of the multi-layered presence of the persona of R.P.W. moving within the poem as a participant-observer and the existence of the actual Robert Penn Warren standing outside the poem as the controlling consciousness behind the words, Brother to Dragons self-consciously enacts the problems of perspective, voice, and interpretation that surround ethnographic texts.

Clifford refers to ethnography as "a state of being in culture while looking at culture, a form of personal and collective self-fashioning" (9). This project requires a degree of language fluency such that the ethnographer "could 'use' the vernacular to ask questions, maintain rapport, and generally get along in the culture while obtaining good research results in particular areas of concentration" (30). One of the more disturbing aspects of Brother to Dragons is R.P.W.'s repeated use of the word nigger in his remarks about African Americans throughout the poem. Clifford's account of the necessary use of the vernacular by the ethnographer provides a sort of explanation for R.P.W.'s persistent racist speech, but such an explanation rings somewhat hollow.

Early in the poem, R.P.W. describes Smithland, Kentucky--the town nearest the home of Jefferson's kinsmen, the Lewises, the home where the murder took place--as an idyllic small Southern town, but his language draws attention to race and racism: "It looked the sort of town Sam Clemens might / Grow up in then and not be much worse off. / River and catfish, nigger in the shade" (BTD79, 14). Later, when R.P.W. climbs a hill to visit the site of the Lewis home, he comments on the stifling summer heat and remarks, "But niggers don't mind heat. At least, not much," then uses the racial epithet as an adjective and refers to the ruins of the house as "Poor nigger stonework" (BTD79, 23). R.P.W. also refers to the murdered slave as "the nigger boy named John" (BTD79, 25), describes the charred flesh of John's mutilated body as "Fire-black and nigger-black" (BTD79, 32), and speaks of the other slaves who saw Jefferson's nephew Lilburne Lewis kill John as "the niggers hunkering by the wall" (BTD79, 130). These instances are remarkable not so much as simple evidence of racist discourse as for the fact that they represent the words of the author. By stating that R.P.W. is the writer of the poem, Warren clearly intends for readers to interpret R.P.W.'s words and actions as directly related to Warren himself.

Here the usefulness of Clifford's explanations of ethnographers' necessary use of the vernacular drops off sharply. This is an instance where ethnographic theories fail to explain Brother to Dragons. In fact, this self-conscious use of racial epithets is one of the ways Brother to Dragons refuses to explain itself. R.P.W. not only records the vernacular of racism, but also uses it himself both early and often. The racist remarks of R.P.W. are all the more troubling given that many of the remarks are phrased in the present tense. This suggests that R.P.W. utters them not in 1811, but in the continuing now of the poem, presumably 1979 in the 1979 version of the poem. At the end of the seventies, creating racist characters (particularly racist villains) in literature was one thing; writing oneself into literature as a racist character was another thing altogether. What does it mean to do this in 1979 as opposed to 1953? Any answer must take into account the amount of time lapse and the significance of the social changes separating the two editions of Brother to Dragons--Brown v. Board of Education (1954), desegregation, civil rights legislation, Black Power and Black Pride, the American Indian Movement, and the feminist movement, just to name a few. Simply by keeping R.P.W. a racist presence, Warren defies polite social, intellectual, and literary expectations, and so strengthens his position in a sense even as he apparently contradicts his own public disavowal of racist views. By implicating himself, Warren establishes a counter-intuitive sort of moral authority that enables him to implicate the readers--who engage uneasily in the sort of identification with the primary narrative voice that monologic first person narrative literature practically demands.

Part of the difference between creating a racist character and portraying oneself as a racist character lies in the disparity between the role or position of the ethnographer and the position created and occupied by R.P.W. in Brother to Dragons. Clifford explains "the persona of the fieldworker" as a researcher and a literary presence: "The professional ethnographer was trained in the latest analytic techniques and modes of scientific explanation" (30). Substituting poetic for scientific yields a fair description of Warren as a scholar, critic, and poet circa 1979. Despite ethnographers "mastering the vernacular and undergoing a personal learning experience comparable to an initiation," Clifford says that ethnographers traditionally "did not speak as cultural insiders but retained the natural scientist's documentary observational stance." In fact, absorption into the subject culture was actively discouraged and considered professionally counterproductive because "intuitive, excessively personal understanding ... could not confer scientific authority" (28).

R.P.W. speaks from a position that is inherently more complex than Clifford's ethnographic participant-observer model. R.P.W., in fact, acts in the poem as both participant-observer and native informant, effectively feeding his own opinions and interpretations into the ongoing polyphonic discourse of the other characters. Instead of keeping a traditional aesthetic or ethnographic distance, R.P.W. injects himself into the action of the poem and speaks with the very sort of intuitive, personal, native understanding that traditional ethnography supposedly disallowed. Manganaro calls attention to the actual historical association between ethnography and literary art: "in the years after 1922 anthropologists often performed dual roles as students of culture and artists ... others, such as Malinowski, worked as anthropologists but conceived of themselves as author figures; both Clifford and Stocking refer to Malinowski's claim that '[W.H.R.] Rivers is the Rider Haggard of anthropology; I shall be the Conrad'" (5). Malinowski, long regarded as an exemplar of ethnographic practice and monograph production stands in as a representative figure of the discipline. By insisting on Malinowski's self-conscious author function, Manganaro implicitly insists that such a complicated issue inheres in every act of ethnographic textualization.

R.P.W. calls attention to his own complex position and his Kentucky roots with a reference to "my own Todd County" (BTD79, 15) early in the poem, and later emphasizes his position as a Southerner: "Now, anybody raised down home--down South-- / Will know in his bones what the situation was" (BTD79, 58). This seems another gruesome submerged pun on the charred bones of the murdered slave, and also adopts what Kreyling refers to as the Quentin Compson model of Southern ethnography as a closed system--that is, the idea that only Southerners can understand the South (106). R.P.W. later expands this idea of pan-Southern understanding in a passage that indicates both a white subject position and a white resentment of African-Americans: "Who doesn't know down home / The intolerable eye of the sly one, and the sibilant / Confabulation below / The threshold of comprehension" (BTD79, 70). This particular passage is doubly disturbing because the word choice connotes simmering hatred and a degree of identification with Lilburne Lewis, Thomas Jefferson's slave-murdering nephew. R.P.W.'s position as a cultural insider forecloses any possibility of maintaining traditional ethnographic distance and allows him to implicate all Southerners, including himself. In this, Brother to Dragons functions as a work of internal ethnography. The temptation, especially for non-Southern readers, is to take the poem as an ethnographic fiction about America as a whole, but it is certainly possible to read the poem as an extension of the Quentin Compson thesis. All the characters, including R.P.W., are Southerners, and although readers may immediately identify Thomas Jefferson with America in its entirety, it is also possible to read Jefferson as a symbolic figure of distinctly Southern identity.

In "Forecasting Theory: Problems and Exemplars in the Twenty-First Century," Stanley R. Barrett draws important distinctions between the classic outsider anthropologist who appears in a non-Western environment and "insider anthropology, the term applied to anthropologists from dominant groups who do research at home" (271). Barrett further distinguishes between basic insider anthropology and what Lila Abu-Lughod calls "halfie anthropology": according to Abu-Lughod, "Halfies are 'people whose national or cultural identity is mixed by virtue of migration, overseas education, or parentage'" (272). Readers familiar with Warren's biography will recognize migration (including Warren's moves between Guthrie, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; Berkeley, California; Oxford, England; Memphis, Tennessee; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Minneapolis, Minnesota; New Haven and Fairfield, Connecticut; and West Wardsboro, Vermont) and overseas education (Warren's Rhodes Scholar years at Oxford). Barrett's elaboration of halfie anthropology pertains, it would seem, not only to Warren, but to numerous Southern writers who approach Southern cultures with more or less ethnographic intentions: "In halfie anthropology things are more complicated. When halfies do research within their own community, the self and other are synonymous. But as in the case of feminist anthropology, a different kind of other, negative in connotation, always lurks in the shadows: mainstream, dominant society. In this context, the self and other are not only separate, but antagonistically opposed" (272).

Manganaro's appraisal of internal ethnography complements Barrett's by emphasizing the possible advantages of such a complex authorial position:
 [T]he recent upsurge in doing ethnography "at home" has brought
 to many a greater awareness of the issues of alterity and
 power ... the reflexive tendency to construct an allegory that
 shuttles [the anthropological subject] to the exotic margin becomes
 confounded. And the fact that the ethnographer is of the same
 culture as the subject may make the ethnographer more aware of the
 interpersonal liberties that the ethnographer, as a member of a
 sanctioned discipline, takes for granted when conducting interviews
 and "writing up" the results. (29)


Manganaro's comments should provoke readers to reconsider what has already been identified as a complex authorial position in Brother to Dragons. In this light, R.P.W.'s aforementioned comments that "anybody raised down home--down South-- / Will know in his bones what the situation was" (58) and "Who doesn't know down home / The intolerable eye of the sly one, and the sibilant / Confabulation below / The threshold of comprehension" (70) seem more than disturbing; they seem duplicitous. By 1979, Warren had written Segregation." The Inner Conflict in the South (1956) and Who Speaks for the Negro? (1965), two non-fiction prose works with very strong ethnographic elements. It is highly unlikely that by 1979 Warren would have been so careless as to conflate anybody with any white person accidentally. This usage seems a purposeful play on the too-long-persistent ideas that so-called real or true Southerners were white, that the authentic Southern experience was the experience of Southern whites, that African Americans were somehow excluded even at a conceptual level, and that African American experience ultimately did not count. (3)

A return to Barrett's discussion of Abu-Lughod will provide further interpretive strategies for an analysis of Warren's tactics: "Abu-Lughod ... has declared that the time has come for anthropologists to write against culture. Her argument is that the concept has begun to resemble race. It promotes a viewpoint in which people around the globe are separated into distinctive blocks, homogenized and stereotyped, and arranged in an implicit hierarchy of superiority and inferiority" (266). One could--and, I believe, should--apply this logic to R.P.W. and white Southerners as well as to black Southerners. It is clear that R.P.W. is making essentialist statements about both groups; it is not so clear whether, when, or to what extent his tongue is planted in his cheek. As a narrative technique, this no doubt makes careful readers uneasy. It also implicates them to varying degrees in R.P.W.'s racist discourse and the social system that produced it. This is especially true for Southerners--anybody raised down home, down South--but it also holds true for Americans in broader senses. Hierarchies are tricky here because, as Brother to Dragons repeatedly insists, socio-economic superiority and moral superiority are two very different things.

Jefferson--as a Southerner, as a slave owner, and as a governing figure of American discourse--calls attention to R.P.W.'s complex role in the poem by way of an ongoing struggle between the two over narrative control. Over the course of the poem, Jefferson and R.P.W. debate the relative merits of Jefferson's American project and interrupt each other frequently, attempting to control the narrative or steer the discourse in a particular direction. This jockeying for narrative position marks a significant difference between Brother to Dragons and the ethnographic model Clifford presents, which responds rather differently to multiple speaking subjects. "If ethnography produces cultural interpretations through intense research experiences, how is unruly experience transformed into an authoritative written account?" Clifford asks. His answer: "The process is complicated by the action of multiple subjectivities and political constraints beyond the control of the writer. In response to these forces ethnographic writing enacts a specific strategy of authority. This strategy has classically involved an unquestioned claim to appear as the purveyor of truth in the text. A complex cultural experience is enumerated by an individual" (25).

Brother to Dragons refuses to remain within the limits of Clifford's model, and simultaneously refuses to move completely outside those limits. R.P.W. is "the writer of this poem" (BTD79, 2), a persona, a participant-observer, a native informant, and a constant reminder that although Brother to Dragons presents ongoing polyphonic exchange, the governing intellect behind it all is that of Robert Penn Warren. The moments when other characters interrupt R.P.W. are moments of virtual heteroglossia. Although at times the poem appears to be the literary equivalent of an internet chat room, Warren produces and sustains this appearance by way of monologic authorial control.

It is worth noting that the poem is primarily a series of speech acts by dead white males. Not only does Warren control the apparently polyphonic narrative by virtue of his position as author, but all the most prominent speakers share a number of characteristics with Warren himself: They are all white male Southerners. (4) Further, all the main characters except Warren either are blood kin to one another or are slaves held by family members. The women in the poem play minor roles, and the only slave woman to speak is Aunt Cat, a character Warren admittedly invented "from whole cloth" (BTD79, xii). In the 1953 edition of Brother to Dragons, Aunt Cat has dozens of spoken lines and a certain amount of agency, which she demonstrates by consciously torturing Lilburne with near-references to the murder when Letitia Lewis's brother visits (BTD53, 148). The 1979 edition leaves Aunt Cat with no such agency. She seems no more than a type of the slave mammy, diminished as a character and nearly devoid of the intelligence and understanding of speech acts evident in the original version. The murdered slave John (named George in reality and in the 1953 version), whose grisly murder is at the conceptual center of the narrative, is silent for the first one hundred seventeen pages of the poem, then speaks barely at all (only six lines). Manganaro's explanation of ethnographic polyvocality is helpful here: "some texts ... use openness itself as a ploy, employing multiple voices in order to bolster the semblance of equality that in turn lends more authority to the author. In other words, polyvocality has to be read in a fuller context of power relations" (33). Thus the appearance of heteroglossia in Brother to Dragons obscures what is in most important ways a monologic text that resembles what Clifford calls "new paradigms of authority" (25) only on the surface. In this, Brother to Dragons appears unmarked by Clifford's "insistent, heteroglot voices, by the scratching of other pens" (26).

Warren persistently complicates this--indeed any--understanding of the poem, simultaneously reminding the reader that Brother to Dragons is a work of imagination by way of his presence as R.P.W. throughout the narrative and claiming a measure of authenticity for the poem, by turns suggesting and insisting that things really happened and that he is not always in control of the narrative movement. When other characters interrupt R.P.W. at various points in the poem, these interruptions undercut the idea of a unitary narrative and give the sense that no one mind governs expression and interpretation. R.P.W. makes multiple references to his archival research and actual historical records (BTD79, xii, 31, 85). and even includes several pages of notes appended to the poem (BTD79, 133-41). The notes consist primarily of excerpts from historical documents, complete with variant spellings or misspellings to underscore their authenticity. These excerpts function as artifacts, tangible objects that lend a veneer of authenticity to Brother to Dragons. R.P.W. seems surprised when Meriwether Lewis appears without his hat, thus exposing his fatal head wound: "My God!--it's Meriwether!" (BTD79, 108). Such a shocked response gives the impression that R.P.W. does not imaginatively create or control Meriwether Lewis's image, that he is somehow taken by surprise.

At a previous point in the poem, however, R.P.W. moves from an authorizing reference to a preexisting narrative to an expression of his own narrative control over the poem. He recounts the folk version of the Lewis brothers' reaction to the enormous New Madrid earthquake that actually occurred shortly after Lilburne had killed, burned, and buried the young slave. Then, after Isham Lewis tells him that the folk version is not accurate, R.P.W. replies, "I never thought so. You see, that version / Would violate Lilburne's deepest character, / We know that Lilburne's not the Devil's son" (BTD79, 89). In the space of a few lines, R.P.W. gestures toward the preexisting folk account, then overrides it with his own account, analyzing Lilburne's character at a distance of a century and a half. The seemingly innocuous pronoun connotes a number of possible levels of identification with Lilburne, and once again includes and implicates readers of the poem.

This awareness of R.P.W.'s narrative influence manifests itself in the poem's repeated interruptions and rephrasings, the moments when R.P.W. overrides another character's speech or reinterprets it in his own words. Phrases such as "As I was saying" (BTD79, 40, 46) and "In other words" (BTD79, 57, 68) signal R.P.W.'s narrative control and remind readers of the multileveled presences and functions of R.P.W. both within and outside the text. The most blatant instance of R.P.W.'s seizing control of the narrative involves his momentary adoption of slave vernacular. Clifford identifies this tactic as inherently problematic for ethnography, but not for works of fiction, which--as mentioned above--may employ
 Flaubertian "free indirect style," a style that suppresses direct
 quotation in favor of a controlling discourse always more or less
 that of the author.... Some use of indirect style is inevitable,
 unless the novel or ethnography is composed entirely of quotations,
 something that is theoretically possible but seldom attempted. In
 practice, however, the ethnography and the novel have recourse to
 indirect style at different levels of abstraction. We need not ask
 how Flaubert knows what Emma Bovary is thinking, but the ability of
 the fieldworker to inhabit indigenous minds in always in doubt. (47)


Even if readers choose to ignore the possibilities of insider ethnography or halfie ethnography (in which the binary opposition of field worker and indigenous mind breaks down), accepting Clifford's comments as true for works of fiction does little to resolve the complex issues of voice and representation in Brother to Dragons. Warren is clearly aware of ethnographic issues, and he presents numerous implicit comparisons between the poem and ethnography. The action of the poem is, in fact, entirely composed of quotations, although they are quotations created by Warren and sometimes filtered through the persona of R.P.W. In this, Brother to Dragons exists both inside and beyond the boundaries of ethnographic paradigms as what Clifford refers to as a "paraethnographic" (24) work, "a living impure product" (7) of America gone crazy. When R.P.W. describes the slaves' relationships with their mistress, he appropriates slave speech, literally "mastering the vernacular" (28) in a way Clifford never intended the phrase. R.P.W. says, "In other words, they liked her 'tol-bul well.' / Might say: 'Ole Miss, she know a nigger feel.' / And if that's not love, then it's something that will do" (BTD79, 68) and "They'd say: 'Ole Miss--you know she jes lak dat'" (BTD79, 69). In such acts of narrative control, Warren effectively answers his own question of who speaks for the Negro.

Clifford's commentary may help elucidate Warren's strategies of representation: "The staging of indigenous speech in an ethnography, the degree of translation and familiarization necessary, are complicated practical and rhetorical problems. But [ethnographer Victor] Turner's works, by giving visible place to indigenous interpretations of custom, expose concretely these issues of textual dialogism and polyphony" (49). Warren presents readers with a simulated polyphony, an ongoing series of apparent exchanges that is subjective rather than intersubjective, and so does not give any visible place to authentic indigenous interpretations other than his own. R.P.W. does not imagine or perform all the slave speech in Brother to Dragons--Aunt Cat, John, and an unidentified male slave actually speak for themselves in the poem--but even the moments of supposedly unmediated slave speech are of course the imaginative products of Warren the author. By foregrounding his authorial presence, however, Warren exposes issues of textual dialogism and polyphony. The method of exposure differs from that of conventional ethnographic works, but achieves a similar effect. By relentlessly reminding readers of his multiple roles in the poem, Warren draws attention to the poem's illusory dialogism and simulated polyphony.

Given Warren's amply demonstrated consciousness of his own authorial control and his repeated gestures toward ethnographic paradigms, what are readers to make of the appearance of intersubjectivity throughout Brother to Dragons ? Clifford downplays the significance of frequently quoting, as R.P.W. appears to do, from native informants:
 [S]uch a tactic only begins to break up monophonic authority.
 Quotations are always staged by the quoter and tend to serve
 merely as examples or confirming testimonies. Looking beyond
 quotation, one might imagine a more radical polyphony that would
 "do the natives and the ethnographer in different voices"; but
 this too would only displace ethnographic authority, still
 confirming the final virtuoso orchestration by a single author
 of all the discourses in his or her text. In this sense Bakhtin's
 polyphony, too narrowly identified with the novel, is a domesticated
 heteroglossia. Ethnographic discourses are not, in any event, the
 speeches of invented characters. (51)


Clifford's distrust of monologic authority in works of fiction seems derived from Foucaultian concerns about the author function, and imagining literary polyphony free of monologic authority would appear to lead toward an aesthetic of the internet chat room. In Brother to Dragons, Warren creates a poem that attempts to render polyvocal discourse while working primarily from within traditional paradigms of authorship. Warren's displayed self-consciousness about the problems of representation and interpretation inherent in Brother to Dragons simultaneously comprehends and refuses to abide by the real distinctions between fiction and ethnography. Warren moves toward collapsing such distinctions in his foreword, stating, "Historical sense and poetic sense should not, in the end, be contradictory, for if poetry is the little myth we make, history is the big myth we live, and in our living, constantly remake" (BTD79, xiii). E.L. Cerroni-Long echoes ethnographic theorist Paul Bohannon's claim that "We all know that history has to be re-written every generation. Even if the historical 'facts' do not change, the context in which they are to be read and interpreted does change" (14). Again, the similarity between the wording of Brother to Dragons and the wording of the ethnographic theory calls attention to a recognition on both sides of the ethnography-literature divide of the interdisciplinary possibilities implied by common techniques and similar theoretical assumptions.

Warren's statement manifests an awareness of the inherent elements of fictionality and authorial control in any written account. Clifford, despite his emphasis on the actual existence of native informants, is also aware that written accounts are inseparable from elements of authorial control. He argues that converting polyphonic discourse into narrative fundamentally changes the discourse and renders it effectively monologic: "Experiences become narratives, meaningful occurrences, or examples.... The data thus reformulated need no longer be understood as the communication of specific persons." In light of such statements, the fundamental difference between fictional characters and native informants in an ethnographer's narrative seems far less significant. Clifford explains that "[t]o understand discourse, 'you had to have been there,' in the presence of the discoursing subject" (39). This sounds like a version of the Quentin Compson thesis, much like R.P.W.'s aforementioned remarks about growing up down home, down South, being the key to understanding the racially charged discourse of Brother to Dragons. Clifford suggests a corrective measure against monologic authority:
 [O]ne may also read against the grain of the text's dominant voice,
 seeking out other half-hidden authorities, reinterpreting the
 descriptions, texts, and quotations gathered together by the
 writer. With the recent questioning of colonial styles of
 representation, with the expansion of literacy and ethnographic
 consciousness, new possibilities for reading (and thus for writing)
 cultural descriptions are emerging. (53)


Attempting to read against the dominant voice of Brother to Dragons produces a realization of the extent to which Warren encourages or even forces this by way of his exhibited authorial self-consciousness. Warren visibly deconstructs the dominant voice of Brother to Dragons by calling attention to R.P.W.'s complicated status as participant-observer, native informant, and "writer of the poem" (BTD79, 2). R.P.W. is the antithesis of the detached, scientific recorder of data, and his involvement on all levels of the poem is itself a way of compelling readers to recognize him as a sort of unreliable narrator and read against or behind his narrative. Clifford's description of the ways ethnographic accounts attempt to represent entire cultures is particularly relevant to a consideration of Brother to Dragons:
 Since culture, seen as a complex whole, was always too much to
 master in a short research span, the new ethnographer intended to
 focus thematically on particular institutions. The aim was not to
 contribute to a complete inventory or description of custom but
 rather to get at the whole through one of its parts. I have noted
 the privilege given for a time to social structure. An individual
 life cycle, a ritual complex ... could also serve, as could
 categories of behavior like economics, politics, and so on. In the
 predominantly synechdochic rhetorical stance of the new ethnography,
 parts were assumed to be microcosms or analogies of wholes. This
 setting of institutional foregrounds against cultural backgrounds
 in the portrayal of a coherent world lent itself to realist literary
 conventions. (31)


Brother to Dragons (like Warren's non-fiction works Segregation and Who Speaks for the Negro?) does ethnographic work on a number of the levels mentioned above. Warren deals with social structure--the slave-holding practices of 1811 Virginia and Kentucky--and takes the complex of events around the murder of the slave John as having wider implications for America, particularly for the South. Warren also focuses on the economic underpinnings of slave-holding society and highlights the economic issues surrounding the murder.

Warren represents the poem's entire landscape as suffused with economic concerns. Jefferson speaks of the West, the land he acquired via the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, as property belonging in some sense to him in particular: "I never saw it. Never crossed / The mountains to Kentucky and my West" (BTD79, 9) and later "My West--the land I bought and gave and never / Saw" (BTD79, 10). With this paradigm of economics and property in mind, readers will notice that such concerns permeate Brother to Dragons and define interactions between the poem's characters. Women function as property in the poem, as the male characters continually worry about protecting the honor of the white womenfolk. This preoccupation reflects not only a legitimate concern for the well-being of the individual women, but also a concern for the figurative commodity value of the honorable woman, the credit she brings to the males of her family. Lilburne's dog is obviously an item of property, and its privileged traditional position as both commodity and friend or companion loads the dog with symbolic value in the poem. In fact, Lilburne's first act of violence against the dog adumbrates his first act of violence against his slaves. Immediately following the description of Lilburne kicking the dog, Warren writes "That night he strikes a slave" (BTD79, 67). The parallelism between dog and slave is unmistakable. Both are regarded as forms of property and are more or less defenseless against Lilburne. John, the slave Lilburne eventually murders, is Lilburne's body-servant, the slave whose dual relationship as commodity and companion most closely resembles that of the dog.

Warren underscores the slaves' commodity status by describing them in terms of their exchange value. When the sheriff comes to investigate reports of trouble at the Lewis house--after Lilburne has killed John--Lilburne tells him that John ran away. The sheriff is impressed by the way Lilburne shrugs off the loss of such a valuable commodity: "That shrug's impressive to the frontier Sheriff. / Five hundred dollars gone, and a Lewis shrugs" (BTD79, 93). The notes appended to Brother to Dragons illustrate this economic sensibihty by including a historical document, a court-ordered appraisal of the cash value of every slave belonging to the Lewis estate (BTD79, 141). The poem's concern with economic matters extends even to the axe with which Lilburne kills John: "Lilburne Lewis, he with an axe / Of the value of two dollars ($2.00) / Held in his hands, did willfully and maliciously / And with hate, cut a death wound--" (BTD79, 99). The inclusion of this inessential detail underscores the poem's pervasive concern with exchange value.

In order to justify and perpetuate the commodity culture of slavery, white characters in Brother to Dragons continually refuse to consider slaves in any terms other than economic. Jefferson's rhetorical question sums up the position of slaves in the social order: "Oh, what's one nigger more / In the economy of pain?" (BTD79, 83). The slave's position is restricted to that of an economic marker by white discourse. Warren makes it clear that this economic consciousness underlies Lilburne's murder of John, both in the larger sense of identifying slaves as chattel and in the more restricted sense of providing a motive for the crime. The aforementioned passage in which Lilburne kicks his dog tells only part of the story of how and why he turns on his own property and begins to act out against things he owns. Lilburne strikes the slave for accidentally breaking a cup that Lilburne's recently deceased mother had habitually used for her morning tea. The destruction of an item associated with his mother is what sets Lilburne off initially. He soon becomes obsessed with protecting such items, and the slaves steal or break his mother's spoons and cups surreptitiously in order to torment him. Warren describes how "the first cup in innocence broken / Is succeeded by a dozen broken by design. / But who has broken them? Nobody knows. / They just aren't there any more, on hook or shelf. / Spoons disappear. Where do they go?" (BTD79, 68). Lilburne murders John immediately after John has broken the late Mrs. Lewis's favorite pitcher. (5) The association of the deceased Lucy Lewis with her cups and spoons extends the poem's theme of women as commodities, and takes on the rhetoric of honor. Lilburne and--to a less maniacal extent--Isham regard the assault on their dead mother's flatware as an assault on her person and her honor. Thus the protection of cups and spoons invokes the familiar rhetoric of defending the white Southern woman against contact with or assault by black hands. Lilburne and Isham explicitly discuss this after both have been arrested for John's murder. Isham recounts the discussion: "[Lilburne said] 'Well, Ishey-boy, we sort of killed the nigger!' / And me: 'But just a nigger'--and my breath got choked-- / 'Just a nigger you said had done our mother wrong!'" (BTD79, 103).

Clifford declares that the "time is past when privileged authorities could routinely 'give voice' (or history) to others without fear of contradiction" (7). This archaic ethnographic paradigm seems to be behind what is perhaps the most bizarre and inexplicable part of Brother to Dragons, the passage in which R.P.W. advances an interpretation of John's murder that blames the victim for the crime:
 R.P.W.: Well,
 If you would speak of responsibility,
 There's the not unfashionable notion to consider
 That John himself was in a strange way responsible.
 [....]
 R.P.W.: Only because he wanted, in the end,
 To curl on the meat-block, draw his knees up little,
 And squinch his eyes and know the expectant deliciousness
 Before the axe fell--


This line of reasoning becomes too much for even Jefferson, who desperately wants to shift the blame for the murder away from his kin and himself, to bear. When Jefferson rebukes R.P.W. for this, R.P.W. responds with what seems to be both a disavowal and an identification with the principle of blaming the victim:
 R.P.W.: No, don't blame me, I just report a notion.
 The victim
 Becomes the essential accomplice, provocateur--
 No, more, is the principal. And the real victim
 Is he whose hand was fatally elected to give the stroke,
 But is innocent. (BTD79, 87)


R.P.W.'s theorizing here presents an extreme example of the perversion of reality that is possible under the archaic model of ethnography Clifford discredits. From a position as a uniquely privileged authority, R.P.W. gives voice to John's unspoken desire, regardless of the fact that the scenario he describes lies far beyond the limits of plausibility. The explanation appears to be a notion concocted by a member of a ruling class in order to explain away responsibility for the crime, and in this sense resembles the very cultural logic that perpetuated slavery.

Brother to Dragons repeatedly returns to such depictions of speech versus voicelessness. Speech acts are primarily the domain of white characters, while the slaves normally remain voiceless. Aunt Cat is the only slave to make any kind of attempt at achieving a measure of narrative control within the poem. Because she wet-nursed Lilburne in his infancy, she insists on her relationship with Lilburne as a form of motherhood. She refers to Lilburne as "my Chile and Honey" (BTD79, 57) and cites nursing him as a form of proof in her attempts to authorize her claim, saying "I'm yore Mammy, too. I give you tiddy" (BTD79, 58). Lilburne finally turns on Aunt Cat and repudiates her claim of connection in language that bluntly denies her right to such a speech act because of her inferior social position. Lilburne says, "ain't no nigger gonna call me Honey" (BTD79, 92). R.P.W. clearly recognizes what is at stake in such a struggle over privileged speech and oppressed voicelessness. He explains Aunt Cat's attempts to create a special form of identity for herself as a "struggle / for Lilburne's love, for possession of her Chile" (BTD79, 58). Questions of possession and racial influence are especially tangled because of the apparent racial coding of Lilburne throughout Brother to Dragons. Lilburne's face is repeatedly described as beautiful and dark (BTD79, 41, 47), his eyes shine darkly (BTD79, 52), and he is equated with a variety of animals, including a cat (BTD79, 73), a bobcat, and a painter or cougar (BTD79, 75).

In a progression of silencing that indicates the differences between Clifford's ethnographic model of polyvocality and Warren's ersatz polyvocality, Aunt Cat's culturally imposed figurative voicelessness gives way in Brother to Dragons to symbolically loaded images of literally voiceless slaves. When John is tied up immediately before Lilburne kills him, the adjective "nigger-mum" (BTD79, 82) describes his silence. Lilburne's brother Isham describes John as without voice even during the murder:
 ISHAM: Yeah, that fool nigger spread his mouth to yell.
 You got to yell if ever they start chopping.
 But me, I ne'er heard--
 Like all that nigger could yell was just a hunk
 Of silence--you don't even hear it when the meat-axe
 Gets in, gets through, goes chunk, chunks on the wood.
 It's funny how that chunk just won't come clear.
 Yeah, the axe comes down,
 But not a sound, and that nigger spreads his mouth,
 And I strain and strive
 To hear--oh, Lord, if only--
 Then maybe something gets finished. (BTD79, 83)


Lilburne's account indicates the figurative speechlessness of slaves, and in his desire to hear John also comprehends the degree to which the culturally enforced voicelessness of slaves was essential to maintaining the cultural logic of slavery. Lilburne uses the murder as a brutal demonstration of this cultural logic of enforced voicelessness and commodity consciousness by turning to the rest of his slaves after murdering John directly in front of them and saying, "you better pray / God'll help you keep count on my mother's spoons. / You've seen that nigger John. Well, now you know" (BTD79, 89). Lilburne frames the killing as an object lesson in applied commodity culture. Praying that God will help them be efficient slaves is the only speech act suggested or permitted for the slaves, and this suggestion ultimately reinforces the awareness of their voicelessness. John literally and figuratively gains the power to speak only after death: His first spoken fines come long after his death in the poem, and it is the discovery of John's charred jawbone that leads to Lilburne's eventual arrest for the murder. In this, John gains the power to speak once he has become a sort of archaeological object, and thereby achieves a symbolic voice that he never would have been permitted while he was living in a slave-holding culture.

Beyond the boundaries of American culture, race relations in the poem take on decidedly different values. Meriwether Lewis describes punishing his slave York in terms that indicate a certain amount of awareness of the value of slave speech: "I flogged him. / He screamed at the dawn-stripes. / The Indians, watching, wept. / And I would have wept in my heart, for I knew him, / And knew him to be only another of us, / In long travel" (BTD79, 111). Significantly, Lewis is able to hear his slave's voice when they have figuratively and literally moved beyond America and its cultural practices on Lewis and Clark's expedition. Other marginalized people can also hear the screams of the slaves York and John. Aunt Cat hears John's scream and later likens it to the screech of an owl (BTD79, 92). (6) Letitia not only hears John scream, she also tries to scream but cannot (BTD79, 36). According to Clifford, "[images of] inarticulateness stand for groups marginalized in the bourgeois West: 'natives,' women, the poor" (5). This statement not only relates to the previously discussed cultural positions of women and slaves in Brother to Dragons, but also draws attention to the cultural group that haunts the poem from the margins. The spectral presence of Native Americans appears throughout the poem, and Warren's epigraphs indicate his awareness of America's systematic mistreatment of various Native American tribes. The epigraphs drawn from a Bureau of Ethnology report and an American history book stand as reminders that Native Americans were, and continue to be, studied and summarily explained by numerous ethnographers. The epigraph extracted from the letter of Wovoka--the messianic figure who began the nineteenth century Native American religious revitalization movement known as the Ghost Dance--is both an ironic reference to the earthquake that follows Lilburne's murder of John and a reminder of the abysmal living conditions that made so many Native American tribes receptive to Wovoka's messianic message.

Native Americans first appear in Brother to Dragons as literally haunting presences. Aunt Cat recalls when she would nurse the infant Lilburne and "Sing fer the moon to skeer the Bugaboo, / Sing fer the Cher-kee never come not nigh / To skeer my punkin Little Baby-Bear, / And no Raw-Head-and-Bloody-Bones to come" (BTD79, 40). A related image of Native American menace also is visible in a sort of fantasized Indian captivity narrative that Jefferson delivers: "Listen, when some poor frontier mother, captive, lags / By the trail to feed her brat, the Indian, / He'll snatch its heels and snap / The head on a tree trunk, like a whip, / And the head pops like an egg" (BTD79, 43). The imagined presence of hostile Native Americans in the woods also appears in R.P.W.'s rhetorical question about John's effective captivity at the Lewis estate: "For where, in those days, could a nigger run? / Starvation or the scalping knife, that's all" (BTD79, 68). Later, Meriwether Lewis confronts Jefferson with a reminder of the price Manifest Destiny exacted from Native Americans: "Ask the Christian Cherokee / How the heart bled westward on the Trail of Tears" (BTD79, 85). This example of Native American disenfranchisement and marginalization is especially troublesome because it goes to the heart of American culture. Although many of the Cherokee had adopted Christianity, which they thought was a basic value of American culture, they found out the hard way that expansionist American economic imperatives took precedence over religious niceties. R.P.W. picks up on Meriwether's cue and tells Jefferson how "In Eddyville, down in the tavern there, / Some heroes of our national destiny / Kicked an old Chickasaw to death, for sport" (BTD79, 86).

This attention to Native Americans as the victims of Manifest Destiny accounts for their haunting presence in Brother to Dragons in terms of national guilt on at least two levels. First, the cultural practice of racism enabled expansionist America to force tribes off the best land with no justification other than the cultural imaginary of Manifest Destiny. In addition to the multifaceted awareness of racism in Brother to Dragons, there is also a barely suppressed consciousness of America as stolen property. (7) The persistent emphasis on exchange value and Jefferson's reflections on having bought the West provide a context for understanding the relative silence and absence of Native Americans in the poem as representative of their systematic exclusion from and victimization by American exchange culture. The poem's oblique references to the Ghost Dance emphasize this exclusion of Native Americans from commodity culture. One of the principal appeals of the Ghost Dance Movement to many tribes was its twofold promise that the whites would disappear from North America and Native Americans would be restored to relative wealth. Details apparently varied slightly from tribe to tribe, but all versions shared this vision of increased prosperity of some sort. The Plains tribes, for instance, reportedly believed that the Ghost Dance would bring back the buffalo herds that once supported their respective cultures. In a perfect example of mastering discourse, Warren (via Meriwether Lewis and the other characters) appropriates the name, the function, and the imagery of the Native American revitalization movement, applying it to white discourse and using it to resolve the poem's struggles with guilt and complicity:

MERIWETHER: Dance back the buffalo, the Shining Land! Our grander Ghost Dance dance now, and shake the feather. Dance back the whole wide gleaming West anew!

ALL (singing): Dance back the morning and the eagle's cry. Dance back the Shining Mountains, let them shine! Dance into morning and the lifted eye. Dance into morning past the morning star, And dance the heart by which we must live and die.

JEFFERSON: My Louisiana, I would dance you, though afar!

MERIWETHER: For nothing we had, Nothing we were, Is lost. All is redeemed, In knowledge. (BTD79, 120)

Again, Warren's word choices ("Our grander Ghost Dance," for example) indicate an awareness of his appropriation of Native American themes and imagery, his mastering of Native American discourse. To Warren's credit, he eschews the closure and certainty of a pat happy ending by having R.P.W. contest Meriwether Lewis's claim of redemptive closure and insist on remembering the poem's marginalized characters, "those who could not end in joy" (BTD79, 121). Warren prevents readers from walking away from Brother to Dragons with a neatly wrapped bundle of narrative satisfaction, and so refuses to claim the closure his poem would traditionally be granted.

It is worth noting that Warren's references to American Indian practices such as the Ghost Dance presuppose that a reader has some knowledge of such matters. Of course, the only way for most readers to acquire or describe such knowledge is via the very ethnographic practices that Warren foregrounds and Clifford interrogates. Thus, serious attempts to understand Brother to Dragons, its references, and its ethnographic literary influences implicate readers by involving them inextricably in the ethnographic practices in question. To understand Brother to Dragons, readers and critics must receive and perform ethnography themselves.

Works Cited

Barrett, Stanley R. "Forecasting Theory: Problems and Exemplars in the Twenty-First Century." Cerroni-Long 255-81.

Cerroni-Long, E.L., ed. Anthropological Theory in North America. Westport, Connecticut and London: Bergin and Garvey, 1999.

--. "Anthropology at Century's End." Cerroni-Long 1-18.

Clifford, James. The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1988.

Griffin, Larry. "Southern Distinctiveness, Yet Again, or, Why America Still Needs the South." Southern Cultures 6.3 (2000): 51-76.

Manganaro, Marc. "Textual Play, Power, and Cultural Critique: An Orientation to Modernist Anthropology." Modernist Anthropology: From Fieldwork to Text. Ed. Marc Manganaro. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1990.

Kreyling, Michael. Inventing Southern Literature. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1998.

Sullivan, Walter. Public lecture at Millennial Gathering of the Writers of the New South. Vanderbilt University, Nashville. April 7, 2000.

Warren, Robert Penn. Brother to Dragons. A Tale in Verse and Voices. 1979. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1996.

--. Brother to Dragons: A Tale in Verse and Voices. New York: Random House, 1953.

SEAN HEUSTON

The Citadel

(1) This essay will deal most extensively with the 1979 edition of Brother to Dragons, but will draw upon the 1953 edition to clarify certain points and identify significant differences between the two versions. Parenthetical citations from the 1979 edition will appear as (BTD79, page number) and citations from the 1953 edition will appear as (BTD33, page number).

(2) Sullivan made this remark in a talk at the Millennial Gathering of the Writers of the New South conference at Vanderbilt University, April 6-8, 2000.

(3) Larry J. Griffin's excellent essay "Southern Distinctiveness, Yet Again, or, Why America Still Needs the South" points out the surprising persistence of this idea at what we might identify as conscious and unconscious levels in thinking done by and about Southerners. Griffin specifically deals with C. Vann Woodward's famous identification of guilt, poverty, and defeat as the inherent traits of the South.

(4) Barrett notes that "Harding's (1992) argument about the obligation of men to produce feminist scholarship applies equally to racism. Only people of color can write as people of color. But white scholars can meaningfully write about people of color; and in some areas they may even have an advantage: studying victimizers rather than victims, especially those located in the corridors of power" (271).

(5) The 1953 edition makes it clear that Lilburne sets John up, and perhaps even breaks the pitcher himself (BTD53, 125-6).

(6) The purposeful confusion of John's scream with an owl's cry relates to the poem's title, which demonstrates Warren's skill with Modernist poetic techniques. In the King James Bible, Job 30:28-31 reads, "I stood up, and I cried in the congregation. I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls. My skin is black upon me, and my bones are burned with heat. My harp also is turned to mourning, and my organ into the voice of them that weep." This highly indirect complex of literary and religious references evinces Warren's mastery of Modernist discourse. My thanks to Mark Jarman for this information.

(7) Warren's long poem "Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce" demonstrates a similar concern with the fate of colonized and displaced Native Americans, and also deals with Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, and American national complicity.
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Title Annotation:Robert Penn Warren
Author:Heuston, Sean
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1U600
Date:Dec 22, 2004
Words:10128
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