Third spaces and first places: Jack Butler's Jujitsu for Christ and hybridity in the US South.
However, the plot of fujitsu for Christ is really only half the story, so to speak. Although most of the novel unspools in a beautifully lyrical but otherwise straightforward third-person omniscient narrative, another voice, speaking sometimes in African American vernacular, occasionally breaks in, hectoring the narrator to get on with the show or ruminating on the narrator's motivations for telling this story at all. Adding to the puzzle, the novel begins with a mysterious epigraph, a dialogue between an anonymous speaker and a character called Nephew in which they debate the perils and the merits of cultural and racial mixing:
You got a black voice and a white voice, Nephew said. A land voice and a cruel voice. Everybody does, I said. This is a divided country. I want the voices to come together in one whole voice. Everybody don't, Nephew said. You don't know yo fellow man. I don't know about no country, but you sho need making whole. A glad voice and a mourning voice, he said.
The implications of this exchange do not become apparent until the novel's final chapter, in which the narrator and the disruptive voice are both revealed as the youngest Gandy, Marcus, who, in the aftermath of T.J.'s murder, fled Mississippi with Roger Wing and who has spent a significant portion of his life passing for white. (2) After dropping the veil of anonymity, Marcus tells us that when he went on the lam with Roger, he "turned into a white man by accident, more or less." He "was a great mimic, and he talked white as soon as he figured out his world was white" (204). His barely repressed anger, however, will not allow him to maintain this facade forever, and once out of high school he breaks with Roger and goes "knocking around in this sorry world for a dozen years as some kind of mediocre bad-ass, screwed-up convert to Niggerdom, which I no longer had any real talent for." Even the modest living he makes working in the marketable niche of "Standard Black Writer" feels like a sham: "They thought they were getting a real nigger, but no. They were getting an ex-nigger. An ex-nigger the second time around" (206).
Thus, fujitsu for Christ poses a conundrum: a novel written by a white man writing in the voice of a black man who has passed for white and tries, through much of the text, to pass as a racially unmarked (and, one could argue, therefore implicitly white) omniscient narrator. This breaking down of racial categories traditionally thought of as fixed and stable is central to Butler's project, a project we can best understand by placing it in the context of studies of Southern literature and culture that draw upon postcolonial theory, especially that field's examination of the complicated concept of hybridity. (3)
Hybridity has become an important trope for many critics seeking to understand the US South--understandably, given the South's complicated history, one which combines strict racial segregation and an insistence on stable racial categories with innumerable instances of inter-racial sexual liaisons and social exchanges. (4) Of course, hybridity is defined by its slipperiness and instability, and it will necessarily look different across a range of geographical locations and historical moments. Thus, an important task for contemporary scholars of Southern literature is to examine texts that interrogate and theorize the particular forms which hybridity might take in the US South. I would argue that Jujitsu for Christ is a crucial text for this project. First, however, I would like briefly to lay out the way in which I will use the term, as well as to examine some of the debates over the usefulness of hybridity for offering contemporary individuals a new way of understanding themselves and of changing their world.
Homi Bhabha, the postcolonial theorist most associated with the concept of hybridity, sees it as a breaking down of allegedly fixed and essential boundaries--often racial boundaries--in a "third space" that "entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy" (4). As Robert Young cautions, Bhabha's theory of hybridity does not simply imply the mixing of opposites; rather, it describes "a radical heterogeneity, discontinuity, the permanent revolution of forms" (25). In Bhabha's "interstitial space," the bright line separating colonizer and Other blurs and bends, making possible complicated and unique exchanges across cultures as well as the creation of new kinds of identity. This space can serve as the site for challenging traditional hierarchies so that "we may elude the politics of polarity" (39). For Bhabha and other advocates of the liberating powers of hybridity, the performance of hybridity can serve as a tool of positive change, unsettling supposedly stable binaries and power relations.
However, some scholars have looked askance at claims of hybridity's allegedly positive nature. Aijaz Ahmad, for one, criticizes Bhabha and other proponents of hybridity for what he sees as their celebration of instability and flux and their reiection of "the idea that a sense of place, of belonging, of some stable commitment to one's class or gender or nation may be useful for defining one's politics" (14). (5) According to Ahmad, Bhabha provides no truly useful model for understanding the encounters and connections that take place across and between different cultures every day, provides no way for an oppressed--as opposed to a privileged--individual to achieve any sort of agency. For Ahmad, those individuals lost in the clashes between cultures seek "not displacement but, precisely, a place from where they may begin anew" (16). (6)
Thus, while some critics see hybridity as a tool of potentially subversive social change, others, such as Ahmad, see it as a state of futile rootlessness, shifting and changing too quickly to offer a stable ground from which individuals can achieve agency. This debate over "flux" versus "stability" creates particular tension for Southernists suspicious of the liberating power of the "infinite revolution of forms" in Bhabha's "third space," since recent scholarship has also given us good reason to be suspicious of the stability that Ahmad speaks of as well. Stability in Southern literary studies has classically been considered in terms of "community," an ideological construct, serving particular economic and social interests, whose ability to tell its members who they are and where they're going derives from the fact that it is presented as natural and autochthonous. Thus, a desire for stability and community can serve to trap individuals inside a repressive social structure that grants them an identity even as it robs them blind and denies the complexity of their existence. As Scott Romine has persuasively argued, "insofar as it is cohesive, a community will tend to be coercive" (Narrative Forms 2). Romine further argues that since individuals cannot fully share "a perception of reality"--the glue of community according to Cleanth Brooks's classic statement on the issue--then communities must "cohere not by means of values, but of norms, which can be comprehensive in a way that values never can" (2). We see this dynamic operating early in the novel when Marcus Gandy's father, A.L., goes to see the white landowner Alfred, for whom he has worked long years, to tell him he plans to move to Jackson. Alfred appeals to Mr. Gandy's sense of community, stability, and family, taking care to note how well he knows Mr. Gandy and his children, how faithfully he has taken care of other black laborers on the farm, and how familiar and safe things are in Alligator, Mississippi. He tells Mr. Gandy, "you won't like it in Jackson. You put in many a year here, and now you're throwin em all away. You're throwin your boy away, too. Things won't work out any better for him there" (15). Significantly, Mr. Gandy does not deny that his ties to Alfred and to Alligator are many and complex, but simmers because the complicated system of labor, race, economics, and even kinship that connects the two men gets mystified, covered over--if not erased--by the "norm" relationship of a landowner and his straw boss. Their relationship splits into a simple black/white, employer/employee binary. Mr. Gandy recognizes that Alfred's behavior--idly encouraging him to stay, warning him that he will not have a paternalist figure to protect him in the big city--is really just a performance, a narrative, required of his race and class position: "You are just proving yourself to your own self,' he thinks, and continues "You could look up at me. You could say goodbye. Asshole. I been yo pappy and yo brother" (15).
Of course, such a coercive system is not what Ahmad has in mind when he argues that the dispossessed seek stability instead of flux. Note that Ahmad does not lament the loss of a mystical relation to some allegedly transcendental unity but rather the loss of something much more practical and "useful." He does not propose a single totalizing master narrative to which one should commit in order to create stability. Instead, he suggests instead that displaced individuals seek "a place" or "some stable commitment" (emphasis mine) that will give them a foothold, even if only a temporary one, from which they may begin anew. Although a commitment to class or nation or region or gender certainly comes with its own set of potential problems, Ahmad argues that embracing such commitments--rather than permanently inhabiting a state of flux--is necessary to achieve a meaningful agency. As Mr. Gandy's conversations with his employer reveal, though Jujitsu for Christ is a text that speaks of a longing for a stable home, it also demonstrates a keen awareness of the ways in which striving for stability can lead to oppression.
Thus, Jujitsu for Christ offers a useful meditation on the promises and pitfalls of hybridity, a meditation that ultimately articulates a different version of the concept that stakes out a middle ground between Bhabha and Ahmad. While for Bhabha hybridity emerges from a "third space" that exists in a contact zone between separate cultures, Butler instead offers a concept of hybridity not as an entirely new space but, rather, as an imperfect union of members of a single group fundamentally linked by the common material conditions of life in the South--specifically, in Mississippi. However, these Southerners also experience an artificial binarization, split into ostensible opposites by segregation and more insidious forms of social control such as racial paternalism. Butler suggests that the only way to truly overcome this artificial separation is through a radical experience of the actual, material place--as Ahmad might put it--of the US South, an experience that destroys the partition separating white and black Southerners. Thus, I would argue that Jujitsu for Christ offers a model for theorizing a new form of hybridity. This hybridity may be unstable and contingent, but that instability is not enabling or subversive in and of itself; rather, it expresses a longing for the kind of stable place from which Mississippians of all kinds can gain meaningful agency, a stability grounded in interracial cooperation and a shared experience of home rather than in rigidly enforced binaries. (7)
Marcus is naturally the most important figure for understanding hybridity in this text. The novel functions as a record of his re-examination of the history of his white and black families to apprehend more fully not only his own unique nature but also the nature of a society that can have produced such a complicated individual. His most interesting attempt to theorize the complicated relationship between white and black Mississippians occurs at a moment when Roger and the Gandys share the greatest intimacy yet also lie on the verge of a traumatic split. In one of the novel's most virtuosic passages, a long description of a Mississippi summer, Marcus explores further the inextricable links binding Mississippians of all races. According to Marcus, a Mississippi summer
is an awesome and boggling thing, a slab of steaming time, a hundred cubed: a hundred days at a hundred degrees and a hundred percent humidity. Resin bulges in big globby tears from the trunks of the pines, a sheet of paper wilts in your hand--by noon you can wipe your face with it like a handkerchief. (127)
Marcus describes the summer partially as a time of peril and dread, when the already rich and proliferating vegetation threatens to take over civilization: "Eleven or so, and the green stuff jumps. Corn grows two foot in an hour, Johnson grass strides over the turf saying ha to the lesser grains, thunder lizard of grasses. A rabbit goes down, the kudzu has him. Snarls, slobber, slurping sounds. A burp" (128). The heat itself is a brutal, liquefying force that not only melts ice and asphalt but also melts away the illusion of the individual as a rational agent negotiating a world of clearly demarcated boundaries. According to Marcus, by ten o'clock in the morning, "You've had your last rational thought of the day" (127). The heat dissolves whatever mental and physical blocks prevent Mississippians from imagining a better world for themselves:
something darker than sex lets go in the Mississippi brain. A basalt gland, a venous network of black bubbling fluid, way thicker than blood, stiffer even than frozen tar until the right heat hits. Is it a web of nerve and sense, a vision unseeable until raw flame cooks the apparent earth away? (129)
For Marcus, the Mississippi heat does not merely represent inconvenience or discomfort. Rather, by burning away the perceptions of traditional racial, sexual, and social boundaries, it offers a potentially subversive way of seeing the world. Marcus's description of the transformative properties of the Mississippi summer calls to mind recent work by Jon Smith. In "Hot Bodies and 'Barbaric Tropics': The US South and New World Natures," Smith describes the tropical climate of Mississippi and the Caribbean as productive of a much greater awareness of the fundamental physicality, the embodiment, of human experience. According to Smith,
the heat, with its attendant disease, vegetative profusion, biodiversity, and long growing season (eventuating in plantation culture) render the autochthonous body and, indeed, materiality or "things" in general much more visible within a European discourse that at least since Descartes has sought to repress them. (107)
For Smith, this persistent reminder of our inescapable physicality grants the inhabitants of tropical climates an experience and understanding of the world far different from that of those in cooler climes: "by speeding up the ontological transitions of both objects and subjects as objects, the greater heat and moisture found in the tropics have tended to make people more aware of materiality--of things themselves, and of themselves as things" (117). In many ways, Marcus's description of the Mississippi summer, with its mind-melting heat and threatening fecundity, functions in just the way Smith describes: in one memorable passage, Butler describes children burned to a cinder and melted into the asphalt--a rather dramatic illustration of the rapid transformation from person to thing:
The blacktop pools with liquid asphalt, barefoot children trying to skip across to the store for a Nehi (their folks make them do it to kill the hookworms burrowing in their feet). The children get stuck and squeal. Squeals turn to screams, but the sound is far away and tinny, sound doesn't carry in this heat, or maybe your ears have melted. The children char, collapse on themselves, subsumed in the asphalt. All winter their parents will drive over their trapped bones. By January the old folks' brains will have cooled off enough to wonder what happened to the kids. (127)
But Marcus also more specifically explores the racial implications of the new experience of self that a shimmering, sweaty summer can bring. He writes:
And in this unreal stupor ... nigger and noggle are one and the same, did they but know it. Noggle being a No-Good Goddamn Lap-Eating (White Man). They are not but one race with the one black blood that is not blood between them. It is the same grandfather's face under the tractor cap, one dark and one pink, it is the same voice telling jokes, and the same hot world they see. (129)
Marcus's provocative description of the "black blood that is not blood," the tarry substance that only begins to flow in the most blistering heat, suggests that he perceives Southerners, black and white, as connected at a more fundamental level than they are separated by the racial divisions that we have come to see as fundamental to understanding Mississippi. Initially, his vision is not one of hybridity but of original unity: the release of this hallucinogenic not-blood prompts Mississippians to a vision of "what could be if we could have burned till hate was burned away. One mind, one speech. A home for a way of loving, a territory for a way of seeing" (130). Significantly, the vision of that new home is most profoundly a vision of embodiment; the heat of the Mississippi summer leads to an awareness of the fundamental similarities of physical existence denied in racist discourse. Marcus describes the new world as one in which white and black Mississippians do not merely agree on a political principle of equality but also freely touch each others' bodies and exchange bodily fluids:
The little frail deacon in his boxers and underwear should be rolling with naked big fat morea smearing her juices all over his whiskery face and Jimmy Lee Vandeventer, sixteen-year-old deb, should be snoozing with her cute nose jammed in old Chicken Itchy's sweaty grizzled armpit, his big black dick rolling rubbery on the left-hand cheek of her pearly little ass as he snorts and snores. (129)
Of course, Marcus's evocation of casual, mutually enjoyable interracial sex as one component of his vision violates the strictest taboo in traditional Southern culture. To lift a debutante from the exalted pedestal of Southern Womanhood and set her down not just in bed with, but in fact under the armpit of, an African American man is to reject the myth of pure, chaste--indeed un-embodied--white femininity that provides the foundation for much racist discourse. As Lillian Smith puts it in Killers of the Dream, this ideal creates "the little ghost women of small southern towns," "ma[king] them silly statues and psychic children, stunting their capacity for understanding and enjoyment of husbands and family" (121, 132). Indeed, so pervasive is this ideology that even some of the novel's African American characters have internalized it; Mosey Froghead, the only black member of Roger's Jujitsu for Christ club, agrees wholeheartedly with a white member's praise of the "well-bred Southern white woman" as "the nearest thing to an angelic being that treads this terrible ball" (71).
Marcus laments, however, that this summer vision is fleeting:
But that ain't what we have, is it? That ain't what they want, the big mechanical mosquitoes out in the swamp, the clanking alien bugs that tear down our world every day and build it back as ugly as they possibly can. They want the wound, the middle wall of partition. ... The bugs have made us a New Improved South, with everybody cool in their own big buildings. (130)
For Marcus, then, the fundamental binarization and segregation that divides Mississippians is not truly natural to Mississippi but rather a perversion, a distortion, a "partition" imposed by those who fear the vision of the "hot world" that he describes and profit from its division. Though Butler does not specify the identities of these "bugs," the "mechanical mosquitoes" responsible for building the partition, his lament that Mississippians can avoid the painful but transcendent summer heat by staying "cool in their own big buildings" suggests a critique of consumerism and unchecked capitalism. When individuals can afford to isolate themselves from each other and surround themselves with material goods, they no longer have to face the potentially transformative implications of their common experience of embodiment. Such isolation serves the economic and political interests of men like bank manager Buddy Buck, who opines sagely to Roger on the dire consequences of racial mixing for America's economic solvency and national security: he fears that
when the white man isn't doing what he is best at and the colored man isn't doing what he is best at, well then you are not being efficient, my friend. And you better believe me, Buddy Rough, when that happens, they [Communists] are just going to march right in here ripping off our eagles and seizing our asses. (132)
Although it would be tempting to describe Marcus's vision of a Mississippi unified across color lines as "hybrid," in fact, Marcus describes the unified Mississippi as an original position, a "first place" instead of a "third space"; he speaks of white and black Mississippians as members of "one race" (129). Thus, the garden metaphors with which he begins his description of the "hot world" remind us not only of the tropicality of the South's climate and the way it promotes an awareness of the thingness of things but also of the garden of Eden. Butler, the son of a preacher and a former preacher himself, draws upon the story of Eden to construct a kind of Edenic Mississippi--Edenic in the sense that it may well be true, at least as a myth of origin that explains something about ourselves, but that it is also always already lost to Mississippians of any age, the inheritors of a pre-historical fall from grace.
It can be tempting, especially on a first reading with Marcus's revelation as narrator still to come, to read the "hot world" vision uncritically as Butler's own vision of an original, unified Mississippi, to believe that he is positing an inherent physical or genetic commonality--the hallucinogenic not-blood--shared by all Mississippians that needs only to be set flowing in order to escape from Mississippi's brutal history and return to an original state of innocence, a peaceful garden ignorant of the lash or the noose. Of course, there was no such state of grace. But when we return to this passage with the novel's later revelations in mind, we can read it not as Butler's fantasy, but as Marcus's--Marcus, the narrator who struggles with his own hybrid nature, with his betweenness and unbelonging. Marcus's vision of the "hot world" is conditioned by his own alienation and aloneness: it is important to remember that even the description of this passage as a communal vision, as one shared by all Mississippians, is a part of Marcus's fantasy, an expression of his longing to find a home for his complicated identity.
Nor should we simply ascribe Marcus's vision to mere naivete or historical blindness. We learn at novel's end that when they leave the South, Roger makes him
memorize Vardaman and Lamar, Smith and Till and Melton, Duckworth and William Simmons and Brown and Love and Daniels and Ney, Causey and Prather and Rainey and Jackson and all the villains and victims, the dead and the undead. He [Roger] hated history, and I loved it, but he considered it a duty to know Mississippi history. (203)
Though Marcus may have eventually begun to long for escape from such a violent history, he also recognizes the impossibility of such escape. Early in the novel, Marcus makes clear that he sees the brutality of racial violence in Mississippi as pervading even the most apparently innocent and joyous moments. As Roger Wing returns home from his first Bible study meeting and enjoys his first kiss with girlfriend Patsy, Marcus describes nature itself as testifying to the grim realities from which Roger's privilege protects him: "A small wind came up. It made the pines whisper. And all night long, the water over the spillway answered them, dropping to deeper darkness. Luther, the pine trees whispered. Luther. Luther Jackson. And all night long, the water answered: Lawrence, Lawrence, Lawrence. Lawrence Rainey" (26). Luther Jackson was an African American man shot and killed in Neshoba County in 1959 by Lawrence Rainey, a white police officer and Ku Klux Klan member (and later sheriff during the summer of 1964, when Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, James Chancy were murdered). (8) By having the trees and the water speak of this terrible incident as Roger returns home, dazzled by the lights of young love and Christian grace, Marcus reveals the darkness that pervades Roger's apparently innocent world and signals his awareness that what seems to be innocence is a kind of blindness. Thus Marcus, equipped with a thorough understanding of Mississippi's brutal past, surely understands that his Edenic vision never existed. Yet it still represents, as does the biblical Garden of Eden, a vision of potential, an ideal to which individuals may aspire, a model for a more just and equitable society. Eden is an origin myth, but it is also an image of a possible future.
Although this image fades, it does not disappear entirely; rather, it becomes visible, if imperfectly, in the figures of hybrids such as Marcus. At the end of the "hot world" passage, Marcus describes the transition from the visionary world to the "real" world: "What we have is summer cooling down like so, till our minds come back from the other side, and we find ourselves back in our old familiar personalities, except with our suit-coats stuck to our backs" (131). Although this quotation describes the lamentable loss of the new perspective made possible in the summer heat and a return to "old familiar personalities," hope remains that some memory of that vision's power willlinger: the sweat that sticks suit-coats to backs is a physical trace of the radical embodiment of the "hot world," a damp reminder of the truths glimpsed through the dazzle and glare. Although white and black Mississippians are separated, partitioned, by those who stand to gain from their division, Marcus provides living proof that the artificial binarization does not work perfectly, that new kinds of identity may occur at the points where the two halves overlap, an overlap that might resemble what Bhabha calls a "third space." In the unique and idiosyncratic new selves which emerge from that space, we see an incomplete, fragmentary--fallen, to return to the biblical metaphor--vision of that "first place," the always lost "hot world" that Marcus describes. For Butler, the hybrid represents an image, however flawed, however muddied and indistinct, of hope and possibility in a world suffering from its unnatural split.
And it does suffer: Marcus depicts the split world of 1960s Mississippi as rife with perversions of the "hot world's" unity, equality, and interracial sex. For instance, Roger witnesses a Ku Klux Klan meeting at which Klansmen do not hang or burn their captive African American man but, rather, place a noose around his neck and have him fellate them, for pay--a startling scene that makes explicit the sexual dynamics of lynching that simmer in the subtext of James Baldwin's "Going to Meet the Man" and William Faulkner's Light in August and that Robyn Wiegman has explored so provocatively in American Anatomies. (9) Most troubling, a lust-blinkered Roger Wing, the putative hero of the book, engages in a sexual encounter with the Gandys' thirteen-year-old daughter, Eleanor Roosevelt, who has a crush on him; his eventual unthinking rejection of her drives her to wash her face with Drano in an attempt to bleach the color from her skin, repeating "When it grow back it a be pink. When it grow back it a be pink" (132). In each of these scenes, hierarchies of sexual and racial power, legacies of the "partition," displace the sweaty equality of the Mississippi summer.
Thus, Marcus finds himself adrift, an outsider with no stable identity in a world whose social structures rest on a foundation of strictly, sometimes violently, enforced stability. Hopeful visions of a better home are much needed. Of course, if Romine is right about the coercive nature of communities, then figuring "home" as a site of community is problematic at best. Indeed, this problem plagues Marcus throughout his narrative, as he everywhere confronts a version of "stability" and "groundedness" that that is repressive and reductive, that denies richness and complexity. In The Location of Culture, Bhabha describes Renee Green's architectural art project Sites of Genealogy as a work that "prevents identities at either end of it from settling into primordial polarities. This interstitial passage between fixed identities opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy" (4). For Butler and for Marcus, the sterile, stainless-steel, air-conditioned New South works in just the opposite way, reducing the complex interplay of difference into easily categorizable and controllable opposites of white and black--as Marcus puts it, splitting Mississippians into "Whippissippians and Blappissippians" (160). Hybridity has no place in this Mississippi, as Roger's mother Sissy makes clear. In a conversation about interracial marriage, she frets, "It's the children I worry about.... Half white, half colored.... Where will they live? They won't belong anywhere" (89). Indeed, throughout the novel we see many instances of the hopes of the "hot world" denied for the sake of racial binaries. Mississippi's racial binaries impoverish even the language that individuals might use to articulate a better life for themselves. In a digression about Mr. Blake, the previous owner of the laundromat that Roger converts into his jujitsu studio, Marcus tells us that Blake experiences a religious epiphany when he discovers that his African American clientele has been using a broken dryer that runs perpetually without need of payment. His discovery prompts him to complicated and life-changing reflections on the nature of grace and redemption. But when he struggles to relate something of the story to Roger, his vocabulary fails him. He can only tell him that the neighborhood contains "good people.... a lot of colored, though" (35). The exhausted vocabulary of black and white traps him, overwhelming any more complicated thought and replacing idiosyncratic insight with a simplistic black/white opposition.
Roger experiences this same destruction of difference in the name of hegemonic binaries. As a devotee of the very Eastern, very un-Mississippi discipline of jujitsu, Roger differs from some of his more traditionally Southern friends such as William Percy Alexander Sledge, an Ole Miss fullback nicknamed Little Wide Load; one character even thinks of him as "Roger Wing of the Orient," with all the exoticism, mystery, and otherness that that loaded term implies. But when Roger foils a bank robbery--a quite accidental and complicated affair in which Roger's martial arts instincts save him when rational thought would not--he finds his act marshaled into the service of the most vicious kind of demagogic rhetoric on the newspaper's op-ed page. According to racist pundit Bum Festrich, because Roger stopped the African American thief by throwing his gun at him and knocking him out instead of filling him full of hot lead, Roger is an example of the "young men of courage who yet exemplify the compassion that the Negro-baiting Yankee denies it is possible for a white man to possess. Mississippi shall survive. She shall not merely survive, but prevail. And to young Mr. Wing, I say, 'I salute you, my captain. Mississippi has need of your like'" (167). Roger receives no response when he tries to set the record straight; his action is not meaningful in and of itself, only as ammunition in the culture wars. In fact, Roger's act gets him fired because of white Mississippi's inability to consider the event in any but the simplest racial terms: his boss fires him because he
was as convinced as any other Mississippian that the liberal Yankee press would distort the whole incident of the robbery, and that he ... would be remembered as having hired a cop who split a Negro's skull. As soon as he made the board, he fixed it where he would be remembered as the banker who fired the cop who split a Negro's skull. (170-71)
Clearly, such a radically racially polarized society offers no way for Marcus, with his complicated racial history, to understand himself. The Manichean racial logic of the South that makes interracial children the objects of pity and consternation may serve to provide "norms," to use Romine's term, which cohere the community, but it provides Marcus no usable system for working out his own identity. Indeed, Marcus at first seems to accede to Sissy's implicitly stated belief that no place in Mississippi, indeed nowhere on planet Earth, can offer a good home for someone not firmly fixed on one side of the color line. At the end of the chapter in which Sissy voices her concerns, Marcus drops the omniscient-narrator facade for a moment, and writes,
I figured some things out, and I want to answer Sissy's question. The one about where the children will live.... The future, Sissy. We all pick up and move to the future, gel, because there ain't no room in the past. Too many whirlpools. Turns out this is a science-fiction story, a time-travel story. Turn in yo future-vision, gel, set it say 25 years ahead. Look at yo tv then. You a see where all a the pretty little coffee and chocolate children went. Went to the future. And that ain't all. We still movin. Niggers on Mars, gel, niggers on Mars. (94)
For Marcus, then, his own hybridity must be deferred, delayed; it becomes something that can only manifest in the future. He sees the Mississippi of the New South as part of a system that separates black and white Southerners and denies the truth of their fundamental commonality and community.
Marcus's invocation of science-fiction is not merely rhetorical. Rather, it suggests one of the first--failed--ways in which he attempts to deal with his own complicated hybrid identity. Marcus becomes obsessed with fantasy worlds--sci-fi and comic books--because in them he sees visions of a world that offers more possibilities for the outcast and the unusual than Mississippi does. Rather than seeking to craft a text that will, in Bhabha's words, "authorize cultural hybridities that emerge in moments of historical transformation" (2), Marcus longs to flee the complicated racial realities of his day. In the novel's final chapter, in which he finally reveals himself as the novel's secret narrator, Marcus tells us,
This was supposed to be my story.... I still don't have no story, except for my poems book, Space Nigger and the Plasma Poems, and you never yet heard of it, did you? And this ain't even the kind of story I wanted to tell, dammit.... I wanted to be a comic book writer, a science-fiction writer. I wanted to write about strange and wonderful alternate realities, about glorious heroes made in my own secret image.... Got tricked into realism, but you can tell it ain't my home. (197-98)
With a life filled with such pain and loss, Marcus's desire not to revisit his tragic, violent Mississippi past makes sense, as does his desire to create a new self in the language of superheroes and spacefarers, figures ostensibly unencumbered by the back-breaking burden of history.
However, Marcus also reveals, perhaps unconsciously, why he has failed, why the stories of his past have exerted a pull on him far beyond the powers of his futuristic fabulism to break. Escaping into the narratives of fantasy, the novel suggests, is no escape at all, for the escapee runs the risk of simply taking the corrupt structures that govern contemporary life and transferring them into a new setting with no change of attitude. Superhero fantasies cannot help Marcus deal with his complicated hybridity because in some ways they serve as vehicles for the binary racial logic that Marcus struggles so hard to escape. The particular comic books to which Marcus finds himself drawn reflect this tension: "He had two Mars ones: an old John Carter of Mars, and a John Jonz, Manhunter from Mars. He had a Submariner and an Action Comics with a Bizarro story and a Krypto the Wonder Dog story" (182). Each of these books features characters with dual natures that mark them as outsiders. The Sub-Mariner, the child of a human and an Atlantean, possesses unique winged feet that mark him as an outsider to both cultures; Bizarro is a funhouse mirror version of Superman, whom he idolizes even though he is his opposite. Marcus's attraction to these outcasts makes sense; most interesting, however, are the contending visions of Mars that Marcus reads about in stories that suggest Mars might not be the best destination for those fleeing from Mississippi's racial structures. J'onn J'onzz, the Manhunter from Mars (later known as the Martian Manhunter), finds himself stranded on Earth when a scientist accidentally teleports him from his Martian home and then dies of a heart attack. A shapeshifter, the Manhunter assumes the form of a human and becomes police officer John Jones, disguises his true nature and, in his first adventures (published from 1955 to 1963 as a backup feature in Detective Comics) uses his alien powers mainly in secret--sometimes literally invisibly. (10) Thus, while one might hope that the vision of a heroic, powerful, shape-changing outsider could provide an enabling example for Marcus, the Manhunter's tendency toward disguise and secrecy, toward hiding his complexity behind a mask of mainstream whiteness, offers a rather less positive example.
Nor does John Carter provide much more help: the hero of a series of novels by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs as well as several comic book adaptations, Carter was a Confederate officer from Virginia, whom Burroughs describes in his foreword to A Princess of Mars (1917), the first Carter novel, as a "typical southern gentleman of the highest type" (viii); further, writes Burroughs, "our slaves fairly worshipped the ground he trod" (vii). Carter himself laments that since the end of the Civil War he has become "the servant of a state which had vanished with the hopes of the South" (2). Though he makes many allies on a Mars teeming with a variety of alien races, his journals often read like dispatches from a colonial outpost or excerpts from an action-packed, ether-fueled draft of Will Percy's Lanterns on the Levee, the chronicles of an ostensibly heroic civilizer trying to understand the (literally in this case) alien Other and approving only of those values that seem most human--i.e., white. For instance, when describing the warlike Green Martians, he notes that they "could not understand, except in a feeble and childish way, such attributes as gratitude and compassion" (61), and that "parental and filial love is as unknown to them as it is common among us" (67). These examples make clear that the visions of the future that Marcus initially sees as escapist, as a refuge from the confusion and brutality of civil-rights era Mississippi, are in fact inherently marked with the prejudices and biases of the cultures that produce them. In many ways, superheroes and science-fiction simply perpetuate the false "partition" that Marcus longs to escape and so offer him no way to express or understand his hybridity. (11)
The ways in which the hybridity-denying logic of Southern binarism creeps into even escapist fantasies comes through most clearly when Marcus tries to put his fantastic ideals into practice. One night Marcus happens in on a bored, intoxicated Roger wearing a Barman mask leftover from a long-ago Halloween. When Marcus informs him that he cannot be Batman, since Bruce Wayne is, Roger responds, "I'm Captain Mississippi.... He's new. He's like Captain America, but for Mississippi. Black and white, see, like magnolia blossoms in moonlight shadows" (79). Marcus, catching on to the game, plays along: "So it a be like he know karate and everything, and he a save Mississippi?" But a superhero needs a sidekick, and Marcus puts together a makeshift costume out of his sister's sheet and an old Robin mask to become Captain Mississippi's juvenile partner, Bluejay. This outlandish fantasy naturally appeals to Marcus, who so loves superheroes and science fiction as a form of escape from the mundane. But Captain Mississippi's costume--black and white, magnolias and moonlight--invokes the South's too simple racial dichotomy and its myths of gentility and honor. Ironically, in fact, this fantasy perpetuates one of the primary dynamics by which elite whites justified their domination of African Americans: racial paternalism, a system by which whites--typically wealthy whites or whites striving to achieve aristocratic status--treated African Americans not just as inferior but as childlike, requiring the allegedly beneficent care of a white parental figure who often, in fact, exploited them ruthlessly. As Jack T. Kirby puts it, paternalism "bound blacks to whites, apprenticed them not only as laborers but also as moral creatures" (16). The Southern paternalist thus takes on an ambivalent dual role similar to the colonial authority whom Bhabha describes as "father and oppressor" (100). Indeed, Marcus has revealed his frustration with this system in one of his first disruptions of the novel's traditional narrative, when he abruptly inserts a kind of praise song pastiche whose penultimate verse reads "I used to be a nigger, / but my heart has gotten bigger,/I'm a-learning to do right, / I'm a understudy white" (24). Planter and paternalist Will Percy put it rather less critically when he claimed that "the black man is our brother, a younger brother, not adult, not disciplined, but tragic, pitiful, and lovable; act as his brother and be patient" (309).
Although Percy's fraternal metaphor pays lip service to the familial bonds that allegedly bind black and white Southerners, in fact paternalism worked to maintain racial segregation, to keep racial lines distinct. As Percy's memoir repeatedly reveals, elite whites have a vested social and economic interest in assuring that their "younger brothers" never grow up, that white and black Mississippians never attain a level of equality that could potentially lead to racial mingling--or, at least, to publicly accepted racial mingling. Thus, paternalism serves to keep in check one of the great fears of white Mississippians--hybridity. According to Percy, the white Southerner believes that "the hybrid is not a desirable product ... [;] amalgamation is not the answer" (21-22). The superhero sidekick and the African American in a paternalist culture share this condition of perpetual childhood--sidekicks like Barman's Robin or Captain America's Bucky train at the side of their heroic father-figures, learning their skills, techniques, methods, and perspectives, but decade after decade they remain the sidekick, never aging into maturity and becoming superheroes in their own rights. (12) The promise that they will one day grow up and fill their masters' shoes is rarely fulfilled, their adulthood endlessly deferred in a fantasy world where characters age incredibly slowly, if at all. Thus, the game of Captain Mississippi and Bluejay does not offer an escape from Mississippi's grim, racial narrative but rather recreates it. True, Marcus is a child when he and Roger play this game; but unless he can break free from the game's rules, he will essentially remain a child. Roger apprehends this truth, if only dimly and momentarily, when he falls ill with a fever--a burning that perhaps allows him a hazy vision of the "hot world" of ideal Mississippi--and he warns the Gandys, "Make Marcus give me back my skin, Mr. Gandy. Tell him don't make a cape out of it" (185). Roger articulates the inescapable and inherent whiteness of his Captain Mississippi role, and perhaps of superhero fantasy in general--to wear a superhero's cape is also to drape oneself in a symbol of whiteness, of the status quo. (13)
I would not want to suggest, however, that Butler sees science-fiction or superhero narratives as entirely corrupt, as offering no meaningful way of understanding the world. His own clear affection for these genres shines brightly in Jujitsu for Christ, and he has written two sci-fi novels--Nightshade and Dreamer--populated with vampires, robots, cyborgs, and Martians. And indeed, Marcus views his stint as Bluejay with genuine affection, appreciating Roger's willingness to indulge him in his fantasy; at novel's end, he claims the name as an irrefutable part of his heritage (87). Further, he explicitly admires the narrative power of the comic book medium: "One might imagine a writer praying to learn a similar prose, a style that might inform the ordinary and dear with something of the same light, a sense of color that might explain why such small things should seem so valuable" (182). Clearly, however, the superhero paradigms available for Marcus in the 1960s cannot help him explain or understand his own complicated, hybrid nature; they offer him no way of telling his "own story" of hybridity because they trap him in the traditional, binaristic vocabularies that he longs to escape.
Indeed, in the novel's concluding chapter, Marcus reveals that one of the reasons he could not write himself out of Mississippi and into the future was because he began to perceive the profoundly human flaws that undermined the large-scale heroic figures he idolized: "Start seeing the rust on Captain America's shield, the semen stains on Flash's tights. Now I ain't no good for science fiction, but I ain't happy with lyrachur either" (198). Marcus's examples suggest that he sought in superhero narratives, among other things, an escape from the messy, bodily aspects of adult sex--the very thing that he celebrates in his "hot world" reverie. Further, one could argue that, in trying to deny that even Captain America's ostensibly unbreakable shield can rust, Marcus was also attempting to deny the awareness of materiality, the "thingness of things," that forms an important part of his vision of summer.
Thus, Marcus finds escapist fictions inadequate for his need to tell his own story. Is there, then, any hope for the hybrid in this text? I would argue that in fact there is, and to understand it fully, we must look closely at the way in which Marcus gradually shifts the terms in which he describes his vacillations all along the color line in the novel's final chapter. Recall that although some scholars view the hybrid as a transgressive, politically contestatory figure, one of the charges leveled at Bhabha's formulation of hybridity in particular is that it offers no real grounds for agency. Pnina Werbner's description, following Bakhtin, of the distinction between "organic" hybrids and "intentional" hybrids helps to explain the transformation that Marcus begins to achieve. According to Werbner, organic hybrids occur naturally whenever two or more cultures mingle and overlap. Though she reads organic hybridities as neutral, or, more precisely, as "normal," a part of everyday reality wherever cultures meet and mingle, she also argues that they provide a kind of raw material which "intentional" hybrids--those who seize political agency and seek change--can draw upon to "shock, change, challenge, revitalise or disrupt" the status quo (5). Significantly, in the novel's closing pages, as Marcus casts about desperately to try to find some meaning in his story, he describes his initial shifts back and forth across the color line in passive terms, as decisions undertaken mainly for expediency and without any broader sense of political or cultural significance. He says that he "turned into a white man by accident" (204), and that when he "went to the seventh grade white ... we both just let it happen" (205). Then, when he begins to realize what he has sacrificed by passing for white all these years, his embrace of blackness offers no more sophisticated a framework for his complicated racial heritage than did his masking himself in whiteness; he becomes what he calls a "Standard Black Writer" (205), making money telling stories that he feels obscure more than they reveal; he sees this identity as just as a way of getting through creative writing workshop, a thin and not especially sturdy hook on which to hang himself.
Marcus's inability to know himself, and thus his inability to achieve any meaningful agency--he describes himself as "scared shitless ... nightmare outfits all around me and I didn't know which one to wear" (206)--recalls Ahmad's critique of hybridity's indeterminacy, its "flux and displacement" (16). Yet the final pages of the novel see Marcus finally moving toward just that sort of commitment, a move that offers some hope that he will transform his "organic," neutral hybridity into a more "intentional" form. Marcus returns to Alligator, Mississippi, his family's ancestral home, to visit his father, now a taciturn old man who scarcely recognizes his son and who spends his days staring out across the cotton fields he used to work. Marcus desperately wants his father to see him, but not as the son he was when he left or as the white man he sometimes becomes, but as a complicated hybrid individual, the result of the sometimes violent overlap of white and black in Mississippi. Marcus writes, "See me, Poppa. Neither Jew nor Greek, neither white nor black, don't know am I a mean motherfucker or a bleeding-heart poet, see me. I'm a genius, Poppa.... See me, Poppa. Yo son: Marcus Aurelius Gandy: Bluejay" (208). The particular terms in which Marcus represents himself are significant: by suspending his birth name between the textual markers of his duality--between the names or roles, however problematic, that reveal his history as a native of both sides of the color line--Marcus situates himself, finally, as both at once, his father's son and Roger's, without giving either priority over the other; he claims the type of identity necessary if he is to achieve at least the possibility of political agency, even if we do not see that agency exercised in this text.
Importantly, Marcus can only achieve this synthesis, this new identity, when he returns to his family's--both families'--home, Mississippi, indeed in the very cotton fields whose cultivation, one could argue, created the material and social space that made hybridity in the US South possible. Thus, Marcus's tale leaves us with a new way of understanding hybridity in the US South, as a flawed, fallen performance of an always already lost "first place," a performance that sparks a collective awareness of the fundamental similarities uniting Mississippians, a unity that Marcus literally embodies. For Butler, Mississippi has a dual nature: the source of racist discourse, segregation, and violence that divides its residents, it also, paradoxically, offers an experience--the summer heat--that, properly understood, can lead to greater understanding and cooperation between them. Thus, in Jujitsu for Christ, Butler depicts hybridity in a manner unaccounted for in the traditional debate over the concept, not as simply a liberation from totalizing binaristic logic nor, as Ahmad would have it, as a condition of contingency and rootlessness that offers no real agency. For Butler, hybridity may indeed be a condition of flux and instability, yet that condition is subversive not because it disrupts stable binaries and hierarchies simply for the sake of doing so, but, rather, precisely because it expresses a desire for stability, for a home, for a better Mississippi that will provide both a more welcoming home for hybrid figures such as Marcus as well as a more secure foundation for them to achieve meaningful agency. Of course, Butler recognizes the danger of that longing, the way in which it can seduce individuals into exploitation and oppression, into a system that denies difference. A figure such as Marcus becomes important, then, not just because of his own struggle to find a home for his identity but also because of the ways in which that struggle has given him a profound awareness of the coercive nature of many different kinds of community. Butler's text provides scholars of US Southern literature with a useful adaptation of the concept of hybridity that reflects the unusual dynamics of Mississippi and, perhaps, of the US South generally. In a land that both "colonizer" and "colonized" can claim justly as their home, hybridity manifests itself as an imperfect version of a positive stability, a connection of a wrongly divided community, rather than simply as an intentional disruption of a corrupt colonial hierarchy.
Ahmad, Aijaz. "The Politics of Literary Postcoloniality." Race & Class 36.3 (1995): 1-20.
Baker, Houston A., Jr. Turning South Again: Re-thinking Modernism/ Re-reading Booker T. Durham: Duke UP, 2001.
Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Bone, Martyn. The Postsouthern Sense of Place in Contemporary Fiction. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2005.
Brah, Avtar, and Annie E. Coombes, eds. Hybridity and Its Discontents: Politics, Science, Culture. New York: Routledge, 2000.
Burroughs, Edgar Rice. A Princess of Mars. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1917.
Butler, Jack. Jujitsu for Christ. New York: Penguin, 1986.
--. E-mail to the author. 19 August 2005.
DeMatteis, J. M., and Mark Badger. Martian Manhunter 1-4 (1998). DC Comics.
Dittmer, John. Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1994.
Doyle, William. An American Insurrection: The Battle of Oxford, Mississippi, 1962. New York: Doubleday, 2001.
Griffiths, Gareth. "The Post-colonial project: Critical Approaches and Problems." New National and Post-Colonial Literatures. Ed. Bruce King. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996. 164-77.
Henderson, Jeff. "Intertextuality and Narrative Distance in the Novels of Jack Butler." Publications of the Arkansas Philological Association 17.1 (1997): 45-57.
Hutchison, Michael. "J'onn J'onzz, O'ver and O'verr." Fanzing: The DC Comics Fan Site. 1.12 (1998). 12 January 2006. <http://www.fanzing.com/mag/fanzing12/dcu101.shtml>.
Kirby, Jack T. The Countercultural South. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1995.
Kotz, Nick. Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws that Changed America. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.
Loomba, Ania. Colonialism/Postcolonialism. New York: Routledge, 1998.
Markstein, Don. "J'onn J'onzz, Manhunter from Mars." Toonpedia. April 2004. 12 January 1996. <http://www.toonopedia.com/jonnjonz.htm>.
Matthews, John T. "This Race Which Is Not One: The 'More Inextricable Compositeness' of William Faulkner's South." Smith and Cohn. 201-26.
Miller, Jack, and Joe Certa. "The Unmasking of J'onn J'onzz." Detective Comics 273 (1959). DC Comics.
Percy, William Alexander. Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter's Son. New York: Knopf, 1941.
Romine, Scott. The Narrative Forms of Southern Community. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1999.
--. "Where is Southern Literature? The Practice of Place in a Post-Southern Age." South to a New Place: Region, Literature, Culture. Ed. Suzanne Jones and Sharon Monteith. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2005. 23-43.
Simon, Bruce. "Hybridity in the Americas: Reading Conde', Mukherjee, and Hawthorne." Postcolonial Theory and the United States: Race, Ethnicity, and Literature. Ed. Amrtijit Singh and Peter Schmidt. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2000. 412-43.
Singer, Marc. "'Black Skins' and White Masks: Comics Books and the Secret of Race." African American Review 36.1 (2002): 107-19.
Smith, Jon. "Hot Bodies and 'Barbaric Tropics': The U.S. South and New World Natures." Southern Literary Journal 36.1 (2003): 104-20.
Smith, Jon and Deborah Cohn. "Introduction: Uncanny Hybridities." Smith and Cohn. 1-19.
Smith, Jon and Deborah Cohn, eds. Look A way: The U.S. South in New World Studies. Durham: Duke UP, 2004.
Tate, Shirley Anne. Black Skins, Black Masks: Hybridity, Dialogism, Performativity. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005.
Tipton, Nathan. "Rope and Faggott: The Homoerotics of Lynching in William Faulkner's Light in August and James Baldwin's Going to Meet the Man." Paper delivered at the 2002 Meeting of the Society for the Study of Southern Literature, Lafayette, LA.
Wiegman, Robyn. American Anatomies: Theorizing Race and Gender. Durham: Duke UP, 1995.
Werbner, Pnina. "Introduction: The Dialectics of Cultural Hybridity." Werbner and Modood. 1-26.
Werbner, Pnina and Tariq Modood, eds. Debating Cultural Hybridity: Multi-Cultural Identities and the Politics of Anti-Racism. London: Zed, 1997.
Wolfman, Marv, and George Perez. "Final Crisis." Crisis on Infinite Earths 12 (1986). DC Comics.
--. "There Shall Come a Titan." Tales of the Teen Titans 44 (1984). DC Comics.
Young, Robert J.C. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture, Race. New York: Routledge, 1995.
Louisiana State University
(1) Historian William Doyle suggests that Barnett's speech earned him "one of the most powerful crowd raptures ever given to an American politician" and set the stage for the violence to follow in Oxford (112-13). He cites one spectator who "felt that if Barnett gave the word, all 41,000 people would burst out of the stadium and march 170 miles north to Oxford to surround the university, and another 50,000 would join them on the way" (113). According to Doyle, this rapturous approval contributed to Barnett's resolve to deny Meredith's admission to the University of Mississippi despite the advice of some of his moderate counselors (113).
(2) For a detailed discussion of Butler's narrative stratagems in and between his first two novels, see Henderson,
(3) By speaking generally of "postcolonial studies," I do not intend to elide the great diversity within such a broad field with many divergent branches, Postcolonial studies of the US South have most often made connections with Latin America and the Caribbean, and this essay will draw in part upon scholarship generated from such projects. As Jon Smith and Deborah Cohn's recent volume Look Away!: The U.S. South in New World Studies, the conferences sponsored by Louisiana State University's Louisiana and Caribbean Studies program, and a growing number of articles and book chapters indicate, postcolonial theory has provided a powerful lens both for seeing the US South as imbricated in a pattern of plantation agriculture and racial subjugation that includes the Caribbean and Latin America and for understanding the ways in which race relations within the US South have been regulated and organized according to a framework of colonial oppression and domination. Although the connection between the US South and the New World is perhaps the most frequently explored, certain concepts, such as hybridity, have been pervasive throughout the field. Indeed, the fact that Bhabha's conception of hybridity seems applicable across the postcolonial spectrum is the source of one of the primary arguments against it. Ania Loomba has decried the lack of historical and geographical specificity in Bhabha's formulation. As she puts it, "the split, ambivalent, hybrid colonial subject projected in his work is in fact curiously universal and homogeneous--that is to say he could exist anywhere in the colonial world" (178). Loomba's point is well taken; I would not argue that this lack of specificity renders Bhabha's theories invalid, however. Rather, I would suggest that the scholar of a particular region or historical moment must supply the context that is lacking and examine how that context might alter our understanding Bhabha's more general theory of hybridity.
(4) Hybridity does not always refer strictly to race, of course. For example, in the introduction Look A way, Jon Smith and Deborah Cohn conceive of hybridity broadly, as encompassing a wide range of cultural exchanges and interactions; they argue that although we must question or do away with many of the familiar tropes of Southern exceptionalism, "the potential for southern distinctiveness consists in what might be called the South's literally uncanny (unheimlich) hybridity" (9). Inevitably, however, the South's complicated hybrid nature does often manifest itself in racial terms. For instance, Smith and Cohn cite Patricia Yaeger's depiction of "transgressively hybrid" figures, individuals whose existence "split between white and black cultures....[,] bringing apartheid deep into the serf," disrupts Southern social norms (31), and John T. Matthews's contribution to Look A way! reads William Faulkner's Lightin Augustas a meditation on white hysteria over the multi-faceted "compositeness" of race in the South (216).
(5) I am aware than in repeatedly referencing Ahmad's call for a return to, among other things, a commitment to a "place" as a way of attempting to anchor the drifting hybrid, I am unavoidably invoking an important debate in Southern literary studies over the concept of "place." The notion that "place," hazily defined, is somehow unique to and definitive of the South and Southern literature has been critiqued recently and effectively by such scholars as Scott Romine and Martyn Bone, who have exposed its roots in Agrarian and neo-ideologies of production and property and who have offered compelling theories of the ways in which the "practice of place" might operate in the contemporary South. It is not my intention to intervene in this conversation; I only wish to note that I am using the term in Ahmad's more general formulation as referring to a particular nexus of social and economic affiliations in a particular geographical region.
(6) In my discussion of hybridity, I am relying primarily on the theories of Homi Bhabha, not only because he is the most influential theorist of the concept but because his ideas have proved most useful in examining Butler's treatment of hybridity. However, I do not mean to suggest that Bhabha's is the only theory of hybridity in postcolonial scholarship or that Ahmad's objections are the only objections to that theory. For a sampling of the debate over the complications and contradictions of hybridity, see Brah and Coombes, Werbner and Modood, and Tate. Simon also provides an engaging survey of some of the debates surrounding Bhabha's concept of hybridity and a discussion of that concept's usefulness in the US.
(7) I say "Mississippians of all kinds," yet Butler's focus on black-white relations does not include a discussion of Native Americans; however, Butler does take up the issue of Native American displacement, albeit not in a Southern context, in a later novel, Dreamer (1998).
(8) For further reading on the Rainey/Jackson case and on Rainey's connection to the murder of Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman, see Dittmer and Kotz.
(9) See also Tipton.
(10) To be precise about the timeline, I should note that the Martian Manhunter began operating more openly in 1959 (after temporarily losing the ability to use his other powers while invisible in Detective Comics #273), and he eventually went on the become a regular in the popular Justice League of America, though he continued to use his "John Jones" disguise and others as needed. It is possible, then, that Marcus could have either read his earlier, more secretive adventures or his later, more traditionally superheroic exploits. Even then, however, he was still a shapeshifter, and I find the character's origins in invisibility and disguise provocative for thinking about Marcus's later life as a white "mimic." Further, J.M. Dematties's 1988 Martian Manhunter mini-series established that even J'onn's superhero form--a green-skinned but otherwise humanoid Superman-type body--was yet another disguise for his true form, a far more alien, reptilian body. Obviously, this series was published two years after Jujitsu, but I mention it simply to note that the theme of disguising one's true self recurs frequently in stories about this character. Specific issue numbers and dates come from Markstein and Hutchison.
(11) The quotations I have used here come from Burroughs's first John Carter novel, A Princess of Mars. I cite the novel because it offers the standard version of Carter's origin and the most developed treatment of his connections to the Confederacy and to racial paternalism, an element of the Carter mythos that was treated with little consistency in the variety of comic book adaptations of Burroughs's Carter stories published by the early 1960s. For instance, in the 1950s John Carter stories published in Dell's 4-Color series, Carter's origins were updated to the twentieth century. In e-mail correspondence, Butler has said that he "was operating off childhood memories" of John Carter comics, and that as a child, Carter's Virginia roots did not strike him as especially "Southern." Of course, as Marcus points out, echoing Malcolm X, the South no longer had exclusive claim to oppressive racist practices, if it ever did: Marcus argues, "America is Mississippi now. You don't think it is. You wrong. Start paying attention" (160). The dark secret lurking in the John Carter stories, then, is that Mars is as much Mississippi as America is.
(12) Obviously, in a medium with as long a history as comic books, there are exceptions to this rule; however, the exceptions tend rather to affirm the rule than to challenge it. For instance, the original Robin did eventually grow up and become the superhero Nightwing, but I should point out that he was introduced in 1940 and didn't become Nightwing until 1984 in Tales of the Teen Titans#44; he had an awfully long childhood. Further, one could argue that his new superhero persona--another grim, nocturnal avenger with a winged motif--indicates that he is still a junior, lesser, derivative version of his more famous superior. Obviously, even this problematic model of maturity would not have been available to Marcus in the 1960s. One of the more successful examples--the transformation of sidekick Kid Flash into the Flash upon his mentor's death--began in 1986's Crisis on Infinite Earths#12, after the composition of this novel.
(13) For a compelling discussion of the role of race in superhero comic books, see Singer. Singer connects the "split identity" aspect of the superhero--mild mannered Clark Kent is also the heroic Superman, for example--to the double-consciousness theories of W.E.B. Du Bois and Franz Fanon. Singer offers an intriguing discussion of superhero writers such as Tony Isabella and Christopher Priest, whose work portrays "the psychological costs of split identities, using superhero conventions to represent metaphorically the dilemmas of racial and other minority groups" (116). Singer's discussion of Priest's short-rived series Xero (1997-1998) is of particular interest for my discussion of Marcus. Xero is an African American basketball star whose superhero identity is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white man--a literalization of Roger's (literally) fevered claim that to be a superhero is to be implicitly white.
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|Publication:||The Mississippi Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2005|
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