The central proposition of this essay is that a reading of the plantation as an archive, rather than as a single unified, stable signifier, offers possibilities for understanding the plantation image's continued efficacy as a signifier for today's postcolonial, postglobal South. The essay begins with Benitez-Rojo's description of the indeterminable center or “origen” (“origin”) of the island archipelago to call attention to this proposition: namely, that there is no single “plantation” or plantation image that we can privilege above all others. Like Benitez-Rojo's repeating island, the plantation is known by its recurrent image — the white pillars projecting power and grace and explicitly linking the plantation with classical empires, the front porch with its rocking chairs that balance or undercut, with their implicit invitation and warmth, the imposing phallic pillars. Such plantation images reach their apogee in 1930s films such as Gone with the Wind (1939), Mississippi (1935), and Showboat (1936), all of which portray a Mythic South that is less a specific geographic location than an ideal — or an idyll — less an actual object than a procession of images that proliferate into the future even as they revise the past. The visual archive of the plantation, then, as unvarying and stable as it may appear (Tara, say, or the Lyceum), is really a composite consisting of all the photographs and portraits of plantations produced and circulated for the past two centuries or so. The “original” can be no more than a fleeting glimpse and a hypothetical construction. Far from being an island, the plantation thus emerges as a veritable archipelago or even meta-archipelago in Benitez-Rojo's sense: a polyglot entity overflowing its own boundaries and exceeding all attempts to anchor it to a given center, and at the very least not bound by its own time and space. By way of illustration, this article offers a limited genealogy of the plantation: Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha, García Márquez's Macondo, and Coppola's Appocalypse Now Redux (2001).
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Alfred J. López; The Plantation as Archive: Images of “the South” In the Postcolonial World. Comparative Literature 1 December 2011; 63 (4): 402–422. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-1444446
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