Allen Mendenhall on Researching “The Southern Philosopher”

We’re honored to have Allen Mendenhall, editor of The Southern Philosopher: Collected Essays of John William Corrington, join us today as he talks about his research process, the help he received, and just what makes John William Corrington so interesting. You can find more by him at the Southern Literary Review and his website.

My interest in John William Corrington began in law school. I went to law school at West Virginia University to study under Jim Elkins, who is well-known in law-and-literature circles and recently had written on Corrington. I read Corrington in Elkins’s classes and at some point, reached out to Corrington’s widow, Joyce, to strike up a conversation about her late husband. Before I knew it, I was staying at Joyce’s home in New Orleans and getting phone calls from Bill’s friends and colleagues. One day, a package arrived in the English department at Auburn University, where I was a doctoral student, and in it were materials that a friend of Corrington’s sent along because he’d heard I was researching Corrington.

Some of Corrington’s other family members refused to talk to me about him. Joyce was always completely forthcoming with me when I asked her what I thought were sensitive questions. She’s not shy. The first time I found out Corrington had been married and divorced before he met and married Joyce, I was concerned about broaching the topic with her. But when I did question Joyce about this period of Corrington’s history, she didn’t miss a beat in explaining who the first wife was and why Bill had divorced.

Joyce showed my wife and me around New Orleans, took us to nice restaurants that only locals knew about, and showed me video footage of her late husband delivering a lecture. I couldn’t have gained the knowledge of Corrington that I now possess if it weren’t for Joyce’s openness and frankness.

I’ve written three books and now edited this one. The Corrington edition was harder to complete than the books I wrote. It took over seven years of work before the book finally reached print. The University of North Georgia Press has been patient with me and excellent to work with during this process.

Corrington was enthralled by the political philosopher Eric Voegelin and undertook multiple scholarly projects involving Voegelin’s complex teachings. Corrington illuminates Voegelin’s writing; in many ways, Corrington is easier to read. His prose, I think, is more accessible than Voegelin’s, and he introduces and describes the dense, esoteric subjects and concepts that characterize Voegelin’s work.

Problematic in our current time and space and political environment is Corrington’s fascination with the Confederacy. I won’t try to explain his positions on that subject here but would encourage readers to investigate for themselves his account of the role of myth and poetry in the narration of Southern history.

It’s interesting to see how Corrington went from writing Beat-style poetry in the 1960s to novels and short stories and then to daytime television scripts and philosophical tracts inspired by Voegelin. His interests and talents were diverse, and his friends and students were loyal. I’ve yet to talk to someone who disliked Corrington.

I think there’s more work to be done on Corrington’s life and thought. By bringing this collection of Corrington’s essays to print, I hope to have laid the groundwork for future scholarship on this fascinating man and his complex ideas about law, history, philosophy, and the humanities. The Southern Philosopher should generate more research about Corrington—and perhaps even get Corrington’s works in the classroom where students of a new generation can become as enamored of him as his own students were in his day.

If You Liked “The Southern Philosopher,” You’ll Love These!

John William Corrington is a man of letters whose writings were not limited to one subject. He discusses the humanities and science, gnosticism and religion, universities and the South. Many of his writings were verbal lectures or unpublished, his fame coming from his films rather than his literary works. But no matter the medium he worked in, Corrington’s speech is affable, a teacher sharing his insights until the very end.

To better understand philosophy, and thus, better understand Corrington, we have two book recommendations for you. We hope you enjoy all three books as much as we do!

The New Science of Politics: An Introduction by Eric Voegelin

Eric Voegelin was a German native but was raised in Vienna. He taught political theory and sociology at the University of Vienna and was an outspoken critic of Nazism. Forced to flee Austria after the Anschluss, he eventually settled in Louisiana. The chaos of the world at the time influenced Voegelin’s thoughts and led to his developed idea of gnosticism, which in turn influenced Corrington. The New Science of Politics are his lectures from 1951, and this introduction provides a clear insight to his teachings.

Philosophy Through Film (3rd edition) by Mary Litch and Amy Karofsky

Corrington is best known as the screenwriter of The Omega Man and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Even if he personally preferred his literary works, his films were not completely separate from his philosophies. Philosophy Through Film uses popular films to explore different concepts of philosophy. (Inception is Chapter 2: Skepticism.) Written in clear language, with classic philosophical texts as supplemental readings, this is a great guide to help you navigate the beginning of your philosophical journey.

Allen Mendenhall is the editor of The Southern Philosopher: Collected Essays of John William Corrington. He is associate dean of Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and executive director of the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty. He edits the Southern Literary Review and has authored hundreds of publications in law reviews, peer reviewed journals, magazines, newspapers, literary periodicals, and encyclopedias. His other books include Literature and Liberty (2014) and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Pragmatism, and the Jurisprudence of Agon (2017). He lives in Auburn, Alabama, with his wife and two children.

National Book Lovers Day Spotlight: The Southern Philosopher: Collected Essays of John William Corrington

Today is National Book Lovers Day, the most exciting day at the University Press of North Georgia! To celebrate, we would like to spotlight our newest release: The Southern Philosopher: Collected Essays of John William Corrington, edited by Allen Mendenhall.

John William Corrington was a diverse writer, producing novels, poems, critical essays, philosophical musings, and, most famously, screenplays. (You can thank him for I Am Legend, Planet of the Apes, and General Hospital.) While he garnered most of his acclaim for his screenplays, he was also a prolific essayist. Through his essays, Corrington explored topics that he couldn’t write about elsewhere. He knew that philosophy and science could co-exist, that the South was a place of pride and intelligence, and that Gnosticism had failed. These essays showcase his developing thoughts about it all.

The Southern Philosopher: Collected Essays of John William Corrington ushers those beliefs into the spotlight. Corrington is more than clever. He is unbelievable. Corrington’s voice reads like a world-class lecturer, and each essay comes with an introduction, written by Mendenhall, to set the context. His essays discuss law, space travel, Gnosticism, religious history, and, of course, literature. Many of these essays were previously unpublished. Some were handwritten and had to be typed for the first time. This edition includes in-depth appendices with handwritten notes from Corrington himself, with full approval from Joyce Corrington, Corrington’s widow.

Corrington’s subject diversity, fueled by his love for inquiry and analysis, brings forth the voice of a philosopher that is all together unique. He touches on forces that act on and affect all human beings, making this collection a riveting experience that anyone can enjoy, no philosophy degree required.

Allen Mendenhall is associate dean of Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and executive director of the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty.  He holds a B.A. in English from Furman University. His interest in Corrington began in 2009 at West Virginia University, where he received his M.A. in English and a J.D. He then received his LL.M. in transnational law from Temple University Beasley School of Law and his Ph.D. in English from Auburn University.  He edits the Southern Literary Review and has authored hundreds of publications in law reviews, peer-reviewed journals, magazines, newspapers, literary periodicals, and encyclopedias. His other books include Literature and Liberty (2014) and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Pragmatism, and the Jurisprudence of Agon (2017). He lives in Auburn, Alabama, with his wife and two children.