Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Scottish Literature

By Ian Brown; Alan Riach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWELVE
The (B)order in Modern Scottish Literature

Carla Sassi

The dynamic nexus constituted by interrelated processes of bordering, ordering and collective identity has been amply investigated in the past twenty years from a number of different disciplinary and theoretical standpoints. ‘Border theory’ today is largely grounded on the work of American/Chicano cultural critics, who have investigated the power of boundaries as both literal and figurative barriers, fostering an essentialist view of culture and thus as commanding and violent tools of inclusion and exclusion; but who have also highlighted how borders can be valuably reread as sites of encounter, of ‘politically exciting hybridity, intellectual creativity and moral possibility’.1 If the power of borders is essentially divisive, in fact, the power of liminality is dialogic and affiliative. Seen in this perspective, borderlands potentially foster ‘the opening [of] new forms of understanding,’2 and indeed may become ‘the privileged locus of hope for a better world’.3

Even though Europe has a similarly dramatic and turbulent history of contestation of geo-political boundaries, often generating conflicts and genocide, but also fostering hybridisations and precarious liminalities which continually undermine the orders created by mainstream cultures and by official state histories, European thought has seemed largely unable to offer a theorisation of liminal aesthetics as radical and wide-ranging in its implications as that articulated along and about the US/Mexican border. And yet, the border paradigm has discreetly inhabited European literature and literary studies in the past decades, to surface with growing intensity after the fall of the Iron Curtain – as witnessed, for example, by Triestine scholar Claudio Magris’s writings on east central Europe, which, while focusing on the ‘local’, shifting boundaries of a specific transcultural macro-region, also provide an admirably wide-ranging corpus of reflections on the border as a complex, contradictory but extraordinarily enriching experience. In his words, ‘[T]he border can be a stimulant or an obsession, an opportunity or a curse, a place where it is easier to know and love the other or easier to hate and reject him; a place to make contact or to exercise intolerance.’4 In locating history and power in the liminality of the border, and in identifying in this a part of an important European paradigm,

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