Contemporary Scottish Poetry

By Matt McGuire; Colin Nicholson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
Kenneth White and John Burnside

Marco Fazzini

Edward Said (1935–2003) tells us that the exile is an outcast who is ‘inconsolable about the past, bitter about the present and the future’. This statement suggests a strong sense of nostalgia for the abandoned patria, a sense of discomfort in the present, and a gloominess about the future. According to Said the exile exists in a ‘median state’, neither fully integrated in the new system or society nor totally relieved of his or her burden of cultural and personal memories. The ambiguity of the border gives such a figure a dual position which can afford stimulating advantages. One of the most remarkable figures whom Said chooses to illustrate the point is the philosopher Theodor Adorno (1903–69), whose Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life (1951) Said takes as his representative work in this context. Adorno's life produces a ‘destabilizing effect’ which manifests itself in a series of ‘discontinuous performances’, and his work must necessarily be

fragmentary first of all, jerky, discontinuous; there is no plot or predetermined
order to follow. It represents the intellectual's consciousness as unable to be at
rest anywhere, constantly on guard against the blandishments of success, which,
for the perversely inclined Adorno, means trying consciously not to be under-
stood easily and immediately.1

We will see in this chapter how both Kenneth White (1936–) and John Burnside (1955–) attract and transcend these characteristics, in different ways showing their enjoyment of knowledge and freedom, so that their personal, transcultural creative positions move from the local to the international through a spaciousness of voyaging and extended horizons.


Kenneth White

I emerged from the Glasgow proletariat. They're a mixed bunch, the Glasgow
proletariat. A lot of them came down from the North. On my maternal grand-
mother's side, there were Downies, on my maternal grandfather's side, Camerons.
On my paternal grandmother's side, there were Mackenzies from Inverness. On

-111-

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