Hugh MacDiarmid's Poetry and Politics of Place: Imagining a Scottish Republic

Hugh MacDiarmid's Poetry and Politics of Place: Imagining a Scottish Republic

Hugh MacDiarmid's Poetry and Politics of Place: Imagining a Scottish Republic

Hugh MacDiarmid's Poetry and Politics of Place: Imagining a Scottish Republic

Synopsis

By examining at length for the first time those places in Scotland that inspired MacDiarmid to produce his best poetry, Scott Lyall shows how the poet's politics evolved from his interaction with the nation, exploring how MacDiarmid discovered a hidden tradition of radical Scottish Republicanism through which he sought to imagine a new Scottish future. Adapting postcolonial theory, this book allows readers a fuller understanding not only of MacDiarmid's poetry and politics, but also of international modernism, and the social history of Scottish modernism.

Excerpt

I once thought I would have done better in London, or Cape Canaveral, or
Hollywood even. I had been taught that history was made in a few important
places by a few important people who manufactured it for the good of the rest.
But the Famous Few have no power now but the power to threaten and
destroy and history is what we all make, everywhere, each moment of our
lives, whether we notice it or not.

Emerging from his emotional nadir, Jock McLeish reaches this understanding of the centrality of place to his personal growth close to the conclusion of Alasdair Gray’s 1982 Janine. By painfully gaining this ultimate acceptance of home, Jock, the Scottish Everyman, signals his willingness to proceed in a realistic yet hopeful manner with his life in actively local terms. Learning to refuse the self-hating escape clause of misogynistic fantasy, for Jock life is positively not elsewhere. The ‘process’ (as Marshall Walker puts it) of Jock’s renewal also marks the beginning of the end for the Scottish cringe.

Published in 1984, the anachronistic date of the title relates Gray’s novel to the Falklands War of March–June 1982 – a British victory with echoes of imperial grandeur that paved the way for Margaret Thatcher’s second-term General Election landslide of 9 June 1983. Jock is at war with himself at the same time as Britain is at war with Argentina for the Falkland Islands, a place he describes as a ‘remote souvenir of the Great Britisher’s Empire’. But it is actually Scotland’s state-sponsored failure to gain some measure of political independence from this crumbling imperial edifice that helps to ignite, and stands as a symbol of, Jock’s suicidal battle with himself. The disappointment of the Devolution Referendum of 1 March 1979 followed on from Scottish Labour backbencher George Cunningham’s 25 January 1978 amendment to the Scotland Act, which stated that 40 per cent of the registered electorate would have to vote Yes . . .

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