Academic journal article ARIEL

A New Home in the World: Scottish Devolution, Nomadic Writing, and Supranational Citizenship in Julie Bertagna's Exodus and Zenith

Academic journal article ARIEL

A New Home in the World: Scottish Devolution, Nomadic Writing, and Supranational Citizenship in Julie Bertagna's Exodus and Zenith

Article excerpt

In The Modern Scottish Novel Cairns Craig identifies narrative as a chief driving force in forging the historical trajectory of a nation's collective psyche. He says, "the imagination is the medium through which the nation's past is valued, and through which the nation's values are collected, recollected and projected into the future" (Craig 10). Craig comments not only on the mutual narrative imbrication of individual and communal lives, but also on the willingness of individuals to give the welfare of the nation priority over their own personal interests, to the extent of seeing their own life-story assimilated into the narrative of the nation: "People would act and would sacrifice themselves for the national good in ways that they would never act or sacrifice themselves for purely personal ends," Craig writes, "because the narrative of the nation and the narrative of their own existence are imaginatively intertwined" (10) He concludes by stressing the crucial necessity for any people or nation to be in possession of a historical narrative lest they risk losing themselves "in the expectation or the angst of knowing that the future will be necessarily different from the present" (11). In order to sustain a viable, identity-bearing present-past-future continuum a nation needs a communal story "by which a possible route towards that future can be charted without loss of continuity with a founding past" (Craig 11).

Although Craig's comments were originally made with reference to adult fiction, his statements apply equally to contemporary writing for children, especially the young-adult fiction that engages more or less explicitly with post-devolution Scottish cultural politics and the impact devolution has inevitably had, and is continuing to have, on Scotland's project of forging a national identity. In this article I intend to demonstrate the ways Scottish children's author Julie Bertagna's novels Exodus (2002) and Zenith (2007) offer an exploration of post-devolution Scotland's through potential for devising a new kind of national self-determination through the medium of young-adult fiction. Dramatizing Craig's vision of individuals acting for a sense of "national good" (10), Bertagna's 15-year-old heroine Mara Bell's destiny becomes fused with her people's. Conceived as the two parts of an ecological dystopia, Bertagna's novels express a particularly urgent need for "continuity with a founding past" (11) to counteract the traumatic presence of a New World in which the past has undergone "a culture of erasure" (Craig 19). Put differently, Bertagna's characters are on a mission to discover a link between their people's past and their own present predicament in order to create Scotland's future story. They chart "a possible route towards that future" in order "to find a new home in the world," which exists beyond insulating borders as a hybrid supranational world (Exodus 14).

Bertagna's characters exceed Craig's notion of people sacrificing themselves for the nation's well-being; indeed, they go beyond national frontiers to embrace what I will call suprantional citizenship in an attempt to discover and accept the diversity and commonality of all humanity. Bertagna's portrayal of her imaginary Caledonia's future citizens mirrors the preoccupations of politicians in the new Holyrood Parliament debating changes to post-devolution Scottish social and cultural policy. Michael O'Neill says in Devolution and British Politics, far removed from a regressively nationalist dynamic, devolution is now seen "as entirely consistent with a hybrid liberal-progressive variant of social democracy ... receptive to new postmodern concerns about identity politics and cultural pluralism" (O'Neill 80-81). In O'Neill's view, Scottish devolution has introduced "a more cosmopolitan of prismatic concept of citizenship indicat[ive of] a new political climate" (368). Exodus imagines the nation as a cosmopolitan community insofar as Mara's people must recognize and tolerate cultural diversity in order to build a home for themselves that exceeds narrowly nationalist forms of allegiance and instead participates in a wider pluralistically organized world. …

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