Contemporary Scottish Poetry

By Matt McGuire; Colin Nicholson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
Edwin Morgan

Matt McGuire and Colin Nicholson

In 1983 Umberto Eco called the term ‘postmodernism’ ‘bon à tout faire’, since when the intellectual and categorical incoherence of this loosest and baggiest of monsters has been exhaustively demonstrated.1 But recent recalibrations of Modernism, intended to develop a different take on postmodernity, rekindle interest by examining instead Modernist evolutions into the contemporary. These relate cultural practice to material context in ways that lead us into Edwin Morgan's interventions across a wide variety of movements and tendencies over his long writing career. T. J. Clark's ‘Origins of the Present Crisis’ adopts the title of Perry Anderson's celebrated 1964 essay, but takes as its springboard Anderson's The Origins of Postmodernity, published thirty-four years later, which itself outgrew its original purpose as Preface to Fredric Jameson's writings on postmodernism called The Cultural Turn, also published in 1998.2 Clark is concerned to reinforce Anderson's emphasis on continuities between Modernism and postmodernism:

Plenty of previous commentators … have pointed out that descriptions of post-
modernism almost invariably thrive on a kind of blindness to the presence
within modernism of the very features that are supposed to make postmodernism
what it is. ‘Virtually every aesthetic device or feature attributed to postmodern-
ism – bricolage of tradition, play with the popular, reflexivity, hybridity, pastiche,
figurality, decentring of the subject – could be found’, as Anderson puts it, in the
previous regime of representation. ‘No critical break was discernible’.3

Yet the Introduction to this Companion proposed that the death of Hugh MacDiarmid in 1978 marked the end of an era. The old men in Moffat's painting The Poets Pub had had their day, history had moved on. This change of gears also coincided with the 1979 failure of the devolution referendum and the advent of Thatcherism with all its emotive consequences. The synthetic nature of such divisions, of course, runs the risk of distorting the record for the sake of a neat and compact story. Reality is always more complex than its models will allow and Morgan routinely interrupts and exceeds any cosy and

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