Who is John Galt?
Like all good mysteries, you need to do a bit of detective work for this article to really work. Prepare to click back and forth, go to other places and back again – do some research, some thinking and address the question seriously. You have been warned. You have nothing to lose but your ignorance.
For many a generation this question has been asked in connection with the mammoth work of the American Right Wing ‘Atlas Shrugged’ by Ayn Rand. We might consider her the mother of neo-liberalism. But if you really want to find out who John Galt (the Scottish writer, the one, the original) then you don’t need to wade through that novel. You could do worse than read some of his own works: The (list names) and even Ringan Gilhaizie are ‘entry points’ But his ‘realist’ style from days long past can be hard to digest for some these days, so if you like to be informed before you dive in, you might like to read about him (and the debate surrounding him) here first.
Gateway Volume 1 number 6 re-published the article ‘John Galt, first of the Kailyarders’ and with Galt’s birthday being celebrated in May I thought to revisit it as well as that old hackneyed, overworn and completely outmoded concept in Scots cultural and literary history ‘Kailyard.’ If you remember I’ve gaun ma dinger on this subject a fair few times before- we haven’t given it a ‘category’ in the magazine, not wanting to give it that level of privilege… but scroll yourself back through my 2016 articles and you’ll find more than you ever wanted to.
Folk do tend to get themselves into a fankle when they discuss the K word. I’m still waiting to come across an argument from the academic elite which explains the thing in straightforward terms. It’s become the mother of all weasel words if you want my opinion. (Which presumably you do or you’ll have stopped reading by now!) A particular confusion was recently exposed by Cally Phillips of the Galloway Raiders in an article which, you can access HERE – I urge you to do so and then come back to my thoughts.
Done your required reading? Got some context? Well, prepare to embark again… because since Cally’s article was posted, the ‘esteemed’ James Robertson delivered a speech to the James Galt Society and you can read it HERE. He gives Crockett something more of a mention than the International Companion Cally critiqued – he accepts at least that Crockett was ‘an author’ but he doesn’t seem clear what either Crockett is about, or what Crockett is actually saying in his own introduction.
Blinded, I fear, by the myth of the Kailyard, Robertson toes party line (or what he thinks is established Scots literary ‘truth’). I just watch them all go round in circles as they try to justify their opinion of Crockett’s lack of worth based on an argument which itself doesn’t make sense. Crying that Crockett is ‘confusing’ is like trying to take a mote out of another’s eye before removing the plank in one’s own. Come on guys, let’s use the same criteria all round. If Galt is realist and Crockett is like Galt then Crockett is realist. But Galt is realist in a ‘rural’ way and that’s good yet Crockett is ‘realist’ in a ‘rural’ way and that’s bad? How so? And if both mix rural realism with romance (which then shows all the signs of a Scots Romance tradition transmuted from poetry to prose) isn’t it fair enough to suggest that this IS something of significance in the history of Scots literature and applies to all who use these methods – and that it ISN’T correct to dismiss this as kailyard. Never mind Who is John Galt? For me the question today in Scots literature is ‘Who is kailyard?’ And we need the question addressed with rigour and sense. The days of simply slinging the mud and closing eyes to Scots rural realism as we hang on to the discredited cult of MacDiarmid is fast approaching.
They are coming out of the shadows. Barrie and Crockett and others no doubt will follow. The gauntlet is being thrown down. If you are lazy enough still to bandy the word Kailyard in the context of the writing of the late 19th century Scottish writers – be careful – a quiet, rural revolution is afoot. People are waking up to the fact that ‘the dark ages’ of Scottish literature weren’t actually that dark after all.
From Shakespeare’s ‘rude mechanicals’ to ‘illiterate peasants’ we are used to the notion that education is a guard against ignorance. Perhaps the more apposite pithy statement though is:
Knowledge is power.
And received wisdom (I suggest) is that those who do not ‘understand’ or ‘appreciate’ ‘great literature’ are ignorant. But who determines ‘great’ or even ‘good’ literature?
In Scotland, for example, The ‘Scottish Renaissance’ laid down the law (basically) that modernism was the way to go and anything that didn’t fit into a ‘canon’ developed pretty much by a bunch of 1920s poets wasn’t fit for purpose. [Obviously I’m generalising, simplifying and provoking in this statement but think about it please!]
In early 21st century Scotland I suggest we have an urban centric, academic elite (who deny they are such) who dictate what is ‘good’ and what being ‘educated’ means.
My problem is that often those urban folk are ignorant of the rural landscape and culture. Thus they misidentify it or misinterpret it.
This is part of a general problem framed as a question thus:
What are we to make of those intellectuals or academics who know all about x but can only interpret y in terms of x even when it is inappropriate?
This question brings me back to one of my favourite conundrums: What is ‘good’ writing?
[We could just as well substitute well educated for good]
The statement is:
Good writing = x
(where x means ‘obeys the rules and shows the marks of all that we bring together under the set (or label) x’)
Writing outside of this set or label (we shall call it y, but it could be z or a or any other sort of thing) cannot, by definition be ‘good’.
However, from this problem, the question arises:
Who determines the rules? Who sets the rules?
And here we find ourselves addressing Hierarchy as power.
To resolve this we have to sign up to the following:
Do not call an apple an orange or a banana. Do not blame a chocolate bar for not being an apple. Both have their place in our diet. [I like to use food analogies where possible, though it pains me, especially if writing before dinner]
If a ‘good’ diet is a balanced diet, then we might consider the same applies for writing. We should not simply go for the fibre, or the caviar, or the Michelin starred food any more than we should gorge ourselves on fast/junk food. There are degrees of subtlety in everything. And so with literature and/or fiction.
It is too easy for the academic or the ‘intellectual’ or the ‘educated’ to set rules which are effectively just their opinion/bias/prejudice or indeed lack of understanding of that outside their experience. Thus it was that Scottish fiction of the 1890s has been labelled ‘Kailyard’ [insinuating poor/common]. The irony is that now we know Kale is a ‘superfood’ (in other words, it’s good for you). Yet the educated elite find it harder to accept that fiction which does not deal with either urban industrialisation or post war or post modern concerns has either value or a place at the table. [however, since they find it hard to accept that they are an ‘elite’ at all I suppose it’s not that much of a surprise. People do not always self-define accurately – perhaps not often.]
Let’s look at it from another angle:
Can you compare Scott with Welsh? I mean ‘Sir Walter’ with Irvine of course.
The answer, as to all interesting questions is yes and no. But you have to determine on what grounds (or rules) you are drawing the comparison. And that’s when we get back to the education debate. If only those in hierarchical power (academic elite or indeed publishing marketers) tell us how to draw the comparison, we will get a limited set of rules.
Hierarchy does not support diversity. Hierarchy is about those at the bottom feeding those at the top. The majority may feel they are ‘ruling’ but they are actually only supporting the elite who actually rule. This is a feature of representative democracy, that we give up our ‘real’ rights to choose, allowing others to make that choice for us. And guess what. They choose what they like or what suits them. So if they are urban-centred, intellectually biased – to say nothing of wanting to promote an agenda of hierarchical power – then anything outside this will be labelled ‘bad.’
And guess what? Literature is a great way to control. If your agenda is to promote (say) capitalism and or ‘talent is the result of genius’ or ‘only those who are educated are capable of saying anything worth reading’ then you can simply knock anyone outside this criteria out of the park by claiming the ‘authority’ to state that they are ‘bad’ literature.
And your job is done as long as people read like sheep and do what they are told and remain happy in the ignorance of representative democracy. I’m not suggesting totalitarianism or even autocracy is a better option to democracy. I’m not promoting fascism or even out and out anarchism (depending on your definition) but I am pointing out that unless we actively engage we tend to get fed an unbalanced diet. So that unless we step outside of whatever our ‘comfort’ zone is as regards definitions of education, and ‘quality’ in literature we are not really giving ourselves the chance to be ‘educated’ in a broader sense. Knowledge is power. Abdicating a level of personal responsibility towards ‘what we know’ is the thin end of a slippery wedge!
Just a thought.
Don’t believe everything you are told by people who tell you they know better than you.
By all accounts that I’ve read, Lang seemed like something of a difficult man. I certainly found him a difficult man to like. He was a critic - in the days when literary criticism was grappling, some might say trying to hold back the tide of, the inevitable rise of popular literature. During Lang’s lifetime writing changed from being a gentlemanly activity to being a profession. The birth pangs were uneasy. Men like Lang positioned themselves at the centre and critics felt then (as they do now) that simply by being critics they had an authority.
In the latter quarter of the 19th century critics were on the rise. Personal and professional battles were fought out in the periodical press and it’s ‘puffing’ and ‘log rolling’ tactics. Longman’s and Hodder & Stoughton were the Coke and Pepsi of their day, and an awareness, nay understanding, of the workings of both of them is vital to developing any clear picture of what was happening (and what Lang was doing) in the late 19th century.
We never get 2020 vision on the past and I am aware that my own vision of Lang is perhaps partisan, probably biased and definitely without full contextual awareness. That said, my response on reading him thus far that Lang wore his friends like a cloak. He was good at falling out with folk. He was robust in his criticism, which was not uncommon at the time, as within the coterie of up and coming writers there was, it seems to me, an understanding that the work of any writer, friend or foe, was to be distinguished from personal feeling. But of course sometimes the game got too rough and when we read from the benefit of hindsight, we should beware of taking the criticism too much to heart. I suspect Lang was foremost among those who, paid for his opinions, perhaps forgot that this in and of itself did not give him authority above all else.
The monetisation of both critical appraisal and published works set the scene both for an outpouring of hyperbole and some very nasty sniping. We do well to remember ‘the times’ when we read both criticism and praise of writing in the latter part of the 19th century. People were being paid to say things, profit was driving much of the commentary, and power was being contested through the literary arena.
Careers were made and broken. The cult of celebrity brought with it a plague of plagiarism cases and friendships were sometimes broken. Lang was certainly not averse to mixing it – turning friends into foes if it served his purposes.
While some would say otherwise, I warn you that Lang is not the last word on things literary. But he does open some interesting windows into the past. He writes at length on the subject. He gives advice to authors and readers and it all feels just a little bit proscriptive. In ‘How to Fail in Literature’ he attempts to be humorous (it doesn’t carry across the generations well) as well as offering some ‘universal’ truths.
Yet after all the reading of Lang I’ve recently done – it’s been eclectic I admit - the question Lang has me asking is ‘Do you believe in literary criticism.’ And perhaps that’s his strength. Not the answers he gives but the questions he poses (intentionally and unintentionally.)
There are universal truths contained within his writing, things that are still worthy of consideration, of course there are, but they are mediated with his own, somewhat prejudiced, perspective.
Like anyone, he appears wildly contradictory if you read too much (or too out of context?) He is quoted as saying
“In literature, as in love, one can only speak for himself.”
And yet he made a living as a literary critic.
He is well aware of his own gravitas as he says “Young men, especially in America, write to me and ask me to recommend “a course of reading.” Distrust a course of reading! People who really care for books read all of them. There is no other course.” And yet his biographer and friend Edmund Gosse said that Lang was one of the most partisan of reader’s he had ever met. If he didn’t like someone’s work he just completely denied its value and refused to read it.
I am forced to conclude that perhaps he didn’t entirely practice what he preached. But then who of us really does.
So – for me, Lang is valuable as a window into another world. A conduit to further study and exploration about the ins and outs and highs and lows of publishing at a time when commerce became more important even than class in determining a writer’s ability or credibility. If you are cynical about creative success, looking through Lang may help direct you towards developing a deeper understanding of the people at play when profit came calling and when words like ‘talent’ and ‘product’ began to mix in new contexts. Read Lang by all means, but take it all with a pinch of salt. Don’t believe everything you read. Use it all (this included) as a start point for learning something yourself. Suspect us all. We all have our angles.
This month, in addition to his unco calendar slot, The Orraman gives us the benefit of his opinion on, among other things, Muriel Spark and why we need to stop reading Brands and start reading authors...
It's been a veritable cultural battle ground as we entered 2018. Well known literary figures have been involved in stramashes about Burns and his 'reputation' as the fall out of the gender 'equality' argument sparked not so much by 100 years of votes for women and more by the actions of one Hollywood Producer, has continued to rage. As the dust settles I'm minded to ask: Has Muriel Spark knocked Rabbie Burns off top spot in 2018?
I like Muriel Spark’s writing. That’s the best place to start. Start positive. Like everyone else I read ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ – well before my prime, I think I was about fourteen. I didn’t get it then (though I thought I did) and I didn’t read anything else by her, simply because, well, life goes on. Read the book, seen the film… move on.
But the literary marketeers have been out in force recently and in the land o’ ‘you’ll of hud yer culture’ it’s been impossible to miss Muriel over the past month or so. Like Hogg’s Brownie, she’s here, there and everywhere. Always one to stay ahead of the curve, I started reading her work back in October and I’ve been consuming it ever since. I’ve now devoured most of the novels/novellas – all free and gratis from the library because I’m damned if I’m going to pay out £9.99 per title x 22 for the ‘new’ editions on which this Muriel lovefest is based. It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I can, without fear or favour, recommend Muriel Spark – for people who like that sort of thing it will be the sort of thing they like. My eyes have been well and truly opened to her writing in all its glory. So I guess I can thank the marketeers in one respect for bringing her ‘above the radar’.
However, spoiler alert – the spoiler being the crushing of your response ‘it’s life affirming that one of our ‘great’ Scottish authors is finally getting the recognition she deserves’ - in bald terms Muriel means money for marketers. And that, dear reader, is I suggest the main driver behind this wall to wall Muriel Spark extravaganza to mark the centenary of her birth, rather than an altruistic desire to ‘big up’ one of wur ain.
I have been ruminating on why it is that other dead Scots writers haven’t been given the same treatment. How about J.M.Barrie (1860-1937) Did his 150th get this kind of appreciation in 2010? Yes it was marked but beyond Kirriemuir and Dumfries I’m not sure he hit the radar. As for S.R.Crockett (1859-1914) due to an overlooked typo many years ago regarding his year of birth, his 2009 centenary was more or less entirely overlooked. Thinking it was 2010 the boat was very firmly missed. Not that anyone much cared. I was there for the centenary of his death in 2014 which saw a wee flurry of interest and the application of the soubriquet ‘Scotland’s Forgotten Bestseller’ but he’s still pretty invisible in the world of Scots literature/culture. He cannae get arrested in the hallowed portals of the canon. (or Canongate.) Robert Louis Stevenson (1850- 1894) had a 150th in 2000. The Milliennium was more important. Certainly I don’t recall much about it. If he’d had the Muriel treatment I’d not have missed it. And it’s not just down to the rise of social media, I’m sure (though of course that plays a part).
RLS has had a slow burn over the past twenty years, but he’s getting there. #RLSDay (which now lasts a week) might be seen as a prototype of the Muriel Spark 100. But as regards money spent and ‘coverage’ it’s not in the same league. And he’s certainly in her shadows right now. I am actively engaged in trying to find out if there’s going to be a RLS 125 ‘year’ to match Muriel for the 125th anniversary of his death, which falls in 2019. No sniff of it yet. Perhaps the appropriate people need to crunch the numbers and do the feedback evaluations on the success of Muriel before they commit? Perhaps it’s the Treasure rather than the Island that they hope to Kidnap.
Also overlooked are James Hogg, Walter Scott, John Galt… the list goes on and on. You might argue that their ‘dates’ are wrong – but I don’t remember celebrations in the 70s or 80s for any of them. Of course we didn’t ‘do’ that sort of thing then. It was before computers and credit cards never mind smartphone apps. But watch out for James Hogg 250 in 2020 and Walter Scott 250 in 2021. Aye, right. I conclude that in Scotland we are pure pish at giving credit or recognition to our ain. Most of these men have ‘missed the boat’ as far as promotional branding are concerned. The dates don’t match up. I wonder, is that a good enough reason to overlook them? Lewis Grassic Gibbon was given a wee heft up with the film of his book, but it all goes quiet soon enough after the main marketing event has left town. And yet Outlander? It’s enough to make a reader of dead Scots authors weep.
It seems that unless it’s Rabbie Burns we don’t want to know about celebrating or commemorating the lives of our dead authors. Bring on the haggis every January and that’s more than enough Scots culture for the year. And when, apart from at a Burns supper, did you actually read any Burns? Burns is a cash cow that keeps on giving. He’s quintessentially Scots. And he’s a poet. For some reason I can never fathom, poetry is unreasonably privileged in Scots culture. It it’s said that everyone has a novel in them (some best left there) I think that in Scotland people believe that everyone is a poet simply because Burns existed. It gives us ‘the right’ to be poets – as a job… now, even Burns struggled to do that.
It is, of course, quicker and easier to engage with poetry than 18th or 19th century prose fiction. So are we just lazy? Or just pure ignorant. Be it ‘A man’s a man’ or ‘Peter Pan’ we seem to prefer our Scots culture in soundbites. We rarely explore beyond the bestseller. That is such a shame. There’s so much more to enjoy from the history of Scottish prose – yes, even the 1890s that much maligned ‘dark ages’ of Scottish fiction which, ironically, happened to occur the last time marketing was king of the castle and the masses were being sold to hand over fist. But those ‘celebrities’ were looked down on by the young turks who came after, dismissed as the ‘next great thing’ struggled to find market share. And we, the reader, lose the plot.
The cynic in me suggests what we are looking at here is the fickle finger of fashion in the world of publishing at work. Combine it with the fickle finger of fashion/ come political and social agenda of academia and Muriel Spark provides us with the perfect storm.
Because you’ll notice that all the above named authors are MEN. And Muriel Spark is a WOMAN. And the times being what they are, it’s about time for a WOMAN to be recognised, isn’t it?
While there’s no doubt that Rabbie Burns still sells, the modern world of publishing needs more than Burns to keep it Scottish. Tartan Noir is an emerging brand. But publishers are all looking for that ‘killer app’ aren’t they? I doubt that content is king or queen any more.
It’s handy that Muriel Spark’s work is still under copyright. That makes it potentially lucrative for a publisher – but only if they can ‘shift units.’ And to shift units you need hype, right? You need a kick ass marketing strategy – and that means BRANDING. Muriel Spark 100 is the brand of the year in literary circles. This seasons Empress. I’m not suggesting that she’s naked but I am suggesting that there is naked greed at the root of the fashion festival that is dressed as a cultural renaissance (we Scots should be very wary of that term) for women Scots authors. I hear murmers about Susan Ferrier coming out of the closet, (a 150th anniversary in 2004 doesn’t spring to mind) and I suspect Margaret Oliphant would be an even harder sell. (200 in 2028 – get prepared, publishers).
Before I’m accused of being unreasonably cynical, or torn down on social media by Muriel fan frenzy, I will reiterate that I am a ‘fan’ of Muriel Spark’s writing. She is complex, intelligent, she’s definitely a writer’s writer – she had me at this in The Comforters: ‘it is as if a writer on another plane of existence was writing a story about us.’ A sentence like that can sustain my thoughts for hours. She writes about identity, she’s dark, she’s light, she really has a lot to recommend her to all kinds of reader. And plenty for the academics to get their shark like teeth into. That’s not the issue. The issue is that she’s being branded. Marketed. One might say pimped out. In order to make money.
So read Spark. Go to the exhibitions. Engage with the celebrations. But retain enough integrity to realise you’re being sold. Read her in spite of that, please. But read Muriel the writer, not Muriel the brand.
In conclusion, the proof of this pudding will be in the eating. Let’s see whether this same strategy is employed in the coming years to other Scots writers – especially those out of copyright who do not fit in with the zeitgeist – or whether the dust settles and we are back being force fed Rabbie Burns ad infinitum. Because he’s easy to market. Don’t get upset about tartan and shortbread, or see you Jimmy hats. They are all just employing the same strategy. Brand Scotland. You are not just a target market, you are a reader. You have a choice. And you can add the meaning to the marketing. You can turn reading into a personal journey of discovery. And it needn’t cost the earth – especially if you support your local library!
In 2018 I’m tasked with exploring the unco calendar authors. This gives me the chance (and excuse) to read and re-read some unco Scots authors, mostly from the 19th century – what’s not to love. It’s the kind of exploration I relish.
The first of these is James Hogg. You can find my wee guide on www.unco.scot. But here at Gateway I’m offered the privilege of going into the author in a bit more depth and offering more of an opinion and bias than might be strictly acceptable over at unco.
Previous to this task I’ve never really given James Hogg the space he deserved. I’ve fallen prey to reading the ‘bestseller’ and then never really exploring the lesser known paths. That’s something I’m in the process of rectifying. I say process because I have to alert you to the fact, you’ll not get to know James Hogg in an instant. So I got reading… and came across this:
Brownie’s Here, Brownie’s there,
Brownie’s with you everywhere.
You’ve got to love that wee rhyme! It makes me smile and instantly I read it I thought Before Batman there was The Brownie of Bodsbeck. Somehow the rhyme just put me into the zap,pow, kaboom frame of mind. And folks, that’s just the start of Hogg’s box of tricks. Expect fireworks.
His writing is contemporary with Scott which has its challenges. I’m up for much longer and more complex sentence constructions than 21st century or even 20th century fiction favours, and can more than hold my own with work from the second half of the 19th century. But when I head back to the early 19th century, and beyond that, into the spill over of the 18th century, I begin to struggle. Mostly I don’t bother. Mostly that’s because the content is as difficult for me to swallow as the form. But with Hogg this isn’t the case. Hogg is not your usual writer.
He’s unapologetic in his use of Scots dialect. That can slow things down, but slowing things down can help you to savour them. And yes, he uses long and convoluted sentences so you have to hold onto your hat to try and keep up with the complex ideas. Unlike Scott (and most other late 18th/early 19th century writers) he’s not writing from the position of the upper ‘ gentle’ classes. Nor even from an emerging aspiring middle class. He’s writing, if not exactly from the position of the working class, (his Ettrick Shepherd routine is partially a construct) then at least he writes honestly about them and with a knowledge that is neither patronising nor damning. That’s enough to keep me reading.
Hogg has lots to offer, and to readers who have substantially different interests to my own, I know that. So don’t just take my word for it. I’ll tell you what I like about him, but there’s plenty more to reward time spent in his company.
My particular favourite at present is The Brownie of Bodsbeck. I’m not big into the supernatural, but I do love a good Aiken Drum/Brownie tale. I like the ‘outsider/community’ aspect of the tale. And in The Brownie of Bodsbeck Hogg is being really clever in his delivery. It’s actually the cover for a Covenanting Tale. So if you’re interested in the history of Covenanting (or indeed the history of Covenanting stories) as I am, it’s a must read. We are often sold our Covenanting history on the back of the Jacobites with ‘Whiggism’ constructed as a lackey of the Union. S.R. Crockett goes a long way to redress this balance, and he drew much of his inspiration from Hogg. It’s a connection which has not been explored nearly fully enough to date –let’s hope that changes some time soon.
Without wanting to spoil the story for you, Hogg’s mysterious ‘Brownie’ is in fact a Covenanter, and the guts of the story is to do with the viciousness and violence visited on the ordinary folk of the Borders as part of the Killing Times. As such it’s raised far beyond a tale of the supernatural, and into an exploration of society and politics of the time. That’s what I love about it anyway.
Hogg is a subversive writer. Brownie shows this, and as I am working my way through the Perils of Man and the Perils of Woman I am finding the same thing – though in ever different ways. He keeps you on your toes as regards structure. He deals with a load of complex ideas about people and society. He’s definitely no Walter Scott - and that, to my mind, is a good thing. But that said, if you like Scott (and can thole the dialect) you’ll probably like Hogg too.
There’s enough reading in Hogg to keep you going all year – though perhaps you might want to pair him up with something easier and save him for the times you can spare a good few hours or days to really get your teeth into him at his own pace. He’s the complete opposite of the beach-holiday read, though for me, were I stuck on a beach for a week, Hogg is the man I’d want to take with me. His brand of escapism is for those who like to escape while keeping their brain engaged. Is he the thinking man’s (or woman’s of course) Walter Scott? I think he possibly is.
Forget bread and circuses… we have adult colouring books.
It’s time to stop playing with our colouring books and start joining the dots folks.
If I may, I would like to suggest that we get the cultural leaders we deserve. We have acquiesced to the notion of a representative democracy in cultural matters and our leaders tell us what is and isn’t culture and what is or isn’t ‘good’ or ‘quality’ or of ‘value.’ And we buy it. Which is actually all they want from us – compliant consumers in an aspirational society which fundamentally favours those at the top of the heap.
Education is a case in point. I question why it is that our much vaunted education system is only ‘free’ to the undergraduate level. Beyond that it’s pay to play. Why is this? This is a practical exercise in joining the dots, folks. Could it be that we only want people to be educated to a certain level? Beyond that, education is an elitist privilege, and guess what, these same people are the ones who speak with authority on culture. They tell us what it is, what it means and we go along with them. By contrast in Cuba, free tertiary education goes as far as the individual wants and is capable of.
Are we frightened of having an ‘overskilled’ workforce? Can you have an overskilled society? Surely both in the hard and the soft subject areas (what a nasty terminology) people who are fulfilling their potential will be able on the one hand to innovate and create in science, technology and the like and on the other to innovate and create in our society which, in case you hadn’t looked up from your colouring book lately, is somewhat failing to deliver for ‘real’ people. Imagine a society where people whose minds have been honed to the highest level in philosophy, psychology, literature and the like are able to utilise the skills they learn from reading, thinking, writing about the world we live in and how we might make it a better place to live in for more people.
We all too often mistake confidence for competence. This is perhaps an inevitable result of a very broken, very divided, very hierarchical society.
So, our leaders (and there are many of them) are keen to keep us in our place. They don’t make it easy for us ‘wee voices’ to contribute, to comment or to participate except on their own terms. If we are lucky we can experience tokenism, but they spit us out as soon as we’ve served our purposes. They make the rules, they don’t want us to join the dots, they just want us to colour between the lines. But we don’t do ourselves any favours. I’ve lost count of the number of times and ways I’ve given this basic argument and suggested that we ‘rise up’ against this tyranny. The answer? Cannae be arsed? What’s the point? The point, friends, is that until we reclaim our culture there is no way we will regain our independence. And I’m afraid I’m coming to the conclusion that we don’t deserve it.
What’s started all this? I came across this 'invitation'....
The Scottish Government is seeking to appoint a new Chair to lead Creative Scotland in the delivery of the ambitions set out in its 10 Year Plan to the benefit of the arts and culture in Scotland.
Can you help put creativity at the heart of Scottish society?
Creative Scotland is the public body that supports the arts, screen and creative industries across all parts of Scotland on behalf of everyone who lives, works, studies or visits here. The organisation distributes funding from the Scottish Government and the National Lottery with an annual budget of around £80m and a staff team of more than 100 people.
The Scottish Government is seeking to appoint a new Chair to lead Creative Scotland in the delivery of the ambitions set out in its 10 Year Plan to the benefit of the arts and culture and to the people of Scotland as a whole. The current chair, Ben Thomson, took over on an interim basis following the death the previous incumbent, Richard Findlay.
We are seeking to appoint a dynamic and adaptive leader with proven experience at senior level, who will lead the Board and work effectively with the Chief Executive, Janet Archer, her leadership team and her team of dedicated, committed and experienced staff.
The Chair will help steer the strategic direction of the organisation, overseeing its effective governance, financial accountability and its delivery of value as a public body, in line with Scottish Government and Ministerial priorities. The successful candidate must be a highly effective collaborator, influencer and communicator, positively representing Creative Scotland in public and in the media. Importantly, he or she must have passion for, and understanding of, creativity and the value it delivers to all our lives culturally, socially and economically.
This is a high profile position in Scottish public life and one where there is an opportunity to make a significant and positive difference to Scotland’s creative life, society and economy. As such, we encourage applications from individuals who feel they have the knowledge, experience, energy and dynamism to successfully fulfil the demands of the role.
You must be able to demonstrate the following personal qualities, skills and experience:
Passion for, and knowledge and understanding of, the arts, screen and creative industries in a Scottish context.
The capacity to work effectively across sectors, beyond the boundaries of arts, screen and creative industries.
Managing performance and governance.
Leading the Board and organisation.
The selection panel welcomes applications from people with experience in the arts, screen or creative industries.
I feel like calling that ‘you’ll have had your mince.’ Like beauty, I suggest that many of these ‘criteria’ are in the eyes of the beholder. Personal experience suggests that you either favour the policy or the creativity. And I know which will be ‘privileged’ in this respect. The only thing left for us to do (apart from going back to our colouring books) is the start a book on who the runners and riders are and which of them will get the job. Will this be another imperialist appointment? Do we have any Scots who are ‘up to’ this job or even any who are ‘up for’ this job? And if not, why not? We certainly don’t have any who can organise a cultural consultation that stretches beyond ‘the usual suspects’ even with the might of social media at their command. But do we hold them to account? Aye, right.
Whose culture is it anyway?
From ‘See You Jimmy’ to the Scots ‘cringe’. What does culture mean to you?
In case you didn’t know, we are currently in the midst of a cultural conversation nationally. What, you didn’t know? Well you do now. I’ve been trying to engage in this ‘conversation’ recently, but like most conversations I have, I seem to be talking into a black hole. Call me old fashioned but I thought conversations went two way… but in the absence of feedback I’ve resorted to writing my thoughts and opinions.
You might get luckier than me, you might be smarter than me – here are some places you can ‘have your say’ – in what you may find to be a rather one sided conversation.
Is anyone listening? I can’t say. But if you don’t speak you don’t have any right to get angry when your opinions and views are ignored. And hopefully, in what follows, I’ll be able to convince you that culture is something that is important to us all, and that your opinions should count – so it’s worth spending some time sending them into the black hole.
For me, culture is inextricably tied up with identity. That’s why it’s important.
In the late 19th century it was not unusual for people in Scotland to refer to their location with the initials N.B. North British. Scotland as part of the ‘Empire’ became a minority region of a greater global power. And some people were doubtless happy with that. Some people doubtless still are. Post Indy Ref I have to say, I find myself thinking of Scotland as ‘North Britain’ rather too often. I’ve become frustratingly cynical about my own culture and how it manifests in the modern world. ‘Too wee, too poor, too stupid.’ Aye. Right.
We are all aware how effortlessly the English elide British and English. It’s a behaviour we may laugh at or rail at when it comes to sport – our sportsmen/women are British while they succeed and Scots when they fail. But, beyond that, it’s something we should not simply dismiss as trivial.
In todays ‘one nation’ Britain (which seems ill at ease with the acceptance that there are four ‘nations’ in Britain apart from in sporting fixtures) if we get recognition at all, it is as a ‘minority’. And that means our culture is seen as ‘minority’ culture (along with the cultures of Ireland and Wales). I baulk at this. It’s a case of context is everything. We are only ‘minority’ in the context of British culture and identity and if you do not (as I don’t) accept that Scottish culture and identity IS a minority part of something bigger (and better?) but instead is a culture and identity in its own right, then we are in no way a minority simply by being Scots.
It all smacks of ‘too wee, too poor, too stupid’ right? Nationalism can be an ugly word, we all know that, but Scottish nationhood is NOT the same as the unacceptable face of fascism. Don’t fall into that specious argument trap. Scottish nationality is Scottish identity, which is Scottish culture. Deny one and you are on the slippery slope to losing your cultural identity.
Revision point One: Our culture is NOT in any way a minority thing. It’s the culture of our country, our people and it is a fundamental part of our national identity.
But, I hear you ask (well, it is a conversation after all isn’t it?) What is culture?
I’m sure I’ve done this before but here goes with a definition: Culture (noun)
2. the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.
For me 2 takes precedence over 1. FUNDAMENTALLY our culture is the ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular people or society. That which makes us Scots. From ‘see you Jimmy’ hats to the Scottish ‘cringe’ it is who we are. For me, 1 is a manifestation of 2. And as such, is important. You don’t have to buy into the ‘human intellectual achievement’ as being ‘high brow’ but you have to see that a full definition of culture is as follows:
Our culture is the ideas, customs and social behaviour which are manifested through our expressed communication, including the arts.
Have I convinced you yet? Our culture is who we are – as a people, a group, a community, a nation. And my contention is that Scotland has its own individual and unique culture which is NOT in any sense a minority one but a culture in its own right.
But what then, is our culture? What sets us apart from other cultures? This, is the very nub of the question. And this at the root of the questions being asked in the Scottish Government Cultural Strategy Consultation. (aka the Culture Conversation) Whether they really want to hear or not is another matter, but they are asking us what we think our culture is and what value we place on it. They are not, in my opinion, making it easy for the average Scot to engage with the ‘conversation’ as a two way thing – but that only puts the impetus on us to do more to speak out. If you shout and no one listens, you can be aggrieved. If you don’t even bother to shout, you have no right to complain. I know no one is listening, and that is frustrating, because it’s silencing by proxy, but I will speak – even if not heard.
Let’s approach from another tack. In biological terms ‘culture’ is the site where things are grown – a place which maintains tissue cells, bacteria etc in conditions suitable for growth.
I think the organic, verbal view of culture should be accorded more significance. Rather than seeing culture as a noun, something that just exists but you don’t have to engage with – which in reality means it’s imposed from on high and we ignore it as much as we can – this approach suggests it is an active thing, something we all have a responsibility to nurture and to ‘grow.’
A key question then is: do you think that culture is something that should be imposed from above, or something that we grow from the grassroots? I believe the latter. And unless we, at the grassroots level, tell them up there what we think culture is and what we expect from it (and what we are doing to maintain it) then they will tell us what it means to them (and for us). I for one resist cultural imposition. I’d like to say I think this is a trait of Scots cultural identity, but the North British effect makes me question this.
Now, how about culture as cliché. That’s something we as Scots have perhaps become too used to. ‘Tartan and shortbread’ is delivered as an ‘accusation’ - the sneering, smear of ‘kailyard’ is set over popular grassroots culture. I’d like to talk about what the ‘See you Jimmy’ hat signifies. Is it a comment of self-imposed ridicule? Is it an example of Scots humour? And what is wrong with Tartan and shortbread? These are the sort of questions I think we should be asking (as component part of the ‘bigger’ question of who we are and how we manifest ourselves.) I do not accept the ‘standard’ view on any of these issues. Who will talk with me about them?
What about defining ourselves in quotes? The Canongate Wall at our Parliament Building is home to a number of Scots quotes. http://www.parliament.scot/visitandlearn/21013.aspx
Who picked them? Where is ‘there are few more impressive sights than a Scotsman on the make’ from Barrie? Why is that most quotable of Scots, RLS represented with ‘Bright is the ring of words.’ Why does MacDiarmid (not even his real name) have three quotes and Burns two? Why does Dumfries and Galloway have quotes from the Bible rather than from Crockett? Is it true that God is a Scotsman?
Perhaps the one that most ‘inspired’ many Scots around Indy Ref time (I know it did me) was attributed to Alasdair Grey:
‘Work as if you live in the early day of a better nation.’
But it’s actually a quote from a Canadian poet. It will serve us, surely, but it’s not from our indigenous culture. What does all this signify?
Might I suggest that the fact we are so happy to beg, borrow and steal from other cultures and are in many cases simply ignorant about our own culture - historic, scientific and literary – is not altogether the most flattering part of our cultural identity. There’s that Scots ‘cringe.’ We have a strong conceit of what ‘best’ means (perhaps too strong) but we do not give due credit to our ‘best’. We are, after all, ‘too wee, too poor and too stupid,’ (and often just too disinterested) when it comes to things cultural. We believe we are a minority. We wrap ourselves in tartan and despise ourselves for doing so. There was nothing wrong with tartan. But like many another thing, we let it become appropriated for North Britain and then commodified for the world till it stopped being anything that means anything Scottish – are we in danger of doing the same to ourselves? Too many of us deny who we are, more comfortable being part of something bigger – despite what that ‘bigger’ thing signifies. British Empire? Really? Nuclear super-power? You want that? Foolishly prosperous nation in a fundamentally unequal world? What’s to be proud of there?
Are we in danger of becoming our own cliché? I fear so. We all trot out ‘a man’s a man for a’ that’ but what do we actually mean by it? Do we really hold ourselves up as a culture which respects or promotes equality? Do we (as we used to say when I was young) coco. [that, my friends, is what I suggest is an example of Scots ‘slang’ or patois.]
I will come to Scots language in due course (never mind the Gaelic). The elephant in the room may well be that we comfortably write in English but cannot thole or conscience ourselves writing in Scots if we want to be either heard or listened to (or understood). But simply because we’ve been ‘oppressed’ by the privileging of English language, does that mean we should deny our existence outwith the context of English/British culture? [I’ve heard the language/grammar police deny that ‘outwith’ is even a word].
Scots, we are told, exhibit a fundamental duality of character. Yet we cannot be a servant o’ twa maisters (an Italian play by the way). It’s a weel kent feature of Scots identity that we believe no one should get ‘above themselves.’ We despise Barrie for his comment ‘there are few more impressive sights than a Scotsman on the make’ without stopping to consider what it actually might mean. But oh, how proud we are of Andrew Carnegie. Oh, how we want to claim J.K.Rowling as one of our own. (well, some of us do!) We are hidebound by hierarchy at every turn and would rather see ourselves as ‘too wee, too poor, too stupid’ than stand up and ‘be a nation again’ (except when singing at sporting fixtures) – oh, and of course we are all shite at sport, right? Why leave it at sport? Why not buy in to the Trainspotting Generation and show your complete lack of self-respect? I’ve heard so many people proudly declaim the ‘Scotland is a shite place’ speech from Trainspotting, that I despair. * That’s not duality, my friends, that’s self-harm. And why, as a culture, do we favour self-harm as a means of cultural expression? You’ve got the refrain pat by now – ‘See me Jimmy, I’m too wee, too poor, too stupid.’
But there is a duality. Between being proud of who we are and understanding that gallus is not the same as boastful. I just went and looked up the word – and here’s what greeted me:
stylish, impressive (esp. Glasgow “He's pure gallus, by the way“). Orig. derogatory, meaning wild; a rascal; deserving to be hanged (from the gallows)
Make of that what you will. All the worlds a… and one word in its time plays many parts – an whaur’s yer Wullie Shakespeare noo?
And then there is Scots ‘high’ culture. For me this is a contradiction in terms. For me, a fundamental part of Scots culture is that people are not held in great esteem simply because they have more (be it education, money, ‘talent’ – whatever that might mean – beauty or skill.) Surely we can all agree ‘a man’s a man for a’ that’? Or is that just another clichéd quote? I believe ‘High’ culture is an English (or British) invention. It is hierarchical in the extreme and it develops as a way to keep people in their place. Those at the top tell us what is valued and we doff our caps and agree. But that’s not something I recognise as a fundamental part of the Scots nature. I believe that the Scots ‘cringe’ is something that has been imposed on us in word and deed over generations leading us to believing our familiar refrain: ‘too wee, too poor, too stupid’ to make up our own minds or to speak our own minds.
The assault from ‘high’ culture comes in many forms. Obviously it’s seen when we are told that opera is ‘better’ than traditional music or that sculpture or conceptual art are more culturally valuable than ‘knitting’ or ceilidhs. But it’s also seen where we are told that one version of our language should be privileged over another. That we should standardise and formalise our grammar and spelling for example. That anyone who says ‘I should of went home’ is ridiculed as ignorant. I believe (though I have to say my belief is waning) that Scotland is bigger than that. More diverse than that. That as a culture we appreciate that the communicative act itself is more important than the package it’s dressed up in. That the heart is as important as the head – emotion is not a dirty word in my understanding of Scots culture. David Hume agreed with me. I doubt but whether youse do.
But as you may be aware, I’ve already been trying to develop an argument to illustrate that concept that ‘Enlightenment’ culture is not fundamentally the culture of the indigenous Scot. If you want something to talk about, here is my opinion: It wasn’t in the 18th century and it isn’t now. It’s a manifestation of a proto-British view of the world and yes, a capitalist view of the world which sits uncomfortably with a culture rooted in the community. Scotland is no longer a rural, peasant nation that’s for sure, but the privileging of the urban over the rural is not one of the prouder aspects of our modern culture.
The rural idyll is a thing of nostalgia for the urban majority, cast up to those who live in the country. A huge part of Scotland is rural. Most of its people are now urban. Yes, there is a mis-match going on there somehow isn’t there? And what impact did the Clearances (Highland and Lowland) have on our cultural identity?
It is the urban/rural duality that particularly exorcises me when I think about Scotland’s cultural identity. In the context of Scotland as a nation and cultural entity in its own right (which is the only way in which I will see it), I contend that rural culture holds the status of ‘minority’ and it is this ‘minority’ cultural tradition (and reality) I fight to promote and preserve; in the face of an urban majority which privileges the ‘high’ culture and urbane manners of the urban hierarchy, who are oh so convinced that they are not an elite (cultural or otherwise) simply because they are in the ‘majority’ in one sense. They think that ‘gritty urban realism’ and ‘Tartan Noir’ dictate what Scots culture is.
Refuting the role of the rural in Scots culture is, for me, part of the root of our problem. We have lost the power or desire to nurture our culture in the same way as we neglect or mis-represent our rural communities and landscape. I cannot argue strongly enough that it’s a ‘North British’ view of culture which presents rural Scotland either as the place where rich, landed Tories hold sway (yes, it’s true that there are more than enough of them taking more than their share of the rural pie) or a land of teuchters who are ‘too wee, too poor, and too stupid’ to understand that they should simply up and move to the cities. Rural Scotland is either a place seen as an idyllic playground (but for the rich, or aspirational) or a benighted, culture free zone - the kailyard. Though what, I ask, is wrong with kail? Is it not indeed a superfood? Why can we not see the beauty of our rural landscape (along with its harshness) without using words such as ‘majesty’ or ‘grandeur’.
One of the most significant exemplars of Scots culture from my childhood is what has now been enshrined as the ‘right to roam.’ The fact that there’s no law of trespass in Scotland, is I have always believes, a sign of cultural strength. In current ‘law’ Scotland has some of the best ‘access’ laws in the world – but I need no law to tell me where and whether I can walk. For me, one of the most important elements of my cultural identity is the belief that whoever may ‘own’ the land on paper, I am connected to the soil beneath my feet by a deeper law. I do not own Scotland, but Scotland perhaps owns me. It’s this visceral relationship to my country that is central to my cultural identity. I am ‘of Scotland’ in a sense that I belong. And my belonging is not about ownership it is as vital as breathing.
I’m a rural Scot. I am interested in rural Scots culture. Thus I champion all that it can achieve and represent. We have writers who write about rural Scotland – everything from escapism to ‘gritty rural realism’ – whether or not it is privileged by the urban, ‘high’ ‘North British’ culture or not. I contend that it is partly (as Scots) having lost our connection with the land that explains how we’ve lost our connection to a vital part of our culture. It’s not ALL our culture of course but it’s an important component part.
I should start to draw my one-sided conversation to a close. I wonder how far we deserve the culture we are being fed (or palmed off with)? I suggest that, sadly, every time we express disinterest or apathy we deserve what we get. Every time we ‘accept’ a top down offering, every time we doff our cap at ‘high’ culture and accept our place as ‘North British’ we are putting one more nail in our own cultural coffin. Every time we think of Scotland as a ‘minority’ part of something bigger which is fundamentally not what we even are, we are putting in one more nail.
Here’s the situation folks. Scotland has a unique culture. It is rooted in our common ancestry and identity. It’s not all pretty, but it’s ours. We are ‘see you Jimmy’ and ‘Scotsmen on the make’ and our biggest cultural ‘issue’ is our own response to our diversity and duality – our own inability to see the significance of the rural/urban split – our own misunderstanding of our own past/s. Our landscape is diverse and so is our culture. But it is OUR culture. We are not simply part of some bigger British Empire. We need to recontextualise who we are. We need to think really deeply about it. We need to talk about it. We need to challenge it.
We need to challenge why most of those in positions of ‘power’ in ‘high’ culture are not indigenous Scots, or are people who are happy to be a minority part of ‘British’ culture. We need to question why we view culture as something to be imposed on us, and why the diversity of our own minorities are not valued – why do the urban majority/elite laugh at or despise rural ways?
Our culture is both part of our identity and an organic thing that we should nurture if we want to preserve and ‘grow’ it into something to be proud of once more. In my opinion the problem is, for too long we’ve overlooked it, neglected it, and allowed ‘consultations’ that do not truly consult, to tell us who we are, what we should be and what we deserve culturally. The Scottish ‘cringe’ is too often a reality.
For me, Scots culture has aye been rooted in the community. I see community being eroded as fast as the dunes on some of our ‘prestigious’ beaches. I sense that I’m fighting a rear-guard action – and that the result of our cultural conversations will in no way bring out that ‘better nation’. I fear that Scots culture is headed for extinction as I leave you with that famous toast ‘here’s tae us, wha’s like us? Damn few an’ they’re a’ deid.’ If we want to be more than this, and more than a Burns cliché , we will have to stand up and speak for ourselves. I urge you to, one way or another, get involved in the Cultural Conversation. If we don’t nurture our own culture, we’ll be forever condemned to that most noxious of refrains. ‘too wee…’ If I were English at this point I might quote Orwell and state ‘I will not love Big Brother.’ But I’m Scots so I’ll point my finger at Welsh and say ‘I refuse to be a Trainspotter.’
‘It's SHITE being Scottish! We're the lowest of the low. The scum of the fucking Earth! The most wretched, miserable, servile, pathetic trash that was ever shat into civilization. Some hate the English. I don't. They're just wankers. We, on the other hand, are COLONIZED by wankers. Can't even find a decent culture to be colonized BY. We're ruled by effete assholes. It's a SHITE state of affairs to be in, Tommy, and ALL the fresh air in the world won't make any fucking difference!’
It’s a rant, but being proud to rant it is no badge of pride. If you are Scots and proud of this, I pity you. If you are Scots and find this in any way offensive – step up and do something about it. Start talking about what Scots culture means to you. Don’t let yourself be defined by North Britain or by Trainspotting. Want to ‘be a nation again?’ Then get off your bahookie and kick the ba’!
So what is a Scots writer? What, for that matter, does it even mean to be Scottish. Apparently, it’s a vexed question. Indeed, I’ve recently heard it said that in the context of literature it is not even a possible question.
When I came up with the title for this piece I thought I would be writing something about my belief that it is fundamentally unScottish (conceptually) to believe in or promote the notion of a ‘Scots canon’ of literature. But between then and now, things change and instead I find that I’m firing a canon of another kind – a shot across the bows of those ‘canon creators’ who suggest that it is nonsensical to suggest that a writer can indeed ‘be’ Scots.
What follows is heavily edited (with names but not national identities changed to ‘protect’ both innocent and guilty) response piece that came my way as a result of a literary gathering I recently took part in. The context, a discussion about The First World War and Scots fiction, and the tone, it has to be said, attritional.
Scotland No More
His words hit me with the impact of a holocaust denial. I couldn’t believe it. In that comfortable, historic room, with a view of leafy trees which had probably been similar a century ago when the men we had come to celebrate were ‘recuperating’ here before being sent back to be killed in the War that did not end all wars, here he was, a professor no less, telling a mostly English audience on a weekend trip to ‘Scotland’ that there was no such thing as Scottish literature.
With a not so deft flick of the thumb and the dubious aid of Powerpoint, he proceeded to show that because writers beyond Scotland also wrote of their essential experience of being at one with their landscape, this could not be considered a trait of Scottish writing – ergo – there was no Scottish writer, ergo- but unsaid – that there was no such thing as a Scot. (I appreciate I was three steps ahead of his statements but I am good at reading between the lines and into the margins.)
They sat meekly and took it. I might say they lapped it up but really the biggest crime was that he whom I took for a fellow Scot* was lying like Menteith+ – a respected academic who should, no must, know better.
And all of this a few days before an election which, while not all about Indy Ref 2 (unless you are a Tory, Lib Dem or Scottish Labour activist/politician) has at its heart the very question of national identity – here was a man who would not have gone amiss in declaiming ‘pro patria mori’ though he claimed to be seeing the pity in the poetry. In a single breath denying his own identity*
(* - and yes it is the same asterix twice - I can wait no longer… I subsequently found out he is an Ulsterman by self-definition and I thus understood his creed. It doesn’t make it any better, more palatable or true though!)
(+ also note that Menteith breaks the i before e except after c rule and therefore may well be said to come from ‘the Scots.’)
What came next had to be challenged. He said – clear as a passing bell – that Barrie could hold no more claim to be a Scottish writer than J.K.Rowling. He said it with what I have to call a sleekit, pan face. I’m sure he did it for effect, as he couldn’t possibly believe this, but he stood there, in his position of unassailable power, a general well behind the lines commanding the troops up the line, as in the context his academic authority was unchallengeable. Apart from one. Aye, there’s always one. And thank goodness there is. Or it might have had to be me.
She took him on. He said ‘oh, there were the Thrums stories of course,’ (dismissing in what wasn’t even a gallus sweep of an arm) ‘but then, Peter Pan…’ he drifted off at that point as if the point was made simply by mentioning the ju ju word. His plain implication that the writing of Peter Pan meant JMB could not, in any way, be considered Scottish. She muttered to herself ‘there are few more impressive sights than a Scotsman on the make’ a talisman to myself on so many occasions through my life and my constant reminder of the skill of ‘Scots humour’ in writing for the Englishy audience.
While in the background someone else suggested that JKR was in fact Welsh, she said she didn’t care for or about JKR, didn’t know anything about her, but was speaking up for Barrie, and that, with the greatest respect (which is always a sign that no respect is either given or due) he was just plain wrong.
I wanted to say pure, dead ignorant, but it wasn’t an audience who would ‘get this.’
There were a few rumblings amidst the crowd and another of the audience challenged him – he’d said Neil Gunn had been instrumental in the SNP, so surely he could be defined as a Scottish writer? The genie was partly out of the bottle.
She pressed the case that the J.M.Barrie Society existed primarily to stand against such erroneous thinking. I didn’t say though I wanted to, that she was underestimating herself and was in fact standing against such deliberately perpetrated lies and untruths, designed to promote a ‘strong and stable’ vision of a united kingdom in which we are all better together little Britishers. The fear is they would have liked that. They might have cheered and waved Union Jacks. And she didn’t need my help.
And then the Cavalry arrived. An American in the room waded into the fray – as they have a habit of doing when the worst of the fighting has been done - all Omaha Beach and ‘we won the war’ . The debate, if such it was, had now shifted ground to the very nature of Scottish identity in fiction, and the Yank suggested that it was a bizarre debate to be having. Yankee Doodle Dandy noted that across the United States there would be no such division between writers in say Wisconsin and California or Pittsburgh (I wondered idly to myself what the Texans might say to that). His claim was that in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave where America is First and the Trumpet of the Apocalyse has been firmly blown, there is no such division in diversity among writers. Polite, but firm, my Scottish companion pointed out that a better analogy might be reframing the ‘group’ into an American, a Canadian and a Mexican writer.
The Moderator of the event, our President indeed, in an attempt to be presidential, and witty (both of which she achieved) suggested that this sounded like the start of a joke – An American, A Canadian, A Mexican and A Scots writer walk into a bar – and I agreed, except that this would be a sick kind of a joke in my humble opinion. My opinion was not, of course humble – there’s no room for humility when your identity is under attack. It was not even too wee, too poor and too stupid. Tight-fisted thrawn, dour Scot that I am, I do not see the funny part of denying one’s own national identity – such identity for me is tied up with my personal identity – and that’s no joke to please any kind of crowd.
It’s no joke that the perpetrator of this ‘crime’ against humanity, or at least against identity, is a gatekeeper. He is a man charged with representing the world of literature to mere mortals. And here we have the Acts of Union all over again. Betrayed by our own (remember I have since learned he’s an Ulsterman, and thus not strictly speaking on of ‘our own’ at all so this part of my invective is perhaps unfounded. I am more than capable of critiquing my own diatribes thank you. But feel free…)
Believe me when I say that as the War Poets (whatever their national identity) stood up against war and the pity of war (which was ostensibly the topic under discussion – though most of the talk seemed to be rooted in the 1930s) so we need to stand up for our Scottish identity in writing and in writers. All I can say for my brave compatriot is ‘weel done Cutty Sark’ and ‘lang may yer lum reek, hen.’
From where I’m standing it’s a load easier to find Scottish identity in fiction than than it is to deny it. If it looks, tastes, sounds etc Scottish then… but you do have to acknowledge that a ‘Scottishness’ actually exists.
An argument which claims that despite being born, bred, educated, 20+ years residency, writing (at least partly) in the language and dialects of the people, writing about the people and the concerns of Scotland, setting some work there and using it to show the difference between the ‘home nations’ in some very profound ways, employing Scots humour to devastating effect on the stage and in prose – despite all this that because he did not do this ‘exclusively’ Barrie could not be counted as a Scottish writer, well, such an argument is beyond all fuzzy logic known to man. And it does beg the question, if not Barrie then who is a Scottish writer? Certainly not me. Thus, in a moment, gunned down by the powerpoint of a publishing professor, I (and most possibly you) cease to exist on an essential level – my corpse behind me left as ‘a writer known only to God.’ Aye, and Barrie even had something to say about existence in his Edinburgh Eleven – was he no’ a Scot as he wrote that?
They make attacks on Scots from all angles, and yes, those of the Renaissance have even attacked their fellow countrymen. Thus, even in the 21st century we still have ringing in our ears the argument that if one writes exclusively in and of the concerns of Scotland, and happens to have done this before the First World War (and sometimes after) one is parochial and thus damned forever. Unless, of course you are writing from the point of the urban Scot. They seem to have requisitioned the tartan bullet proof vests, leaving the older generation ill-equipped for the fight.
I was only relieved that our ‘speaker’ didn’t start on ‘Kailyard’ (though he had a sideswipe at sentimentality via the movie version of Sunset Song – which argument I think was used more to encourage the precedence of written over visual text - ) He dodged that particular bullet – or should I say Howitzer. If he had started in on Kailyard I would have given up a lifetime of avowed pacifism and either blown him or myself up. But the ‘K’ word is an argument inappropriate to an English audience, they wouldn’t understand it. They struggled to see the significance of the ‘sentimentality’ jibe. I struggled in a different way as it didn’t seem to help his argument regarding Grassic Gibbon. In fact, if I reflect on the whole, I find that he was much like a soldier shooting himself deliberately in the foot to get an easy billet back to Blighty. But he was not shell-shocked and he deserved a dishonourable discharge for his actions. However, I am not judge or jury, simple an innocent bystander – if such there be in life. So let me try and lay my argument (if such it can be called) for the existence of Scottish identity in writing. Let me fire a Scots canon. Note I say ‘a’ not ‘the’.
If you a) are born or live in Scotland and/ or self-define as Scottish and you b) write using partial or total Scots or and/or c) set your work in Scotland and/or d you write of the concerns of the Scottish people or look at the world from a Scottish perspective* and/or e) write Scottish characters (particularly if they are drawn clearly from life) it can be said you are a Scottish writer. And you remain a Scottish writer even and when you are writing in the language and setting of the Empire and include things not exclusively Scottish in your writing. Then you become a Scottish writer writing in the context of English (or other) fiction. There are reasons one might want to do this. Remember ‘there are few more impressive sights than a Scotsman on the make.’ National identity * does not change with the physical location or the textual output of the writer.
I am frequently a Scottish writer writing in English. I am never an English writer writing in Scots or Scotland or about Scotland. There’s flexibility of text and unreliability of narrators and there is just plain stupidity in terms of an argument +
(* yes, you do in this case have to admit that such a thing exists, which the ‘clever general’ argument denies but which I dismiss as poor philosophy – you don’t prove something doesn’t exist by stating it doesn’t exist)
(+ I subsequently discover that my adversary – as Barrie might term him – apart from being Better Dead, written I contend by a Scottish writer writing from a Scottish perspective in the heart of the English establishment - my adversary ‘jumped ship’ from classics to English at my own Alma Mater. I have him on the ropes.(as Barrie would also say – Scots humour anyone?) All knowledge is a form of power and I know all about the Scots education system and how one ‘works’ it. But that’s away from the point.
[feel free to have a wee dance in the margins while I regain my ‘flow’]
Identity is a deep thing, deeper even than a yearning for the land, or lost community. I know a bit about identity. I daily deal with temporal and spatial identity and its relation to what I’ll call ‘pure’ or theoretical narrative. It’s something that has consumed me, shaped me, and dare I say, is part of my identity. Barrie also was consumed by the flexibility and mutability of identity. It’s part (I like to think) of what we have in common. Apart from our being Scots. But that may be presumption on my part. I create Barrie as a fellow-traveller for my own issues of identity, I admit. We all do such things. If you can see that identity is a part of who you are and how you see and respond to the world then, to parody Kipling, you are a Scot my son.
My advice to those who consider themselves Scottish writers? (and readers no less, let’s not forget our readers) is fight back against the modern day Mentieth’s and those who hold the crown or the hand of he who wears the crown and whisper to that Emperor that national identity is not real. (It will be the holocaust next - ^) The line is that because they do not look on it, so it cannot be. Stand up against the wee sleekit, cowering timorous beastie in all his Renaissance glory too – against those who smile and smile and are still villains and should and do know better but have let the personal prize outweigh the fate of a nation.
(^First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.)
And I was only a Scot.
(The identity of the writer of that poem is perhaps less significant than his sentiment – and I have of course added the last line but surely there is no argument against Martin Niemöller being a German writer?)
What then, to quote Tolstoy (a Russian writer) must we do? When I say we must fight back, I mean, of course write back. Wars are waged on many fronts and in many ways. The war to end all wars is now the war against ignorance and mis-information and ‘false facts.’ You have been warned. But as you pull on your tin helmet, wait for the whistle and prepare to go over the top; bagpipes skirling if you must; remember that your country needs you to live, not to die. Before you cry out that they will never take our freedom, be sure you are not handing it to them willingly on a plate via the ballot box. The rest, as they say, is history.
I may take on 'the' Scots Canon next month.
The higher they climb the harder they fall…
It’s 103 years this month since the death of S.R.Crockett. Most people today are barely aware of his existence yet in 1894 up till his death in 1914 he was one of the leading lights in literature. (nice alliteration there don’t you think?)
After a decade slogging away (often under the title ‘Anon’) in journals and magazines, he ‘burst’ onto the scene with a collection of short stories/sketches titled ‘The Stickit Minister and other common men’ (Yes, I hear you say ‘not exactly a snappy title’). Even in its day the title caused some consternation as folk went into libraries asking for ‘Crockett by the Stickit Minister’ and any number of variations you can imagine.
The following year, 1894 saw Crockett hit the high spots – he had no fewer than four books published in one year and became firmly entrenched upon the bestsellers list for the next decade. He was one of the foremost in the late Victorian cult of celebrity. He had over 70 full length works published in his lifetime and scores more articles, short stories and sketches syndicated in publications worldwide.
So what went wrong? What did he do wrong? He was successful. He was popular. He died at the wrong time. He didn’t take control of his own publications. He didn’t play ‘editor’ or publisher but was a very successful career writer.
Add to that the fact that his reputation was trashed after his death and you’ll see why you’re not still reading him today whereas you might well read Dickens and Hardy and find fellow feeling in both their works.
Here’s a few more reasons why you don’t find Crockett on the bookshelves these days:
Fashion: The times they were a changing. Crockett died just before the outbreak of the First World War. And that war changed everything, including fiction. The modernist movement that came out of the war couldn’t abide looking back and began to see novels from the late 19th century as outmoded. To be fair the ‘Kailyard rural idyll’ slur had been placed on Crockett as early as 1894 – before he had written the bulk of his work and it has stuck around. Give a dog a bad name. I have to say that however much they vaunt Grassic Gibbon and Neill Gunn – they are not miles away from Crockett. It all, I suppose, depends on what you are looking for, and what you relate to, in your fiction. If you want rural realism and romance then Crockett is every bit as good as either of the aforementioned Scots and of course the previously mentioned Dickens and Hardy.
It’s true that even in his own day Crockett was subject to some criticism (though equally to some overblown praise) But this simply reflects the fact that it was a time when literary agents were getting into their stride and publishers really knew how to market hard. With the emergence of the mass market there were fortunes to be made and with it a fair amount of dirty play. Publishing was undergoing a revolution and it was not bloodless.
Beyond this, he was of the wrong class. Crockett wasn’t a ‘gentleman’ writer. He was the illegitimate son of a dairy maid from rural Galloway. He was a ‘lad o’pairts’ who made it to Edinburgh University. He did a decade in the ministry and was never allowed to forget it, however insightful and cutting his criticism of traditional mainstream religion was. While he became famous, he wasn’t of the right socio-economic grouping and his writing was populist both in its content and its reach. He favoured the ‘ordinary’ rural folk and was as far away from the aspirational Downton Abbey Brigade as it’s possible to be. But he wasn’t an ‘out and out’ Grub Street realist either. Oh, and he was Scottish – not North British.
And most importantly perhaps, His reputation was trashed. That in itself should be enough to make one sit up and appreciate that he was worth reading. Those who came immediately after did what they could to dim his light – and the combination of his death and the First World War certainly helped them. I shall name names here and blame the likes of Hugh Macdiarmid (a man who was so unsuccessful writing under his own name of Christopher Grieve that he changed it) A man who condemned prose fiction in favour of poetry but wasn’t averse to casting his judgement (and vitriolic it was at times) on fiction. A man who never let his ignorance get in the way of a good critical gubbing. A man who couldn’t decide if he was a communist or a nationalist and who got thrown out of both parties. A man who decided to invent a new Scots ‘leid’ because he couldn’t get arrested writing in the sort of Scots that was mother’s milk to the likes of Crockett. Am I being unjust to the man? I don’t feel compelled to be ‘more than fair’ to MacDiarmid when he was so instrumental in trashing Crockett’s reputation without good cause. As far as I can see, a touch of the green eyed monsters was the most obvious feature of his criticisms. And Crockett wasn’t alive to fight back. You can tell I feel a bit strongly about this. I don’t apologise for that. You can and will of course, make up your own minds. I don’t want my thrashing of Macdiarmid to prejudice you either for or against Crockett. We all have our own prejudicial demons to fight.
But most importantly it raises the question: how does one restore a reputation so comprehensively (and unfairly) trashed over a period of 100 years?
Well, three years ago Cally Phillips began a one-woman crusade to right the wrongs done to Crockett. She set up The Galloway Raiders (an online Crockett site/literary society) and a publishing company. Through Ayton Publishing she has now brought more than 40 of Crockett’s near 80 full length published works back into print and besides that has published another half dozen books about him, including the only extant literary biography. There is no historic biography of him. Wikipedia and Google are pretty useless as they perpetuate myths and errors which have become clichés.
We do well to remember that History is told by the victors and media is controlled by the moguls. The so called ‘independent’ social media is governed by the techno savvy and depth is certainly a casualty of the breadth of online media ‘platforms’ for whom data harvesting is more important than factual accuracy.
It is in the niche world that one can find accuracy but one has to look for it. Restoring a reputation is a very difficult thing but I believe it is the responsibility of all of us to take heart and direction from pioneers and advocates like Cally Phillips and commit to the following as regards authors and their works with which you are unfamiliar: Read without Prejudice. Open your Mind. Start with primary sources. Always ask questions. Consider appropriate contexts.
There are plenty of authors out there whose work has fallen off the radar. It’s not a reflection of the quality of their work it’s just the way the world turns. And often the world turns in ugly ways when money is a significant factor and creativity is turned into an industry.
Recently I saw something on Facebook which made me laugh. The context is almost irrelevant but a chap there gave the reason for why something was wrong (mobile phone coverage if you’re really interested) as being ‘because capitalism’. That just about sums it up for me. Why did Crockett fall out of favour? The answer is simply ‘because capitalism.’ Because capitalism and because the likes of MacDiarmid were too small as men to acknowledge that other views of the world than their own were possible. Which is, dare I say it, in itself a mark of ‘because capitalism.’
MacDiarmid was mercurial and the one thing Crockett was at least was consistent and honest with his views be they religious or political. In my opinion Crockett was a better socialist than MacDiarmid. You can’t compare them as writers and you shouldn’t try. As men… least said the better on that score. The ultimate irony is that if MacDiarmid had been a bit more open and reasonable he might have realised that Crockett was a writer who represented and produced many of the things he called for in fiction. Was he too close to see this? Or just too jealous? Or just too keen to make a name for himself? I couldn’t possibly judge on that score.
Whether you are a fan of modernism or not, whether you think I’m being unfair to MacDiarmid or not, I ask that should you think about ‘discovering’ Crockett you do so on terms which undertake the read without prejudice principle and judge the books not by the reputation (good or otherwise) of the author, but simply on the content. His work may or may not ‘speak’ to you and it may or may not be ‘your kind’ of fiction. There’s a fair breadth to choose from over a thirty year period – he was innovative, experimental and prolific. Perhaps you will have to reach out to understand the Scots humour or the episodic style. It certainly won’t be ‘what you are used to’ if you read modern fiction. You will be much more comfortable with it if you’re familiar with other 19th century novels and like I said, if you like Dickens and Hardy, or Scott and Stevenson, or Buchan and Grassic Gibbon and Gunn for that matter, you may well find plenty to love in Crockett’s work.
But whatever else you do in approaching Crockett for the first time do this; reach out, learn, open your mind – instead of showing the ignorance that goes with a simple acceptance that a man’s reputation has been trashed by those who sought to gain advantage from their actions.
On a more practical level I’d recommend you embark upon your own journey of discovery of Samuel Rutherford Crockett by visiting The Galloway Raiders site. There are worse virtual places to spend some time. If you fancy a bit of history, adventure and romance you may well find that Crockett’s your go-to man even 103 years after his death.
Between Free and Responsible
Let me start by saying, I’ve got nothing against free books. Obviously, I understand that publishers and authors need recompense in the first case for the physical costs and in the second case for the creative endeavour and input of time. However, the idea of commodifying creativity and especially its centrality in the free market economy, seems, to me, to run counter to what we actually want to achieve with reading (and culture).
So – for example the Book Depository tried to tempt me in with Booksale – up to 50% off last month (though when I looked for Jack’s Barrie book as I was then if you recall, it was a cool £69) I decided not to spend any more time browsing for a ‘bargain’! It’s so so so easy to find cheap books. Everyone is trying to tempt you. But why pay? You can get all the books you could ever read for free. Enter Amazon Free lists. You can get books of all kinds on there, though often they are the province of the indie struggling for visibility.
I say again. I’m not against free books. I’m against being ‘sold’ free books by large corporations who see books primarily as product to be shifted.
That’s the capitalist view of culture. And, I’m afraid, it’s the world we live in.
What price free is an incredibly thorny issue and far too complex a topic to get into one post, so I’m not even going to try. What I am going to look at this month is the consequences of free culture – books specifically – and that mean ebooks specifically. No one gives out totally free print books. Actually that’s almost not true. You can quite easily pick up second hand books online for 1p plus post and packing (usually around £2.80) That’s as close to free as you can imagine.
We’ve been trained to see new and second hand as conceptually different. This is odd because the content is the same (and isn’t it the content that is important?)
Likewise we’re being trained to see Ebooks and paper books as different animals. There is a right royal battle going on between those who put out ebooks for free (because, let’s face it the costs of production are minimal) and those who place a ‘market’ value on the content which can sometimes see you pay more for an ebook version of a text than a paper one. But don’t be fooled for a moment. This is not about culture it’s all about profit.
The arguments for and against price in any and all of these negotiations are different and put together become ridiculously complex. Isn’t this part of the plan. Make things so difficult for people to reason out that they stop bothering and just follow the bouncing ball of hype/market/FREE IN YOUR FACE style purchasing.
Ebooks come in many quantum flavours. Essentially these are: new ‘indie’ or ‘self’ published, new ‘mainstream’ or ‘traditional’ published and re-versioned texts. The rules as they apply today seem to be that no value is (or should be) placed on ‘indie’ or ‘self’ published books. Authors of these works are expected to put them out for free – because they don’t have a ‘name’ that people will buy. They are further encouraged (and expected) to try to ‘develop’ (and that means ‘buy’) their own brand. To sell books you need visibility. You get visibility primarily through buying it. The alternative is to make loads of ‘friends’ and get a ‘fan base’ but this includes expenditure of both time and money. The cards are very heavily stacked against the actual cultural or creative element of the ‘indie’ world. It’s not really any different from music. Who pays for music any more? And what do you think about that?
The difference is that people do still listen to music, (though I’m no expert on what music is actually being listened to) whereas evidence suggests that many of those who download ‘free’ ebooks don’t even bother to read them. It’s more about acquisition, impulse, a sense of ‘ownership’ and the ability to ‘cheat’ a system – though it’s not the system that’s being cheated it’s the author who is being exploited by being forced to ‘give it away’.
A lot of public domain books are also available as ebooks and that’s largely a good thing. Except when the quality of the production is so low as to make the work unreadable. That happens rather too often. Never mind the creative content itself, if the form it’s delivered in is unreadable, that’s disrespectful to both writer and reader.
The above instances seem to suggest that our current cultural system places no value in the creative work itself. It’s a world of brands and product. It’s the ultimate pay to play version of culture. And most people seem quite happy with that. Perhaps it’s time to think about it? When questioned, a lot of people employ the ‘only a soldier following orders’ line of reasoning – it’s out there free, why not take advantage of the offer? Yes, indeed. But who are you taking advantage of? Not Amazon or the online retailers. You are taking advantage of the generosity (or desperation) of another human being. Even if they are offering the ‘gift’ in good faith. To get away from capitalist cultural perspectives one might suggest a rebirth of reciprocity. Picture the scene:
You download a free ebook. Intellectually of course you know its value is more than zero. Someone has put time and effort into this beyond the click it’s taken you to download. Responsibility one – READ IT.
You could even take responsibility earlier than this: Don’t download if you’re not going to read it. Just say no. Why not do some research and work out if you think you will like it first. We seem to think that the digital world doesn’t have ‘waste’ but it does. It’s just a lot more subtle. And it’s all tied up with keeping us like rats in a cage clicking the ‘pleasure’ button.
If you want to be a ‘risk-taker’ then do at least accept that you need to read responsibly. And take responsibility for your risk taking activity. This is someone’s creativity you’re holding in your hands for free. A real, living human being who is trying to communicate with YOU. So do them the courtesy of reading the book. And then leave a review if you’ve enjoyed it.
Should you leave a review if you didn’t enjoy it? Yes, if you feel you have something more significant to say than ‘I picked the wrong book here. I didn’t ‘get’ it and I’m pissed off that I wasted my time so I’m going to blame the author rather than accept that maybe I shouldn’t have grabbed the free bargain simply because it was there.’
But if you did enjoy it, and you got it for free, you really should feel a responsibility to pay it forward. Not just clicking LIKE but actually engaging like a real live human being. Telling other people about it. Giving them a reason to read it. Sharing. Not with one eye on the ‘what will everyone think about me?’ Do not ask yourself the question ‘Am I saying the right/cool/acceptable thing about this or will everyone shun me?’
Remind yourself that you have the power of turning the invisible into the visible –as widely as you can be bothered. You have the same power, by investment of your time and creative engagement, as those who are paid to ‘sell’ things. You are not selling, you are telling. You are not trying to part people from their money for profit, you are engaged in a resistance movement to reclaim cultural creativity for the masses. If you don’t then many voices are silenced. When everyone abdicates responsibility for creating and sharing culture and creativity we get the culture we deserve. Look around you. Are you happy with the way we are offered and consume culture and creativity today? Yes. Fine. No, do something about it.
So much for ebooks. What about paper? There is the obvious cost of production involved in the paper and ink for producing new (or new editions of old) books. However, it is possible to get books for free from libraries, or next to nothing paying only postage. This is in many ways a ‘green’ thing to do. And green is good. Part of me thinks we should have an entire moratorium on cultural production (another part of me thinks we should have a moratorium on human production – births) for a decade or so. I’m not sure how much would be lost if we did this. There are more films, books, songs in the world floating around than anyone could ever even scrape the tip of in a whole lifetime dedicated to consuming cultural offerings. It’s truly a tower of babel.
There are two arguments against such a moratorium. The first is a capitalist one. The ‘creative’ economy is so important – a beast of a machine that keeps on churning out consumer product just to keep itself alive. I don’t like that argument. The other argument is ‘it’s wrong to stifle creativity.’ Yes it is. But the model of cultural creation we have at the moment IS stifling creativity of the many in favour of the creativity of the few for the goal of profit.
So what I’m really suggesting is a moratorium on the monetisation of creativity. People want to write. It’s less obvious these days that people want to read. For people who want to write as a mode of communication (rather than, deludedly as a ‘get rich quick’ scheme) these people can, should and most probably will keep writing whether they are being paid or not. We need to get away from the thought that a ‘professional’ writer deserves to be paid. Step away from the capitalist model. I pause here before I head off into a far too long exegesis of what might replace this model. I am trying to stick to the consequences of where we are rather than explore the ‘options for change’ though this is a necessary but difficult conversation.
Removing the financial imperative from the whole writing/reading experience (and reminding ourselves it’s an experience rather than a ‘transaction’ is what I’m talking about. Where someone is trying to ‘sell’ themselves or their ideas via a market driven capitalist business model, you can do as you like. Pay what you will. There are plenty of people making a buck out of the process and you’re keeping loads of people in work – but remember it’s always the folk at the top who benefit the most. Where someone is trying to communicate with you, to share their thoughts, emotions and beliefs, that’s a different matter. For a varied, diverse and vibrant culture of creativity we need to treat people with respect (both writers and readers) rather than as parts of a financial transaction. I feel I’m starting to repeat myself. I should stop. I simply find it so hard to understand why people either don’t see this, or are indifferent to it.
We are all able to take advantage of (and responsibility for) employing a mixed economy attitude towards our cultural consumption (not just for books but for everything). In the context of books I suggest that you take advantage of libraries for the free books they contain. Likewise, seek out public domain works for free (but pay attention to whether they have just been cheaply scanned or actually have some ‘additional value’ such as a modern commentary that makes them worth paying for.) But where you are engaging with a living author, especially if they are not the ‘brand’ or ‘product’ of a large publishing conglomorate, it’s a good idea to act responsibly. Not all authors make themselves into ‘brands’ (some would like to but can’t, others find it an offensive concept) and those who take the path less travelled need all the help they can get.
Codicil on Copyright. It’s another big and thorny issue. At the basic level copyright is important for living authors not least because stealing copyright from another living person is effectively stealing their labour. For dead people the situation is slightly different. Copyright as a ‘legacy’ is a double edged sword. Royalties can help relatives and death is certainly a good thing for publishers these days (it wasn’t always the case) but the downside is that those outside the mainstream financial model are effectively silenced for 70 years. That means that we are all deprived of access to diverse voices and alternative opinions whereas we could benefit from free and unfettered access. These are the sorts of works that should be available free. There are movements and groups seeking to challenge public domain issues. There are those (especially the academic fraternity) who want to hide things behind paywalls and in doing so they act as the gatekeeper to our culture. Are you happy with that? If not, do something about it.
To find past articles please use monthly archives.