I sit down to write this month. How about:
Between Reformation and Referendum, the perils of emotion and sentiment when trying to research… Snappy title. But what does it mean? In my moment of crisis I refer or indeed defer to Leatham as if not excuser then at least explainer of my current ‘condition.’ It’s a quote which I think about a lot and which I think has a lot of ‘applications’ and in and of itself deserves much greater discussion… but I digress…
A Favourite cue with people who want to throw cold water on your argument is to say that you are emotional. This of course is much easier than answering what you say. The dry sticks who laugh, weep, rage, and jest with difficulty, who are indeed without enthusiasm of any kind – don’t they just wish they were emotional! I have seen Gladstone’s flaming eye at close quarters; I have heard William Morris swear gloriously; and I have known lesser but still notable men whose charm and power lay almost exclusively in the way in which they could throw themselves bald-headed into the business in hand, whatever it was. All men with big heads have not big hearts, and all men with big hearts have not big heads; but the men who are of most use to the world have both; and they are always emotional. There is no other way. (James Leatham)
I am in a dark place. The best laid plans and all that. Last month I left you with the tantalising promise that I was going to write about ‘a new covenant’ as a way of finding and reading and experiencing culture. I obviously knew what I had in mind then. It was, I believed, if not simple, then elegantly possible. It came from a thought, which became a good idea, which then was left to simmer and today I decided it was time to bring it to the boil, and prepare to serve it up. But like untended porridge it seems to have got stuck to the bottom of the pan and I’m left with a claggy mess that I don’t feel comfortable serving up to you. You’ll have had your salt.
Life isn’t bittersweet at the moment. It’s unrelentingly bitter. Because the more I look into Scottish community and culture the more I come up stinking of something that most definitely looks, smells and feels like keech.
Recently I was party to a symposium about Covenanting. It was an interdisciplinary event which is an interesting thing in and of itself. Academics from a range of disciplines (or as we mortals would term it – subjects) bring different perspectives to an issue – in this case Covenanting – with the hope that they may find something new or significant to say. It’s a focussed chat really. And it was a very pleasant day. The air was sweet and rarified. It was all very ‘civilised.’ All very enlightenment. I may not have fitted in but I could hold my corner.
I am quite an interdisciplinary fellow I suppose. I love to share ideas without boundaries. I can happily admit that others know things I don’t know and I’m more than happy to learn. While I wouldn’t claim to be self-taught, the formal education I received taught me one thing – how to educate myself outside formal structures – and so I have a broad range of interests (and may even at this advanced stage in life dare to say ‘knowledge’ or at least understanding) across a spectrum of ‘things that there are to be interested in.’
I’m also a seriously pattern driven person. I like to make connections and I like to find interesting and complex comparisons – the more I do it the more I realise that interconnectedness is the way to make sense of the world (at least for me.)
And this symposium, whatever it achieved for the academics in the room (I think I may have been the ‘elephant’ but no one made me feel like a ‘token’), got me thinking about analogies between the Covenanters and the Yes Movement.
You what? It seems to me that both represent examples of a fight against hierarchy and for equality. So that was my big idea – draw an analogy between these two ‘moments’ in our history and come up, if not with a conclusion, then at least with a provocation to get you (dear reader) thinking about our culture and what we can learn from ‘grassroots’ movements that might enlighten us going forward.
I thought – we need a new Enlightenment. And then I started to think about the Enlightenment and what it was and what it meant – especially in a Scottish Context. And that’s when the wheels came off. Everything I started to read kept harking back to the ‘British’ context. Suddenly the Acts of Union rose up, like Moby Dick, and threatened to engulf me. Like Fagin, I realised that ‘I think I better think it out again.’ Which is no admission of defeat by the way. Not even a tactical withdrawal.
Of course we’re all painfully aware that while content may be king, context is everything. And to take on the hideous modern phrase – I had an epiphany (these are not always pleasant things) that I am ‘on a journey’ – which I have to hope will not be a Darien expedition – in respect of making the connectionsI hope may provide content worthy of a revolutionary rather than a King.
All of this may simply sound like an excuse, the remedy for which is – get up earlier in the morning and hold your focus even when all around you are off on their holidays. Cultural criticism is a 24/7 activity not something you can save for symposiums and academic terms. The long and the short of it is, I have a lot of reading to do on my journey and so I will have to leave you, hanging here, tantalisingly, for another month.
The topics under investigation – for those of you who want to take your own journey in this direction while I’m packing my trunk – are:
Destination: Where we have been, Where we are now and Where we are going.
The context: cultural and socio-political. Especially the cultural relativity of religion and economics over time.
The ‘rub’: the importance of the Scottish/British question in all of this.
The Acts of Union set themselves up against Brexit and the historical companions are: Covenanters (cf Killing Times); the Enlightenment; (cf relationships and definitions of reason and ‘moral’ sentiment); the Yes Movement and their role in the rise (and fall?) of the SNP.
This will be played out in a perceptual field where consumer capitalism takes a chance and offers bargain basement participatory democracy, then gets scared and recinds the offer, knowing full well that no revolution will occur – just a bit of grumbling before the populace return to their McDonalds and Dragon’s Den – and in the process a lot of useful ‘data’ has been gathered and stored and run through algorithms which will help to keep changing the goalposts in front of the players even as they step up to take their penalties.
If only, Mr E.M.Forster, it were as easy as ‘only connect.’ Only is a big word in this context. We drown in information across all the possible worlds we inhabit on a daily basis. Some, like me, fight to get behind the paywall of academia to uncover ‘truths’ which are no longer universally acknowledged but hidden away at the top of the pyramid, out of sight of those of us who have not bought our way into the elite which considers itself to be the new enlightenment.
But I’ve said enough – I will spend the month trying to get beyond my ‘sound and fury’. After all, even in politics, it’s the silly season, right? And I do not want to be the one to press the ‘send’ button too soon, before all diplomatic attempts have been made to come up with an intelligent (and intelligible) argument. As long as President Trump doesn’t blow us all to bits in the meantime, I’ll be back next month with some holiday snaps, if not a fully working analogy. Please entertain yourselves with your adult colouring books in the meantime. Or at least bear with me!
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