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.
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