5. Gibbon's Libertarian Fictional Politics
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

60 CHAPTER FIVE Gibbon’s Libertarian Fictional Politics Uwe Zagratzki James Leslie Mitchell has gained a national and international reputation as one of Scotland’s outstanding twentieth-century authors under his pen name, Lewis Grassic Gibbon. His immense literary production comprises short stories set in the Middle East and Scotland, scientific fantasies, political novels, essays, city portraits, biographies and book reviews. A Scots Quair, a key text of twentieth-century Scottish literature, highly acclaimed by a contemporary critical public on its publication in single volumes between 1932 and 1934, and since, is the climax of a long process of aesthetic and political maturation. Gibbon portrays a Scotland of the people seen from their perspective, mediated through their Scottish tongue. A collective folk narrator with an internalised focus comments on diverse subjects like history, language, class, politics, love, war and, above all, the tribulations of the northeast Scots in the clutches of the capitalist Depression of the pre- and inter-war years. The emphasis is on strong figures, who, whatever distinguishes them from one another, crave liberty. They stand with the freedom-loving mythicised Pictish tribes of northeast Scotland, who for Mitchell are native versions of the primordial Golden Hunters, reconstructed in the texts written under his birth name as archetypes of humanity’s original desire for freedom.1 Idealisation of the supposed natural order of prehistory is fundamental to Mitchell’s discourse of freedom, which, however, also includes his interpretation of modern Communism, so far as it serves to surpass current ‘civilisation’ and assists in regaining free communal life. As he wrote in a 1934 letter, ‘Communism we must have before we can have the No-state’.2 Issues of individual, cultural and political freedom place Mitchell´s counterhegemonic texts inside the discursive debates of the modern Scottish Renaissance, but also identify them as progressive articulations, spreading their democratic potential more broadly. His work contributes to the revolutionary spirit of the ‘Red Decade’ of the 1930s. 61 gibbon’s libertarian fictional politics Recent academic reception has followed diverse routes – the political focus being only one among others – into Mitchell’s oeuvre, centring on A Scots Quair. Keith Dixon, looking in 2003 insightfully back over thirty years of Gibbon studies and the ensuing canonisation of his work, deplores what he sees as ‘a substantial rewriting of his politics, or the erasure of his politics altogether from academic discussion and educational presentation ’, with the effect that he is ‘conveniently shorn of his subversive potentialities’.3 This chapter agrees with Dixon’s radical view, seeking to reinstate Mitchell as ‘one of Scotland’s rare libertarian revolutionaries’.4 Rebellious spirit in the early novels The four novels examined in this section – Stained Radiance (1930), The Thirteenth Disciple (1931), Image and Superscription (1933) and Spartacus (1933) – share a general note of protest against the Depression and ensuing spiritual plight in post-First World War Britain. Mitchell’s debut, Stained Radiance, took him three years to write before Jarrolds published it in the autumn of 1930.5 The publisher’s acceptance finally ended the author’s two-year spell of poverty and hunger while living in London with his wife Ray, earning a meagre living with the Royal Air Force. ‘It’s an ’ard life, this ’ere authoring – especially when you try to portray life as you see it’, Mitchell wrote to his Arbuthnott schoolteacher, Alexander Gray.6 Drastic realism, possessed with bitter sarcasm and grounded in autobiographical experience, might not exactly meet a mass readership’s taste, but Jarrolds’s positive assessment after twenty rejections by other publishers paved Mitchell’s way to a professional writing career. The significance of Stained Radiance within Mitchell’s oeuvre rests on programmatic maxims this Modernist novel sets down. Mitchell sketches a radical philosophy of freedom, charged with Shelley’s political Romanticism from his death lament Adonais (1821), and proceeds from this powerful source to critical thoughts about the relation between individual rebellion and revolutionary action. Two figures – John Garland and James Storman – exemplify the extreme poles of Mitchell’s philosophical quest for a new social order. Whereas Garland leaves his old cynical individualism behind and ends up as secretary of the anarchocommunist party, his development is paralleled by Storman’s withdrawal from cold revolutionary ‘engineering’.7 This he replaces with an ardent belief in the ethical potential of the individual. Mitchell’s fictitious political party symbolises a romantic anarchism with strong leanings towards Shelley, Bakunin and Kropotkin. According to the teachings of the Russian 62 uwe zagratzki anarchists...


pdf