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  • Modes of Marginality:Scottish Literature and the Uses of Postcolonial Theory
  • Liam Connell

Although not widely regarded as an example of a postcolonial literature, several attempts have been made to apply the theoretical perspectives generated by postcolonialism to Scottish literature as a national body of writing. This has largely taken two forms. In the first instance there have been several explicit attempts to use a postcolonial terminology to explain the prevalent formal characteristics of Scottish literature and to offer new perspectives on Scottish literature's relation to the mainstream of literature in English.2 There has also been a second and substantially more prominent strand of critical engagement with postcolonial theory that might be described as a catchphrase criticism, which has seen critics loosely apply the terminology of postcolonialism without any extended explanation of its suitability and without a sustained application of the theoretical methodologies from which these terms derive. Despite its strengths, Robert Crawford's Devolving English Literature is indicative of this last approach. Although he applauds Edward Said's Orientalism for offering a suggestive methodology for examining "cultural difference,"3 his work continues to treat Scottish literature as a coherent and a priori entity with no sensitivity to the fact that it might also constitute "a system of representations framed by a whole set of forces" that excludes the possibility of such difference.4

While the former strand of criticism often displays a careful effort to assess the utility of postcolonial theory for Scottish literary studies, both approaches appear to share certain motivations and assumptions about Scottish literature and about the nature of postcolonial theory, which illuminate the political limitations of postcolonialism's endless translation into new and unforeseen contexts. In order to demonstrate this, this article will argue that the use of postcolonial theory in relation to Scottish literature forms a strategic effort to raise the profile of Scottish literary studies within the context of its institutional marginalization as an area of study within British and North American universities. It will be suggested that, because the growth of postcolonialism within English studies has outstripped the study of Scottish literature, critics working on Scottish literature have increasingly sought to link their work to postcolonialism in order to persuade a wider academic community that their research is relevant to the main concerns of the discipline. However, while English literature's homonymic conflation of writing in English and writing by the English allows it to be defined in cosmopolitan terms, Scottish literature is denied the same eclectic absorption of international writers because its coherence is defined by a political concept of Scottishness: because "Scottish" is not a language, Scottish literature is always literature from Scotland. As a result, the inclusion of postcolonial subject matter in the study of Scottish literature requires a rationale beyond its inclusion in the syllabus of English studies. Because they often write in English, so-called postcolonial writers can be studied within an "English literature" degree program without significantly impinging upon the ways of reading other English-language writers even if the hope is always that this will lead to a general reassessment of all writing. By contrast, the inclusion of postcolonialism in the study of Scottish literature must either perform some form of Saidian discourse analysis of the racial politics of Scottish texts or indicate the extent to which Scottish authors are postcolonial by demonstrating a degree of cultural marginalization within Anglocentric British political structures. Ironically, in order to position Scottish literature closer to the center of critical work in English studies at the institutional level, critics have been required to constitute Scottish literature as something on the margins of this work at the political level. The neglect of Scottish literature as a subject area is therefore explained by reference to a social marginalization in common with authors from the former British colonies.

This conflation of critical and social marginalization may result from postcolonialism's central concern to account for a cultural component in the systems of domination that resulted from colonization. Although the attention of postcolonial cultural explanations is frequently to literary techniques, their basis is fundamentally political and requires the use of political terminology. This shift from the textual to the political is...


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