- Scottish & International Modernisms: Relationships & Reconfigurations
What's in a name? "The Scottish Renaissance," that extraordinary resurgence of creativity in Scotland between the Wars, has long been studied almost exclusively as a local and nationalist revival epitomized by the radically experimental poetry of Hugh MacDiarmid. And, until very recently, studies have been almost entirely confined to Scottish critics. That Scotland was, in this period, engaged in its own international as well as national modernism has hardly been addressed. As Margery Palmer McCulloch noted in her ground-breaking work, Scottish Modernism and its Contexts 1918-1959, even "studies of early twentieth-century writing in Scotland seldom have the word 'modernism' in their indexes."1 Along with her earlier edition of primary source documents for Scottish modernism,2 McCulloch's analysis of the broader, more diverse, and far more complex modern literature of Scotland made available essential material previously difficult to access.
Following up on this re-introduction of Scotland's modern texts and contexts, Emma Dymock's and Margery Palmer McCulloch's new, co-edited collection turns outward to demonstrate the internationalism always inseparable from Scottish Renaissance cultural nationalism. Dymock and McCulloch aim "to contribute to the ongoing international discourse concerning a more varied and inclusive modernism, while at the same time redirecting potentially inward-looking perceptions of the national revival movement towards the recognition of a Scottish modernism that was itself responding to the challenges of modernity, and through its responses bringing revitalized Scottish traditions into a wider international context" (2). Their purpose, in other words, is neither to deny nor to reject the nationalist emphasis of the Scottish Renaissance—with its specific focus on language, identity, culture, and politics—but to define and establish that focus within more extensive and plural relations of international modernisms, and to challenge continuing assumptions about what does or does not constitute the "modern."
The fourteen essays comprising this collection convincingly justify the editors' claims. Opening and closing with important theoretical reconsiderations by Roderick Watson and Carla Sassi, the collection contains a series of fresh approaches to such key modern and modernist writers as Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Neil M. Gunn, Sorley MacLean, Willa Muir, and Catherine Carswell, as well as the standard figures of Hugh MacDiarmid and Edwin Muir. Chapters on little magazines, visual art, and music between the Wars extend the range of creative development and international contact. Moreover, they incorporate the work of authors in all three languages of Scotland—Scots, Gaelic, and English; the many sources and intersections in Celtic history and legend; Irish, American, and European literatures; and the arts. Thus the diverse artists and topics sustain a theme in many versions, of looking both inward and outward, a dialectic of nationalism and internationalism specific to Scotland, and a significant facet of what Carla Sassi calls "global modernism."
Dymock's and McCulloch's introduction is helpful in defining this continuing theme. In addition to the two theoretical frameworks, specific authors are paired to reveal intriguing connections between Scottish and other modernisms. For example, comparative essays juxtapose MacDiarmid and Yeats, Gunn and Lawrence, Gibbon and Joyce, Carswell and Rebecca West, Sorley MacLean and European experimental poets. Separate essays on little magazines, visual arts, and music present a significantly wider perspective on Scotland's modern period.
Aptly, in a book that re-examines Scotland's seemingly paradoxical mix of nationalist and transnationalist modernism, the central essay is Alan Riach's "W. B. Yeats and Hugh MacDiarmid: [End Page 614] Kingly Cousins." Though the "cousins" admired each other's work, they may seem an odd couple in their contrasting responses to language and politics. Yet Riach's juxtaposition of these two foundational poets teases out fascinating and illuminating relations in their different but equally powerful use of Celtic sources, their shared need for "building among ruins" by remaining in Ireland and Scotland, and their responses to war and violence. Significantly, both "offer new visions" of their countries "in relation to [the] British Empire" and, perhaps most importantly, in the contexts of the First World...