- Within and Without Empire: Scotland Across the (Post)colonial Borderline Edited by Carla Sassi and Theo van Heijnsbergen
Michael Gardiner, introducing the Edinburgh University Press collection Scottish Literature and Postcolonial Literature in 2011, urged us all to brush aside the ‘wearied and misleading’ question of whether Scotland ‘is postcolonial’ in favour of a more productive and fundamental re-positioning. Scottish literature and postcolonial literature, Gardiner argues in his stimulating and critical, not to say crabbit, introduction, are joined together by way of their shared object of critique, ‘the jurisdiction of the imperial mode of British state culture’. Scottish Literature and Postcolonial Literature’s chapters pair ‘Scottish’ and ‘Postcolonial’ writing, the collection’s form advancing an argument for a ‘serious and worldly field of comparison’ against the older modes of ‘recovery’ Scottish literary studies has found itself burdened with sustaining. James Kelman and Ken Saro-Wiwa, Robin Jenkins and Jean Rhys, Burns and Braithwaite: this collection’s ambitions were programmatic rather than proprietary, urging new approaches rather than assimilating the postcolonial into the field of Scottish studies.
Carla Sassi and Theo van Heijnsbergen’s useful collection Within and Without Empire: Scotland across the (Post) colonial Borderline fills in and extends the work Scottish Literature and Postcolonial Literature began. Some of the same scholars are at work in both collections, adding to a sense of continuity and shared areas for inquiry; Bashabi Fraser has chapters in both and Graeme Macdonald, an editor of the Edinburgh collection, contributes a stimulating chapter to the book under review. If Within and Without Empire’s excitements are more muted and its suggestions less daring than the 2011 collection, the chapters collected here — most of which originated from a Turin double seminar convened for the European Society for the Study of English — offer quiet, worthy scholarly stimuli of their own. ‘Unlike Ireland, which […] has obtained a wide and almost unchallenged status as a postcolonial country,’ the editors write, rather anxiously, ‘Scotland has been prevented from attempting to make the same paradigmatic shift by its more extensive and more visible imperial entanglements’. The chapters they have collected, however, demonstrate what can be done with those ‘more extensive and more visible imperial entanglements’ once they are allowed their [End Page 140] own space and historical significance and misleading questions about Scotland’s entry credentials to the postcolonial club are put aside.
Scotland’s, and Scottish literature’s, involvement in British colonial aggression abroad, and its ideological justification and dissemination through English Literature, is extensively documented. (There is no discussion of Robert Young’s Idea of English Ethnicity in this collection, an unfortunate omission given Young’s fascinating reconstruction of Scottish theorists’ role in the construction of Englishness abroad.) Graeme Macdonald, quite rightly, excoriates the ‘rather careworn description of this relationship’ as ambiguous or ambivalent, but there is no escaping its messy complexity. If John Buchan’s imperial fantasies served one audience, Robert Burns, already available in Maori translation by the late nineteenth century, found anti-colonial audiences aplenty. The best chapters in Within and Without Empire explore the historical context of this mess, tracing the transformation of Scottish materials in non-Scottish settings, as the names Campbell, Macdonald and Grant become, as Joan Anim-Addo puts it in her contribution on autobiography, ‘now as Caribbean as they were once Scottish’. Chapters on book history — by Sheila M. Kidd on Gaelic books in the West Indies, and by Gail Low on the West Indian Readers — are richly detailed and rewarding, as is Wilson McLeod’s reading of Gaelic poetry as part of the canon of Britishness and imperial ideology: ‘although it is certainly not impossible to excavate and emphasise dissonant notes within the literary corpus, there is a risk that doing so may distort or misrepresent what is actually a very largely unvariegated body of work in terms of its basic ideological outlook and assumptions. With almost no exceptions, Gaelic poets accept without challenge the right of the British state to invade foreign lands or...