- Scottish Literature and Postcolonial Literature: Comparative Texts and Critical Perspectives Edited by Michael Gardiner, Graeme Macdonald and Niall O’Gallagher
This is a rich and fascinating collection of essays, engaging with, as the title suggests, an attempt to throw a bridge of dialogue between two areas of investigation that have always shared a number of important thematic and theoretical concerns — among these, a critical distance from the cultural practices of the metropolitan centre of the Empire, an anti-imperial and anti-hegemonic stance, a critical questioning of the ‘English’ canon and a sense of inhabiting a temporal and ideological ‘aftermath’ (whether post-colonial or post-British) — and that yet have kept at a guarded (critical) distance from each other. They also share, as Michael Gardiner highlights in the introduction to the volume, a recent definitional crisis, whereby ‘the terms of both the postcolonial and of (stateless) Scottishness indicate tendencies which can be discerned by careful readings, not categories of text’, so that ‘the question of whether a text is or is not postcolonial is misguided, and the question of whether a text is or is not Scottish is not far behind’ (p. 2).
Gardiner’s introduction raises a number of important issues and highlights intersections between the two fields, but — inevitably, given the vastness and complexity of the field — leaves a few crucial questions untouched or barely touched. To claim, for example, that ‘Anglo-American postcolonial studies … has been less able to challenge the discipline of English Literature than has the allegedly ethnic field of Scottish Literature’ (p. 3) seems to invoke more a potential than a reality, given the relative dearth of Scottish authors that are part of the English canon, as much as the subsequent hint at the fact that there is a ‘natural affinity’ (p. 7) linking the two fields in object may appear as an attempt to bypass a sustained analytical evaluation of disciplinary relations. Also, the call for ‘a more mature internationalism’ (p. 7) seems to be more related to a specifically Marxist approach than in line with recent postcolonial celebrations of fluid transnationalism. The main focus of the introduction, on the history of the development of English Literature as a discipline in relation to both postcolonial and Scottish literature, is however of great interest and certainly opens up new paths of interdisciplinary understanding.
The structure of the collection is conventionally chronological and conceptually [End Page 143] aseptic. Divided into three sections, that suggest a balanced representation of Scotland’s conflicting roles as imperial power and as agent of anti-imperial resistance (‘Postcolonial revisions: coloniality and empire in Scottish writing 1786–1914’; ‘Postcolonialism and modern Scottish literature 1914–1979’; and ‘Postcolonialism and contemporary Scottish literature’), and relying on a self-conscious Anglocentric perspective (hinging on ‘the broad phases of chronological English Literature’s disciplinarity’ p. 10), it is, however, the central organising principle of the volume — a comparative exercise across geographical and historical space — that yields the most challenging results. As Gardiner puts it, while the collection ‘does not insist on any one critical method’, it does indeed ‘consistently raise methodological issues’ (p. 10). While most chapters stage a dialogue between single Scottish and postcolonial authors and texts, sometimes (more conventionally) along phylogenetic lines, sometimes through more adventurously free and fruitfully anachronistic juxtapositions of texts which are not directly or evidently related to one another, all chapters weave a rich intertextual network of relations and meanings across Scotland and the Anglophone postcolonial world.
The eighteen chapters that compose the collection draw on a remarkable range of empirical materials and theoretical concerns. Leith Davis and Kristen Kahlis explore Robert Burns through Kamau Brathwaite’s concept of interculturation; Evan Gottlieb juxtaposes the national narratives in Walter Scott’s The Heart of Mid-Lothian and Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace; Katie Trumpener investigates the themes of Empire, place and history in John Galt and Alice Munro; Douglas S. Mack traces Alistair MacLeod’s debt to the Gaelic poetic tradition; Christopher Harvie discusses Carlyle in...