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About this book

This Guide examines the critical construction of the genre of 'contemporary Scottish literature' and assesses the critical responses to a wide range of contemporary Scottish fiction, poetry and drama. The Guide is structured thematically with each chapter addressing a specific area of debate within the field of contemporary Scottish Studies.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
The latter decades of the twentieth century witnessed a dramatic transformation in the public profile and critical esteem afforded to Scottish literature. The high regard for contemporary Scottish writing is born out in the number of awards its authors have received. A Disaffection, by James Kelman (born 1946), won the world’s oldest literary prize, the James Tait Black, in 1989, while Kelman became the first Scottish author to win the Booker Prize in 1994 with his novel How Late It Was, How Late. Kelman’s fellow Glaswegian and close friend Alasdair Gray (born 1934) had received the Whitbread Prize for his novel Poor Things in 1992. Around this time A.L. Kennedy (born 1965) was named one of Granta Magazine’s ‘Twenty Best Young British Novelists’. Remarkably Kennedy would make this top 20 again, ten years later, in 2003. In poetry the accolades were equally thick on the ground. Don Paterson (born 1963) won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 1997 and 2003, the only poet ever to have done so twice. While in 1996 and then again in 2000 Kathleen Jamie (born 1962) was awarded the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for two of her own poetry collections.
Matt Mcguire, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter One. Nation and Nationalism

Abstract
Some of the most enduring preoccupations of Scottish literary and cultural criticism during the twentieth century derive from the politics of nationalism. Should Scotland strive towards outright political autonomy and national sovereignty, or are its best interests served through continued incorporation within the British state? More recently the question has altered slightly: how should we read the devolution settlement in 1997? A halfway house on the road to independence? Or the final fix of a British Government attempting to shore up a crumbling union? In our introduction we saw T. M. Devine argue for a sense of causality, between the invigorating energy of contemporary Scottish literature on the one hand and the revived fortunes of post-1979 nationalism on the other. This type of link, between culture and politics, has been endorsed on a number of occasions by various critics. In an essay published in 1996 Ian A. Bell claims: ‘the tremendous outpouring of fiction from Scotland in the last twenty years can be seen as offering a radical literature of resistance and reclamation.’1 Exactly what this literature was resisting and reclaiming remains open to debate. Liam McIlvanney assumes a similar tone: ‘[B]y the time the Parliament arrived [in 1999], a revival in Scottish fiction had been long underway […] Without waiting for the politicians, Scottish novelists had written themselves out of despair.’2
Matt Mcguire, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Two. Language

Abstract
A sense of verbal dexterity and the use of linguistic innovation are among the most defining characteristics of contemporary Scottish literature. Cairns Craig has argued that the literary revival outlined in the previous chapter, if traced back to its source, begins in what he calls a radical ‘liberation of the voice.’1 He claims that, initially influenced by developments on the Scottish stage, a sustained interest in the artistic possibilities of vernacular speech brought a new intensity to both poetry and fiction in Scotland:
Matt Mcguire, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Three. Gender

Abstract
One of the most significant developments within post-war literary studies in Scotland concerns the understanding, appreciation and visibility of writing by women. Martin Gray argues that in the wake of the 1960s any meaningful analysis of literature in general must consider the kind of questions raised by feminist studies:
Matt Mcguire, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Four. Class

Abstract
If 1979 marked a specific turning point in terms of devolution and the much maligned fortunes of Scottish nationalism, it was highly significant in another context — class. Following the failure of the 1979 referendum the Scottish National Party tabled a motion of no confidence in Labour Government of James Callaghan (1912–2005; Prime Minister 1976–79) and forced a UK general election. The subsequent Conservative victory and the enthronement of Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female Prime Minister, were to have dramatic consequences for Scotland, not least within its working-class communities. Thatcherism might usefully be thought of as both an historical moment and a set of specific ideological assumptions. Its politics were premised on the rolling back of the welfare state, the promotion of private enterprise and the sanctity of the free market. Instead of groups or classes, Thatcherism favoured a social perspective which elevated the individual as the primary unit of public life. Under the aegis of modernisation, successive British industries, the backbone of working-class labour for two centuries, were denationalised and in some cases simply discontinued. Aaron Kelly outlines the social and material transformations that defined the 1980s and their precise impact on the working-class communities within Scotland:
Matt Mcguire, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Five. Postcolonialism

Abstract
Since the 1980s postcolonial theory has become one of the most fashionable fields of inquiry within the academic study of English literature. Broadly speaking, postcolonialism is canonically associated with the work of writers and critics like Frantz Fanon (1925–61), Edward Said (1935–2003) and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. It has its origins in the post-World War II struggles for independence within various countries living under colonial rule. The use of the prefix post in postcolonial is important. It implies that the activities of decolonisation continue to endure long after the occupying power leaves and national independence is secured. Underpinning postcolonial theory is the view that colonialism was not only a military, economic and political form of subordination; it was also a cultural one. In the past native populations were actively encouraged to adopt the language and culture of the incumbent colonial power in place of their indigenous customs and speech. Part of the process of colonisation lay in denying native peoples a sense of meaningful cultural identity and persuading them, often with force, to imitate and aspire toward the culture of the coloniser. John McLeod defines the basic terrain of the cultural discourse that has arisen in response to this realisation: ‘[Theories of postcolonialism] explore the ways that representations and modes of perception are used as fundamental weapons of colonial power to keep colonised peoples subservient to colonial rule.’1 Postcolonial critics explore how culture functioned as both a weapon of colonial oppression, and a means by which native peoples sought to resist imperial hegemony.
Matt Mcguire, Nicolas Tredell

Chapter Six. Postmodernism

Abstract
Postmodernism is one of the most widespread terms within our contemporary critical vocabulary. In the last two decades it has penetrated almost every field of the humanities. Literature, cultural studies, sociology, philosophy and politics all bear the marks of its theoretical wrangling. A trawl of the catalogue of any university library will reveal hundreds of titles that feature the term ‘postmodern’, the majority of which were published after 1990. Despite this incontestable modishness, attempts to understand and apply the term remain highly varied. The critic Simon Malpas explains:
Matt Mcguire, Nicolas Tredell

Conclusion

Abstract
The individual chapters of this Guide have charted the key themes that have emerged in response to Scottish literature over the past 30 years. In terms of the relationship between literature and place, we saw that certain critics have sought to resist whilst others have sought to re-inscribe the nation as a fundamental unit of signification. Such theoretical manoeuvres coincide with the revival of the national question within the peripheral regions of the United Kingdom and, in the late 1990s, the establishment of devolved parliaments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. In Scotland the future trajectory of the debate remains open-ended. Is devolution a half-way house on the road to independence, or the final stopgap to shore up a disintegrating British union? Such a question remains to be answered. At present an SNP Government sits in Holyrood on an election manifesto that includes, among other things, a referendum on outright independence from the United Kingdom. In terms of literature, as the work of Cairns Craig, Robert Crawford and others has made clear, if the nation is to continue to partake in the discussion about Scottish literature, it must look to do so in a complex and theoretically sophisticated way. The politics of national identity can no longer be constructed in reaction to oversimplified stories of historical subjugation. Increasingly there is a popular awareness of the dynamism of Scotland’s past and the importance of its interaction with other cultures, beyond that of its immediate southern neighbour. Moreover, in the twenty-first century, with narratives of globalisation, multi-culturalism and consumerism, we are interrogating a highly complex cultural terrain. In this rapidly changing climate it remains to be seen whether the nation, as a political and ideological unit, can continue to influence how we think about individuals, communities and their relationship to one another.
Matt Mcguire, Nicolas Tredell
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