This one’s a beezer. A stoater. (It’ll take you some time to read, so pull up a seat!) Consume it like an elephant. In wee chunks. I’ve put wee headers up to help you so that when/if or should the comments flood in, we can refer to the right section. If not, they may give you a wee snigger anyway. Oh, and hang on tight, you may be in for a bumpy ride.
This one’s for Camille.
In my earlier what gets my goat post, (May 12th,2015) Camille seemed to think that I was being rude, offensive or dis-respectful to the author of the book one Marie-Odil Pitten Hedon. And I really wasn’t. This is not a Charlie Hebdo moment. But at the same time, while I’m more than happy to apologise if I’ve offended someone by suggesting that they don’t know anything about the culture they’ve written about - British - (which I was not doing) I am not prepared to back down on the point I was making which was that the academic world of ‘culture’ and ‘cultural production’ is a rarefied atmosphere and that it does not represent my culture in any way, means or form.
Asserting ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law?
Ignorance is not a one way street. And apologising is not a sign of weakness. I can openly and unreservedly apologise for my ignorance of the French Academic system. I suggest that what we (and by we here I mean I – as did David Greig here) need to do to counteract ignorance is to learn. So I will tell you what I did to redress my ‘information shortfall. ’I may also ruminate on whether Camille and/or Marie-Odile Pitten Hedon, or others from academic culture world (acw) will transgress out to where we wee voices are to learn about us. (Or uz as Angus Shoor Caan and the Ayrshire contingent might say)
Hot news - Parallel worlds do exist
Without offering offense, I’m suggesting that there is a sort of parallel space of fiction operating here. I know nothing of the French Academic System. I admit. I knew nothing of ‘The First World Conference of Scottish Literatures’ held last July in Glasgow (really? Who knew? All those in acw probably but the invitation to share in their culture wasn’t extended to wee voices.) Not even to those who, like Brendan Gisby or Cally Phillips, have been working tirelessly in their respective wee muddy puddles (we cannae afford fields), to promote Scots narrative culture (I’m trying to pick my words carefully here, but wi’ words you cannae aye git them tae dae juist whit ye wid, can ye?)
That conference thing will come back to bite us all later in this post so keep paying attention please. For the moment I’ll try (and fail) not to rise to the bait over the double entendre of the title ‘THE FIRST WORLD CONGRESS OF SCOTTISH LITERATURES’ – sometimes it does indeed feel like wee voices are seen as third world cultures!
Closed culture versus open access culture #1
My point is. I went to do some research. I tried to get hold of the book the Space of Fiction. I discovered that if I was in the academic system (acw) I could download this book for free to read. That's nice and certainly cheaper than £12.99. I’m a sort of open access sort of guy. I asked a friend who is taking an Open University course if they could access it through their library (yes, I know, we are probably talking about breaking all kinds of rules, cultural and otherwise by even thinking of doing this) but we were saved from ourselves by the fact that the Open University does not subscribe to this service. Maybe it’s because they are lower down the foodchain in acw? So only those who are fully paid up members of acw are able to download this for free. Which is the same for loads of academic ‘content’ deemed of such significance and importance that only those within the system can access it free. The rest of us have to pay. I object to that on principle. If it’s free for some why isn’t it free for all? (I know all about market forces etc, that was a rhetorical question to make a point) The phrase 'too wee, too poor, too stupide' rears its ugly head again.
The review’s the thing. Or is it more of a red herring?
Back to the original 'goat' Clearly I’m not going to review a book I haven’t read, but that wasn’t my point anyway.
The criticism (constructive I hope) I offered was not of the book or author but perhaps of the ‘blurb’ (and the ‘system’ ‘culture’ ‘establishment’ - insert whatever word you feel most appropriate at this point) which generated that blurb. I would be happy for the blurb to be rewritten thus
Contemporary Scottish fiction is vigorous, vivid and diverse, eschewing the straitjackets of genre and resisting categorisation as either ‘mainstream’ or ‘literary’. Meanwhile, Scotland itself refuses to conform to external notions of what it is, and what it can become. The literature of this post-devolution nation comes in a multitude of voices.
The Space of Fiction investigates how [some of the better known] Scottish writers have responded to, and been affected by, the nation’s ongoing political discourse. Examining in detail the works of Des Dillon, Anne Donovan, Michel Faber, Laura Hird, Alison Miller, Ewan Morrison, James Robertson, Suhayl Saadi, Zoë Strachan and [some] of their contemporaries, The Space of Fiction traces their multifarious approaches to a post-national, cosmopolitan, multicultural and even globalised Scotland, and explores their notions of space, of place, and of the impact of fiction on the nature of identity.
[This of course only represents a small part of the ‘multitude of voices’ and has been selected and studied on the basis of …..? This volume in no way seeks to privilege these voices, or deny the cultural or lived experience of other Scots with other voices and does not claim to represent in any way the aforementioned ‘multitude’ of whom only a very few could be included in this study.]
Wittgenstein kens that words are harder tae pin doon than fleas.
It is words we are dealing with here and words through which we have to try and understand and find common ground. Never mind actual debates on what is meant by ‘post-devolution nation,’ Camille, I find the notion of ‘contemporary British literature’ quite offensive. (But I appreciate that this is my personal opinion and that others may not agree. That’s fine. Opinions after all are like arseholes. Everyone has one. Mine may be less attractive than others but it’s mine and I cherish it, or at least know its value and try to treat it right.)
That I find the concept of ‘British literature’ offensive doesn’t mean I find Marie-Odile offensive in any way but just indicates that I resist the suggestion that there is such a thing as contemporary British literature. (Or indeed that it has ever really existed. But then, I’m Scottish not British. Even if my passport denies this fact.
Shocking as it may be for many in the cultural elite, for some of the multitude, the whole notion of British literature is contested. I wouldn’t self-define as a British writer and I know of many other Scots writers past and present who wouldn’t either. But while we’re on that subject, I wonder if Marie-Odil teaches classes on S.R.Crockett or Annie Swan as part of her 19th century British literature. They aren’t considered worthy of academic attention in their native land and to the best of my knowledge having looked at the programme of the ‘Conference’ they weren’t included there – they may have been mentioned in passing but they didn’t get a seat at the table.
Vive la difference versus it’s our world too.
But as Camille pointed out France is a difference country/culture, they do things differently there. I live in hope that the more enlightened French are not feart o’ the kailyard, or held in thrall to michty MacDiarmid. Now there’s a ‘construct’ if ever I knew one.
All that I’m suggesting is that as well as the ‘space of fiction’ which is inhabited by what I might (light heartedly, Camille) call the ‘usual suspects,’ we also have a parallel space which is populated by wee voices. wee voice culture if you will. (As Guevara might have said, let's have one two, many parallel spaces.)
One thing about wee voice culture that I particularly appreciate is that it is really diverse. In Big Culture World (such as I consider the population of ‘The Space of Fiction’to be- and here I’m suggesting that acw is a subset of BCW) there seems to be little if any reference to rural culture. wee voice culture doesn’t privilege urban over rural.
wee voice culture’s focus is diversity not privilege. It doesn’t give primacy to the lexicon of ‘good’ nor does it privilege standard, mainstream or academic interpretations of ‘quality.’ For wee voices significance resides in the heart and honesty with which a piece is written. Burns’s ‘honest sentiment’ if you like. I’m talking about a place of honesty (even in fiction) rather than construct. This, I appreciate can be hard for Big Culture World to come to terms with. It’s the Kirsty Eccles our world too syndrome. Which must be uncomfortable for those who are fully signed up members of the opposition. That’s fine. A compromise is: You keep to your culture and we’ll keep to ours. But don’t tell us you’re representing us when you aren’t. That’s all.
So ye think ye’re funny eh, pal?
May I note that there is a thing called Scots humour. If misunderstood, one cannot really engage with the author or the text in which it is sited. Before Project Muse banned me from downloading it, I found an article (hot off the press) by Andrew Nash about Barrie’s first novel ‘Better Dead.’ If only I could read it. (the article I mean, not the novel. I’ve read the novel and you can too –for free here) Thankfully it appears that someone at last is waking up to the fact that Barrie wrote Scots Humour (satire is an adequate but not complete literal translation of Scots Humour.) I believe Andrew Nash may be one of the ‘good’ guys. By which I mean he sometimes takes the road less travelled. He smells the coffee. Sips it. Maybe even quaffs it from time to time.
Indeed, somewhat belatedly, Barrie is currently being somewhat pulled up by the bootstraps out of wee culture world into possible membership of Big Culture World by those who would attribute modernist and post-modernist intent in his work. The same fate/tribute (again, pick yer word) has been accorded to Hogg and Stevenson in my lifetime and Galt is teetering uncomfortably with Barrie, both just waiting for their chance. Or birling in their graves. I’d suggest that Barrie is a decent advocate of Scots Humour. But the master of it in 19th century Scots fiction is S.R.Crockett.
Our name is legion for we are many… closed culture versus open access culture #2
And yet (from my position of ignorance because of course I wasn’t there) in the 100th anniversary year of his death, there was no room at the inn for S.R.Crockett at a conference on Scottish literatures. Shame on you/us/them.
There was a multiplicity of voices speaking there all right. Academic voices. And they talked about an incredibly wide range of things behind their barbed wire fence. I was glad to see Barrie get something of a mention. But when I see things like: Elizabeth Ewan (Guelph): Girls into Women, Boys into Men: Advice Literature for Children in fifteenth-century Scotland’. I just wonder how is it that no one in academic circles is interested in the writing of S.R.Crockett? Why is he not worthy of a mention? (and with no offence intended to Elizabeth Ewan – she’s just an example picked at random)
Perhaps K.P. Müller (Mainz): 'History in Scottish Novels from John Galt to James Robertson and Their Theoretical Backgrounds' mentioned Crockett in his paper, but I’m guessing not. I’d be happy to be proven wrong here if I can read a transcript! I shall investigate further, but we come back to the chicken/egg pay to play problem that without being part of the academic establishment (or ‘culture’) you cannot access the fruits of that ‘culture’ in the form of articles. He’s fae Germany by the bye. Europeans seem a bittie more interested in Scots culture than we do ourselves sometimes I think?
Perhaps Prof Ted Cowan mentioned Crockett in his Scottish Historical Review Plenary session. He knows a bit about Crockett and did indeed organise a one day anniversary event in April 2014 in Galloway, but it would be a shame if he were a lone voice crying in the wilderness! The Prof is no’ that great about linking up with other ‘Crockett minded’ fowk such as the Galloway Raiders who have an ongoing commitment to promoting Crockett's writing. Is that another example of duality in Scottish literature?
Is this the point at which I make it clear that Crockett himself, long since given a hatchet job by the likes of MacDiarmid, would, were he alive today, be a wee bit like me, in that he also had no time for the hierarchy of cultures. He stood against hypocrisy wherever he found it and that makes his work somewhat challenging reading (even today?) for those who would rather suggest he is ‘parochial’ or ‘kailyard.’ One man’s Kailyard is another man’s realism and I would recommend anyone read Crockett if they want to know something of rural working class politics and social or domestic Scots culture.
Crockett: out in the cold for being crap or for being too challenging to the cultural elite? Discuss. (Topic for McRenegades University seminar #45- the spirit of Ivor Cutler lives!)
Well, all that aside, I wanted to see if I could offer something of a parallel reading opportunity to Marie-Odil’s work – tongue firmly in cheek again (it’s that Scots Humour without an understanding of which I am simply offensive to Europeans and British/English folk alike.)
‘The Space of Fiction’ CONTENTS
1. Millennium Babes: Female Urban Voices after James Kelman and Irvine Welsh: Laura Hird, Anne Donovan, Zoë Strachan and Alison Miller
2. Female Crime Fiction: The Space of Transgression
3. James Robertson: The Contagion of History
4. Suhayl Saadi: The Third Space of Fiction
5. Ewan Morrison: The Non-Place of Fiction
6. The Confines of the Human: Shorter Fiction by Michel Faber, Des Dillon, Suhayl Saadi, Ewan Morrison and Scotland Into The New Era
Another wee space of fiction CONTENTS
1. Millennium Babes: Female Rural Voices: Cally Phillips from Bullseye Babes to Men in White Suits.
2. The Spaces of Transgression - Kirsty Eccles ‘The Price of Fame and other Stories’ Jack MacRoary – the Bard of DrumTumshie does culture in the playground
3. History, Adventure, Romance –S.R.Crockett ‘Scotland’s Forgotten Bestseller’ (there’s plenty to choose from to suit every taste.)
4. The Third Space of Fiction – it’s a place for everyone - what the digital revolution is doing for Scottish fiction – an exploration of places where you can find fiction for free. Includes auld guys as new kids on the block John McGroarty, Alasdair McPherson, Robert Cowan
5. Is the author dead or just living through the narrator? Brendan Gisby and Angus Shoor Caan
6. wee voices unconfined – McStorytellers and shorter fiction (around 500 stories by 70 odd writers and all free online) This is open access culture at its best.
Part two may be shorter and may or may not be sweeter. It might just be a load of Fizzy Juice to you so it depends on how you feel about Fizzy Juice really. But here it is.
Back to Culture (or culture, or cultures) – Did we ever really leave?
As part of my ongoing (and unpaid) research I went the website of Aix-Marseille University, which Google will very thoughtfully translate for me. Imagine my surprise when I found out about the ‘culture’ in which this place is infused. They even have a Mission Culture. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry frankly, and it may of course lose something in the translation, but reading on, it did help me to understand why Camille assuming (which of course I have no right to do) that she may be part of this particular ‘culture, ’ finds my version of culture offensive. I am afraid, very afraid, of Mission Culture. No offense intended. Or plagiarism of Woolfe intended. I’m feart o’ her tae.
I can accept that there are notions or expressions of culture which are both situated, created and even perhaps organically grown in academic establishments. But they are not representative of my notion of culture. They do not speak for me any more than they speak to me.
I think (I hope) what we can all agree with is that there are many cultures (and definitions of culture) and they cannot always play nicely with each other. Still, no one culture is more important than any other. They co-exist, it’s just that some cultures are more equal than others as George Orwell might have (or did) said. (say)
Closed culture versus open access culture #3
At this point I duck (virtually) as I imagine Camille is getting apoplexic about me being offensive regarding the academic institution and its doubtless wonderful work in the field of culture. She may not accept that there are barbed wire fences all round acw, but I’m afraid there are. Still no offense is intended Camille. But I am entitled to my own opinion – aren’t I? And my own definition of culture without the spectre of your opening salvo ‘Is this what you call culture?’ which did, if I’m honest, sound rather shrill in my mind when first I read it. It read rather like you were telling me I was a peasant. But I’ll accept that could be my interpretation (or problem) or mis-reading of the text. Discourse analysis is a tricky chap at times especially in a post-modernist context. Not that I'm saying that's the context we're working in of course. Just a wee aside.
I sense that Camille’s base point is at odds with my own (and I believe with Seoras’s) in that as I understand her (if I do) she thinks that culture is ‘constructed’ and therefore in some sense not ‘real.’ I do not agree. For me, culture is embedded in identity. Perhaps if she understands this fundamental difference of opinion she might understand why the likes of me get upset when people claim the right to tell us what our culture is. For me (and Seoras, I suspect, and many others) culture is not something to construct. It’s who we are and where we live and what we do. We might get quasi religious and suggest our culture is immanent.
I recently attended an event at a bookshop in Wigtown where Cally Phillips gave a talk about culture and the Scots canon amongst other things. The title of the talk was ‘S.R.Crockett: Hefted to Galloway.’ While this might sound a bit elitist or plain incomprehensible, it was pretty open access, believe me. At times even verging on raucous. But was it culture?
I wonder if Camille and/or Marie Odile know what ‘hefted’ means? Plenty of guid Scots folk don’t. Mostly the urban ones but even some rural ones (talk about the destruction of culture!) The talk developed out of a paper Cally wrote for the Alliance of Literary Societies due out this August. I’m sure a transcription of the Wigtown event talk (which goes further than the article) could be made available should Camile (or indeed Marie-Odile) wish to engage with some ‘grassroots’ Scots culture any time soon. Cally's an open access culture sort of gal. She likes to share. Creatively. Just don't ask her for money.
The culture of food and drink
When Cally Phillips talks about culture in the context of Scottish fiction, she often uses a food and drink analogy. I’m going to nick that briefly for my own purposes. The suggestion is that we should not try to compare whisky with Irn Bru. Nor that we should privilege one over the other. For me, those in Big Culture World debate the relative merits of single malt whiskies and of course they are more than entitled to do so. My problem is with people who might suggest that whisky is in some way superior as a drink to Irn Bru. But anyway, I’m not that interested in the whisky versus Irn Bru debate. I’m of a lower cultural order even than that – I’d like to discuss the difference, relative merits and significance of Moray Cup and Irn Bru. All these drinks exist.
Do you have to be a certain kind of person to enjoy a certain kind of drink? Does your drink define your identity? No, of course not. I tend to think that appreciating culture can be a bit like that though. Some people can appreciate the diversity of cultures and some have to privilege one over the other. Some might try to drown out the taste of whisky with Irn Bru - or vice versa. But beneath even that, my point is simply that Moray Cup exists. (Perhaps we McRenegades should try and get sponsorship from them?!)
Constructing ceilidh culture?
For some people ceilidh’s are a part of their culture and for (some of ) those people (often) culture is a vital and vibrant part of who they are. They are not alienated from their identity. They do not have to submit their personal identity to some social identity test. They do not ‘construct’ culture, they live it. That I believe is the crux of the misunderstanding between Camille and myself in the earlier post and comments – that we have a fundamental difference in our understanding of what culture is.
For me (and the likes of me however rare we are) culture is not to be imposed, constructed, made – it is to be nurtured, grown and felt in the heart. It is a thing of the emotion and of the identity, not a second order activity, false in some way. (Because to me a ‘construct’ is in some way a false creation and I will never agree that my relationship with my culture is the product of a falsehood. It is one of my deepest truths.) Seoras Muinear tells me he was once told to ‘rebrand’ a ceilidh as a ‘Scottish soiree.’ You will either laugh or cry or remain numb at this point. That will give you an indication as to your understanding and position regarding ‘culture’ as a word and a thing. Sometimes words are just not enough.
Now comments boxes are really constricting places to ‘fight back’ so I’m suggesting that if Camille, or anyone else, has the urge to respond and it won’t fit comfortably into a wee comments box, we offer an open house for folk to proffer up their responses, retractions or rants on what I’ve said. This is an important debate and deserves all the space we can give it. And in our open access, virtual space of creative culture aka McRenegades site, we’re happy to give space to other views. But remember this is our home and endeavour to treat us with some respect or we will ‘moderate’ you out of existence (virtually!). The internet (and real life) are the only creative spaces we have and we are not imperialist but nor are we prepared to be conquered or colonised by Big Culture World. We've learned from indigenous people everywhere and are somewhat cautious of Greeks bearing gifts.
And just as a postscript, for those floundering around wondering what the hell I’m gaun on aboot – I’ve just knocked up a wee online coarse/course of initiation into McRenegades wee voice culture. Here it is:
Rab’s course on wee culture 101. The McRenegades clan. A bargain at under a tenner all in.
(other wee cultural classes are available and there are many of them, this is just my personal suggestions.)
What I’m trying to do here is offer an alternative space of fiction for people to engage with for under a budget of £10 Let’s see how much culture I can throw at you for that. Obviously I’m quoting you ebook prices – paper costs more but most of these are available also in paperback)
Brendan Gisby. The Bookie’s Runner, a good way to ‘meet’ the author. And to learn what 'writing with heart' means as a concept. (99p ebook)
Also ‘The Preservation of the Olive Branch,’ (99p ebook) Not a novice ride. A much more complex work which challenges your understanding of the relationship between author and narrator as well as the very nature and purpose of fiction itself.
Kirsty Eccles – The Price of Fame (£1.99 ebook) Strong stories in more ways than one.
John McGroarty The Tower (99p ebook) Transcends or transgresses Tartan Noir.
Cally Phillips - Men in White Suits. (£2.32 ebook) A play about Foot and Mouth which offers a rural version of Ena Lamont Stewarts earlier play ‘Men Should Weep.’ And includes a pack of urban 'rude mechanicals' who were 'written out of the script' for its performance in urban Scotland!
If plays are not your thing, try the stories ‘It wisnae me’ (£1.99)
That’s us about to break the £10 barrier but there’s plenty more – an alternative under a £10 option is:
Jack MacRoary – the place to start for ‘culture’ is Tales from TattyBogle. (99p ebook) Of course if you want his thoughts on politics then the McSerials are available free. But you might want to wait and read The Complete TattyBogle which will be published by McStorytellers this summer. And you won’t need to be a paid up member of a University to read it.
Angus Shoor Caan - The Reader (£2.39) –If you prefer poetry Angus is more than active in that field too.
Alasdair McPherson The Island (99p ebook) Rural idyll is all in the mind?
Brendan Gisby The Island of Whispers (99p ebook) A lot of rats – what about the sinking ships?
Robert Cowan The Search for Ethan (99p ebook) gritty urban realism and then some.
Cally Phillips A week with No Labels (£3.49 ebook) Now for something completely and diversely different.
All of these and many, many more wee voices are active in Scotland as you read; writing their little hearts out. We’re not crying that we don’t get invited to Big Voice conferences or get invited into acw, but like Moray Cup, we exist. We are a part of the ‘multitude’ of Voices of Scottish writers and we stand up for our own wee cultures. We are the McRenegades. We believe in open access culture. And we welcome you to engage with us where we are, wherever you come from and whatever your culture.
Culture Corner is brought to you by Rab Christie whose own site is still under construction because he keeps getting drawn away on McRenegade activities such as this!