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7 - Hugh MacDiarmid's Modernisms: Synthetic Scots and the Spectre of Robert Burns

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 December 2017

Drew Milne
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
Neal Alexander
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham, UK
James Moran
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham, UK
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Summary

We base our belief in the possibility of a great Scottish Literary Renaissance, deriving its strength from the resources that lie latent and almost unsuspected in the Vernacular […] We have been enormously struck by the resemblance – the moral resemblance – between Jamieson's Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish language and James Joyce's Ulysses. A vis comica that has not yet been liberated lies bound by desuetude and misappreciation in the recessess of the Doric: and its potential uprising would be no less prodigious, uncontrollable, and utterly at variance with conventional morality than was Joyce's tremendous outpouring … […] The Scots Vernacular is a vast storehouse of just the very peculiar and subtle effects which modern European literature in general is assiduously seeking …

In The Dialect of Modernism: Race, Language & Twentieth-Century Literature, Michael North suggests a revised sense of the linguistic paradigms in play within American and transatlantic literary modernisms. Hugh MacDiarmid's work, and the question of Scots as a dialect or distinct language for modernist Scottish writing, warrants no mention in North's account, though questions of race do throw up difficult political resonances within Scottish poetics, not least in the romanticised genealogies of race, nation, and identity that MacDiarmid often promoted. Despite North's subtle intertwinings, the literary articulation of dialect forms is not only a question of race, but also a feature of the radical interest in non-standard English – especially as represented in and through writing – an interest that is characteristic of English-language modernism more generally.

North echoes Hugh Kenner in suggesting that the publication of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) from the 1880s onwards forms one emergent standardisation, against and through which literary modernism and literary criticism were developed. The OED set up standards that exclude modern dialect, and this has profound implications for the development of regional literary cultures whose linguistic cultures are thereby figured as marginal or centrifugal. The politics of dialect and the articulation of polite Scottish English as opposed to Braid or dialect Scots, has a longer historical reach in Scottish arguments, as is evident in the eighteenth-century writings of Sylvester Douglas.

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Regional Modernisms , pp. 142 - 159
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2013

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