Sunday, 14 September 2014

Friday 12th September 2014

It was foggy this morning as I jogged round the perimeter of the park almost as if the weather itself had a symbolic part to play in the mist that hangs over Scotland's future. 

I don't know much about politics and I'm more of an observer and a listener in the debate that is ubiquitous in Scotland at present. Some people appear to be polarised at either end of the spectrum, resolute that the lens through which they see the world is definitive. My lens, like many others, is a bit of a kaleidoscope: turn it to paint one picture, twist it again and you see another.

But everyone needs a framework to try and make sense of the world. While this has absolutely no weight to contribute to any political argument, it has been literature I've found myself recalling in an attempt to fashion a framework of understanding. For instance words from Sunset Song about the main protagonist, Chris Guthrie, "two Chrisses there were that fought for her heart and tormented her", a reference to the psychological battle between the "English Chris" of her learning and studies and the "Scottish Chris" who grew up on the land. Sunset Song is an early twentieth century novel but one whose overarching themes are as as relevant today as they were then. The narrative structure itself is written in English but mimicks the cadences of Aberdeenshire Scots mirroring the conflict of the double life Chris lives in her head. A book that is about the end of one era and the dawn of another, a book that concludes that "nothing endured at all, nothing but the land", and that "...the folk who wrote and fought and were learned, teaching and saying and praying, they lasted but as a breath, a mist of fog in the hills, but the land was forever, it moved and changed below you, but was forever...", a particularly poignant sentiment as we contemplate what next for the land of the Scots.

The theme of the divided self permeates Scottish literature: Jekyll and Hyde, Robert Wringhim and his alter ego in Confessions of a Justified Sinner, the double life that Sandy Stranger feels she inhabits in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, a novel which echoes a feeling that many in Scotland today might share when Sandy considers that although she had lived through the same decade as many others in the same city, "when speaking to people whose childhood had been in Edinburgh, that there were other people's Edinburghs quite different from hers, and which she held only the names of districts and streets and monuments in common". 

Perhaps no matter what the outcome is next week, this is what it is to be Scottish: the ability to accommodate opposites, to think in one language and feel in another, this sense of the divided self that Hugh MacDiarmid dubbed the Caledonian antisyzygy, to contain within ourselves the nightingale's song:

Yet the nightingale remains supreme,
The nightingale whose thin high call
And that deep throb,
Which seems to come from different birds
In different places, find an emotion
And vibrate in the memory as the song
Of no other bird - not even the 
The love-note of the curlew - 
Can - do!

- Hugh MacDiarmid

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