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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: January 2013

17 - The Emergence of Scottish Studies


Analyses of origin are always complex – or, as Edward Said would have it, ‘beginnings’ are always ‘uncanny’, or unsettling. For one thing, their object is multiple: to recount the rise of Scottish Studies, for example, one must also account for the field’s prehistory – what was there before it developed into its modern, recognisable form. Then there are questions of territory, that is, of the place of individual works within the field and of the field itself relative to some larger academic terrain. And in the case of Scottish Studies in particular, this generic complexity is compounded by the extent that the discipline involves a nation composed of multiple languages and cultures, an ambiguous relation to conventional statehood and a significantly diasporic history.

Hence, to discuss the rise of Scottish Studies is to evoke a great many things besides, so that no short essay can do the subject justice. Of course, to some extent, the field is a monument to the purported injustice it has perpetually done itself – or so it would appear from a certain branch of its history. In 1919, G. Gregory Smith observed that Scotland’s relatively small size and coherent languages should lend themselves to ‘a general estimate’ of the nation’s literature. However, he continued, close engagement of the material reveals contrary propensities toward realism and fantasy which, ‘under the stress of foreign influence and native division and reaction’, spawn ‘a zigzag of contradictions’. But then, in a gesture befitting Hegel or Renan, or perhaps Blake, Smith unified these contraries under a banner he labelled the ‘Caledonian Antisyzygy’, a portrait of the national spirit as Jekyll and Hyde.

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The Cambridge Companion to Scottish Literature
  • Online ISBN: 9781139045407
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