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‘It was the feeling the music gave that made me’: the Phenomenon of Music within Twentieth Century Scottish Literature.

‘It was the feeling the music gave that made me’: the Phenomenon of Music within Twentieth Century Scottish Literature.

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Music is of continual interest to Scottish society at large and within the twentieth century Scottish literary tradition. This essay focuses on 'Sunset Song' (1932) and 'Movern Callar' (1995) in order to trace the development of music in literature from the modern to postmodern period. It deals with issues of personal, communal and national identity construction through song.
Music is of continual interest to Scottish society at large and within the twentieth century Scottish literary tradition. This essay focuses on 'Sunset Song' (1932) and 'Movern Callar' (1995) in order to trace the development of music in literature from the modern to postmodern period. It deals with issues of personal, communal and national identity construction through song.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
‘It was the feeling the music gave that made me’: the Phenomenon of Music withinTwentieth Century Scottish Literature.
The twentieth century is an era when writers such as Stephen King (who, himself,happens to be a bastion of popular culture) catalogued trademarked words such asMcDonalds and Nike in order to contextualise and give immediacy to their work.
1
Manyof the contemporary writers of Scotland have a similar fascination, and references to popular culture are a feature in a great number of texts, especially in prose.
2
Theseinclusions destabilise the boundaries between “high” and “low” culture, making the work a hybrid of mass appeal and literary qualities. Music plays an especially strong role in thisendeavour in Scottish literature; like naming, it is an easy way for writers to endow their writing with meaning. However, there have been only a few disparate essays discussingthe topic, each relating to a single chosen text. This essay aims to address the issue bymapping out the changing approach to music from the early to late twentieth century; twotexts will be used in this endeavour, Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s
Sunset Song 
, and AlanWarner’s
 Morvern Callar 
. The main characters, Chris and Movern will be the primaryareas of focus; the way in which they both create and represent personal identities throughsong will be discussed separately, drawing links between the novels. Communal identity isimportant in experiential aspects of music, so the Kinraddie gatherings will be comparedwith the Edenic rave scene of Spain. Chris has often been equated with the nation bycritics; as a result of Morvern’s similarly iconic status as the seemingly universal female
1
http://www.stephenking.co.uk/downloads/different_seasons_guide.pdf Accessed 24/03/09. In the extractfrom
 Apt Pupil 
, King mentions Todd Bowden’s ‘twenty-six inch’ Schwinn bike twice and his Nike runningshoes.
2
For example, in
 Marabou Stork Nightmares
, Roy is watching Jimmy Sandison in the Airdrie versusDunfermline semi-final when he attempts suicide – I. Welsh,
 Marabou Stork Nightmares
(London: Vintage,1996), p. 254. This was a particularly unjust, and subsequently iconic, moment in Scottish football. Welshdoes not explicitly state what happened, his father and brother merely explaining that there was an‘astonishing refereeing decision in it’, and Roy describing the look of horror on Sandison’s face after thecall; it is presumed that the reader will know what happened. It also plays upon the importance of football inScottish society.
1
 
 protagonist of the chemical generation, she can be seen as the new Chris and be linkedwith the nation also, as her hopes and fears seem to mirror those of contemporary society.As a result, the nationalistic implications of their journeys through song are important andwill be discussed in the conclusion.The previously-mentioned postmodern blurring of the division between high andlow culture is related to the postmodern conceptions of identity and music that will form atheoretical basis for the essay. The discourse of psychoanalysis has established the anti-essentialist notion of identity, finding it to be fragmentary and always transforming.
3
Essentially, this results in personal hybridity, each person embodying a multiplicity of 
 selves
during a lifetime. Simon Frith has argued that because of this mobility of the self ‘our experience of music – of music making and music listening – is best understood as anexperience of this
 self-in-process
.’
4
 Importantly, music and identity are both performative, based on a narrative of experience – the experience of both self and others.
5
 Music is not bound by homological boundaries, as it was once thought to be, however. While music made in a particular placeis a product of the variables (needs, tastes, etc.) of that culture, it can be appropriated bythose outside that culture because the experiential aspect of music is fluid and adaptable.
6
As a result of this fluidity, song can defy the boundaries of ideology and transverse politics,
7
a tendency which is specifically noted in the creation of communal identities inSpain and Kinraddie.
3
S. Hall, “Introduction: Who Needs ‘Identity’?”,
Questions of Cultural Identity
,
eds., S. Hall and P. Du Gay
(
London: SAGE Publications, 1996), p. 4.
4
S. Frith, “Music and Identity”,
Questions of Cultural Identity
, eds., S. Hall and P. Du Gay, p. 109.
5
 
 Ibid 
., p. 109-10.
6
 
 Ibid 
., p. 109.
7
V. Cunningham quoted in D. Johnson, “Lewis Grassic Gibbon,
Sunset 
Song”,
 Aestheticism and Modernism: Debating Twentieth Century Literature 1900-1960
, eds., R.D. Brown and S.Gupta (London: Routledge, 2005), p. 144.
2
 
Grassic Gibbon’s
Sunset Song 
, as the title suggests, is deeply concerned withmusic. Kinraddie
 
represents a Golden Age of Scottish identity and culture;
8
it is a“primitive”
9
and unified community that sings mostly traditional songs, despite the factthat the novel is set in the early twentieth century. It is the sacralised eighteenth centurynational ballad by Jean Elliot, “Flowers of the Forest”, that comes to be associated withChris Guthrie. Feminist critics have picked up on the fragmentation employed by Gibbonto explore the individual identity of his heroine, and have posited Chris as one of Scotland’s earliest feminist subjects;
Burton has remarked that ‘one feature of the textthat stands out […] is the recurrent representation of Chris’s awareness of her own splitsubjectivity and contradictory social and psychological positions.’
It will be argued thatChris initiates experiences with “Flowers of the Forest” on four occasions, and thesemoments represent different performances of her identity, which is comprised of threeversions of herself.In “Ploughing”, as the reader is introduced to Chris Guthrie, they are immediatelymade aware of the ‘two Chrisses […] that fought for her heart and tormented her’.
Thefirst is the Scottish Chris, who finds no pleasure in study and longs for the sensoryexperiences of Blawearie.
She identifies strongly with the land, her community and their 
8
T. Crawford, “Introduction” in L. Grassic Gibbon,
Sunset Song 
(Edinburgh: Canongate Classics, 2004), p.xi.
9
 
 Ibid 
. This relates to Grassic Gibbon’s belief in diffusionist philosophy; he believed that ‘civilisation is adecline from some Golden Age.’
10
Isobel Murray argues that Willa Muir pioneered the technique with the characters Elizabeth Shand andElise Mutze in
 Imagined Corners
from 1931 – Murray, Isobel, “Gibbon’s Chris: A Celebration with SomeReservations”,
The Association for Scottish Literary Studies
(2003),http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/ScotLit/ASLS/Gibbon's_Chris.html Accessed on 27/03/09.
11
D. Burton, “A Feminist Reading of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s
 A Scots Quair 
”,
The British Working-Class Novel in the Twentieth Century
, ed. Jeremy Hawthorn (London: Arnold, 1984), p. 36.
12
L. Grassic Gibbon,
Sunset Song 
, p. 32. This splitting is obviously related to Chris’s colonial education, thelanguages of work and play being separated, as Ngugi wa Thiong’o discussed in
 Decolonising the Mind 
,serving to create separate selves.
13
For example, the ‘champ of the horses and the smell of the dung’ – 
 Ibid 
., p. 44.
3

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