Diasporic Narcissism: De-sublimating Scotland in Alice Munro and Alistair MacLeod



Hames S (2012) Diasporic Narcissism: De-sublimating Scotland in Alice Munro and Alistair MacLeod. Anglistik, 23 (2), pp. 73-82.

First paragraph: In the only sustained exploration of Scottish-Canadian literary relations, Elizabeth Waterston writes: The situation in each nation and in its literature seems to clarify that of the other. Here are two northern nations, ironic and sentimental, each quietly resentful of the stronger, more affluent neighbour lying south of the national border, indifferent to or unaware of the impact of its culture on others. Here are two sets of writers whose literary strategies and structures have been sharpened and maybe warped by northernness, the doubleness, the angular spareness of their heritage, and the pressure of alien alternatives. (Waterston 2001, 8-9) Freud observed that nations with uncertain claims to separateness are liable to the "narcissism of small differences" (2002, 50-51). Here, Waterston hints that Scotland and Canada's small differences are largely the same, and gradually reconstitutes them as traces of filial provenance passed from parent to child. There is a continual slippage in Rapt in Plaid between historically contingent literary tastes and forms (e.g. John Buchan's discovery of an "already strong attachment to his kind of writing" in Canada (9)) and totalised national mentalities ("ironic and sentimental") which betoken a linear relation of heritage transfer, rather than a common positionality vis-àvis "alien alternatives". The shared cultural condition begins as an exogenous parallel -- tensions with the encroaching southern neighbour -- but is briskly smuggled under the mail-order kilt, endogenised and essentialised. "When Scots immigrants came to Canada in the early nineteenth century, they brought Robert Burns's values with them, packed into their psyches, just as the volume of his poems was packed into their brass-bound sea trunks" (9). Affinities of circumstance have quickly become organic folkways, legible as family resemblances. The north-south "small differences" of these two countries are re-coded and narrativised within the east-west dynamic of diasporic transmission, estrangement and yearning.

Alice Munro; Alistair MacLeod; diaspora; Scottish literature; Canadian literature

Anglistik: Volume 23, Issue 2

Publication date30/09/2012
PublisherUniversitätsverlag Winter
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Dr Scott Hames

Dr Scott Hames

Senior Lecturer, English Studies