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Construction of Scotland Class: Reflective Blog

promo194613137Week 2 (6-12 October)
Reflections on class work:

In class this week, we discussed how the perception of Scotland is formed in relation to our speech. I believe that Scottish people find difficulty in differentiating between their informal regional dialect and their formal traditional English tongue. The conflict between these two registers has to a certain extent created an insecurity and even a slight embarrassment among Scots. I believe this to be the case because Scots are continuously re-adjusting their use of language based on who they are speaking to and are at constant risk of being ridiculed for their use of certain words and phrases. We discussed in our tutorial about the need some Scots feel to speak in a colloquial way among peers for fear of being mocked for speaking ‘properly’ and the need they feel to speak in formal English and disregard traditional Scottish words when speaking to people from other nations for fear of being misunderstood or again, mocked.

I think Kevin Bridges illustrates this argument very well when discussing how he alters his speech when performing outside of Scotland and says “No matter how much you try to enunciate, there’s always some from Leamington Spa who’ll say ‘We saw you on the television and I didn’t quite understand everything you were saying’.” I believe Scots are often made to feel embarrassed for using traditional Scottish language but I believe every region of Scotland has a special, almost cryptic, slang sub-language of its own and we should embrace and be proud of our unique speech because it is a part of our heritage and culture.

Scots language, in the regional dialect of Leith, Edinburgh, used in Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh is essential to portraying a genuine image of what Scottish-ness means. Welsh signifies the importance of language through Mark Renton’s narrative sections in particular. Welsh’s lexical choice during Renton’s sections are intriguing because Renton uses slang terms when engaging in dialogue with his friends, implying he is uneducated and ignorant. However, Welsh also intersperses Renton’s typical use of abbreviated terms with very articulate, expressive and coherent language when he is appealing directly to the reader: “its fuckin grotesque tryin tae find an inlet. Yesterday ah hud tae shoot intae ma cock, where the most prominent vein in ma body is. As difficult it is tae conceive ay it at the moment, ah may yet find other uses for the organ…” Welsh creates a carefully balanced blend of regional slang and formal English through Renton’s repulsive description of injecting heroin coupled with his choice to use intelligent, evocative words such as ‘grotesque’, ‘prominent’ and ‘conceive’ rather than selecting colloquial alternatives. Although these words may seem out of place, Welsh experiments with linguistic patterns to suggest that Renton is in fact a very intelligent, rational character but chooses to manipulate his language when around his peers to maintain acceptance in his social group and to avoid ridicule for speaking like, as Francis Begbie might say, a ‘fuckin` Rent boy!’

Reflections on a work not discussed in class:
• ‘Funniest Ever Comedy | Kevin Bridges | The Story So Far | Scottish Accents’ YouTube Video
• Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (1994)

Week 3 (13-19 October)
Reflections on class work:

This week in class we discussed ‘The Double and the Caledonian Antisyzygy’. This idea proposes that binary opposites and duality are fundamentally part of Scottish literature and the Scottish psyche. This duality exists within our literature, for example in ‘Kidnapped’ and ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson with the parallels of: good versus evil; and realism versus fantasy. However, the idea of duality is also apparent in terms of our culture, with conflicts between: the ‘proper’ English language and the ‘troglodytic’ Scots regional dialects; a sense of Scottish identity and nationalism versus a sense of British identity and unionism; east coasters and west coasters; and the religious tensions between Catholicism and Protestantism.

These conflicts seem to have developed into a sense of inferiority within Scottish character as division can seemingly be found within almost every part of our society; therefore creating a feeling of weakness and tension. These anxieties and frustrations about the social position of Scotland, stemming from the feeling of being a subordinate subculture of Britain, could be considered to have been translated into a defensiveness and occasional anger to the point where Scots feel that they are allowed to playfully mock their own culture but people from other nations should not. In the words of Scottish comedian, Kevin Bridges, “We are proud people but we’re not quite sure what we are proud of.”

The idea of duality in Scottish character could be developed further in terms of Scottish personality and conduct. The BBC News article entitled ‘Glasgow ranked UK’s most violent area’ reports that Glasgow was ranked the most violent part of Britain, beating vastly higher populated cities such as London and cities with globally renowned and notorious violence such as Belfast. However in stark contrast to this shocking report, in another article, Scotland Now names Scotland as part of the top 10 friendliest nations in the world. I believe as well as duality playing a part in our literature and culture, it also plays a part in our behaviours and mentalities as Scots appear to be ‘fiercely friendly’.

This duelled Scottish personality is also exemplified by the reaction given to the Scottish man who assaulted the terrorist behind the 2007 Glasgow International Airport Attack as, the citizen was, perhaps ironically, praised and hailed a hero and for committing an act of violence. I believe Frankie Boyle captures this attitude in typical droll Scottish humour by saying, in his attempt to explain Glasgow, that “If I had to pick a city in the world where I could depend on a member of the public to punch a man who was on fire, it would be Glasgow.” This statement effectively encapsulates dry Scottish comedy and exemplifies humour as the Scottish defence mechanism as Scots completely reject the fear of terrorism and disregard the anxieties of speaking about something so ‘risqué’ in comedy and are instead brave and bring humour and light-heartedness to something potentially very threatening.

Reflections on a work not discussed in class:
• Kevin Bridges: What’s The Story? TV Show 2012, BBC iPlayer
• ‘Glasgow ranked UK’s most violent area’ BBC News, Glasgow & West Scotland, Article, 23 April 2013.
• ‘Scotland voted one of the friendliest countries in the world, says Rough Guide’ Scotland Now, Daily Record, Article, December 8 2014.
• ‘Frankie Boyle’ YouTube video

Week 4 (20-26 October)
Reflections on class work:

Robert Louis Stevenson creates a sense of unease and tension in his novel Kidnapped. I believe the Gothic style of his writing worked very well in relation to the plot and the issue of conflicting Scottish identity around the time of the 18th century. In chapter 4, Stevenson describes Uncle Ebenezer’s attempt to kill David when he asks him to ascend a flight of very unstable, rocky stairs. Stevenson carefully selects his lexical choice shortly before this passage to subtly suggest looming danger and build a sense of worry to create a Gothic scene by using the phrases: “It was a dark night, with a few stars low down” and “…hollow moaning of the wind.” By describing the stars as being low down, Steven subtly evokes a feeling of claustrophobia as he implies that the stars are pressing down on David, creating a feeling of pressure, disorientation, unease and anxiety. Stevenson also builds a Gothic scene by anthropomorphising the wind. By saying the wind is ‘moaning’, Stevenson implies that the wind itself possesses some kind of presence, like a ghost or spirit, which suggests to the reader that something frightening or dangerous is about to happen as the wind is seemingly verbalising a warning.

I believe the setting and subject matter of the novel ideally fits into the Gothic mode as Uncle Ebenezer’s house is old, falling-apart and has a haunted castle feel to it.

In her journal, Scottish Gothic: towards a definition, Kirsty Macdonald studies how the Gothic mode can be used as a way of re-examining and re-defining Scottish identity in relation to Scottish history, folklore and the even geography of the country:
“Something closely related to this treatment of history, which again appears commonly in Gothic texts of Scottish origin, is the motif of the journey North…What is peculiarly Scottish about the motif in this context is that the North is the Highlands – Gaelic-speaking, primitive, often supernatural and certainly other.”

The Highlands is a part of Scotland that most view as inherently Scottish as it, for the most part, an untouched classic picturesque representation of Scottish landscape and nature. However, on the flip side of this romantic and mystical view of the Highlands, the region is also sparsely populated and therefore, in part, remains mystery to many people. This air of enigma surrounding the almost deserted Highlands has led to the creation of many ghost stories and tales of folklore over the years including the legends of Voyeuristic Maid, Mrs Boulton, Black Andrew and the Devil’s Hand and, of course, Nessie the Loch Ness Monster. I believe that the Scots are a nation of storytellers, as our folklore and ancient stories show, and the Gothic mode fits neatly into our formation of mythological creatures and ‘ghosties’. Therefore, over the years, Scots have created their very own brand of the Gothic mode as our gory history, storytelling culture and perhaps eerie-looking landscape provides the features needed to successfully create Gothic Horror.

Reflections on a work not discussed in class:
• Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (2007)
• ‘Scottish Gothic: towards a definition’ Kirsty Macdonald, Lecturer of Cultural Studies, Orkney College, Journal/Blog Site.
• ‘Highland – Paranormal Database Records’ Paranormal Database Website

Week 5 (27 October-2 November)
Reflections on class work:

Scottish Journey is an account of Edwin Muir’s travel through the various regions of Scotland in an attempt to uncover what exactly it means to be Scottish. As Muir describes the city of Edinburgh as being ‘drenched in unsatisfied sex’, the section on prostitutes in relation to the ‘invisible barrier’ between: the working-class and poverty stricken area of Leith Walk; and the middle-class, luxurious and posh Princes Street was the passage I found most fascinating:
“At this point the two different streams of promenades are brought within a few yards of each other; yet they scarcely ever mingle, so strong is the sense of social distinction bred by city life…The prostitutes are the sole class who rise superior to this inhibition…but their main beat is Princes Street, and it has in their eyes the prestige and familiarity of a business address.”

I find this extract intriguing because Prince Street is portrayed as the more pleasant part of the city with beauty, cosy tea-rooms, deluxe hotels and well-to-do people but in this section, Prince Street is exposed as an area of the city that seems to change at night. This shift from a lovely street filled with luxurious shops during the day to a gathering place for sex workers at night provides a seedy and unpleasant feeling that leaves the reader with a bad taste in the mouth. This change in Princes Street’s character also links back to the Caledonian Antisyzygy as the street itself appears to have a split personality. This section also exemplifies a sort of falsehood of Edinburgh as even the most stylish and classy part of the city contains the most prostitution – showing that no matter how much the inhabitants of Princes Street pretend to be respectable, behind closed doors, some of them engage in most of the illegal and shameful activity.

Another interesting part of this extract is the section about prostitutes being the only people ‘superior’ to this class barrier and it identifies them as being real people with a sense of control which is refreshing as sex workers are typically categorised as sleazy, drugged-up, uneducated people who don’t deserve to have an opinion. Following on from this thought, Thomas Campbell in his article ‘Turning a blind eye to a flourishing trade in saunas’ also gives a voice to sex workers in modern Edinburgh: “Decriminalising the prostitutes and focusing valuable police recourses on those who would exploit and pimp our young people is the only way forward. We should be tackling the people who would procure our women.” I believe Edinburgh’s policy in dealing with prostitution exemplifies the liberal, progressive and forward-thinking nature of Scotland as this system places the safety and well-being of sex workers as a higher priority than arresting and prosecuting prostitutes. This approach instead tackles the more important aspect of this issue which is the men who solicit paying for sex and aims to keep women safe and off the streets.

Reflections on a work not discussed in class:
• Scottish Journey by Edwin Muir (2004), p.12.
• ‘Turning a blind eye to a flourishing trade in saunas’ Article, Thomas Campbell, 30 July 1996, The Independent

Week 6 (3-9 November)
Reflections on class work:

This week, we studied Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. This novel, set in 1930s Edinburgh, contains a great deal of religious symbolism in relation to Calvinism and Roman Catholicism. In class, we discussed Miss Brodie’s frequent repetition of the phrases “my girls will be the crème de la crème” and “I am in my prime”. I believe Spark repeats these phrases by Miss Brodie deliberately as a religious reference because they appear to be similar to prayers, such as litanies, which are repeated so often that they become tedious and begin to lose their meaning and significance. The recital of these prayers become mindless readings that have memorised but not truly taken in. I believe this technique used by Spark subtly illustrates the decline in opinion of Miss Brodie: at first, the reader thinks of her as a progressive, passionate, intelligent and talented teacher who wants the best for her students but as the novel goes on, it becomes apparent that there is a darker side to Brodie and that she has an agenda to turn her pupils into clones of herself and not necessarily into open-minded, free-thinking individuals with their own ideas.

As the reader’s opinion of Brodie shifts, her repeated phrases, similar to commandments for her disciplines (e.g. the Brodie set), lose their importance and the reader begins to feel suspicious and doubtful of Brodie’s character as she turns into a domineering parody-Christ figure. The reader also begins to lose trust in Brodie’s words because her frequent repetition suggests that Brodie is in fact trying to convince herself of these opinions as well as her pupils.

While reading this book, I began to recognise similarities between the text and the film Dead Poets Society. I believe this film has similar concerns to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie because both have: an eccentric teacher in a traditional same sex school who is despised by the other teachers; a ‘set’ of pupils who are fascinated by and devoted to their teacher; a pupil who dies arguably because of a series of events initiated by the teacher; and a pupil who ‘betrays’ their teacher and instigates their dismissal. However, I believe the main aspect of Dead Poets Society which differs from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is that the central character, John Keating, has good intentions for his students, encourages them to pursue their dreams and wishes to inspire and instil an ability in them to think for themselves. Whereas in contrast, Miss Brodie instead has a sinister agenda to mould the members of her set into miniature versions of herself with manufactured and cynical views that she has convinced them to believe.

The soundtrack for Dead Poets Society also, rather ironically, has several songs in which the national instrument of Scotland, the bagpipes, are played (including ‘Keating’s Triumph’ and ‘Scotland the Brave’) suggesting that perhaps this was a deliberate choice made by the director to create a link between the film and Scotland.

Reflections on a work not discussed in class:
• The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (2011)
• ‘Dead Poets Society (1989) Original Trailer’ YouTube Video
• ‘Maurice Jarre – Keating’s Triumph’ YouTube Audio Video

Week 7 (10-16 November)
Reflections on class work:

While studying Edwin Morgan this week, we looked at concrete poetry with emphasis on Morgan’s poem The Chaffinch Map of Scotland. Morgan arranged the poem into shapes in an attempt to represent a map of Scotland. The poem depicts a gradual change from the word ‘chaffinch’ which is progressively altered and turned into the resulting word ‘britchie’. I believe this poem could be interpreted as a representation of the evolution of language and shows how we change words from their original sound and spelling to shorter and easier to pronounce alternatives.

However, in an alternative view of this poem, I believe it could also be considered as an illustration of how different words are spelled, pronounced and used in different contexts in the different regions of Scotland. For example, the word ‘chaffie’ is placed on the top right hand corner of the poem, suggesting that this could be the version of the word used in the Aberdeenshire area. Whereas the word ‘shilfy’ is placed in the bottom left hand corner, implying that this is the pronunciation used in Dumfries and Galloway. Morgan also places the word ‘shelleyfaw’ in the middle section of the poem, signifying Glasgow and the central belt.

I think the placement of this version of ‘chaffinch’ is particularly fitting because it is almost a cliché of the Glaswegian accent to use words with an ‘aw’ sound, for example: ‘maw’ meaning mum, ‘baw’ meaning ball, and the ‘hawl’ (as in ‘hawl you!’ with a silent ‘l’) which is a playfully aggressive term used to demand someone’s attention.
As well as Glaswegian terms, the nearby region of Ayrshire also has some interesting phrases, for example the word ‘ken’ (pronounced like ‘Barbie and Ken’) meaning to know e.g. “Aye, I ken him!” and ‘gads’ – an expression of disgust. I believe that Morgan’s very subtle but sophisticated demonstration of the manipulation of language exemplifies the rich variety of dialect that exists within Scotland that is unlike that of any other nation.

In his article about Glaswegian phrases, Andrew Ferguson provides a list of Scots terms and their meanings. The article provides some words that the reader can easily derive the origin from, for example: “Eedjit – Pronounced ee-jit. Such as “Yer aff yer heid, ye eejit” evidently comes from the word ‘idiot’. However some of the more complex phrases are harder to deconstruct, for example: “Glaikit – Prounced gla-kit, meaning stupid. An insult, such as “Wid ye look at the glakit look on his coupon (face).” I believe that some of the elaborate and tricky Scots words and phrases are a mystery and even some Scots struggle to come up with a theory of which traditional English words they derived from. But I think, like many things in Scotland like our folklore and myths e.g. Nessie the Loss Ness Monster, they are enigmas of our heritage that we warmly embrace and take pride in as we have our own obscure ‘second language’ that others struggle to understand.

Reflections on a work not discussed in class:
• ‘The Chaffinch Map of Scotland by Edwin Morgan (1975)’ Picture, Making It Home Website
• ‘Video: 25 Glaswegian words and phrases you need to know for the Commonwealth Games’ Scotland Now, Daily Record, Video and Article, July 24 2014.

Week 8 (17-23 November)
Reflections on class work:

In Liz Lochhead’s play Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off, gender and power are major themes. Duality also comes into play between Mary and Elizabeth because at the time in which the play is set, the roles of women were simplified into either: the pure virgin (Elizabeth) or the sinful whore (Mary).

On one side, Elizabeth remains unmarried because she knows that without a husband she can become a powerful queen and if she did marry, her husband would become king and all power would reside with him. However, by being a virgin and not having children, Elizabeth is undermining her rule because she is not producing heirs who will succeed her. Therefore, while Elizabeth tries to assert a dominant and solo type of femininity and supresses her sexuality, she is denying herself the one thing that, arguably, defines what it is to be female – the ability to carry children.

On the other side, Mary embraces her sexuality, marries and has children but fails to achieve a happy ending because ‘her head gets chopped off’ after her apparent involvement in a plot to murder Elizabeth. I believe the contrast between these two characters shows the conflict many women face of choosing to either think with their hearts or their heads. At the opening of Act 1 Scene 5, Corbie implies that Elizabeth follows logic and reason while disregarding her emotions in order to succeed: “An in Englan the Lass – Wha-Was-To-Be-King, Maun dowse her womanische nature.” By using the word ‘douse’, Lochhead evokes connotations of pouring petrol to be set alight, suggesting that perhaps Elizabeth’s process of supressing her womanly urges and sacrificing having children was a testing and painful undertaking that ‘burned’ her emotionally.
I believe the character of Elizabeth is also reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher.

The Guardian’s article ‘Margaret Thatcher: a feminist icon?’ includes several snippets of opinions from many people on Thatcher as a feminist. Many denied that Margaret Thatcher should be considered a feminist icon because she didn’t fit the stereotypical mould of the butch, protesting, men-hating, angry, unattractive, hairy legged feminist. Instead, Thatcher was in fact a wife and a mother as well as being intelligent, powerful and the first British female PM. So why does society assume that a woman can only be a powerful if she asserts masculine qualities and abandons her femininity? Feminism is fundamentally about equality of the sexes but it also about breaking down the barriers of gender roles and prejudices. Being assertive, dominant and in a position of authority are qualities which are associated with men, which is why Thatcher is mistakenly considered masculine.

As the play and Thatcher demonstrate, a woman cannot achieve success and happiness by: completely abandoning her femininity; or by completely devoting herself to motherhood and abandoning all other ambitions. A woman must be able to find a balance between her femininity and sexuality; and her intelligence, ambitions and career in order to be truly content.

Reflections on a work not discussed in class:
• Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off by Liz Lochhead (2009)
• ‘Margaret Thatcher: a feminist icon?’ The Guardian Article, 5 January 2012,

Week 9 (24-30 November)
Reflections on class work:

This week we studied Ian Rankin’s novel Set in Darkness. With crime being one of, if not the, most popular genre of fiction, we discussed in tutorials why the general public are so intrigued and fascinated by this kind of writing. I believe people read crime fiction as an outlet to explore ‘darkness’, gore, corruption and violence but from a safe and external perspective. I also believe crime fiction appeals to a primary part of human nature: curiosity. From the opening of the novel, D.I. Rebus investigates Queensberry House and the body of Roddy Grieve, a soon-to-be MSP, is found and instantly the reader is gripped in a ‘who-dunnit’ story.

I believe that the BBC drama The Missing is similar to Set in Darkness in this respect as it borrows features from traditional Scottish ‘Tartan Noir’ and the viewer is immediately enthralled in the mystery of the disappearance of five-year-old Oliver Hughes from the opening of episode one. I believe the casting choices of Irish actor James Nesbitt and Rebus actor Ken Stott contribute to the series being reminiscent of Scottish crime fiction because the Irish are perhaps the closest nationality to the Scots as we have a similar mentality, humour, patriotism, religious tensions and our Celtic connections. (Billy Connolly also recognises this link when referring to the Scots as a ‘mentally ill Irish tribe’ who crossed over the water to ‘an even rainier place’.) I also believe the casting of the Ian Rankin TV series Rebus actor Ken Stott was a deliberate choice by the makers of The Missing because in Rebus, Ken Stott plays a middle-aged, divorced, loner, alcoholic detective but in The Missing he plays a devious, sinister, dangerous gangster who turns out to be a rapist and a paedophile.

I believe this contrast between detective and criminal relates back to our discussion in tutorials in relation to the duality of the Scottish psyche as we concluded that the police and criminals can display a lot of similar personality traits that can overlap, making it easy for law enforcers to believe that they are above the law and allowed to commit crimes. (This idea is also reminiscent of Jekyll and Hyde which can be interpreted as a critique of the Scottish psyche as virtuous character Henry Jekyll possesses a split personality and an ‘evil half’ called Edward Hyde, a monstrous murderer, who can take over his being at any time, exemplifying how easy it is to slip into crime.)

The gradual change in James Nesbitt’s character, Tony Hughes, also displays this duality as over the years Tony changes from an anguished and grief-stricken father to a mentally unstable, obsessive, wannabe-detective with a drinking problem whose entire life revolves around solving the mystery of his son’s disappearance. The Missing also succeeds in capturing the elements of suspense, violence, tension and horror associated with Scottish crime fiction which can be viewed in the compilation of clues relating to the case in the opening of episode six, ‘Concrete’.

Reflections on a work not discussed in class:
• Set In Darkness by Ian Rankin (2008)
• BBC Drama ‘The Missing’ BBC iPlayer, Episode 6 ‘Concrete’

Week 10 (1-7 December)
Reflections on class work:

Mobius Dick is an experimental science-fiction novel by Andrew Crumey which toys with the idea of parallel universes which overlap and leak into each other causing a mix between reality and fantasy. The novel also plays with the relationship between the sciences and the humanities. The complex relationship, which goes back and forth from conflict to harmony, between these two fields of study is first introduced in chapter one when Ringer meets Helen:
“‘First try The Magic Mountain,’ she told him. ‘That’s about a man who goes to a tuberculosis clinic in the Swiss Alps. It came out in the nineteen twenties, and Mann got the Nobel Prize not long after it.’ ‘That’s a striking coincidence.’…‘The fact that we should both be sitting here, you with your Thomas Mann and me with my physics…the subject of this book is something called the Schrodinger equation…And do you know where Schrodinger found it? One Christmas in the nineteen twenties he went to a tuberculosis clinic in the Swiss Alps.’”

This extract shows that while Ringer and Helen have opposite interests, their chosen subjects still seem to interlink and have similarities, bringing to mind the saying ‘opposites attract’, which again has scientific overtones.

I believe the subjects of physics and literature, while they are considered polar opposites of each other, do share similarities. For example, physicists are often researching in order to develop theories of how the universe works, just as professors of literature too work like detectives, trying to deconstruct and analyse what a text means.

In her article ‘The Humanities Vs. The Sciences: Who Wins Out?’ Skylar Grogan discusses the societal perceptions of the two fields:
“I think one of the reasons why humanities are considered to be ‘soft’ and ‘less important’ than STEM of ‘hard sciences’ is because they are seen as a more feminine field of study. In our society, we associate masculinity with discussion based around facts rather than emotion, truth being black or white, and objectivity.”

This extract illustrates how subjects such as literature, writing and poetry are considered ‘soft’ because they deal with passions and feelings, whereas the sciences are considered clean-cut, emotionless, factual subjects. However, I don’t believe these different perceptions are 100% fair. When Einstein developed the theory of relativity, I’m sure he wasn’t a cold-hearted robot about it – perhaps it’s even safe to assume that he was quite happy and even a little proud when he established his research. And poets, writers and students of literature are not all soppy, emotional, cheesy love-bugs either, they too possess logic and rationality. It’s important to remember that passion and nobility exists within both fields of study.
As I am, naturally, biased towards the humanities, a quote about this subject by Mr. Keating from the film Dead Poets Society felt appropriate: “Medicine, law, business, engineering; these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love; these are what we stay alive for.”

Reflections on a work not discussed in class:
• Mobius Dick by Andrew Crumey (2004)
• ‘The Humanities Vs. The Sciences: Who Wins Out?’ Skylar Grogan, February 12 2014, Thought Catalog Website.
• ‘Dead Poets Society – Mr. Keating’s Walt Whitman Speech’ YouTube Video.

Week 11 (8-14 December)
Reflections on class work:

This week in class, we studied Scotland a poem by Alastair Reid. In this poem, Reid cleverly plays with the contrasting character of Scotland and makes reference to Scottish duality by using imagery of light and dark; life and death; and pessimism and optimism. The first section of the poem paints Scotland in a beautiful romantic light as Reid describes the nature and landscape of Scotland: ‘The grasses shivered with presences, and sunlight stayed like a halo on hair and heather and hills.’ Along with ‘halo’, Reid also incorporates words which evoke connotations of religion and heaven such as ‘angels’ and ‘radiant’. However, in the second half of the poem, Reid indicates a change in tone when in contrast to the previous religion imagery, he uses the words ‘bleak’, ‘madman’, ‘graves’ and ‘ancient misery’.

I believe Reid plays with lexical choice throughout this poem to show the two sides of the Scottish personality as Scots have the ability to possess hopeful optimism that can abruptly shift to bitter pessimism. Reid also cleverly uses dry Scottish humour in this poem: “‘What a day it is!’ cried I, like a sunstruck madman.” This extract exemplifies the Scots ability to make fun of themselves as the speaker is so shocked to see the sun, considering that Scotland is famous for its cold and wet weather, that he becomes a self-proclaimed ‘madman’. In relation to Scottish weather, Reid also illustrates Scottish pessimism again when the woman from the fish-shop repeatedly says “we’ll pay for it” when the sun comes out. This section again demonstrates Scottish pessimism as Scots seem to emphasis on the cloud rather than the silver lining of situations as the woman implies that the town will have very bad weather as punishment for having a sunny day – exemplifying the Scottish ability to complain no matter what the weather is like.

In relation to the Scots attitude towards our wet and windy weather, I believe that although we can have a deeply bitter pessimistic view, Scots also have the ability to use our dry humour, extreme sarcasm and exaggeration to lighten the mood and playfully make fun of our miserable weather. In ‘Alternative Scottish Weather Report,’ the weather girl uses dry, sarcastic and exaggerated humour such as “it’s no pure baltic as usual,” “it’s taps aff weather” and telling the viewer to enjoy the sun “because we probably won’t see it for another 14 months”. As previously mentioned, I believe Scots use humour as a defence mechanism and as a way of deflecting negative feelings. So by mocking and playing with our relationship with the national weather, we are drawing our attention away from the negative aspects and instead focussing on the funnier side.

Reflections on a work not discussed in class:
• Scotland by Alistair Reid, Poem, Scottish Poetry Library Website
• ‘Alternative Scottish Weather Report’ YouTube video

Please Write your Final Blog Summary below:

The task of constructing an idea of what it means to be Scottish is not an easy undertaking but is one that does provide a lot of food for thought and several texts that can be examined under the context what it means to be Scottish. In this final blog summary, I will be discussing the themes of: Scottish speech in relation to Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh; Scottish pessimism branching into stereotypes of Scotland in relation to the poem Scotland by Alistair Reid; and finally, the ‘friendly’ and compassionate side of Scots in relation to Scottish Journey and modern liberation and open-mindedness in Scotland.
Pessimism, as discussed in week 11’s blog entry, is a Scottish trait that I believe is exaggerated to some extent, indeed by Scots as well as by those from other nations. This entry touches on the poem Scotland by Alistair Reid in which the speaker describes a beautiful picturesque image of Scotland in the first half of the poem and moves on to a bitter and cynical, all be it humorous, exchange between the speaker and the ‘fish-shop woman’ in the second half:

“Her brow grew bleak, her ancestors raged in their graves as she spoke with their ancient misery: ‘We’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it!’”

This extract exemplifies the ludicrous level of exaggeration, to the point of hyperbole, used in Scottish humour as the speaker describes the fish-shop woman’s ancestors spinning in their graves with anger and disgust all because the sun is visible in Scotland and therefore the fish-shop woman believes that the country will be battered with even more horrific weather than usual as punishment for having a day of pleasant sunshine. By suggesting that Scottish ancestors would be enraged at the sight of the sun emphasises the amount of rain and miserable weather Scotland experiences year-round to the point that we have become accustomed to the rain, hail and snow and we feel uneasy and suspicious when we occasionally experience nice weather. I believe this exaggeration could be considered as a stereotype of Scottish-ness because in reality, the majority of Scots relish at the sight of sunshine and instead of complaining about it, they would most likely take their tops off, lie out in the heat and pray for sunburn just so they would have conclusive proof that the sun was out in Scotland.

I believe Scotland is one of, if not the country, which has the most false, out-of-proportion, caricature-esque stereotypes. As well as our apparent miserable and dour pessimism, stereotypes of Scotland also include: we all eat nothing but haggis and deep-fried mars bars (I believe the latter is actually an English creation because I have never come across a deep-fried mars bar in any Scottish fish and chip shop); we all wear kilts as everyday attire; we all have fair skin and ginger hair; we are all very angry and shout all the time; ‘ach aye the noo’ is our national greeting (personally, I have never used the phrase or heard it being used by an actual Scot – I believe this to be another English creation); we recite Robert Burns on a regular basis; we are all very patriotic (perhaps true); we all hate the English; we all belong to a clan; we all listen to nothing but The Proclaimers and the Bay City Rollers; and we are all unhealthy, uneducated and poor.

So in a nutshell, we are all Groundskeeper Wullie from The Simpsons. While these medieval creations are perhaps unfair and even a tab hurtful, Scots don’t seem to be too bothered by their existence and instead see them as an opportunity to poke fun at themselves and, of course, as a way of attracting tourists to come see our ‘peculiar’ and ‘bizarre’ way of life. Therefore, I believe Scotland’s stereotypes, while the vast majority of them are completely fictitious, are important to Scottish-ness because we use them as a way of creating cartoon-character-versions of ourselves to provide a source of comedy which shows that we are easy to get along and joke with and that we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
In addition to our ‘excessive pessimism’ and other Scottish traits that are exaggerated to the point of cliché, our speech is also essential in constructing an idea of what it means to be Scottish. In week 2’s blog entry, I examined an extract of dialogue from the Scottish black comedy novel Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh to exemplify the Scottish insecurity and struggle of being forced to be ‘bi-dialectal’ and switch from their traditional English register to their Scots regional dialect depending on who they are speaking to and what kind of situation they are in.

However, as well as this constant shift between registers being a tiresome charade that Scots feel they must maintain in order to avoid ridicule from their peers or from people who live outside of Scotland, I believe Scots also use this cryptic ‘second language’ in their favour as a way of providing amusement in their everyday lives. For example, in Trainspotting, Mark Renton plays a trick on two unsuspecting students who hail from outside of Edinburgh as he and Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie (the classic, angry and violent Scottish ‘psycho’) try to steal the students’ reserved seats on a train:
“I can only suggest that you pursue your complaint with a member of the British Rail staff…My friend and I took these seats in good faith.” (After the students leave…) “The lager’s loupin. Seems tae huv gone dead flat, ken. Tastes like fuckin pish.”

This extract shows how Scots are able to joke and play pranks on others by using linguistic trickery as, on command, Renton can put on the traditional Queen’s English he was taught in school which makes him sound educated and respectable in order to manipulate and gain the trust of the two students, and then minutes later, he reverts back to his relaxed, natural and colloquial Leith slang which outsiders struggle to deconstruct. I believe this extract of speech is very clever in showing that all Scots have the ability to attain the persona of polyglots; even those who are only fluent in English. This also shows the significance of Scottish dialects to our sense of nationalism because our different ways of speaking are bred into everyone who is born and raised in Scotland and they serve as a way of enhancing our patriotism and national pride as well as making us closer because we have our own intimate and unique way of communicating that is unlike any other language. I believe our accents and dialects are very important in constructing an idea of what Scottish identity is about because: our distinctive way of speaking sets us apart from other nations; relates back to our history, culture, traditions and heritage; and serves as a recognisable and unforgettable trait of Scottish-ness.

As well as Scots language, another important factor which contributes to what it means to be Scottish is our forward-thinking, compassionate and friendly nature. In week 3’s blog entry, I consulted an article by Katrina Tweedie called ‘Scotland voted one of the friendliest countries in the world, says Rough Guide’ which states that Scotland is the only European nation to make the top 10 in the list of the world’s friendliest countries to visit, according to tourists and holidaymakers. In addition to this, I also discussed Edinburgh’s liberal approach to dealing with prostitution in week 5’s blog entry in relation to the discussion of the prostitutes in Leith Walk and Princes Street in Scottish Journey by Edwin Muir.

Edinburgh’s modern ‘see nothing, do nothing’ approach to policing prostitution and soliciting may seem like the authorities are condoning the offence but my view is that regulating prostitution in licensed saunas (while this is still admittedly unethical and perhaps morally wrong) is a much safer alternative to women soliciting outside and being paid for sex on the street. This approach shows that the authorities of Edinburgh are placing the safety and wellbeing of these women as a higher priority than boosting their arrest quota. Attention is instead being focussed on the route of the issue – those who pimp women and force them into prostitution and those who go looking for prostitutes. I believe this shows that Scotland is a very liberal and progressive country as we are compassionate and understanding people who would rather help someone onto a better path than criticize and mock them for what they are doing wrong.

In addition to the approach of Edinburgh’s authorities on the issue of prostitution, another example of Scotland’s open-minded, compassionate and let-and-let-live attitude is that on 16 December 2014, gay marriage was officially legalised in Scotland, exemplifying that Scots are becoming leaders in equality and will not tolerate any type of discrimination whether it is homophobia, racism or sexism. I believe that as Scots choose to judge people based on their personalities rather than their gender, race or sexual orientation; this shows that we have integrity and compassion as we accept and embrace love in whatever form it comes in. I believe that the friendly nature of Scots is an important contribution to constructing an idea of Scottish-ness because it shows that we are not a prejudiced, judgemental or narrow-minded people but instead we are very tolerant and progressive and we strive to achieve a fair and equal society.

Overall, through the exploration of several texts, articles and videos on the subject of the construction of Scotland, I have found that the Scots are a nation of proud people who embrace and even celebrate their flaws as well as their strengths and achievements. In this final blog summary, I concluded that what I believe to be amongst the most important aspects of Scottish-ness are: our language and accents, supported by the dialect used in Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh; Scottish pessimism and optimism, humour and our approach to dealing with common stereotypes backed up by discussion based on the poem Scotland by Alistair Reid; and finally our friendly, open-minded and compassionate nature in relation to Scottish Journey by Edwin Muir.

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