On Sun, 4 May 1997, Martin Burns at EasyWeb Design wrote:
> I say it again, Scotland is more than the Gaidhealteacht, and no matter
> how many Gaelic lessons are forced apon *Scots* speakers, this will remain.
But what do you mean, "forced"? English is forced on Gaelic
speakers, at least on those who want a complete education; I'd be very
surprised if the reverse was true.
> > I have to object to the invocation of the pompous Baudrillard as an
> >authority of some kind -- these semiotic parlour-games are really not
> >descriptive of the actions of people who don't live by them. The
> >motivation for not translating the songs on Capercaillie was that they
> >were normally orally transmitted, and had nothing to do with any
> >"hyperreality" business.
> So, you *really* think that the marketing execs at Arista are hot
> promoters of Gaelic culture?
No, but neither do I assume that they're out to actively bowdlerize
it either. In any case this whole thing was likely the band's idea.
> The *only* reason it could have made it
> onto the final release (accepting that this was probably the band's
> motivation, albeit that they only have one Gaelic speaker amongst
> them (Manus Lunny))
Karen Matheson speaks Gaelic as well.
> is that it had a marketing appeal that would
> be more effective in trying to communicate to non-Gaels than
> providing translations. In fact, the 'Secret People' theory didn't
> even last to the next album (Capercaille) which contained some
> remixes from Secret People, and provided translations.
Sounds like they changed their minds, or forgot, or even (as you
suggest) were bullied by record company executives -- we don't know. But
whichever one it was, it doesn't have the far-reaching significance that
you've attached to it.
> If you
> were trying to promote Gaelic culture, you *would* have provided
> translations, as many non-Gaels improve their language skills from
> them. Otherwise, you wouldn't bother providing Gaelic lessons.
True, I provide lessons, but only in context. I don't think that
everything in the world can or should be translated. The whole point of
learning Gaelic is so you get access to that other body of cultural
expression; otherwise you might as well just stick to English and wait
for everything to be translated.
> Also, "I don't like Baudrillard because he invokes semiotics" is
> hardly an argument. If you dislike semiotics, then you dislike
> linguistics, which is a subdivision of it.
I never said I disliked semiotics; I studied it in graduate school,
wrote the usual essays full of reflexive nods to Bakhtin and Derrida,
etc. I respect the power of semiotics as a means of interpretation as
far as it goes. But I think that a good deal of theorizing that goes on
at the fringes of semiotics is just pretentious bullshit, and despite
its wildly speculative nature much of it has become a kind of shibboleth
for intellectuals trying to close their ranks. I mean, you wouldn't
respect someone who went about their whole life saying that Ayn Rand could
explain everything in the world (and as you know, such people do exist),
and yet my professor-mentor -- a respected semiotician -- claimed that
because all the other disclipines express themselves through the means
of language, all other discliplines (including the scientific ones) could
be understood if you just had a grasp of semiotics, and that as a result
they weren't really all that important in themselves. *This* is the kind
of thing I mean -- this arrogance that language and systems of
signification control our lives, and that the semioticians therefore are
eminently qualified to speak on every aspect of human existence without
having their authority questioned.
> > Because the Scottish people know what they want. They take the
> >cultural independence as a given, and they don't have to work to make it
> >better or more authentic.
> Do they really? It is less than a generation since the only Scottish
> popular culture was the White Heather Club (*gag*). Still there is no
> Scottish-based soap opera shown UK-wide.
The thing is, culture is what people *do*. If they do things that
are tasteless or atavistic or bland, then that's the culture they've
chosen. All we can do is show them an alternative, asking them whether
they wouldn't like it better.
> > The political independence on the other hand
> >they see as being a lot of trouble for little reward, since life in an
> >independent Scotland will almost certainly be like life in an independent
> >England, and the only people who will really be affected by the change
> >are politicians.
> No. Political Independence is *portrayed* as being a lot of trouble
> for little reward, and "no' fur the likes o' us" It remains that Scotland
> gets whatever government England votes for. And Scotland demonstrably
> has a more left-wing political consciousness than England.
That's true, but it's evidently not so much more left-wing that the
people of Scotland are continually feeling agitated by English rule. And
we can't really say that they've been bullied into submission, because if
they have then why does the political difference exist in the first
place? The mere fact of a whole region (and unfortunately for the
purposes of the UK Scotland is a "region") being more left-wing is not
any kind of guarantee that it wants a separate political future of its
own -- Merseyside and Tyneside aren't going to separate any time soon,
but they consistently vote Labour as well.
> Independence is not *the* end; it is however *an* end in that only then
> will Scotland get democracy. And I'm not even basing that on the argument
> that then Scotland will be governed in a more socialist fashion - pleased
> though that would make me. I *fully* recognise that there is a significant
> minority of Tory voters. Democracy would give them their appropriate voice.
> Independence is the natural position of nations. It has been recognised
> as a self-evident good that Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Iceland, Norway,
> Canada, Nigeria, the Congo, the republic of Ireland, Bosnia, Slovenia,
> the Czech republic and just about any other nation you care to mention
> should have democratically accountable control over its own affairs.
I don't disagree with this -- I want to see Scotland independent.
However, I think that the overall opinion of the Scots themselves on this
matter is going to have more weight than your opinion or mine alone. You
and I may think that it's a good idea, but other people may disagree, and
we're not really entitled to look for character flaws that would explain
their disagreement. It seems to me that the two greatest obstacles to
Scottish independence are apathy and complacency, not inbred
submissiveness; and apathy and complacency come from a situation where
change is feared more than the status-quo is -- the opposite of a
situation where revolution would be inevitable, i.e. in which anything
would be preferable to the current system.
> > As opposed to...? They are all men, after all.
> Yes, but where are the women?
I dunno, where? If women were not prominent in the leadership of
Scotland throughout the ages, they're not going to assume their "proper"
historical role now just because we feel that they've been slighted. The
political subjection of women necessarily means that women weren't given
the same opportunities as men and that, as a result, they are mostly
absent from the record of Scottish leaders and rebels. What can we do
about that now?
> > ... to *this*? "Reality" is not something that exists outside the
> >sum total of people's individual lives (and not something that needs
> >capitalizing either, as if it were "out there"). If someone chooses to
> >express an allegiance to a lifstyle or culture than runs counter to
> >either the prevailing lifestyle or culture or to the one touted as ideal
> >by those on the Left, then *that* is the "reality" for that person.
> >Which is why this...
> The Reality is that (as I said above) Scotland is more than the Gaidhealtacht,
> and that the thought that it ever was is fantasy - in the last 600 years
> certainly, and before that extremely probably.
But reality (uncapitalized) is whatever people choose to be the
reality of their lives. If the majority of Scots are just ordinary
people who want to get on with their lives, and have no interest in what
you would consider romantic nonsense (but which you unfortunately
associate with the Gaidhealtachd), then why does it bother you that a
minority of people have chosen to embrace it instead?
> The Reality is that the overwhelming majority of Scots do not even
> live in rural areas.
Neither do the overwhelming majority of native Gaelic-speakers, many
of whom now live in Glasgow. But they maintain an urban Gaelic-speaker
culture just the same.
> The Reality is that the areas where most Scots live (ie the Central
> Belt) have never been part of the culture that is being portrayed
> as 'Scottish'.
> For many, many Scots, the feeling is that of Renton in Trainspotting:
> "Being Scottish is shite. Lots of people hate the English - I don't
> coz they're just wankers. We've been colonised by wankers. We can't
> even choose a decent country to be colonised by." This is the result
> of Scottish cultural signifiers either being irrelevant to them,
> or being used to prop up the status quo.
Well, I was hoping you'd bring up "Trainspotting", because that book
and film portrays the hypocrisy of many of those who claim to be
attacking a romanticized notion of what Scotland is about.
"Trainspotting" is itself a work of romance. There was an American
critic in "The New Republic" who, when reviewing the film, perceptively
noted that the film seemed to be saying, "So you think that we're about
tartan and shortbread and castles, do you? But our junkies are just as
good as anybody else's junkies." The fact is, once you describe Scotland
as a nation in the first place, *any* kind of picture you try to draw of
Scottish life is going to be a romantic fiction. The difference is that
those who want to portray Scotland as being just as dirty, as hip, as
dangerous as anywhere else are trying to erase Scotland's differences
from the rest of the world; whereas the romanticists are, in their own
misguided way, and least trying to stave off that kind of assimilation.
If "Trainspotting" is the real Scotland, then the real Scotland is no
different from the real England or the real Ireland or the real Canada,
U.S., New Zealand or Australia -- all English-speaking countries in which
enough junkies and slums can be found if you look for them. Compared to
that, is it any wonder that people who are conscious of their national
separation are taking hold of symbols like Gaelic?
> > ... leaves unspoken the assumption that this "process" is in fact
> >supposed to lead to the desirability or the inevitability of socialism
> >for Scotland, an assumption which most people do not share, and which
> >cannot be taken as a basis for this discussion.
> Most people where? May I remind you that this week 85% of Scots
> voted for parties either nominally or explicitly committed to narrowing
> the gap between rich and poor.
Are you kidding? The Labour party won't do anything of the kind,
and the SNP, had they won in Scotland, wouldn't have done *anything*, at
least apart from setting up an independent Scotland which could
politically go wherever it likes. But in any case, even if we had been
talking about "old" Labour, the "narrowing of the gap between rich and
poor" would have been more easily accomplished by making everyone equally
poor, rather than making them equally rich -- for that reason I suspect
that had Labour been given a free run at Scottish government, rather than
remaining just an idealized focus for desperate Scottish hopes, the Scottish
people like most of the others in the English-speaking world would have
become sick of the unemployment, the inflation, the paralysis brought on
by the unions, the taxes, etc. The fact that Scotland continues time and
time again to vote Labour is extremely abnormal when compared to the
fluctuating voter patterns you find in other countries, and if Scotland
were independent they'd likely exhibit the same patterns too.
> > And a good song it is too. But it's not either-or, *either* you're a
> >raving Jacobite atavistic loony living in a dream world *or* you're
> >cannily following the latest master plan to complete social
> >emancipation -- there are other alternatives.
> Such as? (Apart from rejecting the whole thing)
Such as embracing as much of your culture as is historically
justifiable and personally satisfying, while not letting your political
leaders (Right *or* Left) screw you over -- and historically those on the
Left have not proven themselves to be much more trustworthy than those on
> Very possibly true, however it is undeniable that colonial systems
> take great delight in pacifying the natives by allowing them to
> express a bit of their own culture after a time of repression.
> *Especially* if that culture is then incorporated into the
> system of repression. Listen to pipe music, and try and find
> something that hasn't been through the army at some point.
> Remember that Welsh nationalism was thrown the crumb of S4C
> (Welsh language Channel Four) and this quietened down demands
> for better governance.
However, all of this is different from saying that such cultural
expression has been tainted by its abuse at the hands of the colonial
power. *That* would be to admit further defeat by surrendering your
culture in disgust, which would only hasten the process of assimilation.
> The truth is that much of the culture is *already* being used
> for political ends by London. Yes, I value the culture for its
> own sake. But those who promote the culture need to guard against
> its hijacking and bowlderisation by unionism. Yes, I overstressed
> this a bit, by not offering an alternative to using it as a
> tool of nationalism (and isn't this what the Gaelic League did?).
> It is *very* difficult to have a link with Scottish culture
> within Scotland (and even more difficult to *gain* a link
> from scratch) without being pushed into one camp or the other.
Maybe, but the Gaidhealtachd itself is not a "camp" or a signifier;
it shouldn't be very difficult for those interested in real Gaelic
culture to know where to go to find it, and so to sidestep all of this
> It's not that I want that; simply that I want to warn against
> cultural signifiers being used as tools *without us being aware
> of it*. Some elements of Scots music *have* become aware, and
> are replacing reactionary material with newly written/adapted
> material that *does* speak with the consciousness that most Scots
> feel to be their own.
And as long as the past is not erased to suit the present, this is a
very intelligent and worthwhile thing to do.