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This review is taken from PN Review 177, Volume 34 Number 1, September - October 2007.

THE SCOTTISH SOUL ALAN RIACH, Representing Scotland in Literature, Popular Culture and Iconography: The Masks of the Modern Nation (Palgrave Macmillan) £64

This is a complex and demanding book encompassing huge themes across a range of cultural studies. An indication of its scope is the difficulty in summarising the arguments and themes developed in it, which are dense yet simultaneously far-reaching, intellectually rigorous yet also subversively entertaining. Alan Riach, Professor of Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow, General Editor of the multi-volume Collected Works of Hugh MacDiarmid and a poet in his own right, displays a diversity of material, some of it only tangentially connected with literature (Scottish or other), in making the case for a new evaluation of Scotland's cultural identity.

In doing so Professor Riach cuts across traditional disciplines, welcoming rather than being affronted by the distorting effects of ironic takes on previous orthodoxies of 'Scottishness', and challenging both the consumers and the producers of what might be deemed a local/national culture to see that culture in a global context. The most sustainable and sustaining way of representing such a culture, he argues, may be to recognise that its perceived borders are, and always have been, permeable; to resist easy assumptions about what it consists of, and to dispense with knee-jerk reactions against (or, for that matter, in favour of) stereotypes. In this, although Riach's principal subject-matter is Scotland, his study is distinctly internationalist in outlook, and has implications for all cultures, particularly those that have historically felt themselves to be under pressure from bigger ones.

Hugh MacDiarmid, as one might ...


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