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This review is taken from PN Review 40, Volume 11 Number 2, November - December 1984.

THE GREAT EXCEPTION Alan Bold, MacDiarmid: The Terrible Crystal (Routledge and Kegan Paul) £9.95
C. M. Grieve, Annals of the Five Senses, introduction by Alan Bold (Polygon Books) £6.50
Hugh MacDiarmid, Aesthetics in Scotland, edited and introduced by Alan Bold (Mainstream Publishing) £6.95

Not the least of the literary miracles of 1922 was the self-delivery, aged 30, of one 'Hugh M'Diarmid'. MacDiarmid (as he became) was introduced in The Scottish Chapbook by his creator and alter ego C. M. Grieve, commanding one of the best self-reviews since Whitman - 'the first Scottish writer who has addressed himself to the question of the extendability (without psychological violence) of the Vernacular to embrace the whole range of modern culture - or, in other words, to make up the leeway'.

The afterthought was crucial. MacDiarmid was born to the sour conviction that Scotland had settled for a narrow provincialism in the arts. Not for nothing had Burns been excommunicated from the Grieve household at Langholm. Scottish writers had for long condescended to their native tongue, reserving it for comic relief or for coyly decorative effects, a counterpoint to their mannered English. The two masterpieces of 1922 - The Waste Land and Ulysses - were great vernacular works; the individual voice (a landlord, Lou and May, Lil, Madame Sosostris, Dublin petit bourgeois, students and streetwalkers) became the fulcrum of 'the whole range of modern culture' and fragments of ancient learning as well.

Hugh MacDiarmid was an important innovator in his own right. His debt to Eliot and (especially) to Joyce was one of confirmation. Ulysses proved the holistic belief that all art stems from the identity of artists with their place and language; later, Finnegans Wake was to prove the identity of ...

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