Fiona Paterson

Hugh MacDiarmid, Europe and Empire: A Visionary of World Language

This paper addresses the development of Hugh MacDiarmid’s ‘Vision of World Language’, particularly following the period spent in Shetland in the 1930s. This decade saw MacDiarmid’s vision blossom from a Eurocentric construction into the ‘holistic’ referential project which culminated in In Memoriam James Joyce, a poetic challenge to the very definitions of terms like ‘world’ and ‘language’. MacDiarmid imagines a post-imperial, post-capitalist world from the fringes of ‘British’ society, proposed and propagandised through the adaptation and citation of ‘international’ language and literature. What does ‘international’ stand for? What, whom and where is represented? What is excluded? I unpack the aesthetic, political and circumstantial factors which informed these selection processes, and the impact that they have on the expression achieved.

I assess the transnationalism of MacDiarmid’s poetry with respect to the linguistic hierarchies which it challenges, the manner in which it politicises historical and contemporary relations, and the conception of the regenerative Pan-Celtic consciousness which it presents. Communication, the difficulty of expression and the role of language in world progress were at the core of MacDiarmid’s vision. In this light, it is enduringly relevant to ongoing debates around ‘world literature’ and the contested place of Scotland within Europe and beyond.

Fiona Paterson, University of Glasgow, Scotland