Friday 2 May 2014

Quoth the Scotsman | Nick Harkaway on The Imagery of Britishness

This year promises to be a pivotal period for the population of Scotland. In September, in case you weren't aware, the people will participate in a referendum on independence, the results of which will determine whether or not our country remains in the UK.

Now this is not, nor will it ever be, a political blog, but what it is to be British—what it means, really—has been a question asked frequently recently, and I found the following diatribe from Nick Harkaway's new book, which I'm currently reading for review, illuminating in that light:
Dealing with Brits was tricky. You had to listen to what a Brit was saying—which was invariably that he thought XYZ was a terrific idea and he hoped it went very well for you—while at the same time paying heed to the greasy, nauseous suspicion you had that, although every word and phrase indicated approval, somehow the sum of the whole was that you'd have to be a mental pygmy to come up with this plan and a complete fucking idiot to pursue it. After six years working with the Brits in various theatres he'd come to the conclusion that they didn't do it on purpose. The thing was, Brits actually thought that subtext was plain text. To a Brit, the modern English language was vested with hundreds of years of unbroken history and cultural nuance, so that every single word had a host of implications depending on who said it to whom, when, and how. 
Originally—when he had believe it was some sort of snobbish post-colonial joke—this all had made Kershaw dislike the Brits, but now apparently he sort of admired it. His brother Gabe was a literature professor at Brown, and when Kershaw brought this up with him Gabe had nodded and said, yeah, absolutely, but you had to read T. S. Eliot to understand. So Jed Kershaw had bought The Waste Land from Amazon dot come and read it here in Mancreu. The Waste Land was a fucking terrifying document of gasping psychological trauma, and it was plenty relevant to the island, but the important point about it was that Eliot was trying to make use of something called an 'objective correlative,' which was an external reference point everyone would understand in the same way without fear of misapprehension. Kershaw found this revealing, he said, because it was very British. [...] Only a Brit would imagine that adding a huge raft of literary imagery to the sea of human emotion and history which was English would clarify the situation in any fucking way at all. All the same, there was something glorious in that complexity, in the fact that Brit communication took place in the gaps between words and in the various different ways of agreeing which meant 'no.' (pp.95-96)
Tigerman is out in the UK in late May, and I'll say today that it's great... if not necessarily what I expected next from the author of Angelmaker.

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