I spent the last half hour of my time today xeroxing the March 1771 issues of the Caledonian Mercury. I also understood at last the thriftiness of Scots printers, since this tri-weekly seems to reproduce its stories verbatim from the Edinburgh Evening Courant and the Weekly Magazine (surprise!).  This will finish up my week at the NLS, but I expect to be working through these materials for the remainder of the summer.

My big question remains a representational one, something that’s bothered me for some time: what’s the best way to depict different events taking place simultaneously in a complex physical environment? (I’ve stolen the term, though not necessarily the methodology, from Gumbrecht’s In 1926)

This question is obviously about the best method of representingt the social complexity of cities, but it also includes the problem of how to write literary history in a way that allows distinct but proximate genres to unfold independently of one another.

Right now, as I think about the early 1770s in Edinburgh, I’m aware of the sophisticated, anglophile world of Mackenzie and sentiment, with all its connections to commercial London but also to the scholarly world of Hume, Smith, Millar, and the Britannica.   Fergusson and his printer Walter Ruddiman take us into the rediscovery of post-Ramsay, vernacular Scots traditions for literary innovations leading to Burns.  And I think it’s still important to figure in the kind of literary antiquarianism that sustained not just Chatterton, Collins, Gray, and Ossian, but also James Beattie’s Minstrel and ultimately Walter Scott.

So how do these different stories fit together, without turning them into causes and effects of one another?


2 responses to “simultaneity

  1. Laura Rosenthal

    One model for thinking about things happening at the same time that I have always admired is Terry Castle’s reading of the Gothic as dependent on the Enlightenment. Another “simultaneous” reading of the Gothic is in E.J. Clery’s exploration of the insistence in the late seventeeth century on the existence of witches and even ghosts because they prove the existence of God. Gothic writing, then, is consistent with religious writing, even though others have read it as offensive to religion. So in both of these models there isn’t cause and effect, but two things going on at the same time that depend on each other. Is there perhaps some interdependence in the movements you are exploring?

  2. Dave Mazella

    Interdependence is probably a bit strong for the kinds of correlations and convergences I’m talking about, but it is a start.

    We can see areas of reaction and counter-reaction: Fergusson parodies Mackenzie’s sentiment, who remembers the insult while advising Burns. It seems to me that part of the stakes here involves the stance that writers take towards a polite, decorous, Anglo-centric literary language. Both writers begin with a neo-classical poetic, but Fergusson ends up in a very different place.

    Your gothic example suggests a generic or discursive set of contrasts or oppositions, which are contained within some kind of common framework.

    But I’m still trying to figure out the larger configuration of genres for this period, within which oppositions like the Fergusson/Mackenzie play themselves out.