“the construction (or constructedness) of the nation itself continuously reasserts its right as pre-eminent cultural concern by virtue of its historically (seemingly) tenuous existence in the absence of state sovereignty. Consequently, it is the objects of culture that come to stand in as a substitute for the non-existence of a state-sanctioned political identity, ‘Scottish’.” (Shirley, 2007)
Modern Scottish authors such as James Kelman, Alasdair Gray, Ian Rankin, William McIlvanney, O’Hagan, Irvine Welsh, etc have contributed their share to the dissemination of Scottish identity and culture. They have accomplished this through the method of literary activism, where themes such as ‘gritty urban realism’ were glorified through the written word. Irvine Welsh, in particular, is rightly considered a master of this currently popular genre – his book Porno captures all the cultural currents shaping modern Scotland. The bold and irreverent title Porno suggests many things of the current state of social and cultural norms in the region. James Kelman is another important figure in modern Scottish literary scene. His works focus on urban realism of a different sort. His oeuvre “radiates the alienation of people to whom society is at best a conspiracy: a curious mirror-image of the near-autistic capitalist individualism that Thatcher never ceased applauding.” (Harvie, 2003) It is difficult to miss the influences of Albert Camus and Samuel Beckett in Kelman’s works, thus making them existential expositions of issues confronting the Highlands and Islands. Consistent with the existentialist genre, his novels are liberal in their usage of the language of pain. They also depict a sense of loss, ennui and the absurdity of life itself. Intellectuals such as Philip Hobsbaum and Cairns Craig see the need and importance of the concerns expressed by Welsh and Kelman. They observe a pattern in the evolution of modern literature of the Highlands and Islands which dispel comforting illusions in pursuit of unalterable facts. To conclude, the following insight from scholar Christopher Harvey brings sobriety and modesty to the task of identifying cultural icons in the literature of the Highlands and Islands. He writes,
“No amount of clever literary effort can disguise the fact that Scotland’s writers have to deal with a divided, decaying post-industrial society: from Kelman’s metaphysical purgatory to the ‘Unthank’ of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark (1982): somewhere far away from the smart parties of Festival City, or the spick-and-span little burghs where ‘settled Scots’, early-retired, go to play golf and spoil grandchildren. Where does post-modernism end and postlapsarianism begin? Economic depression and the chaotic first years of the Parliament have released a lot of Scotland’s caged demons.” (Harvie, 2003)
Acker, Kathy. Alasdair Gray’s Answers to Several Questionnaires, Public Interview at the ICA, London, 1986, retrieved from <http://www.alasdairgray.co.uk/q_03.htm> on 1st November, 2012.
Gordon, Katherine. ‘Writing the “Spirit of Place”: the Poetry of Marion Angus and Violet Jacob’, ScotLit 34, 2006, retrieved from <http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/ScotLit/ASLS/Spirit_of_Place.html> on 1st November, 2012.
Horwich, David. Culture Clash: Ambivalent Heroes and the Ambiguous Utopia in the Work of Iain M. Banks’, Strange Horizons, 21 January 2002 retrieved from <http://www.strangehorizons.com/2002/20020121/culture_clash.shtml> on 1st November, 2012
Shirey, Ryan D. ‘A Shrinking Highlands: Neil Gunn, Nationalism and the “World Republic of Letters”‘, International Journal of Scottish Literature 3, Autumn/Winter 2007 retrieved from <http://www.ijsl.stir.ac.uk/issue3/shirey.htm> on 1st November, 2012
Harvie, Christopher. ‘Bring Me the Head of Irvine Welsh! Fiction and Politics in Modern Scotland’, 14 May 2003, published on Tübingen University’s Intelligent Mr Toad website, retrieved from <http://www.uni-tuebingen.de/intelligent-mr-toad/html/profharvie/articles/newspaper/welsh.pdf> on 1st November, 2012