Hugh MacDiarmid, poetry and the idea of world language

Paterson, Fiona (2024) Hugh MacDiarmid, poetry and the idea of world language. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis explores Hugh MacDiarmid’s development of the idea of ‘world language’. It does so thematically, but is organised in broadly chronological order. It maintains a sharp focus on both MacDiarmid’s driving concerns and the national and international political priorities which wax and wane in importance through the changing social, cultural and material contexts of the twentieth century. With MacDiarmid’s idea of ‘world language’ as a primary focus, the thesis also locates the poet in the context of studies in ‘world literature’ and the debates around the parameters and definitions of this field of scholarly enquiry. Chapter One examines MacDiarmid’s approach to ‘world language’ as it corresponds to the aesthetics and incentives of modernism, in the aftermath of the First World War and into the aftermath of the Second. Chapter Two considers the impact of locality and gender upon MacDiarmid’s response to social constructions of identity and the concomitant categorisations of language. These matters introduce the various individuals and communities that make up the ‘world’ of his world language. Chapter Three investigates MacDiarmid’s speculation and proposition of non-human forms of language as expression and sound found in nature and in music, thereby considering his navigation of world language as a challenge to the very definition of language itself. Chapter Four explores MacDiarmid’s role as a translator, studying his Scots adaptations in the 1920s alongside later commissioned translations as indicative of further enquiries into the distinctions and commonalities between different languages and cultures. Chapter Five considers MacDiarmid’s engagement with Gaelic within his affirmation of plurality and decentralisation as a viable model for the idea (or ideal) of ‘world language’. Chapter Six examines the centrality of non-translation and allusion within MacDiarmid’s poetry to his construction of the bricolage poem as a hybrid space in which language is continually borrowed and repurposed, and the idea of world language fostered. Finally, Chapter Seven scrutinises the tangible implications of MacDiarmid’s world language when deployed in poetry which intervenes in the world, responding to political upheaval and injustice and offering an intrinsic imperative of change, as a demonstration or exemplification of his commitment to literature which accepts, embraces and draws attention to its social responsibility. In examining MacDiarmid’s various methods of engagement with language and languages, this thesis develops an argument that emphasises the idea of world language as a concern and priority to which the poet was committed throughout his career. The thesis thereby constitutes a fresh reading of the consistencies, as well as the irregularities, of his poetry as a whole. Considering the 1955 publication of In Memoriam James Joyce: from A Vision of World Language as a culmination of MacDiarmid’s ideas and approaches, the thesis takes this text as its starting point and traces these ideas back through earlier work. The enquiry is predicated on a retrospective understanding, reading back from this work into MacDiarmid’s oeuvre. Matters of local distinction, cross-cultural collaboration, referentiality, translation and non-translation, and the seeking of commonalities and affinities despite difference recur throughout his writing, and they all come to a confluence in In Memoriam James Joyce, which engages with linguistic forms, categorisations and the matter of structural organisation on an epic scale. Lesser-studied texts are addressed as they signify experimental or tentative enquiries which contribute to the development of this vision.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > Scottish Literature
Supervisor's Name: Riach, Professor Alan and Maley, Professor Willy
Date of Award: 2024
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2024-84338
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 28 May 2024 13:22
Last Modified: 28 May 2024 13:23
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.84338

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