Alan Riach On Scottish Literature: An Open Canon – Perspectives Issue 34, Autumn, 2012

by Davie Laing

Regular readers of Perspectives will have noted our reports on aspects of Scottish schools’ educational curriculum in recent years. Larry Cheyne drew our attention to the reform of the Higher History syllabus to require the teaching and examination of Scottish History in the nation’s schools. But until very recently we were unable to report comparable reform of the Higher English literature syllabus. In his “The Jewel On The Doorstep’’ in a more recent issue of Perspectives Alan MacGillivray deplored this neglect, unique among nations, of our literary heritage.

There are many reasons for this but, prominent among them has been doubt and absence of consensus on a Scottish literary canon to act as a guide to designers of a reformed syllabus, and classroom teachers.  In an article to be published in the Autumn Issue of ‘’Perspectives’’ ( cited in Scotland On Sunday of 10/07/12 Alan Riach of Glasgow University, has, in the view of the present writer, disarmed the resistance to reform and, in the process, lent intellectual and cultural muscle to the SNP.  Government’s plan to require the teaching and examination of Scottish literature at Highers level, in the nation’s schools.  Riach reinforces his case by appending to his article a list of some 170 authors and texts that reflects both the principle of an open canon and the necessity of reflecting every aspect of the diverse and contrasting Scottish experience.

Few will agree with every single item on his list but it is hard to imagine many objecting to the inclusion of Burns, Scott, Hogg, Stevenson and MacDiarmid or in our day the likes of Alison Kennedy, Janice Galloway, Liz Lochhead, Alasdair Gray, Tom Leonard, James Kelman, Irvine Welsh or James Robertson.  The present writer sighed in pleasure at the inclusion of S. R.  Crockett’s neglected classic, ‘’The Raiders’’ a  tale of adventure to match anything by RLS, but sighed in disappointment at the omission of anything by Ken MacLeod, a libertarian Scottish  writer of science fiction of international repute.  But an open canon is as much an invitation to dispute as a guide to reform, and classroom autonomy within the guidelines.

So why not suck it and see? Pub quiz enthusiasts may even find inspiration viz. “What novel by a former Scottish spook does Alan Riach include in his open Scottish literary canon?”

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