Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich
Ah, the sweet aftertaste of crumbly Arran cheese, as I was reminded the other day while washing some down with a pint of Arran blonde beer in a bar outside Brodick. And ah, the distinctive kidney shape of the island itself (ára = kidney), I was also reminded, looking at the large map of the place on the wall, before replacing my pint on an Arran-shaped table. That’s four Arrans in one mouthful of beer.
For whatever reason, there is less perceived need in Hull to look at the place on the wall, and eat, drink and dine off it too.
Arran, however, is quite suburban, as Scottish isles go, given that it’s a mere two hours from Glasgow city-centre. Perhaps the more remote you get the larger the chunks the island name takes out of the rest of the language, until by the time you get to Sula Sgeir all other words have been purged and the inhabitants (gannets and fulmars, in that case) spend all day reworking that scene from Being John Malkovich where he goes inside his own head and into a world of conversations that go ‘Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich’, ad infinitum. ‘Sula Sgeir? Sula Sgeir Sula Sgeir Sula Sgeir.’
For reading, MacNeice’s I Crossed the Minch. It chimes all too perfectly with my remarks the other day about the appeal of ‘meta-Gaelic’ to people who cannot speak that language. As Jonathan Allison was saying of that book at the get-together in Aberdeen where I was doing my own sounding off too, this poet of things being drunkenly various finds himself strangely susceptible to all manner of Gaelic purism, which burden they, the locals, not he must then shoulder. The Perceval and Crowder figures in that book remind me strongly of the idiotic Englishmen in Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes who spend the whole film worrying about the test-score at Lord’s, unable to turn off the drone of their upper-class twittish chatter no matter what their surroundings (much like the group of wax-jacketed, purple-trousered upper-class twits in the bar in Brodick, intent on some fraternisation with the stags on Goatfell, I’m sure). MacNeice gets some wan mileage out of this Mutt and Jeff combination, but then launches into his own version of chatter in a discussion of Stephen Spender’s Forward from Liberalism, an utterly pointless book, then and now, and not, one would have thought, the kind of thing anyone needed to dwell on in the wilds of Lewis or Harris. My point being that, for all the appeals of the far Celtic shore, the ambient musak of Anglophone chatter retained a certain irresistible appeal, if only as a buffer against the elemental ferocity all around, a point MacNeice never quite faces in that fascinating piece of hack-work. In just the same way that MacDiarmid’s ‘On a Raised Beach’ gets back, philosophically, to the stones, by forsaking the earthier language (but artificial in its own way, yes I know, I know) of Sangschaw and Penny Wheep to crash his way through all those Latinate jaw-breakers, half of whose meanings I suspect he didn’t even know himself. Do stones speak Latin? Or Gaelic? Or possibly Sumerian? Whichever, I’m sure they sound nothing like ‘On a Raised Beach’. It’s an exercise in ‘meta-stone’, in other words.
Sighted: stags loping lazily across the road, a golden eagle on a telegraph pole, a buzzard, lots of oystercatchers and lapwings, and most pleasingly of all, Britain’s most persecuted bird, the grouse-fancying hen harrier, préachán na gcearc.
Anyone with a spare hour on their hands can listen to John Kerrigan speak, fascinatingly, on I Crossed the Minch here.