“O I ha’e Silence left.”
– Hugh MacDiarmid
Pity the wanderer, condemned by history to become a tourist. Pity the dead, condemned to eternal life on the Web. Pity the nation-state, appearing then fading away overnight. Pity the death and resurrection of the author – and authors, doubles living for the dead – wanderer, tourist, grouch, of Allan Cameron’s satyriconjob Cinico, rambling in the voices of a nation about to be almost again.
Cameron’s Vagabond Voices press has picked up orphan talent from Scotland, Italy and Estonia for several years now. Their recent Cinico is a dubious MS. which purports to be an Italian reporter’s roving eye-view of the recent Scottish Independence Referendum, found among the papers of the supposedly-deceased boozy translator Cameron. More on this mystery anon.
The scene: As the late David Cameron warned of the disintegration of an Iraq his public school heroes both created and destroyed, he remained oblivious to the unravelling of his own (barely) United Kingdom, especially in the insurgent Stuart sector. Frantically he rushed to Aberdeen to deliver a stern lecture in strict Etonian, a move so idiotic it alone almost clenched the vote for the independentistas (vide the photo of Dodgy Dave with his lips and nose smushed into his philtrum in a weird face-fist knot; above him, a banner pleads: ‘Let’s Stick Together’). Cameron (David) then fell into a bestiality scandal best summed up by the ad for Pasolini’s Porcile, until Theresa May bailed him out with an even more stunning act of cluelessness. Entra Cinico De Oblivii, philosopher and dog and partial Hogg.
The innocent abroad once met with centaurs, cutthroats and witches on the pilgrim’s road. Our modern man Cinico finds professors good and evil, city hard men and Estonian rakes, an Orthodox anchorite, Algerian and Polish emigres, fair nymphs and Tories. All of them give various opinions on the ideas of nationhood, independence, Europe and its discontents, neoliberalism and other faiths, while Cinico injects himself into the action long enough to get a girl, ruminate on his own shipwrecked status and the meaning of Scotland, and then lose the girl. On the national question, we know the dénouement: the Kingdom abides. And then it votes to leave Europe, which would be almost amusing if Westminster possessed any sense of the ironic.
Only at collapse does a nation see that it is temporal, hence the constant cry of eternity from the nervous patriot. Borders are spectral, argumentative, restless. Hungarians living today in the Székely land in Romania consider themselves far more Hungarian than Hungarians living in present-day Hungary, whom they consider to be sham Magyars. Romanians agree: a ‘Hungarian’ born in Transylvania is not a Romanian. The Durand Line makes you either Afghan or Pakistani, if you accept the foreign term ‘Afghan’ at all. You might even refuse to accept the Partition of India; if so, this Durand Line, imposed by the English (or British, many of whom were Scots), is twice as ridiculous. Palestine has gone in and out of existence (last time by decree of the ‘British’) and has never existed at all according to the Zionists, most of whom were Germans not long ago and Americans more recently. The Zionist state does not exist, according to the non-existent Palestinians it has managed to persecute, evict and murder. The Nazis excluded the Jews from their nation – fascist land is biology – but saw them everywhere; millions of Jews were genocided in parts of Germany that were not really Germany. The Kurds also exist, but have no nation yet; the nation of Luristan hasn’t been there since the 2nd Century BC, but is now at least a province. Khitan is totally absent, the Hyksos are no more and Atlantis, Lemuria and golden Cibola never were at all. I read that the existence of Mu is considered ‘questionable’ at best – by experts in Mayan archeology.
Many nations were made by outside powers, by powerful foreigners with new maps in mind. However, the historical end of nation-state concept seems to be a common prophecy these days, from Left and Right, from mourner and futurist. For the neoliberal ideologues, the nation is definite when wars are necessary, but invisible where trade walls are concerned (at least in one direction). In the United States, Nativists claim that the WASP is America’s true American; American Nativists are never native and usually mongrel Anglo-German (Amerika gibt es nicht). Today’s banks are the most egalitarian of judges: they accept the reality of all nations because they accept the possibility of all targets. Does an off-shore tax-haven constitute a ‘nation’? Will the Cayman Islands one day secede, and from whom? One could be Confucian about the whole thing and say that nations are only a system of tensions, yet nevertheless, they are.
Which brings us by recirculation back to Scozia, or Caledonia if you prefer. Although no one denies that Scotland exists, an independent nation usually means an independent people. Who makes up this ‘people’? And what kind of ’independence’ is desired? Under occupation or empire, these questions are part of a future which must avoid nightmares for now. As an answer, the SNP’s Referendum platform was simple and ingenious: everyone living in Scotland would be declared a citizen after Independence, which sets them far apart from the race-obsessed nationalists and Orangemen. And isn’t it also true that an ‘indigenous’ Englishman has not sat on the throne since at least 1066? Where are ‘true’ Scots to be found? In Scotland, period. Whoever they are. Cinico reminds us that the Yes vote was at heart an act of liberation from Whitehall’s enforced austerity measures, against the City of London’s Mafioso grip on British finance, against the power of the Right to govern Scotland by quisling coalition, against the frigid medium of Thatcherite Cool Britannia.
Benedict Anderson called the nation an ‘imagined political community’ distinguished by style, full of members who will probably never meet each other, a ‘deep horizontal comradeship’ which has as its clearest expression the willingness to die. Genet said he was for all revolutions until they win; he only recognized nations that did not exist. The nation that declares itself is haunted and unforgiven, especially when noir. Haiti is the supreme example: the white man never forgave the Black Jacobins for daring to take the ideals of 1789 seriously.
Inside the nation are many nations, Russian dolls in fourth-dimensional time. Horizontal, vertical, crisscrossing and fading in and out, cross-cutting through land and custom in mobile and montage. Places in time where ideas and music, argot, crime, art and the labyrinth of the daily life of many peoples mix – these zones seem outside of the official time of ‘total’ nations, like accidents or chance meetings on the way to pure historical recognition. Such a passage of time may be extraordinary, like late Ottoman Salonica or Motor City USA. Or it may be the byproduct of ruthless geopolitics, like the refugee environs of Calais and Manus Island (in other words, it may be quarantine). City neighborhoods can also be seen as intervals, especially our port-towns and so-called blighted areas – gangs understand this very well when call themselves nations. Legends linger long here and countries reappear in the diminutive (Little Italy of Chicago, Little Syria of New York, El Paso in the Congo). They are doomed by capital’s modification of time in granite and the guns of Development, politely termed real estate, city planning and civil war. Yet the rentier class can never entirely wipe away the remnants of past nations in the sprawl. A remnant appears in a façade or in a puzzling sign even if the old inhabitants are unremembered, even if the streets have lost color out of space. Cinico’s Glasgow is such a place, which gets him thinking about time, locale and peoples. Can a nation be migratory? Is it only the reactionary pedagogue who says each man carries his country within him? To ask what a nation is, ask who’s asking. All this is mulled over in Cinico with dead-on timing and real depth, with humor and Nietzschean good cheer.
There is some very healthy melancholy in this Yes-man Cinico/Cameron. He remains a bit helpless, like the best wanderers. And he’s not entirely to be trusted, as his wife (part Magnani and part strega) proves at the end in a spurious letters appendix. My research has also uncovered the fact that the deed drunkard Allan Cameron, whose name appears on the cover and who apparently rendered de Oblivii into English, is still very much alive. The publisher gives us a final letter from Cinico, who is now supposedly in Greece and living with an aging Anarcho-Syndicalist collective. Beware, Mussolini started there too – but Cinico retains his socialism and minds his Gramsci. A second volume is threatened by these charming liars: Austerity under the Acropolis, maybe? No referendum for the Mediterraneans, though. Cinico will have to play Orpheus to the ghosts of Metaxas and millions of vanished pensions.