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Title: Neglected patterns in a highland beauty, the aesthetic conditions of
Authors: Lok, Joshua Cheng Huai
Keywords: DRNTU::Humanities::Literature::English
Issue Date: 2015
Abstract: Inexorable are the tides of the sea, inescapable the thrust of time, and inimitable the touches of beauty: together, these elements make Neil M. Gunn’s The Silver Darlings (1941) gleam “with a movement of colour and life like the lines in a tartan” (160). Yet, the historical brutalities that drove the highlanders to––into––the “heaving immensity of the sea, treacherous and deep as death,” figure as an undercurrent that flows, ostensibly, against the beauteous tranquility of the novel, making it seem ever on the verge of expiration (20). That is why many critics, George Watson among them, regard the novel as simply depicting the “crashing intrusion of history on [a] timeless community” (40). Such interpretations are valid in very qualified ways, but the reactionist and sometimes-postcolonial impulses behind them too often, and far too readily, disregard the complex beauty presented in the novel. This paper seeks, therefore, to establish the value of beauty in the novel by considering The Silver Darlings as a work of art worthy of aesthetic judgement. To do this, Chapter I will offer instances of aesthetic reading, as it foregrounds Gunn’s descriptions of the sea and the waves hitherto neglected by decades of literary criticism. Without confusing historically-useful implication for formal and aesthetic achievement, Chapter I attests to the singular beauty of The Silver Darlings from various perspectives, and through techniques advanced by Denis Donoghue, Susanne Langer, and Viktor Shklovsky. Chapter II will, thereafter, reassess the historical elements in the novel by revising the prevalent––diluted, caricaturised––representations of history in the critical consensus surrounding The Silver Darlings. In all, these two chapters outline a set of aesthetic conditions that rekindles the neglected patterns of beauty in The Silver Darlings. Coloured by the aesthetic dispositions of Friedrich Nietzsche, Oscar Wilde, Muriel Spark, and Jeanette Winterson, this paper proposes thus: firstly, that aesthetic study, more than availing a more appreciative––less reductive––reading of the novel, improves all types of interpretations, including decidedly pragmatic ones and, secondly, that beauty should never be neglected, because it reconstitutes the harshest of realities, whether they be fictional actualities in Kirsty’s painful death from cholera, or historical brutalities in the shape of the Highland Clearances.
Rights: Nanyang Technological University
Fulltext Permission: restricted
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
Appears in Collections:HSS Student Reports (FYP/IA/PA/PI)

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