Hamish Henderson and the Liberated Life

Earlier this month I was at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh to take part in one of a series of events celebrating the legacy of Hamish Henderson in what would have been his 100th year.

His most famous work, the ‘Freedom Come All Ye’ is a song of liberation and international reconciliation. Out of a past riddled with imperial injustices, Henderson conjures a world of global solidarity, ecological harmony, radical love, dignity, humanity and the flourishing of life in all its forms – a vision that is more vital now than ever. Faced with the threat of the ultimate destruction of the biosphere that supports all life on this planet, his poem of elemental conflict, the ‘Flytin o Life and Daith’, speaks more than poetically to our time.

Henderson was was a soldier, poet, scholar, folklorist and folk revivalist, songwriter, translator and activist. He was an internationalist, with strong connections with Europe and beyond. Characterised by his aims of ‘resolve, transformation and insurrection’, his activism was a fusion of cultural politics and social justice – campaigning with CND and with the Peace movement, against apartheid in South Africa and championing the causes of cutlural equity, equality and gay rights.

Overlooked and sidelined in his own time, enthusiasts are keen to see Henderson’s status as one of Scotland’s ‘most influential cultural figures’ fully recognised. Just this week, an anthology of new poetry (‘The Darg,’ edited by Jim Mackintosh, published by The Poet’s Republic) was launched at a sell-out show at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Poetry Becomes People

It would seem customary, when writing about Henderson, to start with a personal anecdote. Sadly, I never actually met him – although I did study and go on to teach for several years in the university department that was formerly the School of Scottish Studies, where Henderson was a founding member. This place and this community has gifted me so much. Henderson’s cultural imagination has been a huge influence on my own; I was delighted, then, to be invited to share my thoughts on ‘why Hamish matters’ in our time, as part of a wider conversation.

Henderson’s biographer Tim Neat (2010) suggests that his credo ‘Poetry Becomes People’ captures the essence of his beliefs and life’s work. This phrase comes from a poem series called ‘Freedom Becomes People,’ published in 1985, inspired by the German poet Heine:

‘Freedom, which has hitherto only become man here and there, must pass into the mass itself…and become people’.

Henderson believed that what applies to freedom also applies to poetry; the idea being that people are resourced, liberated and sustained by poetry. ‘Poetry’ here, however, goes beyond the literary form of self-expression; it speaks to a deeper understanding of creativity as ‘poeisis,’ the poetic act of constantly ‘making the world new’. For Henderson, it is a timeless and universal truth that both freedom and creative expression must be continually sought out and reaffirmed. Henderson’s metaphor of the ‘carrying stream’ of tradition is understood as a constant source available to and necessary for artists of all kinds to ‘remake and renew’, where each new generation has the potential to create new meaning in dialogue with what has come before.

A live culture is rooted but always in motion, open-ended, always unfinished, always in the process of becoming.

Rebel Underground

Henderson is perhaps best known for his involvement with the Folk Revival, which began with the Edinburgh People’s Festival Ceilidhs in the early 1950s. He saw folk art as a manifestation of a rebel underground, a subaltern view of history and society as opposed to the official or establishment view. Bringing together traditional singers and musicians from Scots speaking and Gaelic Scotland, these ceilidhs were a radical challenge to the Bing’s Edinburgh Festival and the elite 20th century ideals of cultural democracy from which it emerged: the idea that the masses could be civilised by giving them access to culture that wasn’t their own. This debate between ‘high art’ and ‘folk art’, of course, played out in the famous flyting between Henderson and MacDiarmid.

Henderson was very much a part of the ‘folk process’ he championed. For some, this position was problematic and riddled with contradictions, but these were contradictions that Henderson himself embraced. His affinity with the cultural politics of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci is important here. A constant theme in Henderson’s writing, like Gramsci’s, is the role of the intellectual in society. Gramsci famously ‘hated indifference,’ believing that ‘living means taking sides.’ ‘Those who really live’ he wrote, ‘cannot help being a citizen and a partisan.’ In this spirit, Henderson refused to separate his life, scholarship, art and politics – writing,

‘There’s no principle in the world that says if you sit back and spectate, things will come right.’

A Heelster Gowdie Force

Henderson’s affinity with Gramsci went far beyond a shared interest in folk culture. Gramsci criticized the suffocating and conservative influence of religion in Italy, and with it, the failure of Italian intellectuals to align with the social and cultural realities of the mass of the population. Here Henderson saw linguistic, cultural and political parallels with Scotland, particularly in Gramsci’s view of the relationship between Sardinia and Italy.

Henderson railed against the negative influence and controlling reductionism of Calvinism on Scottish society, decrying it a ‘dreadful life-destroying creed’. Calvinism, he believed, with its distrust of human capacity, capability, freedom and fulfillment, had undermined Scotland’s wholeness, culture, creativity and confidence. He felt too that both the elite and the servile middle classes had aligned themselves not with ‘the people’ but with the power, values and privileges of ‘Britishness’, of state and Empire.

The ‘heelster-gowdie’ force of Henderson in upending the establishment through his challenge to such orthodoxies – in politics, education, culture and broadcasting – led to many hostile reactions and attempts to sideline him in his own time.

A Life Destroying Creed

Today, we live in tight grip of a new life-destroying creed which shapes our cultural and social realities.

In my lifetime, the ascendent neoliberal agenda of globalisation has deeply transformed the material conditions of our world, and may yet bring about our ultimate destruction.

‘New managerialism’, the organisational arm of neoliberalism, is a mode of governance driven by a market logic of efficiency, productivity and competition where a class of ‘professional managers’ wield control.

This creed justifies itself by calling for ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability’ to the taxpayer, but it operates with a perverted sense of these words – what it really means is ‘discipline and control’ and ‘value for money’.

Donald Smith and others have suggested that materialistic managerialism has become an orthodoxy of its own, a ‘secular continuation of the rationalistic, controlling reductionism of Calvinism’ railed against by Henderson. At its very heart, ‘there is a distrust of human capacity – teachers to teach, doctors to heal, artists to create – management takes priority.’

Those who seek and manage to climb the ladder are granted a certain privileged status, reflected both in wealth and financial security, but also in a misplaced assumption of wisdom and leadership. What is actually rewarded here is the ability to conform, and often unthinkingly; those who ‘succeed’ must succumb to bureaucratic direction rather than vocation.

The notion of a professional managerial class of box tickers, bean counters and rule followers wielding power and influence over others was antithetical to Henderson’s thinking – a death knell to creativity.

There is an insidious power in this creed; once you’re ‘locked in,’ there is no reference point from which to challenge it, precisely because it presumes to measure everything. It has been argued that such practices have been used to ‘spearhead a permanent revolution in the public sphere.’

Our national and local government, healthcare, education system and cultural institutions have all been captured by this way of thinking.

To give one example; universities are forced to conform to the norms of efficiency, value for money, audits and metric standards of ‘quality assessment’. No longer primarily the seat of learning, they belong to a service industry for ‘customers’ formerly known as students. Academics have little – if any – say on whether departments should continue to exist or what degrees and courses should be on offer. Researchers are forced into competition with an ever-tighter funding regime that values short-term instrumental usefulness rather than deep, long-term understanding. The existential and financial precarity experienced by those in casualised employment undermines a sense of dignity.

It is always despite this suffocating bureaucratic system that people find ways to support each other and their students, to collaborate, to share knowledge, to produce vital and creative work. We are lucky that there are many for whom generosity of spirit is more important than personal success.

On reflection, it is hard to imagine that an institution as radical as Henderson’s early School of Scottish Studies – so vital for the cultural life of the nation – would ever emerge in today’s landscape.

The Liberated Life

Through his critique of the deadening ‘ideology of professionalism,’ Merriweather (2017) reclaims the revolutionary spirit of the ‘amateur’ – from the French, ‘to do what you love’ – as a figure who seeks independence and advocates urgently for the liberated life. He celebrates those artists, writers and thinkers who have carved out a path of unconventional wisdom and freedom.

The revolutionary and insurrectionary spirit of radical love is very much present in Henderson, a wanderer at the creative edge, forever pushing back against the domineering discourses of officialdom. Here, the idea of the carrying stream takes on new meaning: as amateurs, as new voices, our role is not to stand in the mainstream but to open out fresh conduits of the imagination, to do what we love and do it well, refuse to be complicit and stand up passionately for what we believe in.

Tomorrow, songs
Will flow free again, and new voices
Be borne on the carrying stream.

For Henderson, when it came to the folk tradition, it was not so much about the songs themselves – although these were of course important – it was the singing of them that was vital; for in the sharing of the song, it is reborn. He championed the ‘lived moment’, with the belief that poiesis only occurs when people gather together in the joy and liveness of shared experience.

Many of us will be able to bring to mind a moment or experience in our lives that has stuck with us – that has caused us to see the world in a new way. Such moments embody an ineffable creative power, an organic energy, a life force. For Henderson, these are the very moments of ‘resolve, transformation and insurrection’, the ‘proving ground for emotional and political truths’ where the impulse and catalyst for resistance and change are to be found. Conviviality gifts us our common humanity.

The carrying stream can be understood as an ongoing string of these moments. This is the life force that is at the heart of the ceilidh spirit and at the heart of Henderson’s partisan and poetic art.

The Myth and the Man

Through the collective act of mythologising such a figure, there is a risk that the expansive world of Hamish Henderson becomes foreclosed and self-referential. The past can be a vital resource for the future, but too much nostalgia distracts us from the vital work – the darg – that we must do in the here and now, with an eye to the future. We must continually check our blind spots; Henderson had his blind spots too.

The ground under our feet is shifting very fast. Right now is the time when the transformational change must begin. Indifference is not an option. To understand that we are always unfinished gives us radical hope that things can change, that poetry can ‘become people.’ Henderson leaves us with an inexpressible human resolve to continue:

‘We must start here, where we stand – we can do no other.’



Painting is ‘Scotland’s Voices’ by Sandy Moffat, Junor Gallery

Comments (39)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Ian Wight says:

    Poetry becomes people, and people’s collective poetry becomes place, the manifestation of their convivial placemaking. This making is our poiesis – our presencing in the world, as Kenneth White frames it. There is a public proclaiming of something on a par with faith in all this, an essential professing, a professing of essence, a prof-essence. And here we might sense an opening to evolving professionalism, especially beyond its modern managerialist forms, beyond the status quo. Such professionalism – as poiesis, backed by personal praxis and inter-personal ethos – becomes people… marked by a keen awareness of what, why and how they ‘profess’. Here’s to our collective well-becoming! Hoping Hamish might cheer this on, as part of today’s ‘carrying stream’ current. Thanks for this stimulation Mairi.

  2. Jack collatin says:

    Was I alone in raging at Henderson’s ‘Freedom Come All Ye’ being hijacked by the Brit Establishment to open Glasgow’s (BBC England’s ) Commonwealth Games.
    Pumeza Matshikiza opened with a near perfect rendition:-

    “Nae mair will the bonnie callants
    Mairch tae war when oor braggarts crousely craw,
    Nor wee weans frae pit-heid and clachan
    Mourn the ships sailin’ doon the Broomielaw.
    Broken faimlies in lands we’ve herriet,
    Will curse Scotland the Brave nae mair, nae mair;
    Black and white, ane til ither mairriet,
    Mak the vile barracks o’ their maisters bare.

    So come all ye at hame wi’ Freedom,
    Never heed whit the hoodies croak for doom.
    In your hoose a’ the bairns o’ Adam
    Can find breid, barley-bree and painted room.
    When MacLean meets wi’s freens in Springburn
    A’ the roses and geans will turn tae bloom,
    And a black boy frae yont Nyanga
    Dings the fell gallows o’ the burghers doon.”
    Empress Elizabeth II overseeing the Gathering of her Empire’s Colonies, Brit Uniformed Army Navy and Airforce Personnel handing out the medals and the Red Arrows Fly roaring thunderously across the Glasgow sky, exuding a stream of red white and blue triumphalism in their wake.
    I wonder what the ‘black boys from Nyanga’ made of the Empire’s show of strength that night?

    I can only assume that Henderson would not have approved of his song being warped in this way.
    It’s not just the Calvinists who throttle Freedom.
    It’s the whole of the Establishment, the Filthy Rich, The Iron Heel Oligarchy, no matter what their faith or none.

    Even Frankie Boyle is a darling of the Beeb now.

    Money talks on behalf of those with wealth, and muffles the cries of those with none, in equal measure.
    The de’il’s equilibrium.

    Our children are still being Press Ganged into fighting for Boris Johnson’s Empire II.

    “Nae mair will the bonnie callants
    Mairch tae war when oor braggarts crousely craw,
    Nor wee weans frae pit-heid and clachan
    Mourn the ships sailin’ doon the Broomielaw.”

    ‘Nae mair’ indeed.
    Iran is in the New World Order cross hairs right now.

  3. Alistair Taylor says:

    A bloody good article, Mairi.
    Thank you very much.

  4. Darby O'Gill says:

    Congratulations Mairi on providing us with such a beautifully-constructed tribute to Hamish Henderson and his work. I enjoyed it so much I read it three times.

    You might be interested to know that his legacy is still alive and well in the form of the Edinburgh People’s Festival. Formed in 2002 on the death of the great man it attempts to continue the more radical cultural element of the original Edinburgh People’s Festival Ceilidh founded by Henderson, Joan Littlewood, Hugh McDiarmid, inter alia, in 1951.

  5. PictAtRandom says:

    Ding the fell gallas o managerialism doun.

  6. MBC says:

    A great article Mairi, a great tribute to the man. I knew him from our time at Edinburgh University George Square days in the 1980s where we were in neighbouring departments and our paths would regularly cross at lunch times, he on his way to Sandy Bell’s for a lunch time pint, with his wee dug Sandy. Then on marches and rallies for a Scottish Parliament in the 1990s, and at the occupation on Calton Hill after 1992 when the Tories got in for the third time. He was very mild and gentle, never raised his voice, that I ever heard, and was always generous, kind and encouraging to us younger ones. He was very affable and sociable. What you write about sociability is central to the man. I think a strong part of how he was able to get funding from the powers that be to set up the School of Scottish Studies in the 1950s and collect tales songs and folklore from tinkers, was that he was so mild and affable. Completely non-threatening. He could get along with the shyest and humblest of folk, and win their confidence, but also win the confidence of those in loftier academic and more moneyed circles. He was his own man, shambling yet focused, a genuine original one of a kind and that was part of his appeal. Yes, in many ways it was easier to do these things in the post war period of social experimentation when social history was all the rage and the Welfare State was the ideal, than after Thatcher came to power in 1979. After the war and the people’s vote that delivered the idealistic Attlee government, there was a turn towards looking to the people, and the folk movement that blossomed was a genuinely British phenomena which explored the roots and common culture and lives of the ordinary working folk of these isles and their ancient folk history whether north or south of the Border. The Welfare State seemed like a commonwealth that bound us all together, a wee British empire, just for us, the ordinary folk of these isles after the old colonial empire was gone. At that level I can understand the nostalgic attachment to Britishness that came from those times that many older people still cling to though I have to wonder where they have been hiding since 1974. It was a time of rebuilding and renewal. But the 70s saw the oil crisis, hyper inflation and industrial strife and Scotland being left out and clearly taking another trajectory. The 1980s and 1990s saw universities come under attack from the Tories, with departmental funding linked to academic output, especially in the Arts and Humanities; never mind the quality, just the quantity. Academics ceased to have tenure and a new academic proletariat of grad students took the burdens of much of teaching. The School of Scottish Studies was threatened because it wasn’t publishing enough in what counted – academic peer reviewed journals. It produced Tocher and was largely an archive.

    I remember running into him at Queen Street station in the 1990s for a rally in George Square for a Scottish Parliament, me carrying my home made Saltire and two poles to hold it up with, as a banner, and he helped me hold it aloft in the Square, he on one end, me on the other. And there was a photo taken of the crowd that day which Andrew Marr used on the cover of his book on Scotland. You can see it being held high in the middle of the crowd, the high up bit (Hamish’s) and my bit on the shorter end.

  7. Wul says:

    Brilliant article Mairi. You have nailed it.

    I didn’t realise that the malaise in public services that I first began to notice in the mid-late nineties had a name; “New Managerialism”. A public servant friend of mine referred to it as “The creeping dehumanisation” of our vocation.

    It is, for sure, a life-destroying force. It has chased many of our best, most caring, most committed and most compassionate people out of public service (and often into long-term illness).

    Well done for naming this necrophiliac doctrine. Hamish would have hated it. Let’s open our hearts, become people again and refuse to play the new managerialism game.

  8. Jack collatin says:

    You are on another planet.
    What a cosy wee middle class world you depict.
    I am not surprised that you blocked my earlier post.

    1. Alistair Taylor says:

      Naw, we’re all on the same planet, Jack.
      Not necessarily on the same page, but the same planet.
      Anyways, give us your input, because it is always welcomed.

    2. Wul says:

      Who is “on another planet” Jack? Where is the “wee, cosy middle class world” depicted?

      Not sure what you are getting at. Your posts seems out of context.

      (As an aside, as someone who listened to years of derogatory comments about “the middle class”, “leafy suburbs”, “what do they know?” etc etc. whilst doing community work. Bear in mind that many of the most radical and beneficial changes in our society have been forced through by the oft-despised middle class. Historically they have been the only people with the financial freedom, spare time and full bellies needed to challenge existing power structures. We are truly all in this together and much of the wealth that is currently being syphoned upwards is extracted from the middle ground, leaving working class folk with no way to prosper and dropping the “was doing ok” group back into poverty )

      1. Wul says:

        Sorry to go on.

        I think we need to be wary of the habit, as working people, of brutalising ourselves. “Culture? Load of pish!” Not so long ago, most working men had a song to sing and a poem to recite in the pub.

        Human beings are deeply spiritual, romantic, visionary beasts who find a good story irresistible. ( see “take back control”) We deny our foolish, playful, sensitive, empathic selves at our peril.

        1. Jack collatin says:

          Wul, I remember Matt McGinn growling out ‘Three Nights and a Sunday’ in the back lounge of the (then) Ace Of Clubs in Dalmuir in the ‘sixties.
          Where are the working class heroes now?

      2. Jack collatin says:

        From wiki:-
        “Pádraig Henry Pearse (also known as Pádraic Pearse or Patrick Pearse; Irish: Pádraig Anraí Mac Piarais; 10 November 1879 – 3 May 1916) was an Irish teacher, barrister, poet, writer, nationalist, republican political activist and revolutionary who was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916. Following his execution along with fifteen others, Pearse came to be seen by many as the embodiment of the rebellion.”

        At what point does Henderson’s ‘carrying stream’ burst its banks?
        Many of us are done with ‘constitutional nationalism’.

        I lived through the folk revival of the ‘fifties and ‘sixties.
        We shall overcome…some day, but now is not the time.

        Where are today’s Warrior Poets?

        Padraig Pearse, his brother, and 15 others were summarily executed by the Occupying Force.
        A Man From Edinburgh, James Connelly, was propped up on a stretcher and shot.

        Politicians from a neighbouring foreign land ‘forbid’ us, because they have might and money, and we have a fat bloated Fifth Column, the ‘Mac Establishment’, oppressing our nation and its citizens.
        When will the stream become a torrent?
        In the coffee houses of the Old Town?
        I doubt it.

        Alistair Taylor, I am a 71 year old damp squib.
        I used to be a firebrand, and a poet.

        ‘Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now’.

        I’m still on the pavement, thinkin’ ’bout the Government, mind, though but.

        Rise up, people of letters; the day is at hand.

        1. Alistair Taylor says:

          Aye, the fire’s no out yet, Jack. Throw another peat on it.
          And thank you Wul, for the good words.
          Deeply spiritual, romantic and visionary.
          It’s coming yet for a’ that.

  9. John McLeod says:

    The carrying stream is still there, in the way we talk to each other, what makes us laugh, everyday kindness. Its what gives the independence movement its force in the face of almost total mainstream media opposition. Although ceilidhs and songs are important, they are just part of it. I think that the book ‘Blossom’ by Lesley Riddoch, captures some wonderful ways that the carrying stream permeates different aspects of life in Scotland. Personally, I would like to see the government do more to support it, through enabling legislation. In Norway, they celebrate their national day, 17th May, with children and their teachers marching and dancing through the streets of every town and city, playing music. While the new public management is undoubtedly an awful thing, it has always been there in some form, such as hierarchical class-based control. I also don’t think it exists in isolation – it thrives because it fits into a whole unsustainable way of life that is producing mass extinction, plastic pollution, and so on. To find a way through this, like previous generations that survived the oppression that faced them at the time, we need songs where we all know the words and can sing together.

    1. Jack collatin says:

      John, each 21st June, France holds a national Fetes de la Musique. In cities ,town, villages, and hamlets, amateur musicians join together in a festval of music, on the4 streets, and BQ’s and sidewalk cafes feed the throngs.
      I came across this by chance in Riec sur Belon, Brittany a few years ago.
      When we were discovered to be visiting ‘Celts’, we had no peace until we sang a few songs, and danced a jig or two.
      It was an amazing day.
      A June Festival here would be a step forward.
      You only have my word for it, but I consider myself a kind soul, who enjoys a laugh, and would feed a wandering stranger (indeed have done, many a time). However, we are in a parlous state, not of our making.
      Now’s the day, and now’s the hour.
      We only have two cheeks to turn.

      1. John McLeod says:

        Another example of what is possible. Why aren’t we doing more of this?

        1. Wul says:

          “Why aren’t we doing more of this?”

          Because we haven’t embodied our own culture. We are just north British residents (well those of us in charge of Scotland’s “art” & “culture” are).

          When’s the next World War or Royal celebration? Ah canny wait.

          1. John McLeod says:

            “Embodied our own culture”. Do you have any suggestions about how to take this forwartd?

  10. Fearghas Beag says:

    The deification of (important) individuals like Hamish continues the well-trodden hagiographic tradition of Scottish Calvinist exceptionalism. We arra (chosen) people, wha’s like us…!

      1. Fearghas Beag says:

        Aye, really.

    1. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

      From Tom Devine’s ‘The Scottish Nation 1700-2000’ –

      “Some of the intellectuals might revile the Covenanters of the seventeenth century as religious fanatics, but for the common people of much of the Lowlands they were the brave champions of Scottish Presbyterianism who had fought courageously for freedom of conscience against the oppression of the state. They too became national icons like Wallace and Bruce, and by the early nineteenth century it had become common for mass popular rallies to be held at Bannockburn, where Bruce had won his famous victory against the English, and also on the old battlefields where the Covenanters had fought and died. One of the crucial effects of the Covenanting tradition was to remind the Scots that Presbyterianism, their form of Protestantism, was distinct and separate from the Protestantism of England. Popular texts such as ‘Scots Worthies’ kept alive the Reformation and Covenanting legacies and even helped to inspire the later radical movements of the 1790s with their Calvinist vision in the equality of souls before God.” (page 30)

      1. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

        My quote from Tom Devine is of course addressed to Fearghas Beag (2:22).

      2. Fearghas Beag says:

        You make my point very well for me.

        1. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

          Your original post implicitly champions the common person. You inconsistently reject recognition of those who share your view.

          1. Fearghas Beag says:

            The only thing rejected was hagiography.

    2. Wul says:

      Aye Wee Fearghas. He’s a “diety” right enough.

      All those statues of Henderson in our cities. All those poems and songs of his that we are made to learn in school. All those commemorative events, TV and radio programmes we have to suffer.

      Dream on.

      1. Fearghas Beag says:

        All those articles aboot him, all those events at Edinburgh Book Fest and elsewhere, all those tv progs.. Do continue, mas e do thoil e.

      2. Stuart Paterson says:

        Hear hear Wul. There is ONE new book of new work celebrating HH in this the centenary year of his birth. One. Where indeed are the statues, school set texts, TV programmes, street names etc?

        1. Alistair Taylor says:

          It might encourage the socialists, Stuart.

        2. Fearghas Beag says:

          There are enough statues and set texts etc of important men already.

  11. Graeme Purves says:

    But, of course, managerialism and professionalism are frequently in tension, if not conflict, as I was frequently reminded during the course of my civil service career. Where they are, I am militant in siding with professionalism.

  12. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

    Fearghas Beag (22nd August 2019 at 4:44 pm) wrote: “The only thing rejected was hagiography.”
    Your point is accepted insofar as “hagiography” is characterised by uncritical adulation. Universal anonymity is not of course the only alternative. Sound assessment of merit can lead to someone being “mentioned in despatches”.

    Anyway, your comment came to mind just now as I read the following in an article:

    “There are circles of Kierkegaard scholarship, some of it academically solemn and much of it more in the nature of fan clubs. One can only guess what he would make of professors who lecture on his contempt for professors and lecturing, or of admirers who have made him, of all things he unremittingly despised, popular.” (‘Kierkegaard for Grownups’ by Richard John Neuhaus, 2004)

    1. Fearghas Beag says:

      Thanks. Same for Kafka. The danger is always that the work itself (the song, the poem, the painting etc) is made secondary to the hagiographic hero…

  13. Darby O'Gill says:

    ‘There’s no principle in the world that says if you sit back and spectate, things will come right.’ So why not join the Edinburgh People’s Festival committee and make a contribution to Scottish cultural life instead of merely making noises off.

  14. Roland says:

    This thread reminds me of being in the pub – Sandy Bell’s maybe! Still I think it’s time for me to head home and leave it to the diehards to feel like they have put the world to rights….

  15. John Page says:

    Thank you, Mairi for this wonderful piece, John

  16. Alison Vogelaar says:

    Oh this is wonderful. Thank you so much.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.