At the Hands across the Sea Conference held at An Lanntair in Stornoway (24-25th March 2022) Ray and Kathryn presented their paper “‘Play Me Something’: poetic storytelling and the context of cultural resilience”. This paper offered an exploration from a ‘longer-view’ in regard of subalternity and tensions over both Scottish Gaelic and Breton cultural resilience, minority language and culture expression, as well as salient issues of island identity and place, through the lens of Tim Neat and John Berger’s award-winning film Play Me Something (1989).
“On the small, Gaelic island of Barra, the island’s issues of subalternity and resilience are related in the context of the distant island-city of Venice by a mesmerising storyteller. The latter’s poetic powers simultaneously summons the parallel island voices of tradition and modernity while the Gramscian dimension of his tale implicitly offers an analytical framework with which the creative artist can nurture an innovative approach to cultural resilience and resistance.”
Burnett and Burnett, 2022
For details on the conference: “Film-Poetry, Hybridity and Cultural Resilience in the Scottish Highlands & Islands and Western Brittany” 24-25th March 2022, An Lanntair, Stornoway, Lewis. Organised by the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and the University of Western Brittany (UBO/HCTI). Organisers: Lindsay Blair (UHI) & Camille Manfredi (UBO/HCTI).
Play Me Something: poetic storytelling and the context of cultural resilience
Ray Burnett, Kathryn Burnett, Scottish Centre for Island Studies, University of the West of Scotland
As in the present 2014 referendum era, so in the earlier pivotal 1979 referendum period, there was a similar identifiable output of creative activity over the ‘national question’ – a struggle over identity and place. A notable feature of the latter was its intermediality, in particular the output of dramatists (John McGrath, 7:84 Scotland) and film-makers (Douglas Eadie, Mike Alexander, Tim Neat) with poets, singers, musicians, tradition-bearers and collectors (Hamish Henderson, Sorley MacLean, Margaret Bennett).
Of particular significance on this salient was the extensive filmic work of Douglas Eadie, Mike Alexander and Tim Neat and their engagement with the poetry, song, music and tradition of Scotland’s Scots and Gaelic communities – a common cause engagement that extended to the minority cultural output of Brittany (Tri Yann, Gilles Servat, Youenn Gwernig Alan Stivell, Claudine Mazéas).
It was progressive artistic work based on a recognition that the promotion of minority languages, cultures and traditions has an inherently political dimension: an alignment in a wider war of position over the contested terrain of land and language that acknowledged a tension between the limiting specifics of grounded community cultural referrals and a necessary engagement beyond, on a wider societal and political field.
This paper explores this tension over cultural resilience through the lens of an award-winning film from this earlier era – Tim Neat and John Berger’s Play Me Something (1989). On the small, Gaelic island of Barra, the island’s issues of subalternity and resilience are related in the context of the distant island-city of Venice by a mesmerising storyteller. The latter’s poetic powers simultaneously summons the parallel island voices of tradition and modernity while the Gramscian dimension of his tale implicitly offers an analytical framework with which the creative artist can nurture an innovative approach to cultural resilience and resistance.
Mr Ray Burnett, Scottish Centre for Island Studies, is a writer and researcher on transnational dimensions of Scotland’s cultural and social history, with particular regard to the highlands and islands, and long-standing engagement with the issues of a subaltern Scotland. (burnett.ray@gmailcom)
Dr Kathryn A. Burnett, Scottish Centre for Island Studies, Senior Lecturer, University of the West of Scotland teaches inter-disciplinary Masters programmes in Creative Arts Practice and Media. Research includes representation of remote and island spaces; Scottish cultural heritage contexts for applied creative practice incl. archives, cultural place narratives, visuality of rurality and its mediatization. (firstname.lastname@example.org)