Book Review: Celtic Geographies

Celtic Geographies:  Old Culture, New Times, edited by David C. Harvey, Rhys Jones, Neil McInroy, & Christine Milligan

This book is almost a parody of what a history of the Celtic peoples and their present identity politics should be.  It is almost a parody because, like many works about identity politics, the authors lack self-awareness about how they are part of the problem rather than part of the solution when it comes to defending and celebrating marginalized peoples.  Some of these essays are genuinely humorous and some of them are downright catastrophic for the behavior of the contemporary left from which these authors come.  Considering that the authors regularly view conservative and evil as synonymous (which is an unfortunate and infantile tendency among many contemporary academics and pundits), this book is not nearly as powerful a volume as it could and should be, but for those readers who are not offended by its obvious and lamentable biases and who can understand its fashionable academic jargon, there is comedy to be found here even if insight is rather thin on the ground.  At any rate, this book provides an example of the sort of academic research that is done, hopefully without costing taxpayers a lot of money when it comes to wasted grants on the exploration of various left-wing views on Celticity.

This book is a bit more than 250 pages long and is divided into fourteen papers and four parts.  After a list of plates, figures, tables, notes on contributors, and acknowledgements, the book begins with an introduction by the editors that discusses the timing and spacing of various complex Celtic geographies (1).  After that the first part of the book contains several essays that discuss othering and identity politics (I), including one about the way that Celtic urban culture was marginalized by English elites similar to the way that conservative urban culture is marganalized by contemporary leftist elites (2), as well as a discussion of attitudes towards land in the Scottish Highlands after 1914 (3), the geohistory of the Celtic devolution from an anti-Conservative perspective (4), and Welsh civil identity in the 21st century (5).  The second part of the book then looks at sites of meaning (II) with essays on Scotland’s new Parliament (6) and its authenticity, Narratives of self and other in the Museum of Scotland (7), Tourism and the construction of Celticity in Ireland and Brittany (8), the Scottish diaspora in the United States and Tartan Day (9), and Celtic spirituality in Cornwall (10).  The third part of the book discusses youth culture and Celtic revival (III) with a look at the memory of the rebellious Gael in Western Scotland’s Catholic Irish diaspora (11), the musical re-making of Celtic culture in a Hebridean music festival (12), and constructions of Celtic in contemporary British youth culture (13).  The fourth part of the book consists of an epilogue that discusses a geography of Celtic appropriations (IV, 14), after which there is a bibliography and index.

In reading this book, I must admit that my own perspective greatly shapes my own view of Celtic tradition.  My own political biases are fairly obvious, but just like the authors of these essays sometimes I have to rein in my tendency to use language that alienates those who might be able to enjoy what I have to say because they cannot understand the vocabulary.  In this case, the distancing and alienating vocabulary appears to be intentional, both to ensure publication in journals that appreciate certain kinds of jargon relating to identity politics, as well as to make the book accessible only to fellow insiders.  Given the fact that the Celtic peoples (however they are defined) have tended to be marginalized precisely through linguistic games and self-serving elite politics on the part of England and France (if not always the United States), the fact that the authors themselves act in the same way while celebrating a marginal people allows for some truly ironic moments of great pleasure, such as the way that some authors try desperately not to speak evil of the neo-Confederate Celtic League movement in the Southeastern United States when they would never consent to engaging in a respectful manner with many of the people of Celtic descent in the United States, particularly those a part of the same rural cultures that were marginalized by the English in the Middle Ages [1].

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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