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Robert Burns and the Re-making of National Memory in Contemporary Scotland

Author(s): Josephine Dougal

Journal: Authorship
ISSN 2034-4643

Volume: 1;
Issue: 2;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Keywords: Robert Burns | Scotland | memory | cultural afterlives | authorship

Robert Burns, the eighteenth-century Scottish poet and song writer, continues to maintain a substantial cultural ‘afterlife’ in the twenty first century, both within Scotland and beyond. Achieving cult status in the nineteenth century, the power of Burns as a popular cultural icon remains undiminished. Where the appropriation of Burns as national icon in the nineteenth century was made manifest in statuary, commemorative objects, and painted portraits, the twenty-first century has been marked by the proliferation of the image of Burns in new forms and technologies, with Burns as product and brand logo, museum and heritage attraction, and tourism industry selling point. This recent flourishing of interest and engagement raises questions about why and how an eighteenth-century poet continues to be the object of such extensive cultural elaboration at this time. In approaching this question, some fruitful lines of enquiry are being suggested in recent discussions that have looked at the nineteenth-century Burns as a ‘mobilizing agent in collective memory production’ (Rigney 2011, 81). One such appraisal points to how the construction of Burns in the nineteenth century as an iconic figure of Scottish cultural memory has the potential to ‘be resignified as necessary in subsequent chronological and geographical sites’ (Davis 2010, 14). It is this potential for the resignification of Burns as a symbolic site for the nation’s memory that this paper explores. In pointing to Burns’ representation in a variety of popular forms and in public discourse, the paper examines how a writer comes to be invested and reinvested as the voice and persona of the nation.
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