(Scots Law) A common; a piece of land in which two or more persons have a common right.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why Moffat? And the invention of Environment

From Alan Thomson, Annandale and Eskdale Arts Convenor

Why Moffat? This question has become a recurring refrain as the stature and scope of the partnership between Moffat Book Events and the All Russia State Library for Foreign Literature has developed over three years.

Initially the answer was straightforward. Russia: Lessons and Legacy – The Alexander Men Conference 2012 was developed from an idea discussed by two old friends, Dr Ekaterina Genieva, Director General of the Library and Moffat resident Elizabeth Roberts.
During the planning and delivery of TRANSlation TRANSformed – contemporary aspects of translation between Russian and English, a slightly pejorative tone could be detected in the question, as if to imply that an international academic conference could not succeed in a small Scottish town. This time Moffat itself provided the answers in the manner in which it both welcomed and delighted the delegates. Moffat has been serving the needs of visitors for more than 200 years and knows its business very well, shop assistants and hospitality sector staff are friendly and helpful, while local people were welcoming and keen to engage with our overseas delegates. So much so that the library commissioned two young artists to study the town in some detail earlier this year. The result of these residencies, an exhibition entitled ‘An Anatomy of a Small Scottish Town’ opens in Moscow next week. I am not sure if our Russian friends understand the term ‘Place Making’ but they certainly appreciate the way in which the community of Moffat interacts with them, in and around the town’s public spaces. describes ‘Sense of Place’ as the ‘combination of characteristics that makes a place special and unique’ and ‘involves the human experience in a landscape, local knowledge and folklore’.

These last three points were covered at Moffat Book Events most recent conference; Lermontov 200. They were discussed by Claire Lamont, Emeritus Professor of English Romantic Literature at Newcastle University and a specialist in Scottish literature of the 18th and early 19th century and Dr Sigrid Riewerts, Reader at the Gutenberg University, Mainz and Scottish Studies Fellow at Edinburgh University, where with German and Scottish colleagues she is editing a new version of Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. Their topic ‘Landscape, Myth and Romanticism’ was designed to highlight how the work of our own Scott and Hogg was part of the pan-continental movement that inspired Lermontov. This was achieved.
Landschap was a apparently a Dutch word for a tract of land and what happened on it and was adopted by Dutch artists in the 16th century as a label for their work, when they began to develop the genre of painting countryside scenes.
A character called Barr, trading out of Berwickshire, brought the term to this country in 1598, but it was 34 years after people were introduced to the concept of appreciating ‘landscape’ painted on canvas that the usage expanded to describe what people could see around them.
Landscape art as popularised by the Dutch
Sterling’s analysis of his brilliant Sartor Resartus, in which he mocks Carlyle for making up words: "... and first as to the language. A good deal of this is positively barbarous. 'Environment', ' vestural', 'stertorous', 'visualized', 'complected', and others to be found I think in the first twenty pages,...are words, so far as I know, without any authority."
Environmentalists might be amused to discover that Carlyle did indeed make up the ’barbarous’ word Environment as he could find no English translation of the German Umgebung.
Yet just 175 years ago, hardly anybody spoke about "the environment," not even romantic nature poets. "Environment" was just a slightly high-flown word that meant "surroundings." When in 1827 Thomas Carlyle wrote (in an essay on Goethe) "in such an environment of circumstances," an editor should have trimmed it back as a redundancy.

1 comment:

  1. In the interests of history let me say it was clear to me from the start, perhaps because I am a relative newcomer to Moffat, that the town's history as a spa, beautiful natural setting, shops, cafes and hotels etc make it an ideal place for small international conferences. The same logic explains why Davos, a ski resort, has become the go -to place for the annual gathering of those concerned with finance whether as players or regulators. The success of our Russian conferences may have come as a surprise to those who are long-established residents or arts professionals. It can take an outsider – in this case, two outsiders – to spot an opportunity and to his great credit Alan has played his full part in enabling us to achieve our vision. And unplanned stuff happens, which may disconcert those who like life to be predictable. It was, after all, in Moffat that Macpherson the author of 'Ossian' was introduced to his publisher while both men were taking the waters, and, by the same token, during his stay in Moffat a couple of weeks ago the Russian deputy minister for culture and chair of the cultural committee of the Duma, Grigor Ivliev, met the leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Ruth Davidson. Who knows where all this one day may lead?