The Radical Field
That the work of Kenneth White is a landmark not only in Scottish literature but in the field of world writing and thought, is something that many people have known for a long time. But if the influence of White’s work has been spreading, and will continue to do so, relatively few people even yet have a sense of its complete range. The aim of the late Tony McManus, writer, musician and educationalist, who went deeply into White’s work in French and English over many years, is to do just that.
In the first biographical part, ‘The Initial Ground’, McManus goes into White’s background, tracing his way from Glasgow to Ayrshire, from Scotland to Germany and France, analyzing his relationship to the British cultural context and to the contemporary English language literary scene, to which he returned, after a long break, in the late eighties.
In the second part of his book, ‘The Emergent Field’, McManus lays out the various strands of White’s work and his geopoetics, seeing him first as an essential figure in the strongest Scottish cultural and intellectual tradition, then following his path in the literary and philosophical fields of Europe, America and Asia. A final chapter in this section points to analogies between White’s work and some of the most radical advances of recent times in physics and biology.
In the third section, entitled ’Open World Writing’, McManus draws attention to the original methods employed by White in his essay-books, his narrative books and his poetry. This is more than a study in stylistics. It reads more like the cartography, indeed the seismography, of the field of high intellectual energy which is geopoetics.
We have a lot of literature. We have a lot of literary and sociocultural commentary. We have very few books that register a real breakthrough. This is one of them