‘Transitory Thresholds’: geographic imaginings of adolescence in women’s fictionfrom north-east Scotland’, Scottish Literary Review: Winter 2011-12, 81-99.

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‘Transitory Thresholds’: geographic imaginings of adolescence in women’s fictionfrom north-east Scotland’, Scottish Literary Review: Winter 2011-12, 81-99.

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  ‘Transitory Thresholds’: geographic imaginings of adolescence inwomen’s fiction from north-east ScotlandIn his study of literary geography,  Atlas of the European Novel  , Franco Moretti suggests that ‘near the borders  figurality rises  spaces and tropes are entwined, rhetoric is dependent upon space!’ "  #$ploring that assertion and its implications, this essay focuses on the borderline territory of adolescence and its representation within specific Scottish geographies and at twocontrasting historical moments! %ecent cinematic engagements with adolescent masculinity demonstrate the force of Moretti’s analysis, while early twentieth-century depictions of adolescent female se$uality by women writers complicate understanding of the spatial imagination and its relationship to the particular conte$t from which it emerges!In a number of Scottish films in recent years there has been a consistent and powerful engagement with ‘borders’ in terms of masculine identities in transition, on the &erge of adulthood and of adult se$uality! 'en (oach’s Sweet Sixteen  )*++* e$emplifies this concern  by its &ery title but films such as Small Faces  )".   and  Ratcatcher   )" also show boys entering a world of masculine conflict and going through changing engagements with the social order! *  /dolescence, as 'riste&a suggests, is a time of ab0ection, a moment at which  both borders and liminal states become acutely important! 1  In these films that liminality is  both a central thematic concern and a dominant structural metaphor! The films share, moreo&er, a particular pattern in playing out the entry into adulthood: a stri2ing common "  feature is the way in which central characters remain fro3en at these transitional moments! In Sweet Sixteen  the central character, (iam, is depicted at the end of the film trapped on a beachwith an incoming tide on one side and the police on their way on the other, unable to go forward or bac2! 4aught between the impossible fluidity of the sea and the symbolic order of authority, he remains fi$ed in his moment of transition! In  Ratcatcher  , a film which captures 5lasgow in the dustbin stri2e of the "6+s and the mo&ement of families from urban slums to new housing estates on the outs2irts of the city, there is an e&en more memorable final image of 7ames, the adolescent boy at the film’s centre, in a state of drowned suspension in the waters of a canal near his house: he drifts in silence, denied childhood but unable to  progress into being a man! /n e8ually stri2ing image dominates the conclusion of the Winter Guest )"6: set on the Fife coast on a day in which ice has loc2ed land and sea together, it shows one of its adolescent boy characters disappearing onto the fro3en sea, wal2ing forward  but into a misty nothingness! 9e too is unable to return, to the friend of his childhood, but cannot progress into any real alternati&e! Small Faces ,   again with an urban 5lasgow setting, is e&en more e$plicit in its articulation of the fro3en moment as a resistance to adulthood: (e$, the boy who has been drawn into the more adult gangland acti&ities and se$ual liaisons of his older brothers, returns at the end of the film to sit among children in the happy Saturday morning 2ids cinema, singing along with them in the ‘minors /4 song’! The final &oiceo&er is of (e$ tal2ing about a dream he’d had, well, ‘more of a nightmare! I grew hair all o&er my body, I had body odour, I suffered from uncontrollable and senseless impulses;Idreamt I was a man< (uc2ily, when I wo2e up I was a boy again!’ (e$ too remains fi$ed in the moment of transition!The second notable feature shared by these films is the way in which stasis at the point of entry to adulthood is played out against a landscape manifested e$plicitly through spatial *  demarcations: either gangland urban territories, as in Small Faces  or the opposition of different entities= water and land as in The Winter Guest   and the close of Sweet Sixteen  or the contrast between city and country as in  Ratcatcher. #ach film operates with a spatial imagining in which different sites and their borders are &ery clearly identified! This &isual representation of psychic structures is again most clearly articulated in Small Faces  which opens with long camera shots lingering o&er a child’s drawing of his world, 5lasgow mappedout in territories indicated by the names of the different gangs, with (e$ physically, morally and metaphorically mo&ing between them! /dolescent masculinity and the imperati&e to ‘be a man’ is imagined in the mapping out of an urban landscapes constructed through gangland  borders, signifying the pressures to belong! In this group of films growing up is imagined andunderstood in terms of the mo&ement from one space into another in a world defined by  borders: the fact that each film arrests this de&elopment at the moment of transition also suggests a sense of crisis surrounding entry into masculinity at this historical and geographical moment! Moretti’s idea of a spatial imagination and of a particular metaphoric insistence pro&o2ed by liminality wor2s well = indeed almost too neatly - in a reading of these films: in e$ploring thetransitional, fluid and problematic field of adolescent masculinity, &isual metaphors of  borders ser&e to e$press its central dynamic: the boys desire to grow up but fear what that might mean! This process of figuration also wor2s metonymically: through synecdoche,  particular aspects of Scottish life )territoriality, gangland parameters, city slums and housing estates enact the tensions of Scottish masculinity! In framing Scottish adolescent male identity in the late "+s through a spatial organisation that represents their concerns the films support %icoeur’s argument in The    Rule of etaphor   )"6> - which Morretti draws upon - that metaphors become indispensable when we e$plore a referential field that is not 1  directly accessible! ?  )In Small Faces , for e$ample, when the bus draws away lea&ing (e$ about to enter the ri&al gang’s territory of ‘Tongland’ the &isual image con&eys the comple$ity of the moment - his moral isolation as he mo&es away from earlier loyalties, his crossing o&er from childhood through a more adult decision and his response to a particular &ersion of masculinity and &iolence - while the flag-li2e effect of a bright blue of the s2y, intersected with white clouds, reinforces the specifically Scottish dimension of his situation! The stri2ing similarity of motif in the films suggests a dominant sense that late twentieth-century Scottish male identity is challenging to define: it demands a high degree of metaphor to con&ey its comple$ities! It also reinforces the idea of specific historical and geographical intersections which produce a reiteration of certain images and structures!If searching for a similarly dominant construction of images in the representation of adolescent female identity, the handling of female se$uality in women’s fiction from the  @orth-east of Scotland in the mid-twentieth century also appears to offer a stri2ing pattern of shared concerns and an e8ually insistent, if different, metaphoric framewor2! 9ere, howe&er, the cluster of images, if located within a historical and geographical conte$t, pro&es less amenable to the 2ind of conflating analysis of time place and concern outlined in the e$ampleabo&e and raises 8uestions not only around the narrati&e structures for representing female adolescence but also about the relationship between geographical and historical specificity and the unpic2ing of metaphor! In fiction by Aiolet 7acob, (orna Moon, 7essie 'esson and to a lesser e$tent @an Shepherd there is, again a powerful concern with the mo&ement into adulthood and se$uality here too there is a stri2ingly similar cluster of images and narrati&e structures deployed to e$press this interest! In this cluster of more ob&iously rural no&els, transitional moments into adult ?  awareness are repeatedly associated with the figure of the ‘ootlin’ )a term used by 7essie 'esson > : outsiders such as a gypsies, tramps, tin2ers, beggars! Bhen these writers address the mo&ement between girlhood and a female se$uality their narrati&es are less concerned with clear demarcations of boundaries, as in the cinematic e$plorations of masculinity, but are repeatedly dri&en towards marginal spaces, undesignated territories, and the people who inhabit them: tra&ellers, gypsies, tin2ers, circus fol2! These figures often ha&e ob&ious lin2s with ballads and &ernacular culture and, in a significant number of cases, are in some way mutilated or grotes8ue! .  Cerhaps the archetypal e$ample of this pattern is Aiolet 7acob’s short story ‘The Debatable (and’ srcinally published in Tales of y !wn "ountry  in "**! 6  This focuses on *+ year -old 7essie-Mary, brought up in a rough, part of the countryside, by an old woman who might  be her grandmother, in a ho&el within the debatable land separating the laird from his neighbours! Epon the death of the old woman, she is made to go and li&e within the ‘symbolic order’, as represented by the cottage of respectable and tidy Mrs Muirhead! There her labour is e$ploited and the owner’s son foists undesirable attentions on her! Trying to escape from him and his friend, as they chase her through the woods, she come across a man standing by a tent, and ta2es refuge therein while he sets her pursuers off on the wrong trac2! 4amped on the debatable land, the man is tall and lean: ‘9is face was as brown as the fir-stems that closed him in on either side of the loaning, and his eyes, brown also, had a  peculiar, watchful light that was almost startling! 9e stood as still as though he were an image, and he wore a gold ring in either ear!’ )p!6 The man says little, the girl goes bac2 to her wor2 and the man remains at the door of his tent, smo2ing on his ‘transitory threshold’! )p!1 Following this encounter, the young blac2 Spanish hen goes missing from the Muirhead dwelling, 7essie-Mary gets blamed for its neglect, and the Muirhead son resol&es >
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