Lately I’ve Been Reading:

Hobsbawm, E. & Ranger, T. (Eds.). (1993). The Invention Of Tradition (Cambridge: University Press)

I first read this over eighteen years back, re-reading it now it’s exactly the same. When I first read it, I borrowed it from a library, and found the first essay on the fabrication of a Scottish highland tradition hilarious (then and now it incites an enjoyably English sense of condescension at the whole trying-too-hard ersatz embroidery). The day-to-day travails of living in Scotland throughout the intervening era have allowed the essay to endure in my memory, and caused me recurring irritation at not having bought the book, until inevitably, I eventually had to succumb and buy a copy…

Unusually, the experience of re-reading the other essays was exactly the same as before. the first essay offers a sardonic satisfaction that the subsequent essays can’t compare to. The Welsh equivalent shows a principality grasping at fairytales so desperately, as to shower the Scots with some dignity by comparison. The essay on the evolving presentations of monarchic ceremony brings the book to a boring cessation: reading more like a series of inventory lists than an account. The sections on India and Africa struggle to squeeze all they have to say into so small a space, the sudden switch from the frivolous decorations of proud people to the cynical subjugation of far-away tribes, who have to live with the consequences of decisions taken just as lightly, is a struggle to read. This is mostly a matter of scale and tone, but also of misappropriation because the subject don’t sit comfortably with the earlier essays.

The final summary chapter gets the book back on track but leaves a bitter after-taste because it shows what the book might’ve been had the many areas of modern life discussed, been researched from that perspective at that time. The eighteen year interval since my initial perusal makes the re-reading more frustrating than interesting because it shows that by now I really wanted a revised edition with some answers to the many questions raised at the end.

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