Justified Sinners

By Howard Slater, 28 November 2002

We have to wonder just where the publishing power lies when faced with an anthology such as this one. Coming in as Number 14 in a series of neatly produced coffee-table pocket-books with a distinct national-cultural flavour, Justified Sinners, at least in the guise of its editors, hits us first with a series of excuses and a list of omissions. The mitigating plea that states ‘we recognise that the spectrum could have been shifted left, excluding many of the established artists and writers that we have featured’ may have silenced many critics, but, when put against a seductive use of the word ‘archaeology’ and an inclusion of the Beuys-Demarco Gallery axis together with the already well-documented Irvine Welsh and KLF, it’s a shame the editors didn’t dig a little deeper towards the indefinitely definitive (the punk and post-punk scenes are regrettably absent, as are those of techno and electronica).

The inclusion of Stephen Willats and John Latham, as well as Istvan Kantor and Buckminster Fuller and Noam Chomsky, may rile the more nationalistic readers whilst also offering an internationalist legitimation, but it points to an event and personality-based notion of culture (‘it happened here’) rather than to a counter-culture of relation, roots and autoratification. The inclusion of poetry does help the anthology drift from its conventionally defined art moorings and there is much here to entice and inspire, but, perhaps as it should be, it is left to the reader to be the archaeologist: what happened at the Glasgow Free University? What is Here & Now? Is Little Sparta an ‘actually existing’ republic? Is Pete Horobin still becoming someone else? An answer to these questions, the inclusion of Alex Trocchi aside, points to a much more ‘metacategorical’ notion of counter-culture than that which can be reduced to a feeder of the nation-state.

Justified Sinners: An Archaeology of Scottish Counter-Culture Ross Birrell and Alex Finlay (eds.) // Morning Star Publications/Polygon // 2002 // ISBN 0 7486 6308 8 // £7.99

Howard Slater is a writer living in London