A Self-defining North? by Maggie Bullett, Huddersfield
Walter Lippman noted in 1922 that ‘for the most part we do not first see and then define, we define first and then see’. If we accept this proposition, it is apparent that how the North is defined in the imagination is at least as important as anything we consider to be objective reality.
The question is, who does the defining? This is always plural and relative and operates within many different spheres of interest, but it is probably fair to say that for centuries, the greater part of the accumulative imaginative construct of the North has been defined by those who do not reside in the North. Now, while there is a long history of the stereotyped and labelled adopting the label as their own badge, and subverting its meaning to their own cause, this approach retains the unspoken, underlying presumption that approbation remains in the gift of the other, in this case, the non-Northerner.
So, how does the North shift from the current power relationship, so that it would not be remarkable for the North, as a collective voice, to act as though it held approbation of itself within its own ‘gift’, rather than appealing to the non-North for acceptance? This shift, or redefining, is cultural, both with a capital C and small c. Self-approbating Northern Culture (with a capital C) could bring about a self- approbating everyday culture in the North (with a small c). In other words, Culture can be used to transform the public imagination of North from the position of an apologist, having to work for another’s approval, to a position where there exists a common-sense, taken granted presumption that the North is an equal partner within a small island nation.
Therefore, as a voice, the North needs to overcome the urge to enter into combative, comparative dialogue with the South. Adopting a comparative position perpetuates the North as an entity that seeks approval of the other, and in any case, in current circumstances, the social and economic odds will nearly always be stacked against the North. Rather, the promotion through Culture (with a capital C) of a self-assured North, one that has no need to denigrate others in order to feel good about itself, begins to change how the North is defined in the everyday cultural imagination of those who have the privilege of living there. So the naïve question I would like to put is, ‘is it possible for a ‘North’ to exist outside of being defined against a ‘South’? And, if that is possible, what new types of self-definition could be opened up for our imagining?
Maggie Bullett, 01.12.2013