Of Ossian and the end of the foolishness
Peter Gow (University of St Andrews)
Paper short abstract:
The debate provoked by James Macpherson’s publication of the mythic texts of Ossian during the Scottish Enlightenment was intense. Were these stories authentic? Dr Johnson famously demanded to see the original manuscripts. Today, the debate seems ludicrous, for we have now formulated the idea of an oral tradition which has originality, but no obvious originals. There has been a major shift in sensibility between then and now, and their aesthetic criteria are no longer ours. But that shift begs a question in turn. Contemporary anthropology owes a huge debt to the Scottish Enlightenment, so what does it mean to think one of its central premises to be risible? The paper offers a possible anthropological reason, and a possible anthropology.
Paper long abstract:
Beauty, order, harmony and design