James Kelman: Politics and Aesthetics
This study argues that James Kelman’s work should not be construed as a resigned capitulation to capitalist domination or to the fracture of a once unified working-class collective purpose. Politics are to be found not only in the content but also the form of Kelman’s work. The radical aspect of his style is that rather than pandering to a ready-made identity, he remains antagonistically non-identical to the prevailing logic of capitalism by contesting its supposedly shared worldview and modes of perception. Instead, Kelman’s fiction continually disputes the notion of consensus by revealing the voices of those excluded, those who are unaccounted for in that false consensus. His work uncovers a stark contradiction in the governing logic of our times: we are asked to accept that class has disappeared at the same time that we are told the system that causes it in the first place – capitalism – is inevitably here forever. Even the most alienated individuals in his stories remind us that isolation can transcend itself by returning us to the social conditions that are its cause. We find politics in Kelman’s aesthetics, as his work formally contests who has the right to feel, to think, to speak.
Aaron Kelly is a lecturer in modern and contemporary literature at the University of Edinburgh.