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James Kelman

Politics and Aesthetics


Aaron Kelly

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.


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Acknowledgements ix Abbreviations xi Introduction Class Matters 1 Aesthetics and Politics 11 Disagreements with Consensus 25 Capitalism and Identity 35 Chapter 1 Literature and the Existence of Working-Class Intellectuals: Unfree Direct Discourse 51 Against Representation 61 Democracy of Voice 71 Unfree Direct Discourse 86 Social Existentialism 102 Chapter 2 Melancholy Knowledge and the Truth of Art: Realist and Non-Realist Modes 115 Melancholy Knowledge and Truth 119 Culture and Emancipation 130 Working-Class Aesthetics and Non-Realist Modes 146 viii Chapter 3 How Late Was Late Capitalism? The Untimely Spaces of the Present 165 Cognitive Mapping 173 Mapping Glasgow 190 Scotland and Devolution 204 Works Cited 227 Index 235

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