James Kelman's melancholic politics

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Abstract / Description of output

This essay explores the novels of James Kelman in relation to the theorisation of melancholia and subjectivity in the work of Judith Butler. It relates a masculinised melancholia characterising Kelman's protagonists to an unacknowledged loss which I identify in general terms as the contemporary undermining of the autonomous masculine self. An originary loss for Butler institutes a process of melancholic subjectification which is characterised by anxiety, self-beratement and immobility. Acknowledgment of the precariousness of life and its necessary interrelationality serves to break fixed attachments to this loss and to the past and move the subject through a process of mourning which opens the possibility of new and constructive engagement with life. Focusing on Kelman's novels as enacting an inauguration of mourning, this essay argues for the political significance of Kelman's literary strategies in terms of what Butler characterises as the 'social battleground' of the psyche. It culminates in a reading of Kelman's latest novel, 'Mo said she was quirky', as concluding a trajectory of masculine loss in Kelman's novels.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-112
Number of pages23
JournalScottish Literary Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2015

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • James Kelman
  • Judith Butler
  • melancholia


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