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Artists versus writers

Posted: June 4th, 2008, by Stan Tontas

Not long after writing my rant about Michel Houellebecq, I picked up (for pennies) a book of essays (Some Recent Attacks) by James Kelman. He’s the author that best transmits Glasgow’s voice, but only famous elsewhere for being the Booker Prize winner who says “fuck” a lot.

One essay, Artists and Value, argues that stereotype and cliché are marks of a bad writer. Of course. But he goes further, making the connection between bad writing and bad attitudes:

“One thing you do find is that many writers who are described as “good” aren’t that good at all, not when you examine their work closely (…) the clichés, the shopsoiled phrases, the timeworn description; basic technical stuff. What it usually signifies is a striaghtforward lack of interest in, or awareness of, particulars. They don’t reach the concrete. (…) And by quick extension of that:

“Everybody on the broo is lazy. Jews are greedy. Black people are criminals. Red haired people are bad tempered. Irish people are ignorant. Peasants are hamfisted. Glaswegian working class males are drunken wife-beaters.

(…) Writers who use too many clichés or timeworn phrases or shopsoiled figures of speech either just don’t care or they’re being lazy.”

And why are we told that certain writers are “good”?

“In our society it isn’t only works of art that have a value placed on them by external forces, so do the actual creators themselves, the artists. The value is economic although it occasionally attempts to masquerade as aesthetic, and received wisdom brooks no distinction.”

JK Rocking! Best £1.50 I’ve spent this year. He wrote this ~15 years ago and it’s still both true and hardly recognised.

Stan Tontas

Stan lives in Glasgow.

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