Thursday, January 21, 2010

Therapy and A Disaffection

David Lodge's novel Therapy is a true book of the 1990s when celebrity was in the wings, feeding on easy cash, TV and an emerging mania for self-promotion. It's about a sitcom writer with an obsession with Kierkegaard. Lodge makes some interesting statements about writing and journals: "The pen is like a tool, a cutting or digging tool, slicing down through the roots, probing the rockbed of memory...." and "A journal....is like talking silently to yourself. It's a mixture of monologue and autobiography."

But as I read it there was another book on my shoulder. Eventually I realised what it was. It reminded me of James Kelman, whose wonderful novel, A Disaffection, I encountered in the late eighties and haven't re-read but will do now. Therapy opened the door to Kelman's character, Patrick, who keeps up a running commentary throughout the book about Holderlin, the German writer who was ignored during his lifetime but subsequently influenced Rilke, Hesse, Celan and Trakl. Holderlin was a poet-thinker as Kelman is a novelist-philosopher. From Holderlin, tumble Heidegger and Derrida.....

Like Therapy, A Disaffection is a book about looking inward and in that sense, the nature of writing, language and thought. But it's a very different book - where Lodge is easy to read and English, Kelman is confrontational and much more experimental. He's been compared to Beckett and is an important writer.

He belonged to a writing group run by Philip Hobsbaum whose other participants included the poets Tom Leonard and Liz Lochhead. All have distinctive styles, all challenge our use of language and how we write down the words that come out of our mouths. Kelman is also incredibly outspoken about literary prizes, willing to articulate what many wouldn't dare.