There's an interesting interview with Scottish writers Alasdair Gray and James Kelman in the newest issue of the journal Contemporary Literature--interesting in large part for the way in which the interviewer (described as "a research assistant in the departments of literary theory and English literature at the Catholic University of Brussels, and a Ph.D candidate at the Catholic University of Leuven") keeps pressing the two writers to identify their work as essentially political writing, an invitation both writers consistently reject.
Before discussing further the particulars of the interview, a few words about Contemporary Literature. Like almost all "academic journals," CL does not make its issues available online. Archived articles from such journals sometimes make their way into cyber print, but even then getting access to them is frequently so difficult that indeed only the scholar squirrels among us would be tempted to try. Not that these journals, including Contemporary Literature, print that much of interest to ordinary readers--they're not even intended for "specialists" anymore, since all academic literary scholars are now taught to specialize in the same mind-numbing chants of formula and cliche--but occasionally a useful interview or interesting book review still does appear. It would be in everyone's interest for this material to be more available online.
(It is particularly ironic that CL has become as preoccupied with the politicized platitudes of academic criticism as any other journal, since it and other journals focused on contemporary literature were once viewed with condescension in the academy, contemporary literature itself not being worth any serious person's attention. Unfortunately, Contemporary Literature has now situated itself securely in the mainstream of useless scholarship.)
The interview with Gray and Kelman clearly enough has been included not because both are accomplished writers of worthwhile books (as they are, in my view Gray especially so), but because as members of an oppressed nationality they can perhaps plausibly be examined under the aegis of "colonial" or "postcolonial" studies. Certainly the political situation obtaining in Scotland plays an inevitable role in their fiction, but both Kelman and Gray try to make it clear that this situation is not uppermost in their minds when they're writing their books. Says Kelman, "It's important to get out of the way a possible misunderstanding. . .My politics is really irrelevant to my work; there's no place for it. If you are committed to a certain political thing anyway, I believe also that you can relax as a writer, even if you feel that events are so oppressing in the world that there's no time to sit back and write stories and you have to be political or something." Gray says much the same: "I became a writer who wanted to draw attention to myself by being an entertainer, by pleasing people. I became a writer for the same reason I became a reader: I read to be entertained, to be shifted into a rather different world from that which I occupied, or to get a view of the world I occupied that made me feel free of it."
Yet the interviewer keeps pressing them to admit to the centrality of politics, as if he can't believe Kelman and Gray would say such things. It all speaks multiple volumes about the mindset among "literary" academics, who have almost come around, one is pushed to say, to the condescending view of the frivolity of trying to seriously study "contemporary literature" once expressed by the snootier of the tweedy academics convinced it was better to stay with the tried and the true, to stay burrowed in the past. Current academics are less inclined to live in the past, but they certainly occupy their own kind of burrow.