James Kelman On The Philosophical Naivety Of The Present Tense

Monday 25 November 2019 17:36

I wanted the central character active in a present adventure, not recounting the one about a mysterious stranger he once chanced to meet aboard a cargo ship to Borneo. I tried and rejected the present tense; locked into one dimension, behaviourist, static, lacking mystery, deterministic, non-existential. Just fucking philosophically naive, like science fiction or world-weary detectives trudging the mean streets humming a piece of Mozart, to a backdrop of a theme from Johnny Staccato: the mental masturbation of the bourgeoisie, that was how I felt about the ‘I-voice’ present tense. Avoid it at all costs. Go for richness, sophistication, infinite possibility: use the past tense properly, discover its subtlety. Learn yer fucking grammar! Do not be lazy!

- James Kelman, interview in The Guardian, August 2007