Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

Alienation in Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting/Vervreemding in Irvine Welsh Se Trainspotting

Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

Alienation in Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting/Vervreemding in Irvine Welsh Se Trainspotting

Article excerpt


This article examines how Melvin Seeman's theory of alienation (1959) and modem alienation research manifest in Irvine Welsh's "Trainspotting". This is an important novel, not only because of its commercial success, but also because it depicts a specific marginalised subculture. Postmodernism and systems theory approaches, as well as changes in the social and political spheres have motivated researchers such as Geyer (1995), Kalekin-Fishman (1998) and Neal and Collas (2000) to reinterpret Seeman's theory. This article attempts to incorporate this new theory of alienation in the analysis of contemporary fiction. Seeman identifies five aspects of alienation, namely powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, social isolation and self-estrangement. Following Neal and Collas (2000), in particular, this article omits self-estrangement, but shows how the other four aspects of alienation have changed since Seeman's formulation. It is argued that "Trainspotting" depicts a specific occurrence of alienation in modern western society, besides normlessness, meaninglessness, and social isolation, highlighting Seeman's concept of powerlessness, in particular. The article further argues that applying Seeman's theory of alienation in the study of contemporary literature provides a fresh theoretical approach that contributes to the understanding of how fiction engages with its environment.


Hierdie artikel ondersoek hoe Melvin Seeman se teorie van vervreemding (1959), sowel as moderne navorsing rondom vervreemding, in Irvine Welsh se "Trainspotting" manifesteer. "Trainspotting" is 'n belangrike roman, nie net omdat dit 'n kommersiele sukses was nie, maar ook omdat dit 'n spesifieke subkultuur uitbeeld. Postmodernisme en sisteemteoretiese benaderings, sowel as 'n veranderende sosiale en politieke klimaat, het navorsers soos Geyer (1996), Kalekin-Fishman (1998) en Neal en Collas (2000) genoodsaak om Seeman se teorie te herinterpreteer. Hierdie artikel is 'n poging om hierdie nuwe vervreemdingsteorie te inkorporeer in die analise van hedendaagse fiksie. Seeman identifiseer vyf aspekte van vervreemding: magteloosheid, betekenisloosheid, normloosheid, sosiale vervreemding en selfvervreemding. In navolging van veral Neal en Collas (2000) laat hierdie artikel die laaste aspek weg, maar wys hoe die ander vier aspekte van vervreemding sedert Seeman verander het. Daar word aangevoer dat "Trainspotting" 'n spesifieke vergestalting van vervreemding in die moderne westerse leefwereld uitbeeld, wat veral Seeman se magteloosheid op die voorgrond plaas, alhoewel betekenisIoosheid, normloosheid en sosiale isolasie ook 'n beduidende rol speel. Die artikel voer vervolgens aan dat die toepassing van Seeman se vervreemdingsteorie 'n nuwe benadering tot die hedendaagse literatuur bied, veral ten opsigte van die wyse waarop hierdie fiteratuur betrokkenheid met die omgewing toon.

I. Introduction

Published in 1993 and nominated for the Scottish Arts Council Book Award in 1994, the first 3 000 printed copies of Trainspotting were reprinted sixteen times, and the novel had sold 150 000 copies by 1996 (Morace, 2001:73) when the film was released. Trainspotting was the most successful British film of 1996 and earned $72 000 worldwide (Morace, 2001:80). By the end of the decade Trainspotting was a book, a play, a film, a spoken-word cassette, the subject of posters, T-shirts and a soundtrack. As Childs (2005:241) argues:

   Trainspotting marked a literary shift because it created a new
   bestseller that was distinctly Scottish as well as distinctly
   working-class; it dealt with a subject and with an underclass that
   both society and fiction had largely chosen to ignore [...].
   Trainspotting was read in clubs and appealed to the chemical
   generation; it encouraged music shops to sell fiction, alerted the
   middle-class to another side of Edinburgh, which has the highest
   HIV infection rate in Britain, and reaffirmed the potential of
   literature to provoke moral outrage. … 
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