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Interview Coetzee

Interview Coetzee

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Published by: Joseph_McIwan18 on Oct 19, 2010
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 J.M.COETZEE IN CONVERSATION WITH JANE POYNER 
 JP: In
The Essential Gesture,
Nadine Gordimer warns of the dangers of conformity to an “orthodoxy of opposition” to the apartheid gov-ernment. How di
cult do you think it now is, as an intellectual-academic, to criticize the ANC government? Does
ction have animportant part to play in maintaining a critical opposition? JMC: (
) I interpret the
rst part of the question to mean: How di
cultdo I think it is for someone who is either an intellectual or an aca-demic to criticize the ANC government? Answer: Not di
cult at all.(
) It is hard for
ction to be good
ction while it is in the serviceof something else. JP: Could you comment on South Africa’s Truth and ReconciliationCommission: to what extent has it ful
lled its objectives, and is theconception of confession misplaced in the public sphere? In other words, does such a mode of confession suggest a performance with-out any judicial authority?
21
 
 JMC: In a state with no o
cial religion, the TRC was somewhat anoma-lous: a court of a certain kind based to a large degree on Christianteaching and on a strand of Christian teaching accepted in theirhearts by only a tiny proportion of the citizenry. Only the future will tell what the TRC managed to achieve. JP: How important do you think it is for artists and writers to memori-alize catastrophe and atrocity, such as the Holocaust or apartheid? JMC: For artists and writers individually? Surely artists and writers willdecide for themselves what is important to them. JP: Your
ction attracts a lot of attention from postcolonial critics. Asa discourse (or set of discourses), does postcolonialism interest you? And if so, what problems does it raise or are implicit in it? JMC: I don’t read much academic criticism. JP: In
Doubling the Point 
you state that “sympathetic to the humanconcerns of the left, [you are] alienated, when the crunch comes, by its language—by all political language, in fact” (

). To what degreeis this a sentiment that you continue to experience? JMC: There is no longer a left worth speaking of, and a language of theleft. The language of politics, with its new economistic bent, is evenmore repellent than it was
fteen years ago. JP: Edward Said describes the intellectual as an individual endowed with a faculty for representing, embodying, articulating a message,a view, an attitude, philosophy or opinion to, as well as for, a public. And this role has an edge to it, and cannot be played without a senseof being someone whose place it is publicly to raise embarrassingquestions, to confront orthodoxy and dogma (rather than to pro-duce them), to be someone who cannot easily be co-opted by gov-ernments or corporations, and whose raison d’être is to represent allthose people and issues that are routinely forgotten or swept underthe rug.”
¹
Said assumes a public role for the intellectual; how far would you agree with his comments?
22COETZEE and POYNER 
 
 JMC: What Said writes here constitutes a de
nition, not a comment.The resurrection of the term
 public intellectual,
 which for years wasnot part of public discourse, is an interesting phenomenon. Whatis the explanation? Perhaps it has something to do with people inthe humanities, more or less ignored nowadays, trying to carve outa niche for themselves in the body politic. JP: Said has also suggested that the intellectual should always occupy aposition of marginality (“the whole point is to be embarrassing, con-trary, even unpleasant” [Reith,
]) in order to remain objective intheir critique of political/public discourse. As a novelist, an aca-demic, and an intellectual, do you
nd yourself occupying, or wish-ing to occupy, such a position? JMC: It is di
cult to be a so-called successful writer and to occupy a mar-ginal position at the same time, even in our day and age. JP: Are there points at which you see the role of the novelist con
icting with that of the public intellectual? I am thinking, for instance, of  writers like Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, and, of course, yourself. How does one negotiate one’s roles as intellectual, academic, and novel-ist? Is the novelist’s conception of truth necessarily di
ff 
erent fromthat of the intellectual? JMC: I try to avoid the term
role,
 which implies that one is giving oneself to a part that is already written. Of course there is a larger schemein which we may all be said to be playing roles. But that scheme isinvisible to us. JP: In recent times in the United States and Britain there has been agreat deal of discussion about professionalism within the institu-tion of the university, where academics are put under greater pres-sure to publish and to be accountable to more rigorous assessmentof their research and teaching. What is your view of the state of theacademic world today? Do you see these shifts as a threat to the in-tellectual’s freedom of speech? JMC: (
) I would question your assertion regarding accountability andrigor. What happened to universities, in my view, had little to do
 J.M.Coetzee in Conversation with Jane Poyner23

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