J. M. Coetzee in Context and Theory

CONTINUUM LITERARY STUDIES SERIES Also available in the series: Active Reading by Ben Knights and Chris Thurgar-Dawson Beckett’s Books by Matthew Feldman Beckett and Phenomenology Edited by Matthew Feldman and Ulrika Maude Beckett and Decay by Katherine White Beckett and Death Edited by Steve Barfield, Matthew Feldman and Philip Tew British Fiction in the Sixties by Sebastian Groes Canonizing Hypertext by Astrid Ensslin Character and Satire in Postwar Fiction by Ian Gregson Coleridge and German Philosophy by Paul Hamilton Contemporary Fiction and Christianity by Andrew Tate English Fiction in the 1930s by Chris Hopkins Ecstasy and Understanding edited by Adrian Grafe Fictions of Globalization by James Annesley Joyce and Company by David Pierce London Narratives by Lawrence Phillips Masculinity in Fiction and Film by Brian Baker Modernism and the Post-colonial by Peter Childs Milton, Evil and Literary History by Claire Colebrook Novels of the Contemporary Extreme edited by Alain-Phillipe Durand and Naomi Mandel Recalling London by Alex Murray Romanticism, Literature and Philosophy by Simon Swift Seeking Meaning for Goethe’s Faust by J. M. van der Laan Sexuality and the Erotic in the Fiction of Joseph Conrad by Jeremy Hawthorn Such Deliberate Disguises: The Art of Phillip Larkin by Richard Palmer The Palimpsest by Sarah Dillon The Measureless Past of Joyce, Deleuze and Derrida by Ruben Borg Women’s Fiction 1945–2000 by Deborah Philips

J. M. Coetzee in Context and Theory

Elleke Boehmer, Katy Iddiols and Robert Eaglestone

Katy Iddiols. Chennai. or any information storage or retrieval system. Typeset by Newgen Imaging Sysems Pvt Ltd. electronic or mechanical. Robert Eaglestone and contributors 2009 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means. including photocopying. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. without prior permission in writing from the publishers. ISBN: 978-0-8264-9883-0 (hardback) Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. Suite 704 11 York Road New York London SE1 7NX NY 10038 www.Continuum International Publishing Group The Tower Building 80 Maiden Lane. India Printed and bound in Great Britain by the MPG Books Group .continuumbooks. recording.com © Elleke Boehmer.

Sex. Israel 3. University of London. Japan 11. UK 9. Tokyo. University of Oxford. Belgium 5. Wordsworth and the Recollection of South Africa Pieter Vermeulen. Sydney 6. Santa Barbara. Comedy and Influence: Coetzee’s Beckett Derek Attridge. University of Oxford. Royal Holloway. Queer Bodies Elleke Boehmer. Post-Apartheid Literature: A Personal View André Brink 2. University of Leuven. UK 10. Eating (Dis)Order: From Metaphoric Cannibalism to Cannibalistic Metaphors Kyoko Yoshida. History and Folly Patrick Hayes. University of York.Contents Acknowledgements Biographies Introduction Part I Context 1. Writing Desire Responsibly Rosemary Jolly. Coetzee and Gordimer Karina Magdalena Szczurek 4. Sublime Abjection Mark Mathuray. Canada 8. Elizabeth Costello as Post-Apartheid Text Louise Bethlehem. Literature. Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Keio University. Ontario. University of New South Wales. UK Part II Theory 7. Acts of Mourning Russell Samolsky. University of California. Border Crossings: Self and Text Sue Kossew. UK vii viii 1 11 20 36 47 60 71 93 112 123 135 147 159 . Queen’s University. USA 12.

Chronicles.vi Contents 13. Records as Index-Simulations Anne Haeming 14. UK Index 173 185 199 . Disrupting Inauthentic Readings: Coetzee’s Strategies Katy Iddiols. Authenticity: Diaries. University of London. Royal Holloway.

KI.Acknowledgements The editors wish to express their gratitude to the publishers and editors of the following. at which many of the chapters in this book originated as presentations. held at Royal Holloway. (ed.) Tajiri Yoshiki (Tokyo: Eiho-sha. RE. We also warmly thank the English Department at RHUL. published in Japanese as ‘Shokujin kara seisan made: Coetzee sakuhin ni okeru mono kuu imeji’). 2006) (for Kyoko Yoshida’s essay. Coetzee no sekai. for permission to reprint earlier versions of essays collected here: Journal of Literary Studies. M. United Kingdom. 21. J. Coetzee and Post-Apartheid South African Literature’. EB. M. 29–30 April 2005. . 3–4 (2005) (for Louise Bethlehem’s and Elleke Boehmer’s essays). Our partners and families have been unstinting in their support for us during the protracted process of bringing this book to fruition: our deep gratitude to them all. Journal of Literary Studies. University of London. We should also like to thank the Arts and Humanities Research Council. 2 (2007) (for Pieter Vermeulen’s essay). 23. which generously assisted the organizers with conference costs and secretarial support. for the conference funding which made possible and supported the international conference ‘Contemporary Perspectives on J.

Louise Bethlehem is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English and in the Program in Cultural Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. modernism. Her publications include Empire. and his memoir. He is a Fellow of the British Academy. Coetzee and Timothy Findley’ (University of Konstanz. the National and the Postcolonial: Resistance in Interaction 1890–1920 (Oxford: Oxford University Press. and a Trustee of the International James Joyce Foundation. before becoming Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Cape Town from 1991 to 2005. (1995. Theory. South African writing. Devil’s Valley (2000) and Praying Mantis (2005) have appeared in 33 languages. she is interested in the interdisciplinary context of image/body/media. His novels. His recent publications include J. Anne Haeming has a PhD in English and American Literature entitled ‘Cultivation as Colonization: The Spatial Basis of Human Creation in J. literary theory. Germany). postcolonial theory and memory studies. Colonial and Postcolonial Literature. He is well known as a scholar of Joyce. and History (2000). including Looking on Darkness (1973). and literature and ethics. A Dry White Season (1979). The Singularity of Literature (2004). Imaginings of Sand (1994). A Fork in the Road is to be published in 2009. Apart from postcolonial theory. 2005). as well as four novels. 2005). Her research interests include South African cultural and literary historiography. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event (2004). Grahamstown from 1961 to 1990. André Brink taught Afrikaans and Dutch literature at Rhodes University. Her book Skin Tight: Apartheid Literary Culture and its Aftermath was co-published by Unisa Press and Brill in 2006. M. poetic form. Meter and Meaning: An Introduction to Rhythm in Poetry (2003) and Joyce Effects: On Language. the United States and Australia. He has lectured extensively at universities in Europe.Biographies Derek Attridge is Professor of English at the University of York. A Chain of Voices (1982). the latest of which is Nile Baby (2008). Stories of Women: Gender and Narrative in the Postcolonial Nation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. 2nd ed. Elleke Boehmer is Professor of World Literature in English at the University of Oxford. 2002). . M. Oxford University Press.

Sydney. Sue Kossew is Associate Professor in English and Head of the School of English. 1 (Winter 2007): 55–65). 1998). Katy Iddiols (Royal Holloway. Hall. M. Media and Performing Arts at the University of New South Wales. She is currently working on editing a collection of essays and interviews on the work of Kate Grenville to be published by Rodopi. Santa Barbara. M.Biographies ix Patrick Hayes (University of Oxford) teaches literature from the nineteenth century to the present day. Coetzee. 2004). and HIV/AIDS. He has published articles on the fiction of J. South Africa. Coetzee (G. He studied and taught at the University of the Witwatersrand. Her PhD is entitled ‘Using Authenticity: J. under contract with Liverpool University Press. Her current work involves the relations between public health. She is currently completing a book on narrative. She has published on South African literature and culture. Her area of research expertise is in postcolonial literatures. and Writing Woman. Coetzee’s Writing’ and her current research interests include J. Coetzee and has spoken on his work at academic events. she also researches the connections between gender-based coercion and violence. and received a PhD from Sidney Sussex. human rights and post-apartheid culture. He has published articles on Shakespeare. 2001) with Dianne Schwerdt. His own research interests are in twentieth-century writing. South African writing and postcolonial literatures. Coetzee and André Brink (Rodopi. M. postcolonial theory. His research interests include South African literature and the global humanities. Re-Imagining Africa: New Critical Perspectives (Nova Science Press. His research interests include African literature. University of Cambridge. The Global South 1. Mathuray’s forthcoming book (from Palgrave Macmillan) attempts to locate in a variety of texts what might be called the political unconscious of African symbolic production through the deployment of a very specific idea of the sacred. particularly those of the settler colonies. M. Mark Mathuray is a Leverhulme Early Careers Research Fellow at Royal Holloway. She has published four books: Pen and Power: A Post-colonial Reading of J. Russell Samolsky is assistant professor of Anglophone literature at the University of California. K. M. cultural and human rights discourses (see ‘For Northern Displacements: Understanding the Meaning of Madness in Global Constructions of AIDS’. Coetzee. University of London. modernism and the sacred. University of London) organized a major international conference on J. Writing Place: Contemporary Australian and South African Fiction (Routledge. Rosemary Jolly is Professor of English at Queen’s University. Critical Essays on J. particularly in modernism and its legacies in post-war fiction. . 1996). M.

2006) and Re-Thinking Europe: Literature and (Trans)National Identity (Rodopi. and of Cultural Identity and Postmodern Writing (Rodopi. which examines the position of the dog in terms of the contemporary discourse on the question of the animal. and others. M. . She has also been working on translations of Japanese contemporary poetry and drama. Karina Magdalena Szczurek is a writer and literary critic. His current research deals with forms of ‘post-melancholic’ subjectivity in the contemporary novel. Belgium. M. most recently in The Children’s Hours: Stories of Childhood (Arcadia Books.x Biographies Kafka. Coetzee). She is a contributor to the first Japanese anthology of criticism on J. She has a PhD in English and American Literature from the University of Salzburg (thesis on Nadine Gordimer’s post-apartheid writing). Her short stories have appeared in The Massachusetts Review. 2008). Currently he is working on a book project entitled Killing Dogs. Coetzee and Derrida. He has published articles on critical theory (especially on the work of Geoffrey Hartman and Erich Auerbach) and on contemporary literature (especially J. He is also the co-editor of a special issue of the journal Phrasis on the work of Adorno (forthcoming). Her current research interests include South African literature and neo-slave narratives. Kyoko Yoshida teaches English at Keio University in Tokyo. Her short stories have appeared in various literary journals and anthologies. 2008). Pieter Vermeulen is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Literary Studies at the University of Leuven. Chelsea. She lives in Cape Town and is a regular book reviewer for The Sunday Independent. Coetzee.

If normal critical caveats were not enough. The second is on the inappropriateness of these sorts of ideas to applications outside the literary sphere. Describing a sequence from The Power of Nightmares. nothing is what it seems to be’ (32). makes clear his contempt for exactly the sort of book that you are now reading. JC. where Al Qaida is concerned. Adam Curtis’s 2004 documentary film about the response to terrorism. M. in which the ‘very amateurishness of the video was ground for suspicion since. . ‘Theory and Context’. JC ridicules the US prosecutors’ ‘paranoid interpretation’ (32) of a video made of a trip to Disneyland by four young American Muslims. Coetzee’s 2007 novel. J. Coetzee are characterized by an intense though oblique involvement with the political. their movement outside the classroom.Introduction Robert Eaglestone. where they were taught that in criticism suspiciousness is the chief virtue. The aim of this book is to explore some of these many complex engagements and contexts. to a wider context: the trahison is the sharing of the ‘analytic instruments’. the protagonist of Diary of Bad Year. Putting those instruments in their hands was the trahison des clercs of our time. The first is on the paranoia and bad faith of literary theory and argues that suspicion is a poor ‘chief virtue’ in our reading of literature. intellectual. that the critic must accept nothing whatsoever at face value. M. (33) There are two distinct attacks made here. and an intuition that the ability to argue that nothing is as it seems to be might get you places. From their exposure to literary theory these not-very-bright graduates of the academy of the humanities in its postmodernist phase bore away a set of analytic instruments which they obscurely sensed could be useful outside the class room. Elleke Boehmer and Katy Iddiols The novels and non-fiction of Nobel-laureate J. He goes on: Where did the prosecutors learn to think in such a way? The answer: in literature classes in the United States of the 1980s and 1990s. aesthetic and philosophical issues of our times. both of which relate to the title of this book.

it is JC. And it might also be right to question the historical accuracy of this assertion (one suspects few US lawyers were trained in literature departments). Coetzee in Context and Theory Of course. and sounds the sort of remark that JC – especially given his love of Tolstoy – might despise. We hope that these essays demonstrate the latter rather than the former. say. writes highly complex and ambiguous fictions and latterly speaks only through fiction. The position of the dividing line between bad faith suspicion and good faith engagement is a question of judgement. as it were. . in analysing these attacks. Coetzee with the author JC (Anya calls him ‘Juan’). M. are not examples of non-literary positions but rather use fiction to do precisely what philosophy and theory cannot. work that seems to be one step less complex (author of two of the three strands of the Diary . in some cases. and JC implies that they are not suitable for reading literary art. and who has so much to say about them (even if at an angle). as Derek Attridge has argued. slightly self-obsessed writer. M. with a novelist who so inhabits these debates and flows of ideas. historical moments and contexts (‘postcolonial fiction’) or cultural/political/moral arguments (about eating meat and animal rights. literary movements (‘a great post-modern novel’). M. when we read. rather than simply being swamped by affect – the shock and (somehow) shame we. as well as emotion.2 J. It is also important to put these views into the context of the novel: they are assertions made by a cantankerous. This might be called suspicion. Coetzee move. responding to. . cannot be simply categorized as making assertions. True. with whom we are engaging. But despite these qualifications. feel with Denisov as he howls like a dog at his discovery of Petya Rostov’s death – we are also. or with all one’s faculties. for example. literary critical and theoretical discourse runs other risks too. One is to turn singular literary works into examples of. as Coetzee does. the second writes. We hope that the essays in this volume have avoided this risk not least because – and this is one measure of his greatness as a writer – Coetzee has. in a typical J. and the remarks illustrate these qualities. engaging with. But. His works. by the same token. might be these: but it might also be called facing a work with one’s whole self. in fact. or approaching work in bad faith and. (Even writing that sentence is more than faintly comical. this risk becomes greater. Each of them make singular explosions of the mind. the work we are reading: intellection. or global state power). behaving suspiciously. it is important not to confuse the author J. the attacks remain attacks. Coetzee. not J. of course. is part of the way that literature. the form and content of which are . Moreover. the ‘real’ author. surely. by necessity involved with thinking through.. breaks the frozen sea within us. M. are fictionalized: here. The latter’s view on literary theory. statements and claims.) The first. who is. J. To the issue of theory’s bad faith: suspicion and bad faith are not attractive. in Kafka’s phrase. as it were). questioning. too. M. despite the serious and revealing ‘literary theoretical’ issues about authorship. Coetzee’s elusive and indirect comments on his own work show his awareness of these.

the context of literature. Coetzee’s writing reverberates at the cutting edge of debates across the public sphere and in the humanities now. psychic. disciplinary ambition corrupts the sense of US prosecutors. Controversies over animal rights and over eating meat circle around The Lives of Animals. This leads to the second of JC’s attacks. In the case of J. The complex relationship to South African history is shown intra alia in Life & Times of Michael K and Waiting for the Barbarians. it is precisely that which can’t be grasped or comprehended that most stimulates the desire to grasp. It is clear. to a wider range of analytic instruments developed from a huge array of ‘extra-literary’ contexts. not least. that these two spheres are inextricably interwoven. Coetzee’s oeuvre. JC refers. building on established concepts and developing judgements. And the range of the thought they demand is enormous. for example. in Foe. Not only is this very difficulty – the mutual relationship between literature and the world – part of the constant background of his work. Of course. They can’t simply be filed under pre-existing categories but demand further and continually more nuanced understanding. the very multiple and shared contexts in which we all live and which characterize so much work on literature. its own ‘as if’ autonomous history and development. the question of how the world and a literary text – how a text and its context – come together is impossibly hard: it is the core issue of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory and since the 1960s (at least) has been a continual and deepseated source of critical disagreement (almost: schism). demand thinking and responses. Beckett and Dostoevsky are perhaps the most significant literary ancestors. M. political. The approaches to gender and sexuality in Disgrace. His novels are best seen as processes that inspire or. gendered and so on. Elizabeth Costello and Slow Man and in the autobiographical work are interventions in global discussions of gender and its changing representation. though there are other major influences. international. it is clear that there are paths. This shouldn’t be a surprise: as thinkers like Adorno and Derrida have argued. philosophical. Coetzee. the relationship between ideas developed in the literary sphere and the wider world: that is. But it seems hard to see how this literary. in the work of J. it is precisely the centrality of this ‘hard to grasp’ aspect of his work combined with its intellectual and aesthetic range and discipline that has made Coetzee so rewarding for critics and theorists. one – perhaps the main – context of any work of literature is the context of literature itself. and part of a response to his work is to trace these roots. but specific histories occur and reoccur. align the work with arguments made through the constellation of philosophical ideas known as postmodernism. Experiments with form and the ethics of representation. both obliquely located in African and postcolonial contexts. But if the actual paths from world to text and from text to world are not clear. better. Of course. M. Warnings about global . More than this. surely.Introduction 3 inaccessible save in the form in which they present themselves as novels. Indeed. accounts of trauma and torture draw on his Waiting for the Barbarians.

this novel insistently reaches beyond the specific in order to ‘ratify a universalism that dispenses with the longing marks of a genealogy’. Dusklands. too. in a provocative and densely theorized essay ‘Elizabeth Costello as Post-Apartheid Text’. There are. It would seem hard either not to bring these areas to bear in coming to understand J. Speaking in an overall optimistic vein. to an extent which grounds us. Bethlehem sets about detecting the ways in which the universal and the abstract in Coetzee is everywhere contaminated with the specific and the literal. M. something which it shares. illustrated with examples from a range of writers. even. and Galgut. wider contextual themes that characterize his work. The novels. As we have suggested. The first contribution. Tlali. reflecting not a watertight division between these two unstable and intermingled categories but a differential sense of emphasis between the authors. Coetzee’s fiction and odd. relating this in particular to Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons (2003) as his first post-South African novel. M. As a result the personal and the political in South African literatures are now far more creatively interrelated. as with the ‘theory’ section. including van Niekerk. in the ethical event that his writing as process insists upon. about international war and empire – for lack of better words – sound throughout his work from the first novella. atrocity. the South African context specifically intrudes in the text’s preoccupation with embodiment as a form of truth. ‘Post-Apartheid Literature: A Personal View’ is by the leading South African novelist André Brink. bodies. both before and after the end of apartheid. this book seeks not to ‘decode’ or to reduce his work to a cipher of political or cultural history but to explore how the works in themselves have transformed the canons or histories to which they lay claim. With this postulation established. if they so wish. Louise Bethlehem. demonstrate his continuing preoccupation with the recalcitrant presence or residue – particulars. Here. as well as his own always insightfully attuned work. He offers a series of personal reflections on shifts of atmosphere and emphasis in South African literature after apartheid. In relation to Elizabeth Costello in particular.4 J. or serious. To her. Following this. this volume is divided into two parts. with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) final report. disturbingly or otherwise. to endorse a placeless universalism and erase questions of historical guilt. perhaps. Coetzee in Context and Theory state power. This universalism can be read. Brink suggests that writers are no longer as troubled by the sense of working under an edict (to be relevant. or not to bring from the text to the world lessons learnt and ideas so developed. or polemical). Mda. as Derek Attridge writes. realities – of South Africa: his work is concerned again and again with the nature of embodiment. to the most recent publication Diary of a Bad Year. This important intertext for Elizabeth Costello in similar ways over-valorizes the reality of the suffering body – a body that the text cannot . Bethlehem contends. and have loud contemporary resonances. considers the evasive self-reflexivity that characterizes Coetzee’s relationship to both place and historicity in his work. however. as allowing his expatriate South African readers.

the South African context. ‘hermeneutic programme’. Karina Szczurek in ‘Coetzee and Gordimer’ offers an experiment in authorial ventriloquism by adopting the voice of J. Describing the discovery of Beckett by the narrator of the memoir Youth. South African facts. Any clear sense of what is imagined and what is real is inexorably broken down. Attridge argues that Coetzee found in Beckett a ‘form for the movements of the mind’ and then analyses Coetzee’s changing views on Beckett. South African reality consistently insists upon and yet resists (at one and the same time) its being incorporated into the writer’s language. Kossew suggests that in Slow Man the artifice of history and the reality of fiction are manipulated relative to one another. and shifting boundaries separating. history and fiction. as Vermeulen has it. and ultimately distinction from. ‘Border Crossings: Self and Text’. Coetzee’s ‘cousin’ Eliza to examine the striking parallels between Gordimer’s biography and that of Coetzee’s alter ego Elizabeth.Introduction 5 however. Vermeulen proposes that particulars of South Africa in Coetzee are in fact more resistant to incorporation into an epistemology of the growth of the writer’s mind than anything in Wordsworth. She then turns from speculating as to the significance of this provocative masking and notes instead the ways in which Costello also resembles Coetzee. Attridge highlights Coetzee’s debt to Samuel Beckett. ultimately make available to us. to Coetzee. and life and art. Pieter Vermeulen gives a finely attentive reading of Coetzee’s literary context with. Instead. must ceaselessly be ‘reconfigured’ into writing or else be irretrievably lost. Remaining with. Coetzee’s last-but-one novel Slow Man is a demanding reflection on the interplay between. The final piece in this section. in ‘Wordsworth and the Recollection of South Africa’. For Sue Kossew in her essay. central to Coetzee’s response to Beckett has been style and the comedy of the body ill-matched with the mind. Wordsworth. Developing this focus on Elizabeth Costello. The essay’s starting point is to seek an approach to Coetzee’s autobiography in Boyhood and Youth which challenges the predominant critical interpretation of these works as closed philosophical self-reflections. M. Attridge suggests that while Coetzee’s early critical work on Beckett in theoretical linguistics and quantitative methods of literary analysis didn’t develop far. However. This allows Attridge to challenge the critical consensus – that Coetzee takes up Beckett’s bleakness but not his comedy – by arguing . in all its corporeality. or. Derek Attridge’s ‘Sex. introducing perspectives from Coetzee’s hermeneutic of writing Africa in White Writing. draws both on the literary and historical contexts of Coetzee’s work. it left an ineradicable mark in Coetzee’s writing. Comedy and Influence: Coetzee’s Beckett’. In an interpretation that bears analogy with Zoe Wicomb’s suggestion that the novel offers us the equivalent of sculptor Rachel Whiteread’s critical reflections on artistic convention. but at a tangent to. chiefly through his autobiographical poem The Prelude. As in Bethlehem. and detecting Wordsworthian traces throughout the 1990s Coetzee. Focussing on his often ignored sense of comedy.

History and Folly’. again. swerves away from an identification with otherness. Hayes suggests that Age of Iron tries to cultivate a ‘nonposition’ in relation to history. read with a sensitivity to the nuances of style and tone. Indeed. and especially in Elizabeth Costello (2004). as in Attridge’s essay comedy and literary influence go together. ‘consuming the other by act of introjection’ or non-mourning signifies the totalitarian task of eliminating difference whereas Costello maintains that the structure . Jolly turns to the figure of the desiring author and the consequences of this representation: betrayal (referring to The Master of Petersburg). especially where that otherness takes on womanly form. argues that the novel is best read alongside Coetzee’s 1992 essay on Erasmus’s The Praise of Folly. queer desire in the later Coetzee. She suggests. that desire and responsibility represent a crucial dialectic in Coetzee’s fiction and that Coetzee’s recent novels have fundamentally been about this relationship. Elleke Boehmer’s essay ‘Queer Bodies’ explores. He explores the conflict between Elizabeth Costello’s declaration that there is no end to the degree that we are able to ‘think ourselves into the being of another’ and Derrida’s assertion that a limit to ‘thinking our way into the full being of the other’ is established by death. Yoshida suggests that eating was a fundamental issue in Coetzee’s writing well ahead of its emergence in The Lives of Animals (1999) and Elizabeth Costello (2003). Beginning the second section of the book. Observing that eating is handled with discomfort in his fiction. Samolsky emphasizes that.6 J. M. we can appreciate the interplay between the apprehension of the human claim to be in charge of the body and a grim awareness of some of the less welcome consequences of bodily autonomy. the role of the reader and levels of explicitness (in Disgrace and Elizabeth Costello). and Don Quixote – from which the title comes – emerges as a key intertext to Age of Iron through both its comedic and serious ‘sides’. Russell Samolsky opens his chapter ‘Acts of Mourning’ by reading Elizabeth Costello’s claims for the unlimited powers of empathy in conjunction with Jacques Derrida’s formulation of an impossible or inconsolable mourning. far from being liberatory. instead collaborating with misogyny. as a starting point. Continuing the focus on the body. Her essay concludes by considering a major theme in Coetzee’s work: the impact of writing about violence. Focussing on the pivotal Age of Iron. eating serves as a metaphor for the relationship with otherness and ethical responsibility. Rosemary Jolly’s essay ‘Writing Desire Responsibly’ questions the relationship between desire and responsibility in writing. Patrick Hayes. in ‘Literature. Kyoko Yoshida’s ‘Eating (Dis)Order’ explores metaphors of eating and cannibalism in Coetzee’s fiction. almost as if in response to the ‘liberation’ of the discourse of love that was meant to follow the fall of apartheid. Coetzee in Context and Theory that. Here. for Derrida. which is neither to deny it nor to stake assertions. the lineaments of dissident or queer desire which Coetzee’s work (in particular the two memoirs) traces after 1989. the essay suggests that. in its first half. In its second half.

. including the diaries. Coetzee denies the moment of rational and psychological triumph (and hence hermeneutic closure) which succeeds the moment of defeat and failure in the Kantian account of the sublime. post-Romantic fracture and suspension of the sublime experience. or. Mathuray’s ‘stalled sublime’ refers to a post-Kantian.’ Samolsky asks how Disgrace might signal to a way through this impasse. Chronicles.Introduction 7 of genocide is made feasible by the failure to imagine ‘our way into the full being of the other. Mathuray argues. challenging the more typical critical views. records and editorial frames that pervade Coetzee’s work. In his fiction. Katy Iddiols' ‘Disrupting Inauthentic Readings: Coetzee’s Strategies’ reflects on the role of theory in general and suggests that Coetzee employs a range of highly effective strategies throughout his fiction in order to protect his writing from the injury caused by inauthentic readings. she argues that these strategies ultimately motivate Coetzee’s readers towards a more authentic way of reading and approaching his fiction. Records as Index-Simulations’. With particular reference to Coetzee’s most recent publication Diary of a Bad Year. Anne Haeming examines how Coetzee simultaneously highlights and conceals the made-ness of things. In the closing essay of the collection. whether it be his own texts. Mathuray reads Kristevan abjection (a version of the stalled sublime) in his original analysis of the horror felt by Susan Barton at Friday’s mutilation. He reflects on this question with a perceptive consideration of the role played by dogs in Disgrace. In ‘Authenticity: Diaries. Coetzee’s alienated characters fail to read their historical others. Mark Mathuray’s chapter ‘Sublime Abjection’ then looks at Foe and. this chapter focuses on Coetzee’s preoccupation with (hi)stories as (re)constructions in order to explore the role of the author and authenticity in his work. Especially in the current context of reclaiming the South African past. within his texts. or of a political vision. By drawing attention to his texts as constructs. Haeming explores how self-referential narrative devices stage the intermediary realm between fact and fiction. chronicles. Coetzee emphasizes the existence of an originator. which in turn provokes an approach to the wider issues of ethics and mourning that they raise through their presence in the novel. introduces what he describes as the ‘stalled sublime’ to the domain of Coetzee criticism. Without any intervention of grace. constructions. ideologies and objects.

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Part I Context .

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Even so.Chapter 1 Post-Apartheid Literature: A Personal View André Brink Thank you. This should not be construed as a rejection or a denial of politics. dance. it is not entirely unproductive to attempt a tentative outline of at least some of the aspects of this shift. My reluctance is compounded by the fact that we are a mere twelve or so years into the ‘new South Africa’. which makes any categoric assertions premature. However. the private becomes the political. But it would seem that narrative in the new era is being driven more by human and individual experience than by ‘the situation’. But the opposite is just as true: the political is now being perceived more and more in terms of private experience. music. it is a hazardous enterprise for which I must ask the reader’s indulgence. again. in this chapter. Karina Although with some natural misgivings. which may also imply a move from the sociopolitical towards the ethical and the subjective. Of course. . the public. to set my own novels within the context of recent writing in South Africa. but much rather a process of reimagining the political. As happened under the influence of feminism. I attempt. 1 Perhaps the most obvious characteristic of the change has been what may be described as a move inward. There is. as the shift from the ‘old’ to the ‘new’ began to manifest itself rather sooner in the arts (theatre. I try to address the problem of discussing my own work by referring to my writing only in as much as it illustrates some of the more obvious trends in post-apartheid literature. the social. painting sculpture and certainly literature) than in politics. in many works of fiction produced during the apartheid years there was already an awareness of a balance between the private and the public. away from politics as drama and spectacle and social phenomenon towards internalization and interiority.

The experience of thousands of victims of apartheid (as well as a number of perpetrators) testifying in public about the private horror they had lived through. is reinvented and re-inflected as an interaction between two mothers. It is certainly a cardinal feature in Sindiwe Magona’s Mother to Mother (1998) in which an explicitly political act. we were aware of the intensely personal lurking within the public domain of experience. like so many other writers both black and white. a theory. a ‘system-out-there’ – but because it was a force that determined the most immediate and urgent choices of our daily lives: whom to love? whom to marry? where to live? what career to follow? to which school we should send our children . individually or within their families or their circle of friends and acquaintances. And this kind of reinvention also characterizes such diverse novels as Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit (2001) and Damon Galgut’s The Good Doctor (2003). and a story with a recognizable social and political resonance. been prompted to choose between the telling of. . Countless voices narrated for the first time in their lives – and for the first time in South African history – not any general or public version of an ‘acceptable’. for all its flaws and inadequacies. a ‘refusal to be conscripted’. But it was that public dimension which often appeared to us more immediate in its demands.12 J. waiting for ‘one day’ when we could return to them and explore them more deeply without any inner compulsion other than the urge to tell a story. Coetzee in Context and Theory as Sam Durrant indicates in his work on Coetzee and mourning (Durrant 1999). one black. the murder of the American exchange student Amy Biehl by young Azapo activists. say. to become most poignantly interiorized in None to Accompany Me (1994). M. one white. but the private and personal experience of ‘ordinary’ people previously bypassed by the codified forms of that history – forms invariably shaped by historiographers who were both white and male. Coetzee’s work this has always been evident. . from In the Heart of the Country (1977) and Waiting for the Barbarians (1980) to his last obviously South African novel Disgrace (1999). How often during the apartheid years had I. significantly assumed the form of storytelling.? All of which means that. and so it tended to take precedence. In J. was a watershed in recent South African history. a simple love story (as if any love story could ever be simple!). M. . the shift perhaps first became foregrounded in My Son’s Story (1990) and The House Gun (1998). That day has now come. More often than not it was the latter option we chose – not because apartheid was foisted on our consciousness or our conscience as an ideology. It seems plausible that a driving force in this shift has been the ripple effects of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which. officially sanctioned history. In Gordimer. And it is the recognition of this new freedom of choice that characterizes much of the exhilaration of the inner liberation embodied in the new South Africa. even then. As a result there were always stories placed on the back burner. more urgent.

Having once experienced that closeness. perhaps to a lesser extent. For me. whether overtly or implicitly. that profound humanity that bound all of us together in a precarious situation. even in the present exploration of our private selves. Surely another route is possible – that of not only acknowledging complicity but also of a commitment to responsibility. also means going beyond the personal rebellion of Ben du Toit as he moves towards full political engagement and the assumption of responsibility towards his country’s history and his people. it is always. found comfort in a solidarity from which we drew strength. . as human beings. a position from which one can move in a much more creative way towards new beginnings. Mark Behr (The Smell of Apples. of all cultural. as the culmination of the attempts of thirteen generations in his family history to respond to the call of Adamastor and to ‘acclimatise’ in Africa. social and racial groups. or in Before I Forget (2004) where the intersections between Chris Minnaar’s love life and his country’s history are marked by female presences through which some kind of atonement might become possible. In my own work. Here the private crusade of Thomas Landman. but as positions on a sliding scale – whether in Looking on Darkness (1974) where the private via dolorosa of Joseph Malan is also the narrative of the apartheid victim. It is rather the expression of that affinity with others which the individual writer experienced during the years when. whether in the Romantic or self-aggrandizing modes of the nineteenth century or the existential despair that marked so much of the twentieth. I certainly reject the notion of personal or communal guilt as a numbing. or in A Dry White Season (1979) where the somewhat naïve but well-meaning Ben du Toit experiences his battle with the violence and bureaucracy of apartheid primarily on the level of personal relations.or himself within the ‘purely personal’. paralysing force which effectively cancels history. I have always been conscious of the two dimensions of the private and the political as driving forces or sources of inspiration. 1990). the transition possibly began with An Act of Terror (1991). solidly founded on the acknowledgement of what we share – as South Africans. I should say that I believe the opportunistic definitions of ‘Afrikaner guilt’ by writers like Rian Malan (My Traitor’s Heart. In this regard. and. one could never again be ‘simply’ an individual. menaced by a single enemy – the abuse of power expressed in the form of apartheid – all of us. This has assumed different forms in my own recent novels: whether in The Other Side of Silence (2002) where Hanna X moves beyond guilt towards the assumption of creative responsibility. And so. It is by no means a rediscovery of individualism.Post-Apartheid Literature: A Personal View 13 This does not mean that the writer now attempts to ensconce her. energy and courage. These manifest not necessarily as polarity or dichotomy. 1993) have done a disservice both to a re-evaluation of Afrikaner (and in fact South African) history and to the processes of interiorization stimulated by the transition to a new South Africa.

In my own work. Mtutuzeli Matshoba’s rage and despair about emasculation and denial in Call Me Not a Man (1979). Under ordinary circumstances it is hardly a problem: surely. from Elsa Joubert’s historical meanderings (1978/80). However. Awerbuck. This works not only through the predominance of female writers. inevitably. Coetzee whose explorations of the female experience range from the imaginings of Magda in In the Heart of the Country (1977) via the clairvoyance of the dying Elizabeth Curren in Age of Iron (1990) to the disconcerting multiple-eye-of-the-fly inquisitions of Elizabeth Costello (2003). Later I ventured – more recklessly perhaps – into the machinations of a female narrator in Imaginings of Sand (1996) and. M. in The Other Side of Silence (2002). to the triumphant dissection of oppression and subservience. waiting. Van Niekerk. These explorations may range from the quiet and delicate but profound assertions of the female gaze in Mary Watson’s Moss (2004). J. and in English (Gordimer. This confronted me with the immemorial problem of impersonation. to the redefinitions of the ‘female domain’ in Miriam Tlali’s Mihloti (1984). But there are certain situations where power relations within the context of the narrative act may complicate the challenge. it is the very starting point of any act of narrative imagination to project oneself into the life of another. a male narrator impersonates a female. amplified in The Wall of the Plague (1984. I attempted an enquiry into the female experience of Africa in An Instant in the Wind (1976). both explored as manifestations of femininity. In a way both of them may appear to point the way towards Ndebele’s The Cry of Winnie Mandela (2003) in which the whole of colonial history becomes feminized in the image of the penelopeian. on the other.14 J. even where imbalances in . it may very easily become an appropriation of the voice of a traditionally deprived other. There are so many manifestations of the move towards explorations of the feminine as a kind of prow figure in post-apartheid fiction that it deserves an entire study in its own right. both in Afrikaans (Joubert. lamenting and ultimately triumphant woman. in Marlene van Niekerk’s Agaat (2004). And then there is. Watson). If. An entire chapter in history is encapsulated in these titles. masked within the effort of a man to re-imagine the feminine contours of his lover’s mind). Krog. or within a racist society a white narrator ‘speaks for’ a black character. Coetzee in Context and Theory 2 Femininity indeed offers a prominent domain of experience in recent South African fiction. but also through an intensified exploration of the implications and challenges of femininity. and others). On the one hand. Winterbach. more recently. M. Jooste. Mann. there is the affirmation of femininity apparent in Ellen Kuzwayo’s Call Me Woman (1985). A significant introduction to an enquiry into this dimension of recent fiction is provided by two key titles from the years of transition leading up to the first free elections of 1994. within patriarchy.

In the first. there is a difference between speaking ‘on behalf of’ and ‘speaking from a position of solidarity with’. However. During all the turbulent centuries of colonialism in Southern Africa a specific – and all too familiar – pattern of historiography became prevalent. I attempted in Imaginings of Sand (1996) and The Other Side of Silence (2002) to venture into the territory of imagining the other. shaped from the midseventeenth century in the mouths of slaves (mostly Indonesian) and indigenous Khoisan peoples who could not speak the language of the colonizing masters (Dutch) properly. I used a young female narrator and. the empire could ‘write back’. Admittedly. to reconstruct between them the story of the nine generations of women who constitute their tribe (among other things as a corrective to the numerous male genealogies I have constructed in other novels). in that writing in Afrikaans presented a curiously ambiguous view. this may be mitigated in an increasingly pluralistic world where more and more women. and assumed a new position of power within the colonial situation. in Rushdie’s overused term.Post-Apartheid Literature: A Personal View 15 society may at first sight appear to militate against the audacity of such appropriation. at the same time Afrikaans gradually became more the language of the bourgeoisie. In this way historiography became fully the property and the tool of the ruling white elite. embedded within her narrative. 3 The reinvention of history is indeed another major current in contemporary South African writing. It was only during the process of the dismantling of apartheid that the notion of ‘a South African history’ became broadened and diversified into a whole array of different histories. This happened in line with the global renewal of . the language of the deprived and the oppressed. as Thaïs E. until towards the end of the nineteenth century when it was appropriated by an increasingly nationalistic community in opposition to English and Dutch. It evolved into ‘the language of apartheid’. a hundred-year-old grandmother. of course brought about fascinating processes of creolization. But that ‘other’ Afrikaans. Morgan argues in Men Writing the Feminine (Morgan 1994). still lurked behind the new and monstrous Frankenstein. the pattern was not quite as simplistic as in many other colonial situations. With this reassurance (though still in awe of a situation which can so easily become muddled or muddied). The Afrikaans language. In the second. male historians. and more and more blacks. To me. can – and do – ‘speak for themselves’. I allowed a tongueless female victim of male colonial atrocity to ‘speak back’ to the patriarchy which had made and unmade her. Also. It became a vehicle through which. a master narrative (in every sense of the word) devised by white. this became part of a whole new wave of writing in which history is reshaped in order to reinterpret the present.

in my own narrative explorations. 1998). and women’s history in Elsa Joubert’s Isobelle’s Journey (1995. a redefinition of Afrikaner history in the Boer War by Christoffel Coetzee (Op soek na Generaal Mannetjies Mentz. There is also an amazing overview of the early years of Dutch colonization. In this last-named the first Khoi missionary ordained at the Cape occupies a space between an ancient Khoisan mythology and the Christian world of the London Mission Society. 2002). So. Ndebele 1991). to a world of myth and magic which shows fascinating parallels with the very origins of Western historiography in the inventions of Herodotus. taken further in an as-yet-unpublished novel by Siviwe Mdoda).16 J. I think also of the retelling of the Landman family story in An Act of Terror (1991) or that of Kristien’s ancestry in Imaginings of Sand (1996). This somewhat unfortunate appellation inevitably tends to bring to mind the late-twentieth-century explosion of Latin American fiction by such writers as Marquez. in the literature of the new South Africa. princes and generals and notables was replaced by what Njabulo Ndebele in another context would call ‘the rediscovery of the ordinary’: the lives of common people without whom – as Brecht so unforgettably depicted it in his poem ‘Fragen eines lesenden Arbeiters’ – the great and the famous could never have risen to the top (Le Roi Ladurie 1975. an epic of the Cape of Good Hope). Coetzee in Context and Theory historiography in the wake of Emmanuel Le Roi Ladurie’s Montaillou. Fuentes. or more recently. and Amado. 4 At this point the historical exploits of recent South African fabulists merge with another of the trends which have become evident in post-apartheid literature. The exciting possibilities of turning history inside out to reveal its mythical underpinnings have inspired. in which the traditional view of history as the account of the actions of emperors and kings. allegedly the Khoi ‘original’ on which the Portuguese poet Camoens based his Luciads. a whole jigsaw puzzle of histories came into being. the Xhosa’s cattle killing in Zakes Mda’s The Heart of Redness (2000. a novel like The First Life of Adamastor (1993. the Dutch masters in Holland. and the early settlers in Batavia and Mauritius. Many of these reviews of history return to a precolonial Africa. Llosa. These include Griqua history in Zoe Wicomb’s David’s Story (2001). However. M. Donoso. as experienced by the Khoikhoi and Dutch colonists at the Cape. namely what for want of a better term one might call a local variant of ‘magical realism’. Praying Mantis (2005). What predominates in this tradition is the foregrounding of ancestors who continue to intervene actively in the affairs of the . in Dan Sleigh’s masterpiece Islands (2004). Africa has had its own form of magic realism in the long tradition of oral narrative which spanned many centuries before it erupted in the work of writers as diverse as Amos Tutuola or Ben Okri.

What is important in an evaluation of the magical-realist in South African fiction is that its two constituents – the magical and the real –exist not in opposition to one another. ‘I am taking the camels to the opera’. post-apartheid world of the retired librarian Ruben is constantly disturbed by the ghost of a seventeenth-century slave woman who haunts his home. In the fantastical Ivan Vladislavic’s short novella The Folly (1993) an amazing multidimensional ‘pleasure dome’ is fabricated with string and nails only to be utterly undone in a sleight of hand which reveals the entire edifice to be no more than a construct of language. who had as one of his special tasks the duty to lead a group of camels between their enclosure in the zoo and the opera house before and after every show. Mda already handles this with easy grace in Ways of Dying (1997). in his collection Uit die kontreie vandaan (2000). he revisits – and in the process re-imagines – a dark and sordid chapter from the apartheid era when a large number of religious and political leaders in the Free State village of Excelsior were accused of contravening the notorious ‘Immorality Act’. A rose is a rose is a mystical rose. She is possibly a reminder that. One evening. but as perfectly complementary phenomena. In the short stories of another writer from the Little Karoo. the past is never dead. Abraham de Vries. And the point is not that a ‘simple explanation’ . inexplicable or grotesque at their very heart. Nothing seems to be quite as real as the possible. Very truthfully and simply he replied. the everyday and the seemingly ordinary are persistently unmasked to reveal something utterly unfathomable. Present-day South African fiction is a place where this may just be quite literally true. most particularly in a country like South Africa with its many unresolved issues and its pathological repressions. In The Madonna of Excelsior (2004) he adds a further dimension. such as also in Ann Landsman’s Devil’s Chimney (1999) in which the ostrich feather boom in the Little Karoo at the turn of the twentieth century is resurrected to establish an unsettling juxtaposition of the past and the present. where through repeated acts of narrative magic he brings to life paintings by the Flemish-South African artist Father Claerhout. The South African judge Richard Goldstone tells the story of a black stagehand in an apartheid-era production of Aida. each being the extension and the amplification of the other. And in another guise it may be said to return in Praying Mantis (2005) in which the African landscape itself offers innumerable points of access between the ‘real’ world and that of the spirits and the dead and the too-easily forgotten. he was stopped by a white constable who peremptorily wanted to know what the hell he was doing. an easy gliding between the worlds of the living and the dead (see Cooper 1998). My own preoccupation with a realism amplified by magic and mystery has so far been indulged in a novel like The Rights of Desire (2000) where the presentday. on his way to a performance. In this way.Post-Apartheid Literature: A Personal View 17 present. In numerous other forms the fascination with the magical-realist becomes manifest.

poems. the narrative action (and the interaction of narrators from this text and from Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Roxana) resides largely in the processes of verbalizing. Certainly. as it does to the narrating of her stories in To My Children’s Children (1990) or Forced to Grow (1992). In this new world anything is possible. much of the vivacity and versatility of literature in the new South Africa is due to a heightened awareness of language: language not merely as a vehicle for storytelling but as a remarkable encounter with meaning and truth at innumerable levels. historical or contemporary. already dead. Most of the fascinatingly complex text of Marlene van Niekerk’s Agaat (2004) is presented in the form of diaries. not simply after the event but as part of the event. as we move from the reportage of apartheid towards invention. be told. but the process of telling it inspires our writers to a much larger degree than ever before. Dan Sleigh’s enquiry into the first years of Dutch colonization at the Cape acquire an intensity and acuity because the scribe. constitutive of the event. And the imaginings of Estienne Barbier in On the Contrary (1993) resound as a conundrum: ‘I am dead. The journalist Flip Lochner gives an account of his visit to hell in Devil’s Valley (1998) within a situation where he is.18 J. the Dutch East India Company secretary Grevenbroeck. In the work of Coetzee. In Mda’s The Madonna of Excelsior (2004) it is writing which transforms painting into a new discovery of reality and its origins. you cannot read: this will (therefore) not have been a letter. but that there need not be anything particularly outlandish about a group of humpbacked animals attending the performance of an opera. memoirs or the transcription of unuttered thoughts. M. realistically. in Foe (1986). presumably. 5 Whether realistic or fantastic. imagination and discovery. much of the subtlety of Waiting for the Barbarians (1990) may well lie in imagining the Magistrate as the narrator of his own story. Coetzee in Context and Theory underlies a seemingly fantastical event. everything is true.’ . letters. It is the act of writing that gives shape to Sindiwe Magona’s Mother to Mother (1999). What has fascinated me in my own recent attempts at storytelling has often been the invention of an ‘impossible situation’: the telling of a story which cannot. Not just the story. And in Elizabeth Costello (2003) the text of the main character’s lectures determines the dynamics of the narrative and its evolution through question-and-answer sessions with her audience to its communication with readers ‘outside’ or ‘beyond’ the book. is observed in the process of committing his memoirs (even his inventions and hunches?) to paper (2004). It is certainly a feature of much recent writing that the act and processes of writing themselves come under scrutiny.

This quality is not. ‘Bearing witness to apartheid: J. as yet. it is no longer necessary for commentators to evaluate a writer in terms of what she or he is against. (1990). (1991). like Jeanne Goosen’s Not All of Us. (3). Albany: SUNY Press. Le Roi Ladurie. Contemporary Literature. the interminable evocations of a childhood in the shadow of apartheid can become predictable and cloying. Works Cited Cooper.) Just as there is much to be deplored in the socio-politics of the country today. Emmanuel (1975). (1994). not just as an account or a reflection. Pamela Jooste’s Dance With a Poor Man’s Daughter (1998). Durrant. much of the writing may be mediocre. or Carolyn Slaughter’s Before the Knife (2002). Men Writing the Feminine. whether flowing from the workings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission or emanating from a multitude of other stimuli and sources. Samuel (1999). Njabulo S. . Paris: Gallimard. In some respects. This is evident not only in the work of established writers but in an impressive spectrum of new voices. Montaillou: village occitan de 1294 á 1324. Johannesburg: COSAW. as it was so largely the case under apartheid. Morgan. 430–63. Rediscovery of the Ordinary. unambiguously beyond reproach. but as an adventure and as an affirmation of the indomitable energy of the human spirit. to be gloomy or dour in one’s exposition of horrors and depression. Thais E. It is no longer inevitable. Concomitantly. as in the revisiting of the Black Holes of apartheid. London: Routledge. (Though some of it may be moving and brilliant. often tremendously relevant and significant. Writers appear to have (re-)discovered the simple truth that there are also reasons to celebrate and to affirm. Bliss is it in this dawn to be alive. What is relevant now is the quality of the writing as such. Much of it is exhilarating. Ndebele. and in the almost frenzied pace with which students in Creative Writing courses at the University of Cape Town and other institutions are moving into publication. the need to tell a story. But the élan is unmistakeable: the urge to create. M.Post-Apartheid Literature: A Personal View 19 6 The stunning variety of new trends in South African writing which have begun to manifest themselves in recent literature (what I have so briefly indicated here is a random indication of possibilities) suggests that the country finds itself on the verge of a veritable explosion of creativity. reflecting the profound joy that resides in the rediscovery of literature. after the initial euphoria. Coetzee’s inconsolable works of mourning’. 40. Even in stark or dark tales there lurks a sense of wonder and of discovery: the sheer adventure of writing. Brenda (1998). And a surprising proportion of what is published is more than merely promising or encouraging. Magic Realism in West African Fiction.

of her literal positioning in a town where ‘the guardian of the gate never sleeps and the people in the cafés seem to have nowhere to go’ (J. Derrida prefaces his reading of Kafka by stressing the paradoxical singularity of intertextual citation. whose ‘homonymic’ recital of Kafka in ‘Devant La Loi’ – a piece which like ‘At the Gate’ deliberately intersects Kafka’s récit ‘Vor dem Gesetz’ or ‘Before the Law’ – can readily be drawn into this discussion (Derrida 1987 [1982]: 128. standing there. a conventional enough emplacement for a text by J. and. The very title of the entry. Drawing on these contributions. The title diverts naming. Its supplementary agency of naming implicitly precipitates the emergence of type of ‘event’. Rather. We are thoroughly in the province of metafiction. constitutes a form of fictive diversion: the distraction – or entertainment – of intertextuality. is abandoned to a form of deixis which is irreducible to the coordinates. as for Derrida. the one title diverts the other for the benefit of a homonym. ‘At the Gate’. in time or space. ‘One title occasionally resonates like the citation of another’. Elizabeth Costello stands at the gate. Coetzee 2003: 195). Franz Kafka 1983 [1914]: 3–4). ‘At the Gate’ deliberately opens its syntax to an isomorphic allusion: preposition plus article plus noun. as David Attwell has so productively argued (1993: 20). All of this could never occur without some degree of prejudice or usurpation’ (Derrida 1987 [1982]: 128). it no longer simply cites. ‘But as soon as it names something else as well. M. M. states Derrida.Chapter 2 Elizabeth Costello as Post-Apartheid Text* Louise Bethlehem In the last of the eight lessons that partly constitute the work which bears her name. Coetzee. But it simultaneously opens out onto the extended performance of citation which contours the intertextual coming-into-being of Coetzee’s text as one index of the . a term I use in anticipation of Derek Attridge’s deployment of it through Derrida and for Coetzee (see Attridge 2004b and the discussion below). it is now possible to recast the illusion of reference presented by the title of Coetzee’s text. It is thus not surprising to see the fiction of reference to setting turning back on itself to trace instead a ‘supplementary’ course (Jacques Derrida 1976 [1967]) which targets not so much the fictional world as fictionality itself.

at least the field within which I would like to position myself. ‘Franz Kafka’. But what of J. I experience the allusions to Kafka in ‘At the Gate’ as somehow recalcitrant in releasing meaning. in the ‘mise en scène’ (Coetzee 2003: 209) which makes hers one of the ‘improper’ (Derrida 1987 [1982]: 131) and always provisional proper names of literature: ‘It is the same with the Kafka business. to resist submission to the law of allegory. the coils of words which are attributed to Elizabeth but which originate neither with her nor wholly with her author draw language into the familiar embrace of the ‘poetic function’ in Roman Jakobson’s typology: the turning of the message on itself which dislocates the sign into the self-reference of literariness (1960). This is no longer beholden. For all their foregrounding. These resistant allusions nevertheless invite recuperation as the signifiers of a self-reflexive engagement with literariness. has meant partially to endorse Coetzee’s own claims regarding the relative autonomy of ‘the novel’. This work’s relevance for the questions I shall be raising will become apparent soon enough. To put it differently. It thus is literariness that Elizabeth names. despite my awareness that such a genealogy might plausibly be charted. are straight out of Kafka. rather than say.Elizabeth Costello as Post-Apartheid Text 21 literariness of this very text. I will thus have very little to say in the argument that follows about the Kafkaesque genealogy of ‘Lesson 8’. Coetzee – the other proper name which impinges on our string of citations given the ‘axiomatic consensus’ that Derrida. the gate. but only the superficies of Kafka.1 My own prejudice. I seek. in the essay on Kafka. even if Kafka’s written lore also encompasses ‘In the Penal Colony’ (Kafka 1983 [1919]: 140). in delineating these turns lies in the staging of a kind of anticipatory defence against prematurely conceding Kafka’s pre-eminence within the interpretative field of Coetzee’s text. In this respect. the sentry. so is the courtroom with the dozing bailiff and the panel of old men in their crows’ robes pretending to pay attention while she thrashes about in the toils of her own words. viewed from the perspective of a universalist construction of the literary canon. M. the allegory of Kafka’s ‘Law’. Kafka. Kafka reduced and flattened to a parody’ (Coetzee 2003: 209). So is the demand for a confession. as Coetzee once notoriously put it. to have read Coetzee in the wake of David Attwell’s rigorous elucidation of the pre-1994 corpus as ‘situational metafiction’. as it is also named. terms authorship (1987 [1982]: 130)? How might we readers position the generically anomalous sequence of texts consumed as Elizabeth Costello with respect to the body of writing by Coetzee that has preceded it? More specifically what relations does it entertain with those texts which proclaim their – and their author’s – South African descent? Literary critical historiography shows that for many of us. they are consonant with the larger interrogation of the formal demands of the literary text which is a distinctive trait of Coetzee’s oeuvre as well as of the discrete ‘lesson’ within whose parameters ‘Kafka’ is now held in suspension. to recall Derrida. somewhat wilfully. The wall. to ‘conclusions that are checkable by history (as a child’s school-work is .

Coetzee’s privileging of the transcultural moment and. but equally my own – which might reveal us to be the expatriate subjects of the former apartheid state. and unlike the recognizably post-apartheid text Disgrace (1999). Butler’s claim concerning the ‘contamination’ of the universal by the ‘particular contexts from which it emerges and in which it travels’ (39. Waiting for the Barbarians (1982 [1980]). 40). a move which has allowed Coetzee’s imbrication in the political matrix of the apartheid state to be addressed (Attwell 1993. Attwell included. so that mimesis alone surely cannot suffice in this regard. we might say. in ‘Lesson 8’ beyond the cosmopolitanism even of this world. M. Instead. to be trusted? Drawing on Judith Butler’s claims in her essay ‘Restaging the Universal’. particularly in its eighth lesson. despite itself.: 203)? But is this ostensible veering away from South Africa. if such it is. The novel. What does John Coetzee’s boyhood matter to Elizabeth Costello. according to Butler. . The latter term arises in the course of Butler’s efforts to convey how the allegedly universal staging of a problematic can be made. Without that vanishing immediacy. some critics.2 Unlike In the Heart of the Country (1978 [1977]). It is to the vanishing mediation of South Africa in the generation of the metafictional text before us that I now orient myself. rejects all but a contingent South African emplacement for its writerprotagonist. borne through Elizabeth Costello’s peripatetic status in the world at large and displaced. of the heightened metafictional dimensions of the work. If. have insisted that Coetzee’s studied selfreflexivity vis-à-vis what might be called the ‘representational literalism’ of apartheid-era South African literature was neither intransitive nor self-contained. seems to ratify a universalism that dispenses with the longing marks of a genealogy – Coetzee’s. At the same time. . Coetzee 1988: 3).22 J. or Age of Iron (1991 [1990]) however. universality itself would vanish’ (40). I would like to interrogate this turn as an instance of what Butler calls ‘spectral universality’ (2000: 23). Thus it requires the constant and meaningless vanishing of the individual . the female Australian writer protagonist who seems to reiterate her author-progenitor’s consistent refusal of forms of writing narrowed down to the certain consolations of what she terms: ‘the question of historical guilt’ (ibid. how might ‘South Africa’ be understood as its haunt? Might this spectrality perhaps . Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons (2003) seems to resist the impulse that might turn its very obliqueness back into the folds of the post-1994 State. also Susan VanZanten Gallagher 1991). moreover. Coetzee in Context and Theory checked by a schoolmistress)’ (Attwell 1993: 20. Life & Times of Michael K (1983). concrete and individual. . proceeds with reference to a reading of Hegel which allows her to lay bare the mechanism of contamination: ‘The universal can be the universal only to the extent that it remains untainted by what is particular. to divulge its specific provenance. an overdetermined spectrality inheres in the very gesture that seeks to ground the legitimizing authority of the universal. whose South African historicity is part of the history of their reception. moreover.

my emphasis L. I will substantiate this view through taking up the penultimate text of the work again. but she is surprised at how gay even a dying child can be. as somehow ‘contaminated’ by the traces of a repudiated content? Where does this content resist its repudiation. into the semiotic matrix of post-apartheid South African literary culture. to a trivializing essentialism mirrored in Rian Malan’s open speculation in October 2003: ‘Now that Coetzee has left us. but I do want to voice. or in her phantasmatic evocation of an unseen residue? ‘As for the children.Elizabeth Costello as Post-Apartheid Text 23 reveal itself between the lines or as a catch in the voice. over and above the spectrality of the bodies. veiled or perhaps in plain view. but does it consist in her reckoning with a morbidity that is seen. Elizabeth Curren this time. in South Africa’ (Coetzee 1990)?3 Is it possible to read Coetzee’s expatriate formalism in Elizabeth Costello. perhaps Blanche has tucked the worst cases away out of sight. For readers concerned with the theoretical reach of testimony. despite itself. I will eventually claim. at least.4 To raise such questions. so to speak? The catch in the voice of yet another moribund Elizabeth perhaps. Deflection then. at the threshold between life and death illuminates a différance (Derrida 1982 [1968]) internal to the ‘confession’ she is . It is to grapple with my own stealthy insistence that this is (also) a post-apartheid text without acceding. not defection For all that it defensively forecloses the possibility of ‘post-apartheid South Africa’ being taken as its referent. as our newspapers claim?’ (Malan 2003). in disregard for something like the manifest textual content of Coetzee’s work. these innocents can be brought to the very gate of death without fear’ (Coetzee 2003: 134. This draws the text back. is to presume to read Elizabeth Costello against its transcultural and universalizing aspirations. the question of the relation between those South Africans subjects who do not disclose visible evidence of their suffering and the ones that do – tucked somehow away out of Elizabeth Costello’s or Elizabeth Costello’s direct sight but lingering nevertheless in collective memory by virtue of the flagrantly corporeal displays enacted before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). its laboured metafictionality. in the Marianhill clinic of Elizabeth Costello’s sister Blanche (Coetzee 2003: 134)? There is something deeply unsettling about Elizabeth’s description of the children dying of HIV/AIDS at Marianhill. Elizabeth Costello’s positioning. in ‘Lesson 8’. albeit through inversion. as she revisits the displacement her daughter voices: ‘I was born in Africa. B. It is as Blanche said in her book: with love and care and the right drugs.). is his Nobel really a triumph for the Rainbow Nation. I need not belabour the reference to ‘the very gate of death’. let me risk the proposition that Elizabeth Costello contains a persistent interrogation of the relations between representation and material embodiment.

long after the diegesis has suspended the facticity of a world reduced to the coordinates of a spectacularly failed and insistently clichéd ‘simulation’. The body abides. and all around her on the square. Moreover.24 J. in Coetzee’s phrase. This necessity is frequently formulated as the claim that ‘bodies live and die. descends from the bus. . Judith Butler points out that it is possible to read invocations of the ‘materiality’ of the body. emphasis in original) The material body appears irreducible despite its discursive fabrication. this gentle lumbering monster that has been given to her to look after. In Bodies That Matter. . For the moment. Kafka reduced and flattened to a parody’ (209). are their bodies too. ‘It is the same with the Kafka business. Kafka. emphasis in original)? Instead of the end of a chapter. and that these ‘“facts” . ‘to that end of the chapter whose attainment is the goal of confession’ (1992 [1985]: 253. her neck. she somehow is this body. particularly if we view her predicament as a narratological displacement – a form of rendering literal. Elizabeth Costello resides within it. eat and sleep. Costello’s present appeal included. the character Elizabeth’s reflection makes the fabricated discourse appear to partake of an irreducible reality in a manner that can be specified with respect to extra-textual co-ordinates. . devoid of a ‘confessor empowered to absolve’. so far beyond her powers would it be. in excess of its discursive fabrication: ‘That at least she does not have to invent’. this shadow turned to flesh that stands on two feet like a bear and laves itself continually from the inside with blood. She wears a blue cotton frock. Few spare a glance for the white-haired woman who. The ineluctable corporeality with which the entry begins – ‘It is a hot afternoon. is burned red and beaded with sweat’ (Coetzee 2003: 193) – persists. but only the superficies of Kafka. M. these people. pleasure. as a form of nostalgia for what Butler terms a grounding and constitutive extra-discursive principle of ‘necessity’. this thing which not in a thousand years could she have dreamed up. ever lead. faithful body that has accompanied her every step of the way. on this beautiful morning. The square is packed with visitors. all she hears is the slow thud of the blood in her ears. a rending into plot – of the question that Coetzee addresses elsewhere: Can secular confession. Not only is she in this body. The lesson insists on this. feel pain. somehow. That at least she does not have to invent: this dumb. we have before us a chapter that ends the supposed or reconstructed biographical sequence by prolonging it. endure illness and violence’. suitcase in hand. however.5 But what is prolonged in this ‘afterlife’ (2003: 209) is precisely not testimony whose conditions of possibility become increasingly tenuous – it is the body. (210. just as all she feels is the soft touch of the sun on her skin. in the sun. Coetzee in Context and Theory constrained to make (2003: 212).

As the blood pours. pumped out in gouts on to soil where nothing will grow? The favourite ram of the king of Ithaca. the ram is alive’ 2003: 211). There is an episode in the Odyssey that always sends a shiver down her back. temporarily inhabiting an argument she will eventually reject. finally. which is closely allied to the notion of a literal reading (39). . and is not. . Elizabeth’s. . here and now. her hungry judges? (2003: 211) Costello’s invocation of the ram. says Butler. ‘there must be some kind of necessity that accompanies these primary and irrefutable experiences’ (1993: xi). so runs the story. I will return to Butler’s counter-argument. nor is the consolidation of the material body the only process that might be observed here (‘The ram is not just an idea. delineates the very course of the ethical in literature (2004a: 654). cut her veins and let herself pour on to the pavement. the ram dragged by its master down to this terrible place. cannot be dismissed as mere construction’. then does she believe in its blood too. ‘Surely’. For that.Elizabeth Costello as Post-Apartheid Text 25 . . Our imbrication in the reading process is not merely coincidental to my argument. If she believes in the ram. yet treated in the end as a mere bag of blood. For now. I suggest that we understand this passage to contour an ‘event in reading’ whose unfolding. phrased in terms of the vertiginous chiastic relationship between language and the body. mimes for us the metonymic transfer that we perform. is partly produced in ‘At the Gate’ through deliberate textual recursion. . as readers. the pallid dead crowd around. let me note that the understanding that body exists. The staging of this event is crucially bound up with the irruption-into-text of the material body. almost black. into the gutter. when we lend our own corporeality to the text to animate the fiction of hers. Following Derek Attridge’s rich work on ‘literature in the event’. to be cut open and poured from. Following instructions. lets its blood flow into the furrows. What does it mean for Attridge to put forth a theory of ‘literature in the event’ (the subtitle of his volume on Coetzee) that couples literariness with the . She could do the same. below. an identification with it that amounts to a radically literal reading of its being (see Attridge 2004b: 39–40). turn herself into a bag. sticky. This results less in vertigo than in the consolidation of the materiality of the living body in yet another text which is. is all it means to be alive: to be able to die. Is this vision the sum of her faith: the vision of the ram and what happens to the ram? Will it be a good enough story for them. Odysseus has descended into the kingdom of the dead to consult the seer Tiresias. he digs a furrow. dark. cuts the throat of his favourite ram. slavering for a taste. this sacred liquid. until to hold them off Odysseus has to draw his sword. She believes most unquestionably in the ram. Attridge claims. distinct from the language which signifies it. The ram is not just an idea. the ram is alive though right now it is dying.

is that it occurs as an event in the process of reading. than Attridge’s preference for a non-instrumentalist. arrives. Attridge argues that the literary work is ‘an act. But not only as citation. I would like to query – or is it to re-inscribe – the parameters of Attridge’s construction of literaturein-the-event by re-reading the second paragraph I have quoted for residual evidence of a deferred historicity whose formal trace is evident as citation. a putting-into-action or putting-into-play that involves both active engagement and a letting-go. not a theme to be registered. and in artworks more generally. crosses a definitively . . or who. Attridge stresses that ‘The distinctiveness of the ethical in literature. It brings about the ‘singular putting into play of – while also testing and transforming – the set of codes and conventions that make up the institution of literature and the wider cultural formation of which it is part’ (106). . Attridge argues. with the human intercourse and judgments it portrays . I would like to rehearse my own preoccupation with that which is derived over and above that which. Form. her ‘sur-vie’ if you like. is crucial to the ‘staging of meaning’ that is the literary work (109. Coetzee in Context and Theory ethical? In The Singularity of Literature. for the unfolding of my own argument. never entirely separable from the act-event (or actsevents) of writing that brought it into being as a potentially readable text. That which is derived: namely. M. They are the very precondition. that is to say arrivant. it is precisely with respect to the formal performativity of the work that the ethical dimension of the act of reading arises: The distinctive ethical demand made by the literary work is not to be identified with its characters or its plot. In full deference to what Coetzee has Costello term the ‘madness of reading’ (Coetzee 2003: 174). (130) In a slightly different formulation. These are important claims. an event of reading. The literary work demands a reading that does justice to the formal elaboration of these processes.6 Shifting Attridge’s emphasis slightly. the partly occluded historicity (whether inter. in fact. Rather. or an imperative to be followed or ignored’ (2004a: 654). and is integral to the work’s capacity to exceed the mere endorsement of referentiality (119). Moreover. never entirely insulated from the contingencies of the history into which it is projected and within which it is read’ (2004c: 59). a hospitable embrace of the other. emphasis in original).26 J. ethicity might care to accommodate.or extra-textual) of the phenomenon we stenographically re(pro)duce as ‘apartheid’. and in a sense more preoccupied with the conditions of its own historical over-determination. a reading in the sense of a performance. But let me qualify that the alterity to which my reading of ‘Lesson 8’ is beholden is perhaps more situated. My understanding that such historicity is both staged and can be accessed here stems from my contention that at this point in the text Elizabeth’s non-mimetic after-life. . it is to be found in what makes it literature: its staging of the fundamental processes whereby language works upon us and upon the world. a thesis to be grasped.

the very body we seek to establish in its ontological purity. Thus. says Butler. for as we begin that description of what is outside of language [. This dynamic underlies the metonymic extension. for its adherents. The body escapes its linguistic grasp.] we have already contaminated. We have already seen Judith Butler enunciate the apparent chain of causality which. but so too does it escape the subsequent effort to determine ontologically that very escape’ (2001: 257). she notes. For these and other reasons. the coincidence in me of signifier and signified. Butler would have us cast the problem in far more relational terms. to facilitate its linguistic domination through a certain reassuring self-reflexivity. . It would be tempting to conclude that this means that the body exists outside of language. so much as the ceaseless vertigo of the chiasmus. named now as ‘my body’. . to counter the trope of necessity in its various forms. an ontological thereness that exceeds or counters the boundaries of discourse’ (1993: 8). Instead of conceptualizing the beyond of discourse as pure exteriority. augmented by projection and identification. the torture chamber for instance (see Elaine Scarry 1985) – to efface discourse in favour of sheer materiality. that it has an ontology separable from any linguistic one. as the later formulation has it. Butler nevertheless calls upon us to exercise caution in apprehending it – it cannot be known except through the devices of a linguistic performativity. that is to say as ‘an absolute “outside”. ‘The very description of the extralinguistic body’. and that we might be able to describe this separable ontology. This. is a distinctively post-apartheid modality. though not contained.Elizabeth Costello as Post-Apartheid Text 27 realist recuperation/survival/survie of the material body. ‘the body also exceeds every possible linguistic effort of capture. couples the material body to realist models of signification through a mobilization of the ‘necessity’ that attends ‘irrefutable’ bodily experiences (1993: xi). . which binds the reader to Elizabeth to Homer’s ram. ‘allegorizes the problem of the chiasmic relation between language and body and so fails to supply the distinction it seeks to articulate’ (2001: 257). Contrary to such claims however. The nonlinguistic ontology of the body is made. under certain philosophical constructions – or in certain institutional contexts. it is crucial. she advances the axiom that ‘there is no reference to a pure body which is not at the same time a formation of that body’ (1993: 10). allow me first to make some general comments about the indebtedness of realist signification to embodied materiality. While conceding that there is an ‘outside’ to discourse. she writes in a subsequent essay. allows me to experience an illusory plenitude of the sign. ‘Although the body depends on language to be known’. What is at stake is not the (im)possibility of literal reference. Butler will thus consistently stress the indissoluble trace of signification that adheres to the body even though the body seems.7 In order now to stage this argument with reference to its post-apartheid derivation. But this is where I would hesitate. in one version of such arguments. paradoxically. I want to suggest. perhaps permanently. the felt presence of my body.

Basing myself partly on Minkley. it delivers instead a mnemonics whose recall of the body calls upon embodiment to provide the antecedent condition for the referentiality of history. At the visual core of the TRC hearings. into visible convergence on the surface of that body – a surface that is more or less complete. documentary and finite allowing for the final fatality of apartheid and a rebirth at the threshold of a new nation out of “exquisite cruelty” [in Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s phrase]’ (12. ‘the past of apartheid becomes measurable. 2000: 126). Coetzee in Context and Theory It is pivotal to my argument to recognize that this generalized nostalgia for the irrefutability of the body. Thus. as Wilson and others have claimed. torture chamber. and interpellates her as the measure of a reconstituted (because newly constitutional) form of citizenship (2001: 13–17. representations and conflicts around bodies in various states of mutilation. that of the mutilated body on display before the TRC – draws the legitimating authority of the index (Peirce: 1992) and the grounding agency of the material body. makes the real seem to inhere in material embodiment under a scopic regime which matches past suffering to the ‘empirical edifice of the body’ (Rassool et al. and the facticity of a resolutely material (because corporeal) historical narrative. the authors claim. Ciraj Rassool and Leslie Witz have analysed as the ocular politics and the realist epistemology of the Commission. mass grave). in evidence. and internment within the terror of the past’ (1996: 9). 2000: 126). I advance the argument that the exhumed corpse’s visuality – and in a more condensed form. they add. is implicitly held to be the amanuensis of violence in the epistemology of the TRC. The two are intimately related.28 J. The materiality of the South African body.8 The abject or wounded or even partially decomposed body of the victim of human rights abuses upon which the Commission focused its gaze becomes a kind of archive. Embodiment. premised on the very possibility of mimetic adequation that Butler opposes. transparent. viewed as the particular symptom of a more overarching desire for mimetic adequation. whether thematized in testimony or evident. dismemberment. is a feature precisely of the discourse of South Africa’s TRC. more or less replete. was central to what Gary Minkley. Whereas the TRC’s turn to the body seems to promise immediacy of reference. see also Rassool et al. were ‘descriptions. M. as material residue on display before the Commission. the most conventional of our schemas for understanding the inscription of violence on the body. This codification is a resolutely corporeal one. the scar for example. constituted a central preoccupation of the TRC. Rassool and Witz’s prescient TRC critique. Recall Richard Wilson’s claim that the TRC recruits the ‘victim’ to the service of a non-ethnic South African nationalism. or once occupied under the disciplinary apparatus of the apartheid state (prison-cell. Through the ‘visuality of the body presented in discrete and individualised cases’. see also 2–3). It foregrounds the realist modality of the written as the . The Commission’s epistemology. the space of embodiment it occupies in its ongoing mutilation. since the history of apartheid is inscribed in the materiality of this body.

then. quite simply. especially – in the service of a post-apartheid nationalism. to recontextualize Paul de Man’s phrase (de Man 1986: 89) – not materiality of the body avant la lettre. After all. engrave with a sharp instrument’ (1998: 261). is to model the belief that we as readers invest in the body’s effusion of truth). where writan. Thus. does not proceed without conflict. does not simply underwrite an excess of truth without also coupling the body to its historicity. the appeal to the material body produces the effect of a suffusion of truth. Provided. of course. to its contingent narrativizations. It is not possible . once meant ‘to score. ‘In the Penal Colony’ (1983 [1919]). Her embodiment is an afterimage of the written: it does not subtend referentiality in quite the same way as the body of the victim who testifies before the TRC. ‘At the Gate’ stages an appeal to the semiotic agency of the material body grounded in the speculative but nonetheless spectacular. irruption of blood. the ram is alive though right now it is dying’ (2003: 211). arises from ‘A country prodigal of blood’ (Coetzee 1991 (1990): 57). no veins to cut. the scar is cast as the truthful amanuensis of violence. the material body. since the truth of its writing is validated by the substance of the body. carve. Instead we apprehend Coetzee producing ‘bodies’ through recourse to the performative dimensions of a textuality that the passage in question purports to deny: ‘The ram is not just an idea. a text which like Coetzee’s pronouncement on the body. for reasons of power’ (1992: 248). But does not this very insistence provide a possible critique of the corporeal economy of the TRC? It does so precisely in that it reinstates the referential chiasmus through understated reliance on the overwriting that secretly inhabits the besitz/besetzung (possession/cathexis) of ‘pure body’ even – or better still. The give and take of an elaborately self-reflexive discourse appears to insist on this. a vision approaching ‘the sum of her faith’ (2003: 211). that we allow the emphasis to fall on ‘in South Africa’ – in South Africa under the state of emergency evoked in Age of Iron. Like the mnemonic apparatus of the TRC. Coetzee is well aware. for political reasons. incise. an understanding which curiously replays the logic of that other tale by Kafka that haunts Coetzee’s text. . Moreover. . as Joss March reminds us. It makes Elizabeth Costello’s meditation on Homer’s ram the site of palimpsest. My recourse to Age of Iron is quite deliberate. What we are given is the truth in – rather than of – the text. But the mise en abyme of the act of reading (one of whose purposes I have already claimed. in the second of the passages that I have cited. This irruption bequeaths to Elizabeth Costello a haunted intimation of veracity. I take this understanding to inform his well-known admonition ‘[I]in South Africa it is not possible to deny the authority of suffering and therefore of the body. Materiality of the letter. of a textual haunting that emerges between the lines the moment Elizabeth Curren’s description of the black boy victimized by the police is brought back into play: ‘Blood flowed in a .Elizabeth Costello as Post-Apartheid Text 29 ‘pure encounter of an object and its expression’ (Roland Barthes 1995 [1986]: 141). For Elizabeth has.

9 It is possible to view the relation I have sketched between Elizabeth Curren and Elizabeth Costello’s afterlife as a form of metalepsis. beholden to a certain Nachträglichkeit of that which is repressed. The delayed and relayed corpses/corpora of ‘Lesson 8: At the Gate’ challenge us to reinterrogate precisely the pre-eminence of synecdoche and allegory in our critical reflections on those processes whereby. M. that the enigmatic presence of Costello’s Dulgannon frogs (Coetzee 2003: 216–21) might be recuperated against the judge-in-chief’s ‘allegorical’ misreading of her ‘belief’ in them (220). I did not know blood could be so dark. hereby come to stand outside history. let us recall that the textual body is never truer than when it is beside itself. still.). the textual body that Elizabeth Costello offers us is the agent of a properly historical repression – while itself constituting. I would caution. perhaps. it was everywhere. I would suggest. The blood spoor I have traced is the product of a specifically South African historicity whose intelligibility as traumatic symptom properly exceeds inscription within a single place or time (Caruth 1995: 5. In obstructing the relay or transfer/ transference–of the allegory which they nevertheless allow us to entertain. living body and corpse both (Agamben 1998: 66). too).30 J. more telling than the persistence even now. Derrida 1998 [1996]: 31–34) – be more promising. The failure of the metafiction to extradite itself enacts perhaps one of its more perverse successes. as well as those mnemonic and/or scopic regimes wherein. they recall us to the awareness that the relationship which obtains between the living . the discrete human body is nationalized as public or state property. Coetzee in Context and Theory sheet into the boy’s eyes and made his hair glisten. which is yet another way of recasting the ‘delayed effect’ that is Nachträglichkeit. that is to say. a disruptive attribution of present effect to a remote cause (Lanham 1991: 99). It is precisely in the face of the victim that the metafictional seizure (capture.10 And it is here. For might not this interdiction of extradition – this speaking across a prohibition (cf. so heavy’ (ibid. see ibid. than the abstraction of a truth distilled as the stillness of the soma. The doubling that undoes the abstraction of Coetzee’s expatriate metafiction rehearses a form of errance (Paul de Man 1986: 91) whose very displacements produce its ethicity. so thick. of the body’s remains? Unless we are prepared to countenance the loss of the body to the lösung/ (di)solution of nationalism (and I include a precious and precarious postapartheid constitutionality here. but does not. In the very staging of its metafictional constructedness. the phantasmatic trace. The illicit joining of Curren and Costello reveals the literal belatedness of ‘At the Gate’ to be an instance of what Cathy Caruth might term an ‘impossible’ historicity. after all. But does not this very trail suggest that Coetzee’s avowal/disavowal of the textually unmediated body in ‘At the Gate’ fails the very lesson that I have attempted to adduce. convulsion) of corporeality assumes the force of historical repression.: 5–9 and 1997). it dripped on to the pavement. its willed detachment from all referential historicity except the history of its intertextual generation.

guest edited by Marianne de Jong. University of London. Notes * This article had its genesis in a presentation at ‘Contemporary Perspectives on J. always the site where ‘belief’ – a certain ideological configuration – is actively elicited. For a consideration of the realist orientation of apartheid-era literature. Scopus. like the relationship between the body and the body politic. 3 For an extended comparison of Elizabeth Costello and Elizabeth Curren. But now my recourse to the restless still of the body’s remains must give up its own ghosts. a notion which Coetzee’s narrator in the Nobel Lecture He and His Man also repudiates: ‘For it seems to him now that there are but a handful of stories in the world.’ held at the Royal Holloway College.” However. 1 With respect precisely to literariness. let me emphasize— as a matter of political interest but not. In studied but ineluctably complicit defiance of the discourses of Jewish nationalist entitlement by reason of bodily suffering which continue to justify the Occupation. Israel. Mt. but we eventually learn that her married name is “Curren” and that her initials are “E. She is unnamed at first. and if the young are to be forbidden to prey upon the old then they must sit forever in silence’ (2004 [2003]: 16). . Coetzee and Post-Apartheid South African Literature: An International Conference. however. Egham. 340). United Kingdom. Israeli bodies – on the line. No spectral universality can be allowed to attach to the genesis of my text if it is to remain true to the leapfrog of displaced historicity it has traced. East Jerusalem. I hope. 2 On ‘representational literalism’ see Damian Grant (1985 [1970]: 14–15). Derek Attridge cautions us regarding a potential ambiguity that ‘plays around the name of the letter-writer in Age of Iron. It was first published in a special edition of the Journal of Literary Studies/Tydskrif vir Literatuurwetenskap entitled ‘New Research on J. and I believe there is. see Bethlehem 2001. in the interviews in Doubling the Point (250. My thanks to Andries Oliphant for permission to reprint it in the present volume. Thanks to Carola Hilfrich and Catherine Rottenberg for drawing my attention to Derrida’s ‘Devant la Loi’. This is not all that is at stake. respectively. and potentially contested or contestatory.Elizabeth Costello as Post-Apartheid Text 31 matter of the organism and its discursive reclamation. pace Elizabeth. let me emphasize that my casting of citation as a kind of productive diversion that summons us into the presence of the literary is irreducible to something like an ‘anxiety of influence’ in Harold Bloom’s sense (1973). And there are bodies – Palestinian bodies. is sometimes chaotic. bound to the time and place of my writing.C. If there is an urgency to my rhetoric here. instrumentalism – that the body. both Coetzee himself. see Dorothy Kuykendal’s ‘I Follow the Pen: The (Dis)Location of Two Elizabeth C’s’ (2005). historical mediation. it is because I too inhabit a country ‘prodigal of blood’. M. does not speak itself except through massive. M. 29-30th April 2005. and Butler’s ‘Restaging the Universal’. somewhat chiastic. Coetzee’.

This chiasmus. Sitze suggests. Attridge’s discussion of the problem of terminating a confessional sequence refers repeatedly to the TRC. I have treated the connection between the Peircean index and ‘the scar-as-sign’ in my reading of J. Biopolitical catastrophe is here the price of political sovereignty’ (2003: 71). ‘[The Commission’s] emphasis on the survival of suffering established the possibility for suffering’s survival: its specifically pastoral powers renewed the capture of naked life by the jurisdiction of sovereign power’ (ibid. see Attridge 2004b: 119–37. as Sitze reminds us. The epistemic and tropological preconditions for this. M. I will be revisiting the intersection of the two Elizabeths below. of the collusion between scar and index: their seeming to constitute an exception to the arbitrary nature of the sign (Bethlehem 2003).: 47–77).32 J. for a gendered reading of the novel. and see particularly Sitze 2004: 780–90). A fuller discussion of HIV/AIDS as providing an interpretive context for Elizabeth Costello remains largely beyond the scope of this paper. which Sitze considers with specific reference to the Mbeki regime’s notorious denialism concerning the transmission of HIV/AIDS and its effects on state policy between 1998 and 2003. are derived from the TRC’s valorization of suffering. For Attridge’s vigilance regarding the potentially instrumentalist appropriation of the literary by history or by the political. Noting the continuity between the apartheid and post-apartheid regimes. The ongoing chronological deformation of the biographical sequence of the character called ‘Elizabeth Costello’ is apparent in ‘As a Woman Grows Older’. For an exposition of Derrida’s notion of the arrivant with respect to Coetzee.: 75. but addresses a different set of questions than those I will be unfolding (2004b: 138–161). Sitze argues that ‘the debt payments that accompanied the arrival of the popular sovereignty of the post-apartheid state became so large that. its openness to the future’ (2004c: 129–30). and see the discussion in ibid. New York Review of Books. the high infant mortality rates in the apartheid Bantustans (ibid. survie takes a different form. see his exhortation as regards ‘the unpredictability of reading. as well as in Coetzee’s 2005 novel. by the late 1990s. I undertake a fuller articulation of the body politics of the TRC in the 4 5 6 7 8 . 11–14. The word ‘survie’ enables me to acknowledge a debt that has been prolonged since the issue of prolongation was first raised in this paper. the paradigmatic instant of survie relates to the residual persistence of Tsarism in post-revolutionary Russia. they all but ruled out the possibility of providing medical treatment for poor people living with HIV/AIDS. where I explore the consequences. Sitze 2003: 66–77). Coetzee in Context and Theory and some critics – presumably following the author’s extra-textual comments – refer to her as “Elizabeth Curren”’ (2004b: 94–5). For Althusser. In South Africa. I am profoundly aware of the genesis of this article in response to Adam Sitze’s radicalization of the Althusserian notion of ‘survie’ in his indispensable analysis of the relations between testimony and sovereignty in the TRC (Louis Althusser 1997 [1969].: 36–7. for instance. M. among other things. but see footnote 7. generates an ‘uncanny repetition’ of. The same funds that could have been invested in the immune systems of the population living under the jurisdiction of the New South African state were instead spent paying off the acquisition of the jurisdiction itself. 15 January 2004. Slow Man. Coetzee’s Disgrace.

The Anxiety of Influence. Leiden: Brill NV. J. (2). Hegemony. in Judith Butler. edited by Dennis Walder. pp. 258–61. M. edited by Michael Eskin. —(2004b). paper presented in Hebrew at the Department of Comparative Literature and Poetics. 1. (2). Bloom. pp. M. Skin Tight: Apartheid Literary Culture and Its Aftermath (Unisa and Brill. Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left. New York: Verso. Barthes. Attridge. trans. Judith (1993). Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Special Issue of Poetics Today. 653–71. Berkeley. Territory. Louise (2001). New York: Oxford UP. Althusser. London and New York: Verso. David (1993). 22. African Identities. New York and London: Routledge. in Tom Cohen. and Andrzej Warminski (eds). Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’. 23 May 2005. ‘Ethical modernism: Servants as others in J. Cape Town. Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek (eds). 25. M. Roland (1995). —2004c The Singularity of Literature. Laplanche and J. Harold (1973). (1986). ‘The reality effect’. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Material Events: Paul de Man and the Afterlife of Theory. ‘How Can I Deny That These Hands and This Body Are Mine’. . Attwell. ‘Literature and Ethics’. 167–85. Derek (2004a). 11–43. from The Rustle of Language. London: Routledge and the Open University. Barbara Cohen. pp. in The Realist Novel. Bethlehem. Sonja Laden. London: Routledge. trans.-B. London: University of Minnesota Press. Coetzee’s Early Fiction’. 2006). Theory: Yosef Haim Brenner and the Erets-Israeli Genre’. Guest Editor: Leon de Kock. Summer 2001. Coetzee: South Africa and the Politics of Writing.Elizabeth Costello as Post-Apartheid Text 33 9 10 concluding chapter of my book. Los Angeles and Oxford: University of California Press. Works Cited Agamben. co-editors. New York: Zone Books. ‘Restaging the universal: Hegemony and the limits of formalism’. J. M. Louise Bethlehem. Butler. Pretoria: Unisa Press. Ben Brewster. —(2006). Tel Aviv University. Hillis Miller. Coetzee’s Disgrace’. For a brief summary of the meaning and development of the term in Freud. (4). (1969) For Marx. See Shai Ginsburg’s essay on the national allegory in pre-State Israel. see P. ‘Aneconomy in an economy of melancholy: Embodiment and gendered identity in J. —(2003). Minneapolis. ‘South Africa in the Global Imaginary’. —(2000). Pontalis 1973: 111–14. ‘A primary need as strong as hunger: The rhetoric of urgency in South African literary historiography’. Giorgio (1998). Skin Tight: Apartheid Literary Culture and Its Aftermath. J. 365–89. Special Issue of Poetics Today. Contingency. Daniel Heller-Roazen. ‘Genre. 254–73. —(2001). Louis (1997). Johannesburg: David Philip.

Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons.). Roman (1960). Dorothy (2005). Coetzee and Post-Apartheid South African Literature: An International Conference’ Royal Holloway College. 11–14. Monolingualism of the Other. Egham.’ in Alan Udoff (ed. Cathy (1995). 29–30th April 2005. New York Review of Books. Upstream: A Magazine of the Arts. —(1988). Gallagher. Johannesburg: Ravan Press. Coetzee’s Fiction in Context. —(1999). A Story of South Africa: J. —(1982) (1968). Delivered in Stockholm in December 2003. —(2003). New York: Penguin. Life & Times of Michael K. Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews. 208–22. —(1983). in Selected Writings. Identity and Self-Determination. trans. trans. Johannesburg: Ravan Press.). Jacques (1976) (1967). Kafka and the Contemporary Critical Performance: Centenary Readings.). —(1986). London: Secker and Warburg. edited with introductions by Cathy Caruth. —(1997). in David Attwell (ed. New York: Viking Penguin. ‘Traumatic Awakenings’.34 J. pp. —(1982) (1980). 18–51. ‘Introduction (Trauma and Experience)’. Avital Ronell and Christine Roulston. M. Stanford: Stanford UP. 128–49. Harmondsworth: London. ‘Interview’. 1–27. London: Methuen and Co. Of Grammatology. Paper presented at ‘Contemporary Perspectives on J. Jakobson. —1987 (1982). 181–220. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP. Cambridge. London: Secker and Warburg. Kuykendal. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. trans. Waiting for the Barbarians. MA and London: Harvard University Press. Paul (1986). Bloomington: Indiana UP. —(1992). pp. 3. in The Resistance to Theory. in Derek Attridge (ed. —(2005). M. in Margins of Philosophy. MA: Harvard University Press. Coetzee. (1990) Age of Iron. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. in Trauma: Explorations in Memory. M. ‘Conclusions: Walter Benjamin’s “The task of the translator”’. pp. J. pp. Violence. Alan Bass. ’As a woman grows older’. Stanford. —1998 (1996). Harmondsworth: Penguin. —(2004). pp. —(1998) [1997] Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life. pp. Derrida. (1). Disgrace.. foreword by Wlad Godzich. Reprinted as a 1992 (1982) ‘Before the Law’. 3–12. Realism. New York: Penguin. —(1991). or. 15. trans. ‘Différance’. M. ‘Linguistics and Poetics’. Cambridge. Susan VanZanten (1991). Coetzee in Context and Theory Caruth. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. in Henk de Vries and Samuel Weber (eds). In the Heart of the Country. Acts of Literature. trans. Johannesburg: Ravan Press. Jacques Derrida. Routledge: London and New York. January 2004. 6. Grant. —(2004) (2003) He and His Man: Lecture and Speech of Acceptance Upon the Award of the Nobel Prize in Literature. California: Stanford UP. (1978). 2–5. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP. The Prosthesis of Origin. vol. ‘The Novel Today’. 243–50. The Hague: Mouton. De Man. 73–105. University of London. ‘“I Follow the Pen”: The (Dis)Location of Two Elizabeth C’s’. Slow Man. Avital Ronell. Foe. United Kingdom. pp. . ‘Devant La Loi. Ltd. Damian (1985) [1970].

Willa and Edwin Muir.). J. W. Online.” Paper presented at the conference on ‘The Future of the Past: The Production of History in a Changing South Africa’. Minkley. (http://www. pp. May 2003. 3–4. 10–12 July 1996. protest writing’. Scarry. “Thresholds. —(1983) (1919). Athens. The Language of Psycho-Analysis. Laplanche. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Leslie Witz and Gary Minkley (2000). Harmondsworth: Penguin. and J. Glatzer (ed. Adam (2003).10987. Peirce. ‘Before the Law’. in Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel (eds).00. ‘Denialism’. pp. University of the Western Cape. (1992). Donald Nicholson-Smith. Rian (2003). ‘Burying and memorialising the body of truth: The TRC and national heritage’. S. Oxford: University of California Press. D. Richard A. Lanham. Glatzer (ed. OH: Ohio UP. testimony. C. in Nahum N.493312. Richard A. In the Penal Colony’. 140–67. vol. University of Minnesota. Time Magazine. . Ciraj Rassool and Leslie Witz (1996). Pontalis (1973).time. Norton and Co. The South Atlantic Quarterly. The Collected Short Stories of Franz Kafka. Cape Town: David Philip. Sitze. 769–811. Malan. Berkeley. Franz (1983) (1914). A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms. (2001). October 13. trans Willa and Edwin Muir. Gary. Los Angeles. gateways and spectacles: Journeying through South African hidden pasts and histories in the last decade of the twentieth century. (4). New York and London: W. (1991). —(2004). The Body in Pain. ‘[from] On the Algebra of Logic: A Contribution to the Philosophy of Notation’. pp. 225–28. unpublished Ph. pp. accessed 26 April 2005). in Nahum N.preview/ 0. Rassool. The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: Legitimizing the Post-Apartheid State. in Wilmot James and Linda van de Vijver (eds). 2003. After the TRC: Reflections on Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.Elizabeth Costello as Post-Apartheid Text 35 Kafka. The Collected Short Stories of Franz Kafka. Elaine (1985). Indiana University Press. New York and London: Oxford.html.com/time/archive. ‘Only the Big Questions’. dissertation. 103. ‘Articulating truth and reconciliation in South Africa: Sovereignty. trans. -B. The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings. 115–27. Ciraj. Bloomington and Indianapolis. trans. Wilson.). 1 (1867–1893).

Furthermore.Chapter 3 Coetzee and Gordimer Karina Magdalena Szczurek Nothing I say here will be as true as my fiction. but only marginally known outside South Africa. J. Nadine Gordimer Some time ago Eliza Coetzee. none of the reviewers and critics writing about Elizabeth Costello – Eight Lessons (2003) seems to have noticed one of the most obvious features of the fictional heroine of this remarkable book. she gladly accepted. not only have been aware of each other for a long time as fellow writers. In all the excitement surrounding its publication. Gordimer and John. Coetzee.2 I want to argue that both. I am taking my chance. namely the striking similarities between her and the real-life South African author Nadine Gordimer. When it was her turn to speak. she removed her reading glasses from an etui. given half a chance. a distant cousin of the famous author. but rather to untwist some meanings. Elizabeth Costello. . after which their truth or falsehood is out of our hands and declarations of authorial intent carry no weight. but my intention today is not to twist. adjusted them on her nose and began boldly:1 Reviewing Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (2004) John Maxwell Coetzee wrote about two aspects of writing which most of us authors would recognize only too well: the stories we write sometimes begin to write themselves. seeing the conference as a possibility to add some clarification to the confusion and unease accumulated around her cousin’s book. who. M. A writer herself. once a book is launched into the world it becomes the property of its readers. These are my preconceptions and desires. was invited to London to speak about one of her relative’s books. will twist its meaning in accord with their own preconceptions and desires. (2004b: 4) I am standing here before you not only as an author but primarily as a reader.

Coetzee (1996). Nadine Gordimer is probably the South Africa-born author best-known outside the country.3 Elizabeth Costello is mostly composed of rewritten versions of these earlier lectures. when he was no longer only commenting on her work as a literary critic but directly reacting to it in his own fiction. John was invited to speak in the lecture series dedicated to the discussion of ethical and philosophical topics. I want to expose the parallels between the two women. The two most prominent instances that I would like to focus on today are the characterization of Elizabeth Costello in the book of the same title. M. Nadine Gordimer also kept her maiden name and grew up in the suburbs of a . Both have also commented on each other’s works. Apart from John.Coetzee and Gordimer 37 but John has involved them both in a fascinating one-sided literary polemic. Elizabeth Costello came to life as a fictional character during the Ben Belitt Lecture which John delivered at Bennington College in 1996. now presented as Lessons. essays and critical studies. I want to emphasize emphatically however that in spite of all I am going to tell you. She became quite a sensation when he allowed her to reappear in his Tanner Lectures at Princeton University in the following two years. or. interviews. always returning to this strange character who now began to haunt the literary world (and perhaps John himself). 2001. as I see it. John has written more extensively on Gordimer. Melbourne. as I would like to call it. infamous novel Disgrace (1999a). but it was only in the Lessons’ final revised versions that her unmistakable resemblance was conclusively revealed. discussing her work at length in a few publications (Coetzee 1980. John’s deeper involvement with Gordimer’s writing – the one-sided polemic – began. Elizabeth Costello and Nadine Gordimer. and John’s by now famous. and talk about Elizabeth Costello as a fictional vehicle for conveying John’s ideas. Nicholas Dawes recalled the occasion in his review of Elizabeth Costello: ‘he read a story in two parts about an ageing Australian writer who delivers two awkward. Today. Gordimer has done so mostly in interviews. 2003a). In the following years. concentrating on the main topics of the book and attempting to grasp John’s elusiveness as an author in the process. From the beginning their heroine has shared some obvious characteristics with Nadine Gordimer. poorly received and strangely resonant lectures on animal rights’ (Dawes 2003: 21). John’s Elizabeth Costello (which is her maiden name) is an Australian author who spent her childhood in the suburbs of a big city. To my knowledge. Elizabeth Costello is not Nadine Gordimer – I like Nadine much too much to believe anything to the contrary. as some would argue. in the late 1990s. John delivered several more lectures in this unusual format. Their writing has been repeatedly compared in reviews. Similarly. 1992. but she has also reviewed Coetzee’s The Life and Times of Michael K in 1984 (‘The Idea of Gardening’) and was asked to write the Preface to Huggan and Watson’s Critical Perspectives on J. I will outline the implications of this construct.

Coming from postcolonial countries. Like history. the traditional novel is. They are not particularly inclined to take up gender as an issue in their fiction. see in the traditional novel an attempt to understand human fate in terms of the individual. the novel is thus an exercise in making the past coherent. and according to John. and there were some critics who alleged it was only because she was the most prominent South African anti-apartheid author at the time.38 J. and her second husband died recently. has two children. Coetzee in Context and Theory big city. since we are hardly ever confronted with original questions). along with many European authors. They are also declared non-believers. and in their writing they can feel their ‘way into other people. Both women take control of the exchange with interviewers. passion. ends up at point Z. presenting them often with blocks of dialogue which seem rehearsed (even though I suppose all writers do so after a while. my emphasis) . they see the genre as a form of history. The same is true of Gordimer. Like Gordimer. . to make something coherent out of it’ (Topping Bazin and Dallman Seymour 1990: xiv. Both women seclude themselves in the mornings to do their writing and both missed a good deal of their children’s childhoods because of their work. Both. . Both authors repeatedly take up the theme of fact and fiction in their writing and have been on the executive of PEN. as John calls it. Stephen Clingman referred to Gordimer’s fiction as ‘history from the inside’ (cf. jealousy and envy with an insight that shakes you (cf. the same is true of Gordimer. Gordimer stated in an interview: ‘The function of the writer is to make sense of life . one from each marriage. Costello and Gordimer share an ambivalent relationship to Europe’s literary canon: admiration and distance. as clearly as they can. (38–9. However. having started at point A and having undergone experiences B and C and D. preach nothing. Costello only has one sister (both sisters’ names begin with a B). deeply rooted in her own country. how people lived in a certain time and place’ (Coetzee 2003b: 207). Elizabeth Costello’s ‘books teach nothing. it surfaces indirectly and unmistakably. M. developed around Elizabeth Costello. as John writes: an attempt to understand human fate one case at a time. my emphasis). a son and a daughter. Both write about sex. not thinkers. The Novels of Nadine Gordimer – History From the Inside (1986)). nevertheless. A small critical industry. Costello and Gordimer. Gordimer has been strongly influenced by European authors but has always considered herself a profoundly South African writer. to understand how it comes about that some fellow being. Gordimer received the Nobel Prize in 1991. as well as Costello. Costello received a very important literary prize because it was meant to go to some author from her home country – a fact that she was not quite comfortable with. into other existences’ (22). Gordimer. Johannesburg. emphasize that in the first place they are writers. In 1988. For Costello. they merely spell out. Costello married twice. 5).

Costello’s son also compares his mother to a cat: ‘One of those large cats that pause as they eviscerate their victim and. Vera Stark and David Lurie. a kind of mother figure to next generations of authors? Is the characterization a tongue-in-cheek extra for literary scholars? These questions haunt me. which Lars Engle called ‘an uncanny revision’ (2001: n. both are people whose progress . that is beside the point. . Instead. John is too conscious and precise a writer for such coincidences simply to occur without a reason. I would like to turn to the earlier instance of John’s obvious direct responses to Gordimer’s writing evident in his novel Disgrace (1999a).p. My status in the world does not rest on whether I am right or wrong in claiming that John is responding to Gordimer in the fashion I have mentioned. signing it with: ‘With acknowledgements to my son. Gordimer is well-known to be much more elegant and sophisticated than Costello is described as being (as photographs at least of Gordimer attest). partly adoptive families based on elective affinities [. 19). Both novels question the ‘idea of nuclear family centred on a passionate heterosexual relationship’ (ibid. . She herself denied seeing any parallels between the two novels in an interview she gave Karina Magdalena Szczurek in February 2004 (n. What is even more pertinent is that it is most unlikely that all the striking parallels between the two women are purely accidental.). offering instead ‘multiracial.). But I would like to think he is (cf.).). and both end with white women choosing to become black men’s tenants. yet appropriative figures. I am not a Gordimer scholar.) of Gordimer’s None to Accompany Me (1994). at times comforting. as he sees it. is a ‘meditation on ageing and developing beyond the sexual phase of one’s life’ (ibid. give you a cold yellow stare’ (5). No. However. Each novel. In fact. she drew a cat. The main characters.p. across the torn-open belly. by the way). Yet. What did he want to achieve by giving Elizabeth Costello Nadine Gordimer’s characteristics? Or by giving Costello’s son his own first name? Is he referring to Gordimer’s reputation as the Grande Dame of South African Letters. More important might be the fact that when Gordimer was once asked to draw a caricature of herself. although Derek Attridge has brought to my attention that the actress chosen to play Costello in the feature film based on The Lives of Animals (1999b) resembled Gordimer in terms of her looks. I am not a scholar at all. not entirely flattering.p.) (as is Elizabeth Costello.Coetzee and Gordimer 39 What the two women certainly do not have in common is their appearance. Both novels deal with the question of land politics and responsibility in South Africa in the post-apartheid era. but I have to leave them open for now. they are not hard to detect. Engle also mentions the parallel between Zeph Rapulana and Petrus. a choice Engle calls an ‘allegory of a possible trajectory of white South Africans. The two men are ‘non-violent.4 At one point. Hugo’ (cf. Roberts 2005: 297).).] or on mutual protection and opportunism’ (ibid. see in their children’s ‘lesbianism a possible reaction to the parent’s heterosexuality’ (ibid. from inheritors of empire to dependents on black enterprise’ (2001: n.

In his preface to ‘The Novel in Africa’. All in all.). Parts might have been modelled on other authors – A. Besides. parts of her have been obviously modelled on Nadine Gordimer.) None to Accompany Me and Disgrace cannot rest with the claim ‘that rape of white women on farms by black men unknown to them is simply revenge’ (ibid. Coetzee in Context and Theory from dispossession to possession can. . symbols. guardedly.] a true sense in which writing is dialogic. Of greater relevance is the suggestion that Elizabeth Costello is an alter ego of her author. At the end of his essay he summarizes his point as follows: Without Coetzee’s own commentary. taking on ‘fleeting identities’ (43) which cannot really be pinned down. and masks to get his ideas across. Byatt and some of her heroines come immediately. James Wood remarked that ‘Costello is obviously not Coetzee. and presumptuous to claim. a matter of awakening counter-voices in oneself and embarking on speech with them’ (1998: vi). ever. to my mind. S. Costello is so much more than merely a fictional imitation of Gordimer. (ibid. indeed. and both have . Engle argues that Disgrace ‘respond[s] with guarded pessimism to the optimism of None to Accompany Me’ (ibid. . which I would prefer not to mention. but it may be going too far to grant her the fullness of fictional autonomy’ (Wood 2003a). . he argues that Costello was used by John as a persona speaking up for the author himself (Wood 2003b). . As I have suggested. He pointed out that both are ‘major world writer[s]’ around whom ‘a small critical industry’ (ibid. if less obviously. which we are unlikely to get this morning or.) has sprung up. [.5 My cousin likes speaking in riddles. David Lodge reached a similar conclusion in his review of the book and spoke about ‘the teasing similarities and differences between her and her creator’ (Lodge 2003).40 J. so one is tempted to look beyond literal meanings that do not lend themselves to easy interpretations. M. and opt for a historical-political dimension to explore instead the private form of atrocious violence. Randolph Starn quotes John as admitting that ‘[t]here is [.] as partly as revisionary allusions to None to Accompany Me. . In his review of Elizabeth Costello. allegories. that he was thinking about Gordimer’s work when he wrote his own. I will let others research those stories.). His character Elizabeth Costello is a chameleon. be celebrated as what the New South Africa is supposed to be all about’ (ibid. using metaphors.] Yet it is very tempting to approach some of the apparent bleak elements of political prophecy in Disgrace [. No wonder John has been repeatedly called one of the most elusive writers of our time. I even detect certain similarities with myself.) It might be just as presumptuous of me to claim that John was thinking of Gordimer when he called Costello into being. it would be hard to be sure. In an editorial letter. but the temptation to do so is simply irresistible. .

The main difference between author and character. apart from gender. from our comfortable social and political safety niches or comfort zones in which we prefer to hide from reality. the gods and the humans. and truth is hardly ever a comfortable commodity. is that Elizabeth Costello is twelve years older than John (cf. about reason and compassion. in which John.). belief. (ibid. the humanities. shared by some reviewers of the book. So. Blurring the boundaries of fact and fiction. Costello ‘is by no means a comforting writer’. what does this imply? I suggest to read Elizabeth Costello as a fictional vehicle. and they both engage in intertextual games in their fiction (cf. Referring to The Lives of Animals. Elizabeth Costello raises ethical and aesthetic questions. Each lesson cuts deep to the bone. asking about what it means to be human. about intertextuality.).) Why are the issues Costello raises problematic and make us feel so uncomfortable? The reason might be that we know how close to the truth each discussion of them comes.)). intolerant. that he was putting forward an extreme. such as: Why are we here? What should we do? What is it all about? It is a book which begins like a cross between a campus novel and a Platonic dialogue. removing us. Gordimer – even myself – and potentially other authors as well as a certain dose of fiction are being fused into one character. segues . the Greeks and the Christians.Coetzee and Gordimer 41 received numerous prizes and awards. but even though most of us enjoy a good story. the responsibility of us writers to think ourselves into anything (even bats). by the veils of fiction behind which he had concealed his own position from scrutiny. ibid. One should also bear in mind that ultimately Elizabeth Costello is a story. some critics found fault with John’s narrative strategy. No wonder we feel that somebody ought to take responsibility for our feeling of insecurity. ageing. the readers. Lodge remarked: Not surprisingly most of the commentators felt somewhat stymied by Coetzee’s meta-lectures. and ‘writers who venture into the darker territories of the soul’ from which there is no returning ‘unscathed’ (160). whom John uses for transmitting some ideas about fiction and reality. he wrote. ibid. which came to form the central part of Elizabeth Costello. and accusatory argument without taking full intellectual responsibility for it. the existence of evil. Like John. perennial questions’ (Lodge 2003). Elizabeth frequently travels around the world to give lectures and to attend international conferences. According to Lodge the book finds ‘a new urgency in the big. neither is her creator (‘Disgrace must be one of the least comforting novels ever written’ (ibid. Elizabeth Costello’s Eight Lessons concentrate on lectures and conversations about topics as diverse as animal rights and colonialism (inseparable in Costello’s argument). There was a feeling.

interpreting Africa to their readers. and is made even more so by the fact that [. by a dread of evil. at the foreigners who will read them. It is.).) Breaking the chains of convention. Yet how can you explore a world in all its depth if at the same time you are having to explain it to outsiders? (51) In his review of Elizabeth Costello. How can one find fault with such innovation? Especially when you consider that one of Elizabeth Costello’s central concerns is an attack on the role of the writer as a paid performer – a seal-like entertainer. because storytelling in Africa ‘provides a livelihood neither for publishers nor for writers’ (41). such as Amos Tutuola and Ben Okri. . It is progressively permeated by the language of religion. Coetzee in Context and Theory into introspective memoir and fanciful musing. Its key words are ‘belief’ and ‘soul’. Elizabeth Costello’s frame story is told ‘with laconic metafictional interpolations by the implied author. they have accepted the role of interpreter. The assertion seems even more provocative and interesting in the light of what I have said before. . Costello argues: African novelists may write about Africa. Isn’t he himself also guilty of the same charge? . about African experiences. 2005). Whether they like it or not. in the words of another anonymous critic. . in the narrative itself’ (ibid. drawing attention to the conventions of realism that are employed.42 J. and ends with a Kafkaesque bad dream of the afterlife.] explains why there are ‘so many African novelists around and yet no African novel worth speaking of. .’ It is the result of ‘having to perform your Africanness at the same time as you write. a ‘meditation on the nature of storytelling that only a writer of Coetzee’s calibre could accomplish’ (Anon. and occasionally flouted.’ This is a fairly provocative assertion for a white South African writer to put into the mouth of his white Australian heroine. [is discussed in the book] in some detail (Lodge 2003). Lodge elaborates further and perceives a kind of provocation in this particular discussion in the book: This [. and by a desire for personal salvation. (ibid.] the work of several real African novelists. M. if one considers that John once wrote the following: ‘what people outside South Africa know about modern South Africa comes from South African writers. Moreover. Gordimer prominent among them’ (Coetzee 2001: 273). it comes as no surprise that the book addresses the issue of African authors writing for European audiences and not their own. but they seem to me to be glancing over their shoulder all the time they write.

and beauty as a redeeming force. . it would be wrong to say that the book offers no guidance at all. is justified. however cryptically. as well as philosophy (Lodge 2003). one cannot help thinking that the question posed by Costello’s son. Nevertheless. Starn eloquently sums up for us: The calculus of exploration is what matters here in any case. We have to admit that. It is a never-ending debate that throws light on each topic it takes up.Coetzee and Gordimer 43 In the end. sociobiology. Many people seem to forget that he is consequently the author of Elizabeth Costello. but I can fairly promise that readers of his story will be fascinated and instructed by the voyage of an exacting and powerful literary intelligence. apart from some loosely adapted quotations. but it would mean misunderstanding the Lessons. We might ask ourselves the same question. but never gives privilege to a final position. Coetzee’s cruise ship will never come to port. questions which have engaged the attention of several disciplines in recent years – ethology. Where would the art of fiction be if there were no double meanings? What would life itself be if there were only heads and tails and nothing in between?’ (Coetzee 2004a). (1998: vii) Furthermore. The book’s guiding lights are humanity. as Lodge reminds us: One is quickly drawn into the debate. anthropology. whatever topic the book Elizabeth Costello takes up. its main character knows that ‘ambivalence should not disconcert her. sympathy. She has made a living out of ambivalence. fascinated by the thrust and parry of argument and counterargument. ‘Why can’t she just come out and say what she wants to say?’ (82). and that at the end of the day John’s elusiveness is not as elusive as it might seem. As John’s cousin I feel the need to defend Elizabeth Costello against such charges. it leads you not only into a minefield of polemics but also on a journey of discovery. perhaps no answers at all. and cognitive science. The book refuses to take a definitive stance on any issue. the book raises some very important issues. or rather his keyboard. or at least not the easy answers. letting the characters discuss different sides of each argument. every single word in the book came from John’s pen. For these issues involve the definition of what it is to be human and where human beings stand in relation to the rest of creation. and compelled to re-examine one’s own principles and assumptions – not only with reference to animal rights and vegetarianism. However. not the answers. Elizabeth Costello’s greatest achievement (for some its greatest flaw) is that it offers no easy answers. and that.

for a writer like Dostoevsky. I will certainly continue reading. he says only ‘no. or rather dis-grace in our context. The hyphen is important to indicate a kind of stripping off. but both in their own way have an intriguing story to tell. M. Thank you. But then again as a writer.’ As long as grace is delayed – and it may be delayed forever – it seems he [Coetzee] will have to continue writing. In a sense. Tired by the performance. today. or God’s kindness shown to believers. So we continue probing. In his review of Elizabeth Costello Dawes remembers John’s suggestion that as long as the writer does not find grace. At the end of it David Lurie is stripped of all such grace. but her presence is as daunting as ever. John chose ‘disgrace’ for the title of his 1999 novel. Coetzee. stripped of all her grace is just a fictive character created by the real-life author. regrettably no: I am not a Christian. or the state of a soul freed from evil. there will also be no ending to their story: In his critical work on confessional literature Coetzee suggests that. Eliza Coetzee looked up from her notes and said. M. Whether it is the last.) and the Coetzee man refuse to explain themselves. So is Elizabeth Costello in ‘At the Gate’. and an end to the story. This latest evasion fascinates and enlightens. Coetzee in Context and Theory All of these considerations can be linked to the concept of grace. She is too old to bother with pleasantries and politeness. J. and even then it is scattered. In John’s next novel. . ‘A strange ending. There is nothing elusive about this fact.’ (80) Eliza took off her . waiting their chance to dart in and take a quick mouthful’ (6). . or not yet. That is exactly what I just did. Costello only makes a brief unobtrusive appearance.6 When we think of grace we usually think of elegant behaviour. Only when she [. she does not resemble Nadine Gordimer in any way anymore. one cannot know.44 J. with certainty. When Elizabeth Costello makes her fascinating grand entrance in chapter thirteen of John’s Slow Man (2005). with their absolutely masterful endings. After almost a decade of her presence in his life it is quite a relief to see her hold on him loosening. And once again the ‘Costello woman’ (ibid. But of salvation in his own novels. Elizabeth Costello. Like Elizabeth Costello with Kafka’s ape. so does John. she is not seeking God’s grace nor a soul freed from evil: she recognizes how futile that is. only the intervention of grace can bring an end to the process of confession. ‘We don’t know and will never know. Diary of a Bad Year (2007). I cannot resist a good story. what is really going on in this story’ (19).] folds away her papers does the applause start. I am just one of the goldfish critics whom Costello’s son John criticizes: ‘Flecks of gold circling the dying whale. (Dawes 2003: 21) John seems to be doing just that and keeps stimulating our intellects. A strange ending to a strange talk.

Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading – Literature in the Event. Johannesburg: Ravan Press. Since first noticing this resemblance in 2003. 11. Stephen (1986). 268–83. With a nod at the gentleman raising his right-hand finger in the first row she indicated her readiness to take the first question. Derek (2004). Coetzee. Attridge (2004: 192–7). I let Eliza Coetzee tell the story of Elizabeth Costello. To examine her function as a persona. London: Secker & Warburg. (1980). in Derek Attwell (ed. she is invited to a conference in London to speak about her famous relative and his character. M. —(1999a). I imitate Coetzee’s own invention by introducing a fictional character named Eliza Coetzee. accessed 15 January. living in South Africa. J. Attridge. ‘Gordimer and Turgenev’. Chicago. his biography of Nadine Gordimer. ‘Review of Nadine Gordimer by Michael Wade’. . I only encountered one other critic referring to it in his work: Ronald Suresh Roberts in No Cold Kitchen (2005). an alter ego. pp. For details of Elizabeth Costello’s trajectory from that first lecture in 1996 to her appearance in Elizabeth Costello – Eight Lessons in 2003 see D. The Novels of Nadine Gordimer – History From the Inside. 2005). —(1992). 382–8. An author herself. Coetzee’s distant cousin of the preceding brief introduction. (2). M. 253–6. Coetzee’s probably most enigmatic character. Elizabeth Costello. J. London: University of Chicago Press. Research in African Literatures. M. Cambridge. As Roberts points out the caricature is well-known in the South African literary scene. Notes 1 2 3 4 5 6 In the following account I trace the ‘life and times’ of J. The Essential Gesture (1989)’. —(1999b). In my chapter she is J. London: Secker & Warburg. Page references in the text indicate Coetzee (2003b). pp. This idea was introduced to me by Edwin Hees.).com/biblio?PID=27086&cgi=pro duct&isbn=0670031305. —(2001). Works Cited Anonymous publisher comments (http://www. ‘Nadine Gordimer. NJ: Princeton University Press. This is of course an adaptation of Mihail Bahktin’s notion of the dialogic.. Disgrace. in Stranger Shores: Essays 1986–1999.Coetzee and Gordimer 45 glasses and gently rubbed her right eye before looking up and giving her audience a tentative smile. Elizabeth Costello. Princeton. London: Harvard University Press. a fictional character and author.powells. whom I use here to debate the issue at hand on my behalf. Thus. The Lives of Animals. M. Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews. Clingman.

Starn. Johannesburg: STE. n. ‘Awakening’. (http://www. Nancy and Marilyn Dallman Seymour.cdlib. ‘The idea of gardening’. (1990). 3–4. Ronald Suresh (2005). ‘Review of Elizabeth Costello’. David (2003). Doreen B. Randolph (1998). Szczurek.uk/v25/n20/wood02_. 13 February 2004. Coetzee in Context and Theory —(2003a). Elizabeth Costello – Eight Lessons. The New York Review of Books. 50.nybooks. com/articles/16670. Lars (2001). ‘As a woman grows older’. None to Accompany Me. accessed 15 January 2005). 18 November 4–6. —(2005). unpublished interview.html.co. v–vii. (18). 25. —(2003b). ‘What Philip knew’. (http://www. 2005).lrb. accessed 15 January. Johannesburg. —(2007). —(1994). ‘Vocal cords of the imagination’. (http://www. Gordimer. 17. London Review of Books. Conversations with Nadine Gordimer. Robert. London: Macmillan. Diary of a Bad Year. Slow Man. (http://repositories. The New York Review of Books. Lodge. James (2003a). accessed 15 January. Coetzee. 2005).nybooks. Tulsa.nybooks. The New York Review of Books. New York: Farrar.com/articles/16791. (http://www.uk/v25/n23/ letters. Townsend Center for the Humanities. (23). —(1996). Engle. Unpublished essay. in Graham Huggan and Stephen Watson (eds). Nicholas (2003). M. Karina Magdalena (2004). Nadine (1984). London Review of Books. accessed 15 January 2005). —(2004b).org/townsend/occpapers/17. (1). The Sunday Times. ‘Letter’. ‘A frog’s life’.lrb. 31. (20). ‘Disturbing the peace’. ‘Preface’. Dawes.46 J. 25. Wood. 2005). pp.com/articles/16872. 51. Straus and Giroux. co. (1). —(2004a). 50. 2005). —(2003b). (16). ‘Preface’. accessed 15 January. accessed 15 January. eds. The New York Review of Books. . Topping Bazin. M. No Cold Kitchen: A Biography of Nadine Gordimer.. London: Harvill Secker.html#5. 28 September 21. Occasional Papers. The New York Review of Books. vii–xii.p. (http:// www. Jackson and London: University Press of Mississippi. ‘Disgrace as an Uncanny Revision of Gordimer’s None to Accompany Me’. Critical Perspectives on J. London: Secker & Warburg. OK: University of Tulsa. London: Secker & Warburg.

a demonstration of ‘the structural interminability of confession in a secular context’ (2004: 142). in the words of Derek Attridge. of language and manners.Chapter 4 Wordsworth and the Recollection of South Africa Pieter Vermeulen In spite of difference of soil and climate. as it can be observed throughout different critical essays. not only the possibility of an autobiography. The programme of that containment. then. the Poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society . the publication of his autobiographical novel Boyhood in 1997 inevitably came as something of a surprise. it duly notes that ‘the notoriety of Coetzee’s reputation as a fiercely private person’ (Collingwood-Whittick 2001: 15) left us unprepared for the 1997 publication of Boyhood (Attridge 2004: 140). This 1992 collection of essays and interviews conducted with David Attwell is then said to have announced. if only we had not failed to register the autobiographical promise of ‘the invaluable frame of reference provided by Coetzee’s own theoretical writing on the genre’ of autobiography (Collingwood-Whittick 2001: 14) in Doubling the Point. ‘Preface to Lyrical Ballads’ Against the background of the once-prevailing critical image of J. That this theoretical impasse will . . of laws and customs: in spite of things silently gone out of mind and things violently destroyed. This essay offers. William Wordsworth. M. First. . a text Coetzee himself saw in hindsight ‘emerging as pivotal’ (Coetzee and Attwell 1992: 391). it reprogrammes this surprise in the assertion that we should have been expecting it all along. Less surprising is the way in which the critical reception of Coetzee’s autobiographical work has tried to contain the impact of that surprise. but also the fact that this autobiography would take the particular form of a third-person. present-tense narration. in two privileged moments. Coetzee as an eminently unsociable writer of hypertheorized metafictions. there is the ‘acute analysis of confession’ (Attridge 2004: 141) in the 1982–83 essay ‘Confession and Double Thoughts’. goes as follows: first.

Taking this reconfigurative potential seriously. as I propose to do here. is that the meaning of Boyhood and Youth is then already prescribed – and readable as a philosophical. by raising the question of autobiography’. starts with ‘I would like to begin at the beginning. and the reason I want to propose a different reading of Coetzee’s autobiographies in this essay. the part up till his move from England to Texas in the 1960s (the terrain to be re-covered by Boyhood and Youth). precisely. in. or comes from the process of writing’ (18). Coetzee in Context and Theory find its formal solution in a third-person. the autobiographies’ smooth reduction to this pre-established meaning in effect abolishes their status as fictions – as a form of writing capable of changing the rules imposed on it from outside. never resolving the question beyond the assertion that ‘[t]ruth is something that comes in the process of writing. ‘Coetzee’ then becomes the name of an eminently closed programme that pre-forms our interpretation of it. The philosophical message of Doubling the Point delivers both the meaning and the form of an autobiographical project that is thus pre-interpreted as the application of this philosophical meaning. This acceptance is facilitated when we note that Doubling the Point itself already warns against the construction of such a relation. Attwell’s first question in the book’s opening interview. . This short narrative breaks off when Coetzee comments on ‘the formalistic.48 J. present-tense narration is ascertained by the second moment our interpretative programme invokes. In the ‘Retrospect’ at the end of Doubling the Point. Coetzee sketches ‘the first half’ of his life. for instance. It is the ‘philosophical’ status of these two moments that explains their privileged role in the prevailing interpretation of Coetzee’s autobiographical performance. implies then at least an acceptance of the fact that Doubling the Point’s relation to the autobiographies is not that of a philosophical master-interpretation to its application. He parenthetically notes the reason for his decision to arrest his autobiographical narrative at this precise moment: The discipline within which he (and he now begins to feel closer to I: autrebiography shades back into autobiography) had trained himself/myself to think brought illuminations that I can’t imagine him or me reaching by any other route. (Coetzee and Attwell 1992: 394) Coetzee goes on to note that the confession-essay ‘marks the beginning of a more broadly philosophical engagement with a situation in the world’. The problem with this construction. If we bear in mind David Attwell’s statement on Coetzee’s work that it rediscovers ‘fiction’s capacity to reconfigure the rules of discourse’ (Coetzee and Attwell 1992: 11). M. an issue Coetzee’s answer translates into ‘a question about telling the truth rather than as a question about autobiography’. linguistically motivated regimen’ he subscribed to during the writing of his dissertation on Beckett. non-fictional discourse – in 1992. the third-person present tense.

the only novel to have appeared in between the two autobiographical instalments. Coetzee’s work stages the violence of hermeneutical illumination in Disgrace.e. As ‘disgrace’ is a term that also figures prominently in Boyhood 1 (see B 8. It envisions the more testing alternative scenario of an ‘illumination’ reached by a ‘discipline’ and a ‘training’ that is a one-way route rendering its alternatives unimaginable. Lurie’s failure to move his class beyond ‘silence’ and ‘blank incomprehension’ in his discussion of a first excerpt brings him to invoke a second passage in order to get his message of the happy coexistence of ‘imagination’ and ‘the onslaughts of reality’ across. . as also a gloss on one crucial aspect of the autobiographies. it does so without retaining the parentheses and. . non-English) response to them that consists in an explicitly ‘prosaic’ (i. Given the fact that Coetzee asserts. What is suggested is that the hermeneutical programme that I have sketched in the reception of Coetzee’s autobiographies may in fact be a more exacting ‘disciplining’ of the text and of the power of writing than this programme is itself aware of. Collingwood-Whittick 2001: 21. I will show how this more exacting aspect of hermeneutic harmonization is correlated in Coetzee’s work with certain pedagogical and poetical positions.e. the sentence surrounding it (see Lenta 2003: 160. David Lurie. Only. is teaching a class on Wordsworth’s failed encounter with Mont Blanc in Book 6 of The Prelude. . these two passages do not happen to add up to a solution. ‘the task [of fiction] becomes imagining this unimaginable’ (68). In the rest of this essay. professor of literature and writer of a book on Wordsworth. therefore. that it considerably qualifies the self-evidence of the general elevation of Coetzee’s ‘shading’ into a moment of enlightenment when it is read carefully. Disgrace can also be read as the elaboration of this term.’ Yet his hermeneutical desire to harmonize these two moments—which. which all converge in the figure of William Wordsworth. non-poetic) form of fiction. had trained himself/myself to think brought illuminations that I can’t imagine him or me reaching by any other route. 76.into autobiography. 65.’ The reason this sentence is generally omitted is. it is nothing less than the relation between history and fiction that is brought into play here. Attridge 2004: 140). that in the face of history. I will argue that Coetzee’s autobiographical work situates his own writing practice in relation to these positions. 112). is never simply that—is strong enough to cover up this embarrassment with a violent interpretative imposition: ‘Nevertheless. and that they ultimately formulate a specifically South African (i. the book’s soon-to-be-disgraced protagonist. I suggest. as readers of Disgrace will appreciate. 21. at another place in Doubling the Point. as Lurie himself notes: ‘The [second] passage is difficult. we can note that while this line of interpretation unfailingly quotes Coetzee’s parenthetical remark on the shading of autre . The sentence is: ‘The discipline in which he . perhaps it even contradicts the Mont Blanc moment.Wordsworth and the Recollection of South Africa 49 As this invites us to read the actual writing that allegedly supports the prevailing understanding of Coetzee’s autobiographies.

Coetzee in Context and Theory Wordsworth seems to be feeling his way toward a balance’ (D 23–4. but we have the Drakensberg. Indeed. its demise in the rest of Disgrace should warn against a repetition of this configuration in the case of Coetzee’s autobiographies. The formal success of its narrative of the ‘growth of a poet’s mind’ (the poem’s subtitle) assures the applicability of its lesson to the whole of Wordsworth’s poetical development which it traces (Pfau 1997: 303). then. Gourgouris’s claim for literature. South Africa. for David Lurie. This balance is what the book calls ‘the harmonies of The Prelude’ (D 13). Wordsworthian moments we have all heard about.50 J. . Coetzee’s staging of Wordsworth in Disgrace is crucial – and. italics mine). its evocation of Wordsworth as the writer of a self-interpretative autobiographical English poem. it is relevant that The Prelude is. (D 23) Lurie’s attempted translation does not lead to the desired illumination. The Prelude. will learn with a vengeance through a very different re-education programme. He proposes to consider ‘the claim of literature’s intrinsic theoretical capacity to be a performative . I will show in the rest of this essay that in order to valorize Boyhood and Youth as both ‘fictions’ and ‘autobiographies’. or on a smaller scale Table Mountain. Gourgouris defines as ‘antimythical’ ‘whatever element cultivates the allure of a transcendental signifier’ (say. also to the reality of post-apartheid South Africa. In his book on ‘Literature as Theory for an Antimythical Era’. even more pointedly. apparently resists entrance into Wordsworth’s pedagogic fantasy of a tranquilly recollectable education by nature’s teaching – which Lurie. a particularly strong instance of a literary work that double-times as the story of the genesis of its own poetical achievement. Coetzee once wrote. in the rest of Disgrace. . to name only one context whose relevance for the issue of autobiography cannot be dismissed). among other things. their reading as a counter-performance to the Wordsworthian position they configure can make sense of this performance as what Stathis Gourgouris has called a (myt)historical gesture. and therefore as a pre-formation of its own interpretation. in a last effort to overcome the ‘dogged silence’ (D 32) of the class: Wordsworth is writing about the Alps . a country in which. Against the books’ facile reduction to a ‘philosophical’ meaning that was established in a very different South Africa (that from before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. comes close to Attwell’s understanding of the ‘reconfiguration of the rules of discourse’ performed by Coetzee’s fictions. We don’t have Alps in this country. Later in the class on Wordsworth. David Lurie once more attempts to bring home Wordsworth’s lesson of the harmony between the imagination and ‘the onslaughts of reality’. and. hoping for one of those revelatory. or certain invocations of Doubling the Point). ‘light and shadow are static’ (Coetzee 1988: 43). In this context of the question of interpretation. which we climb in the wake of the poets. M.

. Becker-Leckrone 1998: 999). they also offer a clue to the way Coetzee envisions his own prosaic writing practice in Boyhood and Youth – which is not to say that this insight should cultivate the allure of an alternative transcendental signifier that can be applied to the rest of Coetzee’s oeuvre. Rather they appear as fictions that do not culminate in a philosophical statement. the autobiographies can appear as no longer merely the belated applications of a ‘transcendental signifier’ – which would repeat the violence of David Lurie’s interpretative balancing acts. see Reid 2004). Measuring the scope of the books’ reconfigurative capacity as fictions will also allow me. The rest of the book goes on to identify the poet’s ‘imperial eye’ (174) as Wordsworth’s. As autobiographical fictions. Wordsworth is credited with the insight into the shortcomings of the painterly principle of the picturesque for ‘express[ing] the feeling of someone confronted with the grandeur of the Alps’ (41n1). In Disgrace. in the rest of this essay. but that include their status as a third-person present-tense narrative written in English prose in South Africa (each of these terms will be shown to matter) as a last stage within their reconfigurative performance. David Lurie achieves the bridging of this geographical gap by a relation of mastership. resulted from these dealings’ (52). Because this is still a response to a hermeneutical and therefore distinctly European question. Wordsworth – and after Coetzee’s 1994 detour through Dostoevsky’s Petersburg (in The Master of Petersburg). we are entirely prepared for the demise of this model (for Wordsworth. a matter of (re)framing the conditions of action and perception within a shifting social-historical terrain. in Coetzee’s words. but his corrective theory of imaginative sublimity still. and this sublime thus finds no application on ‘the South African plateau’. Wordsworth’s answer is of only regional relevance.Wordsworth and the Recollection of South Africa 51 matter. Coetzee writes how ‘in European art the sublime is far more often associated with the vertical than the horizontal’. . however. . This is not the place to offer a . Coetzee describes the problem with South African nature poetry as the resistance its landscape offers to the imposition of meaning: ‘The poet scans the landscape with his hermeneutic gaze. to address their reconfiguration of even Coetzee’s non-fictional statements. In the introduction to White Writing (1988). refuses to emerge into meaningfulness as a landscape of signs’ (Coetzee 1988: 9). which renders one’s relation to the object of knowledge a process (praxis) of restlessness and transformation’ (Gourgouris 2003: 11). but it remains trackless. as well as mountains and oceans. Taking into account ‘literature’s intrinsic capacities to theorize the conditions of the world from which it emerges’ and to performatively intervene in them (p. . in which he himself appears as the ‘disciple’ of his ‘master’. ‘responds to the question of how landscape can be composed as a significant whole in the imagination in the absence of some aesthetic principle . xix). then. Wordsworth enters Coetzee’s work as a problem of translation. not considering that plains. As I already suggested. to give it unity’ (41. As he puts it: ‘Wordsworth called sublimity “the result of Nature’s first great dealings with the superficies of the earth” .

into a stage in the growth of the childhood mind into that of which the mother has always already made it the father. 255): Along his infant veins are interfused The gravitation and the filial bond Of nature that connect him with the world. / pre-eminent till death’ (ll 269. I have already pointed to the violence of this harmonization in the Alps passage. an explicit poetological correlate: The infant’s ‘mute dialogues with [his] Mother’s heart’ are. the harmonies of The Prelude have echoed within him’ (D 13). in this passage. In other words.’ and thereby ‘[a]n inmate of this active universe’ (ll 235.52 J. 161). It is this blissful educational fantasy that enters the life of John in Boyhood in the shape of his childhood companion. M. retroactively qualified as ‘the first / Poetic spirit of our human life’. D 114–17). is a time of innocent joy. What primarily feeds this blindness is the figure of Wordsworth: talking to Melanie. D 156. For as long as he can remember. but rather the ‘servant’ or the ‘slave’. because they figure as the origin of Wordsworth’s poetical development in The Prelude. this programme can henceforth transfigure the negativity of experience. ‘the onslaughts of reality’ (D 24). Lurie’s disgrace develops as the increasing impossibility to remain blind to the fact that it is not so much the ‘disciple’ that is disappearing as the complement of the ‘master’ in post-apartheid South Africa. that remain ‘[t]hrough every change of growth and of decay. the Children’s Encyclopaedia: Childhood. but a shorthand for the book’s development may run as follows. while the real problems besetting Lurie can be described as an effect of the disappearing distinction between master and slave (his daughter’s neighbour Petrus becomes ‘his own master’. Disgrace offers a second scene of the disgrace of this masterly instruction when Lurie. is referred to as ‘the disgraced disciple’ of Wordsworth with a reference to The Prelude’s ‘Blest Babe’ passage. Because it is the development of an intrinsically meaningful project. This passage from the second book offers The Prelude’s most explicit exposition of Wordsworth’s pedagogical programme: its subject is the blessed babe. Lurie attempts to solve them by a restoration of the relation between master and disciple (as when ‘guiding’ Lucy after her rape. (ll 243–5) This graduation from mother into ‘the world’ has. after the exposure of his dealings with Melanie. says the Children’s Encyclopaedia. 261–6). Lurie says that ‘Wordsworth has been one of my masters’. Wordsworth’s poetical education is then the mere ‘display’ of the unchanged means ‘[w]hereby this infant sensibility’ was ‘[a]ugmented and sustained’ (ll 270–3). ‘[n]ursed in his Mother’s arms. With this assured possession of the poetical spirit. and the book adds: ‘It is true. Coetzee in Context and Theory complete reading of Disgrace. to be spent in the meadows amid buttercups and bunny-rabbits or at the hearthside .

the book notes. and things are their names’ (Coetzee 1988: 9). The education into a poetry expressive of the ‘filial bond’ with nature. is already frustrated in the book’s first lines. The Wordsworthian preconditions of tranquil recollectability are therefore rigorously unfulfilled. The boy’s initial situation is marked by his exposure to the experience of the incompatibility of. He cannot talk about canes in the easy. Wordsworthian road is. The first problem is the mother. knowing way of these men’ (B 9). leads him to think that childhood is anything but a time of gritting the teeth and enduring. It is a vision of childhood utterly alien to him. ‘He knew everything there was to know about Russia: its land in square miles. the length of each of its great rivers. the much bleaker programme of a disciplining by reality. in the South African context. and of recollection do not add up to the meaningful whole of a Wordsworthian education that the boy’s childhood weighs on him like ‘a burden of imposture’ (B 13). (B 14) By the time the boy realizes the incompatibility of Wordsworthian innocence and South African experience. Not only are things not their names. The streets of the estate have tree-names but no trees yet’ (B 1). on the other.Wordsworth and the Recollection of South Africa 53 absorbed in a storybook. Nothing he experiences in Worcester. . their recollected education does not resemble that of the infant babe in the bosom of nature. the boy’s failure is emphatically qualified as a failure to add up these terms into a harmonized. . which he refuses in the name of precisely the Wordsworthian imposition: ‘The very idea of being beaten makes him squirm with shame’ (B 8). as the ‘mute dialogues’ are replaced by her ‘dogged silence’ (B 3): ‘He shares nothing with his mother’ (B 5). on the one hand. meaningful whole: in the boy’s idiosyncratic preference for the Russians over the Americans. Whereas the boy’s father and his father’s brothers do reminisce about their schooldays with ‘nostalgia and pleasurable fear’ (9). of language. For instance. ‘They live on a housing estate outside the town of Worcester. of experience. equally shameful: ‘He has never been beaten and is deeply ashamed of it. It is important to insist that Coetzee’s books do not simply dismiss the elements of Wordsworth’s educational programme: the relevance of Wordsworth’s terms is precisely that the books actively and performatively (‘(myt)historically’) reconfigure them. which Coetzee in White Writing identifies as the search for ‘a natural or Adamic language . its coal and steel output in tons. . a violence which I already showed to be the dark truth of a (Wordsworthian and hermeneutical) scenario of progressive illumination. these names even fail to refer to what they name. the Wordsworthian educational fiction (see Reid 2004: 163) imposed on him and. a language in which there is no split between signifier and signified. It is because these occurrences of the mother. at home or at school. What they recall is their schoolmasters’ regime of caning (B 9). the Volga. between the railway line and the National Road. Yet the alternative. the first two chapters of the book have already unhinged the applicability of Wordsworth’s pedagogy.


J. M. Coetzee in Context and Theory

the Dnieper, the Yenisei, the Ob’ (B 27). This prosaic enumeration, however, does not add up to poetic harmony, that is, to a well-rounded identity. This failure is repeated, near the end of Boyhood, in the boy’s relation to England: There is the English language, which he commands with ease. There is England and everything that England stands for, to which he believes he is loyal. But more than that is required, clearly, before one will be accepted as truly English: tests to face, some of which he knows he will not pass. (B 129) This passage still betrays a crypto-Wordsworthian conception of ‘experience’ as the appropriate road to the ‘proper’, ‘the real’, which the book qualifies as ‘the English’ (B 29, 52–3). The question on which Boyhood ends still understands the proper way to integrate these experiences into an identity to be the work of recollection – yet this adoption of another Wordsworthian term begins to register an important difference. The boy’s family has just participated in the funeral of the boy’s aunt, who had devoted her whole life to the translation, the printing, and the binding of a book written by her father. The title of this book, translated, is ‘Through a Dangerous Malady to Eternal Healing’ (B 117). The recuperation of the onslaughts of reality that this title suggests seals the book’s fate in South Africa: it remains unread. Yet, importantly, the unsold copies remain; also, the funeral of the boy’s aunt has not resulted in a successful burial: the coffin is not yet ‘lowered into the grave’ when it starts raining, and the company leaves the graveyard (B 164). It is this double insistence of the remains that disturbs the tranquillity of the resurgence of the memorial imperative, and turns it into something altogether more melancholic than what the Wordsworthian programme envisioned: . . . no one has given a thought to the books . . . that no one will ever read; and now Aunt Annie is lying in the rain waiting for someone to find the time to bury her. He alone is left to do the thinking. How will he keep them all in his head, all the books, all the people, all the stories? And if he does not remember them, who will? (B 166) One way to situate the answer of the autobiographies to this self-addressed question is by tracing their reconfiguration of Wordsworth’s key concepts of experience and recollection (the terms in which this question is still formulated), from the initial ‘dogged silence’ in Boyhood to Youth. As the crucial role of dogs in Disgrace may already suggest, a not merely fanciful way of doing this is following precisely the ‘dogs’ associated with this silence. They first recur in the young boy’s attempt at recounting ‘his own first memory’: this memory tells of ‘a small spotted dog’ that is hit by a car – ‘its wheels go right over the dog’s middle’. The truth of this fiction, however, is immediately qualified when the book adds that ‘[t]here is another first memory’ (B 30). The unrecuperable

Wordsworth and the Recollection of South Africa


status of a primal scene again targets the cornerstone of the Wordsworthian edifice of recollection, the mother: ‘His very first memory, earlier than the dog . . . is of her white breasts. He suspects he must have hurt them when he was a baby, beaten them with his fists, otherwise she would not now deny them to him so pointedly, she who denies him nothing else’ (B 35). It is the awareness of the contingency of this cornerstone – a ‘rock’ is the term used (B 35, 116) – that interrupts the mute dialogue of love. ‘The thought of a lifetime bowed under a debt of love baffles and infuriates him to the point where he will not kiss her, refuses to be touched by her. When she turns away in silent hurt, he deliberately hardens his heart against her, refusing to give in’ (B 47). So much for the infant babe. Only two pages after the destruction of this fiction, ‘His mother decides that she wants a dog’ (B 49). The boy claims his share in this acquisition: ‘He insists on being the one to name it.’ This dog, however, resists playing to the rules of this imposition: the dog is ‘not yet full grown when he eats the ground glass someone has put out for him’. The boy helps to bury the dog. ‘Over the grave he erects a cross with the name “Cossack” painted on it. He does not want them to have another dog, not if this is how they must die’ (B 50). This then leaves us with the following development: Boyhood moves from a ‘dogged’ silence over the freely fictionalized creation of a dog to the insistence on the remains of the real, irreplaceable dog. This ternary structure can serve as a shorthand for the development of the young Coetzee’s sense of memorial vocation, while it can also explain the shifting geographical and temporal terms in which Boyhood and Youth cast the notion of experience. The places in the books are indeed crucially articulated with a distinct temporality. Whereas the South Africa of Boyhood is the incapacitating site of imitation, miming and aping (Y 90), which corresponds to the first stage of uncreative, dogged silence, London, where John moves in Youth, is lived under the imperative of a ‘readiness’ to be ‘transformed’ (Y 93). The young poet is ‘ready for anything, in fact, so long as he will be consumed by it and remade’ into ‘his new, true, passionate self’ (Y 111). Experience, that is, is reduced to the occasion for the recognition of ‘the self-generating, self-built powers of his mind’ that also structures the development of The Prelude (Becker-Leckrone 1998: 1011), which corresponds to the second stage – that of an unbound poetical imagination. The onslaughts of reality, however – and this is a third geographical and temporal position, and one which was not yet available in the binary construction of the autobiographical sketch in Doubling the Point – doggedly insist (for Coetzee’s ‘logic of threes’ see Barney 2004). And because the second position is associated with a Wordsworthian conception of experience and imagination, it is in this third position that Coetzee’s reconfiguration of Wordsworth will be found. The onslaughts of reality had already insisted earlier in Boyhood, of course, most obviously in two encounters with ‘Coloureds’, and most explicitly in a scene where John and two friends trespass on the property of an Afrikaans


J. M. Coetzee in Context and Theory

farmer. Their punishment is announced as ‘a cane, a strap; they are going to be taught a lesson’. The instruction comes, eventually, in the shape of the farmer and his dog; musing on his disgrace, the boy realizes that ‘[t]here is nothing they can say to redeem the experience’ (Y 71). When Youth writes that ‘London is proving to be a great chastener’, the only instruction the outcome of this chastening still allows is learning your lesson ‘like a beaten dog’ (Y 113). Where the paradigm for the young Coetzee’s exaltation of experience is that of the ‘transfiguring fire of art’, the ‘fiery furnace’ of poetry (Y 3, 11, 25, 30), ‘the work of transmuting experience into art’ (Y 44, 95), London has, by the end of Youth, most radically chastened this harmonizing recuperation of experience: Experience. That is the word he would like to fall back on to justify himself to himself. The artist must taste all experience, from the noblest to the most degraded. . . . It was in the name of experience that he underwent London . . . (Y 164) It is at this moment near the end of Youth that the book refuses the two most familiar models for the inclusion of experience in an artistic autobiography. It is not a straightforward Kunstlerroman, in which the artist is ‘enriched and strengthened’ (Y 66) by his experiences in order to write the work we are reading, and in which the success of this achievement retroactively valorizes these experiences. It also is not a confession that congratulates itself on its conversion into an understanding of the vanity of these experiences. There is nothing to be said ‘for its having nothing to be said for it’ (Y 164). It is this radical chastening that prevents the impasse that Coetzee in ‘Confession and Double Thoughts’ has called ‘a potentially infinite regression of self-recognition and self-abasement in which the self-satisfied candor of each level of confession of impure motive becomes a new source of shame and each twinge of shame a new source of self-congratulation’ (Coetzee and Attwell 1992: 282). This double dismissal of the models of experience-as-enrichment and of the confessed insight into the vanity of experience – both of which can ultimately be referred to the model of The Prelude – means that Coetzee’s books, by the very fact that they still appear as autobiographies, occupy a third autobiographical position different from both. They remain as works of prose. I will attempt now to show how this third configuration of recollection and experience is the autobiographies’ distinctive reconfiguration of the Wordsworthian model, and how this reconfiguration is presented as a distinctively South African one. This third position is figured, by the autobiographies themselves, as that which outlives, in the books geological imaginary (Coetzee 1988: 167), poetry’s cleansing and transfiguring fire, that is, as earth and water. Early in Youth, the operation of water is figured very much like that of fire: ‘From the waters of misery one emerges on the far bank purified, strong, ready to take up again the challenges of a life of art’ (Y 65). The growing awareness that ‘South Africa is a

Wordsworth and the Recollection of South Africa


wound within him’ (Y 116), however, will recall the would-be-poet in London to a scene in Boyhood: while visiting the farm of his father’s family, the boy encounters ‘a canvas water-bottle’ from which he drinks, yet ‘[h]e pours no more than a mouthful at a time. He is proud of how little he drinks. It will stand him in good stead, he hopes, if he is ever lost in the veld’ (B 83). There seems to be a connection, then, between the specificity of South Africa and the scarcity of water, and this scarcity – and the concomitant abundance of earth – figures the position of Coetzee’s autobiographical prose itself. This prose seems to respond to a particularly South African situation, an insight that only dawns on the poet while he is in London. The farm is also the one place where the young boy has a sense of belonging to something that is ‘greater than any of them’ (B 96). This belonging is explicitly also said to be a rootedness in ‘the stories’ of the farm (B 22): the farm is covered ‘by a soft white web of gossip spun over past and present’ (B 85). Near the end of Youth, this childhood experience comes to insist at the moment when he refuses to abandon the writing of his thesis on Ford Maddox Ford: ‘Yet he does not want to abandon it. Giving up undertakings is his father’s way. He is not going to be like his father. So he commences the task of reducing his hundreds pages of notes in tiny handwriting to a web of connected prose’ (Y 136, italics mine). As the scene with the water-bottle already suggested, this call to prose coincides with the discovery, while reading ‘memoirs of visitors to the Cape’, that ‘South Africa is different’ from England, and different in the way the abundance of England’s ‘sounding cataracts’ (B 105, the only line from Wordsworth quoted in the book) is different from South Africa’s economical water-bottle. Whereas England is ‘by now wrapped in centuries of words’, in the case of South Africa, ‘[w]ere it not for this handful of books, he could not be sure he had not dreamed up the Karoo yesterday’ (Y 137). It is this opposition between English imaginative abundance and the scarcity of South African stories that generates the writer’s prosaic responsibility. The writing of a ‘web of connected prose’, that is, appears as a distinctly South African (that is, distinctly nonEnglish) necessity, which cannot take the form of Wordsworthian poetical harmonies. Unlike poetic recollective harmonizing, prose, the young poet discovers, ‘seems naggingly to demand a specific setting’ (B 62), and this setting is, for John, emphatically South Africa. It is South Africa’s nagging need for a storied web of description, for a connection to particulars that are not spirited away into harmonious universals, that obligates what I want to call Coetzee’s prosaics of enumeration – an account of particulars which need no longer be harmonized into a meaningful poetic whole; the realization that ‘[o]ne day the farm will be wholly gone, wholly lost’ suffices already to ‘griev[e] at that loss’ (B 80). It is only through prosaic enumeration, and not through the imposition of the Wordsworthian sublime, that the particulars of South Africa are allowed to remain and to go on insisting and are not given up to poetical harmonization. It is in this sense that, as Derek Attridge writes: ‘[t]he truth that

MLN. as the work assures its own significance through its reconfigurative ‘(myt)historical’ performance. is first and foremost that of testimony’. M. and Youth are cited in the text preceded by the abbreviations D. 113. M. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Disgrace. 13–23. we no longer require a philosophical statement to make this work meaningful. Sheila (2001). London: Vintage. . Becker-Leckrone. and.58 J. the Karoo. J. the mewling foetus in Youth. Importantly. Commonwealth Essays and Studies. sole cause’: Wordsworth and the poetics of importance’. ‘Between Swift and Kafka: Animals and the politics of Coetzee’s elusive fiction’. Coetzee. J. New Haven: Yale University Press. The relation between Wordsworth and Coetzee must then not be reduced to an opposition between the ‘colonial’ and the ‘postcolonial’. Coetzee reconfigures Wordsworth’s poetry into a form of prose that is more adequate to the South African situation to which it responds. London: Vintage. Cambridge. (5). To return to David Attwell’s appraisal of Coetzee’s ‘fiction’s capacity to reconfigure the rules of discourse’. B and Y. Derek (2004). Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading. also Coetzee’s own prose. M. Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life. ‘‘Sole author I. —(1999). respectively. I want to suggest that by paying attention to the books’ performance of reconfiguration. Literature in the Event. New York: Viking. as the latter is the fruit of a conflict that is also Coetzee’s. Boyhood. ‘Autobiography as Autrebiography: The fictionalisation of the self in J. then. Coetzee in Context and Theory Boyhood offers. This can be the unburied corpse of aunt Annie. one of the insistent remains that the books’ performance can be said to reconfigure is Wordsworth’s poetry itself. Megan (1998). or between ‘poetry’ and ‘prose’. Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews. —(1998). Rather. MA / London: Harvard University Press. World Literature Today. Notes 1 Page references to Disgrace. Coetzee. M. as a ‘documentary work’ (Attridge 2004: 155). White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa. & David Attwell (1992). 24. 993–1021. Collingwood-Whittick. Youth. Works Cited Attridge. Barney. His autobiographies stand as testimonies to literature’s persistent capacity to re-structure the rules of discourse. (1). Richard (2004). (1). J. Coetzee’s Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life’. —(2002). (1988). 17–23. as I have tried to show this reconfiguration is ‘at once an embrace and a reconfiguration’ (Wenzel 2000: 108) of what it responds to as its insistent given. M. 78.

Wordsworth’s Profession: Form. Stathis (2003). Owen. Jennifer (2000). ‘Autrebiography: J. Reid. (1). The Fourteen-Book Prelude. Modern Fiction Studies. W. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 91–113. 46. Does Literature Think? Literature as Theory for an Antimythical Era. Wenzel. Wordsworth. Margaret (2003). Ithaca: Cornell UP. B. Wordsworth and the Formation of English Studies. Stanford: Stanford University Press. English in Africa. Thomas (1997). Ian (2004). 157–69. Aldershot: Ashgate. Lenta. Ed.(1). ‘The pastoral promise and the political imperative: The Plaasroman tradition in an era of land reform’. . Pfau. Class. and the Logic of Early Romantic Cultural Production. William (1985). M. Coetzee’s Boyhood and Youth’. The Cornell Wordsworth. 30. J.Wordsworth and the Recollection of South Africa 59 Gourgouris.

. an element of transgressing limits and limitations emerges (Henderson 1994: 2). . thereby trespassing across such boundaries. especially by means of the margins of engagement and exchange set up in the interaction between text and reader. both real and metaphorical. The emphasis is on both a poetics of space and on the material as well as metaphorical implications of borders. Homi Bhabha suggests that this global movement has directly impacted on the way we conceive of nationhood and nationality. are in a profound process . Paradoxically. national borders and national identities seem as important as ever in the world of real politik even while academic studies draw attention to the constructedness of such notions. However. . Spatial theory. postcolonial theory and poststructuralism have all provided useful theoretical frameworks for considering the nature of the border. by challenging or breaking down the ‘containment and categorization’ inherent in established borders.Chapter 5 Border Crossings: Self and Text Sue Kossew She [Elizabeth Costello] is of the opinion that until I have crossed a certain threshold I am caught in limbo. The ‘very concepts of homogenous national cultures . to reflect on the nature of borders and boundaries. (Slow Man: 112). as we talk of a ‘borderless’ world created by globalization – referred to by Nadine Gordimer as a ‘frontierless land’ (Gordimer 1999: 207–13) – and by the reach of the internet. diaspora and global communications. Such a border poetics involves the study of ‘how territorial borders are given form through narrative and symbolic (figural) presentations’ (Schimanski and Wolfe 2004: 2). . The ‘spatial turn’ (as Edward Soja has termed it) in literary and cultural studies together with an increasing focus on the nature and effects of globalization have drawn attention to the complex patterns of cultural formation and reformation that accompany processes of travelling. and for developing what is becoming known as ‘border poetics’. It has become increasingly important. migration. unable to grow . the metaphorical force of the border has always haunted works of literature. Inevitably.

but also by Coetzee’s constant allusions to his own authorship and to the nature of authorship itself. inclusion and exclusion’ (Bhabha 1994: 2). something new and unrecognisable. of course – demonstrating how its regulation of space ‘is a metonymy for the regulatory practices of Western epistemology itself’ (Ashcroft 2001: 164).Border Crossings: Self and Text 61 of redefinition’ (Bhabha 1994: 5). As nations and national cultures respond to new influences. The implication of this approach to cultural identity is to stress the ‘transnational and translational sense of the hybridity of imagined communities’ (Bhabha 1994: 5). J. then. inside and outside. ‘for whereas the boundary is about construction. or. M. M. and consequently can no longer rely on the unifying myths and discourses of nation. fulfilment. a borderland. the imagining of postcolonial place’ (Ashcroft 2001: 183). thereby ‘overrun[ning] all the limits assigned to it’ (Derrida 1991: 257). the continually emerging hybridity of all forms of culture. challenging the notion of any given national identity. Here ‘space and time cross to produce complex figures of difference and identity. past and present. Ashcroft proposes the alternative of the ‘horizon’ or ‘horizonality’ to the colonial border. and Bhabha focuses on the links between ‘nationness’ (Bhabha 1994: 2) and identity to suggest that our century’s end (the fin de siecle) has produced a sense of transition. a new area of negotiation of meaning and representation’ (Bhabha 1999: 211). old histories are displaced and new discourses of nation emerge in acts of what Bhabha calls ‘cultural translation’. border-crossings and running borders seems to me a productive way to discuss the complex representational. Other postcolonial theorists have drawn attention to the ‘material and ideological force of the trope of the boundary’ (Ashcroft 2001: 175) – particularly in the form of the colonial boundary. possibility. Nationhood and nationality are constructed both discursively and performatively. otherwise put. It particularly engages with these problematics through his exploration of how borders relate . for example. the regulation of imperial space. As he explains. he uses the term ‘third space’ as a way of suggesting the ‘productive capacities’ (Bhabha 1994: 38) of cultural hybridity. Coetzee’s Slow Man – the first of his novels to be given an Australian setting since the writer’s migration to Adelaide. textual and socio-political aspects of J. In relation to national cultures. and not only by means of the meta-textual relationship between text and reader referred to by Derrida. history. Coetzee’s work has always engaged with the problematics of borders and thresholds. the horizon is about extension. He continues: ‘The process of cultural hybridity gives rise to something different. This focus on the issue of borders. this hybridity is itself a third space that ‘enables other positions to emerge’. A poststructuralist approach such as Derrida’s has suggested that writing itself is always at the ‘running border’ or on the edge of ‘what used to be called a text’ and that this instability is a productive one that infinitely defers signification and subverts the dividing lines between ‘a fiction and a reality’.

Language itself is shown to form an important part of this self-justifying process. I focus in what follows on a reading of border crossings and thresholds in Slow Man. a ‘both/and’ rather than an ‘either/or’. The reading process itself is a kind of journeying across borders. The Magistrate’s account of his time at the border post (a significant term) in Waiting for the Barbarians is similarly also shown to be self-justificatory. binaries of here and there. ‘The Vietnam Project’ set in the United States during the Vietnam War and dated 1972–73 and ‘The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee’. These two narratives are offered without overt connection. it engages with the productive instability of the imagined borders of text and reader. the division of the text into two distinct sections. Dawn’s ‘mythography’ and Jacobus’s accounts of his incursions into the ‘heart of darkness’ use convenient myths to justify and legitimate not just to recount. M. Coetzee in Context and Theory to binaries. Where binaries and boundaries mark out difference and separate one entity from another with the certainty of conviction. The reader has constantly to move across the borders between the two sections. Dusklands and Waiting for the Barbarians. human and animal. however. History is shown to be authored and ideological. set in colonial South Africa and dated 1760. It creates ambivalence. seeking parallels and links. The first and perhaps most obvious one (and one that links it with the structure of Slow Man) is the border in the text itself. life and afterlife. One of the most important borders Coetzee explores in Dusklands is the tenuous border set up between history and fiction. but. there is a constant dialectic between them in terms of subject matter. This is of particular significance. of course. which led some critics to describe it as two novellas when it was first published – that is. There are a number of important ways in which Coetzee’s Dusklands explores ideas of borders and crossings. yet the parallels are strong. and also subverts and questions the discourses of certainty that set up material and imperial borders. That is. Paul Carter refers to such imperial history as ‘a fabric woven of self-reinforcing illusions’ (Carter 1987: xv).62 J. that is characteristic of all of Coetzee’s works. is the very collapse of such binaries as the colonizer comes . so that. self and other. for their more clearly postcolonial use of border tropes. despite the wide variations in time and space. inside and outside. to contextualize this. body and soul. a ‘neither yes nor no’. through cross-reference and common terminology. would like to provide a very brief overview of two of Coetzee’s earlier novels. not the objective account it pretends to be. I want to argue that Coetzee’s literary use and subversion of the border as a trope draws on both these approaches. in the text as both protagonists are types of colonizers. What the journeys across borders from self to other in both these texts expose. moral issues and motifs. the process of unsettling these certainties draws attention to the constructedness of these divisions. as novellas. establishing ownership and control over foreign territories. an excuse as much as a memoir.

Adelaide itself provides the physical setting of the novel and its famously sedate pace may also account for the ‘slow’ in the title. drawing attention to their own textuality. however. For Elizabeth appears to be the author of the text we are reading. Coetzee. a ‘main character’ (Coetzee 2005: 229). Coetzee. The name of this novel’s . marked by a change of narrator or a marker of separation in the text itself. This authorial intrusion is. the literary equivalent of Derrida’s textual edge or border that blurs divisions between fact (or ‘the real’) and fiction. However. All of these borderline tendencies can be seen too in Coetzee’s latest novel. As Constantine Cavafy’s poem ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ suggests. the metatextuality of Dusklands. The porousness of borders is particularly evident here. M. The first section is a seemingly realistic account of a collision between a cyclist and a motor car on an Adelaide street. the Australian feminist writer whose lessons are the subject matter of Coetzee’s previous text. By setting up this border zone in the text between fiction and metafiction.Border Crossings: Self and Text 63 face to face with his own savagery. a search that Coetzee’s previous post-South Africa text. M. and she is attempting to goad Paul Rayment. despite its eponymous Australian feminist author. As a sideline. one of whom is J. largely unsuccessfully as it turns out. His adoption of Australian citizenship has prompted some critics to look for signs of this change of place from South Africa to Australia in the texts and subject matter of his most recent books. The second section is marked by the metafictional entry into the text of Elizabeth Costello. Crucially. Elizabeth Costello. between Derrida’s categories of ‘a reality’ and ‘a fiction’. and one newspaper has been known to refer to Australia’s two Nobel-prize winning authors. but one that is relevant to the novel’s engagement with notions of nationhood. Coetzee himself has been enthusiastically adopted as an Australian writer. A number of reviewers of Slow Man have commented that the novel divides into two sections which are not. the reader is made constantly aware of both texts as scenes of writing. the searcher for signs of the move to Australia will not be disappointed with Slow Man as the novel has many national and local references and the motif of migration seems to be integral to the text. indeed. The enemy (if there is such a category) is shown to be within the fortress. Patrick White and J. Coetzee unsettles the reader’s desire for certainty. the construction of borders between self and other and the invention of barbarians was itself ‘a kind of solution’ to the malaise of Empire. Slow Man. not outside it. and who appeared earlier in The Lives of Animals. disturbs the neat borders set up between reader and text. evoked by its incorporation of the author’s surname within the text and by the additional material (Afterword and Appendix) that disrupt the authority of the preceding account. On another level. His work appears in collections of the ‘best Australian essays’. Indeed. all of Coetzee’s novels contain this ‘laying bare’ or exposure of the creative process. confounded. Elizabeth Costello. of texts being written by authors. into performing as a ‘hero’.

not as an either/or but as showing ‘two sides of the same coin’ (as the Magistrate comes to realise in Waiting for the Barbarians) at the same time. given that. clothing or costume. Where would the art of fiction be if there were no double meanings? What would life itself be if there were only heads or tails and nothing in between? (Coetzee 2004: 1) In addition to what could of course be read as a self-reflexive comment on Coetzee’s own narrative method. another theme that is integral to the text. she ‘will try not to hurry [him] on any more’ (Coetzee 2005: 161) – and. though.64 J. Clearly. ambivalence should not disconcert her. which give rise to questions such as the following. like Elizabeth Costello. Coetzee in Context and Theory protagonist. this revelation to the reader about the pronunciation of Paul’s surname raises the issue of freedom and determination or choice. . Paul Rayment. On another level. arising from the ambivalence that the text engenders through Elizabeth Costello’s intrusive entrance. Did Paul actually die in the accident and does the account of its after-effects take place in ‘real life’ or in the afterlife? What effect does the manipulation of the text and its main character by Elizabeth have on the reading experience? Where do the borders between creator and creation lie? Between body and prosthesis? At the borders of the body itself? Between originality and the fake? And what is the significance of the hybrid identities of the characters in the text. this latter comment gives pause for thought. we have probably been mentally rhyming it with ‘payment’ until Paul corrects her (and us)? There are other implications. This doubling or mirror image is one that undermines the certainty and equivalence of signifier– signified. the notion of ‘truth’ or the ‘reality effect’. itself raises an important issue in relation to the text as performance. whose diasporic nationalities defy categorizations of belonging or not belonging? In another story involving the writer Elizabeth Costello entitled ‘As a Woman Grows Older’. both these aspects of the name draw attention to this border between. on the other. In addition to the connotations of the word ‘raiment’ as dress. we are told some time into the text that Paul’s surname should be pronounced to rhyme with the French word ‘vraiment’ or truth (Coetzee 2005: 192). M. and that embraces the idea of ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or’. For what can be more clearly binaristic than ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ on a coin? And how can there be anything ‘in between’? One way to visualize this dismantling of the border between opposites is to reconstruct the idea of a coin. What authority does the anglophone reader have in deciding how to pronounce ‘Rayment’. She has made a living out of ambivalence. Coetzee has her muse on the nature of ambivalence in both life and fiction: Well. the performativity of the character and his slowness to perform – Elizabeth’s frustration with him is shown when she declares that he should cure himself. on the one hand.

on the other hand. This description of his amputated leg expresses Paul’s sense of physical and mental dissociation. History. and one that forces him to pay attention to his body in a way he has never had to previously. Paul Rayment. however. believing that photographs remain ‘fixed [and] immutable’ whereas stories ‘seem to change shape all the time’ (64). Paul’s amputation signals a threshold or boundary in his life that marks off his past life from his future life as a ‘disabled’ person. real or imagined. can insert his own family images into the ‘originals’ that Paul valued so highly as part of Australia’s historical record. as much subject to the manipulation of memory. the mind and textuality itself. Paul is aware that ‘his mind is unable to control his body’ (1). italics in original) . meaning What is this that is being done to me? or What is this place where I find myself? or even What is this fate that has befallen me? (4. Here again. . He describes this boundary-marker of his changed state in both physical and metaphysical terms. representing the younger generation. Pain. . Paul determines to come to terms with what he calls ‘this thing . old-fashioned and as open to ambivalence. the desire to mark off the territory of history as objective fact on the one hand. in other words. The questions he poses are significant: What is this? he mouths or perhaps even shouts. but also a useful metaphor. a new reality that he has to learn to live with. the notion of betrayal by the body is established. which can now be manipulated so that Drago Jokic. values (in Coetzee’s word. are tested. italics in original). The trope of the body threshold is a useful one to suggest the boundaries. the ‘lumpish thing he will henceforth have to lug around with him’ (14). from the first moments of the text. as a ‘cut’ that ‘seems to have marked off past from future with . is shown to be backward-looking. ‘trusts’) ‘pictures more than he trusts words’. ‘out of Dali’ (9)). He discovers. like fiction. In refusing a prosthesis (which he considers to be surreal. uncommon cleanness’ (26). In this way the limitations and indeed the limits or borders of the body. this monstrous object swathed in white and attached to his hip’ (9. is. from change and retelling (the marks of story-telling) on the other. who has been a professional photographer. Paul has to leave behind his old ‘whole’ self and his accustomed way of life. fakery and manipulation in the same way as fiction itself is. The amputation of Paul’s leg and his subsequent awareness of the ghostly limb syndrome – whereby an amputated limb continues to cause pain long after it has been severed from the body – is a central physical incident in the text (the result of his accident).Border Crossings: Self and Text 65 recalling Elizabeth Curren’s desire to reject the absolutism of either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in Age of Iron. . that computer technology has destabilized the notion of the seemingly ‘immutable’ photograph. . By having to come to terms with his new ‘disabled’ and slow self. Indeed. Hit by a car while travelling on his bicycle in Magill Road. he suggests. between bodily and mental states. is the ‘real thing’ (12).

an unsettling and disturbing move that casts doubt on the established boundaries between reader. a character who. As Paul complains to Elizabeth. to what extent does it have an autonomous existence or is it always itself a ghostly limb that remains attached after severance from its author. text and authorship. Manipulation – in a number of senses of the word – is therefore a central issue in the novel. is not just the result of his accident and its subsequent effect on his body. if the text is itself a kind of body (a body of work). the novel we are reading and extracts from which he reads in her notebook left on his table. whether the whole scenario is taking place in the afterlife. It relates at the most basic level to the physical manipulation that Paul needs from his carer in the form of physiotherapy for his ‘stump’ (or ‘le jambon’. the arrival of Elizabeth in the text marks the intrusion into the seemingly realist text of the ‘paratextual’ (to use Genette’s term). into examining the very processes by which texts. thus manipulating the reader. M. In addition to this revulsion at and betrayal by his own body. characters and textual incidents come . refuses to perform. Paul’s loss of freedom.66 J. complicates the boundaries between reader and text. Throughout the text. Of course. The reader is never entirely sure what is ‘real’ or ‘imagined’. as Paul comes to call her). or even. protagonist and author-figure. Paul too has the power to withhold his story. more metaphysically. the power relationship between them is not as simple as that. to be a ‘slow man’. and the ‘betrayal’ can be twofold. ‘You treat me like a puppet . . put us [her characters] in cages with our names on them’ (117). the juxtaposition of the everyday and quotidian. with the extraordinary and even the surreal maintains a nightmarish quality. too. It also relates to the manipulation by computer of his original photographs that changes them from ‘authentic’ to ‘fakes’. as Paul himself suggests at one point. and by introducing Elizabeth Costello. is expressed through the passive voice (‘being done to me’. as well as to Elizabeth’s manipulation of him as a character in her novel. In this way. the unwelcome figure of the author herself (‘the Costello woman’. Coetzee in Context and Theory Paul’s sense of being manipulated by some greater force than he. and. to the way Paul feels he has been manipulated by the fates. about halfway through the narrative. like Michael K. . Coetzee poses a version of the question of the dialectic between freedom and determinism that underlies much of his oeuvre – what freedom do characters have within the text? Indeed. an absent presence? And what of the characters of the text? What are the limitations that mark the writer’s attempt to establish the ‘reality effect’ of characters and the obviously constructed nature of this process? The text sets up such questions. however. You should open a puppet theatre or a zoo . it is the loss of his freedom of movement and the contraction of his universe that he feels most deeply – his sense of having to live a ‘circumscribed life’ (26). ‘has befallen me’) and the increasingly high-flown phrasing of his initially simple question – what is this? – invokes the classical notion of a metamorphosis from one state of being to another. . . as Paul calls it). text and writer.

a permeable boundary (see also Coetzee 2003: 194. Elizabeth is both visitor and visitation. relating to the text’s situation within an Australian context. ‘real life’ and ‘text’ is thereby made problematical. as his ‘model guest’. Slow Man. is the nature of Elizabeth’s visitation? It is she who tells Paul that she ‘came to find out what happens when a man of sixty engages his heart unsuitably’ (199). recalling the classical threshold between life and afterlife (the portal or gate). It is this trope of host and visitor (or even host and parasite) that returns us to the border of the nation itself. Elizabeth Costello has provided Coetzee with a literary persona (ostensibly an ageing feminist Australian novelist) who is given to lecturing others on matters of ethics and responsibility.1 It is she who plants the seed of doubt into the mind of the reader and. she will be giving him a ‘touch on the shoulder . On the one hand.Border Crossings: Self and Text 67 into being and take on ‘reality’. Elizabeth relies on his hospitality to take her in. between gods and mortals. What. where Costello is again ‘a petitioner before the gate’). it appears. this visitation is metafictional. suggesting that she ‘visit [herself] on some other candidate’ (199). Was this portal open or closed? Elizabeth’s avowal that she will be accompanying him for ‘the foreseeable future’ (84) and that. The boundary between ‘real’ and ‘imagined’. by its very nature. to keep [him] on the path’ (87) reinforce the theme of otherworldly manipulation. . suffering a heart complaint and looking ‘white about the gills’ (83). then. Her appearance in Slow Man at his threshold (more mundanely. The illusion of a character’s bounded freedom within a text. like the ‘gods’ has the power to guide and control the narrative and therefore Paul’s fate as a character within it. indeed. . John Howard’s Coalition Federal Government’s policy of incarcerating asylum seekers in detention centres or sufficiently remote Pacific islands while their applications for legal entry were processed (often for long periods of . is closely linked to the illusion of freedom in life itself and the possibility of our every move being manipulated by what Coetzee loosely terms ‘the gods’. and Paul who retorts that he was not ‘put on this earth to entertain you’. on the other. By turning up at Paul’s door as an unannounced and unexpected visitor. and her seemingly bizarre request for him to give her his hand to check that ‘our two bodies would not just pass through one another’ (81) like ghosts. of Paul himself about Paul’s state of being as she describes Magill Road as ‘the very portal to the abode of the dead’. For both Paul and the reader. at the door of his apartment. all point to a metatextual intrusion of a putative authorial presence to disrupt the reality effect that the reader has encountered so far. followed by her quoting the first sentences of the book we are reading. Contemporary popular discourses in Australian politics have emphasized the importance of policing borders to keep out unwelcome refugees or asylum seekers. ‘life’ and ‘death’. it could be seen to have a more political edge. 79). the remainder of the textual journey will be in company with Elizabeth who. then. which is. Yet Elizabeth emphasizes her own mortality.

Paul is similarly distanced from the English language in which he asserts he has never felt at home but speaks rather like ‘a kind of ventriloquist’s dummy . M. It is significant that a number of the characters in Slow Man ironically do not identify themselves as ‘Australian’. . Marijana Jokic. . approximate Australian English with Slavic liquids and an uncertain command of a and the. Coetzee in Context and Theory time) elicited long-term protests from civil libertarians. She and her husband Miroslav are Croatian migrants and Paul describes Marijana’s speech as ‘rapid. With this trope in mind (that of host and visitor). though. we are told. is both a physical and spiritual state of being for Paul. . Linked to this awareness of not quite belonging is the sense in which language operates as a marker of national identity. the idea of migration and diasporic crossings of borders assumes a heightened importance in the novel. This hybrid speech mirrors Bhabha’s third space of cultural hybridity referred to earlier. subject to the pressures of conforming to Aussie stereotypes of masculinity: as Paul warns Marijana. Drago is altering the national record. linked with identity and the body politic. then. manly sports’ (74). ‘This is not an easy country for a boy to grow up in . It is also the way he is able to mark out his own sense of individuality or difference – ‘If there were no foreigners there would be no natives’ (231) – so setting up a border zone between being inside or outside the nation-state. . by inserting a Jokic family member’s face into Paul’s historic photographs of Australian settler families. ‘passing’ for Australian is ‘all there is to . .68 J. the nationalidentity business’. It is Marijana who points out the contradiction of an ‘original . as he says to Elizabeth. his carer. a history from which Paul himself feels excluded – ‘foreigners keep out’. He asserts thereby his own sense of belonging. as Elizabeth suggests. A climate of manliness prevails. . This is despite his contribution to the historical record in the form of his bequest of his photographs to the State Library. In other words. That is all there is to it. to the national-identity business’ (197). He admits to Elizabeth that he speaks English like a foreigner because he is a ‘foreigner by nature’ (my emphasis) and has been a foreigner all his life (231). Paul’s lack of belonging or being at home is not simply a matter of nationality. ‘an affair for the English and the Irish’ (52). of being inside rather than outside history. Being an outsider. Paul himself. it is the language that is spoken through me’ (198). rewriting the ‘national memory’ (221). Importantly. cannot ‘pass’ for Australian. . by contrast with Paul. migrated to Australia from France as a child. Their son. Drago. I cannot pass among the French . national identity is not embodied or essential but performative. . A lot of pressure on a boy to excel in manly deeds. Paul’s outrage at Drago’s act of what he sees as vandalism is related to his desire to maintain a boundary around the notion of an original photographic print and a fake. is the second-generation migrant. coloured by slang she must pick up from her children who must pick it up from their classmates’ (27). but has never felt himself ‘at home’ in Australia: ‘I can pass among Australians.

‘As real as you’ (233). Paul begins to wonder if he has been translated to ‘the other side’. a ‘second world that exists side by side with the first . that is all I am. and wants to be given an assurance that ‘he has not been duped’ (115). Is not like painting’ (245). Elizabeth recites the words but uses the word ‘tumbles’ rather than ‘flies’ that appears on the first page of the book (my thanks to Zoë Wicomb for pointing this out). . identical with the first . she replies. The notion of parallel universes or the simulacrum draws us back to the world of the text where Paul reads in Elizabeth’s notebook about himself. with the infernal woman standing over him. except that one now has Elizabeth Costello around one’s neck’ (122. ‘Original is copy already. Just as Paul begins to wonder about the existence of an alternative world. is constantly deferred by the narrative. From one point of view. observing. but. the text and the reader. to the first words of the novel. . An old woman who scribbles away. ‘A poor forked creature. To take this parallelism even further. more equivocation. for ‘assurance’. by J. Elizabeth’s sarcastic comment on the Jokic’s fake Japanese garden – ‘so real! So authentic!’ – draws attention to the instability of any border set up between the ‘real’. italics in original). Notes 1 There is one significant change. testing their limits and limitations and refusing to settle on one side of the border or the other. it should be noted. between the real and the imagined. M. instead. . ‘All the time he thought he was his own master he has been in cage like a rat .Border Crossings: Self and Text 69 photograph’ when she says. recording his progress’ (122). and when he asks her. . listening. Paul is a character in a novel and Elizabeth is an author who is also a character in a novel – but is it a different novel or the same one? The ambivalence remains. taking notes. . day after day’ (233). could be wearing them to hide the fact that she was not blind. Coetzee. she replies. body and soul. though. Paul’s and the reader’s desire for clarity (to see clearly). no different from yourself. page after page. the other Marianna (whose name of course has the same pronunciation as Marijana2) could be wearing dark glasses to hide her blindness or. he also wonders about the difference between the ‘true story’ and the ‘alternative story’. When Paul asks Elizabeth directly ‘Are you real?’. This sense of having crossed over a threshold with death ‘a mere hiccup in time after which life goes on as before’ (123) unsettles perhaps the most entrenched border of all. Slow Man relentlessly yet also teasingly pushes against textuality itself. . against the threshold between the written and the writer. from the other point of view. . that between life and death. and the ‘imagined’ or ‘fake’. provides the assurance Paul desires. ‘Am I alive or dead?’. Neither answer. The implication of this is that Elizabeth’s authorship itself is being overwritten as of course it is.

Coetzee’ held at Universität Salzburg 22–24 June 2006. Carter. Schimanski.70 2 J. Living in Hope and History: Notes from our Century. London and New York: Routledge. Borders. a consummate performer of his own texts and. first pub. Conference Paper presented at ‘A Dialog Conference on J. London: Faber.’ (98). 207–13. indeed. Available at: http:uit. Identity. Mae G. . with two ns. Works Cited Ashcroft. Culture. Slow Man. The Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds. M.com/articles/16872 — (2005). The Location of Culture. (1) (January 15 2004). ‘As a woman grows older’. Nadine (1999). Australia: Knopf. in the UK by Secker & Warburg 2003. boundaries. The focus on pronunciation in this novel reminds us of the orality of Coetzee’s texts which take on a life through being read aloud. Community. 1–30. Available at: http://www. 51. Zoë (2006). The Road to Botany Bay. ‘Living on a frontierless land: Cultural globalization’.nybooks. Johan.2004: 2. Australia: Knopf. Difference. London: Lawrence and Wishart. in Nadine Gordimer. It is not in my power to change names . an imprint of Random House Australia.Fileid=231. Henderson. London and New York: Routledge. Derrida. in Jonathan Rutherford (ed. . Wicomb. Tromso 11–13. I cannot help that.). Bhabha. Straus and Giroux. Coetzee. Henderson (ed.11. in Peggy Kamuf (ed. in the UK by Secker & Warburg 2005. New York Review of Books. in Mae G. of course. London and New York: Routledge. Post-colonial Transformations.). Gordimer. first pub.). ‘Introduction: Borders. and Stephen Wolfe (2004). (1994). New York: Farrar. pp. ‘Slow Man and the Real’. Bill (2001). Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons. and frame(works)’. ‘Border Poetics? A Comparative Perspective’.php?Pageid= 9778. J. Coetzee himself is. an imprint of Random House Australia. — (1994). — (2004). as I said. Coetzee in Context and Theory Elizabeth draws the homophonic names to Paul’s attention when she tells him: ‘Her name is Marianna.no/getfile. M. New York: Columbia University Press. M. ‘The third space: Interview with Homi Bhabha’. (2003). Jacques (1991). Boundaries and Frames: Essays in Cultural Criticism and Cultural Studies. ‘Living on: Border lines’. reading his own texts is the only public performance he engages in. . Homi(1990). pp. Paul (1987).

the language repeatedly defeating all expectations of some saving pleasure or empathy. Before the arrival of my seed her pouch yawns and falls back. though I plough like the hero and Marilyn froth like the heroine. is that his description. Though like the diligent partners in the marriage manuals we attend to each other’s whispers. (Dusklands 7–8) Eugene Dawn is clearly a sick man. firm. Marilyn has never succeeded in freeing me from my rigors. It is hardly surprising that sex with his wife is unsatisfactory. if not forgive. The fault is not mine.Chapter 6 Sex. Alas. at the very moment when above all else it craves to be rocked through its tantrum in a soft. moans. and to the unsuspecting reader as well: Now is also the time to mention the length of gristle that hangs from the end of my iron spine and effects my sad connection with Marilyn. however. his urge to lay all the blame on her. flailing its head in vain inside an immense cavern. Coetzee’s first piece of fiction to be published. Comedy and Influence: Coetzee’s Beckett Derek Attridge Eight pages into ‘The Vietnam Project’. there is a description of marital sex that reads like a challenge to the entire tradition of erotic prose. and perhaps we can understand. Whereas I cannot escape the suspicion that my wife is disengaged. I do my duty. One aspect of this sort of comedy is what Freud . the truth is that the bliss of which the books speak has eluded us. The word which at such moments flashes its tail across the heavens of my never quite extinguished consciousness is evacuation: my seed drips like urine into the futile sewers of Marilyn’s reproductive ducts. however minuscule. leaving my betrayed representative gripped at its base. his mental distress as he formulates inhumane policies on behalf of the US military registering on his suffering body. infinitely trustworthy grip. for all its anger and bile. has a dimension of comedy: the culminating moment that we are led to believe by ancient literature as much as by contemporary culture should be the supreme experience of joy and human connectedness is presented with the utmost detachment. and groans. What is remarkable.

2 A crucial dimension of the operation of humorous pleasure is the precise choice of words. which arises if we’re saved from expending affective energy in pity for the suffering of an individual when he or she succeeds in treating it with supreme indifference. And the final sentence reveals quite explicitly the acute self-consciousness with which he searches for exactly the right word. personal experience lead us to expect. His most significant predecessor in this respect is Samuel Beckett. he discovered Beckett’s prose – if.72 J. and one may find these aspects of the writing overwhelming any potential humour. When Dawn describes his penis as a ‘length of gristle’. whether romantic.1 But there’s a significant difference between this example and the most common manifestations of the comedy of bodily dependence undermining the noble claims of humanity: the description is being offered by the agent himself. But uncertainty of tone is a part of the whole novella’s modus operandi: the absence of normal affect on Dawn’s part – an emblem as well as a product of the greater failure of empathetic imagination that facilitates American policy in Vietnam – is what gives rise to. that is. if we’re lucky. we may appeal to another aspect of the comic as analysed by Freud. the revelation – as he puts it in the final section of Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. rather than by a detached commentator. the memoir Youth can . *** Coetzee’s sense of possible literary models for his own writing changed dramatically when. the unexpected but vivid term creates a particularly unattractive image of the male member and at the same time conveys a sense of distance not only by its charge of self-loathing but by its demonstration of Dawn’s capacity to find le mot juste. Coetzee is. M. the mordant postures captured by the carefully managed language. we can thus enjoy the assured handling of language both for its own sake and because it lets us off the hook of sympathy. the combination of self-hatred and misogyny is pretty distasteful. and is signalled by. not the first writer to undercut the hallowed conventions of sexual description. on varieties of the comic – of ‘the physical demands lying behind the claim of mental love’. Coetzee in Context and Theory calls ‘unmasking’. by conveying – through a character’s deliberate choice of a reductive vocabulary – an absence of the emotions that both cultural history and. ‘humorous pleasure’. To understand why this doesn’t destroy the comedy. None of this is to claim that the passage is simply high comedy. while working in London in the early 1960s as a computer programmer. erotic or pornographic.3 When he tells us that Marilyn’s ‘pouch yawns’ the comedy of reductiveness – no room here for romantic notions of sexual union – is enhanced by our appreciation of the linguistic craftedness of the phrase. of course. since one way in which the victim rises above his or her situation is by showing that it doesn’t inhibit the display of verbal brilliance.

Watt is also funny. he asks himself. Propped up in bed with light pouring through the window. . his attempts at psychological depth. of course. . just the flow of a voice telling a story. There is no clash. He buys the book and takes it back to Major Arkwright’s. Eliot. and wary of the great themes of the literary tradition. could hardly have offered a greater contrast to Ford’s earnest engagement with the demands and delusions of his time. that string of leading men savagely or crazily pushing reason beyond its limits’ (Doubling 26). .) Here is his account: In the window of a second-hand bookseller off Charing Cross Road .5 What was it about Watt that appealed so much to the young Coetzee? Beckett’s comic prose. It is hardly likely that Samuel Beckett. Olympia Press is notorious: from a safe haven in Paris it publishes pornography in English for subscribers in England and America. we would still have to ask why Coetzee chose to invent this moment and invest it with such significance. author of Waiting for Godot and Endgame. . Comedy and Influence: Coetzee’s Beckett 73 be taken as a reliable report on the author’s experiences. where in 1969 he completed a PhD dissertation on ‘The English Fiction of Samuel Beckett: An Essay in Stylistic Analysis. ‘How’. Watt is quite unlike Beckett’s plays. he has attempted to write modernist poetry and has been studying Ford Madox Ford’s fiction for an MA degree. but academic: Coetzee moved to the United States. disregarding the canons of plot and character development. its pace fitted exactly to the pace of his own mind. .6 Coetzee comments much later in an interview that reading Beckett he was gripped by ‘that unbroken concern with rationality. . a flow continually checked by doubts and scruples. One can imagine the computer programmer enjoying the many passages in which what he calls Beckett’s ‘logico-computational fantasies’ are set up and then sent up. published by Olympia Press.4 (The memoir may. the would-be author whom we identify with the young Coetzee has been pursuing a path laid down by Ezra Pound and T. no conflict.Sex. is Watt? . From the first page he knows he has hit on something. but were we able to know this for certain. and the complex but coherent architecture of his most successful narrative structures. by Samuel Beckett. ‘could he have imagined he wanted to write in the manner of Ford when Beckett was around all the time?’ (155). so funny that he rolls about laughing. What kind of book. then. he spots a chunky little book with a violet cover: Watt. he reads and reads. writes pornography. Beckett’s Watt offers a new direction. S. (155) Up to this moment. The first substantial result of the new attachment was not literary. written with scrupulous precision.’ This dissertation is in part a product of Coetzee’s fascination . . be unreliable on this point as it is on some other points. When he comes to the end he starts again at the beginning.

and many other features of imperfect lives in such a way as to produce in the reader what Coetzee terms ‘a sensuous delight’. he set them aside. This delight is inseparable from Beckett’s comedy. boredom. Beckett’s secret remained unrevealed. The secret of Beckett’s that Coetzee wanted to make his own. hint at the implicit conclusion of the dissertation: that after years of scholarly labours on the PhD project. Rather. up to and including The Unnamable. the ability to portray indigence. ‘It is no consolation to be told that our guesses have at least received numerical confirmation’ (148). of what Coetzee calls ‘the ordinary’. attracted by the famous negativity that is so often taken to be Beckett’s trademark. has given me a sensuous delight that hasn’t dimmed over the years. it is Watt writ larger and without the . They are also attempts to get closer to a secret. the pursuit of unattainable goals.74 J. Coetzee in Context and Theory with Beckett’s prose.7 The published essays don’t. and it held out the prospect of producing a model whereby the subtle effects of literary language could be rendered amenable to precise analysis. if Coetzee began with such ambitions. Coetzee was not. However. and in part a product of the heady atmosphere in the sub-discipline of stylistics in the mid-1960s. And later he comments on the essays he published on Beckett in the early 1970s. Describing his dissertation project in Doubling the Point in the early 1990s he hints at a different agenda from the sober one announced in the formal abstract: ‘Beckett’s prose. The critical work I did on Beckett originated in that sensuous response. the writing that young John in Youth finds so hilarious. and that gave rise to hundreds of pages of detailed analysis. as well as a fascination with literary style. was the secret of that style. at least when choosing a dissertation topic. a secret of Beckett’s that I wanted to make my own’ (25). If he had doubts about the potential of the computer in the world of the humanities. it was the Irish author’s handling of language. adding. most of which were revisions of sections of the dissertation: ‘The essays I wrote on Beckett’s style aren’t only academic exercises. there are signs that they had been qualified by the time the dissertation was finished. however. There is of course something quite Beckettian about a lengthy dissertation using quantitative tools to conduct a minute analysis only to conclude that to a large extent the enterprise was in vain. specifically the English language. M. when the burgeoning field of theoretical linguistics seemed to hold out the hope of purely quantitative methods of literary analysis that would put criticism on a scientific footing. a style capable of transforming the disappointments and dead-ends of quotidian experience. that he found irresistible. and was a grasping after ways in which to talk about it: to talk about delight’ (20). With a degree in mathematics and experience as a programmer. then. in the colloquial sense of that word. physical distress. an exercise in quantitative stylistics must have seemed a highly appropriate choice.8 into intense pleasure. His conclusion about the exercise in stylostatistics he has just performed is that ‘we find precious little about Beckett that we might not have guessed’.

he was able to reintroduce the historical with subtlety and forcefulness. It comes down to a certain dancing of the intellect that is full of energy yet remains confined. *** Coetzee’s fascination with Beckett has been continuous from the early discovery in London until today. he compared Nabokov’s literary radicalism unfavourably with Beckett’s. What Coetzee needed. But the dissertation demonstrates something important: what Coetzee found so liberating in Beckett’s English prose was that style could be the heart of the writer’s enterprise. even though he cannot say what it is he is doing. Comedy and Influence: Coetzee’s Beckett 75 jokes. which had appeared the previous year. and as ‘a wound within him’ that he wishes would stop bleeding (116). In 1974. there’s a different sense in which Coetzee could be said to have come to understand Beckett’s secret.Sex. was a means of escape from his own too-present background: in Youth he describes South Africa as ‘an albatross round his neck’ that he wants removed (101). In Beckett’s case. there is an important sense in which he can be said to have understood what the coach was explaining to him. The lesson is not so much about getting the movements of the voice onto the page as about finding a form for the movements of the mind. according to Youth. however. However. having learned this Beckettian lesson. a sense Coetzee himself spells out in a short piece entitled ‘Fictional Beings’. in 1979 he published a review of Deirdre Bair’s biography. (6) Like the tennis player understanding the coach. When finally the player is able to play the stroke himself. showed that prose. something that Attwell brilliantly demonstrates. too. not an instrument wielded purely in the service of content.12 His dismay at Bair’s failure to appreciate ‘the nature of Beckett’s . and what Beckett offered. foundered on the necessity for prose.10 He offers the scene of a tennis coach teaching a young player a particular stroke by a mixture of words and demonstrations. . this comes down to a certain counterpointing of thought and syntax. and an attempt to delineate what it is he values most in his predecessor may throw some light on his own practice. could do very well without a determinate location. Beckett. One can relate this explanation of influence to Coetzee’s own account of the importance of Beckett to him. in the 1993 essay ‘Homage’11: What one can learn from Beckett’s prose is a lesson one level more abstract than one can get from verse. His earlier attempts at fiction. unlike poetry.9) Coetzee may have failed to quantify and render computable Beckett’s stylistic singularity. (When he started publishing fiction. a dancing on the spot. Coetzee’s own remarkable dance of the intellect – the phrase is of course Pound’s – is testimony to a lesson thoroughly absorbed. . . however. to have a specific setting (63).

written in English during the war years but published only in 1953. and history of individual words was superior to mine’ (7). ‘we emerge miraculously into clearer water’ (171). and that he undercuts ‘any meaning or appreciation’. M. provenance. Coetzee expresses some dissatisfaction with the mathematical aspect of Beckett’s writing he had earlier enjoyed (‘texts built up from repertoires of set phrases by combinatorial methods’ (170)). moves in the body’. the play Waiting for Godot. he commented that the late works of Beckett speak in ‘post-mortem voices’ and are ‘quite literally. in which a different literary father takes centre stage. he notes that Beckett’s work shook his confidence that he had nothing to learn about the English language. In the piece in Beckett Remembering (74–7) he tells the . and he goes on to charge her with ‘incomprehension of Beckett’s chief work. when in one of the great creative outpourings of modern times he wrote the prose fictions Molloy. writing The Master of Petersburg. and the thirteen Texts for Nothing. ‘optimistic yet humorously sceptical about what can be achieved’. In this short piece. coloration. in ‘Homage’. ‘philosophical comedy’ (172). ‘As soon as I began reading Beckett I knew I was reading someone whose sensitivity to the nuances of weight. it can fairly be said that Beckett did not find himself as a writer until he switched to French and. whereas his interest lay in ‘how the voice moves the body. Company. the second was a contribution to a volume entitled Beckett Remembering/Remembering Beckett. surprisingly. Malone Dies. most of it reprinted in Inner Workings. disembodied’. Just a few phrases from the piece will indicate this aspect of his response: ‘fierce comic anguish’ (170). But Dostoevsky did not displace Beckett.76 J. until with the works of the early 1980s. and the third a lecture to a Beckett conference in Tokyo in September. Ill Said Ill Seen and Worstward Ho. ‘dark comic energy’ (171). ‘execrable literary criticism’ (87).13 By 2006. (2007b 169) Coetzee describes Beckett over the next three decades as ‘stalled’. at this time. and in 2006 Coetzee’s interest in the Irish author surfaced in three places. One was an introduction to a volume in the new Grove Press edition of Beckett’s work (ix–xiv). A dozen years later. is a substantial presence in the Beckett canon. Coetzee was. and The Unnamable (‘the trilogy’). Watt and the trilogy of novels’ (88). In ‘Homage’ (in which he writes about ‘some of the writers without whom I would not be the person I am’). until the years 1947–51. in particular. in the interviews with Attwell published in Doubling the Point. Coetzee was less likely to place Watt among Beckett’s finest work: he begins the Inner Workings essay with what can be read as a correction of his earlier views: Although Watt. and stresses – as he had in Youth – the comic dimension of Beckett’s best work. one not mentioned. Coetzee in Context and Theory enterprise as a novelist’ is given a precise focus in his response to her comment on Watt: he calls her claim that Beckett was ‘confused’ when he wrote this novel.

. . There are numerous examples in Beckett’s work of the kind of comedy Coetzee is alluding to: the body and the mind frequently seem ill-adapted. Coetzee concludes that Beckett doesn’t take refuge in the alternative account. The two issues that come up repeatedly in Coetzee’s responses to Beckett. his mind – finds the dualistic account of the self ludicrous. Coetzee continues. and the works most often cited by Coetzee. or at least unexplained. because he ‘is too deeply convinced he is a body plus a mind. related it to Melville’s whale. of course. And yet it is humour shot through with its dark opposite. Hackett decided. it produces absurdities that deflate human pretensions and because it satirizes a long tradition of writing and thinking in which the mind is glorified. For the lady held the gentleman . that if they were waiting for a tram they had been doing so for some time.’ Yet. Beckett’s attacks on the dualist account have no effect: ‘Each time the dualist account resurrects itself and re-confronts him’. This split attitude is the source of much of his comedy. and another long tradition in which the achievements of the body are romanticized. Comedy and Influence: Coetzee’s Beckett 77 story of Beckett’s application to the University of Cape Town when it advertised a lectureship in Italian in 1937 (Coetzee found Beckett’s application in the university archives: Beckett was not offered the job). . of course. In the lecture. Coetzee begins by depicting Beckett as a philosophical dualist. ‘He seems to believe that the connection between the mind and the body is mysterious. with a sense of the unattainability of the ideals so valorized in the Western tradition of art and philosophy. in all of which style plays a crucial part in establishing a comic tone. His everyday experience is that he is a being that thinks. He finds that the novel starts with the discovery by a character named Mr Hackett that the seat at a tram stop he regards as his own is already occupied by a couple. sex. he encounters a sex scene: Mr. the prose writings from Watt to The Unnamable. entitled ‘Eight Ways of Looking at Samuel Beckett’ he speculated further on Beckett’s philosophical comedy and. something titillating. expecting.Sex. and in the Tokyo lecture. And sure enough. says ‘All old folk become Cartesians’ (2007a 181). linked somehow to an insentient carcass that it must carry around and be carried around in’. then. from its Olympia Press imprint. At the same time he – that is to say. The 72-year-old protagonist of Diary of a Bad Year. and it is instructive to test his description against his own fiction. both because. The disparity between mind and body becomes particularly marked with old age. and the disjunction is funny. in a short piece entitled ‘On Aging’. perhaps with an eye to his Japanese location. as Freud among others observed. after some moments. and both Beckett and Coetzee often create characters more elderly and decrepit than they are. are style and the comedy of the body ill-matched with the mind. A prime site for such mismatches is. Let’s imagine young John Coetzee in London propped up in bed starting Watt. on the second page. philosophical monism. furnish several examples.

Mrs. both affective and somatic. Watt would kiss. annoyance. from waist to neck his weary hold transferring. or a quarter of an hour. . they never went. curiosity. but implying that simple logic is at work: note the effect of the connective ‘For’. without stirring. Tired of waiting for the tram. before crumpling back into his post-crucified position. for as long as ten minutes. and the lady’s tongue was in the gentleman’s mouth. to this public display of sexual intimacy. including embarrassment. (6) Although this description is not in the first-person form characteristic of Freud’s model of humorous pleasure. there is a long account of the repeated sexual feats of Watt and the fishwoman Mrs Gorman. . he put his into hers . M. . Coetzee in Context and Theory by the ears. From time to time. All is poignant in the first sentence. . There is very little sex in Watt. . in a despairing manner. and wrap his right arm about her waist. the style itself conveying nothing of his surprise. Mr Hackett. they strike up an acquaintance. or stirring the least possible. and in this position remain. and open for her a bottle of stout. of which this is a representative sample: Then he would have her in the kitchen. Taking a pace forward. and physical arousal. hoisting his weary head. Further than this. Hackett was shocked to find it limply dangling over the back of the seat. Beckett tracks what we must assume to be Mr Hackett’s growing astonishment purely by means of the sequence from the absurdity of the ears to the suggestiveness of the thigh to the explicitness of the kiss. but any persistence of sentiment is inhibited by the choice of words. by choosing language as distanced as possible from emotion and eroticism: the repetition of ‘lady’ and ‘gentleman’. if a little over-specific for a . Hackett. it will be learnt with regret. fends off the medley of potentially intense responses. the ploddingly explicit account of positions and actions. though more than half inclined to do so on more than one occasion. The lady now removing her tongue from the gentleman’s mouth. forgetful of his troubles. I think we can see the same process of psychic economy at work. the almost mathematical reciprocity of the two tongues and the two mouths. and set her on his knee. and lean his head upon her right breast (the left having unhappily been removed in the heat of a surgical operation). in fact. as the reader’s representative. . Gorman on or about the mouth.78 J. though somewhat later in the book. said Mr. . and the gentleman’s hand was on the lady’s thigh. to satisfy himself that the gentleman’s other hand was not going to waste. Mr. The stylistic precision is of the utmost importance in maintaining the distance necessary for the humour. . (138–40) The scene itself is touching.

because of her lumbago. knowing it was love. physical ailments determine the nature of their lovemaking: She bent over the couch. reminisces about the woman who made him ‘acquainted with love’ and empties the event of any hint of eroticism by stylistic means: She went by the peaceful name of Ruth I think. because of her rheumatism. but also of a profound innocence: this is a man who has heard or read about the value of love and sex – he appears not to distinguish between them – and is attempting to put this imperfect knowledge into practice. and in this I put. it’s true. It seemed all right to me. and most comic of all. . Something similar to the effect of the removed breast occurs as the passage continues. and in I went from behind. ‘Toiled and moiled’ is. (And how extraordinary that ‘in the heat of’ is. but not one we associate with the motions of sex.Sex. It was the only position she could bear. Comedy and Influence: Coetzee’s Beckett 79 romantic moment. Not surprisingly. A matter of complete . but I can’t say for certain. ‘in the long run’. or was it Edith’s. in the long run. . oh not the bunghole I had always imagined. It is when we reach the trilogy that we find Beckett’s sexual comedy achieving its full-blown scatological realization.) Also typical of Beckett are the qualifications that draw attention to the excessively meticulous narrator (what Coetzee calls his ‘doubts and scruples’): ‘without stirring. for I had seen dogs. but the puncturing that follows is merciless ‘(the left having been unhappily removed in the heat of a surgical operation)’. not without difficulty. ‘Watt would kiss . and often in the mode of first-person narrative. or stirring the least possible’. Mrs Gorman on or about the mouth’. the result is unsatisfactory. She had a hole between her legs. in the novel of that name. (56–7)14 We’re aware of the detachment of memory. but a slit. Molloy. ‘not without difficulty’. Perhaps after all she put me in her rectum. And once more the qualifications and corrections add a pedantic touch to a style that we would expect to be concentrating on the excitements of the subject matter: ‘in this I put. A mug’s game in my opinion and tiring on top of that. and I toiled and moiled until I discharged or gave up trying or was begged by her to stop. or rather she put. for she had told me so. and I was astonished when she confided that you could go about it differently. Perhaps the name was Edith. ‘for as long as ten minutes. while the cliché ‘virile member’ is signalled as such by the self-mocking adjective ‘so-called’. But I lent myself to it with a good enough grace. my so-called virile member. but it makes for a superb antidote to the usual clichés. or rather she put’. I wonder what she meant exactly. a cliché. or a quarter of an hour’. and we learn how Ruth’s. suggesting that the mastectomy was the accidental act of an overenthusiastic surgeon.


J. M. Coetzee in Context and Theory indifference to me, I needn’t tell you. But is it true love, in the rectum? That’s what bothers me sometimes. Have I never known true love, after all? She too was an eminently flat woman and she moved with short stiff steps, leaning on an ebony stick. Perhaps she too was a man, yet another of them. But in that case surely our testicles would have collided, while we writhed. Perhaps she held hers tight in her hand, on purpose to avoid it. . . . (57)

Molloy’s innocence about sexual matters produces a bizarre series of speculations, far removed from the language of passion or nostalgia. But while the content is outrageous – especially the image of a man pretending to be a woman by clutching his testicles lest they collide with his lover’s – the style in which it is presented is that of musing uncertainty, the way one might ponder what one had for dinner last Thursday or whether it is likely to rain. The questions are not urgent (‘Have I never known true love, after all?’), and the speculative tone is conveyed by words like ‘perhaps’ and ‘surely’. Any inclination towards arousal or sympathy is nipped in the bud. A little later, Molloy speculates further on his experience, comparing copulation with masturbation, and again sex is reduced to the mechanical and the mindless, even though it is being represented as ‘true love’: I would have preferred it seems to me an orifice less arid and roomy, that would have given me a higher opinion of love it seems to me. However. Twixt finger and thumb ’tis heaven in comparison. But love is no doubt above such base contingencies. And not when you are comfortable, but when your frantic member casts about for a rubbing-place, and the unction of a little mucous membrane, and meeting with none does not beat in retreat, but retains its tumefaction, it is then no doubt that true love comes to pass, and wings away, high above the tight fit and the loose. (58) Molloy allows himself some poetic diction – ‘Twixt’, ‘’tis heaven in comparison’, ‘comes to pass’, ‘wings away’ – but it is ludicrously juxtaposed with the matterof-fact and the technical – ‘orifice’, ‘arid’, ‘roomy’, ‘rubbing-place’, ‘mucous membrane’, ‘tumefaction’. In course of the second novel of the trilogy, Malone Dies, the narrator tells the story of Macmann, immured in an institution and cared for by Moll. In his story-telling vein Malone uses something approaching a high style, but in treating of sex there is the same comic overthrow of all conventions, romantic, erotic and pornographic: This first phase, that of the bed, was characterized by the evolution of the relation between Macmann and his keeper. There sprang up gradually between them a kind of intimacy which, at a given moment, led them to lie together and copulate as best they could. For given their age and scant

Sex, Comedy and Influence: Coetzee’s Beckett


experience of carnal love, it was only natural they should not succeed, at the first shot, in giving each other the impression they were made for each other. The spectacle was then offered of Macmann trying to bundle his sex into his partner’s like a pillow into a pillow-slip, folding it in two and stuffing it in with his fingers. But far from losing heart they warmed to their work. And though both were completely impotent they finally succeeded, summoning to their aid all the resources of the skin, the mucus and the imagination, in striking from their dry and feeble clips a kind of sombre gratification. (261) Of course the funniest part of this account is the sentence about Macmann attempting to enter Moll; introduced with a passive construction suggestive of a formal style – ‘The spectacle was then offered’ (a meaningless flourish, in fact, as there is no-one watching) – it descends quickly into the most unerotic of similes, ‘of Macmann trying to bundle his sex into his partner’s like a pillow into a pillow-slip’. And as if this weren’t comic enough, Beckett’s narrator continues, ‘folding it in two and stuffing it in with his fingers’. The action is ludicrously inappropriate, but what makes it funny rather than pathetic is the energetic language – who could predict the verb ‘bundle’? The last sentence presents a triumph, though a strictly limited one: their embraces (comically dignified with the archaic word ‘clips’) are ‘dry’ and ‘feeble’ and their gratification ‘sombre’. Finally, in The Unnamable, the speaker – in his guise as a trunk in a jar outside a restaurant – has no inkling of the romantic or the erotic; all he can imagine is masturbation over the sight of a horse’s rump (and even that remains unachievable): The tumefaction of the penis! The penis, well now, that’s a nice surprise, I’d forgotten I had one. What a pity I have no arms, there might still be something to be wrung from it. No, ’tis better thus. At my age, to start manstuprating again, it would be indecent. And fruitless. And yet one can never tell. With a yo heave ho, concentrating with all my might on a horse’s rump, at the moment when the tail rises, who knows, I might not go altogether emptyhanded away. Heaven, I almost felt it flutter! Does this mean they did not geld me? I could have sworn they had gelt me. But perhaps I am getting mixed up with other scrota. Not another stir out of it in any case. (335) Once again, any potential compassion on our part for this remnant of humanity investigating the possibility of sexual arousal is short-circuited by the language, which unremittingly substitutes self-mockery for self-pity (‘Heaven, I almost felt it flutter!’). There are the familiar questions and qualifications: ‘well now’; ‘And yet’; ‘who knows’; ‘perhaps I am getting mixed up’. And the comedy of inappropriate juxtaposition is heightened by the lurches from high and learned style (‘’tis better thus’; the past tense of ‘geld’ as ‘gelt; ‘manstuprating’ – such


J. M. Coetzee in Context and Theory

a recherché term for masturbating that even the OED doesn’t recognize it15) to the down-to-earth (‘With a yo heave ho, concentrating with all my might on a horse’s rump’). *** Coetzee’s evident and avowed debt to Beckett has not, of course, gone unnoticed. The many studies of the earlier writer’s influence on the later have focused on such matters as death, silence, inheritance, nothingness, ethics, metafiction, politics, and the body. 16 However, although Coetzee’s stylistic debt to Beckett is often mentioned, it hasn’t been discussed in detail. Even less attended to is the importance of Beckett’s comedy, which, as we’ve seen, is central to Coetzee’s response to his predecessor. James Wood’s comment on Coetzee probably sums up the consensus view: ‘His prose is precise, but blanched; in place of comedy there is only bitter irony (this is Coetzee’s large difference from Beckett, whom he so clearly admires)’.17 How is it that Coetzee could have rolled about laughing when reading Watt, and yet turn out to be such an apparently humourless writer himself ? Or does closer attention to the Beckettian qualities of Coetzee’s style challenge this characterization? Let’s return to Eugene Dawn depicting sex with Marilyn in Dusklands. Sex without passion, described in a language far from that of traditional erotic or romantic narratives, and a male speaker somewhat baffled by the events he is describing, as if he were outside them: we are not far from the mood and style of the passages we’ve looked at from Beckett’s prose. The vocabulary doesn’t repeat Beckett, but is equally surprising and anerotic: ‘representative’, ‘sewers’, ‘reproductive ducts’. ‘Moans, and groans’ is reminiscent of ‘toiled and moiled’; the ‘immense cavern’ of Marilyn’s vagina recalls Edith’s ‘arid and roomy’ one; Dawn’s ‘betrayed representative’ is a personification that echoes Molloy’s ‘frantic member’; Dawn’s ‘evacuation’ looks back to Molloy’s ‘discharged’. Dawn’s description of the penis’s desire – ‘it craves to be rocked through its tantrum in a soft, firm, infinitely trustworthy grip’ – is close to Molloy’s description of the same predicament – ‘when your frantic member casts about for a rubbingplace, and the unction of a little mucous membrane’. Dawn’s performance of the act as a duty whose rituals are imbibed from marriage manuals has the same tonality as Molloy’s comment, ‘I lent myself to it with a good enough grace, knowing it was love, for she had told me so’. There is a touch of Beckett’s use of a highly formal style in the clause ‘though I plough like the hero and Marilyn froth like the heroine’; we might have expected ‘froths’ but Dawn chooses the hyper-correct subjunctive. And yet it’s also very different from Beckett, perhaps most significantly in the nature of its humour. Dawn’s account is funny, certainly, but it’s the humour of the misanthrope; where Beckett’s characters express a certain disappointment in the act of love, they are willing participants who haven’t given up hope. Watt may be weary and despairing, but he does forget his troubles on Mrs Gorman’s

Sex, Comedy and Influence: Coetzee’s Beckett


lap for ten or fifteen minutes. Molloy may find sex a tiring mug’s game, but he perseveres with good grace, and though he may have doubts about the orifice he entered and the gender of the individual to whom it belonged, he is philosophical rather than bitter about it. The Unnameable is fired by the thought that his penis may still have some life in it. Eugene Dawn, however, is angry and resentful, and his unusual language indicates a cynicism about the romanticized view of sex that is not quite the same as Beckett’s characters’ serene lack of self-consciousness. Where Beckett’s heroes show winning hesitations, doubts, and recalibrations, Dawn’s conviction never wavers. If we do laugh at his extraordinary representation of sex, it is fitfully and reluctantly. The narrator in Coetzee’s next work of fiction, Magda in In the Heart of the Country (1977), is his most Beckettian, both in the broader scheme of an introspective and wordy monologue whose relation to reality is not always easy to fathom and in the small details of style. However, Magda is generally not detached in the manner of Dawn, and her experiences and fantasies of sex are, for the most part, conveyed in language that preserves their emotional intensity. There are, however, moments when she is capable of something like his detachment, expressed in a style just as precisely and potently fashioned – and rather funnier. She imagines having a husband, whom I would have to disrobe for on Saturday nights, in the dark, so as not to alarm him, and arouse, if the arts of arousal can be learned, and guide to the right hole, rendered penetrable with a gob of chickenfat from a pot at the bedside, and endure the huffing and puffing of, and be filled eventually, one expects, with seed by, and lie listening to the snoring of, till the balm of slumber arrive. (42) When we encounter the sardonic speculation ‘if the arts of arousal can be learned’ we could be reading Beckett. Later Magda comes upon the servants Hendrik and Anna having sex; Hendrik grins at her and ‘From his middle juts out unhidden what must be his organ, but grotesquely larger than it should be, unless I am mistaken’ (76–7). The sexual innocence, and the humour of that final qualifying phrase, stamp Magda, temporarily at least, as a female Molloy.18 In his next novel, Waiting for the Barbarians, Coetzee found a distinctive voice that has only the occasional hint of Beckett, and the depictions of sex in that novel and the ones that followed, although none of them could be described as conventional, don’t possess the dark comic edge of the ones we’ve looked at. Let me jump to Disgrace, where sexual encounters abound. The style of David Lurie’s afternoon sessions with Soraya, the prostitute, conveys little emotional depth but equally no comic detachment. The short description of sex with the new secretary Dawn (is the name a coincidence?) shares some of the detached antagonism, and the vocabulary, of the passage from ‘The Vietnam Project’ I’ve already cited: ‘Bucking and clawing, she works herself into a froth

Even in the dimness there is nothing charming in the sight. Without passion but without distaste either. with her work at a nearby animal shelter. The former. like a squat little tub. which has become Coetzee’s preferred mode. has only occasional intimations of sexual desire. it is true. checks that the back door is locked. the grey blanket underneath. Coetzee thus draws on the resources of the Beckettian style to convey the marked difference between the present encounter and Lurie’s previous dalliances. which tracks young John between the ages of ten and thirteen. with their formal vocabulary and word-order. Lurie’s condescending knowingness is much less forgivable than the child-like ingenuousness of Beckett’s characters. The third-person present narrative of Disgrace. Once again. Coetzee in Context and Theory of excitement’ (9). this one has a tinge of Beckettian comic distance. Boyhood and Youth. One day she invites him to meet her at the clinic. She grasps his hand. from beginning to end. when he starts helping his daughter’s friend. was ‘eminently flat’). and their balanced evaluation. holds a memory of Beckett too. Bev Shaw. A contraceptive. All thought out beforehand. is also the narrative mode of his two memoirs. like the entire novel. (149–50) We’re a long way from Beckett’s monologues. and he realizes that the invitation is a sexual one. we remember. passes him something. too. the pink on top’. Of their congress he can at least say that he does his duty. their representation of sex as obligation. the unflattering description of the woman’s body. Most are simply painful. M. Occasionally the phrasing. and the dutiful performance of the act all hark back to the sex of Watt or the trilogy. runs his hands down her body. Slipping off his underpants. She is lying under the blanket with only her head sticking out. ‘like a squat little tub’ (Ruth/Edith. But the encounter I want to pause on occurs in the aftermath of the attack on Lurie’s daughter and himself. but in contrast to the other sexual events of the novel. The encounter is given to us. The choice is between the operating table and the floor. from Lurie’s perspective. but one that has some . He switches off the light. He hears the rustle of clothes as she undresses. He spreads out the blankets on the floor. especially the final sentences. almost waistless. though. Sturdy. and to suggest a new realism in the sexual attitudes of this teacher of Romantic poetry. Bev. he gets in beside her. Never did he dream he would sleep with a Bev.84 J. the pink on top. for the most part typical of Coetzee’s distinctive mature style. but the latter includes several sexual experiences. She has no breasts to speak of. leaves the room. ‘only her head sticking out’. waits. The overscrupulous account – ‘the grey blanket underneath.

is more like Beckett than anything he has written. (5) The vocabulary is conventional. and while he is recuperating is visited by an author. does his best. which gets into everything’. He and the blind woman meet in his flat. The passage continues with a single. Jacqueline suggests a walk on the beach. Finally. in Slow Man there is a sexual encounter which. they stroll the length of the beach. ‘pouts. pouts. and have an awkward conversation. has lost a leg in an accident. the philosophising. in Cape Town. to say nothing of an attempt on his part to loosen his tie. recall Beckett’s narrators. Not only is there the matter of the sand. and not at all Beckettian in manner or content) she arranges a liaison with a blind woman he once saw with a frisson of desire in a lift. the embarrassment. there is also the nagging question of why this woman. . He responds. Unresisting he follows. offers him her lips. is giving herself to him. but the uncertainty. in which the young man’s inexperience produces something like the wry self-distance that makes the Beckettian anti-heroes so funny. Elizabeth Costello – who also turns out to be his author. Just as Molloy lends himself to intercourse with good grace. Paul Rayment. in its bizarreness if not in its style. In fact he is not carried away. so John ‘does his best. In a secluded space among the rocks she turns to him.Sex. Hand in hand (how did that happen?) in the moonlight. Where will this lead? He has not made love to an older woman before. which has begun to choke him (why on earth is he wearing a tie?) – somehow. ‘carried away’). they manage to slip into it. clumsily yet not as clumsily as might have been. a sixty-year-old Australian. but uneasily. whereby any possibility of a lingering romanticism is banished by the intrusion of the real: ‘the matter of the sand. John. offers him her lips’. the averting. Comedy and Influence: Coetzee’s Beckett 85 affinities with Beckett is the first. has been invited to a get-together in a bungalow on the beach. even pretends at last to be carried away. In order to distract Paul from his hopeless passion for his nurse (described by Coetzee with powerful realism. goes through with the act’. in the midst of all this – the fretting. whom he has never met before. and there he meets an older woman named Jacqueline. shamefacedly yet not so shamefacedly as to paralyse them. goes through with the act. singularly lengthy sentence that is as much a challenge to the reader as the one we began with: And somehow or other. all the way. he discovers. into the physical act to which they have willy-nilly contracted themselves. What if he is not up to standard? It leads. not Beckettian (‘hand in hand’. which gets into everything. And there is something Beckettian about the funniest touch in the passage. the sense that he is perceiving his own actions from outside. the self-questioning.

86 J. the pleasure of a style that refuses the temptations of conventional erotic writing. One could not say that the style precludes all sympathy – ‘truncated haunch’ and ‘blasted eyes’ are not as detached as ‘length of gristle’ or ‘like a pillow into a pillow-slip’ – but at the same time it does reflect. the erotic and the act of sexual intercourse seldom go together. as does the entire novel. To end with a question: if the former tendency is constrained by the latter in Coetzee more than it is in Beckett. The fact that this episode doesn’t grow naturally out of the events of the previous narrative but is staged by an author who is at once within and outside the fiction points to the possible reason for its strangeness: it is itself a mechanical device. from whom he learned so much. Elizabeth Costello has to be content with a different story. on the sheer absurd mechanics of the act of sex. despite the truncated haunch on the one hand and the blasted eyes on the other.20 But the more we can bring to his work a sensitivity to the nuances of style and the fine gradations of tone the more we will appreciate the constant play between a comic apprehension of the absurdity of the human claim to be in charge of the body and a grim awareness of some of the less welcome consequences of bodily autonomy. is this because Coetzee’s characters never achieve the sublime indifference to the practical affairs of the world that Beckett’s do? Beckett. Rayment has no desire to repeat the experience. and to insist. as Beckett so often does. exacting ethical and political responsibilities. and the bodies he writes about are subject to. a wish to resist the temptations of both pity and self-pity. (108–9) It is a strange episode in a strange book. is accurate or helpful. If we can’t talk about Coetzee’s ‘sexual comedy’ in the way we can about . but the sentence in which the sexual act is described at least produces something of the pleasure that Coetzee first identified in Beckett some forty years earlier. one over which she is not entirely in control. that is to say in all its natural parts. a writer’s attempt to steer an evolving plot in a different direction. and one that seems to lead nowhere. but didn’t allow this circumstance to impinge on the comic exuberance of his writing. or understood in the context of. wrote Watt while in hiding from the Gestapo in southern France. and which. are darkened by the external events that accompanied their composition. It fails.19 *** It is not my contention that Coetzee is a comic writer whom we have mistakenly taken to be a bleak one: neither of these descriptions.21 Coetzee’s pages. proceeds with some dispatch from beginning to middle to end. I believe. M. that evinces a comic appreciation of the business of sex while retaining a humane understanding of bodily needs. after all. we may suspect. Coetzee in Context and Theory an act which while not the act of sex as generally understood is nevertheless an act of sex. and one in which sex is absent but the erotic very much present. And in Coetzee.

Psychiatry and Psychology 10. See David Attwell. Three essays derived from the dissertation were reprinted in Doubling the Point: ‘The Comedy of Point of View in Beckett’s Murphy’ (1970).2 (2003): 133–4. ‘The Manuscript Revisions of Beckett’s Watt’ (1972) (reprinted only in part). These pieces do not have the sceptical view of their own methodology that marks the conclusion of the dissertation. University of Cape Town. ed. David Attwell (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Appendix B. 286. Coetzee’s MA thesis is a lengthy survey of Ford’s vast creative output. No. Coetzee’s own practice here clearly contradicts Ford’s dictum. M. too surprising’ (‘The Works of Ford Madox Ford’. 1993). in spite of the evident importance of Beckett in Coetzee’s development as a writer. this week’s beginning nicely’ (294). Coetzee agrees with Richard Begam that Kafka and Beckett are ‘writers of the ordinary’ (‘Interview’. Deleuze discusses these exhaustive and exhausting catalogues of possibilities in ‘L’épuisé’. it may be because the shadow of those demands falls on every sentence.Sex. 5. Art and Literature : Pelican Freud Library 14.24–5). Coetzee cites Ford’s suggestion that the prose writer ‘should seek le mot juste as long as le mot is not too juste. Angela Richards (Harmondsworth: Penguin. Jokes 293–301.4 (1972–73): 195–8. ed. see ‘Homage’ (Threepenny Review. ‘Well. ed. ‘Beckett and the Temptations of Style’. 20). Coetzee remarks elsewhere that he had read Waiting for Godot in the 1950s (Doubling the Point. 1976). 1992). Comedy and Influence: Coetzee’s Beckett 87 Beckett’s. Philosophy. 421. Contemporary Literature 33 (1992): 419–31). In 1973 he also published a new essay. Spring 1993: 5–7). During his stay in London. Freud’s examples include ‘gallows humour’. ‘Samuel Beckett’s Lessness: An Exercise in Decomposition’. published as an appendix to Beckett’s Quad (Paris: Minuit. Notes I would like to thank Asja Szafraniec for helpful comments on an earlier version of this essay. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. Coetzee: South Africa and the Politics of Writing (Berkeley: University of California Press. 53. In his MA thesis on Ford Madox Ford. Freud revisited the question of humorous pleasure in a short paper written in 1927 (‘Humour’.11). he also bought and read Octavio Paz’s collection of Mexican poetry. 46. 1963. Doubling. this would have been in his teens. Pelican Freud Library 6. as when the criminal on his way to execution on a Monday says. 55–106. Albert Dickson (Harmondsworth: Penguin. 425–33). and ‘Samuel Beckett and the Temptations of Style’ (1973). with the highest praise reserved for the ‘technical triumph’ of The Good Soldier. Cape Town: David Philip. J. 1985). 1992). in which Ford’s use of an untrustworthy narrator is described as a ‘stroke of genius’ (5. Computers and the Humanities 7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 . Threepenny Review 53 (Spring 1993): 5–7. which was translated (with assistance) by Beckett.

‘Eight ways of Looking at Samuel Beckett. James and Elizabeth. The Translingual Imagination (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. for instance. Coetzee et la littérature européenne: Écrire contre la barbarie. ‘A Frog’s Life’. Is it significant that Coetzee’s first-person narrator’s name continues Beckett’s series of M’s? (It is followed. is not a Beckettian figure. Chapter 4. and Peter Boxall. the conventions of romantic sex are present in phrases like ‘evening wood’. UCT Studies in English 5 (1974): 1–7. eds. have names beginning with M. South Atlantic Quarterly 93 (1994): 83–110. 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 . and – albeit not a first-person narrator – Michael K. Manstupration is in fact an archaic French term for masturbation.4 (2000): 117–37 and ‘J. Stavroguine. uncomfortably close to that other baleful orifice. the erotic is omnipresent. in spite of one or two highly Beckettian phrasings in his first-person narrative. the vagina I had imagined as a nice neat hole. 2006). Kellman. Ariel 31.20 (October 2003): 23. the English equivalent (which is perhaps what Beckett was thinking of) is manustupration. Jean-Paul Engélibert (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes. UCT Studies in English 9 (1979): 86–9. ‘J. there is a reference to ‘that lugubrious puce stalk. the Medical Officer. too. Judge then of my surprise and some fright when. ed. For a reading of Disgrace which does ample justice to the novel’s comic elements. M.88 12 J. Textual Practice 20. Beckett Remembering/Beckett Remembered (London: Bloomsbury.2 (2006): 301–17. Coetzee in Context and Theory ‘Nabokov’s Pale Fire and the Primacy of Art’.’ Borderless Beckett/ Beckett sans frontiers. and self-deception’. Samuel Beckett: A Biography. ‘Byron. of Steven G. here. tumbling with Rosie through the lush wet grass. 169–73. but there is no sexual activity. Banville doesn’t completely extirpate the erotic as Beckett (and Coetzee’s Dawn) do. Essays on Coetzee and Beckett include Paul A. truth-telling. and the central character. see Patrick Hayes. Coetzee and Samuel Beckett: Nothingness. in the evening wood. In the fictional narrative of Diary of a Bad Year. 4 (2003): 331–48. a bright sun to the navel’s surly moon. 25. is the narrator of Birchwood: For example. Knowlson. M. Review of Deirdre Bair. Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000–2005 (London: Harvill Secker. (London: Picador (1998). rather like a second navel. 2007). although he is a 72-year-old writer suffering from increasing decrepitude and thoughts of death. In a later sexual encounter. underneath. by the Magistrate. London Review of Books. my faintly pulsating blunt sword of honour. Minako Okamuro et al. sticking out of my trousers’ (131): this could hardly be more Beckettian in its aneroticism. Gilbert Yeoh. ed. ‘tumbling with Rosie’. we might note. I fingered her furry damp secret and found not so much a hole as a wound. 2000). ‘lush wet grass’ and ‘damp secret’. Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 44. J. minimalism and indeterminacy’. 2007). (Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi). M.) Many of Banville’s first-person narrators. Coetzee and Samuel Beckett: Ethics. Another follower of Beckett is John Banville. but less murky. ‘Coetzee Reads Beckett’. Cantor. situated at the front. ‘Since Beckett’. ‘Happy Days in the Veld: Beckett and Coetzee’s In the Heart of the Country’. Lurie: Comique et gravité dans Disgrace’. 13) Of course. M. 135–47.

. ‘J. ‘Samuel Beckett’s Lessness: An Exercise in Decomposition’. ‘Happy Days in the Veld: Beckett and Coetzee’s In the Heart of the Country’. Birchwood. The Works of Ford Madox Ford. Disgrace. Doubling the Point (ed. M. Coetzee: South Africa and the Politics of Writing. Youth. in J. London: Harvill Secker. Philosophy. [PhD Thesis] — (1972–3). he describes the manuscripts as having been written ‘on a farm in the south France. J. London: Secker & Warburg — (2002). 20. 7. Boyhood. J. Boxall. and in a later piece reprinted in Doubling the Point. ‘Interview’ with Richard Begam. University of Cape Town: [MA Thesis] — (1969). 195–198. (1994). and E. Coetzee’. Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000–2005. M. Psychiatry and Psychology. ‘Review of Deirdre Bair. (1963). London: Secker & Warburg. 1–7. Contemporary Literature. Cantor. Coetzee. M. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 419–431. 5–7. Coetzee (10). Diary of a Bad Year. ‘Nabokov’s Pale Fire and the Primacy of Art’. London: Secker & Warburg. Knowlson (eds. Coetzee mentions that Watt was written in France between 1941 and 1944. — (1992). — (1993). David (1993). 10. 301–317. Banville. — (1977). Attwell. Beckett Remembering/Beckett Remembered. something his novels will explore fully. The Beckett Trilogy: Molloy. — (1994). Peter (2006). — (1980). — (1979). London: Picador. 83–110. — (1999). suggests that the dissertation’s close indicates Coetzee’s interest in the consequences of historical rootedness. The English Fiction of Samuel Beckett: An Essay in Stylistic Analysis University of Texas. ‘Fictional Beings’. Berkeley: University of California Press. London: Secker & Warburg. Computers and the Humanities. in J. 5. — (2006). M. — (2005). London: Secker & Warburg. London: Picador. London: Secker & Warburg. The Unnameable. 86–89. — (1974). — (1997).Sex. S.). 93. David Attwell). London: Macmillan. UCT Studies in English. Paul A. 2. London: Harvill Secker. ‘Homage’. — (2007b). 4. ‘Since Beckett’. Cape Town: David Philip. John (1998). Watt. — (1982). (1979). — (2007a). 74–76. 33. 9. — (2003). 53. London: Secker & Warburg. London: Bloomsbury. South Atlantic Quarterly. Textual Practice. Threepenny Review. ‘Remembering Texas’ (1984). 133–134. — (1988). Slow Man. Comedy and Influence: Coetzee’s Beckett 21 89 In the final paragraph of his dissertation. In the Heart of the Country. — (1992). Waiting for the Barbarians. Beckett. UCT Studies in English. Works Cited Attwell. Dusklands. Samuel Beckett: A Biography’. 2. hiding out from the Germans’ (51). Malone Dies. The Master of Petersburg. London: Secker & Warburg.

Lurie: Comique et gravité dans Disgrace’. ‘L’épuisé’ in Beckett. Ariel. M. Gilbert (2000).90 J. Wood. Stavroguine. Deleuze. — (2003). Truth-Telling and SelfDeception’. Minako Okamuro et al. ed. Angela Richards). ‘Byron.. (1992). The Translingual Imagination. Hayes. ‘J. Steven G.’ Borderless Beckett/Beckett sans frontiers. Freud.). G. 31. ed. — (1985). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 23. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 4. M. 55–106. 117–137. Yeoh. Paris: Minuit. Coetzee and Samuel Beckett: Nothingness. 44. (2000). 20. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes. 331–348. 135–147. ‘Eight Ways of Looking at Samuel Beckett. S. in Jean-Paul Engélibert (ed. (1976). Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction. ed. Patrick (2007). Harmondsworth: Penguin. S. Coetzee et la littérature européenne: Écrire contre la barbarie. 25. M. . Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (Pelican Freud Library 6. Coetzee and Samuel Beckett: Ethics. Quad. 4. Art and Literature (Pelican Freud Library 14. Coetzee in Context and Theory — (2008). London Review of Books. J. ‘J. Kellman. James (2003). Albert Dickson). M. Minimalism and Indeterminacy’. ‘A Frog’s Life’.

Part II Theory .

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the eponymous slow man. Further. it is Rayment. solved the problem of sex rather well’ (1999a: 1). explicitly raises the question of the role of desire in the process of writing.Chapter 7 Writing Desire Responsibly Rosemary Jolly The conclusions of both Disgrace and Slow Man describe a parting. not vice versa. Paul Rayment). while the author may ‘take’ responsibility for the desire to create. Lurie ‘gives up’ the wounded dog for which he has taken responsibility. Lurie conceives (so to speak) of ‘the problem of sex’ in economic terms. through the invocation of Elizabeth Costello. divorced. or whether he is letting himself off the hook of having to care for a suffering creature. figure devious desire and responsibility for such desire? Disgrace opens with the instantly engaging reflection of the infamous Lurie in Coetzee’s accustomed free indirect discourse: ‘For a man of his age. In Slow Man. explaining that she is inadequate to his desire. to his mind. of which half goes to Discreet Escorts. How. Paul Rayment formally takes his leave of Elizabeth Costello. Elizabeth Costello) wields overwhelming authority over his or her character (say. Slow Man concludes. this in no way means that the author (say. Paul Rayment and Elizabeth Costello figure the relation between author and character as one driven by desire – especially devious desire. who dismisses the advances of his figurative author. When Paul Rayment ‘gives up’ Elizabeth Costello. the writer we first meet in The Lives of Animals. do Coetzee’s representations of sexual relations. he also thinks of sex as a need which he fulfils with the least expenditure of energy on his part: ‘He lives within his . Not only does he comment on how much he pays ‘Soraya’ – R400 for ninety minutes. Slow Man. the decision requires some negotiation between desire and responsibility. possibly having decided that euthanasia is in the dog’s best interests (Coetzee 1999a: 220). or even if these two conceits are anything but mutually exclusive. explaining that he does not love her (Coetzee 2005: 263). It is also a relation terminated by the failure of desire. fifty-two. he has. Whether Lurie is putting the dog out of the dog’s misery. implying that the act of novel-making itself is sustained by desire. and those between author and character. In Disgrace. then. Indeed.

for all the debates about (ambiguous) closure in Disgrace. rape. framing desire within an economy of financial and emotional expenditure is itself unsatisfying. he comes to such a radical understanding. it is that his act of fiction-making is despotic. Coetzee’s previous fiction abounds with explorations of different sorts of makers of fiction. Jacobus Coetzee. he has not forgotten the last chorus of Oedipus: Call no man happy until he is dead’ (2). M. tells us that sex with Dutch girls. author. should not entail. is non-reciprocal. I risk inviting a metaphysical understanding of what is meant by reading. The acts of rape that Coetzee’s fiction depicts involve fantasy on the part of the perpetrators. Lurie’s acting-on-desire. and he recognizes that he exceeds it. Coetzee’s earliest internationally published fiction. he believes he is. except across the differential registers of character and reader. this does not necessarily entail. Lurie’s configuration of ‘the problem of sex’. they are quintessential enactments of desire without responsibility. The erotic vision it represents is an extreme version of sex without consequence or responsibility. While the metafictional aspect of Slow Man showcases relations between author and character.1 ‘Reading’ is not a metaphysical act. precisely because his fiction is imposed on his victim. at the beginning of Disgrace. without regard to or for others. yes. the disposal of the dogs’ bodies. precisely. If. This particular act of desire is not witnessed by anyone other than the reader: in Disgrace. within his emotional means’ (2). and indeed. even if it is ‘a moderate bliss. we) can say why. As such.94 J. protagonist of the second novella. Lurie acts on his desires to ensure immediate pleasure with the least expenditure of responsibility on his part. the offspring of the white . However. other than the reader. no one. it is an ethic of Coetzee’s fictional practice to recognize that. his perverse desire to incinerate the corpses of dogs to avoid the mutilation of their (dead) bodies marks a difference. suggests that. In the end. and Coetzee poses it: ‘Is he happy? By most measurements. However. exemplify these differential registers and the relations between them. in which no material bodies are involved and therefore no violation actually can be registered as having taken place. denying her any alternative ‘reading’ of the violation. It is not that the rapist has no fiction-making ability. The language of moderation. Coetzee in Context and Theory income. the warning of the chorus from Oedipus. in the long run. The question that follows is obvious. while the medium of writing is made up of words that comprise figurative constructs. Dusklands. By using the term ‘reading’. character and sometime reader of both Costello and her writings. Elizabeth Costello. would appear to be how to fulfil desire while minimizing any responsibility that could emerge through the pursuit of that desire. and the fantasy of mastery. is there to reward Lurie’s piety – not even the dogs. one can at least conclude that this economy has failed Lurie. but an embodied practice. the denial of material bodies. within his temperament. and Paul Rayment. even if neither he (or for that matter. makes clear the link between the erasure of otherness. Even Lurie seems taken aback that this approach appears to render him blissful. then. a moderated bliss’ (6). The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee.

unlike her father. ‘It won’t hurt’ and ‘Everyone likes it’ (1977b: 107). . She is the ultimate love you have borne[. is what she should ‘learn’ in order to be initiated into society as a female subject. by her pitiful assumption that rape. he tells us. I am still raw.] your own desires alienated in a foreign body and pegged out waiting for your pleasure.2 Magda. cannot pay him his wage. ‘Do you like what we do? Hendrik. like Rayment. the freedom of the abandoned.. to understand the sensation. that her current reality may be inadequate to her desire. His mouth is not smiling. She has seen you kill the men that represented power to her. (1974: 61) Figures of this scenario. She has given up the ghost. You lose your freedom .5 ‘Am I now a woman?’ she asks herself (and us). Do you understand what I am telling you ?’(111) We. and cannot be raped without consequence. . but she suspects. affords no pleasure. recur in Coetzee’s subsequent fictions. and there is no doubt that she is in acute physical pain.. . You have become power itself now and she is nothing. she is flooded in its stead with your will. sex without mutuality. repeated with difference. because Dutch girls embody property and therefore power. ‘Has this made me into a woman?’ She reflects that when Hendrik creeps into her bed and ‘takes’ her ‘It hurts. Whereas a Bushman girl is tied to nothing. As befits the parody of a Karoo spinster. like Lurie. this is something he allows me.4 The rape is Magda’s first experience of sexual intercourse. I know nothing. a rag you wipe yourself on and throw away. narrator of In the Heart of the Country. puzzled by the fact that. but smiling is not the sole sign of happiness. She can kick and scream but she knows she is lost. . but I try to relax. she has seen them shot down like dogs. he rapes her. That is the freedom she offers. . as readers. is a parody of the farmhouse spinster who sees no-one other than the servants and the odd messenger. I don’t know whether you like what we do. and in terms of their fiction-making correlatives: author-despots who dictate to their characters – propagandists – like Eugene Dawn. . coerced sex. Magda tries to build a relationship within this economy of rape in exchange for the withdrawal of material goods. When Hendrik discovers that Magda. though as yet it has no form’ (110). as Hendrik tells her. literally nothing. In the . What she seems to be telling us is that she has no access to a discourse of mutuality outside of abuse.3 We are not surprised.. With a Dutch girl. but may be moved. are included as the addressees of her question. both in terms of characters who rape other characters. She may be alive but she is as good as dead. then.Writing Desire Responsibly 95 colonists. as if it were the foundation of social and sexual intercourse: I run my fingers over Hendrik’s face.

or Jacobus Coetzee. Coetzee’s fiction consistently challenges this kind of repression. or Joll. M. At this stage. because.’ and the proof that it is the pain it feels. the need to desire. The body with its pain becomes the counter to the endless trials of doubt. ‘the gun saves us from the fear that all life is within us. It does so by laying at our feet all the evidence we need of a dying and therefore a living world’ (1974: 79).6 Jacobus Coetzee expresses the need to kill and the need for violent intercourse within the same breath: he needs to kill. reformulating it when necessary as a regrettable or sinful impulse. the (human) character may exercise violence against that which reminds him of the ‘threat’ of need (such as Eugene Dawn. the body is not ‘that which is not. Coetzee recognizes the use he makes of fiction to assert the vulnerability of being embodied. our ‘sensation’ of Magda as a character takes the ‘form’ of unfulfilled desire. to destroy the object of desire in a doomed attempt to eradicate the vulnerability desire itself entails. Coetzee in Context and Theory Heart of the Country is saturated by Magda’s discourse of unfulfilled desire: her entry into mutually coercive relations with Anna and Hendrik brings no joy to either her or the reader. When the desire for the other mutates into the need to deny the other. The problem with this is that it resurrects hypocrisy on the one hand and confession on the other as coping mechanisms for a situation in which desire is censored and the human character attempts to reduce itself by denying desire as itself a need. like David Lurie at the beginning of Disgrace. the character in Waiting for the Barbarians). Repression in this instance performs a resolution of the tension between desire and responsibility: repression is invoked in order to enshrine responsibility. I see a simple (simple-minded?) standard erected. the metaphysical schema resurrected by such repression creates violence – often physical – in its wake. In the Heart of the Country presents a very different picture.96 J. Whatever else. both narrators of Dusklands. one that we overlook or judge at our own peril. and should therefore be denied. In an oft-quoted passage from Doubling the Point. Magda figures not desire expressed as need. the character may invoke a rhetoric of economy in relation to those elements that confound his attempts to deny or minimize desire. and to get rid of desire together. or. or the assumption that all desire is perverse. we may say that as readers. but rather. That standard is the body. Denial of desire. Against the suffering of the body he pits fictions that use the materiality of fiction – reading as an act of engagement – against bodily suffering: If I look back over my own fiction. he says. Paraphrasing her own narrative. Here Jacobus Coetzee confuses need and desire. (One can get away with such . constitutes precisely the kind of Calvinist repression that André Brink speaks so persuasively against in Mapmakers: Writing in a State of Siege (1983).

for reasons of power. the latter of which by definition does not yet exist. but rather to the other that is both the desire-to-write and the desire-to-be-written. not for ethical reasons (I would not assert the ethical superiority of pain over pleasure). one can’t in philosophy. The book about going off with the guerrillas. why is the liberated South Africa not the hero of the story?8 The answer Coetzee gives Attwell. however much I might have wanted to have written it – that is to say. Disgrace fulfils the predictions of those writers who viewed the transition to democracy in South Africa as an opportunity to write about personal relations. the desiring body were to take authority? Further. It is not possible. (1992: 248) As is clear from his first parenthetical statement in this meditation on the body. what would happen if. The emphasis falls not on one but on the word want in all its own resistance to being known. referencing Life & Times of Michael K. One doesn’t write the books one doesn’t want to write. but for political reasons.7 I make this claim because Disgrace seems to ask the question.. does not join the guerrillas in an alternative. and is. Let me put it baldly. While many have perceived Disgrace as a novel out of joint with the times. David Attwell questions Coetzee as to why Michael K.) . do I want-to-write? (208) I read this as a version of a question that could be. . suggests that the desire to write is tied up with a responsibility that has nothing to do with a general responsibility towards an extant community of others. as well as Life & Times of Michael K. Denial of desire is tantamount to denial of the body. in South Africa it is not possible to deny the authority of suffering and therefore of the body. In the case of Disgrace. in addition to the suffering body. .Writing Desire Responsibly 97 crudeness in fiction. and has been. I’m sure. wanted to be the person who had successfully brought off the writing of it. related to the denial of suffering. is not a book I wanted-to-write. asked about Disgrace. in an ironic way. a desire Coetzee terms ‘what’ [the author] wants-to-write’? In Doubling the Point. the book in the heroic tradition. then. heroic version of Life & Times of Michael K. remains to be invented. . wanted enough to be able to bring off. the question would be. What. And let me again be unambiguous: it is not that one grants the authority of the suffering body: the suffering body takes this authority: that is its power. in this sense. responsibility is not about denial of desire: ‘I would not assert the ethical superiority of pain over pleasure’ (248). what would it mean for the author to take responsibility for (his) desire. not for logical reasons. One writes the books one wants to write. rather than to comment on the broader political ‘state of the nation’.

This is something else. (246) Coetzee describes the novel as less a thing and more a place where one goes everyday for several hours a day for years on end. . fails to live up to the measure of heroism his bicycle accident may have precipitated: . Elizabeth Costello. even one’s material interest. one’s own very best interest. Coetzee in Context and Theory Coetzee associates this wanting-to-write with a giving up of oneself – a possession of the writer – who is responsible only when s/he gives him/herself over to the act of writing: Stories are defined by their irresponsibility: they are. that concludes the novel: . every hair. renewed his sense of the preciousness of life. What happens in that place has less and less discernable relation to the daily life one lives or the lives people are living around one. character. Marijana is behind them now. takes a good look at her. He puts on his glasses again. (205). He is trapped with the same self as before. Whatever the process is that goes on when one writes.. Enough to drive one to drink. only greyer and drearier. escaping death ought to have shaken him up. take over. to maintain that respect.’ The feel of writing is one of freedom. and he is left with Elizabeth Costello. In the clear lateafternoon light he can see every detail. (54) In the end. Something less. incapable of precipitating action as a character should. in the judgment of Swift’s Houynhnhms. a fictional rendering of what this process of writing involves. . . opened windows inside him. in her words. of course. She finds him ‘slow’. turns. ‘this is not love. by his own admission. it is Paul Rayment’s rejection of Elizabeth Costello’s attempted manipulation of him. . Other forces. another dynamic. The analogy to giving birth does not escape Paul Rayment: but why should he push to ‘give birth’ to her invention? Instead. .’ he says at last. of responsibility toward something that has not yet emerged. It has done nothing of the sort. author. ‘that which is not. signalled by his antipathy to her physical embodiment. of irresponsibility. I propose. and Paul Rayment. . one has to have some respect for it. ‘no.’ (263) . to ‘push’ (2005: 204). entertain a mutual antipathy. unable. then he examines his heart. every vein. Slow Man is. that lies somewhere at the end of the road. he allows events to ‘befall’ him (21) and. M. He examines her. or better.98 J. It is in one’s own interest.

with Paul Rayment’s perverse desire for an impossible relationship with Marijana. Farodia Rassool wants him not only to plead guilty. I will not try to describe. but who is to say the perpetrator is sincere in the performance of his confession?10 Yet there is another element of Lurie’s performance that bears scrutiny. (52) . Dr. This does not entail my affirmation of the relationship he develops with Melanie. he refuses to engage with the process any longer: He shakes his head. all that is demanded from a perpetrator who has committed politically motivated crimes is confession and contrition. may be required for ‘that which lies somewhere at the end of the road’ to emerge. and that any other reading of his encounter with her at her flat participates in Lurie’s metaphysical delusion that it is ‘not quite rape. indeed. She wishes to see contrition in Lurie’s response. When she asks him whether his response reflects his ‘sincere feelings’. That is preposterous. as character. not being a poet. What. we may ask. After that I was not the same. but reads no such element in his bearing or speech. to suggest that he is no longer attracted to young girls like Melanie. In the case of this reader. now you want more. is what has created the substance of Slow Man as a fiction. Suffice it to say that Eros entered. are we to make of his patently absurd ‘confession’: that when he passed Melanie in the old college gardens: Words passed between us. with the perverse and grumpy Paul Rayment himself. I have argued elsewhere that Lurie rapes Melanie. with Elizabeth Costello. but also to outline precisely what he is being censured for. in its crudest form. one whom we think we may never respect. or what Derek Attridge calls ‘literature in the event’ (Attridge 2004). character-narrator with whom we inhabit space in close proximity. Let us go back to playing it by the book. even despicable. Lurie is another grumpy. this can easily be read as a criticism of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in which. ‘I have said the words for you.Writing Desire Responsibly 99 Yet inhabiting space – as author. vocally performed. undesired to the core’ (Coetzee 1999a: 25). and his refusal to accrue to the University committee that hears the case against him the status of anything other than secular authority.9 What is attractive about Lurie here is his refusal to lie. That is as far as I am prepared to go. but undesired nevertheless. not that.’ (1999a: 55) As others have pointed out. you want me to demonstrate their sincerity. I plead guilty. old and often unattractive. as reader -. the perverse and unwanted author. what (perversely) engages my admiration is Lurie’s refusal to deny his attraction to Melanie. That is beyond the scope of the law. I have had enough. and at that moment something happened which. As author or as reader. inhabiting space with a none-too-attractive character.

is not simply facetious: Lurie admits that his desire is indecipherable to himself (which is not the same as absolving himself from responsibility for that desire. as in the imposition of metaphysical constructs that deny the resistance of the other. caricatures of the human character. while Magda represents the impossibility of a desiring body who attempts to subsist on rhetoric. Eugene Dawn and Jacobus Coetzee present the (spurious) rationality of Cartesian politics. but like all desires (. and. This does not mean. that creative work is associated with inscrutable desire: Lurie’s opera. to achieve their own ends. does not fully know itself. however. This rehearsal of Coetzee’s earlier fiction allows us to see the novels including and subsequent to Waiting for the Barbarians in a certain perspective: the perspective of a writer who understands what is at stake in refusing to see writing character as writing. while in one sense obviously facetious. including the desire that drives the present writing) the desire for freedom is devious. if not selfrighteous colleague (51). later in the same essay. inscrutable. he tells his confident. he maintains that ‘Freedom of expression is desirable. a position to which he comes perilously close on occasion. and therefore cannot explain it. In ‘The Harms of Pornography’. In the second place. ‘The interests and desires of human beings are many times more complex. not yours. at least before he leaves for the Eastern Cape). What the character of Lurie demonstrates. a chapter in Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship. characters whose actions follow . In the first place. and what Coetzee here argues for explicitly. even to the extent of ignoring corporeal suffering. his answer to the committee. and opaque to their subjects than she seems to allow’. that desire is thus licensed to exercise itself in ways that violate the other. in a sense. in the same sense that Coetzee argues that MacKinnon simplifies relations between men and women ‘to the point of caricature’. Coetzee takes on a character of whom Farodia Rassool may be seen to be a parodic embodiment: Catherine MacKinnon on the relations between pornography and the abuse of women. It is the very absurdity of Lurie’s response that speaks a certain truth: Lurie is aware that he does not understand his own desire. Coetzee argues (62). as though it were ‘finished’. on the one hand. One of his key objections to MacKinnon is that she assumes men are conscious of and understand their own desire. . Coetzee’s early fictions then are. and he is equally clear that the impulse that led him to approach Melanie Isaacs and ask her to his house was not ungovernable (52). devious. ‘simplified to the point of caricature’ (1996: 62). to Farida Rassool or anyone else. is that desire cannot know itself. Coetzee in Context and Theory Lurie is clear that this is not a defence. thus she produces a Manichean allegory of the relations between men and women. M. even in the face of the fact that he himself realizes at the time that his attentions are ‘undesired to the core’ (1999a: 25). cannot afford to fully know itself’ (74). Unequivocal examples of this would be Jacobus’ rape of the ‘Bushman girl’ and Lurie’s imposition of his desire on Melanie at her flat. Lurie insists on the right to mental privacy: ‘What goes on in my mind is my business. Farida’. Coetzee’s writing.100 J. .

afraid of writing. in fictional form. We might be tempted to assume this as cliché. Coetzee’s fictions explore the relations between what we may call. or. the challenge for the author who wants-to-write characters that are not caricatures becomes one in which the author is no longer the origin of character but. One need only remember they involve one abortion and one desertion of a young woman from the home country. which are disastrous. nothing will happen. and the man is not supposed to wait for the woman’s approach. It is precisely the desire to ‘host’ the space of writing that is evident when characters engage in the bathetic rather than the heroic. following Coetzee himself. to all intense and purposes. . character and narrator meet on mutual terms (Graham 2006). In view of this. On the contrary. . but the series of actual sexual encounters upon which he embarks.. He is the man. . What most readers of Youth will remember is not the narrator’s idealized versions of sexual and creative engagement. desire to the act of artistic creation.Writing Desire Responsibly 101 logically from a character seen as ‘given’. In his texts. Here writing is that which ‘gives birth’ to relations of mutuality without coercion: relations between author and character. afraid of women. after Coetzee-the-youth makes love to her. He is attracted to . defining their success in terms of the (imaginary) mistresses he attributes to them. for the body of the other – corporeal desire – is closely associated with the desire to produce artistic creations. it is the woman who is supposed to wait for the man. the maker.. a ‘slow man’. who merely has to fill out the predictable details.. desire for the other. passionate love affairs in order to write. even perverse. in love or in art . There is another and more brutal way of saying the same thing . Youth treats the cliché with heavy irony from beginning to end. the poet. devious. critiques that risk mirroring. Unless he wills himself to act. Thus the young Coetzee reflects that He is well aware that his failure as a writer and his failure as a lover are so closely parallel that they might as well be the same thing. . But the cliché is reworked in ways that Coetzee’s protagonist-writers could not have envisioned when they first took on responsibility for the impulse to write by acting upon it. on the other. The young Coetzee tries to imagine the lives of great writers and emulate them. the diatribes of Calvinist repression. (2002: 166–7) The young Coetzee is. Marianne. . the active principle. The most brutal way is to say that he is afraid. is acting on the desire-to-write by constituting writing as the medium in which author. critiques that produce characters on the verge of being incorporeal altogether. and character and reader. as Lucy Graham has argued. ridiculing (but not dismissing entirely) the narrator’s sense that the artist must have interesting. . born fully fledged into the mind of the author. writing critiques of how the contemporary human character sees itself.

(126) The recognition of the attraction of the forbidden is resurrected when he decided to have sex with Marianne: ‘She is not his cousin. To erase the attraction between Verceuil and Elizabeth Curren is to censor desire on the part of the elderly narrator. as an Aryan huntress.12 In Age of Iron. responsibility and writing? . stored since childhood and now released in a rush of sexual feeling? That. He senses precisely the perverse mixture of the other and the familiar that leads him to fantasize about Ilse. before he sees her. a family. itself a perverse relative of hers. Ilse. They are women. that comprises Elizabeth Curren’s attraction to Verceuil. who is both repellent and familiar – repellent in his lack of hygiene. but she is his cousin’s friend. his abusive language. body to body. who takes up residency in her in a parody of the pregnancy that produced the addressee of her discourse – the daughter in America. and actually act upon that desire with her friend. Coetzee in Context and Theory Marianne because she is the friend of his cousin. What is it about his girl cousins. his crassness. even the idea of them. M. M. of easiness: two people with a history in common. Key to the aesthetic J. He imagines his cousin. The impulse to write is also accompanied by the visitation of Verceuil. she appears as ‘an ordinary moon-faced girl who wheezes when she talks’ (2002: 127). and an air of illegitimacy hangs excitingly around her’ (128). However. she is from home. does the realm of the dead have to do with desire. a truth about the inspiration of the elderly and the homeless to shed appearances and seek comfort in the face of death. a country. precisely. Elizabeth Curren’s writing is initiated by her cancerous growth. Coetzee-the-youth is not as innocent as the contrast between his fantasies and the reality may at first suggest.102 J. rather than to acknowledge the confusing mixture of the fascination of an abomination. who is herself therefore out of bounds. girl against boy. yet familiar in the truth he embodies. a blood intimacy from before the first word was spoken. The relation between dying and the embrace of the lover is clearly played out in the novel’s closing scene. but they are from his country. they are associated with his sense of the familiar: In his fantasy he recognises the erotic tingle. But what. Coetzee develops in Youth is precisely the juxtaposition of the ecstasy of desire with the tawdry reality of the proto-artist’s attempt to fulfil those desires. but he does not know that she is in fact a virgin – a fact that he discovers when she bleeds copiously after the act. and the promise of ease. that sparks desire in him? Is it simply that they are forbidden? Is that how taboo operates: creating desire by forbidding it?11 Or is the genesis of his desire less abstract: memories of tussles. Marianne. perhaps. despite the fact that neither woman is described in physically attractive terms – quite the contrary. and the desire for comfort and physical intimacy. that strange country to the youth.

‘but her lips are trembling too’ (263). tries on the white summer suit Pavel has left behind. it is not surprising that. The author brings the character to life. Pavel. whose shapes protrude from the surface of the ground. Paul Rayment reflects on the exclusion of the dead from the list of relatives he is asked to provide on the form he is handed to fill out by the social worker in the hospital: ‘Those into whose lives you are born do not pass away. Elizabeth Curren imagines walking over the faces of the dead. Attridge cites from Derrida’s ‘Psyche’ to outline the process of inventiveness involved in fiction-making a la Coetzee: One does not make the other come. he would like to inform whoever composed the question. searches to express his love for his son. ‘But what am I going to do without you?’ The writer is bereft without her character: ‘She seems to be smiling’. In view of this. He occupies Pavel’s room. Anna Sergeyevna. following in the tradition of Virgil. as in Dusklands. however – as Derek Attridge has carefully described – the narrative leads not to a conclusion of mourning. in Petersburg to discover the circumstances of the death of his stepson. in the face of the dictates of what Attridge describes in terms of Derrida’s arrivant. he tries Pavel’s life on. but what I wish to recast here as the desiring author. as it were. to use Lucy Graham’s term (2006: 219–20). in the attempt to reach Pavel over the gulf that separates the living and the dead. Elizabeth Costello. in turn. ‘at the conclusion of Slow Man’. speak. The author is not ‘anterior’ to character. the character will bring the writer back to life long after he or she is dead. Indeed. Dostoevsky. who had in turn been a friend of Pavel’s. did not express – while Pavel was alive.Writing Desire Responsibly 103 The dead have subjectivity in Coetzee’s fiction. Matryona. a love that he did not entertain – or at least. You bear them with you. S. where they do not. Tellingly. the writer desires to bring the dead back to life. If ever the conclusion of a novel were able to be put in the hands of a character rather than an author. Here desire. we are told. but his characters continue to be read. seems strangely dependent upon her Rayment character. the author. death and writing meet in a narrative of fictional creation that is anything but comforting. but a description of the art – the event. through the words she writes (176). Dante and T. Eliot. and develops a friendship with her young daughter. when she is about to be deserted by him. She is also obsessed with ‘the unquiet dead’ who. has an affair with Pavel’s landlady. as it were. in Attridge’s terms – of fiction making. The coming of the other or its coming back is the only possible . Costello asks Paul Rayment. making their presence felt beneath her feet (1990: 125). indeed. their exclusion as subjects is highlighted as an act of violence. In Age of Iron. as you hope to be borne by those who come after you’ (2005: 8). In taking this trajectory. In The Master of Petersburg. Responsibility to both the living and the dead is cast out. one lets it come by preparing for its coming. registered as immaterial. this is it.

the cost is great. Coetzee in Context and Theory arrival. ‘He has no difficulty’. Matryona. in which Dostoevsky’s Stavrogin. is formulated here as the refusal to calculate the cost of the vulnerability that desire entails. drawing the divine seed out of him’ (1994: 76). himself relishing the fact that he is titillating the curiosity of a young girl who sees himself and Anna in the act. All this is set in the context of The Possessed. ‘ecstatic – riding him. For Dostoevsky fantasizes about Anna’s daughter. and the betrayal of Anna Sergeyevna both in his use of her as a way to access Pavel. ‘in imagining this child in her ecstasy. in the uncensored version. in which Pavel sleeps with a young woman. not even an undecidable still caught up in the process of decision making. as the series of betrayals that constitute Coetzee’s fiction of the genesis of Dostoevsky’s The Possessed emerge. But the comfort is also a betrayal: he imagines a statue he has seen of the Indian God. and his use of her to enact his fantasy of using Matryona in the same way. the desire-to-read. violates his landlady’s elevenyear-old daughter – Matryosha. following the author in his desire-to-write. perhaps God does not hear very well. Shiva. of material economics. every other attempt (be it Jacobus Coetzee-like or Lurie-like) to control the interaction between ourselves and that which issues forth from the desire-to-write. exceed the calculability of reason. and the fact that. by gripping her shoulder. There is the betrayal of Dostoevsky’s wife in his sexual relations with Anna Sergeyevyna. even if the inventiveness of the greatest genius is needed to prepare to welcome it: to prepare to affirm the chance of an encounter that not only is no longer calculable but is not even an incalculable factor still homogenous within the calculable. M. Responsibility to desire. He betrays Matryona’s faith when she asks him why Pavel had to die. deliberately reducing her to tears by responding that perhaps Pavel means nothing to God. In The Master of Petersburg. dead on his back. For this is what he desires from Matryona: that she (using him as a conduit?) might draw the seed out of the dead Pavel. to the desireto-write or ‘invent’. just as he is aware – relishes even – the experience of seeing Matryona peer through the door at him and her mother in bed together – he knows that Matryona may well read his fiction of Pavel. He then comforts her when she turns to him. specifically. we are told. (2004: 341–2) What Attridge highlights in his reading of the key Coetzean texts is that the fictions demand that we as readers. Is this possible? Of course it is not.13 There is the actual betrayal of his stepson entailed in the perversion of mourning into the business of writing (which produces an entirely unfavourable portrait of Pavel as a young man). His imagination seems to have no bounds’ (76). but it is not invented. and that is why it is the only possible invention. with a goddess. the affectionate appellation of Matryona often used by the other characters of The Master of Petersberg for Coetzee’s Matryona – and fails to take steps to prevent her from committing suicide. . and following this.104 J.

Key to writing. Attridge notes. stories that were then spread by the malice of Turgenev (2004: 136). N. will prevent serious writers from exploring the darker areas of human experience. Yet what does it mean. In this sense – despite the fact that The Master of Petersburg is blatantly a fiction. Perhaps the paucity of commentary on this lesson has to do with its anomalous nature. then. in the end. irresponsible to everything but what Coetzee terms what the author wants-to-write. because the question itself raises the spectre of censorship: state censorship and selfcensorship. key to the inventiveness of the genius awaiting the arrivant. for us to expect the writer to expect the unexpected. such as that of the Coetzeean Dostoevsky who imagines Matryona in her ecstasy. against censorship. M. that stories of Dostoevsky’s violation of a girl appear to stem only from his reading of the banned chapter to his friends. which is the betrayal of Dostoevsky by Coetzee: not only in the general and less intimate sense of creating a fiction that replaces the unknown genesis of The Possessed. when the unexpected requires the author to host perverted desire. in one sense. Coetzee. it may seem . does that let us off the hook? For. is an imagination that has no bounds. not in terms merely of time. to desire-to-write what the Elizabeth Costello of the lessons calls. such as that of the writer who is. not on the rights of readers but on the responsibility – may we say even the desire – of the author: ‘Neither legal bans on pornographic representation nor the chilling climate of censure or social disapproval . In view of this. ethically. following Joseph Frank.Writing Desire Responsibly 105 Then there is another betrayal. . this time not noted by Attridge. ‘The Problem of Evil’. ‘evil’? This is not a question that is often raised. especially sexual relations: note that we do not get a representation of intercourse that is not rape until the scene of Lurie’s patronizing sex with Bev Shaw in Disgrace. But is this spectre a sufficient deterrent to direct us away from the question raised so startlingly by Elizabeth Costello? And even if Costello’s voice should not and cannot be aligned with that of the author J. not incidental – to his craft. basing his argument. Here we have. The question is simply: ‘at what cost to them?’ (1996: 74). despite her consciousness of its anachronistic essentialism. Coetzee has spent the better part of his career representing the abhorrent side of human relations. and the commitment. who depends upon V. . an account of the responsibility one has to have to the desire-to-write. but of the energy required to host the fiction. cost should not – and indeed cannot – be counted. such as that of the Coetzee who betrays Dostoevsky. by definition. in that Pavel outlived Dostoevsky – Coetzee’s fiction seems to underwrite the perverted desire in The Master of Petersburg as Dostoevsky’s – as necessary. but in creating one that ascribes to Dostoevsky the desire to violate a girl-child. With this question in mind we can attempt a reading of that most neglected of Elizabeth Costello’s lessons. In Attridge’s reading of this process. Coetzee is arguing that the creation overmasters the writer by that very same writer’s desire. In Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship Coetzee argues against MacKinnon. Zakharov for his information. her creator.

Obscene because such things ought not to take place. places herself in a conundrum. To do so. The attack is not because Paul West is an inadequate writer. Coetzee in Context and Theory odd for Elizabeth to attack Paul West’s book. at West. which represents the attempted assassination of Hitler. and that is what she read. how the shit would run down their spindly old-man’s legs. the readers. as they are told ‘what would happen when the rope snapped tight. . to risk alienation. (158–9) Costello.106 J. as do their viewers. (2003: 158) Costello describes her reaction to West’s book: This is what Paul West had written about. There is a ruthlessness. the realm of the evil. and then obscene again because having taken place they ought not to be brought into the light but covered up and hidden forever in the bowels of the earth. sick with a world in which such things took place. contaminating space she sees Hitler occupying: One after the other to the scaffold they went. in a nondescript place that could have been a garage or equally well an abattoir. to Costello’s own account of West’s description of their deaths. sick with the spectacle. Commander-in-Chief. using the occasion of a conference in Amsterdam to do so. how their limp old-man’s penises would quiver one last time’. she muses about the source of West’s material. then. and be satisfied he had had his revenge.. in the place of the killing of the would-be assassins. She wants to convey the sense that evil exists. M. and that those who represent it themselves risk contamination. but with her notion that the repetition of those acts through representation extends the realm of the contaminated. imagining witnesses who write down in detail the fear of the prisoners as they are hung. at the committee of angels that watches impassively over all that passes. in the very same voyeuristic. as reader. sick with herself. for being ‘obscene’. until at last she sat with her head in her hands. page after page after page. under carbon-arc lights so that back in his lair in the forest Adolf Hitler. leaving nothing out. . and finally. the slack stillness of dead meat. would be able to watch on film their sobbings and then their writhings and then their stillness. is to risk being accused of censorship. however. Costello repeats what she sees as Paul West’s crime – and Hitler’s – in that she puts us. to risk being thought ‘old-fashioned’ through her association of evil not simply with acts themselves. On the contrary. Costello attacks Paul West and his book precisely because he is a gifted enough writer to put her. and the subsequent execution of the plotters. Obscene! She wanted to cry but did not cry because she did not know at whom the word should be flung: at herself. The Very Rich Hours of Count van Stauffenberg. and that it is a contaminating force. . a relentlessness. In quite probably the longest sentence Coetzee has ever written.

so that she ends up with multiple injuries and a wired jaw: It was her first brush with evil. evil. we never hear a voice other than Costello’s. saying she could not go through with the act of sex. . moving to the present tense. pragmatic. when the man’s affront subsided and a steady glee in hurting her took its place. She tells us something. it may even be that of the Devil himself’ (Watson. ‘You like that?’). By fighting him off she had created an opening for the evil in him to emerge. then the childish. . malicious destruction of her clothes. and if the other becomes evil. except for that of a question from the audience about whether Costello responds this way to West’s novel because she is ‘a weak[er] vessel’ than he is (175). He liked hurting her. This voice may be anything but benign. she says. she has never told anybody – a contradictory gesture. telling us the secret that is to be kept her own forever. The newness of the other brings difference. the other that is the writer is subsumed by the devil himself. well-adjusted citizens of the New Europe?’ (159). as Costello herself. She tells us of abuse she experienced when she was nineteen. do you?’ he whispered as he twisted her nipples. At this stage you may think I am beginning to sound as extreme. in Melbourne. no Blanche to put an opposing argument.Writing Desire Responsibly 107 Coetzee. unlike the other lessons. the writing self – may become the agent of that evil. then the self – even. first at her pain (‘You like that. and then apologized. Another conundrum: writing requires hosting the other. But Costello does give one practical example of what she means. as if to acknowledge the question he poses to himself about how the fiction might unfold should Costello make her case. we get Costello’s point of view but. either as character in terms of literary form. She allowed herself to be picked up. she could see it. asks: ‘How will Amsterdam react to Elizabeth Costello in her present state? Does the sturdy Calvinist word evil still have any power among the sensible. without knowing what the other may be(come). no Abraham Stern. There is no substantial ‘other’ with which to debate Costello’s point of view: no son. then begins to abuse her seriously. to be divided. What language can Costello use that will not register her argument as banal? Interestingly. one might say the necessity] of being overtaken by another voice. or orator in thematic terms. But to be double is to open oneself to the possibility [and here Attridge adds. The man thinks it is a game. (166) . writing. or even a different point of view. probably liked it more than he would have liked sex . or most particularly. ‘The Writer and the Devil’ cited in Attridge 2004: 129). She had realized it was nothing less than that. went to the man’s flat. of course. no Nora. but if that other is evil.. Or as Stephen Watson so aptly puts it in his review of The Master of Petersburg: ‘To write one has to transgress. as off the wall. and it emerged in the form of glee. even double.

particularly sexual abuse. In Giving Offense. However. contaminate them despite the fact that they are victims. a cost not to be given up lightly. an egg of stone. is the fact that she has never revealed it to anyone. who seems in this lesson to be arguing for certain silences on behalf of the writer. he appears to support the rape victim-survivor who refuses to re-victimize herself by retelling her testimony for the purposes of prosecution because. In none of her stories is there a physical assault on a woman by a man in revenge for being refused . he argues. the courts may hold to a discipline of the guilty versus the innocent. for the reason Coetzee outlines here. a silence she hopes to preserve to the grave. but the court of public opinion has not relinquished a contradictory ‘moral’: that of honour versus shame (1996: 80). never made use of it. Coetzee is not in favour of any crass censorship. M. In this sense. what happened in the rooming house belongs to her and to her alone. rather than that of censorship.14 In some measure it is also due to the fact that shame trumps innocence that Lucy. . Coetzee. justify her position. it pleases her. M. What. after her rape in Disgrace. Coetzee is remarkably prescient of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in this respect. this silence of hers. the risk of betrayal. Obviously. why she has remembered it in connection with Paul West’s novel. of course. when one looks at the narratives of women who refused to testify to abuse. one that will never crack open. as Giving Offense testifies. despite the demands of the other who is both antagonist and muse of the writer. of the writer. . Indeed. never give birth. are remarkably futile. in fact. Costello herself realizes that her argument can be seen as some blunt form of censorship against representations of aggressive acts. So what does the preciousness of this silence represent? Obviously. She finds it good. appears to drive Coetzee’s pleas for certain silences. to the extent that the rape is told from Lurie’s. Coetzee has told Costello’s secret. (166) Once again. Coetzee is revealing it to us. there are other clues to what Coetzee may be up to in his representations of the relations between the telling of violent acts and the contamination that may be incurred in doing so. perspective. For half a century the memory has rested inside her like an egg. not Lucy’s. Lurie’s attempts to get Lucy to explain herself. Coetzee in Context and Theory Elizabeth Costello reflects that what is important about this episode. . and recoils from this possible judgement of her argument. To the extent that the representation of the rape – be it of Elizabeth Costello or Lucy – would raise the spectre or the reality of re-victimizing both of them as shamed – would. but nevertheless proceeds to make it. then. as are attempts to get Coetzee to speak of his own private life.108 J. and not the perpetrators of the evil inflicted upon them – silence would seem valuable in their cases. J. refuses to take her assailants to court. but he has not told Lucy’s.

thereby enacts. in the final paragraph of the novel. . Under the circumstances. forms a veritable parody of devious desire as the muse of fiction. that drives the critic’s will to write. here. Friday. For a reading of Magda as part and parcel of Coetzee’s parody of the plaasroman in In the Heart of the Country. the author. so that he cannot see the substitute Marianna she provides for him to have sexual intercourse with in the place of the unattainable Marijana. Notes 1 2 3 4 5 The pre-eminent figure of such embodiment can be found in Coetzee’s Foe (1986). is a moot point. does not stand. She covers his eyes in a mixture of flour paste. or whether Costello has somehow.as it may well be. In other words. I am limited by the strategic silences that prevent the author from betraying too much. In Elizabeth Costello he has the eponymous character describe her rape. see Dovey (1988). the body. albeit rendered in words. In exploring devious desire. wilfully blind to the author’s desires for him. For a reading of Dusklands as an analysis of relations between despotic mythmakers and disempowered ‘readers’ see Jolly 1996.Writing Desire Responsibly 109 despite the remarkable number of perverse desires his fiction describes and. I shall reference this narrative in the conclusion of my reading. Here bodies are not signs of metaphysical otherness. and on the other. where Friday’s corporeal being. so that the rape is anticipated by the reader in each repetition. Coetzee himself describes the features of the plaasroman he parodies in White Writing (1988). The encounter between. author. one prefers not to speculate as to the nature of the desire. delightfully obstructive of them. substituted herself. is nevertheless substantial. although immediately inaccessible to the narrator precisely because the narrator’s world is that of words. for a construct other than the body. wilfully blind to her character’s desire in her attempts to seduce him into her idea of who he ‘should’ be and who he ‘should’ desire. creating an effect of inevitability and endlessness. devious – perverse. impossibly. in Coetzee’s fiction. Marijana is not. even -. Elizabeth Costello presents us with a correlative of these constructed silences in the blindness she manufactures to obscure her desire from Paul Rayment. Whether one thinks that Costello. on the one hand. desire that does not and cannot know itself. pp 110–37. if we follow in the way of Elizabeth Costello’s reflections on West’s book. In keeping with Magda’s mode of narration. the rape is told a number of times. This is the first instance in which Coetzee narrates a rape from the perspective of the woman. has indeed procured the mysterious blind woman from the elevator for Paul Rayment’s enjoyment. She makes the substitution because she believes that Marianna is an appropriate and realizable vehicle for Rayment’s passion. is rendered by the unnamed narrator as one who lives in a place that is ‘not a place of words’ but ‘the home of Friday’ (157). here ‘bodies are their own signs’ (157). the character.

is specifically related to the perverse capacity to envision Matryona ‘in her ecstasy’ (Coetzee 1994: 76). like the youth Coetzee’s cousin. Graham (2006) citing Attwell in Doubling the Point (Coetzee 1992). Athens. relating it to ‘ek-stasis’. M. both published in 1977. sorrier. pp. See. M. not least because she is married. of course.’ says Attwell (2006: 35): the truth is spoken by a character least presumed to be able to speak the truth. his freedom to write. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event. being beside oneself. sorriest: The Gendering of Contrition in J. ‘Folly’s truth entails “a kind of ek-stasis. 25–41. a vacuum’ (1977b: 2). highlighting the poetics of failed reciprocity that attend upon both Coetzee’s reading of Achterberg’s ‘Ballade van de Gasfitter’ (Coetzee 1977a) and In the Heart of the Country. . null. Works Cited Attridge. is also ‘out of bounds’. In this respect. Athens. M. J. a state in which truth is known (and spoken) from a position that does not know itself to be in the position of truth”’ (Coetzee 1996: 94 cited in Attwell 2006: 35). Coetzee in Context and Theory 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 This unfulfilled desire is represented by Magda’s description of herself as ‘a zero. in Jane Poyner (ed. J.). Boehmer. Coetzee and the Idea of the Public Intellectual. pp. Coetzee and the Idea of the Public Intellectual. Coetzee’s Disgrace’. remarks on what Attwell calls Coetzee’s interest in ‘a poetics of failure’ (Coetzee 1992: 86). see Brink 1998 and Tlali 1998. For a discussion of the implicit censorship or silencing of particular subjects considered ‘inappropriate’ for fictional representation until the liberation of South Africa from apartheid had been accomplished. M. Marijana who.110 6 J. the core of Coetzee’s critique of the conservative relations between the censor and censored writer in Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship. ‘Sorry. citing Coetzee’s work on Erasmus’ The Praise of Folly. Head 2006 and Boehmer 2006. in fact. Ohio: Ohio UP. see Jolly 2006a. in Jane Poyner (ed. Marianne’s name is. Derek (2004). Attwell.). very close to that of the addressee of Paul Rayment’s passion. and as ‘a hole with a body draped around it’ (1977b: 41). This argument counters two articles of Marais’ on Disgrace (see Marais’ 2000a and 2000b). Dostoevsky’s imagining without bounds. For a brief rehearsal of the acidity with which Disgrace was received precisely because it does not represent the liberated South Africa as hero. Mapmakers: Writing in a State of Siege. Brink. See Jolly 2006b. London: Faber and Faber. J. Note that this is. Attwell. André (1983). See my argument against Michael Marais’ reading of Disgrace in Jolly 2006a. As such. Ohio: Ohio UP. David (2006) ‘The life and times of Elizabeth Costello: J. 135–47. Coetzee and the public sphere’. M. Elleke (2006). M. for example. ‘What is unique about Folly’s mode of truth is its positionality. a being outside of oneself. Chicago: Chicago UP. highlights the fact that Coetzee analyses the nature of the author-ity proposed in Erasmus.

Graham.). Scrutiny 2. paper presented at the Memory. ‘The possibility of ethical action: J. Craighall: Ad. Jolly. Coetzee. New York: Penguin.M. MA: Harvard UP. pp. In the Heart of the Country. 100–117. Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship. M. . pp. London: Secker and Warburg. (1988). (1).Writing Desire Responsibly 111 — (1998). J. Miriam (1998). The Novels of J. Athens. Coetzee’. Apartheid. Cambridge. Doubling the Point: J. Disgrace. Coetzee and the Idea of the Public Intellectual. Coetzee’s Enduring Faith in Fiction’. London: Secker and Warburg. Teresa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. The Master of Petersburg. Narrative and Forgiveness: Reflecting on Ten Years of South Africa’s truth and Reconciliation Commission Conference. 159–82. 92. Apartheid. ‘Interrogating silence: New possibilities faced by South African literature’. — (1994). 285–96. and shame’. Tlali. J. and Doniger. Amy Gutmann. in Derek Attridge and Rosemary Jolly (eds). Athens. pp. stigma. Ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Athens. Michael (2000a). — (2005). Ed. Lucy (2006). Age of Iron. in Derek Attridge and Rosemary Jolly (eds). 22–26 November 2006. ‘“Going to the Dogs”: Humanity in J. Singer P. ‘Achterberg’s “Ballade van de Gasfitter”: The mystery of I and you’. — (2006b). less than little: nothing”: Ethics. and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’.). Slow Man. in Jane Poyner (ed. Rosemary (1996). The Lives of Animals. M. M. Princeton: Princeton UP. engagement and change in the fiction of J. 14–28. M. M. Colonization. and Democracy 1970–1995. Johannesburg: Ravan. London: Secker and Warburg. pp. Marais. ‘“Interview” by Rosemary Jolly’. The Lives of Animals. 141– 4. and Democracy 1970–1995. (1). ‘“Little enough. — (1999b). Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Essays and Interviews. (2). Coetzee. — (2006a). Youth. 5. London: Secker and Warburg. — (1996). Coetzee’s Disgrace. Writing South Africa: Literature. Violence and Narration in White South African Writing. Coetzee and the Idea of the Public Intellectual. Dovey. David Attwell. Modern Fiction Studies. — (1977b). — (2000b). ‘Textual transvestitism: The female voices of J. — (1977a). 46. Writing South Africa: Literature. 57–63. London: Secker and Warburg. ‘A Belief in Frogs: J. W. Publications of the Modern Language Association of America. Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons. University of Cape Town. Cape Town. — (1999a). (1974). Ohio: Ohio UP. M. J. Coetzee: Lacanian Allegories. With Garber. ‘Haunting the domain of speakability: Women. Coetzee’s Disgrace’. Donker. — (2002). M. Coetzee and the Idea of the Public Intellectual. Dusklands. — (2003). 148–71. in Jane Poyner (ed. — (1992). Ohio: Ohio UP. in Jane Poyner (ed. pp. Dominic (2006). M. M. J. Athens. M. Ohio: Ohio UP. M. Ohio: Ohio UP. Head. 217–35.). — (1990). Coetzee’. London: Secker and Warburg and New York: Viking.

developed both in The Singularity of Literature and in J. a retired professor of classical literature. attempts to defend his work have often emphasized ways in which the literary might itself be taken seriously. Coetzee stages ‘the literary’ through the figure of Elizabeth Curren.Chapter 8 Literature.1 Yet Attridge’s reading of Age of Iron – a novel he rightly identifies as pivotal to our understanding of Coetzee’s handling of the politics of representation – is in practice more akin to the logic of rivalry. Coetzee argued that the novel is a process that ‘operates in terms of its own procedures and issues in its own conclusions. not one that operates in terms of the procedures of history and eventuates in conclusions that are checkable by history’ (3). In his 1987 lecture. M. History and Folly Patrick Hayes In response to the ways in which Coetzee’s writing has at times been felt to be an excessively ‘literary’ response to the serious political demands made upon the writer by the conflict in South Africa. His account emphasizes Elizabeth’s heroism: not her physical heroism (she does not join in the struggle in any literal way). Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading. but the seriousness of her ethical response to the demands made upon her by ‘the political’. But how seriously can we take Elizabeth? In the central episode of the book she is prevailed upon to drive her housekeeper to the township of Guguletu in the middle of the night. he argues. that literature should be construed as a pre-eminently ‘ethical’ space whose responsibility in relation to history lies in its openness to alterity. she responds to what she has seen in her own ethically serious way: a series of self-lacerating questions culminate in the desolate feeling that she ‘will never be . ‘The Novel Today’. upon arrival she is exposed to a nightmarish scene of political violence. who sympathizes with the aims of those who are resisting the South African state. To Coetzee’s claim for literary rivalry we might contrast Derek Attridge’s more nuanced argument. In Age of Iron. Claiming that the demands of the conflict in South Africa have forced literature and history into outright rivalry. but deplores the violence of their methods. Refusing to accept the ready-made moral definitions that are offered her. on this occasion Coetzee left his audience in no doubt as to which of these rivals he favoured.

and like her we may well wonder what these intrusive comic oddities are doing in the text. He did not wake. was Vercueil. Here we find him at his most ludicrous: his clownish appearance makes for a literally astonishing interruption of her serious thoughts. his trousers around his knees. its evasive (non)position inside/outside the play’ (1996: 103). his hat on his head. His long lean thigh was quite hairless. lies not in the strength of any alternative it is posing. yet in such a way that does not revert to formulations of rivalry. When it saw me it hung its ears guiltily and thumped its tail. Worrying at an old wrapping paper was the dog. I stared in astonishment. upon waking her sense of bewilderment and desolation remains: ‘I woke up haggard. he explains. on the contrary. which in fact revises his earlier view that the literary text should position itself as a rival to history. History and Folly 113 warm again’ (1990 and 1998: 108). The ‘power’ of such a text.Literature. Coetzee here attempts to outline the seemingly impossible idea of a ‘nonposition’. though his head lolled and his jaw hung open. And note that this is not a sad and serious old dog. It was night again. ‘Too much!’ I murmured. always fooling around and getting into trouble. as it is only by recognizing that she is in fact better seen as a fool than as a hero that we can begin to appreciate the jocoserious . ‘Too much!’ The dog slunk out. (108) ‘Vercueil’ is a vagrant of uncertain identity who has rather mysteriously taken up residence in Elizabeth’s home. spilling things over. For Elizabeth it is utterly exasperating that such clownish goings-on should interrupt her ethical temper. he slept as sweetly as a babe. To explore this curious idea of a ‘nonpositioned’ writing I must first outline the peculiar identity of Elizabeth. Where had the day gone?’ (108). which in The Praise of Folly involves the elaboration of a series of unstable and elusive ironies around the figure of the fool. It is from an attempt to preserve the distinctiveness of the literary as a mode of discourse. wallowing in rubbish. ‘little more than a pup’ (6). that Coetzee turns to folly and the ‘jocoserious’. She comes home and falls asleep.2 Reflecting upon the complex ways in which Erasmus’s text negotiates its historical situatedness. but ‘in its weakness – its jocoserious abnegation of bigphallus status. fast asleep. Then she goes downstairs: The kitchen door stood open and garbage from the overturned bucket was strewn all over the floor. but a silly young thing. Then she walks to the toilet: Sitting on the seat. I am going to argue that Age of Iron is best read alongside Coetzee’s 1992 essay on Erasmus’s The Praise of Folly (1509). (108) Wherever Verceuil and his dog go they make a mess: tripping up.

yet an appreciation of them will open up a new understanding of the highly sophisticated ways in which Coetzee chooses to handle the politics of representation. had the totalizing political systems of Central and Eastern Europe in the Cold War years very much in mind. and emphasized the value of the novel as a form able to challenge the intolerant certainties of history. His Jerusalem Prize Lecture (1987) draws attention to the address given two years previously by Milan Kundera. while the chivalric romance form of the Amadís was still popular by the beginning of the seventeenth century. completed by the conquest of Granada in 1492. too indirect to have any but the slightest and most belated effect on the life of the community or the course of history’. Coetzee in Context and Theory energies of this text. and then with the instant success and wide publication of Mateo Aleman’s Guzman de Alfarache (1599): . Alonso read many romances before madness overcame him. complained that he was constrained from joining Kundera in an equivalent tribute to the legacy of Cervantes. unlike the writer in Europe. but took as his main literary model Amadís de Gaula (1508) by Garcí Rodriguez de Montalvo. as Kundera put it. The relation of this address to Age of Iron will become clear if we reflect for a moment upon Cervantes’ comic masterpiece. embodied the equally moribund chivalric romance. too old-fashioned. Miguel Cervantes’ (1992: 98). he adverted. Kundera. The writer in Africa.S. however. which is to say that it spoke. the type of truths the novel might be able to tell are as old-fashioned and irrelevant as the chivalric romance was in the days of Alonso Quixano. she embodies this genre much in the same way that Alonso Quixano. Coetzee. According to Stephen Gilman. ‘being held safe as in a treasure chest in the history of the novel’ (164). over a hundred years before.114 J. implying that for the writer in South Africa. and this is the first clue that she should be recognized as a parodic version of the heroine of the long-outdated genre of the epistolary novel. Changed times had produced a literary reaction to romance in the form of the picaresque. when Cervantes began to compose Don Quixote. in grandest terms. We know Coetzee was thinking about Don Quixote around the time he began composition of Age of Iron. For a South African writer to embrace the novel as a serious rival to history is just as fantastical and doomed to ignominious failure as Alonso’s embrace of the chivalric romance. its popularity ‘resembled that of western romances shortly after the disappearance of [the U. first with the anonymous novella Lazarillo de Tormes (1554). another literary fool in the Erasmian tradition. As I will show.] frontier’ (4). Elizabeth’s literary identity is in fact well defined in terms of genre: Age of Iron is made up of an enormous letter to her daughter in America. Neither of these intertexts have so far been recognized in scholarly accounts of Coetzee’s novel. or Don Quixote. which ‘gave tribute to the first of all novelists. of the values and imperatives of the Spain of the reconquista. The precise terms of the reason he gives are interesting: Coetzee described the form of the novel as ‘too slow. cannot draw upon those resources at once aesthetic and ethical that are. M. of course.

to revive in it that of gold. the age in which his genre of chivalric romance was more meaningful. Rocinante (which translates roughly as ‘work-horse previously’). which the deluded and hapless Alonso repeatedly encounters. like Rocinante’ (18)). but ‘a dodo’ (28). History and Folly 115 this genre effectively turned the idealism of romance on its head by replacing the questing knight with a base-born observer. and the cruder. moreover. which mocks and bewilders him. instead of Amadis’ fair and noble steed. ‘the golden age’.3 Gilman emphasizes the ways in which Don Quixote invites a metafictional reading as a ‘collision of genres’ between the Quixotic idealism of the old romance form. If the reference to Rocinante did not suggest the relation between Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Coetzee’s Age of Iron (Elizabeth jokingly describes her decrepit Hillman car as ‘willing but old. an age in which things are not fixed and certain. The difference between these two dodos is that whereas Quixote wished to return the present age of iron to an age of gold.Literature. instead of his deeds winning respect and admiration. This is what she calls ‘the age of clay’ or ‘the age of earth’ (50). Quixote has an old nag. by the will of heaven. an age in which his values and his genre have no hold: Friend Sancho. Quixote is a worn-out old man. that. Like Quixote. more prosaic realism of the new picaresque. Both Amadís de Gaula and Don Quixote are advanced in years. as people usually express it. Quixote is forced to observe that he does not occupy the age of chivalry. Elizabeth wishes to return to a newer age. Just as any reading of Don Quixote that aims to appreciate Cervantes’ Erasmian play with the institution of literature in seventeenth-century Spain depends upon the reader’s skill in being able to recognize the hero as the embodiment of a moribund and old-fashioned – if nonetheless much loved – literary genre. then Quixote’s repeated invocations of the ‘age of iron’ he occupies of course must. and which defeats him every time: Cervantes requires the reader to recognize Alonso as the parodic incarnation of a moribund (if still much loved) literary genre. the ‘golden age’. Elizabeth is not only a ‘fossil from the past’ (72). or. just as Quixote sallies out on Rocinante to confront his ‘age of iron’. I was born in this age of iron. but whereas Amadis is miraculously free from the effects of aging.4 Elizabeth drives out in her own ‘Rocinante’ to confront the new reality that by turns ignores and despises her. but is instead faced with an ‘age of iron’. an age in fact opened up by the story of Alonso Quixano himself in 1605. you must know. by her own reckoning ‘the last of the dodos’ (28). . the new and crudely material world of the picaresque. quoting Hesiod. It is the age in which individuals and the importance of their ethical experience rose to pre-eminence in literature: Kundera’s age of the novel. or as he terms it. whose role was to portray everything that was hateful and dismaying about humankind from his ‘dog’s-eye’ view of the world. but malleable and open to doubt.

enter you and draw breath again’ (131). truth and love together at last’ in which ‘every you that I pen love flickers and trembles like Saint Elmo’s fire’ (129). . ‘a fossil from the past’ (72) if ever there was one.116 J. The foundationary Amadis de Gaula of the epistolary novel was of course Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740). to absorb’ (9). a museum piece. Words out of my body. for her to unpack in her own time. altered only by the chill air of parody. she keeps her letters hidden on her body. capable of literally embodying the heroine. Coetzee fashions her as a heroine from the form of the epistolary novel. as you read them. Elizabeth is still talking about ‘this letter from elsewhere (so long a letter!). symbolically.5 Like Pamela herself. Coetzee in Context and Theory so does a reading that wishes truly to take the measure of Age of Iron depend upon the reader’s ability to recognize Elizabeth Curren as a throwback. Why didn’t you ask my permission?’ . spread on thickly with a glutinous sentimentality. either stuffed into her bosom or sewn into her clothes. The return of Bheki and then the addition of John to the house leads to an irritable questioning of who is staying where. to which Bheki’s taunt. M. ‘Must we have a pass to come in here?’ (47) truly finds the mark. . drops of myself. too old-fashioned. and this ludicrous idea of incarnate language. a fool stuck in a bygone age. as if they really were a physical part of her. or even ‘a museum that ought to be in a museum’ (190) – not ‘Curren(t)’ at all. to take in. the violation of the intimate sphere of her house and its environs leads to some of Elizabeth’s greatest exasperation. because ‘tho’ I don’t remember all I wrote. and a great deal of hopeless foolishness is carried over from this ‘old fossil’ straight into Elizabeth’s letters. too indirect’ to be considered a serious rival to the ways of knowing and being now in the ascendant. Disconcerting. to suck. to find Elizabeth maintaining exactly the same mystified nonsense: ‘day by day I render myself into words and pack the words into the page like sweets . She is later enraged upon discovering that John has been sleeping in her car. which is as soft a target for critics of the novel’s claim to cultural authority as was the chivalric romance for Cervantes: ‘too slow. These words certainly are ‘old-fashioned drops’. Perhaps primary among the folly is her mystified belief in the privileged status of epistolary communication as a peculiarly direct and honest form. or insisting that ‘these words. perhaps. Habermas has argued that the creation and consumption of novels like the phenomenally successful Pamela was important to the creation of the forms of intimacy and privacy that would underpin the various institutions of the emergent bourgeois property-holding democracy. yet I know I wrote my Heart’ (230). Pamela feels she can vouch for the truth of her writing unproblematically. another cherished private space: ‘I hear you and your friend have been sleeping in my car. is never surrendered by Elizabeth: long after her crisis of self-doubt at Guguletu and her advice to distrust what she says.

B about Pamela is her lack of recognition for the imperatives of his essentially feudal schema of ownership and obligation. ‘Why didn’t you ask my permission? Answer me!’ The little girl stopped chewing. Elizabeth characteristically refuses to accept ready-made moral formulae: at Guguletu. and then allowing the audience to get inside it by reading those letters. Why was I behaving in this ridiculous fashion? (58) 117 As was the case with the ‘old-fashioned’ nature of her supposedly incarnate language. it is ludicrous to feature a mother as the heroine: from the Five Love-Letters from a Nun to a Cavalier (1678) through to Lady Wortley Montagu or Clarissa herself. this last example is as revealing of the differences between Pamela and Elizabeth as it is of their continuity. explaining that while these are ‘terrible sights’ that ‘are to be condemned’. in Women. History and Folly Silence fell. (Is it mere coincidence that Pamela Andrews’ mother was also called Elizabeth?) Ruth Perry emphasizes the centrality of sexual desire as a motive force in the literary innovativeness of the genre: Most early epistolary novels duplicate a woman’s consciousness by providing her letters. refers to as ‘the agonised individual consciousness’ (116) as the basis for ethical action. she ‘cannot denounce them in other people’s words. the heroine is invariably a nubile young girl. when she is asked by Thabane to pronounce upon what she has seen. so is her judgement here a true one: she does cut an unqualifiedly ‘ridiculous’ figure vis-à-vis the moral and communal priorities of the prevailing ethnic conflict when she insists on the type of privacy and personal space that it was Pamela’s fight to win from Mrs Jewkes and Mr. However. Letters and the Novel. where. The fact that the climax of the plot generally also had to do with ‘getting inside’ a woman suggests that the sexual act works as a metaphor for . even in the most pressing situations. Florence went on cutting bread. often of uncertain social status. B. Over time this inwardness of Pamela’s. as evidenced by her letters’ continual investigation of moral feeling. crucially.Literature. There are no mothers as heroines (as far as I am aware) in the entire history of the genre until Age of Iron. the heroine is not only a mother. stared at me. vulnerable to the wiles and ruses of rogue sexual desire. in as grotesque a parody of the epistolary heroine as ‘the knight of the sad countenance’ was of the chivalric. What continually surprises Mr. from myself’ (98–9). but. Equally. but has a disgusting and decaying body. and her reliance instead upon an inner light. she falters and refuses. I must find my own words. Bheki did not look up. To those familiar with the conventions of the epistolary genre. and indeed its physical incarnation in her letters grows to fascinate him until he is ‘awaken’d to see more Worthiness in you than ever I saw in any Lady in the World’ (84). Perhaps even more telling is Pamela and Elizabeth’s shared commitment to what Ruth Perry.

in which the position of the fool is exploited within a series of textual processes that create a particularly unstable irony – one which playfully troubles prevalent ideas of what counts as the serious.118 J. when the boy was hurt. my bleeding onto the paper here. or even writing by Folly. her words – the whole inner drama of the ‘agonised individual conscience’ – are as undesired as Pamela’s are treasured. and again Don Quixote comes to our aid. Elizabeth comes to recognize that ‘Mr. Florence does not even hear me. Cervantes’ subtle and enigmatic book – ends with the capitulation of the imagination to reality. which could not have become more influential over the course of her story. Having now established the parodic. have no more truck with proceedings than Quixote’s insistence that master Andres be not beaten by his cruel employer. by comparison. and by extension. to stage the novel instead as a recognizable fool. with a return to La Mancha and death. B and ineluctably progresses into the higher echelons of society. and fought over. In the closing words of the Jerusalem prize address Coetzee drops a hint: The story of Alonso Quixano or Don Quixote – though not. as she reforms Mr. The issue of a shrunken heart’ (137). Coetzee in Context and Theory the more important literary innovation – the getting inside of a woman’s consciousness by the writer and by the reader. then. Indeed. how abundantly he bled. It is precisely within the terms of the epistolary equivalence of body and word when Elizabeth laments: ‘I remember. Don Quixote stands in a tradition of writing about folly. Whereas in ‘The Novel Today’ Coetzee had described the relationship between the novel and history as one of rivalry. or ‘jocose’. M. Elizabeth’s disgusting old body is as undesirable as Pamela’s beautiful young body (she is between fifteen and sixteen years old) is compelling. side of this jocoserious text. about a ‘subtle and enigmatic book’ that might allow the Quixotic fool to evade this onerous fate? As I have suggested. (99) What is it. (131) This is especially the case in Pamela: recall the famous scene in which Mr. and thereby to decline what the Erasmus essay called a ‘big-phallus status’. I add. Elizabeth’s insistence on the value of the individual soul over the group bond and the innocence of childhood over the urge to commit simply pass unweighed. we must now join it with the serious. B tries to undress Pamela ostensibly to get to the letters she has sewn into her clothes and stuffed into her bosom. how rudely. a reading of Age of Iron that emphasized the allegorical thrust of the story would be hard pressed indeed to . To Florence what goes on in my head is a matter of complete indifference’ (163) – but quite the opposite was the case with Pamela’s words. is first and foremost to shelter the text from the accusation that it is ‘taking sides’. sought for. How thin. It has no weight to him. beginning with Erasmus’s The Praise of Folly. Thabane does not weigh what I say.

Verceuil is always called upon to drive Elizabeth’s Rocinante. It leapt at me too. frisking. in the eyes of many. She becomes momentarily too ‘silly’ to be worth condemning. as she approaches her death by cancer. History and Folly 119 discover any ‘big-phallus’ assertion of the power of literature to outface the truths of history: Elizabeth Curren is not only cast in the outdated form of the epistolary novel. but not an untypical one. we are told. by his master’s fine speeches. Vercueil’s presence does not only produce bathos. And inconsequent though she has just become. bounding. actively pernicious. But before we can draw a line under it and irreversibly condemn her as an idiot. Right at the end of Part II. As with Sancho in Don Quixote. but is repeatedly humiliated. stared at me.6 We must now consider Coetzee’s clown. at times. Perhaps most importantly. in which Elizabeth’s impulses seem thoroughly crushed by the dignified silence of the black characters. What the dog has done is effectively kept open a space in the text for the rivalry between the haggard old form of the novel and the iron-like force of history to continue. and practical enough to make sure Quixote physically survives his encounters with the brutishly picaresque world. the aged but beloved Hillman. the judgement upon her slips off in the presence of the clown. Quixote’s great fortune was to pass through the world with the clownish figure of Sancho Panza by his side. A small incident perhaps. Sancho is gullible enough to be impressed. However. Elizabeth narrates her quest to the police station in Caledon Square in order to lay charges against the policemen who . she does not merely remain so: she has survived the scene. ‘The dog was leaping up at him. where the demand for privacy had led her into taking the tone of a prison-guard: ‘Why didn’t you ask my permission? Answer me!’ The little girl stopped chewing. and made ever more painfully aware. in come Vercueil and the dog: ‘immediately the tension was broken’. streaking my skirt with its wet paws. full of joy. to prevent it from being decided: the bounding and frisking and general silliness of Verceuil’s dog protect Elizabeth at the moment she needs it most. How silly one looks fending off a dog!’ (59). marking her off from the serious judgement about to be remorselessly applied. Sancho being sufficiently down-to-earth to mock his more extravagant follies. Elizabeth and Verceuil (and his young dog) are the Quixote and Sancho of our Age of Iron: just as Sancho looks after Quixote’s old nag. of how her ethnic identity implicates her in patterns of oppression that make her not only irrelevant but. increasingly ostracized. Recall the episode to which I referred in our earlier discussion of Elizabeth‘s persistence in the assumptions of the epistolary novel. and her story continues.Literature. Why was I behaving in this ridiculous fashion? (58) It is a truly Quixotic moment. and Elizabeth is rescued from her slide into a particularly unpleasant form of lunacy.

and Buitenkant Street – Outside Street – on which is situated the Castle.’ I told them’) that falls flat and makes her look ‘such a fool’. who sits in the parked car on Buitenkant Street. Mortification. is so named because it formerly marked the boundary between what was then the Cape Colony and the rest of Africa.’ (86) I quote at length because of the particularly protean nature of this text. Coetzee in Context and Theory knocked down John and Bheki. Mortification. The grand self-condemnations (‘Shame. as she pathetically recognizes. M. that this transition into Vercueil’s comic request comes after a silence.’ Shame. There was a long silence. And she does look like a fool: what are the value and weight of her words and her inevitable tears in this situation? Like the perpetually lachrymose Pamela. in Caledon Square) and that whereas something that is risible is simply dismissed. in the cold air of the police station her words seem merely a piece of ‘liberal-humanist posturing’ (85). First. and thus one of . in Caledon Square. she embarks again on another elevated ethical peroration: ‘Perhaps I should simply accept that that is how one must live from now on: in a state of shame. but nonetheless.120 J. something that has a funny side is not necessarily totally without significance. secondly. Elizabeth’s words made a total ‘fool’ of her. But there are two particular aspects of this scene that we should not ignore. to find some weight. Erasmus adopted Terminus. Death in life’) pass into one of Vercueil’s long silences. Of course. ‘Can I borrow ten rand?’ said Vercueil. but upon which side do Elizabeth’s words fall – the foolish or the serious? Across the road. and the complex back-and-forth it stages between the serious and the comic. which may be read as a respectful silence that allows Elizabeth’s words space to breathe and settle. as his personal emblem. ‘My disability comes through on Thursday. she is now ‘suddenly on the edge of tears again’. But here in the car with Vercueil they sit differently. As Coetzee notes in ‘Erasmus: Madness and Rivalry’. and not merely risible (which it had been. god of boundaries. Death in life. Here Elizabeth’s words are all spoken in report to Vercueil. a grand rhetoric (‘ You make me feel ashamed. literally made up of buite (out) and kant (side). Typical of Vercueil to be patrolling the boundary. The name for the way in which people live who would prefer to be dead. I’ll pay you back then. Perhaps shame is nothing more than the name for the way I feel all the time. Vercueil is elsewhere from time to time apparently quite interested in Elizabeth’s words. back in the car with Vercueil. which is of course amusing coming so hard upon the high seriousness claimed by (if never quite granted to) Elizabeth’s speech. not least when she begins to talk about the literary tradition. according to Elizabeth’s report. Buitekant is the Afrikaans word for ‘outside’. But does the silence only mean he is not listening – that Elizabeth is simply irrelevant? He then asks to borrow money. that Vercueil’s request does indeed make the scene a mildly funny one.

his dancing to the national anthem (‘Don’t be silly. the other. V’ (190) in bed with Vercueil at the end. as she would wish them to. Elizabeth may indeed have found her passage to seriousness. By becoming less serious in the car with Verceuil. the ‘literary’ is the ethical. as Ruth Perry argued. the future. and crucially his broader role as her ‘shadow husband’ (189). even those who speak from a totally untenable historical position’ (250). . is to withhold from prejudging the meaning of his silence. Through the ministrations of Vercueil and his young dog Elizabeth keeps going. For instance. . . Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading (Chicago. Coetzee explained in the interview in Doubling the Point. In a sense. all we get from Vercueil is a fart (‘he broke wind’) and a curt refusal (‘“Fuck off. and with the front window of her ‘Rocinante’ Hillman car now smashed in. never climbing too high. If. but neither are they simply shunted off-stage. the cracked old voice of a particularly moribund literary form. Does not know what zips and buttons and clasps to expect. 2004) 111. her words paradoxically acquire a kind of strength they did not otherwise possess. close to defeat. But as I have suggested. this ‘subtle and enigmatic’ book also finds ways in which her discourse might survive. the epistolary novel associated the desirability of the heroine’s body with the desirability of what she had to say. I have only been able to point to a couple of short examples of how Age of Iron tries to cultivate a ‘nonposition’. Vercueil makes no claim to ‘big-phallus status’. if we are to play along with this jocoserious text. that place in which political violence and the morally compelling communal reactions it invites are at their most intense. Elizabeth staggers from Guguletu harried. This is a complicated thought. Like the text itself. He does not know how to love as a boy does not know how to love. but never collapsing entirely. . clearly do not hold centre-stage. ‘is that the contest is staged.Literature. that the dead have their say. in this bizarre yet poignant version of a novelistic romantic finale.” he mumbled’) (88). but what is happening in the text is indeed complex: Elizabeth’s words. when she asks Vercueil to squire her to Guguletu. J. . and thereby accepting the responsibility laid upon one by the work’s singularity and difference . Yet how seriously can we take this ending? Vercueil ‘does not know how to love . ‘What matters’. And of course without her Sancho.’ Derek Attridge. including Vercueil’s abruptly curtailed play with Florence’s children. a fuller analysis would go on to consider many other passages of the text. as the certainties of history would wish them to be. perhaps as ‘Mrs. Vercueil’ Elizabeth crossly tells him (181)). while she is certainly forced into a weaker status in Coetzee’s text than the ‘age of clay’ would have granted her. History and Folly 121 the boundaries we must respect. In Age of Iron there are some clear limits on the extent to which Elizabeth’s voice might stake its claim. Does not know what goes where’ (196). Notes 1 ‘Reading a work of literature entails opening oneself to the unpredictable. M.

Harmondsworth: Penguin. 2–5. Derek (2004). Cambridge. Perry. Mimesis. MA. —(1992). Women. literalizing this metaphor by featuring two dogs as picaros. Dialogue of the Dogs. Auerbach. 5 Jürgen Habermas. Stephen (1989). Coetzee. 1998. Oxford: OUP. Coetzee did not wish ‘The Novel Today’ to be reprinted in Doubling the Point. Richardson. Letters and the Novel. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. The Art of the Novel. his creature and yet an independent fellow being who holds out against him and prevents his madness from locking him up as thought in solitary confinement’ (353). Kundera. Don Quixote. 481. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere 43–57. London: Faber & Faber. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. M. ‘The novel today’. Habermas. Cervantes. M. Erich (2003). Miguel de (1994).122 2 J. Giving Offense (Chicago. Samuel (1999). 3 Cervantes was later to write a parody of the genre. 1998). See also Auerbach’s account of Sancho in Mimesis (2003): ‘Sancho is his consolation and his direct opposite. Trans. (1). Pamela. Works Cited Attridge. Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship. Jürgen (1989). Oxford: OUP. Ruth (1980). —(1990. Thomas Burger with the assistance of Frederick Lawrence. M. London: Secker & Warburg. The Novel According to Cervantes. Gilman. Milan (1988). London: Harvard University Press. 1996) 83–103. J. 4 There are repeated references to Alonso Quixano’s regret that he occupies an ‘age of iron’: see especially 77. the 1992 collection of his literary-critical work. 142. . New York: AMS Press. 6. Charles Jarvis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Princeton: Princeton University Press. —(1996). David Attwell. Upstream. Berkeley: University of California Press. Doubling the Point. worrying about whether the fact of their ‘dogness’ was affecting their good judgement of the social scene they observed. 151. Cambridge: Polity Press. J. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event. 6 Stephen Gilman argues for the importance of Sancho within Cervantes’s design. Coetzee in Context and Theory ‘Erasmus: Madness and Rivalry’. Ed. Age of Iron. 1990. Trans. as ‘a sort of human buffer state between his master and the stony implacability of what was out there in the world’ (91–3). (1988).

(Coetzee 1997: 56–7) . It is a matter of shape. Putting aside the oblique reference to John’s feelings of exultation following the wrestling matches with his friends Greenberg and Goldstein in the park. . he is on the edge of falling. running wild. as are the ugliest . the narrator’s first open acknowledgement of desire. Persephone ravished by Dis. Beauty and desire: he is disturbed by the feelings that the legs of these boys. the legs are represented as disassociated. are in the Afrikaans classes. He has an idea of the perfect human body. even disembodied signifiers of an almost ineffable erotic beauty. When he sees that perfection manifested in white marble. What is there that can be done with legs beyond devouring them with one’s eyes. . significantly. The reader might not at first notice how very attractive and smooth these legs are to the young John were it not that within a few pages of describing their fascination he returns to the experience. . smooth brown legs in tight shorts. . unspoiled and thoughtless. . of perfection of shape.Chapter 9 Queer Bodies Elleke Boehmer This essay begins with what might be termed Coetzee’s signature synedoche – the memorably smooth and slim legs of Afrikaans/Coloured boys featured towards the start of Boyhood: A Memoir (1997). a gulf opens up. First and foremost. something thrills inside him. blank and perfect and inexpressive. as if to enjoy and to perfect them further. The first occurrence is worth quoting in full because it draws out a number of key elements that this essay will further explore. he is surprised to find. The most beautiful boys. he finds. Afrikaans children are almost like Coloured children. He likes to gaze at slim. What is desire for ? The naked sculptures in the Children’s Encyclopedia affect him in the same way: Daphne pursued by Apollo. Best of all he loves the honey tan legs of boys with blond hair. this reflection on legs represents. create in him. He returns to go over the legs again.

feeling self-conscious. and the study of pure form. It remains consistent in Coetzee that women. from the point of a re-fictionalized Leopold Bloom. it is the non-human identity of Greek goddesses carved in stone. admission of a certain kind of childish solace to be derived from the anus. the young John is traversing a strip of public ground with his mother. albeit from the perspective of the child. as matches a configuration of Grecian and anal desire. too. John calls ‘outpourings’ (B 9). irrefutable desire. a novel that underscores the link between the Greeks. the young John after a mere couple of paragraphs of the reflection on legs in Boyhood. the cancellation. Conversely. but that women’s bodies normally tend to an unattractive. imagines that babies are born from the anus. There will be occasion later in this essay to return to these figurations of the female body. There is nothing unusual about the boy and yet the sight of him for John is momentous. the desired Marijana’s ‘shapely’ ‘smooth. by an experience of un-quantifiable. Coetzee in Context and Theory As is clear from this quotation. also associated with spillage. leakage. with reference to his teacher Mrs Oosthuizen in Boyhood. and waste. when a Coloured boy crosses their path. He experiences feelings of bursting and a loss of control which correspond to the sensation of falling induced by the Afrikaans boys’ legs. like a scuttling beetle. when human bodily perfection is granted female identity. by contrast. may be the bearers of lean sculpted legs. simultaneously. M. is merely a question mark on the body of Artemis. of the vagina. Coming so soon after his remarkable admission to an early adolescent love of Grecian form. which in Youth (2002) will bring mainly mess and complication. unmistakably womanly squishiness of Marianna. their single most eroticized feature in his work. perhaps even playful. Paul Rayment’s one-off escort arranged by Elizabeth Costello (Coetzee 2005: 149.124 J. Now to the second description of young male legs in Boyhood. floppiness. un-Grecian softness. 186). Again it is . in other words. the vagina. In Elizabeth Costello. This is accompanied by an interesting rejection of dark. guttural words to do with the backside. even if quickly resolved into young male form. and mess. tanned legs of the boys are first introduced they are androgynously coded. the term is ‘exuding’: ‘The Greeks do not exude. with all the homoerotic connotations that he will know this bears. which here unequivocally belong to a single Coloured boy. brown’ legs are contrasted with the uncontrollable. ‘neat and clean and white’. when the lean. Even in the recent 2005 novel Slow Man. and. and not from any other neighbouring orifice as his schoolmates believe. the image forms an extraordinarily open. He is overwhelmed. well-formed male limbs. a question which leads on to the perennial question in Coetzee about the relationship of aesthetics to the real world (EC 190). Still working within this visual and erotic economy of desire. 149). The one who exudes is Mary of Nazareth’ (EC 140. In Lesson 5 of Elizabeth Costello (2004). At the beginning of the chapter immediately following the description of clean anal birth. This tendency to squishiness and mess equates with that which.

As early in Boyhood as the description of Rob Hart caned by the outpouring Miss Oosthuizen. is not of woman born. as signifiers of perversion. especially the young male body. strong (sometimes tanned. He wishes he had legs as beautiful as theirs. his sympathetic cousin Agnes who is seen as soft yet has slim brown legs. At the tail-end of their affair. sex. in touch with the angels (SM 42. With legs like that he would float across the earth as this boy does. that process of going over them. 182. The heterosexual body possibly is. son of Paul Rayment’s beloved Marijana. Perfection. in Boyhood. fetishes of desire. Again.Queer Bodies 125 the combination of tight shorts and slim. to the world of sex and beating that he represents (B 9). lean. His fascination with those legs. as he himself suggests. holes in the ground. we find the association between sculpted legs and deity. This then leads to a visceral confrontation with the word perversion. to secrecy. There is also the fact that the template for this figure of desire tends to be boys’ legs. is several times described both as well-formed and as descended from the gods. thousands of girls too in short frocks that show off their slim legs. in his first memoir cannot but strike the reader as provocative. he reflects when speaking of his unusual affinity for the Russians in the Cold War. he observes. hiding. one of those who always inhabits a secret. John becomes lost in a stream of thoughts on innocence and bodily perfection contrasted with the shame and darkness of sexual delight. they cycle in the country close to Bognor Regis: ‘Her blonde hair flashes. In Youth there is the blonde girlfriend Caroline from Cape Town. which he attaches to himself. a critic is tempted to read the narrator Coetzee’s adored legs as symptoms. she looks like a goddess’ (Y 109). and the woman neighbour in Plumstead newly arrived from England who spends her days tanning her long white legs (B 135). it becomes apparent that . There is not only the prominence of the legs – a prominence that suggestively points up the emphasis he places elsewhere on thin. draws attention to something not much observed in his work. The handful of exceptions to this in the memoirs includes. As is the case for most instances of bodily synecdoche. thousands. Coetzee’s tellingly excessive erotic description of the body. the open admission of perversion. barely touching it’ (B 60). which forms the focus of this essay. Joining together this trail of signifiers. the young John has prepared the ground for this perception. once again. sometimes white) legs. her long legs gleam as she turns the pedals. Slow Man’s ‘dreamboat’ Drago Jokic. homoerotic perfection. He compares himself to a trapdoor spider. beautiful legs that produces this effect: ‘There are hundreds of boys like him. He is. living in the dark (B 28). whereas the Coloured boy’s body seems newly sprung from its ‘shell’. He has felt attracted to Rob Hart. whom he re-encounters in London (and mentions in almost the same breath as his experience of being picked up by a man) (Y 78–9). In all three cases the female legs arguably spring to notice because of how they conform to a model that is not marked for femininity. as in the reference to Artemis and Bloom from Elizabeth Costello. especially his later work. 190). possibly even.

Coetzee in Context and Theory Coetzee post-Age of Iron. By thus surveying the lineaments of queer desire. certainly the Coetzee of the two cryptic memoirs. entertain the possibility of a queer eroticism. This is most obvious in Disgrace. Coetzee has taken up Sachs’s challenge with characteristic defiance. he does by virtue of omission. especially in Youth. his smell. Youth. If he (the narrative consciousness) cannot explicitly locate homosexual desire within himself. by opening up the wider. forbidden spectrum of love. perversely. if of the smoother. self-containment. If romantic love. Disgrace. True. but such assumptions also subtend Paul Rayment’s speculations as to the ‘husky’ Drago’s attractiveness to girls (See Boehmer 2002).126 J. is soft and soppy. more feminine kind. waywardly. therefore. fondling in script. and turns away in guilt and half-disguised revulsion from manifestations of bodily femaleness. or so the incident with the gay man in Youth appears to suggest. though it may only be a toying. experimenting with the conflicted significations of being at once male and ‘arty’ in the South African context (Dollimore 1991). So – to offer another example – he evokes strong memories of the young Coloured boy Eddie who comes to help his mother. by implication. then androgynous parts of male bodies. That edict was famously framed in Albie Sachs’s 1989 ANC in-house paper in which. who is as old as he is. inter alia. 123). At the same time. in other words. the always-oblique Coetzee has responded. as he writes. specifically if codedly of queer love. in Lurie’s dumbfounded fascination as to what the lesbian Lucy might do with her lover. M. smoothness. responding by seeming not to respond. always after his own fashion. till relatively recently virtually taboo in South African fiction and a classic source of ‘giving offence’ (Coetzee 1996). and elsewhere). his fascinating gyrations in the bath (B 74–6). dissidently. demonstrates a new interest in aspects of the eroticized male body. he called for the banning of the phrase ‘culture is a weapon of struggle’ (Sachs 1996: 239–48). queerly. to an edict of his times. Sachs in the in-house paper also of course controversially suggested that with the demise of apartheid South African writers should write less of apartheid and more about love. By contrast his father’s mature male body is embarrassing and disgusting to him (B 109. The boy John observes that he does not know how to behave towards grown men. once a politically ‘irrelevant’ topic. For a writer usually assumed to be unquestioningly heterosexual – witness the relative paucity of queer readings of his work – post-1994 Coetzee appears to allow himself considerable leeway in dwelling upon. each one of the 1997–2005 texts – Boyhood. that is. Coetzee has responded. whether to court their approval or to offer resistance (B 132). with modes of queering himself. He toys. Elizabeth Costello – make heteronormative assumptions with respect to the main characters. he is ‘of stone’ (Y 121. Yet even as the novels draw their . This while he intermittently associates his understanding of passion with tightness. gentling. with queering. He speaks of Eddie’s wiriness and strength. perhaps ironically. if not male bodies. more lithe. he at times quails before.

something like a Grecian statue’s utterly desirable yet inaccessible alabaster legs (Bersani and Dutoit 1998: 2. he does not seem to notice how much of his queer secret – or queer aesthetic – he is betraying. M. My concern will be to consider how self-conscious and choreographed the lineaments of (seemingly) queer desire are in this writer who is in general so highly selfconscious and so very aware of form. Boys’ perfectly honed. which is centrally what that essay-as-novel is about. it presents a ‘provocative unreadability’. That is to say. by definition. each also admits of the dissident. He likes Theo’s suavity. is an enigmatic body. he archly writes (B 150). a queer’. his resistance to conformity. that Coetzee in a novel like . 12). is all that is finally available as a poultice for the wanting heart (SM 113). possibly expose even more than they conceal. finally. Having posed the question of queerness I am however anxious not merely to seek to ‘out’ the writer J. amorphous. a ‘diminished’ love. 8. the queer Coetzee cannot be as self-aware in this respect as he often is in other areas. Indeed. leggy Grecian bodies will continue to form the focus of the discussion. Coetzee. The queer body. Is this simply because Theo’s qualities correspond to his own feminine if not effeminizing interest in elegance and the arts. Essentially my question is: does John Coetzee the writerly subject know how queer he in fact allows himself to appear to be? Is he aware of how dissident he is? By virtue of his giving away as much as he does in this respect in Boyhood. Why should he dabble in queering himself.Queer Bodies 127 heteronormative conclusions. This admission. erotic interest in human shapeliness (masculine and feminine) is relentlessly. his. his name not by chance it seems signifying God. In Plumstead. Elizabeth Costello. including of queer desire. comes to a point of at-once-crisis-andresolution in the cross-dressing or cross-embodying performed in Elizabeth Costello. Youth. parthogenetically generated legs in Boyhood. and non-object-directed aspects of desire. an unacknowledged homoeroticism in fact – in Coetzee’s trademark willingness to reveal a little. I want to suggest. as in Caravaggio interpreted by Bersani. rumoured to be ‘a moffie. I want rather to ask what such queerness might mean to this writer. Thereafter. and. Coetzee’s troubled interest in clean-limbed. I will later submit. or is there something more explicitly if codedly Greek to his attraction? ‘He would like to do battle for Theo’. sculpted. in the meditation on the maimed self that is Slow Man. even perversely recuperated into the framework of rule-bound intimacy that is the family. as the critic Brenna Munro has asked in a study of the new South Africa’s ‘coming out narratives’. he who in his two ambiguous memoirs is so very troubled by his closeness to his mother and the many effeminate tendencies which alienate him from the beloved masculine environment of his father’s family’s farm? Is it the case. whether aesthetically or in the real world. his resilience. free-wheeling. practical care. In the course of my further reading of parts of Boyhood. Here. he makes friends with Theo Stavropoulos. Greek style. never too much. dare I say it. there may be an encrypted eroticism – an eroticism blocked by a mystery.

perhaps. inhabit fully. even though his refusal of them does not escape gender stereotyping. or how he is to be categorized vis-à-vis the sexual divide. and class alignments (as again in Slow Man). turning again to the terms and sight-lines of Leo Bersani. and the . symbolization. the places of agony and desire. the memoir’s syllogism runs. Eve Sedgwick reminds us that queer desire refers to excess. I’d want to suggest. And: ‘[q]ueer suggests possibilities for organizing around a fracturing of identity’ (Sedgwick 1990: 8. the masculine domain. desire which cannot be acknowledged in so many words. of anyone’s sexuality. that which now solicits. Instead they suggest interrogative ways of probing. In her Epistemology of the Closet and other work. a self-conscious portrait of the artist or poet as a young man which is more openly and tenaciously than Boyhood preoccupied throughout with desire. It is committed rather to collaborating with wayward movements of half-expressed desire. John wants to be a poet. for which process gayness is both a catalyst and a metaphor? Or. A queer reading. lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender.128 J. and embodiment. where femininity resides. or resolve into a particular sex act. Indeed it may be that at certain points of tension. is Coetzee as ever more interested in the epistemological questions of identity which queerness. given that the queer Lucy is never really centre-stage in his most explicitly postapartheid novel. Elizabeth Costello confirms exactly this judgement. where desire involves a continual interplay of self-exposure and self-concealment. gaps. dissonances and resonances. the body at once presents and withdraws itself. which so preoccupies him in Elizabeth Costello. now refuses. aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically’. do not clearly signify one sex. says Sister Blanche in that novel. far from being paranoid. entirely. 27. that which transgresses fixed choices and definitions. new kinds of belief and forms of embodiment. as in Elizabeth Costello. See also Fuss 1991). is interested therefore in those moments where. among other topics. ferreting out hole-and-corner implications. M. A queer reading is not concerned about eviscerating the erotic secret. The queer Coetzee. overlaps. is not particularly bothered about such categories. or resolved into single object-choices. allows him to raise? A queer consciousness occupies that cusp between cold reason. 9. To turn now to Youth. his subtle queering slides over into a far from subtle misogyny. live in proximity to the ground. In her unwritten confession to her sister. Queer is ‘the open mesh of possibilities. Coetzee in Context and Theory Disgrace is interested along with Gordimer in the ‘unmaking’ and disorientation of whiteness (Munro 2004)? Is he concerned to explore the reinvention of ethnic identities. Women. According to such a reading therefore the boyish legs the young Coetzee lingers over are almost quintessentially queer. national/family structures. What is by contrast of relatively little interest in terms of my reading is that aforementioned incident in Youth where John allows himself to be picked up in order to find out whether he is homosexual. Disgrace.

romance. briefly.Queer Bodies 129 poet. ivory-white girl-poet. He is threatened by the fact of the two women conspiring among themselves. the returns of passion are meagre (Y 133). is appalled at Marianne’s response to the incident. For the rest he describes the women he goes with. and. he cryptically notes in a comment on Pound. So he feels he fails in sex. And the love of like and like. uncomfortable. and stains the bed. to be transfigured (Y 111). in fact lacking anything to distinguish them at all (Y 32. in response. shame. In general. Significant in the terms of the reading I am trying to follow through here. squeamishness. who ‘in their hearts did not want to do it. most obviously so when it involves a direct encounter with the seepages and effluvia of a woman. as un-Lawrentian. her very able coping. inadequacy. The second incident in which shame and blood. degrading. yet he clearly cannot put them out of his mind (Y 34). suffering overwhelming feelings of guilt. is that his quest to be sexually remade does not have a particular orientation attached to it. who has an abortion after getting pregnant. John accompanies her through much of the experience. his habitual retreat into what he calls ‘his coldness towards women’ (Y 95). John. may equate with the worship of Greek gods. tries to hide the evidence of what they have done. is driven by a transfiguring desire. lacking fire and perfection. no fumbling around’ (Y 126. Therefore he. and the remote. concerns a Cape Town girlfriend called Sarah. no matter how much or how little he wants them. which involve women bleeding as a result of sex. are associated. apparently copiously (128–30). She comes to the experience equipped with clean bed linen and hides from him ‘the evidence of what is going on inside her body: the bloody pads and whatever else there is’. Basically such women are ‘unformed’. He is at this point a caretaker-lodger. now visible blood. Yet despite this he remains ‘ready for anything’. pods of flesh. he lacks heart. The first of these incidents. 66). other than Caroline. tragedy. guilt-free love. This is most obviously so at two crucial moments of crisis in John’s story. and. Then she disappears from the text. her whispering with the nanny. In reality however – and in this lies the unlikely humour of the book. even more suggestively. 133). if not misogynist joke – sex throughout Youth is mostly unsatisfactory. as long as it will ‘consume’ and ‘remake’ him. gives a promise of ease: there are ‘no introductions needed. women in this text. He is wracked with shame. . girls rather than women. perhaps the more painful one. It is not explicitly heterosexual. its queer. allow him to transcend sexual categories. tides. After all. 68). is in quest of desire (Y 29. resist idealization. He thinks of sewers. on her bicycle. specifically the male poet. just as in his heart of hearts he could not have been said to want to do it either’. which does not belong to John (Y 128–30). he further observes when fantasizing about wrestling with his girl cousins. is when in London he sleeps with his cousin’s friend Marianne and finds she is a virgin. Greek self-containment and sculpted inaccessibility are not the properties of woman’s body. She bleeds.

In embodying a woman. but that they concern ‘embodying’ (Lee 2003: 21). The element that draws together the disparate lecture tableaux that make up this novel-manqué is not only that they all involve the female novelist Elizabeth Costello. she is having to probe by way of reasoned arguments women’s embodiment as quintessential suffering creatures. however tenuous. even while so openly embodying a woman. softness. within his own rigidly controlled and contained. Coetzee has as it were met her half way. 78). Yet. Ted Hughes bodying himself forth as a jaguar. grey and birdlike. Both have had some childhood involvement. that. filled with the potential to bring shame. the writer has long been preoccupied with the epistemological problem of fully comprehending. As with Susan Barton or Elizabeth Curren. or an African novelist embodying the European novel form. 97. In his novel-in-eight-lessons Elizabeth Costello he has given himself the opportunity at last to reflect self-consciously and openly on this problem. eternal travail. As all Coetzee readers are aware. whether it is a question of Thomas Nagel imagining himself as a bat. apparently willingly. He has chosen to submit to the femaleness. of identifying with. extreme otherness. especially of others. even self-evident case could equally be made for the closeness of Coetzee and Costello: both are vegetarians and Antipodeans. awkwardness. In her incarnation as a writer on the international circuit. the bodies of such girls have the wiry androgynous attractiveness of Eddie and the anonymous Coloured boy: they are not fully woman. and the connected problem of ‘inhabiting another body’ or ‘the sensation of being’ (EC 96. making that woman something like himself. ‘the notion of embodying turns out to be pivotal’ (EC 75–6. awkward or – in the conventional definition – ‘queer’ body. Coetzee has in a sense stripped her of flesh. she does not suffer fools gladly. weakness. Whether it concerns novelists entering the world of Molly Bloom or imagining themselves in Hitler’s death camps. though that is of course significant. surrendered to ‘the challenge of otherness’ (EC 12). But a strong. he has consummately. especially with the other’s suffering body (Spivak 1999: 169–97). ‘queer’ Coetzee has taken it upon himself to impersonate a woman novelist. There are strong critical temptations to read into the character of Elizabeth Costello a representation of Nadine Gordimer: she is small. in Catholicism. M. which obviously means something like a man. Every episode in the novel dramatizes the stand-off between embodiment and reason. prone to outpourings. both are profoundly jaded by the life of the peripatetic performing writer. and her own embodiment as an object of male lust. Think only of Lurie’s self-appointed task of accompanying dead dogs to the incinerator in Disgrace. How appropriate it is then that in a book centrally preoccupied with both the ethical problem of suffering. he has not only long associated with the body of woman but has also suspected of residing within himself. Coetzee in Context and Theory Remembering also cousin Agnes of Boyhood. reduced her centredness as .130 J. 12). but more self-reflexively so. curiously if predictably. as suggested.

Queer Bodies


a physical human being. She is often represented from the outside, as elderly, dying, as through the device of her mostly absent son John. This is an odd, if not queer technique, for, by repeatedly describing Elizabeth as tired, greying, shrivelling, and so on, and as a reasoning if sympathetic character, what Coetzee the novelist effectively does is to de-sex her. In her case, he does not want to deal with the problem of the flesh, of desire, unless in memory, as in her memory of sitting, aged 40, for Mr Phillips, in which she noticeably pictures herself from the outside, as the aging male artist’s subject. Even if this is the scene where she most exposes herself as a body, we are not told anything of what this experience feels like, from within, apart from the reference to the sensation of cold air on bare skin. In short, the elderly woman writer Elizabeth Costello as a character in this text is remarkably bodiless; finds herself disembodied even as she is embodied. She is a grandmother and an Australian, yet she is never represented as physically involved with her grandchildren or as experiencing Australia, its heat, its flies, its frogs, as a living being. Even her memory of lying in the arms of the African novelist Egudu is noticeably if not also egregiously sketchy, almost empty, just as the wind instrument she imagines herself as being for him is in its way an empty vessel, filled with air. To one who indicts Descartes for privileging reason, she interacts with the world, both the public and the domestic, at a level almost exclusively cerebral, self-contained and masculine. She does not, as does Molly Bloom, leave her smell about; she does not, unlike Mary of Nazareth, exude (EC 13, 149). It is at this point, I want to suggest, where Elizabeth Costello, the novelist John Coetzee impersonating as a woman, bodies forth as less than a living female being, that the female body in the text becomes somewhat queer. Or should that be, almost queer, just less than queer? It is here, I further want to suggest, that something in the male novelist baulks at femaleness, at its gross, un-Grecian embodiedness. There is a secret embedded in the characterization of Costello, a Caravaggio-like secret, that Coetzee cannot make explicit as the ethical framework of the novel would fall apart, but that emerges in the contradictory juxtaposition of different scenes of embodiment in the second half of the text. The secret – or possibly crisis – might be phrased in this way. The queerness of John Coetzee in Elizabeth Costello emerges not from the fact that, finally, having stood so often on the side of the silenced other, in Foe as in Disgrace, he has now spoken from within the very body of the other. That he has impersonated – not merely ventriloquized. No, the queerness of John Coetzee is revealed when he refuses to go through with the masquerade. He cannot do it aesthetically, it offends him; it is, to use his word, literally obscene and should be off-stage, no matter how much prompting his ethics might give him to go through with it (EC 168–9). Put differently, he cannot at such points prevent his underlying if de-sexed homoeroticism from sliding into a type of sexism and thus arguably becoming the more skittishly and provocatively homoerotic.


J. M. Coetzee in Context and Theory

His attraction to honed Hellenic bodies, again referred to in detail in this novel, as in the comparison of the Greeks and Zulu warriors, draws him away from the wracked and guilt-ridden Hebraic body, which is coded both animal and female. In fact he does not actually want to be, to form part of, the body of a woman. And with Slow Man he again externalizes Elizabeth Costello, who is now become the unwelcome companion to the bodily reduced Paul Rayment. I will spell out my speculation a little further. Towards the end of the pair of lectures first published as The Lives of Animals (1999), Elizabeth Costello encourages her audience: ‘I urge you to walk, flank to flank, beside the beast that is prodded down the chute to his executioner’ (EC 111). This is all very well for the purpose of making her point about attempting to experience animal being as living flesh. Yet, in the next lecture but one, ‘The Problem of Evil’, which follows on from the meditations on the revealed word of God in Africa, she appears to stand appalled at her own invitation. A novelist Paul West who has written a book about the punishments Hitler inflicted on those who conspired against him, has in her opinion gone too far. He has brushed against evil and ‘unveiled horrors’ whereas to her mind there are dark territories of the soul from which the writer cannot return unscathed (EC 160, 162). In other words, the imaginative embodiment of some kinds of evil in text must remain taboo. This is a chute down which the writer should not proceed; it is obscene and ought to remain hidden (159). To provide clarity on what she might mean by such evil, indeed by this volteface in her thinking, Elizabeth Costello turns half-way through the episode ‘The Problem of Evil’ to a horrifying experience of her own, which we can only read as a correlate for the obscenity of West’s novel. It is one of those points in the text where an experience of pure and painful embodiment ‘irrupts into this book of structured arguments’ (Lee 2003: 21). Elizabeth remembers how a man she allowed to pick her up when a young woman, began to beat her up when she resisted him. (Why, we may well ask, could she not have done the picking up?) His response is out-of-all-proportion, irrational, violent: it is an encounter with evil in so far as her assailant began to enjoy the experience of hurting her and burning her clothes. Jacqueline Rose has critiqued this incident-within-an-incident in Elizabeth Costello as giving an inadequate ethical response to questions of how and whether to represent the horrors of the Holocaust (Rose 2003). While I’d agree that Elizabeth’s anxieties about the real-world ethics of storytelling, as opposed to the deferrals that involved the once-post-structuralist Coetzee, are very broadly sketched, I’d want to add a further, to-me-more-serious objection. It is that at this point that the ruse of Coetzee writing as a woman, this device of female embodiment, is unwittingly exposed as a ruse. In fact he does not want to embody, even for the sake of the device, just as Lurie in Disgrace at no point enters the scene of Lucy’s rape, does not go there.

Queer Bodies


It is significant that in the description of the violent incident Elizabeth’s memory is represented in a single frame, dissociated from the rest of her life, embedded within her like an ‘egg of stone’ (EC 165–6). Consequently the third person ‘she’ that Coetzee uses throughout of the novelist becomes suddenly both unsatisfactory and yet revealing. It alerts us to the fact that even at this moment of extreme personal crisis Elizabeth is represented strictly from the outside, almost objectively, ostensibly by herself, yet without any sensory evocation of what this extreme experience of pain must have involved. The impersonator Coetzee has refused to accompany his alter ego Elizabeth, not on ethical grounds, I would venture, but because the embodiment of such humiliation and victimhood profoundly disturbs and unnerves him – or the narrative point of view. There is something so utterly appalling about the experience of being the victim, enduring such punches and blows, in short, about being a womanish ‘weak vessel’, that it causes Coetzee effectively to suspend the representational logic of embodiment that forms the ethical underpinning to most of Costello’s arguments (EC 175). He momentarily withdraws from his cross-dressing and resorts instead to a now-compromised pose of queerness which is however comfortable and habitual to him – that is, to the stony and self-concealing silence of the masculine statue unmoved by Hebraic agonies and viewed from without. Paul West, Elizabeth’s interlocutor, significantly remains silent, as silent as a statue – a statue with a ‘rather handsome profile’, it might be added – throughout her interrogation of his work, even when she addresses him directly. Despite a relatively brief appearance, West, who has allowed himself to burn with the fires of hell, whose name embodies the extremes of experience, Hebraic (Paul) and Hellenic (‘the West’), is a figure with whom identification is more possible, more desirable and sexy, than with the aged novelist. Ultimately, then, I would submit, Coetzee would prefer to flirt with the Greeks and with Zulu warriors, provocatively to queer himself, than to go through with a full embodiment of femaleness, with all its outpourings and vulnerability. Finally he elects – in spite of himself, but that is the dilemma he opts for – to resort to queerness (and, by Slow Man, to the male body with its symbolic wound). He would rather queer himself than act female; the queer body is in this sense to him a refuge.

Works Cited
Bersani, Leo and Ulysse Dutoit (1998), Caravaggio’s Secrets. Boston: MIT Press. Boehmer, Elleke (2002), ‘Not saying sorry, not speaking pain: Gender implications in Disgrace’. Interventions, 4, (3), 342–51. Coetzee, J. M. (1996), Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


J. M. Coetzee in Context and Theory

—(1997), Boyhood: A Memoir . London: Secker and Warburg. —(1999a), Disgrace. London: Secker and Warburg. —(1999b), The Lives of Animals. Princeton: Princeton University Press. —(2002), Youth. London: Secker and Warburg. —(2004), Elizabeth Costello. London: Secker and Warburg. —(2005), Slow Man. London: Secker and Warburg. Dollimore, Jonathan (1991), Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Fuss, Diana (1991), Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories. New York and London: Routledge. Lee, Hermione (2003), ‘The rest is silence’, Guardian Review, 30 August. Munro, Brenna (2004), Queer Futures: The New South Africa’s Coming Out Narratives. Unpublished PhD thesis. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia. Rose, Jacqueline (2003), On Not Being Able to Sleep. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Sachs, Albie (1996), ‘Preparing ourselves for freedom’, in Derek Attridge and Rosemary Jolly (eds), Writing South Africa: Literature, Apartheid, and Democracy, 1970–1995. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky (1990), Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky (ed.) (1997), Novel Gazing: Queer Readings in Fiction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Spivak, Gayatri (1999), A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

paying special attention to the imagery of Communion and cannibalism. integration. between individuals and the world outside. Coetzee’s fiction. and argues that the textual imagery of eating reads as a metaphor of incorporation (absorption. the metaphor of . . Table scenes are often the stage of conflicts and dilemmas. assimilation. analyses Western classics from Homer to Melville. bodies that eat are often depicted as something awkward and troublesome. Metaphor of Incorporation Maggie Kilgour. Like food. Coetzee’s fiction treats the imagery of eating with caution and discomfort. This chapter will examine how eating has been a central issue in Coetzee’s fiction well before it became explicit in The Lives of Animals (1999) and Elizabeth Costello (2003). ‘The Holy Spirit of Elsewhere’ Bodies That Eat In J. embodiment) – in other words. I focus on recurring images of eating in Coetzee’s fiction and explore ethical anxiety and semantic dilemma in relation to Coetzee’s figurative language – how the paradoxical metaphors work hand in hand with the conundrum of eating. In this chapter. . M. the mirror in which the cannibal of the language might glimpse himself. in From Communion to Cannibalism (1990).Chapter 10 Eating (Dis)Order: From Metaphoric Cannibalism to Cannibalistic Metaphors Kyoko Yoshida My subjectivity has always been antagonized by its being in English . as a model of encounter between inside and outside. —John Mateer.

and so on.] Asking whether human beings should eat meat is on the same level of logic as posing the question. ‘You are what you eat. followed by discriminations according to the religious. M. subject with object. therefore. Coetzee also defines human beings in terms of the mouth’s functions: But we have not made ourselves to be creatures with sexual itches and a hunger for flesh. without words there would be no question. raw and cooked. when the image of eating comes to the extremes of cannibalism and starvation. or culinary requirements.’ The imagery of eating. Kilgour calls cannibalism ‘the ultimate “antimetaphor”’ (16). In his essay ‘Meat Country’. (Kilgour 7. Elspeth Probyn (2000) points out that eating requires constant and clear distinction between ‘self’ and ‘others’ as well as ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ (7). suggesting that people who cannot talk to each other bite each other’ (16). eating becomes a metaphor for assimilation and absorption. The mouth is the organ for ingestion. however. However. the question is being posed in words. self with other (Kilgour 9–10). ‘Should we have words?’ We have words. ‘subverts normal definitions of identity’ (13). where opposites meet. Probyn 2000: 3). it is the human condition [. To chew and digest becomes an act of identification. one thinks less of eating than lovemaking. different parts of the body. To eat is to lose oneself. The clear distinction between edible and inedible vanishes. First of all. a figure of speech operates in double perspectives in regard to the strange and the familiar. Like the paradox of eating. different ways to slaughter. speech and lust.136 J. . the image of cannibalism is frequently connected with the failure of words as a medium. quadrupeds and others. The relationship between self and other metamorphoses in its digestive process. when the opposites meet ‘mouth to mouth’. The boundary between self and other becomes blurred. such as between the animate and the inanimate. ‘Replacing more orthodox though indirect means of communication. transforms into an organic network of meanings and implications. To eat is to select: the act of eating presumes constant discrimination. the figurative language begins to melt down. different ways of cooking. Coetzee in Context and Theory ingestion. Let us outline what an act of eating implies in its different phases. not differentiation. and as Probyn puts it. (46) . We are born like that: it is a given. . since a trope brings the alien home while estranging the familiar (13). some of which seem contradictory to one another. Finally. Once food is taken into the body. one must distinguish between the edible and the inedible. once incorporated into the body of literary texts. hygienic. ‘the most obvious link between food and sex’ is ‘the literal eating of the other that cannibalism represents’ (8). in that the subject attains oneness with the object: the eater becomes one with the eaten.

it was an effect of the hunger. Had I not been there to restrain him. that went on day and night. but in Barton’s mind. (106) As soon as Barton is aware of her own hunger. . Yet when it comes to the reason why the abuse took place. . In Barton’s delusional state of hunger. The eater and the eaten must be always divided at the moment of eating. another part.] The blood hammered in my ears. which instantly transforms her into the edible. Perhaps the Moor slavers savour the tongue as a delicacy. hold the tongue to be a delicacy. The novel soon reveals how slippery the dynamics of the eater and the eaten are. where his home lay. Perhaps they wanted to prevent him from ever telling his story: who he was. and now I could not look on Friday’s lips without calling to mind what meat must once have passed them. who are Moors. But Cruso had planted the seed in my mind. Neither Susan Barton nor the reader ever get to learn the true reason for Friday’s mutilation. and whose threat to that identity is represented as literal consumption’ (Kilgour 147). [. over which I had no mastery. Cruso presents two extremes as equally possible: ‘Friday being eaten’ and ‘Friday eating someone’. the creak of a branch. she projects it on Friday. . I could not stop them. ‘Or perhaps they grew weary of listening to Friday’s wails of grief. Here. or a cloud passing across the moon. though part of me knew he was the same dull blackfellow as ever. . a devourer of the dead. Perhaps they cut out the tongue of every cannibal they took. as it is her hunger that provokes her fear of Friday: My thoughts ran to Friday.” against which [she] constructs [her] identity. as a punishment. ‘The cannibal is the individual’s “alien. generating fear in herself.From Metaphoric Cannibalism to Cannibalistic Metaphors 137 Susan the Predator In Foe (1986) Friday is suspected of cannibalism without a chance to explain himself.’ he said. the idea of Friday as food is not considered at all. would he in his hunger have eaten the babe? I told myself I did him wrong to think of him as a cannibal or worse. How will we ever know the truth?’ (23) It is clear from the onset who did harm to whom: the slavers to the slave. . how it came about that he was taken. or perhaps Friday is punished for cannibalism . The first time cannibalism is mentioned in the novel is when Cruso lists different hypotheses as to why Friday’s tongue is cut by the slavers: ‘Perhaps the slavers. four possibilities are juxtaposed as equal and only uncertainty remains at the end of Cruso’s speech. He is branded as the eater. insisted on his bloodlust. made me think Friday was upon me.

whether by a dumb slave I was to understand a slave unmanned. The mutilation of Friday’s tongue is an unmistakable trace of violence inflicted on him. This reciprocity imprinted on Friday’s body leads to an illogical conclusion – Friday is a cannibal. Friday’s alleged cannibalism obsesses Barton so much as to take her figures of speech to another level of desire. ‘The hammering of blood’ in her ear is transfused into Friday as his ‘bloodlust’. . to speak and to love. a rare moment in the narration when the point of view shifts to Friday: ‘All the while I was playing [the bass flute] . wondering. the novel exhausts what functions a tongue possesses – to eat. Barton becomes obsessed to possess the secret of Friday’s missing body part. begetting a ‘confusion of appetite’ (Probyn 98). the object of eating in her imagination changes from the dead baby to herself. I wondered whether he might not be employing a figure. (118–19) This association between the tongue and its analogue continues to influence Barton’s interpretation of Friday. how could he remember the loss?’ (69). ‘Who. unleashing her desire to pierce further into the mystery. Coetzee in Context and Theory ‘the hunger’ becomes ‘his hunger’. An apprehension in one’s imagination becomes a fearful conviction.138 J. But this is just one aspect of Barton’s projection on Friday. Cruso is blamed as the person who inspired her with fear of Friday as a cannibal. Once the castration becomes indisputable. M. Barton’s insatiable desire to decipher mute Friday does not remain fixed on this type of colonial discourse only. and soon gets corroborated by an elusive witness and scant evidence – this process is parallel to how Defoe’s Crusoe encounters ‘cannibals’ and how the myth of cannibal barbarians spread in the imperial West. Her one-way yearning induces in her mind an illusion of Friday listening to her sound. the suspicion for castration is proven true. his ingestive monstrosity sounds more plausible. Friday lay awake downstairs in his own dark listening to the deeper tones of my flute. As her fear builds up. Vacancy supports potentiality. Early on. she compares the tongue mutilation with circumcision. the power of metaphorical association grows potent in Barton’s imagination. thus shifting the subject of eating from Barton to Friday. Through her efforts to construe Friday. for the sake of delicacy: whether the lost tongue might stand not only for itself but for a more atrocious mutilation. that same lack suggests the possible violence he might have inflicted on others. Because of his lack of ingestive organ. Later. was to say he did not lose his tongue at the age when boy-children among the Jews are cut. and conversely. and if so. which she begins to perceive as a metaphor: Now when Cruso told me that the slavers were in the habit of cutting out the tongues of their prisoners to make them more tractable. the . Barton tries to play the flute in consort with Friday as a means of communication with him since the instrument is the only way to create sound for Friday. after all. . but the other three hypotheses including the one that perceives Friday as the eaten do not come to her mind at all.

‘the passing of tradition through graphesis’ takes over endocannibalism: the practice of endocannibalism becomes a displaced ritual or metaphor (McCorkle 497). she likens ‘Friday’s story’ to ‘buttonhole. and embracing Others as readers. Initially. for through writing. the cannibals in this novel are Barton and Foe. K eats whatever he can put his hand on. Barton and Foe’s case is situated in the blurred zone between hematophagia and literature. similar eating situations permeate Coetzee’s other books. Metaphoric Cannibalism While Dusklands (1974) and Foe concern cannibalism explicitly. Endocannibalism recycles and regenerates social forces that are believed to be physically constituted in bodily substances or bones at the same time that it binds the living to the dead in perpetuity’ (7). Life & Times of Michael K (1998) could be defined as a story about one man’s sustenance. ‘human flesh is a physical channel for communicating social value and procreative fertility from one generation to the next [. What passes between muse and poet and between writer and reader takes over actual consumption of flesh. when. The common logic here depends on problematic identities of self and other. Barton is possessed by seemingly conflicting desires. of eating and writing. Anthropologist Peggy Sanday (1986) observes that in endocannibalism. When Barton fantasizes about Friday. but that does not obstruct their writing. but she also insists on her own authority to tell her version of the story.]. and vice versa. and that is why she calls herself both Foe’s muse and vampire (Coetzee 139. The two in pursuit of their own versions of the island narrative may be well aware of their inability to discover the true story of the island. but empty. but as he hides in . equivalence of food and word. which ultimately leads to their salvation (496). In general. and then to selfstarvation. carefully cross-stitched around. They both produce poetic text while sucking each other’s blood. . and the reciprocal act of eating. In this relationship behind the artistic creation. . The text maintains detailed descriptions of K’s meals: K undergoes changes of diet from the omnivorous to the frugivorous. Barton wants Foe to author an island story. images of male and female sexuality are inverted as if to reflect Barton’s phallic desire to penetrate Friday. McCorkle points out that the scene in which the two make love the first time – while discussing bloodsucking and the relationship between muse and poet – reflects the psychology of endocannibalism whose purpose is to suck vitality and knowledge from other members of society (496). narrating stories. for example. anthropophagia serves as a metaphor for writing. According to James McCorkle (2000).From Metaphoric Cannibalism to Cannibalistic Metaphors 139 like of which he could never have heard before’ (96). producing texts. McCorkle 496). waiting for the button’ (121). they establish their identity.


J. M. Coetzee in Context and Theory

the countryside from the chaos of the civil war, he cultivates a secret pumpkin garden on which he becomes dependent. The death of his mother plays an important role in his peculiar dietary conversion. The two nights before she succumbs to illness, K has a dream: the mother is visiting him at Huis Norenius, where K was raised as a child, with ‘a parcel of food’ as a gift, which was ‘curiously light’ (38–9). And two days after the mother’s death, an unfamiliar nurse summons K and passes him a parcel, saying, ‘This parcel, [. . .] contains your mother’s ashes’ (43). At the news, K has a vision of patients eaten up alive by flames. K wonders, ‘How do I know?’ (44). Know what? To know whether his mother was fed to fire alive? Or to know whether the ashes in the parcel actually belong to her? To know implies a complete understanding of (the mother’s) death, pure and beyond words. The packet does not contain the kind of total knowledge that K hungers for. At this point, both the subject and contents of his knowledge are not revealed to K himself. Once his mother passes away, K suffers from a sense of derealization. The quotidian scenes turn tenuous in his eyes: ‘it seemed strange that people should be eating and drinking as usual’ (45). After an eventful journey, K reaches an abandoned farm where his mother might or might not have grown up. K struggles to hunt a ewe for food with a pen knife, and the pains of butchery (both his and the animal’s) inflict an immediate feeling of regret in him. Giving up on eating the animal, he breaks into the farm house and eats a bottle of apricot preserve instead. At this point, K still holds the packet of his mother’s ashes dear, yet he is at a loss what do to with it. He then discovers the farm’s irrigation system still intact. Cleansing himself with the dam’s water, he comes to a full realization that ‘The time came to return his mother to the earth’ (80). He clears a small patch of field, sprinkles the ashes on the dirt, and plows the earth ‘spadeful by spadeful’ (80). Weeks pass and finally the day of harvest arrives and he cooks and eats the first pumpkin, a special fruit for K, ‘the first fruit, the firstborn’ (155), a sacrifice for the feast. Grilled on the charcoal, ‘The fragrance of the burning flesh rose into the sky’ (155). This rising smoke signals the double meanings of harvest and funeral, the two sides of one private ritual. His unbidden prayer to thank ‘what we are about to receive’ is directed to the earth. While grilling the first fruit, K feels ‘his heart suddenly flow over with thankfulness [. . .] like a gush of warm water’ (156). ‘Now it is completed’, he says to himself. Now it is time to taste the food that ‘[his] own labour has made the earth to yield’ (156). This fulfilling meal is described in the language both sensuous and evocative of the mother’s cremated body: ‘Beneath the crisply charred skin the flesh was soft and juicy [. . .] He chewed with tears of joy in his eyes [. . .] The aftertaste of the first slice left his mouth aching with sensual delight’ (156). As ‘his teeth bit through the crust into the soft hot pulp’, K thinks, ‘such pumpkin I could eat every day of my life and never want anything else’ (156). The ashes of K’s

From Metaphoric Cannibalism to Cannibalistic Metaphors


mother are now literally incorporated in his body through the medium of the pumpkin he grew. The purpose of K’s journey was to bring her back home. Her motherland becomes conterminous with the earth that K plows and from which he derives his life. Through the cultivation of the pumpkins, K properly buries and resurrects his mother, and becomes one with her, making her part of him. The funerary rite is now complete, as K has become a complete being. ‘The idea of return is both idealized as a return to communion with an originary source and a primal identification, and demonized as regression through the loss of human and individual identity; one returns to the father by being eaten by him; one reenters the garden by becoming a vegetable’ (Kilgour 11). According to Marvin Harris (1985), whose work Coetzee refers to in ‘Meat Country’, ‘Consumption of the ashes and bones of a deceased loved one was a logical extension of cremation. After the body of the deceased had been consumed by the flames, the ashes were often collected and kept in containers to be finally disposed of by ingesting them—usually mixed in a beverage’ (200). K’s new life in the abandoned farm begins with this mediated mortuary cannibalism, in which he takes over the life and wisdom of the previous generation and supplements and compliments himself, integrating himself and his mother into a more complete, self-contained self. In the second half of the novel, K keeps rejecting meals provided at the internment centre. The narrator of the second part, the doctor at the centre, struggles to find any significance in K’s self-starvation. K simply states, ‘It’s not my kind of food’ (198). The baffled narrator plies K with questions: ‘Why? Are you fasting? Is this a protest fast? Is that what it is? What are you protesting against? Do you want your freedom?’ (199). According to Maud Ellmann, there is no such thing as silent hunger strike. In The Hunger Artist (1993), she argues that both poets and writers who fast for the sake of their artistic writing and those political activists who starve themselves for realization of their social justice accompany starvation with language. In order to make one’s emaciated body a ransom for political negotiation, a statement must be made to clarify what one’s withering flesh represents. Only with a statement does the selfdestructed body embody something; the private body manages to become the text of collective suffering (13–21). While protesters ‘transform their bodies into the “quotations” of their forebears, [. . .] it is also true that self-inflicted hunger is a struggle to release the body from all contexts, even from the context of embodiment itself. It de-historicizes, de-socializes, and even de-genders the body’ (Ellmann 14). Hunger becomes so immediate that spectators witness nothing but the body screaming in silence. Michael K’s peculiar inanition is illegible as a protest, but it is ‘the ambiguity between the reticence of fast and the loquacity of hunger’ (Ellmann 18) that the narrator doctor cannot overlook. As his harelip symbolizes, K is deprived of words from birth. At Huis Norenius, they would put on music constantly, which would make K ‘restless’


J. M. Coetzee in Context and Theory

and prevent him from forming his ‘own thoughts’ – ‘It was like oil over everything’ (182). As an adult, articulation remains beyond his means: ‘Always, when he tried to explain himself to himself, there remained a gap, a hole, a darkness before which his understanding baulked, into which it was useless to pour words. The words were eaten up, the gap remained’ (150–51). Ellmann compares K with Meursault from Camus’s The Outsider (2000) – both men are antiheros in that they cannot explain themselves for their peculiar acts against the social code; they are unable to articulate the singularity of their motives (108). How much is K aware of the significance of his symbolic cannibalism in relation to his self-contained fasting? Later when the doctor at the internment centre asks K of his mother’s whereabouts, K gives a literal answer, ‘she makes the plants grow’ (178). The doctor misinterprets K’s answer as a euphemism, meaning that K’s mother is ‘pushing up the daisies’. K, recalling the vision he had when he received the packet of ashes, corrects the doctor: ‘They burned her [. . .] Her hair was burning round her head like a halo’ (178), thus making a clear connection between his mother and the vegetables he grew. Although unable to articulate its significance, K embraces the funerary rites he performed and the substance he has taken in in the process. To K who refuses to explain, the narrator vents his fumed irritation: ‘We don’t want you to be clever with words or stupid with words, man, we just want you to tell the truth!’ (190). The narrator speaks from the world where the bread of life differs from actual bread. For Michael K, there is only one: the real bread, so he cannot choose either one of the two. K suffers a type of aphasia that estranges symbol from substance, metaphors from objects, language from things, words in mouth from foods in mouth. The difficulty here is that his limited intelligence allows him to speak only in literal terms and that his euphoric communion with Mother (Earth) further alienates him from verbal communication. Metaphor is ‘a basically dualistic trope that depends upon a difference between its inside and outside, its literal and figurative meanings; “antimetaphorical” positions dream of abolishing this duality in order to return to a proper and literal meaning’ (Kilgour 12). In reality, words are not foods. But for K, the only food (or word) worthy of eating (or speaking) is the food (or the word) that is word (or food). After the words/foods are ‘eaten up’, nothing remains but a complete self, or, to the narrator’s eye, ‘a black whirlwind roaring in utter silence’ (226).

Cannibalistic Metaphor
In Elizabeth Costello, the title character mobilizes cannibalistic imagery in order to make her point against the meat factory. The lecture audience (both fictional and real) are demanded to imagine themselves being on the side of the eaten. In order to imagine oneself as meat cattle or broiler chicken meant to be slaughtered and consumed, one must unleash one’s cannibalistic imagination,

From Metaphoric Cannibalism to Cannibalistic Metaphors


which Costello repeatedly attempts to arouse throughout the lecture, even resorting to Holocaust analogies, comparing the cattle in the slaughter house with the Jews in the extermination camps: [People living near the camps] said, ‘It is they in those cattle cars rattling past.’ They did not say, ‘How would it be if it were I in that cattle car?’ They did not say, ‘It is I who am in that cattle car.’ They said, ‘It must be the dead who are being burned today, making the air stink and falling in ash on my cabbages.’ They did not say, ‘I am burning, I am falling in ash.’ (79) Whereas the quotidian statement – ‘the dead are being burnt’ – does not make the speaker taste ‘the burnt flesh’ in her mouth, the figurative discourse, the language of poetry – I am burning, I am falling in ash – demands cannibalistic imagination. Costello’s rhetoric may be named ‘cannibalistic metaphor’ as opposed to the previous examples of metaphoric cannibalism. As stated before, the imagery of eating disintegrates in the extremity of cannibalism. Kilgour acknowledges the power of cannibalistic imagery but finds it problematic as well since it has ‘a tendency to consume the mediating power of figures, subverting the possibility of a free communion between individuals, by drawing extremes into a catastrophic meeting that is less “face to face” than “mouth to mouth”’ (17). Images of eating are prone to contaminating and infecting the rest of the discourse. Through our imagination, semantic association, and submerged desires, metaphors of eating spread fast to peripheral words and images. Especially in the case of cannibalistic metaphor, figures of speech and actual figures cannot keep their distance, and they gravitate towards each other, finally clinging to one another as if gulping one another. This is because the image of people eating other people is too corporeal while being inconceivable at the same time, as compared to the image of people eating chicken, for example.

Breaking Bread
The literary symbolism of Communion, the ‘breaking of bread’, is another frequent element in Coetzee’s fiction related to the imagery of cannibalism. The ritual of the Eucharist provides another prime example of reciprocal trope. The host of the Last Supper is the Host itself, which is the sacrifice to God. Communion is an act of feeding each other on each other through a ‘complicated system of relation in which it becomes difficult to say precisely who is eating whom’ (Kilgour 15). In the broader imagination, it symbolizes human bonds in the community through sharing meal and thoughts. Perhaps the only plump protagonist in Coetzee’s fiction so far, the Magistrate in Waiting for the Barbarians (1999b) is a man of robust appetite who believes in the goodness of food. He never gives up his trust in the sensitivity of the human

reparative. blacking out. Lurie has ‘a vision of himself stretched on an operating table’: ‘A scalpel flashes. What is all this stuff? growls the surgeon. What is this? He cuts it out. It is the pleasure of losing himself – first in the languid movement of washing and then totally losing himself. He pokes at the gall bladder. hunger eclipses his indignation. Isaac invites the reluctant David Lurie to dinner at home. like Christ before the Last Supper. Lurie’s experience of eating while being eaten may resemble Communion. sharing the space with the existing scullery-maid. . eating is cheek by jowl with cleansing. In the course of the dinner at the Isaacs. bodies are at stake once again.144 J. Soon after the second washing of her feet. What is this? ’ (171). In Disgrace. Melanie’s father Mr. bearded. the Magistrate is confused by the ambiguity of his desire towards her: is it carnal. bread and gooseberry jam’ (151) will assimilate the barbarians to the frontier way of life someday. He does not inquire further into the nature of his desire as he rubs her legs to reach the state of self-oblivion. The bread on the table denounces their crime by pointing to the violated bodies that remain unseen behind the closed door. instead of sitting at the table in communion with his fellow eaters. truest to its significance as ‘reciprocal incorporation’ (Kilgour 15). the Magistrate washes the girl’s feet. He pokes at the heart.] A surgeon. a setting to make peace in vain. we see bread and bodies together on the table. His first washing of the Barbarian girl comes soon after he wonders if Joll washes his hands before ‘breaking bread’. an ironic crucifix emerges. colonial or cannibalistic? His pleasure derives from the deep sleep he drifts into as he cleanses her body. therapeutic. tosses it aside. Behind the actual scenes. from throat to groin he is laid open [. We encounter the scenes of ‘breaking bread’ again in Disgrace (1999a) and Elizabeth Costello. . becoming an eaten. the sleep of exhaust and satisfaction like the one that comes after making love or suckling the mother’s breast. which may explain his persisting association between torture and dining. when it comes to his relationship with the Barbarian girl. bends over him. When the image of helpless Lurie under vivisection is superimposed upon the supper table of the pious Isaacs. Yet. instead of cleansing his own hands to draw a distinction between himself and Joll. an equivalent of the Magistrate’s bit on the side in the soldiers’ perception. . frowning. Here. in which the communion imagery dramatizes conflict at the dinner table. How could Joll and Mandel eat without feeling that they are feeding on the tortured bodies? This fixation reveals that the narrator’s association between bread and body is well beyond the symbolic one – it is precisely this act of breaking bread with their unclean hands that incriminates those from the Third Bureau. the reader is informed that the Barbarian girl has moved into the barracks kitchen. Coetzee in Context and Theory palate and dreams that the taste of ‘new bread and mulberry jam. Lurie is on the (operating) table as a sacrifice. When the Magistrate suffers under the tyranny of the Third Bureau. M. to ‘Break bread with us’ (167). Now. In the realm where the Magistrate operates.

any act of eating – even eating pumpkins – becomes impregnated with an impression of cannibalism. one is forced to make a conscious decision of eating no body. . The Outsider. while the reader is reminded time and again that the writer is sceptical about the potentiality of language. but by reading through the imagery of eating in his fiction. and cannibalistic metaphors play an important role in the transfiguration of figurative language. Eating is at the core of J. Once the idea of eating some-body becomes the fear of eating any body. and cannot not be seen as products of culture. who discusses eating metaphors in the Renaissance texts. Coetzee’s fiction – this may not be the central theme. As a result. And yet these images are topoi hallowed by tradition. (265) Deeply rooted in the inherent paradox of language. in the novels discussed in this chapter. 1942. Michel Jeanneret (1991). which has remained intangible. M. one never becomes free from the anxiety of (people) eating. we may be able to observe how eating escalates the tension between figurative language and substance/body. compelling. London: Penguin. This anxiety is endless and self-consuming since one may successfully repress one’s carnivorous cravings and convert to vegetarianism. The desire to fill the gap between words and things is itself a product of verbal strategy. hidden behind layers of rhetorical tropes. (L’Etranger. one’s flesh and blood may be the only kind of soul food. by Joseph Laredo. Coetzee’s cannibalistic metaphors transform everyday expressions and behaviours into something too corporeal to disregard.) Trans. all representations of eating converge to imagery of cannibalism. Works Cited Camus. Albert (2000 [1942]). as seen in the case of Michael K . Coetzee values figurative language sometimes to the extent that clichés and similes impose literal meanings. well-worn stylistic effects whose mimetic power is debatable. even bread. To put it in extreme terms. Once these bodies are on the table. metaphoric cannibalism. Coetzee’s figurative language fleshes out the symbolism of banquet and re-presents the body. individually. stresses the transfigurative power of such metaphors while reminding us of their dual propensity: These metaphors are more than innocent approximations. it will not be easy to overcome the anxiety to eat any body. the source of inspiration.From Metaphoric Cannibalism to Cannibalistic Metaphors 145 Images of eating. but since one cannot live without eating any-thing/body. they are to be taken at face value. Thus we come up against two interpretations which are incompatible and yet. Something of nature is supposed to be actually present at the heart of the writing. and how the eating metaphor expands to the network of other images central to his fiction. On the other hand.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Maud (1993). —(1995). M. 1980. London: Penguin. Disgrace. Good to Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture. From Communion to Cannibalism: An Anatomy of Metaphors of Incorporation. Peggy Reeves (1986). Michel (1991 [1987]). 41–52. John (2007). by Emma Hughes and Jeremy Whiteley.) Trans. New York: Viking. memory. Mateer. in Theo D’Haen and Patricia Krüs (eds). Coetzee in Context and Theory Coetzee. —(1998). The Indian Ocean World Conference. Elizabeth Costello. Harris. A Feast of Words: Banquets and Table Talk in the Renaissance. Divine Hunger: Cannibalism as a Cultural System. Kilgour. ‘Cannibalizing texts: Space. M. Foe. 1983. pp. Defoe.146 J. Waiting for the Barbarians. The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. 11–12. Maggie (1990). 487–99. Coetzee’s Foe’. 1987. Ellmann. Carnal Appetites: Food Sex Identities. The University of Malaya. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Probyn. McCorkle. London: Vintage. Writing. (1987). . Cambridge: Harvard University Press. of York. Jeanneret. and the colonial in J. —(2003). —(1999a). Sanday. Elspeth (2000). The Hunger Artists: Starving. pp. M. Marvin (1985). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Special issue of Granta 52. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Des mets et des mots: Banquets et propos de table à la Renaissance. J. 1719. Daniel (1999). Food: the Vital Stuff. ‘The holy spirit of elsewhere’. London: Penguin. ‘Meat Country’. Life & Times of Michael K. and Imprisonment.” Amsterdam: Rodopi. 1986. James (2000). New York: Simon and Schuster. Colonizer and Colonized: Volume 2 of the Proceedings of the xvth Congress of the International Comparative Literature Association “Literature as Cultural Memory. Mariner. Aug. New York: Viking. —(1999b). London: Routledge.

“I have brought you this dog to kill. I argue. he asks. but. which met with a contested political reception in the ‘new South Africa’. I will address the problem of the killing of the dogs in Disgrace by examining a set of ethical relations between the animal. rather. ‘is the very mechanism that drives white paranoia about being chased off the land and ultimately into the sea’. is not some beguiling economy of adequation by which the work of mourning is transmuted into the work of art. What is being asked for. dispatch it to oblivion. but because they are being repeated at all.” but this is what is expected: that they will dispose of it. M. which includes frightening stories of attacks on whites and dogs in the rural Western Cape in post-apartheid South Africa. What is at stake in this proposition. does Coetzee himself not add to the circulation of horror with the publication of a text that concerns a brutal assault on a smallholding in the Eastern Cape. in which a young lesbian is gang-raped by three intruders who also deliberately engage in the slaughter of her guard dogs?1 Why does Coetzee give over his talents to this process and how might we read Disgrace as an ethical response to this question? In this chapter. The formulation ‘sublimate of the work of mourning’ with regard to Disgrace inevitably calls up David Lurie’s task of escorting the unwanted or cast-off dogs to their deaths: ‘When people bring a dog in. ‘they do not say straight out. Reviewing Breyten Breytenbach’s Dog Heart. the relationship of empathy to alterity in Disgrace. Coetzee. Lösung (German always to hand with an appropriately blank . ‘Why’. How.’ ‘For the circulation of horror stories’. we might ask. he asserts. I will do so by risking this proposition: that the sublimate of the work of mourning in Disgrace is the work of art. ‘does Breytenbach lend himself to the process?’ (2001: 256). is in fact. the work of mourning and the work of art in Coetzee’s text.’ he remarks. Coetzee’s questions might surely be folded back upon his own novel Disgrace.Chapter 11 Acts of Mourning Russell Samolsky Few writers are as keenly aware of the ethical traps and responsibilities facing them as J. Coetzee writes: ‘These stories make disturbing reading not only because of the psychopathic violence of the attacks themselves. make it disappear.

Melancholia or mourning without end. results in an unresolved attachment on the part of the ego to the lost object. the limits of sympathetic knowledge expand. ‘should we not be able to think our way into the life of a bat?’ (32–3). . However. .’ (Coetzee 1999a: 142) The use of lösung in Disgrace is not. takes place as part of a psychic economy in which the libido is successfully withdrawn from the lost object that then allows for the mourner’s investment in new attachments. Elizabeth Costello’s claim for the unbounded powers of sympathy runs up against the limit Derrida proscribes for calling the other into one’s being – a limit that will require a brief excursus into the differing conceptions of mourning advanced by Freud and Derrida. that I am going to die. They did not say. what allows the distinction between the human and nonhuman to rest on whether you have a black or a white skin is a refusal to occupy the place of the other. ‘there is no limit to the extent that we can think ourselves into the being of another: There are no bounds to the sympathetic imagination’ (35). as alcohol is sublimed from water leaving no residue. I am alive inside that contradiction. She claims: When I know with this knowledge. of looking back upon oneself from the position of death. For an instant. of course. Elizabeth Costello tells us: ‘It must be the dead who are being burnt today . Coetzee in Context and Theory abstraction): sublimation. Mourning. What allowed the killers to orchestrate the genocide of the Jewish Holocaust. Freud contends. Freud thus establishes the distinction between mourning as the salubrious integration or absorption of loss into consciousness and melancholia as the . M. “I am burning. Her claim surprisingly is founded on the dislocating contradiction of thinking one’s own death. what allowed those around the camps to keep the horror of this knowledge from themselves. In The Lives of Animals. without its inter-textual resonance. Against the argument that one cannot think one’s way into the being of a bat. Elizabeth Costello argues for precisely this relation. It is this unwillingness to think your way into the being of the other that allows us to guard from ourselves the knowledge that the abattoir and the concentration camp are ‘more alike than they are unalike’. before my whole structure of knowledge collapses in a panic. why. I am falling in ash”’ (Coetzee 1999b: 34). she declares. what I know is what a corpse cannot know: that it is extinct. They said to themselves.148 J. she asks. (32) Confronted with the force of this contradiction. dead and alive at the same time. If one can think through the aporia of death. on the other hand. “How would it be if I were burning?” They did not say. that it will never know anything anymore. Ineluctably recalling endlösung – Hitler’s ‘final solution’ – the word establishes a linkage between the Jewish Holocaust and the ubiquitous slaughter of animals.

Derrida’s theorization of the structure of melancholia as ethical or impossible mourning points to an opposition between his claim that death marks a limit to thinking our way into the full being of the other and Elizabeth Costello’s claim that it is precisely the contradiction of being able to think one’s death that demonstrates that there is no limit to the extent that we can think ourselves into the being of another. it is the failure to think our way into the full being of the other that makes possible the structure of genocide. it is my contention that the tension between empathy and alterity constitutes a generative contradiction that is already part of the structure of Disgrace itself. Introjection. while incorporation marks the other as a foreign body sealed or entombed within the living body of the mourner. Derrida claims. locking their legs. as if they too feel the disgrace of dying. she says.’ he reports. failed mourning cannot advance beyond the corpse. Here. ‘flank by flank. which they somehow know is going to harm them terribly. but this trauma also seems to grant him an empathetic grasp of the dog’s knowledge of their impending deaths: ‘They flatten their ears. consuming the other by act of introjection marks the totalitarian project of eradicating difference.’ (Coetzee 1999a: 143) . If accomplished mourning grants the dead a transcendent place in the memory of the living. amounts to the absorption of the dead other who is internalized and merged with the being of the mourner. holding and calming the dogs before the administration of the lethal poison.Acts of Mourning 149 pathological failure of that integration. Assisting in the euthanasia. . What is at stake here is not only the ethical limits of mourning. it is precisely in this failure of integration that Derrida holds out the possibility of an ethical or what he calls an impossible mourning. ‘they droop their tails. . . failed mourning. then. but also the question of genocide. While it might appear that this aporia is born of the forcing together of two disparate texts. . ‘marks an effect of impossible or refused mourning’ (Derrida 1986a: xxi). For Costello. In guiding the dogs to their untimely deaths. David seems to act upon Elizabeth Costello’s admonition to anyone who thinks that life matters less to animals than life does to humans: ‘I urge you to walk’. I will attempt to mark out a space of imbrication in the text between the drive to consumption and the demands of alterity. For Derrida. He further destabilizes the canonical notion of successful mourning by reinterpreting the psychoanalytic distinction between incorporation and introjection. ‘Cryptic incorporation’. leaves ‘the other his alterity. respecting thus his infinite remove’ (Derrida 1986b: 6). While successful mourning constitutes an idealized consumption of the dead. Derrida adds. none will look straight at the needle . However. he claims. they have to be pulled or pushed or carried over the threshold . overwhelms and transforms David beyond his powers of self-understanding. beside the beast that is prodded down the chute to his executioner’ (Coetzee 1999b: 65). translating singularity into similitude.

So dislocating and overwhelming has the shock of escorting the dogs to their end been that David has been transformed into. In honouring the corpses of the dogs. David begins to reverse a tradition in which the animal – the vulture for example. ‘of finding oneself personally commanded by an inexplicable. that instigates the tragedy of Antigone. impractical commitment to an idea of a world that has room for the inconvenient. pushing the corpses though the furnace. David feels compelled to intervene and to take over the task of feeding the corpses into the furnace himself. To cite a contemporary example. resulting in the workmen beating the bags containing the corpses to break their limbs so that they do not get stuck in the furnace (144–5). Derek Attridge comments. he performs a similar task. has been branded as the devourer of human remains. . Although it is precisely the lack of utility that grants an ethical power to David’s honouring of the corpses. This applies not only with regard to the claims of a ‘genocide’ of animals (crucial as this is) but in terms of the relation of the question of animals to the questions of race and human genocide. there is another sense in which David’s work of mourning performs an ethical task. love. Upon its incursion into Rwanda. the reinvading Rwandan Patriotic Front engaged in the wholesale slaughter of dogs. then. While away from his work of mourning. At first he would simply drop the plastic bags off and leave them to be incinerated by those working the furnace. The contemporary question of the animal in theoretical discourse. ‘It is this experience’. unmourned body of Polynices that was left for the dogs outside the city walls. Coetzee in Context and Theory David’s task of escorting the dogs to their end concludes with the disposal of their corpses by feeding them into an incinerator. or the jackal who famously feeds among the tombs – but most particularly the dog. the attention he grants the corpses is not one of utility. which stands at the inception of our works of mourning. It is the unburied.150 J. However. what he calls himself. M. a ‘dog undertaker’ – one to whom is given the mourning work of honouring the corpses. dogs were often seen feeding off piles of corpses scattered over the red earth. must surely form a crucial part of the ethics of the work of mourning in relation to race and even to genocide. we recall. but one of profound mourning or even as he will later call it. Troubled by this knowledge. in death. the non-processable’ that allows for the preservation of ‘the ethical integrity of the self’ (Attridge 2004: 187). Precisely because it can no longer matter to the dogs. giving them a smoother passage. he soon notices that the dogs’ bodies are stiffened by rigor mortis. In what follows then. during the Rwandan genocide. unjustifiable. David thinks to himself: ‘the dogs released from life within the walls of the clinic will be tossed into the fire unmarked. unmourned’ (Coetzee 1999a: 178). If he pulled or pushed the dogs over the threshold in life. I want to mark out part of this discourse with regard to Disgrace and the question of the animal under apartheid. disturbing and dishonouring the rites of human mourning. all of which were deemed responsible for the dishonouring of Tutsi corpses.

that is. is it not possible to discern behind this Christian scene another older substitution. after all. is only on the verge of howling. Vigilance over this ethical limit is. . ‘Yes. guarding thus the alterity of the dog as absolute other. Failure to incorporate the dog’s howl amounts in effect to its lösung – liquidation without remainder.Acts of Mourning 151 David here mourns and marks each dog in its singularity of being and yet the dog’s corpse also marks the unassimilable limit of the other. Fascinated by the sound of David’s humming of Teresa’s line. She is speaking here of her smallholding but the words might refer as well to the child to come. as he himself comes to realize. David. the sacrifice of Isaac on mount Moriah? When the text speaks of David ‘bearing [the dog] in his arms like a lamb’ (220). listens and ‘seems on the point of singing too. or howling’ (215). This problem is given a deeper urgency when we hear the inevitable resonance of David’s ‘Yes. threatened in the last moments of the text when David thinks of entering into his opera the mournful howl of a crippled stray for whom he feels particular care. I am giving him up’. However. This threat of consumption is not simply a figural one. against the operatic consumption of the dog. or perfect sublimation. reinscribe the sacrificial economy that underwrites the constitution of the human?2 Lucy suffers a sacrifice of self so profound and dislocating that it rips a tear in her being. marking in its own way its prescient mourning before the absolute limit of its own death. The dog. in the last words of the text (220). opens difficult questions of artistic responsibility before the approach of the other. all things are permitted?’ (215). the substitution of the ram for the child? Might the animal be sacrificed so that the child may be born? Does the text. but that he is held. . . guarding. I am giving him up’. Does Disgrace then risk falling prey to iterating the sacrificial structure of the Akedah. Disgrace is a subtle text and this is not quite the opera that is given to us. Bringing the dog into the piece thus poses the threat of rendering the opera a ‘consuming’ work of mourning. then. in ‘the music itself’ (184). marking a shift in the boundary of the self that allows for the approach of the other. and by this he means not only that he is deeply absorbed in its composition. capturing in its lament the unguarded alterity of the other. Jonathan Lamb aptly describes this: Disgrace is a collapse of the ego induced by a pain and humiliation so severe that the acute sense of dispossession .? Why not? Surely. accompanying it is not a hypothesis . the lame dog cocks its head. despite itself. with Lucy’s ‘no. David answers. ‘Would he dare to do that?’ he asks himself: ‘bring a dog into the piece. ‘Are you giving him up?’ he is asked. I am not giving it up’ (200). David’s decision to finally give up the lame dog at the close of the text is written in language that alludes to sacrifice. speaks of himself as ‘consumed’ by the opera. However. Yet his sacrifice of the dog threatens to retroactively consume his evacuated or inoperable opera. allow it to loose its own lament to the heavens . . in a work that will never be performed. however.

figures trauma in sacrificial terms. shot through the chest. to a sacrificial gesture. blood and brains splatter the cage. however. starting at ground level. How humiliating. (96) The deliberate practice of the killing. as if it too feels the disgrace of dying. ‘even at the moment when the steel touches your throat’ (108). or at least in the position of a dog (Coetzee 1999a: 74). Unlike the dogs in the clinic who cannot look at the euthanizing needle. the man picks them off. In this scene. she answers. it is one of the subtle ironies of Disgrace that despite Lucy’s statement that she does not ‘want to come back in another existence as a dog or a pig and have to live as a dog or a pig under us’. A hush falls. milling about. as Lucy calls it. with nowhere to hide. He thinks of the experience of dying within his own psyche that his trauma has inflicted upon him in the same terms that he thinks about the goat’s foreknowledge of death at the edge of a knifeblade. whining softly. we are told. the fact that the caged dogs pose no threat. the time taken between shots. thrusts the muzzle into the dogs’ cage. like a dog’. David himself. The dog shot through the throat flattens its ears in a gesture that repeats the flattening of the ears of the dogs before they are euthanized in the clinic. another. The man fires twice more. This ritualized slaughter amounts. The biggest of the German Shepherds. ‘Yes.152 J. with a gaping throat-wound. following with its gaze the movements of this being who does not even bother to administer a coup de grace. sits down heavily. This sacrificial economy is reinforced by the scene of the killing of the dogs by one of the African intruders: With practiced ease he brings a cartridge up into the breech. ‘the movements of this . its cruel and considered quality. Taking his time between shots. For a moment the barking ceases. he says. only the traumatic aftermath of his attack. and seems to bespeak a ritualized act of slaughter. the biggest of the German Shepherds ‘slavers with rage’ and snaps at the muzzle of the gun only to have its brains and blood splatter the cage. the dogs are steadily reduced to a state of cowering humiliation before the power of the intruder. dies at once. One dog. Coetzee in Context and Theory or a fantasy but a brutal expulsion from familiar thoughts into presentiments so alien. ‘Like a dog’. It is not. I claim. M. There is a heavy rapport. (Lamb 2001: 138) Indeed. retreat to the back of the pen. we recall. The remaining three dogs. with nothing. snaps at it. unconsoling. goes beyond the senseless carnage of the massacre. slavering with rage. but the very attack itself that is figured in sacrificial terms. The dog shot through its throat ‘follow[s] with its gaze’. David says of Lucy’s proposal that she begin her life over. and vivid that they could belong to someone or something else. she does indeed come back from her traumatic death as a dog. ‘[Y]ou cease to care’. flattens its ears. David asks her.

Contesting the claim that animals are too dumb and stupid to speak for themselves. David looks at ‘the dog with the hole in its throat [that] still bares its bloody teeth’ (110). I am not simply talking in figures. animals “hail” us to account for the regimes in which they and we must live’ (Haraway 2003: 17). the dogs in the clinic are said to feel shame. like all revenge’ (110). then. Apartheid presented us with a special instance in the history of the human capture of the empathetic powers of the dog. However. speaking through him. When I make reference to ‘speaking through’. deploying what I want to call an ethics of metalepsis? It is. and Significant Otherness. speaking through him. ‘that in 1958 he wrote an impassioned attack on the guillotine. People. after all. Burying the six dead dogs.Acts of Mourning 153 being who does not even bother to administer a coup de grace’. Might we not see the text of Disgrace as an instrument of this hailing? Might the dogs not be hailing Coetzee. the animal does speak through the artist or writer. she tells us. with the human killer now cast as ‘a being’ outside the fold of the ethical. in terms of this act of speaking through that the dogs and the intruders meet once again. The old bulldog Katy is described as being in ‘mourning’ and as being ‘ashamed’. perhaps. However. capital punishment was abolished in France. probably. a thought advanced by Elizabeth Costello. in a country where dogs are bred to snarl at the mere smell of a black man. Is the animal always outside the ambit of ethical responsibility? Dogs in Disgrace are granted. For Costello. yet exhilarating. ‘The death-cry of that hen imprinted itself on the boy’s memory so hauntingly’. then the animal’s powers of empathy provoke a perplexing question. but a deadened gaze. He looks at it now with a different gaze. As a result. of the polemic. Might the dogs in Disgrace then be speaking through Coetzee? In her Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs. Thinking back on the killing of the dogs by the intruder he remarks to himself: ‘Contemptible. Katy is said to be ‘pleased with herself and her achievements’ (Coetzee 1999a: 208). heady. that the hen did not speak?’ (Coetzee 1999b: 63). He surely speaks in the place of the dog. which she had asked him to bring to her. Who speaks here: David or the dog? David surely traces his gaze and judgement by way of the gaze of the dying dog. Donna Haraway deploys Althusser’s concept of interpellation to claim that ‘through our ideologically loaded narratives of their lives. if we are to take seriously this act of speaking through. cast over a pile of corpses. powers of empathetic feeling. Who is to say. in part. and after her attack on Pollux. a gaze that no longer seems to fuse him to the dying animal. constituting him as a writing subject. What lies . A satisfying afternoon’s work. she asks us to consider the effect on Albert Camus of watching his grandmother cut off the head of a hen. it also seems true to say that the dog has empathetically entered David’s being. for the notion of ‘speaking through’ does not only function as a trope in Coetzee’s writings but also takes on the quality of a material or performative event. reversing through its anguished gaze the human– animal relation. and if we are to understand ethics as founded on a capacity for empathy.

or a whole tradition of Western metaphysics. what sense are we to make of the sacrifice of the young. However. unwanted. in contrast to Heidegger. he pictures the soul of the dog released. lame dog in the last moments of the text? Let us begin with David’s ascription of a soul to the dogs. the subject is held hostage by the face of the other or what amounts to the recognition of the mortality of the other (Derrida 1992: 279). a certain traditional humanism . leaking out of its corpse. denies the animal a recognition. as we have seen. . the whole structure of its knowledge collapses. in Disgrace. M. . However. they nonetheless remain profound humanisms to the extent that they refuse to sacrifice sacrifice. subjectivity ‘is constituted first of all as the subjectivity of the hostage’. it was not only the human that was cast in the traditional position of beast. The church fathers. For Emmanuel Levinas. of its own mortality and the ethical call of the other. in other words. on the other’s life . before which. . but only on human life. and it is here. although: [d]iscourses as original as those of Heidegger and Levinas disrupt . with the human killer cast as ‘a being’ outside the fold of the ethical. have denied them souls. but the human coded as the black man. I think. The subject (in Levinas’s sense) and the Dasein are ‘men’ in a world where sacrifice is possible and where it is not forbidden to make an attempt on life in general. What is at stake in the apprehension of death is the very origin of the contemporary discourse on ethics. before responsibility even for himself. . when David traced his gaze through the anguished gaze of the dying dog. that Coetzee and Derrida approach one another.154 J. He thinks of the dog carried like a lamb into the clinic and its incomprehension in the face of death. The subject is called into responsibility for the other. However. (279) Levinas. but before the sacrifice of the lame dog that he loves. . . Disgrace is too ethical a text to submit to this sacrificial structure without response or without responsibility. Coetzee in Context and Theory behind the killing of the guard dogs that had been conditioned and tainted by apartheid is a gesture of sacrificial retribution in which the power of the black man is asserted over the lives of animals embedded in the power relations of apartheid. however obscure. he earlier muses. on the neighbour’s life. reversing the human–animal relation. But as Derrida points out. the animal in Disgrace is not denied the apprehension of its own death. If we might read the slaughter of the guard dogs in terms of the aftermath of apartheid. but also the destroying of those powers of empathy on which the dogs’ capacity for moral relations rest. . What is at stake in the sacrifice of the dogs is not only the killing off of a wrong-headed behaviouralist inculcation. for example. as with Elizabeth Costello.. Indeed. by the injunction ‘thou shalt not kill’. the animal is not denied a face or gaze that holds the other ethically hostage.

that Teresa has to support it. ‘That is why he must listen to Teresa’. sitting in his dog-yard in Africa. Poignantly. which emerges from nowhere. . ‘He speaks Italian. But this. it refers. So faltering and faint is the voice of Byron. Byron. too. the boy rapist. When he hums Teresa’s line . Lord Byron. David says to himself. but even more extraordinary.plunk goes the mandolin in her arms. learn to live in a condition past honour. The bringing in of the trace of the dog’s voice would . it turns out. ‘Teresa may be the last one left who can save him. his opera. is the musical trace of its own lament loosed ‘between the strophes of lovelorn Teresa’s’ (215). Teresa picks up a mandolin: ‘Plink.Acts of Mourning 155 We are now in a position to return to the question of David’s bringing of the dog into the opera. in the underworld. from the caverns of the underworld. by the violent turns of the new South Africa. Phoenix-like. The ‘halt helping the lame’ refers to David’s giving voice to Teresa. who. giving voice to Teresa. listens. cocks its head. listens’ in a gesture that seems to defy for a moment the future flattening of its ears before the disgrace of its dying. or howling. ‘That is how it must be from here on’. he tells himself. In Italy. to the lame boy. wavering and disembodied’ (Coetzee 1999a: 183). the dog sits up. like Lucy. singing his words back to him. . her boy’. is not quite true. In its final manifestation. find music that will bring back the dead?’ (156). the Italian lines of the opera that Teresa sings through David. softly . She will not be dead’ (209). . drawing him back to life. a voice sings back. It is. metaleptically. breath by breath. Pushed to his limits by Pollux. David brings Teresa to life out of the traumatized folds of his own soul. his work of mourning. . if he does. but Italian and French will not save him here in darkest Africa’. (215) The dog ‘cocks its head. . ‘harkens to the sad swooping curve of Teresa’s plea as she confronts the darkness’ (213). he grants to Teresa the role of supporting the shade of Byron. The dog is only on the verge of singing or howling and what David will enter into the opera. . but it also foreshadows the question of the bringing of the lame dog into the opera just as the voice of the illegitimate Allegra. after all. becomes itself performative. we recall. he speaks French. that is. The dog is fascinated by the sound of the banjo. concerns a middle-aged Teresa Guccioli calling to her long-dead lover. who has come to live on Petrus’s holding. the dog smacks its lips and seems on the point of singing too. Plink-plunk squawks the banjo in the desolate yard in Africa’ in answer to the question David asked himself at the moment of his own nadir: how can a man in his state ‘find words. ‘Teresa giving voice to her lover and he . David claims (95). foreshadows Lucy’s illegitimate child to come. pushed to the limits. David must. When he strums the strings. the work of mourning as the work of art folds back to support its originator. to call its composer back to life. The halt helping the lame’ (183). the opera. She sings to him and ‘from somewhere. . . Teresa is past honor . whom she calls ‘her child.

but as the trace of the other as other. to the impossible demand of the other. . Thinking about his sacrifice of the dog. as something other than privation’ (Derrida 2002: 416).3 Let us recall that David feels himself consumed by the opera. but as the limit of the cinder that the sublimate of the work of mourning is the work of art. in responding. David pictures the corpse before the flames to see that it is ‘burnt. Perhaps this too is a necessary consequence of the excessive and incalculable demands of sacrifice. It is in these terms finally that I want to stake an ethical claim for the inclusion of the trace of the dog. of the word otherwise. Disgrace offers us another way of reading ‘things’ against the grain. ‘but there is a limit to sympathy’ (33). He will do that for him. but rather in Derrida’s terms of ‘perhaps acceding to a thinking.156 J. however fabulous. then. becoming consumed and sacrificing itself ? In propelling itself into the space of absolute sacrifice. It is not finally in the sense of lösung. in offering itself in sacrifice to its other. We might think. A limit. The trace of David’s voice and that of the dog’s would here be held beyond the discriminations of language that has founded the human/ animal divide. but it is . but the comic. of Disgrace as a conscious interrogation of the perfective – an action carried through to its conclusion – burned. What the text then refuses is the perfective in its absolute sense. Coetzee in Context and Theory not even amount to the welcoming of the voice of the other as other but an alterity that ‘can only be the loss of the other in its self-presentation. an avowal of the absolute singularity of the dog as other? ‘They do us the honour of treating us like gods. However. that thinks the absence . Might this not be what Disgrace itself ultimately risks. He is exactly what he calls himself: a thing . He is in the opera neither as Teresa nor as Byron nor even as some blending of the two: he is held in the music itself. that is. The word ‘thing’ recalls David’s reading of Lucifer: ‘He lives among us. It is here that the question of the sacrifice of the stray dog and the . however chimerical it might be. that is. . not the erotic that is calling to him after all. M. . . . burnt up’ (220). then. and we respond by treating them like things’ Lucy says (78). It would not be a matter of ‘giving speech back to animals’. burnt up. but he is not one of us.We are invited to sympathize’ David says. Disgrace also guards its alterity. Might we not discern. What is left is not only the ash or cinder – another way in which Derrida names the trace – but the incorporation of the unassimilable body into the crypt of the living. to sympathy or to the capture of empathy. less than little: nothing’ (220). the trace of the other’ (70). . David says: ‘It will be little enough. nor the elegiac. The trace of the voice of the dog is held in the music not as some pale shadow of the human. .. (Coetzee 1999a: 185) David is held in the voice that strains to soar away like the spirit but is reined back to the material. . that is. the redemption of the dog’s alterity in the sacrifice of the three-footed dog..

even as it succumbs to sacrifice. Coetzee. Refusing lösung. (1999a). For an article that is much more circumspect about the possibility of entering the dog into the opera. and the interdiction of mourning. Works Cited Attridge. the bones of the tortured return not spectralized but cryptically incorporated in the collective consciousness of the new South Africa. but like the dogs that refuse the consuming fires of extinction. Derek (2004). J. I want to close by drawing an ethical allegory between the return of the charred corpses of the dogs and the return of the disinterred bones of the tortured ANC fighters exhumed from unmarked burial sites on state torture farms by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). — (1999b). The work of mourning. in defiance of what must always go unmourned. They return. . It gestures to an art that. and here surely. urges us to sacrifice sacrifice. Coetzee’s Disgrace and the South African pastoral’. the lame dog has little power and is of little use. In Specters of Marx. However. see Lucy Graham (2002). to give a different sense to my question. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Derrida speaks with some disapproval of ontologizing remains as one of the tasks of mourning.Acts of Mourning 157 honouring of the corpses finally meet up. Contemporary Literature. 2. Apartheid’s project was one of lösung. M. ‘consists always in attempting to ontologize remains. Stranger Shores: Literary Essays. New York: Viking. the animal is not outside the ambit of ethical responsibility. The work of mourning requires that the object of mourning be fixed and that it stay in place. Notes 1 2 3 This question has also been addressed by Rita Barnard (2003: 202). Barnard. Amy Gutmann. that is. 199–224. to make them present. the dogs’ return offers David what I would like to call here the gift of mourning. Ed. he remarks. For a different treatment of the question of sacrificial responsibility. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event. Unlike the guard dogs. and that listens to the trace of the nonhuman other. apartheid’s totalitarian project of the interdiction of mourning. the dog gestures towards an art (or is perhaps already an artist) that is beyond calculation. Princeton: Princeton UP. in the first place by identifying the bodily remains and by localizing the dead’ (Derrida 1994: 9). 44. see Louis Tremaine (2003: 603–4). ‘J. after all. Disgrace. Rita (2003). that holds itself open to the approach of the other as other. New York: Penguin Books. M. — (2001). J. M. 1986–1999. The Lives of Animals.

Critical Inquiry. Lucy (2002). 1974–1994. Trans. 2. . Donna (2003). Haraway. ‘Modern metamorphoses and disgraceful tales’. Jacques (1986a). Lamb. — (1992). ‘Eating well. Louis (2003). 28. . New York: Routledge. Coetzee’. M. 369–418. 133–66.). (4). 4–15. 28. ‘Fors: The Anglish [sic] words of Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok’ Introduction to The Wolf Man’s Magic Word: A Cryptonomy. Critical Inquiry. . New York: Columbia University Press. Points . Trans. ‘The animal that therefore I am (more to follow)’. Coetzee’s recent fiction’. 587–612. M. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press. or the calculation of the subject’. pp. M. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press. 2. Interviews. Jonathan (Fall 2001). Cecile Lindsay et al. Coetzee in Context and Theory Derrida. (7). — (2002). Trans. People. in Elisabeth Weber (ed. Nicholas Rand. and Significant Otherness. 1. (1). The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs. Specters of Marx. 255–87. Peggy Kamuf. ‘The embodied soul: Animal being in the work of J. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Scrutiny. Tremaine. I am giving him up’: Sacrificial responsibility and likeness with dogs in J. Memoires for Paul de Man. ‘‘Yes. Graham.158 J. 44. Contemporary Literature. — (1994). — (1986b).

In the third part of the novel. Friday’s silence (an imposed silence. ‘No matter what he is to himself’. according to Spivak. which consists. M. An effective rejoinder to Spivak’s argument is voiced by the protagonist of Coetzee’s novel. that resists the metropolitan’s attempt to voice his claims and desires (Spivak 1991: 172). ‘Theory in the Margin: Coetzee’s Foe Reading Defoe’s Crusoe/Roxana’ has proved influential in relation to poststructuralist and postcolonial readings of Coetzee’s Foe. She argues that whereas her silence is ‘chosen and purposeful: it is my own silence’. Susan Barton. Barton carefully distinguishes between her silence and Friday’s. is a ‘helpless silence’ (Coetzee 1987: 122). Analyses of Coetzee’s depiction of Friday are put in the service of opposing approaches to the South African writer’s figuring of alterity in his novels. rather than a victim. Not only does Spivak argue that the novel stages the impossibility of an overdetermined political project as it casts as oppositional the political programmes of feminism and postcolonialism. Recent postmodern and postcolonial readings emphasize both a reticence on the part of the author to speak on behalf of the oppressed – they make a specific claim about political representation. of a series of theoretical arguments between Susan Barton and Daniel Foe. is also an astute critic of her (and Coetzee’s) text and her various attempts to analyse her story both anticipate the critical responses to the novel and often subsume their arguments. . Coetzee’s Foe. she also locates the representation of Friday in the novel in (and as) the ‘strange margins’ – an agent. ‘the curious guardian at the margin’.Chapter 12 Sublime Abjection Mark Mathuray Much has been made of the mutilated and silenced black slave at the heart of J. a refusal on the part of the white writer to script the dominated black voice – and by representing as heterogeneous the language games of the oppressor and the oppressed. He is. they claim that the writer invests the scripted silence with power. in most part. the would-be writer in the novel.‘the unemphatic agent of withholding’ (172). thus casting the figure of the slave as embodying a form of anti-colonial resistance. an authorial and colonial imposition).1 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s article.

it is precisely his silence which facilitates a co-option into any number of critical paradigms. Barton. Rather than identifying the muted slave’s disarticulation with power. ‘To tell my story’. M. is given access to a numinous condition (154). in relation to the historical other. feminist or otherwise.2 As they remain unknowable and radically other. postmodernist. Friday’s mutedness disturbs and interrupts the oppressor’s voice. Barton further argues that it is her silence that is invested with power – a power that lies in the ability ‘to withhold’ (123). sacralising impulse . Marxist. Kwaku Larbi Korang perceives in Susan’s relation to Friday and in the final dream-like epilogue a ‘straining towards an impossible beyond’ (Korang 1998: 190). In relation to Coetzee’s earlier novels. In fact. ‘and be silent on Friday’s tongue is no better than offering a book for sale with pages in it quietly left empty. as arbiter of this portentous silence. signifying what cannot be spoken. which is almost always European (or white) and very often female. as irredeemably incomplete and as always-already unresolved. Through her deliberate silence about her daughter. More significantly for my purposes. to the sign of their anxiety – Friday’s tonguelessness – a void at the heart of her narrative which destabilizes her pursuit for control. the letters to Foe in part two and the first-person narrative of part three) return repetitively to the site of their silence. Parry argues that the silencing of the dominated in Coetzee’s texts repeats the exclusionary gestures of colonial discourse – his texts rehearse the failures the writer himself has ascribed to ‘white writing’ in South Africa. casting its projects.160 J. agency or resistance. functions as the agent of withholding in the novel. and the figure of the oppressed. M. Coetzee’ is exemplary in this regard. Stephen Watson notes a desire ‘to preserve the contemplative.3 Barton’s ‘hermeneutics’ may once again prove useful. however. Thus for Parry. ‘what he is to the world is what I make of him’ (122). speechlessness in Coetzee’s texts becomes identified with the ineffable. mythmaking. Barton suggests that his silence is no guarantee against assimilation to the dominant discourse. the dominator’s discourse. a drive towards sublimity. Yet the only tongue that can tell Friday’s secret is the tongue he has lost!’ (Coetzee 1987: 67). rather than Friday. contest the positive tenor of the above readings. these figures are not given a space from which to contest their constitution by the narrative voice. be they modernist. Benita Parry’s particularly incisive article ‘Speech and Silence in the Fictions of J. postcolonialist. She seems to be acutely aware that her texts (the memoir-letter in part one. Barton writes to Foe. Coetzee in Context and Theory Barton passionately proclaims. Other critics have also detected a desire in Coetzee’s texts to escape the quotidian. making it impossible for them to disturb the dominant discourse (Parry 1998: 152). Parry also suggests that the multiple scoring of silence in Coetzee’s novels has less to do with articulating the disarticulation of the relation between oppressor and oppressed but rather signals the ‘fictions’ urge to cast off worldly attachments. More Marxist-minded approaches. even as the world is signified and estranged’ (Parry 1998: 153). towards transcendence.

‘false gods’. a stalling of the sublime movement. transform the victory over apartheid into a ‘gain for postmodern knowledge. ‘latter-day prophets’. Words like ‘temptation’.Sublime Abjection 161 at the heart of modernism’ (Watson 1996: 34) – an Eliot-like recourse to myth as a disavowal of history. Pechey heeds and qualifies Njabulo Ndebele’s call for the rediscovery of the ordinary through the analysis of a relatively recent literary phenomenon. As the mental movement of the sublime is forestalled by the refusal to resolve the breakdown of discourse/ meaning.6 In addition to offering a description of Coetzee’s Foe in terms of the theory of the stalled sublime. the novel. I argue that. and terror does not transform into tranquil superiority. Coetzee’s novels (especially Foe) founder on the sublime experience (rather than its resolution). Ab/Re-jecting the Sublime Drawing from the Kantian formulation of the sublime. whose affective correlatives include anxiety. Key to understanding Foe is the idea of what I term the stalled sublime – a rupture. As Pechey does not refer to any other novels except Coetzee’s The Master of Petersburg that might fit into this category. ‘the postapartheid sublime’ which would. no resolution of the breakdown in meaning. in terms of form and content. Thomas Weiskel identifies. I suggest the centrality of both the sublime phenomenon and the ambivalent experiences it produces for an understanding of the narrative strategies and textual processes of Foe but depart from Pechey’s postmodernism and Parry’s Marxist position to argue that Coetzee’s fiction deploys the sublime only to disavow it. I felt that his ‘postapartheid sublime’ operates more as a prescriptive rather than a descriptive analytical tool. heuristically. we are confronted not with a failed dialectic (the disarticulation between self and other) but rather with a failed epiphany. according to Pechey. As Pechey sees Coetzee’s deployment of the sublime in The Master of Petersburg as being identical with his earlier novels written during apartheid. Pechey’s observation of the significance of the category of the sublime for an understanding of Coetzee’s aesthetics and politics is insightful. encodes the theory. However.4 However. the quotidian and numinous’ (Pechey 1998: 58).5 There is no intervention of the transcendent. alienation and ‘astonishment’. a new symbiosis of the sacred and the profane. and ‘grace’ gird a Romantic view of literature which regards the novel (and art in general) as a conduit between the everyday and the sacred. three phases of the ‘mental movement’ involved in the . implicitly. In ‘The Postapartheid Sublime: Rediscovering the Extraordinary’. it is Graham Pechey who has clearly identified Coetzee’s poetics with the category of the sublime. In his texts. I am unsure as to what is particularly postapartheid about the postapartheid sublime. His language is Christian. which prevents an intervention of the transcendent and hence interpretative fixity.

she draws away. in Barton. the shift from security to profound anxiety. She claims not to be ‘mistress of [her] own actions’ as she shrinks from the slave: ‘I caught myself flinching when he came near me’ (24). The third phase allows us to glimpse at and become aware of our destiny as moral beings. a ‘dull fellow’ to whom she gives little more attention than ‘any house-slave in Brazil’ (Coetzee 1987: 22–3). there seems to be a pressing presence in his silence. the transcendent reveals a ‘supersensible substrate of nature’ (Kant 1914: 109).7 A phase in which the relationship between mind and object breaks down. 81). 1988: 5. Barton admits that the thought of Friday’s mutilated tongue causes her to ‘shiver’ (57). Friday operates in Barton’s narrative as nothing more than he would have in the Coetzee-identified ‘white writing’ of Southern Africa – the figuring of blackness as silence or a ‘shadowy presence’ (see Coetzee. The text registers that ‘a silence fell’ (22). thus the possibility of meaning is rescued (see Weiskel 1976: 23–8). mirrors Weiskel’s first two phases of the sublime moment. Rudolf Otto describes the encounter with mysterium trememdum as eliciting a ‘shudder’ – the subject ‘held speechless. We encounter a determinate relationship that Barton establishes with the black slave. Coetzee in Context and Theory sublime encounter (Weiskel 1976: xx). The primary images of the sublime moment. trembles inwardly’ (Otto 1925: 17). or in which the reader is confronted with a text that exceeds comprehension by having too many signifiers or signifieds (what he calls an ‘epiphany of absolute limitation’ [44]) is preceded by a phase in which mind and object. Barton says of Friday’s mouth. Barton’s encounter with Friday’s ‘tonguelessness’. Coetzee’s structuring of the primary sublime moment in Foe. In the April 25th letter to Foe. I regard Kristeva’s theory of abjection in Powers of Horror as a version of what I call the stalled sublime and her concomitant view of subjectivity proves illuminating in the attempt to address the ‘aporia’ of Barton’s horror at Friday’s . dominate the scene. For Barton.162 J. White Writing. For Kant. It is neither the fact of his blackness nor his status as a slave but rather the awareness of Friday’s mutilation that seems to rupture Barton’s established relationship with the slave. is signalled and performed by the text through the use of the temporal qualifier ‘Hitherto’ (24). what seems to be Burkean terror and a bewildering and paralysing of rational faculties. M. darkness. Racial difference and a power differential are firmly in place. are in a determinate relationship and succeeded by the recovery of balance between inner and outer through the intervention of the transcendent. When Cruso attempts to show her the reason for Friday’s silence. At this point. signifier and signified. and silence. the significance of which she will pursue throughout the novel and attempt to convert into narrative. He is a ‘shadowy creature’. The moment generates. ‘it is too dark’ (22). She claims: ‘I began to look on him with the horror we reserve for the mutilated’ (Coetzee 1987: 24). which seems to her to be an abyss. the abyss. The rupture. but a significant absence. Friday’s silence becomes more than mere mutedness. more than a ‘shadowy presence’.

For Kristeva. Constantly threatened by the loss of system or of order.Sublime Abjection 163 mutilation. The novelist translates the transcendental homelessness of the modern subject. one does not desire it. order. the third phase becomes the ‘something added’ to abjection (12). Abjection. the subject is drawn. my parentheses). position. In England. She relates the experience to a stage in psychosexual development before the subject establishes relations to objects of desire or of representation. the sublime with its appeal to transcendent principles for its resolution ‘covers up the breakdowns associated with the abject’ (12). I am at the border of my condition as a living being’ (3). The Susan Barton of the memoir is a supreme arbiter of difference. the more he is saved’ [Kristeva 1982: 8]) echoes Foe’s acknowledgment of the ‘maze of doubting’ in which every writer is lost and his proffered solution to Barton’s fears about the insubstantiality of her daughter (and herself).8 In her essay on abjection. paradoxically. In abjection. An encounter that produces a radical breakdown in meaning returns the subject to that limit-situation. ‘There. her obsessive desire to be elsewhere. Foe. . On the island. What does not respect borders. her eternal homelessness. to the objects or the phenomena that facilitate the crisis. . Kristeva argues. it is caused by a loss of distinction between self and other. she desperately wants to be rescued and tells Cruso. she strays. places. Yet we are also made aware that she is never at home. She is a ‘deject’. 1987: 43). compulsively and obsessively. one joys in it [on en jouit]. Not only does she seek to distinguish Cruso and herself . she longs ‘to be borne away to a new life’ (63). between subject and object. Kristeva’s claim about the salvation of the deject (‘the more he strays. In relation to Weiskel’s model. like the sacred and the sublime. 9). the abject is ‘necessarily dichotomous. He tells her that ‘your search for a way out of the maze [.] might start from that point [the sign of blindness] and return to it as many times as are needed till you discover yourself to be saved’ (Coetzee 1987: 136. Yet. Specifically. is related ultimately to ‘what disturbs identity. situates himself. he strays’ (Kristeva 1982: 8). through a breakdown in meaning. However. system. as the sublime in Weiskel’s model (and Coetzee’s analysis in White Writing). between nature and culture. Kristeva claims that the abject is also a ‘deject’ – ‘he separates. abjection is occasioned. However. are marked. she begins to hanker after the life on the island (see Coetzee. As much as Foe is ‘about’ Susan Barton’s attempt to have her story told. it also charts her search for a home. as soon as she is rescued. into Barton’s paradoxical desire for a home and the knowledge of its eternal impossibility. A passion’ (Kristeva 1982: 167. rules’ (4). abjection. ‘I have a desire to be saved which I must call inordinate’ (Coetzee 1987: 36). Coetzee gives us an acute sense of Barton’s unbelonging. a stage when the distinctions between human and animal. generates an experience that is a ‘compound of abomination and fascination’ as it is related simultaneously to fear (phobias) and pleasure (jouissance): ‘One does not know it. Violently and painfully. somewhat Manichean’ – she never stops demarcating her universe (Kristeva 1982: 8). a subject cast away.

‘is to live like the whales. Foe. 1987: 31. Barton deploys this identity to ascribe Friday’s lack of speech. Coetzee in Context and Theory from Friday by her characterization of the slave as a ‘cannibal’. 106). can be content with caws and chirps and screeches. like a jellyfish of the kind you see in the waters of Brazil’ (5). She writes: ‘I have no doubt that amongst Africans the human sympathies move as readily as amongst us’ (70). The indirect nature of the comparisons opposes the organicity of the animal sounds . M. The excess of similes marks the gap between language and reality.) establishes an organicity between sign and referent. She identifies speech with civilization and humanity: So if the company of brutes had been enough for me. his enforced silence. great castles of flesh floating leagues apart [. etc.164 J. like an anemone. The major implication of Friday’s mutedness is not some hidden story of colonial brutality but rather that it prevents communication and exacerbates her alienation. which posits an identity between them. it is allied to the affective correlative of the sublime/abject moment. see Coetzee. The slippage from ‘brutes’ to animals should also be noted. Rather. a direct relation between language and object. to the trope of animality (he is ‘like an animal wrapt entirely in itself’ [70]). Implicitly. even before she recounts her meeting with Cruso. a ‘savage’ and ‘superstitious’ (for examples.] or like the spiders. her language struggles to overcome the divide between sign and referent. ‘To live in silence’. . His is the life of an animal. accustomed to the fullness of human speech. Animal similes dominate Barton’s narrative and letters. She says of Captain Smith: ‘I found him a true gentleman though a mere ship-master and the son of a pedlar’ (Coetzee 1987: 42). from which as we shall see she clearly separates herself. it is precisely the gap between language and reality that she wants to maintain. In the opening paragraph of the novel. The rhetorical nature of the question suggests an agreement between her and the reader – a shared ideological position that distinguishes the speech of the ‘civilized’ from the sounds of animals and brutes. Barton establishes a distinction between humans and animals which will prove crucial to her relationship with Friday. and the barking of seals. . it seems to have a rather different import for Barton. problematizing a mimetic theory of language. By reaching for one simile after another. 104. that between herself and the animal world. From this point of view. sitting each alone’ (59). alienation – the radical exclusion from intersubjective community. Although the ascription echoes racist colonial ideology. the excessive similes stage a crucial distinction for Barton. But who. Barton writes. she also polices class and social difference. and the moan of the wind? (8) The onomatopoeic quality of the animal sounds she describes (the caws. Early in her memoir-letter. the screeches. I might have lived most happily on my island. she describes herself floating in the sea ‘like a flower of the sea.

social and class differences that Barton obsessively keeps watch over seem to be constantly under threat. For the abject whose need to mark out the world borders on obsession. of difference’ (Kristeva 1982: 69). following Mary Douglas. this ‘liminal’ . As Barton is wont to associate narrative with investing experience with meaning. Would it reveal. and the racial. Barton is deeply disturbed by Friday’s and Cruso’s initial reactions to her. the island (and the world) ‘insensible of the insects scurrying on its back. which blur the boundaries between humanity and animality. She calls this period ‘the darkest time’. 9). she expects Foe (and the reader) to establish a congruence between her experience and the epic she ascribes to Cruso’s stay on the island. a moment when ‘the purpose of our life here has been all at once illuminated’ (Coetzee 1987: 89). Cruso. Susan wonders if she should have asked Cruso if he ever had an epiphany on the island. When she is cast up on the island. the transgression of boundaries and by in-betweenness: ‘Liminal entities are neither here nor there. in the greater view? Are we no better than the ants?’ (89). heedless of who saw me’ [35]). Turner argues. a time of ‘despair and lethargy’ (35). which as Kristeva.9 The ‘liminal’ phase of the rite-of-passage. V. an animal. The opposition between humanity and animality. convention and ceremonial’ (Turner 1969: 95). points out is a ‘device of discriminations. as passages through a ‘liminal’ phase in which the symbolic order of the social aggregate and power relations are undermined.10 Barton ascribes an epic narrative to Cruso’s experiences on the island. and the opposition between savagery and civilization (‘I squatted in the garden. they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law. The description of the epic nature of Cruso’s struggles on the island immediately succeeds Barton’s recounting of her journey through listlessness and melancholy to a return to fruitful labour (see Coetzee 1987: 35–6). She thinks of him as a ‘hero who had braved the wilderness and slain the monster of solitude and returned fortified by his victory’ (Coetzee 1987: 38). In a letter to Foe. thus revealing the frailty of the symbolic order. she asks. This unease at her closeness to the animal world finds symptomatic expression in her refusal to use ape-skins for warmth.Sublime Abjection 165 (discussed above). She believes that Friday regards her ‘as a seal or a porpoise thrown up by the waves’ and Cruso as a ‘fish cast up by the waves’ (6. is characterized by marginality. During this period. scratching an existence for themselves? Are we insects. the divide between human and animal (she bolts food ‘like a dog’ [35]). W. The subject experiences a sense of being a ‘nothingness’ in relation to an overpowering might. Otto suggests that an encounter with the numinous produces a feeling of what he calls ‘creature-consciousness’ (Otto 1925: 20). Coetzee structures two sequences in the novel as rites of passage. S/He is reduced to the status of a creature. She writes: ‘I preferred not to have the skins upon me’ (19). custom. the divisions and distinctions that Barton uses to demarcate her universe become unhinged: social and racial distinctions (‘My skin was as brown as an Indian’s’ [35]).

It is the life of a thing’ (126. Coetzee in Context and Theory period can be nothing other than the ‘darkest time’. In Coetzee’s recitation/revision of the rite-of-passage narrative. ‘a woman alone must travel like a hare’ (100).] men and women all higgledy-piggledy together’ (108). rather than mollifies. Like the epic hero. . Barton and Friday journey to Bristol to try and find a ship that will take Friday back to ‘Africa’. The journey to Bristol is also a return to their point of entry into England. In a text that privileges spatial inertia to temporal movement as its structuring device. in a sort of . The other rites of passage sequence also replicates the crossing-of-boundaries generated in and by the liminal phase.166 J. After Barton’s encounter with the noumenal realm. The return to society exacerbates. It is during this sequence that boundary-crossing. She conceives her return to the symbolic order as a return to labour (‘step by step I recovered my spirits and began to apply myself again to little tasks’ [35]). and if we wait long enough we are bound to see that design unfolding’ (103). my emphasis). Not only are gender distinctions blurred. Coetzee’s deployment of the function and structure of the rite of passage narrative is clearly different from West African literary treatments. For safety reasons. she reverses her view on productive labour. but also the identification of the subject with society/community is thwarted. she falls into a trance in which she sees ‘wondrous sights’ and comes to realize that ‘there is after all design in our lives. In the final sequence of part two of the novel. As she dances. By the end of the novel. the alienation of the individual. She casts a return to society as a return to a ‘life [that] is abject. she is rejuvenated after the encounter with the noumenal realm. M..g. The hero returns communicating new strength to the community. ‘hoping to pass for a man’ (101). not only is the resultant transformation directed solely at the individual subject. During the journey to Bristol. The access to the transcendental sphere. in initiation rites) involves the acquisition of knowledge about the gods and about their relationship to humanity. characteristic of liminality. but also Barton begins to apply animal similes to herself. An important aspect of rites of passages (e. Barton believes that she learns the secret of Friday’s dancing. for example. is most apparent. the ‘plenitude of perceptions and gifts’ that Parry sees as the prerogative of the ‘muted’ dominated characters in Coetzee’s novels seems also to be available to the white female protagonist (see 153). the journey to Bristol with its picaresque quality appears ‘out of place’. Barton pins her hair under her hat and wears a coat at all times. Writers such as Chinua Achebe.11 Barton is convinced that she has received a message of other lives ‘being open’ to her (104). . An old man calls Barton and Friday ‘gipsies’ and explains: ‘we call them gipsies [. Wole Soyinka and Ben Okri emphasize the ‘subjectlessness’ in their textual mobilization of the narrative in which the cohesion and functional unity of the clan/society takes precedence over the individual subject – the traditional import of the rite. and ‘I stripped off my clothes and burrowed like a mole into the hay’ (102).

After the sublime encounter. the counter-discursive strategies. stable state. The reaction. In the Stoke Newington house. once again. In purification rites. Kristeva suggests that abjection involves a process of jettisoning the object that produces the specific crisis in subjectivity from the symbolic order (see Kristeva 1982: 65–7). Robertson Smith. to escape social interaction (104). in her peculiar reaction to Friday after the primary sublime moment in the novel – her encounter with his missing tongue. and Lévi-Strauss) see as founding the social aggregate by maintaining divisions and distinctions between ‘society and a certain nature’ (65). in her attempts to create some form of communication with Friday. we can see Coetzee’s novels as rehearsing the first two stages of Turner’s rites of passage. However. it is extracted from the secular order and invested with a sacred (secret?) quality. the Magistrate from his position as magistrate of the frontier town. Defilement is thus filth sacralised (65). Frazer. van Gennep. She fails. to the castaway. its non-verbal forms of expression (e. Behind his back I wiped the utensils his hands had touched’ (24). through music. Furthermore. Deprived of status and rank. The excluded object becomes defiled. an agos. After she discovers Friday’s mutilation. David Lurie from his teaching post at the Technical University of Cape Town). or holding my breath so as not to have to smell him. she and Friday may be able to communicate. Mary Douglas (1966) suggests that filth in African symbolic systems is . The resisting of the non-verbal as a means of resolution of sublime terror and alienation reveals another element of Coetzee’s aesthetic of the stalled sublime. his characters then exist as marginal or liminal figures that are ‘neither here nor there. she claims. . The text ultimately refuses the reconciling fictions of a transcendent vision by preventing both a resolution in the benevolent Oneness of traditional sublimity and an escape from isolated individualism to identification with humanity. most clearly. Barton writes: ‘I caught myself flinching when he came near.g. The tunes they played on the recorders ‘jangled and jarred’ (Coetzee 1987: 98). she comes to understand that the reason Friday danced at Foe’s Stoke Newington house was to ‘remove himself’. is outside her conscious control: ‘I [. It is the process of prohibition that anthropologists and religious historians (for instance. this novelistic strategy refuses a ‘post-liminal’ re-aggregation in which the subject is re-integrated into society into a new. a filthy object is prohibited.] was not mistress of my own actions’ (24). Barton hopes that. from his/her place in the social structure (for instance. they are betwixt and between’ and his novels chart their existence during this ‘phase’ (Turner 1969: 95). in Foe.Sublime Abjection 167 ironic epiphany. . Friday becomes unclean and somehow polluted. From this perspective. Michael K from his gardening job. In the pre-liminal phase. the subject is detached from an earlier set of social conditions. The author draws attention to Barton’s state of abjection not only through her dejection (her eternal homelessness) and compulsive need to institute and mark boundaries but also. music and dance) aggravate the alienation of the characters.

13 Coetzee is careful to remove Susan Barton’s relation with Friday from the circuit of desire. Abjection constitutes the object not only as agos (that which defiles) but also as katharmos (that which purifies) (see Kristeva 1982: 84–5). It is. therefore. a limit. the social significances of the pharmakos and the epic hero-victim are repeated at the level of the individual subject.] with a dazzling halo’ (Coetzee 1987: 5). abjection is not sustained by desire (see Kristeva 1982: 1. inner and outer. Coetzee in Context and Theory not a quality in itself but rather relates to a boundary. She addresses her existential plea. I am all alone’ to a ‘dark shadow [. according to Barton. Friday) that brings about the abject experience as agos the subject (Barton) attempts to re-instate the boundaries that have suddenly become indistinct.15 Barton’s first description of Friday casts him in the role of angelic redeemer. it is a non-object into which the speaking being is engulfed. stages an epiphany of absolute limitation. She refuses a psychoanalytical reading of her language: ‘This is no game in which each word has a second meaning in which the words say [. the absolute limit of subjectivity itself. she interprets her obsession with Friday as the desire for ‘answering speech’. ‘asserted to be a non-object of desire’. not love but more like something beyond it. She tells her lover: ‘We [she and Friday] have lived too close for love. Friday. . By treating the object (in the case of Foe.168 J. echoing the double value of the coincidentia oppositorum of the sacred subject (as both victim/outcast and leader/hero). As katharmos and agos. Barton tells the slave: ‘Be assured. Mr. Coetzee makes Friday the bearer of this particular load of signification by replacing the deus absconditus of modernity with the homo absconditus of the apartheid state – the ‘missing’ black citizen of a segregated state. Kristeva argues. 6). Although the abject-object fascinates and beseeches desire. subject and object. The primary sublime moment in the novel. thus. as abjection’ (Kristeva 1982: 65). . What she feels towards Friday is. Her desperation in confronting a world in which she speaks ‘into a void. cast as threatening and as fascinating.] “I crave an answer” and mean “I crave an embrace”’ (79). a refusal on the part of the subject to possess the object that occasions the sublime moment. The object is. by sitting at your bedside and talking of desire and kisses I do not mean to court you’ (Coetzee 1987: 79). without answer’ (80) suggests a godless universe without the possibility of grace or transcendence. day after day. In the scene in which Barton explains to Friday that she is not courting him. it is ‘abominated as abject.12 A concomitant of treating the object as agos is its removal from the location of libidinal object.14 In Kristevean abjection. It is only through the forever- . Friday has grown to be my shadow’ (115). the boundaries between self and other. the brutalized and tortured black body that cannot be read. Barton’s refusal of the logic of desire in her relationship with Friday resonates with the experience of the Kantian sublime – a certain disinterestedness. Friday incorporates ambivalence and reversal in a single being. . . Foe. ‘I am cast away. M.

Coetzee enacts the logic of the limit of subjectivity. social and class distinctions. a sublime abjection. Nancy claims. The sublime does not ‘escape to a space beyond the limit. It remains at the limit and takes place there’ (49). as a marginal and marginalized woman. and argues rather that the sublime interrogates the logic of the limit. The logic of the stalled sublime refuses the reconciling fiction of a transcendent escape from the quotidian. the ‘device of discriminations’ on which the symbolic order (particularly the colonial symbolic order) rests is destabilized. on one level. rather than difference. Nancy contests Lyotard’s postmodern formulation of the sublime with its preoccupation with artistic strategies of ‘presenting the unpresentable’ and ‘negative presentation’. and deriving from both of these distinctions. Barton betrays her awareness that she is as much silenced as Friday. Identity. through the matter of Friday’s tongue. the breakdown in meaning generated by the loss of distinctions (between man and woman [through his emasculation]. the obsessive marker of the universe. nor from the power differential (his status as a slave). the sublime. More importantly. his tonguelessness erases the gender distinctions that are crucial for Barton. She says: ‘I pictured [it] to myself wagging and straining under the sway of emotion as Friday tried to utter himself’ (119). involves ‘the unlimitation (die Unbregenzheit) that takes place on the border of the limit. marginal status]. nor even solely from his physical mutilation. The reason why Friday’s perceived emasculation should produce sublime horror in Barton lies in her description of how she imagines Friday’s tonguelessness. and thus the boundaries between nature and culture. Nancy argues. Through the textual strategies of the stalled sublime and the depiction of an individual at the border of her condition as a living being. confronts Barton in the sublime moment. In Foe. While beauty is concerned with form. the supreme arbiter of difference. there is neither ethics nor aesthetics. Jean-Luc Nancy’s reading of the Kantian sublime is apposite to his strategy. savage and civilized [through her silenced. As Friday’s lack of tongue functions as a cipher for emasculation in Barton’s imagination. This immediately precedes her confession to Foe in part three of the novel. the divide between the human and the animal. Barton’s reactions to Friday’s tonguelessness and her obsessive need to invest his silence with meaning arise neither from racial difference. the human and the animal [through the opposition she sets up between civilized speech and the sounds of brutes and animals]) can only produce horror of the sublime kind. Through the depiction of a sublime experience. Coetzee replaces traditional forms of sublimity with a reaching-after the ‘mystery’ of the brutal- . which is why she cannot rest. Coetzee stages an epiphany of the absolute limitation of subjectivity. He traces the limits of subjectivity through the problematization of racial.Sublime Abjection 169 withheld possibility of Friday’s ‘answering speech’ that Barton sees herself as escaping alienation. At the limit. and thus on the border of presentation’ (Nancy 1993: 35). with boundaries. For the abject.

Bishop 1990. . . nor a political vision. or. 95–7. 446. Kwaku Larbi Korang agrees. There is no act I know of that will bring the world into me’ (Coetzee 1977: 10). poststructuralist approaches that celebrate the playfulness of the text and the joy in the infinite deferral of meaning seem far removed from the anguish produced by the lack of meaning or connection in Coetzee’s characters. abjection refers to the defiled object/other. Turner’s The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. a hedging in that underwrites a ‘quasiessentialist interpretation of race and culture’ (Korang 1998: 193). the literature of a people that are not quite European and not quite African. the text (and Barton) can only turn on and return to itself. as a ‘literature of empty landscape [. M. The Master of Petersburg ‘concentrates – only then to displace away from itself – a force of sublime dissonance’ (Pechey 1998: 71). regarding Coetzee’s disfiguring and disabling of Friday as a locking into place of blackness. .] [which] is thus a literature of failure. The medical officer writes of Michael K as a ‘soul untouched by history’ (Coetzee 1985: 207). W. see Splendore 1988. Coetzee in Context and Theory ized body of the historical other (and the ‘mysteries’ of the literary text itself). See V. 1988: 9). which for Kristeva is a non-object. the abject refers to the subject experiencing the breakdown (of meaning. Pechey argues. Macaskill and Colleran 1992. In In the Heart of the Country. 1969. their discursive strategy operates outside a structuralist model which relies on relation for meaning. Coetzee relies heavily on Weiskel’s account of the sublime for his discussion of the absence of this aesthetic category in nineteenth-century South African poetry (see Coetzee 1988: 55–60). In White Writing. At times. she relates abjection to the occasion. 73. At others. Yet at still other times. of the failure of historical imagination’ (Coetzee. Magda agonizes that: ‘there is no act I know of that will liberate me into the world. to be saved’ (Coetzee 1987: 51). As identification with the historical other is often thwarted in Coetzee’s novels. Also.170 J. the sublime moment in Foe generates neither an ethical relation (to the historical other). 59. identity. Precariously balanced at the limit. However. in the words I then used. Coetzee characterizes the defining feature of ‘white writing’ i. conjoins her eternal homelessness and her desire for redemption: ‘When I was on the island I longed only to be elsewhere. in a flash of acute self-awareness. Susan Barton. Marais 1996. There are multiple registers in which Kristeva scores abjection. 54. White Writing. a non-other as abjection operates outside the logic of desire or representation (Kristeva 1982: 65).e. ‘Like Coetzee’s earlier fiction’. the impersonal moment that disturbs identity. order etc. Notes 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 For examples of these positions. The principal subjective dimension of the stalled sublime is alienation – the metaphysical homelessness of the modern subject and the solitary individual estranged from history are its correlatives. order).

64 (1). the discourse of defilement and purification operates at the limits/boundaries of state power – at the frontier of the colony and in the torture chamber. 1981: 61–171. bare and extreme. . For an interesting discussion of the functioning of the sacred in Waiting for the Barbarians. White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa. Scott. the violence perpetrated in the torture cell sacralises the space and when he enters it. — (1987). Doubling the Point. — (1985). Burke. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and the Beautiful. Harmondsworth: Penguin. (1977). See Derrida’s ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’. the one half of the ambivalent sentiment generated in the sublime encounter. In Waiting for the Barbarians. see Trevor James’s ‘Locating the Sacred: J. MA and London: Harvard University Press. Life & Times of Michael K. Colonel Joll. torture. M. The Magistrate asks the Colonel: ‘Do you find it easy to take food afterwards? I have imagined that one would want to wash one’s hands. he wonders if he is ‘trespassing [. But no ordinary washing would be enough. ‘J. and. . as ‘disinterested’ (Kant 1914: 113). World Literature Today. The power of the individual’s imagination replaces the enactment of ritual challenge. M. London: Penguin. a ceremonial cleansing [. in which the initiate is fully integrated into socially structural relations. the central problem in his relation to the torturer is his apparent lack of need for a rite of purification – his ability to move ‘without disquiet between the unclean and the clean’ after he has trespassed into the forbidden (12). Edmund (1998). Kant’s dynamical sublime repeats at the level of the individual the importance of contesting the power of Nature. Coetzee suggests that the torture chamber ‘provide[s] a metaphor.] on what has become holy or unholy ground’ (Coetzee 1982: 6).] Otherwise it would be impossible to return to everyday life’ (126). (1990). London: Yale University Press. By perpetrating the most violent of rituals.Sublime Abjection 10 171 11 12 13 14 15 The other two phases are the pre-liminal phase. . for relations between authoritarianism and its victims’ (Coetzee. and the post-liminal phase. The structure of rites of passage replicates that of the epic narrative. thus. Coetzee. Harmondsworth: Penguin. — (1982). There is no desire on the part of the subject to possess the object that facilitates the sublime experience. London: Secker and Warburg. 1992: 363). Foe. in which s/he is re-integrated into a more advanced level in the social structure. writes of the pleasure. G. becomes unclean. in his ‘analytic’ of the sublime. — (1992). . Kant. Cambridge. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians’. For the Magistrate. one would require priestly intervention. in the eyes of the Magistrate. London: Penguin. Waiting for the Barbarians. however. Coetzee’s Foe : A culmination and a solution to a problem of white identity’. — (1988). J. David Attwell (ed). . Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews. Works Cited Bishop. 54–47. In the Heart of the Country. M.

M. Spivak.: State University of New York Press. Writing South Africa: Literature. M. 11. Parry. Korang. 154–80. Julia (1982). N. ‘J. Immanuel (1914). Coetzee. ‘Locating the sacred: J. 1970–1995. Powers of Horror: An Essay in Abjection.: Columbia University Press. Kant. Benita (1998). M. M. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. M. Basingstoke: Macmillan. ‘Speech and silence in the fictions of J. pp. M. London: Oxford University Press. Splendore. Trans.). Jeffrey S.Y. M. ‘Colonialism and the Novels of J. ‘The hermeneutics of empire: Coetzee’s postcolonial metafiction’. Kant’s Critique of Judgement. Trans. Contemporary Literature. Coetzee’s Foe’. Writing South Africa: Literature. Commonwealth: Essays and Studies. James. Nancy. M. John W. Albany. The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its relation to the Rational. Consequences of Theory. Scott (ed). pp. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure.Y.172 J. Apartheid and Democracy. Gayatri Chakravorty (1991). pp. Bernard (2nd ed. Macaskill. Jacques (1981). Victor W. pp. ‘The sublime offering’ in Of the Sublime: Presence in Question. Watson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (1). London: Macmillan. 1970–1995. Essays by Jean Courtine et al. M. Coetzee’.). Apartheid and Democracy. ‘And the Birds Began to Sing ’: Religion and Literature in Post-Colonial Cultures. H. Harvey. Critical Perspectives on J. Dissemination. Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. and Introduction. Coetzee in Context and Theory Derrida. Coetzee’s Foe: Intertextual and metafictional resonances’. pp. Pechey. J. Mary (1966). Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians’. M. Hampshire: Macmillan Press. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 33. Brian and Jeanne Colleran (1992). Trans. ‘Reading history. Marais. Thomas (1976). writing heresy: The resistance of representation and the representation of resistance in J. in Derek Attridge and Rosemary Jolly (eds). 180–97. 61–171. Weiskel. 55–60. Coetzee. Douglas. Stephen (1996). 57–74. Barbara Johnson. Coetzee’. Librett. in Graham Huggan and Stephen Watson (eds). 432–57. 66–81. 13–36. Kristeva. in Jonathan Arac and Barbara Johnson (eds). ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’. London: Prentice Hall International. ‘The post-apartheid sublime: Rediscovering the extraordinary’ in Derek Attridge and Rosemary Jolly (eds). Otto. Kwaku Larbi (1998). pp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Jean-Luc (1993). in Jamie S. Michael (1996). Critical Essays on J. ‘Theory in the margin: Coetzee’s Foe Reading Defoe’s Crusoe/Roxana’. resistance and J. Trevor (1996). in Sue Kossew (ed. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Trans. Turner. . Coetzee. Graham (1998). (1969). Rudolf (1925). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Critical Perspectives on J. ‘An allegory of re-reading: Postcolonialism. pp. in Graham Huggan and Stephen Watson (eds). Paola (1988). The Romantic Sublime: Studies in the Structure and Psychology of Transcendence. Amsterdam: Rodopi. 141–50. 149–65. N. Coetzee’s Foe’.

his fiction also explores what might be called master plots and ideologies which themselves examine the existence of so-called truths as no more than artificial constructions. In the following. Through my exploration of these issues. Chronicles. to borrow an expression from Derrida (Derrida 1998). repeatedly writes out attempts to achieve analogical verification. a literature which problematizes these crucial notions of representation. I suggest that he considers the human desire for authenticity as expressed via artefacts – artefacts as ‘prostheses of origin’. the well-being of all South African citizens and peace require reconciliation between the people of South Africa and the reconstruction of society’. ‘it is deemed necessary to establish the truth in relation to past events as well as the motives for and circumstances in which gross violations of human rights have occurred. I will suggest that Coetzee produces a literature which questions its own status as art. through his works. M. thus. .] [A]nd the Constitution states that the pursuit of national unity. [Department of Justice and Constitutional Development] Partially as a result of the role played by the TRC. [. Coetzee has been preoccupied with questions of authenticity. As part of this preoccupation. truth and its inexistence in the singular form. In the Act. Furthermore. I investigate how Coetzee. . J. a literature which questions its relation to the world. a literature which is acutely aware of its own imprisonment in language (and ideology) and. . South African history has recently begun to be conceived on the basis of individual stories. the President of South Africa published the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act which led to the emergence of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (the TRC).Chapter 13 Authenticity: Diaries. Records as Index-Simulations Anne Haeming On 26 July 1995. From the very beginning of his literary career.

and so to submit to a test of verification. They articulate the want to structure space and subject it to the law of ‘analogical verification’ (Scarry 1985: 14). Through these textual spaces. In doing so.174 J. Their aim is not simple verisimilitude. he establishes textual spaces which explore the relationship between experienced ‘reality’ and documented experience. Colonial acts of cultivation have to be seen against the background of index-creation: all for the sake of authenticity. in which are included a definition of the field of the real that is involved and a statement of the modes and the degree of resemblance to which the text lays claim. the aim of which initially appears to be to communicate truthfulness. Simon During suggests that this kind of desire for verification is characteristic in the work of ‘postcolonial novelists’ who feel compelled ‘to witness their society’ (During 1990: 152). M. they claim to provide information about a ‘reality’ exterior to the text. I suggest that Coetzee’s writing demonstrates this concern with verification through a subtext that continuously addresses the idea of writing itself. an influential thinker about autobiography. All referential texts thus entail what I will call a ‘referential pact. authenticity (suggesting the originator of an action1) is closely linked to the notion of truthfulness. the edges of fact and fiction. Coetzee in Context and Theory Coetzee’s Edges of Fact and Fiction The compulsive search for authenticity is a theme which pervades Coetzee’s texts through their repeated depiction of a range of cultural acts as so-called ‘prostheses of origin’. consequently. and as such they possess an intrinsic colonizing attitude. This chapter will examine Coetzee’s technique of writing against the background of seemingly verifiable authenticity. As man-made indexical signs.’ implicit or explicit. diaries. Not ‘the effect of the real. but resemblance to the truth. This probing of the ‘edges’ is particularly revealing in his textual consideration of historical truth. refers to this ‘contractual genre’ (Lejeune 1989: 29): As opposed to all forms of fiction. chronicles and letters). they are at the same time man-made authenticity. In this way. original emphasis) Lejeune’s conception of truth in the above quotation is not the ultimate divine Platonic idea. As the term itself implies. (22. Coetzee draws attention to the edges of texts and. Philippe Lejeune. and autobiography are referential texts: exactly like scientific or historical discourse. and as something that bears witness to the existence of the origin in physical reality. Authenticity is the apparent objective of a range of different textual genres (including autobiographies. fictional truth and scientifically measured and calculated truth.’ but the image of the real. He repeatedly and persistently confronts the ‘edge’ of these in his writing through . biography. but rather something that should be understood as evidential and verifiable.

Coetzee’s merging of ‘fact’ and fiction reflects his own assertion that ‘[a]ll autobiography is storytelling. Much more overt than apparent official historical data in his writing. reflecting the objectives of the TRC. including diaries. Coetzee’s writing questions whether humans can have authority over ontic reality. This locating as such elucidates Coetzee’s repeated emphasis on verifiable references. all writing is autobiography’(Coetzee. almost anticipated what was at stake in the work of the TRC. I suggest. she soon discovers that there is an insurmountable gap between her own memory of this time and the version that is envisioned by Mr. I suggest that these traces are essentially messengers of authenticity. Foe. except Friday who. perhaps his most overt narrative discussion on historiography. exact sciences. All I have is my sandals. When I reflect on my story I seem to exist only as the one who came. bereft of his tongue. with these parallels. Records Coetzee’s fictional use of seemingly verifiable references inevitably asks questions about the reliability of the ‘facts’ or. This technique acts as a simulation of collecting historical data. traces and inscriptions. letters and archive material in his work. can tell neither her nor his own story: I brought back not a feather. More than that. Chronicles. The human being is cast as homo faber : a producer of ‘worlds’ which always refer to an existing author. However. rather. cause or index. Susan has to acknowledge that she has no proof of having lived on the island and has no indexical sign of her time there. Chronicles. 1992: 391). Susan Barton sets out to have an account written about her time as a shipwreck survivor. letters. autobiographical accounts combine the verifiable side of historical experience with a seemingly truthful subjective perspective. Records as Index-Simulations 175 his inclusion of seemingly verifiable texts. Indeed. travelwriting. not a thimbleful of sand. the implication of facts being ultimately constructed as products of cultural performances.2 Diaries. Coetzee concurrently highlights the shortcomings of these authenticity-driven attempts and.Diaries. Coetzee repeatedly uses these text forms and consciously includes details that underline the indexical quality of the writing. physics and game theory. from Cruso’s island. After returning from the island. diaries.3 However. Coetzee illustrates how the presence of an eyewitness alone is not sufficient to convey an impression of authenticity. In their analogous relation to the absent physical cause. the one who longed to be gone: a . the textual ‘bastard’ is everywhere in his texts: journal entries. initiator. the one who witnessed. the author she has elected to put her experiences down in words. chronicles. travel writing. He examines this through the prominent appearance of diaries. In Foe.

and then the knack of seeing waves when there are fields before your eyes. to burn the story upon wood.4 Foe features three different types of writing which all belong to the wider field of historiography. these apparent diary entries are actually letters to Mr. so that they will outlive you. but she has no way to verify the events and non-events of her time on the island without Cruso. returning from an adventurous episode. For though my story gives the truth. back in London and lacking any indexical sign. or ‘excarnations’ (Assmann 1993: 133–55) is clearly communicated through this passage. These narrative modes all demonstrate a clear inclination towards the sense of the factual to which they each allude. and a comfortable chair away from all distraction. and at your fingertips the words with which to capture the vision before it fades. To tell the truth in all its substance you must have quiet. Susan begged Cruso to fashion some kind of ink and paper to ‘set down what traces remain of these memories. and a window to stare through.]. However. . ‘[t]he signature designates the enunciator. are not sufficient: she might be the sum total of her past experiences. Foe. if one’s address serves as an index that refers back to oneself. However. or engrave it upon rock’ (17). Foe’s absence is made all the more evident since Susan has taken over his lodgings in his absence. Coetzee in Context and Theory being without substance. and ventures into the genre of travel writing. Each diary passage is clearly announced by a specific date which acts as an index and a marker of seeming truthfulness. Susan. rebuffed. and of feeling the tropic sun when it is cold. . Susan desires the proof which can authenticate her memories and turn her into something substantial: Return to me the substance I have lost. In her attempts to fulfil this desire. objects of substance. Susan realizes. or. a ghost beside the true body of Cruso.176 J. however. (Coetzee 1987: 51) Words alone. failing paper and ink. thus filling an other’s indexical sign with new content. as the distinguished author has disappeared. as the address does the addressee’ (Lejeune 1989: 11). M. diaries and letters are recurring narrative modes in Coetzee’s writing and are supported by the perspective typical for quasi-authentic accounts: the first person singular.5 Travel writing. However. (51–2) Susan’s conviction that a sense of authenticity is gained and verified through touchable objects. as Lejeune remarks. it does not give the substance of the truth [. Mr Foe: that is my entreaty. Susan also approaches the writing of a diary: her travel writing appears as retrospective journal entries which combine descriptions of her present situation with island memories. the diary-letters are in fact written ‘into’ his absence. While still marooned. thereby employed to translate this information into a book. . feels compelled to set down what happened to her. Indeed. but is. Normally.

again written as a first-person account. consciousness’ (Abbott 1984: 18). including one in Life and Times of Michael K which is addressed to Michael from his doctor to express his inability to understand the inner drive of his former patient (Coetzee 1983: 149–52). Since the preceding and bigger part of the novel stays with Michael K. this letter offers the reader another perspective on the same situation and. Coetzee’s writing once again breaks down and challenges even fictionally created authenticity and seemingly verifiable ‘truths’. in a manner similar to the author-confusion in Dusklands. in the light of all this. not an invented. There is. Through this. Eugene Dawn professionally pursues mythography as a legitimate and normal part of propaganda in the first part of Dusklands. these utterances dissolve in a jumble of unfounded voices. Porter Abbott’s phrase. these slips appear in . are like manufactured wooden slips engraved with indecipherable signs. after her death. she appears to die.Diaries. the letter will be sent to her daughter. representing the differing and at times opposing reference systems that play the role of indexical signs. Indeed. one could say. which serves to remind the reader of the chronological dates that normally introduce each journal entry. Historical ‘facts’. it is scientific truth. suggesting that this is basically fabricated and unreliable histo-mythography. However. Chronicles. as such. What. more than any other scientific discipline. but for the reader. Additionally. remarking that ‘[t]he myths of a tribe are the fictions it coins to maintain its powers’ (Coetzee 1974: 24). to borrow H. a letter that the dying Elizabeth Curren is writing to her absent daughter. unveils the ultimately subjective basis of historical data. unchallengeable master-plot. the reader learns about Mrs Curren’s arrangement that. For him. A much more intriguing way of using the epistle form occurs in Age of Iron which is. However. Coetzee employs the diary style of writing perhaps most prominently in In the Heart of the Country where Magda tells her story. quite literally. in the course of the narrative. as her letter tells us. Coetzee lays bare ‘what is chronicled. Indeed.6 Letters also feature throughout Coetzee’s writing. appears to constantly and overtly occupy the border between fact and fiction. Records as Index-Simulations 177 They are all. Incidentally. ‘purporting to give the truth of a real. the way that these signs are read is not unilateral and there is not one single. can still be counted as factual? History. the intricate travel writing in the second part of Dusklands which relates Jacobus Coetzee’s expeditions to the Hottentots and the Namaquas through the various contradictory voices of fictitious-disguised-as-real author. Her entries are short paragraphs that are chronologically enumerated. Dawn’s understanding of this represents another version of the fictive history which is related by Jacobus Coetzee in his ‘narrative’ (63) about the journeys and the quasi-ethnographic statements about the indigenous tribes that he encounters. for instance. translator and editor. Mrs Curren loses all credibility as the eye-witness which she has positioned herself as throughout the novel when. alleged or transmitted through the annals of South African history and the reality concealed behind the façade of that hectoring discourse’ (Collingwood-Whittick 1996: 76).

he keeps delaying his beginning. drying up. suggesting that his life story will in fact never be written. I mean. ‘I look at the lines of the characters written by a stranger long since dead’. M. The obscure pieces of wood were found on one of several excavations that the Magistrate had supervised in the previous year. The Magistrate does not want to write ‘a memorial’ (155): I think: ‘I wanted to live outside history.178 J. to prove his assumption that the whole terrain consists of nothing but ‘barbarian burial sites’: ‘perhaps at the very spot where you stand you will come upon scraps. Dramaturgically. Just as the inscriptions on the walls and on the wooden slips verify a producer ‘long since dead’. says the Magistrate (110). However. The connection between the slips and the Magistrate’s unformed autobiography suggest that history is largely a cultural product. ‘and not be[ing] found until in some distant era of peace the children of the oasis come back to their playground and find the skeleton. reminders of the dead’ (112). uncovered by the wind. these slips must be seen in relation to the Magistrate’s desire to write his autobiography. His references to the literal unearthing of the physical traces have a bearing on this insight. being shrivelled by the sun. The meaning of the signs carved into the slips is presented as fundamentally unintelligible. the Magistrate is not interested in the signs’ meaning. the Magistrate is forced to perform something of a live deconstruction when ordered by Colonel Joll to unveil their meaning: Together they can be read as a domestic journal. The digging produced traces of a lost civilization with ‘faded carvings of dolphins and waves’ (Coetzee 1980: 100) on these ‘relics of the ancient barbarians’ (112). I wanted to live outside the history that Empire imposes on its subjects. Dig at random. or they can be turned on their sides and read as a history of the last years of the Empire – the old Empire. or they can be read as a plan of war. even its lost subjects. I never wished it for . He concludes that any attempt at ‘putting down a record’ (154) in writing would only contribute to the limited ideology of imperialism. his declared focus is on the engravings as indexical traces which refer to their absent-yet-existent producer(s). the bony leftovers of the Magistrate would not signify except as proof of his existence. Before stating it expressis verbis – ‘Empire has created the time of history’ (133) – the Magistrate puts himself in the context of the wooden slips and thus of the absent eyewitnesses of the barbarian civilization. Demonstrating this. Both the pale animal carvings and the inscriptions in the wood function as verification of an absent physical presence. he recommends. Rather. of an archaic desert-dweller clad in unidentifiable rags’ (100). shards. (112) However. He imagines himself dying there. Coetzee in Context and Theory Waiting for the Barbarians where the Magistrate understands them to be historical data from a lost society.

as Lejeune understands it.7 Coetzee’s works highlight the strong ‘links between colonial fictions. there is sufficient justification to read the two notions in conjunction with each other. and exploitation’ (Kossew 1996: 33). the Magistrate turns to oiling the slips in order that they might be buried where he found them so that others could discover them for themselves one day. I have gestured towards the notion that every concept of history is framed by ideology. is based on a relationship of semblance between ‘model’ and representation. letter. record. Coetzee plays with the expectations held by the reader about texts which are costumed as autobiography. letters. as I will now argue. Lejeune lists two levels of resemblance between ‘model’ and sign: firstly accuracy. explores the idea of an implicit pact that exists between reader and author which underlies the reception of texts. These range from the referent. the truth and the real.] claim to provide information about a ‘reality’ exterior to the text’ (Lejeune 1989: 22. The example of the Magistrate illustrates the thin line that exists between writing history and writing (auto)biography. in the nineteenth century. Indeed. but all are subsumed under the heading ‘prototype’ or ‘model’ (25). responding to his own Autobiography in France. Records as Index-Simulations 179 the barbarians that they should have the history of Empire laid upon them. Throughout this chapter. This is the ‘world-beyond-the-text’ (11) which finds its marks. where both sections that form Coetzee’s first fictional text represent one of the two. diary)?’ (15) asks Lejeune. original emphasis). the prominent status of resemblance seems to counter the emphasis put on indexical relations that I have established in this chapter.Diaries. which is based on ‘information’. Lejeune. . .8 The Problem of Authenticity: Myth and History The notion of authenticity. which is presented as verifiable. Lejeune draws particular attention to the terms ‘referential’ and ‘verification’. Chronicles. and between historiography and mythography.’ (154) Instead. and. images and representations in the world of the text. Appearing to fictionally respond to this idea. and secondly fidelity to the model. history. ‘[I]s not the eighteenth-century novel composed precisely by imitating the different forms of personal literature (memoirs. When comparing this to existing . Initially. These two variants are introduced as early as Dusklands. which he terms ‘referential texts’ which ‘like scientific or historical discourse [. Coetzee’s revival of this genre in the era of deconstruction is also recognizable among some of his fictional contemporaries. or archive material. chronicle. diary. However. thereby developing a ‘fictional pact’(Lejeune 1989: 15) based on simulation. This applies especially to those with historical allusions. which he sees as involving ‘meaning’ directly (23).

could it have been the mysterious S. Coetzee who is listed as translator and appears as an implicit editor? Alternatively. For. M. ‘The Vietnam Project’. seemingly appears as both the translator of Jacobus’s ‘narrative’ (Coetzee 1974: 51)9 and also as the second editor of the text (since the translator’s appearance on the title page is accompanied by a translator’s preface four pages later) (55). the second section. In doing so. his first fictional work appears to be an intricate meta-debate on the Foucauldian author’s proclaimed death. which subsequently works to undermine any reliability regarding the text’s suggested authorship or editorship. M. explicitly revolves around mythography and the power inherent in this sort of fact-production. In light of this. Consequently. and not only ‘the entire history of South Africa’. travel writing and journal entries. what separates the title page from the translator’s preface is a telling epigraph by Gustave Flaubert: ‘What is important is the philosophy of history’ (53). The two parts. one which gestures towards historiography and the other towards mythography. the identity of its author and narrator is essential for an autobiography to convey authenticity. in a word fictionalized’ (Collingwood-Whittick 1996: 78). and father of the translator? Or was it instead J.10 Significantly. separate yet implicitly connected by thematic parallels. M. His use of ‘fidelity’ and ‘meaning’ resonates with iconicity. While the first section. play with the concept of indexical writing. and thus also that of ‘The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee’. In ‘The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee’. as Lejeune claims. the explanations given by Lejeune allow for a fundamentally indexical conception of (auto)biography. ‘The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee’. Coetzee installs an intricate network of editors. the author of Dusklands? The text is a layered argument with the aim of showing that history. Coetzee’s ‘project of demystification’ (Collingwood-Whittick 1996: 75) begins with himself: the author. it is illuminating to reconsider Coetzee’s Dusklands. what about J. including autobiography. Coetzee. translators and recorders (all of the last name Coetzee).180 J. The author of Dusklands. If it couldn’t have been Jacobus. to the ‘Appendix I’ with the title ‘Deposition of Jacobus Coetzee (1760)’ . and also of different kinds of historical writing. The text presents two possible concepts of historicity. is a cleverly constructed comment on the emergence of historical accounts. Lejeune’s melding of indices and icons is striking. has been ‘distorted. J. the text draws attention to its own making. Indeed. Coetzee in Context and Theory commentary regarding indexical relationships. declared as editor. thus conveying a mimetic relationship and a much greater space for interpretation. Coetzee. Coetzee’s strategy is simple but efficient: the indices included in the narrative range from its ‘Translator’s Preface’. They systematically challenge the reader’s notion about the texts’ authenticity and therefore their origin – and author. writer of the afterword. One (rhetorical) question works to reveal the whole network of metafiction that exists beneath the text: Who inserted this quotation? Due to the apparent setting of the narrative – the expeditions take place around 1760 – Jacobus is ruled out.

original emphasis) There is the Councillor’s signature (in print). . Councillor & Secretary As witnesses L. to a list of endnotes attached to S. Coetzee’s ‘Afterword’ (122) to. . that of an eyewitness. in post-apartheid South Africa. there is the almost naïve belief in truth-telling which is represented by the autobiographic and ethnographic stance adopted by Jacobus. O. This passage simultaneously forms the end of the ‘Narrative’.] – I speculate of course – [. Read in conjunction with each other. M. and yet from another position. and also the end of Dusklands as a whole: Related to the Political Secretariat at the Castle of Good Hope on the 18th November 1760. before interrupting herself with an aside acknowledgement: ‘[.]’ (Coetzee 1999: 20). J. the afterword by Jacobus’s descendant S. Bergh. However. Even though Dusklands was written in the 1970s. ‘I wonder whether a speculative history is possible’. and a printed ‘X’ – three indexical signs that ultimately indicate that one Jacobus Coetzee told them a story. ‘The Vietnam Project’ is told by Eugene Dawn who introduces himself as mythographer who is part of the ‘Mythography section’ employed to construe facts (Coetzee 1974: 4). Indeed. In Dusklands.. Chronicles. and the translator’s note all represent a contradictory gamut of mythologized history which has been lent the status of imperial truth. Le Seuer (125. finally. with his reprinted-but-handwritten (and thus genuine index) ‘X’ bore witness to the truthfulness of the given account. . Coetzee’s ripping down of the fake ideological historical curtain is now. Coetzee achieved this from two angles: from one position. P. the signature of the scribe who apparently wrote up what Jacobus recounted regarding his expeditions. this first section employs a first-person narrator with a very conscious relationship to both production and use of ‘propaganda’ (4) as ‘psychological warfare’ with an underlying ‘overall war strategy’ (19). . of sustained significance with the so-called ‘truth commission’ at work. In light of the ongoing attempts to retrieve forgotten and/or repressed elements of . Comments like this are repeated throughout Coetzee’s work. Records as Index-Simulations 181 (Coetzee 1974: 123). it is also insinuated that only Jacobus. X This mark was made by the Narrator in my presence. the account. lacking success. Conclusion My readings of his fiction suggest that Coetzee is preoccupied with the human compulsion to hunt down and. enforce authenticity. Lund. a witness who heard. J. suggesting an implicit drive to expose history as a construction of collective myth. L.Diaries. Magda muses in In the Heart of the Country in relation to the traded facts of colonial history.

authénte ¯s one acting on one’s own authority. there is Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe as prominent part of the canon. as noted above. In the end. and from the midst of the realm between intra-textual fiction and extra-fictional reality. 1989. . It is this defining impulse that Coetzee draws attention to when he writes around. the ‘frequent use of the verb “to see” when referring to memory confirms that one of his main purposes at the time of writing is to relive the past by re-seeing it’. Coetzee manages to address the genre from two angles: on the one hand. Kirby. with reference to Adrienne Rich. or defined. Coetzee in Context and Theory South African history (as demonstrated by the panels of the Truth Commission). autós self + -hénte ¯s doer). 1995: 48). Notes 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 ‘From Greek authentikós. The author himself comments on this topic in an interview: ‘The numbers don’t point anywhere’ (Coetzee 1997: 90). (Coetzee 1987: 121–2). As Kallinis points out in regard to Kosmas Politis’ novel The Lemon Grove.’ (Barnhart 1988. 1993. is used as introduced by Assmann. 2003. and he becomes a cannibal. While passing over Kirby’s profound critique of Rich’s arguments. 133–55.] No matter what he is to himself. master. hence. as demonstrated by the phrase ‘To see my thoughts laid out on paper’ (Kallinis 1997: 59). This appeal is echoed by Susan Barton in Foe as she acknowledges the arbitrariness of her colonial gesture of definition: I say Friday is a cannibal. pp. on the other is the early nineteenth-century topos of the female shipwreck as ‘an emblem of British and American nationalism’ (Miskolcze 1999: 52). . M. pp. What is the truth of Friday? [. elaborates on the interrelationships between the proper name as the address of the space of one’s body and the ever larger circles of geographical location. 24. or held. p. it seems that the craving for authenticity and verifiable stories has intensified. I say he is a laundryman. Coetzee’s implicit appeal seems to be a truly moral plea: that it is worth stepping back from the endeavour to grasp. and he becomes a laundryman. For more on the link between author and authenticity. perpetrator. Excarnation. what he is to the world is what I make of him. hold. and define that which cannot be grasped. she argues for language as stuck knee-deep in the spatial ideology of power structures (Kirby 1996: 27). Philippe Lejeune puts this in explicit words: Lejeune.182 J. . With this construction. it seems nevertheless reasonable to point out her conception of the different versions of address as ‘locating the subject in discursive and ideological structures’. 7–9. against. The impulse to ‘see’ one’s thoughts as the product of excarnation seems to be a topic not uncommon for the indeterminate prose form called diary fiction. see Knieper and Müller.

Records as Index-Simulations 8 183 9 10 Other well-known examples of this text form are V. Kossew. The second part’s title page. (1988. Marion G. M. — (1992). 114/115. London: Random House. Porter (1984). 15. Köln: Halem. Salmagundi. The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology: The Origins of American English Words. Cambridge. are not paginated. M. Interventionen 2.za/trc/legal/bill. London: Routledge. Basel: Stroemfeld/Roter Stern. Thomas. Sheila (Spring 1996). (1996). Indifferent Boundaries: Spatial Concepts of Human Subjectivity. ‘Literature – nationalism’s other?: The case for revision’. Commonwealth. New York: Guilford Press. 138–53. ‘Exkarnation: Gedanken zur Grenze zwischen Körper und Schrift’. Diary Fiction: Writing as Action. David Attwell (ed. Frankfurt a M. Coetzee. Assmann. Aleida (1993). 1995).doj. Müller (eds). Journal Kallinis. Works Cited Abbott. 18. 75–89. This is the first page of the second part with a page number. Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion. London: Penguin. Kirby. Coetzee’. Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews.. ′ σος: Diary novel or diary fiction?’. Carol Shields (The Stone Diaries) or Daphne Marlatt (Ana Historic). During. Coetzee and André Brink. pp. The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. Cross/Cultures 27. George (1997). 82–102. Robert K. M.). (2). Knieper. 55–66. ‘J. to name just a few of an extensive list. www. in Homi K.Diaries. Coetzee’s Dusklands: Colonialist Myth as History’. Amsterdam: Rodopi. Joanna Scott. — (1987). Derrida. Kathleen M. Stanford. Collingwood-Whittick. Sue (1996). 133–55. (1974). Life and Times of Michael K. — (1980). S. .). Pen and Power: A Post-Colonial Reading of J. in Thomas Knieper. in Jörg Huber and Alois Martin Müller (eds). CA: Stanford UP. Bhabha (ed. — (Spring/Summer 1997). — (1983). Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Authentizität und Inszenierung von Bilderwelten. New York: Harper Collins. Simon (1990). ‘Voice and trajectory: An interview with J. Cultural Memory in the Present. Dusklands. Nation and Narration. Foe. Raum und Verfahren. 7–9. H. London: Penguin. Naipaul’s A Way in the World. 20th April 2008.gov. ‘Λεηονοδα of Modern Greek Studies. in Mieke Bal and Hent de Vries (eds). London: Penguin. M. — (1999). ‘Vorwort’. -the Prosthesis of Origin’. Müller. In the Heart of the Country. Waiting for the Barbarians. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Chronicles. as well as the following three. Jacques (1998).htm. including the Flaubert epigraph inserted on what would be page 53. Barnhart. J. or Coming Through Slaughter. MA: Harvard UP. Marion G. (2003). Michael Roes’ Haut des Südens. and especially many decidedly feminist writers such as Jeanette Winterson (Written on the Body). ‘Monolingualism of the Other: or. pp.

M. 41–56. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press. Elaine (1985). The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. ‘The Autobiographical Pact. ‘Transatlantic touchstone: The shipwrecked woman in British and early American literature’. (3). Miskolcze. 22. Robin (1999). Prose Studies.’ On Autobiography. Coetzee in Context and Theory Lejeune. Scarry. Phillipe (1989). Oxford: Oxford University Press. .184 J.

in the terms of this chapter. In this chapter. Why and At What Cost? Rather than leave his fiction open to attempts at hermeneutic mastery. by avoiding the weight wielded by past theoretical considerations of the themes within this chapter. I emphasize my resolve to try to evade this quandary by resolutely responding to and conserving the voice of the texts themselves. to read inauthentically before arguing that this type of reading can have harmful consequences. I seek to avoid speaking over the issues that it considers by keeping Coetzee as this chapter’s central theorist and author. we privilege a different version of the text over the originality of the text itself. at least). I will explore what it means for us. I will illustrate how Coetzee’s writing tries to avoid the injury that can be inflicted on texts by inauthentic reading. inauthentic reading). Reading Inauthentically: How. productive and revealing examination of the dangers of interpretation (or. reductive readings is a risk. As I begin this chapter. Additionally. It is my suggestion that this practical (rather than theoretical) exploration allows for a much more convincing.Chapter 14 Disrupting Inauthentic Readings: Coetzee’s Strategies Katy Iddiols Interpretation is a notoriously difficult concept to pin down and discuss in a theoretical discourse. I am. I suggest that when we read inauthentically. However. argument and acts of interpretation (on some level. but instead consider how Coetzee uses interpretation as a device in his writing in order to illuminate it (and other related issues) more effectively and from a more fruitful perspective than can be gained from the more traditional medium of philosophy. as his audience. in this chapter. painfully aware of the irony of writing an academic chapter about the reductive dangers of interpretation as this project will inevitably require extended critical commentary. this hazard cannot be avoided. For . while the potential for falling into the trap of oppressive. of course.1 However. I will not focus fundamentally on theories of the concept itself.

Later in this chapter. throughout the novel she attempts to coerce him into performing acts of communication with the aim of circumscribing and delimiting his personal autonomy. ‘to render [it] readable’ and to ‘circumscrib[e] and delimi[t]’ its ‘autonomy’. (Worthington 1996: 256) Worthington also implicates the reader in this process: like Barton. Coetzee in Context and Theory various reasons. Kim Worthington suggests that this type of oppression can be seen in Foe as Susan Barton attempts to appropriate Friday through her hermeneutic understanding of him: Susan’s (unsuccessful) attempts to comprehend Friday. The issue is. and thereby subject him to the authority of her (and her society’s) language and values amount to an attempt to domesticate and control him. not necessarily the nature of the reading itself. if we understand our desire to interpret in the same terms as many of Coetzee’s fictional interpreters. we must be constantly aware of the potential power (and capacity for injury) that is implicit in our responses to texts. like Susan. For instance. to render him readable. and the text itself. reductive version of the text. However. M. unsolicited and inaccurate) spokesperson. An overpowering. Coetzee’s interpreting characters repeatedly reduce and limit their victims through attempts to redescribe them. It is of very little consequence whether this was the original reader’s initial intention. I will argue that Coetzee textually reminds us of this potential through his writing and role as author. but rather its employment as a singular. I suggest that even the most conscientious. they can also become inauthentic readings (with all their harmful consequences) when they are allowed to (or appropriated in order to) overpower the text’s own voice. as with the implications of Worthington’s observation about Barton. These privileged readings might include literary reviews. this parallel suggests that we too can be guilty of ‘attempt[ing] to domesticate and control’ the text. then. we too read in order to try to establish an understanding. However. academic perspectives or word-of-mouth interpretations. Indeed. particular readings are privileged over the text. perform the inventive apprehending activity of characterological interpretation. Our attempts to understand or grasp the text’s ‘meaning’ can often result in us overlooking many of its subtleties and contingencies. and leads us towards a more appropriate way of reading. benevolent interpretation can be just as damaging for the text as a malicious one. Susan’s efforts are analogous to those performed by the reader: we. I suggest that as readers. who tries to imagine the ‘true’ story of Friday’s life. considered reading would be rendered inauthentic and capable of inflicting harm if it was used to speak over and/or for the novel in this way. With this in mind. both of the characters. effectively becoming its (often inauthentic. commentaries. I argue. this would suggest that we want to interpret the text so that we can master it. .186 J. Although these readings of the text may be entirely sympathetic.

in her influential 1966 publication Against Interpretation. we must question our authority to judge what the important elements actually are. (Sontag 2001: 8) Sontag suggests that interpretation is a simplifying device in order to make art less threatening to its audience by making it easier to understand. we might be tempted to ignore its multiplicities and sub-strands in favour of what we understand to be the ‘central theme’. In order to make a text fit our summary. As readers. interpretative voice of us as the self-appointed master-reader. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that. To read Life & Times of Michael K. I suggest. as a response to the text which reduces its contingencies and multiplicities and instead imposes a ‘master meaning’ which attempts to sum up what the text ‘is about’. inevitably resulting in a range of omissions and exclusions. This type of reading does not need to be consciously oppressive: often. Similarly. Richard Shusterman suggests that any description of a work of art becomes an interpretation of what we consider to be important within it. However. comformable. our desire to understand what we have read results in us reducing an entire novel down to a bald. and is instead roared over by the powerful. I propose that we frequently risk appropriating the text through our interpretative attempts. Interpretation makes art manageable. Description. In the terms of this chapter. brings a fundamental limitation which renders texts vulnerable to inauthentic readings or singular interpretations. Susan Sontag suggests that our desire to understand a text reveals much about our own insecurities as readers: In most modern instances. egalitarianly reflecting all that can be said truly about a work’ (Shusterman 1992: 71). we are tempted to try to reduce a novel to its barest themes in order to be able to grapple with it and draw out what we judge to be its important elements. I suggest that this type of singular reading is ultimately inauthentic.Disrupting Inauthentic Readings 187 rendering them vulnerable to misrepresentation and its harmful consequences. Often. as a novel merely about an inarticulate man struggling to survive on the land. in this type of reading. ill-fitting summary. This type of inauthentic reading forces the text into a singular interpretation which has the potential to misrepresent and limit its contingencies. However. would miss many of the textual undercurrents that form the style and the essence of the text. Indeed. either consciously or unconsciously. in order to reflect and confirm our self-perceived hegemonic comprehension of it. Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. it ceases to mystify us and we may develop a perceived sense of empowerment at its expense. He asserts that ‘[n]o description describes everything. Any sense of the novel’s own voice is ignored. interpretation amounts to the philistine refusal to leave the work of art alone. if we think we know what the text is about. . I define a singular interpretation. for instance. one tames the work of art. or singular reading.

In attempting to overcome the damage of inauthentic readings. (My emphasis. Perhaps recognizing this potential damage. While multiple interpretations of a text can still be used inauthentically by their readers to limit and restrict the distinctiveness of the work of art. and do not appropriate them through singular or overpowering . Wolfgang Iser develops this point further to suggest that because this interpretation must fit into existing models or categories that the reader already knows and understands. any potential for a new and fresh consideration of the text is effectively removed: The zeal of critics for classification – their passion for pigeonholing. they are unlikely to have the same oppressive potential as a singular interpretation which is elected to speak for the text itself. M. Iser 1993: 3) Building on this observation by Iser. With this in mind. one might almost call it – only subsided when some special significance of the content had been discovered and its value ratified by means of what was already common knowledge. many artists have endeavoured to complicate interpretations of their work. by means of which the sharpness of a text was inevitably dulled. I suggested that inauthentic reading occurs when more weight or authority is given to a secondary opinion. Developing this position in relation to this chapter. the audience is actually posing a very real and dangerous threat to the work of art’s survival though inauthentic readings. Coetzee in Context and Theory after discussing Sontag’s theory. I suggest that in the audience’s attempt to make the work of art less threatening. I will first establish a definition of the process of reading authentically. Referral of the text to some already existing frame of reference became an essential aim of this method of interpretation.188 J. artists can employ certain devices to complicate and disrupt the possibility of singular interpretations. This type of response also demands that readers allow the original texts to speak for themselves. reading or response than to the primary text itself. Coetzee’s Alternative: Reading Authentically In order to demonstrate Coetzee’s protective strategies. With this in mind. then. After all. In the opening section of this chapter. then. texts cannot be pinned down to a singular meaning when its readers cannot agree on one. I suggest that Coetzee repeatedly constructs his fiction so as to provoke multiple responses to his texts in order to protect them from the damaging consequences of inauthentic readings. I suggest that an authentic reading seeks to give its attention back to the text with all its originality and distinctiveness. it becomes apparent that the threat of inauthentic reading can be frequently challenged by the artist and his art. declaring that ‘a great deal of today’s art may be understood as motivated by a flight from interpretation’ (Sontag 2001: 10). Sontag recognized this as a type of conscious artistic rebellion.

and the reader is therefore not equipped or qualified to speak over it. On the contrary.Disrupting Inauthentic Readings 189 interpretations or readings. Coetzee’s status as a literary critic initially appears to complicate these claims. I suggest that it is this type of reading which will illicit more fruitful and insightful responses from the text. theorize. While we may indeed use other readings to illuminate and clarify the text from previously unseen perspectives. This type of authentic response is necessary to preserve the potential and the power of the text. and identifies elements that signify a responsible reaction to a work of art: Responding responsibly to a work of art means attempting to do justice to it as a singular other. literary criticism can be appropriated by its readers who may use it to speak over the original text that it explores. Derek Attridge suggests that this type of singular reading is inevitably doomed to fail precisely because ‘there is no single “correct” reading. By speaking over the voice of the text itself. but that operates as an affirmation of the work’s inventiveness. I suggest that inauthentic readings would inevitably fail to achieve this. As Attridge remarks. (128)2 I suggest that Attridge’s conception of responding responsibly can be closely compared to my conception of authentic reading. I suggest that we are invested with an implicit responsibility to preserve the text’s own originality. unimpeded and unlimited. I fully recognize the worth and value of these exercises in helping us to consider the many multifaceted intricacies of the texts that they elucidate and explore. argue that much harm can be inflicted by readings that attempt to speak over and for the text itself (or. . They recognize that it is not possible to consider. This authentic type of response would seek to prevent inauthentic readings and interpretations being heard at the expense of the original text. and as readers of these secondary responses. If. As readers both of the original text. just as there is no single “correct” way for an artist. however. in my terms. however. depend on a response to the text in its irreducible entirety. distort or stand in for the text’s own voice. However. it involves a judgement that is not simply ethical or aesthetic. to respond to the world in which he or she lives’ (Attridge 2004b: 80). Authentic readings. by inauthentic readings). As I suggested previously. I. and that does not attempt to pigeonhole it or place it on a scale of values. I am in no way appealing for an end to literary criticism or interpretations. they should never be used to obscure. Attridge continues to discuss how we might respond to art more appropriately. responsible reading should acknowledge and verify the inventiveness of the text. as I argue in this chapter. review. Within this suggestion. Coetzee’s fiction embodies a resistance to interpretation. or even notice and understand all the individual elements that make up the text. allowing it to survive. in creating a new work.

Coetzee’s attitude to interpretation seems to suggest little respect for authentic reading. why it wants the literary text to stand there in all its ignorance. he claims. Supporting this position. Coetzee can recognize both the temptations of textual mastery. . By being aware of the implications of both positions as interpreted and interpreter. Is it not possible that to tell what the privilege of criticism over literature is would be to tell a truth that criticism cannot afford to tell. this position seems to directly conflict with the protective strategies that Coetzee employs against inauthentic readings in his own writing.190 J. However. and its harmful consequences. Indeed. and instead appears to advocate total hermeneutic mastery of the text. From his simultaneous viewpoint as both critic and writer. side by side with the radiant truth of the text supplied by criticism. namely. to respond to his fiction. This. We are entitled to press for any kind of understanding we desire (that is. after all. is part of the power of the reader. Criticism wants to speak for the text rather than letting the text speak for itself. Coetzee seems to actively encourage any interpretation to speak over the text itself. as supported by his commentary on Rousseau: But we do not have to let the matter rest where Rousseau does. as readers. Moreover. Instead. this is also the right of the reader. Coetzee in Context and Theory why is he so willing to engage in this activity himself ? In his inaugural lecture at Cape Town University. M. Initially. I suggest that Coetzee loads his contentious assertion about the power and rights of the reader with irony. which textually encourages us towards a more authentic way. then. he continues to question this power of the interpreting reader (and interpretations themselves) later in the lecture: What privilege do I claim to tell the truth of Rousseau that Rousseau cannot tell? What is the privilege of criticism by which it claims to tell the truth of literature? I do not propose to answer this question. Coetzee asserts. part of what it means to be a reader). I argue that Coetzee is able to circumvent the damage that singular interpretations would inflict on his own writing. Ian Glenn suggests that Coetzee is well-equipped to make himself ‘critic-proof’ based on his ‘double allegiance’ as both writer and literary critic (Glenn 1994: 25). for instance. demonstrating its attempts at hermeneutic mastery. (Coetzee 1984: 2) As a literary critic. without the latter supplanting the former? Can literary criticism afford to say why it needs literature? (My emphasis 5–6) Coetzee suggests that criticism achieves its sense of power over the text by supplying its ‘radiant truth’. I suggest that it is partly this dual perspective which encourages Coetzee to employ his textual defence mechanisms against inauthentic readings. I want to carefully count the cost of answering it.

Rather than. Coetzee also employs various metatextual devices to complicate and subvert the hermeneutic mastery of his texts. This fictional disruption of the process of interpretation actually works to illuminate the dangers of inauthentic readings that Coetzee’s fiction writes out. I suggest that Coetzee instead examines these consequences through his fiction in order to establish a comparable creative position with which to reconsider the potential damage caused by interpretation away from the weight and history of philosophy’s approach to this issue. Coetzee 1987: 464) Just as Coetzee uses strategies in his fiction to limit the threat of singular interpretation by his readers. to avoid the potential harm inflicted by inauthentic readings. Although these are only a selection of the strategies that Coetzee uses. the writer and academic (as discussed by Attridge 2004a: 193). including his apparent disinclination to speak publicly as J. . By accepting your implication. M. making it difficult for the reader to assume the validity of the autobiographical subject in the text. in a relatively early interview with Tony Morphet. (My emphasis. . and his widely perceived reluctance to mediate between his texts and their readers (see. Coetzee.Disrupting Inauthentic Readings 191 Resisting Inauthentic Readings and Writing Back to Theory: Coetzee’s Fiction While philosophers and theorists have long considered the dangers and implications of interpretation as a process. Coetzee embodies it through his writing. Head 1997: 2). Attridge comments that Coetzee’s employment of the third person in Boyhood ‘implicitly dissociates the narrative voice from the narrated consciousness’ (Attridge 2004a: 143). this strategy is used in various ways in Coetzee’s two volumes of ‘memoir. Other textual strategies include Coetzee’s fictional depiction of the repeated failure of singular readings (including Barton’s unachievable desire to ‘understand’ Friday in Foe) and the damage inflicted on his characters through being read inauthentically (such as Michael K’s imprisonment for being perceived as an arsonist and a terrorist in Life & Times of Michael K ). I would produce a master narrative for a set of texts that claim to deny all master narratives. as a writer. even brief reference to them demonstrates the variety and scope of his attempts. I. In the following discussion. Coetzee explains his reluctance to impose a master-reading on his texts from his elevated position as their author: Your questions again and again drive me into a position I do not want to occupy. . Indeed. for instance. for instance. he is equally determined to avoid this danger himself by refusing to illuminate his texts further. Similarly. Similarly. for instance. While I fully acknowledge that Coetzee effectively uses these (and other) various strategies (both textual . explore his use of JC in Diary of a Bad Year in order to suggest that this character is designed to complicate our efforts to read Coetzee himself into his texts. theorizing about it with unqualified examples and imaginary consequences.’ For instance.

Text C is narrated from the first-person perspective of Text A’s editor/typist. the opening extract of Text A is called ‘On the origins of the state’. the process of typing up the Opinions section. For instance. Coetzee implicitly steers us towards a more authentic way of responding to it. for the remainder of this chapter. She describes her interactions with the writer. Text A is made up of a series of sections that appear to conform to their respective titles.4 In the segment entitled ‘Second Diary’. Later on in Text C. M. which I refer to as ‘Text A’. Diary of a Bad Year. including ‘A dream’ and ‘Idea for a story’. which I will differentiate with labels for clarity of discussion. The Seven Samurai.3 The layout returns to a single text once. and a significant part of this is dedicated to a consideration of Kurosawa’s film The Seven Samurai (5–7). The writer tells us about his troubles with her editing skills. I argue that by ensuring that the novel is irreducible. the more contentious the better. I will now focus my attention on his most recent publication.5 Text B is written in the first person. and only for a very brief interlude (153–4). Instead. and her thoughts on the material that she prepares (which forms Text A). which also runs simultaneously underneath (Text C). In the ‘Strong Opinions’ section. Before long. The main body of the text. In his own narrative (Text B). Coetzee gives us little opportunity to limit Diary of a Bad Year through inauthentic readings. How John Howard and the Liberals are just the seven samurai all over again. there are extracts whose titles denote a more personal content. is divided into two sections. Six eminent writers pronounce on what is wrong with today’s world. The plan is for six contributors from various countries to say their say on any subjects they choose. Its title will be Strong Opinions. which is superseded by ‘Second Diary’. we are given Anya’s reaction to this very extract from her position as typist: Kurosawa. and seems to be the narrative of the author who is engaged in writing the Opinions and Diary that constitute Text A. The novel itself is made up of three strands. this second band of text is joined by a third. and vary in lengths on each page of the novel.192 J. (Coetzee 2007: 21) We hear about his relationship with his typist and we eavesdrop on their conversations. he explains the brief of the project that eventually forms Text A: The book itself is the brainchild of a publisher in Germany. and comments that ‘[t]here are times when [he] stare[s] in dismay at the text she turns in’ (25). While these sections of text begin at the top of each page. Coetzee in Context and Theory and metatextual) in order to circumvent singular interpretations elsewhere in his fiction. opening with ‘Strong Opinions’. Who is going to believe that? I remember seeing . Anya. for instance. The sections are divided by a single black line. there is also one separate band of text that occurs simultaneously underneath on each page (Text B). ‘On national shame’ and ‘On political life in Australia’. there are essays entitled.

but we don’t say talk radio. He peered. and in the margin. that doesn’t make sense. we hear Anya rebuking the writer for his inappropriate choice of colloquialisms: Can I make a criticism? I said yesterday. thoughts and memories. While this writer indeed shares many remarkable similarities with Coetzee himself. Most of the time I didn’t know what was going on.’ (17). painstakingly wrote talkback. Coetzee frequently challenges his readers’ established perception of him as. . he said. Coetzee prevents us from drawing any definite conclusions about the novel. Anya’s criticism that occurred in Text C. Coetzee seems to say. is that better? (51–3) Sure enough. in his own terms. I suggest that Coetzee’s use of this complex palimpsest-esque structure makes it very difficult to know whether to approach the text as memoir. in pencil. Where do I say talk radio? he said. (33) Not only does Anya recount the essay (from her own perspective). We are told. theory. I suggest that the strategies that he uses in Diary of a Bad Year to explore the dangers of inauthentic readings are actually relentlessly mischievous. has influenced the final version of Text A. He gave me a hard stare. Through this complicated structure. crossed out the word talk. However. There. peered again. but she responds to it with her own opinions. in Japanese with Chinese subtitles. he does not eat meat (165) and he is a novelist who was born in South Africa (50) but now seems to live in Australia (171). that his initials are JC (123). or a combination of the three. . unlike the disquieting textual warnings about interpretation that Coetzee repeatedly includes in his other novels. fiction. even among this deliberately inflicted confusion. considering. Coetzee uses this technique repeatedly throughout the text to draw our attention to its supposed method of construction. we are compelled to approach the text and respond to it in its entirety. for instance. I pointed to the place. in Text C. we are textually prevented from engaging in the inauthentic readings of singular interpretation. The only image that has stayed with me is of the long naked thighs of the crazy man with the topknot. . we find an essay entitled ‘On Machiavelli’ beginning with the corrected line: ‘On talkback radio . . For instance. . as we read the published version of the novel (which has been supposedly edited and corrected by Anya). However.Disrupting Inauthentic Readings 193 The Seven Samurai in Taiwan. Coetzee seems determined to disrupt his audience’s reading even further by ensuring that the writer in the text bears several notable similarities to Coetzee himself. However. perhaps Coetzee’s most obviously teasing disruption of our ability to interpret the text easily comes with his most explicit self-reference when he refers to ‘[his] novel Waiting for the Barbarians’ (171). as readers. we say talkback radio. Your English is very good. when I brought him his typing. ‘evasive’ . As readers.

then. their ageing guardian. He recalls his father and their relationship with a sadness which pervades the extract: He never told me what he thought of me. and here I am. and how can I deny it? Anyhow. However. for instance. JC receives some of his late father’s belongings. even if it is done ambiguously. For instance. who turned into a cold man. M. On first reading. Coetzee in Context and Theory (Coetzee 1992: 65) through his repeatedly playful gestures towards textual selfreference. While repeatedly aligning himself with the figure of the writer. Anya imagines the writer (JC) pleasuring himself with underwear that he stole from her laundry: There are a pair of panties of mine he pinched from the dryer. I suggest that it is precisely the undesirable and unattractive nature of this depiction that makes it difficult for his readers to associate Coetzee with this figure. in Text C. Coetzee. As well as this unflattering description. he must have thought. I am sure of it. whereas Coetzee himself was born in 1940. it would be a brave (or foolish) reader that would attempt definitively to claim this as an insight into J. that JC was born in 1934 (50). the writer and the man. In the section entitled ‘Second Diary’. And then buttons up and gets back to John Howard and George Bush. A selfish child. (166) After Coetzee’s history of interpretative disruptions (both textually and metatextually). thus compelling his audience towards a more authentic response to the text which allows it to speak for itself. Who will save them once I am gone? What will become of them? The thought wrings my heart. But in his secret heart I am sure he had no very high opinion. M. we might wonder why Coetzee wants to gesture towards himself in this way. Coetzee makes other veiled references which serve to distance himself from the figure of JC. My guess is he unbuttons himself when I am gone and wraps himself in my undies and closes his eyes and summons up visions of my divine behind and makes himself come. JC also informs Anya that he ‘did not merit the gift’ of children (57). here he is reduced to this pitiful little box of keepsakes. I argue that Coetzee simultaneously uses textual strategies in order to distance himself. (Coetzee 2007: 40) Such an embarrassingly unflattering depiction by Coetzee makes it very difficult for his readers to automatically associate the JC of the text with the John Coetzee of Nobel Prize prestige and Booker Prize reputation. what villains they are.194 J. Anya discovers. I also suggest that this established distance allows Coetzee to approach some highly personal themes through the text under the protective veil of interpretive disruption. While this extract bears striking similarities to Coetzee (both sons grew up in . whereas Coetzee has had children himself.

. and is allowed to speak for itself without being obscured or reclaimed by overenthusiastic readers. thus. However. we are constantly made aware of the harm that can be inflicted through singular interpretations. By showing us the impossibility of choosing any one of these interpretations over others. his text seeks to preserve and protect its irreducible contingencies from the injury inflicted by inauthentic readings. to Susan Barton’s misguided and selfish attempts to interpret the ‘secret’ of Friday in Foe. Throughout his oeuvre. to protect its difference from assimilation into the sameness of the reader’s interpretive community. exploit or just get it wrong. Through his characters and his novels. With them in mind. by both anticipating and politicising the interpretive act. only one of a number of strategies in Coetzee’s work through which the text attempts. (Marais 1996: 73) By overloading us with hermeneutic possibilities. By making his texts ultimately uninterpretable. leaving us to draw our own gloomy conclusions. I suggest that Coetzee’s deliberate confusion of his possible role as a character in the text is: . I suggest that Coetzee has textually protected himself from the oppressive consequences of such inauthentic hermeneutic attempts. we are unable to appropriate this description of the writer’s fear for his father’s possessions for our own interpretative intentions. Coetzee ensures a whole multiplicity of readings. . Coetzee never shows us the success or benefits of any of these attempts to interpret. sad and tender. Coetzee implicates the reader with degrees of potentially oppressive power. Instead. My readings of Diary of a Bad Year illustrate a range of disruptive textual strategies which I have suggested compel Coetzee’s audience to read more authentically. Through their attempts at interpretation. In doing so. These range from Eugene Dawn’s deliberate cruelty in his oppressive rewriting of the Vietcong in Dusklands. his characters repeatedly abuse. To borrow a phrase from Michael Marais (which was originally written in relation to Foe but is similarly applicable here). I argue that Coetzee protects his texts from being restricted or foreclosed by one singular interpretation.Disrupting Inauthentic Readings 195 South Africa and both sons are now ageing writers). the lower the risk that any one reading will be able to proclaim its mastery as the definitive meaning of the text. to forestall recuperation and. we have seen a wide range of interpretative projects attempted with differing degrees of commitment and intention. I argue that Coetzee undermines the validity of singular interpretations and inauthentic readings of his texts. As readers. the extract remains haunting. it would be . The more varied attempts that are made at interpretation. Conclusion: Towards a More Authentic Way of Reading Repeatedly during his fiction.

reductive type of reading that his characters regularly fall victim to. and ultimately authentic way of reading. responses that do not claim to tell their truths. it also forces us to reassess the role of the reader. Through the text’s resistance to singular interpretation. I examined some of these different devices used by Coetzee in Diary of a Bad Year in order to suggest that he uses these techniques in his fiction to protect it from the injury caused by inauthentic readings. Attridge instead uses singularity as a concept that is closely aligned with uniqueness or originality. as readers of Coetzee (who have already had our job complicated by his refusal to offer his texts to us without a hermeneutic fight). Instead. .196 J. ethical. In this chapter. 39 and p. rather than use this chapter merely to review and summarize these existing philosophical and theoretical positions. singular interpretations by making it virtually impossible to be read and appropriated in this way. These essays begin on p. he leads us towards a more responsible. These extracts begin on p. to rethink the ethics of interpretation. and is instead determined to recognize and preserve its multiplicities and contingencies. 115 of Diary of a Bad Year respectively. Notes 1 2 3 4 5 As I begin this chapter. ‘[Coetzee’s] novels demand. Theoretical discourses have repeatedly approached and considered these issues under many different movements and guises. 183 of Diary of a Bad Year respectively. It should be noted briefly that while I use the term ‘singular interpretation’ to refer to restrictive and limiting readings of a text. causing us. However. 25 (Coetzee 2007). he repeatedly uses these kinds of strategies to complicate and disrupt our hermeneutic attempts. I will instead use Coetzee as my central theorist in order to reconsider these concepts from the new positions and perspectives that his writing reveals. Should we. and deserve. Coetzee in Context and Theory understandable to conclude this chapter with a somewhat pessimistic suggestion of the impossibility of responsible interpretation. Coetzee refuses to allow his fiction to be reduced to inauthentic. As a result of our reconsideration of the interpretative process that Coetzee’s fiction demands. The third band of text first appears on p. 157 and p. as readers. I suggest that Coetzee instead encourages a response from his readers that declines to speak over the text. M. This challenge also implicitly encourages us to reconsider existing theories concerning the processes and the consequences of interpretation. translate the unrelenting failure of interpretation in his fiction as a textual warning to us all? Rather than being injured by the oppressive. I fully recognize that my discussion of the processes of interpretation and hermeneutic reading are intrinsically loaded with the immense weight of philosophical history. but ones that participate in their inventive openings’ (Attridge 2006: 79). As Attridge asserts.

Critical Perspectives on J. 11–32. (1). The South Atlantic Quarterly. ‘Interpretation. Coetzee and the Idea of the Public Intellectual. — (1998). Interviewed by Tony Morphet. in Gary Iseminger (ed). — (1992). 66–81. ‘Against Allegory: Waiting for the Barbarians. in Graham Huggan and Stephen Watson (eds). London: Harvard University Press. M. Coetzee. 69. Coetzee. — (2006). J. (1984). Coetzee. pp. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event. Intention and Interpretation. London: Vintage. Cape Town: University of Cape Town. 454–64. Prospecting: From Reader Response to Literary Anthropology. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. . London: The University of Chicago Press. 1983 and 1987’. David Attwell (ed. Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews. M. Coetzee. Susan (2001). London: Routledge. Shusterman. J. Against Interpretation. M. Worthington. London: Vintage.Disrupting Inauthentic Readings 197 Works Cited Attridge. The Singularity of Literature. London: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Marais. Ian (1994). ‘Nadine Gordimer. M. 93. Richard (1992). Intention. M. Dominic (1997). J. 63–82. Kim L. Athens: Ohio University Press. Sontag.). J. ‘The Hermeneutics of Empire: Coetzee’s Post-colonial Metafiction’. London: Harvill Secker. Michael (1996). Life & Times of Michael K. Life & Times of Michael K. Head. Truth in Autobiography [Inaugural Lecture]. 65–75. Diary of a Bad Year. and the Question of Literary Reading’. Coetzee. and Truth’. J. Derek (2004a). pp. M. Self as Narrative: Subjectivity and Community in Contemporary Fiction. Hampshire: Macmillan Press. — (2004b). (1996). and the Politics of Interpretation’. M. Wolfgang (1993). — (1987). in Jane Poyner (ed). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ‘Two Interviews with J. Glenn. Iser. Triquarterly. — (2007). pp.

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167 abused women. writing in 14. Homi 60–1 biography as referential text 174 birth from anus 124 . bad dream of 42 Age of Iron 6. by Australia 67 ‘At The Gate’ 25. 29. and concentration camp 148 abjection of character in Foe 163. in fiction 181 messengers of 175 problem of 180–2 role of 7 through touchable objects 176 autobiographical narrative by Coetzee 48 autobiography and history 178–9 bad faith 1. 42 similes in Foe 164 sounds. 112–22. refusal to testify 108 accuracy. based on information. Birchwood 88–9 Beckett. 177 clown characters in 119 link with The Praise of Folly (Erasmus) 6 Aida opera and stagehand story 17–18 alterity in novels 156. Derek 71–89 The Singularity of Literature 26 Australian citizenship. narrative of 13 aphasia 142 appropriation of text 187 archive material 175–9 artistic creation 101 asylum seekers. 31. 159 Althusser. Louise 20–33 Elizabeth Costello as Post-Apartheid Text 4 Bhabha. 2 Banville. The Smell of Apples 13 Bethlehem. Theodor. 29 attacks on whites and dogs 147 attraction to Hellenic bodies 131 Attridge. 22. 82–7 literary ancestor of Coetzee 3 secret 74 Behr. 102–3. 126. incarceration of. onomatopoeic quality 164 speaking through writer 153–4 under apartheid 150 anti-heros 142 apartheid 4 and interdiction of mourning 157 and South African writers 126 victim. Samuel 72–85 Coetzee’s dissertation on 48 influence on Coetzee 5. 65. adoption by Coetzee 63 Australian setting for Slow Man 61 authenticity 173–97 autobiography 180 enforcement of. during apartheid 13 African National Congress fighters’ bones 157 Africans writing for Europeans 42 ‘Afrikaaner guilt’ 13 Afrikaans.Index abattoir. 41. Aesthetic Theory 3 adventure of literature 19 affinity of writers. Louis. Lejeune 180 act-event of reading 26 Adorno. 15 afterlife. 14. interpellation 153 ambivalence 42 in life and fiction 63 American Muslims 1 animal denial of recognition of its mortality 154–5 rights 3. John. Mark.

37–41. ‘hard to grasp’ 3 texts of. 148–9. 108. 88. 32. 76. 159–70. 22. postcolonial use 62 boundaries 60 Boyhood: A Memoir 5. 12. 14. 126–8. 126. 3. 191. 37. 6. 131. 130–2. 63–7. 63. embodiment in a woman 133 interpretation of his texts 191 novel writing 98 . multiple readings 195 works Age of Iron 6.. 32. 181 sex scene descriptions 83 The Life & Times of Michael K 3. 121. 109. 61–3. 6. 182. Don Quixote 114–23 childhood 52–3 chivalric romance 114. 76. 47–9. possible model heroines 40 Calvinist repression 96. 14. 170. 49–54. 47–58. Judith Bodies that Matter 24–5 on chain of causality 26 Byatt. 186. 179. 60. 85. 93–4. 66–9. 177. 96. 139. 5. 84. 98–9. 110. 103. 109. A. 51. 153–4 Foe 3. 18. J. 108. 86. 103. 102–3. 4. 177. 22. 175–6. 95–6. 22. 88. 177 clown characters in 119 link with The Praise of Folly (Erasmus) 6 Boyhood. in Foe 162 life of animal 164 silenced 159 victimized 29–30 blood spoor 30 bodily autonomy 5 body ‘extralinguistic’ 27 South African 28 body suffering in South Africa 96. in Foe 139 Cervantes. 109. 105. 69. 77. Albert death of hen 153 The Outsider (L’Etranger) 142 cannibalistic metaphors 135–45 cannibals. 109. 71. 47–58. 103–5. 103. 62. 148 The Master of Petersburg 6. Elleke. 187. 105. 5. 132. 97. 22. Dog Heart 147 Brink. 144 gang-rape and dog slaughter 147–56 liberation of South Africa 97 sex scene descriptions 83–4 Doubling the Point 31. 101 Camus. 107–9. 177. 97 Boehmer. 110. 135. 44. 126–9. 132 black slave. 18–33. 83. 93–4. 93. 126–9. 171 Dusklands 3. 139–42. S. 180 Slow Man 3. 84. 195 Elizabeth Costello 3. 107. 110 In The Heart of the Country 12. 112–22. 195 Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship 100. 170. 191 boys’ legs as fetishes of desire 123–5 Breytenbach. 161. autobiography 3. 6. 22. 29. 96. 144. 55. and Afrikaner history 16 border poetics 60 border policing in Australia 67 border tropes. 88. 41. 22. 93–6. Father. 137–9. painter 17 classification of text 188 Coetzee. 36–45. 170 The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee 62. 82. 124–8. 191 The Lives of Animals 3. 65. 181 Magda 95–6. Breyten. 124–32. 97. Friday. 85.200 Index oeuvre. 31. 142. M. 94. 60. 74. 14. 39. 105. 63. 98–9. 191 boys’ legs as fetishes of desire 123–5 Diary of a Bad Year 1. 94. queer bodies 123–33 Boer War. 180–1. 44. 191–6 Disgrace 3. André Mapmakers: Writing in a State of Siege 96 on post-apartheid literature 1–19 The Rights of Desire 17 South African novelist 4 Butler. 135. 115 chronicles 175–9 civil libertarians in Australia 68 Claerhout. 7. Miguel de.

100. 105. 84. 51. by Coetzee 105 literary ancestor of Coetzee 3 . 156–7 Coetzee’s novel Foe 159–71 on fiction 20. need to kill 96 coherence of past 38 ‘coldness towards women’ 129 colonization. 171. Jacobus. 103 death desire and writing 103 of dog 55 of Hitler’s assassins 106 Defoe. 54–8. 6. 7. 88.Index Stranger Shores 147 Waiting for the Barbarians 3. denial of 96. 144 Host as sacrifice to God 143 imagery of 135 comparison of Nadine Gordimer and Coetzee 37–46 confession-essay by Coetzee 47–8 conflict in South Africa. Achmat. 118 Dostoevsky. 83. The Power of Nightmares (film) 1 Dangor. Robinson Crusoe 18 Derrida. 88. 72–6. 191–6 diary style. 108 need. 150 ‘correct’ readings 189 Costello. 182 Diary of a Bad Year 3. 101–2. 193 White Writing 5. 50. 109. 97 responsibility and 6. Fyodor 76. 64. 152 Disneyland trip. 126–8. 144 gang-rape and dog slaughter 147–56 liberation of South Africa 97 sex scene descriptions 83–4 disgrace of dying 151. 104 betrayal of. 32. 93–6. 170 Youth 5. 93. 18. 114. Adam. 53. 63 Creative Writing courses 19 ‘creature-consciousness’ 165 cremation 141 criticism in literature 1 Croatian immigrants in Australian novel 68 cross-dressing 133 cryptic Lessons from novel 42 cultural hybridity 61 Curtis. 124–9. video 1 disruptive textual strategies 195 dog and ethical responsibility 55. 143. ‘breaking of bread’ 143. 61. Dutch 16 colonizer and savagery 61–3 comedy. 48. 191 writings on Samuel Beckett 74 Coetzee. 96. 107. 49–54. 62. sense of 5 comments by typist of novel 192–3 Communion. In the Heart of the Country 177 diary writing in Foe 176 discipline of apartheid state 28 Disgrace 3. 22. obsession with 102. honour of 149. literary response 112 controlling the text 186 corporeal desire 101 corpses. 12. 37–41. 157 ‘dog undertaker’ 150 dogs killing of 147–56 trained as enemies to black man 153 treating us like gods 156 Don Quixote (Cervantes) 6. exposure of 19. -to-write 104 diaries 175–9. 162. Daniel. Bitter Fruit 12 201 dark experiences of Beckett and Coetzee 86 dead. 94 unfulfilled. 51. 178. 110. 77. Elizabeth as alter ego of author 40 desexed by Coetzee 131 fictional novelist. 108. 130–2. 44. embodiment of Coetzee 130 creative process. 163. 12. 22. Magda character 96 writing of 93–110 desire-to-read. 115. Jacques 6. 21 on mourning 148–9 ‘Psyche’ 103 descriptions of works of art as limiting 187 desire to hurt in sex 105.

on parallelism in two novels 38 epistolary novel 116–19 in Age of Iron 177 Erasmus. in South Africa 29 empathy of dogs 153 endocannibalism 139 England and South Africa. 182. The Praise of Folly 6. 71. 107–9. young 117 historical accounts. 153–4 based on Nadine Gordimer 37 cannibalistic imagery 142 post-apartheid text 20–33 emasculation of Friday. 96. 109. Lars. Nadine 36–45 The House Gun 12 My Son’s Story 12 None to Accompany Me 12. 180 ‘historical guilt’ 22 historiography 180 Doubling the Point 31. 51 fidelity to the model. 73 Elizabeth Costello 4–6. Desiderius. 98–9. 127. 96. 103. 191. 63–7. 18. 55. 110. 39. 86. 186. Introduction 1–7 eating absorption and assimilation 136 anxiety about 135 discrimination 135 metaphor 6. emergence of 177–8. 179. 138 interpretation of Friday. 159–70. in Foe 169 embodiment of interpretation by Coetzee 191 release from 141 ‘embodying’. 93–4. 38 genocide 150 Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship 100. Anne 173–97 Haraway. 108. 15 femininity in South African fiction 14. 97. Companion Species Manifesto 153 harmonization. 40 grace 44 Grecian form in statues. 103. S. 144. Donna. modern art 188 Foe 3. 171 Dusklands 3. 110 global state power 3 globalization 60 Gordimer. Gustave. 82. 175–6. 124–32. 195 on cannibalism 137. 47–9. on importance of history 180 flight from interpretation. Sigmund 71–2 ‘gallows humour’ 87 Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious 72 on mourning 148–9 Galgut. 118 escape from own background 75 ethical action 117 evil 106. T. Ford Madox 73 foreigners and natives 68 Freud. comparison 57 Engle. 62. 121. 94. 148–9. 131. 110. 109. 137–9. nubile. Robert. Lejeune 180. The Good Doctor 12 gender issues 3. 132 experience-as-enrichment 56 ‘female domain’ 14. 63. 135. Damon. 145 reciprocal act 139 selection 135 Eliot. 129 Griqua history 16 Haeming. black slave 186 folly 118 Ford. 181 figurative language 145 Flaubert. 60. 105. 139. 113. 36–45. hermeneutic 49 Hayes. 195 Eaglestone. 69. 76. Patrick 112–22 heroines. 85.202 Index fictions and autobiographies 50. novels of 130 emergency state. 180–1. 105. 18–33. 177. erotic love of 123–4. 15 fiction and seeming realism 63 speaking through 2 . 74.

93. beauty of 123. 124–5 Lejeune. 39. Call Me Woman 14 Ladurie. David. Elizabeth Costello 67 literature of Coetzee 173 and history. 17 Magona. 181 sex scene descriptions 83 ‘In the Penal Colony’ (Kafka) 21. 22.Index history and fiction 49. 168. 148 analogy with cattle killing 143 Jolly. 185–96 ‘Immorality Act’ 17 In the Heart of the Country 12. Renaissance texts 145 Jerusalem Prize Lecture 114 Jewish Holocaust 132. encounters 135 individual consciousness 117 internet reach 60 internment of bodies 28 interpretation 189 of Africa 42 dangers of 191 inauthentic reading 185–97 threat-reducing 187 intertextual citation 20 Isaac’s sacrifice on Mount Moriah 151 Jeanneret. 103–5. 170. Franz 20. 109. Mother to Mother 12 Malan. 76. 132. Immanuel 161 sublime 7. on subjectivity 154 The Life & Times of Michael K 3. Julia. 83. 22. Montaillou 16 landscape of South Africa 51 Landsman. 6. Central Europe 114 Kunstlerroman 56 Kuzwayo. 135. 63. Katy 1–7. 191 literary criticism 189–90 literary movements 2 literary persona. Milan. Philippe. relationship 3 Little Karoo 17 The Lives of Animals 3. 107. 24 Kafka’s ‘Law’ 21 Kant. 37. 170. 14. 109. relationship 112 and the world. victims 28 humanity and animality 165 humour in sex scene descriptions 77–83 Iddiols. 177. 61 memory manipulation 63–6 rivalry of 112 Hitler attempted assassination 106 ‘final solution’ 148 Holocaust see Jewish Holocaust Homer’s ram 29 homoerotic feelings about legs 123–5. Devil’s Chimney 17 language ‘apartheid’. 88. Emanuel. Rosemary 93–110 Kafka. 161. Ellen. 127 homosexuality 128 horizonality 61 The House Gun (Gordimer) 12 human experience in South Africa 11 human rights abuses. 187. Sindiwe. 51. Emmanuel Le Roi. My Traitor’s Heart 13 manstupration 82. 170 . Powers of Horror: An Essay in Abjection 162 Kundera. 97. in Foe 176 Levinas. 29 individual and world outside. 139–42. 169 203 Khoi missionary 16 killing of dogs 149–50 Kossew. 21. 181 Magda 95–6. Ann. Rian. Sue 60–71 Kristeva. Afrikaans 15 awareness 18 handling by Beckett 74 marker of identity 68 sex scene descriptions 77–83 legs of boys. 88 master and slave in South Africa 52 The Master of Petersburg 6. 148 Lodge. 177. traces of 178 ‘madness of reading’ (Coetzee) 26 ‘magical realism’ 16. Michel. on Costello in Disgrace 40–1 London experience for Coetzee 56 lost civilization. 41. on autobiography 174 lesbian love 126 letters.

speaking for 159 originality of text. voice of dog in it 155–6 oppressed. 25. 191 national cultures. relationship with 52. 39. Call Me Not A Man 14 Mda. 180 Nabokov. 94. Mtutuzeli. sublime abjection 159–71 Matshoba. on ‘postapartheid sublime’ 161 performance of South African writers 42 philistinism 187 picaresque romance 114–15 pigeonholing of text 188 poetical development of Wordsworth. ‘threat’ of 96 Nobel Prize J. Mark. irruption-into-text 24. 180 narrative voice 18. 23 post-apartheid text 20–33 postcolonial novelists 2 ‘witnessing their society’ 174 postcolonial readings of Foe 159 post-modernism 1–3 Pound. M. Vladimir.204 Index need. 18 meat eating 3. preservation of 189–90 ostrich feather boom 17 parallelism in two novels 38 Paul Rayment. 30. Wordsworth’s encounter with 49–50 moral arguments 2 mother. Coetzee 23 Nadine Gordimer 38 None to Accompany Me (Gordimer) 12. 54 mourning 6 acts of 147–57 mouth functions 136 multiple responses provoked in Coetzee’s fiction 188 mutilation of bodies 28 tongue of black slave 162 My Son’s Story (Gordimer) 12 myth as disavowal of history 161 mythography 177. on happiness 94 old age. first 54 memory manipulation 63–6 metafiction 20. redefinition 60–1 national identity 68 and ‘third space’ 61 nature poetry. ill-matched 77 misogyny 6. 180 metaphoric cannibalism 139–43 metatextuality 63 mind-body. 75 power in silence 160 power of readers 190 Dusklands and Foe 195 power relations 14 Prelude (Wordsworth) 49. 119 novel protagonist as its critic 159–60 Odyssey. 11. The Madonna of Excelsior 17. Graham. novel protagonist 63–5 Pechey. 63. in Beckett and Coetzee characters 77 opera. 22–3. 101 and history. literary radicalism 75 narrative controller 67 The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee 62. South African 51 Ndebele. Njabulo. Prelude 49–50 political experience in South Africa 11 pornography and abuse of women 99 post-apartheid South African literature 4. 52 ‘project of demystification’. 29 Mathuray. Coetzee 97. The Cry of Winnie Mandela 14. 98. 40 novel ‘wanting-to-write’. identification with ram 25 Oedipus. rivalry 118. 136 meat factory 142 memory. 16 . 72 misrepresentation of characters 187 models from other authors 40 Mont Blanc. Coetzee 180 mastery fantasy 94 masturbation 88 material body. Ezra 73.

unwelcome 67 ‘representational literalism’ 22 repression. 5. Albie. on culture 126 sacrificial structure. 93–4. 109 as intercourse in Coetzee 105 shame of 108 Rayment as ‘raiment’ dress or clothing 63 as ‘vraiment’ (French. 103. 66–9. 150 of guard dogs after apartheid 153 Sleigh.Index prose versus poetry 57 psychopathic violence 147 queer love 6. 32. disastrous 101 sexual experiences with women 129 shipwreck survivor in Foe 175 shooting of dogs in cage 152–3 signification models 27 signifier and signified 27 silence and meaning 169 singular interpretation. Dan. 132 sex scene 85–6 sexual desire in 98–9 social and class differences 165 South Africa 3. clownish figure 119 scar as violence to body 28–9 ‘Second Diary’ in Diary of a Bad Year 192–4 Sedgwick. Eve. Jean-Jacques. limit of 169 subjects lectured on. non-ethnic 28 post-apartheid 147 Spain of the reconquista 114 ‘spatial turn’ 60 ‘spectral universality’ 22 speech and silence in Coetzee 160 speechlessness in texts 160 spirits of the dead 17 ‘stalled sublime’ in Foe 161. character’s ignorance about 121 sex as comedy 71–2 sex scene descriptions 77–83 sexual encounters. 124–8. 7 experience 53 literature 11 nationalism. Samuel. 85. 98–9. Coetzee on 190 Russians and Americans 53–4 Rwandan genocide 150 Sachs. Wordsworth 50. 133 racial differences 165 rape 94. Pamela 116. 57 of Wordsworth 55 redescription of characters 186 referential texts. in Diary of a Bad Year 192–3 subjectivity. challenge to 96 Richardson. Don Quixote’s old horse 115 Rousseau. 44. 118 right of the reader 190 rite of passage narrative 166. 60. Russell 147–57 Sancho Panza. resistance to 196 slaughter of dogs in Rwanda 148. in novel 41 . Islands 16 Slow Man 3. 162 starvation 136 and language 141 state torture farms 157 stories of ‘impossible situations’ 18 storytelling of experience 12 Stranger Shores 147 ‘Strong Opinions’. 61–3. ‘truly’) 63 reading 94 inauthentic 185–96 performance 26 recollection and experience 56 recollection in tranquillity. 126–9 queerness of Coetzee 131. Lejeune 179 refugees. 53 reconfigurations 51. 167 rites of purification 171 Rocinante. 95. Epistemology of the Closet 128 self and text 60–71 self-hatred 72 205 sex with Bushman girls 95 with Dutch girls 94–5 sex act. Disgrace 151 Samolsky. 4.

on artistic convention 5 woman novelist. Kyoko 135–45 Youth 5. 64. William 47–58 The Prelude 5 and Coetzee 57–9 Wordsworthian innocence 53 work of art as singular 189 taming of 187 writers and lovers 101 writing. 191 . 53. ‘J. Prelude 56 vegetarianism 42 verbalizing process 18 verification desire for 174 Lejeune on 179 Vermeulen. Wordsworth and South Africa 5 victory over apartheid 161 ‘The Vietnam Project’ novella 62. and writing process 48 Tutu. 71. Ivan. 50. 84. 62. 101–2. 171. 121 Texts B and C in Diary of a Bad Year 192–3 ‘third space’ of cultural hybridity 68 Tolstoy. 170 Whiteread. C. on rebirth after cruelty 28 universal and abstract in Coetzee’s writing 4 vanity of experience. 162. 12. 157. 175–9 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) 23. 22. 178. Coetzee’s impersonation of 130 women’s history 16 women’s legs 123. 18. 28 storytelling. 181 violation of girl child. 51. 193 water scarcity. sculptor. 54–8 .’s love of 2 tongue cutting of slave 137–8 torture 171 transcendent. 109. Rachel.206 sublime 7 Kantian formulation of 161–2 sublime abjection 159–71 sublimity of nature. 143. 96. Karina. 12. 83. 173 corporeal economy of 29 political crimes 99 South African body 4. Abraham die. Archbishop Desmond. act of 18 writing as a woman 132 Xhosa’s cattle killing 16 Yoshida. 124–9.72–6. Pieter 47–58 Index on Coetzee. 51. Dostoevsky 105 violence 96 in South Africa 112 visitation of Elizabeth Costello 67 Vladislavic. 48. 57 West African writers 166 white colonists 95 White Writing 5. jocoserious (Age of Iron) 118. 100. 180. 124 Wordsworth. South Africa 56. in Kant 162 travel writing 76. 119. The Folly 17 Vries. 19 truth. Uit die kontreie vandaan 17 Waiting for the Barbarians 3. Coetzee and Gordimer 36–46 telling stories 18 temporality 55 terrorism. Wordsworth 51 suspicion 1. 2 Szczurek. response to 1 text of novel.