Acts of Visitation : The Narrative of J. M. Coetzee [1 ed.] 9789401206945, 9789042034075

This study traces, in J.M. Coetzee's fictional and non-fictional production, an imaginative and intellectual master

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Acts of Visitation : The Narrative of J. M. Coetzee [1 ed.]
 9789401206945, 9789042034075

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Acts of Visitation

C

ROSS ULTURES

Readings in Post / Colonial Literatures and Cultures in English

140 SERIES EDITORS

Gordon Collier (Giessen)

Bénédicte Ledent (Liège) CO-FOUNDING EDITOR Hena

Maes–Jelinek

Geoffrey Davis (Aachen)

Acts of Visitation The Narrative of J.M. Coetzee

María J. López

Amsterdam - New York, NY 2011

Cover image: Gordon Collier, Islets (paper collage and Photoshop©, 2011) Cover design: Inge Baeten The paper on which this book is printed meets the requirements of “ISO 9706:1994, Information and documentation - Paper for documents - Requirements for permanence”. ISBN: 978-90-420-3407-5 E-Book ISBN: 978-94-012-0694-5 © Editions Rodopi B.V., Amsterdam – New York, NY 2011 Printed in The Netherlands

In loving memory of my father 

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements Introduction 1. Critical Appropriations and Hermeneutic Resistance

ix xi 1

PART 1 PENETRATION AND VISITATION IN SOUTH AFRICA 2. Penetration: Dusklands and In the Heart of the Country 3. Resistance: Waiting for the Barbarians 4. Parasitism: Life & Times of Michael K and Age of Iron 5. Visitation: Disgrace

47 81 111 159

PART 2 THE WRITER AS HOST AND GUEST 6. Secrecy: Foe 7. (Un)belonging: Boyhood, Youth and Summertime 8. Intrusion: The Master of Petersburg and Slow Man 9. Fidelities: Elizabeth Costello and Diary of a Bad Year

189 219 251 285

Works Cited Index

311 331

Acknowledgements

I

this project without the support and guidance of Julián Jiménez Heffernan, who supervised my doctoral dissertation on J.M. Coetzee, and who has always given me the best example of critical rigour, intellectual generosity and literary passion. My deep gratitude to Derek Attridge and David Attwell, who have provided me with illuminating suggestions and invaluable encouragement at different stages of my research. This study is also somehow traversed by the innumerable conversations about literature held with friends and colleagues, especially with Paula Martín Salván and Juanlu Pérez de Luque, at my home Department of English of the University of Córdoba, and elsewhere. I have benefitted greatly from periods of research spent in the Department of Critical Theory and Cultural Studies of the University of Nottingham, the Department of English and Related Literature of the University of York, the Department of English of Duke University, and the Department of English of the University of Sydney, in all of which I have been kindly welcomed, and also from my two visits to the Coetzee Collective at the University of Cape Town, in which I was warmly welcomed by Carrol Clarkson. My two-month stay at the National English Literary Museum, in Grahamstown (South Africa), proved to be a highly stimulating experience. I wish to thank all the staff there, especially Crystal Warren, Andrew Martin, Lynne Grant, and Basil Mills, for the wonderful work they carry out and the unique way in which they ‘take care’ of visitors. I am also most grateful to members of the English Department of Rhodes University, especially Mike Marais, Sue Marais, Dirk Klopper and Dan Wylie, for their hospitality, generosity, and advice. Special thanks to Craig Weideman, always willing to answer my innumerable questions about South African issues, and to Gordon Collier, for his encouragement and excellent editorial work. COULD NOT HAVE COMPLETED

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My later work on Coetzee has been carried out within the framework of a research project funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (ref. F F I 2009-13244), whose support is gratefully acknowledged, as well as the support of my research team, “Writs of Empire.” I also acknowledge the permission to reprint, in revised form, the following articles: “Foe: A Ghost Story.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 45.2 (June 2010): 295–310, by S A G E Publications. “Can We Be Friends Here? Visitation and Hospitality in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace,” Journal of Southern African Studies 36.4 (December 2010): 923–38, by Taylor & Francis Group. http://www.informaworld.com

Last but not least, thanks to my family, especially to my parents, for their support and encouragement, and to Juanma, for his endless patience and confidence.

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Introduction

I

J . M . C O E T Z E E ’ S S U M M E R T I M E – a fictionalized memoir that completes the trilogy begun with Boyhood and Youth, and that focuses on the years 1972–77, when John Coetzee, after his return from America, was living in Cape Town – many different and to a large extent contradictory views of Coetzee arise from the miscellaneous testimonies we hear. Although the memoir continually prevents us from making a straightforward assimilation of the writer of its fictional world to the writer in the real world, there are some clear correspondences between them, and, in this sense, the image of Coetzee as a misfit in the Afrikaner community in particular and in South African society in general is particularly consistent with the position adopted by Coetzee, throughout his literary career, regarding issues of identity. Martin, the fourth interviewee and erstwhile colleague of John at the University of Cape Town, offers what could be taken as an ultimate explanation of why his position should have been such: N

Broadly speaking, he and I shared an attitude toward South Africa and our continued presence there. Our attitude was that, to put it briefly, our presence there was legal but illegitimate. We had an abstract right to be there, a birthright, but the basis of that right was fraudulent. Our presence was grounded in a crime, namely colonial conquest, perpetuated by apartheid. Whatever the opposite is of native or rooted, that was what we felt ourselves to be. We thought of ourselves as sojourners, temporary residents, and to that extent without a home, without a homeland.1

1

J.M. Coetzee, Summertime (London: Harvill Secker, 2009): 209–10. Further page references are in the main text.

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I would like to argue that this ‘attitude toward South Africa,’ which is, more specifically, an attitude toward the presence in the South African land of European settlers and their descendants, constitutes one of Coetzee’s main preoccupations as a writer, generating, to a great extent, the imaginative and intellectual masterplot underlying his oeuvre and traced in this book. In this sense, Coetzee belongs fully to a white South African literary tradition in which the theme of the land – both from a hermeneutic perspective, related to the question of how to read the land, how to find a meaningful language fitting it, and from an historical and political one, concerned with issues of property and ownership – has been a recurrent concern. As put by Sarah Nuttall and Carl Coetzee, “South African literature is obsessively concerned with land and the emotional and proprietorial relations one can have with it.”2 European presence in South Africa is perceived by Martin and John as characterized by two main features: it is both ‘illegitimate’ and ‘fraudulent’, having its origin in the crime of colonial conquest, later perpetuated by European policy in South Africa. In the previous memoir, Youth, we encounter a similar reflection, this time by John himself, about the fraudulent and, indeed, fortuitous nature of colonial occupation as carried out by his Dutch ancestors: “It was never intended that they should steal the best part of Africa.”3 Since their presence derives from a robbery, European descendants in South Africa will be, at best, visitors and guests, and at worst, parasites and intruders. In this sense, the following reflection, by Coetzee, on the semantic connotations of the term ‘settler’ in the South African context is very revealing: Settlers, in the idiom of white South Africa, are those Britishers who took up land grants in Kenya and the Rhodesias, people who refused to put down roots in Africa, who sent their children abroad to be educated, and spoke of England as ‘Home.’ When the Mau Mau got going, the settlers fled. To South Africans, white as well a black, a settler is a transient, no matter what the dictionary says.4

This sense of transience, embodied by the child of Boyhood or Lucy in Disgrace, as their bonds with the land are not based upon any sense of ownership 2

Sarah Nuttall & Carli Coetzee, Negotiating the Past: The Making of Memory in South Africa (Cape Town: Oxford U P , 1998): 14. 3 J.M. Coetzee, Youth (2002; London: Vintage, 2003): 121. Further page references are in the main text. 4 J.M. Coetzee, “Taking Offense,” in Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship (Chicago: U of Chicago P , 1996): 1.

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or property, will be presented as ethically exemplary, whereas the attempt at violent possession of and penetration into the land, as in the case of Jacobus Coetzee in Dusklands, will be condemned, as also, by affinity, the attempt at penetration of the body and inner secret of the other, as in Colonel Joll’s acts of torture in Waiting for the Barbarians. Having said this, Coetzee’s novels at no point fall into a simplistic racial or moral manichaeism, or into easy explanations of social and political conflicts. As depicted in Age of Iron and Disgrace, probably the two novels that engage with the South African context in the most straightforward terms, acts of parasitism and intrusion abound on all sides and on all levels, though some of them will be the inevitable consequence of centuries of oppression and inequality. If South African society is to be transformed, a simple reversal of positions of power is not enough; a more radical and structural transformation is needed, one that involves unconditional ethical acts, such as those we continually glimpse in Coetzee’s novels. 

In this study, I fully endorse Derek Attridge’s argument about the strong ‘singularity’ of Coetzee’s literary works, as opposed to other languages and discourses.5 A straightforward translation between Coetzee’s fictional worlds and prevailing theoretical categories, moral conventions, historical assumptions and political concerns will tend to suffer from narrative simplification, theoretical naivety, intertextual ignorance or ideological bias. The complex modes in which his texts relate to other discourses and the contexts they arise from should not be reduced to simplistic parameters according to which writers either conform to certain privileged forms of historical testimony and political commitment, or are perceived as falling into escapism, ahistoricism or allegorical evasion. In “The Novel Today,” Coetzee advocates a kind of novel that “evolves its own paradigms and myths,”6 which is precisely the kind of novel he produces. Close engagement with his literary texts will reveal certain textual patterns and imaginative, conceptual, and ethical categories, through which Coet5

See Derek Attridge, J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event (Scottsville: U of KwaZulu–Natal P & Chicago: U of Chicago P , 2004), and The Singularity of Literature (London: Routledge, 2004). 6 J.M. Coetzee, “The Novel Today,” Upstream 6.1 (1988): 3. Further page references are in the main text.

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zee’s literary worlds articulate their particular relation to different discourses and contexts, and which, by virtue of their recurrent, seminal, and original character, may be said to shape the writer’s imaginative world. It is in this sense that we can speak of a prevailing narrative, an intellectual and ethical schema, which, to a greater or lesser extent, and in its different dimensions and forms, is present in all of Coetzee’s works, and serves as a link between his early and his later novels. This masterplot is organized around the seminal categories of penetration and visitation, operative on different levels, which keep blurring and interrelating throughout Coetzee’s narrative. In the first place, Coetzee’s fiction – from Dusklands to Summertime – is pervaded by acts of topographical or spatial penetration and visitation. At the beginning of White Writing – in which Coetzee examines “the ideas, the great intellectual schemas, through which South Africa has been thought by Europe” –7 he asserts that one of his main concerns in this book is “the land itself, South Africa as landscape and landed property” (10). We, in fact, find this concern in most of his South African fiction – a preoccupation with the acts of appropriation, occupation, and distribution of the land, and with the illegitimate trespassing of geographical boundaries. This preoccupation must be seen as historically and sociologically related to certain particulars of the South African and African context: the European movement of colonization and conquest in Africa, as we see in Dusklands; the specific characteristics of Afrikaner settlement, which is foregrounded in In the Heart of the Country; and the effects of apartheid legislation in urban and rural topographical configurations, and in the distribution of the land, central issues in Life & Times of Michael K, Age of Iron, and Disgrace. In “The Great South African Novel,” Coetzee argues that “the Afrikaans novel stands in a peculiarly compromised relation to the soil (bodem) of South Africa.” According to Coetzee, the Afrikaans novel “presents an ‘official’ view of South Africa as a settled land, a land whose soil belongs to its farmers and title-holders, a land that is someone’s property”; it is characterized by a “deeply embedded attitude – that the South African earth belongs to certain people and not to others,” hence by a deeply entrenched “proprietorial consciousness.”8 To a great extent, Coetzee’s literary production is an attempt to question and oppose this ‘proprietorial consciousness,’ and to find alternative and ethical ways of relating to the land. 7

J.M. Coetzee, White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa (New Haven C T : Yale U P , 1988): 10. Further page references are in the main text. 8 J.M. Coetzee, “The Great South African Novel,” Leadership SA 4 (1983): 79.

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The colonization of the land as an act of penetration is especially important in Dusklands: “I am an explorer. My essence is to open what is closed, to bring light to what is dark,”9 Jacobus Coetzee claims. And he relates the “explorer’s mastery of space” (80) to a “life of penetration” (81). From In the Heart of the Country onwards, this “mastery of space” on the part of the South African white person is often challenged and questioned by the invited guest or uninvited visitor (the intruder or parasite), who will often be a black person: in In the Heart of the Country, Magda invites her servants, Hendrik and Anna, to stay in her house; at the very beginning of Age of Iron, Mrs Curren discovers a derelict – “a visitor, visiting himself on me”10 – in her comfortable house in suburban Cape Town; the central incident of Disgrace is the attack on Lucy’s farm. We see, then, that penetration and visitation, as historical and social processes, together with the political question of who is host and who is guest in South Africa, tend to be translated into the private and domestic sphere of the farm and the house. In the novels cited above, but also in other works such as The Master of Petersburg or Slow Man, there is a fascination with the relationship between host and guest, and between the occupants of the house, as a primordial scene to which social conflicts may be reduced and in which personal relationships may be ethically transformed. In Coetzee’s early novels, the desire to penetrate is equated with power, the desire to exert spatial, sexual, epistemological or verbal mastery, these dimensions often going together. Thus, physical penetration, often sexual, also figures prominently in Coetzee’s early fiction. In Age of Iron, just as Mrs Curren’s house is continually intruded upon by unwelcome visitors, her body is invaded by cancer cells, and in Disgrace, “the three intruders”11 are also “Lucy’s violators” (111). Spatial penetration and bodily penetration, then, recurrently converge, with sexual penetration tending to adopt the form of rape or, at least, of a violent act of invasion or forcefulness: “A body lies on top of a body pushing and pushing, trying to find a way in.”12 Also, the violent 9

J.M. Coetzee, Dusklands (1974; London: Vintage, 2004): 106. Further page references are in the main text. 10 J.M. Coetzee, Age of Iron (1990; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1998): 4. Further page references are in the main text. 11 J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace (1999; London: Vintage, 2000): 110. Further page references are in the main text. 12 J.M. Coetzee, In the Heart of the Country (1977; London: Vintage, 2004): 117. Further page references are in the main text.

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penetration of the body of the other is often mirrored by intrusive verbal acts, in which a character tries to discover the true story or inner secret of another character, as when the magistrate persuasively tries to extract the barbarian girl’s inner truth, “She does not answer my words, but I plunge on, embracing her tightly, speaking thick and muffled into her ear: ‘Come, tell me why you are here’”;13 when Magda urges Hendrik, “Tell me! Speak! Why do you never say anything?” (128); or when the medical officer commands Michael K to talk, “Talk, Michaels […] now talk! […] talk, make your voice be heard, tell your story!”14 Colonel Joll, in Waiting for the Barbarians, is probably the character that most fully embodies the violent nature of this search for truth, as he is ready to torture, both psychologically and physically, the barbarian prisoners in order to make them confess: “First I get lies […] then pressure, then more lies, then more pressure, then the truth. That is how you get the truth” (5). The way in which Coetzee’s novels depict the relation between confession and truth underlines his affinities with the work of Michel Foucault. In The Will to Knowledge, Foucault argues that Confession became one of the West’s most highly valued techniques for producing truth. […] One confesses – or is forced to confess. When it is not spontaneous or dictated by some internal imperative, the confession is wrung from a person by violence or threat; it is driven from its hiding place in the soul, or extracted from the body.

The violence implied in the act of forcing the other to confess, the sense of corporeal violation, and the hidden inner dimension to which this passage alludes are also intermittently found throughout Coetzee’s narrative, which adopts a surface–depth rhetoric that we also find in Foucault when he describes “the infinite task of extracting from the depths of oneself, in between the words, a truth which the very form of the confession holds out like a shimmering mirage.”15 As the magistrate in Waiting for the Barbarians tries in vain to find his way into the barbarian girl’s body, he strenuously attempts to decipher it as if 13

J.M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians (1980; London: Vintage, 2000): 43. Further page references are in the main text. 14 J.M. Coetzee, Life & Times of Michael K (1983; London: Vintage, 1998): 140. Further page references are in the main text. 15 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1: The Will to Knowledge, tr. Robert Hurley (L’Histoire de la sexualité 1: La Volonté de savoir, 1976; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1998): 59.

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it were a text: “Until the marks on this girl’s body are deciphered and understood I cannot let go of her” (33). In the magistrate’s approach to the barbarian girl’s body, then, the attempt at physical and bodily penetration fuses with textual or hermeneutic penetration. Eagerness for hermeneutic or epistemological profundity, related to the reading and interpretation of textuality in general, and of literature in particular, is often presented, in Coetzee’s work, as the endeavour to find the truth lying deep beneath the textual surface. However, it tends to be frustrated by the resistance of the semiotic surface, which endows the textual body or literary text with an ineradicable dimension of secrecy. In Dusklands, there is a central passage in which Dawn describes literary creation as an act of “secreting words as the spider secretes its web” (37), thus implying that the writer both generates and conceals, creates only to cover his creation with secrecy. In “Truth in Autobiography” – Coetzee ’s inaugural lecture as professor at the University of Cape Town, and in which he engages in a brief, but intriguing, discussion of the relation between literary criticism and literature itself – Coetzee also alludes to this dimension of secrecy, asserting that “all forms of discourse may have secrets, of no great profundity, which they nevertheless cannot afford to unveil.”16 In his or her eagerness to unveil those secrets by penetrating the text, the literary critic may participate in what Coetzee calls – in his essay on Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, to which I return below – “a certain violence of interpretation.”17 Acts of physical, verbal, and hermeneutic penetration depend on a logic of surface and depth, on an epistemological conception of truth as depth that both obsesses and preoccupies Coetzee, in whose novels the endeavour to extract this kind of deep and naked truth tends to be presented as violent, hostile or intrusive. It is highly revealing that we already find this conception of truth as depth in the first line of a juvenile poem by him, published in Groote Schuur, at the very early date of 1959: “Truth lies sunken in a well.”18 This vision of truth is a Romantic one, as Coetzee makes clear in the final chapter of White Writing, “Reading the South African Landscape,” vital for the purposes of this study. In it, Coetzee focuses on “the poetry of topographic description” (165) written by poets of European provenance in South Africa, 16

J.M. Coetzee, “Truth in Autobiography (Inaugural Lecture),” New Series 94 (1984): 6. 17 J.M. Coetzee, “Samuel Richardson, Clarissa,” in Stranger Shores: Essays 1986– 1999 (London: Vintage, 2002): 37. Further page references are in the main text. 18 J.M. Coetzee, “Truth Lies Sunken,” Groote Schuur: Literary Annual (1959): 25.

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and links “colonial pictorial art” with “conquest and domination,” and with an “imperial gaze” that is keen on discovering “the true story of the land, the story that lies buried, or half-buried, beneath the surface” (167–68). Coetzee defines this landscape art as “an art of deep reading: the painter skilled in the representation of superficies is set aside in favour of the poet with his penetrative divining art,” in favour of the “poet’s penetrating gaze” (168, my emphases). Coetzee’s concern here is with the colonial gaze, with the act of penetration, and with the dichotomy between surface and depth, motifs that will pervade his novels until Disgrace. Coetzee asserts that, for the poet Sydney Clouts, “the organ of mastery” is the eye, just as vision for Wordsworth, as Coetzee quotes, is “the most despotic of our senses” (172). Coetzee, then, relates the concept of the penetrating gaze to a Romantic poetic, specifically to Wordsworth and the Prelude, a text that will reappear in Disgrace, precisely a novel in which the question of the occupation, appropriation, and distribution of the land is central. In the attention he pays to the gaze, a suspicion of the traditional association between knowledge and vision, and between truth and light, also comes to the fore. Indeed, in novels such as Waiting for the Barbarians and Foe, Coetzee will explore whether it is possible to adopt an ethical and hermeneutic position of blindness. For Clouts, according to Coetzee, “entry into nature does not, however, come easily. It is achieved after a hard struggle with the resistance of the world, a struggle in which the principal organ of penetration and takeover is the eye” (172). This struggle between the agent that aims at penetrating and the figure or entity that opposes resistance constitutes the very logic that articulates the relation between Eugene Dawn and the Vietnamese, Jacobus Coetzee and the southern African land and the Khoisan, Magda and the surrounding veld, the magistrate and the barbarian girl, the medical officer and Michael K, Susan and Friday, David Lurie and Lucy. Interestingly enough, this logic is also at work in the relation between a literary pair that seems to haunt Coetzee’s imagination: Lovelace and Clarissa. In his essay on Richardson’s novel, Coetzee suggests an understanding of Lovelace as a man who feels “rage at [Clarissa’s] impenetrability.” “Through Lovelace,” Coetzee argues, “impenetrability becomes a key concept to the understanding of Clarissa,” defining Clarissa’s beauty as “impenetrable and self-enclosed” (31). Lovelace, unable to move Clarissa’s “rock-like virtue,” is “eventually driven to force it,” though “he knows that the resort to force is an admission of failure” (30). This essay highlights the way in which, in Coetzee’s writing, different levels and senses of penetration blur and overlap, as he translates the violence of

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Lovelace’s rape of Clarissa’s body into the possible “violence of interpretation” that the critic may commit, “a violence against which Clarissa, in effect protests on those numerous occasions when she resists the right assumed by others to interpret her.” In suggesting the possibility that, according to Clarissa’s position, “to interpret a woman’s interpretation of rape in itself carries overtones of violation” (37), Coetzee is implicitly raising questions that will keep reappearing in his novels: To what extent are we entitled, as literary critics, to force the resistance of literary texts and decipher their secrets? To what extent does literary interpretation, and literary writing, constitute an act of illegitimate intrusion? In the first chapter of Fiction and Repetition, the literary critic J. Hillis Miller emphasizes the ‘specificity’ and ‘strangeness’ of literature: The specificity and strangeness of literature, the capacity of each work to surprise the reader, if he can remain prepared to be surprised, means that literature continually exceeds any formulas or any theory with which the critic is prepared to encompass it. The hypothesis of possible heterogeneity of form in literary works has the heuristic value of preparing the reader to confront the oddness of a given novel, the things in it that do not ‘fit.’19

It is my contention that this ‘specificity’ and this ‘strangeness’ are stronger in some literary works than in others, and in Coetzee’s novels, they certainly achieve an unusual degree of intensity, which is probably one reason why he has attracted so much critical attention. Miller asserts that his main motivation in his study of literature is “to devise a way to remain aware of the strangeness of the language of literature and to try to account for it.”20 This idea about keeping faithful to the strangeness of literature leads us to Coetzee’s own arguments in “Truth in Autobiography.” After analyzing the problem of truth, lies, and sincerity in Rousseau’s Confessions, he wonders whether he has not, “in unveiling what I seem to be claiming the secret of the economy of Rousseau’s Confessions,” broken the pact of autobiography established between writer and reader. He has argued that this pact of autobiography “requires a convention of blindness,” but he has also read Rousseau with his “eyes wide open.” Thus, the following interrogation emerges:

19

J. Hillis Miller, Fiction and Repetition: Seven English Novels (Cambridge M A : Harvard U P , 1982): 5. 20 Miller, Fiction and Repetition, 21.

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Coetzee asserts that the question he is asking is one about privilege: “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?”21 Although he does not provide any definite answer to all these different questions, Coetzee suggests that “to tell what the privilege of criticism over literature is would be to tell a truth that criticism cannot afford to tell”; literary criticism cannot afford to reveal the secret of “why it wants the literary text to stand there in all its ignorance, side by side with the radiant truth of the text supplied by criticism.”22 What Coetzee seems to be implying is that the secret from which literary criticism draws its sustenance is that of revealing the secrets that the literary text refuses to tell. Coetzee’s novels are pervaded by secrets and enigmas, by silences that the text refuses to tell and by interpretative efforts, on the part of characters, that are repeatedly frustrated. And this hermeneutic tension or opacity in his works demands a certain kind of criticism. To borrow Attridge’s words, Coetzee’s “novels demand, and deserve, responses that do not claim to tell their truths, but ones that participate in their inventive openings.”23 For Coetzee, the pacts between writers and readers, for each of the genres and sub-genres, “cover, among other things, what demands may be made of each genre and what may not, what questions may be asked and what may not, what one may see and what one must be blind to” (5). In my reading of Coetzee’s novels, I will try to be faithful to this principle: asking whatever questions can be asked and not asking whatever questions cannot be asked; seeing whatever there is to be seen and being blind to whatever secrets the text refuses to yield. 

21

Coetzee, “Truth in Autobiography,” 5. “Truth in Autobiography,” 6. 23 Attridge, J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, 64. 22

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In his preface to J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, Attridge emphasizes that the ethical force of literature, as opposed to that of other discourses, derives from the fact that literary works are capable of taking us through an intense experience of ethical or other-directed impulses and acts (of respect, love, trust, generosity). In literature, ethical impulses “are staged rather than argued […] literature happens.”24 In this study, my focus is going to be on those ethical acts that, as presented in Coetzee’s novels, are endowed with the potential for transforming what Coetzee called, in his Jerusalem Prize acceptance speech, the “deformed and stunted relations between human beings” – the “relations of contestation, domination, and subjugation”25 that have for centuries reigned in South Africa – into relations of love and fraternity. In this speech, Coetzee argues that the love of “the hereditary masters of South Africa […] is not enough and has not been enough since they arrived on the continent.”26 Similarly, Mrs Curren, in Age of Iron, describes South Africa as a land “not loved enough” (26, my emphasis), and realizes that in these times, “to be a good person is not enough” (165, my emphasis). From this book onwards, Coetzee’s novels appeal to a logic of ‘not enough’ that may transform not only unequal and violent socio-historical conditions, but also personal relationships such as those between parents and children. This logic very much resembles the logic of excess Jacques Derrida appeals to in later works such as Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money, The Gift of Death, The Politics of Friendship, Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas, and Of Hospitality, in which he discusses ethical concepts such as responsibility, justice, friendship, and hospitality, entering in dialogue with Emmanuel Levinas’s ethics of responsibility toward the other. In this sense, there are important affinities between the ethical proposal of J.M. Coetzee and that of Jacques Derrida: both of them appeal to a logic of excess, heterogeneity, and unconditionality – a logic of ‘not enough’ – that would suspend or interrupt the prevailing logic of calculation, reciprocity or filiation, or, to employ Coetzee’s categories, the violent logic of parasitism, assailment, and intrusion. Novels such as Age of Iron and Disgrace suggest that the transformation of South African society requires a kind of radical love and radical giving that responds to the logic (or non-logic) of 24

J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, xii. J.M. Coetzee, “Jerusalem Prize Acceptance Speech” (1987), in Coetzee, Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews, ed. David Attwell (Cambridge M A : Harvard U P , 1992): 98. 26 Coetzee, “Jerusalem Prize Acceptance Speech,” 97 (my emphasis). 25

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excess, non-restitution, and non-reciprocity that Derrida, in Given Time, identifies in the gift. In order to surpass the opposition and conflict not only between whites and blacks, but also between men and women, fathers and daughters, old people and young people, human beings and animals, that Coetzee’s novels depict, there is need for the kind of friendship that Derrida posits in The Politics of Friendship, friendship not founded on familiarity, affinity or proximity, and for the kind of forgiveness he argues for in On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, forgiveness with “no limit […] no measure, no moderation, no ‘to what point?’.”27 Friendship, kindness, love, caring, guiding to the gate of death: all these acts are presented in Coetzee’s novels as ethically exemplary. But it is probably the act of hospitality that constitutes the ethical act par excellence in his work, just as hospitality tends to be present, whether explicitly or implicitly, in most of Derrida’s ethical discussions. From the moment in In the Heart of the Country in which Magda invites her servants to stay in her house, Coetzee’s novels repeatedly provide a glimpse of the redemptive possibility of what Derrida has called, in Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas and in Of Hospitality, absolute or unconditional hospitality: that is, the act of welcoming whoever and whatever arrives, “before any determination, before any anticipation, before any identification,”28 just as one welcomes a child, as Mrs Curren says in Age of Iron (71). At a certain point in The Master of Petersburg, Dostoevsky wonders: “must every beggar be treated as the prodigal son, embraced, welcomed into the home, feasted?” (84). It is in this act of an all-forgiving father who greets his lost son with open arms and welcomes him home that Coetzee finds the ultimate ethical lesson – a lesson of unconditional hospitality, using Derridean terminology – to be learnt. 

In my concern with the question of the land and the topographical dimension of Coetzee’s novels, as well as with the ethical gesture of hospitality, I have found very valuable insights in critics who have also paid attention to these 27

Jacques Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, tr. Mark Dooley & Richard Kearney (Cosmopolites de tous les pays, encore un effort!, 1997; London: Routledge, 2001): 27. 28 Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond, tr. Rachel Bowlby (De l’hospitalité: Anne Dufourmantelle invite Jacques Derrida à répondre, 1997; Stanford C A : Stanford U P , 2000): 77.

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aspects. In her various essays on Coetzee, Rita Barnard has emphasized Coetzee’s “concern with the spatial,”29 convincingly showing the important role, in Coetzee’s criticism and fiction, of “such geographically or topographically defined genres as the exploration narrative and the pastoral,” and of “such politically significant spaces as the imperial border, the labor camp, and the torture chamber.”30 Her book Apartheid and Beyond, an excellent contribution to recent South African literary criticism, focuses on the “interconnections between spatial relations, systems of power, and ideological or generic forms”31 in the work of Coetzee and of other writers such as Nadine Gordimer, Athol Fugard, Miriam Tlali, and Zakes Mda, through the analysis of the cultural and political significance, in the South African context, of places such as the farm, the white suburban home, the black township, the shack settlement, and the theatre. In The Ethics of Exile, Timothy Francis Strode also adopts a spatial perspective, combined with a focus on Levinasian hospitality. Drawing on the opposition between Heideggerian dwelling as “enrootedness” (related to the home, the homeland, resistance to the stranger) and Levinasian dwelling as “uprootedness or extraterritoriality” (related to exodus, to the welcoming of the stranger, to the gift),32 he defines apartheid as “an ethos of propriety,”33 based on a “virulent form of bounded dwelling,” and identifies in Coetzee “an exilic course” that drives toward “the traumatic rupturing of the boundaries of respectable dwelling.”34 In his reading of Life & Times of Michael K, Age of Iron, and Disgrace, Strode thus traces an opposition between propriety and hospitality that is certainly central to these novels, as we will see in the relevant chapters below. From a Levinasian and Derridean perspective, Mike Marais has also based his reading of Coetzee on the concept of hospitality: “From the first […] Coetzee’s writing announces its preoccupation with community and, by inevi29

Rita Barnard, “Dream Topographies: J.M. Coetzee and the South African Pastoral,” South Atlantic Quarterly 93.1 (Winter 1994): 34. 30 Barnard, “Dream Topographies,” 33. 31 Rita Barnard, Apartheid and Beyond: South African Writers and the Politics of Place (Oxford: Oxford U P , 2007): 3. 32 Timothy Francis Strode, The Ethics of Exile: Colonialism in the Fictions of Charles Brockden Brown and J.M. Coetzee (London: Routledge, 2005): 4. 33 Strode, The Ethics of Exile, 135. 34 The Ethics of Exile, 136.

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table extension, the idea of hospitality.”35 Marais’s main concern is with hospitality as related to “the process of writerly inspiration: to be secretary of the invisible is precisely to become a home for the other and then try to make for it a home of language, of the text.”36 Thus, he analyzes the way in which, in Coetzee’s fiction, the writer is presented as ‘secretary of the invisible’ – of an other which is outside to history – through the tropes of inspiration and mastership, and the metaphors of following and the lost child. My focus is mainly on hospitable acts as those acts that may transform the violent parasitism of penetration and intrusive visitation on a social and historical level. When I approach the question of hospitality from a rather metafictional perspective, what interests me is not so much the writer’s response to a transcendental beyond, as the way spatiality and a wide range of acts and figures related to it – the hospitable act, and the figure of the host and the guest, among others – are used to explore various issues such as the writer’s complex and compromised relation to the private and public spheres he occupies, or his relation to his characters. Other critics have specifically focused on the question of the land. Jennifer Wenzel has written on the “the profound – and volatile – significance of land in the postapartheid era,”37 and has argued that Coetzee has consistently examined, in his essays and novels, the importance, during and after apartheid, of “South African cultural and political understandings of land.”38 Stewart Crehan, for his part, has pointed to how “the sense of inherited guilt over the colonial possession of the land in South Africa has produced a strong reaction against the very idea of ownership.”39 Wenzel and Crehan reach similar conclusions in their reading of Coetzee’s position regarding the question of the land in the South African context, as both emphasize Coetzee’s effort to distance himself from a tradition of ownership. Wenzel focuses on Boyhood and the boy’s relationship to the farm, which implies a subversion of the tradition 35

Mike Marais, Secretary of the Invisible: The Idea of Hospitality in the Fiction of J.M. Coetzee (Cross / Cultures 112; Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi, 2009): 1. 36 Marais, Secretary of the Invisible, xvi. 37 Jennifer Wenzel, “The Pastoral Promise and the Political Imperative: The Plaasroman Tradition in an Era of Land Reform,” Modern Fiction Studies 46.1 (Spring 2000): 91. 38 Wenzel, “The Pastoral Promise and the Political Imperative,” 92. 39 Stewart Crehan, “Rewriting the Land; or, How (Not) to Own It,” English in Africa 25.1 (May 1998): 5.

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of “private, landed property,” as related to “traditional Afrikaner notions of what it means to live on the land,”40 whereas Crehan situates Coetzee’s writing in South Africa’s violent history of acts of penetration and appropriation of nature and the land, which Coetzee’s postmodern fiction endeavours to rewrite and subvert. Similarly, Gareth Cornwell has argued that “Coetzee has sought to imagine an alternative way of relating to the land, a way that does not entail the exclusion or oppression of others.”41 As I will analyze in chapter 5, this non-oppressive and non-exploitative relation to the land is actually embodied by Lucy, Michael K, and the child of Boyhood. As Cornwell has put it, “Will it ever be (or was it ever) possible, Coetzee seems to be asking, for a white South African to express a love for the land uncontaminated by the guilt of colonial conquest and dispossession?”42 In my analysis of Coetzee’s narrative, I endorse, to a large extent, these critics’ insights, trying to expand and supplement them. My point is that the spatial categories of penetration and visitation bring together all of these different historical, metafictional, and ethical approaches, as they operate, in Coetzee’s novels, not only on a social and public level but also domestically and textually, so that the importance of the farm cannot be seen as separate from the importance of the house or the writer’s room, or the violence attached to the figure of the colonizer and his invasion of the land from the figure of the writer and his invasion of the private life of his characters. I intend to show how acts such as the colonization and appropriation of the land, the unexpected arrival of the intruder, and the ethical act of welcoming the visitor, the penetration and resistance of the body, and the unveiling of literary, hermeneutic, and psychological secrets do not function independently in Coetzee’s fictional and non-fictional production, but somehow mirror each other in their rhetorical patterns and ethical implications. 

The book is divided into two parts that correspond roughly to the more or less accurate division we can make between Coetzee’s early or ‘South African’ fiction, which would finish with Disgrace, published in 1999, and his later or

40

Wenzel, “The Pastoral Promise and the Political Imperative,” 108. Gareth Cornwell, “Disgraceland: History and the Humanities in Frontier Country,” English in Africa 30.2 (October 2003): 48. 42 Cornwell, “Disgraceland: History and the Humanities in Frontier Country,” 47. 41

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‘Australian’ fiction.43 Foe, however, whose publication dates to 1986, is included in the second part, as it inaugurates the overtly metafictional concern with the figure of the writer and the act of literary creation. Boyhood, also published before Disgrace, in 1997, and deeply engaged with the South African context, also figures in the second part, in order that it can be analyzed together with its sequels, Youth and Summertime; all three trace, in an autrebiographical fashion – to borrow Coetzee’s own expression in Doubling the Point –44 the development of the writer. From Age of Iron onwards, the act of visitation emerges strongly in Coetzee’s novels, and the concern with penetration is progressively abandoned. As shown in the second part of the book, focused on the figure of the writer, the host–guest dyad and the acts of invitation, hospitality, and intrusion continue to figure prominently in Coetzee’s later fiction, or in a novel like Foe, this time in order to explore metafictional issues such as the relation between the writer and his characters, or the tension between the private and public dimension of literary writing. Thus, in Foe, Susan and Friday surreptitiously occupy Foe’s house, the edifice of the Western literary tradition; in The Master of Petersburg, Dostoevsky becomes Anna Sergeyevna Kolenkina’s “eternal lodger”;45 and in Slow Man, the writer Elizabeth Costello becomes Paul Rayment’s “unwelcome guest.”46 In the literary works covered in the second part, Coetzee approaches the figure of the writer from various angles: the writer as secretary and master, as immigrant and intruder, as pervert and foe, as citizen and neighbour. The result is a series of sophisticated, unrelenting, and lucid accounts of the anxieties and dilemmas of the writer of European background in a colonial and postcolonial con43

My use of national labels is tentative and is guided by practical purposes, since reducing Coetzee’s literary production to national characterization is highly problematic. In the case of some of his ‘South African’ novels, the South African context is only alluded to in allegorical, obscure or indirect ways. In the case of his ‘Australian’ fiction, national circumscription seems even less appropriate: in Elizabeth Costello, Australia is glimpsed only from afar, and in Slow Man and Diary of a Bad Year engagement with the Australian context is somewhat perfunctory because not thematically central. 44 J.M. Coetzee, Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews, ed. & intro. David Attwell (Cambridge M A : Harvard U P , 1992): 394. Further page references are in the main text. 45 J.M. Coetzee, The Master of Petersburg (1994; London: Vintage, 1999): 139. Further page references are in the main text. 46 J.M. Coetzee, Slow Man (London: Secker & Warburg, 2005): 84. Further page references are in the main text.

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text, of the writer as he experiences the ties of location and the temptations of dis-location, or of the writer as he faces the ethical demands of the contemporary world. In the extraordinary interview between Jacques Derrida and Derek Attridge included in Acts of Literature, Derrida asserts that ‘good’ literary criticism, the only worthwhile kind, implies an act, a literary signature or counter-signature, an inventive experience of language, in language, an inscription of the act of reading in the field of the text that is read. This text never lets itself be completely ‘objectified.’47

In the present study, I aim at constituting such an inventive act of literary criticism, knowing in advance that it will necessary fail. If, as put by Derrida, what characterizes literary texts is precisely their resistance to being ‘objectified’,’ that is certainly the case of Coetzee’s fictional works: their inaugural and performative power, their constant stylistic and formal innovation, and their unconventional and uncompromising treatment of social and ethical questions always remain an eye-flicker beyond the critic’s hermeneutic gaze. 

47

Jacques Derrida, Acts of Literature, ed. & intro. Derek Attridge (New York: Routledge, 1992): 52.

1

T

Critical Appropriations and Hermeneutic Resistance

J.M. Coetzee has received, and will in all probability continue to receive for a long time, is wellnigh stupendous. His emergence from a context – that of apartheid South Africa – in which literature was endowed with a decisive and urgent role, and in which a wide range of political and historical questions came to converge in the figure of the writer, together with his unconventional and sophisticated stance toward those contextual issues, soon attracted, especially after the publication of Waiting for the Barbarians in 1980, the attention of readers and critics internationally. The numerous literary prizes he has been awarded – most significantly, the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003, and the Booker Prize for both Life & Times of Michael K and Disgrace – have indeed contributed to his consolidation as one of the most studied writers on the contemporary literary scene, and certainly, since his Nobel Prize, the number of books and essays published on his work has increased dramatically. The theoretical and formal complexity of his texts, their numerous philosophical and literary allusions, and their intense self-consciousness have generated highly sophisticated critical responses that have approached the myriad questions of substance we find in Coetzee’s literary works, such as the position of the writer of European descent in the South African and (post)colonial context, the nature of autobiographical and confessional writing, the role of the novel in the contemporary world, the intricate links between the writer and his literary predecessors and contemporaries, and the ethical stance required of the novelist in situations of extreme social injustice and political pressure. At the same time, however, precisely because of that complexity, his work has been at times profoundly misunderstood and simplified. It is not easy to do justice to Coetzee, with his multiple allusions to various literary HE AMOUNT OF CRITICAL RESPONSES

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traditions, his philosophical and theoretical density, his highly self-conscious use of metafictional techniques, and with all these aspects relating, in ambivalent ways, to the different socio-historical landscapes his novels arise from. Given the controversy that his literary works have occasionally provoked,1 the important critical and theoretical positions lying behind the responses he has received, and the myriad perspectives from which those responses have been articulated, any appraisal of his work must situate itself in relation to the existing critical literature. The history of J.M. Coetzee’s critical reception is a complex and fascinating one that traces the development not only of his narrative but also of many of the main issues that have marked the development of South African, postcolonial, and international literary criticism in recent decades. The survey that follows does not aim at exhaustiveness, surely an almost impossible task to accomplish, given the massive bulk of critical responses that Coetzee’s work has elicited and continues to elicit. I do, however, aim at the very least to identify the most influential critical voices and main currents of theory through which these responses have flowed, as well as the aspects of Coetzee’s fictional and non-fictional production that critics have devoted most attention to. Such a rehearsal runs the risk of occasional tedium; nevertheless, I trust that the reader will find useful references and discussions not only of the critical responses themselves, but also of the way in which these responses encounter in Coetzee’s novels, over and over again, what we could call moments of hermeneutic resistance: devices of estrangement, secrets and silences, metafictional complexities, semantic irresolutions and enigmas, through which they resist not only ingenuous assimilation to the received ideas of much political and historical discourse, but also containment or domestication by the instrumentarium of theoretical and hermeneutic orthodoxies. 1

One of the more recent controversies was triggered by Colin Bower’s highly provocative essay, “J M Coetzee: literary con artist and poseur” – Scrutiny2 8.2 (2003) – a summary of which appeared in the Sunday Times. In what sounds like a rather personal attack, Bower describes Coetzee’s writing as “dreary” (3), “tedious” (4), “self-indulgent” (4), “cliché, second-hand writing, and formula” (5), and, even more tautologously, “dishonest and fraudulent” (7), and goes so far as to accuse Coetzee of being a misogynist (22), among other things. Lionel Abrahams replied to Bower, pointing to the “unsuccessful and unjustifiable” nature of this assault on Coetzee (“Reply to Colin Bower: A Crucially Unsuccessful Critique,” Scrutiny2 9.1 [2004]: 104), characterized by a sensationalistic, proscriptive, and prescriptive style of criticism.

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History and textuality In 1993, Attridge wrote that “the peculiar difficulty of doing critical justice to Coetzee’s fiction” lies in the following dichotomy: To concentrate too narrowly on language and narrative method is to undervalue his work’s close engagement with the history of our times, while to overemphasize that engagement is to lose sight of what makes us read and re-read this set of texts in preference to many others with a similar historical involvement.2

This dichotomy between language and history has been an important point of contention in the critical reception of Coetzee’s novels, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s, when the highly metafictional nature of his texts, their deeply experimental and allusive quality, and their apparent leaning toward allegory and ambiguity were seen by some critics as implying a detachment from historical concerns and, more specifically, from the urgent political and material particulars of the South African situation. As another South African novelist, André Brink, has put it, the debate between supporters and detractors of Coetzee’s work “has carried the claims and counter-claims of ‘story-asstory’ versus ‘story-as-history’, of historicity versus (postmodernist) textuality.”3 The 1970s and 1980s were particularly turbulent decades in South Africa. In such a fraught context of political urgency, one tendency was to disparage the autonomous and aesthetic aspects of literary works, valuing, instead, their contribution to the national struggle against apartheid and their engagement with the political, historical, and cultural discourses prevailing in South Africa at that time. As Brink notes, “apartheid ironically imposed on the writer precisely the need to report, as this was not permitted to the other media,” so that the main characteristic of South African literature became “its rootedness in the ‘historical’ approach, its faith in the process of representation.”4 Brink’s essay is included in Derek Attridge and Rosemary Jolly’s Writing South Africa, which collection is imbued with a sense of liberation from the suf2

Derek Attridge, “Coetzee in Context [Review of A Story of South Africa, Gallagher],” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 26.3 (Spring 1993): 321. 3 André Brink, “Interrogating Silence: New Possibilities Faced by South African Literature,” in Writing South Africa. Literature, Apartheid, and Democracy, 1970– 1995, ed. Derek Attridge & Rosemary Jolly (Cambridge: Cambridge U P , 1998): 17. 4 Brink, “Interrogating Silence,” 17.

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focatingly oppressive conditions of writing – the constraints placed on the imagination – that had characterized the apartheid period. As Albie Sachs stated in his highly influential 1989 essay “Preparing Ourselves for Freedom,” South African writers and artists had been “trapped in the multiple ghettoes of the apartheid imagination.”5 It is about these ‘ghettoes of the apartheid imagination’ that Coetzee complained in his controversial text “The Novel Today.” Later published in Upstream, these reflections constituted the text of a talk given at the 1987 Weekly Mail Book Week in Cape Town, in which Coetzee objected to what he saw as a “dominant tendency” in South Africa at that time: the tendency “to subsume the novel under history, to read novels as what I will loosely call imaginative investigations of real historical forces and real historical circumstances.” Coetzee goes on to say there are “some novels that supplement the history text better than others,” and that “at certain times and in certain places – and this is one of those times and places – the novel that supplements the history text has attributed to it a greater truth than one that does not.” The notion of history he turns to is a discursive one – “in South Africa the colonisation of the novel by the discourse of history is proceeding with alarming rapidity” (2, my emphasis) – so that he presents history as a conventional discursive construction of reality according to certain paradigms and categories: “History is not reality […] history is a kind of discourse.”6 But history will not acknowledge its conventionality and will, instead, present itself as reality: Inevitably, in our culture, history will, with varying degrees of forcefulness, try to claim primacy, claim to be a master-form of discourse, just as, inevitably, people like myself will defend themselves by saying that a history is nothing but a certain kind of story that people agree to tell each other […] The categories of history are not privileged […] 5

Albie Sachs, “Preparing Ourselves for Freedom,” in Spring is Rebellious: Arguments about Cultural Freedom by Albie Sachs and Respondents, ed. Ingrid de Kok & Karen Press (Cape Town: Buchu, 1990): 19. See the other essays in this collection for a wide range of responses to Sachs’s contribution. 6 In his presentation of history as a discursive and fictional construction of reality, Coetzee is not far from such theorists as Hayden White, who, in his essay “The historic text as literary artifact,” calls attention to the “literary, that is to say fiction-making, operation” involved in historical writing (Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism [Baltimore M D & London: Johns Hopkins U P , 1978]: 85). For White, the historian makes sense of events by configuring them according to certain “plot structures” and “culturally provided categories” (86).

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They do not reside in reality: they are a certain construction put upon reality.

Coetzee argues that the novel, “a kind of discourse too” (4), has another option apart from supplementarity to history: namely, rivalry, and he defines the novel that is “rival to history” as follows: “A novel that operates in terms of its own procedures and issues in its own conclusions […] a novel that evolves its own paradigms and myths […] perhaps going so far as to show up the mythic status of history – in other words, demythologising history” (3).7 Coetzee’s literary career has always run against the current of prevailing and privileged discursive modes, or, as Laura Wright has put it, “Coetzee’s life, like his writing, has been lived – albeit quietly – in opposition to the master narratives of South African historical experience.”8 In her monograph on Coetzee, Wright emphasizes Coetzee’s position of outsider in the South African context and reads his “political silences” as “conscious acts of resistance against the kind of realistic representation that is expected and in many ways required of South African artists.”9 This is related to the constant search for new stylistic and discursive possibilities that we find in his writing. Having asserted, in Doubling the Point, that “an unquestioning attitude toward forms or conventions is as little radical as any other kind of obedience” (64), he has been led, in his innovative questioning of inherited formal conventions, to a profound interrogation of the very form of the novel as literary genre, as we see in his later works The Lives of Animals, Elizabeth Costello, and Diary of a Bad Year, where fictional, philosophical, and lecturing discourse blur in a disturbing way. But this formal innovation has been evident since his very first work, Dusklands, as Stephen Watson states: Never before had a South African novel broken so obviously, even self-consciously, with the conventions of realism and so candidly announced its own artificiality, its own fictionality.10 7

For an insightful discussion of “The Novel Today,” and of the relation between Coetzee’s fiction and the discourses of history and historiography, see Kai Easton, “Coetzee, the Cape and the Question of History,” Scrutiny2 11.1 (2006): 5–21. 8 Laura Wright, Writing ‘Out of all the Camps’: J.M. Coetzee’s Narratives of Displacement (London: Routledge, 2006): 2. 9 Wright, Writing ‘Out of all the Camps’, 7. 10 Stephen Watson, “Colonialism and the Novels of J.M. Coetzee,” in Critical Perspectives on J.M. Coetzee, ed. Graham Huggan & Stephen Watson (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1996): 15.

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A C T S O F V I S I T A T I O N 

Coetzee’s early novels could be defined as exercises in rivalry with the literary tendencies of social realism, political protest, and historical testimony dominant in South Africa in those years. The novelist was seen as a political and social agent, whose central concern was his “function and responsibility […] in society, notably in a state of cultural or moral siege.”11 The dichotomy between political action and literature tended to be erased, literary writing being perceived as “effective as a revolutionary act in its own, peculiar, right.”12 As Elleke Boehmer explains, perhaps for obvious reasons, the heat of opposition to apartheid caused writers to favour certain formal decisions over others, to adopt an upfront, hard-hitting, mimetic aesthetic, and therefore to pay less attention to form as such, to experiment, nuance and the play of ambiguity for its own sake. In progressive circles, literature, viewed as ‘weapon’ of liberation, was enjoined to express its message as directly as possible. The call was for rapid-fire art, for those artists and cultural workers who aligned themselves against apartheid to produce committed work that endorsed or encouraged the formation of a national people’s culture.13

In her critical essays and fictional texts, the South African writer Nadine Gordimer has explored with great acuity the difficulties and tensions involved in the writer’s dual commitment to political and social concerns and to the art of writing itself, to history and to subjectivity, to public and to private demands. The necessity of maintaining this dual commitment is emphasized in her 1975 essay “A Writer’s Freedom,” in which she defines this freedom as “his right to maintain and publish to the world a deep, intense, private view of the situation in which he finds his society,”14 and describes her life-long concern as probing whether “commitment and creative freedom” may “become one.”15 But it is her 1984 essay “The Essential Gesture” that probably constitutes her 11

André Brink, Mapmakers: Writing in a State of Siege (London: Faber & Faber,

1983): 13. 12

Brink, Mapmakers, 151. Elleke Boehmer, “Endings and New Beginning: South African Fiction in Transition,” in Writing South Africa, ed. Derek Attridge & Rosemary Jolly (Cambridge: Cambridge U P , 1998): 46. 14 Nadine Gordimer, The Essential Gesture: Writing, Politics and Places, ed. Stephen Clingman (London: Jonathan Cape, 1988): 41. 15 Gordimer, The Essential Gesture, 110. 13

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7

most powerful statement on the political and historical responsibilities of the writer: “The creative act is not pure. History evidences it. Ideology demands it. Society exacts it. The writer loses Eden, writes to be read, and comes to realize that he is answerable. The writer is held responsible.”16 All these reflections and statements by different South African critics and writers show that, as Attridge has put it, during the years in which Coetzee’s first six novels were written […] there were few places in which the writing and reading of literature was more tested by political exigencies and expectations than South Africa.17

These ‘political exigencies and expectations’ are evident in Peter Knox– Shaw’s and Michael Vaughan’s respective 1982 responses to Coetzee’s first novel Dusklands. In “Dusklands: A Metaphysics of Violence,” Knox–Shaw laments that Coetzee should ultimately ground Dusklands’s violence in “the psychopathology of Western life,”18 thus playing down the political and historical aspects of human existence. He finds in Coetzee’s novel “a virtual effacement of economic motive,”19 and a lack of attention to the social context. For Vaughan, Coetzee’s fiction is too preoccupied with problems of consciousness, which reveals Coetzee’s liberal, petty-bourgeois class position and self-identification, and pays only subordinate attention to material factors of oppression and struggle in contemporary South Africa.20 Similarly, Sarah 16

Gordimer, The Essential Gesture, 285–86. Attridge, J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, 1. 18 Peter Knox–Shaw, “Dusklands: A Metaphysics of Violence,” in Critical Perspectives on J.M. Coetzee, ed. Graham Huggan & Stephen Watson (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1996): 118. 19 Knox–Shaw, “Dusklands: A Metaphysics of Violence,” 109. 20 Michael Vaughan, “Literature and Politics: Currents in South African Writing in the Seventies,” in Critical Essays on J.M. Coetzee, ed. Sue Kossew (New York: G.K. Hall, 1998): 65. From a similar perspective, in her 1976 article on English fiction in South Africa, Gordimer praises Coetzee’s literary technique in Dusklands, but finds it problematic that Coetzee does not focus on the South African historical present. Gordimer wonders whether Coetzee, like other South African white writers, is not “in unconscious search of a new justificatory myth: the explanation of the present in terms of the past; and therefore, does it not follow, a present as helplessly inexorable as the past?.” See “English-Language Literature and Politics in South Africa,” Journal of Southern African Studies 2.2 (April 1976): 145. 17

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Christie, Geoffrey Hutchings, and Don Maclennan find fault with Dusklands because objectivity is dissolved in favour of a subjective and unstable narrating consciousness: i.e. it is “given over to relativity.”21 Their vision of this literary work is that of a “speculative essay mutated into fiction,” “a ghostly linguistic masturbation.”22 These critics’ vision of what a literary work should be like is characterized by the “historicism bound by the dictates of Lukácsian realism”23 that prevailed on the South African literary and critical scene of the 1970s and 1980s. This particular Lukácsian conception of literature indeed lay behind many of the hostile responses that Life & Times of Michael K received upon its publication in 1983. A review in the African Communist, significantly entitled “Much Ado about Nobody,” lamented “the absence of any meaningful relationship between Michael K and anybody else.”24 Michael K is described by the reviewer as “an amoeba,” as “almost inhuman,” so that “those interested in understanding and transforming South African society can learn little” from the novel.25 Gordimer, in a much-quoted review, also complains that while the novel “is implicitly and highly political, Coetzee’s heroes are those who ignore history, not make it,”26 and identifies in it “a revulsion against all poli21

Sarah Christie, Geoffrey Hutchings & Don Maclennan, Perspectives on South African Fiction (Johannesburg: Ad. Donker, 1980): 180. 22 Christie, Hutchings & Maclennan, Perspectives on South African Fiction, 181. Paul Rich echoes these critics’ ideas, asserting that, in Dusklands, “the reader is confronted with mind rather than character and situations rather than action.” See Rich, “Tradition and Revolt in South African Fiction: The Novels of André Brink, Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee,” Journal of Southern African Studies 9.1 (October 1982): 69. Much more recently and quite surprisingly, Christopher Heywood also seems to disapprove of the experimental quality of Coetzee’s first novel: “Despondency about any resolution to South Africa’s fractured condition appeared in Dusklands […] The two worlds are incoherent, messy, and uncontrolled”; Heywood, A History of South African Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge U P , 2004): 220. 23 David Attwell, “Afterword,” in Critical Perspectives on J.M. Coetzee, ed. Graham Huggan & Stephen Watson (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1996): 213. 24 Z. N., “Much Ado about Nobody. Review of Life & Times of Michael K, by J.M. Coetzee,” African Communist 97 (1984): 103. 25 Z. N., “Much Ado about Nobody,” 103. 26 Nadine Gordimer, “The Idea of Gardening: Life & Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee [Review],” in Critical Essays on J.M. Coetzee, ed. Sue Kossew (New York: G.K. Hall, 1998): 142.

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tical and revolutionary solutions.”27 Stephen Clingman claims that Coetzee is “determined to make his work escape the ordinary determinations of politics and history. […] Coetzee will not be tempted by any notions of partisanship, participation or salvation in the future,”28 while Nicholas Visser also finds fault with the lack of future projection: Life & Times “cannot project anything beyond an impossible yearning for a place outside history, outside politics, outside power altogether – a place of gardening.”29 As Attwell has pointed out, in their responses to Life & Times of Michael K, Clingman, Z. N., and Gordimer assume “that the limits of fictionality lie in representation,” and thus, in charging the novel with sidestepping issues, these critics are not taking into account “the challenge of the novel’s own selfreflection on questions of power and interpretation.” According to Attwell, when Coetzee chooses not to represent mass resistance or project a utopian future, we have to “ask whether this decision might not be attributable to Coetzee’s sensitivity to the problem of authority within the fractured and unequal context of South African nationhood.”30 In “Colonialism and the Novels of J.M. Coetzee” – another rather unfavourable response to Coetzee’s early novels – Stephen Watson asserts that “from Dusklands to Life & Times of Michael K there is an evident pull towards the mode of being, and always at the expense of action. Increasingly, History is relegated.”31 And, in relation to Michael K, Watson argues that he “escapes the camps by escaping history altogether. What sort of model does he provide for we readers who have to live in history and could not survive elsewhere?”32 As a response to Watson, we could use Coetzee’s own words in an interview with Attwell included in Doubling the Point:

27

Gordimer, “The Idea of Gardening,” 143. Stephen Clingman, “Revolution and Reality: South African Fiction in the 1980’s,” in Rendering Things Visible: Essays on South African Literary Culture, ed. Martin Trump (Athens: Ohio U P , 1990): 49. 29 Nicholas Visser, “The Politics of Future Projection in South African Fiction,” in Black / White Writing: Essays on South African Literature, ed. Pauline Fletcher (Cranbury N J : Associated U P , 1993): 80. 30 David Attwell, J.M. Coetzee: South Africa and the Politics of Writing (Berkeley: U of California P , 1993): 93. 31 Watson, “Colonialism and the Novels of J.M. Coetzee,” 34. 32 “Colonialism and the Novels of J.M. Coetzee,” 35. 28

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A C T S O F V I S I T A T I O N  One writes the books one wants to write. One doesn’t write the books one doesn’t want to write. The emphasis falls not on one but on the word want in all its own resistance to being known. The book about going off with the guerrillas, the book in the heroic tradition, is not a book I wanted-to-write. (207–08)

In this interview, Coetzee complains about the fact that Lukács’s general position on what he calls realism as against modernist decadence carries a great deal of power, political and moral, in South Africa today: one’s first duty as a writer is to represent social and historical processes; drawing the procedures of representation into question is time-wasting; and so forth. (202)

Indeed, what the critics quoted above perceive as problematic is the apparent dissociation, in the character of Michael K, of what Lukács called “the organic, indissoluble connection between man as a private individual and man as a social being, as a member of a community.”33 What lies behind their critiques is Lukács’s harsh judgment on modernist literature, as opposed to realism – in the former “the human motives do not spring organically out of a concrete social-historical basis, but are given to isolated figures in a modernized form.”34 However, the figure and life-style of Michael K cannot be seen as separate from urgent social and political questions, or from power relations. If he devotes himself to gardening, the act of cultivating the land is so ideologically charged in the South African context that it can never be an innocent act. At the same time, his value lies precisely in his capacity for resistance, resistance to physical and geographical enclosure, but also to discursive comprehension, a resistance that recalls his author’s resistance to create the kind of hero demanded from him. This resistance is especially heightened as he does not yield to the medical officer’s desire to get to know his story – “Talk, Michaels […] now talk! […] Give yourself some substance, man, otherwise you are going to slide through life absolutely unnoticed […] talk, make your voice be heard, tell your story!” (140) – which, as Attwell has argued, consti-

33

Georg Lukács, Studies in European Realism, intro. Alfred Kazin (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1964): 8. 34 Georg Lukács, The Historical Novel, tr. Hannah & Stanley Mitchell (Der historische Roman, 1995; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969): 226.

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tutes a way of underlining the limitations of white discursive authority in the South African context. A similar point may be made about the main character of Coetzee’s second novel, In the Heart of the Country. The description of Magda as a “disembodied idealist mind”35 strikes me as entirely mistaken. Historical and contextual determination is materialized in the discursive world she inhabits: it is through the language she has inherited that Magda experiences the social roles she is to play as woman and mistress. Whereas “men’s talk is so unruffled, so serene, so full of common purpose,” she has learnt her language “in the kitchen”: “the patter of maids, gossip, ailments, babies, steam, foodsmells, catfur at the ankles” (22). She is aware of the different discursive worlds she and her servants inhabit – “I grew up with the servants’ children. I spoke like one of them before I learned to speak like this” (7) – so that when her father transgresses the “traditional distance” (27) between masters and servants in his sexual encounters with Klein-Anna, the emphasis falls on his violation of that distance on a linguistic level. Magda’s father, in his exchange of “forbidden words with Klein-Anna,” disrupts the language of command and submission that Magda has learnt and on which her existence depends: “There can be no private language. Their intimate you is my you too” (38). Thus, “How can I speak to Hendrik as before when they corrupt my speech? How do I speak to them?” (39). As Sue Kossew has put it, “it is not so much the physical act itself (an act forbidden by apartheid society) that [Magda] finds disturbing as the communication that has now been established between master and servant, destroying established linguistic conventions.”36 Social roles and power-relations are embodied in linguistic conventions and discursive norms. As opposed to the mainly historicist conception of literature in the context in which Coetzee’s first novels emerged, the first monograph devoted to the work of J.M. Coetzee – The Novels of J.M. Coetzee: Lacanian Allegories, by Teresa Dovey, published in 1988, fourteen years after the publication of Coetzee’s first novel – is written from a clearly poststructuralist stance, specifically Lacanian. Dovey argues that, in Coetzee’s first five novels, “the novel35

Paul Rich, “Apartheid and the Decline of the Civilization Idea: An Essay on Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People and J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians,” Research in African Literatures 15.3 (Autumn 1984): 386. 36 Sue Kossew, Pen and Power: A Post-Colonial Reading of J.M. Coetzee and André Brink (Cross/Cultures 27; Amsterdam & Atlanta G A : Rodopi, 1996): 71–72.

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istic and critical discourses fuse: like the nouveau roman, they are criticismas-fiction, or fiction-as-criticism.”37 For Dovey, Coetzee’s novels offer a critique of various modes of writing, as they inhabit the following genres: the journey of exploration in Dusklands; the romantic pastoral in In the Heart of the Country; the liberal humanist novel in Waiting for the Barbarians; and the novel of the inarticulate victim in Life & Times of Michael K. Foe locates itself in a broader discursive arena: namely, at the intersection of feminist, postcolonial, and postmodern discourses. This constitutes, to my mind, the most valuable aspect of Dovey’s contribution to Coetzee’s reception, as his novels certainly engage with myriad texts, discourses, and traditions. As Dovey puts it, they analyze the how, when, and why of the telling of previous texts.38 What is problematic, however, is that, in her description of Coetzee’s writing strategy “as (Lacanian) psychoanalytic criticism-as-fiction,”39 she reduces Coetzee’s complex engagement with different discursive modes and theoretical currents to a mere appropriation of the Lacanian paradigm. Arguing against Marxist critiques of Coetzee’s work, Dovey argues that, in these responses, there is a“failure to consider the relationship between material conditions and discourse, and between different discursive practices,”40 and points to how “Coetzee’s novels draw attention to their own position within a set of institutionally discursive practices” and to “the material conditions of [their] own production.”41 Dovey’s arguments could be applied to refute Benita Parry’s arguments in “Speech and Silence in the Fictions of J.M. Coetzee,” where this critic contends that, however indisputably Coetzee’s novels “interrogate colonialism’s discursive power,” they “inadvertently repeat the exclusionary colonialist gestures which the novels also criticize.”42 Parry argues that “the social authority on which the rhetoric relies and which it exerts is grounded in the cognitive systems of the West,” due to the fact that 37

Teresa Dovey, The Novels of J.M. Coetzee: Lacanian Allegories (Craighall: Ad. Donker, 1988): 9. 38 Dovey, The Novels of J.M. Coetzee, 14. 39 The Novels of J.M. Coetzee, 11. 40 Teresa Dovey, “Coetzee and His Critics: The Case of Dusklands,” English in Africa 14.2 (1987): 16. 41 Dovey, “Coetzee and His Critics,” 25. 42 Benita Parry, “Speech and Silence in the Fictions of J.M. Coetzee,” in Critical Perspectives on J.M. Coetzee, ed. Graham Huggan & Stephen Watson (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1996): 39.

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in Coetzee’s novels, “only the European possesses the word and the ability to enunciate,”43 the European as represented by characters such as Jacobus Coetzee, the magistrate, Foe or Susan. What Parry finds problematic is that Coetzee’s “figures of silence”44 – the Namaqua in Dusklands, the barbarian girl or Friday – “are situated as objects of representations and meditations which offer them no place from which to resist.”45 Whereas Coetzee presents a kind of alterity that is a “dumb presence,” Parry believes that, for it to have a worldly and political significance, it should constitute “an interlocutor.”46 Attwell responded to Parry, arguing that the latter’s concern is largely that of authority. Attwell concedes Parry’s point that Coetzee’s novels are ‘grounded in the cognitive systems of the West.’ However, Attwell wonders, if Coetzee resorted to non-Western knowledge systems, would not he be abusing even more of the authority of which Parry accuses him?47 Dovey and Attwell, then, ground their defence of Coetzee’s work upon similar critical and theoretical assumptions, though their actual readings of Coetzee’s narrative are entirely different. What both of them underline is the need to resist an “oversimplified polarization”48 between form and content, history and language, and to take into account the way texts intervene in the world through discourse, and the way in which Coetzee’s novels constantly call attention to their discursive privileges and limits, and to the relation between discursive conventions and material conditions of production. In the case of Age of Iron, Mrs Curren’s discourse, inextricably linked to her identity as a white woman in a social position of privilege, progressively loses strength and authority when confronted with the violent world of injustice and crime of which she had never been aware, and when trying to account for the lives of the black people surrounding her. Thus, when Abdul R. JanMohamed complains that Waiting for the Barbarians is “a deliberate allegory” that “epitomizes the dehistoricizing, desocializing tendency of colonialist fiction,” as it “refuses to acknowledge its historical sources or to make any allusions to 43

Parry, “Speech and Silence in the Fictions of J.M. Coetzee,” 40. “Speech and Silence in the Fictions of J.M. Coetzee,” 45. 45 “Speech and Silence in the Fictions of J.M. Coetzee,” 41. 46 “Speech and Silence in the Fictions of J.M. Coetzee,” 43. 47 David Attwell, “ ‘ Dialogue’ and ‘Fulfilment’ in J.M. Coetzee’s Age of Iron,” in Writing South Africa: Literature, Apartheid, and Democracy, 1970–1995, ed. Derek Attridge & Rosemary Jolly (Cambridge: Cambridge U P , 1998): 167. 48 Attwell, J.M. Coetzee, 2. 44

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the specific barbarism of the apartheid regime,”49 we assume that, for this critic, this novel’s ‘dehistoricizing’ character derives from the fact that its action is temporally and locally undetermined, and that it does not explicitly refer to the historical South African context. However, we know, thanks to the contributions of thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Fredric Jameson, and Edward Said, that history comes to be embodied in discourse and textuality, and it is precisely this ‘textualization’ and ‘narrativization’ of history that Waiting for the Barbarians brings into the foreground: the centrality of the desire, on the part of the magistrate and on the rest of the members of Empire, to decipher the archaic (barbarian) writing on the poplar slips highlights the question of the writing and interpretation of history, and the way the textualization of history implies the assimilation of its others. The concern is with “the history that Empire imposes on its subjects,” the way “the history of Empire [is] laid upon” the barbarians (169). The following assertion by Coetzee could be taken as a response to those critics who will only recognize historical engagement when it is specified from a referential and thematized point of view: “Foe is a retreat from the South African situation, but only from the situation in a narrow temporal perspective. It is not a retreat from the subject of colonialism or from questions of power.”50 According to Dovey, we need “to theorize the ways in which discourses emerging from diverse contexts, and exhibiting formal assumptions, may produce different forms of historical engagement.”51 However, it was actually another critic, David Attwell, who fully managed to do so, as he has been entirely successful in his objective to bridge the gap between textualist and historicist approaches to Coetzee’s narrative. In 1992, Attwell published the fourth monograph on Coetzee’s oeuvre, J.M. Coetzee: South Africa and the Politics of Writing, a book that sets out many of the critical and theoretical assumptions that, since then, have guided the reading of Coetzee’s works. Attwell commands a broad, rigorous knowledge of South African literary and intellectual contexts, but also of the metropolitan philosophical and linguistic movements which Coetzee allies himself with, and this is how, in this mono49

Abdul R. JanMohamed, “The Economy of Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial Difference in Colonialist Literature,” Critical Inquiry 12.1 (Autumn 1985): 73. 50 J.M. Coetzee, “Two Interviews with J.M. Coetzee, 1983 and 1987, by Tony Morphet,” TriQuarterly 68–69 (1987): 462. 51 Teresa Dovey, “Introduction,” in J.M. Coetzee: A Bibliography, ed. Kevin Goddard & John Read (Grahamstown: N E L M , 1990): 5.

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graph, but also in the different critical pieces he has written on Coetzee and particularly in Doubling the Point, the collection of Coetzee’s essays and interviews edited by him, he has brilliantly proved his main point: that in Coetzee’s narrative and critical production, we find “an encounter in which the legacies of European modernism and modern linguistics enter the turbulent waters of colonialism and apartheid.”52 Attwell, who describes Coetzee’s narrative as “a form of situational metafiction, with a particular relation to the cultural and political discourses of South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s,”53 manages brilliantly to show how Coetzee’s novels “are located in the nexus of history and text”54 and how “they explore the tension between these polarities.”55 The attention paid by Attwell to the importance of the questions of “agency” and “positionality”56 strikes me as essential.57 Attwell argues that, in Coetzee’s writing, “certain questions continually resurface: Who is the selfof-writing? What is his or her power, representativeness, legitimacy and authority?”58 These questions will keep reappearing, in different forms, through Coetzee’s writing, as we see in the case of Summertime, where a crucial issue is Vincent’s authority to write a biography of the late John Coetzee,59 through 52

David Attwell, “Editor’s Introduction,” in Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews, J.M. Coetzee, ed. David Attwell (Cambridge M A : Harvard U P , 1992): 3. 53 Attwell, J.M. Coetzee, 3. 54 J.M. Coetzee, 2. 55 J.M. Coetzee, 3. 56 J.M. Coetzee, 3. 57 In his essay “Erasmus: Madness and Rivalry,” Coetzee himself examines the question of positionality in relation to Desiderius Erasmus’s The Praise of Folly, in which Erasmus manages to occupy “a nonposition,” “a position in-but-not-in the political dynamic, a position not already given, defined, limited and sanctioned by the game itself” (J.M. Coetzee, “Erasmus: Madness and Rivalry,” in Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship [Chicago: U of Chicago P , 1996]: 84). This position that creates its own rules and categories very much resembles the position of rivalry advocated in “The Novel Today,” and it is indeed the (non)position Coetzee tries to occupy in his writing. The problem for Coetzee, borrowing his words on Erasmus, is “the problem of how to position himself as critic of both sides” (94); how to occupy “a third position” (Coetzee, Doubling the Point, 200). 58 Attwell, J.M. Coetzee, 3. 59 Sophie explicitly raises this issue as she asks him whether he has “authorization” (225).

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his manipulation of the information given to him by the different interviewees.60 This concern with authority on the part of the writing agent is obviously behind the pervasive presence of the figure of the author in Coetzee’s writing – Daniel Defoe in Foe and in Coetzee’s Nobel Lecture, Dostoevsky in The Master of Petersburg, the literary scholars Elizabeth Curren in Age of Iron and David Lurie in Disgrace, Elizabeth Costello in the novel of that name and in Slow Man, Señor C in Diary of a Bad Year, or the late John Coetzee in Summertime. The editors of a special issue of the Journal of Literary Studies on “J.M. Coetzee and His Doubles” have pointed to this “increasingly assertive persona of the author in J.M. Coetzee’s fiction, especially since Elizabeth Costello,”61 and have related the phenomenon of doubling in Coetzee’s narrative to a “crisis of authority.”62 Coetzee has strenuously explored the intimate relation between authority and authorship, and, more specifically, the way in which ‘white writing’ in South Africa “emerges from a place of instability, tension, and negotiation.”63 This constitutes Coetzee’s concern in White Writing, where he analyzes the kind of literature “generated by the concerns of people no longer European, not yet African” (11), and the attempt on the part of these people to find a language with which to “speak of Africa and be spoken to by Africa” (8). The principle that guides Susan VanZanten Gallagher in A Story of South Africa: J.M. Coetzee’s Fiction in Context is that of showing how Coetzee’s novels “emerge from South African realities,” at a time when “they suggest in their very form and technique that an alternative to those realities exists.”64 Gallagher’s book contains accurate discussions of the South African material and discursive elements to which Coetzee’s novels relate, such as Afrikaner patriarchal and nationalist discourse, in the case of In the Heart of the Country, the question of torture, in Waiting for the Barbarians, or the pessimism in the 60

His recasting of his conversations with Margot into “an uninterrupted narrative spoken in [her] voice” (87) is a case in point, given Margot’s continuous complaints about his “putting words of [his] own in [her] mouth” (119). 61 Mark Sanders & Nancy Ruttenburg, “Introduction: J.M. Coetzee and His Doubles,” Journal of Literary Studies 25.4 (December 2009): 2. 62 Sanders & Ruttenburg, “Introduction,” 1. 63 David Attwell, Rewriting Modernity: Studies in Black South African Literary History (Scottsville: U of KwaZulu–Natal P, 2005): 16. 64 Susan VanZanten Gallagher, A Story of South Africa: J.M. Coetzee’s Fiction in Context (Cambridge M A : Harvard U P , 1991): ix.

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1980s about the collective future of South Africa as a country, in the case of

Life & Times of Michael K. In Colonization, Violence, and Narration in White South African Writing, Rosemary Jane Jolly also examines Coetzee’s production in the South African context. Jolly is concerned with the “connections between issues of representation and issues of violence”65 in the white South African literary tradition, and analyzes the way in which Coetzee, Breytenbach, and Brink have dealt, in their narratives, with the problem of representing or depicting South African horrors and atrocities.

Postmodernism and (post)colonialism In 1989, Dick Penner published Countries of the Mind: The Fiction of J.M. Coetzee. Penner belongs to that critical current that has detected in Coetzee’s early novels a condemnation of Western colonialism, not so much in its material and economic facets as in its ideological and psychological aspects. Many of these critics have emphasized the way in which the significance of Coetzee’s works transcends the South African situation.66 Thus, the readings carried out by Penner are based on the premise that “Coetzee’s fictions maintain their significance apart from a South African context,” as “they transform urgent societal concerns into more enduring questions regarding colonialism and the relationships of mastery and servitude between cultures and individuals.”67 For Penner, if Coetzee does not provide straightforward political solutions, “it is because he is striking at a more fundamental problem: the psychological, philosophical, and linguistic bases of the colonial dilemma.”68 At that particular stage of Coetzee’s critical reception, responses such as Pen65

Rosemary Jane Jolly, Colonization, Violence, and Narration in White South African Writing: André Brink, Breyten Breytenbach, and J.M. Coetzee (Athens: Ohio U P , 1996): 1. 66 Thus, Robert M. Post argued that Coetzee “repeatedly presents the conflict of oppressed versus oppressor,” and that, unlike other South African writers such as Paton, Gordimer, and Fugard, who were straightforwardly dealing with contemporary problems of the country, “Coetzee’s narratives are inclined to be less straightforward, more ambiguous, and, at least on the surface, not to be about the South Africa of today” (“Oppression in the Fiction of J.M. Coetzee,” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 27.2 [Winter 1986]: 67). 67 Dick Penner, Countries of the Mind: The Fiction of J.M. Coetzee (New York: Greenwood, 1989): xiii. 68 Penner, Countries of the Mind, xiv.

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ner’s were useful in broadening the perspective on Coetzee’s novels, as they underlined the importance of relating Coetzee’s novels not only to the specific South African conditions, but also to the wider context of (post)colonialism. Coetzee himself had remarked, in a 1978 interview, that the South African experience “remains largely colonial,”69 and that he saw the South African situation as “one manifestation of a wider historical situation to do with colonialism, late colonialism, neo-colonialism.”70 However, Penner identifies in Coetzee’s fiction a too-subjective, psychological, and imaginative version of colonialism.71 As he defines Coetzee’s works as “essentially ahistorical,” because “his eighteenth-century Jacobus envisions flame throwers” and “Magda in the early 1900s seems knowledgeable about structural linguistics,”72 he misses the obvious point that, in Coetzee’s fiction, the break with realist verisimilitude does not entail ahistoricity. Coetzee is certainly concerned with “psychological and metaphysical forces,”73 but these forces are always made present through a textuality embedded in historical and social forces. If a psychological and metaphysical perspective may leave aside contextual factors, a narrowly textualist approach may also suffer from a lack of attention to contextual determinants. Several critics,74 most of them from a metropolitan background, identified in Coetzee’s early fiction, especially in Foe, many of the formal and technical aspects usually associated with post69

J.M. Coetzee, “Speaking: J.M. Coetzee (Interview with Stephen Watson),” Speak

1.3 (1978): 24. 70

Coetzee, “Speaking,” 23. Clive Barnett is alluding to responses such as Penner’s when he criticizes international readings, which, shaped by liberal-humanist values, respond to the literary work of white South African authors, by re-inscribing it “according to abstract and moralised understandings of the nature of apartheid” (“Constructions of Apartheid in the International Reception of the Novels of J.M. Coetzee,” Journal of Southern African Studies 25.2 [June 1999]: 287), and by “rendering it intelligible in universal terms but simultaneously keeping it at a safe distance” (290). 72 Penner, Countries of the Mind, 24. 73 Countries of the Mind, 52. 74 See Ina Gräbe, “Postmodernist Narrative Strategies in Foe,” Journal of Literary Studies 5.2 (1989): 145–82; Linda Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction (1988; London: Routledge, 1996); Richard Lane, “Embroiling Narratives: Appropriating the Signifier in J.M. Coetzee’s Foe,” Commonwealth: Essays and Studies 13.1 (1990): 106–11; and Paul Williams, “Foe: The Story of Silence,” English Studies in Africa 31.1 (1988): 33–39. 71

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modernist fiction: namely, metafiction, temporal distortion, fragmentation, and the absence of reliable and omniscient narrators. The obvious affinities between Coetzee’s narrative techniques and postmodernist strategies need to be pointed out, bearing in mind that some critics have wrongly tended to perceive Coetzee’s postmodernism and linguistic experimentalism as a drawing away from historical and contextual concerns: “The reader’s feeling of unease grows when typical post-modernist conventions of authorial irony and ambiguity heighten the farcical element in the fictional events and throw into question the reality of all perceptions,” as Rowland Smith states.75 For critics such as Smith, Coetzee’s postmodernism proves that his narrative is “oblique even when dealing with history.”76 Hence, in the analysis of Coetzee’s postmodernist qualities, attention must be paid to the relation between those formal features and the particulars of the historical and political context. Other responses, instead, have emphasized the postcolonial quality of Coetzee’s narrative, questioning the legitimacy of postmodernist readings.77 For Bill Ashcroft, “post-colonialism and postmodernism are very different elaborations of postmodernity”: “While one operates within Eurocentrism, the other undermines it. While one finds itself drawn into the unproductive possi75

Rowland Smith, “The Seventies and After: The Inner View in White, EnglishLanguage Fiction,” in Olive Schreiner and After: Essays on Southern African Literature in Honour of Guy Butler, ed. Malvern van Wyk Smith & Don Maclennan (Cape Town: David Philip, 1983): 197. 76 Smith, “The Seventies and After,” 204. 77 For Graham Pechey, “the ethically charged postmodern knowledge” of Coetzee’s work “has less to do with some generalized ‘postmodernist’ textuality than with its highly self-conscious postcoloniality” (“The Post-Apartheid Sublime: Rediscovering the Extraordinary,” in Writing South Africa: Literature, Apartheid, and Democracy, 1970–1995, ed. Derek Attridge & Rosemary Jolly [Cambridge: Cambridge U P , 1998]: 66). Talking about Coetzee’s postmodernism, Michael Chapman asserts that “he does not revel in the simulacra of the consumerised image, but holds the global hyperrealities to third-world account” (Southern African Literatures [London: Longman, 1996)]: 391). Kenneth Parker argues for Coetzee’s “location within a postmodernist tradition of fiction-making” (“J.M. Coetzee: The Postmodern and the Post-Colonial,” in Critical Perspectives on J.M. Coetzee, ed. Graham Huggan & Stephen Watson [Houndmills: Macmillan, 1996]: 101), but points to the postcolonial character in White Writing, which shows Coetzee’s “awareness of the discursive pitfalls of the terrain to be traversed, whether spatial (South African histories and cultures) or textual and linguistic” (102).

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bilities of the place of the sign, the other emphasizes the political function of signification.”78 Thus, Ashcroft defines Waiting for the Barbarians and In the Heart of the Country as postcolonial texts, since we find in them “the politically and culturally transformative dynamic of post-colonial writing” (140– 41), and the allegorical strategy of postcolonial writing, which is “directed not towards a simple opposition to the dominant discourse, but towards a transformation of that discourse through the strategy of interpolation.”79 Marais has also argued that Coetzee’s writing should be seen as an example of postcolonial writing, as opposed to postmodernist narrative. In both cases, there is a focus on metafictionality, the difference lying in the different sites of production: whereas postcolonial writing, such as Coetzee’s, is produced by the colonial encounter and aims at exploring the subjectivity constituted by colonial discourses, postmodernist writing is produced by the system of writing itself and aims at decentering the humanist subject.80 Sue Kossew adopts a similar perspective in Pen and Power (1996), where she takes as her startingpoint Coetzee’s and Brink’s ambivalent positions as white South African writers and settler writers, a position that accounts for “the ambiguity and ambivalence of the speaking positions” of Coetzee’s narrators.81 Kossew reacts against those South African Marxist critics who have read the “provisionality and uncertainty of the kind found in Coetzee’s texts” as a way of “‘opting out’ of the political agenda,” arguing, instead, that these elements should be understood “in post-colonial terms, as a necessary part of expressing the ambivalent position of the settler/ colonizer who ‘refuses’.”82 More recently, Jane Poyner has come back to the question of Coetzee’s postcolonial position, presenting him as staging the paradox of postcolonial authorship: whilst striving symbolically to bring the stories of the marginal and the oppressed to light, stories that heretofore have been suppressed or silenced by oppressive regimes, 78

Bill Ashcroft, “Irony, Allegory and Empire: Waiting for the Barbarians and In the Heart of the Country,” in On Post-Colonial Futures: Transformations of Colonial Culture (London: Continuum, 1998): 140. 79 Ashcroft, “Irony, Allegory and Empire,” 140–41. 80 Mike Marais, “The Hermeneutics of Empire: Coetzee’s Post-Colonial Metafiction,” in Critical Perspectives on J.M. Coetzee, ed. Graham Huggan & Stephen Watson (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1996): 67. 81 Kossew, Pen and Power, 4. 82 Pen and Power, 9–10.

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writers of conscience or conscience-stricken writers risk re-imposing the very authority they seek to challenge.83

Attwell’s greatest accomplishment has been that of showing that it is not only possible but necessary to bring all these miscellaneous, and at times confronted, critical positions into dialogue in our approach to Coetzee’s narrative, by thoroughly analyzing how modern Western intellectual currents and the waters of colonialism and apartheid converge in Coetzee.84 Our job as critics, Attwell argues, lies in understanding Coetzee’s postmodernity in the light of his postcoloniality;85 in understanding the ways in which the reflexive selfconsciousness of his work (largely a result of Coetzee’s familiarity with twentieth-century Western theoretical and philosophical movements) is “directed at understanding the conditions – linguistic, formal, historical, and political – governing the writing of fiction in contemporary South Africa.”86 This does not mean that postmodernity and postcoloniality, the relation to the South African context and the broader contexts of colonialism and postcolonialism, linguistic self-consciousness, intertextuality, and the tendency to prevent an immediate assimilation into the immediate context, converge straightforwardly in Coetzee’s novels. On the contrary, in his works, these dimensions are always found in constant tension and dialectical confrontation. Furthermore, the postcolonial character of Coetzee’s writing and of his own condition as writer has become even more complex since his move to Australia and his engagement with this new context in literary terms, which has intensified the cosmopolitan and diasporic quality of his narrative. Katherine Stanton has underlined this cosmopolitan dimension, grouping Coetzee with other writers such as Ishiguro, Ondaatje, and Kincaid, in all of whom she identifies an“interest in states of feelings, modes of belonging, and practices of citizenship in an increasingly pluralized cosmos.” Their fictions derive from a cosmopolitanism that “indicates a multiplicity or diversity of belonging,” and that leads them to thematize issues such as migration, exile, and the diasporic condition.87 83

Jane Poyner, J.M. Coetzee and the Paradox of Postcolonial Authorship (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009): 2. 84 Attwell, J.M. Coetzee, 10. 85 J.M. Coetzee, 20. 86 Attwell, “Editor’s Introduction,” 3. 87 Katherine Stanton, Cosmopolitan Fictions: Ethics, Politics, and Global Change in the Works of Kazuo Ishiguro, Michael Ondaatje, Jamaica Kincaid, and J.M. Coetzee (London: Routledge, 2006): 2.

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A number of critics have analyzed postcoloniality and postmodernity as “the Scylla and Charybdis of the cultural and historical situation that Coetzee is obliged to navigate.”88 This is the case with Dominic Head, who structures his first monograph on Coetzee on the premise that Coetzee’s self-reflexiveness and attention to textuality represent an enlistment of postmodernist concerns fitted to the context of late- and post-apartheid South Africa. Head provides valuable readings of Coetzee’s novels, from Dusklands to The Master of Petersburg, as he pays attention to their relation with the South African and colonial context, as well as to the presence of European intellectual influences and contemporary Western preoccupations, the emphasis on textual structures, and the challenge of discursive and novelistic conventions.89 Head’s second monograph on Coetzee, The Cambridge Introduction to J.M. Coetzee (2009), confirms Coetzee’s privileged status on the international scene. It is an elegant and well-informed survey of the main themes, contexts, literary influences, and theoretical concerns informing Coetzee’s works until Diary of Bad Year. It also contains a brief but useful review of the main critical responses to Coetzee since the beginning of his literary career.90

88

Attwell, “Afterword,” 214. For Paul A. Cantor, the fact “that Coetzee can be shown to have one foot in Europe does not mean that he does not still have one foot in Africa. […] his postmodernism must be understood in the larger context of his postcolonialism” (“Happy Days in the Veld: Beckett and Coetzee’s In the Heart of the Country,” South Atlantic Quarterly 93.1 [1994]: 95). Michael Valdez Moses has defined Coetzee as “the bad conscience of postmodern fiction in the postcolonial world” (“The Mark of Empire: Writing, History, and Torture in Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians,” Kenyon Review 15.1 [Winter 1993]: 116). Richard Begam has argued that Coetzee “has consistently refused to choose” between postmodernism and postcolonialism: “Or, more precisely, he has confounded the very logic of the choice by simultaneously choosing both options, by adopting postmodern strategies, which he has then used for postcolonial purposes.” (“Silence and Mut(e)ilation: White Writing in J.M. Coetzee’s Foe,” South Atlantic Quarterly 93.1 [Winter 1994]: 112). 89 See Dominic Head, J.M. Coetzee (Cambridge: Cambridge U P , 1997). In a more recent monograph on Coetzee by Michaela Canepari–Labib, there is also the desire to bridge the conflicting dichotomies that have in the past characterized Coetzee’s critical reception. See Canepari–Labib, Old Myths – Modern Empires: Power, Language, and Identity in J.M. Coetzee’s Work (New York: Peter Lang, 2005). 90 See Dominic Head, The Cambridge Introduction to J.M. Coetzee (Cambridge: Cambridge U P , 2009).

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The publication of Disgrace in 1999 led to the latest significant episode, in the history of Coetzee’s critical reception, of conflictive assessment of the way formal qualities, contextual issues, and ideological implications converge in his narrative. In an oral submission to the South African Human Rights Commission (S A H R C ) of inquiry into racism in the media, made on 5 April 2000, the A N C pointed to Disgrace as witness to the persistence of white racism in South Africa. It was claimed that Coetzee “reported on” white people’s still pervasive perception of the black as a “faithless, immoral, uneducated, incapacitated primitive child.”91 Arguing against racialized readings of Coetzee’s novel, Attwell – in his contribution to the special issue of Interventions on Disgrace, edited by Attridge and McDonald – reminds us of “the obvious revulsion for racialized discourse, and especially for racialized politics, which is intrinsic to most of Coetzee’s oeuvre.”92 Attwell argues that the A N C ’s reading of Disgrace was “racialized beyond a level that is warranted in the text of the novel,”93 and convincingly shows how, in the novel, “the blackness of the black characters is the least significant feature of their representation.”94 Peter D. McDonald also reacts to racialized readings of the novel, whose underlying problem is their assumption that Disgrace is an allegory; characters are, then, approached as types, rather than as complex individuals shaped by multiple ties and relationships; and the story is seen as witness to history, whereas “we would need to understand key events functionally, rather than expressively or mimetically.”95 Derek Attridge, for his part, points out that one of the things Disgrace disturbs is “any simple faith in the political efficacy of literature – a faith upon which some styles of postcolonial criticism are built,” and contends that “the only responsible way to

91

S A H R C , Inquiry into Racism in the Media: Hearing Transcripts X I V .3/3: 123, quoted in Peter D McDonald, “Disgrace Effects,” Interventions 4.3 (2002): 323. 92 David Attwell, “Race in Disgrace,” Interventions 4.3 (2002): 332. 93 Attwell, “Race in Disgrace,” 333. 94 “Race in Disgrace,” 335. As Gillian Gane has put it, Disgrace is “dis-raced – it is uncomfortable with naming racial categories or discussing racial issues” (“Unspeakable Injuries in Disgrace and David’s Story,” Kunapipi 24.1–2 [2002]: 101). 95 McDonald, “Disgrace Effects,” 327. Florence Stratton’s “Imperial Fictions,” in which the starting-point is that “Disgrace is a parable of South African history and society,” constitutes an example of such an allegorical and simplified understanding of the novel (“Imperial Fictions: J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace,” A R I E L : A Review of International English Literature 33.3–4 [July–October 2002]: 84).

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engage with Disgrace is as a literary work, not as historical reportage, political prescription, or allegorical scheme.”96 This actually constitutes the principle that should guide our reading of the whole of Coetzee’s oeuvre.

Modernism, ethics and alterity In 2004, Derek Attridge published J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading. Like Attwell’s before him, Attridge’s contribution to the state of Coetzee’s critical reception has been crucial. One of his main arguments is that the distinctive ethical force of literature inheres not in the fictional world portrayed but in the handling of language whereby that fictional world is brought into being. Literary works that resist the immediacy and transparency of language – as in the case of modernist writing – thus engage the reader ethically; and to do justice to such works as a reader is to respond fully to an event whereby otherness challenges habitual norms.97

It is, to a large extent, due to Attridge’s fundamental influence that, since the turn of the century, critics have paid more and more attention to the way Coetzee’s fictional and non-fictional production engages with ethical discourse; to what Jane Poyner has called Coetzee’s “ethics of intellectual practice.”98 In this ethical approach, usually carried out from a Levinasian and Derridean perspective,99 the discussion around the concept of ‘the other’ and 96

Derek Attridge, “J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace: Introduction,” Interventions 4.3 (2002): 319. Similarly, Michael Holland asserts that “Disgrace is first and foremost a work of literature” (“ ‘ Plink-Plunk’: Unforgetting the Present in Coetzee’s Disgrace,” Interventions 4.3 [2002]: 395), and Michiel Heyns argues that we should avoid “ethical abstractionism and political reductionism” and approach this novel “in terms of its narrative dynamics” (“ ‘ Call No Man Happy’: Perversity as Narrative Principle in Disgrace,” English Studies in Africa 45.1 [2002]: 58). For an assessment of young readers’ reaction to Disgrace in the South African context, in which the space between reportage and fiction is so often erased, see David Attwell, “J M Coetzee and South Africa: Thoughts on the Social Life of Fiction,” English Academy Review 21 (December 2004): 105–17. 97 Derek Attridge, “Ethical Modernism: Servants as Others in J.M. Coetzee’s Early Fiction,” Poetics Today 25.4 (Winter 2004): 653. 98 Jane Poyner, ed., J.M. Coetzee and the Idea of the Public Intellectual (Athens: Ohio U P , 2006): 3. 99 In his critique of Western philosophy as an ontological tradition in which alterity

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‘otherness’ has become prominent. In cultural and postcolonial studies, the focus tends to be on how the other is conceived of or constructed as exotic, inferior or alien by a certain hegemonic culture or social group. From this perspective, characters such as the Vietnamese, the Khoisan, Hendrik and KleinAnna, the barbarian girl, Michael K, and Vercueil have been seen as others, given their position of social and historical subordination in relation to Eugene Dawn, Jacobus Coetzee, Magda, the magistrate, the medical officer, Susan and Foe, and Mrs Curren respectively. Attridge, who defines those characters as “figures of otherness”100 or “figures of alterity,”101 does not do away with the historical dimension and cultural specificity of those others, related to the colonizer/colonized dichotomy and the manichaean racial opposition created by South African apartheid. Thus, reflecting on Coetzee’s relation with South Africa, Attridge asserts that “there can be no doubt that this concern with the ethical demands of the subordinate other is closely connected with the specific history of that country.”102 However, Attridge’s point is that the question of otherness has been often examined from an exclusively political perspective, without paying enough attention to “the link between this question and the formal practices of literature.”103 He argues that Coetzee’s writing suggests that it is not possible to do justice “to the otherness of the other in the language and discursive conventions that have historically been one of the instruments ensuring that this other is kept subordinate.” That is why Coetzee engages in “a different literary practice, willing to reveal its own dependence on convention and its own part in the exercise of power.”104 has always been incorporated into the realm of the Same and the One, Levinas has suggested, instead, a metaphysical ethics in which the infinity and exteriority of the Other remains beyond the grasp or comprehension of the subject or any system of representation, and in which the Other’s face summons me and demands my responsibility. The Derridean engagement with otherness may be seen at two interrelated levels. On the one hand, deconstruction can be understood as an ethical textual strategy in the way it retrieves what the text thinks to be other to itself, an otherness repressed by metaphysical logocentric discourse. On the other hand, especially in his later works, Derrida explicitly engages with Levinasian ethics, focusing on the question of responsibility toward alterity. 100 Attridge, “Ethical Modernism,” 655. 101 Attridge, J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, 12. 102 Attridge, “Ethical Modernism,” 655. 103 Attridge, J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, 8. 104 J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, 17.

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Coetzee presents his fictional worlds through narrators who speak, to a great extent, through “the discourse of the ruling culture”; as they are unwilling or unable to comprehend, within that discourse, the stories of the Khoisan, Hendrik and Klein-Anna, Michael K, Friday and Vercueil, we witness the demands that these figures of alterity make upon the dominant culture and discourse excluding them. This alterity “makes demands on us not by entering into dialogue with us – something which is ruled out in advance – but by the very intensity of its unignorable being-there.”105 Attridge has situated Coetzee’s narrative within the modernist tradition: “What often gets called (and condemned as) the self-reflexiveness of modernist writing […] is […] allied to a new apprehension of the claims of otherness, of that which cannot be expressed in the discourse available to us.”106 Through “its foregrounding of its own linguistic, figurative, and generic operations,” Coetzee’s modernist language shows its awareness “of its ideological effects,” and its alertness “to its own capacity to impose silence as it speaks.”107 Like Attridge, other critics have emphasized the modernist quality of Coetzee’s writing. In an article published in the late 1980s, Neil Lazarus argued that what white South African writers such as Gordimer, Brink, Coetzee, and Breytenbach shared was “the modernist irreducibility of their work,”108 modernism as defined by Theodor Adorno. Lazarus explains that, for Adorno, “modernist works alluded to the existence of domination and violence through their own internal ruptures and contradictions – ruptures that were unavoidably because they traced the scars and contours of social antagonisms and constraints,” concluding that the work of these South African writers is defined by the “marginality and acute self-consciousness”109 that Adorno claimed for the artistic object. Just as Adorno proclaimed the opposition between art and politics, these writers’ resistance “consists in the practice

105

Attridge, J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, 13. J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, 4. Watson, for instance, had condemned Coetzee’s modernist intellectual inheritance, identifying at the heart of modernism a “contemplative, myth-making, sacralising impulse” at odds with African historical reality (“Colonialism and the Novels of J.M. Coetzee,” 34). 107 J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, 30. 108 Neil Lazarus, “Modernism and Modernity: T.W. Adorno and Contemporary White South African Literature,” Cultural Critique 5 (Winter 1986–87): 136. 109 Lazarus, “Modernism and Modernity,” 139. 106

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of truth and in contestation of the legitimacy of official ideology.”110 Gilbert Yeoh has argued that, in his critical piece “Homage” – to which I come back below – “Coetzee makes it clear that in modernism, he found the qualities of authenticity and vitality, as well as groundbreaking formal innovations, that he could use, both in his personal life and in his fiction, to mediate his own perceptions of South African reality.”111 The characterization of Coetzee’s fictional practice as essentially ethical has contributed to the surpassing of the dichotomy between historicist and textualist approaches to his work. Thus, a number of critics have produced very valuable readings of Coetzee’s fiction, bringing the insights of poststructuralist and deconstructive theory into an analysis of the engagement in Coetzee’s novels with the particulars of their socio-historical context. In his study of Coetzee, Wilson Harris, and Toni Morrison, Samuel Durrant manages to combine a postcolonial approach with an accurate use of Derrida’s notion of impossible or inconsolable mourning. For Durrant, since postcolonial narrative is “structured by a tension between the oppressive memory of the past and the liberatory promise of the future,” it is “necessarily involved in a work of mourning.”112 This critic approaches the question of the relation between narrative and history in a highly suggestive manner, arguing that Coetzee’s novels written during the 1980s testify to the suffering engendered by apartheid precisely by refusing to translate that suffering into a historical narrative. […] the true work of the novel consists not in the factual recovery of history, nor yet in the psychological recovery from history, but rather in the insistence of remaining inconsolable before history.113

Thus, Durrant focuses on the way in which the barbarian girl, Michael K and Friday, who “remain radically incommensurable with the narratives in which they find themselves,” “embody precisely that material history of suffering that the narrative is unable to represent.”114 110

Lazarus, “Modernism and Modernity,” 155. Gilbert Yeoh, “J.M. Coetzee and Samuel Beckett: Nothingness, Minimalism and Indeterminacy,” A R I E L : A Review of International English Literature 31.4 (October 2000): 118. 112 Samuel Durrant, Postcolonial Narrative and the Work of Mourning: J.M. Coetzee, Wilson Harris, and Toni Morrison (Albany: State U of New York P , 2004): 1. 113 Durrant, Postcolonial Narrative and the Work of Mourning, 24. 114 Postcolonial Narrative and the Work of Mourning, 27. 111

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Just as Durrant combines a postcolonial reading with insights derived Derrida’s work, Stefan Helgesson brings postcolonial theory and the work of Levinas into dialogue, arguing that the relation between the two “hinges on the ethical response to alterity.”115 Helgesson’s main argument is that, in the South African context of the 1980s, Ndebele in Fools and Other Stories, Gordimer in A Sport of Nature, and Coetzee in Life & Times of Michael K, construct “scenarios of the ‘beyond’, that is, of a subjective and/or social space that was not defined, circumscribed or constricted by the currently dominant historical force of apartheid.”116 Helgesson’s vision of the relation between writing and history does much justice to the way Coetzee’s texts operate, pointing as he does to “the resistant potential of writing, its resistance to its own historicity,” and to the way “the writer negotiates historical determination through writing.”117 As we see in Gordimer, Ndebele, and Coetzee, history determines writing, but at the same time, literary writing exceeds and imagines something other than, something beyond, that determination. On the other hand (as already pointed out in the Introduction), Strode, in The Ethics of Exile, follows a similar strategy to that of Durrant and Helgesson. Like them, he employs a Western theoretical framework – the dialogical encounter between Levinas and Heidegger on the subject of human dwelling – to examine the contextual particulars in which Coetzee’s novels emerge, in particular, apartheid as a racist form of human dwelling. Throughout his critical work on Coetzee, Marais, also making use of Levinas’s and Derrida’s ethical philosophies, has emphasized the ethical quality of his writing, which resides in a particular form of engagement with otherness: “Coetzee’s fictional project should not be understood in purely political terms as an attempt to ‘give voice’ to the other, but rather in ethical terms as a refusal to do so.”118 Recently, Carrol Clarkson has provided a valuable and original perspective on the ethicality of Coetzee’s works, arguing thus: to date, Coetzee scholarship has not paid sustained attention to the link between Coetzee’s explicit preoccupation with language from the perspective of the linguistic sciences on the one hand, and the ethical 115

Stefan Helgesson, Writing in Crisis: Ethics and History in Gordimer, Ndebele, and Coetzee (Scottsville: KwaZulu–Natal U P , 2004): 7. 116 Helgesson, Writing in Crisis, 4. 117 Writing in Crisis, 21. 118 Mike Marais, “Writing with Eyes Shut: Ethics, Politics and the Problem of the Other in the Fiction of J.M. Coetzee,” English in Africa 25.1 (May 1998): 45.

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force of his work, from a literary-philosophical perspective, on the other.119

Thus, Clarkson analyzes the ethical implications of the linguistic and grammatical choices we find in Coetzee’s novels, such as the use of the first, second, and third person, and the question of names and etymologies. One of the most interesting aspects of Clarkson’s contribution is her approach to Coetzee as a writer rather than exclusively as a novelist, and her reading of his novels “as experiments with the effects that can be generated by putting certain linguistic structures into the field of narrative play.”120 Since Disgrace, and particularly after the publication of The Lives of Animals and Elizabeth Costello, critics have turned their attention to one particular form of alterity with which Coetzee’s works ethically engage: namely, animal alterity, although animals have always played a role, however apparently minor, in all of Coetzee’s novels.121 The novels have been read as “performative examinations of the nature of imagined identifications with the other,”122 an other that may be present not only in the form of African and silent characters, but also in the form of white women and animals. Martin Puchner has focused on Coetzee’s actual performance of a provocative lecture on animal rights, at Princeton University, as part of the 1997/98 annual Tanner Lectures. Giorgio Agamben’s critique of the ‘anthropological machine’ provides Puchner with the frame from which he argues that Coetzee, like Kafka in “A Report to an Academy” and Beckett in Act Without Words I, demonstrates “the extent to which the distinction between humans and animals is the product of

119

Carrol Clarkson, J.M. Coetzee: Countervoices (London: Palgrave Macmillan,

2009): 2. 120

Clarkson, J.M. Coetzee, 5. See Louis Tremaine, “The Embodied Soul: Animal Being in the Work of J.M. Coetzee,” Contemporary Literature 44.4 (Winter 2003): 587–612. For acute analyses of the role of animals in Disgrace, see Jane Rosemary Jolly, “Going to the Dogs: Humanity in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, The Lives of Animals, and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” in J.M. Coetzee and the Idea of the Public Intellectual, ed. Jane Poyner (Athens: Ohio U P , 2006): 148–71; Josephine Donovan, “ ‘ Miracles of Creation’: Animals in J.M. Coetzee’s Work,” Michigan Quarterly Review 43.1 (Winter 2004): 78–93; Tom Herron, “The Dog Man: Becoming Animal in Coetzee’s Disgrace,” Twentieth Century Literature 51.4 (Winter 2005): 467–90; and Raimond Gaita, The Philosopher’s Dog (London: Routledge, 2003). 122 Wright, Writing ‘Out of all the Camps’, 11. 121

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projection and representation.”123 Chapter 8 of Jopi Nyman’s Postcolonial Animal Tale from Kipling to Coetzee centres on postcolonial dogs in Percy FitzPatrick’s Jock of the Bushveld and in Disgrace. According to Nyman, these two works have in common that “by using the trope of the animal […] they explore the transcultural space, the contact zone, where colonial identities are constructed as result of negotiation and conflict.”124 Wendy Woodward approaches both Disgrace and Triomf, by Marlene van Niekerk, as novels that “posit some continuum between humans and dogs” and that “pose ontological questions about being human in relation to other animals,”125 and Eluned Summers–Bremner reads Disgrace and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go in the light of the Lacanian distinction between humans and animals.126 Given the important role of animals in Coetzee’s fiction, together with the clear ecological dimension of novels such as Life & Times or Disgrace, theorists of ecocriticism have also turned their attention to Coetzee. Thus, James Barilla’s contribution to Coming into Contact analyzes “the ecological implications” of what he calls “cultural restoration narratives,” such as Life & Times of Michael K.127 Dominic Head, for his part, identifies in Disgrace and The Lives of Animals a “point of intersection between postcolonialism and ecocriticism,” as they offer a unique insight into the following question: “How do the aesthetic effects and ethical questions generated by literature bear on the relationship between human beings and the rest of nature?”128 123

Martin Puchner, “Performing the Open: Actors, Animals, Philosophers,” T D R : The Drama Review 51.1 (Spring 2007): 21. 124 Jopi Nyman, Postcolonial Animal Tale from Kipling to Coetzee (New Delhi: Atlantic, 2003): 128. 125 Wendy Woodward, “Dog Stars and Dog Souls: The Lives of Dogs in Triomf by Marlene Van Nierkerk and Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee,” Journal of Literary Studies 17.3–4 (December 2001): 90. 126 See Eluned Summers–Bremner, “ ‘ Poor Creatures’: Ishiguro’s and Coetzee’s Imaginary Animals,” Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature 39.4 (December 2006): 145–60. 127 James Barilla, “A Mosaic of Landscapes: Ecological Restoration and the Work of Leopold, Coetzee, and Silko,” in Coming into Contact: Explorations in Ecocritical Theory and Practice, ed. Annie Merrill Ingram, Ian Marshall, Daniel J. Philippon & Adam W. Sweeting (Athens: U of Georgia P , 2007): 129. 128 Dominic Head, “Coetzee and the Animals: The Quest for Postcolonial Grace,” in Empire and the Gothic: The Politics of Genre, ed. Andrew Smith & William Hughes (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003): 234.

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Graham Huggan has argued that there are grounds for “a productive overlap between the tasks of ecocriticism and those of postcolonial criticism,”129 and compares The Lives of Animals, Arundhati Roy’s The Greater Common Good, and Barbara’s Gowdy’s The White Bone in order to examine “what contemporary postcolonial and ecologically oriented literary / cultural criticism might have to offer one another at a time of global environmental crisis.”130 Anthony Vital examines the question of ecology and the culture of environmentalism within the specific South African post-apartheid context, and reads The Lives of Animals and Zakes Mda’s The Heart of Redness as articulating a limited value for ecology within current social and cultural orders.131

Intertextuality and theory One aspect accounting for the engaging and complex character of Coetzee’s narrative works is their expansive and dense web of intertextual allusions, through which they enter into dialogue with different literary traditions and discursive fields. In “Homage,” Coetzee acknowledges the influence that some writers have had on his writing, “writers without whom I would not be the person I am, writers without whom I would, in a certain sense, not exist,”132 and certainly, as a confirmation of Coetzee’s alliance with the European modernist and high modernist tradition, the writers he refers to in this piece as his literary parents belong to that period: Rilke and Musil, Pound and Faulkner, Ford and Beckett. Beckett’s influence on Coetzee is a case in point, and Coetzee may be seen, in the contemporary literary scene, as one of the main heirs of the Irish writer. The beginning of Coetzee´s literary career cannot be assessed without bearing in mind the decisive impact that Beckett’s aesthetic and textuality had on him, and it is probably from this perspective that we should approach the scene in Youth, in which John’s encounter with Watt is depicted as both revelatory and liberating: “From the first page he knows he has hit on something. Propped up in bed with light pouring through the window, he 129

Graham Huggan, “ ‘ Greening’ Postcolonialism: Ecocritical Perspectives,” Modern Fiction Studies 50.3 (Fall 2004): 701. 130 Huggan, “ ‘ Greening’ Postcolonialism,” 702. 131 See Anthony Vital, “Situating Ecologism in Recent South African Fiction: J.M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals and Zakes Mda’s The Heart of Redness,” Journal of Southern African Studies 31.2 (June 2005): 297–313. 132 J.M. Coetzee, “Homage,” Threepenny Review 53 (Spring 1993): 5.

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reads and reads” (155). In 1965, Coetzee entered the graduate school of the University of Texas at Austin, and in January 1969, he presented his doctoral dissertation, “The English Fiction of Samuel Beckett: An Essay in Stylistic Analysis.” In the following years, he published various essays related to his interest both in Beckett and in the stylistic and technical branch of linguistics.133 In his doctoral dissertation, Coetzee explores the possibilities of a formal stylistics as applied to the prose fiction of Samuel Beckett written in English, specifically “Dante and the Lobster,” Murphy, and Watt. This study “provides invaluable insight into Coetzee’s preoccupation with narrative as a form of rule-bound play,”134 but also shows his deep concern about the relation between form and content, and about how the former may influence, constrain, determine or, on the contrary, diverge from the latter. Coetzee seems to be intrigued by the possibility of pushing form to its limits, doing away with the referential dimension, and creating a textual artefact of “no content, only shape,”135 and there is no doubt that Samuel Beckett is one of the writers that has come closest to the creation of such an artefact. Thus, in “The Comedy of Point of View in Murphy,” Coetzee identifies in Murphy and The Unnamable a tendency toward a consciousness of the self as “only consciousness of consciousness. Fiction is the only subject of fiction. Therefore, fictions are closed systems, prisons.”136 This vision of consciousness as imprisoned in the closed system of language is translated into the blinding and contraining discursive 133

See J.M. Coetzee, “The English Fiction of Samuel Beckett: An Essay in Stylistic Analysis” (doctoral dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 1969); “Statistical Indices of ‘Difficulty’,” Language & Style 2 (1969): 226–32; “The Comedy of Point of View in Beckett’s Murphy” (1970), in Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews, ed. & intro. David Attwell (Cambridge M A : Harvard U P , 1992): 31–38; “Review of Wilhelm Fucks, Nach allen Regeln der Kunst,” Style 5 (1971): 92–94; “The Manuscript Revisions of Beckett’s Watt” (1972), in Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews, ed. & intro. David Attwell (Cambridge M A : Harvard U P , 1992): 39–42; “Samuel Beckett and the Temptations of Style” (1973), in Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews, ed. & intro. David Attwell (Cambridge M A : Harvard U P , 1992): 43–49; and “Samuel Beckett’s Lessness: An Exercise in Decomposition,” Computers and the Humanities 7.4 (1973): 195–8. 134 Clarkson, J.M. Coetzee, 4; she also argues that “the work that [Coetzee] did on Beckett is pivotal in terms of the development of his own craftsmanship as a writer” (5). 135 Coetzee, “Samuel Beckett and the Temptations of Style,” 49. 136 Coetzee, “The Comedy of Point of View in Beckett’s Murphy,” 38.

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world inhabited by Eugene Dawn and Jacobus Coetzee in Dusklands, which prevents them from seeing beyond its categories and prejudices. As Attridge sees it, if Coetzee found the English prose of Samuel Beckett liberating, it is because it enabled him to realize that style could be the central concern of the writer, instead of being merely an instrument in the service of content.137 Critics have pointed to several aspects and dimensions of Coetzee’s writing in which Beckett’s influence may be felt. Yeoh has argued that “Beckettian paradigms, adapted to the South African context, provide Coetzee with vital modes of feeling, perceiving and responding to circumstances in his homeland.”138 Thus, according to Yeoh, in Life & Times of Michael K, Coetzee transplants the three Beckettian paradigms of nothingness, minimalism, and indeterminacy into the South African political context. Elsewhere, this critic has related the failure of truth-telling and inevitable self-deception of Coetzee’s narrators to Beckett’s trilogy, where “always there is only you talking to you about you.”139 In a special issue of the South Atlantic Quarterly devoted to Coetzee and dealing with issues such as the pastoral tradition, ethics, the other, and intertextuality, Paul Cantor asserts that Coetzee’s “works take on added meaning if we see them in relation to the European literary tradition he evidently has in mind whenever he writes,”140 and points to Beckett as “arguably the single greatest literary influence on Coetzee.” Cantor’s focus is on In the Heart of the Country, which “comes closest to Beckett in style and substance.”141 Steven G. Kellman devotes chapter 4 of his book The Translingual Imagination to Coetzee’s debt to Beckett, which is deeply related to Coetzee’s “continuing preoccupation with linguistic choice as enabler and impediment.”142 Nicholas Meihuizen detects in both Beckett and Coetzee what he

137

Derek Attridge, “Sex, Comedy and Influence: Coetzee’s Beckett,” in J.M. Coetzee in Context and Theory, ed. Elleke Boehmer, Robert Eaglestone & Katy Iddiols (London: Continuum, 2009): 75. 138 Yeoh, “J.M. Coetzee and Samuel Beckett: Nothingness, Minimalism and Indeterminacy,” 120. 139 Gilbert Yeoh, “J.M. Coetzee and Samuel Beckett: Ethics, Truth-Telling, and SelfDeception,” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 44.4 (Summer 2003): 337. 140 Cantor, “Happy Days in the Veld,” 83–84. 141 “Happy Days in the Veld,” 85. 142 Steven G. Kellman, The Translingual Imagination (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P , 2000): 50.

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calls “an aesthetics of singularity,”143 and Luce Irigaray analyzes the “waiting for the other in an ambiguous manner”144 that we find in both Waiting for the Barbarians and Waiting for Godot. Attridge has analyzed the Beckettian influence in Coetzee’s treatment of sexuality and depiction of erotic scenes.145 In J.M. Coetzee and the Novel: Writing and Politics after Beckett, Patrick Hayes explores Coetzee’s innovativeness within the tradition of the novel, specifically as influenced by Beckett’s revolutionary handling of this form in the early 1960s.146 It is quite surprising that, in “Homage,” Coetzee does not acknowledge another modernist writer, Franz Kafka, as one of his literary parents, when his admiration for the Czech writer and his debt to him are so evident. In Doubling the Point, Coetzee refers, with what he hopes is “a proper humility,” to the impact of Kafka on his fiction: “As a writer I am not worthy to loose the latchet of Kafka’s shoe” (199).147 Most criticism on Coetzee’s early fiction has alluded to Kafka’s influence on Coetzee, pointing to the resemblance between the nightmarish world of Waiting for the Barbarians and that of Kafka, or to the possibility that the letter K in Michael K may be an allusion to Kafka’s characters Joseph K (in The Trial) and K (in The Castle). Patricia Merivale analyzes how Kafka’s influence on Waiting for the Barbarians is

143

See Nicholas Meihuizen, “Beckett and Coetzee: The Aesthetics of Singularity,” Literator 17.1 (April 1996): 143–52. 144 Luce Irigaray, “The Path toward the Other,” in Beckett after Beckett, ed. S.E. Gontarski & Anthony Uhlman (Gainesville: U P of Florida, 2006): 43. 145 See Attridge, “Sex, Comedy and Influence,” 71–90. Peter Boxall explores Beckett’s legacy in Don DeLillo, Paul Auster and Coetzee, for whom Beckett “marks the limits of the literary imagination, or perhaps even exhausts the very possibility of literature,” but who, at the same time, offers them “a place from which to depart, and a means with which to go on” (“Since Beckett,” Textual Practice 20.2 [2006]: 303). 146 See Patrick Hayes, J.M. Coetzee and the Novel: Writing and Politics after Beckett (Oxford: Oxford U P , 2010). 147 Coetzee asserts that what engages him in Kafka is “an intensity, a pressure of writing that […] pushes at the limits of language” (198). In an early essay on Kafka, Coetzee analyzes the “complex and indeed baffling” relations “between the time of narration (the moving now of the narrator’s utterance) and the time of the narrative (referential time)” that we find in his story “The Burrow” (“Time, Tense and Aspect in Kafka’s ‘The Burrow’” [1981], in Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews, ed. & intro. David Attwell [Cambridge M A : Harvard U P , 1992]: 210).

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reflected in the “atmosphere of diffuse hallucinated anxiety,”148 in its liminal topography, in the inaction of waiting, and in Empire’s appeal to the amorphous threat of the unknown and unknowable barbarians, while in Life & Times of Michael K, we find Kafka’s motifs of the ‘hunger artist’ and the ‘burrow’. Focusing on Coetzee’s later narrative, Richard A. Barney asserts that, “like Kafka, Coetzee tends toward the parable and the parabolic, toward stories told in matter-of-fact fashion that deliver readers to strange worlds nevertheless tied to vital contexts in the West’s sociopolitical history,”149 and analyzes Elizabeth Costello’s plea that human beings should drastically reform their treatment of human beings, in the light of her recourse to Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Kafka’s “A Report to an Academy.” In her analysis of the relation between Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” and Coetzee’s Life & Times of Michael K, Wright claims “that Coetzee’s writing like Kafka’s fulfills Deleuze and Guattari’s three criteria for minor literature: language is deterritorialized, everything is political, and everything takes on a collective value.”150 Chris Danta argues that Coetzee, in The Lives of Animals and Elizabeth Costello, adopts Kafka’s metonym of the writer as humanity’s scapegoat, which points to the relation of literary narrative to bodily death.151 If Beckett and Kafka have proved to be central influences on Coetzee, his works enter into dialogue with a much wider range of literary voices. Thus, in his Introduction to Inner Workings,152 Attridge reflects upon “the inadequacy

148

Patricia Merivale, “Audible Palimpsests: Coetzee’s Kafka,” in Critical Perspectives on J.M. Coetzee, ed. Graham Huggan & Stephen Watson (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1996): 159. 149 Richard A Barney, “Between Swift and Kafka. Animals and the Politics of Coetzee’s Elusive Fiction,” World Literature Today 78.1 (January–April 2004): 19. 150 Laura Wright, “Minor Literature and ‘the Skeleton of Sense’: Anorexia, Franz Kafka’s ‘A Hunger Artist’ and J.M. Coetzee’s Life & Times of Michael K,” Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies 8.1-2 (2001): 109–10. 151 See Chris Danta, “ ‘ Like a Dog ... Like a Lamb’: Becoming Sacrificial Animal in Kafka and Coetzee,” New Literary History 38 (2007): 721–37. 152 This collection includes essays by Coetzee on writers as diverse as Svevo, Musil, Márai, Celan, Whitman, Faulkner, Greene, Beckett, Gordimer, and García Márquez. See J.M. Coetzee, Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000–2005 (London: Harvill Secker, 2007). A previous collection, Stranger Shores, contains essays on eighteenthand nineteenth-century writers such as Defoe and Richardson, on the German modernists Rilke, Kafka, and Musil, and on twentieth-century writers such as Brodsky, Byatt,

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of the label ‘South African’ (or now ‘Australian’) writer” as applied to Coetzee, when we bear in mind that “Coetzee creates out of a rich dialogue with writers in a number of traditions.”153 Coetzee’s act of writing back to Daniel Defoe in Foe and to Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Master of Petersburg has obviously generated many critical responses exploring these intertextual relations.154 Both David E. Hoegberg and Sheila Roberts have signalled the presence of a Dantesque subtext in Age of Iron.155 Michael Wood has argued that

Borges, Lessing, and Paton. See J.M. Coetzee, Stranger Shores: Essays 1986–1999 (London: Vintage, 2002). 153 Derek Attridge, “Introduction” to Coetzee, Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000–2005 (London: Harvill Secker, 2007): xiii. 154 For comparative analyses of Foe and Robinson Crusoe, see Victoria Carchidi, “At Sea on a Desert Island: Defoe, Tournier and Coetzee,” in Literature and Quest, ed. Christie Arkinstall (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1993): 75–88; Edith W. Clowes, “The Robinson Myth Reread in Postcolonial and Postcommunist Modes,” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 36.2 (Winter 1995): 145–59; Richard Lane, The Postcolonial Novel (Cambridge: Polity, 2006); Susan Naramore Maher, “Confronting Authority: J.M. Coetzee’s Foe and the Remaking of Robinsoe Crusoe,” International Fiction Review 18.1 (1991): 34–40; David Marshall, “Friday’s Writing Lesson: Reading Foe,” in Historical Boundaries, Narrative Forms: Essays on British Literature in the Long Eighteenth Century in Honor of Everett Zimmerman, ed. Lorna Clymer & Robert Mayer (Newark: U of Delaware P , 2007): 225–51; David Medalie, “Friday Updated: Robinson Crusoe as Subtext in Gordimer’s July’s People and Coetzee’s Foe,” Current Writing: Text and Reception in South Africa 9.1 (1997): 43–54; and Charles W. Pollard, “Teaching Contemporary Responses to Robinson Crusoe: Coetzee, Walcott, and Others in a World Literature Survey,” in Approaches to Teaching Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, ed. Maximillian E. Novak & Carl Fisher (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2005): 161–68. For comparative analyses of The Master of Petersburg and Dostoevksy’s The Possessed, see Gary Adelman, “Stalking Stavrogin: J.M. Coetzee’s The Master of Petersburg and the Writing of The Possessed,” Journal of Modern Literature 23.2 (Winter 1999–2000): 351–57; and Rachel Lawlan, “The Master of Petersburg: Confession and Double Thoughts in Coetzee and Dostoevsky,” A R I E L : A Review of International English Literature 29.2 (1998 April): 131–57. 155 See David E. Hoegberg, “ ‘ Where Is Hope?’: Coetzee’s Rewriting of Dante in Age of Iron,” English in Africa 25.1 (May 1998): 27–42; and Sheila Roberts, “ ‘ City of Man’: The Appropriation of Dante’s Inferno in J.M. Coetzee’s Age of Iron,” Current Writing: Text and Reception in South Africa 8.1 (1996): 33–44.

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“Joyce will help us to understand and qualify the work of Coetzee,”156 and Myrtle Hooper employs T.S. Eliot’s point about the ‘fissure between thought and sensibility’ he identified in John Donne’s poetry to approach Coetzee.157 Other critics have examined the relations between Coetzee and contemporary writers of the international scene, such as Philip Roth, Ian McEwan, John Banville, V.S. Naipaul, and Thomas Pynchon.158 The strongly intertextual character of Coetzee’s works should not be seen in exclusively literary terms, however, as they continually incorporate, evoke, and question concepts and categories coming from other discourses, and as different theoretical fields have found in them implications and connotations relevant to their own purposes. Thus, from In the Heart of the Country onwards, feminist discourse has consistently become engaged with Coetzee’s narrative, given the prominence of women narrators in his novels – Magda in In the Heart of the Country, Susan in Foe, and Mrs Curren in Age of Iron – together with his creation of Elizabeth Costello as his female alter ego. In her reading of Coetzee’s women narrators, Sue Kossew draws on Dorothy Driver’s notion of the ambivalent position of white women in the colonial situation: their role as both colonizers and colonized is one of neither strength nor weakness.159 In her reading of In the Heart of the Country, Chiara Briganti posits psychoanalytic discourse, specifically Freud’s Studies on Hysteria, as the sub156

Michael Wood, “Centennial Odysseys: Longest Way Round,” Critical Quarterly

47.1–2 (July 2005): 165. On the relation between Joyce and Coetzee, also see Austin

Briggs, “James Joyce / J.M. Coetzee / Elizabeth Costello,” James Joyce Literary Supplement (16 January 2002): 11. 157 See Myrtle Hooper, “ ‘ Sweets for My Daughter’: Coetzee, Eliot and the Private Mode,” Critical Survey 11.2 (1999): 31–44. 158 See Daniel L. Medin, “Trials and Errors at the Turn of the Millennium: On The Human Stain and J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace,” Philip Roth Studies 1.1 (Spring 2005): 82–92; Elke D’hoker, “Confession and Atonement in Contemporary Fiction: J.M. Coetzee, John Banville, and Ian McEwan,” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 48.1 (Fall 2006): 31–43; Gillian Dooley, “Alien and Adrift: The Diasporic Sensibility in V.S. Naipaul’s Half a Life and J.M. Coetzee’s Youth,” New Literatures Review 40 (Winter 2003): 73–82; and Derek Maus, “Kneeling before the Fathers’ Wand: Violence, Eroticism and Paternalism in Thomas Pynchon’s V and J.M. Coetzee’s Dusklands,” Journal of Literary Studies 15.1–2 (June 1999): 195–217. 159 Sue Kossew, “ ‘ Women’s Words’: A Reading of J.M. Coetzee’s Women Narrators,” in Critical Essays on J.M. Coetzee, ed. Sue Kossew (New York: G.K. Hall, 1998): 168.

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text of this novel, and emphasizes the potential of the language of hysterics, in this case, Magda’s, to challenge the law of the father.160 Similarly, Caroline Rody argues that Magda “stages a metaphoric revolt against, simultaneously, the regimes of language and literature, and of patriarchy and colonialism.”161 But whereas feminist critics have tended to praise Magda’s singular and rebellious voice,162 many have found problematic – and even outrageous – the progression of Susan’s narration throughout Foe, especially the fact that, in the last section of the novel, her voice is replaced by that of an anonymous narrator. Dodd asserts indignantly that “Coetzee has been happy to use Susan Barton’s body as his entry to his fiction, happy to make her the butt of Foe’s mind-games and finally happy to kill her off in the name of his quest,”163 and that is why she aligns Coetzee’s treatment of Susan with those literary and intellectual practices in which women’s bodies are “used as the vehicle for discussions of socio-political issues like racism or aesthetic inquiries into the nature of creativity.”164 In her approach to this question, Pamela Dunbar relates Susan’s attempt to create her own story to the project implicit in one of 160

See Chiara Briganti, “ ‘ A Bored Spinster with a Locked Diary’: The Politics of Hysteria in In the Heart of the Country,” in Critical Essays on J.M. Coetzee, ed. Sue Kossew (New York: G.K. Hall, 1998): 84–99. 161 Caroline Rody, “The Mad Colonial Daughter’s Revolt: J.M. Coetzee’s In the Heart of the Country,” South Atlantic Quarterly 93.1 (Winter 1994): 160. For other feminist readings of Magda, see Josephine Dodd, “Naming and Framing: Naturalization and Colonization in J.M. Coetzee’s In the Heart of the Country,” World Literature Written in English 27.2 (1987): 153–61; and Sheila Roberts, “Cinderella’s Mothers: J.M. Coetzee’s In the Heart of the Country,” English in Africa 19.1 (May 1992): 21–33. 162 That is not the case of Roberts, who describes In the Heart of the Country as “a problematic feminist text” (“Cinderella’s Mothers,” 22), given the “shocking frankness,” “deadpan exaggeration” and “almost unimaginably comic ugliness” (30) that, according to this critic, characterize the descriptions of Magda’s physicality. Whereas it seems to me that Coetzee superbly manages to convey Magda’s violent dissatisfaction with her body, and deep sexual and affective longings, for Roberts, “no woman writer would have created a character like Magda” (31). 163 Josephine Dodd, “The South African Literary Establishment and the Textual Production of ‘Woman’,” Critical Essays on J.M. Coetzee, ed. Sue Kossew (New York: G.K. Hall, 1998): 161. 164 Dodd, “The South African Literary Establishment and the Textual Production of ‘Woman’,” 164.

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the seminal texts of feminist literary criticism, Gilbert and Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic: namely, “to enable women to ‘author’ their own stories.”165 Dunbar describes how “Susan moves from a position of subjugation to the white, patriarchal male (Cruso at first, Foe later on) to that of feminist domination and literary autonomy.”166 However, in the last part of the novel, in which the act of narration is transferred from Susan to an anonymous voice, there is an “undermining of the feminist programme,”167 whose implication is that Coetzee renders as an impasse those feminist attempts to seize ‘male’ power. Dunbar’s choice of the term ‘programme’ is revealing: if there is something that Coetzee’s works of fiction resist, it is their being turned into exemplifications of political or ideological programmes. Coetzee’s novels will probably disappoint those critics who endorse what Attridge has called ‘literary instrumentalism’: “The treating of a text (or other cultural artifact) as a means to a predetermined end,”168 usually “when a political or ethical cause is being fought for.”169 In 2006, the journal American Anthropologist devoted a special issue to Coetzee; in the “Introduction,” Frances E. Mascia–Lees and Patricia Sharpe assert that, “for over two decades now, Coetzee has brilliantly taken up questions that have also been at the center of the contemporary anthropological agenda,” such as the reach of empire, the shaping of historical record, mortality, collective guilt, and revenge.170 Particularly in Elizabeth Costello, Coetzee, by speaking through a character, “seems to insist that ideas, intellect, and ethical principles can only be understood in the context of particular earthly bodies,” a most interesting argument from an anthropological point of view.171 Given the broad philosophical, linguistic, and literary issues raised by his fictional and non-fictional production, a great many books recently published, 165

Pamela Dunbar, “Double Dispossession: J.M. Coetzee’s Foe and the Post-Colonial and Feminist Agendas,” in Altered State? Writing and South Africa, ed. Elleke Boehmer, Laura Chrisman & Kenneth Parker (Sydney: Dangaroo, 1994): 101. 166 Dunbar, “Double Dispossession,” 107. 167 “Double Dispossession,” 109. 168 Attridge, The Singularity of Literature, 7. 169 The Singularity of Literature, 8. 170 Frances E. Mascia–Lees & Patricia Sharpe, “Introduction to ‘Cruelty, Suffering, Imagination: The Lessons of J.M. Coetzee’,” American Anthropologist 108.1 (2006): 84. 171 Mascia–Lees & Sharpe, “Introduction,” 85.

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exploring one or another literary or theoretical question, have turned their attention to Coetzee’s work. Thus, Luke Strongman, in The Booker Prize and the Legacy of Empire, includes brief readings of the two novels by Coetzee that have obtained the Booker Prize, Life & Times of Michael K and Disgrace,172 and James Wood, in The Irresponsible Self, dedicates “a few sceptical thoughts”173 to Disgrace. In The Dictator’s Dictation, Robert Boyers devotes one chapter to the problem of thinking evil in Naipaul, Kafka, and Coetzee,174 while Michael Bell, in Open Secrets, places Coetzee within a Western tradition that includes Rousseau, Laurence Sterne, Goethe, Nietzsche, D.H. Lawrence, and F.R. Leavis, and that is fundamentally concerned with the pedagogical exercise of teaching, its authority and its limits.175 Sarah Brouillette analyzes the opposition between the local South African reception of Coetzee’s work and the global literary marketplace in which Coetzee’s novels circulate,176 and Peter Erickson identifies, throughout Coetzee’s novels, brief and occasional citations of Shakespeare.177 In Aesthetic Nervousness, Ato Quayson focuses on the “coincidence between inarticulacy, racialization, and disability” that we find in Coetzee’s writing, specifically in his “inarticulate ‘other’ characters,” who tend to suffer from “physical and cognitive impairments of various sorts,”178 and in his book on censorship, apartheid, and lite-

172

See Luke Strongman, The Booker Prize and the Legacy of Empire (Cross/Cultures 54; Amsterdam & Atlanta G A : Rodopi, 2002). 173 James Wood, The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004): 246. Wood describes Disgrace as governed by “a certain formal, cognitive, and linguistic neatness – almost a somber tidiness” (248), which leads to “an impoverishment, and an unnatural containment” (249). 174 See Robert Boyers, The Dictator’s Dictation: The Politics of Novels and Novelists (New York: Columbia U P , 2005). For Boyers, “of all contemporary writers, J.M. Coetzee has had the most striking and sustaining things to tell about evil and the struggle to achieve moral dignity” (145). 175 See Michael Bell, Open Secrets: Literature, Education, and Authority from J.J. Rousseau to J.M. Coetzee (Oxford: Oxford U P , 2007). 176 See Sarah Brouillette, Postcolonial Writers in the Global Literary Marketplace (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). 177 See Peter Erickson, Citing Shakespeare: The Reinterpretation of Race in Contemporary Literature and Art (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). 178 Ato Quayson, Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of Representation (New York: Columbia U P , 2007): 149.

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rature, McDonald devotes chapter 8 to “J.M. Coetzee: The Provincial Storyteller.”179 The last few years have witnessed the publication of a wellnigh endless number of monographs and collections of essays focused on J.M. Coetzee, a fact that attests to his position as one of the most important writers on the contemporary literary scene. Disgrace is a case in point. Having generated an extraordinary amount of critical responses,180 it has no doubt become one of the most influential fictional texts of the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first century, both in the South African context and internationally. It won Coetzee the Booker Prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and probably paved the way for the Nobel Prize of Literature. Its wide significance is reflected in the publication of at least three study guides on it,181 and by the release of the film with the same title, starring John Malkovich. Other recent critical contributions have focused on more general aspects of Coetzee’s narrative, producing fresh perspectives on his work but also going back to questions that have figured for a long time in his critical reception. Thus Ellinor Bent Dalbye has re-examined Coetzee’s sustained concern with physical pain and the suffering body,182 while Hania A.M. Nashef has chosen the concept of ‘humiliation’ in order to analyze dimensions of Coetzee’s narrative such as “language as the site of oppression, the female’s relation to masculine language, the master and slave relationship, aspects of old age and the endless Godotlike wait for an eventuality that will never occur.”183 Although philosophical echoes have always pervaded Coetzee’s works, there is explicit engagement with philosophical discourse in The Lives of Animals, Elizabeth Costello, and 179

See Peter D. McDonald, The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and Its Cultural Consequences (Oxford: Oxford U P , 2009). 180 Attridge remarks that “within a year of the novel’s publication […] an extraordinary number of critics with interests in postcolonial literature were writing – or, as many of them put it, attempting to write – something on Disgrace” (“J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace: Introduction,” 316). 181 See Marilyn Herbert, Bookclub-in-a-Box Discusses J.M. Coetzee’s Novel “Disgrace” (London: Vintage, 2000); Encountering “Disgrace”: Reading and Teaching Coetzee’s Novel, ed. Bill McDonald (New York: Camden House, 2009); and Andrew Van der Vlies, J.M. Coetzee’s “Disgrace” (London: Continuum, 2010). 182 See Ellinor Bent Dalbye, The Silence of the Suffering Body: J.M. Coetzee and Pain as Counter-Discourse (Saarbrücken: V D M Verlag Dr. Müller, 2008). 183 A.M. Hania Nashef, The Politics of Humiliation in the Novels of J.M. Coetzee (New York: Routledge, 2009): 1.

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Diary of a Bad Year to which critics have paid attention. This is the case with Stephen Mulhall, who, from a sophisticated stance and focusing on the Costello works, analyzes the complex relations between literature and philosophy, imagination and truth, and addresses ethical questions turning on evil and religion, the body and animals.184 In a recent collection of essays, J.M. Coetzee and Ethics, the editors point to the three characteristics that make Coetzee’s narrative “philosophical”: its unusual degree of reflectivity, its attitude of paradoxical truth-seeking, and the ethics of social relationships that constitutes the thematic centre of most of his novels.185 Daniel Watt, in his study of Blanchot, Beckett, and Coetzee, shows that the analysis of literary and philosophical echoes in Coetzee’s novels is by no means exhausted. Watt traces in these three authors the development and transformation of the Romantic model of fragmentation, relating it, in the case of Coetzee, to Levinasian ethics and the response to the other.186 The essays collected in J.M. Coetzee in Context and Theory (2009) examine, from such different perspectives as ethics, gender studies, queer theory, animals rights, and deconstruction, Coetzee’s “intense though oblique involvement with the political, intellectual, aesthetic and philosophical issues of our times.”187 As the editors announce, 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.188

There is still much to say about the complex and myriad “paths from world to text and from text to world” 189 characterizing Coetzee’s fictional and nonfictional production. Another interesting recent collection of essays is a special issue of the Journal of Literary Studies focusing on “J.M. Coetzee and

184

See Stephen Mulhall, The Wounded Animal: J.M. Coetzee and the Difficulty of Reality in Literature and Philosophy (Princeton N J : Princeton U P , 2009). 185 See Anton Leist & Peter Singer, ed. J.M. Coetzee and Ethics: Philosophical Perspectives on Literature (New York: Columbia U P , 2010): 6–8. 186 See Daniel Watt, Fragmentary Futures: Blanchot, Beckett, Coetzee (2007; Ashby-de-la-Zouch: InkerMen, 2009). 187 Elleke Boehmer, Robert Eaglestone & Katy Iddiols, ed. J.M. Coetzee in Context and Theory (London: Continuum, 2009): 1. 188 Boehmer, Eaglestone & Iddiols, ed. J.M. Coetzee in Context and Theory, 4. 189 J.M. Coetzee in Context and Theory, 3.

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his Doubles,” in which we encounter the analysis of questions such as Coetzee’s deployment of Africa as sign,190 his attitude towards the Afrikaans language,191 and his ethical inquiry into the limits of language.192 We can see, then, how these recent responses to Coetzee bring fresh perspectives and new approaches but also return to long-standing issues such as the relation to the (South) African context, Levinasian ethics, the suffering body, and Beckettian influence. Furthermore, the publication of Summertime, in which Coetzee returns to the South African scene and explores, once again, the nature of autobiographical writing, this time from an (expectably) fresh perspective, obliges us to re-examine any past assumptions about these two aspects of his narrative. Coetzee’s novels are still full of questions and secrets. The pages that follow are an attempt to address some of them.

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190

See David Attwell, “J.M. Coetzee and the Idea of Africa,” Journal of Literary Studies 25.4 (December 2009): 67–83. 191 See Rita Barnard, “Coetzee in/and Afrikaans,” Journal of Literary Studies 25.4 (December 2009): 84–105. 192 See Carrol Clarkson, “J.M. Coetzee and the Limits of Language,” Journal of Literary Studies 25.4 (December 2009): 106–24.

P ART 1 P ENETRATION AND V ISITATION IN S OUTH A FRICA

2

I

Penetration Dusklands and In the Heart of the Country

D U S K L A N D S , P U B L I S H E D I N 1 9 7 4 , Eugene Dawn’s and Jacobus Coetzee’s “exploring temperament” (31), complicit with the ideology of Western colonialism – in the case of Dawn, American imperialism in Vietnam, and in the case of Jacobus, the early European colonial presence in southern Africa – is tied to a violent desire for forceful penetration of the body and the psyche of other characters: namely the Vietnamese and the Khoisan respectively, and the Vietnamese and southern African land. Coetzee’s treatment of these two historical phenomena is intimately related to his preoccupation, in the early 1970s, with the formal dimension of language, especially as found in Beckett’s works. Thus, using Coetzee’s own words on Beckett’s Lessness, in the first-person narration of Dusklands we follow the “motions” of Dawn’s and Jacobus’s “consciousness,” as it “disposes”1 the rules and categories of the colonialist discourse it inhabits, and the constraints that this discourse, in turn, exerts on consciousness. We find a similar strategy in In the Heart of the Country (1977), where Magda feels trapped by “the antique feudal language” of her Afrikaner ancestors. But whereas Dawn and Jacobus Coetzee cannot – and do not want to – see beyond the categories and myths of the colonialist discourse they inhabit, Magda desperately struggles to break away from “the old correct, correct language” (47) she has inherited and which conditions her solitary life on a farm in the Karoo. She is torn between the legacy of the South African pastoral, in which the relation with the land is characterized by the will “to capture, to enclose, to hold,” and her awareness of the fact that “the land knows nothing of fences” (124). Her

1

N

Coetzee, “Samuel Beckett’s Lessness: An Exercise in Decomposition,” 198.

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desire to break with the Afrikaner tradition of “proprietorial consciousness”2 leads her to invite her servants Hendrik and Anna to stay in her house, a futile gesture that nevertheless highlights the value that Coetzee attaches to the hospitable act of invitation as a possible path for the transformation of the “relations of contestation, domination, and subjugation”3 governing South African society.

Superficiality and secrecy in the literary work In “The Vietnam Project,” after imprisoning himself in a motel with his son, Dawn provides the reader with the following highly metafictional passage: I have Herzog and Voss, two reputable books, at my elbow, and I spend many analytic hours puzzling out the tricks which their authors perform to give to their monologues (they are after all no better than I, sitting day after day in solitary rooms secreting words as the spider secretes its web – the image is not my own) the air of a real world through the looking-glass. (37)

This passage is fundamental to the purposes of the present study. In it, the reader’s approach to Dusklands is mirrored in Dawn’s reading of Herzog (1964), by the American writer Saul Bellow, and Voss (1957), by the Australian writer Patrick White. Thus, it seems to compel the reader to, like Dawn, pay attention to the novel’s ‘tricks’, to the way its ‘web’ is ‘secreted’: i.e. to the textual mechanisms that generate its meanings. The passage also constitutes a clear invitation to compare Herzog and Voss with Dawn’s own monologue. Thematically, Herzog is closer to “The Vietnam Project,” as both have at their centre mentally unbalanced individuals or, rather, individuals regarded as mentally unbalanced, since one of the main issues at stake in both cases is precisely how to interpret the bizarre personalities of Dawn and Herzog. As for Voss and “The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee,” these two pieces go back in time to deal with the figure of the explorer and with the colonialist motif of the exploration of the land (southern Africa in the case of “The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee” and Australia in the case of Voss). Dawn reveals to the reader that he spends “many analytic hours puzzling out the tricks” of Voss and Herzog. His description of the interpretative process he is trying to carry out as an act of “puzzling out” is symptomatic. To 2 3

Coetzee, “The Great South African Novel,” 79. Coetzee, “Jerusalem Prize Acceptance Speech,” 98.

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‘puzzle out’ is to clarify or solve something confusing or complex, something that baffles or provokes bewilderment – an enigma. An enigma is something puzzling, strange, mysterious; something difficult to understand or explain. By approaching both Herzog and Voss in this way, Coetzee is suggesting a vision of the literary text as enigma. It is also significant that Dawn describes the linguistic process in which he, Bellow and Herzog engage as one of “secreting words as the spider secretes its web.” Coetzee is here calling attention to the two meanings of the verb ‘to secrete’, which means to discharge, generate, or release by the process of creation, but also to place out of sight, hide or conceal. According to this view of literary creation, the writer generates and simultaneously conceals, brings something into light and at the same time shrouds it in darkness. What we find here, then, is a conception of the literary work that emphasizes its enigmatic and secret quality, a conception that we also find in Coetzee’s critical piece “Truth in Autobiography,” to which we will return in the chapter on Foe. In this sense, it is relevant to notice that Voss, one of the novels Coetzee chooses in order to suggest this impenetrable and enigmatic dimension of literary works, is pervaded by secrets and mysteries. White’s novel is traversed by relationships and inner processes in which people try to make sense of each other and of their own selves, on most occasions failing. Willie Pringle’s efforts, for instance, are described as having “been confined to desperate attempts to copy the behaviour, to interpret the symbols of his class, and thus solve the mystery of himself. But all truths were locked.”4 On the day of the expedition’s departure, we read that Voss “puzzled those honest people,” who “were unable to solve their relationship with such a man.”5 Or, in the conversation between Palfreyman and Laura Trevelyan, the former wonders “what secrets she was withholding from him,”6 and sees himself as “reserved as a repository for confidences, until the final shattering would scatter all secrets into the dust.”7 At a certain point, Dawn asserts that “to believe in secrets is to believe the cheery doctrine that hidden in the labyrinth of the memory lies an explanation for the haphazard present,” and, as opposed to his wife’s “urge to unveil the mysteries,” he asserts that “there are no secrets […] everything is on the 4

Patrick White, Voss (1957; London: Vintage, 1994): 64. White, Voss, 94. 6 Voss, 106. 7 Voss, 108. 5

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surface” (10). The attempt to unveil mysteries and puzzle out enigmas, to get to know what is secret or concealed, is then perceived by Dawn as an attempt to penetrate or go below the surface, so as to reach the depths beneath. J. Hillis Miller, following Derrida, has talked about the relation between the literary work, the secret and the surface: “A true secret is all on the surface. This superficiality cannot by any hermeneutic procedures, material or linguistic, be gone behind. A literary text […] says what it says.”8 Secrets oblige us to stay on the surface. Any literary work constitutes a secret, in the sense that it obliges us to remain on its linguistic surface. For Derrida, it is “a secret that is at the same time kept and exposed, jealously sealed and open like a purloined letter.”9 We, like Eugene Dawn, may spend “many analytic hours” trying to “puzzle out” literary works by means of our “hermeneutic procedures,” but its linguistic superficies will always constitute, to a certain extent, an impenetrable barrier that cannot be “gone behind.”

The impossibility of penetration But in Dusklands, the impossibility of traversing superficiality has a wider structural significance that goes beyond the realm of literary creation and interpretation. This novel is pervaded by a constant tension between a drive toward depth and an assertion of depthlessness, as we encounter continuous attempts, on the part of characters, to penetrate a surface to reach depth, attempts that tend to be reversed, mocked or resisted by a depthlessness or exteriority that obstinately asserts itself. This drive toward depth may be of a linguistic or hermeneutic kind (as in Dawn’s reading of Voss and Herzog), but also psychological, sexual, topographical, and epistemological, usually adopting the form of a violent act of penetration. ‘To penetrate’ has the spatial meaning of getting into or through, of piercing or trespassing, of gaining entry or access to, particularly with force, effort, and difficulty. It may have a sexual connotation, and also a hermeneutic one: to get or have insight into, to see mentally into or through. In Dusklands, penetration tends to be related to a naive vision of truth, truth as that which lies beneath the surface of appearances, and to the arrogant and violent presumption that one can easily reach truth (literary, psychological or anthropological) by doing away with those

8

J. Hillis Miller, Topographies (Stanford C A : Stanford U P , 1995): 309. Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death & Literature in Secret, tr. David Wills (Donner la Mort, 1999; Chicago: U of Chicago P , 2008): 131. 9

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appearances and traversing the surface: i.e. by discarding the semiotic system and linguistic medium that function as ineradicable mediation between subject and object. This emphasis on linguistic superficiality is related to Coetzee’s fascination, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with the possibility of pushing form to its limits, doing away with the referential dimension, and thus creating a textual artifact of “no content, only shape.”10 In this sense, Samuel Beckett and stylistic linguistics, as already discussed, proved to be determining influences. In “The Vietnam Project,” Dawn’s psychological state puzzles both characters and readers, as he seems to have been driven insane by his work on Vietnam, and actually ends up in a mental institution, after having kidnapped and stabbed his son. Dawn is highly conscious of the attempts, first, by his wife, and later, by his doctors, to understand and diagnose him, to discover his inner secret: Marilyn believes that he hides “a secret, a cancer of shameful knowledge” (10), and it is his “secret” that makes him “desirable” to doctors (48). In this sense, Dawn is very close to Bellow’s character Herzog. The beginning of “The Vietnam Project” – “My name is Eugene Dawn. I cannot help that. Here goes” (1) – already highlights Dawn’s unstable psychological state, echoing the beginning of Herzog: “If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.”11 Dawn describes his doctors as “puzzled men indeed,” who sincerely want to “explicate” and “understand” him (47). Similarly, people around Herzog are keen on labelling and analyzing him: “It might not be so easy for this cop to type him. There were labels to fit him, naturally, but a harness cop like this one would not be familiar with them.”12 Voss, Patrick White’s explorer, is also presented as an enigma those surrounding him are not able to decipher: What kind of man is he? wondered the public, who would never know. […] They did, moreover, prefer to cast him in bronze than to investigate his soul, because all dark things made them uneasy.13

Coetzee has said about Nabokov’s protagonists that they “react aggressively (satirically) toward all systems (literary-critical, psychoanalytic) that seek to explicate (reduce) them.”14 This also seems to be the case with Eugene Dawn:

10

Coetzee, “Samuel Beckett and the Temptations of Style,” 49. Saul Bellow, Herzog (1964; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2001): 1. 12 Bellow, Herzog, 283. 13 White, Voss, 109. 11

52

A C T S O F V I S I T A T I O N  I approve of the enterprise of exploring the self. […] I should like to see in black and white an explanation of this disturbed and disturbing act of mine. I shall be disappointed if my advisers can come to no more illuminating conclusion than that it resulted from overwork and emotional stress. […] I am open to theory, as I am open to all theorizing, though I do not believe it will turn out to be the true one. (46)

The implication, in Bellow’s novels and in “The Vietnam Project,” is that the self is too dark to be illuminated, that the exploration of the self is too complex an enterprise, that psychological or psychoanalytic theory will never be able to find the true self, if there is such a thing. Dawn asserts that he “can see the reasonableness” (44) of his doctors’ arguments, but the point is precisely the impossibility of reducing the self to reasonableness, to a rational explication.15 We find this very same idea at the end of In the Heart of the Country, when Magda wonders: Will I find the courage to die a crazy old queen in the middle of nowhere, unexplained by and inexplicable to the archaeologists, her tomb full of naif whitewash paintings of skygods; or am I going to yield to the spectre of reason and explain myself to myself in the only kind of confession we protestants know? To die an enigma with a full soul or to die emptied of my secrets, that is how I picturesquely put the question to myself. (150)

Just as Magda’s final choice seems to be not to “tie up the loose ends” (150), not ‘to yield to the spectre of reason,’ Dawn and Herzog mock simplistic, ‘reasonable’, theoretical explanations of their psychological behaviour and inner state. Dawn derides Marilyn and her friends’ “novelettish reading of my plight” (10), and their hope that what they “call my psychic brutalization will end with the end of the war and the Vietnam Project” (9–10). Herzog does not trust professional and psychiatrist opinions about him and knows that his inner truth cannot be easily found: “I’d open my heart to you, Will, if I could

14

J.M. Coetzee, “Nabokov’s Pale Fire and the Primacy of Art,” University of Cape Town Studies in English 5 (October 1974): 4. 15 As Coetzee puts it in his analysis of confession in Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata, the rational self is a false one: “The false self being rational and socially conditioned, the true self instinctual and individual” (“Confession and Double Thoughts: Tolstoy, Rousseau, Dostoevsky” [1985], in Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews, ed. & intro. David Attwell [Cambridge M A : Harvard U P , 1992]: 261).

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find the knob.”16 This sentence by Herzog strongly resembles the following reflection by Dawn, as he watches his doctors’ eyes: You want to know what makes me tick, and when you discover it you will rip it out and discard me. My secret is what makes me desirable to you, my secret is what makes me strong. But will you ever win it? When I think of the heart that holds my secret I think of something closed and wet and black, like, say, the ball in the toilet cistern. Sealed in my chest on treasures, lapped in dark blood, it tramps its blind round and will not die. (48)

The terms in which Dawn describes his inner self, in turn, recall Humbert Humbert’s description of his self at the end of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita: This then is my story. I have reread it. It has bits of marrow sticking to it, and blood, and beautiful bright-green flies. At this or that twist of it I feel my slippery self eluding me, gliding into deeper and darker waters than I care to probe.17

Humbert, like Dawn and Herzog, mocks psychiatrists’ logical and simplistic explanations of the human mind. Hospitalized in a sanatorium, Humbert discovers that there was an endless source of robust enjoyment in trifling with psychiatrists: cunningly leading them on; never letting them see that you know all the tricks of the trade; inventing for them elaborate dreams, […] teasing them with fake ‘primal scenes’; and never allowing them the slightest glimpse of one’s real sexual predicament.18

Dawn is also familiarized with psychological jargon, concepts, and techniques (in both novels, there are clear references to Freudian psychoanalysis), and, like Humbert, manipulates the evidence he provides his doctors with: “It is a great help to my doctors that I record my dreams […] Having a background in myth I am able every now and then to surprise them with an insight – a neat condensation here, an odd displacement there” (49). Dawn’s doctors want to “win” his secret, to “rip it out.” He knows he is “only a cipher to them” (45), one that they simply want to decipher. But just as Magda chooses to “die an enigma with a full soul,” Dawn asserts that his secret “will not die.” Mental doctors, the professionals of truth, expect to cut 16

Bellow, Herzog, 331–32. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995): 308. 18 Nabokov, Lolita, 34. 17

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or tear away what lies between them and Dawn’s secret, and triumphantly extract it. This idea recalls a passage in Doubling the Point, in which Coetzee refers to his being suspicious of “a certain relentless suspiciousness of appearances” that had guided him in some of his criticism. He is now suspicious of that suspiciousness because, “in the act of triumphantly tearing the clothes off its subject and displaying the nakedness beneath – ‘Behold the truth!’ – it exposes a naïveté of its own. For is the naked body really the truth?” (106). Earlier in this series of interviews, he had drawn a curious comparison between Lovelace, “the man who believes that truth lies inside the subject’s body and that with his rapier-phallus he can search it out there,” and the magistrate or interviewer who makes the transaction “confrontational,” as he regards speech as a “fount of truth,” and uses the “rapier of surprise” as a weapon, not an instrument of truth (66). For Coetzee, by contrast, “truth is related to silence, to reflection, to the practice of writing” (65–66). In these two passages, there is suspicion of any surface–depth (or appearance–nakedness) dialectic as the means of accessing truth, and a view of hermeneutic penetration as both violent and naive. In his review of A Vision of the Past: South Africa in Photographs, 1843– 1910, by Mona de Beer and Brian Johnson Barker, Coetzee complains that the authors of this book “seem not to question the existence of a transhistorical and even transcultural code of looks reflecting universal inner feelings.” They seem to believe in that “inborn faculty of sympathy” that modern human ethnologists and eighteenth-century philosophers of sentiment have defended, which “allows feelings to be transmitted from one breast to another without the mediation of a semiotic system.”19 Dusklands shows that, in critical and interpretative exercises, the semiotic system and the hermeneutic method always mediate between acts of interpretation and the object of inquiry. To believe in penetration as that which will lead to the discovery of a pure and naked truth is to believe that there is a deep, transcendental truth independent of linguistic and discursive constructions – a psychological truth lying behind psychological symptoms, an historical truth lying behind historical texts, a literary truth lying behind words – a belief that Dusklands emphatically rejects.

19

J.M. Coetzee, “Photographs of South Africa,” in Stranger Shores: Essays 1986–

1999 (London: Vintage, 2002): 346.

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The imperialist act of penetration Ironically, Dawn, who mocks and derides psychological inquiries, is contributing to a project, “New Life for Vietnam,” which deals with psychological warfare in Vietnam. Dawn aims at examining “the psychic and psychological constitution of the insurgent population” (20) to make American programmes more effective. The problem to which Dawn must provide a solution in his report is that of the Vietnamese population being “resistant to penetration by our programs […] how can we make our programs more penetrant?” (20). Here, the imperialist enterprise is explicitly depicted as an enterprise of penetration. According to Dawn, the success of the programme in political assassination, C T , lies in the fact that with it “the subject’s psyche is penetrated” (23), and that it manages to “reduce the psychic capacity of its members to resist” (24). This psychological penetration must also be territorial: Dawn looks forward “to Phase V and the return of total air-war,” advocating a “dream of assault upon the mothering earth herself” (28). But in his abstract and ideological relation to the Vietnamese, penetration fails, because it encounters either emptiness or an impenetrable and resistant surface. The Vietnamese strike him as “phantoms” (18) or “ghosts” (34), so that they are not able to provide the acknowledgement – the Hegelian recognition20 – that the Americans were looking for: Why could they not accept us? […] We brought them our pitiable selves, trembling on the edge of inexistence, and asked only that they acknowledge us. We brought with us weapons, the gun and its metaphors, the only copulas we knew of between ourselves and our objects. […] Our nightmare was that since whatever we reached for slipped like smoke through our fingers, we did not exist; that since whatever we embraced wilted, we were all that existed. (17)

Since “the body of what is strange must not disappear, but its force must be conquered and returned to the master,”21 the tragedy, for the Americans, was 20

In his Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel asserts that “self-consciousness exists in and for itself when, and by the fact that, it so exists for another; that is, it exists only in being acknowledged” (The Hegel Reader, ed. Stephen Houlgate [Oxford: Blackwell, 1998]: 92). Particularly in his analysis of the master–slave or lord–bondsman dialectic, Hegel stresses the recognition from the bondsman that the lord needs: “the lord achieves his recognition through another consciousness” (96). 21 Hélène Cixous & Catherine Clément, The Newly Born Woman, tr. Betsy Wing (La Jeune Née, 1975; London: I.B. Tauris, 1996): 70.

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that the Vietnamese “slipped” and “wilted.” “There has to be some ‘other’”:22 “If you will prove youself, we shouted, you will prove us too” (17). But the Vietnamese turn out to be truly other, an other that “escapes me. It is elsewhere, outside: absolutely other. It doesn’t settle down”:23 We cut their flesh open, we reached into their dying bodies, tearing out their livers, hoping to be washed in their blood, but they screamed and gushed like our most negligible phantoms. We forced ourselves deeper than we had ever gone before into their women; but when we came back we were still alone, and the women like stones. (18)

Aggressive male penetration is frustrated as it encounters stony, hence impenetrable, female bodies. And weapons – “the only copulas we knew of between ourselves and our objects” – become useless in the face of “ghosts or absences of themselves: where they had once been is now only a black hole through which they have been sucked” (17). ‘Phantoms’ and ‘ghosts’ cannot be penetrated, either sexually or by weapons, since there is no interior, no depth to penetrate. Just as the Americans encounter ‘phantoms,’ ‘ghosts or absences of themselves,’ ‘a black hole,’ “something […] voiding itself endlessly in the gray space” (17), Jacobus Coetzee encounters ‘the void’ at the end of his narrative, when he goes back to the Nama village in order to carry out the act of retribution and death on which he had nourished himself for months. What he experiences is something quite different: here and everywhere there would be no resistance to my power and no limit to its projection. My despair was despair at the undifferentiated plenum, which is after all nothing but the void dressed up as being. (101)

His exploring and penetrating imagination fails before the void: “I was undergoing nothing less than a failure of imagination before the void” (102). When it encounters no resistance, penetration cannot be experienced as the forceful assertion of one’s powers. Instead of a content to be penetrated, Jacobus encounters absolute lack and emptiness, hence there is for him no fulfilment and profundity to be reached: “There was nothing that could be impressed on these bodies, nothing that could be torn from them or forced through their orifices” (102). 22 23

Cixous & Clément, The Newly Born Woman, 71. The Newly Born Woman, 71.

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Similarly, Eugene Dawn would like to reach the depth of the Vietnamese prisoner, whose photograph he always carries with him, but whom he can only approach as a lifeless surface: I close my eyes and pass my fingertips over the cool, odorless surface of the print. […] I concentrate myself. Everywhere its surface is the same. The glint in the eye, which in a moment luckily never to arrive will through the camera look into my eyes, is bland and opaque under my fingers, yielding no passage into the interior of this obscure but indubitable man. I keep exploring. Under the persistent pressure of my imagination, acute and morbid in the night, it may yet yield. (16–17)

According to Head, “the desire, through ‘exploration’, to make the image of the man ‘yield’ to its ‘interior’ is palpably at one with the desire for colonial domination.”24 This desire, I would add, depends on a surface–depth dialectic: it is a desire for penetration that becomes frustrated owing to the impossibility of traversing the surface. The photographed man is a resistant surface that does not yield its interior. And in his dreams, the Vietnamese of the photographs become ghosts and phantoms that Dawn cannot reach or comprehend: Faces from my photographs of Vietnam come floating toward me […] In euphoric gestures of liberation I stretch out my right hand. My fingers, expressive, full of meaning, full of love, close on their narrow shoulders, but close empty […] I stretch my hand, the ghosts retreat […]. Out of their holy fire the images sing to me, drawing me on and on into their thin phantom world. (34)

Reading against his words, we hesitate to attach love to Dawn’s gesture – on the contrary, as Levinas has argued, what we find in “the hand [that] comprehends the thing” “is mastery, domination, disposition.”25 Nancy Armstrong 24

Head, J.M. Coetzee, 33. Debra A. Castillo brings Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida into her discussion of Dusklands, and, more specifically, his analysis of the punctum as one of the two orders of involvement in the spectacle of the photograph. As Castillo explains, Barthes relates the punctum to piercing, pricking, wounds, bruises, poignancy, and pointing (“Coetzee’s Dusklands: The Mythic Punctum,” P M L A 105.5 [1990]: 1114), notions that are central in Dusklands, as the passage quoted above indicates. According to Castillo, Coetzee presents the punctum “as a penetrating force associated with markedly male aggression – with rape and its metaphorical equivalents” (1115). 25 Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, tr. Alphonso Lingis (Totalité et infini: Essai sur l’extériorité, 1961; Pittsburgh P A : Duquesne U P , 1969): 161.

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has written on the harnessing of photography, in the nineteenth century, to the imperialist enterprise, its main aim being to provide “conceptual mastery”26 over what was surveyed. It is possible to translate Armstrong’s reflections on nineteenth-century imperialist photography into the role played by photography in the American context of the war against Vietnam, as depicted in Dusklands and as experienced by Dawn. Armstrong has pointed out that photography provided observers “with visual information antiseptically free of the smells, noises, and physical contact to which they would ordinarily be exposed in the remote corners of experience,”27 and with “the pleasure” that derives from the sense of being “outside and above the spectacle observed.”28 Dawn is similarly detached from the spectacle of Vietnam. When he joined the Project, he “was offered a familiarization tour of Vietnam” (14), which he refused, and he applauds himself “for having kept away from the physical Vietnam” (16). Although Dawn rejects the doctors’ interpretation of him, seeing it as formulaic and simplifying, and mocks their expectation of finding his truth, he is unable to see that he has fallen into the same trap in claiming, “I discovered this truth, as I discovered all the truths in my Vietnam report, by introspection […] The truth of my Vietnam formulations already begins to shimmer, as you can see, through the neat ranks of script” (14–15). Jacobus Coetzee perceives the colonizer’s task as that of deciphering and bringing light to obscure societies and territories: “I am an explorer. My essence is to open what is closed, to bring light to what is dark” (106). Similarly, Eugene Dawn asserts: “I have an exploring temperament. Had I lived two hundred years ago I would have had a continent to explore, to map, to open to colonization” (31–32). In this sense, Jacobus Coetzee, who defines himself as “explorer of the wilderness” (101) and “tamer of the wild” (77), can be seen as Eugene Dawn’s alter ego. Dovey has said that “Dusklands conflates the various forms of writing which have been articulated around the notion of a frontier to be traversed, a virgin territory to be opened up, an unknown interior against which the self can be pitted,”29 a description that implicitly points to a surface–depth dialectic and the act of penetration. Jacobus 26

Nancy Armstrong, “Realism before and after Photography: ‘The fantastical form of a relation among things’,” in Adventures in Realism, ed. Matthew Beaumont (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007): 90. 27 Armstrong, “Realism before and after Photography,” 91. 28 “Realism before and after Photography,” 97. 29 Dovey, The Novels of J.M. Coetzee, 68.

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Coetzee’s colonizing career as “tamer of the wild” depends on a labour of penetration, on the conviction that there is an interior beneath the land’s surface that will yield to “the explorer’s hammerblow” (77). He explicitly asserts that his life is a “life of penetration” (81). In the “Extract from Minutes of Council of Policy which Authorised the Expedition of Capt. Hendrik Hop,” which precedes Brink’s Journal of Captain Hendrik Hop’s Expedition, one of the historical texts used by Coetzee in writing his novella, the aims of the explorer and of the colonial enterprise are presented in terms of topographical discovery and penetration. Captain Hendrik Hop’s expedition was organized “in order thus to discover the Country further,” following Coetse’s previous expedition into the Land of the Great Namaquas: “Coetse had no one with him except the hottentots he had taken with him and on that account had not ventured to penetrate farther into the Country.”30 In his sojourn in the menstruating hut of the Namaqua, doubts regarding his career of penetration begin to assault Jacobus, who, in order to combat them, resorts to a complex cluster of philosophical meditations, whose contradictions unveil the illusory and fragile nature of such a project. He opposes the savage’s “enslavement to space” to “the explorer’s mastery of space” (80), and describes himself as “a spherical reflecting eye moving through the wilderness and ingesting it” (79). However, when the master faces the savage in the African highland, he approaches him as representative of that out there which my eye once enfolded and ingested and which now promises to enfold, ingest, and project me through itself as a speck on a field which we may call annihilation or alternatively history. (81)

Jacobus, then, fears that he may not be the one to ‘enfold’ and ‘ingest’, but the one to be enfolded and ingested. Similarly, he tells himself that the Hottentots “knew nothing of penetration,” but immediately afterwards asserts that he has

30

Carel Frederik Brink, The Journals of Brink and Rhenius being the Journal of Carel Frederik Brink of the Journey into Great Namaqualand (1761–2) made by Captain Hendrik Hop and The Journal of Ensign Johannes Tobias Rhenius (1724) (Cape Town: The Van Riebeeck Society, 1947): 3, my emphasis. In the Afrikaans version, the verb that corresponds to ‘penetrate’ is ‘intrekken’. The verb ‘trekken’ has a profound significance in the South African context, particularly as relating to Afrikaner exploration and settling on the land, to the Great Trek, and to the historical figures of the trekboers (semi-nomadic pastoralists) and the voortrekkers (pioneers).

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been “violated by the cackling heathen”: “They had violated my privacy, all my privacies, from the privacy of my property to the privacy of my body” (97). If Jacobus’s heroic identity, which depended on his power to penetrate, is undermined by his sense of violation by the Hottentots, Dawn’s desire for penetration is similarly frustrated. In his sexual relationship with his wife, Marilyn, he does not experience the sexual act as penetration, but as evacuation. Instead of an act of phallic assertion, the enactment of the power to penetrate the female body – “I plough like the hero” (7), Dawn asserts – turns out to be a pitiful act, experienced as corporeal loss, a sign of physical weakness and impotence: 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. (8)

Dawn says that Marilyn “feels herself empty and wishes to be filled, yet her emptiness is such that every entry into her she feels as invasion and possession” (8). When it encounters no resistance at all, only emptiness, penetration ceases to be such, as there is nothing to go through and no assertion of force. Since Dawn experiences Marilyn’s interior as an empty vacuum, sexual penetration turns into evacuation. But from the very beginning of the novella, Dawn’s violability had become apparent on the most basic level, that of his body, which “betrays” him (7) and has become his “enemy” (6). He has a “parasite starfish” clamped round his body (7) and cannot control his body movements: he notices that his toes have taken to curling into the soles of his feet and that he is unable to get rid of the habit of stroking his face. War, in the form of “a hideous mongol boy,” has penetrated him and has taken possession of his body, of his interiority, of his whole person: Since February of 1965 their war has been living its life at my expense. […] has eaten away my manhood from inside, devoured the food that should have nourished me. It is a thing, a child not mine, once a baby squat and yellow whelmed in the dead center of my body, sucking my blood, growing by my waste, now, 1973, a hideous mongol boy who stretches his limbs inside my hollow bones, gnaws my liver with his smiling teeth, voids his bilious filth into my systems, and will not go. (38–39)

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Just as Dawn’s body is invaded by a “parasite starfish” and by “a hideous mongol boy,” Jacobus’s is penetrated by a foreign substance – he wonders if it could be a cancer (82) – an eruption on his left buttock, whose swelling he imagines “as a bulb shooting postular roots into my fertile flesh” (83). He ends up lancing his carbuncle, which he significantly experiences as a violation: “I gathered the pus-knob between the knuckles of my thumbs and readied myself for the violation” (89). And just as Dawn’s sexual penetration turns into evacuation, Jacobus Coetzee’s stomach illness in his sojourn with the Namaqua and the cure by purge that is administered to him provoke continuous physical evacuation, which is repeatedly described in corporeal and explicit terms (74, 76, 89) that underline Jacobus’s frailty and vulnerability. The irony lies in the fact that, despite his humiliating and dependent state, he persists in describing it according to the heroic code: “Held in position by Klawer, I evacuated myself heroically over the tailgate” (75). Throughout his narrative, Dawn affirms his “inviolability” (8) and presents himself as “a hero of resistance” (27). However, by the end of “The Vietnam Project,” we have learnt to distrust his triumphant assertions. He has not managed to penetrate the Vietnamese; instead, it is the Vietnamese who have penetrated his inner self and his dreams. We leave him hoping that the Vietnamese phantoms will not be able to go through the mental institution in which he is imprisoned: “While I am behind there walls with my doctors at hand I am strong as a fortress and they know they cannot penetrate me” (48). As for Jacobus Coetzee, he returns to the Nama village where he experienced so much humiliation, in order to, “through their deaths” (106), re-assert his role as “invader of the wilderness and slayer of elephants” (97).31 He recognizes, however, the utter impenetrability of the world of the Hottentots: If the Hottentots comprise an immense world of delight, it is an impenetrable world, impenetrable to men like me, who must either skirt it, which is to evade our mission, or clear it out of the way. (106)

And it is this second and violent option that he finally chooses. 31

The way in which Jacobus Coetzee re-asserts his identity and his historical role through the extermination of the threatening other recalls one of the aspects of Stephen Greenblatt’s concept of Renaissance ‘self-fashioning’: “Self-fashioning is achieved in relation to something perceived as alien, strange, or hostile. This threatening Other – heretic, savage, witch, adulteress, traitor, Antichrist – must be discovered or invented in order to be attacked and destroyed” (Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare [Chicago: U of Chicago P , 1980]: 9).

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The legacy of possession and penetration I have analyzed Dawn’s and Jacobus Coetzee’s desire for penetration as the most persistent trait in their relation to reality and construction of their sense of identity. In In the Heart of the Country, by contrast, we find only three clear images of penetration.32 The passages need to be quoted in full: The law has gripped my throat, I say and I do not say, it invades my larynx, its one hand on my tongue, its other hand on my lips. How can I say, I say, that these are not the eyes of the law that stare from behind my eyes, or that the mind of the law does not occupy my skull, leaving me only enough intellection to utter these doubting words, if it is I uttering them, and see their fallaciousness? How can I say that the law does not stand fullgrown inside my shell, its feet in my feet, its hands in my hands, its sex drooping through my hole; or that when I have had my chance to make this utterance, the lips and teeth of the law will not begin to gnaw their way out of this shell, until there it stands before you, the law grinning and triumphant again, its soft skin hardening in the air, while I lie sloughed, crumpled, abandoned on the floor? (91–92) A body lies on top of a body pushing and pushing, trying to find a way in, motion everywhere. But what does this body want inside me? What is this man trying to find in me? Will he try again when he wakes up? What deeper invasion and possession does he plot in his sleep? That one day all this bony frame shall lie packed inside me, his skull inside my skull, his limbs along my limbs, the rest of him crammed into my belly? What will he leave me of myself? (117) I would like to climb into Klein-Anna’s body, I would like to climb down her throat while she sleeps and spread myself gently inside her, my hands in her hands, my feet in her feet, my skull in the benign quiet of her skull where images of soap and flour and milk revolve, the holes of my body sliding into place over the holes of hers. (118)

It cannot be accidental that, in these three passages, physical penetration and invasion are conveyed by identical phrasal structures: “its feet in my feet, its hands in my hands,” in the first one; “his skull inside my skull, his limbs 32

Dovey has argued that, while in Dusklands the erectile phallus and the forward gaze function as metaphors of the explorer’s penetrating enterprise, in In the Heart of the Country, the prevailing metaphor is that of the female cavity or hole, which corresponds to the static pastoral mode (The Novels of J.M. Coetzee, 149–50).

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along my limbs,” in the second; and “my hands in her hands, my feet in her feet,” in the third.33 This device makes the reader draw obvious parallels between the three scenes. In the first two passages, it is Magda’s body that undergoes “deep[er] invasion and possession,” first by the law, and then by Hendrik. Her depiction of herself as a “shell” being “gnawed” by “the lips and teeth of the law” recalls the “hideous mongol boy” who, inside Eugene Dawn’s “hollow bones, gnaws [his] liver with his smiling teeth” (38–39), and anticipates Mrs Curren’s description of herself in Age of Iron as “hollow […] a shell,” and of her disease as a crab “gnawing the socket of my hip, gnawing my backbone, beginning to gnaw my knees” (112). In all three cases, characters become empty and hollow shells, their body penetrated and gnawed by a parasitical substance, entity or being that undermines whatever position of power or authority they may have held. The passages seem to suggest that one main effect of the violent law that invades and possesses Magda is precisely the violent wish for invasion and possession.34 This is the law followed by Jacobus Coetzee, one of the founders of this violent mode of approach to the South African land and its native inhabitants, as depicted in Dusklands. It is also the law that Hendrik, in turn, adopts as the colonizer–colonized role is reversed, and that leads him to rape Magda, to aggressively penetrate and possess her. Furthermore, this law is the law that Magda herself has inherited and from which she cannot wholly escape: she sees with the eyes of the law and thinks with the mind of the law. The lexical and syntactic parallelism between “his skull inside my skull,” in the case of Hendrik’s invasion of her body, and “my skull in the benign quiet of her skull,” in the case of Magda’s imagined invasion of Anna’s body, makes us suspicious of the gentleness she ascribes to her possession of Anna’s body, and we wonder whether forcefulness and desire for mastery may not be involved in it. But whereas Jacobus was comfortably and willingly installed in “the law,” Magda does not entirely submit to it, or if she does, she desperately struggles 33

Head has called attention to the motif of the image of the body being inhabited by the body of another (J.M. Coetzee, 54), and Caroline Rody has pointed to the similarities between these three passages (“The Mad Colonial Daughter’s Revolt,” 176). 34 According to Rody, in the first passage, Magda is referring to “patriarchal, imperialist law” (“The Mad Colonial Daughter’s Revolt,” 176), whereas Head argues that “the law is the law of language and command, which possesses Magda as much as she possesses it” (J.M. Coetzee, 55).

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to rid herself of it and to establish her own alternative law. A crucial factor in determining their different attitudes toward “the law” would appear to be gender. Magda emphasizes the phallocentric nature of the law – the law of the father – reigning on the farm, and her status as victim: The boots, the thud of the boots, the black brow, the black eyeholes, the black hole of the mouth from which roars the great N O , iron, cold, thunderous, that blasts me and buries me and locks me up. (55)

Throughout Coetzee’s early narratives, the critique of topographical, epistemological, and psychological penetration often goes together with a depiction of sexual or physical penetration, particularly male, as violent or aggressive. Thus, in “The Vietnam Project,” the American imperialist act of invasion of Vietnam is equated with American men “forc[ing]” themselves “deeper than [they] had ever gone before into” Vietnamese women (18). In fact, in Dusklands, acts of violent sexual penetration abound: one of the photographs that Dawn carries with him shows an American sergeant “copulating” with a Vietnamese child (13), and Jacobus Coetzee defines a Bushman girl as “a rag you wipe yourself on and throw away. She is completely disposable. […] She can kick and scream but she knows she is lost” (61).35 Rape is a central event in In the Heart of the Country, as it will also be in Disgrace. In the passage quoted above, Magda experiences the sexual act as one in which “a body lies on top of a body pushing and pushing, trying to find a way in,” a description that recalls Lurie’s definition of rape as “the man lying on top of the woman and pushing himself into her” (160), and that emphasizes the ugliness, forceful intrusion, and desire for mastery involved in the sexual act, an idea to which Disgrace returns.36 This by no means implies that the approach to the other through penetration, which signifies “mastery, domination, disposition,”37 is an exclusively male action, as Magda’s imagined possession of Anna or Susan’s assertions of authority over Friday, in Foe, make clear. However, it seems that Coetzee finds in the male penetration of the female body a power35

As Head puts it, in Dusklands, “the critique of patriarchy also implicates an aggressive form of male sexuality, in which the other is reduced to an object of exploitation and violence” (The Cambridge Introduction to J.M. Coetzee, 39). 36 For an insightful analysis of Beckett’s influence on Coetzee’s depiction of sexual relationships, particularly in the presentation of the body as ill-matched with the mind and in the use of a language that is far from traditional erotic or romantic narratives, see Attridge’s “Sex, Comedy and Influence: Coetzee’s Beckett.” 37 Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 161.

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ful physical counterpart both to the colonial appropriation and possession of the land and to psychological and epistemological penetration. Magda reflects in the following way about Hendrik’s physical relation with / to her: There is something he has been trying to force from my body, I know, but I have been too obstinate, too awkward, too lumpish, too stale, too tired, too frightened by the flow of his angry corrosive seed; I have merely gritted my teeth and clung on when he wanted something else, to touch my heart perhaps, to touch my heart and convulse me. How deep, I wonder, can one person go into another? (127)

This last question, “how deep […] can one person go into another?,” echoes the magistrate’s assertion in Waiting for the Barbarians, “How unnatural a mistake to believe that you can burn or tear or hack your way into the secret body of the other!” (46). These reflections convey central preoccupations in Coetzee’s narrative: whether every person has a deep and secret dimension no one else can reach; whether every sexual act is, to a certain extent, an act of force. Whereas Dawn and Jacobus continually assert their presence and their strength, by proclaiming their ability to penetrate other people and foreign lands, Magda conveys only once a clear wish for invasion – when she longs to climb into Klein-Anna’s body – and defines herself instead as “a great emptiness, an emptiness filled with a great absence.” Her desire is not to penetrate but to be penetrated, “a desire to be filled, to be fulfilled” (125): When woman desires woman, two holes, two emptinesses. For if that is what I am then that is what she is too, anatomy is destiny: an emptiness, or a shell, a film over an emptiness longing to be filled in a world in which nothing fills. (124)

However, Magda is shown until the very end of the novel as struggling against the legacy of possession and penetration she has inherited. And this legacy is precisely the colonial legacy of the pastoral: I am heir to a space of natal earth which my ancestors found good and fenced about. To the spur of desire we have only one response: to capture, to enclose, to hold. But how real is our possession? The flowers turn to dust, Hendrik uncouples and leaves, the land knows nothing of fences, the stones will be here when I have crumbled away, the very food I devour passes through me. I am not one of the heroes of desire, what I want is not infinite or unattainable, all I ask myself, faintly, dubiously, querulously, is whether there is not some-

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In this passage, Magda simultaneously aligns herself with and questions the Afrikaner tradition to which she belongs. More specifically, the focus is on the settler’s relation to the land. By referring to her ancestors’ practice as one of fencing about, capturing, enclosing, and holding, we are instantly reminded of a passage in “The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee,” in which Jacobus, who emerges as Magda’s ancestor, describes the explorer’s relation with the land in these terms: We can count fig-trees, we can count sheep because the orchard and the farm are bounded. The essence of orchard tree and farm sheep is number. Our commerce with the wild is a tireless enterprise of turning it into orchard and farm. When we cannot fence it and count it we reduce it to number by other means. (80)

And these words in turn refer back to the moment in “The Vietnam Project” in which Dawn reflects: “I have an exploring temperament. Had I lived two hundred years ago I would have had a continent to explore, to map, to open to colonization” (31–32). In the three passages, the relation with the land is one of possession, enumeration, and domestication; the aim is to turn boundlessness into boundedness, to see depth in every surface, to be able to ‘possess’ the “infinite or unattainable.” This topography of the farm, of wires and fences, which is the result of the possession, enumeration, and domestication of the land, corresponds to the first of the two dream topographies that, according to Coetzee’s analysis in White Writing, are projected by the South African pastoral: “a network of boundaries crisscrossing the surface of the land, marking off thousands of farms, each a separate kingdom” (6), ruled over by a patriarch, and with children, grandchildren, and serfs beneath him. However, there is a rival dream topography, that “of South Africa as a vast, empty, silent space, older than man […] and destined to be vast, empty, and unchanged long after man has passed from its face.” (7). In In the Heart of the Country, the rivalry between these two topographies is projected through Magda’s reflections on her relation to the African land. She cannot free herself entirely from the tradition of fences and possession she has inherited: “How idyllic the old days seem; and how alluring, in a different way, a future in a garden behind barbed wire!” (126). In fact, she ends her narrative by expressing her allegiance to the Afri-

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kaner tradition that erects gates into the land and turns the veld into farms and gardens: she has “chosen at every moment my own destiny, which is to die here in the petrified garden, behind locked gates, near my father’s bones” (151). Simultaneously, Magda repeatedly casts this possession into doubt.38 To a large extent, In the Heart of the Country is about the impossibility of possessing: possessing the land, possessing language, possessing a fixed identity, possessing another human being. Despite human pretensions to domestication and possession of wilderness, Magda feels that “the land knows nothing of fences, the stones will be here when I have crumbled away” (124), and that “no one is ancestral to the stone desert, no one but the insects” (20). Topographical coordinates and fences are rendered useless when you are “on the road from no A to no B in the world” (21), surrounded by a “limitless space” (13), “in the heart of the country,” “in the heart of nowhere” (4).39

‘Seeing into’ the South African landscape In a 1992 interview, Richard Begam asked Coetzee about his analysis in White Writing of the problem of ‘reading’ the South African landscape, and whether that problem of readability might be related to what the French writer Alain Robbe–Grillet had called the “destitution of the myth of depth.” Coetzee’s answer was that he certainly was writing about writers and artists who “worked within a romantic aesthetic which depended crucially on the notion of depth (without depth you cannot ‘see into’ things) and the notion of a ‘true’

38

As Coetzee shows in White Writing, white South African writers, himself included, return obsessively to the question of the property and distribution of the land, and to the (im)possibility of reading the African landscape. Thus, in Gordimer’s first novel, Joel experiences a similar sense of provisionality and unbelonging in relation to the African land. He feels he has “no roots in the real Africa – you can’t belong to the commercial crust thrown up by the gold mines. […] I was born here, right. But on the surface, on the superimposed Africa, this rickety thing, everybody’s makeshift Europe” (Nadine Gordimer, The Lying Days [1953; London: Bloomsbury, 2002]: 143). 39 As she places herself ‘in the heart of nowhere,’ Magda’s sense of displacement goes along with her perceiving herself in a non-topographical topography, in “the atopical,” the “unplaceable place,” the “something other to any activity of mapping” that Miller encounters in his analysis of the topographies of narrative. According to Miller, “sooner or later, in a different way in each case, the effort of mapping is interrupted by an encounter with the unmappable” (Topographies, 7).

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speech which emerges from those ‘depths’,”40 an aesthetic from which he felt very distant. Robbe–Grillet, one of the main figures associated with the nouveau roman of the 1950s,41 wrote about “the destitution of the old myths of ‘depth’” in his 1956 essay “A Future for the Novel.”42 In this essay, Robbe– Grillet points to what differentiates what he calls the new novel and the new literature from the literature of Balzac, Gide, and Mme. Lafayette, based on a myth of depth that is no longer valid: The writer’s traditional role consisted in excavating Nature, in burrowing deeper and deeper to reach some ever more intimate strata, in finally unearthing some fragment of a disconcerting secret. Having descended into the abyss of human passions, he would send to the seemingly tranquil world (the world on the surface) triumphant messages describing the mysteries he had actually touched with his own hands.43

Whereas, in the past, the writer’s aim was to capture “the entire hidden soul of things,”44 now, according to Robbe–Grillet, we no longer believe in the ‘depth’ of the world; hence “the surface of things has ceased to be for us the mask of their heart, a sentiment that led to every kind of metaphysical transcendence.”45 That Robbe–Grillet constructs his vision of literature according to such a clear surface–depth dialectic, favouring the former over the latter, establishes a clear link between him and Coetzee. In “Nabokov’s Pale Fire and the Primacy of Art,” a critical piece dating from the year of publication of Dusklands, Coetzee conveys his distrust of the conception of truth as depth. He opens his article by asserting that “there are planes of reality in Pale Fire: planes in the way the surface of a mirror is plane”; that is, the realities of Pale 40

J.M. Coetzee, “An Interview with J.M. Coetzee, by Richard Begam,” Contemporary Literature 33.3 (1992): 426. 41 Attwell has pointed to the similarities between In the Heart of the Country and the concerns of the nouveau roman, particularly in the way “the field of language, the field of the Novel” is brought into the foreground in Coetzee’s text by means of the episodic repetitions highlighting Magda as the narrating subject, and by the numbered units making up the text (J.M. Coetzee, 58). 42 Alain Robbe–Grillet, “A Future for the Novel,” in For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction, tr. Richard Howard (Pour un nouveau roman, 1963; New York: Grove, 1965): 23. 43 Robbe–Grillet, “A Future for the Novel,” 23–24. 44 “A Future for the Novel,” 24. 45 “A Future for the Novel,” 24.

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Fire are constructed as planes or surfaces, so that all the relations established in this novel are “mirror-relations.”46 Coetzee quotes a fragment from the novel, coming from the commentary to line 130, in which Kinbote asserts that Eystein’s art highlights “the basic fact that reality is neither the subject nor the object of true art which creates its own special reality.” In his trompe-l’oeil portraits, Eystein sometimes resorted to a weird form of trickery: among his decorations of wood or wool, gold or velvet, he would insert one which was really made of the material elsewhere imitated by paint.

Thus, when Niagarin and Andronnikov are about to steal Eystein’s portrait of Count Kernel – whose fingers are resting on a box, upon which “the artist had pictured a plate with the beautifully executed, twin-lobed, brainlike, halved kernel of a walnut” – we are told that the receptacle “contained nothing, however, except the broken bits of nutshell.” 47 This articulation of the impossibility of distinguishing between the means of representation and the object represented, and of finding a ‘real reality’ behind art, by making use of the terms ‘kernel,’ ‘walnut’, and ‘nutshell’, makes us wonder whether this passage constitutes a response to the famous moment in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, in which the notion of the ‘kernel’ is used to describe the kind of meaning conveyed by Marlow’s stories: The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin yards be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine.48

We also wonder whether Coetzee may have Conrad’s definition of literary meaning in mind, as he, throughout his essay on Nabokov, evolves a rhetorical configuration dependent on the concept of the ‘kernel’: “we will not reach

46

Coetzee, “Nabokov’s Pale Fire and the Primacy of Art,” 1. Vladimir Nabokov, Novels 1955–1962: Lolita, Pnin, Pale Fire, Lolita: A Screenplay, notes by Brian Boyd (New York: The Library of America, 1996): 530. 48 Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, in Heart of Darkness: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Source, Criticism, ed. Robert Kimbrough (1902; New York: W.W. Norton, 1971): 5. 47

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the Kernel of the subject by looking behind the mirror”; “Eystein’s nutshell is a joke on realism”;49 without the bedrock of a real sense of the real, or alternatively of the reality of the imaginary, the process of self-elaboration must be felt not as an act of creation but as an act of decreation, a shedding of exhausted self-constructs, a peeling of walnut-shells in an endless search for the kernel.50

In any case, independently of whether there is in Nabokov’s novel or in Coetzee’s article an implied reference to him or not, Conrad’s narrative would certainly stand for the kind of literature that Robbe–Grillet, Nabokov, and the early Coetzee regard with suspicion: what we could call a literature of depth with clear Romantic affinities. In the passage from Heart of Darkness quoted above, Conrad destabilizes the opposition between the outside and the inside, between the form and the content of the literary work, but he certainly believed that there is some hidden truth in reality waiting to be rescued or to be brought to light by the artist.51 To use Robbe–Grillet’s words: Conrad aimed at capturing ‘the entire hidden soul of things,’ as his 1897 Preface to “The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’” makes clear. Here, he defines art as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect.52

Just as Robbe–Grillet explains that the writer of the past “descended into the abyss of human passions,” “excavating Nature” and “unearthing some fragment of a disconcerting secret,”53 Conrad asserts that “the artist descends within himself,”54 so as to rescue a fragment of truth and “disclose its inspiring secret.”55 His task, Conrad vindicates, is “to hold up […] the rescued 49

Coetzee, “Nabokov’s Pale Fire and the Primacy of Art,” 3. “Nabokov’s Pale Fire and the Primacy of Art,” 4. 51 Another question would be whether that truth is actually found or not, rescued or not. This search for truth may prove to be an impossible task, as is actually the case in Heart of Darkness. 52 Joseph Conrad, “Preface to ‘The Nigger of the Narcissus’ ” (1897), in Heart of Darkness, ed. Kimbrough, 145–46. 53 Robbe–Grillet, “A Future for the Novel,” 23. 54 Conrad, “Preface to ‘The Nigger of the Narcissus’,” 146. 55 “Preface to ‘The Nigger of the Narcissus’,” 148. 50

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fragment before all eyes and in the light of a sincere mood”;56 “it is, before all, to make you see.”57 The irony is that, in Conrad’s literary works, that vision is usually blurred, and the possibility of seeing is continuously put into question. This particular understanding of literature and of the writer, in which depth and vision are intimately related to each other, makes Conrad part of the Romantic aesthetic that Coetzee, as quoted above, rejects. It is an aesthetic that depends on a dimension of depth, through which the writer ‘sees into’ things. Coetzee is here echoing William Wordsworth’s famous words in “Tintern Abbey”: “with an eye made quiet by the power / of harmony and the deep power of joy, / we see into the life of things” (ll.48–50).58 Vision is the most important sense for Jacobus Coetzee, who appropriates the land around him through his eyes: “I meditated upon the acres of new ground I had eaten up with my eyes” (77). As he experiences it, “in the wild only the eyes have power”: The eyes are free, they reach out to the horizon all around. Nothing is hidden from the eyes. As the other senses grow numb or dumb my eyes flex and extend themselves. I become a spherical reflecting eye moving through wilderness and ingesting it. Destroyer of wilderness, I move through the land cutting a devouring path from horizon to horizon. There is nothing from which my eye turns, I am all that I see. Such loneliness! Not a stone, not a bush, not a wretched provident ant that is not comprehended in this travelling sphere. What is there that is not me? I am a transparent sac with a black core full of images and a gun. (79)

Thus, Gardiner is utterly right when he says that Jacobus fetishizes the eye as the instrument of exploration and ingestion, the instrument of “metaphysical entering and plundering of any interior,”59 which is presented as one of the “assimilative metaphors of explorer stories that Coetzee’s text attacks for their ideological validation of white minority rule in South Africa.”60 Jacobus’s 56

“Preface to ‘The Nigger of the Narcissus’,” 147–48. “Preface to ‘The Nigger of the Narcissus’,” 147. 58 William Wordsworth, William Wordsworth: The Pedlar, Tintern Abbey, The TwoPart Prelude, ed. Jonathan Wordsworth (Cambridge: Cambridge U P , 1985). 59 Allan Gardiner, “J.M. Coetzee’s Dusklands: Colonial Encounters of the Robinsonian Kind,” World Literature Written in English 27.2 (1987): 182. 60 Gardiner, “J.M. Coetzee’s Dusklands,” 183. 57

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description of himself as “a spherical reflecting eye” alludes to a poet very close to the Romantic tradition: namely, the American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who, in his 1836 seminal essay “Nature,” asserts that, in the woods, he becomes “a transparent eye-ball.”61 The Romantic appropriation of the landscape carried out by the poet’s imaginative vision is presented, in White Writing, In the Heart of the Country, and Disgrace, as a rhetorical counterpart for the actual material and historical appropriation of the African land by Western powers. In the chapter “The Picturesque and the South African Landscape,” included in White Writing, Coetzee refers to Emerson’s ‘transparent eyeball’ in order to make the point that “in the heady years of Transcendentalism it is hard to find a landscape that is kept at a viewing distance from the eye, not ingested by it”; the landscape is “absorbed and fixed by the expansive eye” (59). This imaginative project of ingesting the landscape by the penetrating eye is attempted by the poet Sydney Clouts in the South African land, as argued by Coetzee in the last chapter of White Writing. According to Coetzee, “the organ of mastery in Clouts […] is the eye,” just as, for Wordsworth, vision was “the most despotic of our senses” (172). This phrase quoted by Coetzee can be found in the following passage in The Prelude: The state to which I now allude was one In which the eye was master of the heart, When that which is in every state of life The most despotic of our senses gained Such strength in me as often held my mind In absolute dominion. (X I , ll.171–76)62

Coetzee argues that South African landscape art “is closely connected with the imperial eye – the eye that by seeing names and dominates – and the imperial calling” (174). In “The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee,” the intimate connection between ‘the imperial eye’ and ‘the imperial calling’ is also emphasized in the “Afterword.” S.J. Coetzee explains that “the region through which Coetzee now passed was not virgin to the European eye” (115), admitting:

61

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature (1836; Boston M A : Beacon, 1985): 13. William Wordsworth, William Wordsworth: The Pedlar, Tintern Abbey, The TwoPart Prelude, ed. Jonathan Wordsworth (Cambridge: Cambridge U P , 1985). 62

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though the native population of the sub-continent has always been low we can never be sure with respect to an indigenous phenomenon that indigenous eyes were not the first eyes laid on it. (115–16)

However, for S.J. Coetzee, who refers to Jacobus’s “keen hunter’s eye” (116), only European eyes have the capacity to discover: “Who discovered this?, or, to be more precise, Which European discovered this?” (115). And as he lays eyes on the surrounding land, the European explorer imposes on it “the concepts of a frontiersman taxonomy” that mean the definite appropriation of the territory: “Coetzee rode like a god through a world only partly named, differentiating and bringing into existence” (116).63 Coetzee goes back to the relation between vision and the appropriation of the land in Disgrace. It can be no accident that the protagonist of this novel, in which the issue of property and the distribution of the land is crucial, should be a specialist in Romantic poetry. It is, furthermore, highly significant that David Lurie, in one of his university lectures, deals with a passage from Wordsworth’s The Prelude, and that the focus is again on Romantic vision and on the relation between the poet and the landscape (21): we also first beheld unveiled the summit of Mont Blanc, and grieved To have a soulless image on the eye That had usurped upon a living thought That never more could be (V I , ll.524–28)

Lurie explains to his students that, in this passage, “‘the great archetypes of the mind, pure ideas, find themselves usurped by mere sense-images’” (22). In his discussion of the passage from Wordsworth, Lurie calls his students’ attention to “‘the unusual verb form usurp upon’” – which he significantly uses again in the sentence quoted above – providing the following definition: “‘Usurp upon means to intrude or encroach upon. Usurp, to take over entirely, is the perfective of usurp upon; usurping completes the act of usurping upon’” (21). This constitutes one of the intensely self-reflexive moments that we encounter in Disgrace and in which “words are handled with a meticulous and even burdensome awareness of their morphological, semantic, and cul-

63

Clarkson devotes chapter 5 of her monograph on Coetzee to the question of names, analyzing “the extent [to which] writing about place becomes an interrogation about the place of writing” (J.M. Coetzee, 137).

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tural complexities.”64 The term ‘usurp upon’ immediately evokes the semantically related words ‘visit’ and ‘intrude’, which, together with their derivatives, are repeatedly used throughout the novel, in order to highlight postapartheid conflict over property and land, and to describe Lurie’s and the young black men’s respective sexual usurpation of Melanie’s and Lucy’s body. In this context, Lurie’s apparently rhetorical reflection on a European poetic tradition of visual imaginative appropriation acquires historical and political resonances, and the sexual conflicts and spatial struggles depicted in the novel are seen against the background of the historical act of European usurpation of the African land. David refers to the possibility of translating the Wordsworthian visionary moment into the South African context: ‘We don’t have Alps in this country, but we have the Drakensberg, or on a smaller scale Table Mountain, which we climb in the wake of the poets, hoping for one of those revelatory, Wordsworthian moments we have all heard about.’ […] ‘But moments like that will not come unless the eye is half turned toward the great archetypes of the imagination we carry within us.’ (23)

The question here is to what extent an aesthetic of European provenance can be applied to the reading of the African landscape, precisely the issue that Coetzee explores in White Writing. Magda yearns for those “revelatory, Wordsworthian moments,” which, nevertheless, never come to her: There was a time when I imagined that if I talked long enough it would be revealed to me what it means to be an angry spinster in the heart of nowhere. […] Aching to form the words that will translate me into the land of myth and hero, here I am still my dowdy self in a dull summer heat that will not transcend itself. (4)

This frustrated search for meaning and revelation in the surrounding land, on the part of the person of European provenance, is a constant in white South African literature. We already find it in Olive Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm, when, at the beginning of the novel, Waldo makes a sacrifice, expecting to see the glory of God revealed through the surrounding natural world of the Karoo: “At last he raised himself. Above him was the quiet, blue sky, about him the red earth; there were the clumps of silent ewes and his altar

64

Barnard, Apartheid and Beyond, 35.

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– that was all.”65 We also see it in Karel Schoeman’s Promised Land, a novel with which In the Heart of the Country shares important features. Set in a indeterminate future, this novel offers a vision of South Africa after her white inhabitants have lost power. Having left South Africa as a child, a young man returns to visit the farm he has inherited from his mother, and spends a few days immersed in the Afrikaner rural world. Upon his arrival, he contemplates the “bare, empty, desolate” veld: “He stared at it […] and waited for some revelation, some explanation of his mother’s love for this land […] But no revelation came.”66 The Wordsworthian reciprocity between nature and subjectivity cannot take place in the South African heart of the country: What are pain, jealousy, loneliness doing in the African night? Does a woman looking through a window into the dark mean anything? […] There is no act I know of that will liberate me into the world. There is no act I know of that will bring the world into me. (10)

As experienced by Magda, her presence is utterly meaningless in the African night, and there is an unbridgeable gap between her spirit and the surrounding natural world. Thus, she feels that the Karoo natural elements are utterly indifferent to her tragic fate, after she has been raped by Hendrik: If I were to get up now and walk […] if I were to come out into the light […]. I am sure that in spite of all it would be an afternoon like any other, the cicadas would not pause in their grating, the waves would till thrill on the horizon, the sun would still lie ponderous and indifferent on my skin. I have been through everything now and no angel has descended with flaming sword to forbid it. There are, it seems, no angels in this part of the sky, no God in this part of the wold. It belongs only to the sun. I do not think it was ever intended that people should live here. (118)

As in The Story of an African Farm, the Karoo is not inhabited by God or angels. But Magda not only denies the presence of any transcendental meaning but even puts into question human habitation in this part of the world. In this sense, it is very revealing that, in Summertime, a novel in which the Karoo also plays an important role, this idea should reappear in similar terms, 65

Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm (1883; Oxford: Oxford U P ,

1998): 6. 66

Karel Schoeman, Promised Land (1972; New York: Summit, 1978): 8.

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as phrased by Margot: “What are we doing in this barren part of the world? Why are we spending our lives in dreary toil if it was never meant that people should live here, if the whole project of humanizing the place was misconceived from the start?” (140). This anxiety about identity and belonging, experienced as an anxiety regarding space, is commonly found in South African literature, as analyzed by Hein Viljoen, Minnie Lewis, and Chris N. van der Merwe: one continuously encounters the questions “how can people come to understand the spaces of South Africa? It is possible for them to belong here? Or are they forever doomed to keep longing for an impossible home, to keep feeling unheimlich?”67 Whereas Jacobus desperately wants to leave his mark on the surrounding reality – “I move through the land cutting a devouring path from horizon to horizon” (79) – and needs to assert his substantiality – “through their deaths, I, who after they had expelled me had wandered the desert like a pallid symbol, again asserted my reality” (106) – Magda experiences her relation with the South African landscape in terms of vacancy: “Our lives are vacant, as vacant as the desert we live in” (64). And as opposed to the acts of linguistic appropriation carried out by Jacobus, Magda’s words remain evanescent, as they just “come from nowhere and go nowhere […] whistle across the flats in a desolate eternal present” (125). By understanding her relation to the South African land as provisional and ephemeral, Magda relinquishes the Afrikaner ideology of mastery of the land and of “proprietorial consciousness,” and it is thus that she is able to commit an ethical act of hospitality toward her servants.

The impossible transition from mastership to hospitality I have already referred to Coetzee’s argument in “The Great South African Novel” about the Afrikaans novel as presenting “an ‘official’ view of South Africa as a settled land, a land whose soil belongs to its farmers and titleholders, a land that is someone’s property,” which goes hand in hand with a “proprietorial attitude towards the earth.” This attitude “has made of the black man a temporary sojourner, a displaced person, not only in the white man’s

67

Minnie Lewis, Chris N. van der Merwe & Hein Viljoen, “Introduction: Learning about Space – and about Ourselves,” in Storyscapes: South African Perspectives on Literature, Space & Identity, ed. Chris N. van der Merwe & Hein Viljoen (New York: Peter Lang, 2004): 1.

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laws but in the white man’s imaginative life.”68 Bearing in mind Magda’s complicity with this attitude, her act of hospitality towards her servants Hendrik and Klein-Anna could be regarded as an “exemplary ethical act.”69 For Miller, the “genuine ethical decision” is “above or outside any law.”70 Genuine ethical decisions are “initiatory, inaugural. They mark a break from what came before. They are the basis for what comes after in the community.”71 It could be argued that Magda carries out such an “exemplary ethical act” when she tries to establish both communication and communion with Hendrik and Anna. At the beginning of the novel, Magda emphasizes the spatial division between masters and servants, as she and her father, at dusk, hear Hendrik’s guitar-strings “across the river.” However, “most nights the wind whips the frail sounds away, and we might as well be on separate planets, we on ours, they on theirs” (30). At a certain point, Magda invites Hendrik and Anna to stay in her house; she becomes their host and they become her guests. Her inaugural ethical act – an act of invitation and hospitality – constitutes an attempt to bridge the gap between ‘their’ planet and ‘our’ planet: I am failing in no observance, nor are my intentions impure. In the heart of nowhere, in this dead place, I am making a start; or, if not that, making a gesture. (120)

This underlines the ‘genuine’ and ‘initiatory’ character of her act, which leaves behind the ‘observance’ of inherited laws and codes of behaviour.72 “I can’t sleep alone tonight […] The two of you must come and sleep in the house tonight,” Magda tells Hendrik and Anna. “The words have come out without premeditation. I feel joy. That must be how other people speak, from their hearts” (95), she reflects. However, do Magda’s words constitute

68

Coetzee, “The Great South African Novel,” 79. J. Hillis Miller, “Postmodern Ethics in Literature: Late Derrida, Morrison, and Others,” in “Narrativa y Desconstrucción: Desde El Coloquio de los Perros,” University of Córdoba, 3 May 2005: 21. 70 Miller, “Postmodern Ethics in Literature,” 4. 71 “Postmodern Ethics in Literature,” 5. 72 In his reading of Magda’s act of hospitality, Marais emphasizes the correspondence between the farmhouse and the prisonhouse of language, and her becoming host to invisible and invited visitors. Thus, he adds a metafictional dimension to the role of hospitality in the novel, arguing: “it is because she loses possession of her self in being possessed by her invisible visitors that Magda writes” (Secretary of the Invisible, 24). 69

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an invitation or a command? The very words she chooses – ‘you must come’ – betray her: she is not able to relinquish her role as mistress and adopt that of the hospitable host. Furthermore, when Hendrik and Anna reject her ‘invitation’, she commands them to obey her – “No: I want you to sleep here” (95) – asking them to sleep on a mat in the kitchen, which reveals that she still regards them as servants. Furthermore, language doggedly ties them to their traditional roles, as we see when Magda tries to maintain a true conversation with Anna, by sharing with her her most intimate feelings: “I have never learned to talk with another person. […] I have never known words of true exchange, Anna. The words I give you you cannot give back” (110). But Anna can only address her as ‘miss,’ never as ‘Magda’: “Can you say Magda? Come, say Magda for me.’ ‘No, miss, I can’t’” (111). Their relation will always be one of mistress and servant. Magda makes a further attempt, as she invites them to sleep in the guestroom instead of the kitchen (119). However, her violations of the “old old code” (27) do not bring about communication and understanding, but, rather, confusion and hostility: We three cannot find our true paths in this house. I cannot say whether Hendrik and Anna are guests or invaders or prisoners. I can no longer shut myself off in my room as I used to do. (122)

Coetzee has offered the following revealing interpretation of Magda’s acts: At a certain point she tries to drop the master / slave relationship in favour of a relationship of equality which I think is entirely sincerely intended on her part. But it fails, and it fails merely because a mere effort of the will is not enough to overcome centuries of cultural and spiritual deformation.73

Against those critics who, especially during the 1970s and 1980s, labelled Coetzee’s fiction ahistorical, statements such as this one and a correct interpretation of characters such as Magda show that Coetzee’s novels fully register the determining effect of collective and historical processes on the individual. Hospitality fails in In the Heart of the Country: “Between myself and them lies the dry river. They no longer come to the house” (104). In the following chapters, we will see how Coetzee’s fictional works, particularly from Age of Iron onwards, keep returning to the question of hospitality as a possible

73

“J.M. Coetzee: Interview, by Folke Rhedin,” Kunapipi 6.1 (1984): 7.

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means of transforming prevailing relationships of oppression and inequality; as a possible “basis for what comes after in the community,” for what Giorgio Agamben has called “the coming community.”74

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74

See Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, tr. Michael Hardt (La comunità che viene, 1990; Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P , 2007). For an acute discussion of the relation between hospitality and community, as related to Coetzee’s fiction, see Marais, Secretary of the Invisible, 1–4.

3

I

Resistance Waiting for the Barbarians

N 1980,

C O E T Z E E P U B L I S H E D H I S T H I R D N O V E L , Waiting for the Barbarians, the novel with which he achieved definite international fame. Set in an indeterminate time and place, an unnamed magistrate, occupying a bureaucratic post on the remote border of a likewise unnamed Empire, finds his comfortable and lethargic existence suddenly disturbed by the arrival of Colonel Joll and his practice of torture. But it is his interest in a barbarian girl left crippled and partially blinded by those acts of torture that will mark the beginning of his process of self-discovery. If the question of the (im)possibility of the penetration, inscription, and possession of the land figures prominently in Dusklands and In the Heart of the Country, Waiting for the Barbarians focuses on the resistance to physical or bodily penetration, as related to the inscription and possession of the body of the other, particularly the suffering and tortured body. Traversed by imagery of vision and blindness, light and darkness – oppositions that keep blurring and overlapping – the novel presents the figure of the torturer as a voyeur and spectator, and as a hunter of dark, hidden meanings, and suggests that it is from a position of blindness that one may adopt an ethical position of shame and responsibility for the suffering body.

Deciphering the act of torture Throughout the novel, the magistrate has several dreams, in which the issue at stake is the possibility of seeing the barbarian girl and being seen by her: “I stand behind her and watch. She does not turn. I try to imagine the face between the petals of her peaked hood but cannot” (10). These dreams, then, highlight the central role played by the sense of vision in Waiting for the Barbarians, as Penner has underlined, by pointing to the leitmotif of (ethical)

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blindness and sight in the novel. What is faulty in Penner’s analysis is his zealous turning into vision what the novel presents as blindness: his eagerness to shed light on aspects and questions that, as depicted in the novel, should remain obscure and incomprehensible. I would like to argue that the barbarian girl remains an impenetrable enigma both for the magistrate and for the reader, and that the magistrate does not gain any final or definite insight; Penner eliminates this ambiguity from his analysis, deciphering the girl’s interiority in the following terms: Clearly, in her partial physical blindness, she retains her manner of seeing: she is direct, stoical, convivial, and above all, accepting of things as they are – torturers and lovers, pain and pleasure – without judgement.1

And he disambiguates the magistrate’s intricate inner processes, stating that “a will to the truth […] saves the magistrate from an endless cycle of doublethought and self-recrimination,” and that “through the medium of six dreams, he finally achieves his desired vision of the girl before he was tortured.”2 My contention, by contrast, is that Coetzee’s aim is to blur any easy and clear-cut opposition between vision and blindness, light and darkness, and that he deliberately refuses to clarify or assign meaning to certain aspects of the novel. Waiting for the Barbarians opens with the magistrate’s puzzled look at Colonel Joll’s sunglasses: “I have never seen anything like it: two little discs of glass suspended in front of his eyes in loops of wire. Is he blind?” (1). The magistrate remains fascinated by them: “He picks his way uncertainly among the strange furniture but does not remove the dark glasses” (1).3 From the very beginning, then, Joll is associated with darkness and blindness, whereas the magistrate, when he decides to investigate the possible acts of torture that are being carried out by Empire, presents himself as a bearer of light. The central moment in this sense takes places when the magistrate takes the lantern and enters the granary where the prisoners are held: 1

Penner, Countries of the Mind, 79. Countries of the Mind, 81. 3 This description of Colonel Joll, together with the attention paid to his dark glasses, recalls Breyten Breytenbach’s description of his interrogator in The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist: “This monstruous man sitting there in a chair, hidden behind his dark glasses, watching me, finally reaching the apotheosis of his own search for satisfaction”; Breytenbach, The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist (Emmarentia, SA: Taurus, 1984): 57. 2

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I enter the hut holding the lantern high, trespassing, I realize, on what has become holy or unholy ground, if there is any difference, preserve of the mysteries of the State. (6–7)

In his search for the truth of what has happened in the granary, the magistrate draws on the traditional association between truth and light, and it is this moment that marks the radical turning-point in his relation with Empire: So now it seems my easy years are coming to an end […] If I had only handed over these two absurd prisoners to the Colonel […] if I had gone on a hunting trip for a few days […] then perhaps I might now be able to return to my hunting and hawking and placid concupiscence […] But alas, I did not ride away: for a while I stopped my ears to the noises coming from the hut by the granary where the tools are kept, then in the night I took a lantern and went to see for myself. (9–10)

In his essay “Into the Dark Chamber: The Writer and the South African State,” Coetzee asserts that Waiting for the Barbarians is “about the impact of the torture chamber on the life of a man of conscience.”4 In his analysis of the relation between torture and novelistic representation, he also employs, as we see in the very title of the essay, an imagery of darkness: he asserts that torture has exerted “a dark fascination”5 over South African writers, and describes the torture chamber as “dark” and “forbidden.”6 One of the reasons for this fascination lies in the fact that the torture room is “accessible to no one save the participants,”7 and if the novelist is the person who “creates, in place of the scene he is forbidden to see, a representation of that scene,” then the dark, forbidden chamber is the origin of novelistic fantasy per se; in creating an obscenity, in enveloping it in mystery, the state unwittingly creates the preconditions for the novel to set about its work of representation.8

This description of the relation between the writer and the torture chamber resembles strikingly the magistrate’s position regarding what is going on in 4

J.M. Coetzee, “Into the Dark Chamber: The Writer and the South African State” (1986), in Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews, ed. & intro. David Attwell (Cambridge M A : Harvard U P , 1992): 363. 5 Coetzee, “Into the Dark Chamber,” 363. 6 “Into the Dark Chamber,” 364. 7 “Into the Dark Chamber,” 363. 8 “Into the Dark Chamber,” 364.

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the granary: both the writer and the magistrate have been forbidden entry to the torture chamber, and remain fascinated by what may have happened inside. In both the novel and the essay, the torture chamber is seen as the place that encloses a ‘mystery’ that the state has created. And it is here that the paradox lies: in his search for truth, in his willingness to investigate what is going on in ‘the dark chamber’ and to shed light on the atrocities that those in power have committed, the magistrate or the writer may in fact be succumbing to an allure that the state has created for them. By seeing himself as the bearer of light, the magistrate is trying to enter ‘the dark chamber’ as spectator: i.e. from a position of power that in fact aligns him with Empire. As Jolly has argued, writers on violence […] need to admit and to examine the territory that they occupy as spectators. The spectator of a scene of atrocity is in a position of privilege: she or he is not immediately involved in the scene that constitutes her or his subject.9

At the beginning of the novel, the magistrate occupies the privileged position of the spectator or observer. When the Colonel’s prisoners arrive, the fact that they are regarded as a spectacle by people from the town, including the magistrate, is emphasized several times: “From my window I watch them […] cringing already from the spectators who crowd about them” (18); “the crowd grows and presses in so tight around them that I can no longer see” (19); “we stand watching them eat as though they are strange animals” (19); “I spend the hours watching them from the upstairs window (other idlers have to watch through the gate)” (20); “the soldiers lounge in the doorways watching them […] there are always children with their faces pressed to the bars of the gate; and from my window I stare down, invisible behind the glass” (20–21). In this last sentence, the magistrate unconsciously presents himself as occupying the same position as Colonel Joll: just as Colonel Joll’s glasses “look opaque from the outside, but he can see through them” (1), the magistrate stares at the prisoners but remains “invisible” to them “behind the glass.” His position as observer is one of power, inevitably linked with the role of the torturer. In the magistrate’s relation with the barbarian girl, a complex dynamic is built around the opposition between blindness and sight. It seems that what attracts him toward the girl is precisely the fact that she has been left partly blinded by her torturers: “They tell me you are blind” (27) is the first thing he 9

Jolly, Colonization, Violence, and Narration in White South African Writing, xi.

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says to her. And the magistrate wants to see what they have done to her body: “Show me your feet […] Show me what they have done to your feet” (29, my emphasis); “Let me see” (30). In Body Work: Objects of Desire in Modern Narrative, Peter Brooks explores the role of the body in modern narrative, the body as “the agent and object of desire,” a desire that is sexual and that is, by extension, the desire to know. Brooks sees a “nexus of desire, the body, the drive to know, and narrative.”10 He explains that, for thinkers such as Freud, Melanie Klein, and Georges Bataille, the desire to know is linked to sexuality and vision: The drive for possession will be closely linked to the drive to know, itself most often imaged as the desire to see. For it is sight, with its accompanying imagery of light, unveiling and fixation by the gaze, that traditionally represents knowing, and even rationality itself.11

In its exploration of the interrelations between knowledge, possession, sexuality, and vision, Waiting for the Barbarians constitutes a powerful reflection on what has been called ‘ocularcentrism’, the “vision-generated, vision-centered interpretation of knowledge, truth, and reality” that has dominated Western culture.12 In Waiting for the Barbarians, the desire to see, to possess, and to know come together in the person of the magistrate, and it is onto the body of the barbarian girl that all these different desires come to be projected. Brooks points out that, in Western culture, Truth is always represented as a woman, and that “in a patriarchal culture, uncovering the woman’s body is a gesture of revealing what stands for an ultimate mystery.”13 Thus, the magistrate – an anxious seeker of meanings – projects onto the body of the barbarian girl the potential meanings that he looks for in other places and activities. He is driven by the desire to ‘decipher’ both her body and the poplar slips: he holds the “hope of deciphering the script” (16) of the slips, and tells himself that “until the marks on this girl’s body are deciphered and understood I cannot let go of her” (33).

10

Peter Brooks, Body Work: Objects of Desire in Modern Narrative (Cambridge

M A : Harvard U P , 1993): 5. 11

Brooks, Body Work, 9. David Michael Levin, “Introduction” to Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision, ed. Levin (Berkeley: U of California P , 1993): 2. 13 Brooks, Body Work, 12. 12

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A parallel is established between the magistrate’s examination of the barbarian girl’s body with its “marks” and his examination of the granary: I kneel down to examine the floor. It is clean, it is swept daily, it is like the floor of any room. Above the fireplace on the wall and ceiling there is soot. There is also a mark the size of my hand where soot has been rubbed into the wall. Otherwise the walls are blank. What signs can I be looking for? (38)

As he thoroughly inspects the room, looking for possible clues, and interrogates the guards who were on duty at the time, the magistrate behaves like a detective. Brooks identifies a literary tradition “driven by the anxiety and fascination of the hidden, masked, unidentified individual,” and argues that the invention of the detective story in the nineteenth century testifies to the concern to detect, track down, and identify those occult bodies that have purposely sought to avoid social scrutiny.

Thus, in the fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, Gaston Leroux, and Arthur Conan Doyle, Brooks argues, the focus is on “the professional decipherer of the hidden identity.”14 If we perceive the magistrate’s activity in Brooks’s terms, and relate it to Coetzee’s argument in “Into the Dark Chamber,” we begin to suspect his intentions and his actions as ethically dubious. According to Coetzee, the state envelops the torture chamber in ‘mystery’, and it is this mystery that the magistrate wants to decipher. For Coetzee, “there is something tawdry” about making the “vile mysteries” of the state “the occasion of fantasy,”15 and this is precisely what happens to the magistrate. He is fascinated by the ‘vile mysteries’ of the torture chamber and this is what leads him to the body of the barbarian girl. Brooks points out that the fascinated attention to the body as object of desire, “the very gaze of literary representation, tends to become arrested and transfixed by articles of clothing, accessories, bodily details, almost in the manner of the fetishist.”16 The magistrate’s attention is drawn to the tortured parts of the barbarian girl: namely, her feet and her eyes, and remains fascinated by the marks and effects that torture has left on them. He orders her to show him what they have done to her feet, which are “swaddled, shapeless” (29); “I can see that the left is turned further inward than the right, that when 14

Brooks, Body Work, 26. Coetzee, “Into the Dark Chamber,” 364. 16 Brooks, Body Work, 19. 15

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she stands she must stand on the outer edges of her feet. Her ankles are large, puffy, shapeless, the skin scarred purple” (31, my emphasis). As he is massaging her temples and forehead, he notices “in the corner of one eye a greyish puckering as though a caterpillar lay there” (33): between thumb and forefinger I part her eyelids. The caterpillar comes to an end, decapitated, at the pink inner rim of the eyelid. There is no other mark. The eye is whole. (33)

Jolly points to “the spectator’s tendency to repeat violations that stem from his or her response to the scene of violation,”17 and the magistrate’s obsessive and constant manipulation of the barbarian girl’s body can be seen as a repetition of the torture that she has suffered in the granary. The magistrate traces the caterpillar with his fingernail and asks her about it: “‘That is where they touched me,’ she says, and pushed my hand away” (33). Once again, we have to read against the magistrate’s words: she probably pushes his hand away because he is touching her just as her torturers did. In The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry explains that “torture consists of a primary physical act, the infliction of pain, and a primary verbal act, the interrogation,”18 and just as the magistrate uncannily resembles the girl’s torturers in a physical sense, he redoubles their verbal actions as he constantly questions her, trying to unveil the ‘mystery’ of the dark chamber: “Did they do it to you?” (31); “What did they do?” (31); “What did they do to you? […] Why don’t you want to tell me?” (34); “Tell me […] don’t make a mystery of it, pain is only pain” (34, my emphasis); “Come, tell me why you are here” (43); “What do you feel towards the men who did this?” (44). As he wonders what he has to do to ‘move’ her – “What do I have to do to move you? […] Does no one move you?” – the answer comes “in the image of a face masked by two black glassy insect eyes from which there comes no reciprocal gaze but only my doubled image cast back at me” (47). The magistrate has finally had a vision of himself as the double of Colonel Joll: both are interrogators, trying to make the barbarian girl confess. Both of them are looking for confession, as described by Foucault: “a ritual that unfolds within a power relationship,” and in which they are “the authority who requires the confession, prescribes

17

Jolly, Colonization, Violence and Narration in White South African Writing, xi. Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (New York: Oxford U P , 1985): 28. 18

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and appreciates it.”19 The “agency of domination” resides in them: both the magistrate and Joll play the role of “the one who listens and says nothing […] the one who questions and is not supposed to know.”20 What happens between the magistrate and the barbarian girl in his apartment, then, somehow redoubles what had happened between Colonel Joll and her in the granary. And in this sense, it is crucial that we are never given this first scene, we never get to know the actual details of the torture of the barbarian girl. In relation to the issue of the representation of torture, Coetzee observes that “for the writer the deeper problem is not to allow himself to be impaled on the dilemma proposed by the state, namely, either to ignore its obscenities or else to produce representations of them.”21 By focusing, in Waiting for the Barbarians, on some scenes of intimacy that repeat a scene of torture that is never represented, Coetzee neither ignores the atrocities of torture nor falls into the trap of replicating its obscenities in the act of representation. In this novel, the act of torture remains enveloped in its mystery. Just as the magistrate approaches the marks on the poplar slips and the marks on the walls of the torture chamber as signs of a hidden explanatory source, he regards the marks of torture on the girl’s body as signs that may lead him to the deciphering of the mystery of the torture chamber, a deciphering that never actually takes place. The magistrate suspects himself in these terms: It has not escaped me that in bed in the dark the marks her torturers have left upon her, the twisted feet, the half-blind eyes, are easily forgotten. Is it then the case that it is the whole woman I want, that my pleasure in her is spoiled until these marks on her are erased and she is restored to herself; or is it the case (I am not stupid, let me say these things) that it is the marks on her which drew me to her but which, to my disappointment, I find, do not go deep enough? Too much or too little: is it she I want or the traces of a history her body bears? (70)22

19

Foucault, The Will to Knowledge, 61. The Will to Knowledge, 62. 21 Coetzee, “Into the Dark Chamber,” 364. 22 Alphonso Lingis has discussed the body of ‘the savage’ as a site of inscription, as opposed to the civilized blank body. Although Lingis’s ideological position is characterized by a eurocentrism that Coetzee does not share, his vision of the body “as a surface for inscription of […] marks, marks painful and pleasurable” (Lingis, Excesses: Eros and Culture [Albany: State U of New York P , 1983]: 24) is close to the barbarian girl’s marked body in Coetzee’s novel. 20

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Here, the magistrate entertains doubts regarding what has led him to approach the barbarian girl, just as the reader hesitates when trying to pass judgment on the magistrate’s actions or to define his development throughout the novel. On the one hand, there can be no doubt that the magistrate deplores the actions against the barbarians that Empire is undertaking, and that his act of washing the barbarian girl’s feet – a clear evocation of Jesus’s washing of his disciples’ feet – may be taken as some form of atonement or expiation. On the other hand, as the magistrate himself suspects in this passage, it may be the very ‘marks’ on her body, “the traces of a history,” that have drawn him to her: the magistrate manipulates her tortured body in order to find meaning in it, just as Colonel Joll has abused the barbarian girl’s body in order to extract truth from it. If, throughout Coetzee’s oeuvre, there is strong criticism of the violation implied in the act of trying to extract the veiled, inner secret of the other, Colonel Joll is probably the character who most embodies the violent nature of this search: “First I get lies, you see – this is what happens – first lies, then pressure, then more lies, then more pressure, then the truth. That is how you get the truth” (5). For Colonel Joll, the body is a barrier that must be crossed and penetrated in order to get the truth lying behind it. The magistrate is driven by a similar conception of truth as depth when he laments that the marks on the girl’s body “do not go deep enough.”

The resistance of ‘the secret body of the other’ When he first takes the barbarian girl into his apartment and is prowling around her, the magistrate makes the following reflection: “The distance between myself and her torturers, I realize, is negligible; I shudder” (29, my emphasis). And when he is trying to convince himself that “there is nothing to link [him] with torturers,” he tells himself: “I must assert my distance from Colonel Joll!” (48, my emphasis). That, in both cases, the magistrate employs the word ‘distance’ is symptomatic, because torture has much to do with distance, physical, emotional, and psychological. Torture, in fact, may be defined as a violation of the distance between two people, entailing an invasion of privacy. By presenting the apartment of the magistrate – the place of sexual encounter – as an uncanny double of the torture chamber, Coetzee draws a parallel between the intimacy involved in the sexual act and the intimacy involved in the act of torture: both entail the invasion of the body, hence of the privacy of the other. In his essay “Breyten Breytenbach and the Censor,” Coetzee analyzes the moment at which Breytenbach, in his poem “Letter from

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Foreign Parts to Butcher,” points to the fact that the same hands that have been involved in the torturing of prisoners – namely, those of Prime Minister Balthazar John Vorster – will be touching his wife’s “secret parts.” Breytenbach, then, wants to expose to the “public gaze” not just the forbidden secrets of the torture chamber but also the mysteries of the Vorsters’ marriage-bed. “The excess of the poem” – concludes Coetzee – “is an excess of intimacy.”23 The implication of Coetzee’s analysis is that this excess of intimacy is present in the torture chamber, too. Similarly, in Gordimer’s The Lying Days, we find the following reflection by Helen: When the Nationalists introduced the ban on mixed marriages and also made it punishable for white and black men and women to cohabit, there was something shameful in the manner in which the police hunted up prosecutions, shining torches in upon the little room where an old colored woman lay asleep with the old white man with whom she had lived quietly for years; prying and spying upon what had always been the right of the poorest man to sleep in peace with his woman.24

Although torture is not at stake here, the underlying idea is the same: the shameful invasion of privacy that those in power allow themselves as they ‘pry’ and ‘spy.’ And it is also interesting to note that Gordimer, like Coetzee, presents this invasion of privacy as light shed on darkness. Brooks argues that “the rise of the novel is closely tied to the rise of the idea of privacy,”25 and that “privacy and its invasion are very much thematized in Richardson’s novels: Pamela and Clarissa dramatize the attempts to violate their heroines’ privacy, and the heroines’ acts of resistance to that violation.”26 I have pointed to the fascination that the characters of Lovelace and Clarissa seem to exert over Coetzee’s imagination, and to Coetzee’s description of Lovelace, in Doubling the Point, as “the man who believes that truth lies inside the subject’s body and that with his rapier-phallus he can search it out there.” For Coetzee, Lovelace is like “the magistrate or the interviewer” who, in the conversational transaction, wields “the rapier of surprise” as “a weapon” (66). 23

J.M. Coetzee, “Breyten Breytenbach and the Censor,” in De-Scribing Empire: Post-Colonialism and Textuality, ed. Chris Tiffin & Alan Lawson (London: Routledge, 1994): 89. 24 Gordimer, The Lying Days, 261. 25 Brooks, Body Work, 28. 26 Body Work, 30.

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Coetzee’s comparison of Lovelace with a magistrate strikes me as extremely revealing. A magistrate has authority to administer and enforce the law, so that he will have to conduct examinations of persons charged with crimes, make inquiries, and carry out investigations. The magistrate in Waiting for the Barbarians describes the “guardians of the State” as “specialists in the obscurer motions of sedition, devotees of truth, doctors of interrogation” (9), and he says about Joll that “in his quest for the truth he is tireless” (23). But, as we have seen, these terms could be equally applied to himself. It is possible to see the magistrate as a Lovelace figure, and to approach Waiting for the Barbarians as a rewriting of Clarissa: in both novels, the violation of privacy is a central concern, and the two of them thematize male attempts at invasion and female attempts at resistance. What we find in both Clarissa and the barbarian girl – employing Coetzee’s own words – is “the closed female body”27 that resists all interpretation and “the Western will to know.”28 In the passage quoted above, the magistrate admits that perhaps what he laments is that the marks on the girl’s body “do not go deep enough.” As he washes and massages the girl’s body, he is driven by a fervent desire for depth, in which depth signifies comprehension, meaning, and the possibility of penetration. However, he never reaches depth, and it is this that is the fundamental difference between Coetzee’s and Richardson’s heroines. In Pamela and Clarissa, the heroines’ acts of resistance to the violation of privacy “are themselves violations of privacy, in that they entail the written revelation of their most inward matters.”29 Brooks points out that, through their private correspondence, Clarissa and Pamela lay bare their souls, so that the exchange of letters that makes up the novel constitutes in fact a violation of intimacy. The barbarian girl, by contrast, remains, like the poplar slips, undeciphered, never providing access to her inner life. From the first moment in which she enters the magistrate’s apartment, he perceives her as enclosed within herself: “Her lips are clenched shut, her ears too no doubt, she wants nothing of old men and their bleating consciences” (29). She does not answer his questions about what happened in the torture chamber: “She is unsettled by talk like this, by the demand I seem to be making on her to respond” (43); “‘You want to talk all the time,’ she complains” (43). But the magistrate does not desist: “She does not answer my words, but I plunge on, embracing her tightly, 27

Coetzee, “Samuel Richardson, Clarissa,” 38. “Samuel Richardson, Clarissa,” 39. 29 Brooks, Body Work, 30–31. 28

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speaking thick and muffled into her ear: ‘Come, tell me why you are here’” (43). It is in moments such as this one – in which the girl lies naked, and the desire the magistrate feels “for her, usually so obscure, flickers into a shape [he] can recognize,” and his “hand stirs, strokes her, fits itself to the contour of her breast” (43) – that the obscene nature of the magistrate’s behaviour becomes most obvious, and that he most resembles Lovelace, the man who describes his mode of approach to Clarissa as an act of penetration: Here have I been at work, dig, dig, dig, like a cunning miner, at one time, and spreading my snares like an artful fowler, at another, and exulting in my contrivances to get this inimitable creature absolutely into my power.30

As Castillo says about the barbarian girl, “her presence will not reduce itself to language, to a story.”31 The barbarian girl’s presence is fundamentally bodily. The magistrate, who has always enjoyed a rather promiscuous life, finds himself confronted with an “alien body” (45) he cannot take possession of. When he lies beside the barbarian girl, his “erotic impulse […] withers” (35), so that he begins to take refuge regularly in the body of the girl at the inn, with whom he is able to carry out and enjoy the sexual act. In his excellent article on the question of the body in Waiting for the Barbarians, Brian May argues that the fact that the magistrate has always thought of this girl “as a bird” (49), that he loses himself “in her soft bird-like flurries” (45) and in “all the fluttering and shivering” (50), suggests “departure from heavy clay into ecstatic flight.” The body of the prostitute suggests “bodily transcendence” and “disembodiment,” whereas the body of the barbarian girl “suggests the opposite: gross embodiment, a fall into the disgustingly material and temporal.” 32 May’s point is that, in Waiting for the Barbarians, there is a critique of the long Western tradition of transcendent vision, a tradition that often deals with the body masterfully – either as an obstacle that hinders vision or as a means to transfiguration.33 Thus, according to May, the magis-

30

Samuel Richardson, Clarissa: Or, the History of a Young Lady (1747–48; New York: Henry Holt, 1874): 128. 31 Debra A. Castillo, “The Composition of the Self in Coetzee’s Waiting of the Barbarians,” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 27.2 (Winter 1986): 85. 32 Brian May, “J.M. Coetzee and the Question of the Body,” Modern Fiction Studies 47.2 (Summer 2001): 406. 33 May, “J.M. Coetzee and the Question of the Body,” 404.

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trate’s physical rituals of washing and sexual caressing the barbarian girl’s body betray, “paradoxically, an impulse towards bodily and worldly transcendence, and one rooted in askesis.”34 The magistrate tries to master the body intellectually, to make it signify, to move beyond it, but “there is no peeling away the body to reveal a radiant essence or an informing idea.” The futility of askesis and “the ineluctability of the body” are underlined in this novel.35 Coetzee, May argues, critiques the modernist tradition in which readers are invited to penetrate the depth of the body, a depth containing a truth expressed partly or imperfectly by the surface, presenting instead an unreadable body that the magistrate perceives as “insistent blankness.”36 The magistrate fails “to understand the body – to make it stand for something other and simpler than itself.” In Waiting for the Barbarians, “in addition to being there, always, the body is just there; it is not doing, or meaning, or expressing anything, except, perhaps, its own unwillingness to express.”37 May’s analysis, however, leaves out several important matters. He does not mention that one fundamental fact determining the different ways in which the magistrate experiences his sexual relation with the barbarian girl and the bird-woman must be the fact that, whereas the former is precisely that, a barbarian, the girl at the inn belongs to Empire. Nor does he relate the question of the body to the question of torture, whereas I believe that these issues are inextricably interconnected in this novel. It is not possible to talk about the distinctive features of the body of the barbarian girl without pointing to the central aspect of hers being a marked and tortured body. In fact, as we have seen, it is probably the marks of torture that draw the magistrate to the body of the girl. I wholly agree with May that, in this novel, an understanding of the body according to a surface–depth dialectic related to askesis and the Western tradition of transcendent vision is rejected in favour of a conception of the body as surface, but what May fails to say is why this second view is preferred to the first one. According to my reading of Dusklands, In the Heart of the Country, and now of Waiting for the Barbarians, Coetzee’s critique of the prevalence of a surface–depth dialectic in our acts of interpretation has many more implications than those pointed out by May. What we find in this novel is a complex interrelatedness between the desire for knowledge, posses34

May, “J.M. Coetzee and the Question of the Body,” 406. “J.M. Coetzee and the Question of the Body,” 407. 36 “J.M. Coetzee and the Question of the Body,” 409. 37 “J.M. Coetzee and the Question of the Body,” 410. 35

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sion, and vision. The barbarian girl’s body, an enigmatic locus that cannot be interpreted or penetrated according to a surface–depth dichotomy, will force the magistrate to rethink the validity of his hermeneutic aspirations and enterprises, and will make him wonder whether the same motivation may lie behind the practice of torture, and his sexual desires and attempts at possessing the female body: I prowl around her, touching her face, caressing her body, without entering her or finding the urge to do so. I have just come from the bed of a woman for whom, in the year I have known her, I have not for a moment had to interrogate my desire: to desire her has meant to enfold her and enter her, to pierce her surface and stir the quiet of her interior into an ecstatic storm; then to retreat, to subside, to wait for desire to reconstitute itself. But with this woman it is as if there is no interior, only a surface across which I hunt back and forth seeking entry. Is this how her torturers felt hunting their secret, whatever they thought it was? For the first time I feel a dry pity for them: how natural a mistake to believe that you can burn or tear or hack your way into the secret body of the other! (46)

This passage is fundamental not only for our understanding of this novel, but also for the identification of certain central concerns, together with their rhetorical configurations, that run throughout Coetzee’s early narratives. As in Dusklands and In the Heart of the Country, the critique of penetration that we find here functions not only on an epistemological or hermeneutic level, but also on a physical and sexual one. “I have not entered her” (36), the magistrate asserts. His frustration originates in his inability to penetrate the barbarian girl’s body because it has “no interior,” it is “only a surface”: touching her is “like caressing an urn or a ball, something which is all surface” (52). Again, the similarities between Waiting for the Barbarians and Clarissa become very obvious. If, as one critic suggested with regard to Richardson’s novel, “everything in the novel [...] reminds us that we never reach the final depth. An irreducible residue of privacy always remains,”38 the same words could be applied to Coetzee’s work. Thus, the barbarian girl’s body is an “obstinate, phlegmatic” one, “closed, ponderous” (45); an “obdurate form” (50). It is a “blank body […] without aperture, without entry” (45). And one cannot ‘enfold’, ‘enter’, ‘pierce’ a body that is “diffuse, gaseous, centreless” 38

Patricia Meyer Spacks, Privacy: Concealing the Eighteenth-Century Self (Chicago:

U of Chicago P , 2003): 17.

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(36). Whereas he feels absolute certainty and self-assurance in his relation with the other woman, the magistrate knows what to do with the barbarian girl “no more than one cloud in the sky knows what to do with another” (36). The barbarian girl’s body has obliged him, for the first time, to ‘interrogate’ his desire. It is at moments such as this one that we perceive a striking similarity between Coetzee’s and Levinas’s ideas about the relation between the I and the other. In his sexual relationships, characterized by a desire to enfold and comprehend, the magistrate embodies the “self-sufficiency of the same, its identification in ipseity, its egoism,”39 that Levinas deplores; his is “a way of approaching the known being such that its alterity with regard to the knowing being vanishes.”40 As the barbarian girl’s body forces him to begin to interrogate his desire, he takes the first step in the direction of Levinasian ethics, in which the face of the other summons me and demands my responsibility. Whereas we can say, following Levinas, that the magistrate has until now belonged fully to the ontological tradition that tries to subsume and incorporate alterity into the realm of the Same and the One, in the body of the barbarian girl – a body “beyond comprehension” (45) – he faces the ineradicable alterity of the other. In the passage quoted above, it begins to dawn on the magistrate that the body of the other always remains secret; that both he and torturers have been hunting for a secret behind or inside the body, whereas it is the body in itself that constitutes an impenetrable and superficial secret; it is a superficiality that “cannot be gone behind.”41 Hence the impossibility of ‘burning’ or ‘tearing’ or ‘hacking’ your way ‘into the secret body of the other’. Narrative desire, Brooks maintains, is “oriented toward knowledge and possession of the body,” so that “narrative seeks to make such a body semiotic, to mark or imprint it as a linguistic and narrative sign.”42 In Waiting for the Barbarians, a parallelism is established between the marks that torturers make on the body of the barbarian girl and the magistrate’s desire to possess and leave his mark on women’s bodies. Just as, in his past relations with women, he wanted to “enter and claim possession of these beautiful creatures” (49), he wonders “whether, when I lay head to foot with her, fondling and 39

Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 44. Totality and Infinity, 42. 41 Miller, Topographies, 309. 42 Brooks, Body Work, 8 (my emphasis). 40

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kissing those broken ankles, I was not in my heart of hearts regretting that I could not engrave myself on her as deeply” (148, my emphasis). And though he tells himself that men of his age “leave no mark of our own on the girls who pass through our hands […] our loving leaves no mark” (147, my emphasis), he now regrets that the barbarian girl’s body “is marked for life as the property of a stranger” (148, my emphasis). According to Brooks, the bodily marker is in some manner a ‘character,’ a hieroglyph, a sign that can eventually, at the right moment of the narrative, be read. Signing the body indicates its recovery for the realm of the semiotic.43

However, the magistrate never manages to read the marks on the barbarian girl’s body, just as he does not manage to decipher the marks on the poplar slips. In this way, the subjectivity of the barbarian girl and the historical narration of the barbarians, signalled by the poplar slips, are never fully incorporated into the narrative of the magistrate, which is unavoidably situated within the epistemological and discursive framework of Empire.

The ethics of blindness I have suggested that in the first part of the novel the magistrate assumes the role of detective and interrogator, replicating, at least partly, the pursuit of the torturer. But as soon as the barbarian girl’s body obliges him to begin to interrogate the legitimacy of his desire, their roles are somehow reversed: now, the barbarian girl is in the position of the interrogator, and he is the one obliged to respond. I have shown that, in relation to the barbarian girl, the rest of the barbarians, and the torture chamber, he occupies the position of observer, voyeur, or spectator. But simultaneously, from the very moment in which he takes the barbarian girl into his apartment, he starts to perceive himself as he is perceived by the barbarian girl: When she does not look at me I am a grey form moving about unpredictably on the periphery of her vision. When she looks at me I am a blur, a voice, a smell, a centre of energy. (31)

He would like to know if she sees him as “a blur, a blank” (33). And after he has left her with her people in the barbarian lands, he keeps trying to evoke her image, wondering: “What does she see? The protecting wings of a guar-

43

Brooks, Body Work, 22.

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dian albatross or the black shape of a coward crow afraid to strike while its prey yet breathes?” (89). The definitive reversal of the magistrate’s position – from being observer to being observed, hence, from power to powerlessness – takes place when he returns from the barbarian lands and is imprisoned: “There are always faces pressed against the bars of the gate gaping at the spectacle of the fall of the once mighty” (87). He now becomes part of those “spectacles of abasement and suffering and death” (131) that Empire is fond of. This dramatic fall from an active position of power into a passive position of subservience recalls the one Jacobus Coetzee experiences in Dusklands, when he falls ill and must be taken care of by the Nama, a moment of humiliation that means a temporary departure from the colonial narrative of authority and mastership in which Jacobus had regarded himself as playing a central role. The expedition he undertakes at the end, in which he exterminates the Nama village, is an attempt to restore that narrative, and it is interesting to note that in his narration of this last episode, Jacobus presents the events narrated as a pictorial spectacle: “Fill in the morning smoke rising straight in the air, the first flies making for the corpse, and you have the tableau” (107). He emphasizes his and the other explorers’ powerful position as spectators, as they contemplate the destruction of the village: “We reached the crest of a slight eminence and stopped to look back and smoke a pipe” (109). The magistrate’s personal development is different. Certainly, his prejudices against those who are other to Empire are not automatically and simply erased once he undergoes imprisonment and torture. Thus, in his perception of the fisherfolk, “I see only ignorance, cunning, slovenliness” (my emphasis). However, he immediately afterwards adds: “Yet what do they see in me, if they ever see me? A beast that stares out from behind a gate” (137, my emphases). The magistrate has begun to take into consideration the existence of other subject-positions, and to see himself through the eyes of the other, whereas Jacobus is absolutely blinded by his colonialist standpoint, just as Mandel and Joll represent the most rigid and intolerant imperialist stance. It is indeed possible to draw a line that runs from Jacobus Coetzee to Mandel and Joll. Just as Jacobus exerts power through his penetrating blue eyes – “for penetration you need blue eyes” (97) – Mandel’s eyes are also blue: “I am looking into the blue eyes of Mandel” (132); “a foot prods me, and I look up into Mandel’s blue eyes” (137).44 44

In Alex La Guma’s In the Fog of the Seasons’ End, a novel dealing with torture,

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Vision is fundamental in one of the central scenes of Waiting for the Barbarians, a scene that constitutes a clear rewriting of Franz Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony.” In this short story, an explorer arrives at an unnamed penal colony, and witnesses how an apparatus inscribes with needles, on a prisoner’s body, the sentence passed on him. After the explorer lets the officer know his disapproval of this procedure, the officer frees the condemned man, putting himself under the Harrow and programming into the Designer the sentence “Be just!” But as the machine starts to write, it begins to self-destruct. In Coetzee’s version, Colonel Joll rubs dust into the naked backs of the prisoners and writes with charcoal the word ‘E N E M Y .’ According to Michael Valdez Moses, Coetzee’s scene rewrites Kafka’s short story in the wake of Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, and is “a culminating instance of this disturbing congruence of writing, torture, and the execution of the law.” This scene shows how “the Empire produces its own conventional truth through its power to inscribe.”45 In my comparison of Kafka’s, Coetzee’s, and Foucault’s approach to torture, I would like to focus on the issue of spectatorship, since, in both Coetzee and Kafka, we find the kind of spectacular punishment Foucault describes in Discipline and Punish: Public torture and execution must be spectacular, it must be seen by all almost as its triumph. The very excess of the violence employed is one of the elements of its glory: the fact that the guilty man should moan and cry out under the blows is not a shameful side-effect, it is the very ceremonial of justice being expressed in all its force.46

The position that the magistrate occupies as observer or spectator of the act of torture is overtly emphasized, as the soldiers begin to beat the prisoners: “The black charcoal and ochre dust begin to run with sweat and blood. The game, I see, is to beat them till their backs are washed clean” (115, my emphasis). The magistrate describes the scene as an “exemplary spectacle” (114), paying detailed attention to the faces of the people watching it: imprisonment, and political struggle in apartheid South Africa, and in which there is also pervasive imagery of darkness and light, the torturer’s eyes are also blue: “The small blue eyes scanned the prisoner like the points of surgical flashlights, bright and without expression” (Alex La Guma, In the Fog of the Seasons’ End [1972; Johannesburg: Heinemann, 1992]: 5). 45 Moses, “The Mark of Empire,” 121. 46 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, tr. Alan Sheridan (Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison, 1975; New York: Pantheon, 1977): 34.

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I watch the face of a little girl who stands in the front rank of the crowd gripping her mother’s clothes. Her eyes are round, her thumb is in her mouth: silent, terrified, curious, she drinks in the sight of these naked men being beaten. On every face around me, even those that are smiling, I see the same expression: not hatred, not bloodlust, but a curiosity so intense that their bodies are drained by it and only their eyes live, organs of a new and ravening appetite. (115)

As they watch the prisoners being tortured, people are enraptured, filled with the morbid fascination that Coetzee identifies in “Into the Dark Chamber.” Similarly, the officer of “In the Penal Colony” expresses his nostalgia for “the old days,” when “the valley was packed with people; they all came only to look on;” when there were “hundreds of spectators.”47 When the sixth hour came, “it was impossible to grant all the requests to be allowed to watch it from nearby” and they “all absorbed the look of transfiguration on the face of the sufferer.” As in Waiting for the Barbarians, children are presented as entranced observers of the spectacle – “the Commandant in his wisdom ordained that the children should have the preference” of watching the torture from nearby48 – which underlies the ‘exemplary’ quality that both regimes ascribe to the event. It is highly revealing that the Harrow of the punitive apparatus of “In the Penal Colony” is made of glass, so that “the actual progress of the sentence can be watched. […] anyone can look through the glass and watch the inscription taking form on the body.”49 But what both texts particularly emphasize is the role that the magistrate and the explorer occupy as observers of a spectacle of degradation, and their response when faced with the ethical dilemma of whether to intervene or not. The explorer thinks to himself: It’s always a ticklish matter to intervene decisively in other people’s affairs. […] he traveled only as an observer, with no intention at all of altering other people’s methods of administering justice. Yet here he found himself strongly tempted. The injustice of the procedure and the inhumanity of the execution were undeniable.50 47

Franz Kafka, “In the Penal Colony” (“In der Strafkolonie,” 1914; tr. 1948), in Kafka, The Complete Stories (1883–1924), ed. Nahum N. Glatzer (New York: Schocken, 1983): 153. 48 Kafka, “In the Penal Colony,” 154. 49 “In the Penal Colony,” 147. 50 Kafka, “In the Penal Colony,” 151.

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The explorer states here the dilemma of the magistrate at the beginning of the novel and, in fact, the dilemma of every witness to an act of injustice: whether to remain a detached observer or to intervene. He finally decides to convey his disapproval to the officer, and as the machine breaks down, and the latter experiences not the “exquisite torture” he had desired, but “plain murder,”51 he tries to make it stop. However, when, at the end of the story, he jumps into a boat and prevents the soldier and the condemned man from fleeing with him, we wonder to what extent he has actually cared about the acts of injustice being practised in the colony. The magistrate decides to intervene when he sees Colonel Joll holding a hammer. “Look!,” he shouts twice. “Look at these men!” (117), he exhorts. The implication of his words is that, though they are all watching the prisoners, they are actually blind, like Colonel Joll, whose “eyes are shaded as ever” (115). They are blinded by the lies of Empire, so that they can see the prisoners only as barbarians, and not as men. The magistrate exhorts people to look at the barbarian prisoners, but paradoxically he has been vainly struggling throughout the novel, particularly in his dreams, to see the barbarian girl. In his dreams, the perception that the magistrate has of the girl is always opaque, inadequate, defective. In the first dream, there are children building a snowcastle and the girl is sitting in the snow: “I stand behind her and watch. She does not turn. I try to imagine her face between the petals of her peaked hook but cannot” (10). In the second, he perceives her body as “a wealth of pubic hair” that turns into bees when he attempts to brush it (14). There are again children in the snow, in the next dream, in which he perceives the barbarian girl as “a hooded child sitting with its back to me.” The face he sees is “blank, featureless […] it is white; it is the snow itself” (40). “The children are playing in the snow again” (56) in the fourth dream. Although, at first, the “hooded figure” is with her back to him and “she is obliterated from sight behind the curtain of falling snow,” she turns her hooded face toward the magistrate: “she is herself, herself as I have never seen her, a smiling child, the light sparkling on her teeth and glancing from her jet-black eyes. ‘So this is what it is to see!’ I say to myself” (57). We could believe at this point that he has finally reached his longed-for vision of the girl. However, in the dream that follows, it is her feet that he sees, “disembodied, monstrous, two stranded fish, two huge potatoes” (95). And in the next dream, she becomes a mere figure, a mere shape: “There are other dreams in which the figure I call the 51

Kafka, “In the Penal Colony,” 165.

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girl changes shape, sex, size. In one dream there are two shapes that arouse horror in me: massive and blank” (95). The magistrate does not only experience his inability to see the barbarian girl in his dreams. He tries “to recover an image of her as she was before” being tortured, as he knows that his “gaze must have passed over her” when she was brought in with the other prisoners. He realizes that he probably did not pay attention to her because “on that day she was still unmarked” (36, my emphasis), which reinforces the idea that “the magistrate’s fascination for the ‘barbarian girl’ stems from her body as the site of torture, rather than any desire for the ‘girl’ herself.”52As he tries to summon the image of the girl and her father – “two hazy forms” – he manages to half-remember, half-imagine her father, but the space next to the man remains “black” and “empty” (52). When he leaves her with her people, he looks at her face for the last time, trying “to understand what she really is,” but as he touches her cheek and takes her hand, he feels “only a blankness, and desolation that there has to be such blankness,” and can see her only as “a stranger” (79). Furthermore, as soon as he begins his way back home, back to the Empire, he finds “her face hardening over in my memory, becoming opaque, impermeable, as though secreting a shell over itself” (82). As time goes by, “I cannot remember what she looks like. From her empty eyes there always seemed to be a haze spreading, a blankness that overtook all of her. I stare into the darkness waiting for an image to form” (94). Thus, going back to the Kafkaesque scene of torture and to the magistrate’s intervention, it seems paradoxical that a man with such blurred and defective vision should urge people of Empire to see. Immediately after exhorting them to ‘look’, the magistrate receives a blow: “‘I am blind!’ I think, staggering back into the blackness that instantly falls” (117). When he takes his fingers from his eyes, “a grey world re-emerges swimming in tears” (118). He has definitely fallen from a state of light into one of darkness, from vision to blindness. It is, however, very significant that it is after this episode, after this definite fall into blindness, that the magistrate has the dream in which he seems to come closest to the barbarian girl. In the dream, the girl has built a clay oven, and she offers him “something, a shapeless lump which I peer at unwillingly through a mist. Though I shake my head my vision will not clear.” She is dressed in her best, she smiles at him, he has never seen her “looking so lovely.” And now he “can see that what she is holding out to me is a loaf of 52

Jolly, Colonization, Violence and Narration in White South African Writing, 127.

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bread.” “A surge of gratitude sweeps through” him and he opens his arms to embrace her (120). We could, then, argue that it is precisely blindness that allows the magistrate to get closer to the barbarian girl. Levinas contends that to see the other means precisely to thematize and to capture her; hence, to assimilate its alterity into sameness: The face is present in its refusal to be contained. In this sense it cannot be comprehended, that is, encompassed. It is neither seen nor touched – for in visual or tactile sensation the identity of the I envelops the alterity of the object, which becomes precisely a content.53

The magistrate does not manage to get close to the barbarian girl; she remains a ‘stranger’ for him. However, seeing her would mean thematizing and thus betraying her alterity. This paradox is the paradox Maurice Blanchot posits in his essay “Orpheus’s Gaze.” Orpheus descends into the realm of the dead to search for Eurydice, who is “veiled from sight,” as “she is the point at which the heart of darkness is perceived as the other dark.”54 On the one hand, Orpheus can only see Eurydice by bringing that point of darkness to the light, and giving it form and reality. On the other, this point of darkness can only be faced with an averted gaze; true perception of this point can only occur at the heart of darkness, which turns it into no perception at all. By turning to look back at Eurydice, he betrays her and the dark, but not to look back would have been no less a betrayal, since it would have implied that Orpheus lacked faith in the “power of his purpose, which is not to find Eurydice’s daylight reality and superficial charm, but her nightmare darkness and elusiveness, her secret body and her inscrutable face.”55 The magistrate’s expedition into the land of the barbarians, in which he crosses “the limits of the Empire” (77), somehow mirrors Orpheus’s descent into the unknown and dark realm of the dead. And as in his dreams – where “the source of light is diffuse,” “the sun has dissolved into mist,” and objects have “lost their solidity” (10) – the emphasis is on the magistrate’s feeling of disorientation, and on the lack of vision and clarity: the wind blows “from nowhere to nowhere, veiling the sky in a cloud of red dust” (65); “standing on a dune-top, shielding my eyes,

53

Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 194. Maurice Blanchot, “Orpheus’s Gaze” (1955), in The Siren’s Song: Selected Essays by Maurice Blanchot, ed. & intro. Gabriel Josipovici, tr. Sacha Rabinovitch (Brighton: Harvester, 1982): 177. 55 Blanchot, “Orpheus’s Gaze,” 178. 54

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staring ahead, I can see nothing but swirling sand” (67). Probably it is due to the fact that the magistrate finds himself in a territory where he cannot see, on foreign terrain, outside “the limits of the Empire,” that the fulfilment of sexual interaction between him and the barbarian girl finally takes place. Chloé Taylor identifies in both Levinas and Derrida “an ethics of blindness” according to which vision is a violent imposition of sameness on the other.56 In Dusklands and In the Heart of the Country, there is a critique of the Romantic aesthetic of vision and depth, as intimately connected with the colonialist act of appropriating the land. Similarly, in Waiting for the Barbarians, the search for truth as hidden behind the body and the practice of torture are depicted as very much interrelated. Thus, if the magistrate does not achieve hermeneutic illumination or a final insight, the novel seems to suggest that this position of blindness constitutes the right ethical stance. In the last scene of the novel, the magistrate watches some children building a snowman: “This is not the scene I dreamed of. Like much else nowadays I leave it feeling stupid” (169). Snow is omnipresent in the novel. In his final dream of the barbarian girl, he has “for an instant […] a vision of her face,” but when he tries to “look back,” “all is lost from sight in the whiteness of the snow” (149). Snow obliterates vision, and its blankness corresponds to the blankness of the body of the barbarian girl. In Waiting for the Barbarians, in contrast to the self-confident vision of the perverse agents of Empire, who, as they probe for truth, are ready to exert unlimited pressure to find it, Coetzee points to an alternative and ethical ‘vision’ that is an admission of defeat, blindness, and 56

See Chloé Taylor, “Hard, Dry Eyes and Eyes That Weep: Vision and Ethics in Levinas and Derrida,” Postmodern Culture 16.2 (January 2006), http://pmc.iath .virginia.edu/text-only/issue.106/16.2taylor.text (accessed 20 June 2010). In spite of their similar positions, Derrida, in “Violence and Metaphysics,” precisely questions Levinas’s alleged departure from the ocularcentric tradition and the violence of the light. Since Levinas’s metaphysics of the face is an “epiphany of the other” (Writing and Difference, tr. Alan Bass [L’écriture et la différence, 1967; London: Routledge, 1978]: 92), Derrida argues, how will it free itself of light, of that very light that, since Plato, has turned the relationship to the other into a modification of the Eleatic notion of Being? For further examination of Levinas’s and Derrida’s critique of ocularcentrism in the Western metaphysical tradition, see John McCumber, “Derrida and the Closure of Vision,” in Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision, ed. David Michael Levin (Berkeley: U of California P , 1993): 234–51, and Paul Davies, “The Face and the Caress: Levinas’s Ethical Alterations of Sensibility,” in Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision, ed. David Michael Levin, 252–72.

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ignorance: “There has been something staring me in the face, and still I do not see it” (170, my emphasis).

Shame and the authority of the suffering body The body, particularly the suffering body, plays a central role in Coetzee’s narrative. In Philip Roth’s The Dying Animal – whose protagonist, a promiscuous 62-year-old literature professor, closely resembles the magistrate or David Lurie – the epigraph is the following sentence by the Irish writer Edna O’Brien: “The body contains the life story just as much as the brain.”57 To a large extent, all of Coetzee’s novels testify to this assertion, especially as we encounter characters (most prominently, the barbarian girl and Friday, but also Michael K and Vercueil), whose main attribute, in the absence of a story rendered knowable to other characters and to the reader, is their body. Significantly enough, these four characters occupy an historical and social position of oppression or marginalization, and have suffered some kind of mutilation. I have argued that a central literary influence in Coetzee’s depiction of the penetration and resistance of the body seems to be Richardson’s Clarissa. But in its concern with the suffering body, Coetzee’s narrative is quintessentially South African, just as, in its preoccupation with the tortured body, Waiting for the Barbarians points to the South African context of the late 1970s.58 For obvious historical and political reasons, the tortured, imprisoned, suffering, raped body is omnipresent in South African literature. To give but a few examples, the “Prologue” to Alex La Guma’s In The Fog of the Seasons’ End contains an extremely disturbing scene in which the physical torture endured by a prisoner is described in explicit terms: “He cried out in pain – pain from his legs, from his battered body, from the manacled wrists by which he dangled.”59 Or at the very opening of André Brink’s Looking on Darkness, Joseph Malan calls attention to the pain of his body: “To preserve this body with all its parts – including the bruises and the scars, including the persistent 57

See Philip Roth, The Dying Animal (2001; London: Vintage, 2006). For Attwell, Coetzee’s Empire is the fictionalization of what was in those years a particularly paranoid moment in apartheid discourse (J.M. Coetzee, 74). Gallagher has argued that the centrality of torture in Waiting for the Barbarians responds to the general outcry and heated debate over that issue prevailing in South Africa at that time, to a large extent due to the mysterious death in detention, in 1977, of the leader of the Black People’s Convention, Stephen Biko (A Story of South Africa, 112–13). 59 La Guma, In the Fog of the Seasons’ End, 7. 58

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pain – and keep it intact, virginal for its inevitable death.”60 More recently, in one of the most celebrated post-apartheid novels, Zoë Wicomb’s David’s Story, we find a female body, Dulcie’s, which very much resembles that of the barbarian girl. Dulcie’s is also a tortured, scarred, and painful body whose story, like the barbarian girl’s, is never fully articulated in the novel: hers is “a story that cannot be told, that cannot be translated into words.”61 In relation to the role of the body in his narrative, Coetzee made, in Doubling the Point, the following revealing assertion: Friday is mute, but Friday does not disappear, because Friday is body. If I look back over my own fiction, I see a simple (simple-minded?) standard erected. That standard is the body. Whatever else, the body is not “that which is not,” and the proof that it is is the pain it feels. The body with its pain becomes a counter to the endless trials of doubt […]. In South Africa it is not possible to deny the authority of suffering and therefore of the body. It is not possible, not for logical reasons, not for ethical reasons (I would not assert the ethical superiority of pain over pleasure) but for political reasons, for reasons of power. 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. To use other words: its power is undeniable. (248)

In the intimate connection he makes between the body and power, Coetzee is close to Foucault’s arguments in works such as Discipline and Punish, where he analyzes the way in which, in Western societies, the materiality of power has operated on the very body of individuals, and the way in which the body becomes the site where different societal forces and interests meet and contend with each other. In Volatile Bodies, Elizabeth Grosz identifies a philosophical tradition, beginning with Nietzsche and continued by Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari, and Lingis, among others, which focuses “on the body as a sociocultural artefact rather than as a manifestation or externalization of what is private, psychological, and ‘deep’ in the individual.”62 These philosophers “outline the procedures and powers which carve, mark, incise – that is, actively produce – the body as historically specific, concrete, and determinate,” focusing on it “as a social object, as a text to be marked, traced, written upon 60

André Brink, Looking on Darkness (1973; New York: William Morrow, 1975): 7. Zoë Wicomb, David’s Story (2000; New York: Feminist Press, 2001): 151. 62 Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana U P , 1994): 115. 61

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by various regimes of institutional (discursive and nondiscursive) power.”63 In his depiction of the body of characters such as the barbarian girl and Friday, Coetzee is close to this philosophical tradition, which “rejects the phenomenological framework of intentionality and the psychoanalytic postulate of psychical depth; the body is not a mode of expression of a psychical interior or a mode of communication of what is essentially private and incommunicable.” As we have seen in the case of the barbarian girl, and borrowing Grosz’s words, “the body is not simply a sign to be read, a symptom to be deciphered, but also a force to be reckoned with.”64 In his novels, Coetzee has hinted at the way in which repressive political regimes aim not only at categorizing and demarcating the body, but also at undermining and obliterating it, which is precisely the function of torture in Waiting for the Barbarians and of the camps of Life & Times of Michael K. When he is in the labour camp of Jakkalsdrif, Michael thinks of it “as a place where people were deposited to be forgotten.” However, “when people died they left bodies behind. Even people who died of starvation left bodies behind. Dead bodies could be as offensive as living bodies.” Hence, Michael reflects, “if these people really wanted to be rid of us,” they would have to make the prisoners dig a great hole in the middle of the camp, they would have to command them to lie there, and then they would throw every single thing the prisoners owned into the hole. Then, they would “cover us with earth, and flatten the earth. Then, perhaps, they might begin to forget about us” (94). Here Michael seems to be echoing a reflection of the magistrate early in the novel, when he feels momentarily seduced by the idea of just obliterating the bodies of the nomads and the fisherfolk that Joll has brought into town: It would be best if this obscure chapter in the history of the world were terminated at once, if these ugly people were obliterated from the face of the earth and we swore to make a new start, to run an empire in which there would be no more injustice, no more pain. It would cost little to march them out into the desert (having put a meal in them first, perhaps, to make the march possible), to have them dig, with their last strength, a pit large enough for all of them to lie (or even to dig it for them!), and, leaving them buried there forever and forever. (26)

63 64

Grosz, Volatile Bodies, 116. Volatile Bodies, 120.

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Both passages attest to the impossibility of forgetting the body, to the fact that those in power will always have to reckon with the force of a “bodily being” that, as Judith Butler has put it, is “most real, most pressing, most undeniable,”65 just because of the fact of being body, of being presence, of being. As long as there is body, there is a force to reckon with, and in Coetzee’s fiction, the black body often emerges as a source of irrepressible power and undeniable authority – we could regard it as a performative force – that cannot be contained by the prevailing discourse, usually produced by a white person. That is the case of Friday’s body in Foe, especially in the fascinating final passage of the novel, in which a “soft and cold, dark and unending” stream comes out of Friday’s mouth, expanding “to the ends of the earth,”66 and beating against the eyelids and skin of the narrator, who is thus rendered powerless by it. The magistrate has no choice but to reckon with the tortured body of the barbarian girl: “Something has fallen in upon me from the sky, at random, from nowhere: the body in my bed, for which I am responsible” (47). As he puts it here, it is not he who has sought the barbarian girl, but it is the body of the barbarian girl that, as other, has unexpectedly arrived in his life, just as Levinas argues that it is the face of the other that summons one and demands one’s responsibility. And the magistrate’s moral dilemma throughout the novel is precisely how to be responsible to the suffering bodies that have been tortured by the Empire to which he belongs. When the magistrate interprets the poplar slips for Colonel Joll, the latter tells him: “You have utterly disgraced yourself” (123), meaning that he has fallen into public disgrace, having lost honour in the eyes of Empire. The first time he had to stand naked in front of people, the magistrate suffered “agonies of shame,” but now, he asserts, he is “past shame” (128). He overcomes the sense of shame arising from his feeling embarrassed or ridiculous for having to expose his body, or from the awareness of having done something dishonourable according to the standards of Empire. And he starts to experience a different kind of shame, a shame arising from his awareness of having behaved in a dishonourable and unjust manner, both with the barbarian girl and in his exercise of power as magistrate; a shame arising from his indecent con65

Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993): ix–x 66 J.M. Coetzee, Foe (1986; New York: Penguin, 1987): 157. Further page references are in the main text.

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duct and from his actual complicity with the obscenities committed by Empire. Thus, admitting to himself that, in his relation with the barbarian girl, he was actually trying to deeply engrave himself on her, he “cringe[s] with shame” (148). He remembers how in the past he used to feel an “uneasy shame” when he pronounced an unjust sentence on somebody, and he tells himself that “when some men suffer unjustly […] it is the fate of those who witness their suffering to suffer the shame of it” (152). This reflection on the part of the magistrate sounds like an anticipation of an observation by Demosthenes that Coetzee includes in the section “On national shame,” in Diary of a Bad Year: “Whereas the slave fears only pain, what the free man fears most is shame.” In this section, the novelist and protagonist of the novel, JC, points to how, “in the so-called war on terror,” the U S administration is not only sanctioning torture but subverting laws and conventions proscribing torture, thus “operating beyond the bounds of the law, evading the law, and resisting the rule of law.” “Their shamelessness” – JC argues – “is quite extraordinary. […] In the new dispensation we have created, they implicitly say, the old powers of shame have been abolished.” 67 The issue, then, “for Americans of conscience” and “for individual Westeners in general” (41) is a “moral one” (39): “how, in the face of this shame to which I am subjected, do I behave? How do I save my honour?” (39); what can I do not to “appear with soiled hands before the judgement of history”? (41). And he draws a parallel between their moral dilemma and the dilemma faced by the white generation of South Africans to which he belongs: The generation of white South Africans to which I belong, and the next generation, and perhaps the generation after that too, will go bowed under the shame of the crimes that were committed in their name. (44)

The magistrate’s sense of shame and complicity in relation to the crimes of Empire, then, clearly evokes the sense of shame and complicity that has deeply tormented many white people in apartheid South African,68 and that is 67

J.M. Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year (London: Harvill Secker, 2007): 39 (my emphasis). Further page references are in the main text. 68 In his contribution to For Nelson Mandela – an anthology of fiction and essays, poetry, and short plays by twenty-three writers from different countries – the American novelist John Irving tries to imagine the kind of writing he would produce if he were a South African writer, identifying shame as an unavoidable component of it: “When a country so grossly mistreats its citizens, it heaps shame upon itself; and the writer can

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clearly present throughout Coetzee’s novels, especially in a character like Mrs Curren in Age of Iron, as we will see in the relevant chapter. Rian Malan’s My Traitor’s Heart is also an attempt on the part of its author to come to terms with the shame he feels as a “Just White Man, appalled by apartheid and the cruelties committed in its name, and an Afrikaner with a disease of the soul.”69 In the following passage, he talks about the measures of repression and torture undertaken by the Afrikaner government in order to deal with anti-apartheid uprisings, the context also evoked by Waiting for the Barbarians: Almost all detainees were black, of course, and almost all of them were given a rough time – one survey, by a liberal university, found that 83 percent of detainees were subjected to ‘some form of physical abuse.’ Most were just beaten up, but some were tortured, too. They were stripped naked and forced to stand on bricks, kept awake for days on end, ordered to sit for hours on nonexistent chairs. Some were given the ‘helicopter,’ an ingenious cruelty in which a detainee’s wrists were cuffed to his ankles, a broomstick inserted through a loop thus created, and the person suspended for hours in midair. Some had electrodes attached to their nipples or genitals and were subjected to electric shock. This happened to children as young as ten.70

In the face of such acts, one has no choice but to bow one’s head and, as put in Diary of a Bad Year, to bear the weight of a “dishonour” that “is no respecter of fine distinctions,” a dishonour that “descends upon one’s shoulders, and once it has descended no amount of clever pleading will dispel it” (40). Like the magistrate, one must bear the weight of a profound, incommensurate, infinite shame.

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reflect upon only the shame” (“When a Country so Grossly Mistreats its Citizens, it Heaps Shame upon Itself,” in For Nelson Mandela, ed. Jacques Derrida & Mustapha Tlili [New York: Seaver, 1987]: 231). 69 Rian Malan, My Traitor’s Heart: Blood and Bad Dreams: A South African Explores the Madness in His Country, His Tribe and Himself (London: Vintage, 1991): 412. 70 Malan, My Traitor’s Heart, 264.

4

I

Parasitism Life & Times of Michael K and Age of Iron

L I F E & T I M E S O F M I C H A E L K ( 1 9 8 3 ) , we encounter one of Coetzee’s most singular and controversial characters, Michael K, who, in the middle of a civil war afflicting South Africa, retires to an abandoned farm in Prince Albert and tries to live a solitary existence as a gardener. His non-appropriative and non-penetrative relation to the land, his idle lifestyle and his refusal to become a servant, together with his continuous evasion of the state disciplinary confinement and topographical control, may be read as an implicit subversion of the South African pastoral tradition, with its patriarchal structure and spatial domestication, and of the exploitative labour conditions and unequal power-relations that have for long been justified in South Africa by an appeal to a Protestant ethic of discipline and hard work. Thus, the state is presented as a parasite that exploits and maintains itself at the expense of forced labour. Published in 1990, Age of Iron provides at the end of the text the dates of its composition, “1986–89,” which correspond to South Africa’s nationwide State of Emergency from 12 June 1986 to 7 June 1990. And it is preceded by a dedication to Coetzee’s father, mother, and son, all of whom died between 1985 and 1989. The novel constitutes a letter from Mrs Curren – a seventyyear-old widow and retired classics lecturer – to her daughter, living in the U S A , and begins on the day on which, after being told that her cancer is terminal, she comes across a derelict, Vercueil, who has entered her comfortable house in Cape Town. Her narrative constitutes an act of secular confession through which she hopes to secure forgiveness for the crime she has inherited, the European crime of colonization and the Afrikaner crime of apartheid. South African society is depicted as based on a host–parasite relationship characterized by hostility, oppression, and inequality of power. As the N

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traditional host / white and parasite/black identification is questioned and subverted, the apartheid logic of spatial confinement, racial separation, and blood purity is undermined throughout the novel by the uncontrolled expansion and uncontrollable spread of a logic of disease and madness, swarms, and plagues.

The blind gardener David Attwell has identified in Life & Times “the Foucauldian notion of power as a force dispersed through every level of social relations, including the production of subjectivity.”1 Certainly, this novel, in the attention it pays to the role of institutions in society, to the network of power-relations permeating social life, and to the state’s disciplinary practices, is one of Coetzee’s most Foucauldian novels. Life & Times actually presents a social world organized around a principle of discipline that very much recalls Foucault’s discussions in Discipline and Punish. And although the political regime of the novel is left unnamed and the temporal spectrum unspecified, plenty of allusions allow us to relate the institutional and disciplinary world depicted in the novel to the ideological principles on which the Afrikaner apartheid regime was based and according to which it saw its policy in South Africa as legitimized,2 so that we can indeed argue that there are many elements in common between the European disciplinary tradition described by Foucault and the actual policies adopted by the South African Afrikaner government. In Discipline and Punish, Foucault points to the disciplinary methods that began to be used in the classical age and “which made possible the meticulous control of the operations of the body, which assured the constant subjection of its forces and imposed upon them a relation of docility.”3 According to Foucault, “in the first instance, discipline proceeds from the distribution of individuals in space.” Discipline requires enclosure, “the protected place of disciplinary monotony,” and that is why a “great confinement”4 of vagabonds and paupers took place in the historical period Foucault is concerned with. The 1

Attwell, J.M. Coetzee, 95. It is especially in the second part of the novel, which takes part in Kenilworth rehabilitation camp, that allusions to the symbols and values of the Afrikaner regime abound – for example, to “the orange, white and blue” (132): i.e. the South Africa’s national flag until the democratic elections of 1994, and to “Uit die blou,” the first words of “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika,” the old Afrikaner national anthem. 3 Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 137. 4 Discipline and Punish, 141. 2

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camps of Life & Times clearly stand for this disciplinary distribution and enclosure of individuals in space, evoking the ‘homelands’ created by the National Party government in the apartheid period. The world of this novel is full of homeless people wandering about and being assigned a place to live – “There were already scores of people queuing under the sign H E R V E S T I G I N G R E L O C A T I O N ” (19) – which may be taken as an allusion to the South African government’s policy of ‘resettlement’ that, during the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, forced people to move to their designated ‘group areas’.5 For all his stupidity, Michael realizes that no one is allowed to stand aside from this disciplinary confinement: Now they have camps for children whose parents run away, camps for people who kick and foam at the mouth, camps for people with big heads and people with little heads, camps for people with no visible means of support, camps for people chased off the land, camps for people they find living in storm-water drains, camps for street girls, camps for people who can’t add two and two, camps for people who forget their papers at home, camps for people who live in the mountains and blow up bridges in the night. (182)

Michael, however, somehow manages to evade and resist this control of the territory, enforced through the camps and fences pervading the South African geography. Foucault argues that the aim of disciplinary machinery is to “eliminate the effects of imprecise distributions, the uncontrolled disappearance of individuals, their diffuse circulation, their unusable and dangerous coagulation,”6 and Michael’s behaviour in the novel is precisely characterized by a ‘diffuse circulation’ across fences and an ‘uncontrolled disappearance’ from camps: he continually escapes incarceration and confinement, and longs to evade governmental and official control of social and physical space. We see this when, after leaving Stellenbosch and setting off toward Prince Albert, “he clambered over a barbed-wire fence and entered an apple orchard” (39). After escaping the labour gang on the railway, he “ducked through a hole in the fence” (44). On his way along the national road, he “crossed a fence,” and “having once crossed the fence into the veld, he found it more restful to walk across country” (46). When he is in Jakkalsdrif camp, he longs to be outside 5

For Gordimer, “the harried homelessness of Michael K and his mother is the experience, in 1984, of hundreds of thousands of black people in South African squatter towns and ‘resettlement’ camps” (“The Idea of Gardening,” 141). 6 Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 143.

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the fence: “He retreated to the back fence of the camp and stared out over the empty veld” (75). He finally manages to escape, climbing over the fence, and finding himself “tiptoeing across ground surprisingly like the ground inside the fence” (97). It is his evasion of fences that turns him into an outsider to the system: “Every mile or two there was a fence to remind him that he was a trespasser as well as a runaway” (97). And he also miraculously escapes the wires of Kenilworth camp: “The wire does not seem to have been cut; but then Michaels is enough of a wraith to slip through anything” (154). If fences are associated in Dusklands with the colonialist appropriation of the land and, in In the Heart of the Country, with the pastoral tradition of domestication and possession of the land, Michael K distances himself from these two traditions: “He could not imagine himself spending his life driving stakes into the ground, erecting fences, dividing up the land” (97). At a certain point, the medical officer remarks that Felicity, the nurse of the camp, “has never conceived of history as anything but a childhood catechism. (‘When was South Africa discovered?’ ‘1652.’ ‘Where is the biggest man-made hole in the world?’ ‘Kimberley.’)” (158). He is here alluding to official Afrikaner discourse on South African history, according to which this history began in 1652, with Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival at the Cape of Good Hope, which marked the beginning of Dutch settlement in southern Africa. But what especially interests me is that the idea of an Afrikaner historical ‘catechism’ is also illustrated by referring to Kimberley’s Big Hole, the site where the South African diamond rush began. This is highly revealing, as this open-pit mine highlights how European presence in South Africa has been characterized by an appropriation and exploitation of the land and its natural resources, by a literal penetration of the land. Michael, by contrast, thought of himself not as something heavy that left tracks behind it, but if anything as a speck upon the surface of an earth too deeply asleep to notice the scratch of ant-feet, the rasp of butterfly teeth, the tumbling of dust. (97)

If Jacobus Coetzee was driven by the desire to penetrate the earth and reach its depths, Michael feels his relation to be with the surface of the earth. He perceives his presence on the land as transitory and ephemeral, leaving no mark or trace. Many critics have analyzed Michael’s relation to the land and the activity of gardening as constituting a revision or subversion of the South African

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pastoral tradition.7 In this sense, one of Michael’s most significant gestures is his refusal to take residence on the farmhouse when he returns to the Visagies farm for the second time, and in his literally embracing the earth, instead, by building a burrow that becomes his home: Whatever I have returned for, it is not to live as the Visagies lived, sleep where they slept, sit on their stoep looking out over their land. If this house were to be abandoned as a home for the ghosts of all the generations of the Visagies, it would not matter to me. It is not for the house that I have come. (98)

For Marais, it is at this moment that Michael abandons an “appropriative relationship” with the land, which he now refuses “to foreclose on and thereby control it by viewing it as property.”8 Whereas, in the pastoral tradition, the house often stands for the appropriation and domestication of the land, being the main defence against a surrounding hostile nature,9 Michael chooses to 7

The novel presents, Barnard points out, “albeit in anorexic form, a new pastoral dream: a vision of rural life without patriarchal or colonial domination” (“J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and the South African Pastoral,” Contemporary Literature 44.2 [Summer 2003]: 205). According to Easton, “the main character is neither trying to explore nor settle, mock nor imitate the pastoral. Michael K’s relationship is one of affinity with the stony ground; he is virtually ‘lodged within the landscape’ as he burrows himself into the soil” (“Text and Hinterland: J.M. Coetzee and the South African Novel,” Journal of Southern African Studies 21.4 [December 1995]: 592). Penner also reads Life & Times of Michael K as an adaptation of the South African farm novel and plaasroman, and argues that this novel “ ‘ lays the ghost’ of silence regarding the black man’s relation to the earth” (Countries of the Mind, 101), a silence that, according to Coetzee’s argument in White Writing, we find in the Afrikaans plaasroman, and in the novels of Olive Schreiner and Pauline Smith. For Gallagher, in this novel, the South African pastoral is rejected in order to “explore an alternative way that human beings might live in relationship to the land and to each other” (A Story of South Africa, 156). 8 Mike Marais, “Literature and the Labour of Negation: J.M. Coetzee’s Life & Times of Michael K,” Modern Fiction Studies 46.1 (2000): 111. 9 This is the case in Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing, depicting the farm life of European descendants in southern Africa. For Mary, in her solitude and insecurity, the house is her only bastion: “There was only this house, and what was in it” (The Grass is Singing [1950; New York: Perennial Classics, 2000]: 215). This is particularly seen near the end of the novel, when she runs away from the house, and realizes “that all those years she had lived in that house, with the acres of bush all around her, and she had never penetrated into the trees, had never gone off the paths.” As opposed to

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live in the bush, and his relation with the land is characterized by familiarity and even fraternity: “Every stone, every bush along the way he recognized. He felt at home at the dam as he had never felt in the house” (99). As he moves across the bush, Michael, little by little, “acquire[s] the confidence of a blind man” (103), learning to walk and work at night. In Dusklands and Waiting for the Barbarians, powerful vision is associated with the violent endeavour to penetrate and appropriate, but the point about Michael’s existence is precisely that he does not aim at exerting control over nature. Thus, whereas Jacobus Coetzee sees himself as “a spherical reflecting eye moving through wilderness and digesting it” (79), the capacity of Michael’s eyes to see seems to diminish as time goes by: He had become so much a creature of twilight and night that daylight hurt his eyes. He no longer needed to keep to paths in his movements around the dam. A sense less of sight than of touch, the pressure of presences upon his eyeballs and the skin of his face, warned him of any obstacle. His eyes remained unfocused for hours on end like those of a blind person. (115)

If it was through his penetrating eyes that Jacobus Coetzee appropriated and ingested the land, Michael’s blindness is connected with his detachment from any form of zealous possession in relation to the vegetables he cultivates. When Noël and the medical officer ask him about their purpose, he asserts: “They weren’t mine. They came from the earth” (139). And to their question of whether he minded that the soldiers took them, he answers that “what grows is for all of us. We are all the children of the earth” (139). In his relation to the land, then, Michael distances himself from the kind of tradition the Visagies stand for: a tradition of property, but also of patriarchy.10 In White Writing, Coetzee argues that one dream topography that the South African pastoral projects is that of the farm as “a separate kingdom ruled over by a benign patriarch with, beneath him, a pyramid of content and industrious children, grandchildren, and serfs” (6–7). Michael, conversely, has no wish to found a patriarchal line: “How fortunate that I have no childMichael’s life-style, the realization that she is surrounded by nature horrifies her: “With a little moan of horror she ran through the bushes and the grass, away back to the clearing” (227). 10 As Gallagher points out, Michael’s pastoral affirms neither patriarchy nor property rights (A Story of South Africa, 157), and Easton remarks that “unlike the ‘founding fathers,’ K refuses the idea of patrimony” (“Text and Hinterland,” 593).

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ren, he thought: how fortunate that I have no desire to father” (104). And he sees himself, instead, as belonging to a matriarchal lineage: “I want to live here forever, where my mother and my grandmother lived” (99). He consciously rejects the Visagies’ way of life: He was wary of conveying the Visagies’ rubbish to his home in the earth and setting himself on a trail that might lead to the re-enactment of their misfortunes. The worst mistake, he told himself, would be to try to found a new house, a rival line, on his small beginnings out at the dam. (104)

According to Easton, “the garden spot does rival the farmhouse: precisely because K’s existence by the dam is not an imitation of that structure, but one which is based on completely different terms.”11 Michael sees himself as having somehow supplanted the Visagies: “Surely now I have outlasted the last of the Visagies” (97). Important is the fact that he always regards himself a gardener, but never a farmer: “It is because I am a gardener, he thought, because that is my nature” (59).12 He wishes to leave behind no heritage, no possession, and no inscription on the land: I am not building a house out here by the dam to pass on to other generations. What I make ought to be careless, makeshift, a shelter to be abandoned without a tugging at the heartstrings. (101)

Michael welcomes the idea that, once he leaves his spot, nature will soon devour his traces, so that there will be no mark left: “Even his tools should be of wood and leather and gut, materials the insects would eat when one day he no longer needed them (104). He believes that “a man must live so that he leaves no trace of his living” (99). According to Coetzee’s argument in White Writing, the topography of South Africa as a “network of boundaries” (6) is rivalled by the topography of “Africa as a vast, empty, silent space, older than man, older than the dinosaurs whose bone lie bedded in its rocks, and destined to be vast, empty, and unchanged long after man has passed from its face” (7). This blank and empty 11

Easton, “Text and Hinterland,” 593. Gallagher points to the importance of this detail, and argues that, whereas the farm suggests a social order, with (South African) implications of hierarchy, the garden evokes a personal and religious order (A Story of South Africa, 158). My focus is, rather, on the different kind of labour they entail. 12

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topography is intermittently glimpsed throughout Coetzee’s fiction, particularly when the Karoo is the chosen setting. Magda is the first character to allude to it: “This is not Hendrik’s home. No one is ancestral to the stone desert, no one but the insects” (20). And it reappears in Summertime, when Margot asserts that what she and her cousin John shared was an existential incertitude regarding their presence on the African land: What are we doing in this barren part of the world? Why are we spending our lives in dreary toil if it was never meant that people should live here, if the whole project of humanizing the place was misconceived from the start? (140)

In passages such as these, it is not only the European person that is felt to be alien to the African land, but human presence in general. If, in Coetzee’s oeuvre, Michael is the character who approaches the closest communion with nature, it may be because he does not aim at ‘humanizing the place’ but, on the contrary, somehow becomes dehumanized by the place. Throughout the novel, people surrounding him and he himself perceives his person as less than human, as an animal or even as an inert thing: he compares himself with “an ant” (83), “a parasite” or “a lizard” (116), and the medical officer identifies him with “a stick insect” (149) and “a stone, a pebble” (135). Michael even sees himself as “the stony ground” (48) and merely a “speck” (97). In this sense, there is an appeal to a pre-political and even primitive realm. Life & Times may be seen as offering a radical ecological proposal, in which it is not the place that is transformed and appropriated by human presence, but the other way round.

The scandal of idleness If we have seen that a great deal of the significance and value of Michael’s behaviour would derive from his rejection of the tradition of appropriation and exploitation of the South African land, that goes together with his evasion of the power-relations, work ethic, and exploitative labour associated with this tradition. What Michael cannot stand about the camps in which he is imprisoned throughout the novel is that he is obliged to work. When he is taken to the railway labour gang, his question is: “Why have I got to work here?” We are given an account of the harshness of the work that he, together with the other prisoners, has to carry out: he works “under the eye of an overseer and a guard,” and “every spadeful he lifted costed him an effort; when he stood erect there was a stabbing in his back and the world spun” (42). When he is in

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Jakkalsdrif, he protests: “I don’t want to work. Why do I have to work?” (85). What Michael, then, rejects is forced labour, which is shown, throughout Life & Times, to be a fundamental element of the kind of institutionalized exploitation undertaken by the political regime depicted in the novel. Through forced physical labour, control is exerted over the body. In Discipline and Punish, Foucault points to the “empirical and calculated methods relating to the army, the school and the hospital, for controlling or correcting the operations of the body,” so that the result is a body that “obeys, responds, becomes skilful and increases its forces.”13 The official institutions to which Foucault refers – the army, the school, the hospital – are omnipresent in the world depicted in Life & Times. Huis Norenius, the state school at which Michael spent his childhood, is particularly significant. In it, “afflicted and unfortunate children” learned “the elements of reading, writing, counting, sweeping, scrubbing, bedmaking, dishwashing, basketweaving, woodwork and digging” (4). As Head has argued, Huis Norenius is “evidently designed to produce docile and useful workers”14 – workers ready to comply with the kind of discipline that “increases the forces of the body (in economic terms of utility) and diminishes these same forces (in political terms of obedience).”15 This is the discipline that we find in Kenilworth camp, with its military order, the Afrikaner flag, and the hymn of the regime, and where prisoners are obliged to follow certain codes and largely pointless practices submissively and dutifully. As the medical officer puts it, what prisoners in the camp have to do is “march back and forth across the racetrack and shout slogans and salute the flag and practice digging holes and filling them again” (133). The importance given by the regime to disciplined work is highlighted by the angry words of the captain, who is outraged by what he sees as an excess of lassitude in the atmosphere of Jakkalsdrif camp: ‘What are we keeping here in our back yard!’ […] ‘A nest of criminals! Criminals and saboteurs and idlers! […] It’s a work camp, man! It’s a camp to teach lazy people to work! Work! And if they don’t work we close the camp!’ (91)

This condemnation of laziness and idleness must be highlighted, since the kind of existence Michael enjoys is characterized precisely by idleness. When 13

Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 136. Head, J.M. Coetzee, 103. 15 Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 138. 14

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he flees the farm after the Visagies’ grandson has arrived, he spends a day “in idleness”: “there seemed nothing to do but live” (66). We watch “K lying idle in his bed” (116), and in his second stay on the farm, the most important transformation he undergoes is that he was learning to love idleness, idleness no longer as stretches of freedom reclaimed by stealth here and there from involuntary labour, surreptitious thefts to be enjoyed sitting on his heels before a flowerbed with the fork dangling from his fingers, but as a yielding up of himself to time, to a time flowing slowly like oil from horizon to horizon over the face of the world, washing over his body, circulating in his armpits and his groin, stirring his eyelids. He was neither pleased nor displeased when there was work to do; it was all the same. (115)

Derek Attridge has described Michael’s as a consciousness unaffected by many of the main currents of modernity, including modernity’s emphasis on generalized moral norms, its preoccupation with the measuring and exploitation of time, and its sense of the importance of profit and progeny.16

He underlines K’s “profitless existence”17 and luxurious “sensation of endless time, freed […] from any obligation to use time fruitfully,”18 as the passage quoted above exemplifies. Similarly Moses has pointed to the parallels between the “lives” of Michael K and Jean–Jacques Rousseau in The Reveries of the Solitary Walker, paying attention to Michael’s particular experience of time, characterized by a “detachment from the regulated and structured clocktime of civilized existence” and an “existential submersion in the cycle of the days and seasons.”19 Moses underlines the importance of the experience of idleness both in Michael K’s and Rousseau’s solitary existence, an idleness characterized by what the idler avoids or escapes, and “chief among these is the obligation to work.”20 Thus, both Rousseau and Michael engage in phy16

Attridge, J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, 49. J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, 57. 18 J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, 55. 19 Michael Valdez Moses, “Solitary Walkers: Rousseau and Coetzee’s Life & Times of Michael K,” South Atlantic Quarterly 93.1 (Winter 1994): 146. 20 Moses, “Solitary Walkers,” 134. 17

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sical “labours” which “are characterized by their economic and social purposelessness.”21 Although the approaches of both Attridge and Moses to K’s enjoyment of an idle and profitless existence are valid and illuminating, I would argue that Michael’s existence may also be seen as opposed to or subversive of the extolling of disciplined labour and the condemnation of native idleness that we find in traditional Afrikaner ideology, in what Coetzee has called the Discourse of the Cape and in the tradition of the South African pastoral. Coetzee devotes the first chapter of White Writing to the problem of “Idleness in South Africa,” and shows that “one of the commonplaces of the Discourse of the Cape is that the Hottentots are idle” (16). Coetzee explains that “idleness, indolence, sloth, laziness, torpor” are terms “meant both to define a Hottentot vice and to distance the writer from it” (18). The originality of Life & Times of Michael K lies in the fact that Coetzee reappropriates these terms in order to describe K’s idyllic existence. If, in the traditional Afrikaner work ethic, disciplined labour is extolled and idleness is condemned, in Life & Times of Michael K, idleness is extolled and disciplined labour is condemned. As Coetzee points out in White Writing, Nowhere in the great echo chamber of the Discourse of the Cape is a voice raised to ask whether the life of the Hottentot may not be a version of life before the Fall (as Bartolomé de las Casas suggested in respect of the Indians of the New World), a life in which man is not yet condemned to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow, but instead may spend his days dozing in the sun, or in the shade when the sun grows too hot, half-aware of the singing of the birds and the breeze on his skin, bestirring himself to eat when hunger overtakes him, enjoying a pipe of tobacco when it is available, at one with his surroundings and unreflectively content. (18)

As we watch Michael sleeping all morning, beginning at noon “to emerge into an interval of languor and waking dreams, bathed in a gentle warmth that radiated down from the roof, and then as the sun set, coming out, stretching himself, and going down to the river-bed to chop wood” (114), his life indeed emerges as a possible and tentative “version of life before the Fall.” According to Coetzee, in the Discourse of the Cape

21

Moses, “Solitary Walkers,” 135.

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This is indeed the question posed by Life & Times of Michael K: Which is better, an ethic of hard and disciplined work, which stresses the value of effective activity, the accumulation of possessions and the pursuit of profit, often accompanied by an exploitation of the land, or a relaxed and idle existence characterized by careless enjoyment of life and nature? In White Writing, Coetzee argues that the reasons why the Hottentot way of life was stigmatized for its idleness have to be found in the attitudes toward idleness prevailing in the Protestant Europe that was colonizing the Cape (19). He explains that in Germany, after the Reformation, increasing emphasis was placed on work as the fundamental divine edict, so that to be idle was to defy this edict. Coetzee cites Max Weber, who asserts, in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, that Calvinism regarded time-wasting as the worst of sins (20). Throughout Life & Times, there are indeed allusions to the religious – and specifically Calvinist – basis informing the apartheid system. Through the medical officer, we learn that a choir goes every second Sunday to the camp to sing to the prisoners: “‘Loof die Heer’ [Praise the Lord] they are singing.” And he reflects: “For their souls they have a choir and a pastor (there is no shortage of pastors), for their bodies a medical officer” (143). As Michael remembers his life in Huis Norenius, he recalls “the Sunday mornings when we put on our khakhi shirts and our khakhi shorts and our black socks and our black shoes and marched two abreast to the church on Papegaai Street to be forgiven” (105). These references recall the religious legitimation drawn by Afrikaner nationalism from the idea that Afrikaners were the chosen people, given the right, by God, to govern South Africa, the promised land. Attridge has pointed to the remarkableness of K’s enjoyment of a sense of total lack of responsibility and duty, when we compare it with “the centrality in so many religious, ethical, and philosophical traditions of the notion of ‘calling’.”22 The life-style and work enjoyed by K on the farm may certainly be seen as an unconscious refusal by him to embrace the Protestant life-style based on vocation: “It is not hard to live a life that consists merely of passing 22

Attridge, J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, 56.

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time. I am one of the fortunate ones who escape being called” (104). The phrase ‘being called’ recalls the Calvinist emphasis on the necessity of constant labouring in one’s calling in order to achieve personal salvation. According to Weber’s well-known thesis about the relation between ascetic Protestantism – particularly Calvinism – and the spirit of capitalism, “the valuation of the fulfilment of duty in worldly affairs was the highest form which the moral activity of the individual could assume.”23 Weber points out how, in the German word Beruf and in the English word calling, the religious conception of a task set by God is at least suggested,24 and relates Protestant fidelity to one’s calling – emphasis on “the fulfilment of the obligations imposed upon the individual by his position in the world” as “the only way of living acceptably to God”25 – with the modern capitalist attitude that seeks profit in a rational and systematic way, and with the kind of assiduity that we find in modern capitalism. In this sense, Michael’s idle labour does not follow capitalist or Calvinist principles. As opposed to rational Protestant asceticism, which praises “restless, continuous, systematic work”26 and detests idleness and “the spontaneous enjoyment of life and all it had to offer,”27 Michael engages in relaxed labour, and surrenders to a pleasant state of languor and stupor: “There were long periods when he lay in a grey stupor too tired to kick himself free of sleep” (118); “he would relax again, and stretch his legs and yawn in sensual pleasure so sweet that he wished for nothing but to lie and let it ripple through him” (119). Michael’s existence is, then, characterized by a quasi-acedia (‘quasi’, because never condemned moralistically as sinful sloth or medieval spiritual apathy) and lack of discipline that is quite contrary to the spirit reigning in the camps and institutions of the novel. The Castle – a clearly Kafkaesque allusion – dictates that Kenilworth must be governed by a military and disciplinary spirit that Noël and the medical officer do not wholly share. There is a moment at which the opposition between the ideal of disciplined and profitable labour reigning in the camp and Michael’s idle life-style is foregrounded, 23

Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, tr. Talcott Parsons (Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus, 1904–1905; Los Angeles: Roxbury, 1998): 80. 24 Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 79. 25 The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 80. 26 The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 172. 27 The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 166.

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and it is the moment at which the medical officer actually feels tempted by the notion of idleness. He is wandering down Rosmead Avenue, in the shade of the oak-trees, “enjoying the midday stillness” (156). As an old man passes riding a bicycle, the medical officer indulges in the following reflections: It occurred to me that if I followed after him, proceeding down the avenue in a straight line, I could be at the beach by two o’clock. Was there any reason, I asked myself, why order and discipline should not crumble today rather than tomorrow or next month or next year? What would yield a greater benefit to mankind: if I spent the afternoon taking stock in the dispensary, or if I went to the beach and took off my clothes and lay in my underpants absorbing the benign spring sun, watching the children frolic in the water, later buying an ice-cream from the kiosk on the parking lot, if the kiosk is still there? What did Noël ultimately achieve labouring in his desk to balance the bodies out against the bodies in? Would he not be better off taking a nap? Maybe the universal sum of happiness would be increased if we declared this afternoon a holiday and went down to the beach, commandant, doctor, chaplain, P T instructors, guards, dog-handlers all together with the six hard cases from the detention block. (157)

Again, the question posed here is: What is better, and what is actually more ‘useful’ in terms of bringing happiness to the world – life in the camp, characterized by order, discipline, and labour, or the leisure of an afternoon at the beach, a nap or a holiday? In his analysis of disciplinary methods, Foucault also refers to the question of the idleness that is expunged by disciplinary machinery and disciplinary time. Disciplinary control imposes a correct use of the body and a correct use of time so that “nothing must remain idle or useless.”28 Thus, the principle that underlies the timetable is the principle of non-idleness: it was forbidden to waste time, which was counted by God and paid for by men; the time-table was to eliminate the danger of wasting it – a moral offence and economic dishonesty.29

In the camps of Life & Times of Michael K, time, the body, and activity are controlled and rendered effective by what Foucault calls the “timetable,”

28 29

Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 152. Discipline and Punish, 154.

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whose aim is to “establish rhythms, impose particular occupations, regulate the cycles of repetition.”30 Thus, the prisoners are subject to “flag-raising exercises and educative chanting” (159). Since “it is a question of constituting a totally useful time,” there is, according to Foucault, the constant pressure of supervisors,31 just as we see forced labourers in Life & Times working “under the eye of an overseer and a guard” (42). Foucault also points out that “the body is constantly applied to its exercise,”32 and that there is the imposition of a “collective and obligatory rhythm,” “a ‘programme’.”33 When he arrives at Kenilworth, Michael collapses “during physical training,” doing “physical exercise” (129). Noël asserts that “his responsibility is to his programme” (131), and we watch a “long column of barefoot men, headed by a drummer and flanked by armed guards, set out on the twelve-kilometre march to the railway yards and dispatch up-country” (147). In his discussion of the Calvinist condemnation of the waste of time. Weber turns to the works of Richard Baxter, and finds in them the principle that “not leisure and enjoyment, but only activity serves to increase the glory of God.”34 For Baxter, Weber explains, waste of time is thus the first and in principle the deadliest of sins. […] Loss of time through sociability, idle talk, luxury, even more sleep than is necessary for health, six to at most eight hours, is worthy of absolute moral condemnation.35

Michael’s behaviour is utterly scandalous when measured against these moral ideals. We have seen that, to a life following one’s call, he opposes a life “merely of passing time” (104). And what is even more scandalous: he passes most of the time asleep. In his second stay on the farm, “he slept more and more. He no longer sat outside when his tasks were finished […] but crept into his hole and fell into deep sleep” (114). In contrast to the regulation and detailed partitioning of time that Foucault identifies in disciplinary institutions and that characterizes life in the camps of the novel, Michael is “living beyond the reach of calendar and clock in a blessedly neglected corner, half 30

Discipline and Punish, 149. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 150. 32 Discipline and Punish, 151. 33 Discipline and Punish, 152. 34 Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 157. 35 The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 157–58. 31

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awake, half asleep” (116), and loses “ track of time” (118). He reaches a state in which he does not “know whether he was awake or asleep” (47), and “sometimes he would emerge into wakefulness unsure whether he had slept a day or a week or a month” (119). Michael is the very antithesis of the disciplined and hard-working farmer: he is a gardener enjoying a relaxing, profitless existence, and that precisely constitutes his contribution to the ‘universal sum of happiness’. In this way, he very much embodies Voltaire’s precept, as expressed by Candide: “Il faul cultiver notre jardin.”

The myth of the host and the parasite What Michael fears most of all is the idea of becoming a servant. When he is on the farm, he is afraid that people may arrive and “turn me into a servant […] Would it not be better to hide day and night, would it not be better to bury myself in the bowels of the earth than become a creature of theirs?” (106). In fact, he flees the farm because “the Visagie grandson […] had tried to turn him into a body-servant” (65). The Visagies belong to a hierarchical pastoral world, dependent on forced and native labour, in which Michael could only occupy the position of serf. The question of the South African pastoral, of the ownership and appropriation of the land, is, then, inextricably related to the question of labour, and to the relation between master and servant. As Crehan has put it, since white owners of land and property in South Africa have long employed people whose ancestors were dispossessed, the owner’s relation to nature and the land becomes inseparable from his relation to those he employs.36

Michael’s mother, Anna, had always occupied the position of servant. As a child, her family moved from one farm to another – “Her mother had done laundry and worked in the various kitchens; Anna had helped her” (8) – and in Cape Town, she had been employed as a domestic servant for eight years. It is revealing that, in what probably constitutes his longest and most lucid speech in the whole novel, Michael should complain about his mother’s exploitation by the system to which she had devoted her long working life: ‘My mother worked all her life long,’ he said. ‘She scrubbed other people’s floors, she cooked food for them, she washed their dishes. 36

Crehan, “Rewriting the Land; or, How (Not) to Own It,” 5.

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She washed their dirty clothes. She scrubbed the bath after them. She went on her knees and cleaned the toilet. But when she was old and sick they forgot her. They put her away out of sight. When she died they threw her in the fire. They gave me an old box of ash and told me, “Here is your mother, take her away, she is no good to us”.’ (136)

Michael has realized that the prevailing economic and political system profits from the work of people like her mother, so that the system parasitically maintains itself at their expense. This is naturally something that will never be acknowledged by those occupying a position of power, who present the situation as the other way round: “‘You appreciate nothing!’” the captain shouts to the prisoners in Jakkalsdrif: ‘Who builds houses for you when you have nowhere to live? Who gives you tents and blankets when you are shivering with cold? Who nurses you, who takes care of you, who comes here day after day with food? And how do you repay us?’ (91–92)

These words seem a paraphrase of Coetzee’s following assertion in “The White Tribe”: Listening to Afrikaners talk, one continually hears the refrain: ‘Why is the African so ungrateful? Before we came he had nothing. He lived in the bush in dirt and squalor and ignorance. We give him a house, we give him a job, we provide health care and a pension. Yet look at the thanks we get!’37

This controversy about who works for whom and who gives to whom is, then, the question of who is host and who is parasite, a question that keeps being asked throughout this novel, both underlining and subverting the assumption alluded to by Coetzee in “The White Tribe”: the Afrikaner assumption that they are the hosts from whom Africans, the parasites, have been drawing sustenance. Mike Marais has acutely noted how, as related to the novel’s exploration of hegemony, the different power-relations depicted in it – state– subject, mother–child, father–child, author–text, reader–text – are equated with the host–parasite relation by means of the imagery of burden and eating: The host–parasite relationship serves as a ‘structural metaphor’ which generates an extended network of analogical links between the state’s 37

J.M. Coetzee, “The White Tribe,” Vogue (March 1986): 491.

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Marais restricts his analysis to questions of mastership and subservience, both in a social and a hermeneutic sense. I would add, however, that the centrality in the novel of the host–parasite relationship must also be seen to be related to its concern with the politics of labour and the Protestant work ethic. The novel exposes how the myth of the European as host and the African as parasite has actually been a disguising of and justification for unfair labour conditions in South Africa, in which the white master has benefitted from and has been sustained by the work of the black labourer, so that the assignment of the roles of host and parasite must be inverted. In White Writing, Coetzee suggests that, in their perception of idleness among the Hottentots, early European settlers were driven by their desire to turn them into forced labourers, and that this alleged idleness was actually Hottentot resistance to wagelabour: To the science of Man, the spectacle of wholesale idleness is inherently scandalous. But the spectacle of native labour in South Africa, always more or less involuntary, never adequately rewarded, has its own scandalous force. (11)

In Jakkalsdrif, Robert explains to Michael that people from Prince Albert “don’t want a camp so near their town” (81), as they think that they bring disease. Robert explains that what they would really like […] is for the camp to be miles away in the middle of the Koup out of sight. Then we could come on tiptoe in the middle of the night like fairies and do their work, dig their gardens, wash their pots, and be gone in the morning leaving everything nice and clean. (82)

The Railways and the farmers are indeed in favour of the camp, because from a gang from Jakkalsdrif a farmer gets a day’s work blood cheap, and at the end of the day the truck fetches them and they are gone and he doesn’t have to worry about them or their families. (82)

38

Mike Marais, “Languages of Power: A Story of Reading Coetzee’s Michael K / Michael K,” English in Africa 16.2 (October 1989): 32.

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As he lies idle under the sun, Michael reflects about these issues: Parasite was the word the police captain had used: the camp at Jakkalsdrif, a nest of parasites hanging from the near sunlit town, eating its substance, giving no nourishment back. Yet to K […] it was no longer obvious which was host and which parasite, camp or town. […] Perhaps in truth whether the camp was declared a parasite on the town or the town a parasite on the camp depended no more than on who made his voice heard loudest. (116)

Again, for all his stupidity, Michael is here hinting at an important idea: those in power will present themselves as hosts and regard the others as parasites. These positions are not natural but conventional, and it is probable that those who are called parasites are in fact being preyed upon by those who call themselves hosts. Hence, as is shown throughout the novel, it is thanks to the labour of black South Africans such as Anna that the prevailing parasitical system maintains itself. In fact, in Kenilworth, the fact that the prisoners’ usefulness lies in their providing cheap labour is emphasized several times: “At the end of the process we certify them cleansed and pack them off to the labour battalions to carry water and dig latrines” (134); “When you are better there are plenty of floors waiting to be scrubbed and plenty of toilets to clean” (136); This is a camp, not a holiday resort, not a convalescent home: it is a camp where we rehabilitate people like you and make you work! You are going to learn to fill sandbags and dig holes, my friend, till your back breaks! […] You will go to a place where you stand baking in the sun all day and eat potato-peels and mealie-cobs. (138)

Similarly, we are given the following account of the kind of activities that Michael was taught in Huis Norenius. He was committed to the protection of Huis Norenius in Faure, where at the expense of the state he spent the rest of his childhood in the company of other variously afflicted and unfortunate children learning the elements of reading, writing, counting, sweeping, scrubbing, bedmaking, dishwashing, basketweaving, woodwork and digging. (4)

The emphasis clearly falls on manual labour, which, for a long time, was performed exclusively by a certain sector of the South African population: namely, the non-white sector, disparagingly called ‘kaffir work.’ Summertime

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alludes to this aspect of the South African context. In it, we see John Coetzee doing, rather ineptly, manual work such as gardening or house and car repairs. He confesses to his cousin that he insists on doing so, “because of the country we live in,” “because of our long history of making other people do our work for us while we sit in the shade and watch” (111). For John, there is a truly ethical motivation behind his act of trying to repair the car on his own, so that he and his cousin have to spend the night in the middle of the Karoo: “I am making a gesture. I am trying to break the taboo on manual labour” (112). In the light of John’s reflections, it could be argued that Life & Times condemns the way in which black people have for centuries been relegated to doing manual work in South Africa, but this novel could also be seen as breaking the taboo on manual labour, as it extols its beauty and value when it is done in a free and self-directing way, as in the case of Michael’s gardening work. In the passage quoted above, children in Huis Norenius are presented as living “under the protection” and “at the expense of the state,” which again constitutes an implicit allusion to the host–parasite relationship. However, the novel reveals that reality turns out to be very different. As put by Marais, the state progressively emerges “as an oppressive parasite that feeds upon and exploits its subjects.”39 During Michael’s stay in Jakkalsdrif camp, a squad violently arrives at the camp at dawn, bursting into huts, beating prisoners and hurling their possessions. They are described as “a swarm of locusts,” responsible for “the destruction being visited on them” (90), on the helpless and powerless prisoners.40 The imagery of plagues and swarms anticipated here will gain full prominence in Age of Iron, together with the notion of ‘being visited,’ which from now onwards is going to haunt Coetzee’s novels: the arrival of the unexpected visitor, who may bring destruction, punishment or vengeance, as in the case of the squat, but whose visit may also be a friendly and kind one.

The year of the plague Age of Iron is about being intruded upon: it is about one’s body and one’s house being penetrated by an unwelcome guest or parasite that thrusts itself

39

Marais, “Languages of Power,” 33. This fictional universe, revolving around pointless labour, regimentation, camps, and trains, strongly resembles the Nazi world of the Second World War. 40

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without invitation or permission.41 The two events that set Mrs Curren’s narrative in motion are the cancer cells’ fatal invasion of her body and Vercueil’s squatting on her property: “Her house, like her body, has been intruded upon by unwelcome visitors.”42 In this novel, then, there is a convergence of the two main meanings – the biological and the social – that, as Miller explained in “The Critic as Host,” the word ‘parasite’ has in modern English: a parasite is “Any organism that grows, feeds, and is sheltered on or in a different organism while contributing nothing to the survival of its host,” or “A person who habitually takes advantage of the generosity of others without making any useful return.”43 Mrs Curren describes Vercueil as “the first of the carrion birds, prompt, unerring. How long can I fend them off? The scavengers of Cape Town, whose number never dwindles” (5). Certainly, just as carrion birds feed on dead flesh and scavengers search through people’s rubbish, Vercueil settles in the alley down the side of the garage, “a dead place, waste, without use, where windblown leaves pile up and rot” (3). By presenting herself as assailed by the ‘carrion birds’ and ‘scavengers’ of Cape Town, Mrs Curren formulates the relationship between herself and them in terms of the host– parasite dyad anticipated in Life & Times. We have seen that, according to Coetzee’s argument in “The White Tribe,” one of the myths cherished by the Afrikaner tribe is the belief that they are the hosts on whom South African black people have battened parasitically. Hence the need to “fend them off,” as Mrs Curren puts it. According to this tribal world-view, the individual should never transgress or confuse the boundaries of the tribe to which he or she belongs: ideological and identity boundaries are matched by physical and territorial ones, by literal acts of confinement, to which Mrs Curren alludes when she describes whites as “spinning themselves tighter and tighter into their sleepy cocoons,” and their lives as “passed within walled gardens guarded by bulldogs” (7). Mrs Curren’s life has also been characterized by this 41

Johan Geertsema identifies throughout the novel different “intrusions” that mean “the irruption of history” (“ ‘ We Embrace to Be Embraced’: Irony in an Age of Iron,” English in Africa 24.1 [May 1997]: 94); the “unspeakable intrusion of the real” (95) into “the clear-cut apartness of the suburban Eden in which Mrs Curren has lived her life” (94). 42 Kossew, Pen and Power, 192. 43 J. Hillis Miller, “The Critic as Host” (1979), in J. Hillis Miller Reader, ed. Julian Wolfreys (Stanford C A : Stanford U P , 2005): 19.

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confinement: three years before the events of the novel begin, she had barricaded her house after a burglary. She was told by the man who came to install bars on all her windows: “Now you are safe.” Mrs Curren thought then of herself as “locked up while hungry predators prowl outside. […] safe, safe in her cage, the bars intact, the wires intact” (28). But Age of Iron also questions and reverses the European host / African parasite identification. The destabilization of terms first becomes clear in precisely the passage in which Mrs Curren has had her house barred: she can isolate herself from the ‘hungry predators’ outside – the destitute and the homeless – but not from the other predators that break into her house through the television: “the parade of politicians” (28) that sustain the apartheid regime. Every evening “the reign of the locust family” (29) intrudes into her house. If parasites invade the properties of others and devour other lives, Afrikaner ruling families – in Mrs Curren’s description of them, “a locust horde, a plague of black locusts infesting the country, munching without cease, devouring lives” (28) – are then parasites instead of hosts. And her repeated reference to them as a plague of locusts brings to mind the plague that, as told in the Book of Exodus, God visited upon the Egyptians in order to liberate the Israelites from slavery. Actually, it can be argued that the Book of Exodus functions as a subtext of Age of Iron, as both texts resort to similar imagery to tell the story of an oppressed people: in the case of Exodus, the story of the oppressed people of Israel, with their search for and final achievement of liberation from Egypt; in the case of Age of Iron, the story of the struggle of the black people of South Africa against the oppressive Afrikaner regime. In this way, Coetzee mocks and subverts another founding myth of the Afrikaner tribe in South Africa: their notion of themselves as a chosen people in a dark continent, like the Israelites in the Old Testament. In Age of Iron, conversely, Afrikaners are identified with Pharaonic tyranny. In the Biblical account, since the oppression of the Israelites has become unbearable and Pharaoh will not listen to Moses’ pleas, God visits a series of ten plagues upon the Egyptians; only after the last of these does Pharaoh finally decide to let the Israelites go. This conception of the plague as punishment is essential in Age of Iron: just as the Egyptians, as punishment for their oppression of the Israelites, have to suffer in their own bodies the eruption of boils, among other plagues, Mrs Curren has to suffer the physical pain and disintegration that cancer entails. And she experiences her disease as the

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punishment she must receive for the crime of being a white person in South Africa: “To each of us fate sends the right disease” (112).44 This idea of being sent something or someone that makes one aware of one’s guilt and crime, and that may actually bring the punishment one deserves, is important in relation to Vercueil, whom Mrs Curren describes, at the beginning of the novel, as “a visitor, visiting himself on me” (4). Kay Sulk points to the peculiarity of this grammatical construction and to the fact that semantically the preposition ‘on’ tends to indicate something adversary rather than benevolent. Certainly, Vercueil’s enigmatic presence in Mrs Curren’s house conveys a certain sense of menace that, even as they develop a more intimate relationship, never wholly disappears. The verb ‘to visit’ has as one of its meanings (particularly when followed by ‘on’ or ‘upon’) that of coming upon, attacking or afflicting, normally with reference to disease, calamity or fear, and also that of inflicting punishment or harm. ‘To visit on’, furthermore, is particularly used in biblical contexts to refer to God’s punishment or wrath. But as Sulk also notices, ‘to visit’ or ‘to visit on’ do not normally express reflexivity, since, if they did, the sender and the thing or notion sent would be superimposed. The peculiar thing, then, is that this is precisely what characterizes Vercueil, who visits himself on Mrs Curren, so that, according to Sulk, he simultaneously appears as worldly and supernatural.45 I would add that by using this verb in this peculiar form, Coetzee is evoking the semantic field of sickness, plague, punishment, sin, ancestors and descendants that is so important in Exodus; on the other hand, by doing away with the possibility of a supernatural or divine sender, Coetzee is translating these notions from a religious to a secular context, at the same time as he emphasizes Vercueil’s otherness and unknowability. This co-occurrence of the notion of visitation and the image of the plague brings to mind another literary work that, as we will see in the later chapters, must have exerted a great fascination over Coetzee, and that may have much 44

Sheila Roberts draws attention to the sense of condemnation that pervades Age of Iron, and argues that, just as Dante saw Florence as an embodiment of Augustine’s “City of Man,” where the consequences of greed, fraud, and brutality prevent the city from becoming “the City of God,” Coetzee condemns Cape Town and its citizens (“ ‘ City of Man’,” 35). 45 See Kay Sulk, “ ‘ Visiting Himself on Me’: The Angel, the Witness and the Modern Subject of Enunciation in J.M. Coetzee’s Age of Iron,” Journal of Literary Studies 18.3–4 (December 2002): 324.

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to do with his continuous preoccupation with the act of being visited on: namely, Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, whose subtitle reads: Being observations or memorials of the most remarkable occurrences, as well public as private, which happened in London during the last great visitation in 1665. Written by a Citizen who continued all the while in London.46

The analogies between Defoe’s Journal and Coetzee’s Age of Iron are clear enough: in both cases, citizens are visited by a plague. If, as Max Novak puts it, “Defoe saw the plague as a force that broke down any notion of society functioning in a usual manner,”47 the implications are similar in Age of Iron, in which the current social order, that of the apartheid regime, is depicted as about to break down or collapse. Because of Vercueil’s otherness – as Attridge points out, the visitor draws closer and closer to Mrs Curren, “yet his estranging otherness remains undiminished”48 – we cannot know whether he is parasite, enemy, avenger, or none of these things. Mrs Curren describes him in those terms when she says that he is one of the “carrion birds” or “scavengers of Cape Town” (5), or when she asserts that he is “not an angel, certainly. An insect, rather, emerging from behind the baseboards when the house is in darkness to forage for crumbs” (14). To borrow Miller’s words in “The Critic as Host,” Vercueil is “guest in the bifold sense of friendly presence and alien invader.”49 In Of Hospitality, Anne Dufourmantelle reminds us that the Latin word hostis means ‘guest’ but also ‘enemy’. Jacques Derrida, in turn, poses the question of “how can we distinguish between a guest and a parasite,”50 and describes the parasite as “a guest who is wrong, illegitimate, clandestine, liable of expulsion or arrest.”51 If “absolute hospitality requires that I open up my home 46

See Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (1722; Oxford: Oxford U P ,

1990). My emphasis. 47

Max Novak, “Defoe as an innovator of fictional form,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Eighteenth Century Novel, ed. John Richetti (Cambridge: Cambridge U P , 1996): 59. 48 Derek Attridge, “Literary Form and the Demands of Politics: Otherness in J.M. Coetzee’s Age of Iron,” in Critical Essays on J.M. Coetzee, ed. Sue Kossew (New York: G.K. Hall, 1998): 206. 49 Miller, “The Critic as Host,” 19. 50 Derrida, Of Hospitality, 59. 51 Of Hospitality, 61.

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and I give not only to the foreigner (provided with a family name, with the social status of being a foreigner, etc.) but to the absolute, unknown, anonymous other,”52 the implied answer to Derrida’s question is that we cannot distinguish between guest and parasite, since I must open my home to an other of whom I know nothing and independently of who s /he is. Throughout her narration, in order to refer to the effect that cancer is having on her and to the experience of pain that her sickness provokes in her, Mrs Curren employs verbs and expressions that, like ‘to visit on’, convey a sense of affliction or assailment. She has “a sudden attack. An attack: it was just that: the pain hurling itself upon me like a dog, sinking its teeth into my back,” and tells Vercueil that cancer “has made its way into the bone” (10). She experiences a “shock of pain that goes through me” (26), “shivers [that] began to run through me from head to toe” (54) or a “sickness that now eats at me” (64). She explains that her “true attention is all inward, upon the thing inching through my body” (39), and asserts that there is something she cannot bear thinking of: To have fallen pregnant with these growths, these cold, obscene swellings; to have carried and carried this brood beyond any natural term, unable to bear them, unable to sate their hunger: children inside me eating more every day […] finding a new place to gnaw. Like insect eggs laid in the body of a host, now grown to grubs and implacably eating their host away. (64, my emphases)

In these examples, the repeated use of the prepositions ‘into’ and ‘through’ conveys a sense of penetration of Mrs Curren’s body, which, in the above passage, she explicitly characterizes as “the body of a host.” In previous novels, the capacity for penetration – of the land or another body – or resistance to penetration marked a position of power, whereas the condition of being penetrated characterized a position of weakness. The fact that, in Age of Iron, it is the body and the house of a white person that are penetrated and invaded by foreign or extraneous entities is symptomatic of the reversal in power-relations that is taking place in South Africa, a reversal that whites experience with fear as they begin to feel threatened by those who were previously subordinated to them. The threat of “the scavengers of Cape Town” becomes especially evident to Mrs Curren in the night she spends outside her house, which the police have occupied in order to capture John. “Like crows,” 52

Of Hospitality, 25.

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a few children stand waiting beside her, and she awaits “the prying of their hands, not caring” (158). After she closes her eyes, “something pressed between my lips, was forced between my gums” (158–59); “a stick a few inches long that he had forced into my mouth” (159). When Vercueil appears, she explains to him that she had been “attacked or violated or explored” (161). In Defoe’s Journal, there are also dramatic descriptions of the plague’s penetration of people’s houses, just as in Exodus, where is also an emphasis on the way the successive plagues penetrate Egyptian houses and private places. The Lord tells Moses to warn Pharaoh that if he refuses to let his people go, he will plague the whole country with frogs that shall go up and come into thine house, and into thy bedchamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thine ovens, and into they kneading-troughs. (8:3)

Or we learn how “there came a grievous swarm of flies into the house of Pharaoh, and into his servants’ houses” (8:24). Mrs Curren is similarly overwhelmed: “Clouds come over, thoughts begin to bunch, to take on the dense, angry life of a swarm of flies.” Her body is not only penetrated as she struggles “with something thick and rubbery that invades the mouth and grips the tongue at its root” (182), but is even being gnawed and devoured from the inside, in a description that ‘re-physicalizes’ the etymology of ‘cancer’: “Mine a disease that eats me out from inside. Were I to be opened up they would find me hollow as a doll, a doll with a crab sitting inside licking its lips.” She feels that “the crab sprang out and entered me,” and “gnawing at my bones now there is no flesh left. Gnawing the socket of my hip, gnawing my backbone, beginning to gnaw my knees.” Her flesh and her body are consumed to such an extent that she becomes a mere carcass: “I am hollow, I am a shell” (112). Mrs Curren identifies the apartheid regime with the disease with which she has become infected, a disease that feeds on her: “The reign of the locust family is the truth of South Africa, and the truth is what makes me sick” (29). She feels swallowed up by Afrikaner politicians, as they are shown on T V : “We watch as birds watch snakes, fascinated by what is about to devour us” (29). If Afrikaners are devouring locusts, then they can only be parasites, but at the same time the identification between white person and host is maintained in the novel – particularly through Mrs Curren’s repeated presentation of herself as being attacked, penetrated or possessed – precisely in order to

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depict the process by which the roles are being reversed, as those historically relegated to being parasites are struggling to become hosts. We have seen how, in Life & Times, Michael somehow comes to realize that the state is a parasite that maintains itself at the expense of the labour of thousands of workers like her mother. As Robert explains to Michael, people from Prince Albert would like Jakkalsdrif camp to be miles away from them, “out of sight,” but that prisoners would come on tiptoe in the middle of the night like fairies and do their work, dig their gardens, wash their pots, and be gone in the morning leaving everything nice and clean. (82)

This passage is echoed in Age of Iron when Mrs Curren reflects on a photograph, dating to 1918, of her family in the garden. She remembers the fruit, flowers, and vegetables growing in the garden of her childhood and wonders: By whose love tended? Who clipped the hollyhocks? Who laid the melon seeds in their warm, moist bed? Was it my grandfather who got up at four in the icy morning to open the sluice and lead water into the garden? If not he, then whose was the garden rightfully? Who are the ghosts and who are the presences? Who, outside the picture, leaning on their rakes, leaning on their spades, waiting to get back to work, lean also against the edge of the rectangle, bending it, bursting it in? (111)

In Coetzee’s short story “Nietverloren,” in which the farm is once again the protagonist, we find the use of the same device. A photograph prompts the observer, this time a child, to pay attention to a person – again, a black worker – who is not supposed to be visible: He was paging through photographs from the old days when he came upon a photograph of two young men with rifles, off on a hunt. In the background, not supposed to be part of the photograph, were two donkeys yoked together, and a man in tattered clothes, also not supposed to be in the picture, one hand on the yoke, squinting toward the camera from under his hat.53

53

J.M. Coetzee, “Nietverloren,” in Ten Years of the Caine Prize for African Writing (Oxford: New Internationalist, 2009): 22.

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In “Nietverloren,” Coetzee is writing against the South African pastoral tradition, characterized, as he argues in White Writing, by the “occlusion of black labour from the scene.” The almost ghostly presence of the worker in the picture certainly attests to Coetzee’s assertion that “the black man becomes a shadowy presence flitting across the stage now and then to hold a horse or serve a meal” (5). The child’s discovery of the picture is part of a long investigation through which he tries to understand the use in the past of the threshing floor and the activity itself of threshing or flailing the wheat. What is interesting is the way the short story conveys the idea that the whole universe of farm labour may be a hidden and enigmatic one for the white child: He peered more closely. Surely he recognized the site! Surely that was the threshing floor! The donkeys and their leader, captured in midstride sometime in the 1920s, were on the threshing floor, threading the wheat with their hooves, separating the grains from the chaff. If the photograph could come to life, if the two grinning young men were to pick up their rifles and disappear over the rim of the picture, he would at last have it before him, the whole mysterious business of threshing.54

The implicit idea, then, in all these passages is that, whereas the truth proclaimed by Afrikaners is that “we give [to the African] house, we give him a job, we provide health care and a pension,”55 the silent, secret and unacknowledged truth is that black people are the ones who give, the ones who work, and white people are the ones who receive, the idle ones. Earlier in Age of Iron, Mrs Curren had already pointed to the silent and invisible universe of black labour by which South African society sustains itself, as she remembers one day when she accompanied Florence to the chicken farm on which her husband worked. After the visit, she could not stop thinking of all the men across the breadth of South Africa who, while I sat gazing out of the window, were killing chickens, moving earth, barrowful upon barrowful; of all the women sorting oranges, sewing buttonholes. (44)

54 55

Coetzee, “Nietverloren,” 23. Coetzee, “The White Tribe,” 491.

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By depicting herself in a state of idleness – “gazing out of the window” – while black men and women kill chickens, move the earth or sort oranges,56 Mrs Curren is reversing the terms of the Discourse of the Cape, of the pastoral novel and of traditional Afrikaner ideology, in which native idleness was denounced and set against the hard work of the white man. The truth, to the contrary, was that the accusation of laziness served as a justification for and masking of the exploitation of black labourers. It is interesting to point out that Pharaoh in Exodus also accuses the Israelites of laziness, justifying thus his disregard for their complaints and requests. When Moses asks him to let the Hebrews hold a festival to the Lord in the desert, Pharaoh makes them work even harder: he gives the order to slave drivers and foremen that they should no longer supply Hebrews with straw for making bricks, so that they will have to gather their own straw, and still the Israelites should be required to make the same number of bricks as before. And he asserts: “they be idle; therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God” (5:8). When the Israelite foremen complain to Pharaoh about servants being beaten and required to meet the same quota of bricks, Pharaoh again accuses them of laziness: “Ye are idle, ye are idle” (5:17). Slavery was imposed upon the Israelites in order to keep their alarming population growth under control. The first chapter of Exodus tells that, though Joseph, his brothers, and all their generation died, “the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them” (1:7), which was a source of fear and anxiety for the Egyptians. When a new monarch comes to power, he realizes that “the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we” (1:9), and that hard labour is the only way of controlling them: They did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens […]. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel. And the Egyptians made the children of Israel serve with rigour. And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field. (1:11–14) 56

There is a very similar moment in Youth, when John suddenly becomes aware of “all the business he knew nothing about, being carried on while people sleep: streets being swept, milk being delivered on doorsteps!” (16). Just as Mrs Curren idly gazes out of the window while black people kill chickens, John sleeps while black people sweep streets and deliver milk.

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Whereas, in Life & Times of Michael K, a large sector of the population is being subdued and exploited in the camps and disciplinary institutions pervading the country, the implication of Age of Iron seems to be that the millions of people that constitute the “universe of labour” (44) by which white South Africa sustains itself are no longer to be kept under oppression and control. Mrs Curren describes Vercueil as “the first of the carrion birds […] The scavengers of Cape Town, whose number never dwindles” (5, my emphasis), so that we can say, to borrow Miller’s words, that perhaps he is “the first emissary of a host of enemies (from Latin hostis ‘stranger, enemy’), the first foot in the door, followed by a swarm of hostile strangers.”57 If as Huggan argues, Age of Iron is an “apocalyptic parable” portraying both a dying narrator and a dying country,58 Vercueil may be the first emissary of the final plague or swarm that will wipe the Afrikaner regime from the surface of the earth. This possibility is again suggested when, near the end of the novel, Mrs Curren compares Vercueil with those “locust fairies in Shakespeare with their whipstock of cricket’s bone, lash of spider film”:59 Huge swarms of them borne out to sea on the wind, out of sight of land, tiring, settling one upon another upon another, resolving to drown the Atlantic by their number. (189)

Furthermore, since she receives on the same day “the news, long dreaded” (5) that her cancer is terminal and “this reconnaissance, this other annunciation” that Vercueil’s presence in her house entails, we suspect that what he may be announcing to her is her imminent disappearance together with that of the world she belongs to; he may be announcing to her that “one is beyond one’s term. This country too: time for fire, time for an end” (65). 57

Miller, “The Critic as Host,” 19. Graham Huggan, “Evolution and Entropy in J.M. Coetzee’s Age of Iron,” in Critical Perspectives on J.M. Coetzee, ed. Graham Huggan & Stephen Watson (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1996): 192. 59 Erickson explains (Citing Shakespeare, 157) that there is an allusion here to Mercutio’s speech at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet: “Her whip, of cricket’s bone, the lash of film” (I.iv.64). And he points out (158) that the only occurrence of the term ‘locust’ in Shakespeare is in Iago’s preliminary announcement of destructive confidence –“The food that to him is as luscious as locusts shall be to him shortly as acerb as the coloquintida” (I.iii.340–42) – just as Mrs Curren presages her own destruction and that of the society to which she belongs. 58

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White South African people will no longer be able to prevent their “walled gardens” (7) from being invaded by the ‘huge swarms’ of ‘scavengers’ and ‘carrion birds’. However, it is the atrocities and injustices committed by them, the way in which they have infected South Africa with a fatal disease, that has provoked this final and apocalyptic plague: they themselves constitute a plague in the first place, “a plague of black locusts infesting the country” (28). In Exodus, the barrenness and destruction that the plague of locusts brings to Egypt is described in fatalistic and dramatic terms: They covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left; and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt. (10:15)

It seems that “the reign of the locust family” (29) has had similarly harmful and destructive effects on the South African land, which Mrs Curren describes as “a land taken by force, used, despoiled, abandoned in its barren late years. […] by its ravishers” (25–26). In this passage, European settlement in South Africa is identified, as in Dusklands and In the Heart of the Country, with forcible penetration: European explorers and settlers have been ‘ravishers’ of the land, rapists of the land, and they are now facing the consequences.

The last days of the ‘great divide’ The notion of the plague, then, with its connotations of punishment and assailment, is fundamental in Age of Iron, and an intrinsic characteristic of plagues, as well as of diseases and swarms, is their swift and uncontrollable expansion. In “Racism’s Last Word,” Derrida identifies a logic of “confined separation” in apartheid ideology.60 Similarly, Mrs Curren speaks of “the great divide” (7) that separates the world of blacks from the world of whites, the divide between the “rich white man’s domain of quiet and beauty screened by green from screams of fear and chants of rage, from the filth of scrap-heap settlements and the smashed symmetry of shot bodies.”61 Breytenbach, in The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, defines “the border” as a “mythical con-

60

Jacques Derrida, “Racism’s Last Word,” Critical Inquiry 12.1 (Autumn 1985):

292. 61

Nadine Gordimer, My Son’s Story (London: Bloomsbury, 1990): 143.

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cept” in “White South African awareness,” and asserts that “the history of the Afrikaner has been one of borders, of the enemy lurking just over the horizon.”62 In Age of Iron, this logic of the border and division is constantly being challenged or questioned by the logic of the swarm and the plague, of cancer and disease, which is a logic of uncontrolled spread, of contagion or infection across separate entities and spaces, across bodies and borders.63 An element that literally and metaphorically exemplifies this second logic of blurring and uncontrolled flowing is blood, although, paradoxically, blood has often been symbolically adopted by totalitarian ideologies in order to exemplify the possibility of the purity of identity. In his essay “Apartheid thinking,” included in Giving Offense – whose objective is to point to some of “the passions” and “deeper motives”64 underlying apartheid – Coetzee examines the work of Geoffrey Cronjé, one of the early theorists of apartheid. Coetzee asserts that “apartheid is a dream of purity”: it is mixture and the desire for mixture that is the secret enemy of Geoffrey Cronjé and his fellow-knights of apartheid, the baffling force that must be thwarted, imprisoned, shut away.65

Mrs Curren imagines the day on which all the blood of mankind will form a single “body of blood,” except for the blood of the Afrikaners: in a place apart, in a mud-walled dam in the Karoo with barbed wire around it and the sun blazing down, the blood of the Afrikaners and their tribute leaders, still, stagnant. (64)

62

Breytenbach, The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, 39. This logic of the border and of that which threatens the border is the logic of the abject, as argued by Julia Kristeva in Powers of Horror. Kristeva describes abjection as the process through which personal and group identity is constituted by excluding anything that threatens subjective or collective borders: “What disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite” (Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, tr. Leon Roudiez [Pouvoirs de l’horreur 1980; New York: Columbia U P , 1982]: 4). It is precisely this in-betweenness and blurring of borders that apartheid ideologues condemned. 64 Coetzee, Giving Offense, ix. 65 J.M. Coetzee, “Apartheid Thinking,” in Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship (Chicago: U of Chicago P , 1996): 165. 63

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Their ideal was Afrikaner blood purity; their enemies, bastardy and bloodmixing. However, in both the essay and the novel, what Coetzee actually suggests is that apartheid thinking rested on the following self-contradiction or paradox: it proclaimed the absolute blood purity of the Afrikanervolk, but was simultaneously scared of and obsessed with blood-mixing, because it was aware of the impossibility of preventing “the dark and treacherous fluidity”66 of non-white blood from seeping into the European population. As Breytenbach observes, when Europeans settled in Africa, they inevitably became bastards.67 There is a central passage in Age of Iron in which we find a literal enactment of this metaphoric impossibility of ‘thwarting’, ‘imprisoning’, or ‘shutting away’ black blood. It is the moment in which John is run over by the police, and Mrs Curren tries to stop the blood that floods from his forehead, “but the flow would not stop.” The blood “dripped onto the pavement; it was everywhere” (62); it “ran down the boy’s face in a steady, even sheet.” By pinching the open flap, Mrs Curren could hold most of the flow, but when she relaxed “blood poured again steadily” (63). In “Apartheid Thinking,” Coetzee relates this obsession with the transmission of blood to the imagery of contagion, infection, and disease, in terms of which race relations in South Africa have long been conceptualized. In Life & Times of Michael K, Robert explains to Michael that people from Prince Albert “don’t want a camp so near their town,” because they believe that “we breed disease” (81). According to Coetzee, what we find at work in this link between blackness and infectiousness is metonymy: “A sliding of meaning from one thing to the next because the two are adjacent.” Coetzee explains the different stages that this metonymic logic follows. In the first sequence of metonymic displacements, the germ of infection suspected of being harboured by the black person is displaced on to his breath, sputum or mucus, and then to the black as black, so that “from being vehicle of infection, blackness itself becomes the infection.” 68 In the next step, the germ of infection is displaced throughout the black body, which becomes a generator of black essence, conventionally referred to as black blood. This black blood circulates through the black body in a metonymic way, “one site unendingly displaced on to another. Thus the black body is the place of metonymy.” Finally, the idea of infection is rapidly displaced through the agitated community. In his essay, 66

Coetzee, “Apartheid Thinking,” 171. Breytenbach, The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, 321. 68 Coetzee, “Apartheid Thinking,” 181. 67

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Coetzee focuses on the implications that this vision of “unending displacement” has for the analysis of the way in which racist ideas are spread throughout the South African population. Since “the idea of being infected is inherited by a process of endless backward displacement,”69 we should abandon the quest for an origin of those ideas, and follow instead the movement by which ideas are displaced. In Age of Iron, the emphasis is on the endless forward quality of this movement, hence on the impossibility of avoiding infection. In “Apartheid Thinking,” Coetzee assumes that the society of apartheid was a mad society, and explains that his concern is with Geoffrey Cronjé’s “madness, and with the question of how madness spreads itself or is made to spread through a social body.”70 As he adopts the metonymic model of infection and contagion explained above “as an explanatory model for the communication of passions among masses of people,”71 he concludes that “ideas (‘ideological’ ideas) are not self-aware constructions used as means to ends, but instead float in the air, ready to infect whole societies […] or to infect intellectuals.”72 To a large extent, in Age of Iron we find a fictional elaboration of these theoretical ideas: Mrs Curren experiences the impossibility of avoiding being infected with the infecting and infectious nature of apartheid, with a disease or madness called ‘apartheid’. She tells Vercueil that “craziness” has got into her, since in South Africa “there is madness in the air” (117). And after leaving Guguletu, she wonders: “Am I mad? Yes, I am mad. But they are mad too. All of us running mad, possessed by devils. When madness climbs the throne, who in the land escapes contagion?” (105). Coetzee has not been the only South African writer or intellectual to identify apartheid ideology, the South African body politic, Afrikanerdom or even the whole of South African society with disease and madness. In “Censorship and Literature,” Brink analyzes the relation between the writer and the state, by using the metaphor of society as a sick or healthy body that the writer, in either case, must diagnose. The writer, according to Brink, is a physiologist who must provide society with “a more or less trustworthy diagnosis,” since “the body is not only sick but ignorant of its ailment and its true needs: unless

69

Coetzee, “Apartheid Thinking,” 182. “Apartheid Thinking,” 165. 71 “Apartheid Thinking,” 180. 72 “Apartheid Thinking,” 183. 70

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it may be diagnosed in time it may well prove to be a sickness unto death.” 73 Brink emphasizes that, in order to avoid being manipulated by the state, the writer must work “according to the dictates of his conscience” and must be faithful to “the integrity of his work.”74 In his essay “André Brink and the Censor,” Coetzee argues that Brink’s use of the “metaphor of the writer as the diagnostic organ of the body politic” posits the following questions: Is diagnosis carried out from inside or outside the body? Are Brink’s essays on the censor written from inside or outside a warring relationship with him? If from inside, how does he escape contagion by the censor’s paranoia (how does the diagnostic organ escape corruption by the sick body)? If from outside, how did the organ find its way out of the body?

For Coetzee, “the problem is ultimately not one of knowing what to say about the censor, but of finding a position from which to say it.”75 The writer can never become an absolutely detached observer or interpreter of the reality he depicts: he cannot escape the system of power-relations prevailing in society, and, in the specific case of the white writer in South Africa, he cannot escape from the complicity linking him with the atrocities committed by those in power. If South African society is sick, and if, as we have seen, this sickness is characterized by a logic of uncontrollable spread and “unending displacement,” no one, including writers, can escape contagion. In a later essay, “The Politics of Dissent: André Brink,” Coetzee revises his previous reading of Brink’s use of the metaphor of sickness, this time seemingly allowing for the possibility that Brink is somehow aware of the infectious nature of apartheid. Coetzee points out that mad and sick are words that Brink often applies to the South Africa of the apartheid years, with the writer standing on the side of health and sanity, and the state on the side of sickness and madness. Nonetheless, Brink’s descriptions of South Africa constitute such “verbally excessive characterizations” that “it is as though the author has been infected by the violence of the state, and infected at the very level of his language. If the state

73

Brink, Mapmakers, 236. Mapmakers, 256. 75 Coetzee, “André Brink and the Censor,” Research in African Literatures 21.3 (Autumn 1990): 72. 74

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is diseased, its disease has begun to communicate itself.”76 In order to make his point, Coetzee quotes several examples from Brink’s essay-collections Mapmakers and Literature in the Time of Struggle, in which South Africa is defined as “a demented world” and a “swamp of violence and hysteria,” 77 with “an insane structure,”78 afflicted by “a sickness of the mind […] a psychosis of fear.”79 The strong similarities between the South Africa portrayed by Brink and the South Africa of Age of Iron become even more evident when we see Brink adopting the metaphor of cancer: the censorship apparatus of the South African state “represents the protective mechanisms and processes of the social organism in a state of excessive, cancerous development,”80 and its actions “form only the nucleus of a cancerous cell which divides and subdivides and multiplies rapidly to endanger the whole body.”81 But if the white person cannot avoid being infected by the mad disease of apartheid, nor can she escape from infection by the black blood that official measures aim at isolating or segregating. In Age of Iron, Coetzee undermines the conceptualization of pure and controlled identity in terms of blood by emphasizing the literal flowing and spreading quality of this element, which cannot be compartmentalized, but is one for all humanity: “Blood is one: a pool of life dispersed among us in separate existences, but belonging by nature together […] held in common.” Mrs Curren describes John’s blood as “blood, nothing more, blood like yours and mine” (63), and she quotes, from The Merchant of Venice, the following words by Shylock the Jew: “Do I not bleed like you?” (40).82 As Breytenbach puts it, “After all, we are all bloody brothers and sisters.”83

76

J.M. Coetzee, “The Politics of Dissent: André Brink,” in Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship (Chicago: U of Chicago P , 1996): 211. 77 Brink, Mapmakers, 152. 78 Mapmakers, 201. 79 Mapmakers, 205. 80 Mapmakers, 236. 81 Mapmakers, 249. 82 As Strode puts it, what Mrs Curren implies is “that blood is not property: it is commonly held” (The Ethics of Exile, 209). Strode argues that the apartheid desire to maintain the purity of white blood is intimately bound up with spatial propriety: “One dwells with those sharing the same blood.” But Mrs Curren suggests that blood in its essence is not subject to ownership but is, rather, given to consanguinity; whereas

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The untenability, impossibility, and even absurdity of the ideals of racial purity and segregation are also underlined, as they are shown to enter into contradiction with the Afrikaner myth of host and parasite. The identification of the Afrikaner with the figure of the host, and of the black person with the figure of the parasite, actually betrays the dream of purity and ‘confined separation’ pursued by the ideologues of apartheid: after all, does the parasite not take shelter in the host’s site? How can the white body immunize itself against or protect itself from the disease of black infection when, despite the creation of homelands and townships, and of the policy of urban and spatial segregation, the reality was that black people, as servants, were inside white people’s houses and gardens? As Malan puts it, “as a tribe, a nation, we are all immured inside a fortress of racial paranoia,” but the enemy is within. He is not beyond a border […] The enemy is inside our cities, inside our very homes, washing dishes and minding children, driving trucks and manning factories. Moral questions aside, we cannot defeat such an enemy without destroying ourselves.84

Miller points to how the parasite disturbs the logic of the boundary or the border: “Para” is a double antithetical prefix signifying at once proximity and distance, similarity and difference, interiority and exteriority, something inside a domestic economy and at the same time outside it, something simultaneously this side of a boundary line, threshold, or margin, and also beyond it.85

The ‘great divide’ between blacks and whites certainly existed, but at the same time it was continuously being disrupted, threatened, and undermined. With its apocalyptic tone, Age of Iron suggests that we find ourselves in the last days of this ‘great divide’. The boundary lines of white property, exemplified by Mrs Curren’s house, are continually being trespassed: “I have five people in the backyard. Five people, a dog, and two cats” (35). Vercueil is not the only “lodger” (15) that occupies her house. One night, she suddenly blood was used as a basis for racist, separatist theories of dwelling, “the idea of blood suggests unity, cooperation, and community” (210). 83 Breytenbach, The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, 328. 84 Malan, My Traitor’s Heart, 296. 85 Miller, “The Critic as Host,” 18.

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feels that “there was someone in the kitchen and it was not Vercueil” (133). It is John, Bheki’s friend, whom the police kill in Mrs Curren’s own house, after which she shouts that “it’s not my home anymore” (157). Her house has become “a house of refuge, a house of transit” (136), and after having witnessed the terrible events of Guguletu, she feels it “cold and alien” (108). In the South Africa of Age of Iron, the ‘parasites’ are not only disturbing the logic of the boundary but are also involved in the process of overthrowing hosts and becoming hosts themselves. Thus, when Mrs Curren’s narration begins, Vercueil has already entered her house; he is already somehow host. According to Levinas, I give to the Other what I possess when “I welcome the Other who presents himself in my home by opening my home to him.”86 In “A Word of Welcome,” Derrida deduces from Levinas’s disruption of the I’s original possession and occupation of the home the following “implacable law of hospitality”:87 The hôte who receives (the host), the one who welcomes the invited or received hôte (the guest), the welcoming hôte who considers himself the owner of the place, is in truth a hôte received in his own home. He receives the hospitality that he offers in his own home; he receives it from his own home – which, in the end, does not belong to him. The hôte as host is a guest.88

To a great extent, Mrs Curren ceases to be host and owner in her own house, a fact that seems to point to a broader historical situation: South African white hosts are actually guests in the land, which did not originally or legitimately belong to them. In his analysis of the shift in Mrs Curren’s use of space, according to the Levinasian notion of hospitality, Strode argues that from a model of dwelling as rootedness or permanence, her home comes to signify sojourning (207), which signifies an ethical shift from propriety or exclusive possession to hospitality as ceding space to the stranger. This shift corresponds to the passing into obsolescence of apartheid’s institutionalized system of social and racial segregation, and of apartheid’s passion for definition and purity. Strode, however, describes this shift as deriving merely from what he sees as a spontaneous act of generosity and hospitality on Mrs Curren’s part, 86

Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 171. Jacques Derrida, Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas, tr. Pascale-Anne Braul & Michael Naas (Adieu à Emmanuel Lévinas, 1997; Stanford C A : Stanford U P , 1999): 41. 88 Derrida, Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas, 42. 87

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and my point is that, though her act of welcoming Vercueil and John in her house is ethically exemplary, we cannot forget her sense of affliction, assailment, and punishment, and the fact that it is the surrounding circumstances that oblige her, to a great extent, to respond in such a way. Derrida’s words on the potential violence that haunts any act of hospitality are highly revealing in this respect: I want to be master at home […] to be able to receive whomever I like there. Anyone who encroaches on my ‘at home,’ on my ipseity, on my power of hospitality, on my sovereignty as host, I start to regard as an undesirable foreigner, and virtually as an enemy. This other becomes a hostile subject, and I risk becoming their hostage.89

It is important, however, to note that Mrs Curren sees her “sovereignty as host” as most threatened not by Vercueil’s or John’s unexpected presence, but by that of the police: “What right have you to come to my house?” (170), she asks a policeman. When she returns to her house, after John has been killed there, she feels “over all a strange smell […] something sharp and penetrating […] They had left their mark on everything.” The fact that she refers to their penetrating smell, just as she repeatedly notices Vercueil’s smell pervading the house, and that she compares their intrusive act with the burglary she had suffered – “Nothing left untouched. Like the last visit the burglars paid” – underlines once again the possibility of ascribing acts of parasitism on both sides. But it is for the police, for the Afrikaner side, that Mrs Curren reserves the harshest words: their “touching” and “fingering” is “like rape: a way of filthying a woman” (169). The motifs of the house, property ownership, and possession of the land always go hand in hand with the motifs of lineage and heritage. In Age of Iron, the series of inversions in which parasites become hosts and hosts hostages is related to the ongoing process of reappropriation and redistribution of the South African land: Mrs Curren sees South Africa as “a land in the process of being repossessed, its heirs quietly announcing themselves” (25), just as the promise that the Lord made to the Israelites was that he would give them a land “as a possession” (6:8). At the centre of Age of Iron, we find, then, a concern with the question of the inheritance of property and the land, and the apocalyptic imagery of sickness, plague, and punishment seems to herald an imminent interruption of the white line of descent, just as the Egyptian line of 89

Derrida, Of Hospitality, 53, 55.

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descent is interrupted in Exodus. In the tenth and last plague, the plague that finally makes the Egyptians release their hold over the Israelites, every Egyptian firstborn dies: “And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead” (12:30). Mrs Curren thinks that “dying without succession is […] so unnatural. […] we need to know who comes after us, whose presence fills the rooms we were once at home in” (25). Paradoxically, the presence that fills the rooms of her home is not that of her daughter, who should come after her, but that of Vercueil: “In the middle of the night I became aware of a presence in the room that could only have been his” (13). This can be read as suggesting that it is Vercueil, together with the plague of carrion birds to which he belongs, that comes after her: they are her heirs. She explicitly says so at the very beginning of the novel, when she concludes her description of the ‘carrion birds’ and ‘scavengers’ of Cape Town: “My heirs” (5). Although it is uncertain whether Mrs Curren dies at the end, and it is uncertain whether Vercueil will occupy her house after her death, the possibility is strongly suggested. In any case, the novel asserts the untenability and imminent collapse of the current political regime, and of the prevailing system of property and land distribution. At a certain point in the novel, Mrs Curren remembers, in almost biblical, Exodian language, that “a century ago the patricians of Cape Town gave orders that there be erected spacious homes for themselves and their descendants in perpetuity, foreseeing nothing of the day when, in their shadows, the chickens would come home to roost” (159). It seems that this day has finally arrived.

‘How shall I be saved?’ The relation between confession and narrative, and the characteristics of secular confession as a discursive and literary mode have been one of Coetzee’s literary and intellectual preoccupations.90 This concern with confession is related to the exploration of the relation between fictional writing and autobiography that we find in many of his works, particularly his trilogy of fictionalized memoirs, Boyhood, Youth, and Summertime. In Mrs Curren’s narrative, the confessional dimension is also very strong, and she explicitly refers 90

In Doubling the Point, Coetzee asserts that he regards his essay “Confession and Double Thoughts: Tolstoy, Rousseau, Dostoevsky” as central within his literary career (391). His 1984 inaugural lecture at the University of Cape Town, “Truth in Autobiography,” also deals with the nature of confession.

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to this discourse in such terms several times: “How tedious these confessions” (73); “I confess, I am drowning” (122); “my dearest child […] As far as I can confess, to you I confess” (136); “this is my first word, my first confession” (136); “it is a confession I am making here, this morning, Mr Vercueil […] as full a confession as I know how” (165). What is the crime that Mrs Curren has committed and that she wishes to confess? At one moment, she tells Vercueil: ‘A crime was committed long ago. How long ago? I do not know. But longer ago than 1916, certainly. So long ago that I was born into it. It is part of my inheritance. It is part of me, I am part of it.’ (164)

She asserts that “though it was not a crime I asked to be committed, it was committed in my name.” Mrs Curren is here alluding to her complicity not only with the specific political crimes of apartheid, but with an older and more pervasive crime, a crime she has inherited and that is part of her, a crime related to parasitic European presence in South Africa. As a consequence of this crime, she has to suffer a life of shame: “‘Like every crime’,” the crime she has inherited “‘had its price’,” a price “‘to be paid in shame: in a life of shame and a shameful death’” (164). Like the magistrate’s, Mrs Curren’s shame derives from her being aware of her complicity with the prevailing political system. As she tries to lay a charge against the two policemen that pushed John, he tells the officer that his colleagues are “disgracing” the uniform he is wearing: “They are also disgracing me. I am ashamed” (85). But her deepest shame is the shame of forgetting her shame; she tries to “keep up a sense of urgency,” but as soon as she goes home and returns to her ordinary life, she forgets that “there is a zone of killing and degradation all around me.” This is how “I lose my sense of shame, become shameless as a child. The shamefulness of that shamelessness: that is what I cannot forget, that is what I cannot bear afterward” (119). Her cancer, then, is the deserved punishment for the shameful crime she has inherited: “I have cancer from the accumulation of shame I have endured in my life” (145). The rhetoric of uncontrollable spread, pervasiveness, penetration, infection, and disease identified in the previous section also characterizes this crime, and the shame and the guilt deriving from it. One cannot help but inherit this crime, one cannot help but live, in these “shameful” “times” (116), in a state of shame, since the nature of power is that “it invades one’s life” (117). In this country, ‘craziness’ and ‘madness’ are in the air and inevitably get into you. Mrs Curren tells Mr Thabane:

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Similarly, Mrs Curren cannot escape the sense of guilt, “the guilt of the English-speaking South Africa” which Njabulo Ndebele describes as characterized by great “moral agony” and “wrenching agonies of conscience.”92 Malan refers to “the state of elemental guilt and fear”93 in which white South Africans lived; to “the guilt and complicity that preyed on their minds like a nightmare.”94 Gordimer superbly defines this guilt as “the slow corrosive guilt, a guilt personal and inherited, amorphous as the air and particular as the tone of your own voice, which, admitted or denied, is in all white South Africans.” It is “like an obscure pain we can’t confess,”95 Helen Shaw notes. In his reading of Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, Paul de Man analyzes the relation between confessional language and guilt, and concludes that it is no longer certain that language, as excuse, exists because of a prior guilt but just as possible that since language, as a machine, performs anyway, we have to produce guilt (and all its train of psychic consequences) in order to make the excuse meaningful. Excuses generate the very guilt they exonerate, though always in excess or by default.

If, in Paul de Man, the emphasis is on the excess of language, on the proliferation of excuse, on the text as a machine that endlessly generates guilt, in 91

This idea about how the crimes committed against certain sectors of the South African population actually taint and contaminate the whole society is recurrent in South African literature. In his analysis of the relation between violator and victim, between interrogator and prisoner, in The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, Breytenbach believes “that the torturer is as depraved by his acts as the one who is tortured” (309), and that “to reduce a person to a weakness of babbling, to confuse him in private and to parade his humiliation publicly, constitutes a sickening spectacle which stains the whole society” (312). For those acts of torture, “we are all guilty” (312). 92 Njabulo Ndebele, “Memory, Metaphor and the Triumph of Narrative,” in Negotiating the Past: The Making of Memory in South Africa, ed. Sarah Nuttall & Carli Coetzee (Cape Town: Oxford U P , 1998): 27. 93 Malan, My Traitor’s Heart, 189. 94 My Traitor’s Heart, 168. 95 Gordimer, The Lying Days, 212.

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Age of Iron the emphasis is on the pervasiveness and spread of shame and guilt. According to de Man, any guilt […] can always be dismissed as the gratuitous product of a textual grammar or a radical fiction: there can never be enough guilt around to match the text-machine’s infinite power to excuse.96

The logic at work in Coetzee’s text seems to be the opposite: there can never be enough text to match Mrs Curren’s guilt and shame. There is no adequate name, no language sufficient to contain her crime: I am in a fog of error. […] What is my error, you ask? If I could put it in a bottle, like a spider, and send it to you to examine, I would do so. But it is like a fog, everywhere and nowhere. I cannot touch it, trap it, put a name to it. (136)

In her act of secular confession, Mrs Curren yearns for absolution and salvation: “The hour is late and I do not know how to save myself” (136).97 Absolution would mean liberation from the state of agony in which she finds herself: “I do not want to die in the state I am in, in a state of ugliness. I want to be saved. How shall I be saved?” (136). And she realizes that to live a state of shame is not enough to redeem her. She has clung to the notion of honour, to the idea that in his soul the honorable man can suffer no harm. I strove always for honor, for a private honor, using shame as my guide. As long as I was ashamed I knew I had not wandered into dishonor. That was the use of shame.

But now she knows that the price for the crime she has inherited is “even higher.” In these times “to be a good person is not enough”; “what the times call for is quite different from goodness. The times call for heroism” (165). In the passage in which John shows up at Mrs Curren’s house in the middle of the night, Mrs Curren points to what may be the nature of her crime and 96

Paul de Man, Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke and Proust (New Haven C T : Yale U P , 1979): 299. 97 As put by Coetzee, absolution is “the indispensable goal of all confession, sacramental or secular” (“Confession and Double Thoughts,” 252), meaning “the end of the episode, the closing of the chapter, liberation from the oppression of the memory” (251–52).

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where her salvation may lie: “Slowly, reluctantly, however, let me say the first word. I do not love this child” because “he is not lovable.”98 To her question “How shall I be saved?” she gives the following answer: By doing what I do not want to do. This is the first step: that I know. I must love, first of all, the unlovable. I must love, for instance, this child. Not bright little Bheki, but this one. He is here for a reason. He is part of my salvation. I must love him. (136)

In his Jerusalem Prize acceptance speech, Coetzee asserts that “at the heart of the unfreedom of the hereditary masters of South Africa is a failure of love. To be blunt: their love is not enough and has not been enough since they arrived on the continent.”99 This is the crime that Mrs Curren has inherited: a failure of love, an insufficiency of love or “fraternity,” a word that Coetzee also employs in his Jerusalem speech. Hence, the emphasis is not only on love but also on not enough. Mrs Curren complains that, in her daughter’s letters, there is “not enough of the loving-yielding that brings love to life” (139, my emphasis), and she describes South Africa as a land “loved too, perhaps, by its ravishers, but loved only in the bloomtime of its youth, and therefore, in the verdict of history, not loved enough” (25–26, my emphasis). It is as if the disease of apartheid, which, as described in the previous section, follows a logic of pervasiveness and uncontrollable spread, could only be counterattacked by a kind of love characterized by a similar logic of excess, increase, and contagion: “Love is not like hunger. Love is never sated, stilled. When one loves, one loves more” (137). Hence, it cannot be reciprocal love, the kind of love that asks something in return, but love that only flows forward: That is something one should never ask of a child […] to enfold one, comfort one, save one. The comfort, the love should flow forward, not backward. (73)

It must resemble “amor matris, a force that stopped for nothing” (94). Mrs Curren believes that in order to be saved, in order to expiate her crime, she 98

Mrs Curren had previously asserted that she “did not like” John. She describes him as having “no charm. There is something stupid about him, something deliberately stupid, obstructive, intractable.” She looks into her heart and “nowhere” does she find “any trace of feeling for him” (78). 99 Coetzee, “Jerusalem Prize Acceptance Speech,” 97 (my emphasis).

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must love ‘the unlovable’, she must love John, and she certainly welcomes him in her house and feels close to him at the moment he is killed, so that “despite my dislike of him, he is with me more clearly, more piercingly than Bheki has ever been” (175). The kind of love needed in South Africa does not choose whom to love – “One must love what is nearest. One must love what is to hand, as a dog loves” (190) – and loves that which is most difficult to love: “How easy it is to love a child, how hard to love what a child turns into!” (57). As opposed to the logic of giving and expecting something in return, the logic of compensation and false charity, of reciprocity and restitution, this novel suggests the pressing need for a logic of full and non-reciprocal giving. And the supreme act of giving is that of giving one’s life, as Mrs Curren does when she entrusts Vercueil with the letter for her daughter: I give my life to Vercueil to carry over. I trust Vercueil because I do not trust Vercueil. I love him because I do not love him. (131)100

The concern with giving emerges early in the novel, when, after listing all the things Vercueil needs, Mrs Curren complains that it is “too much to give” (20). “Why do I give this man food?” – she wonders – “For the same reason I would feed his dog (stolen, I am sure) if it came begging. For the same reason I gave you my breast. To be full enough to give and to give from one’s fullness: what deeper urge is there? […] A stubborn will to give, to nourish” (8). The question of giving and the gift has figured prominently in contemporary anthropological and philosophical discourse, particularly since the publication in 1923–24 of Marcel Mauss’s The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. In this classic work, Mauss argues that in primitive societies, gifts are always “given and repaid under obligation,” so that, though prestations “are in theory voluntary, disinterested and spontaneous,” they are, in fact, “obligatory and interested.”101 Since the gift, even when aban100

Attridge talks about the text of the whole novel as “a loving gift for a daughter who will not receive it until the donor is dead – except that, if the gift is truly received, the mother will live on in the daughter” (J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, 92). Mrs Curren’s “exceptional fullness of giving” lies in the fact that her gift is “posthumous, without thought of return” (93). 101 Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, tr. I. Cunnison (Essai sur le don, forme archaïque de l’échange, 1925; New York: W.W. Norton 1967): i.

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doned by the giver, still forms a part of him, the act of giving obligates the recipient to reciprocate. There are, hence, three obligations always involved in the social act of the gift: giving, receiving and repaying.102 In “The Notion of Expenditure,” Georges Bataille reacts against the principle of “material utility”103 that reduces human activity to the processes of production, conservation, and consumption, and laments that “the great and free forms of unproductive social expenditure have disappeared”: i.e. “everything that was generous, orgiastic, and excessive.”104 In Given Time, Derrida also departs from a logic or economy of utility, rationality, and calculation. He reworks Mauss’s conception of the gift, arguing that the gift interrupts or suspends the law of “economic calculation” and “circulation,”105 according to which the good returns to the point of departure, to the origin, to the home: i.e. to the donor: for there to be a gift, there must be no reciprocity, return, exchange, countergift, or debt. If the other gives me back or owes me or has to give me back what I give him or her, there will not have been a gift.106

In Age of Iron, Coetzee seems to imply that the transformation of South African society requires a kind of love and a kind of giving that respond to the logic of excess and non-restitution that Bataille and Derrida favour, a logic that is no longer a logic.107 It is possible to detect this non-logic in Mrs Curren’s apparently insignificant act of taking care of a cat and feeding him for a year, though “in all this time he treated me without compromise as one of the enemy” (79). She thinks that it is easy to give alms to the orphaned, the destitute, the hungry. Harder to give alms to the bitter-hearted (I think of Florence). But the alms I give Vercueil are hardest of all. What I give he does not forgive me for giving. No charity in him, no forgiveness. (Charity? says Vercueil.

102

Mauss, The Gift, 37. Georges Bataille, “The Notion of Expenditure” (1933), in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927–1939, ed. & intro. Allan Stoekl, tr. Allan Stoekl, Carl R. Lovitt & Donald M. Leslie, Jr. (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P , 1985): 116. 104 Bataille, “The Notion of Expenditure,” 124. 105 Jacques Derrida, Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money, tr. Peggy Kamuf (Donner le temps: La fausse monnaie, 1991; Chicago: U of Chicago P , 1992): 7. 106 Derrida, Given Time, 12. 107 Given Time, 24. 103

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Forgiveness?). Without his forgiveness I give without charity, serve without love. Rain falling on barren soil. (131)

In this enigmatic passage, Mrs Curren seems to be implying that, given Vercueil’s utter otherness and unresponsiveness, she gets absolutely nothing in return for what she gives him. It is easy to give to the destitute, because one usually gives what one does not want or need, and does so in order to silence the voice of one’s conscience. It is hard to give when the recipient will not acknowledge or be grateful for the gift. But, according to Derrida, that constitutes the true gift, “if there is such a thing.” Age of Iron is largely about the possibility of moving beyond parasitism and contestation. If Vercueil is the emissary of the punitive plague that is going to devastate South Africa, he could also be seen as friendly visitor and benign guest, and the relationship between him and Mrs Curren may be one that suspends, interrupts or departs from the host/parasite relationship: “It is not he who fell under my care when he arrived, I now understand, nor I who fell under his: we fell under each other” (196). Mrs Curren presents him as an angel, wondering: “When would the time come when the jacket fell away and great wings sprouted from his shoulders?” (160–61), and describing their relationship as one in which “the angel goes before, the woman follows” (168); “I need his presence, his comfort, his help,” and “the nearer the end comes, the more faithful he is” (196). Vercueil’s menacing potential, however, does not recede completely; there is only one certainty in the novel: one must love, one must give. One cannot know, however, whether that will be enough to redeem a society in which the violence of the host–parasite relation is so deeply entrenched, and to be forgiven for the shameful crime into which one has been born. 

5

P

Visitation Disgrace

Disgrace has probably become Coetzee’s most widely read, acclaimed, but also most controversial novel. One important reason why so many readers and critics have actively responded to this novel is the fact that, with the utmost intellectual complexity, critical lucidity, and non-compromising spirit, it addresses a wide range of issues, from animal rights to the effects of the ‘great rationalization’ brought about by global capitalism, issues which take the novel into the international arena, where it enters into dialogue with miscellaneous disciplines and fields of thought. Hence Peter McDonald’s assertion that Disgrace “is not wholly contained by its South Africanness,” since it circulates “simultaneously within myriad public spheres.”1 This said, Disgrace also alludes to or treats a series of pressing and controversial topics on which South African public debate was centred when the book was published, and that remain of relevance. The novel is in third-person present-tense narration, consistently focalized through the consciousness of David Lurie, a fifty-two-year-old professor at Cape Technical University, a fictional institution with much resemblance to the University of Cape Town. “Once a professor of modern languages, he has been, since Classics and Modern Languages were closed down as part of the great rationalization, adjunct professor of communications,” though he is allowed “one special-field course a year” (3), and this year he is teaching the Romantic poets. After the scandal brought about by his affair with one of his students, seemingly involving rape and certainly involving coercion and abuse of power, Lurie travels to Salem, in the Eastern Cape, to settle down on his daughter Lucy’s smallholding. The attack they suffer on the farm, Lucy’s rape 1

UBLISHED IN 1999,

Peter D. McDonald, “Disgrace Effects,” 322.

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and the way she decides to deal with it are to mark Lurie’s development in the rest of the novel. The preoccupation with penetration that, as we have seen, characterizes Coetzee’s fictional production from Dusklands onwards culminates in Disgrace, in which two violent sexual and spatial penetrations constitute the main hinge-points in the narrative. After 1994, South Africa tried to become, in the words of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, a ‘rainbow nation’, one in which the peaceful coexistence of people from different races – from different ‘kinds’ – would be possible. Disgrace points to the fallacies and naivety of ‘rainbowism’, in which the entrenched structural legacy of apartheid is covered up by a simplified myth of peace that entails neither true reconciliation nor real social transformation. If the myth of the rainbow nation projects an idyllic image of different racial groups living in harmony, Disgrace shows not only the persistent legacy of centuries of violence, crime, and injustice, but also the fact that interracial conflict is just one among many others at work in South African society: the novel systematically depicts hostility and lack of understanding not only between whites and blacks, but also between men and women, parents and children, old and young, teachers and students, landowners and tenants, rural and urban people, human beings and animals. However, at the same time, we encounter acts of friendly visitation and hospitality that, on a more optimistic note, point to the possibility of establishing kind bonds or bonds of kindliness between people, and between people and animals. In this sense, since unequal power-relations in South Africa have been very much dependent on an unfair distribution and zealous possession of the land, Disgrace also suggests, through the figure of Lucy – who, in this way, is connected with the boy of Boyhood and Michael K – an ethical relation to the land characterized by what we could call loving transience, as opposed to rooted attachment.

Spatial, sexual, and verbal intrusions In its concern with visitation and hospitality, Disgrace is a clear continuation of Age of Iron. If Mrs Curren sees South Africa as “a land in the process of being repossessed, its heirs quietly announcing themselves” (25), thus suggesting the untenability and imminent collapse of the apartheid regime with its perverted system of land ownership, in Disgrace this collapse has already taken place, and the attack suffered by Lucy and Lurie on the farm constitutes the event that most clearly highlights the end of white privilege over the land.

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The attack constitutes the most flagrant intrusion in the novel, both spatially and sexually.2 Lurie lexically underlines his perception of it as an intrusive visit, successively referring to the three rapists as “the men who visited them” (117), “the three intruders, the three invaders” (110), “Lucy’s violators” (111), “their visitors” (115), “the intruders” (140), and “the three visitors” (159), and speaking of an “invasion” (107) and “violation” (119). He warns Lucy that she should not stay on the farm, “because that would be an invitation to them to return” (158), and after identifying at Petrus’s party one of the boys belonging to the rape gang, he believes that “one way or another, it was he who brought in those men in the first place. And now he has the effrontery to invite them back” (133). But if Lurie describes the three men as “intruders,” the narrative voice had, in the very first chapter, employed the verb ‘to intrude’ to describe Lurie’s own actions. After his regular prostitute, Soraya, refuses to meet him again when he sees her with her children, he tells himself: “what should a predator expect when he intrudes into the vixen’s nest, into the home of her cubs?” (10, my emphases). He is both a ‘predator’ and an ‘intruder’, as we read when he unexpectedly arrives at Melanie’s house and commits the act that Melanie will later report as sexual abuse: “She is too surprised to resist the intruder who thrusts himself upon her” (24, my emphasis). As the term ‘intruder’ is employed to describe both Lurie and the three men, the reader is encouraged to see similarities between their sexual behaviour, so that the hostility between genders is emphasized over racial division. This antagonism between men and women, beyond racial lines, is again underlined when Lucy argues with her father over the attack in the following way: Maybe, for men, hating the woman makes sex more exciting. You are a man, you ought to know. When you have sex with someone strange – when you trap her, hold her down, get her under you, pull all your weight on her – isn’t it a bit like killing? Pushing the knife in; exiting

2

Some critics have referred to intrusions and visitations in Disgrace. Lucy Valerie Graham identifies in the novel “a succession of ‘invasions’ ” (“ ‘ A Hidden Side to the Story’: Reading Rape in South African Literature,” Kunapipi 24.1–2 (2002): 14), and remarks that most commentators “have not noticed that ‘intrusions’ between body / space of self and other are vital to narrative meaning in the novel, echoing the two major violations that take place” (13–14). For Barnard, “the idea of the visitor is a resonant one in this novel about strangers and kin” (“J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace,” 219).

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Lucy’s comparison of the act of sexual penetration to killing recalls Lurie’s description of Melanie’s state as one of dying as he is “exercising himself on” (9) her: “As though she had decided to go slack, die within herself for the duration, like a rabbit when the jaws of the fox close on its neck” (25). Obviously, the implication is that Melanie is the rabbit that, as Lucy puts it, is trapped and held down by the fox, Lurie, whose sexual act, in the light of Lucy’s words, becomes an act of killing or murder. The lexical parallels between both passages suggest that Lucy and Melanie, as women, may have experienced their respective sexual assaults in similar ways. In the light of this analysis, we cannot help reading against Lurie’s words when he makes the following reflection: “He thinks of Byron. Among the legions of countesses and kitchenmaids Byron pushed himself into there were no doubt those who called it rape” (160). His specific refusal to regard his act of ‘pushing himself’ into Melanie as rape – “not rape, not quite that” (25) – is immediately followed by the description of Melanie as a rabbit and of him as a fox, which certainly emphasizes Lurie’s abuse of power and Melanie’s status as victim. Lurie, like Byron, is unable to realize that Melanie has experienced as rape what he has not experienced as such. To Lurie’s comment that, “if they had been white you wouldn’t talk about them in this way,” Lucy ironically replies: “Wouldn’t I?” (159). For Lucy, then, unlike for Lurie, the essential fact is not that the rapists were black and she is white but, rather, that they are men and she is a woman. She even implies that she would assess the situation in the same way, had they been white, so that the male–female conflict is emphasized over the interracial one. And when she realizes that she is pregnant and decides to accept Petrus’s offer of marriage, the decisive fact for her, again, is not that she is a white person but, rather, that she is a woman: Objectively I am a woman alone. I have no brothers. I have no father, but he is far away and anyhow powerless in the terms that matter here. To whom can I turn for protection, for patronage? […] Practically speaking, there is only Petrus left. (204)

Also, in Petrus’s assessment of the situation, gender is emphasized over race: “Here […] it is dangerous, too dangerous. A woman must marry” (202).

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In her description of sex, Lucy underlines the violent character of the male penetration of the female body. In its strong concern with rape,3 Disgrace forms the culmination of a profound preoccupation with sexual penetration that we find throughout Coetzee’s early novels, in which there is some sort of obsession with the potential violence, the ugliness, the lack of concern about the other and the inequality of power that, in one way or another, haunt all sexual relationships, as in the following speculation by Lurie: “A man on a chair snipping away at himself: an ugly sight, but no more ugly, from a certain point of view, than the same man exercising himself on the body of a woman” (9). In fact, note how Magda’s experience of the sexual act – “A body lies on top of a body pushing and pushing, trying to find a way in” (177) – strongly resembles Lurie’s equally elemental definition of rape: “The man lying on top of the woman and pushing himself into her” (160). Together with spatial and sexual intrusion, attempts at verbal intrusion also abound in Disgrace. Saunders has rightly argued that Disgrace is structured around a series of disturbing interrogations: the university’s investigation into David Lurie’s relationship with his student, Melanie; Melanie’s father’s and boyfriend’s interrogations of Lurie; ‘the day of testing’ on the farm; Lurie’s subsequent inquisition into Lucy’s motives for not pursuing a rape trial; and his interrogations of Lucy’s neighbour, Petrus, who Lurie suspects of being involved in, or at least having knowledge of, the attack.4

To these I would add Rosalind’s, Lurie’s ex-wife, questions to him: “Her questions are intrusive, but Rosalind has never had qualms about being intrusive” (189). Saunders has related these scenes of interrogation to a series of ethical and juridical problems raised by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, such as the tension between the visceral and reason, the role of performance in responsibility, and the meaning of ‘accepting charges’. Certainly, verbal intrusion becomes especially apparent when Lurie has to face the University commission of inquiry, which requires a confession from him that he is not willing to provide: “‘What goes on in my mind is my business, not 3

When Disgrace was published, rape was “an endemic – and proliferating – social disorder,” which turned it into a central event in many novels depicting the South African transition (Meg Samuelson, “The Rainbow Womb: Rape and Race in South African Fiction of the Transition,” Kunapipi 24.1–2 [2002]: 88). 4 Rebecca Saunders, “Disgrace in the Time of a Truth Commission,” Parallax 11.3 (July–September 2005): 99.

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yours […] Frankly, what you want from me is not a response but a confession. Well, I make no confession’” (51). In the light of the T R C hearings and procedures, the thwarting of this act of verbal intrusion suggests scepticism towards public confession, emphasizing the private nature of repentance and atonement. As Saunders has pointed out, “what frustrates Dr Rassool in her interrogation of Lurie is the irreducibly inaccessible interior of the subject.” Dr Rassool is looking for “an exposure of the inner, hidden parts of the soul,” but, as Saunders has argued, drawing on Foucault’s discussion on the relation between confession and torture, “this prying open, this forced entry and intrusion of interior space might also be a description of bodily wounding, rape or torture.”5 What Saunders does not say is that, in this concern with the violation implied in the act of intruding upon the subject’s inner space, Disgrace, as indicated above, is a clear continuation of Coetzee’s previous fiction. The question of whether one character will manage to reach the inner secret of another and make them tell their story, and the violence and abuse of power that may be implied in that act, was the main element in the relationship between the magistrate and the barbarian girl, the medical officer and Michael K, Susan and Friday. In this sense, Lurie’s repeated attempts at making Lucy tell what happened during the attack somehow replicate the attempts carried out by his fictional predecessors, and Lucy’s adamant refusal to speak establishes significant links between her, the barbarian girl, Friday, and Michael K. Lucy is careful to prevent Lurie from making an assimilation between his story and hers: “‘David, when people ask, would you mind keeping to your own story, to what happened to you?’ […] ‘You tell what happened to you, I tell what happened to me’” (98). Lucy thus emerges as another Clarissa figure. If, according to Terry Castle, Clarissa is a “cipher” and a “sign,” “a subject for countless interpreters,”6 this somehow also becomes Lucy’s fate, particularly with regard to the countless critical interpretations that her enigmatic reaction to her rape and subsequent pregnancy has aroused. We saw how the magistrate tries to decipher the barbarian girl as if she were a text. Lucy also becomes “a kind of text […] a rhetorical event,”7 as the following words to Lurie underline: “‘You keep misreading me’” (112). Lurie certainly seems to 5

Saunders, “Disgrace in the Time of a Truth Commission,” 104. Terry Castle, Clarissa’s Ciphers: Meaning and Disruption in Richardson’s “Clarissa” (Ithaca N Y : Cornell U P , 1982): 15. 7 Castle, Clarissa’s Ciphers, 71. 6

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believe that, through her silence, Lucy is adding “semantic violation”8 and “hermeneutic violence”9 to the sexual violence she has already suffered: “Like a stain the story is spreading across the district. Not her story to spread but theirs: they are its owners” (115). However, it could also be argued that, by keeping silence, Lucy is zealously protecting her story: “What happened to me is my business, mine alone” (133). The ultimate reason for her doing so is certainly not revealed to us, and we should be careful not to misread her, as Lurie does. As Saunders has put it, the “theme of intrusion, of obscene and disgraceful intimacies, is elaborated in the novel in repeated scenes of invasiveness.”10 And this importance of intrusion, often presented as an unwanted and unexpected visit, is lexically signalled, as in the scene in which Melanie’s boyfriend enters, “without invitation,” Lurie’s office; he is an unwelcome “visitor” (30) who will become an “intruder” (31) in Lurie’s next class. Mrs Curren repeatedly uses the verb ‘to gnaw’ to describe the predatory action of cancer in her body, which functions as a mirror of the violent and parasitic relations reigning in South Africa. Similarly, the following image from Dante’s Inferno encapsulates David’s perception of personal relationships in his daughter’s place: “Souls overcome with anger, gnawing at each other” (209–10). Certainly, the novel depicts a wide range of predatory and intrusive acts committed by all sides and signalling many different social hostilities, not all racial. There is hostility between parents and children: “Parents and children aren’t made to live together” (139). And there is lack of understanding between men and women: “He wonders whether women would not be happier living in communities of women, accepting visits from men only when they choose” (104). The racialized readings that Disgrace has received have ignored how conflict arises in this novel out of complex networks of forces such as race and ethnicity, but also generation, gender, professional background, and place of residence. Thus, Lurie reflects in the following way upon the policemen’s attitude toward Lucy when they come to inspect the farm after the attack: “They are of her generation, but edgy of her nevertheless, as if she were a creature polluted and her pollution could leap across to them, soil them” (108). Or, when he is back in Cape Town, watching Melanie’s play, he feels in relation to the rest of the audience that, “though they are his countrymen, 8

Castle, Clarissa’s Ciphers, 25. Clarissa’s Ciphers, 71. 10 Saunders, “Disgrace in the Time of a Truth Commission,” 105. 9

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he could not feel more alien among them, more of an impostor” (191). The emphasis falls on social division for reasons much more complex than simply race. To a great extent, Disgrace attests to Breyten Breytenbach’s repeated assertion in Dog Heart – another novel exploring the paradoxes of post-apartheid South Africa – that “this has always been a violent country,”11 and the belief that this structural and deeply entrenched violence cannot be eradicated from one day to the next.

Staying with one’s kind Near the end of Disgrace, in his brief visit to Cape Town, Lurie again encounters Melanie’s boyfriend, Ryan, who asks him whether he has not learnt his “lesson”: “‘Stay with your own kind’” (194). Certainly, this was the lesson that apartheid intended to teach, as it advocated a single and homogeneous national identity based on whiteness. Apartheid dictated that one’s race constituted one’s kind, and saw as the most sacred obligation that of ‘staying with one’s own (racial) kind’. To borrow Derrida’s words in The Politics of Friendship, the apartheid system was based on a “genealogical schema,” with the subsequent “approbation given to filiation, at birth and at the origin, to generation, to the familiarity of the family, to the proximity of the neighbour – to what axioms too quickly inscribe under these words.”12 As a political system, it depended on a “schematic of filiation” based on the following concepts: “Stock, genus or species, sex (Geschlecht), blood, birth, nature, nation.”13 But Ryan’s sentence is ambiguous enough to make us wonder what it is exactly that he means by Lurie’s ‘kind’: he could certainly be referring to Lurie’s racial identity, but also to his old age – Lurie himself had described Melanie as “a child […] No more than a child” (20) – or to his social and professional status, thus questioning the equation between one’s kind and one’s race. Lurie feels outraged at Ryan’s words about his ‘own kind’: Your own kind: who is this boy to tell him who his kind are? What does he know of the force that drives the utmost strangers into each other’s arms, making them kin, kind, beyond all prudence? Omnis 11

Breyten Breytenbach, Dog Heart (London: Faber & Faber, 1999): 54, 121, 195. Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, tr. George Collins (Politiques de l’amitié, 1994; London: Verso, 2005): viii. 13 Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, 105. 12

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gens quaecumque se in se percifere vult. The seed of generation, driven to perfect itself, driving deep into the woman’s body, driving to bring the future into being. Drive, driven. (194)

Later on, after Lucy reveals her pregnancy to him, Lurie reflects as follows about her rapists: They were not raping, they were mating. It was not the pleasure principle that ran the show but the testicles, sacs bulging with seed aching to perfect itself. […] What kind of child can seed like that give life to, seed driven into the woman not in love but in hatred, mixed chaotically, meant to soil her, to mark her, like a dog’s urine. (199)

Some significant words are used in these two passages, in which the common image is that of the man’s ‘seed’ ‘driving’ ‘into the woman,’ in order ‘to perfect itself.’ But whereas Lurie, in the first passage, assumes that this perfection of the species is carried out in sexual acts such as his, this possibility seems to be ruled out in the case of Lucy’s rape, in which male seed, driven not in love but in animalistic hatred, is compared to dog’s urine. However, if we juxtapose both passages, Lurie’s depiction of his sexual encounters as imbued with passion, and with a high and noble aim (emphasized by the Latin sentence), emerges as highly dubious. If, in his sexual encounter with Melanie, there was no hatred, there was no love in it, either. Just after leaving her home, he reflects: “A mistake, a huge mistake. At this moment, he has no doubt, she, Melanie, is trying to cleanse herself of it, of him. He sees her running a bath, stepping into the water, eyes closed like a sleepwalker’s” (25). If Melanie needs “to cleanse herself,” it must be because David has ‘soiled’ her, just as the three rapists have ‘soiled’ Lucy. Also, in both passages, the term ‘kind’ is significantly repeated. Lurie thinks passionately and idyllically of the act of strangers’ going into each other’s arms as “making them kin, kind,” but he is horrified when this actually materializes in his daughter’s pregnancy. What kind of child will Lucy give life to? he wonders. Or, to put it in another way: Whose kind will Lucy’s child belong to? The possibility is entertained that Pollux, one of the boys who raped Lucy and who has some kind of familiar bond with Petrus, could be the baby’s father. When Lurie complains to Petrus about the boy’s presence on the farm, Petrus refers to Pollux as “my family, my people,” so that Lurie furiously thinks, “Well, Lucy is his people” (201). But even if Pollux is not the child’s father, Lurie’s and Petrus’s ‘kinds’ will inevitably mix, since, according to the deal Lucy makes with Petrus, “the child becomes his too.

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The child becomes part of his family” (204). Lucy and her child are not exclusively Lurie’s people any more; they also belong to Petrus’s. Lucy’s rape and her future child imply, then, a violent undermining of the ‘genealogical schema’ and the ‘schematic of filiation’ reigning in the apartheid period. But there is no celebration of miscegenation here; the union between two families or ‘kinds’ has occurred at the expense of rape and as fundamentally related to questions of land and property. Disgrace suggests that the passage from the apartheid law of ‘staying with one’s kind’ to the peaceful coexistence and intermingling of different ‘kinds’ will be a long, painful, and violent process. In Dog Heart, Breytenbach asserts: What I want to write is the penetration, expansion, skirmishing, coupling, mixing, separation, regrouping of peoples and cultures – the glorious bastardisation of men and women mutually shaped by sky and rain and wind and soil.14

In Disgrace, Coetzee writes about the inglorious aspects of penetration, coupling, mixing, and bastardization.

Friendship and hospitality beyond one’s kind In Disgrace, topographical or spatial conflict highlights the problem of how to learn to share the land, how to share space, how to live together, in the new South Africa. At the beginning of Dog Heart, the term ‘intruder’ is significantly used. During a visit to a vineyard in Bonnievale, Jeanne Retief, the materfamilias, says: Yes, but who tamed the land? Who dug the irrigation channel and brought vines to the soil? Now the government paints us as intruders, but did they who were here before us ever plant a single tree?15

In these reflections, which recall Jacobus Coetzee’s definition of his career as that of “the tamer of the wild,” there is a feeling of pride in the Afrikaner tradition of taming the land, which, over the centuries, has given Afrikaner farmers a sense of legitimate possession of and attachment to the land. But as Coetzee has pointed out, underlying this “proprietorial consciousness” was the assumption that “the South African earth belongs to certain people and not

14 15

Breytenbach, Dog Heart, 35. Breytenbach, Dog Heart, 2 (my emphasis).

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to others.”16 With the end of apartheid, this conception of Europeans as the original hosts and the sole owners became unsustainable. Both Dog Heart and Disgrace depict a moment in South African history in which there is uncertainty and confusion regarding the question of who is host and who is guest, who is owner and who is intruder, in this new South Africa; a question that is being radically reformulated. Talking about his relation with Lucy, Lurie tells Bev Shaw that “‘the problem is with the people she lives among. When I am added in, we become too many. Too many in too small a space’” (209). In In the Heart of the Country, traditional life on an Afrikaner farm was depicted as dependent on both masters and servants knowing their place,17 literally and figuratively: “We might as well be on separate planets, we on ours, they on theirs” (30). Significantly enough, Magda tries to transform the mistress–servant relationship by inviting Hendik and Anna to stay with her in the house, but as we saw in chapter 2, she fails, and the result is confusion concerning both powerrelations and spatial identity: “We three cannot find our true paths in this house. I cannot say whether Hendrik and Anna are guests or invaders or prisoners” (122). Similarly, Lurie feels confused by the radical transformation of the relations of power and place, which he has not chosen and finds hard to accept: “Too close, he thinks: we live too close to Petrus. It is like sharing a house with strangers, sharing noises, sharing smells” (127). He is puzzled by his inability to define Petrus’s function and role according to traditional categories: “Petrus is no longer, strictly speaking, hired help. It is hard to say what Petrus is, strictly speaking. The word that seems to serve best, however, is neighbour” (116). In this passage, Barnard points out, “Coetzee permits his sophisticated narrator the realization that the new relationships in post-apartheid South Africa require a new lexicon.” Barnard explains that the word ‘neighbour’ derives from the Old English word neah (near) and bur (dwell, farm), so that this etymology implies something revolutionary in the South African context: the fact that a black man can also be a boer, one who farms nearby, and not an antagonist and an ‘other’. 18 Similarly, Kenneth Reinhard

16

Coetzee, “The Great South African Novel,” 79. In Apartheid and Beyond, Rita Barnard analyzes the socio-spatial dialectic expressed in the phrase ‘knowing one’s place’ (3–4). 18 Barnard, “J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace,” 212. 17

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argues that the novel’s central question for post-apartheid South Africa is “who is my neighbour? What does it mean to love my neighbour?”19 But I would argue that, in its ethical demand, Disgrace goes even further. “There was a time when he thought he might become friends with Petrus. Now he detests him” (152, my emphasis), Lurie reflects after Petrus asserts that he can now call himself the farm manager. What Disgrace suggests is that for a real transformation of South African society to take place, it is not enough to become neighbours. I earlier identified, in Age of Iron, a logic of ‘not enough’: there was not enough shame in Mrs Curren to redeem herself, and there was not enough love in South African society for it to be transformed. The terms ‘enough’ and ‘not enough’ are also significantly repeated throughout Disgrace. Lurie reflects in the following way about his incapacity to discard old prejudices: His mind has become a refuge for old thoughts, idle, indigent, with nowhere else to go. He ought to chase them out, sweep the premises clear. But he does not care to do so, or does not care enough. (72, my emphasis)

And as his opera libretto begins to leave the character of Byron aside and to focus on Teresa, the abandoned mistress, he asks himself, “Can he find it in his heart to love this plain, ordinary woman? Can he love her enough to write music for her? If he cannot, what is left of him?” (182, my emphasis). The problem is that Lurie does not care enough and does not love enough. He asks the commission of inquiry sardonically: ‘Then what do you advise me to do? Remove what Dr Rassool calls the subtle mockery from my tone? Shed tears of contrition? What will be enough to save me?’ (52, my emphasis)

Ironically, Lurie refuses to comply with the kind of salvation the commission of inquiry offers to him: public and institutional salvation. And when David apologizes to the Isaacs, “he gets to his knees and touches his forehead to the floor. Is that enough? he thinks. Will that do? If not, what more?” (173, my emphasis). External, self-conscious, calculated gestures of repentance are not enough. Institutional justice is not enough. Prevailing political, social, and ethical measures are not enough. The political transition to democracy is not 19

Kenneth Reinhard, “Disgrace and the Neighbor: An Interchange with Bill McDonald,” in Encountering Disgrace: Reading and Teaching Coetzee’s Novel, ed. Bill McDonald (New York: Camden House, 2009): 101.

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enough; new laws redistributing the land are not enough; the end of legalized racial segregation is not enough. Conversely, I would argue that Coetzee appeals to a logic of the “exceptional and extraordinary,” of “the impossible: as if it interrupted the ordinary course of historical temporality”; the logic invoked by Derrida in his discussion of forgiveness.20 The kind of forgiveness Derrida argues for – with “no limit,” “no measure,” a forgiveness not to be confounded with excuse, regret, amnesty or prescription21 – is the forgiveness that post-apartheid South Africa needs and that Nelson Mandela asked for. We have seen that Disgrace points to the violence implied in the difficult transition from apartheid racial filiation to a new context in which different kinds will mix and live side by side. But this novel also suggests that there may be less violent acts and gestures through which prevailing intrusion and hostility may be transformed. Derrida suggests a conception of friendship that goes beyond the “approbation given […] to the proximity of the neighbour.”22 Similarly, Disgrace suggests that it is not enough to become neighbours; those living side by side must develop a relationship of friendship. The importance of the concept of friendship is highlighted when Lurie comes out of the hospital after the attack and is surprised to find Bill Shaw waiting for him. To Lurie’s apologies for having ruined his evening, he sincerely answers, “‘What else are friends for? You would have done the same’” (102). These words leave a deep impression on Lurie, who is highly sceptical “toward friendship between men”: Bill Shaw believes that, because he and David Lurie once had a cup of tea together, David Lurie is his friend, and the two of them have obligations towards each other. Is Bill Shaw right or wrong? […] Modern English friend from Old English freond, from freon, to love. Does the drinking of tea seal a love-bond, in the eyes of Bill Shaw? Yet but for Bill and Bev Shaw, but for old Ettinger, but for bonds of some kind, where would he be now? On the ruined farm with the broken telephone amid the dead dogs. (102)

The fact that ‘friend’ is the only word whose etymology is given in the novel underlines its prominent significance. E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India finishes with the well-known question posed by Dr Aziz to Cyril Fielding:

20

Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, 32. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, 27. 22 Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, viii. 21

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“‘Why can’t we be friends now?’” 23 The possibility of friendship between these two characters relates to the novel’s central interrogation of whether Indians and the English can forge an intimate and friendly relationship in the context of the British colonial presence in India. From a very different ideological stance, Coetzee’s Disgrace asks a similar question, this time in the context of post-apartheid South Africa. A Passage to India is traversed by Forster’s liberal humanist concern with the capacity of sincere relationships between individuals to transcend historical and political determinants. Coetzee’s novel, by contrast, suggests that radical and unconditional acts of friendship and hospitality are needed in order to transform the unfair structures of power that have characterized South African society for so long, and it asks: Will we dare to invite to our home those we have always regarded as intrusive visitors? Can we be friends now, here, “in this place, at this time […] this place being South Africa” (112)? Derrida begins The Politics of Friendship by asserting that “the figure of the friend” regularly comes back on stage “with the features of the brother,” and that it “seems spontaneously to belong to a familial, fraternalist and thus androcentric configuration of politics.” Derrida proposes, instead, a friendship which goes beyond this proximity of the congeneric double, beyond parenthood, the most as well as the least natural of parenthoods […] Let us ask ourselves what would then be the politics of such a ‘beyond the principle of fraternity’.

Derrida, then, wishes to go beyond the “schematic of filiation” to which the concept of politics, as related to that of friendship, often adheres,24 questioning the idealization of citizens as friends and of friends as second selves that we find in Aristotle and Montaigne. As Sandra Lynch explains, the friend in traditional philosophical literature becomes an impossible ideal – a reflection of oneself and perhaps even of one’s own narcissism – but never a threat, never a challenge, never a genuine other.25

Conversely, Derrida emphasizes the otherness in the figure of the friend and his potentiality for enmity. Lynch argues: 23

E.M. Forster, A Passage to India (1924; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2000): 316. Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, tr. George Collins (Politiques de l’amitié, 1994; London: Verso, 2005): viii. 25 Sandra Lynch, “Aristotle and Derrida on Friendship,” Contretemps 3 (July 2002): 101. 24

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The security and comfort of the friend as brother – predicated on his sameness and his filial love – is undermined by his difference from us. Within the political realm the same dilemma confronts us; we must deal both with the ‘brother friend’ and the ‘brother enemy’ in the process of fraternization.26

Disgrace suggests that, for South African society to be truly transformed, there is need for friendship in the Derridean sense: friendship with the other as other, as potential enemy and threat. Derrida deconstructs the kind of “friendship founded on homogeneity, on homophilia, on a solid and firm affinity (bébaion) stemming from birth, from native community.”27 In apartheid South Africa, only “homophilial friendship”28 was legally allowed, friendship with those with whom one shared a racial affinity dictated by birth and origin. In Disgrace, friendship beyond one’s kind as well as hospitality, visitation, and kindliness are glimpsed as potential redemption of the hostility and tension involved in different kinds of personal relationships. When Lurie is back in Cape Town and Lucy tries to assure him by phone that all is well on the farm, she lets him know that “the Shaws are frequent visitors” (196), and we have no doubt that theirs are friendly and helpful visits. And, ironically enough, at the party given by Petrus, before Lurie discovers that Pollux is present, he is aware that Petrus and his wife “are spending a lot of time with him, making him feel at home” (131). The father–daughter relationship between Lurie and Lucy is depicted explicitly in terms of the guest–host dyad. Lurie feels warmly welcomed as he arrives: “She comes to greet him, holding her arms wide, embracing him, kissing him on the cheek. […] what a nice welcome at the end of a long trip!” (59). Lucy offers unconditional hospitality to Lurie – “‘You can stay as long as you like’” – to which he replies, “‘I’d like to keep your friendship. Long visits don’t make for good friends’” (65). Certainly, friendship between Lucy and Lurie becomes more and more strained after the attack, so that “there are spells when the two of them are like strangers in the same house” (124). “The visit has gone on too long, in his opinion as well as in Lucy’s” (141); it has turned out to be “a difficult visit” (150), so difficult that Lurie finally leaves Lucy’s place.

26

Lynch, “Aristotle and Derrida on Friendship,” 105–06. Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, 92. 28 The Politics of Friendship, 92. 27

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Lurie’s visit to the Isaacs, Melanie’s family, is also a strained and difficult one, in which Lurie’s status as guest or visitor and the Isaacs’ status as hosts are clearly underlined. At Mr Isaacs’ school, he is announced as “a visitor” (164). In what we presume to be a kind and friendly gesture, Mr Isaacs invites Lurie to come to his home, to have dinner with his family. However, once there, Lurie thinks of himself as “the unwanted visitor” (168). “He tries to be a good guest” (170), but his words of apology for his affair with their daughter sound doubtful, as he feels for Melanie’s sister the same current of desire. And the lack of understanding between Mr Isaacs and him comes to the fore when the former relies on a religious understanding of repentance that Lurie vehemently refuses to comply with. Before leaving, Lurie thanks the Isaacs for their “kindness” (173). This may be an empty formula of politeness, but may also be a sincere and grateful acknowledgement of their hospitality and gesture of reconciliation. Similarly, as he feels warmly welcomed by them, Lurie describes Petrus and his wife as “kind people” (131). They are able to be kind to those who do not belong to their kind; they are able to be friendly, to employ Derrida’s words, beyond the affinity stemming from native community, familiarity or familial filiation. Derrida asks us to dream of friends of an entirely different kind, inaccessible friends, friends who are alone because they are incomparable and without common measure, reciprocity or equality. Therefore, without a horizon of recognition. Without a familial bond, without proximity, without oikeiótēs.29

This description of friendship may also be applied to the relations between people and animals, since if there are beings that are “of an entirely different kind” from us, it is animals. In an early conversation between Lucy and Lurie on precisely this question, Lucy holds that there is only the life we share with the animals, to which Lurie responds: ‘As for animals, by all means let us be kind to them. But let us not lose perspective. We are of a different order of creation from the animals. Not higher, necessarily, just different. So if we are going to be kind, let it be out of simple generosity, not because we feel guilty or fear retribution.’ (74)

Here we find again the use of the term ‘kind’, and, significantly, the issue being discussed is whether animals are of a different order from ours, whether 29

Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, 35.

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they are of a different kind. Thus, we return to the central question of whether we are able to be kind to those of a different kind, a question that, as posed in Disgrace, involves not only relations between people but also those we entertain with those who are most other to us: namely, animals. The ethical demand of Disgrace is, as put by Elizabeth Costello, for “kindness in its full sense, as an acceptance that we are all of one kind, one nature.”30 If, as we have seen, Lurie has difficulties with being kind to those who do not belong to his kind, he undergoes a significant transformation in the course of the novel with regard to his relationship with animals. The moment he begins to develop some kind of bond with animals is when he falls asleep beside the old bulldog, Katy, in her own cage, her own home. He becomes her guest. The preoccupation with the possibility of friendship between people and animals is underlined in Lucy’s question when she finds him: “‘Making friends?’” (78). Certainly, friendship grows between Lurie and Katy; whereas, at first, Lurie cannot stand her slowness and sulkiness, by the end of the novel this no longer irritates him. In his reflection on friendship as shown by Bill Shaw, Lurie realizes the importance of having ‘bonds of some kind’. It is revealing that he again employs the term ‘bond’ in order to describe what suddenly comes into existence between himself and the two Persian sheep: A bond seems to have come into existence between himself and the two Persians, he does not know how. The bond is not one of affection. It is not even a bond with these two in particular, whom he could not pick up from a mob in a field. Nevertheless, suddenly and without reason, their lot has become important to him. (126)

According to Derrida, the “heteronomic trust” that characterizes friendship “exceeds the reflexive forms of knowledge and consciousness of a subject, all the certitudes of an ego cogito. No cogito can measure up to such a friendship.”31 Lurie does not know why dogs and sheep have suddenly become important to him. As he is unable to specify what kind of bond he shares with the two Persians, it emerges that it is certainly not ‘a familial bond’ but one “of an entirely different kind.” Probably the most beautiful act of visiting we find in the novel is that of the three geese that return to Lucy’s farm every year: “‘I feel so lucky to be

30

J.M. Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons (London: Secker & Warburg,

2003): 106. Further page references are in the main text. 31

Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, 195.

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visited. To be the one chosen’” (88), Lucy exclaims.32 Animals are liable to become one’s friendliest and dearest visitors. At the end of the novel, in the only passage in which we are briefly granted what resembles a pastoral (rather than anti-pastoral) vision of the farm – when Lurie contemplates Lucy as she works among the flowers – there is again a reference to “the wild geese, Lucy’s visitors from afar” (216). And that coincides with the following reflection by Lurie on his responsibility as a grandfather: What will it entail being a grandfather? As a father he has not been much of a success, despite trying harder than most. As a grandfather he will probably score lower than the average too. He lacks the virtues of the old: equanimity, kindliness, patience. But perhaps those virtues will come as other virtues go: the virtue of passion, for instance. He must have a look again at Victor Hugo, poet of grandfatherhood. There may be things to learn. (217–18, my emphasis)

Lurie may have failed as a father, but perhaps he will somehow learn how to be a kind grandfather. In spite of the violence surrounding Lucy’s pregnancy, her child may arouse ‘kindliness’ in his grandfather. Lurie may be able to establish kind bonds between himself and his grandchild. The birth of this child may create bonds “of an entirely different kind.” Lurie’s final act of visitation and Lucy’s act of hospitality signal the possibility of a new beginning in their relationship: “‘Will you come in and have some tea?’ She makes the offer as if he were a visitor. Good. Visitorship, visitation: a new footing, a new start” (218).33 If Disgrace underscores the persistence of old prejudices and the weight of history, how hard it is “to overcome centuries of cultural and spiritual deformation,”34 it also glimpses

32

If ducks are friendly visitors in Disgrace, penguins are friendly hosts in “The Novel in Africa,” the second lesson of Elizabeth Costello, at the end of which Costello visits Macquarie Island, in the Southern Ocean. In the nineteenth century, hundreds of thousands of its penguins were killed for their oil, but their descendants seem to have forgotten or forgiven: “Still they innocently swim out to welcome visitors; still they call out greetings to them as they approach the rookeries” (55). 33 Barnard has analyzed this scene in similar terms: “The idea of ‘visitation,’ while not without its ambiguities, is clearly oriented to the future. With its religious overtones, it expresses the hope of some new arrival […] perhaps even of an unexpected grace” (Apartheid and Beyond, 38). 34 Coetzee, “J.M. Coetzee: Interview, by Folke Rhedin,” 7.

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the redemptive effect that bonds of hospitality, kindliness, and friendship may have.

Loving transience Critics have repeatedly pointed to the way Disgrace introduces itself within the South African tradition of the farm novel. Thus, Smit–Marais and Wenzel have defined Disgrace “as a fictional reworking of the traditional farm novel (plaasroman),” as it “draws on the tradition’s anxieties about the rights of (white) ownership, but within a post-apartheid context.”35 Questioning the validity of the pastoral in post-apartheid South Africa, Coetzee’s novel rejects the pastoral notion of the farm as an idyllic space and projects, instead, the farm as a dystopia: a contested, isolated, and dangerous space inscribed in a “a history of violence and dispossession,” and “of patriarchal and colonial domination.”36 For Barnard, “Disgrace may be grasped, among many other things, as a critical contribution to a larger discursive and narrative project of re-imagining rural life in South Africa,”37 and she brilliantly analyzes “Coetzee’s representation of the social and discursive space of the South African farm.”38 In Barnard’s analysis, whereas Life and Times of Michael K presents, however tenuously, a pastoral dream founded on a maternal relation with the earth and with no patriarchal or colonial domination, in Disgrace the emphasis is on “the payment required in order to live on and love the land,”39 and on “the urge to stake one’s claim, to own, and to procreate.”40 It is only at the end of the novel, in Lurie’s act of ‘giving up’ his favourite dog, that “we may begin to detect an ethos that relies on something other than a settling of accounts and the paying of a price.”41 Disgrace is certainly a novel about the possession and distribution of the land, a novel that engages with a moment in South African history in which 35

Susan Smit–Marais & Marita Wenzel, “Subverting the Pastoral: The Transcendence of Space and Place in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace,” in Beyond the Threshold: Explorations of Liminality in Literature, ed. Hein Viljoen & Chris N. van der Merwe (New York: Peter Lang, 2007): 209. 36 Smit–Marais & Wenzel, “Subverting the Pastoral,” 210. 37 Rita Barnard, “Coetzee’s Country Ways,” Interventions 4.3 (2002): 393. 38 Barnard, “J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and the South African Pastoral,” 204. 39 “J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and the South African Pastoral,” 204. 40 “J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and the South African Pastoral,” 205. 41 “J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and the South African Pastoral,” 222.

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the traditional system of land ownership, together with the power-relations associated with it, is being superseded and reformed. Hence, what the numerous acts of visiting, intrusion, and invasion highlight is the instability, the struggle, the conflict around physical borders and frontiers. In this sense, the specific setting chosen for the novel needs to be taken into consideration, as Cornwell has convincingly argued. Since it was in the Eastern Cape that the nine Frontier Wars were fought between the British and the Xhosa people during the nineteenth century – wars in which the question of land was the main reason for the strife – it becomes “the most logical setting for a story concerned at its core with entitlement to the land in post-apartheid South Africa.”42 In fact, Cornwell describes the attack on the Luries as “neither more nor less than a resumption of the last Frontier War.”43 In relation to Cornwell’s argument, I would add that the novel urges the reader lexically to approach some of the events depicted in it as specifically responding to that particular context. It cannot be a coincidence that in different passages, in all of which the question at stake is Lucy’s series of decisions after the attack, the term ‘here’ should be used: “This is my life. I am the one who has to live here” (133, my emphasis); “Why should I be allowed to live here without paying?” (158, my emphasis); “Here […] it is dangerous, too dangerous. A woman must marry” (202, my emphasis); “I have a father, but he is far away and anyhow powerless in the terms that matter here” (204, my emphasis). The repeated use of the deictic ‘here’ constrains any allegorical (mis)reading according to which Lucy’s act of paying would betoken the penance or retribution that whites or women should perform in the new South Africa. In the light of these passages, that interpretation would appear far from justified. When she states that her father is “far away” from “here,” Lucy is pointing to the physical distance and difference in life-style between Salem and other parts of the country. Or, when Petrus asserts that it is dangerous “here” for an unmarried woman to be alone, he is obviously not referring to the whole of South Africa, but to the specific area where they find themselves. My conclusion, then, is that Lucy’s actions have to be seen as a woman’s response to the particular living conditions of rural life in the Eastern Cape province, an idea that is reinforced if we take into account the fact that the novel posits a clear opposition between Lucy’s rape in that part of the country and the act of sexual abuse suffered by Melanie elsewhere – in Cape 42 43

Cornwell, “Disgraceland,” 43. “Disgraceland,” 53.

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Town, an urban context in which women can easily – and fortunately – turn to the law and to institutions in order to protect themselves. Similarly after the attack, we find a repeated use of the adjective ‘country’, in the sense of rural: “country life” (118), “country ways” (125), and “country people” (131). And when Lucy is trying to make David understand Petrus’s ways, she urges: “‘Wake up, David. This is the country. This is Africa’” (124). What this lexical repetition suggests is that a central part of the novel deals with the particularities of life in the African countryside, hence, that its significance and implications should not be extended to other contexts. Certainly, for a correct understanding of Petrus, we must consider his person in this rural context. He is a “a peasant, a paysan, a man of the country” (117). Arguing against racialized readings of the novel, Attwell points out that Petrus’s intentions and behaviour, including his protection of the rapists, notably Pollux, from the law, which is his most controversial act, have everything to do, not with his blackness or even Africanness, but with his historical role as paysan, peasant, whose mission it is to acquire more land, distance himself as much as possible from a history of wage labour or labour tenancy, and secure the position of his family.44

Strode explains that Petrus is a beneficiary of the new legislation on landed property and distribution, specifically the Land Reform (Labor Tenants) Act of 1996, which aimed at redressing the gross imbalances in the allocation of rural land, by allowing tenants to acquire land and security of tenure on properties on which they worked.45 Petrus arrived on Lucy’s farm as “the digman, the carry-man, the water-man” (151). But if “once he was a boy,” now he can call himself “the farm manager” (152). Trying to explain to Lurie her decision to marry Petrus, contributing the land in exchange for his protection, Lucy tells her father: “‘it is not me he is after, he is after the farm. The farm is my dowry’” (203). Another character embodying ambition in relation to land ownership is Ettinger, “another peasant, a man of the earth, tenacious, eingewurzelt” (117). However, in the case of Ettinger, his attachment to the land is given a more clearly negative connotation. Attwell reminds us that Ettinger is the character who systematically racializes the attack on the farm.46 Allud-

44

Attwell, “Race in Disgrace,” 335. Strode, The Ethics of Exile, 221. 46 Attwell, “Race in Disgrace,” 336. 45

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ing to Petrus, Ettinger remarks that “‘not one of them you can trust’” (109); he maintains a patronizing and racist attitude, still referring to his labourers with the pejorative term “boy” (109), and we do not doubt that he will make use of violence if it comes to defending his property: “‘I never go anywhere without my Beretta […] The best is, you save yourself, because the police are not going to save you, not any more’” (100). The use of the German word ‘eingewurzelt’ (from Wurzel, root) in order to characterize Ettinger’s attachment to the land underlines an entrenched, rooted form of possession, whereas, in his discussions of hospitality and friendship, Derrida suggests that the opposite process, a process of uprooting or Entwürzelung, has to occur: Violent sundering , to be sure, from the radicality of roots (Entwürzelung, Heidegger would say; we cited him above) and from all forms of originary physis, from all the supposed resources of a force held to be authentically generative, sacred, unscathed, ‘safe and sound’ (heilig): ethnic identity, descent, family, nation, blood and soil, proper name, proper culture and memory.47

Derrida outlines here an ideology of organicism, ethnic pride, and attachment to the soil that is common to all nationalisms, among them, Afrikaner nationalism, with its exaltation of blood purity, family lineage and legitimacy, and sacredness of land ownership. This ideological position, embodied by Ettinger, is untenable in the new South Africa: “The days of Ettinger, with his guns and barbed wire and alarm systems, are numbered” (124). In the case of Lurie, his progressive process of Entwürzelung or distancing from what Coetzee has called ‘proprietorial consciousness’ is dictated by the new historical and political circumstances, but also by his own personal actions, which condemn him to social marginalization: So he is home again. It does not feel like homecoming. He cannot imagine taking up residence once more in the house on Torrence Road, in the shadow of the university, skulking about like a criminal, dodging old colleagues. (175)

Lurie’s transformation in Disgrace affects his attitude towards personal property and occupation of the land, which changes substantially in the course of

47

Jacques Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of ‘Religion’ at the Limits of Reason Alone” (1996), in Acts of Religion. ed. & intro. Gil Anidjar (New York: Routledge, 2002): 91.

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the novel, as a sense of dislocation, or lack of meaningful and legitimate connection with the places he finds himself in, becomes more and more accentuated. After the ‘invasion’ of the farm, “the house feels alien, violated” (113), just as Mrs Curren feels her house to be “cold and alien” (108). Furthermore, when he comes back to Cape Town, he discovers that his house has been “visited” by a “raiding party”: “Booty; war reparations; another incident in the great campaign of redistribution” (176, my emphasis). And if he does not feel at home in Cape Town, he does not feel at home on Lucy’s farm, either, which “feels like a foreign land” (197). He ends up living in a boarding-house, and “the clinic […] becomes his home” (211). This heightened sense of displacement goes hand in hand with his progressive loss of power and authority. We have seen that Lurie’s spatial intrusion into Melanie’s house and sexual intrusion into her body constitutes his most flagrant act of abuse of power, and that his position of power as opposed to Melanie’s passive position as victim is underlined when we read that “when he takes her in his arms, her limbs crumple like a marionette’s. Words heavy as clubs thud into the delicate whorl of her ear” (24–25, my emphasis). Significantly, there is an unequivocal echo of this description in the episode of the attack on the farm: when Lurie is struck violently, “his limbs turn to water and he crumples” (93, my emphasis). In two of the most important scenes of the novel, then, we find the same words, ‘limbs’ and ‘crumple’. If now it is Lurie’s limbs that crumple, it is because his previous position of power has suddenly been reversed into one of weakness and impotence, into the status of victim, the one he had forced Melanie to occupy. There is a further echo of these two scenes in the closing episode of the novel, when Lurie imagines how he will accompany his favourite dog when he is put down at the vet’s: he will “whisper to him and support him in the moment, when, bewilderingly, his legs buckle” (219, my emphasis). Coetzee could have equally chosen to say of the dog ‘his limbs crumple’, since ‘leg’ and ‘limb,’ ‘buckle’ and ‘crumple,’ are almost synonyms. Furthermore, the parallel with Melanie’s scene is underlined by Lurie’s whispering to the dog and holding him, just as he whispered in Melanie’s ear and held her in his arms. If Lurie took Melanie in his arms in order to ‘exercise himself’ over her and if it was his brutal force that made Melanie’s limbs crumple, now he holds the dog to support him as his legs buckle under the final anaesthetic; if his whispers in Melanie’s ear were violent and intrusive as ‘clubs’, we have reason to regard his whispers to the dog as delicate and comforting. From making the limbs of the other crumple, from exerting violence on the body of the other, Lurie has passed to

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suffering violence exerted on his own body, and has finally learned empathy – to accompany the other, embodied in the dogs of the clinic, as they experience physical pain and disintegration. But if Lurie does not choose the state of dispossession and displacement he finds himself in, Lucy, by contrast, embodies a non-proprietorial attitude towards the land that seems to arise from genuine personal conviction. When she agrees to marry Petrus, only the house remains hers, so that she becomes “a tenant on his land,” “a bywoner” (204). Unlike Lurie, she seems to be keenly aware of the fact that one of the fundamental differences between the old and the new South Africa is the white person’s loss of spatial privilege and topographical control. To Lurie’s complaint that Pollux, one of the rapists, is around the farm, protected by Petrus, Lucy replies, “‘I can’t order him off the property, it’s not in my power’” (200). Thus, in contrast to Petrus’s and Ettinger’s entrenched attachment to the land, David describes Lucy as “merely a transient” (117). Hers is a love for the land – “She had fallen in love with the place, she said; she wanted to farm it properly” (60) – that entails no sense of property or possession, and in this sense there are significant links between her and two other characters of Coetzee’s, Michael K and the boy of Boyhood. For the child of Boyhood, “there is no place on earth he loves more”48 than the family farm, Voëlfontein. But this love is not tied to a sense of possession. On the contrary, he feels like a transient: “The farm is not his home; he will never be more than a guest” (79), “The farm will never belong to him, he will never be more than a visitor” (96). In White Writing, Coetzee draws a distinction between the “farm (nature parcelled and possessed)” and the “land” (175). It is on an un-parcelled and un-possessed land that Michael K carries out his activity as a gardener, as he does not occupy the Visagies’ farmhouse, nor does he build a new house. In Lucy, we find a similar rejection of the traditional concept of the farm: “‘This is not a farm, it’s just a piece of land where I grow things’” (200). Since the unjust possession and distribution of the land are intimately related to human relations of oppression and hierarchy, Coetzee intermittently suggests that an utter “destruction of the unnatural structures of power that define the South African state”49 will only take place when all bonds of terri-

48

J.M. Coetzee, Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life (1997; London: Vintage,

1998): 79. Further page references are in the main text. 49

Coetzee, “Jerusalem Prize Acceptance Speech,” 97.

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torial possession are abolished, when the land simply does not belong to anyone. John, the child, feels that Voëlfontein belongs to no one. The farm is greater than any of them. The farm exists from eternity to eternity. When they are all dead, when even the farmhouse has fallen into ruin like the kraals on the hillside, the farm will still be here. (96)

In this sense, we can speak of a utopian, albeit fragile, dimension in Coetzee’s writing, with Lucy, Michael K, and John, the boy, as the three characters coming closest to it. In his Inaugural Speech as President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela asserted that all South Africans are “intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld” and expressed his belief in “a rainbow nation at peace with itself and with the world.”50 Whereas, for Mandela, attachment to the South African land would pave the way for national peace, in Disgrace attachment to the land, hence, to property, is seen as a source of confrontation and conflict, and as an obstacle to the construction of new relationships based on friendship and hospitality. In Coetzee’s words in “The Memoirs of Breyten Breytenbach,” Breytenbach’s Dog Heart presents post-apartheid farm murders and crimes against whites as “part of a larger historical plot which has everything to do with the arrogation of the land by whites in colonial times.” For Coetzee, Dog Heart’s lesson is that “the land […] belongs to no one, and the correct relation to the land is the nomad’s: live on it, live off it, move on; find ways of loving it without becoming bound to it.”51 We see, then, that Disgrace and Dog Heart pursue similar historical visions and ethical imperatives. Coetzee quotes the moment in which Breytenbach tells his French-born daughter, “We are painted in the colours of disappearance here […] We are only visiting here.”52 As Coetzee puts it, Breytenbach’s warning to his daugh-

50

Nelson Mandela, “Statement of the President of the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela, at his Inauguration as President of the Democratic Republic of South Africa, Union Buildings, Pretoria, May 10 1994,” http://www.africa.upenn.edu /Articles_Gen/Inaugural_Speech_17984.html (accessed 12 March 2008). 51 J.M. Coetzee, “The Memoirs of Breyten Breytenbach,” in Stranger Shores: Essays 1986–1999 (London: Vintage, 2002): 313. 52 Breytenbach, Dog Heart, 145.

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ter is, “Do not become too attached,”53 the same warning that we find in Disgrace. Lucy’s acceptance of a status lacking authority and power is a radical one – somehow a choice to go through the Derridean process of Entwürzelung or uprooting: ‘Perhaps that is what I must learn to accept. To start at ground level. With nothing. Not with nothing but. With nothing. No cards, no weapons, no property, no rights, no dignity. … like a dog.’ (205)

The ethical – perhaps impossible – imperative that we find here is to return to a primal, original state, the state we share with animals, where there is neither property nor propriety, so that “a new footing, a new start” (218) in the relations between human beings can take place. This is a utopian state, the one we glimpse at the end of Life & Times of Michael K, when Michael imagines returning to the country – this time not alone, but with an old man to whom he will show how, by simply by obtaining water out of a shaft, “one can live” (184). This conclusion must have been overlooked by those critics who have complained about “the absence of any meaningful relationship between Michael K and anybody else,”54 or who have argued that, in this novel, “Coetzee will not be tempted by any notions of partisanship, participation or salvation in the future.”55 In this final passage, Michael certainly looks into the future and abandons his solitary existence in order to found the simplest kind of community, a community of two, but a community still. Furthermore, in a novel depicting a political regime that gets rid of old and sick people as soon as they are of no further use – remember Michael’s complaint about his mother’s life as a servant – Michael’s choice of an old man becomes very significant. The idea of simply living by obtaining water from the land recalls Lucy’s “ground level”: what is glimpsed is a non-exploitative relation to the land and a human community in which, all bonds of property having been abolished, true equality should reign.56 A similar utopian moment is glimpsed 53

Coetzee, “The Memoirs of Breyten Breytenbach,” 313. Z. N., “Much Ado about Nobody,” 103. 55 Clingman, “Revolution and Reality,” 49. 56 Barnard has also pointed to the utopian dimension of Life & Times: it “presents, albeit in anorexic and unsustainable form, a utopian vision: a dream of rural life without patriarchal or colonial domination” (Apartheid and Beyond, 34). Michael Green has argued that the final scene of this novel is couched in “a utopian tense,” underlining its look toward the future: “As a social vision it holds convincingly before us the 54

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in Coetzee’s short story “Nietverloren,” in which a reflection on the end of the traditional farm life-style in the Karoo closes with the following vision of land restitution: In the larger picture, was it really better that families who in the old days lived on the land by the sweat of their brow should now be mouldering in the windswept townships of Cape Town? Could one not imagine a different history and a different social order in which the Karoo was reclaimed, its scattered sons and daughters reassembled, the earth tilled again?57

In Doubling the Point, Coetzee writes that “imagining a possible ‘moral community’ in their native country” is “a duty that falls upon writers (white or black […])” (339). As he repeatedly returns to the very primordial act of sharing the space, and to the primeval pair of the host and the guest, Coetzee asks the question that Gordimer had already asked in the early 1940s, in her short story “Is There Nowhere Else Where We Can Meet?”: Is it not possible to make out of this land a different place where we can truly meet, blacks and whites, men and women, parents and children, without fear, without violence, without hostilities?58 Gordimer opens a 1990 essay that discusses the question of violence as “the South African way of life”59 with the following poem by Mongane Wally Serote: So we shall have buried apartheid – How shall we look at each other then, How shall we shake hands […] What shall we look like When that sunrise comes […] I ask my people For we have said

fundamental elements of survival: it is communal (in the most basic sense, it concerns Michael and an old man), creative (the old man is imagined from evidence), and ultimately (in the face of adversity) materially sustaining” (Novel Histories: Past, Present, and Future in South African Fiction [Johannesburg: Witwatersrand U P , 1997]: 272). 57 Coetzee, “Nietverloren,” 24. 58 See Nadine Gordimer, “Is There Nowhere Else Where We Can Meet?,” in Selected Stories (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986): 17–20. 59 Nadine Gordimer, “How Shall We Look at Each Other Then?” in Living in Hope and History: Notes from Our Century (London: Bloomsbury, 1999): 140.

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David tells Rosalind that he and Lucy “get on well,” but “not well enough to live together” (189). Serote’s preoccupation in this poem is Coetzee’s in Disgrace: how shall we share the land, how shall we get on well enough to live together in this country, on this earth that belongs, not just to certain people, but to all who live in it.

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P ART 2 T HE W RITER AS H OST AND G UEST

6

G

Secrecy Foe

ENERALLY SEEN AS A POSTMODERN,

postcolonial, and feminist rewriting of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Foe (1986) is narrated by Susan Barton, who, returning from Bahia, Brazil, where she had been searching for her lost daughter, is washed ashore on a desert island inhabited by the castaway Cruso and his mute black servant Friday. After spending some time on the island, they are rescued by a ship, but Cruso dies on their way to England. Once in this country, Susan assumes the role of Friday’s protector and gets in contact with the famous writer Mr Foe in order to have her story of the island “set right” (47) and turned into a proper literary work. The novel is divided into four numbered sections. The first corresponds to Susan’s memoir of life on the island; the second is made up of the letters that Susan addresses to Foe, who is hiding from his creditors, while Friday and she temporarily stay in his lodgings; the third part is an account of Susan’s relationship with Foe, of their discussions about the meaning and the structure of her story, and of her attempts to teach Friday to write. In the fourth and last section, Susan’s first-person narrative is replaced by that of an anonymous, sexually indeterminate narrator who is initially in Foe’s house and then, in a shipwreck, is swallowed by the ocean, where s /he encounters Friday’s body and tries to coax a testimonial voice out of it. Susan’s story is full of silences and enigmas that critics have tried to illuminate by making them fit into their interpretative frameworks. By contrast, I believe that these silences and enigmas demand, on the part of writer and critic, a position of blindness that does not try to do away with the obscurity that we encounter in every narrative – of which Friday’s resistant impenetrability is a case in point. But Susan’s authoritarian stance and ontological certainty are also undermined by the strange creatures that begin to populate

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her story – seemingly emanating from various literary texts by Defoe – and that she regards as ‘ghosts’. Hence, my proposal that, although Foe certainly writes back to Defoe, the putative father of the realist and imperialist novel, as critics have generally argued, it also constitutes a response to Defoe, the writer of ghost stories. In this novel, the writer’s loss of authority and mastership is given a spatial counterpart as he – Foe – is literally displaced from his house. As for Susan’s inability to achieve a sense of authority over her story, I will be arguing that her discourse operates in a realm – that of surface – in which Friday can only occupy a borderline and liminal position, since his home lies in a realm of depth that is only intermittently glimpsed in parts I , I I , and I I I , and that finally overwhelms the narrator in part I V .

Secrets and silences By having at its centre Susan Barton’s attempts to construct her story of the island and to get to know Friday’s story, Foe constitutes a continuous metafictional reflection on the nature, function, and interpretation of narrative, and on the relation between storytellers and their stories, and between writers and their characters. The interpretative activity of the reader of the novel mirrors that of the characters in the novel: namely, that of Susan as she tries to decipher the different acts that Friday carries out, such as his scattering of petals over the water, when they were on the island, or his drawing of “walking eyes” (147). As Marais has argued, Susan’s and Foe’s attempts to make sense of the story of the island and of Friday reflect the reader’s attempts to make sense of the novel;1 thus, Susan, Foe, and the reader actually find themselves facing the same silences and mysteries. Foe is a novel that continually parodies and thwarts critics’ attempts to make sense of its textual signals; indeed, its own narrator, Susan, feels constantly baffled by her impotence to make sense of her own story. Once back in England, there is a moment at which she inwardly addresses Friday with her speculations about the mysteries pervading her story of the island. “First, the terraces. How many stones did you and your master move?” (83), she wonders, feeling also puzzled by the apparent absence of purpose in building them. “Second (I continue to name the mysteries): how did you come to lose your tongue?” (84). She also feels deeply intrigued by whether it was the

1

Mike Marais, “Interpretative Authoritarianism: Reading / Colonizing Coetzee’s Foe,” English in Africa 16.1 (May 1989): 12.

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slavers or Cruso himself who cut it out, and why they did so. “And then there is the mystery of your submission” (85): she cannot understand why, during all those years, Friday submitted to Cruso. There is also the question of “why did you not desire me, neither you nor your master” (86), and “then there is the final mystery: What were you about when you paddled out to sea upon your log and scattered petals on the water?” (87). Although Susan tells herself that these mysteries prove that “the story of the island was not all tedium and waiting” (83), she feels anxiously disturbed by her inability to solve them. She wants to be “father” to her story, by keeping the power to “guide,” “amend,” and “withhold” (123), but her story has come to be inhabited by secrets she cannot explain and silences she has not chosen and cannot give voice to. As a literary text that keeps calling attention to its dimension of secrecy, Foe very much echoes the ideas developed by Coetzee, in “Truth in Autobiography,” to which I have already referred. In this lecture, Coetzee suggests that “if the desire of literary criticism is to tell every truth, to unveil whatever is veiled, to expose every secret to sight,” then criticism enjoys a “privilege […] by which it claims to tell the truth of literature,” and cannot afford to reveal the secret of why “it wants the literary text to stand there in all its ignorance, side by side with the radiant truth of the text supplied by criticism.” What Coetzee seems to be implying is that the secret by which literary criticism sustains itself is that of revealing the secrets that the literary text refuses to tell. He argues that “all forms of discourse may have secrets, of no great profundity, which they nevertheless cannot afford to unveil,”2 and that the pacts between writers and readers “cover, among many things, what demands may be made of each genre and what may not, what questions may be asked and what may not, what one may see and what one must be blind to.”3 Coetzee’s argument about the relation between literature and secrecy recalls Derrida’s discussions of this same issue. In Given Time, Derrida argues for the secret dimension of literature in his analysis of Charles Baudelaire’s story “Counterfeit money.” For the French philosopher, “the readability of the text is structured by the unreadability of the secret”: the interest of “Counterfeit Money,” like any analogous text in general, comes from the enigma constructed out of this crypt which gives to be read that which will remain eternally unreadable, absolutely 2 3

Coetzee, “Truth in Autobiography,” 6. “Truth in Autobiography,” 5.

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Similarly, Attridge has argued that “some sense of strangeness, mystery, and unfathomability is involved in every encounter with the literary,”5 and Miller has asserted that “literature keeps its secrets,”6 pointing out that it may occur that “the whole meaning of the works in question turns on what is forever hidden from the reader’s knowledge.”7 Susan certainly feels that the whole meaning of her story turns on what is forever hidden from her knowledge: namely, Friday’s story. She had already encountered one gap she felt unable to fill – the lacuna of Cruso’s story of his life before the island: the stories he tells her are “so various, and so hard to reconcile one with another” (11) that she concludes that “she no longer knew for sure what was truth, what fancy” (12). She sadly acknowledges that she “did not know what was truth, what was lies, and what was mere rambling” (12). But the gap that most radically undermines her aspiration to truth and authorial omnipotence is that of Friday’s silence: If the story seems stupid, that is only because it so doggedly holds its silence. The shadow whose lack you feel is there: it is the loss of Friday’s tongue. (117)

She knows that “to tell my story and be silent on Friday’s tongue is no better than offering a book for sale with pages in it quietly left empty” (67), and asserts that the story of Friday “is properly not a story but a puzzle or hole in the narrative (I picture it as a buttonhole, carefully cross-stitched around, but empty, waiting for the button)” (121): many stories can be told of Friday’s tongue, but the true story is buried within Friday, who is mute. The true story will not be heard till by art we have found a means of giving voice to Friday. (118).

So she reaches the conclusion that they must “descend into” Friday’s mouth, “open” it, and “hear what it holds” (142). But Friday remains until the end an impenetrable surface whose depth or inner world neither Susan nor the reader can penetrate, and in this sense,

4

Derrida, Given Time, 152. Attridge, The Singularity of Literature, 77. 6 J. Hillis Miller, On Literature (London: Routledge, 2002): 39. 7 Miller, On Literature, 40. 5

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Friday very much resembles other “figures of alterity”8 in Coetzee’s fiction: the Vietnamese man of Dawn’s picture and especially the barbarian girl, with “no interior, only a surface” (46). As Susan puts it, “How are we ever to know what goes on in the heart of Friday?” (115), and she describes him as “cold, incurious, like an animal wrapt entirely in itself” (70). Friday remains resistant and unresponsive to Susan’s persistent attempts to communicate with him: “‘Do you love me, Friday?’ I called softly. Friday did not so much as raise his head” (115). In his apparent singing, his playing of the flute, and his trancelike dancing, he carries out acts that could signal potential communication and convey meaning, but which remain beyond Susan’s comprehension. On the island, Cruso orders Friday to sing for Mistress Barton: Whereupon Friday raised his face to the star, closed his eyes, and, obedient to his master, began to hum in a low voice. I listened but could make out no tune. (22)

Susan cannot stand the way he constantly plays on the flute a tune of six notes: “This tune […] grew so to annoy me that one day I marched over and dashed the flute from his hands” (28). And she asserts that “in the grip of the dancing he is not himself. He is beyond human reach. I call his name and am ignored” (92). Like Susan, we as literary critics tend not to like silences and enigmas. Foe’s words could stand for our creed: In every story there is a silence, some sight concealed, some word unspoken, I believe. Till we have spoken the unspoken we have not come to the heart of the story. (141)

We have endorsed Foe’s determination: “We must make Friday’s silence speak, as well as the silence surrounding Friday” (142). This can be seen in the interpretations that Friday’s written marks have generated. After Susan has unsuccessfully tried to teach him to write a few words, he draws open eyes on feet and writes endless rows of what seems to be the letter o. According to Gräbe, with the open walking eyes Friday is referring to his and Susan’s roaming of the English countryside, and to the different voyage he would like to undertake,9 whereas Marais argues that they constitute an “evocation of the eighteenth-century literary topos of the reader as traveller.”10 For Williams, 8

Attridge, J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, 12. Gräbe, “Postmodernist Narrative Strategies in Foe,” 177. 10 Marais, “The Hermeneutics of Empire,” 72. 9

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the series of round marks “represent the hole of the story or mouth through which someone must enter,”11 while Kwaku Larbi Korang understands them to be omegas that signal the terminus of the settler consciousness in South Africa.12 My contention, rather, is that we cannot even know whether Friday is actually depicting open eyes on feet or the letter o, since this already constitutes Susan’s interpretation. The meaning of Friday’s written marks remains a secret for both Susan and the reader.13 His marks make the reader aware that s / he must “remain prepared to be surprised,” and accept “that literature continually exceeds any formulas or any theory with which the critic is prepared to encompass it.”14

A hermeneutics of blindness Foe is, then, is a self-reflexive literary text that makes the reader fully aware of the limits of her hermeneutic vision. As Marais has put it, Coetzee has created a literary work characterized by a strong “critique of authoritarianism,”15 in relation to the activity of both the writer and the critic. In Doubling the Point, Coetzee defines his own personal story as a story spoken in a wavering voice, for the speaker is not only blind but, written as he is as a white South African into the latter half of the twentieth century, disabled, disqualified – a man-who-writes reacts to the situation he finds himself in of being without authority, writing without authority. (392)

Elsewhere, he has suggested that one can only question power “from its antagonistic position, namely, the position of weakness.”16 In Foe, Coetzee

11

Williams, “ ‘ Foe’: The Story of Silence,” 38. Kwaku Larbi Korang, “An Allegory of Re-Reading: Post-Colonialism, Resistance, and J.M. Coetzee’s Foe,” in Critical Essays on J.M. Coetzee, ed. Sue Kossew (New York: G.K. Hall, 1998): 191. 13 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak considers the possibility “that they are nothing” ( “Theory in the Margins: Coetzee’s Foe Reading Defoe’s Crusoe / Roxana,” in The Consequences of Theory, ed. Jonathan Arac & Barbara Johnson [Baltimore M D & London: Johns Hopkins U P , 1991]: 172): “Are those walking eyes rebuses, hieroglyphs, ideograms, or is their secret that they hold no secret at all?” (171). 14 Miller, Fiction and Repetition, 5. 15 Marais, “Interpretative Authoritarianism,” 9. 16 Coetzee, “Two Interviews with J.M. Coetzee, 1983 and 1987,” 462. 12

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adopts a position of weakness and blindness in relation to Friday, the African other: “Coetzee’s novel promotes a vision that is not undone by the knowledge of its blindness but founded upon it.”17 Thus, I subscribe to Kim L. Worthington’s contention that this novel is a “masterly portrayal of tactical authorial withdrawal,” in which “empty textual spaces and characterological silences proliferate” (252), but I disagree with her assertion that “the reader is called upon to occupy and fill these in order to comprehend the novel’s meaning.”18 On the contrary, I suggest that the reader, like the authorial agent, is called upon to abandon the authority of her language and her critical discourse, so as not to authorize Friday’s being and alterity. Worthington regards Foe as an invitation to “the politics of appropriate textual ‘apprehension’,”19 whereas I would maintain that it constitutes a rejection of such politics. There are actually, throughout the novel, several warnings against the activity of meaning-imposition, which, in the following reflection by Susan, is characterized as a means of self-empowerment: I tell myself I talk to Friday to educate him out of darkness and silence. But is that the truth? There are times when benevolence deserts me and I use words only as the shortest way to subject him to my will. (60)

By forcing Friday’s impenetrable surface to fit into already made interpretative frameworks, the critic partly replicates the impulse behind Susan’s attempt to teach Friday the words “Africa,” “ship,” “house,” and “mother”: to impose on him her own cultural codes and understanding of the world, according to which Africa is “a row of palm trees with a lion roaming among them” (146), as she depicts it to him. The teaching of language is identified with ideological and cultural imposition. At a certain point, Susan has the following thoughts about Friday: If he was not a slave, was he nevertheless not the helpless captive of my desire to have our story told? How did he differ from one of the wild Indians whom explorers bring back with them […] to show they have truly been to the Americas? (150–51)

17

Chris Bongie, “ ‘ Lost in the Maze of Doubting’: J.M. Coetzee’s Foe and the Politics of (Un)Likeness,” Modern Fiction Studies 39.2 (Summer 1993): 263. 18 Kim L. Worthington, Self as Narrative: Subjectivity and Community in Contemporary Fiction (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996): 252. 19 Worthington, Self as Narrative, 256.

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We must undertake a strenuous effort to avoid making Friday ‘the helpless captive’ of our preconceived categories and of our desire for interpretative closure. In The Genesis of Secrecy, Frank Kermode analyzes the activity of hermeneutics and the interpretation of narrative. Although his focus is on religious writing, specifically St Mark’s Gospel, his larger aim is to point to “the enigmatic and exclusive character of narrative, to its property of banishing interpreters from its secret places.”20 Kermode asserts that all narratives entail a measure of “darkness,” “opacity,” and “secrecy,” whereas “we are in love with the idea of fulfilment, and our interpretations show it.”21 Foe and the ways it has been read confirm Kermode’s arguments about the nature of narrative, and about the relation between narrative and its interpreters. Thus, the critical tendency “to comprehend the text by relating it to known and fixed parameters and values”22 has determined many of the responses to Friday’s tonguelessness. Lewis MacLeod, who has argued that we should read Foe on its own “idiosyncratic terms,”23 instead of re-structuring (and thereby re-forming) its textual signals into versions that fit our own discursive preoccupations,24 complains that Friday’s position in the novel has tended to be read in terms of the large narrative of postcolonial discourse. Thus, whereas, according to MacLeod, the novel does not provide us with any definite proof that Friday has no tongue, critics have unanimously seen Friday as tongueless, since colonial mutilation is a deep well for critical analysis: “The postcolonial critic wants a tongueless Friday because of the critical opportunities such a character would provide.”25 MacLeod challenges any reader to produce any definite proof of Friday’s lack of tongue, and he is certainly right when he says that the passage that apparently shows that Friday is tongueless, in fact does not provide any clear evidence at all. After telling Susan that Friday has had his tongue cut out, Cruso orders him to open his mouth and asks Susan to 20

Frank Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative (Cambridge M A : Harvard U P , 1979): 10. 21 Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy, 14, 65, 144, 65. 22 Attridge, The Singularity of Literature, 119. 23 Lewis MacLeod, “ ‘ Do We of Necessity Become Puppets in a Story?’ or Narrating the World: On Speech, Silence, and Discourse in J.M. Coetzee’s Foe,” Modern Fiction Studies 52.1 (Spring 2006): 14. 24 MacLeod, “ ‘ Do We of Necessity Become Puppets in a Story?’ ” 10. 25 “ ‘ Do We of Necessity Become Puppets in a Story?’ ” 11.

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“look”: “I looked, but saw nothing in the dark save the glint of teeth white as ivory.” “Do you see?,” Cruso asks Susan. “It is too dark” (22), she responds. Susan, then, does not see whether Friday has his tongue or not. To make things even more uncertain, later in England, when wondering about the mystery of Friday’s tongue, she asserts the following: “I guess merely, I have not looked into your mouth. When your master asked me to look, I would not” (85). And she describes the thick stub at the back of Friday’s mouth as “what Cruso wanted me to see, what I averted my eyes from seeing” (119). MacLeod, however, makes the same mistake as the critics he opposes, by concluding that Friday in fact has a tongue – hence, that it is possible to read his silence “as an epic gesture of defiance,”26 “a kind of heroic restraint, a triumph of individual agency against insistent demands that he participate in some kind of master-narrative and the discourse it posits.”27 My point, on the contrary, is that we simply cannot know whether Friday has had his tongue cut out or not, as the text, through a dialectic of blindness and vision, refuses to tell us or to provide sufficient data for confident deduction. Friday’s alterity functions in the novel as “something irreducible, therefore perpetually to be interpreted; not secrets to be found out one by one, but Secrecy.”28 Indeed, the very discourse of the novel points us away from resolution. On the island, Susan had realized that “his mutilation was secret” and that “it was the very secretness of his loss that caused me to shrink from him” (24). Throughout the novel, Susan attempts to decipher this secret, but “a true secret, if there is such a thing, cannot be revealed.”29 In the attention it pays to the relation between secrets, the activity of the writer, and literary texts, Foe echoes the passage in “The Vietnam Project” in which Dawn is reading Bellow’s Herzog and White’s Voss: “I spend many analytic hours puzzling out the tricks which their authors perform to give to their monologues […] secreting words as the spider secretes its web” (37). As we saw in chapter 2, by describing his reading as an act of “puzzling out,” Dawn implies a conception of literary criticism according to which the critic has to deal with the enigmas of the literary text, an idea that is reinforced by his description of the activity of the writer as one of “secreting words.” Since ‘to secrete’ means to discharge, generate or release, but also to place out of 26

MacLeod, “ ‘ Do We of Necessity Become Puppets in a Story?’ ” 11–12. “ ‘ Do We of Necessity Become Puppets in a Story?’ ” 12. 28 Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy, 143. 29 J. Hillis Miller, Others (Princeton N J : Princeton U P , 2001): 152. 27

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sight, hide or conceal, the writer, in this view of literary creation, conceals what he generates, covers with darkness what he has brought to light. In Foe, Susan alludes to the activity of the writer in very similar terms. What leads Susan to choose Foe as the re-maker of her story is that she was told that he was “Mr Foe the author who had heard many confessions and were reputed a very secret man” (48), and that he was “a very secret man, a clergyman of sorts, who in the course of [his] work heard the darkest of confessions.” She tries to resist but falls into the trap: “Here I am pouring out my darkest secrets to you!” (120). In these passages, Coetzee suggests that the relation between writer and character depends on the secrets told by the latter to the former, and that it is as much characterized by secrecy as the relation between confessor and confessant. In this sense, the relation between writer and character strongly resembles the relation between Abraham and God, as described by Derrida in “Literature in Secret.” From the moment Abraham – or the writer – says “here I am,” God – or the confessing character – makes the following “request for secrecy”: By your response you commit yourself not to speak of us, of this exchange of words, where we give our word, to no one else, you commit to respond to me and to me alone, solely, to respond before me alone, and only me, in tête-à-tête, without a third party. […] The first breaking of an oath […] would consist in betraying this secret.30

Obviously, the writer will betray this secret, letting the third party intervene, as he recounts that exchange of words in his literary work, which necessarily operates in a social and public space. Together with this image of the writer as “a very secret man,” we find in Foe, as in Dusklands, the traditional identification between the writer and the spider. Susan wonders, “What art is there to hearing confessions? – the spider has as much art, that watches and waits” (48), and she describes Foe as a “patient spider who sits at the heart of his web waiting for his prey to come to him” (120). The Oxford Dictionary of English explains that “the cunning, skill and industry of the spider, as well as its power of secreting or emitting poison, are frequently alluded to in literature.”31 According to the Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, the word ‘spider’ comes from the Proto-Germanic spenwanan ‘to spin’, and ‘spin’ is developed from the Old English spinnan 30

Derrida, The Gift of Death & Literature in Secret, 122. Oxford Dictionary of English, ed. Catherine Soanes & Angus Stevenson (Oxford: Oxford U P , 2005): 215. 31

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‘to draw out and twist fibers into thread’. If the writer is a spinner or a spider, it follows that the activity of creating a text is a spinning of threads, and that the literary text is a tangle of threads or a spiderweb. This image of the literary text as a web (or spiderweb) and of the writer as a spinner is pervasive in Western literature and literary criticism. We find it in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, when, at the beginning of Chapter X V , the narrator reflects on her task in the following way: I at least have so much to do in unravelling certain human lots, and seeing how they were woven and interwoven, that all the light I can command must be concentrated on this particular web.32

It is also present in Henry James’s “The Art of Fiction,” where the kind of experience related to writing is described as an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spiderweb of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every airborne particle in its tissue.33

And later on, he returns to the idea of the thread, as he makes a clear analogy between writing and sewing: The story and the novel, the idea and the form, are the needle and the thread, and I never heard of a guild of tailors who recommended the use of the thread without the needle, or the needle without the thread.”34

Susan Barton seems to have this vision of literary texts in mind when she defines the storyteller as one who “must divine which episodes of his history hold promise of fullness, and tease from them their hidden meanings, braiding these together as one braids a rope” (88–89). She goes on: teasing and braiding can, like any craft, be learned. But as to determining which episodes hold promise (as oysters hold pearls), it is not without justice that this art is called divining. Here the writer can of himself effect nothing: he must wait on the grace of illumination. (89)

32

George Eliot, Middlemarch (1871–72; Oxford: Oxford U P , 1998): 132. Henry James, “The Art of Fiction” (1884), in The Art of Criticism: Henry James on the Theory and Practice of Fiction, ed. William Veeder & Susan M. Griffin (Chicago: U of Chicago P , 1986): 172. 34 James, “The Art of Fiction,” 178. 33

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There is a moment at which Susan claims to have achieved such divination and illumination, as she believes to have discovered the “promise of fullness” and the “hidden meanings” of Friday’s dance. It is the moment at which, on their way to Bristol, cold and drenched, she imitates his dance and gladly tells herself that she has “discovered why Friday dances in England”: “It is a way of drying my clothes […] It is a way of keeping warm” (103). Her triumphal conclusion leads her to assert that there is after all a design in our lives, and if we wait long enough we are bound to see that design unfolding; just as, observing a carpetmaker, we may see at first glance only a tangle of threads; yet, if we are patient, flowers begin to emerge under our gaze, and prancing unicorns, and turrets. (103)

This passage constitutes an unequivocal reference to Henry James’s “The Figure in the Carpet,” which, like Foe, depicts an ever-frustrated search for hermeneutic illumination, and which provokes in the reader the same kind of hermeneutic puzzlement. In Henry James’s story, the writer Hugh Vereker confesses to the narrator, a literary critic, that all critics have invariably missed “the particular thing I’ve written my books most for,”35 so that the narrator embarks on a lifelong quest for what he guesses must be “something like a complex figure in a Persian carpet.”36 Vereker tells the narrator that he “had never before related […] the history of my little secret” and asks him not to “repeat my revelation.”37 The narrator, however, had already told his friend George Corvick, who in turn tells his wife Gwendolen. When Corvick dies, the narrator asks his widow to confide the secret to him, to “unveil the idol” for him: “This was above all what I wanted to know: had she seen the idol unveiled?”38 But she is adamant in her refusal to tell him anything. The result, then, is a chain of interlocked secrets that derive from a “particular thing” that is never named or revealed. The fact that Susan’s moment of apparent revelation echoes a text so radically sceptical of the possibility of hermeneutic illumination makes us suspicious of her claim to have deciphered the secret of Friday’s dance, to have traced the figure in the carpet. The meaning that she imposes upon Friday’s dance – that of being a means of avoiding the cold – 35

Henry James, “The Figure in the Carpet” (1896), in Collected Stories, vol. 2 (1892–1910), ed. John Bayley (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999): 310. 36 James, “The Figure in the Carpet,” 317. 37 “The Figure in the Carpet,” 316. 38 “The Figure in the Carpet,” 331.

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strikes us as arbitrary and unjustified. To paraphrase her own words, when she says that “many stories can be told of Friday’s tongue, but the true story is buried within Friday, who is mute” (118), many meanings can be attached to Friday’s dance, but the true meaning is buried within Friday, who is mute. There is another moment of apparent unveiling in Foe; it is the moment in which Friday dances in front of Susan with his robe whirling around him: I gaped without shame at what had hitherto been veiled from me. […] Friday was the dark pillar at its centre. What had been hidden from me was revealed. I saw; or, I should say, my eyes were open to what was present to them. (119)

In this passage we find again a dialectic of vision, revelation, and veiling, and it is quite logical to derive from Susan’s words that what she has seen is that Friday is castrated. Thus, Gräbe maintains that the mystery of Friday is here finally revealed, and that “such a revelation finally discloses the real significance of Friday’s mutilation”: he suffers a double mutilation that puts him beyond human language and above the contemporary discourses of psychoanalysis and feminism.39 However, can we really claim that we have discovered Friday’s ‘real significance’? If we pay careful attention to Susan’s words, we realize that we are not told at any moment what it is that she has seen. Furthermore, she immediately puts in doubt her own vision: I saw and believed I had seen, though afterwards I remembered Thomas, who also saw, but could not be brought to believe till he had put his hand in the wound. (119–20)

What is presented as a revelation turns out, then, to be an act of veiling; Susan does not provide us with any illumination about Friday. As Carusi has put it, there is a covering and a dis-covering, such that the reader is left as much in the dark as before. […] There is a play on presence and absence, between saying and taking away, that can only cause us the utmost uncertainty concerning Friday’s mutilation.40

To borrow Henry James’s words in “The Figure in the Carpet,” the text does not “unveil the idol.” We cannot know whether Friday is castrated or not. When reading a literary work, we are not given Thomas’s choice: we have to 39

Gräbe, “Postmodernist Narrative Strategies in Foe,” 175. Annamaria Carusi, “Foe: The Narrative and Power,” Journal of Literary Studies 5.1 (March 1989): 140. 40

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make do with the superficies of the words that the author has chosen to use. “There is nowhere to go behind the smilingly enigmatic words on the page […] A literary text […] says what it says.”41 At a certain point, Foe explains to Susan that, in his life of writing books, he has often “been lost in the maze of doubting” (135), and that the trick he has learnt is to plant in the ground a marker – a “sign of blindness” – to which to return. Foe asserts that “the more often I come back to the mark (which is a sign to myself of my blindness and incapacity), the more certainly I know I am lost” (136). Kermode argues that “much writing we think of as peculiarly modern” is “an exploitation of sensory failure”; it is a kind of “intermittent, forgetful, at times blind or deaf”42 narrative. Foe is such a blind or deaf text. But, for Kermode, “deafness and forgetfulness” are “properties not only of texts, but of history, and of interpreters.”43 Foe constantly obliges us, interpreters, to question the authoritarian assumptions upon which our critical categories are built and to recognize our own deafness and blindness.

A ghost story As the novel progresses, Susan has also no choice but to acknowledge her blindness and lack of authority. Her initial belief in her story as that which would provide her with a substantial sense of identity, in the absolute barriers between reality and fictionality, and in narrative as governed by truth and the authority of the author is progressively undermined. Her uncertainty is reflected in the fact that her text is riddled with “so many questions!” (94): she poses the extraordinary number of some 366 questions! And apart from the mysteries of the island and the central mystery of Friday himself, Susan’s sense of bewilderment is provoked by the strange creatures that invade her story – the girl who claims to be her daughter, her nurse Amy, Foe’s servant Jack – figures who seem to come from Defoe’s novels Colonel Jack and Roxana.44

41

Miller, Topographies, 309. Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy, 15. 43 The Genesis of Secrecy, 125. 44 The character of Moll Flanders is also evoked when Foe tells Susan the story of the endless confession of a woman – obviously Moll Flanders – a convicted thief in Newgate prison, when she is about to be executed (123–24). 42

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These strange apparitions occur in the context of Susan’s and Foe’s struggle over the meaning and structure of Susan’s story, and of Susan’s progressive loss of control and authority. The story Susan wants to tell is that “of the island, of myself and Cruso and Friday and what we three did there” (131) – the simplest and most confident formulation of a narrative objective. As regards her past relation with her daughter and her search for her in Brazil, all that “makes up a story I do not choose to tell” (129). Foe, by contrast, claims that “the island is not a story in itself,” and wants instead to produce a narrative of “five parts,” the third of which would correspond to “the island episode” (117), whereas the other four would focus on Susan and her daughter. Susan suspects that it is Foe who is responsible for the apparition, and even for the creation of the girl who pursues her in London: “Your father is a man named Daniel Defoe” (91). It seems that, by surreptitiously introducing this character who claims to be Susan’s daughter, Foe is asserting his powerful status as the agent of authorization and is guiding the narrative in the direction he favours. Hence, the undermining of Susan’s authority can be seen as the consequence of her being oppressed by a patriarchal system represented by Foe, a system that does not recognize her authorship. But, at the same time, this loss of authority is paradoxically a process every writer must go through. In Doubling the Point, Coetzee has said that “a writer’s seriousness” is measured by the extent to which he is able to “step down from the position of what Lacan calls ‘the subject supposed to know’” (65). Susan has no choice but to step down from this position when she finds herself haunted by a creature whose ontological status she doubts – “What kind of being is she, so serenely blind to the evidence of her senses?” (76) – and whom she describes as a ghost: “This child, who calls herself by my name, is a ghost, a substantial ghost, if such beings exist, who haunts me for reasons I cannot understand, and bring other ghosts in tow” (132). Susan then begins to doubt her own ontological condition: “Who is speaking me? Am I a phantom too? To what order do I belong? And you: who are you?” (133). Just as the barrier, not only between different fictional worlds but between fictionality and reality, begins to blur, so, too, does the distinction between substantial and ghostly beings, and Susan begins to see herself, as well as Friday and Foe, as ghosts: “When I reflect on my story I seem to exist as […] a being without substance, a ghost beside the true body of Cruso” (51); “When you return we will vanish like ghosts” (64); “I talk to you as if you were beside me, my familiar ghost” (107).

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Hence, not only is it not at all farfetched to define Foe as a ghost story, but there is even a moment at which the novel conspicuously points to itself in such terms: namely, when Susan explains to Friday who Mr Foe is. It is highly revealing that, for this purpose, the text that Susan chooses to read to Friday is Daniel Defoe’s ghost story “A True Relation of the Apparition of one Mrs Veal”: “This is the story of Mrs Veal, another humble person whom Mr Foe has made famous in the course of his writing” (58). Daniel Defoe is universally regarded as the father of the English realist novel, and a fact that tends to be ignored is that, among the approximately five hundred works that Defoe produced, there are four which explicitly deal with supernatural issues or aspects of the occult sciences, a subject which obviously fascinated him: “A True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs Veal,” The Political History of the Devil (1726), A System of Magick (1726), and An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions (1727). Defoe’s interest in ghosts and apparitions has to be seen in relation to the Puritan belief in the direct intervention of God in the affairs of man, and to the Puritan conception of apparitions as part of the workings of God’s Providence.45 As Rodney Baine explains, most of Defoe’s contemporaries saw, as he did, daily manifestations of the Devil’s assaults upon man and God’s continuing care for him. The supernatural, or unseen world, ceaselessly permeated the natural, or seen world.46

Thus, “A True Relation” is Daniel Defoe’s account of the presumably true appearance of Margaret Veal to Mary Bargrave on a September day in Canterbury in 1705. After receiving the unexpected visit of her friend Mrs Veal, Mrs Bargrave discovers that Mrs Veal had died the day before.47 In Foe, after being haunted by those strange beings, Susan reminds Foe of his having written this story, from which she concludes that he is “aware that ghosts can converse with us, and embrace and kiss us too.” Foe enigmatically responds that “as to who among us is a ghost and who not I have nothing to say: it is a

45

Kit Kincade,“Headnote,” in An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions, Daniel Defoe (New York: A M S , 2007): xxxv. 46 Rodney M. Baine, Daniel Defoe and the Supernatural (Athens: U of Georgia P , 1969): v–vi. 47 See Daniel Defoe & Others, Accounts of the Apparition of Mrs Veal, intro. Manuel Schonhorn (Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, University of California, 1965).

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question we can only stare at in silence, like a bird before a snake, hoping it will not swallow us” (134). Given the unquestionable centrality of the figure of the ghost in Coetzee’s novel and the also unquestionable dialogue that Foe establishes with Defoe’s ghost story, it is surprising how little attention this whole issue has received from critics, most of whom have merely mentioned it en passant. Dominic Head is the only substantial exception, claiming as he does that the allusion to Defoe’s story “provides a context for the novel’s deliberations on ghosts, phantoms and insubstantiality.” I could not agree more when he says that “A True Relation,” “a fictional conceit written to lend validity to the idea of ghosts, has more substance in Coetzee’s novel than Crusoe or Roxana,” and, further, that the embedding of this self-cancelling text within the novel [is] a gesture which obviously repudiates a straightforward realism, but which also uncovers an affinity between the narrative operations of Foe and those of Defoe’s novels.48

Moreover, Coetzee’s interest in Defoe’s writings dealing with the supernatural is evidenced by his having recently written a review of Kit Kincade’s edition of An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions.49 Just as MacLeod has complained that a tongueless Friday has suited best the purposes of critics, it could be argued that so many critics have focused on Foe’s rewriting of Robinson Crusoe, leaving aside other intertextual echoes, led by a current fashionable move within literary criticism, in particular the field of postcolonial studies: that of revisiting classic texts of the Western tradition and pointing to their underlying imperialist and colonialist assumptions. In this current, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, often considered to be the imperialist novel par excellence, has often been a target. Foe certainly constitutes a rewriting and critique of Robinson Crusoe, but Coetzee’s response to Defoe proves to be much more complex than simply one of rejection and subversion. In Robinson Crusoe, racial alterity is comprehended and rendered readable by the imposition of an explicatory, mediating voice, an authoritarian gesture that Coetzee subverts by constructing Friday as a figure of utter muteness. However, if it is “some measure of a writer’s seri-

48

Head, J.M. Coetzee, 118. See J.M. Coetzee, “Review of Daniel Defoe, An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions, ed. Kit Kincade,” Common Knowledge 15.1 (2008): 92–93. 49

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ousness” whether he does “evoke/ invoke” the “countervoices” in himself and “embark[s] upon speech with them” (Doubling the Point, 65), Coetzee highlights Defoe’s ‘seriousness’, a writer he greatly admires, by calling attention to the presence of the ghost in Defoe’s oeuvre – the ghost as a figure of alterity that cannot be fathomed by the dominant consciousness or narrative voice of the literary text –50 and to the genuine feminine voices we find in his works: namely, those of Roxana and Moll Flanders. Defoe has allowed the authoritarian stance of the writer–father to be challenged and haunted by different voices and forms of alterity. Homer O. Brown has written about the displaced self in Defoe’s works. He argues that, although all of Defoe’s novels “are based on a notion of radical egocentricity,”51 all of his narrators are “constantly haunted by a sense of menacing otherness.”52 In relation to the character of Roxana, Brown points out that she “thinks of herself as being haunted by her own evil conscience when the daughter named after her reappears in her life,”53 just as Susan feels haunted by the strange creature that Foe seems to have sent to her. He also points to “the ‘others’” of A Journal of the Plague Year, which are the “anonymous numbers of dead and dying.”54 This latter work, in fact, must also be seen as an important intertext of Foe, given its uncanny character and its several allusions to apparitions: “I could fill this account with the strange Relations, such People gave every day, of what they had seen,” its sceptical narrator claims. There is a moment when he joins a “Crowd of People in the Street,” all of whom are “staring up into the Air,” where they have seen “an Angel cloth’d in white.” 55 On another occasion, he meets a man who claimed that he had seen “a Ghost walking upon such a Grave Stone there.”56 Or he is 50

Derrida defines ghosts as “certain others who are not present, nor presently living, either to us, in us, or outside us” (Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, tr. Peggy Kamuf, intro. Bernd Magnus & Stephen Cullenberg [Spectres de Marx: L’État de la dette, le travail du deuil et la nouvelle Internationale, 1993; New York: Routledge, 1994]: xix). 51 Homer O. Brown, “The Displaced Self in the Novels of Daniel Defoe,” E L H 38.4 (December 1971): 565. 52 Brown, “The Displaced Self in the Novels of Daniel Defoe,” 566. 53 “The Displaced Self in the Novels of Daniel Defoe,” 573. 54 “The Displaced Self in the Novels of Daniel Defoe,” 567. 55 Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, 22. 56 A Journal of the Plague Year, 24.

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told the story of a boy who met a “living Ghost,” as he had a brief encounter with a man that purportedly died “the same Hour”57 he had the meeting with him, a story that very much resembles “A True Relation.” In his Nobel Lecture, “He and his Man,” Coetzee quotes from A Journal of the Plague Year, again calling attention to the apparitions recounted in Defoe’s work, and thus underlining his interest in this dimension of Defoe’s narrative: He remains in afflicted London and sets about writing reports. I came upon a crowd in the street, he writes, and a woman in their midst pointing to the heavens. See, she cries, an angel in white brandishing a flaming sword! And the crowd all nod among themselves, Indeed, it is so, they say: an angel with a sword! But he, the saddler, can see no angel, no sword.58

In relation to Robinson Crusoe, Brown underlines the way in which this book is peopled by signs of the constant presence of the other – Robinson’s fear, the footprint of a man, the Hand of God, the constant presence of the older Robinson in the double perspective of the narration, the presence of the spectator-reader before whom Robinson rehearses his solitude.59

Brown pays special attention to Robinson’s reflection on the mystery of the footprint found on the beach: Again, I considered also that I could by no means tell for certain where I had trod, and where I had not; and that if at last this was only the print of my own foot, I had played the part of those fools who strive to make stories of spectres, and apparitions, and then are frighted at them more than any body.60

Since the doubt remains whether Robinson left the footprint or it was left by the threatening other, Brown concludes that “the enigmatic footprint is like a ghost story, a genre most interesting to Defoe, whose power is great enough to deceive even its own teller.” This critic, then, already identifies in Defoe the “suspicion of the concept of the unified and identifiable ‘subject’” that we find in later thinkers such as Nietzsche, Freud and Derrida, since he creates 57

Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, 116. J.M. Coetzee, “He and His Man,” World Literature Today 78.2 (May-August 2004): 18–19. Further page references are in the main text. 59 Brown, “The Displaced Self in the Novels of Daniel Defoe,” 566. 60 Daniel Defoe, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985): 165–66. 58

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voices “without a center […] ec-centric voices […] voices whose center is a lack of center.”61 Susan’s becomes such an ‘ec-centric’ voice, as she realizes that other voices and silences are taking charge of her narrative. She urges Mr Foe, “Return me the substance I have lost” (51), and asserts, “I am full of doubt. Nothing is left to me but doubt” (133). Her feeling of displacement from being the original or real author of her story is underscored when, on her and Friday’s way to Bristol, she perceives her present self as the double of a previous self. When they find the bloody body of a baby in a ditch, she enigmatically wonders: “Who was the child but I, in another life?” (105). In “The Uncanny,” Freud analyzes the phenomenon of the double, together with other forms of repetition, as a source of uncanniness, as it undermines the certainty of the ego. If, according to Freud, the double makes the subject “doubt” “which his self is” or substitute “the extraneous self for his own” – “there is a doubling, dividing and interchanging of the self”62 – Susan’s radical uncertainty regarding her sense of self is evident when she perceives the dead baby as her double. It is also possible to see the logic of the double, with its destabilizing effects, in the relation of Coetzee’s text to those of his predecessor, Defoe. After all, Foe can be read as an ‘enigmatic footprint’ of Robinson Crusoe, as a diverging repetition or double of Defoe’s novel, just as the characters of Susan, the girl, Amy, Jack, and the female thief in Newgate are doubles of Defoe’s characters. Even the narrator of A Journal of the Plague Year, who is identified by the initials H.F., finds his way into Coetzee’s novel. We find a concealed reference to him, when Susan is trying to teach Friday to write; she dictates the word ‘ship’ to him, and it seems to her that “h-s-h-s-h-s he wrote, on and on, or perhaps h-f” (146). And we even encounter two doubles of Daniel Defoe: Foe and J.M. Coetzee himself. In this complex constellation of literary and extra-literary relations, the original patronymics of Defoe’s texts are modified in Coetzee’s novel: Defoe becomes Foe, Crusoe becomes Cruso, H.F. becomes h-f, and Mrs Bargrave becomes Barfield (59). By means of this network of borrowings and modifications, of estranged echoes and diverging repetitions, Coetzee points to the multiple and ambivalent relations that link 61

Brown, “The Displaced Self in the Novels of Daniel Defoe,” 583. Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. & tr. James Strachey (“Das Unheimliche,” 1919; London: Hogarth, 1953–74), vol. 17: 234. 62

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his novel with Defoe’s works. He underlines the impossibility of escaping the literary tradition, the fact that literary texts will always double, rewrite or borrow from previous texts. However, a double is never an identical double, since doubling always implies displacement, hence divergence, alteration, and transformation. It can destabilize the original, reveal its hidden assumptions, and point in new directions.63 There is an enigmatic and passing moment which we could characterize as ‘blind’, following Kermode’s terminology, in which Susan tells Foe that she has found a bonnet in his house “with the initials M.J. on the lid (who is M.J.?)” (93). Given the series of onomastic changes we find throughout the novel, it is an unavoidable temptation to see ‘M.J.’ as the inversion of Coetzee’s own initials ‘J.M.’. The author’s presence in his own text must be a hidden and ghostly one, a weak and blind presence.

The house of the writer In Foe, the house of the writer plays a central role, as it is presented – together with the writer’s room – as the necessary retreat of silence and solitude where he may carry out his act of literary creation. Susan’s imagination is haunted by the image of Foe writing in his room, sitting by his desk, gazing out the window: I climb the staircase (it is a tall house, tall and airy, with many flights of stairs) and tap at your door. You are sitting at a table with your back to me, a rug over your knees, your feet in pantoufles, gazing out over the fields, thinking, stroking your chin with your pen. (49)

As she wonders whether her story’s dullness may be due to the fact that she lacks the necessary material elements, her objection sounds very much like Virginia Woolf’s claim that a woman writer must have ‘a room of one’s own’: “‘You have found yourself a fine retreat’” – she tells Foe – “‘a true eagle’s-nest. I wrote my memoir by candlelight in a windowless room, with the paper on my knee. Is that the reason, do you think, why my story was so dull – that my vision was blocked, that I could not see?’” (127).

63

For a discussion of the ways in which Foe seeks admittance to the literary canon and simultaneously draws attention to the cultural, historical and ideological contingencies of the process of canonization, see chapter three of Attridge’s J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading.

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However, Foe is actually forced to leave his house in order to keep hidden from creditors. In fact, his house becomes a site of occupation. It is first bailiffs that take up residence in it: “The bailiffs have quartered themselves in your library. One sleeps on the couch, the other, it seems, in two armchairs drawn together” (62). Later on, it is Susan and Friday themselves who surreptitiously intrude upon his house and settle down. I have examined Foe as a metafictional exploration of the necessary loss of authority – hence, of mastership – that both writer and reader must go through. In the case of the writer, this literary process is given a physical counterpart as he is literally displaced from his house. The writer ceases to be ‘master’: ‘master’ in the sense of holding control and power, and ‘master’ in the sense of the male head of a household. We have seen that Susan and Friday, when they occupy Foe’s house, begin their ghostly existence: “The townfolks pay us no more heed than if we were ghosts” (87). In the initial part of “The Uncanny,” Freud analyzes the semantic opposition between the German words heimlich and unheimlich. Starting from the meaning of heimlich as “belonging to the house, not strange, familiar, tame, intimate, friendly,”64 he detects that heimlich can also mean “concealed, kept from sight, so that others do not get to know of or about it, withheld from others.”65 Hence, Freud concludes that “among its different shades of meaning the word ‘heimlich’ exhibits one which is identical with its opposite, ‘unheimlich’. What is heimlich thus comes to be unheimlich.”66 As the ghosts Susan and Friday move into Foe’s house – the house of the great Western literary tradition – it turns into a haunted or unheimlich house. In order to highlight the problematic status of the feminine voice and the African other in the tradition of the Western novel, Coetzee displaces Foe from his position of mastership, by expelling him from his own house, from his own text. In using the host–parasite imagery to discuss questions of literary genealogy and filiation, Miller has pointed out that a literary text “is inhabited […] by a long chain of parasitical presences – echoes, allusions, guests, ghosts of previous texts.”67 Coetzee’s Foe is clearly inhabited by ‘guests’ and ‘ghosts’ coming from Defoe’s texts, but ghostly inhabitation also operates in the opposite direction: Coetzee introduces a new character, Susan, into Defoe’s story Robin64

Freud, “The Uncanny,” 222. “The Uncanny,” 223. 66 “The Uncanny,” 224. 67 Miller, “The Critic as Host,” 22. 65

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son Crusoe, and radically transforms the character of Friday (actually, after Coetzee’s Foe, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe will never be read in the same way), a literary gesture that is literalized in Susan’s and Friday’s parasitic occupation of Foe’s house. In the two parallel sections of the last part of Foe, the unnamed narrator (or perhaps the two narrators) enters Foe’s house. The two sections correspond to two different historical periods: whereas the first one seems to correspond to the eighteenth-century scenario of the rest of the novel, the second one seems to allude to the contemporary moment: “At one corner of the house, above head-height, a plaque is bolted to the wall. Daniel Defoe, Author, are the words, white on blue” (155). The historical moment may vary, but the point of departure must be the house of the writer. As Coetzee visits the Western literary tradition and makes his critique of the place it has given to the female and the African other, he is aware of his necessarily inhabiting it. He is within this tradition, his point of departure cannot be other than the house of his literary masters, in this case, Defoe’s. But if we assume that the first act of narration fails, as it is superseded by the second, in which there is an effective though enigmatic liberation of Friday’s silent stream, the reason may be that, whereas the first narrator stays in Foe’s house, the second descends into the depths, into “the home of Friday” (157). The final paragraphs of the novel signal a radical departure from Foe’s or Defoe’s house, and it is when the narrator abandons Foe’s house and enters Friday’s realm that s /he is rendered powerless by Friday’s silent but overwhelming voice. As Miller has put it, the previous text is both the ground of the new one and something the new [literary work] must annihilate by incorporating it, turning it into ghostly insubstantiality, so that the new [literary work] may perform its possible-impossible task of becoming its own ground. The new [literary work] both needs the old texts and must destroy them. 68

The ground previously provided by Defoe’s house, by Defoe’s texts, is dissolved in the “ghostly insubstantiality” of the last part of Foe, in which Coetzee succeeds in empowering the African other without either silencing or imposing a fake voice upon him, as I analyze in the following section. 

68

Miller, “The Critic as Host,” 22.

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The realm of surface and the realm of depth In the light of the previous discussion, Foe seems to suggest that the intercourse with alterity is somehow intrinsic to every literary work, which both encounters and suppresses alterity, though some literary works will be more open to alterity than others. There are many forms of alterity, and in each historical period, society, and cultural moment, some forms are generally set aside or expunged, just as each individual writer seems to be more open to some forms of alterity than others.69 I have argued that in the case of Daniel Defoe, his works are open to voices and ghosts that displace and undermine the authority of the narrating voice. However, with regard to the racial other in Robinson Crusoe, this alterity, as I have already indicated, is comprehended, rendered readable, and given an imposed voice, an authoritarian gesture that Coetzee avoids by constructing Friday as mute. There is another substantial difference between Defoe’s Friday and Coetzee’s: whereas the former has the features of a Caribbean native, the Friday of Foe is clearly a black African. Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe describes Friday’s skin colour as “not quite black, but very tawny; and yet not of an ugly yellow nauseous tawny, as the Brasilians and Virginians, and other natives of America are; but of a bright kind of a dun olive colour,” and his nose as “small, not flat like the negroes.”70 In Foe, the first adjective that Susan employs in referring to Friday is “dark”: “a dark shadow fell upon me.” And she describes him as “black: a Negro with a head of fuzzy wool” (5). Coetzee himself, when asked by Morphet whether Friday’s absence is directly related to his blackness, replies: “In Robinson Crusoe’s story, Friday is a handsome Carib youth with near-European features. In Foe he is an African.”71 This racial explicitness is in striking contrast to the strategy of indeterminacy and lack of specificity that Coetzee tends to adopt in relation to racial features, and leaves no doubt about the fact that Coetzee’s concern in Foe is with the black African other. We have seen that Friday remains a silent mystery until the very end: i.e. he is not comprehended by Susan’s discourse. As MacLeod has put it, Friday’s dubiously designated pictogram and his forceful but undecipherable utterance in the final section of the novel assert presence 69

For a discussion of related issues, see Attridge, The Singularity of Literature, 30,

36–38. 70 71

463.

Defoe, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, 208, 209. Coetzee, “Two Interviews with J.M. Coetzee, 1983 and 1987, by Tony Morphet,”

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while simultaneously frustrating efforts to fix him into a particular discursive place in Foe’s, or even Coetzee’s, narrative.72

And Attridge has argued that, given the cultural, literary, and historical tradition to which Susan’s discourse belongs, a figure like Friday cannot occupy a fixed, stable, and legitimized place within it.73 For Attridge, the otherness that makes demands on us as we read Coetzee’s novels is heterogeneous, inassimilable, and unacknowledged unless it imposes itself upon the prevailing discourse, or unless a fissure is created in that discourse through which it makes itself felt, as happens at some of the most telling moments in Coetzee’s writing.74

In our reading of Foe, then, we have to account for the following seeming paradox. On the one hand, Friday remains other, he is not at any time apprehended or rendered readable by Susan’s, and Coetzee’s, discourse. But at the same time Friday is presence, the most powerfully felt presence in the novel. “Friday is mute, but Friday does not disappear.”75 My point is that Coetzee solves this apparent paradox by constructing the fictional world of Foe around a complex configuration that functions on both a literal and a figurative level, and that is structured on the discursive and ontological opposition between two different realms or spheres. One is the realm prevailing in most of the novel: namely, the realm of Susan’s narrative, the realm of surface and wakefulness. The presence of the second realm, the realm of depth to which Friday belongs, is only intermittently glimpsed in parts I , I I , and I I I , becoming fully manifest in the last part of the novel, where Susan’s voice is definitely silenced and Friday’s silent stream gains power instead. Given the existence of an alternative realm to which Friday fully belongs, Friday cannot but occupy a borderline or liminal position in Susan’s narrative. This is why his resistant impenetrability remains a “puzzle or hole” (121) in Susan’s story. If we pay careful attention to Foe, we will notice that, from the very beginning, there are occasional references to what lies beneath the surface of the sea. Echoing Attridge’s words in the passage quoted above, we can charac72

MacLeod, “ ‘ Do We of Necessity Become Puppets in a Story?’ or Narrating the World,” 7. 73 Attridge, J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, 13. 74 J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, 29–30. 75 Coetzee, Doubling the Point, 248.

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terize these references as ‘fissures’ through which a heterogeneous otherness makes itself felt in the prevailing discourse: fissures through which the latent existence of a realm of depth – the realm of alterity, the realm of Friday – is glimpsed. Susan first alludes to it when she is telling Cruso the story of how she came to arrive on the island: worse by far than the pain of rowing was the prospect of being adrift at night in the vast emptiness of the sea, when, as I have heard, the monsters of the deep ascend in quest of prey. (11, my emphasis)

On a later occasion, we see her standing by the sea, on the same spot where she had been watching Friday scattering petals over the water: The water was cold and dark; when I thought of committing myself to those depths and swimming out, whether on a log or not, among the circling arms of the seaweed, where no doubt cuttlefish hung in stealth waiting for prey to swim into their grasp, I shivered. (32, my emphasis)

Susan feels menaced and frightened by what lies beneath the surface, by a realm of depth containing an alterity that threatens her sense of certainty and authorial power. The connection between Friday and what lies below the surface may be related to the fact that it is there that the remains of the wreck lie from which he and Cruso escaped – “Cruso never showed me where the wreck lay, but it is my conviction that it lay, and lies still, in the deep water below the cliffs in the north of the island” (53–54) – so that this may be the reason why Friday scatters petals over the water – “scattered them in memory of some person who perished in the wreck” (87). Although this mystery is never solved, Friday’s act of paddling over the water and scattering petals stresses the liminality and in-betweenness of his position: his ambivalent existence between Susan’s realm of surface, which vainly tries to contain him, and the realm of depth that beckons him, a realm that haunts the prevailing paradigm, infiltrates it, and finally overwhelms it. The enigmatic relation between Friday and the depths that Susan fears so much is in fact the focus of a long and crucial conversation between Susan and Foe on the first night they spend together. Foe suggests to Susan that as Friday paddled his boat into the seaweed, he was entering the orbit of the beast called by mariners the kraken, which he pictures “lying on the floor of the sea […] waiting.” And he asks Susan: “‘If a great arm had appeared and wrapped itself about Friday and without a sound drawn him beneath the

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waves, never to rise again, would it have surprised you?’” When Susan gives an affirmative answer, he insists: “‘But surprised to see Friday disappear from the face of the waters, from the face of the earth?’” He then considers Susan’s suggestion that “he was guiding his boat to the place where the ship went down” (140), which he imagines as a slave-ship, and invites Susan to envision “the hundreds of his fellow-slaves – or their skeletons – still chained in the wreck” and “Friday above, staring down upon them.” It is his subsequent question to Susan that I would like to highlight as central: ‘Does it not strike you, in these two accounts, how Friday is beckoned from the deep – beckoned or menaced, as the case may be? Yet Friday does not die.’ (141, my emphasis)

Foe is here suggesting that, whether we admit the theory of the kraken or of the slave-ship, the unquestionable fact is that Friday maintains a special relation with what lies beneath the water, since in both accounts he is enticed or allured by the depths. The implication of his questions to Susan is that it would not have surprised him at all if the great arm of the kraken had appeared, had wrapped itself about Friday and drawn him beneath the waves, “never to rise again.” And still, being beneath the waves, Friday would not have died, which can only be explained by the fact that he belongs there. It would not have surprised Foe at all to see Friday disappear from “the face of the waters,” from “the face of the earth”: i.e. from the surface, because Friday belongs to the depths. We arrive at this conclusion when we realize that the last section of the novel actually echoes Foe’s words. In the first part of this section, the unnamed first-person narrator does not leave Foe’s house, but in the second part, the narrator leaves Daniel Defoe’s house to descend in the sea toward a shipwreck. The narrator asserts that “it is the home of Friday,” across whose teeth s / he passes a fingernail, “trying to find a way in”: His mouth opens. From inside him comes a slow stream, without breath, without interruption. It flows up through his body and out upon me; it passes through the cabin, through the wreck; washing the cliffs and shores of the island, it runs northward and southward to the ends of the earth. Soft and cold, dark and unending, it beats against my eyelids, against the skin of my face. (157)

The darkness, opacity, and secrecy that Kermode identifies as irreducible elements of all narrative ostensibly characterize this last part of the novel, and in many critical responses to it we certainly find what Kermode has called our

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unwillingness “to accept mystery, what cannot be reduced to other and more intelligible forms.”76 Gräbe argues that the anonymous narrator is the supreme and ultimate focalizer, Coetzee himself, who suggests how the “real” story could be retold,77 whereas Denis Donogue identifies it with “the voice of the poetic imagination,”78 and Robert Post with the irrational voice of a dreaming or insane Susan.79 For Kathrin Wagner, a dream-explorer takes us to the realm of death,80 and Paola Splendore considers it all to be a dream.81 I would, rather, argue that we can neither know the identity of the narrator nor whether this is dream, reality or death. In this passage, by virtue of its first-personpresent narration, there is a performative use of language, so that the reader must accept at face value the virtual reality s / he enters, instead of ascribing to it any symbolic, metaphorical, or allegorical status. Whereas Worthington believes that, in this final passage, “the reader is literally invited to enter the mouth of Friday and speak for him,”82 my contention is that the reader is invited to feel, like the narrator, overwhelmed by Friday’s silence and by the impossibility of turning it into voice. This narrator is literally left blinded by Friday’s silent stream: i.e. s/ he is forced to abandon whatever position of authority, mastership, privilege or power s / he might have held, which definitely proves that the depths are certainly “the home of Friday”; Friday is the master here. By descending into the shipwreck, this last narrator is actually performing an act that had been already anticipated in the conversation between Foe and Susan. According to Foe, ‘Friday rows his log of wood across the dark pupil – or the dead socket – of an eye staring up at him from the floor of the sea. He rows across it and is safe. To us he leaves the task of descending into that eye.’ (141) 76

Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy, 143. Gräbe, “Postmodernist Narrative Strategies in Foe,” 150. 78 Denis Donoghue, “Her Man Friday,” New York Times Book Review (22 February 1987): 27. 79 Robert M. Post, “The Noise of Freedom: J.M. Coetzee’s Foe,” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 30.3 (Spring 1989): 152. 80 Kathrin M. Wagner, “ ‘ Dichter’ and ‘Dichtung’: Susan Barton and the ‘Truth’ of Autobiography,” English Studies in Africa 32.1 (1989): 10–11. 81 Paola Splendore, “J.M. Coetzee’s Foe: Intertextual and Metafictional Resonances,” Commonwealth: Essays and Studies 11.1 (1988): 58. 82 Worthington, Self as Narrative, 256. 77

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Similarly, Susan believes that “‘it is for us to descend into the mouth (since we speak in figures). If is for us to open Friday’s mouth and hear what it holds’” (142). And to Foe’s assertion that they must make Friday’s silence speak, Susan responds: ‘But who will do it?’ […] ‘It is easy enough to lie in bed and say what must be done, but who will dive into the wreck? On the island I told Cruso it should be Friday, with a rope about his middle for safety. But if Friday cannot tell us what he sees, is Friday in my story any more than a figuring (or prefiguring) of another diver?’ (142)

Since this discussion anticipates the culminating event of the novel, Head points to a merging of the figurative and the literal: what is discussed by Susan and Foe “is both a symbolic and an ‘actual’ problem (in the world of the text).”83 To the act of descending into the depths, Foe opposes the decision of remaining on the surface: “‘We sail across the surface and come ashore none the wiser, and resume our old lives’” (141). The encounter with alterity is articulated as a movement from surface to depth, and from wakefulness to sleep. According to Foe, we “‘descend nightly into ourselves and meet what we meet there’,” and to Susan’s question of what we meet there, he replies: “‘Our darker selves, and other phantoms too’” (138). Susan never leaves the surface; she does not dare to commit herself to the depths (11) and let herself be caught by “the monsters of the deep” (32). If her narration is finally taken over by the last narrator, it is probably owing to her reluctance to leave the surface and descend into the depths, a risky and even frightful act that implies abandoning one’s safe position of privilege and power, and adopting instead a position of weakness and blindness, as Susan actually knows: We yield to a stranger’s embrace or give ourselves to the waves; for the blink of an eyelid our vigilance relaxes; we are asleep; and when we awake, we have lost the direction of our lives. What are these blinks of an eyelid, against which the only defence is an eternal and inhuman wakefulness? Might they not be the cracks and chinks through which another voice, other voices, speak in our lives? (30)

Whereas the state of wakefulness and vigilance is associated with ego, with zealous, authoritarian control over one’s existence and one’s story, both Foe and Susan know that it is only when the self sleeps, when the self closes its eyes, that it may begin to hear “other voices” and “other phantoms.” And noe 83

Head, J.M. Coetzee, 124.

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how Susan’s words bear a striking resemblance to the following statement by Coetzee: There is a true sense in which writing is dialogic: a matter of awakening the countervoices in oneself and embarking upon speech with them. […] that is, step down from the position of what Lacan calls ‘the subject supposed to know.’84

Immediately before the beginning of part I V , Susan makes the following assertion, in relation to Foe, herself, her daughter, and the girl that pursues her: “‘We are all alive, we are all substantial, we are all in the same world’”; to which Foe responds: “‘You have omitted Friday’” (152). It is as if Susan had begun to guess that Friday belongs to another world, and that her narrative will never be able to account for his story. Coetzee refuses, or feels unable, to speak for the African other, and this is why Friday’s story is never heard in his novel. As Susan points out in her conversation with Foe, as long as Friday remains “‘a figuring (or prefiguring) of another diver’” – as long as we reach Friday through any kind of mediating figure and discourse – it will not be his true story that we actually hear. This is why, instead of turning his silence into voice, Coetzee makes Friday’s silent stream beat against the narrator’s eyelids: closing one’s eyes implies abandoning one’s pretensions to unveil, disclose or reveal alterity, and feeling, instead, one’s authority being overwhelmed and undermined by it. It is a humble recognition of one’s position of weakness and blindness.

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84

Coetzee, Doubling the Point, 65.

7

(Un)belonging Boyhood, Youth, and Summertime

T

H E T H R E E W O R K S Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life (1997), Youth (2002), and Summertime (2009) form a sequel of memoirs in which Coetzee presents fictionalized versions of his younger self in different stages of his life. The action of Boyhood spans the years 1950–53, in which John, the child, is between the ages of ten and thirteen. For the most part, the action takes place in the South African town of Worcester, although, towards the end of the text, John and his family move to Cape Town. Youth focuses on the period of John’s life beginning in 1959, when he is nineteen and a student at the University of Cape Town. Moved by his literary ambitions and desirous of escaping the South African scene of political turmoil, he moves to London, where he works as a computer programmer, while writing his MA thesis on Ford Madox Ford. The period of Coetzee’s life dealt with in Summertime corresponds to the early and mid-1970s, when he was struggling to find his way as a writer, after returning to South Africa from the U S A . He is depicted in a solitary and single state, living with his father in a shabby house, engaged in part-time, low-level teaching, and unable to have meaningful relationships with women. Compared with other works by Coetzee, both Boyhood and Youth have received few critical responses, and attention has been almost exclusively directed at their autobiographical character, in particular to the peculiar effects of the third-person, present-tense narration in relation to the overall confessional tone.1 With the exception of Barnard, Dooley, and Easton, who have pointed

1

See Derek Attridge, “J.M. Coetzee’s Boyhood, Confession, and Truth,” Critical Survey 11.2 (1999): 77–93; Sheila Collingwood–Whittick, “Autobiography as Autrebiography: The Fictionalisation of the Self in J.M. Coetzee’s Boyhood: Scenes from

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to the importance of the politics of place in these two works,2 critics have tended to overlook this dimension, whereas I would argue that the perception of the European as visitor in the South African land, which is central to Coetzee’s fictional production, is also fundamental for John the child and John the young adult. The child is able to adopt an ethical stance towards the family farm that implies a radical subversion of the Afrikaner pastoral tradition and its “proprietorial consciousness.” John, the embryo novelist, is caught in an ambivalent state between a deep attachment to his homeland, however unwilling he is to accept it, and his desire to embrace the exiled condition of his modernist masters. This displacement is reinforced by his feeling that he is an illegitimate visitor both in South Africa (owing to his European ancestry) and in England (owing to his immigrant status). In both the child and the young adult, the tension between location and dislocation, belonging and unbelonging, is an essential feature of their identity and of their development throughout the respective memoirs. The narrative technique of Summertime differs considerably from that of the previous memoirs. The initial section, entitled “Notebooks 1972–1975,” is made up of passages, presented as diary entries, which, as in Boyhood and Youth, are told in a present-tense, third-person voice but which are interrupted by italicized notes pointing to the issues “to be expanded on” (6, 8) or “to be explored” (9). After a few pages, however, we find what is going to constitute the main narrative mode of the memoir: a series of interviews conducted by Mr Vincent, an English academic who is writing a biography of the late writer J.M. Coetzee. The last brief section, “Notebooks: undated fragments,” returns to present-tense, third-person narration, ostensibly attributable to John Coetzee. In the different versions of John Coetzee produced by different people who got to know him during the 1970s, location and habitation – in relation to the private space of the house he shares with his father, to the family farm, or to the wider social space that is South Africa itself – and belonging and allegiance – particularly with regard to the Afrikaner community – keep coming

Provincial Life,” Commonwealth: Essays and Studies 24.1 (Autumn 2001): 13–23; and Margaret Lenta, “Autrebiography: J.M. Coetzee’s Boyhood and Youth,” English in Africa 30.1 (May 2003): 157–69. 2 See Barnard, Apartheid and Beyond; Gillian Dooley, “Alien and Adrift,” 73–82; and Kai Easton, “Travels to the Metropolis: Cape Town, London, and J.M. Coetzee’s Youth,” Moving Worlds: A Journal of Transcultural Writings 4.1 (2004): 72–84.

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up as essential questions in order to trace the figure of Coetzee at that time, which turns Summertime into a clear continuation of its predecessors.

Nationalism and alienation As is also the case in his second memoir, the importance of place is stressed in Coetzee’s first memoir from the very first line: “They live on a housing estate outside the town of Worcester, between the railway line and the National Road” (1). Boyhood and Youth have parallel beginnings that underline parallel concerns regarding the relation between identity and location. A constant, in fact, throughout the whole sequence of the three memoirs is the main character’s dissatisfaction with the place in which he finds himself. In Boyhood, it is Worcester that the child dislikes: “Worcester is only ninety miles from Cape Town, yet everything is worse here. […] He does not see why they ever had to leave Cape Town” (2). And just as the young man experiences London as “a great chastener […] like a beaten dog, he is learning” (113), for the child, “Worcester is a purgatory one must pass through. Perhaps Worcester is where people are sent to be tested” (34). The boy never specifies the precise reason for his strong dislike of Worcester, but we infer that it must be related to his somehow feeling the effects of the recent rise to power of Afrikaner nationalism: “What he hates most about Worcester, what most makes him want to escape, is the rage and resentment that he senses cracking through the Afrikaans boys” (69). In his innocent, sometimes erroneous, but often acute reflections on his surrounding reality, John points to important aspects of the South African socio-historical context of the early 1940s, such as the politics of space, as experienced by a boy of ten years. Thus, in a cycling trip with a pair of friends he has an abrupt encounter with the restrictions and limitations deriving from the policy of property and ownership of the land. He and his two friends are enjoying a fire and some sandwiches in a cave, when an Afrikaans boy arrives, asking them: “‘Wie het julle toestemming gegee?’ – Who gave you permission?” (70). They could have never thought that they needed permission to be in a cave. But “the fact is, they are guilty, he most of all. He was the one who assured the others, when they climbed through the fence, that it could not be a farm, it was just veld” (71). John is aware of the opposition between a farm and the veld, the latter being free of the constrictions of ownership and property defining the former, and he learns the following lesson: “Never again will he be so stupid as to climb through a fence and think he can get away

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with it” (71). There is here an allusion to Michael K’s actual and almost miraculous ability to climb through fences and get away with it: i.e. to his gift of evading prevailing parameters of spatial control. There is a further echo of Michael’s existence in the passage in which the child entertains the possibility of getting lost in the veld: “He wants to be a creature of the desert, this desert, like a lizard” (83). Those surrounding Michael K describe him, on several occasions, as a ‘creature’, given his capacity for eluding human classifications. And he is a creature that lives “like a lizard under a stone” (116): i.e. in the state of communion with nature the child of Boyhood yearns for. Paradoxically, it is in his bond with the farm of his father’s family, Voëlfontein, that the boy somehow manages to approach Michael’s utopian relation to the land, a relation entailing no sense of property. Though he is a sullen boy, not prone to sentimentality or to show his affections – “Love: a word he mouths with distaste. Even his mother has learned not to say I love you to him” (121) – he does not hesitate to repeatedly use this word to describe his feelings toward Voëlfontein: .

The farm is called Voëlfontein, Bird-fountain; he loves every stone of it, every bush, every blade of grass, loves the birds that give it its name […] It is not conceivable that another person could love the farm as he does. (80)

And the other word that he uses to convey his relation to the farm is ‘belong’: the “word that binds him to the farm is belong. Out in the veld by himself he can breathe the word aloud: I belong on the farm” (95). The significance of a moment in Youth, in which John feels the blessing of belonging, analyzed below, becomes more evident when seen in relation to this passage in Boyhood, in which the child carefully elaborates on what it is that he does not mean by saying that he belongs on the farm: He tells no one because the word is misunderstood so easily, turned so easily into its inverse: The farm belongs to me. The farm will never belong to him, he will never be more than a visitor: he accepts that. The thought of actually living on Voëlfontein, of calling the great old house his home, of no longer having to ask permission to do what he wants to do, turns him giddy; he thrusts it away. I belong to the farm: that is the furthest he is prepared to go, even in his most secret heart. [...] Voëlfontein belongs to no one. The farm is greater than any of them. The farm exists from eternity to eternity. When they are all dead, when even the farmhouse has fallen into ruin like the kraals on the hillside, the farm will still be here. (96)

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Attridge has pointed out that, in Boyhood, “as in Rousseau’s Confessions and in many of Dostoevsky’s fictional confessions, the life that is narrated is marked by fiercely-kept secrets and an acute sense of shame.”3 Some of these secrets are, as described by André Viola, “reprehensible,”4 but others, such as the one we find here and that of his first memory, to which I will come back below, could be qualified as sacred, secrets of a precious quality and immense value that the child must keep hidden from the outer world, so as to prevent them from being corrupted or misunderstood. The child belongs on the farm: the farm is his proper or suitable setting, it is the place where he feels at ease. He may go so far as to say that he belongs to the farm, in the sense of being attached or bound to it; “belonging to the farm is his secret fate” (96). As Coetzee himself puts it in Doubling the Point, the family farm is “the place on earth he has defined, imagined, constructed, as his place of origin” (393–94). But he must keep his feeling of belonging a close secret, because he knows that, if incorporated in the public sphere, in the prevailing cultural context, it will be assimilated to precisely the kind of discourse he is rejecting: the one he encountered in the cave, the discourse of zealous possession and property, the discourse according to which the farm would belong to him. The child sets out two antagonistic modes of spatial occupation that correspond roughly to Heidegger’s homecoming ethos, and to Levinas’s proposal of a movement “from an ‘at home’ [chez soi] which we inhabit, toward an alien outside-of-oneself [hors-de-soi], toward a yonder.”5 The concern with Bodenständigkeit (rootedness or autochthony) is one of the main features of Heidegger’s philosophy, with its constant emphasis on being at home and attachment to the soil. Levinas rejects this philosophical tradition in which otherness is subsumed into sameness. The identification of the same in the I “is produced as a sojourn [séjour] in the world”: “identifying oneself by existing here at home with oneself.”6 In dwelling, the relation between the I and the world becomes one of possession and occupation: “Everything is here, everything belongs to me; everything is caught up in advance with the primordial occupying of a site, everything is com-prehended.”7 As pointed out 3

Attridge, “J.M. Coetzee’s Boyhood, Confession, and Truth,” 80. André Viola, “ ‘ Two Mothers and No Father’: J.M. Coetzee’s Boyhood,” Commonwealth: Essays and Studies 20.1 (Autumn 1997): 96. 5 Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 33. 6 Totality and Infinity, 37. 7 Totality and Infinity, 37–38. 4

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above, the child rejects this kind of belonging. Furthermore, when he goes to the farm, he does not feel at home, he does not feel himself to be owner or proprietor but, rather, visitor or guest: “He may visit the farm but he will never live there. The farm is not his home; he will never be more than a guest, an uneasy guest” (79). For him to experience his presence as the ‘unhoused’ transience of the guest is not an act of Heideggerian dwelling, with its connotations of permanent and attached residence. In “Building Dwelling Thinking,” Heidegger posits dwelling as the only human mode of existence on earth – “to be a human being means to be on earth as a mortal, it means to dwell” – and also points to an inextricable relation between dwelling and building: “We attain to dwelling, so it seems, only by means of building.”8 The child is able to envisage a kind of bond with the farm that goes beyond dwelling and building. In the passage quoted above, he distinguishes between the farmhouse, which will fall into ruins, and the farm, which “exists from eternity to eternity.” It is the farm that he belongs to and that belongs to no one; the farm as that which exists in some kind of transcendental dimension, whereas the farmhouse is a mere building that will deteriorate and disappear. But the child’s rejection of property and dwelling may also be seen as dictated by his immediate cultural and political context. In the last part of Doubling the Point, Coetzee refers to his early “sense of being alien,” his “welldeveloped sense of social marginality” as a child in relation to the prevailing Afrikaner nationalism: His years in rural Worcester (1948–1951) as a child from an Afrikaans background attending English-medium classes, at a time of raging Afrikaner nationalism, at a time when laws were being concocted to prevent people of Afrikaans descent from bringing up their children to speak English, provoke in him uneasy dreams of being hunted down and accused. (393)

In “Reflections on Exile,” Edward Said refers to exile and nationalism as “opposites informing and constituting each other,” and associates nationalism with a politics of place and identity that certainly characterized the Afrikaner nationalism of the early 1940s: Nationalism is an assertion of belonging in and to a place, a people, a heritage. It affirms the home created by a community of language, cul-

8

Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking,” http://students.pratt.edu/~arch

543p/readings/Heidegger.html (accessed 12 February 2008).

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ture and customs; and, by so doing, it fends off exile, fights to prevent its ravages.9

It is this kind of belonging that the child explicitly rejects. Said wonders, “How, then, does one surmount the loneliness of exile without falling into the encompassing and thumping language of national pride, collective sentiments, group passions?” By carefully establishing a kind of affiliation with the farm, by virtue of which he belongs to it but it does not belong to him, the child avoids “the extremes of exile,” on the one hand, and the “bloody-minded affirmations of nationalism,” 10 on the other. And, like Michael and Lucy, he is able to transform and subvert the South African pastoral tradition. It is important to point out that the child, like the young adult, relates his feeling of transient presence on the South African land to his European ancestry. He thinks in the following way about Outa Jaap, an old Coloured man who used to live on the farm: Outa Jaap was part of the farm; though his grandfather may have been its purchaser and legal owner, Outa Jaap came with it, knew more about it, about sheep, veld, weather, than the newcomer would ever know. (84)

Also he believes that Freek, a hired worker on the farm belongs here more securely than the Coetzees do – if not to Voëlfontein, then to the Karoo. The Karoo is Freek’s country, his home; the Coetzees, drinking tea and gossiping on the farmhouse stoep, are like swallows, seasonal, here today, gone tomorrow, or even like sparrows, chirping, light-footed, short-lived. (87, my emphasis).

We find the same sense of transience, imminent evanescence in Youth, in John’s perception of himself in South Africa as “a ghost, a wisp of smoke fast dwindling away, soon to have vanished for good” (130). And as he reflects on the differences between ‘the Natives’ and ‘the Coloured people’, the child could not be more categorical about the rights to property of “Hottentots, pure and uncorrupted,” those that have “not a drop of white blood in them”: “Not only do they come with the land, the land comes with them, is theirs, has always been” (62).

9

Edward W. Said, “Reflections on Exile,” in Reflections on Exile and Other Literary and Cultural Essays (London: Granta, 2001): 176, my emphasis. 10 Said, “Reflections on Exile,” 177.

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The child, then, somehow knows that his occupation of the land is illegitimate, and that he must pay a price for it. As Barnard has put it, Boyhood emphasizes “the idea of a ‘fixed payment’ that might be required to legitimate the settler’s aesthetic enjoyment and use of the land.”11 The child experiments with this payment in the series of social and familial formalities he has to comply with in his visits to the farm: “Kissing is part of the price he pays for going to the farm” (121). In this sense, it is revealing that the chapter focusing on the relation between John and Voëlfontein should finish with a reflection by the child on why the sheep of the farm should meekly submit to being slaughtered: “They know it all, down to the finest detail, and yet they submit. They have calculated the price and are prepared to pay it – the price of being on earth, the price of being alive” (102). Whether animal or person, our acts of habitation and property always have a price.

The inexorability of (co)habitation It may seem paradoxical or ironic that a literary text, Youth, having at its centre a character who flees his homeland in order to become a writer should have as its epigraph the following line by Goethe, “Wer den Dichter will verstehen / muß in Dichters Lande gehen” (He who wishes to understand the poet must travel to his country). This statement may be read in two opposite directions: the reader may take it as alluding to John’s journey to the metropolitan centre in order to gain a better understanding of his European literary models, or she may feel that it is her own attempt at understanding J.M. Coetzee through his memoir that is being alluded to; if she wishes to understand J.M. Coetzee, she must get to know his land, South Africa. This second interpretation, however, seems to be somehow contradicted by the protagonist’s understanding that his literary career implies discarding all attachment to his homeland. In this way, John aims at resembling his modernist masters, Eliot and Pound. Early in the novel, he reads in Pound’s Letters that he left America because of its “provincial smallmindedness” (19), and underlines Pound’s exiled condition, one that he is ready to share: “Like Pound and Eliot, he must be prepared to endure all that life has stored up for him, even if that means exile, obscure labour, and obloquy” (20). But regardless of how we choose to read it, what Goethe’s epigraph unequivocally asserts is the ineradicable link between the writer and his home-

11

Barnard, Apartheid and Beyond, 39.

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land. As Barnard has put it, “Youth is actually a meditation on the relationship between literature and place.”12 And certainly, despite John’s pretensions to inhabit a realm of transnational existence, he finds himself having to face, time and again, the impossibility of transcending the ties of location. Youth underlines through and through the importance of place, and this is the case from its very first line, in which the first thing we are told about John is his place of residence: “He lives in a one-room flat near Mowbray railway station, for which he pays eleven guineas a month” (1). Rooms, flats, houses, and, in general, places of residence and lodging figure prominently in Youth. John’s development throughout the memoir is linked with his moving from one room to another, rooms that are visited, from time to time, by women who always end up being unwanted visitors. In the first of a whole series of frustrated relationships, he finds himself going out with an older, neurotic woman, Jacqueline, who does not wait to be invited to move into his flat: “He cannot remember inviting her: he has merely failed to resist.” He wonders whether he will be able to survive residence with her – “Even as a child he had a room of his own with a door that locked” (7) – and certainly their relationship does not last long. Similarly, he cannot bear sleeping beside Astrid, the Austrian girl with whom he has an affair in London: “He pretends to like having her there, but the truth is he does not. He sleeps better by himself. With someone sharing his bed he lies tense and stiff all night, wakes up exhausted” (87). What soon emerges, then, is John’s incapacity to share his bed or his room with another person, this zealous protection of his personal space being related to his conception of his artistic project. He feels that the “smothering intimacy” (12) with Jacqueline is destroying his ability to write, and he emphasizes the necessary solitude and individualism of the artist, a view of literary creation that tends to be associated with the modernist period, particularly with John’s masters, Eliot and Pound. In Diary of a Bad Year, in one of the pieces making up the Second Diary – which we cannot help but read as containing feelings and beliefs pertaining to J.M. Coetzee – JC states that, as a young man, it was his belief that “only from a self disengaged from the mass and critical of the mass could true art emerge” (170). This certainly seems to be John’s position in Youth, and again there is a correspondence with the modernist “inward turn,” which signalled a rupture of the conventional ties

12

Barnard, Apartheid and Beyond, 15.

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between the individual and society.13 In the final part of Doubling the Point, where he also chooses the present tense and the third person in an autobiographical exercise, Coetzee makes an explicit connection between his tendency to turn inward and his early commitment to modernist literature: All his life he has lacked interest in his environment, physical or social. He lives wherever he finds himself, turned inward. In his juvenile writings he follows in the steps of Anglo-American modernism at its most hermetic. (393).

But John is aware of the fact that too much individualism and hermetism may actually lead to creative sterility: “He cannot live alone for ever. […] Art cannot be fed on deprivation alone, on longing, loneliness. There must be intimacy, passion, love as well” (10). In fact, he perceives his career as writer and his career as lover as running on parallel paths: “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” (166). And he aims at achieving some kind of balance in which he may have a female partner and simultaneously pursue his literary explorations: Surely there must be a form of cohabitation in which man and woman eat together, sleep together, live together, yet remain immersed in their respective inward explorations. (11)

However, all his attempts at cohabitation prove to be so disastrous as to verge on the comical, as when, while taking care of his teacher’s house, he has to expel from his bed the woman from New Zealand with whom he is sharing the place: “‘No!’ he cries out. ‘Go away!’ And he curls himself up in a ball” (29). Or they border on the farcical, as when, while working as a house-sitter in London, he finds himself unable to help Marianne, the South African girl with whom he spends the night, when she begins bleeding and leaves “a huge, uneven stain” (129) on the big double bed he is in charge of taking care of. The emphasis tends to be on the most mundane, and, as opposed to John’s

13

Astradur Eysteinsson, The Concept of Modernism (Ithaca N Y : Cornell U P ,

1990): 26. As Ian Watt has put it, great modern writers tended “to equate the achieve-

ment of individuality with the process of alienation”: the poetry of Eliot and Pound was typically written in revulsion from contemporary actuality, and the novels of Joyce and Lawrence tended to focus on the breaking of ties with family, class and country. Both poets and novelists leave us “with a sharpened awareness of individual separateness” (Essays on Conrad [Cambridge: Cambridge U P , 2000]: 13).

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artistic ideals, most ‘unpoetic’ aspects of habitation, such as the rent he has to pay, the “view over a water reservoir” (51), or the snores of his flatmate (41). This succession of almost comical episodes and mundane details revolving around John’s place of residence ironically undermines John’s aspirations to artistic and romantic cosmopolitanism. His initial romanticized perception of London, as one of the places in the world, together with Paris and perhaps Vienna, “where life can be lived at its fullest intensity” (41) is never materialized. The definitive blow to his expectations of a life in London full of aesthetic pleasures, amorous encounters, and cosmopolitan sophistication comes when, in order to avoid being expelled from the country, he must accept a job in International Computers that involves living in the countryside, in Berkshire. If he had feared arriving in London as “a provincial bumpkin” (25), provincialism has followed him all the way to England.

Illegitimate acts of occupation If John must daily face the inexorability of the most down-to-earth aspects of habitation and cohabitation, his acts of occupation always have a transitory or illicit character. Thus, all the houses he passes through are either lent – as when he works as house-sitter – or rented. This could be interpreted as a choice on his part, related to the life of the artist, who must be free of any ties hampering his creative independence. Hence, when faced with International Computers’ possible financial help for a mortgage, he rejects it, being afraid that this would mean complete assimilation to the mass, which would definitely destroy his creative powers: With a little house of his own in a row of redbrick houses, he will be absorbed without trace into the British middle class. All that will be needed to complete the picture will be a little wife and a car. (142)

But his dislocation and displacement also have to be seen as features inherent in his status as, first, a white person in South Africa and, later, an immigrant in England. There is a tendency throughout Coetzee’s fiction to bring public and historical contentions over the land into the domestic space of the house and the conflictual relationships between its inhabitants. Thus, we have seen how, in In the Heart of the Country and Disgrace, the uneasy sharing of the farmhouse between Magda and her servants, or between Lucy and Lurie, mirrors spatial struggles on a wider social and political level. Similarly, in Boyhood, the child feels awkward in relation to the servants on the farm:

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In Coetzee’s later novels, it is spatial skirmishes in the domestic, private sphere that tend to be highlighted, as in Slow Man, in which Paul Rayment suddenly finds himself in the difficult position of the host in relation to both Costello and Drago. In Youth, the houses John passes through become sites of spatial contention: They continue to share the big house, avoiding each other, listening for the creak of a floor-board, averting their gaze when their paths happen to cross. (29).

The house may even come to resemble a battlefield, in which occupants zealously defend their zones: “It is understood that these two rooms and the laundry room are her province. The living room is neutral territory” (120). I would like to argue, then, that when at the very beginning of the novel, we are told that John’s residence in the flat he is currently occupying is partly illegitimate – “he is in the flat under false pretences” (1), as he gave his occupation not as ‘Student’ but as ‘Library Assistant’ – it is possible to trace a line between this private, illegitimate act of occupation and a wider political and historical dimension in which he perceives himself as illegitimately occupying South African ground. He leaves South Africa in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre (1960) and the subsequent climate of strikes, marches, and political unrest. As he watches on the University campus the workers’ march taking place along De Waal Drive and is told that it is the Pan Africanist Congress that is behind the march, he thinks with distress of the ideology of the P A C : “Africa for the Africans! […] Drive the whites into the sea!” (38). His leaving South Africa, then, is determined not only by artistic ambitions but also by political and historical events. To further her claim of displacement as the main feature of Coetzee’s position in the South African context and choices as a writer, Wright argues that both Boyhood and Youth “situate the protagonist, ‘John,’ within the context of South African history as an outsider, a figure who remains oppositional to the dominant discourse of the 1940s and 50s.” Thus, the child’s unpopular sympathy for the Russians rather than the Americans, because of his preference for the letter ‘r’, or the young adult’s refusal to become involved in political struggle, “characterize his generalized disinterest in going along with the proverbial crowd and choosing, instead, an internal logic defined by an inherent sense of passionate

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resistance.”14 I would add that John’s stance of dislocation and resistance, though certainly working against the prevailing culture and discourse – basically those of Afrikaner nationalism – also has to be seen as operating in a deeper and wider dimension, that of the larger historical narrative of European presence in Africa. It is not only his desire to escape current historical conflicts and political injustice that motivates John in his journey to Europe, but also a perception of himself, and of Europeans and people of European descent, in South Africa as invaders or parasites, as illegitimate visitors and guests, lacking substantial and legitimate ties with the land: “People like Paul and himself, with their pianos and violins, are here on this earth, the earth of South Africa, on the shakiest of pretexts.” He thinks of South Africa as “a land where property is crime,” and he knows that “the ground beneath his feet is soaked with blood and the vast backward depth of history rings with shouts of anger” (17). And from London, European claims to property and ownership in Africa seem even more unjustifiable: What had seemed perfectly natural while he still called that continent his home seems more and more preposterous from the perspective of Europe: that a handful of Hollanders should have waded ashore on Woodstock beach and claimed ownership of foreign territory they had never laid eyes on before; that their descendants should now regard that territory as theirs by birthright. Doubly absurd, given that the first landing-party misunderstood its orders, or chose to misunderstand them. Its orders were to dig a garden and grow spinach and onions for the East India fleet. Two acres, three acres, five acres, at most: that was all that was needed. It was never intended that they should steal the best part of Africa. (121)

It is rare to find such an explicit statement, with an ideological position so unequivocally stated, in the rest of Coetzee’s fiction. Many of the concerns and arguments that have been identified in novels such as In the Heart of the Country, Life & Times of Michael K, Age of Iron or Disgrace can be traced back to the historical event denounced here: the European act of stealing the African land, which involved both absurdity and injustice. John expresses these thoughts when faced with the Malawian black woman, Theodora, with whom he is sharing a flat and to whom he would like to say: “Africa belongs to you, it is yours to do with as you wish. […] Africa is yours” (121).

14

Wright, Writing ‘Out of all the Camps,’ 3.

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But if John feels an illegitimate visitor in South Africa, he is also an unwanted visitor in Europe. His being an unwelcome guest in England is most dramatically conveyed in the scene in which an Austrian girl invites John to the house where she works as an au pair, and he finds himself faced by the “cool eyes” of an Englishwoman: “This is a European house, her eyes say: we don’t need a graceless colonial here, and a Boer to boot” (86). The English, John reflects, “certainly do not want forlorn South African whites cluttering their doorsteps like orphans in search of parents” (87). John’s status as immigrant, together with the loneliness and rejection he experiences as such, is emphasized over and over again: “He knows he is not wanted in their country, not positively wanted” (105). He is, thus, trapped within the contradictions inherent in the state of exile, as argued by Said, who in many ways was the exiled intellectual par excellence.15 Although, strictly speaking and according to Said’s own definition in his well-known essay “Reflections on Exile,” John would not qualify as an exile – which is not a matter of choice, but has its origin in banishment – and should be properly called an expatriate – those who “voluntarily live in an alien country, usually for personal or social reasons,”16 Said’s acute insights into the spatial, cultural, and political predicaments of belonging and unbelonging as related to the phenomenon of exile very much resemble those experienced by John in his state of displacement. Said has repeatedly emphasized, providing as examples such figures as Erich Auerbach or Giambattista Vico, the intimate relation between exile and intellectual, aesthetic and critical production. This is, in fact, an idea that is paramount in modern and postmodern thought, the idea that “Modern Western culture is in large part the work of exiles, émigrés, refugees.”17 And modernism, the literary paradigm which the young John feels closest to, probably constitutes one of the clearest glorifications of the exiled condition – the breaking of ties with nation, family, home, and ethnicity – as the path leading to intellectual freedom and artistic creation, as Stephen Dedalus famously 15

In the first part of his essay on Conrad, Nico Israel succinctly elaborates on the main philosophical, critical and literary resonances of the term ‘exile’, and refers to Said’s valuable contribution in this sense, as he has analyzed the phenomenon of exile as related to questions of linguistic ‘translation’, temporalities and discontinuities, and economic, cultural, and political implications. See Israel, “Exile, Conrad, and ‘La différence essentielle des races’,” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 30.3 (Spring 1997): 361–80. 16 Said, “Reflections on Exile,” 181. 17 “Reflections on Exile,” 174.

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proclaimed in his motto of “silence, exile, and cunning.” Malcolm Bradbury has underlined the metropolitan and cosmopolitan character of the modernist movement: The writer may hold on to locality, as Joyce did on to Dublin, Hemingway the Michigan woods; but he perceives from the distance of an expatriate perspective of aesthetic internationalism. […] Thus frequently it is emigration or exile that makes for membership for the modern country of the arts, which has been heavily travelled by great many writers – Joyce, Lawrence, Mann, Brecht, Auden, Nabokov. […] The writer himself becomes a member of a wandering, culturally inquisitive group – by enforced exile (like Nabokov’s after the Russian Revolution) or by design and desire.18

John’s adoption of the emigrant condition needs to be seen in relation to this modernist paradigm; “Youth is certainly a book which could be read primarily as a story of modernist exile and alienation.”19 And if we dare to approximate the fictional character to the real writer, then we can trace a line of continuity between the period of self-imposed exile as depicted in Youth and experienced by the fictional character, and the literary success achieved by the author in real life. This interpretation would seem to be justified by the passage in which John refers to his reading, in the British Museum, of “books about the Africa of the old days […] memoirs of visitors to the Cape like Dapper and Kolbe and Sparrman and Barrow and Burchell” (136–37) – note his use of the term ‘visitor’ in referring to the status of these travellers in southern Africa – a reading that we know was to shape, to a great extent, his composition of the second part of Dusklands, and also by the reference to the literary revelation he experiences in reading Beckett’s Watt: a reader familiar with Coetzee’s work will recognize in it an allusion to the determining influence Beckett was to have in his academic and literary career. However, this assimilation of historical to fictional character is problematic. As critics have shown, Coetzee maintains in both Youth and Boyhood an ambivalent relationship between fiction and non-fiction that we should not ignore by privileging one of these dimensions over the other. Collingwood– Whittick refers to Coetzee’s stay at the Stanford Humanities Center in 1997, 18

Malcolm Bradbury, “The Cities of Modernism,” in Modernism: A Guide to European Literature, 1890–1930, ed. Malcolm Bradbury & James McFarlane (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991): 101. 19 Easton, “Travels to the Metropolis,” 77.

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in which he recounted the question put to him by his publisher about Boyhood, ‘Is this fiction or memoir?’, to which his answer was: ‘Do I have to choose?’20 This unwillingness to choose between autobiography and fiction is also present in Youth, and that is why, in our reading, we should not overlook the fact that literary success never arrives in the memoir. John’s assumption that exile would necessarily lead to artistic maturity and creativity, as in the case of his modernist masters, is thoroughly frustrated, as all he manages to write in the period depicted in Youth is one short story and a handful of minor poems. If we stay within the strict limits of the literary text, Coetzee has chosen to create a fictional character who does not achieve literary celebrity, but, on the contrary, ends up consumed by loneliness in his room in the depths of the Berkshire countryside, thinking of his imminent death: One of these days the ambulance men will call at Ganapathy’s flat and bring him out on a stretcher with a sheet over his face. When they have fetched Ganapathy they might as well come and fetch him too. (169)

This final passage of the novel could not be more unequivocal in its confirmation of the failure and solitude of the character. By maintaining this ambivalence, Youth not only constitutes a powerful reflection about the human cost of homelessness and migrancy, even when pursued for intellectual or artistic goals, but also maintains a certain sceptical stance toward cultural and intellectual celebrations of the pleasures and privileges of displacement and exile. Edward Said was also very much aware of this second facet of exile: “The achievements of exile are permanently undermined by the loss of something left behind forever.”21 Exile, which has been “transformed so easily into a potent, even enriching, motif of modern culture,”22 is also “one of the saddest fates.”23

The resistant topography of the metropolis Youth may be seen as the inverse account of “The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee”: the latter depicts a European visitor to the African land, whereas the former deals with a South African in a European city. What is interesting is that, in both cases, the emphasis is on the character’s inability to appropriate 20

Collingwood–Whittick, “Autobiography as Autrebiography,” 14. Said, “Reflections on Exile,” 173. 22 “Reflections on Exile,” 172. 23 Said, Representations of the Intellectual (New York: Vintage, 1996): 47. 21

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or master the surrounding alien space. In Coetzee’s first novel, Jacobus Coetzee experiences the southern African land as an impenetrable surface that renders useless his European epistemological tools and colonialist categories. Similarly, John, in Youth, experiences London as impenetrable: it is “stony” and “labyrinthine,” made up of “forbidding walls” (41). London, then, as perceived by John and depicted in Youth, is characterized by topographical immobility, as opposed to other fictional explorations and critical readings of the metropolis that have underlined the possibility of transforming the European urban space, as it has experienced the arrival of people from countries with a history of colonialism. Either implicitly or overtly, these critical readings have pointed to a topographical configuration characterized by instability, fluctuation, and the blurring of boundaries. John Clement Ball employs the notion of fluidity to characterize the dynamic relationship of the transnational metropolis to the rest of the world, and argues that, in recent postcolonial fiction, London appears as a location of fluid identity and inbetweenness. Hence, bodies of water that separate and connect become much more significant than the abstraction of borders.24 Thus, whereas Ball identifies a fluid geography that emphasizes the porousness and permeability of London, Coetzee, in his descriptions of the topography of the city, emphasizes solidity and impenetrability: London is a hard city, both in a figurative and a literal sense; it is a “heartless city where the cold seeps up from the very stones of the streets” (104), where loneliness is indistinguishable from “the iron-hard cold of the pavements” (52). Thus, to become “a proper Londoner,” one has to become “hard as stone” (113). John does not appropriate space but is, rather, appropriated by the spatial configuration of the city: “He has not mastered London. If there is any mastering going on, it is London mastering him” (63). And this lack of spatial control is literalized in a feeling of vertigo or dizziness: “What is he doing in this huge, cold city where merely to stay alive means holding tight all the time, trying not to fall?” (57). At the end of the day, John has no place to go to but to his room: For a while he can follow the flow, pretending he too is seeking fun, pretending he has somewhere to go, someone to meet; but in the end he will have to give up and catch the train back to Archway station and the solitude of his room. (56) 24

See John Clement Ball, Imagining London: Postcolonial Fiction and the Transnational Metropolis (Toronto: U of Toronto P , 2004).

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In Foe and in The Master of Petersburg, the room of the writer is the site in which he may find the solitude and silence necessary to carry out his literary activity. In Youth, by contrast, John’s room is a place of sterility and frustration. The suggestion seems to be that literature cannot arise from total isolation and solitude; there is need for some kind of human and literary community. If John has left his biological family behind, he certainly expects to find an artistic family in London. Soon after arriving, John rejects a job that would entail moving to Rothamsted; he wants to stay in London, so that he can “go to poetry readings, meet writers and painters, have love affairs” (43). He expects to find the kind of city described by Bradbury as ‘the city of modernism’: cities such as London, Paris or Berlin, which became “generative environments of the new arts, focal points of intellectual community.”25 But John’s expectation of finding an artistic and intellectual community in which to integrate is thwarted. His sole brief contact with a community of writers, the Poetry Society, is disappointing, and he feels obliged to leave it after an unfortunate sexual encounter with a girl attending the meetings. And anyway, “he has never felt welcome” (74). The rejection that John experiences owing to his condition as immigrant is repeatedly emphasized: He may dress like a Londoner, tramp to work like a Londoner, suffer the cold like a Londoner, but he has no ready quips. Not in a month of Sundays would Londoners take him for the real thing. (102)

But his solitude is also due to his inability to turn his room into a site of hospitality, to make sincere gestures of invitation, to share his personal space. Although the very essence of urban life is the absence of community (in the city, the experience of the community is “essentially opaque”26) and although John realizes that in London it is “preferable to be incurious about one’s neighbours, indifferent” (113), on one occasion an Indian couple living in the room below him invite him to have a meal with them: These are the first people in England to invite him into their home. More than that: they are people of colour, they are aware he is South African, yet they have extended a hand to him. He is grateful. (94–95)

However, John feels unable to transform his feeling of gratitude into a reciprocal act of hospitality: “It is inconceivable that he should invite them, hus25 26

Bradbury, “The Cities of Modernism,” 96. Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (New York: Oxford U P , 1975): 165.

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band and wife and no doubt crying baby, to his room […]. But how else does one return hospitality?” (95). Near the end of the novel, he is able to perform an act of hospitality towards Ganapathy, his Indian workmate in International Computers, though the sincerity of this act is put into doubt. He invites Ganapathy to have lunch in his flat, but the Indian does not turn up: Should the invitation to lunch have been made more formally and confirmed in writing? By not arriving, was Ganapathy graciously saving him the embarrassment of finding a guest at his front door whom he had invited on an impulse but did not really want? Did he somehow give the impression, when he invited Ganapathy, that it was not a real, substantial invitation he was extending, merely a gesture toward an invitation, and that true politeness on Ganapathy’s part would consist in acknowledging the gesture without putting his host to the trouble of providing a repast? (148)

This long reflection on the motives and thoughts underlying a simple invitation underlines the importance attached by Coetzee to this ethical act. John’s state of solitude and isolation is partly due to his inability to act sociably. Thus, he ends up “sitting alone on a Sunday afternoon in an upstairs room in a house in the depths of the Berkshire countryside” (168), foreseeing the final visit he will receive – that of the ambulancemen.

The blessing of (un)belonging There are only two moments in Youth in which John experiences what seems to be a true state of happiness. Significantly, the first is related to a feeling of belonging on the earth. It occurs one Sunday afternoon, on Hampstead Heath, where John experiences a sudden “moment of ecstatic unity with the All”: “in his very blood he seems to feel the steady wheeling of the earth” and is “blessed with a hint that he belongs on this earth.” This transitory moment that lasts “no more than seconds in clock time” and through which John “is refreshed, renewed” (117) appropriately resembles the epiphanies, the sudden and revelatory ‘moments of being’, experienced by the characters populating the novels of Virginia Woolf or James Joyce, and harks back to the moments in Boyhood in which the child feels the pleasure and blessing of belonging on the farm. There is no irony or mockery in the passage, though its value and significance are so brief and evanescent as to have no effect whatsoever on John’s subsequent development. In fact, the next chapter opens with an abrupt return to the daily costs and miseries of habitation: “He must find ways to

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save money. Lodging is his single biggest expense” (118). As Barnard has pointed out, “the idea of payment and the concomitant ethos of monetary exchange, debt, ownership, and the like, is an extraordinary important motif in Coetzee’s work.” And, as she has argued in relation to Youth, the politics of place and economic themes go hand in hand: “The memoir is not only about finding a place when one might live the life of an artist but also about calculating what such a life, a life of ostensible freedom, might actually cost.”27 The moment on Hampstead Heath is the only one in which John transcends ‘lodging’ – the dimension of occupation and habitation in which there are rents to pay, flatmates one must share with, and immigration laws that dictate when one must leave a foreign country – and occupies the blessed state of belonging. He had earlier described himself as one of “those foreigners who for daft reasons of their own choose to live where they don’t belong” (102). He wants to “cut all bonds with the past,” “all memory of the family and the country he left behind [to be] extinguished” (98). But “South Africa is like an albatross around his neck” (101) he cannot remove, “a wound within him” (116) that does not stop bleeding. Hence, he cannot help experiencing what Said has called “the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home.”28 And he has come to inhabit “a discontinuous state of being”:29 He belongs to two worlds tightly sealed from each other. In the world of South Africa he is no more than a ghost, a wisp of smoke fast dwindling away, soon to have vanished for good. As for London, he is as good as unknown here. (130)

He occupies “the perilous territory of non-belonging,”30 feeling “ignorant of his place in the world” (57). In their approach to Youth, critics have unanimously seen it as looking back to the start of Coetzee’s literary career, certainly a central dimension of the book. But we should not overlook the fact that Youth was published in 2002, the year in which Coetzee moved to Australia. In its exploration of the benefits and losses of migrancy, both from a personal and an intellectual perspective, and of the relation between the writer, his homeland, and a new

27

Barnard, Apartheid and Beyond, 39. Said, “Reflections on Exile,” 173. 29 “Reflections on Exile,” 177. 30 “Reflections on Exile,” 177. 28

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national destination, Youth recalls Coetzee’s own personal situation at that time and anticipates the concerns of his first novel published after his move to Australia, Slow Man.31 The character Paul Rayment explains to Elizabeth Costello that he has had “three doses of the immigrant experience”: born in France, he came to Australia; then returned to France; and finally settled in Australia: ‘Is this where I belong? I asked with each move. Is this my true home?’ […] ‘Hearth and home, say the English. To them, home is the place where the fire burns in the hearth, where you come to warm yourself.’ (192)

In this characterization of home, the emphasis falls on place, on location: home is where you belong, a place of comfort and love. The quotation from Albert Camus’s The Rebel chosen by Bradbury as the epigraph for his book The Modern World asks the same question as Rayment in very similar terms: Then the time of exile began, the endless search for justification, the aimless nostalgia, the most painful, the most heartbreaking questions, those of the heart which asks itself ‘Where can I feel at home?’32

There is here an appeal to a sentimental dimension – it is the heart that feels whether the self is at home or not – to which John surprisingly also appeals as he reads in the British Museum the old accounts of European travellers in South Africa: “It is his country, the country of his heart, that he is reading about” (137). Rayment argues that the French – or, rather, the French language – understand ‘home’ in a different way: “Among the French to be at home is to be among ourselves, among our kind. […] I am not the we of anyone” (192–93). According to this different perception, being at home means belonging to a community, belonging to a ‘we’, to a certain cultural, ethnic, or family group. John aims at not being part of any we, especially as far as his family and his parents are concerned. He wants to be “dependent on no one” (2), and in this way “he is proving something: that each man is an island; that you don’t need parents” (3). This arrogant stance recalls Stephen Dedalus’s words in Joyce’s

31

Head has analyzed the importance of economic migrancy and national belonging in Slow Man (The Cambridge Introduction to J.M. Coetzee, 85–87, 89–90). 32 See Malcolm Bradbury, The Modern World: Ten Great Writers (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1989).

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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, one of the most famous statements on the twentieth-century writer’s independence and freedom: I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use – silence, exile, and cunning.33

Said identifies in this speech “the intellectual’s creed of freedom,” but also argues that, by couching Stephen’s declaration in such melodramatically overstated terms, Joyce is actually undercutting the young man’s pomposity.34 Is Joyce here, then, putting forward his famous motto of ‘silence, exile, and cunning’ while at the same time recognizing the impossibility of cutting oneself off completely from one’s home, one’s fatherland, one’s church? According to John’s own perception, this certainly was the case with Joyce, as he specifies that if he does not include him in his group of literary models it is precisely because of Joyce’s attachment to his country of origin: “Joyce is too bound up with Ireland and Irish affairs to be in his pantheon” (67). However, for John, it also proves to be impossible to utterly escape his national, ethnic, familial or linguistic community.35 He begins to detect in himself attitudes and practices that remind him of his father: “Is he after all going to turn out to be his father’s son?” (122). But it is when he decides to meet his cousin Ilse that John’s repressed yearning for a sense of community and family association is particularly highlighted: he thinks of “the promise of ease, of easiness: two people with a history in common, a country, a family, a blood intimacy from before the first word was spoken. No introductions needed, no fumbling around” (126). John’s feeling as he begins speaking in Afrikaans with Marianne is even more revealing. Although Afrikaans is the language of the white regime he is escaping from, though it is the language of the Afrikaner national 33

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1914; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992): 268–69. 34 Said, Representations of the Intellectual, 17. 35 Lenta has pointed to the parallelisms between the protagonist of Youth and that of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: both avoid political commitment in their native lands, repudiate their homeland, have problematic relationships with their parents, and, what is most important, quit their countries to become artists (“Autrebiography,” 161–62).

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culture he abhors, “he can feel himself relax at once as though sliding into a warm bath” (127). John thus exemplifies Said’s argument that all of us without exception belong to some sort of national, religious or ethnic community: no one, no matter the volume of protestations, is above the organic ties that bind the individual to family, community, and of course nationality.36

In the hours he spends on Hampstead Heath, John begins to understand aspects of English literature that had previously eluded him: He used to be impatient of poems about budding flowers and zephyrous breezes. Now, in the land where those poems were written, he begins to understand how deep gladness can run at the return of the sun. (117)

This affirmation of the endurable interrelation between literature and location – which almost constitutes an avowal of the geographical determination of literary texts – leads us again to the novel’s epigraph and to Goethe’s statement: literary texts are inescapably marked by the writer’s place. And this is unequivocally shown in the fact that the only significant literary piece written by John is a short story set in South Africa: It disquiets him to see that he is still writing about South Africa. He would prefer to leave his South African self behind as he has left South Africa itself behind. (62)

As he reflects that the English will not be able to understand it, since “they will summon up an English idea of a beach,” and admits hat “he does not as yet know England well enough to do England in prose,” his conclusion is that “in poetry the action can take place everywhere and nowhere […] Prose, on the other hand, seems naggingly to demand a specific setting” (63). As Barnard points out, Youth traces the protagonist’s gradual commitment from poetry to prose and “his growing understanding that, unlike the poet, the fiction writer is, however reluctantly and ambivalently, a located creature.”37 However, if we take into account John’s final understanding of English poems about flowers and breezes, the determination of location has to be seen as even more inclusive, affecting both prose and poetry. The second revelatory moment in Youth is a literary one. It occurs when Coetzee discovers Samuel Beckett’s Watt and becomes fascinated both by its 36 37

Said, Representations of the Intellectual, 40. Barnard, Apartheid and Beyond, 16.

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comical protagonist and by its language and narrative style: it is just “the flow of a voice telling a story” (155). But there is another fundamental dimension of Watt John does not refer to, and that Ann Beer explains in her essay on Beckett’s bilingualism: Written in English, but in France and in exceptionally dangerous circumstances between 1941 and 1945, Watt marks a point of extreme bilingual tension in Beckett’s writing. It begins an exploration of English which continues, hidden and exposed, right through Worstward Ho. Full of language games, puzzles, inversions and puns, sequences and lists, Watt has an almost mad comic energy. As the manuscript shows, Beckett had, by the latter stages of the novel, begun to think in French about his own work; his marginal comments are written in that language beside the English text.38

Watt was, then, written in a state of extreme displacement – both in a literal and in a spatial sense, and from a cultural and linguistic perspective – a state of dislocation that John shares to a great extent. Watt marked a key transitional moment – namely, that of transition from English to French – in Beckett’s literary development. There is in it an extreme tension between two languages, hence, between two different literary traditions, two cultural worlds, just as John feels torn between two worlds, the European and the South African, neither of which he wholly belongs to.39 John closes the passage by mentioning something else about Beckett that attracts his attention: “Beckett is classless, or outside class, as he himself would prefer to be” (155). Here again there is an appeal to the exiled condition, to what Coetzee has called Beckett’s “plight of existential homelessness.”40 What John seems to envy about Beckett is the Irish writer’s lack of membership in any social group, his having resolutely discarded cultural, familial, cultural, and even linguistic ties, something that John has felt unable to do throughout the memoir. 38

Ann Beer, “Beckett’s Bilingualism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Beckett, ed. John Pilling (Cambridge: Cambridge U P , 1994): 213. 39 Kellman has compared Beckett’s decision to abandon English and write in French, with Coetzee’s rejection of Afrikaans in favour of English. This translingualism explains the keen attention that Coetzee, as novelist and scholar, has paid to “the relations between words and thought, the boundaries between one language and another, and the limits of language” (The Translingual Imagination, 51). 40 J.M. Coetzee, “Eight Ways of Looking at Samuel Beckett,” Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd’hui, 19.1 (August 2008): 20.

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We know that Coetzee came back to South Africa in 1971, when he was denied permanent residence in the U S A owing, ironically enough, to his involvement in anti-Vietnam protests. If, during the three decades he lived in South Africa, he did not embrace Beckett’s ‘existential homelessness’ in a literal sense, he did adopt exile as “a metaphorical condition.”41 If, as Said has argued, intellectuals can be divided into insiders and outsiders, Coetzee has always belonged to this second kind: “the intellectual as outsider,” who inhabits the condition of exile, the state of never being fully adjusted, always feeling outside the chatty, familiar world inhabited by natives, so to speak, tending to avoid and even dislike the trappings of accommodation and national well-being. Exile for the intellectual in this metaphysical sense is restlessness, movement, constantly being unsettled, and unsettling others. (53)

Attridge has argued that what Coetzee found so liberating in Beckett’s English prose was that style could be the heart of the writer’s enterprise, not an instrument wielded purely in the service of content.42

However, as he reflects on Henry James’s style, John acknowledges that here, in London, he finds himself unable to follow a conception of the literary work as merely an ‘exchange of words’: James wants one to believe that conversations, exchanges of words, are all that matters. Though it is a credo he is ready to accept, he cannot follow it, he finds, not in London, the city on whose grim cogs he is being broken, the city from which he must learn to write. (65)

It is the city, location, that obliges him to reconsider his conception of the literary work, so that, in the only literary piece he writes, he locates words in a specific setting – significantly enough, in South Africa. This tension between the highlighting of linguistic style and the pressure of contextual demands courses through Coetzee’s production, especially his early works, as we can see in, for instance, In the Heart of the Country, which we could describe, using John’s words on Watt, as ‘the flow of a voice telling a story’, but strongly attached to socio-historical determinants.

41 42

Said, Representations of the Intellectual, 52. Attridge, “Sex, Comedy and Influence,” 75.

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It is interesting that Coetzee also finishes his doctoral dissertation on Beckett’s style by referring to Watt and to Beckett’s act of “recording for posterity all the permutations which the nouns door, window, fire and bed can undergo.”43 Attwell begins his book on Coetzee with a reference to this final passage in Coetzee’s dissertation and to the fact that Coetzee does not mention the extreme politico-historical circumstances in which Beckett was recording those permutations: evading the Gestapo, in the unoccupied Vaucluse, due to his association with the French resistance. As Attwell points out, the emphasis of Coetzee’s observation, concentrating on Beckett’s struggle with history – a struggle encoded in prose narrative – is characteristic of Coetzee’s own work. […] If history is a determining and circumscribing force, the question remains, what form of life is available to prose narrative as it attempts to negotiate that determination and circumscription?44

The young John experiences the circumscription of history as particularly manifested in the determination of location. Coetzee’s literary production is marked by the struggle between history and narrative, and is traversed by the tension between the demands of location and the temptation of dis-location.

‘What are we doing here?’ In Coetzee’s third memoir, we should be even more careful than in the previous two when aiming at assimilating the multifaceted image of John Coetzee that emerges from it to the real author J.M. Coetzee. If present-tense, third-person narration was already a powerful distancing device in Boyhood and Youth, Summertime complicates even more the possibility of distinguishing between fiction and biography, between storytelling and factual account: in the series of interviews making up the main body of the book, the personal and biased perspective of each of the interviewees is sharply accentuated, along with the labour of organization, hence of the interviewer’s transformation of material. Thus, in the section devoted to Coetzee’s cousin, Margot, Mr Vincent has “cut out [his] prompts and questions and fixed up the prose to read as an uninterrupted narrative spoken in [Margot’s] voice” (87). The result is a story in which, according to Margot herself, he has completely rewritten Margot’s original story; a version that does not sound at all like Margot’s 43 44

Coetzee, The English Fiction of Samuel Beckett, 164. Attwell, J.M. Coetzee, 10.

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version (91). Or, in the case of the testimony of Adriana, a Brazilian woman, the mediation of the translator is repeatedly acknowledged. To these metafictional devices we have to add the fact that Coetzee has perspicuously changed some of the facts that we know for certain about his life in the early 1970s. His mother is dead in Summertime, whereas Coetzee’s mother, Vera, did not die until 1985. Also, the memoir keeps brushing up against the question of Coetzee’s singleness, but the fact is that Coetzee got married in 1963 and had two children by that time.45 Summertime, then, constitutes a zealous defence of the private dimension of the life of the writer as public figure. No matter which trait of his character, which aspect of his life-style or which relationship, among those recounted to us in the memoir, we may regard as pertaining to the real author: it could always be alleged that it is only true within the fictional world of the memoir, just as, in this world, Coetzee is single and motherless. As Thomas Jones states in his review of the novel, considering that Coetzee has changed the most basic fact of his life – whether he is alive or dead – for the purposes of the novel, readers have no grounds for believing that anything else they are told about the character John Coetzee necessarily holds true for his eponymous creator.46

But if, in Summertime, there is protection of privacy, there is also exposure. Since the publication of Boyhood in 1997, and not only in the memoirs but also in works such as Elizabeth Costello and Diary of a Bad Year, Coetzee has kept projecting an image of himself, however distorted and disguised. If all his recent works focus on the figure of the writer, they must point, however indirectly and ambivalently, to his own preoccupations and viewpoints as writer. Thus, when we approach Summertime, bearing in mind his previous memoirs and his literary development, and despite its metafictional con45

Patrick Denman Flanery refers to Coetzee’s eagerness, in his reading from Summertime in Oxford in June 2009, to assert the difference between the ‘real’ life of J.M. Coetzee and the life of the character John Coetzee as he appears in the sequence of memoirs. See Flanery, “J.M. Coetzee’s autre-biography,” Times Literary Supplement (9 September 2009): http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_enter tainment/the_tls/article6827190.ece (accessed 23 September 2009). 46 See Thomas Jones, “Summertime by J.M. Coetzee,” The Observer (6 September 2009): http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/sep/06/jm-coetzee-summertime (accessed 23 September 2009).

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straints, it is indeed possible to detect in the fictional character, John Coetzee, some features and traits linking him with his fictional predecessors, the child and the young man, and with the actual writer, J.M. Coetzee. Between the publication of Youth, in 2002, and of Summertime, in 2009, Coetzee publishes Elizabeth Costello, Slow Man, and Diary of a Bad Year. In these works, dealing with the Australian context in a more or less tentative way, acts of violent spatial intrusion with an historical and political dimension are patently absent, in stark contrast to Coetzee’s early narrative. It is revealing, then, that as soon as the South African context reappears in Summertime, the opening of the novel should be the image of a violent breaking into a house, which recalls the attack on Lucy’s farm in Disgrace. This time, the attack takes place in Francistown in Botswana: a group of men wearing balaclavas break into a house in a residential area, setting it on fire and killing all the people in it – two men, three women, and two children. As John Coetzee reads the report in the Sunday Times, he feels certain that it is the South African Defence Force that is behind it all: He reads the reports and feels soiled. So this is what he has come back to! Yet where in the world can one hide where one will not feel soiled? Would he feel any cleaner in the snows of Sweden, reading at a distance about his people and their latest pranks? (4)

This reflection very much echoes John’s feelings in Youth toward his home country: he wants to leave South Africa forever behind him, but his homeland haunts him “like an albatross around his neck” (101). In Summertime, there is the same sense of having to face a South African reality that the main character finds grim and disgusting, and would like to avoid. John, in his thirties, also resembles John, in his twenties, in other aspects. In Youth, John emerges as a person unable to share his personal space with anyone else. Similarly, John, in Summertime, tells his cousin Margot: “I am a difficult person to live with. My difficulty consists in not wanting to live with other people” (133). And, as in the previous memoirs, John is presented as maintaining an ambivalent and uneasy position with regard to the Afrikaner community, to which he supposedly belongs. In fact, his cousin Margot, who provides us with revealing insights into John’s personality, puts in question the very nature of his Afrikaner identity: Does he really think of himself as an Afrikaner? She doesn’t know many real [egte] Afrikaners who would accept him as one of the tribe. Even his father might not pass scrutiny. To pass as an Afrikaner

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nowadays you need at the very least to vote National and attend church on Sundays. (95)

In the final notebook fragments of the book, Coetzee reflects on his conscious effort to resist Afrikaner indoctrination: the purpose of the Afrikaner education he received in Worcester was “to form the child as congregant, as citizen, and as parent to be” (252). But he resisted: he “had resisted them then as he resists them now” (253). This resistance to ideological principles and collectivities, and also what Martin calls “a strain of secretiveness that seemed to be engrained in him, part of his character, extended to his teaching too” (212) – and we may add, also extended to his literary production – are certainly two features that have characterized J.M. Coetzee, as writer and public figure. If we turn to the question of belonging and the land, there is a clear line of continuity between Boyhood and Summertime. The family farm, Voëlfontein, to which the child felt he fully belonged, reappears in the last memoir. In Summertime, the emphasis falls even more on the land itself, on the earth, independently of human or social constructs, and it is precisely this love for the land, specifically the Karoo, that John and his cousin share: They are in a minority, a tiny minority, the two of them, of souls that are stirred by these great, desolate expanses. If anything has held them together over the years, it is that. This landscape, this kontrei – it has taken over her heart. When she dies and is buried, she will dissolve into this earth so naturally it will be as if she never had a human life. (129)

What they share is “a love of this farm, this kontrei, this Karoo […] To him and to her it was granted to spend their childhood summers in a sacred space” (134). John feels “blessed” by “this sky, this space, the vast silence enclosing them” (132). This feeling of blessing (indeed, bliss) as related to the landscape harks back to the moment in Youth when John feels the blessing of belonging on this earth. However, if in the previous memoir this was a passing moment, in Summertime John seems, rather, to experience an everlasting and sacred bond with the South African landscape. But this feeling of a sacred and durable bond with his surroundings seems to stand in contradiction to the perception of European presence in South Africa as ephemeral, precarious, and even illegitimate, a perception that, as has been argued in the previous chapters, runs through Coetzee’s fiction, and that we find again in Summertime. This perception underlies the unspoken question shared by Margot and John:

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In this passage, human presence in South Africa is not questioned in racial or national terms, but from a more general and radical perspective. The contradiction between the feeling of belonging to the South African landscape that we find in the passages quoted earlier and the feeling of alienation that we find in this immediate passage is not solved, neither in Summertime nor in Coetzee’s literary production as a whole, in which total dehumanization is sometimes glimpsed as the true essence of the South African land – especially the Karoo – whereas, on other occasions, it is European settlers and their descendants who are represented as visitors and guests. In the sequence of memoirs, John feels his heart tied to the South African landscape, to the “country of his heart” (Youth, 137), specifically to the Karoo, “the only place in the world where he wants to be” (Boyhood, 91). This love for the Karoo reappears in “Nietverloren,” as the main character – another ‘autrebiographical’ figure – speaks, with “the bitterness of defeated love” – “I used to love this land”47 – about the transformation of traditional Karoo farms into theme-park farms, restocked with game, so that hunters from overseas can enjoy a safari experience. However, this love for the land may be problematic, according to Coetzee’s own words in his Jerusalem Prize acceptance speech, in which he complains about “the failure of love” of “the hereditary masters of South Africa.” Their love “has not been enough since they arrived on the continent”; furthermore, their talk, their excessive talk, about how they love South Africa has consistently been directed toward the land, that is, toward what is least likely to respond to love: mountains and deserts, birds and animals and flowers.48

47 48

Coetzee, “Nietverloren,” 27. Coetzee, “Jerusalem Prize Acceptance Speech,” 97.

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Apart from the land of the Karoo, there is little more that the boy of Boyhood and the young adult of Summertime unequivocally and unconditionally love. In Coetzee’s literary production, the ideological assumptions, power-relations, and history of dispossession lying behind characters’ relation to the land are never left unexamined; still, the emphasis repeatedly falls on love for the land. This could be seen, as I have argued in the case of Lucy, Michael K, and the boy, as an attempt to establish a different kind of loving bond with the land, one founded on transience rather than possession. But, at the same time, it seems that Coetzee cannot fully escape the very tradition he critiques, that of “the hereditary masters of South Africa.”

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8

T

Intrusion The Master of Petersburg and Slow Man

H E E V E N T S O F T H E M A S T E R O F P E T E R S B U R G ( 1 9 9 4 ) take place in St Petersburg in 1869. Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky returns from Dresden to this Russian city to investigate the death in mysterious circumstances of his stepson Pavel (son of his late first wife). He rents the room previously occupied by Pavel and discovers that his stepson’s death was related to his involvement with the revolutionary group, the People’s Vengeance, led by Sergei Nechaev, whom Dostoevsky will have occasion to meet. In Slow Man (2005), a retired photographer, Paul Rayment, living alone in Adelaide, Australia, loses his leg in a bicycle accident, and develops a deep affection for his nurse, Marijana Jokić, a married woman from Croatia with three children. These events will be followed by the unexpected arrival at Rayment’s house of the writer Elizabeth Costello. In novels like Age of Iron and Disgrace, the acts of visiting and hospitality, and the figures of host and guest, are symptomatic of relations of power operating in a domestic and private dimension, but also in the larger historical and social sphere. In The Master of Petersburg and Slow Man, this latter sphere is attenuated, yet not at any moment utterly suppressed, while the familiar and domestic domain is brought into the foreground and endowed with considerable literary and metafictional weight, owing to the central presence of the figure of the writer: Dostoevsky in the case of The Master of Petersburg, and Elizabeth Costello in the case of Slow Man. These two novels look back to Foe, in which, as we have seen, the house of the writer is the principal location in parts I I and I I I of the novel. But whereas, in Foe, the writer is expelled from his own house, which comes to be occupied by two unbidden guests, Susan and Friday, in The Master of Petersburg and Slow Man it is the writer who becomes the unwelcome guest: both Dostoevsky and

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Costello are unexpected visitors in Anna Sergeyevna’s and Paul Rayment’s home respectively. In Slow Man, the host–guest dyad, as embodied by Rayment and Costello, points to the paradoxes, ambivalences, and compromises involved in the relationship between fictional character and author, between “he and his man,” as Coetzee put it in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. In his or her act of intrusive visitation of the foreign family household, the writer is represented as an intruder who must trespass against certain physical, psychological, and even moral limits in order to carry out his literary activity. On the other hand, the concept of the writer as master – highlighted in the presentation of Dostoevsky as ‘the master of Petersburg’ – with its various meanings and connotations, is used in Coetzee’s fictional dramatizations of metafictional concerns in order to explore issues of authority and authorship as related to literary activity.

He and His Man Coetzee’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “He and His Man,” is probably one of the most intriguing such speeches in the history of the prize. It is actually a literary text, told from the point of view of Robinson Crusoe, ‘Robin’, ‘he’, back in England, after his famous island adventure. He spends much of the time reading the ‘reports’ that ‘his man’ sends to him: reports that reproduce, almost verbatim, passages from A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain and A Journal of the Plague Year, so that we progressively deduce that ‘his man’ must be Daniel Defoe, though his actual identity is never explicitly revealed to us. The usual correlation, then, between writer and fictional character is clearly reversed: Robin is not presented as Defoe’s character, he is not a possession of Defoe’s of any kind, but it is Defoe who is presented as in some kind of position of dependence in relation to him: Defoe is ‘his man’. It seems that Robin is not even Defoe’s creation, since it is he who wrote his own account of his adventures on the island, the book we know as The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe: When, years ago, he resolved to set down on paper the story of his island, he found that the words would not come […] But day by day, step by step, he mastered the writing business, until by the time of his adventures with Friday in the frozen north the pages were rolling off easily, even thoughtlessly. (20)

Defoe, then, in no way owns, controls or has ascendancy over Robin, as we would normally assume is characteristic of the writer–character relationship.

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Also in this text, it is not the writer who meditates upon his character, who constructs him in one fashion or another. It is, instead, Robin who, as he grows old and reads Defoe’s ‘reports’, constructs alternative versions of his man’s life story: A man of business, he thinks to himself. Let him be a man of business, a grain merchant or a leather merchant, let us say; or a manufacturer and purveyor of roof tiles somewhere where clay is plentiful, Wapping, let us say, who must travel much in the interest of his trade. Make him prosperous, give him a wife who loves him and does not chatter too much and bears him children, daughters mainly; give him a reasonable happiness; then bring his happiness suddenly to an end. […] Or else let the man be a saddler with a home and a shop and a warehouse in Whitechapel and a mole on his chin and a wife who loves him and does not chatter and bears him children, daughters mainly, and gives him much happiness, until the plague descends upon the city. (18)

“He and His Man” constitutes, then, a fictional examination of the paradoxes underlying the writer–character relationship. As Cornwell has put it, one of its obvious concerns is “the manner of existence of a fictional character and the relationship between the character and the author who invented him or her.”1 In his essay on Robinson Crusoe, included in Stranger Shores, Coetzee also pays attention to the relationship between Defoe and Robinson, between author and character, and seems to be fascinated by the motives that may lie behind Defoe’s insistence on Robinson Crusoe’s real existence: When the writer of these words says that ‘Robinson Crusoe’ is a living person, what, beyond maintaining the by now tired autobiographical charade, might he mean?

And in Defoe’s Preface to Serious Reflections, one of the sequels to the Strange Surprizing Adventures, and in which Defoe adopts the ‘I’ of his character, signing with the name ‘Robinson Crusoe’, Coetzee identifies “a per1

Gareth Cornwell, “ ‘ He and His Man’: Allegory and Catachresis in J.M. Coetzee’s Nobel Lecture,” English in Africa 33.2 (October 2006): 100. Mark Sanders has also provided an interesting analysis of “He and His Man,” focusing on the way it points to ‘the writing business’ as a “miracle of mimesis without original” (“The Writing Business: ‘He and His Man’, Coetzee and Defoe,” Journal of Literary Studies 25.4 [December 2009]: 44).

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sonal and even confessional level of meaning.” What Coetzee seems to be implying is that, for Defoe, on a deep, personal level unrelated to literary devices or poses, Robinson Crusoe had indeed become some kind of living and real presence. And in the moment in which the fictional persona of Robinson Crusoe makes the metafictional gesture of signalling to his act of writing the Preface – “… at London, while I am writing this …” – Coetzee identifies a merging between writer and character.2 “He and His Man” and Slow Man develop, along very similar lines, a metafictional stage that presents writer and character from the personal and intimate perspective alluded to by Coetzee in this essay. In the case of Slow Man, it is so intimate that writer and character even come to share the same house. In Doubling the Point, Coetzee explains that, in the process of writing a novel, the novel becomes less a thing than a place where one goes every day for several hours a day for years on end. What happens in that place has less and less discernible relation to the daily life one lives or the lives people are living around one. Other forces, another dynamic, take over. (205)

In Slow Man, in which it is suggested, though never ascertained, that Rayment’s story is, at least partly, a creation of Costello’s, there is a dramatization of the process of literary creation in the spatial terms Coetzee refers to: Rayment’s house becomes the place in which the ‘forces’ and the ‘dynamic’ of literary activity, particularly the forces at work in the writer–character relationship, come into play. This sense of dramatization according to which Rayment’s house becomes a stage before which we feel not so much readers as spectators is explicitly accentuated in moments such as the following: “Then the bathroom door opens and the Costello woman, wearing his dressing gown and slippers, makes her entry on the scene” (93). In Foe, Susan has the same strange feeling of being the spectator of a metafictional dramatization as Foe’s lodging-house becomes the gathering place of characters seemingly proceeding from his novels: “I thought this was a lodging-house, but now I see it is a gathering-place for actors” (130). If, in Foe, the writer is expelled from his house, in “He and His Man” and Slow Man the writer is represented as without a home of his /her own. In the Nobel speech, it is Robin, not Defoe, who is represented in the solitude of his 2

J.M. Coetzee, “Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe,” in Coetzee, Stranger Shores: Essays 1986–1999 (London: Vintage, 2002): 21.

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room: “He (not his man now but he) sits in his room by the waterside in Bristol” (17). His man, meanwhile, seems to be constantly travelling from place to place, from where he sends his reports: What species of man can it be who will dash so busily hither and thither across the kingdom, from one spectacle of death to another (clubbings, beheadings), sending in report after report? (18)

Again, conventional expectations about writer and character are reversed: the writer is the restless man of adventure, whereas the character lives surrounded by solitude and silence. As for Elizabeth Costello, if we are to believe her words in Slow Man, she has “nowhere to go” (159) when Paul expels her from his house: “When I am with you I am at home; when I am not with you I am homeless” (159). Costello’s words have the confessional tone Coetzee identifies in Defoe’s persistent adoption of the fictional persona of Robinson Crusoe: the writer comes to depend, emotionally and even existentially, on his /her fictional creations, and again this fact is given a spatial counterpart: the writer has no home apart from her character’s home. Elizabeth Costello, however, is unable to specify which is the exact nature of her bond with Rayment: “Why do I need this man? […] Who is Paul Rayment to me?” (81). Her phrasing of her uncertainty recalls the moment in which Robin wonders about his relation with Defoe in the following terms: “How are they to be figured, this man and he? As master and slave? As brothers, twin brothers? As comrades in arms? Or as enemies, foes?” (20). Behind Robin’s uncertainty about which of these different pairs may best describe the relation between him and his man lies the question of whether writer and character occupy equal positions of power and enjoy a relationship of friendship, cooperation or affinity, in which case they would be ‘brothers’ or ‘comrades’, or whether, on the contrary, they are antagonists, with conflicting interests and occupying unequal positions of power, in which case they would be ‘master and slave’, ‘enemies, foes’. The possibility of the writer and the character being ‘master and slave’ is hinted at by Costello in the story she tells Rayment about Sinbad and the old man. After acceding to an old man’s request to be carried to the opposite back of a stream, Sinbad finds that the old man refuses to climb down from his shoulders: ‘Indeed, he tightens his legs around Sinbad’s neck until Sinbad feels himself chocking. “Now you are my slave,” says the old man, “who must do my biding in all things”.’ (129)

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The reader familiarized with Coetzee’s writings will remember that Susan tells Foe a very similar story: ‘There was once a fellow who took pity on an old man waiting at the riverside, and offered to carry him across. Having borne him safely through the flood […] the old man would not leave his shoulders: no, he tightened his knees about his deliverer’s neck and beat him on his flanks and, to be short, turned him into a beast of burden.’ (147–48)

Susan’s point is that she is “‘Sinbad of Persia and Friday is the tyrant riding on [her] shoulders’” (148). Furthermore, in Life & Times of Michael K the medical officer employs a very similar image as he describes Michael as “an albatross around my neck” (146).3 This feeling, both in Susan and the medical officer, of subjugation or submission to Friday and Michael respectively, derives from their urgent and irrepressible desire to get to know Friday’s and Michael’s respective stories, and from their inability to do so. Susan and the medical officer play the role of the writer, of the agent of narrative authorization, whereas Friday and Michael are the characters whose story the writer desperately wants to discover. As Rayment deduces from the story that he is to identify with Sinbad whereas Costello is the old man, he objects that Costello has no means of getting onto his shoulders. To Costello’s reply that perhaps she is already there, Rayment asserts: ‘No, you are not, Mrs Costello. I am not under your control […] I request you to kindly return my key – a key you took without my permission – and leave my flat and not come back.’ (129)

The question, then, is who is in control of whom. Although Rayment believes that Costello has no control over him, there is a moment in which he clearly seems to fall under her spell. This occurs in the passage in which he realizes how freely and for how long he has been talking to her about himself. He then remembers that Mrs Costello is “‘a professional […] in the business of confidences, like a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant’” (156). “‘Or a priest’,” Costello adds. Rayment wonders: Why then does he lay himself bare before the Costello woman, who is surely no friend to him? There can be only one answer: because she 3

The same expression is used in Youth – for John, “South Africa is like an albatross around his neck” (101) – and in Age of Iron, as Mrs Curren inwardly tells her daughter, “You do not need an albatross from the old world around your neck” (127).

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has worn him down. A thoroughly professional performance on her part. One takes up position beside one’s prey, and waits, and eventually one’s prey yields. The sort of thing every priest knows. Or every vulture. (157)

The vulture–prey dyad, marked by an aggressive and hostile affiliation and evocative of the parasitical images used in previous novels to exemplify social and historical relations, is now used to represent the writer–character relationship. Besides, the term ‘yield’ is an important one in Coetzee’s writings. We find it in Dusklands, in the passage in which Dawn attempts to reach the interior of the Vietnamese man by penetrating the surface of the photograph: The glint in the eye […] is bland and opaque under my fingers, yielding no passage into the interior of this obscure but indubitable man. I keep exploring. Under the persistent pressure of my imagination […] it may yet yield. (16–17, my emphases)

Near the end of her narrative, Magda wonders: Will I find the courage to die a crazy old queen in the middle of nowhere, unexplained by and inexplicable to the archaeologists […] or am I going to yield to the spectre of reason and explain myself to myself […]? (150, my emphasis)

The medical officer urges Michael to “yield” (152) when he implores him to tell his story. Similarly, Lucy does not yield to Lurie’s attempts at making Lucy share her story with him: “In his embrace she is stiff as a pole, yielding nothing” (99). In all these cases, the point is whether subjects will yield up their inner selves, their secrets, their private stories; whether they will give way to pressure, force, persuasion or reason. And it is significant that, whereas the Vietnamese man, Magda, Michael, and Lucy do not yield, Paul Rayment does. He has yielded to the mastership of the professional writer. Costello’s comparison of the writer to a priest recalls Susan’s description of Foe as “a very secret man, a clergyman of sorts, who […] heard the darkest of confessions from the most desperate of penitents” (120). As already analyzed, Coetzee suggests here that the relation between writer and character is as much characterized by secrecy as the relation between confessor and confessant. The writer is the confessor who maintains a secret and intimate relationship with the characters or ‘figures of otherness’ that come to him/ her, pouring out “the darkest of confessions” and the “darkest secrets” (120). But s / he must necessarily violate the seal of confession and betray the penitent: as

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he turns them into literary material, he exposes those confessions and secrets to the public eye. Hence, Robin’s suggestion that he and his man may be ‘enemies, foes’ is ascertained: the writer, at least in a certain dimension, is always foe to the character. It is this dimension of enmity that Coetzee emphasizes in Foe, beginning with the title itself. The rivalry between writer and character may be due to the conflict between the character’s desires and the course of action the writer tries to impose on her, as we see in the struggle between Susan and Foe over the meaning and structure of her story. As Said has pointed out, one of the numerous implications and involvements of being the agent of authority over a text is having the “power to influence action.”4 If we assume that Susan’s story, as told in Foe, is the urtext or pretext of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, then it follows that Defoe has effaced her from the narrative which originally belonged to her and to which she originally belonged, placing her, instead, in another one, Roxana. An eighteenth-century woman has no place in an island story; her narrative can only be one dealing with characteristically female issues such as marriage and love affairs. Until the very end, Susan struggles to maintain authority over her story: “I still endeavour to be father to my story” (123). She is here alluding to the metaphor of literary paternity, according to which “male sexuality is integrally associated with the assertive presence of literary power,” and, conversely, “female sexuality is associated with the absence of literary power.”5 As Gilbert and Gubar have pointed out, “because a writer ‘fathers’ his text, his literary creations […] are his possession, his property.”6 The story of the island ceases to be Susan’s possession, as she cannot be ‘father’. She cannot be master but only mistress; hence her incorporation in the literary text Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress. A similar conflict between Costello and Rayment regarding the latter’s course of action is present in Slow Man, although, in this novel, the writer’s capacity for mastership seems to be diminished and the character’s freedom increased. The episode in which Paul most comes to resemble Costello’s puppet is the one in which Costello organizes a meeting between him and a woman, Marianna, in an attempt to replace Marijana as the object of his affec4

Edward W. Said, Beginnings: Intention and Method (1975; London: Granta,

1997): 162. 5

Sandra Gilbert & Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Imagination (New Haven C T : Yale U P , 1984): 8. 6 Gilbert & Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic, 12.

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tions. The sense of dramatization already alluded to is heightened in this chapter, as Paul feels that they are “on stage,” that they are “being watched” (103), obviously by Costello, but also by the reader/ spectator. Later on, Paul will complain to Costello in the following terms: “‘You treat me like a puppet,’ […] ‘You treat everyone like a puppet. You make up stories and bully us into playing them out for you’” (117). However, a later reflection by Costello signals a different procedure on the part of the writer, who must leave the character to his devices: ‘The sooner you settle on a course of action and commit yourself to it, the sooner you and I, to our mutual relief, will be able to part. […] You are, as the saying has it, your own man.’ (136)

Again there seems to be here an echo of “He and His Man.” If, as put by Said, the author has the “power to enforce obedience,”7 characters may defy obedience, like Rayment, who persists in his fancy for Marijana. If the author is father – “in being the author […] one engages oneself in a whole process of filiation not easily escaped”8 – he may have a rebellious son, as Coetzee argues in relation to Defoe’s characters. In Robinson Crusoe, Defoe tries “to bend the story of his adventurer hero to fit a scriptural pattern of disobedience, punishment, repentance and deliverance,” but Robinson Crusoe, as character, escapes Defoe’s intentions and designs. And the same might be said of Moll Flanders, Colonel Jack, and Roxana: None, choosing to slide gently through the world, would have had a life-story worth telling. The disobedience that Crusoe claims as his original sin is in fact a precondition of the interest of his story. No one wants to read about docile sons.9

Defoe’s characters are ‘docile sons’ neither in relation to their fictional parents nor in relation to their creator. At a certain point, Paul is shaken as he realizes that all the time he thought he was his own master he has been in a cage like a rat, darting this way and that, yammering to himself, with the infernal woman standing over him, observing, listening, taking notes, recording his progress. (122)

7

Said, Beginnings, 162. Beginnings, 93. 9 Coetzee, “Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe,” 22–23. 8

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In this reflection, it is the writer who emerges as master or mistress, holding his /her character as prey, as in the following description by Susan: He is like the patient spider who sits at the heart of his web waiting for his prey to come to him. And when we struggle in his grasp, and he opens his jaws to devour us, and with our last breath we cry out, he smiles a thin smile and says: ‘I did not ask you to come visiting, you came of your own will.’ (120)

This passage dramatically conveys the way in which the writer’s parasitic existence depends on his or her characters’ acts of visiting. But in Slow Man, it is Costello, the writer, who comes visiting. She insists on presenting herself and Rayment as reciprocally in need of each other – “‘You were sent to me, I was sent to you’” (161); “For me alone Paul Rayment was born and I for him” (233) – but Rayment’s successive attempts at getting rid of her highlight the fact that it is Costello who is especially in need of him: When he opens the door he nearly cries with exasperation. By the side of a grubby, weary-looking Drago stands Elizabeth Costello. Will he never be rid of the woman? (134)

When she claims that he came to her, Paul emphatically replies, “‘I came to you? You came to me!’” (85), and he urges her, “‘Visit yourself on some other candidate’” (199) – note that, here, the verb ‘visit’ is found in the unusual grammatical construction also used in Vercueil’s description, “a visitor, visiting himself on me,” with the preposition ‘on’ and reflexivity, and the subsequent threatening and supernatural connotation. Throughout the novel, there are contradictory perceptions of the writer–character relation, so that the emphasis falls on the complex and enigmatic nature of this relation, but the final passage is unequivocal in its asseveration of the character’s desire to live an existence independent of the writer’s. Rayment will offer no further hospitality to Costello: “This is the moment when he ought to invite her indoors, offer her a meal and a place to sleep. But he speaks no word” (262). After he rejects her proposal to go on a tour around Australia together, Costello tremblingly asks him: “‘But what am I going to do without you?’” (263). The novel closes on Rayment’s cold and indifferent answer: ‘That is up to you, Elizabeth. There are plenty of fish in the ocean, so I hear. As for me, as for now: goodbye.’ And he leans forward and kisses her thrice in the formal manner he was taught as a child, left right left. (263)

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Rayment has definitely closed the door of his house, and of his life, to Costello. If Slow Man may be taken as a dramatization of the process of literary creation, the end of the novel suggests the writer’s feeling as that process is brought to an end: the character with whom she has lived for such a long time, whose home has been her home, suddenly becomes his own master and stranger to her creator, breaking all ties he has had with her, and slamming the door of his house in her face. “He and His Man” also concludes “with what seems to be an emphatic and moving asseveration of the gulf between author and character who occupy, after all, separate and incompatible planes of existence”:10 He fears they will be no meeting, not in this life. If he must settle on a likeness for the pair of them, his man and his, he would write that they are like two ships sailing in contrary directions, one west, the other east. Or better, that they are deckhands toiling in the rigging, the one on a ship sailing west, the other on a ship sailing east. Their ships pass close, close enough to hail. But the seas are rough, the weather is stormy: their eyes lashed by the spray, their hands burned by the cordage, they pass each other by, too busy even to wave. (20)

In “He and His Man,” the distance between writer and character is even more radical than in Slow Man, as they have never met and never will. However, they are paradoxically joined by a mysterious and durable bond: whether master and slave, comrades or foes, they are he and his man. In Coetzee’s darkly enigmatic Nobel Prize acceptance speech there are no affirmations about the value of literature or claims about the role of the novelist in the contemporary world. Instead, we perceive in it the writer’s perplexing stance as he looks at his fictional creations and tries to ascertain, knowing in advance he will fail, who he is for his characters, what his characters are for him.

The writer: intruder and ‘unwelcome guest’ Marais has analyzed acutely the centrality of the question of hospitality in Slow Man: In Slow Man, the focus on the unannounced visitor and the unwilled change that s/he may precipitate in the unwilling host is more apparent than in any of the previous novels. Much of the narrative consists of 10

Cornwell, “ ‘ He and His Man’,” 101.

262

A C T S O F V I S I T A T I O N  the forms of hospitality that Paul Rayment extends to various guests and visitors, both invited and uninvited: e.g., Marijana Jokić, Margaret McCord, Elizabeth Costello, Marianna, Drago Jokić. In their turn, these visits are framed by the hospitality that he receives from the hospital and the Jokić family.11

Marais analyzes how this hospitable dimension acquires a metafictional character through Elizabeth Costello’s arrival at Rayment’s house, which extends the novel’s debate on hospitality from the presentational surface of the narrative to a self-reflexive level involving the relationship between author and character and, ultimately, text and reader.12

Costello’s status as an uninvited and unexpected visitor is several times emphasized: she is an “unwelcome” guest (84). When Costello gives Rayment no chance of refusing her residence with him, she promises she will be “a model guest” (88), a guest who will go unnoticed. Paul, however, experiences Costello’s as an intrusive and even parasitical presence – “She just walked in on me” (110) – that has appeared suddenly and disconcertingly as if from above: “The woman has descended on him out of nowhere” (191). The similarities with Vercueil, “a visitor, visiting himself on me,” or with Lucy’s visitors on the farm are clear enough. The imagery previously used to illustrate parasitical social relations is now employed to explore literary processes. In The Master of Petersburg, “a complex deliberation on authorship,”13 the writer’s act of occupation of a foreign household is central. Dostoevsky arrives at Petersburg, No. 63 Svechnoi Street, where his stepson Pavel had been a lodger of Anna Sergeyevna Kolenkina, who lives with her daughter Matryona. “‘Forgive me for coming unannounced’” (2) – these are the first words he addresses to her. Again the parallelism with Vercueil and with the ‘unexpected visitors’ of Disgrace is striking. Dostoevsky tells himself that “his excuse for staying on is as obscure to others as to himself” (66). According to Attridge, there is something he is waiting for, or trying to bring about, but he does not know precisely what. He wants, he says, to find his way to

11

Marais, Secretary of the Invisible, 195. Secretary of the Invisible, 198. 13 Head, J.M. Coetzee, 144. 12

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Pavel, or to have Pavel come to him, but it’s not clear what this means, nor how it could be achieved.14

Attridge points out that we can define what Dostoevsky is waiting for with a Derridean term: the arrivant, something that arrives (or someone who arrives) where it (or he or she) was not expected. The arrival, Attridge argues, takes place in the final chapter of the novel, in which Dostoevsky’s long wait culminates in the event of writing: “Pavel comes, finally, […] as the ghostliness of writing, of letting words come.”15 I fully agree with Attridge, but I would argue that the emphasis in the novel is not only on Pavel as the arrivant, as the one who arrives, as the one who visits Dostoevsky, but also on Dostoevsky as visitor, as the one who arrives at the place previously occupied by his stepson, and expects, thus, to be visited by him: “That bunching of shadows in the corner – might it not be the trace of the breath of the shadow of the ghost of him? ‘One does not live in a place and leave nothing of oneself behind’” (141). The text repeatedly comes back to this status of Dostoevsky as visitor and stranger in Pavel’s room and in Anna’s house: he spends long intervals of time “in the room that is his and is not his” (23), and does not feel “at home at No. 63 and never will be” (66). He is “the most transient of sojourners” (66), “the funereal visitor” (67). Matryona inspects him “as a dog inspects a stranger” (14), and when he begins a sexual relationship with her mother, she rejects him even more emphatically. Anna tells Dostoevsky that Matryona “‘does not understand what you are doing here’,” that she could understand why Pavel lived with them, “‘but an older lodger is not the same thing’” (167). She confesses to him that she is “‘beginning to find it difficult too’,” since she and Matryona used to enjoy a quiet life together that their “‘lodgers have never been allowed to disturb’.” She fears that Dostoevsky may “‘ become the eternal lodger’” (139). When he was a child, Pavel used to perceive Dostoevsky as an intruder: “‘He did not take to me’” – Dostoevsky explains to Anna – “‘I was the stranger he and his mother were coming to live with’” (143). After Pavel’s death, Dostoevsky intrudes again upon his privacy, when he goes to the police station to claim some of the belongings that had been seized: letters “and 14

Derek Attridge, “Expecting the Unexpected in Coetzee’s Master of Petersburg and Derrida’s Recent Writings,” in Applying: To Derrida, ed. John Brannigan, Ruth Robbins & Julian Wolfreys (London: Macmillan, 1996): 27. 15 Attridge, “Expecting the Unexpected in Coetzee’s Master of Petersburg and Derrida’s Recent Writings,” 32.

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everything else of a private nature” (38). Maximov, the police officer, admits that it is a painful “‘prospect that after our decease a stranger will come sniffing through our possessions, opening drawers, breaking seals, reading intimate letters’” (39). In Slow Man, Rayment feels that Elizabeth Costello, an intruder like Dostoevsky, is this ‘stranger’ ‘sniffing through’ his private papers: “it is as if she were reading his diary. It is as if he kept a diary, and this woman crept nightly into the flat and read his secrets” (97). Dostoevsky actually has the chance to read Pavel’s diary, letters, and the short story he wrote in life. As he unties the ribbon holding them, “his heart is hammering unpleasantly. That there is something unsavoury in his haste he cannot deny.” And in his feeling the “terror of being caught red-handed (a terror delicious in itself)” (148), there is an implicit recognition of his having no right to go through Pavel’s papers; he knows he is committing an illegitimate act of trespass. Dostoevsky becomes the ‘stranger’ ‘sniffing through’ the possessions of the deceased, as Maximov suggests. He admits that “there is something ugly in this intrusion on Pavel” (216), an intrusion that helps him build up an image of his son that he will pervert in the act of writing he carries out in the last chapter. The writer emerges as an intruder, an unwelcome guest, an uninvited visitor, breaking into foreign households, reading intimate letters, listening to secrets. Dostoevsky’s physical act of intrusion into his son’s room and into Anna and Matryona’s household is accompanied by an act of intrusion into their privacy, their memories, and their most intimate inner states. “As a child,” Dostoevsky remembers, he used to spy on visitors to the household and trespass surreptitiously on their privacy. It is a weakness he has associated till now with a refusal to accept limits to what he is permitted to know, with the reading of forbidden books, and thus with his vocation. (71)

This conception of the writer’s vocation as one of trespassing the limits of knowledge recalls Coetzee’s discussion, in “Into the Dark Chamber,” of the reasons why the torture chamber has exerted so much fascination on South African novelists. One reason has to do with “the fact that the torture room is a site of extreme human experience, accessible to no one save the participants.”16 Coetzee explains that, to John T. Irwin, following Freud and Henry James, “the novelist is a person who, camped before a closed door, facing an insufferable ban, creates, in place of the scene he is forbidden to see, a repre-

16

Coetzee, “Into the Dark Chamber,” 363.

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sentation of that scene, and a story of the actors in it and how they come to be there.”17 In Coetzee’s novels, we have always detected the limits that Coetzee, as a novelist, felt were laid upon him, particularly in his refusal to provide us with the inner world of characters such as the barbarian girl, Friday, or Vercueil. In The Master of Petersburg, by contrast, the emphasis is on the limits that the writer must always, and perhaps illegitimately, trespass: “A gate has closed behind his son, a gate bound sevenfold with bands of iron. To open that gate is the labour laid upon him” (19).

Fathers and sons, mastership and perversion In The Master of Petersburg, biological and literary paternity and filiation go hand in hand. Again, we must look back to Foe, which establishes many of the ways in which metafictional issues will be dealt with in Coetzee’s later novels. The interrelatedness of biological progeny and literary paternity is embodied in the enigmatic girl who pursues Susan in London, claiming to be her daughter, whereas Susan affirms, “‘Your father is a man named Daniel Foe’” (91). Edward Said has argued that childless couples, orphaned children, aborted childbirths, and unregenerately celibate men and women populate the world of high modernism with remarkable insistence, all of them suggesting the difficulties of filiation.18

Confusion regarding the paternity of the girl mirrors the struggle between Susan and Foe concerning paternity over the island story, just as Susan’s early failure as mother when she loses her daughter in Brazil anticipates her later failure as ‘father’ to her story. Peter Brooks has pointed to the importance of paternity in the nineteenthand much of the twentieth-century novel: paternity is “a principal embodiment” of the novel’s “concern with authority, legitimacy, the conflict of generations, and the transmission of wisdom.”19 Similarly, Said, in Beginnings, has argued that “the form and representations of narrative fictions are based upon a desire […] to mime the life processes of generation, flourishing and 17

Coetzee, “Into the Dark Chamber,” 364. Edward W. Said, “Introduction: Secular Criticism,” in The World, the Text and the Critic (London: Vintage, 1983): 17. 19 Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (Cambridge M A : Harvard U P , 1984): 63. 18

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death.” Out of this association, he develops “a theory of authority linking authorship, paternal property and power to each other.” 20 But in both literary and critical elaborations of this issue, paternal authorship, legitimacy, and the continuation of one’s progeny are always haunted by the possibility of usurpation and illegitimacy, by the possibility of the murder of the father. Thus, in his reading of Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le noir, Brooks identifies “the issue of legitimate authority versus usurpation” as the matrix of the novel.21 In Coetzee’s novels, the conflict between parents and children, the older and the younger generation, and the interruption of family lineage are recurrent motifs. His very first novel depicts an act of filicide, Dawn’s murder of his son, and the second one, an act of patricide: Magda’s murder of her father. In Age of Iron and Disgrace, the emphasis falls on the disruption of and intrusion upon familial lineage and heritage: in the former, Mrs Curren’s house, which ‘should’ have been inherited by her daughter, will probably be appropriated by Vercueil, and in Disgrace, Lurie’s lineage, owing to Lucy’s rape and subsequent pregnancy, has become mixed with another ‘kind’. In Age of Iron, as in The Master of Petersburg, it is the younger generation that is leading the revolutionary processes that both novels, in different countries, depict, and in doing so, it radically rejects the authority of the elder generation. Florence, Mrs Curren’s maid, asserts that “there are no more mothers and fathers” (39), and Dostoevsky reflects on “young people turning their backs on their parents, their homes, their upbringing” (137). These works, then, attest to Said’s observation that “few things are as problematic and as universally fraught as what we might have supposed to be the mere natural continuity between one generation and another,”22 and as depicted in them, Coetzee’s conception of the relation between parents and children, and between different generations, is not far from Freud’s in his famous essay “Family Romances,” in which he describes “the freeing of an individual, as he grows up, from the authority of his parents” as one of the most necessary, but also painful, elements in this process, and in which he argues that, indeed, “the whole progress of society rests upon the opposition between successive generations.”23 20

Said, Beginnings, xix. Brooks, Reading for the Plot, 71. 22 Said, “Introduction: Secular Criticism,” 16. 23 Sigmund Freud, “Family Romances,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. & tr. James Strachey (“Der Familienroman der Neurotiker,” 1908; London: Hogarth, 1953–74), vol. 9: 237. 21

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Among Coetzee’s characters, John, in Youth, is especially keen on freeing himself from the authority of his parents. He leaves home “to escape the oppressiveness of family” (18), and tells himself that “he is proving something: that each man is an island; that you don’t need parents” (3).24 Once in London, he hopes to discard all family ties, and finds it exasperating to receive, each week, a letter from his mother: Will his mother not understand that when he departed Cape Town he cut all bonds with the past? […] When will she see that he has grown so far away from her that he might as well be a stranger? (98)

When he leaves behind his biological parents, he intends to replace them with his literary parents, his literary masters: “The great masters […] Hölderlin and Blake, Pound and Eliot” (66). In The Master of Petersburg, the emphasis is on the mutual rivalry and even hatred between parents and children: Is it always like this between fathers and sons: jokes masking the intensest rivalry? […] Not the People’s Vengeance but the Vengeance of the Sons: is that what underlies revolution – fathers envying their sons their women, sons scheming to rob their fathers’ cashboxes? (108).25

The novel depicts “fathers devouring children” (125), and as emblematized in the relation between Dostoevsky and Pavel, “fathers and sons” are “foes: foes to the death” (239). Pavel, however, is Dostoevsky’s stepson, not his legitimate or biological son, although Dostoevsky claims that he “brought up Pavel Isaev as my son and love him as my own flesh and blood” (30). Dostoevsky’s intrusion into two foreign households – first that of Pavel and his mother, and later, that of Anna and Matryona – goes together with the attempt at illegitimately occupying the role of the father.26 Pavel, however, perceived him as “a 24

It is interesting that, in Diary of a Bad Year, the writer JC also employs John Donne’s phrase, but this time in its original form and original sense: “No man is an island […] We are all part of the main” (107). 25 For an acute analysis of the “image of parental responsibility” in this novel, and “its political implications through the father/son relationship,” see Sue Kossew, “The Anxiety of Authorship: J.M. Coetzee’s The Master of Petersburg (1994) and André Brink’s On The Contrary (1993),” English in Africa 23.1 (May 1996): 77. 26 That Coetzee presents one of his masters, Dostoevsky, as stepfather evokes the presentation that Cervantes, another of Coetzee’s masters, makes of himself as “Don Quixote’s stepfather” in the Prologue to his novel. Cervantes also uses the imagery of paternity and filiation in order to depict his relation to his novel – “the child of my

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stranger” (143), and Matryona rejects him as paternal figure: “You can’t tell me what to do, you’re not my father!” (138). As it emerges throughout the novel, Dostoevsky failed as a father while Pavel was alive. In the story written by Pavel, the main character, Sergei, a young revolutionary and clearly Pavel’s alter ego, explains to his lover: ‘My mother married a second time. Her new husband did not like me. As soon as I was old enough, he packed me off to cadet school. […] Then my mother died, and I was left alone with my stepfather, a gloomy man who addressed barely a word to me from one day to the next.’ (151)

Thus, it seems that Nechaev is actually telling the truth when he addresses to Dostoevsky the following speech: Pavel Isaev was a comrade of ours. We were his family when he had no family. You went abroad and left him behind. You lost touch with him, you became a stranger to him. Now you appear from nowhere and make wild accusations against the only real kin he had in the world. […] Do you know what you remind me of? Of a distant relative turning up at the graveside with his carpet-bag, come out of nowhere to claim an inheritance from someone he has never laid eyes on. You are fourth cousin, fifth cousin to Pavel Alexandrovich, not father, not even stepfather. (119)

In this central passage, not only are Dostoevsky’s mastership and authority as (step)father categorically undercut, but the conventional channels of filiation – namely, family channels – are also disrupted and replaced by a new kind of filiation, that of political comradeship. But it is in the final chapter of the novel that Dostoevsky definitively distances himself from the role of faithful and loving father, precisely when he finally assumes the role of the writer. Again, the writer is presented as foe. As he is about to begin writing, Dostoevsky feels that he “is not himself any longer […] he is young again […] He is, to a degree, Pavel Isaev,” so that what we find in his writing is a “version of Pavel” (242). The first passage he writes depicts Pavel spending his days in the apartment and arousing the sexual curiosity of his landlady’s young brain” (Miguel de Cervantes, The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha, tr. Samuel Putnam [El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, 1605; Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1996]: xiii) – and which is related, as in The Master of Petersburg, to a complex exploration of questions of authorship, authority, and intertextuality.

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daughter: i.e. Matryona. Attridge explains that the historical Dostoevsky began writing The Devils (also known as The Demons or The Possessed) in December 1869, one month after the action of Coetzee’s narrative finishes, and that the text written by Coetzee’s fictional Dostoevsky is thus presented as the seed of the main event of that literary work: Stavrogin’s violation of his landlady’s eleven-year old daughter, Matryosha.27 Earlier in the novel, Dostoevsky, in order to illustrate that “Pavel had a kind heart” (74), had told Matryona an episode in Pavel’s life, in which his stepson had done a good deed that was “a lesson to everyone, a lesson in chivalry” (74). In the second passage that Dostoevsky writes in the final chapter, he depicts Pavel telling Matryona exactly the same incident, but as told by Pavel, there was in him no noble inner motive; he simply did it “‘for a joke. Summer in the country is so boring’” (249). Throughout the novel, we have seen Dostoevsky several times disposed to write, but the words do not come. In this final chapter, he finally discovers or, rather, is endowed with the right disposition: No longer a matter of listening for the lost child calling from the dark stream, no longer a matter of being faithful to Pavel when all have given him up. Not a matter of fidelity at all. On the contrary, a matter of betrayal – betrayal of love first of all, and then of Pavel and the mother and child and everyone else. Perversion: everything and everyone to be turned to another use, to be gripped to him and fall with him. (235)

Certainly, in his writing, Dostoevsky “has betrayed everyone” (250): he has betrayed Anna and Matryona’s memory of Pavel as a loving, good-hearted young man; what is worse, he has betrayed his own son, by turning him into a pervert, a cynic, and almost a rapist.28 Dostoevsky tells himself: “I write perversions of the truth” (236). This notion of writing as perversion is central for the understanding of the novel.29 ‘To pervert’ is to cause to turn away from 27

Attridge, “Expecting the Unexpected in Coetzee’s Master of Petersburg and Derrida’s Recent Writings,” 24. 28 For an analysis of the series of betrayals that we find in the novel, see Rosemary Jane Jolly, “Writing Desire Responsibly,” in J.M. Coetzee in Context and Theory, ed. Elleke Boehmer, Robert Eaglestone & Katy Iddiols (London: Continuum, 2009): 104–105. 29 In her analysis of this novel, Margaret Scanlan points to “the violence Coetzee’s Dostoevsky recognizes in himself,” a violence “in terms of which he understands the

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what is right, proper, or good; to corrupt; to bring to a bad or worse condition; to debase; to put to a wrong or improper use; to misuse; to interpret incorrectly; to misconstrue or distort. It derives from Latin pervertere ‘corrupt, turn the wrong way, turn about’, from per- ‘away’ and vertere ‘to turn’. Coetzee, through Dostoevsky, seems to be defending here a certain conception of literary writing, the kind of writing that we find in his novels: literary writing not as a reflection of truth, of factual reality, but as a perversion or distortion of it, a turning away from it.30 This is also a kind of literary writing that endorses no moral programme, that offers no exemplary and proper models. But any literary text is also a perversion of, a turning away from, previous literary works: as we have seen in the analysis of Foe, any literary text is firmly situated within a certain literary tradition from which it must also depart. As argued by Harold Bloom in The Anxiety of Influence, strong poets make ‘misreadings’ of their precursors, an act to which he gives the name ‘clinamen’: “A poet swerves away from his precursor, by so reading his precursor’s poem so as to execute a clinamen in relation to it.”31 As Dostoevsky reads Pavel’s private papers, he tells himself that there is “something obscene in the idea of the Nachlass of a child” (216). As he outlives his stepson and appropriates his Nachlass – the possessions he has left behind – their roles are somehow inverted: Pavel becomes Dostoevsky’s progenitor or predecessor and Dostoevsky, Pavel’s heir, and in this sense, Pavel becomes father to Dostoevsky and Dostoevsky becomes son to Pavel. This is particularly true in literary terms: it seems that it is Pavel’s diary and short story that somehow motivate Dostoevsky’s final act of writing. This is suggested by the fact that it is in Pavel’s diary that Dostoevsky writes the beginning of his novel: “From the suitcase he takes Pavel’s diary and turns to the first empty page, the page process of artistic creation as plagiarism, appropriation, and perversion.” (“Incriminating Documents: Nechaev and Dostoevsky in J.M. Coetzee’s The Master of Petersburg,” Philological Quarterly 76.4 [Fall 1997]: 475). 30 For Marais, the implication in The Master of Petersburg, and also in Age of Iron, is not that literature perverts reality, but the other way round: “Coetzee’s point seems to be that the networks of power within the societies in question pervade and pervert every aspect of life, including art” (“Places of Pigs: The Tension between Implication and Transcendence in J.M. Coetzee’s Age of Iron and The Master of Petersburg,” in Critical Essays on J.M. Coetzee, ed. Sue Kossew [New York: G.K. Hall, 1998]: 229). Certainly, this kind of perversion is also present in Coetzee’s fiction. 31 Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (1973; Oxford: Oxford U P , 1997): 14.

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that the child did not write on because by then he was dead” (242). In order to carry out his act of writing, Dostoevsky not only intrudes upon Pavel’s documents but perverts them, distorting the information he finds in them and appropriating them for his own use. When the verb ‘to pervert’ is used in the sense of misconstruing, misinterpreting or distorting, it is usually in relation to written documents, statements or literary works. Every literary work is, then, a perversion or misinterpretation, a ‘clinamen’ or ‘misreading,’ of previous literary works. At the moment of writing, Dostoevsky has, in a sense, become Pavel’s heir, Pavel’s son. Thus, as he projects a depraved and hideous image of Pavel, he has somehow betrayed his father. Similarly, at the time at which he was writing his short story, Pavel was no doubt struggling with the literary ascendancy of his stepfather, of his ‘master’. In The Master of Petersburg, rivalry between biological parents and children cannot be seen as separate from rivalry between literary parents and literary heirs. Just as children rebel against their parents’ authority, writers struggle to overthrow their literary predecessors from their position of ascendancy and influence. Literary writing is always a perversion in relation to literary predecessors; as we see in Coetzee’s novels, literary sons cannot be faithful and obedient. In Foe, Coetzee visits the house of Daniel Defoe, and in The Master of Petersburg, he visits Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky. In doing so, he approaches them as masters, artists of great and exemplary skill, great figures of the past whose work serves as model and ideal, and also as his fathers, his literary fathers, fathers of the Western literary tradition. But in this response we find the betrayal of the son: the writer must always betray his literary masters, his literary parents. In Foe, Coetzee betrays Defoe, in emphasizing the patriarchal and imperialistic nature of his work. In The Master of Petersburg, Dostoevsky is presented as an old man prone to gambling, a man who did not care enough for his stepson, unfaithful to his wife, and ready to betray his son in order to create a literary work. Coetzee has betrayed Defoe and Dostoevsky. But in literary terms, the betrayal of one’s father is the greatest homage that can be paid. Furthermore, the young may betray, turn against, and even murder the old, but what these processes signal is precisely the inevitability of going back to them. Another meaning of the term ‘master’ is that of an original, such as an original document, from which copies can be made. Coetzee’s novels, full of literary allusions and references, keep going back to master-documents, to literary masterworks, such as Robinson Crusoe or The Possessed. In the description of this process, as experienced by old Robin in relation to his island

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story in “He and His Man,” the emphasis is on its violent and rapacious character: When the first bands of plagiarists and imitators descended upon his island story and foisted on the public their own feigned stories of the castaway life, they seemed to him no more or less than a horde of cannibals falling upon his own flesh. (20, my emphases)

In the act of visiting his literary masters, his literary hosts, the writer becomes a parasite, but this is an inevitable process, as Robin realizes: “There are but a handful of stories in the world; and if the young are to be forbidden to prey upon the old, then they must sit forever in silence” (20, my emphasis). Elizabeth Costello asserts that “we can’t go on parasitizing the classics for ever. I am not excluding myself from the charge. We’ve got to start doing some inventing of our own” (Elizabeth Costello, 14–15). Coetzee’s literary works perfom acts of what we could call ‘inventive parasitizing’. As for the writer, in his / her role of intruder, betrayer, pervert, and parasite, what is left to him/ her is “a life without honour; treachery without limits; confession without end” (The Master of Petersburg, 222). “What sort of creature” is the writer then? “A cat. One of those large cats that pause as they eviscerate their victim and, across the torn-open belly, give you a cold yellow stare” (Elizabeth Costello, 5).

Parents and children, care and hospitality Paternity and parenthood, the “labour laid upon” (The Master of Petersburg, 19) fathers and mothers, and the relation between parents and children are

central motifs in Coetzee’s works, especially from Age of Iron onwards. As already argued, this theme often acquires literary and metafictional overtones, but also constitutes an important ethical concern in its own. If the host–guest relation is pivotal in many of Coetzee’s novels, the father(mother)–child dyad plays a key role in Age of Iron, Disgrace, The Master of Petersburg, Slow Man, and also in Summertime, often with both pairs – host and guest, parent and child – going together. In my reading of Disgrace, I pointed out that the father–daughter relationship between Lurie and Lucy is explicitly articulated around the roles of guest and host. In Age of Iron and The Master of Petersburg, the respective maternal and paternal figure occupies the house or the room which daughter or son has abandoned, looking forward to his or her return. Thus, Dostoevsky expects Pavel to somehow come visiting: “That bunching of shadows in the corner – might it not be the trace of the breath of the

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shadow of the ghost of him? ‘One does not live in a place and leave nothing of oneself behind,’ he whispers” (141). In Age of Iron, in its opposition between disembodied, negligible language and powerful materiality, Mrs Curren would gladly substitute the fragile words she addresses to her daughter for the act of visiting: In another world I would not need words. I would appear on your doorstep. ‘I have come for a visit,’ I would say and that would be the end of words: I would embrace you and be embraced. But in this world, I must reach out to you in words. (9)

The centrality of the parent–child relationship from Age of Iron onwards cannot be seen as separate from the prominence given to a specific kind of character that keeps reappearing in all of Coetzee’s later novels: Mrs Curren, Dostoevsky, David Lurie, Elizabeth Costello, Paul Rayment, and JC, all of them elderly, most of them afflicted by illness and solitude, and foreseeing death. In their personal and familial situation, all of them, to a greater or lesser extent, resemble Rayment, who is “unmarried, single, solitary, alone” (9). Some of them crave to have their children close to them, only to find that the latter left long ago or that their relationship is irreparably strained. For Mrs Curren, her daughter and their grandchildren are so far away that she feels that “they are not my grandchildren. They are too distant to be children of mine of whatever sort” (195). And she explicitly reproaches her daughter for having abandoned her: “‘J’accuse. I accuse you of abandoning me’” (139– 40). Costello tells Paul that her “‘children are far away […] across the broad waves’” (261). Lurie unsuccessfully tries to get closer to Lucy, who rejects him as paternal figure: “‘I cannot be a child for ever. You cannot be a father for ever. I know you mean well, but you are not the guide I need, not at this time’” (161). Others bitterly regret their childlessness. To Rayment, childlessness looks “like madness, a herd madness, even a sin” (34), for which he will have to ask forgiveness when he arrives at the gate of heaven. Similarly, for JC, “children are a gift from above. It appears I did not merit the gift” (57). Paola Splendore has analyzed the importance, in Coetzee’s novels, of the theme of “the loss and dissolution of family life and the break-up of the traditional bonds and protection between parents and children,”32 and has identified, from Dawn to Lurie, a “constant debunking of the Myth of the Father”;

32

Paola Splendore, “ ‘ No More Mothers and Fathers’: The Family Sub-Text in J.M. Coetzee’s Novels,” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 38.3 (2003): 148.

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“a gallery of violent, authoritarian, vain and ineffectual fathers.”33 Certainly, particularly in Coetzee’s earliest novels, family relations are “invariably strained, distorted, marked by violence.”34 And in his later works, a voice keeps reappearing, the voice of the abandoned child calling his father: “‘Father, can’t you see I am burning?’ implored the child, standing at his father’s bedside. But his father, sleeping on, dreaming, did not see” (Age of Iron, 110); “Lucy has spoken to him; her words – ‘Come to me, save me!’ – still echo in his ears” (Disgrace, 103); “Father, why have you left me in the dark forest? Father, when will you come to save me?” (The Master of Petersburg, 126). But if, in Coetzee’s later novels, parents tend to go on failing in their paternal duty in practical terms, there is also a dimension of tenderness, an emphasis on children as blessing, and an intimation of the unconditionality of paternal / maternal love that are notably absent from his previous works and that are foregrounded in the following words addressed by Dostoevsky to Nechaev: “‘Go home to your father. […] Go to him, kneel, ask him to hide you. He will do it. There are no limits to what a father will do’” (194). If, when engaged in actual parental obligations, Dostoevsky had proved to be quite a failure, now he looks for a “word of forgiveness” in the story written by Pavel: “Impossible to live out his days with a child inside him whose last word is not of forgiveness” (219). Parents will unconditionally welcome their children, like the father of the prodigal son, who is “embraced, welcome into the home, feasted” (84), or like Mrs Curren, who is ready to welcome her daughter back: “longing to welcome you, embrace you, should you relent and, in whatever form, come visiting” (139). If Mrs Curren’s act of hospitality towards Vercueil is absolute and radical, it is because she has welcomed him as one welcomes a child: “‘I didn’t choose you, but you are the one who is here, and that will have to do. You arrived. It’s like having a child. You can’t choose the child. It just arrives’” (71). Lucy also performs this radical act of hospitality in relation to her child: “Should I choose against the child because of who the father is?” (198). Age of Iron is, in a sense, about “amor matris, a force that stopped for nothing” (94), whereas Disgrace is, to a great extent, about amor patris, about Lurie’s love for Lucy, despite his actual failures as father: “From the day his daughter was born he has felt for her nothing but the most spontaneous, 33 34

Splendore, “ ‘ No More Mothers and Fathers’,” 156. “ ‘ No More Mothers and Fathers’,” 148.

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unstinting love” (76). It is his duty as father that he cannot in any way evade: “I can’t imagine, in this life, not being Lucy’s father” (162). In their analysis of Lurie’s ethical development and personal transformation in the course of the novel, critics have tended to focus on his engagement with dogs and his devotion to his opera libretto, while less attention has been paid to Lucy’s role as Lurie’s “second salvation” (86). As Marais puts it, we can trace in Lurie a “development from monadic subjectivity to self-substituting responsibility,”35 and Lucy is one of the main agents in this development, as we see at the moment of the attack, in which Lurie’s main concern is his daughter: “He can burn, he can die; and if he can die, then so can Lucy, above all Lucy!” (96). Against the 1990s South African context of public confessions and manifestations of repentance, Lurie has been seen as a character “who notoriously refuses to say he’s sorry.”36 He certainly refuses to confess in the terms the commission of inquiry demands of him, and though he pleads guilty to the charge, he at no moment asks for forgiveness. His act of contrition before the Isaacs is similarly doubtful, given its theatrical dimension and the spur of desire he feels for Melanie’s sister. Lurie, however, does actually offer a confession and ask for forgiveness, in what seems to be perfectly sincere terms, and it is to Lucy that both acts are addressed. He confesses having not saved her: “And I did nothing. I did not save you. That is his own confession” (157). And he asks forgiveness for his failures as a father: “‘Forgive me, Lucy […] For being one of the two mortals assigned to usher you into the world and for not turning out to be a better guide’” (79). If we may doubt Lurie’s repentance concerning his abuse of Melanie, we do not doubt the sincerity of his repentance for having failed Lucy. Awareness of parental failure even leads him to hear another voice during the composition of his opera: “One day there emerges from the dark another voice, one he has not heard before, has not counted on hearing.” This voice belongs to Byron’s daughter, Allegra, whose voice is again that of the abandoned child: “Why have you left me? Come and fetch me! […] Unlovely, unloved, neglected by his famous father […] Why have you forgotten me?” (186).

35

Mike Marais, “The Possibility of Ethical Action: J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace,” Scrutiny2 5.1 (2000): 62. 36 Boehmer, “Sorry, Sorrier, Sorriest: The Gendering of Contrition in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace,” in J.M. Coetzee and the Idea of the Public Intellectual, ed. Jane Poyner (Athens: Ohio U P , 2006): 135.

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Age of Iron is, then, within Coetzee’s oeuvre, a transitional novel, which marks the beginning of a continuous preoccupation with certain themes. If the act of hospitality is the ethical act par excellence in many of Coetzee’s novels, a new ethical act assumes prominence from Age of Iron onwards: namely, the act of caring, which tends to be associated with the parent–child relationship, with the relationship between the elderly and the young. In its concern with illness and old age, and by having at its centre a character who comes to depend on the assistance of others, Slow Man is a novel about care, a term that keeps appearing in the text and on which Rayment offers several explicit reflections. The notion of one’s child as salvation, blessing or gift is pervasive in Coetzee’s works since the early 1990s, and one main reason is that children are the ones to take care of their parents when they reach old age or fall ill. When Marijana learns about Rayment’s childlessness, she asks him: “‘So who is going to take care of you?’” This question stays with him: “Who is going to take care of you? The more he stares at the words take care of, the more inscrutable they seem” (43). Certainly the chief among his regrets is “that he does not have a son” (44), a son who would say to him: “You have done your duty, taken care of me, now it is my turn, I will take care of you” (45). Mrs Curren, also with a suffering body like Rayment, does have a daughter, but one who is too far away to take care of her dying mother. It is Vercueil, instead, who assumes that role: “‘Mr Vercueil takes care of me’” (173). As he cannot depend on filial devotion, Rayment must turn to professional care; he needs “a care-giver […] a private nurse, someone with experience of frail care” (17). And it is thus that “he settles into Marijana’s regimen of care” (32), the Croatian nurse with whom he falls in love. In Age of Iron, Mrs Curren had reflected on nurses in the following way: It is their hands above all that I find myself craving. The touch of hands. Why else do we hire them, these girls, there children, if not to touch, to stroke, in that brisk way of theirs, flesh that has grown old and unlovable? Why do we give them lamps and call them angels? Because they come in the dead of night to tell us it is time to go? Perhaps. But also because they put out a hand to renew a touch that has been broken. (74)

Physical contact had never been described in Coetzee’s previous novels in such tender and affectionate terms. Since Dusklands, physical relationships, either in the sexual act or in the manipulation of the body of another person, had tended to have a violent, encroaching or disgusting character, often consisting in one body’s (attempt at) forceful imposition on or penetration of

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another body. In Age of Iron, a different kind of physical contact emerges: that of one body abandoning itself to the care of another body. As Mrs Curren reflects, “In manus tuas: take me into your hands, care for me” (183). However, as already analyzed, violent physical penetration is also present in the novel, as we see in the affecting scene in which some children force a stick into Mrs Curren’s mouth: “I awaited the prying of their hands, not caring” (158). The prevailing parasitic and hostile relationships depicted in Age of Iron are manifested in the act of prying, an intrusive and assailing physical act. The alternative is caring physical contact, care as related to charity: “Care: the true root of charity” (22). Mrs Curren’s reflection on ‘care’ and ‘charity’ echoes the reflection on caritas, the Latin term from which the English word ‘charity’ derives, that we find at the end of “The Humanities in Africa,” the fifth lesson of Elizabeth Costello. As in Age of Iron and Slow Man, the suffering and sick body is omnipresent in this lesson. We first find it in Zululand, in the hospital at which Elizabeth’s sister, Blanche, a nun and medical missionary, works, and which treats children born infected with A I D S . When she arrives, Elizabeth thinks with dismay of the scene she will have to face: “The stick limbs, the bloated bellies, the great impassive eyes of children wasting away” (133). It is also present in the figure of Jesus on the cross that Joseph, the local carver, carves over and over again. Elizabeth engages in a passionate defence of the Classical humanism that her sister deplores, and specifically of the Greek gods and the Greek ideal of beauty. What Elizabeth cannot stand, or cannot understand, is the whole Christian tradition of “a Christ dying in contortions” (138), the worship of a statue or painting of a man “in the extremes of agony, deformed, ugly” (139). The question, then, she poses to her sister is why she imports into Africa “‘this utterly alien, Gothic obsession with the ugliness and mortality of the human body?’” (139–40), instead of importing the Greeks. Blanche’s answer is that the Europeans actually tried to import the Greeks into Africa. As educated Europeans first came upon the Zulu warriors, with their “‘well-formed limbs, skimpy clothes’” and “‘proud bearing’,” they thought they had found “‘Sparta in Africa’.” Joseph and his ancestors “‘were offered the Greeks and they rejected them. Instead, they looked elsewhere in the Mediterranean world. They chose to be Christians’.” And as put by Blanche, “‘this happened all over the colonized world’” (140). Independently of whether Blanche’s historical overview of the process of colonization, and of the importation of Greek and Christian values to the colonized world, is an accurate one, and without going into the analysis of the complex issue

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underlying this discussion – namely, the translation of cultural and religious models from Europe to Africa – Blanche’s argument about why Zulus may feel closer to the Christian concern with the suffering body than to the Greek ideal of corporeal beauty, about why a suffering Jesus, and not an ethereal Greek god, may have a place in “‘the reality of Zululand, the reality of Africa’,” simply sounds sensible and realistic enough: “‘Because they suffer and he suffers with them’” (141). In the second part of the chapter, Elizabeth, back at home, writes an episode of her life with the intention of sending it to her sister. In it, Elizabeth, as a young woman, is confronted with a sick and old body, Mr Phillips’s, to whom a laryngectomy has left a hole in his throat through which, with the aid of a prosthesis, he can hardly speak. As she poses semi-nude for him, so that he may enjoy his painting, she feels like a Greek goddess, rejoicing in her “divine body on show” (149). This seems to tip the balance in favour of the Greeks again. However, Elizabeth does not write how the story proceeds. Deeply affected by another dose of radiation, Mr Phillips turns into “just an old fellow, an old bag of bones waiting to be carted away” (151). Elizabeth goes to visit him several times, and out of the desire to give him some sexual consolation, she removes her dress and her brassiere on one occasion, and on another, ends up fellating him. “There is nothing pleasant” (152) in all of this, she repeats several times as she re-lives that moment. But then, “once you are past a certain age everything is less than ideal […] Only the gods are for ever young, the inhuman gods. The gods and the Greeks” (154). Old age, as depicted in Coetzee’s later novels, implies the abrupt encounter with unpleasantness as experienced in one’s “unlovely new body” (Slow Man, 38). As Elizabeth wonders what name to give to her action, she realizes that neither of the Greek words for love, eros and agape, is adequate: “Would one have to wait for the Christians to come along with the right word: caritas? For that, in the end, is what she is convinced it is” (154). Care, caritas, charity are interrelated terms, the three of them denoting acts of generosity and lovingness: in the case of Elizabeth, toward an old, disgusting body. Thus, however different their religious and ideological positions may be, both Elizabeth and Blanche carry out acts of caring. Blanche is a nurse, “a care-giver,” as formulated in Slow Man. Elizabeth imagines the dying children in the Zululand hospital as “beyond cure, beyond care” (133). However, when the spectacle does not turn out to be so terrible, she remembers her sister’s words, that “with love and care and the right drugs, these innocents can be brought to the very gate of death without fear” (134). There is here a certain irony towards

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Blanche’s condescending, religiously tinged attitude, but at the same time, there seems to be a genuine appreciation of the ethical value and effectiveness of her spirit of charity. Thus, whereas, in Coetzee’s early novels, the emphasis tends to fall on the suffering body as undeniable and enigmatic presence, as source of authority, as materiality that resists being incorporated into discourse, in Coetzee’s later narrative the suffering, old, ill or dying body is presented as in need of and longing for care: We do not need love, old people like us. What we need is care: someone to hold our hand now and then when we get trembly, to make a cup of tea for us, help us down the stairs. Someone to close our eyes for us when the time comes. (Slow Man, 154)

The most radical ethical act is, then, that in which one takes care of those unable to take care of themselves, as in Lurie’s devotion to the dogs at the clinic: “He is prepared to take care of them once they are unable, utterly unable, to take care of themselves” (146). The question is whether somebody will care enough to look after the weak, the sick, the dying. The claim for care, on the part of the old, sick, handicapped person, the call for help, is most poignantly conveyed in the two consecutive scenes in which Rayment, alone in his flat, falls and cannot get up again. In the first scene, he calls Marijana: “Come, save me! he called across the South Australian space” (212). In the second, Drago, Marijana’s son, finds him in urine-soaked pyjamas, half in bed, half out. When Drago takes care of everything without wavering, Rayment feels immense gratitude towards him: “Your mother has abandoned me; Mrs Costello, who jabbers on and on about care but takes care not to be around when care is needed, has abandoned me; everyone has abandoned me, even the son I never had; then you came, you!” (215). Rayment’s inner words to Drago highlight the obsession he develops throughout the novel: as he feels that “having no child was the great mistake of [his] life” (155), he tries to become a substitute father for Drago, “a godfather: one who leads a child to God” (92), a “co-father” (63), so that Drago may become “an adopted son, or son-to-be” (180). This plan is obviously related to his desire to be a ‘co-husband’ to Marijana, of returning to Marijana the care he has received from her: “You have taken care of me; now I want to give something back, if you will let me. I offer to take care of you, or at least to relieve you of your burden. I offer to do so because in my heart, in my core, I care for you” (165). His offer to Marijana to pay for Drago’s schooling

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sparks a serious quarrel between Marijana and her husband, and owing to his fights with his father, Drago actually comes to live with Rayment for a while. At the centre of Slow Man, there is the experience of suffering “an accident: something that befalls one, something unintended, unexpected” (21). The bicycle accident, however, is not the only thing that befalls Rayment. Costello’s intrusion into his home is equally “unintended” and “unexpected,” as is Drago’s sudden arrival as soon as Costello leaves: He is indeed looking forward to being alone. In fact he hungers for solitude. But no sooner has Elizabeth Costello taken her leave that Drago Jokić, with a bulging rucksack on his shoulder, is at the door. (131)

If, as Paul himself suspects, there is an author behind his life, making him live out the plot s / he has designed, this master (mistress) of puppets no doubt wants his or her character to have his solitude disrupted and go through the test of cohabitation. Rayment’s “unintended” and “unexpected” obligation to be hospitable toward Costello and Drago very much recalls Derrida’s discussion of the unforeseeable character of hospitality: To be hospitable is […] to let oneself be overtaken, to not even let oneself be overtaken, to be surprised, in a fashion almost violent, violated and raped [violée], stolen [volée].37

Rayment had envisaged cohabitation for Drago and him “on the mildest scale.” However, “that is not how it turns out to be.” Drago brings in friends, and the flat becomes noisy and dirty: “In fact, he feels that Drago is pushing him away” (180). Rayment consequently feels relieved when Drago leaves his home: there is “always tension, always unease when two males occupy the same territory” (205). We find here the depiction of the domestic sphere as a field of conflict and hostility that we have been encountering since In the Heart of the Country. But if Rayment’s household comes to be intruded upon, he makes a similar act of intrusion into another household: namely, that of Jokić, as he confesses to Miroslav, Marijana’s husband, in a letter he never sends: “I tried to break up your home, so no doubt you feel I ought to shut up and accept whatever punishment the gods visit on me” (223). Again, there is here the notion of ‘visiting on’, central in this novel and in Age of Iron, and in both cases related to the concept of the “accident: something that befalls one, something unintended, unexpected” (21). Paul tries to explain to Miroslav 37

Jacques Derrida, “Hostipitality” (1997), in Acts of Religion, ed. & intro. Gil Anidjar (New York: Routledge, 2002): 361.

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that, by financing Drago’s education, he intends to become his godfather: “Can you find a place in your hearth and in your home, in your heart and home, for a godfather?” (224). It makes sense that in his appeal for hospitality, Paul should invoke the concept of home, since “the problem of hospitality […] is always about answering for a dwelling place, for one’s identity, one’s space, one’s limits, for the ethos as abode, habitation, house, hearth, family, home.”38 The concept of home had been pivotal in Paul’s earlier conversation with Costello about “the immigrant experience.” Now, he specifically appeals to the expression ‘hearth and home’, which, as he explained to Costello, conveys the English sense of being at home: for the English, “home is the place where the fire burns in the hearth, when you come to warm yourself.” However, he “seem[s] to be cold wherever [he] go[es]” (192). He goes on to demystify the concept of home: A pigeon has a home, a bee has a home. An Englishman has a home, perhaps. I have a domicile, a residence. This is my residence. This flat. This city. This country. Home is too mystical for me. (197)

Here he identifies with a pragmatic, matter-of-fact, unsentimental concept of habitation or dwelling. However, when he addresses Miroslav, he appeals to the identification between home, heart and hearth, to the very English understanding of home he had previously rejected. He had also dismissed the French experience of home, since “among the French to be at home is to be among ourselves, among our kind” (192), and he is “not the we of anyone” (193). However, this is precisely what he attempts to do when he tries to become a member of the Jokić family. And, as usual in Coetzee’s fiction, this attempt is spatially literalized in the act of visiting: Will Miroslav open the door, should Rayment “come visiting. […] will you in principle open your home to me? I want nothing in return, nothing tangible, beyond perhaps a key to the back door” (224). In both Slow Man and Youth, then, we find protagonists who think of themselves as free of the ties and mystification of home and family, but who cannot actually escape them. Significantly, Slow Man finishes with an unannounced visit: “‘Not an unannounced visit,’ he says. ‘I don’t like people visiting me unannounced and I don’t make unannounced visits myself’” (239). This is Rayment’s response to Elizabeth’s proposal that the best way of putting things right with the Jokićs would be by paying them an unannounced visit. He wonders:

38

Derrida, Of Hospitality, 149, 151.

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It is in passages such as these in which the value granted by Coetzee and Derrida to the ethical act of hospitality and the terms in which they deal with this act become strikingly similar. Rayment’s question could be rephrased with Derrida’s words: Will the Jokićs “let [themselves] be swept by the coming of […] the uninvited visitor, the unexpected visitation beyond welcoming apparatuses”?39 Costello tells Marijana: “We also thought it would be nice to drop by for a cup of tea and a chat, as one used to do in the old days. It’s a nice practice, sociable, friendly,” to which Marijana answers that “only people which come bang on door is police […] If you telephone first, you say you come for tea, then you don’t make frightening, like police” (247). Like Derrida, Coetzee is aware of the potential threat of hospitality: the guest may be hostis, stranger, enemy. Also, as distinct from “the unconditional or hyperbolical” law of hospitality, the possibility that the visitor may be the police – the police as representative of the State – highlights the other law of hospitality, “the conditional and juridico-political,”40 the concrete political laws and measures regulating the circulation of migrants and the entry of alien people into foreign countries. Slow Man is a novel about immigrants and foreigners, and certainly the question of hospitality is the ‘foreigner question’, the title of the first lecture in Derrida’s Of Hospitality. Marijana and her family have been welcomed into the country by the Australian laws of hospitality, which allows them to become hosts on Australian soil. But this concession is not unconditional, and a visit by the police could mean their reversion to the status of foreigners, aliens, outsiders. In the Jokićs’ household, Paul makes a last, futile attempt to introduce himself into it: “‘I could live in a shed in your back yard and watch over you’” (251). The last scene of the novel shows him closing the door on Costello, hence, returning to the solitude of his flat. He has rejected Costello’s proposal of a “companionate marriage,” in a regimen of reciprocal care: “‘I will take care of you; and perhaps in return you will learn to take care of me’” (232). If he cannot have the care of a son, he does not want it coming from a nosy, exasperating, old woman. The show is over and the character has gone through the script written for him, albeit resisting and undercutting it. 39 40

Derrida, “Hostipitality,” 361–62. Derrida, Of Hospitality, 135.

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We are not sure whether he has learnt the moral lesson the writer wanted him to: “Surely a lesson presents itself, one to which you cannot be blind and deaf” (198). As for the writer, she has no choice but to return to her state of solitude and homelessness. In Summertime, the relationship between father and son is again central. I have pointed out that the life of the character John Coetzee, as it is presented in this work, ostensibly differs from the ‘real’ events that marked the life of J.M. Coetzee in the early 1970s. One of the most obvious departures is the fact that, whereas J.M. Coetzee’s mother died in 1985, the fictional character’s mother is represented as dead. The reason why the author should have chosen to introduce this significant modification may be that the absence of the mother allows all the focus to fall on the father–son dyad: the father has no wife, so that he comes to depend exclusively on his son’s care; the son has no mother, so that the responsibility of taking care of his father falls exclusively on him. As John puts it in his final notebooks, “he is cast back on his father, as his father is cast back on him” (245). “Filial duty” (92), then, figures prominently in Coetzee’s final memoir, though it seems that John is not entirely successful at it. There is no mutual understanding between father and son – “If he could solve the mystery of what in the world his father wants, he might perhaps be a better son” (247) – and again, the question of sharing the same house is problematic and conflictual: “‘My father and I can’t live together indefinitely, Margie. It makes us too miserable, both of us. It’s unnatural. Fathers and sons were never meant to share a house’” (133). But it is in the concluding pages of the book that the theme acquires full dramatic intensity, as John’s father, suffering from a cancerous tumour, must undergo a laryngectomy. When, after the operation, he is brought home in an ambulance, the burden of taking care of his sick and disabled father falls entirely upon John. After one of the ambulancemen hands him a sheet of instructions titled “Laryngectomy – Care of Patients,” he glances at “an outline sketch of a human head with a dark circle low in the throat. Care of Wound, it says,” and draws back, feeling unable to do it. The ambulancemen shrug: “It is not their business, taking care of the wound, taking care of the patient” (265). Certainly, the business is solely his, and the memoir actually finishes with a reference to the imperative character of the act of filial duty John is asked to commit himself to: He is going to have to abandon some of his personal projects and be a nurse. Alternatively, if he will not be a nurse, he must announce to his father: I cannot face the prospect of ministering to you day and night. I

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Again the figure of the nurse makes its appearance, and it is significant that John chooses the verb ‘minister’, with its religious connotations, in order to describe his act of taking care of his father, which is thus endowed with an elevated and even transcendental character. This act does not admit half measures, and the uncertainty with which the text finishes – whether John will commit himself to it or not – suggests the weighty consequences that either choice will have.

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T

Fidelities Elizabeth Costello and Diary of a Bad Year

will focus on Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons (2003) and Diary of a Bad Year (2007), two works in which the obligations of the writer and the demands placed on him/ her by readers, critics, and academics are examined through two of Coetzee’s alter egos: the Australian writer Elizabeth Costello and the South African writer JC, living in Australia. The tension and compromise between the collective and social dimension of the literary work and of the writer as public figure, on the one hand, and the secret and private dimension of literary creation, on the other, a constant throughout Coetzee’s fictional production, is especially felt in these two works. This tension between public and private is textualized in the polyphonic structure of Diary of a Bad Year: the upper band of the text includes JC’s public contributions to a collection of essays, Strong Opinions, in which “six eminent writers pronounce on what is wrong with today’s world” (21), while the bottom band includes his private thoughts and feelings in relation to his neighbour, Anya, whose voice is soon incorporated into the novel. Elizabeth Costello may be seen as a continuation of The Lives of Animals (1999), which collects Coetzee’s Tanner Lectures at Princeton in 1997–98: “The Philosophers and the Animals” and “The Poets and the Animals.” These two lectures constituted, in fact, two works of fiction in which the fictional Australian novelist Elizabeth Costello, invited by the fictional Appleton College, gives two lectures on the question of human lives and rights. In The Lives of Animals, these two Coetzee’s texts are preceded by an introduction by the political philosopher Amy Gutmann, followed by responses by Wendy Doniger, an eminent scholar of religion, the primatologist Barbara Smuts, the literary theorist Marjorie Garber, and the Australian moral philosopher Peter HIS FINAL CHAPTER

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Singer.1 Elizabeth Costello includes these two lectures again, this time without footnotes and without the four scholars’ responses. The book is made up of more lectures (or lessons) by the Australian novelist and by other characters, and of conversations and discussions taking place in different parts of the world, dealing with miscellaneous issues such as realism, the African novel, the humanities in Africa, and the problem of evil. My focus will be on the last lesson, “At the Gate,” particularly its exploration of the relation between the figure of the writer and the figure of the secretary, also present in Diary, and of the fidelities and duties of the writer.

The writer: neighbour and citizen Elizabeth Costello and Diary of a Bad Year are highly metafictional works, in which fictional, philosophical, and academic discourse are so intimately interwoven that we might even hesitate to call them novels. In the case of the first book, it may seem paradoxical that such an anti-realist work should begin with a lesson called “Realism,” in which the realistic procedure of “supply[ing] the particulars, allow[ing] the significations to emerge of themselves” is presented as “pioneered by Daniel Defoe” (4). The lesson suggests that the days of realism are over: “The word-mirror is broken, irreparably” (19). In “He and His Man,” Coetzee employs a similar strategy, as he engages in a complex metafictional exercise containing the example of a writer, again Daniel Defoe, who is presented as producing a kind of writing blatantly different from that produced by the twenty-first-century writer evoking him in his Nobel Speech: namely, reports. The term ‘report’ is repeatedly employed by Robin in order to characterize the texts he receives from his man: “Every place he goes he sends report of, that is his first business, this busy man of his” (18). By characterizing Defoe’s writings as reports, Coetzee emphasizes the affinities between the novel in its origins and journalistic reporting, taking us back to a moment at which the writer could undertake a project conventionally close to the factual and objective transcription of reality. In Coetzee’s later works, then, “the interrogation of realism and the investigation of the limits of fiction” – “Coetzee’s favoured terrain”2 – tend to be accompanied by a glance back at the writer considered to be one of the masters of realism: namely, Daniel Defoe. This glance backwards does not only

1 2

J.M. Coetzee, The Lives of Animals (Princeton N J : Princeton U P , 1999). Head, The Cambridge Introduction to J.M. Coetzee, 91.

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point to the differences and similarities between the nature of the novel in its origins and the nature of contemporary fiction, but is also suggestive of the different roles played and positions occupied by the writer in the past and the writer in the contemporary world. Again, the location in and from which the writer develops his literary activity and the place he occupies in society emerge as central concerns. Diary of a Bad Year looks back to Defoe (Journal of the Plague Year), as the title of Coetzee’s book constitutes a clear rewriting of Defoe’s. A Journal of the Plague Year, a fictionalized account of the events occurring in London in 1665, when the Great Plague visited this city, is told by a narrator who identifies himself with the initials H.F. In both Defoe’s Journal and Coetzee’s Diary, there is, then, a similar sense of calamity in relation to contemporary events – in Defoe’s book, though, the perspective is fundamentally local, whereas in Diary the scope is much broader – and we find narrators of whom only the initials are given, H.F. and JC. But my concern is with the position these narrators occupy in their respective places of residence and, thus, with the relation they maintain with their surrounding community, as both factors prove to be vital for their identity and creativity as writers. In this sense, it is relevant that both of them represent themselves, from the very beginning, as neighbours and citizens. The importance of neighbourhood in Diary of a Bad Year is highlighted in the initial exchange between JC and Anya: I live on the ground floor and have since 1995 and still I don’t know all my neighbours, I said. Yeah, she said, and no more, meaning, Yes, I hear what you say and I agree, it is tragic not to know who your neighbours are, but that is how it is in the big city and I have other things to attend now, so could we let the present exchange of pleasantries die a natural death? (5)

Although this complaint about the individualistic and solitary character of contemporary urban life is partly undercut – because of the platitude it constitutes, as Anya’s sardonic stance underlines, and because JC is not actually interested in the humane act of getting to know his neighbours, but in getting closer to this particular neighbour towards whom he feels sexually attracted – the importance of this motif and its ethical implications still figure prominently in the book. Thus, the relationship between JC and Anya, “Anya from upstairs” (25), is, first of all, a relationship between neighbours, which will in time become something else: “He and I are neighbours of a kind, distant neighbours, El Señor and La Segretaria” (32). JC’s identity as neighbour is so important that he is never shown outside the apartment block where he lives,

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of which there are actually plenty of descriptions, especially regarding JC’s and Anya’s position in it. Similarly, the very first sentence of A Journal of the Plague Year presents H.F.’s experience as inextricably tied to that of the community of neighbours to which he belongs: “It was about the Beginning of September 1664, that I, among the Rest of my Neighbours […].”3 However, JC and H.F. actually experience neighbourhood in radically different ways. JC’s status as neighbour is not linked to fellowship or communitarian life but is, rather, related to his confinement and reclusion. Thus, in the apartment complex where he lives, Sydenham Towers, you do not even get “to know who your neighbours are” (5). And his solitary experience of neighbourhood is connected with the way he experiences citizenship, another form of belonging to a community or collectivity. If the condition of neighbourhood figures prominently in the lower half of the pages of the book, which remain attached to the domestic sphere, citizenship is an important theme in the top half, in which we find JC’s contributions to a collective work, entitled Strong Opinions, dealing with “what is wrong with today’s world” (21). JC’s opinions – those pertaining to the first diary, since the second diary contains opinions which are much more personal and private in nature – are related, then, to the political world and the public sphere, with citizenship emerging in them as a central concern. Significantly, the first of his opinions is entitled “On the origins of the state,” situating us from the very beginning in the realm of politics. JC’s first claim refers to how our individuality is absorbed by the collectivity of the state: “Every account of the origins of the state starts from the premise that ‘we’ – not we the readers but some generic we so wide as to exclude no one – participate in its coming into being” (3). From the very moment of our birth, we become subjects and citizens: “We are born subject. From the moment of our birth we are subject” (4). JC’s opinions convey, then, a sense of the oppressiveness of the state and of the irrevocability of the condition of citizenship. It seems, however, that JC’s experience of citizenship, in an attempt to resist that oppressiveness, has been generally characterized by withdrawal. He seems to have chosen what he calls “the way of quietism, of willed obscurity, of inner emigration” (12), and admits that he has lived “a sheltered life,” protected from “the rough-andtumble world of politics” (172). H.F., by contrast, is both neighbour and citizen in a pragmatic, down-to-earth, and also communitarian sense. The very subtitle of the Journal underlines his condition as citizen: “Being observations 3

Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, 1.

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or memorials of the most remarkable occurrences, as well public as private, which happened in London during the last great visitation in 1665. Written by a Citizen who continued all the while in London. Never made public before.” Whereas JC is a citizen in the rather abstract sense of being a member of a state or nation, H.F. experiences citizenship in the more factual and specific sense of being the inhabitant of a city. In this sense, it is significant that in Diary of a Bad Year, there are hardly any glimpses of the world outside Sydenham Towers, of the surrounding city, Sydney. Mark Sanders observes: “as that of a man who hardly ever leaves his apartment building, Señor C’s most important sphere of influence is the private.”4 H.F.’s existence and activity as a writer, by contrast, are intimately – and necessarily – tied to the city of London. Whereas JC never goes into the streets, H.F. spends all of his time wandering through the streets of London, identifying with realistic detail the neighbourhoods, streets, and even houses where the events related to the plague were taking place. Having said this, JC’s seclusion and withdrawal as both citizen and neighbour are radically disrupted in the novel. In his condition of neighbour, he experiences significant intrusions in his own home that imply the disruption of his ‘sheltered life.’ An early comment by Anya points to his being susceptible to these intrusions: I know he watches cricket. When we come in late at night, Alan and I, there he is, slumped in front of the television, you can see him from the street, he never closes the blinds. (26)

JC occupies, then, an ambivalent position. On the one hand, he is depicted in a reclusive and solitary state, never abandoning his home. On the other, his reclusion does not prevent him from being exposed to the gaze of others, something he does not even seem to care about, as emerges from the following conversation between him and Anya: You shouldn’t leave the blinds open after dark, I caution him, strangers will see what you get up to. What could I possibly get up to that would interest strangers? he says. I don’t know, I say, people get up to surprising things. Well, he replies, they will soon get bored watching me, I am a human being no different from them. (32)

4

Mark Sanders, “Which World? [Review of Diary of a Bad Year and Inner Workings],” Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies 9.2 (April 2008): 212.

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Although we should be careful about equating J.M. Coetzee with JC, it is tempting to see JC’s ambivalence, as he oscillates between reclusion and public exposure, as somehow evoking J.M. Coetzee’s own position. Coetzee’s dislike of public appearances, his reticent and reserved attitude in interviews, and his refraining from revealing personal details of his private life or making straightforward statements in public are notorious. In Doubling the Point, he asserts, “I don’t regard myself as a public figure, a figure in the public domain” (65). However, J.M. Coetzee, as writer and intellectual, and by virtue of his literary works, which are consumed by the public and which, as soon as they are published, become part of the public domain, cannot utterly escape his role as public figure. His position as writer and his own writings are characterized by a conspicuous “tension […] between the private and public spheres,”5 a tension that is foregrounded in Diary of a Bad Year, in which the writer seems to be aware of the fact that he cannot leave his blinds entirely closed. The most obvious intrusion that JC has to face is the one devised by Anya’s partner, Alan, who convinces Anya to cooperate with him. As Alan becomes more and more obsessed with JC, whom he detests, he begins to wonder about JC’s financial situation, and commands Anya to examine his house: “Look in his drawers […] Look in the kitchen cupboards. Look for a shoebox.” He looks him up on the Internet: “Born South Africa 1934, it said. Novelist and critic. Long list of titles and dates. Nothing about a wife” (50). But his most intrusive act consists in installing spyware, “a reporting program” (115), on JC’s computer, so that he gets to have access to all his files: “I have seen everything. Will, back correspondence with his solicitor, bank accounts, passwords” (123). He then comes up with a plan for divesting JC of his capital, a plan that Anya prevents him from implementing, as Alan himself acknowledges to JC in their visit to his house: “She has saved you from the depredations […] of an unnamed malefactor” (170). The imagery of depredation reappears, then, in this novel, this time as the “voracious depredations” (195) that writers can suffer, both in their private lives and in their literary works. There is neither a condemnation nor a justification of these incursions, which are presented as an intrinsic aspect of any literary career, as Robin explains in “He and His Man,” when he reflects on the “devilish voracity” of his plagiarists and imitators: a “horde of cannibals” “descend[ing] upon his island history,” “falling upon his own flesh” (20). And these depredations are 5

Poyner, J.M. Coetzee and the Idea of the Public Intellectual, 4.

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inevitable because they also occur in the other direction, as depicted in The Master of Petersburg, in which the writer is presented as carrying out acts of perversion: he illicitly appropriates texts and intrudes rapaciously upon people’s lives, misusing them in his literary works. Alan points to this dimension of literary writing when he tries to persuade Anya to sue JC for invasion of privacy: He can’t pick on you and have obscene fantasies about you and then sell them to the public for profit. Also, he can’t take down your words and publish them without your permission. […] You have an identity, which belongs to you alone. It is your most valuable possession, from a certain point of view, which you are entitled to protect. (59)

The writer makes a living by selling his private stories to the public, and by preying upon the identities of other people, upon stories that were not originally his. The relation between the private house of the writer and the outside public world is one of mutual necessity and mutual depredation. The second disruption of JC’s ‘sheltered life’ is related to the imagery of contagion that runs through the novel and that again underlines a connection between Coetzee’s Diary and Defoe’s Journal. In A Journal of the Plague Year, H.F. decides to stay in London because he is told in a religious revelation that he will remain untouched by the plague: I scarce need tell the Reader, that from that Moment I resolv’d that I would stay in the Town, and casting myself entirely upon the Goodness and Protection of the Almighty, would not seek any other Shelter whatever; and that as my Times were in his hands, He was as able to keep me in a Time of the Infection as in a Time of Health.6

H.F., then, though fully immersed in the city of London and the world of the plague, remains untouched and unscathed, hence somehow occupying a position of independence and detachment. In Diary of a Bad Year, the opposite logic is at work: JC is a secluded citizen, but he cannot escape the disease – the ethical disease – pervading contemporary Western society. It is in his essay “On national shame” that JC first alludes to this disease. In the face of the acts of torture being committed by the U S administration, the author argues that “the issue for individual Americans becomes a moral one: how, in the face of this shame to which I am subjected, do I behave? How do I save my honour?” (39). In the arguments he develops, the implication seems to be 6

Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, 13.

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that political and symbolic actions “will certainly not be enough,” since “dishonour is no respecter of fine distinctions. Dishonour descends upon one’s shoulders, and once it has descended no amount of clever pleading will dispel it” (40, my emphases). Again, as in Age of Iron and Disgrace, there is the suggestion of the need for some kind of radical and unconditional ethical action, since habitual and conventional actions will not be enough. Also, the expression ‘descend upon’ simultaneously conveys the sense of unexpected visit and transcendental dimension that is pervasive in Coetzee’s novels since Age of Iron. JC argues that dishonour does not come “in shades and degrees”: “If one is in dishonour one is in dishonour” (43). He makes use of a quasitranscendental and pre-modern vocabulary in order to make the point that citizens cannot prevent being infected by the shameful and dishonourable character of certain political actions, simply because these actions were committed by the nation to which they belong: “The generation of South Africans to which I belong, and the next generation, and perhaps the generation after that too, will go bowed under the shame of the crimes that were committed in their names” (44). In the next essay, significantly called “On the curse,” JC explores a related idea. He again appeals, in the imagery of contagion, to a secularized transcendental dimension, referring to those people who must be invoking the help of their gods against America, a plea that effectively becomes a curse: “Let the memory of the wrong that has been done to us not fade away, let punishment be visited on the wrongdoer in generations to come” (48, my emphasis). Anya disagrees with JC’s discourse on shame and dishonour: “As long as you are not responsible, the dishonour doesn’t stick to you” (105). JC, however, defends his view: “when you live in shameful times shame descends upon you, shame descends upon everyone, and you have simply to bear it, it is your lot and your punishment” (96). Coetzee has turned the physical disease of A Journal of the Plague Year, by which H.F. remains untouched, into an ethical disease or curse – “the dishonour, the disgrace of being alive in these times” (141) – that JC, as citizen and writer, cannot escape. The continuous intrusions upon the private space of the writer and the ethical disease that descends or visits on him highlight the full consequences of being both neighbour and citizen, of living beside and with others. In this sense, Diary of a Bad Year looks back to Age of Iron, which also highlighted the impossibility of avoiding infection by the disease pervading the South African land: “When madness climbs the throne, who in the land escapes contagion?” (105). According to JC, no one escapes conta-

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gion. As he categorically asserts, quoting John Donne, “No man is an island […] We are all part of the main […] Things haven’t changed, mistress Anya” (107).

The value of literature: secrecy and ambiguity Whereas we never get to see JC outside his flat in Sydenham Towers, Elizabeth Costello, in the eponymous work, is constantly dashing from one part of the world to another. The glimpses we have of her at home are few and tenuous, and, significantly, most of her travels are presented as visits and invitations: “Her visit to Pennsylvania” (2) to receive the Stowe Award, the invitation to take part in a cruise that will give her the chance “to visit Antarctica” (35), “her visit to Appleton College” (59) or “the invitation” (157) to speak at a conference in Amsterdam. Likewise, in “As a Woman Grows Older,” a short story featuring Costello but not included in the book, Costello “is visiting her daughter in Nice.”7 Her status is thus that of perpetual guest, as clearly highlighted in Lesson 5, “The Humanities in Africa”: “She is a guest – a guest of the university, a guest of her sister’s, a guest in the country too” (124). That her status as guest should be so emphasized in the only lesson that takes place in Coetzee’s native country, South Africa, is indicative of this work’s questioning of notions of origin, essence, and authenticity, as in Lesson 2, “The novel in Africa,” in which Costello objects sceptically to a fellow writer’s discourse on “Africanness: a special identity, a special fate” (41) and on his “‘essence as an African writer’” (43). In her constant status as guest and visitor – bearing in mind that in, Coetzee’s fiction, these roles tend to be connotative of transitoriness and lack of permanent attachment – Costello’s relation to the places she visits is marked by ephemerality and transience. We mainly encounter Costello in airports and lecture halls, so that the sense of engagement with the outside world, with the reality of the people and the streets, with the reality outside the academic and literary context, is almost absent.8 Given the focus on the writer as public figure, Costello’s production

7

J.M. Coetzee, “As a Woman Grows Older,” New York Review of Books 51.1 (15 January 2004): http://www.nybooks.com/articles/16872 (accessed 20 April 2008). 8 Costello’s spatial identity in Slow Man seems to be different. If she is again presented as tied to a public existence, it is no longer the literary and institutional world but the world of the street. Early in the novel, she explains to Rayment that her “present mode of existence” consists in “life in public. Life on the public squares, relying on

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in the novel is limited to her performances – “‘we are just performers speaking our parts’” (19) – to her lectures in front of an audience. The focus is on the absorption of the writer by the public and academic realm: “‘Once you are on show, you have no private life’” (33). And since private life is indispensable for literary creation, there is not a single scene in the book that shows her engaged in literary writing. There is only one image of her at work, one that reaches us through her son, as he thinks of her writing in the solitariness of her room: “For as far back as he can remember, his mother has secluded herself in the mornings to do her writing. No intrusions under any circumstances” (4). By contrast, JC enjoys enough private life and seclusion, in spite of their continually being disrupted. The book, however, is pervaded by a sense of exhaustion regarding fictional production. To Anya’s suggestion that he should write another novel, JC replies, A novel? No. I don’t have the endurance any more. To write a novel you have to be like Atlas, holding up the whole world on your shoulders and supporting it there for months and years while its affairs work themselves out. It is too much for me as I am today. (54)

Again, though we should not hastily assimilate JC’s motivations and thoughts to J.M. Coetzee’s, JC’s comment could be applied to both Elizabeth Costello and Diary of a Bad Year, where there is a weakening of the fictional and imaginative dimension of the literary work, and where we find, instead, a strongly theoretical leaning toward metafictional reflection. The conventions and boundaries of the novel are rearranged so as to make it accommodate the theoretical and philosophical discourse characteristic of essays, lectures, and opinions. Thus, if Diary of a Bad Year looks back to Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, the realistic character of Defoe’s work stands in stark contrast to Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year, in which we may say that the ‘grip on the real’ is most tenuous. If in Defoe’s Journal and in his whole literary production, in general, we see the novel in its earliest beginnings, when it presented itself “as a quasi-legal deposition,” when there was “a confluence, or confusion, between the novel and journalism, between fiction and the news,”9 in Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year we see the novel in its latest stages, with public amenities. Life in the company of drunks and homeless people” (159). And she is certainly homeless: she either stays at her character’s home or has no home at all. 9 David Mikics, A New Handbook of Literary Terms (New Haven C T : Yale U P , 2007): 255.

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metafictionality and auto-reflexiveness having opened an unbridgeable gap between fiction and reality. However, I argue that if the novel, as literary genre, seems to have reached in Elizabeth Costello and Diary of a Bad Year a stage of creative exhaustion, in which metafictionality and theoretical reflection go together with an almost absent “evocation of the real” (192), there is also the suggestion of certain singular literary features that attest to the value of literature. Diary of a Bad Year constitutes, in fact, a strong defence of literary discourse, whose ambiguity and secrecy make it particularly valuable in the contemporary world. In Diary of a Bad Year, there is a powerful sense of the oppressiveness not only of the world of politics, but also of political discourse: “Why is it so hard to say anything about politics from outside politics? Why can there be no discourse about politics that is not itself political?” (9). What is wrong with political discourse is that it is deceitful, not only for its listeners but even for the ruler producing it: the man in power eventually finds it impossible “to tell the difference between the truth and the lie.” That is why What ordinary people grow tired of hearing from their rulers are declarations that are never quite the truth: a little short of the truth, or else a little beside the truth, or else the truth with a spin to it that makes it wobble. (126)

In the face of the structural lies of political discourse, ordinary people want “to hear what articulate people from outside the political world – academics or churchmen or scientists or writers – think about public affairs.” Thus, we may think that the power and value of writers lie in their act of telling a truth that politicians will never tell. However, JC actually calls into question the writer’s ability to satisfy this hunger for truth: How can this hunger be satisfied by the mere writer (to speak just of writers) when the grasp of the facts that the writer has is usually incomplete or unsure, when his very access to the so-called facts is likely to be via media within the political field of forces, and when, half the time, he is because of his vocation as much interested in the liar and the psychology of the lie as in the truth? (126)

If Daniel Defoe is presented in “He and his Man” as being able to produce reports,10 texts with documentary objectivity and historical verisimilitude, the

10

In Summertime, Julia, the first interviewee, who had a brief affair with the young Coetzee in the mid-1970s, also employs the term ‘report’ to describe the novelist’s

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contemporary writer, as described by JC, has no unmediated access to ‘the socalled facts.’ My point is not that Diary explicitly presents itself as departing from a realist tradition that was practicable and adequate in the past, but not any more, but rather that it contains echoes of realist procedures and attitudes that JC cannot adopt, not only because of the nature of the contemporary world, but also because of his specific abilities as writer. It is not without some sense of longing that he writes: “I read the work of other writers, read the passages of dense description they have with care and labour composed with the purpose of evoking imaginary spectacles before the inner eye, and my heart sinks. I was never much good at evocation of the real” (192). Hence, if it is not in the “evocation of the real,” where does the value of contemporary literature, and of JC’s literary works, lie? According to JC’s arguments, there seems to be a connection between the pervasiveness of deceitful political discourse and the re-emergence in countries such as the U S A , the U K , and Australia of state surveillance and restrictions on freedom of speech: There are to be no more secrets, say the new theorists of surveillance, meaning something quite interesting: that the era in which secrets counted, in which secrets could exert their power over the lives of people (think of the role of secrets in Dickens, in Henry James) is over; nothing worth knowing cannot be uncovered in a matter of seconds, and without much effort; private life is, to all intents and purposes, a thing of the past. (22)

In The Secret History of Domesticity, Michael Mckeon defines secrecy as “first of all a category of traditional knowledge,” which comes to be threatened in the early modern period by “revolutionary technologies of disclosure, like print” and by explicit doctrines of disclosure: Protestant conscientiousness and its imperatives of self-examination and enlightenment; and the new philosophy, whose language of surface and depth was only the most powerful figure for the scientific excavation, demystification, and desublimation of secrets.11

activity: “He makes his living writing reports, expert reports, on intimate human experience” (82). 11 Michael McKeon, The Secret History of Domesticity: Public, Private, and the Division of Knowledge (Baltimore M D : Johns Hopkins U P , 2005): 469.

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Although Coetzee and McKeon are dealing with different historical moments – McKeon, with the early modern period, and Coetzee, with the post-9/11 period – both are concerned with the threat to secrecy, as a particular form of knowledge, that certain technologies of surveillance and discourses of disclosure imply. JC points to the conception of secrets prevailing in official quarters in the context of anti-terrorist legislation: a secret is an item of information, and as such falls under the wing of information science, one of whose branches is mining, the extraction of scintillae of information (secrets) from tons of data. (23)

But as a challenge to this confidence in the easy deciphering of secrets, we encounter poetry: The masters of information have forgotten about poetry, where words may have a meaning quite different from what the lexicon says, where the metaphoric spark is always one jump ahead of the decoding function, where another, unforeseeing reading is always possible. (23)

It is significant that in order to make a point about the power and value of secrets, JC should turn to literature, which emerges, then, as the realm of secrecy par excellence: namely, because of the way in which meaning functions in it. The masters of surveillance work by following an exclusively referential and denotative conception of meaning, but secrecy has to do with buried and double meanings, with connotations and ‘unforeseeing readings’, precisely the kind of meaning that we find in literary texts. As Elizabeth Costello reflects in “As a Woman Grows Older,” “She has made a living out of ambivalence. Where would the art of fiction be if there were no double meanings? What would life itself be if there were no double meanings? What would life itself be if there were only heads or tails and nothing in between?”12 In A Taste for the Secret, written in collaboration with Maurizio Ferraris, Derrida asserts, “I have a taste for the secret,” and explains that he prefers “the secret to the non-secret, the secret to the public expression, exhibition, phenomenality”: I have an impulse of fear or terror in the face of a political space, for example, a public space that makes no room for the secret. For me, the 12

David Marcus has pointed to ambivalence and ambiguity as the main qualities of Coetzee’s fiction and of Diary of a Bad Year. See Marcus, “The Ambivalence Artist,” Dissent (Winter 2009): 115–19.

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Derrida’s argument is not far from JC’s, who also describes democracy as totalitarian: “Democracy does not allow for politics outside the democratic system. In this sense, democracy is totalitarian” (15). JC, like Derrida, fears the democractic tendency to assimilate the private and the secret to the public and political sphere, and the secret dimension of literature implies resistance to this process. Through its secrecy – its unforeseen, unpredictable, ambivalent meanings – literature resists being hastily assimilated into political and public discourse, and this is what constitutes the value of literary works in the contemporary world.

The writer and the secretary Since The Master of Petersburg, the figure of the secretary appears intermittently in Coetzee’s works, inviting comparison with the figure of the writer. In his final visit to the Jokićs, Rayment replies to Marijana’s seemingly sardonic statement – “So, you bring your secretary,” referring to Elizabeth Costello – by saying, “Elizabeth is not my secretary and has never been” (243), thus asserting his independence and his capacity to lead his life on his own terms. In Diary of a Bad Year, the writer JC hires his neighbour Anya as “his segretaria, his secret aria, his scary fairy” (28). The most immediate consequence is that all his “opinions, in all their drafts and revisions, are to pass under the eye and through the hands of Anya (her name), of Alan and Anya, A & A, unit 2514” (19).

13

Jacques Derrida & Maurizio Ferraris, A Taste for the Secret, ed. Giacomo Donis & David Webb, tr. Giacomo Donis (Il Gusto del Segreto, 1997; Cambridge: Polity, 2001): 59. John D. Caputo has related Derrida’s ‘taste for the secret’ to his delimitation of knowledge “in order to make room for faith in what is to come.” Whereas “knowledge always means a prescient programming of the future, predelineating the foreseeable range and foreclosing the possible scope of the future,” Derrida keeps the future open “by keeping it secret – indeterminate, unforeseeable, unprogrammable – as opposed to confining it within the parameters of the possible” (John D. Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion Without Religion [Bloomington: Indiana U P , 1997]: 103).

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JC’s opinions are to pass under her secretary’s eyes, just as Dostoevsky’s manuscripts, in The Master of Petersburg, used to pass under the eyes of Anna Snitkina, who was “his secretary” before becoming his wife: He hired her to bring his manuscripts into order […] to spin the tangle of his writing into a single golden thread. If he writes so clearly today, it is because he is no longer writing for her eyes. He is writing for himself. (245)

Dostoevsky’s defence of the activity of literary writing as one in which the writer must follow his own gaze exclusively is related to his conception of the literary work as “a private matter, an utterly private matter, private to the writer” (40). In Diary of a Bad Year, the ‘utterly private’ dimension of the process of literary creation is disrupted, as not only Anya’s but also Alan’s gaze falls on JC’s opinions. In fact, Anya does not merely type but constantly challenges JC’s arguments with her own opinions: “You don’t mind giving my opinion, do you? Because a typist is not meant to be just a typing machine” (68). Her contribution to JC’s writing project becomes so important that after a lively argument, JC begs her to return in the following terms: You have become indispensable to me – to me and to the present project. I cannot imagine handing over the manuscript to someone else. It would be like taking the child away from its natural mother and putting it in a stranger’s care. (121)

Appealing to the already discussed metaphor of literary paternity or maternity – the text is child to its author – JC acknowledges Anya’s participation in the process of authorship. However, as he reflects on his words, he admits that Anya is not “the natural mother of the miscellany of opinions” (124): The passions and prejudices out of which my opinions grew were laid down before I first set eyes on Anya, and were by now so strong – that is to say, so settled, so rigid –that aside from the odd word here and there there was no chance that refraction through her gaze could alter their angle. (124–25)

Here, the question is again whether the writer’s private gaze is to be altered by foreign and intrusive gazes. Disappointed with JC’s opinions and his concern with politics, Anya longs for something resembling “more of a story” (30), “a story with human interest” (77), thus conveying the average reader’s expectations. However, as he asserts the inflexibility and obduracy of his opinions, JC seems to be implying that, as opposed to external demands, the writer cannot

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but always maintain his own angle, remaining faithful to his own and private vision. But that does not turn out to be the case: What has begun to change since I moved into the orbit of Anya is not my opinions themselves as much as my opinion of my opinions. As I read through what mere hours before she translated from a record of my speaking voice into 14-point type, there are flickering moments when I can see these hard opinions of mine through her eyes – see how alien and antiquated they may seem to a thoroughly modern Millie, like the bones of some odd extinct creature, half bird, half reptile, on the point of turning into stone. (136–37)

And as a result of his seeing his opinions through Anya’s eyes, he produces “a second, gentler set of opinions. […] Some of them take up suggestions that you let drop” (145). These opinions – Anya’s “favourites” (193), which she calls “Soft Opinions” – make up the “Second Diary,” which is not included in the manuscript JC sends for publication. Anya’s gaze, then, has actually altered the angle of JC’s opinions, leading him to produce gentler and softer ones. Furthermore, regarding his Strong Opinions, we cannot be sure of what is originally his and what has been added, erased or transformed by Anya, since she does not merely type out the tapes into which JC dictates his thoughts but also introduces modifications and contributions of her own: I take away the tapes and listen to them on my earphones and solemnly type them out. Fix them up too here and there where I can, where they lack a certain something, a certain oomph, though he is supposed to be the big writer and I just the little Filipina. (29)

For instance, as Katy Iddiols has noted,14 Anya’s correction of JC’s wrong expression ‘talk radio’ – “we don’t say talk radio, that doesn’t make sense, we say talkback radio” (51) – is incorporated into the final text, as we see at the beginning of the essay “On Machiavelli”: “On talkback radio […]” (17). The novel, then, does not clarify the extent to which Anya’s textual intervention and opinions modify and shape JC’s texts, to what extent JC’s opinions are his opinions or Anya’s, to what extent JC’s contribution to Strong Opinions is his contribution or hers. He himself acknowledges to Anya: “You are in the book – how could you not be when you were part of the making of it? You are everywhere in it, everywhere and nowhere” (181). 14

Katy Iddiols, “Disrupting Inauthentic Readings: Coetzee’s Strategies,” in J.M. Coetzee in Context and Theory, ed. Elleke Boehmer, Robert Eaglestone & Katy Iddiols (London: Continuum, 2009): 193.

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The literary work, then, entitled Diary of a Bad Year, turns out to be a most unusual kind of diary. A diary is the most private and intimate kind of text, a record that passes under one’s gaze only and that is kept concealed from the gaze of others. It is a kind of text in which everything revolves around one single voice, the voice of the ‘I’, which has an authoritarian and even despotic presence. This diary, however, turns out to be a truly polyphonic text, a clashing of voices and gazes, as is reflected in their typographical distribution in the pages of the book. Moreover, it contains within itself another diary, the “Second Diary,” whose contents certainly have a more personal and confessional tone, and which are written not for the writer’s eyes but for Anya’s. Diary of a Bad Year, then, disrupts the idea of an original or natural father (or mother) of the text, thus undermining the concept of the author as master. This rejection of mastership has guided Coetzee all along his literary career, as we have seen in the way he relates authorship, particularly in a novel like Foe, with weakness, ignorance, and blindness. He specified his position in this sense in an early interview with Tony Morphet: Your questions again and again drive me into a position I do not want to occupy. […] By accepting your implication, I would produce a master narrative for a set of texts that claim to deny all master narratives.15

In this statement “Coetzee explains the reluctance to impose a master-reading on his texts from his elevated position as their author.”16 And, as shown in Diary of a Bad Year, Coetzee, as an author, declines mastership not only in relation to the meaning of his works but also in relation to his characters. Thus, Diary of a Bad Year is his most polyphonic novel, in a Bakhtinian sense and, again, in terms of following his master, Dostoevsky. In this work, we encounter a character’s voice, Anya’s, that is not only not submerged by that of the main narrator, JC, but that even challenges and partly usurps JC’s voice. Diary of a Bad Year can certainly be defined, to borrow Bakhtin’s words, as a “plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousnesses, a genuine polyphony of fully valid voices.”17

15

Coetzee, “Two Interviews with J.M. Coetzee, 1983 and 1987, by Tony Morphet,”

464. 16

Iddiols, “Disrupting Inauthentic Readings,” 191. Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, ed. & tr. Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis: Minnesota U P , 1984): 6. 17

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And again, as is often the case in Coetzee’s novels, metafictional operations and authorial processes have a spatial and domestic counterpart. If JC ceases, to a certain extent, to be master of his text, he is also partly divested of mastership over his home. In The Master of Petersburg and Slow Man, the writer intrudes upon foreign households and pries into the private papers and diaries of others. In Diary of a Bad Year, conversely, it is the writer’s private papers that are exposed to the gaze of others, together with his home and intimate details of his private life. If in The Master of Petersburg, Dostoevsky adopts the figure of the voyeur, in Diary of a Bad Year JC is the victim of espionage and computer wiretapping. The writer must achieve a compromise between fidelity to his private gaze and voice, and unavoidable and necessary infiltration by foreign and intrusive gazes. The conflict between the personal and the collective, the private and the public, is also pivotal in the last lesson of Elizabeth Costello, entitled “At the Gate,” in which the writer–secretary connection is once more explored, this time from a different angle. The lesson takes place in an indeterminate spatiotemporal context. After descending from a bus, Costello makes her way to a gate where a uniformed man stands on guard, and from whom she learns that, to be allowed to pass through, she must make a statement of belief. When she faces the bench of judges for the first time, she declares: ‘I am secretary of the invisible, one of many secretaries over the ages. That is my calling: dictation secretary. It is not for me to interrogate, to judge what is given me. I merely write down the words and then test them, test their soundness, to make sure I have heard right.’ (199)

And she acknowledges that she has borrowed the phrase “secretary of the invisible” from “a secretary of a higher order, Czesaw Miosz.” Certainly, the expression ‘secretary of the invisible’ is taken from Miosz’s poem “Secretaries”: I am no more than a secretary of the invisible thing That is dictated to me and a few others. Secretaries, mutually unknown, we walk the earth Without much comprehension. Beginning a phrase in the middle Or ending it with a comma. And how it all looks when completed Is not up to us to inquire, we won’t read it anyway.18

18

Czesaw Miosz, “Secretaries,” tr. Czesaw Miosz & Robert Haas, in Miosz, The Collected Poems 1931–1987 (New York: Ecco, 1988): 325.

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In their respective statements, Costello and Miosz seem to be defending a vision of the writer according to which the latter does not choose what to write but transcribes whatever is dictated to him or her. Costello goes on to say that “‘a good secretary should have no beliefs. It is inappropriate to the function. A secretary should merely be in readiness, waiting for the call’” (200). Thus, when asked about the Tasmanians, so that Costello wonders whether “what lies behind this hearing” is “the question of historical guilt” (203), her answer is that she sits at her desk every morning and gets “‘ready for the summons of the day. […] When the old Tasmanians summon me, if they choose to summon me, I will be ready and I will write’” (203–204). But she addresses the judges with the following “‘word of caution’”: ‘I am open to all voices, not just the voices of the murdered and violated. […] If it is their murderers and violators who choose to summon me instead, to use me and speak through me, I will not close my ears to them, I will not judge them.’ (204)

Her point, then, is that the writer is not free to choose what to write about, she does not choose which voices to hear or which characters to give voice to; rather, she is chosen and summoned by certain voices, which she has no choice but to listen to. In relation, then, to questions of ‘historical guilt’ or historical obligation, the writer occupies a sphere of independence and immunity. In her next court appearance, Costello reads a statement entitled “What I believe,” in which she remembers her childhood in rural Victoria and especially the thousands of frogs she would hear at night: ‘I believe in those little frogs. […] It is because of the indifference of those little frogs to my belief […] it is because of their indifference to me that I believe in them.’ (217)

But if today she believes in one thing, tomorrow she will believe in another: “The objects of her belief appear to be quite random. They come up without warning, surprising and even, despite her dark mood, delighting her.” Thus, if she had previously thought that she, as a writer, could hold no beliefs, now she achieves the conclusion that “her mind, when she is truly herself, appears to pass from one belief to the next, pausing, balancing, then moving on. […] She lives by belief, she works by belief, she is a creature of belief” (217). This conclusion differs significantly from the previous conception of the writer as a ‘secretary of the invisible’ who has no beliefs and through whom other voices simply speak. In Diary of a Bad Year, Anya tells JC that “a typist is not meant

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to be just a typing machine” (68). Costello has realized that she cannot be just a medium, an instrument, an independent agent when hearing the voices that speak through her, but that, during the time, however brief, in which she engages with them, she must believe in them. In this second conception of the writer, her degree of autonomy and detachment has diminished, and a greater demand is made of her: she must not only hear the voices, but also must, however transitorily, believe in them. After this second appearance in court, Costello approaches the gate again, and asks “the gatekeeper, the custodian” (223) what chance of passing through she has “as a writer, with the special problems of a writer, the special fidelities.” And it is at this moment that Costello realizes the essential significance of this term: “Fidelities. Now that she has brought it out, she recognizes it as the word on which all hinges” (224). The reflection does not go any further, but I would like to argue that with the sudden recognition of ‘fidelity’ as “the word on which all hinges,” Costello implies that all the previous discussions of the writer’s beliefs rested on the wrong premise: the writer is not “a creature of belief” but a creature of fidelity. Whereas the act of believing consists in accepting something as true, real or valid, fidelity is related to faithfulness to duties and obligations. Hence, whereas believing has more to do with an existential or philosophical stance, fidelity is fundamentally related to ethics, to ethical obligation or duty.19 In this new ethical vision of the writer, transitory beliefs are replaced by faithfulness, with its connotation of adherence, of steady and faithful attachment, of strict and continuing faithfulness to an obligation, trust or duty. There is a passage in Boyhood that seems to exemplify this kind of duty or fidelity. In John’s “first memory” (30), he is on the bus with his mother, holding a sweet-wrapper in his hand. After asking his mother whether he should do so, he lets it go through the window:

19

Among contemporary philosophers, Alain Badiou is the one who has most consistently engaged with the concept of fidelity, which figures prominently in his Ethics. However, his understanding of fidelity differs considerably from the one I intend to pursue here. As Peter Hallward argues in his Introduction to Ethics, Badiou’s ethical project is radically at odds with both Kant’s categorical imperative, which is actually close to Coetzee’s discussions of duty, and with the ethics of Otherness, to which the present study is indebted. See Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, tr. & intro. Peter Hallward (L’éthique: Essai sur la conscience du mal, 1993; London: Verso, 2001).

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The scrap of paper flies up into the sky. Below there is nothing but the grim abyss of the pass, ringed with cold mountain-peaks. Craning backwards, he catches a last glimpse of the paper, still bravely flying. (31)

And this is what constitutes the other first memory, the secret one. He thinks all the time of the scrap of paper, alone in all that vastness, that he abandoned when he should not have abandoned it. One day he must go back to the Swartberg Pass and find it and rescue it. This is his duty: he may not die until he has done it. (31)

This passage may strike the reader as somewhat enigmatic. This quality derives from the sense of fidelity that the child, suddenly and without apparent reason or, at least, without a reason revealed to us, feels toward the scrap of paper. He cannot die until he has done the duty of rescuing this piece of paper: it is an unfailing, strict, unconditional kind of duty. We may say that, in his steady fidelity toward the scrap of paper, the child becomes its guardian, to employ a term that has become significant in Coetzee’s later novels. We find it in section 3 of the Second Diary, “My father,” in which JC reflects on his condition as the “ageing guardian” (166) of a box of keepsakes that used to belong to his father: “Who will save them once I am gone? What will become of them? The thought wrings my heart” (166). The same sense of inescapable duty, a kind of duty to which only the person upon whom it descends will be faithful, is present in section 11, “La France moins belle,” in which JC feels that his attachment to a house in the French region of Languedoc depends upon a “mysterious faculty: my sense of obligation. […] What would become of it now that I would no longer be there to watch over it, take care of it?” (187). Taking care of, one of the most ethically precious acts in Coetzee’s later writings, is one of the tasks of the guardian. And again parental and filial obligation comes into play: a guardian is the person responsible for looking after someone else’s child. And one of the main qualities of a guardian is fidelity: he must faithfully take care of whatever or whomever is entrusted to him. If, for the writer, fidelity is “the word on which all hinges,” then s /he is driven by a ‘sense of obligation’ similar to the one we find in these two pieces of Diary. In Doubling the Point, Coetzee talks about the relation between the writer and two different kinds of duty:

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Duty, as experienced by the writer, may be a social obligation, or it may be “a transcendental imperative,” with its Kantian overtones, of a more individual and private character, not to be avoided or evaded. As employed by Coetzee, ‘transcendental’ should not be understood in a religious or supernatural sense, but as going beyond social and historical actuality. The ‘sense of obligation’ experienced by JC in relation to his father’s Nachlass and his French house, by Costello in relation to the voices of the invisible, and by the child in relation to the scrap of paper, is clearly closer to this second kind of duty. Behind the opposition between these two kinds of duty lies the opposition between the private and the public, the individual and the social, the intimate and the collective, as traced in this chapter and this book. In the South African context in which Coetzee began his literary career, it was the social obligation laid upon the writer that was unhesitatingly favoured. That is why, in Coetzee’s South African fiction, there is a sense of an overwhelming and irresistible social and factual obligation, against which the more private fidelity to one’s transcendental imperative needs to be asserted. In “At the Gate,” Costello goes on to defend this private sense of duty and fidelity, as fundamental – if not exclusive – to the activity of the writer. In Coetzee’s fictional works, there is a continuous conflict, struggle, negotiation or compromise between the fidelity to social obligation and the fidelity to a transcendental imperative. In the passage from Boyhood examined, the duty experienced by the child is of an enigmatic and secret nature. His first memory is a “secret one” (31), a memory “that he trusts more fully but would never repeat” (30), a memory he tells nobody. It is a kind of fidelity or duty that remains incomprehensible to all but him: “‘What will happen to him?’ he asks his mother; but she does not comprehend” (31). In the etymology of ‘secretary’ we find a buried connection with secrecy: from Middle English secretarie, from Medieval Latin sēcrētārius, confidential officer, clerk, from Latin sēcrētus, secret. If the writer is secretary, his literary works are repositories of secrets, with secrecy becoming one of the fundamental dimensions of his work.

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The ethical act of guiding I have referred to Age of Iron as a transitional and pivotal work in Coetzee’s literary development, and from which certain themes and concerns keep reappearing in Coetzee’s novels, such as the relationship between parents and children, between the elderly and the young, which tends to be marked by the demand or plea of the former to be taken care of. In Age of Iron, another act emerges as ethically significant: namely, the act of guidance. Again, the emphasis falls on the elder, ill – hence, disoriented and fearful – person, who needs not only to be taken care of but also to be guided: ‘I have continued to tell myself stories in which you lead, I follow. And if you say not a word, that is, I tell myself, because the angel is wordless. The angel goes before, the woman follows. His eyes are open, he sees; hers are shut, she is still sunk in the sleep of wordliness. That is why I keep turning to you for guidance, for help.’ (168)

Mrs Curren addresses these words to Vercueil, as she considers the possibility of him being a messenger of heaven, the angel that is to lead her to the gate of death: “‘I have been standing on the riverbank awaiting my turn. I am waiting for someone to show me the way across’” (179). The figure of the guide, then, often goes together with a sense of the imminence of death and with a preoccupation with what comes after it, a sense that we find in Coetzee’s later fiction. The act of guiding is also central in the relationship between parents and children: the former must guide the latter until children take over from their parents. Thus, Lurie thinks of Lucy as “whom it has fallen to me to guide. Who one of these days will have to guide me” (156). Some of the lessons in Elizabeth Costello – “Realism,” “The Philosophers and the Animals,” and “The Poets and the Animals” – are very much about the relationship between mother and son. In the lessons of “The Lives of Animals,” Elizabeth is a partly unwanted guest in her son’s home, mostly because of her irreconcilable differences with her daughter-in-law, Norma: “It would be better were she to stay at a hotel, but he cannot bring himself to suggest that” (59), John reflects. “Realism,” on the other hand, is more indulgent regarding the relation between Elizabeth and her son. John accompanies her mother in her visit to Pennsylvania – “without the help of her son she would not be undertaking this taxing trip across half the world” (2) – and throughout the lesson, there are scattered allusions to John’s “love” (3) and feeling of “filial duty” (25) toward her mother: “He will be her squire, she will be his knight. He will protect her as long as he is able” (7). The lesson, however,

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finishes with a reflection by John in which he contemplates, with a sense of disgust, his mother’s body, denying her as the source from which he comes: “No, he tells himself, that is not where I come from, that is not it” (34). Love between parents and children is always haunted by rivalry and even hatred, as Costello puts it in “As a Woman Grows Older,” when she responds to her daughter’s assertion that they, her children, are with her: “Children are against their parents, not with them.” This piece is especially focused on Elizabeth’s relationship with her children, Helen and John, as they gather in Nice, where Helen lives. The reason for their having organized this family gathering is that they wish to propose that their mother come and live beside one of them, a proposal that Costello rejects: “Why should I impose on my daughter the burden of caring for me?” The short story finishes with Costello’s hospitable gesture of invitation toward John: “The house in Melbourne is yours, as it has always been. You can come on a visit, you can come as refugees, you can come to réunir la famille.”20 As she makes her kind and sincere proposal, Helen tells her mother: “It is not right to die alone […] with no one to hold your hand. It is antisocial. It is inhuman. It is unloving. Excuse the words, but I mean them. I am offering to hold your hand. To be with you.” JC, who has no children, has no one to hold his hand, until Anya enters his life: “Last night I had a bad dream, which I afterwards wrote down, about dying and being guided to the gateway of oblivion by a young woman” (59). Anya, then, is to JC what Vercueil is to Mrs Curren, a messenger from heaven, an angel of death: “Is she the one who has been assigned to conduct me to my death? If that is so, how odd a messenger, and how unsuitable!” (60–61). But if, in the case of Vercueil, there is a sense of potential threat and menace that is not totally obliterated, Anya emerges, especially in the last pages of the book, as a gentle and kind woman, truly concerned about JC, should something unexpected happen. After moving to Queensland, she calls Mrs Saunders in the Towers, whose flat is on the same floor as JC’s, asking her to phone her back if something happens to the Señor, if he has to go to hospital or worse […] I am not a nurse – but I don’t like to think of him all alone, facing, you know, the end. He has no children and no family that I know of. (222)

20

J.M. Coetzee, “As a Woman Grows Older,” New York Review of Books 51.1 (15 January 2004): http://www.nybooks.com/articles/16872 (accessed 20 April 2008).

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Again, as in Age of Iron and Slow Man, there is a reference to the figure of the nurse, nurses being those who take care of the sick or infirm, of those unable to take care of themselves. Anya projects JC’s death, in which she will act as his guide and companion: “I will fly to Sydney. I will do that. I will hold his hand. […] I can’t go with you but what I will do is hold your hand as far as the gate” (226). The ethical actions performed by Coetzee’s characters tend to go accompanied by a sense of ambivalence or hesitation with regard to their validity or sincerity. In the case of Anya, however, her concern and kindness seem to be perfectly honest and spontaneous. The ethical value of her gesture of holding the hand of a moribund JC is reinforced when we compare it with John Coetzee’s inability – or unwillingness – to do so, in a similar situation, when he finds himself in the hospital, at the bedside of his sick and suffering father: “He could stretch out and take his father’s hand and hold it, to comfort him, to convey him that he is not alone, that he is loved and cherished. But he does no such thing” (Summertime, 262). Thus, Diary of a Bad Year finishes with Anya’s words, in a passage characterized by a lyrical intensity and an emotional tenderness found hardly anywhere else in Coetzee’s oeuvre: “All that I will promise him, and hold his hand tight and give him a kiss on the brow, and proper kiss, just to remind him of what he is leaving behind. Good night, Señor C, I will whisper in his ear: sweet dreams, and flights of angels, and all the rest” (227).

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

Index

Abraham (Bible), 198 Abrahams, Lionel, 2 Accounts of the Apparition of Mrs Veal (Defoe et al.), 204 Adelman, Gary, 36 Africa, European presence in, xii, xiv, xvii, 16, 22, 47, 67–76, 111, 114, 115, 118, 122, 128, 131, 140, 141, 142, 148, 150, 169, 177–86, 220–26, 231, 233, 234, 235, 239, 244–49, 277, 278 Afrikaans language, 47, 242; and Coetzee, 43, 224, 240 Afrikaans novel, xiv, 76 —See also: plaasroman Afrikaner community, 246; and Coetzee, xi Afrikaner identity, xxv, 48, 66, 76, 109, 112, 114, 119, 121, 122, 127, 131, 132, 138, 141, 142, 144, 146, 180, 220, 224, 231, 240, 246 Afrikaner settlement, xiv, 59, 67, 75, 168, 169

Agamben, Giorgio, 29, 79 Age of Iron (Coetzee), xiii, xiv, xv, xxi, xxii, xxiii, xxvi, 13, 16, 25, 36, 37, 63, 78, 109, 111, 130–57, 160, 165, 170, 181, 231, 251, 256, 266, 270, 272, 273, 274, 276, 277, 280, 292, 307, 308, 309 alienation, 25, 61, 92, 118, 134, 147, 166, 181, 221, 223, 224, 228, 232, 233, 235, 248, 277, 282

alterity, 13, 24, 25, 28, 29, 95, 102, 193, 195, 197, 205, 206, 212, 214, 217, 218 ambiguity, 3, 6, 17, 19, 20, 34, 82, 141, 166, 293, 295, 297 animal, trope of, 29, 30, 118, 159, 193, 226

apartheid, xi, xiv, xxiii, xxiv, 1, 3, 4, 6, 11, 14, 15, 18, 21, 22, 25, 27, 28, 31, 40, 74, 98, 104, 105, 108, 109, 111, 112, 113, 122, 131, 134, 136, 141, 142, 143, 144, 145, 146, 148, 150, 153, 160, 166, 168, 169, 171, 172, 173, 177, 178, 183, 185

appropriation, xiv, xviii, xxv, 12, 65, 72, 73, 74, 76, 114, 115, 118, 126, 270 Armstrong, Nancy, 58 arrival, xxv, 75, 81, 114, 130, 176, 235, 251, 262, 263 “As a Woman Grows Older” (Coetzee), 293, 297, 308 Ashcroft, Bill, 19, 20 attachment, 160, 168, 179, 180, 182, 183, 220, 223, 226, 240, 293, 304, 305 Attridge, Derek, xiii, xx, xxi, xxvii, 3, 7, 23, 24, 25, 26, 33, 34, 35, 36, 39, 41, 64, 120, 121, 122, 134, 155, 192, 193, 196, 209, 212, 213, 214, 219, 223, 243, 262, 263, 269 Attwell, David, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 24, 43, 68, 104, 112, 179, 244 Auster, Paul, 34

332 Australia, and Coetzee, xxvi, 21, 36, 48, 238, 239, 246, 251, 260, 279, 282, 285, 296 author, 127, 244, 245, 252, 253, 259, 261, 262, 280, 299, 301; as figure in Coetzee, 16, 39, 198, 208, 209 —See also: writer authority, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 21, 40, 63, 65, 87, 91, 97, 104, 105, 107, 181, 184, 190, 194, 195, 202, 203, 210, 212, 216, 218, 252, 258, 265, 266, 267, 268, 271, 279 authorship, 16, 20, 203, 252, 262, 266, 268, 299, 301 autobiography, xix, xx, 1, 43, 150, 219, 228, 234, 253 autrebiography, xxvi, 248 Badiou, Alain, 304 Baine, Rodney M., 204 Bakhtin, Mikhail, 301 Ball, John Clement, 235 Banville, John, 37 Barilla, James, 30 Barnard, Rita, xxiii, 43, 74, 115, 161, 169, 176, 177, 184, 219, 220, 226, 227, 238, 241 Barnett, Clive, 18 Barney, Richard A., 35 Bataille, Georges, 85, 156 Beckett, Samuel, 29, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 42, 47, 51, 64, 233, 241, 242, 243, 244; “Dante and the Lobster,” 32; Murphy, 32; The Unnamable, 32; Waiting for Godot, 34; Watt, 31, 32, 233, 241, 242, 243, 244 Beer, Ann, 242 Begam, Richard, 22, 67, 68 belief, 49, 52, 54, 65, 68, 93, 94, 100, 131, 143, 165, 166, 183, 189, 193, 201, 202, 204, 225, 240, 243, 255, 302, 303, 304 Bell, Michael, 40 Bellow, Saul, Herzog, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 197

A C T S O F V I S I T A T I O N  belonging, 21, 76, 117, 146, 161, 210, 219, 220, 222, 223, 224, 225, 232, 237, 238, 239, 247, 248, 288 Biko, Stephen, 104 Blanchot, Maurice, 42, 102 blindness, autobiographical, xix; ethical, 81, 82, 96, 103, 217, 218; hermeneutic, xviii, 103, 189, 194, 200, 202, 301; vs vision / illumination, xviii, 81, 82, 84, 101, 102, 103, 116, 194, 195, 197, 202 blood, motif of, 53, 56, 60, 98, 112, 128, 141, 142, 143, 145, 146, 162, 166, 180, 231, 237, 267; impurity of, 142; purity of, 112, 142, 180; purity of (black), 225

Bloom, Harold, 270 body, xiii, xv, xvi, xix, xxv, 38, 41, 43, 47, 54, 56, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 81, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 98, 99, 100, 101, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 112, 119, 120, 124, 126, 130, 135, 136, 142, 143, 144, 145, 146, 161, 162, 163, 181, 203, 207, 208, 215, 244, 276, 277, 278, 279, 308; as property, 96; authority of, 107, 279; inscription of, 81, 96, 98, 99; interpretation of, 85, 86, 89, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 102, 103, 106, 189; penetration of, xiii, xv, xvi, xvii, xviii, xxv, 38, 47, 56, 60, 61, 63, 64, 65, 74, 81, 89, 91, 92, 93, 94, 104, 130, 135, 136, 160, 162, 163, 165, 167, 181, 276; suffering, 41, 43, 81, 104, 105, 107, 182, 276, 277, 278, 279, 283 Boehmer, Elleke, 6, 275; Robert Eaglestone & Katy Iddiols, 42 Bongie, Chris, 195 Book of Exodus, 132 Bower, Colin, 2 Boxall, Peter, 34 Boyers, Robert, 40 Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life (Coetzee), xi, xii, xxiv, xxv, xxvi, 150, 160, 182, 219–26, 229, 230, 233,



Index

234, 237, 244, 245, 247, 248, 249, 304, 305, 306 Bradbury, Malcolm, 233, 236, 239 Breytenbach, Breyten, 17, 26, 82, 89, 90, 141, 142, 143, 146, 147, 151, 166, 168, 183, 184; Dog Heart, 166, 168, 169, 183; The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, 82, 141, 142, 146, 147, 151 Briganti, Chiara, 37, 38 Briggs, Austin, 37 Brink, André, 3, 6, 8, 11, 17, 20, 26, 104, 105, 144, 145, 146, 267; Looking on Darkness, 104, 105 Brink, Carel Frederik, 59 Brooks, Peter, 85, 86, 90, 91, 95, 96, 265, 266 Brouillette, Sarah, 40 Brown, Homer O., 206, 207, 208 “Burrow, The” (Kafka), 34 Butler, Judith, 107

Calvinism, 122, 123, 125 Canepari–Labib, Michaela, 22 Cantor, Paul A., 22, 33 Caputo, John D., 298 Carchidi, Victoria, 36 care, xxii, 97, 127, 138, 156, 170, 204, 271, 272, 276, 277, 278, 279, 282, 283, 284, 299, 305, 307, 308, 309 caritas, 277, 278 Carusi, Annamaria, 201 Castillo, Debra A., 57, 92 Castle, Terry, 164 Castle, The (Kafka), 34, 123 Cervantes, Miguel de, 267, 268 Chapman, Michael, 19 charity, 155, 156, 277, 278, 279 Christie, Sarah, Geoffrey Hutchings & Don Maclennan, 8 cipher, body as, xvii, 85, 106; character as, 51, 53, 91, 164; literary text as, xix, 191, 192; cipher, text as, 14, 85, 91, 96 —See also: deciphering, enigma, secrecy

333 Cixous, Hélène, 55 Clarissa (Richardson), xvii, xviii, xix, 90, 91, 92, 94, 104, 164, 165 Clarkson, Carrol, 28, 29, 32, 43, 73 Clingman, Stephen, 9, 184 Clouts, Sydney, xviii, 72 Clowes, Edith W., 36 Coetzee, J.M., Age of Iron, xiii, xiv, xv, xxi, xxii, xxiii, xxvi, 13, 16, 25, 36, 37, 63, 78, 109, 111, 130–57, 160, 165, 170, 181, 231, 251, 256, 266, 270, 272, 273, 274, 276, 277, 280, 292, 307, 308, 309; “As a Woman Grows Older,” 293, 297, 308; Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life, xi, xii, xxiv, xxv, xxvi, 150, 160, 182, 219– 26, 229, 230, 233, 234, 237, 244, 245, 247, 248, 249, 304, 305, 306; Diary of a Bad Year, xxvi, 5, 16, 42, 108, 109, 227, 245, 246, 267, 273, 285, 286–302, 303, 304, 305, 306, 308, 309; Disgrace, xii, xiii, xiv, xv, xviii, xxi, xxiii, xxv, xxvi, 1, 16, 23, 24, 29, 30, 37, 40, 41, 64, 72, 73, 74, 104, 115, 159–86, 229, 231, 246, 251, 257, 262, 266, 272, 273, 274, 275, 279, 292, 307; Dusklands, xiii, xiv, xv, xvii, xviii, 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 18, 22, 25, 32, 37, 47–62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 69, 71, 72, 73, 76, 81, 93, 94, 97, 103, 114, 116, 141, 160, 168, 193, 197, 198, 233, 234, 235, 257, 266, 273, 276; Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons, xxvi, 5, 16, 29, 35, 37, 39, 41, 175, 176, 245, 246, 272, 277, 278, 279, 285, 286, 294, 295, 302, 303, 304, 307, 308; Foe, xviii, xxvi, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 22, 25, 36, 37, 38, 39, 49, 65, 107, 189–218, 236, 251, 254, 256, 257, 258, 265, 271, 301; “He and His Man” (Nobel Prize speech), 207, 252, 253, 254, 255, 259, 261, 272, 286, 290; In the Heart of the Country, xiv, xv, xvi, xviii, xxii, 11, 12, 16, 18, 20, 22, 25, 26, 33, 37, 38, 47, 48, 52, 53,

334 59, 62–67, 68, 72, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 81, 93, 94, 103, 114, 118, 141, 163, 169, 229, 231, 243, 257, 266, 280;

Life & Times of Michael K, xiv, xvi, xviii, xxiii, 1, 8, 9, 12, 17, 28, 30, 33, 35, 40, 106, 111, 112–30, 137, 140, 143, 184, 231, 256, 257; The Lives of Animals, 5, 29, 30, 31, 35, 41, 285, 286, 307; The Master of Petersburg, xv, xxii, xxvi, 16, 22, 36, 236, 251, 252, 262–72, 274, 291, 298, 299, 302; “Nietverloren,” 137, 138, 185, 248; Slow Man, xv, xxvi, 16, 230, 239, 246, 251, 252, 254–62, 264, 272, 273, 276, 277, 278, 279, 280, 281, 282, 293, 298, 302, 309; Summertime, xi, xiv, xxvi, 15, 16, 43, 75, 118, 129, 130, 150, 219, 220, 221, 244–49, 272, 283, 284, 295, 296, 309; Waiting for the Barbarians, xiii, xvi, xviii, 1, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 20, 22, 34, 65, 81–109, 116; Youth, xi, xii, xxvi, 31, 37, 138, 150, 219, 220, 221, 222, 225, 226–44, 246, 247, 248, 256, 267, 281 cohabitation, 90, 227, 228, 229, 280 Collingwood–Whittick, Sheila, 219, 233, 234

Colonel Jack (Defoe), 202, 259 colonial gaze, xviii, 59, 71, 72, 73, 97, 100, 116 —See also: eye, gaze colonialism, 12, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 21, 38, 47, 235 colonization, xiv, xv, xxv, 58, 66, 111, 277

colonizer, xxv, 20, 25, 37, 58, 63 community, xxiii, 10, 77, 79, 173, 174, 184, 185, 236, 239, 240, 241, 287, 288

complicity, 47, 77, 108, 145, 151, 152 confession, 1, 87, 111, 150, 151, 152, 163, 164, 219, 254, 255, 257, 258, 272, 275, 301 Confessions (Rousseau), xix, 152, 223

A C T S O F V I S I T A T I O N  Conrad, Joseph, 71, 232; Heart of Darkness, 69, 70 Cornwell, Gareth, xxv, 178, 253, 261 Crehan, Stewart, xxiv, xxv, 126 crime, apartheid as, xi, 108, 111, 132, 156, 292; colonial settlement as, xii, 13, 108, 111, 150, 151, 160, 231; postapartheid, 183 Dalbye, Ellinor Bent, 41 Danta, Chris, 35 Dante Alighieri, Inferno, 36, 165 “Dante and the Lobster” (Beckett), 32 David’s Story (Wicomb), 23, 105 Davies, Paul, 103 death, xxii, 35, 56, 97, 105, 150, 216, 234, 251, 255, 263, 266, 267, 273, 278, 307, 308, 309 deciphering, xvi, xvii, xix, 14, 51, 53, 58, 81, 82, 85, 86, 88, 96, 106, 164, 190, 192, 197, 200, 297 Defoe, Daniel, 16, 35, 36, 134, 189, 190, 194, 202–12, 215, 252–55, 258, 259, 271, 286, 287, 288, 291, 294, 295; (et al.), Accounts of the Apparition of Mrs Veal, 204; Colonel Jack, 202, 259; An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions, 204, 205; A Journal of the Plague Year, 134, 206, 207, 208, 252, 287, 288, 291, 292, 294; Moll Flanders, 202, 206, 259; The Political History of the Devil, 204; Robinson Crusoe, 36, 189, 205, 207, 208, 211, 212, 252, 253, 254, 255, 258, 259, 271; Roxana, 194, 202, 205, 206, 258, 259; Serious Reflections, 253; A System of Magick, 204; Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, 252; “A True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs Veal,” 204, 205, 207 Deleuze, Gilles, & Félix Guattari, 35, 105 DeLillo, Don, 34 depth / surface, xvi, xvii, xviii, 50, 54, 56, 57, 59, 66, 68, 69, 70, 71, 89, 91, 93,



335

Index

94, 103, 106, 190, 192, 193, 212, 213, 214, 217, 231, 296

—See also: truth depthlessness, 50 Derrida, Jacques, xxi, xxii, xxiii, xxvii, 24, 25, 27, 28, 50, 77, 103, 134, 141, 147, 148, 155, 156, 166, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175, 180, 184, 191, 192, 198, 206, 207, 263, 269, 280, 281, 282, 297, 298 D’hoker, Elke, 37 Diary of a Bad Year (Coetzee), xxvi, 5, 16, 42, 108, 109, 227, 245, 246, 267, 273, 285, 286–302, 303, 304, 305, 306, 308, 309 discipline, 111, 112, 119, 123, 124, 125 discourse, colonialist, 20, 47; confessional, 150; ethical, 24; feminist, 37, 201; fictional, 5, 12, 13, 197, 286; historical, 4, 14, 114; literary, 295, 298; master, 197, 213, 214, 218, 223, 230; nationalist, 16; philosophical, 41, 155, 294; political, 295, 296, 298; postcolonial, 20, 196; psychoanalytic, 37, 201; racialized, 23, 107; secrecy of, 191, 297; subaltern, 26 Discourse of the Cape, 121, 139 disease, 63, 109, 112, 128, 132, 133, 136, 140, 141, 142, 144, 145, 146, 151, 153, 291, 292 Disgrace (Coetzee), xii, xiii, xiv, xv, xviii, xxi, xxiii, xxv, xxvi, 1, 16, 23, 24, 29, 30, 37, 40, 41, 64, 72, 73, 74, 104, 115, 159–86, 229, 231, 246, 251, 257, 262, 266, 272, 273, 274, 275, 279, 292, 307 displacement, 53, 67, 143, 145, 181, 182, 208, 209, 220, 229, 230, 232, 234, 242

Dodd, Josephine, 38 Dog Heart (Breytenbach), 166, 168, 169, 183

domestication, 2, 66, 111, 114, 115, 168 Donne, John, 37, 267, 293 Donoghue, Denis, 216

Donovan, Josephine, 29 Dooley, Gillian, 37, 219, 220 Dostoevsky, Fyodor, xxii, xxvi, 16, 36, 223, 251, 252, 262, 263, 264, 266– 74, 299, 301, 302; The Possessed, 271 —See also: The Master of Petersburg double, 87, 89, 172, 208, 209 Dovey, Teresa, 11, 12, 13, 14, 58, 62 Doyle, Arthur Conan, 86 dream of purity, 142, 147 dream topography, 66, 116 dreams, 53, 57, 61, 81, 82, 100, 101, 102, 103, 121, 216, 217, 308, 309 Driver, Dorothy, 37 Dunbar, Pamela, 38, 39 Durrant, Samuel, 27, 28 Dusklands (Coetzee), xiii, xiv, xv, xvii, xviii, 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 18, 22, 25, 32, 37, 47–62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 69, 71, 72, 73, 76, 81, 93, 94, 97, 103, 114, 116, 141, 160, 168, 193, 197, 198, 233, 234, 235, 257, 266, 273, 276 duty, 122, 274, 275, 276, 283, 304, 305, 306, 307 Dying Animal, The (Roth), 104 Easton, Kai, 5, 115, 116, 117, 219, 220, 233

ecological dimension, of Coetzee’s works, 30, 31, 118 Eliot, George, Middlemarch, 199 Eliot, T.S., 37, 226, 228, 267 Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons (Coetzee), xxvi, 5, 16, 29, 35, 37, 39, 41, 175, 176, 245, 246, 272, 277, 278, 279, 285, 286, 294, 295, 302, 303, 304, 307, 308 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 72 enigma, character as, 51, 133; character as, in Coetzee, 53, 82, 265; in literary works, xx, 2, 49, 50, 189, 193, 196, 197, 202, 207; of body, 94, 279; of Coetzee’s utterances, 261; of farm labour, 137 —See also: impenetrability, secrecy

336 enigma, textual, 191; in Coetzee, 156, 164, 204, 208, 209, 211, 214, 260, 305, 306

Erickson, Peter, 40, 140 Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions, An (Defoe), 204, 205 ethics, xiii, xiv, xviii, xxi, xxii, xxv, xxvii, 1, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 33, 39, 42, 43, 76, 77, 81, 95, 96, 99, 103, 105, 121, 122, 129, 148, 160, 163, 170, 175, 183, 184, 220, 237, 272, 275, 276, 279, 282, 287, 291, 292, 298, 304, 307, 309 Europe, African presence in, 231, 232; South Africans in, 234 Europe / Africa, and dual allegiance of Coetzee, 22, 242; in Disgrace, 74; influence on Coetzee, 33, 226; in nonEuropean contexts, xxvi, 1 exile, xxiii, 21, 224, 225, 226, 232, 233, 234, 239, 240, 243 —See also: writer as migrant exploration, xv, xviii, xxiii, xxiv, xxvi, 12, 15, 30, 42, 48, 51, 52, 57, 58, 59, 62, 66, 71, 72, 73, 85, 98, 99, 100, 115, 127, 150, 210, 216, 238, 242, 252, 262, 268, 286 eye, motif of, and Friday, 193, 217; Romantic, xviii, 71, 72 —See also: colonial gaze Eysteinsson, Astradur, 228 familial ties, 172, 174, 175, 179, 180, 226, 232, 236, 238, 239, 240, 241, 242, 252, 266, 268, 273, 281, 308 farm, xv, xxiii, xxiv, xxv, 47, 64, 66, 75, 111, 115, 116, 117, 120, 122, 125, 126, 137, 138, 159, 160, 163, 165, 167, 169, 170, 171, 173, 175, 177, 179, 181, 182, 183, 185, 220, 221, 222, 223, 225, 226, 229, 237, 246, 247, 262; family, 220, 222, 223, 247 father, xxii, 11, 38, 64, 67, 77, 101, 111, 117, 127, 161, 162, 163, 167, 173, 176,

A C T S O F V I S I T A T I O N  178, 179, 190, 191, 203, 204, 206, 219, 220, 222, 240, 246, 258, 259, 265, 266, 267, 268, 270, 271, 272, 273, 274, 279, 283, 284, 301, 305, 306, 309 fidelity, 123, 269, 302, 304, 305, 306 “Figure in the Carpet, The” (James), 200, 201 filiation, xxi, 166, 168, 171, 172, 174, 210, 259, 265, 267, 268

FitzPatrick, Percy, Jock of the Bushveld, 30

Flanery, Patrick Denman, 245 Foe (Coetzee), xviii, xxvi, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 22, 25, 36, 37, 38, 39, 49, 65, 107, 189–218, 236, 251, 254, 256, 257, 258, 265, 271, 301 forgiveness, xxii, 111, 156, 171, 262, 273, 274, 275 Forster, E.M., A Passage to India, 171, 172

Foucault, Michel, xvi, 14, 87, 88, 98, 105, 112, 113, 119, 124, 125, 164 fragmentation, Romantic model of, 42 fraternity, xxi, 116, 154, 172 Freud, Sigmund, 37, 85, 207, 208, 210, 264, 266 friendship, xxi, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175, 177, 180, 183, 255 Gaita, Raimond, 29 Gallagher, Susan VanZanten, 3, 16, 104, 115, 116, 117 Gane, Gillian, 23 gardening, 9, 10, 111, 112, 114, 117, 126, 129, 182 Gardiner, Allan, 71 gaze, the, xviii, xxvii, 62, 85, 86, 87, 90, 101, 102, 200, 230, 289, 299, 300, 301, 302 —See also: eye Geertsema, Johan, 131 ghost, 115, 190, 202, 203, 204, 205, 206, 207, 225, 238, 263, 273



337

Index

gift, xxii, xxiii, 149, 154, 155, 156, 222, 273, 276 —See also: giving Gilbert, Sandra, & Susan Gubar, 39, 258 giving, 78, 127, 134, 138, 147, 156, 278, 279

—See also: gift Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 40, 226, 241

Gordimer, Nadine, xxiii, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 17, 26, 28, 36, 67, 90, 113, 141, 151, 152, 185; The Lying Days, 67, 90, 152; My Son’s Story, 141 Gowdy, Barbara, The White Bone, 31 Gräbe, Ina, 18, 193, 201, 216 Graham, Lucy Valerie, 161 Grass is Singing, The (Lessing), 115, 116 Greater Common Good, The (Roy), 31 Green, Michael, 184, 185 Greenblatt, Stephen, 61 Grosz, Elizabeth, 105, 106 guest, xv, xxiv, xxvi, 130, 134, 147, 156, 169, 173, 174, 175, 182, 185, 224, 232, 237, 251, 261, 262, 264, 272, 282, 293, 307 —See also: hospitality, host guide, as character type, 273, 275, 307, 309; character as metatextual, 191 guilt, xxiv, 39, 98, 132, 151, 152, 174, 221, 275, 303 Gulliver’s Travels (Swift), 35 Hampstead Heath, 237, 238, 241 Hayes, Patrick, 34 “He and His Man” (Coetzee, Nobel Prize speech), 207, 252, 253, 254, 255, 259, 261, 272, 286, 290 Head, Dominic, 22, 30, 57, 119, 205, 217, 262, 286 Heart of Darkness (Conrad), 69, 70 Heart of Redness, The (Mda), 31 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 55 Heidegger, Martin, xxiii, 28, 180, 223, 224

Helgesson, Stefan, 28

Herbert, Marilyn, 41 Herron, Tom, 29 Herzog (Bellow), 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 197

Heyns, Michiel, 24 Heywood, Christopher, 8 Hoegberg, David E., 36 Holland, Michael, 24 home, xi, xii, xxii, xxiii, xxiv, 76, 101, 115, 116, 118, 134, 147, 148, 149, 155, 172, 173, 175, 180, 181, 182, 190, 211, 215, 216, 222, 223, 224, 232, 236, 238, 239, 240, 254, 255, 261, 263 homophilial friendship, 173 Hooper, Myrtle, 37 hospitality, xxi, xxii, xxiii, xxiv, xxvi, 48, 76, 77, 78, 79, 134, 147, 148, 160, 168, 172, 173, 174, 176, 180, 183, 236, 251, 260, 261, 262, 272, 274, 276, 280, 281, 282, 308 host, xv, xxiv, xxvi, 77, 78, 111, 126, 127, 128, 130, 131, 135, 136, 139, 146, 147, 148, 156, 169, 173, 185, 210, 230, 237, 251, 261, 272 host–guest relationship, xxvi, 252 host–parasite relationship, 111, 127, 128, 130, 131, 156, 210 house, as presence / topos, xv, xxii, xxv, 48, 77, 78, 111, 115, 116, 117, 127, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 134, 135, 136, 138, 140, 147, 148, 149, 153, 154, 161, 169, 173, 180, 181, 182, 189, 190, 195, 209, 210, 211, 215, 219, 220, 222, 228, 229, 230, 232, 237, 246, 254, 255, 261, 262, 263, 266, 272, 281, 283, 290 house, of writer, xxvi, 209, 210, 211, 215, 251, 254, 271, 291, 305, 306, 308 Huggan, Graham, 31, 139 “Hunger Artist, A” (Kafka), 35 Hutcheon, Linda, 18 Iddiols, Katy, 42, 300, 301 idleness, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 128, 138

338 illness, 61, 273, 276 —See also: infection, plague, sickness impenetrability, of body, 56, 95; of character, 189, 192, 195, 213; of city, 235; of land, 235; of literary works, 49, 50; of person, xviii; of the Other, 55, 61, 82 imperialism, 47, 72 —See also: colonialism In the Fog of the Seasons’ End (La Guma), 97, 98, 104 In the Heart of the Country (Coetzee), xiv, xv, xvi, xviii, xxii, 11, 12, 16, 18, 20, 22, 25, 26, 33, 37, 38, 47, 48, 52, 53, 59, 62–67, 68, 72, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 81, 93, 94, 103, 114, 118, 141, 163, 169, 229, 231, 243, 257, 266, 280 “In the Penal Colony” (Kafka), 99, 100 infection, 136, 140, 141, 142, 143, 144, 145, 146, 151, 154, 277, 291, 292, 293 —See also: plague Inferno (Dante), 36, 165 intertextuality, xiii, 31, 36, 37, 205, 216 intrusion, xii, xiii, xv, xix, xxi, xxv, xxvi, 64, 130, 161, 163, 164, 165, 168, 169, 171, 178, 181, 246, 252, 261, 263, 264, 266, 267, 272, 280, 290 invitation, xxvi, 48, 77, 78, 130, 161, 165, 195, 236, 237, 293, 308 Irigaray, Luce, 34 Irving, John, 108, 109 Ishiguro, Kazuo, Never Let Me Go, 30 Israel, Nico, 232 James, Henry, 199, 243, 264, 296; “The Figure in the Carpet,” 200, 201 JanMohamed, Abdul R., 13, 14 Jock of the Bushveld (FitzPatrick), 30 Jolly, Rosemary, 17, 29, 84, 87, 101, 269 Jones, Thomas, 245 Journal of the Plague Year, A (Defoe), 134, 206, 207, 208, 252, 287, 288, 291, 292, 294

A C T S O F V I S I T A T I O N  Joyce, James, 37, 228, 233, 237, 239; A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 240

Kafka, Franz, 29, 34, 35, 40, 98, 99, 100, 101, 123; “The Burrow,” 34; The Castle, 34, 123; “A Hunger Artist,” 35; “In the Penal Colony,” 98, 99, 100; “A Report to an Academy,” 29, 35; The Trial, 34 Karoo, 47, 74, 75, 118, 130, 142, 185, 225, 247, 248, 249 Kellman, Steven G., 33, 242 Kermode, Frank, 196, 197, 202, 209, 216 Kincade, Kit, 204, 205 kind (cultural, racial etc.), 166, 167, 168, 173, 174, 239, 266, 281 kindness, xxii, 160, 174, 175, 176, 269, 308, 309 Klein, Melanie, 85 Knox–Shaw, Peter, 7 Korang, Kwaku Larbi, 194 Kossew, Sue, 11, 20, 37, 131, 267 Kreutzer Sonata, The (Tolstoy), 52 Kristeva, Julia, 142 La Guma, Alex, In the Fog of the Seasons’ End, 97, 98, 104 labour camp, 106 labour, disciplined, 121, 123; exploitative, 111, 118, 128, 129, 136, 137, 138, 139, 179; forced, 111, 113, 119, 120, 125, 126, 128; manual, 130, 139; occlusion of signs of, 137; politics of, 128; purposeless, 121 —See also: idleness labour, voluntary, 123 —See also: gardening Lacan, Jacques, 11, 12, 30 land, distribution of, xiv, xviii, 73, 149, 160, 171, 177, 179, 181, 182, 185 land, inscription of, 81, 117, 177 land, penetration of, xiii, xiv, xv, xxv, 59, 60, 65, 81, 114, 116, 141



339

Index

land, proprietorship of, xii, xiii, xiv, xxv, 60, 73, 74, 76, 115, 116, 126, 148, 149, 160, 168, 178, 179, 180, 182, 183, 221, 223, 225, 229, 231 land, theme of, xii, xviii, xxii, xxiv, xxv, 47, 66, 67, 72, 73, 74, 76, 102, 111, 115, 116, 118, 168, 177, 178, 182, 183, 186, 226, 247, 248 landscape, xiv, xvii, 2 Lane, Richard, 18, 36 Lawlan, Rachel, 36 Lawrence, D.H., 40, 228 Lazarus, Neil, 26, 27 Leist, Anton, & Peter Singer, 42 leisure, 124, 125 Lenta, Margaret, 220, 240 Leroux, Gaston, 86 Lessing, Doris, 36; The Grass is Singing, 115, 116 Levin, David Michael, 85 Levinas, Emmanuel, xxi, xxii, xxiii, 24, 25, 28, 42, 43, 57, 64, 95, 102, 103, 107, 148, 223 Lewis, Minnie, Chris N. van der Merwe & Hein Viljoen, 76 Life & Times of Michael K (Coetzee), xiv, xvi, xviii, xxiii, 1, 8, 9, 12, 17, 28, 30, 33, 35, 40, 106, 111, 112–30, 137, 140, 143, 184, 231, 256, 257 Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, The (Defoe) —See: Robinson Crusoe Lingis, Alphonso, 88, 105 Lives of Animals, The (Coetzee), 5, 29, 30, 31, 35, 41, 285, 286, 307 Lolita (Nabokov), 53, 69 London, 134, 203, 207, 219, 221, 227, 229, 231, 235, 236, 243, 254, 265, 267, 287, 289, 291 Looking on Darkness (Brink), 104, 105 love, xxi, 57, 153, 154, 155, 156, 167, 170, 171, 193, 222, 228, 239, 248, 258, 267, 269, 274, 276, 278, 279, 307; of the land, xxv, 75, 177, 182, 247, 248 Lukács, Georg, 10

Lying Days, The (Gordimer), 67, 90, 152 Lynch, Sandra, 172, 173 McCumber, John, 103 McDonald, Peter D., 23, 41, 159 McEwan, Ian, 37 McKeon, Michael, 296, 297 MacLeod, Lewis, 196, 197, 205, 212, 213 madness, 112, 143, 144, 145, 151, 273, 292

Maher, Susan Naramore, 36 Malan, Rian, 109, 147, 152 Mandela, Nelson, 108, 160, 171, 183 Marais, Mike, xxiii, xxiv, 20, 28, 77, 79, 115, 127, 128, 130, 190, 193, 194, 261, 262, 270, 275 Marcus, David, 297 Marshall, David, 36 Mascia–Lees, Frances E., & Patricia Sharpe, 39 Master of Petersburg, The (Coetzee), xv, xxii, xxvi, 16, 22, 36, 236, 251, 252, 262–72, 274, 291, 298, 299, 302 master, as original, 271, 302; character as, 261; Friday as, 216; of home, 148; white, 128; writer as, 210, 252, 258, 259, 271, 280, 301 master–slave/servant relationship, 126, 255, 261 Maus, Derek, 37 Mauss, Marcel, 155, 156 May, Brian, 92, 93 Mda, Zakes, The Heart of Redness, 31 Medalie, David, 36 Medin, Daniel L., 37 Meihuizen, Nicholas, 33, 34 men–women relationship, xxii, 56, 64, 90, 91, 95, 160, 161, 162, 163, 165, 168, 170, 178, 185, 226, 228, 231, 256, 258, 262, 265 Merivale, Patricia, 34, 35 metafiction, 15, 19, 216 Miosz, Czesaw, 302, 303 Middlemarch (Eliot), 199 Mikics, David, 294

340 Miller, J. Hillis, xix, 50, 67, 77, 95, 131, 134, 140, 147, 192, 194, 197, 202, 210, 211 modernism, 10, 15, 24, 26, 31, 34, 93, 220, 226, 227, 228, 232, 233, 234, 236, 267 Moll Flanders (Defoe), 202, 206, 259 Moses (Bible), 132, 136, 139 Moses, Michael Valdez, 22, 98, 120, 121 Mulhall, Stephen, 42 Murphy (Beckett), 32 My Son’s Story (Gordimer), 141 Nabokov, Vladimir, 51, 233; Lolita, 53, 69; Pale Fire, 68, 69, 70 Naipaul, V.S., 37 Nashef, A.M. Hania, 41 nationalism, 16, 122, 180, 221, 224, 225, 231

nature, xxv, 68, 70, 72, 75, 115, 116, 117, 118, 122, 126, 182, 222 Ndebele, Njabulo, 28, 152 neighbour, xxvi, 166, 169, 170, 171, 236, 286, 287, 288, 289, 292, 298 Never Let Me Go (Ishiguro), 30 “Nietverloren” (Coetzee), 137, 138, 185, 248

not enough, logic of, xiii, xxi, 153, 170, 171

Novak, Max, 134 nurse, 114, 202, 251, 276, 278, 283, 284, 308, 309 Nuttall, Sarah, & Carli Coetzee, xii Nyman, Jopi, 30 old age, 41, 166, 273, 276, 278, 307 Other, the, xiii, xvi, xxi, xxiv, 24, 25, 28, 29, 33, 34, 97 otherness, 24, 25, 26, 28, 133, 134, 156, 172, 206, 213, 214, 223, 257 ownership, xii, xxiv, 126, 146, 149, 160, 177, 178, 179, 180, 221, 231, 238 Pale Fire (Nabokov), 68, 69, 70 Pamela (Richardson), 90, 91

A C T S O F V I S I T A T I O N  Pan Africanist Congress, 230 parasite, state as, 111, 128, 130, 136 parasitism, xii, xiii, xv, xxi, xxiv, 60, 61, 112, 118, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 134, 136, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 156, 165, 211, 231, 260, 272, 277 parent–child relationship, xxi, 113, 160, 165, 185, 232, 239, 240, 247, 259, 266, 267, 271, 272, 273, 274, 276, 307, 308 Parker, Kenneth, 19 Parry, Benita, 12, 13 Passage to India, A (Forster), 171, 172 pastoral tradition, xxiii, 12, 33, 47, 62, 65, 66, 111, 114, 115, 116, 121, 122, 126, 137, 138, 176, 177, 220, 225 patriarchy, 16, 39, 63, 85, 111, 115, 116, 177, 184, 203, 271; Afrikaner, 16, 38, 64, 116 Pechey, Graham, 19 penetration, epistemological, 65, 94; hermeneutic, xvii, xix, xxv, 54, 94; psychological, 47, 55, 65 Penner, Dick, 17, 18, 81, 82, 115 phallocentricity, 64 Pharaoh (Book of Exodus), 132, 136, 139, 150

plaasroman, 115, 177 plague, 132, 133, 135, 139, 140, 141, 149, 156, 253, 287, 289, 291 Poe, Edgar Allan, 86 Political History of the Devil, The (Defoe), 204 Pollard, Charles W., 36 Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, A (Joyce), 240 positionality, 15 Possessed, The (Dostoevsky), 271 possession, xiii, xxiv, 60, 62, 63, 65, 66, 77, 81, 85, 92, 94, 95, 114, 116, 117, 147, 148, 149, 160, 168, 177, 180, 182, 223, 249, 252, 258, 291 Post, Robert M., 17, 216 postmodernism, xxv, 12, 19, 22, 189, 232 Pound, Ezra, 226, 228

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341

Index

Poyner, Jane, 21, 24, 290 Prelude, The (Wordsworth), xviii, 72, 73 privacy, 60, 89, 90, 91, 94, 245, 263, 264, 291 property, literary texts as, 258, 266 property, significance of house as, 130, 147, 149 propertyless condition, 111, 114, 116, 117, 122, 182, 183, 184, 221, 222, 224, 249

proprietorial consciousness, xii, xiv, 48, 76, 168, 180, 182, 220 —See also: land, possession Protestant ethic, 111, 122, 123, 128, 296 Puchner, Martin, 29, 30 Pynchon, Thomas, 37

Rody, Caroline, 38, 63 room, of writer, xxv, 48, 209, 236, 255 Roth, Philip, The Dying Animal, 104 Rousseau, Jean–Jacques, xix, xx, 40, 52, 120, 152, 223; Confessions, xix, 152, 223

Roxana (Defoe), 194, 202, 205, 206, 258, 259 Roy, Arundhati, The Greater Common Good, 31 Sachs, Albie, 4 Said, Edward W., 14, 224, 225, 232, 234, 238, 240, 241, 243, 258, 259, 265, 266

sameness, 102, 103, 173, 223 Samuelson, Meg, 163 Quayson, Ato, 40 Sanders, Mark, 253, 289; & Nancy Ruttenburg, 16 rainbow nation, 160, 183 Saunders, Rebecca, 163, 164, 165 rape, xv, xix, 57, 63, 64, 148, 159, 161, Scanlan, Margaret, 269 162, 163, 164, 167, 168, 178, 266 Scarry, Elaine, 87 realism, 5, 6, 8, 10, 18, 70, 190, 204, Schoeman, Karel, 75 Schreiner, Olive, 115; The Story of an 205, 286, 296 Reinhard, Kenneth, 169, 170 African Farm, 74, 75 ‘relations of contestation, domination, and secrecy, xiii, xvi, xvii, xix, xx, xxv, 2, 43, subjugation’ (Coetzee), xxi, 48 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 65, 68, 70, repentance, 164, 170, 174, 259, 275 71, 89, 90, 94, 95, 102, 138, 142, 164, “Report to an Academy, A” (Kafka), 29, 191, 192, 194, 196, 197, 198, 200, 216, 35 222, 223, 257, 258, 264, 285, 293, resistance, xvii, xviii, xxiii, xxv, xxvii, 2, 295, 296, 297, 298, 305, 306 secretary, xxiv, xxvi, 286, 298, 299, 302, 5, 9, 10, 26, 28, 56, 60, 61, 81, 89, 90, 91, 104, 128, 135, 231, 244, 247, 303, 306 298 —See also: depth / surface responsibility, xxi, 6, 25, 81, 95, 107, 122, Serious Reflections (Defoe), 253 Serote, Mongane Wally, 185 125, 163, 176, 267, 275, 283 Rich, Paul, 8, 11 settlement, xiv, xxiii, 114, 140 Richardson, Samuel, 35, Clarissa, xvii, settler, xii, 20, 66, 128, 141, 194, 226, xviii, xix, 90, 91, 92, 94, 104, 164, 248 sexuality, xv, 11, 34, 38, 50, 53, 56, 60, 165; Pamela, 90, 91 Robbe–Grillet, Alain, 68, 70 61, 62, 64, 65, 74, 85, 89, 92, 93, 94, Roberts, Sheila, 36, 38, 133 95, 101, 103, 160, 161, 162, 163, 165, Robinson Crusoe (Defoe), 36, 189, 205, 166, 167, 178, 181, 189, 236, 258, 207, 208, 211, 212, 252, 253, 254, 263, 268, 276, 278, 287 255, 258, 259, 271

342 shame, 81, 107, 108, 109, 150, 151, 152, 153, 170, 201, 223, 291, 292 Sharpeville massacre, 230 sickness, 133, 134, 144, 145, 149 —See also: illness, infection, plague silence, 13, 26, 29, 54, 66, 75, 99, 115, 117, 138, 156, 165, 192, 193, 195, 197, 205, 209, 211, 212, 213, 216, 217, 218, 233, 236, 240, 247, 255, 272 singularity, xiii, 34, 38, 111, 295 Slow Man (Coetzee), xv, xxvi, 16, 230, 239, 246, 251, 252, 254–62, 264, 272, 273, 276, 277, 278, 279, 280, 281, 282, 293, 298, 302, 309 Smith, Pauline, 115 Smith, Rowland, 19 Smit–Marais, Susan, & Marita Wenzel,

A C T S O F V I S I T A T I O N  Summertime (Coetzee), xi, xiv, xxvi, 15, 16, 43, 75, 118, 129, 130, 150, 219, 220, 221, 244–49, 272, 273, 283, 284, 295, 296, 309 superficiality, 50, 51, 95 supplementarity vs rivalry, 5 Swift, Jonathan, Gulliver’s Travels, 35 System of Magick, A (Defoe), 204 Taylor, Chloé, 103 textuality, xiii, xvii, 22, 31, 32, 48, 51, 190, 195, 196, 300; vs history, 3, 14, 18

“Tintern Abbey” (Wordsworth), 71 Tolstoy, Leo, The Kreutzer Sonata, 52 torture, xiii, xvi, xxiii, 16, 81, 82, 83, 84, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 93, 96, 97, 98, 177 99, 100, 101, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, South Africa, European conception of, xiv 108, 109, 151, 164, 264, 291 space, xv, 28, 30, 56, 59, 66, 67, 76, 113, torture chamber, xxiii, 83, 86, 88, 89, 91, 117, 148, 164, 168, 169, 177, 185, 198, 96, 264 220, 221, 226, 229, 235, 236, 246, Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (Defoe), 252 247, 279, 281, 292, 297; personal, transience, xii, 160, 177, 182, 224, 225, 164, 220, 226, 229, 236, 246, 281, 292 249, 263, 293 Spacks, Patricia Meyer, 94 Tremaine, Louis, 29 sphere, private / public, xv, xxiv, 159, 213, Trial, The (Kafka), 34 223, 230, 251, 280, 288, 289, 290, Triomf (van Niekerk), 30 True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, 298 The (Breytenbach), 82, 141, 142, 146, Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, 194 Splendore, Paola, 216, 273, 274 151 Stanton, Katherine, 21 “True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs Veal, A” (Defoe), 204, 205, 207 stepfather, 267, 268, 271 Sterne, Laurence, 40 truth, as depth, xvii; Romantic vision of, Story of an African Farm, The (Schreiner), xvii, 68, 70, 71, 73, 103 —See also: depth / surface, super74, 75 ficiality stranger, xxiii, 96, 101, 102, 139, 148, unbelonging, 67, 220, 232 217, 261, 263, 267, 268, 282, 299 Stratton, Florence, 23 Unnamable, The (Beckett), 32 Strode, Timothy Francis, xxiii, 28, 146, usurpation, 73, 74, 266, 301 147, 148, 179 Van der Vlies, Andrew, 41 Strongman, Luke, 40 Sulk, Kay, 133 van Niekerk, Marlene, Triomf, 30 Summers–Bremner, Eluned, 30 Vaughan, Michael, 7

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343

Index

Vietnam, xviii, 25, 47, 48, 51, 52, 55, 56, 57, 58, 61, 64, 66, 193, 197, 243, 257 Viola, André, 223 violence, xiii, xv, xvi, xvii, xviii, xxi, xxiv, xxv, 7, 13, 17, 26, 38, 47, 50, 54, 62, 63, 64, 84, 89, 98, 103, 116, 145, 148, 156, 160, 163, 164, 165, 166, 168, 171, 176, 177, 180, 181, 185, 246, 269, 272, 274, 276, 277, 280 vision, xvii, xviii, 71, 72, 73, 81, 82, 85, 92, 93, 98, 101, 102, 103, 116, 194, 197, 201, 209 visitation, xiv, xv, xxiv, xxv, xxvi, 133, 160, 173, 176, 252, 282, 289 visitor, xv, xxv, 130, 132, 134, 156, 161, 165, 174, 176, 182, 220, 222, 224, 232, 233, 234, 260, 261, 262, 263, 264, 282, 293 Visser, Nicholas, 9 Vital, Anthony, 31 Voss (White), 48, 49, 50, 51, 197 Wagner, Kathrin M., 216 Waiting for Godot (Beckett), 34 Waiting for the Barbarians (Coetzee), xiii, xvi, xviii, 1, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 20, 22, 34, 65, 81–109, 116 Watson, Stephen, 5, 9, 26 Watt (Beckett), 31, 32, 233, 241, 242, 243, 244 Watt, Daniel, 42 Watt, Ian, 228 Weber, Max, 122, 123, 125 Wenzel, Jennifer, xxiv, xxv White Bone, The (Gowdy), 31 White, Hayden, 4 White, Patrick, Voss, 48, 49, 50, 51, 197 Wicomb, Zoë, David’s Story, 23, 105 Williams, Paul, 18, 194 Williams, Raymond, 236 women, 38 —See also: body, men–women relationships, penetration, rape, sex

women as narrators, 37, 39 —See also: Age of Iron, Elizabeth Costello, Foe Wood, James, 40 Wood, Michael, 37 Woodward, Wendy, 30 Woolf, Virginia, 209, 237 Wordsworth, William, 74, 75; The Prelude, xviii, 72, 73; “Tintern Abbey,” 71

Worthington, Kim L., 195, 216 Wright, Laura, 5, 29, 35 writer, and authority, 256; and autobiography, xix, 246; and blindness, 189, 194; and commitment, 6, 7, 21, 144, 306; and commitment or evasion, xiii, 20, 88, 295; and complicity, 144; and consciousness, 32; and ethics, xxvii, 1, 185, 292; and fidelity, 304, 305; and intertextuality, 36; and literary ancestry, 31, 34, 211, 226, 268, 271, 301; and locatedness, 241, 242, 254, 283, 287, 289, 293; and loss of authority, 203, 210, 212; and masterplot, xiv; and modernism, 26; and resistance, 26, 28; and secrecy, xvii, 49, 197, 198, 299, 302; and seriousness, 205; and torture, 84, 264 writer, as citizen, xii, xxiv, xxvi, 1, 3, 10, 21, 144, 226, 238, 245, 247, 285, 286, 290, 292, 293, 294; as confessor, 198, 257; as experimenter, 29, 33; as fictional character, xxvi, 226, 245, 251, 285; as foe, xxvi, 258, 268; as intruder, xxvi, 252, 262, 264, 272, 302; as master, xxvi, 190, 210, 252, 255, 257, 258, 260; as migrant, xxvi, 21, 233; as neighbour, xxvi, 286; as parasite, 260, 272, 291; as pervert, 291; as physiologist, 144; as rapporteur, 286, 295; as scapegoat, 35; as secretary, xxiv, xxvi, 286, 298, 302, 303, 306; as spider, 198, 199

344 writer, relation to his biography, xi writer–character relationship, xxv, xxvi, 190, 198, 233, 252, 254, 255, 257, 258, 259, 260, 261 writer–reader relationship, xx, 191

A C T S O F V I S I T A T I O N  Yeoh, Gilbert, 27, 33 Youth (Coetzee), xi, xii, xxvi, 31, 37, 138, 150, 219, 220, 221, 222, 225, 226–44, 246, 247, 248, 256, 267, 281

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