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J. M. Coetzee in Context and Theory
 9781472542533, 9780826498830

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Acknowledgements

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

Biographies

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

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

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

Introduction Robert Eaglestone, Elleke Boehmer and Katy Iddiols

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 1

Post-Apartheid Literature: A Personal View André Brink

Thank you, again, Karina

Although with some natural misgivings, I attempt, in this chapter, to set my own novels within the context of recent writing in South Africa. I try to address the problem of discussing my own work by referring to my writing only in as much as it illustrates some of the more obvious trends in post-apartheid literature. Even so, it is a hazardous enterprise for which I must ask the reader’s indulgence. My reluctance is compounded by the fact that we are a mere twelve or so years into the ‘new South Africa’, which makes any categoric assertions premature. However, as the shift from the ‘old’ to the ‘new’ began to manifest itself rather sooner in the arts (theatre, dance, music, painting sculpture and certainly literature) than in politics, it is not entirely unproductive to attempt a tentative outline of at least some of the aspects of this shift.

1 Perhaps the most obvious characteristic of the change has been what may be described as a move inward, away from politics as drama and spectacle and social phenomenon towards internalization and interiority. Of course, in many works of fiction produced during the apartheid years there was already an awareness of a balance between the private and the public. But it would seem that narrative in the new era is being driven more by human and individual experience than by ‘the situation’, which may also imply a move from the sociopolitical towards the ethical and the subjective. This should not be construed as a rejection or a denial of politics, but much rather a process of reimagining the political, the social, the public. As happened under the influence of feminism, the private becomes the political. But the opposite is just as true: the political is now being perceived more and more in terms of private experience. There is,

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

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

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

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society may at first sight appear to militate against the audacity of such appropriation, this may be mitigated in an increasingly pluralistic world where more and more women, and more and more blacks, can – and do – ‘speak for themselves’. Also, as Thaïs E. Morgan argues in Men Writing the Feminine (Morgan 1994), there is a difference between speaking ‘on behalf of’ and ‘speaking from a position of solidarity with’. With this reassurance (though still in awe of a situation which can so easily become muddled or muddied), I attempted in Imaginings of Sand (1996) and The Other Side of Silence (2002) to venture into the territory of imagining the other. In the first, I used a young female narrator and, embedded within her narrative, a hundred-year-old grandmother, to reconstruct between them the story of the nine generations of women who constitute their tribe (among other things as a corrective to the numerous male genealogies I have constructed in other novels). In the second, I allowed a tongueless female victim of male colonial atrocity to ‘speak back’ to the patriarchy which had made and unmade her. To me, this became part of a whole new wave of writing in which history is reshaped in order to reinterpret the present.

3 The reinvention of history is indeed another major current in contemporary South African writing. During all the turbulent centuries of colonialism in Southern Africa a specific – and all too familiar – pattern of historiography became prevalent, a master narrative (in every sense of the word) devised by white, male historians. Admittedly, the pattern was not quite as simplistic as in many other colonial situations, in that writing in Afrikaans presented a curiously ambiguous view. The Afrikaans language, shaped from the midseventeenth century in the mouths of slaves (mostly Indonesian) and indigenous Khoisan peoples who could not speak the language of the colonizing masters (Dutch) properly, of course brought about fascinating processes of creolization. It became a vehicle through which, in Rushdie’s overused term, the empire could ‘write back’. However, at the same time Afrikaans gradually became more the language of the bourgeoisie, until towards the end of the nineteenth century when it was appropriated by an increasingly nationalistic community in opposition to English and Dutch, and assumed a new position of power within the colonial situation. It evolved into ‘the language of apartheid’. In this way historiography became fully the property and the tool of the ruling white elite. But that ‘other’ Afrikaans, the language of the deprived and the oppressed, still lurked behind the new and monstrous Frankenstein. It was only during the process of the dismantling of apartheid that the notion of ‘a South African history’ became broadened and diversified into a whole array of different histories. This happened in line with the global renewal of

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historiography in the wake of Emmanuel Le Roi Ladurie’s Montaillou, in which the traditional view of history as the account of the actions of emperors and kings, princes and generals and notables was replaced by what Njabulo Ndebele in another context would call ‘the rediscovery of the ordinary’: the lives of common people without whom – as Brecht so unforgettably depicted it in his poem ‘Fragen eines lesenden Arbeiters’ – the great and the famous could never have risen to the top (Le Roi Ladurie 1975; Ndebele 1991). So, in the literature of the new South Africa, a whole jigsaw puzzle of histories came into being. These include Griqua history in Zoe Wicomb’s David’s Story (2001), the Xhosa’s cattle killing in Zakes Mda’s The Heart of Redness (2000; taken further in an as-yet-unpublished novel by Siviwe Mdoda), a redefinition of Afrikaner history in the Boer War by Christoffel Coetzee (Op soek na Generaal Mannetjies Mentz, 1998), and women’s history in Elsa Joubert’s Isobelle’s Journey (1995; 2002). There is also an amazing overview of the early years of Dutch colonization, as experienced by the Khoikhoi and Dutch colonists at the Cape, the Dutch masters in Holland, and the early settlers in Batavia and Mauritius, in Dan Sleigh’s masterpiece Islands (2004). Many of these reviews of history return to a precolonial Africa, to a world of myth and magic which shows fascinating parallels with the very origins of Western historiography in the inventions of Herodotus. The exciting possibilities of turning history inside out to reveal its mythical underpinnings have inspired, in my own narrative explorations, a novel like The First Life of Adamastor (1993; allegedly the Khoi ‘original’ on which the Portuguese poet Camoens based his Luciads, an epic of the Cape of Good Hope). I think also of the retelling of the Landman family story in An Act of Terror (1991) or that of Kristien’s ancestry in Imaginings of Sand (1996), or more recently, Praying Mantis (2005). In this last-named the first Khoi missionary ordained at the Cape occupies a space between an ancient Khoisan mythology and the Christian world of the London Mission Society.

4 At this point the historical exploits of recent South African fabulists merge with another of the trends which have become evident in post-apartheid literature, namely what for want of a better term one might call a local variant of ‘magical realism’. This somewhat unfortunate appellation inevitably tends to bring to mind the late-twentieth-century explosion of Latin American fiction by such writers as Marquez, Donoso, Llosa, Fuentes, and Amado. However, Africa has had its own form of magic realism in the long tradition of oral narrative which spanned many centuries before it erupted in the work of writers as diverse as Amos Tutuola or Ben Okri. What predominates in this tradition is the foregrounding of ancestors who continue to intervene actively in the affairs of the

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

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underlies a seemingly fantastical event, but that there need not be anything particularly outlandish about a group of humpbacked animals attending the performance of an opera. In this new world anything is possible; everything is true.

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

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6 The stunning variety of new trends in South African writing which have begun to manifest themselves in recent literature (what I have so briefly indicated here is a random indication of possibilities) suggests that the country finds itself on the verge of a veritable explosion of creativity. This is evident not only in the work of established writers but in an impressive spectrum of new voices; and in the almost frenzied pace with which students in Creative Writing courses at the University of Cape Town and other institutions are moving into publication. Even in stark or dark tales there lurks a sense of wonder and of discovery: the sheer adventure of writing, whether flowing from the workings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission or emanating from a multitude of other stimuli and sources. It is no longer inevitable, as it was so largely the case under apartheid, to be gloomy or dour in one’s exposition of horrors and depression. Writers appear to have (re-)discovered the simple truth that there are also reasons to celebrate and to affirm. Concomitantly, it is no longer necessary for commentators to evaluate a writer in terms of what she or he is against. What is relevant now is the quality of the writing as such. This quality is not, as yet, unambiguously beyond reproach. In some respects, as in the revisiting of the Black Holes of apartheid, the interminable evocations of a childhood in the shadow of apartheid can become predictable and cloying. (Though some of it may be moving and brilliant, like Jeanne Goosen’s Not All of Us, (1990), Pamela Jooste’s Dance With a Poor Man’s Daughter (1998), or Carolyn Slaughter’s Before the Knife (2002).) Just as there is much to be deplored in the socio-politics of the country today, after the initial euphoria, much of the writing may be mediocre. But the élan is unmistakeable: the urge to create, the need to tell a story. And a surprising proportion of what is published is more than merely promising or encouraging. Much of it is exhilarating, often tremendously relevant and significant, reflecting the profound joy that resides in the rediscovery of literature, not just as an account or a reflection, but as an adventure and as an affirmation of the indomitable energy of the human spirit. Bliss is it in this dawn to be alive.

Works Cited Cooper, Brenda (1998), Magic Realism in West African Fiction. London: Routledge. Durrant, Samuel (1999), ‘Bearing witness to apartheid: J. M. Coetzee’s inconsolable works of mourning’, Contemporary Literature, 40, (3), 430–63. Le Roi Ladurie, Emmanuel (1975), Montaillou: village occitan de 1294 á 1324. Paris: Gallimard. Morgan, Thais E. (1994), Men Writing the Feminine. Albany: SUNY Press. Ndebele, Njabulo S. (1991), Rediscovery of the Ordinary. Johannesburg: COSAW.

Chapter 2

Elizabeth Costello as Post-Apartheid Text* Louise Bethlehem

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

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

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

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reveal itself between the lines or as a catch in the voice, so to speak? The catch in the voice of yet another moribund Elizabeth perhaps, Elizabeth Curren this time, as she revisits the displacement her daughter voices: ‘I was born in Africa, in South Africa’ (Coetzee 1990)?3 Is it possible to read Coetzee’s expatriate formalism in Elizabeth Costello, its laboured metafictionality, as somehow ‘contaminated’ by the traces of a repudiated content? Where does this content resist its repudiation, over and above the spectrality of the bodies, veiled or perhaps in plain view, in the Marianhill clinic of Elizabeth Costello’s sister Blanche (Coetzee 2003: 134)? There is something deeply unsettling about Elizabeth’s description of the children dying of HIV/AIDS at Marianhill, but does it consist in her reckoning with a morbidity that is seen, or in her phantasmatic evocation of an unseen residue? ‘As for the children, perhaps Blanche has tucked the worst cases away out of sight, but she is surprised at how gay even a dying child can be. It is as Blanche said in her book: with love and care and the right drugs, these innocents can be brought to the very gate of death without fear’ (Coetzee 2003: 134, my emphasis L. B.). I need not belabour the reference to ‘the very gate of death’, but I do want to voice, at least, the question of the relation between those South Africans subjects who do not disclose visible evidence of their suffering and the ones that do – tucked somehow away out of Elizabeth Costello’s or Elizabeth Costello’s direct sight but lingering nevertheless in collective memory by virtue of the flagrantly corporeal displays enacted before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).4 To raise such questions, in disregard for something like the manifest textual content of Coetzee’s work, is to presume to read Elizabeth Costello against its transcultural and universalizing aspirations. It is to grapple with my own stealthy insistence that this is (also) a post-apartheid text without acceding, albeit through inversion, to a trivializing essentialism mirrored in Rian Malan’s open speculation in October 2003: ‘Now that Coetzee has left us, is his Nobel really a triumph for the Rainbow Nation, as our newspapers claim?’ (Malan 2003).

Deflection then, not defection For all that it defensively forecloses the possibility of ‘post-apartheid South Africa’ being taken as its referent, let me risk the proposition that Elizabeth Costello contains a persistent interrogation of the relations between representation and material embodiment. This draws the text back, despite itself, I will eventually claim, into the semiotic matrix of post-apartheid South African literary culture. I will substantiate this view through taking up the penultimate text of the work again. For readers concerned with the theoretical reach of testimony, Elizabeth Costello’s positioning, in ‘Lesson 8’, at the threshold between life and death illuminates a différance (Derrida 1982 [1968]) internal to the ‘confession’ she is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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matter of the organism and its discursive reclamation, like the relationship between the body and the body politic, is sometimes chaotic, somewhat chiastic; always the site where ‘belief’ – a certain ideological configuration – is actively elicited. But now my recourse to the restless still of the body’s remains must give up its own ghosts, bound to the time and place of my writing, Mt. Scopus, East Jerusalem, Israel. No spectral universality can be allowed to attach to the genesis of my text if it is to remain true to the leapfrog of displaced historicity it has traced. This is not all that is at stake, however. In studied but ineluctably complicit defiance of the discourses of Jewish nationalist entitlement by reason of bodily suffering which continue to justify the Occupation, let me emphasize— as a matter of political interest but not, I hope, instrumentalism – that the body, pace Elizabeth, does not speak itself except through massive, and potentially contested or contestatory, historical mediation. If there is an urgency to my rhetoric here, and I believe there is, it is because I too inhabit a country ‘prodigal of blood’. And there are bodies – Palestinian bodies, Israeli bodies – on the line.

Notes * This article had its genesis in a presentation at ‘Contemporary Perspectives on J. M. Coetzee and Post-Apartheid South African Literature: An International Conference,’ held at the Royal Holloway College, University of London, Egham, United Kingdom, 29-30th April 2005. It was first published in a special edition of the Journal of Literary Studies/Tydskrif vir Literatuurwetenskap entitled ‘New Research on J. M. Coetzee’, guest edited by Marianne de Jong. My thanks to Andries Oliphant for permission to reprint it in the present volume. Thanks to Carola Hilfrich and Catherine Rottenberg for drawing my attention to Derrida’s ‘Devant la Loi’, and Butler’s ‘Restaging the Universal’, respectively. 1 With respect precisely to literariness, let me emphasize that my casting of citation as a kind of productive diversion that summons us into the presence of the literary is irreducible to something like an ‘anxiety of influence’ in Harold Bloom’s sense (1973), a notion which Coetzee’s narrator in the Nobel Lecture He and His Man also repudiates: ‘For it seems to him now that there are but a handful of stories in the world; and if the young are to be forbidden to prey upon the old then they must sit forever in silence’ (2004 [2003]: 16). 2 On ‘representational literalism’ see Damian Grant (1985 [1970]: 14–15). For a consideration of the realist orientation of apartheid-era literature, see Bethlehem 2001. 3 For an extended comparison of Elizabeth Costello and Elizabeth Curren, see Dorothy Kuykendal’s ‘I Follow the Pen: The (Dis)Location of Two Elizabeth C’s’ (2005). Derek Attridge cautions us regarding a potential ambiguity that ‘plays around the name of the letter-writer in Age of Iron. She is unnamed at first, but we eventually learn that her married name is “Curren” and that her initials are “E.C.” However, both Coetzee himself, in the interviews in Doubling the Point (250, 340),

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

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concluding chapter of my book, Skin Tight: Apartheid Literary Culture and Its Aftermath (Unisa and Brill, 2006). For a brief summary of the meaning and development of the term in Freud, see P. Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis 1973: 111–14. See Shai Ginsburg’s essay on the national allegory in pre-State Israel, ‘Genre, Territory, Theory: Yosef Haim Brenner and the Erets-Israeli Genre’, paper presented in Hebrew at the Department of Comparative Literature and Poetics, Tel Aviv University, 23 May 2005.

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

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

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

Chapter 3

Coetzee and Gordimer Karina Magdalena Szczurek

Nothing I say here will be as true as my fiction. Nadine Gordimer

Some time ago Eliza Coetzee, a distant cousin of the famous author, J. M. Coetzee, was invited to London to speak about one of her relative’s books, Elizabeth Costello. A writer herself, but only marginally known outside South Africa, she gladly accepted, seeing the conference as a possibility to add some clarification to the confusion and unease accumulated around her cousin’s book. When it was her turn to speak, she removed her reading glasses from an etui, adjusted them on her nose and began boldly:1 Reviewing Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (2004) John Maxwell Coetzee wrote about two aspects of writing which most of us authors would recognize only too well: the stories we write sometimes begin to write themselves, after which their truth or falsehood is out of our hands and declarations of authorial intent carry no weight. Furthermore, once a book is launched into the world it becomes the property of its readers, who, given half a chance, will twist its meaning in accord with their own preconceptions and desires. (2004b: 4) I am standing here before you not only as an author but primarily as a reader. I am taking my chance. These are my preconceptions and desires, but my intention today is not to twist, but rather to untwist some meanings. In all the excitement surrounding its publication, none of the reviewers and critics writing about Elizabeth Costello – Eight Lessons (2003) seems to have noticed one of the most obvious features of the fictional heroine of this remarkable book, namely the striking similarities between her and the real-life South African author Nadine Gordimer.2 I want to argue that both, Gordimer and John, not only have been aware of each other for a long time as fellow writers,

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

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

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

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

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

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J. M. Coetzee in Context and Theory into introspective memoir and fanciful musing, and ends with a Kafkaesque bad dream of the afterlife. It is progressively permeated by the language of religion, by a dread of evil, and by a desire for personal salvation. Its key words are ‘belief’ and ‘soul’. (ibid.)

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

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

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

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glasses and gently rubbed her right eye before looking up and giving her audience a tentative smile. With a nod at the gentleman raising his right-hand finger in the first row she indicated her readiness to take the first question.

Notes 1

2

3

4

5 6

In the following account I trace the ‘life and times’ of J. M. Coetzee’s probably most enigmatic character, Elizabeth Costello. To examine her function as a persona, an alter ego, a fictional character and author, I imitate Coetzee’s own invention by introducing a fictional character named Eliza Coetzee, whom I use here to debate the issue at hand on my behalf. In my chapter she is J. M. Coetzee’s distant cousin of the preceding brief introduction. An author herself, living in South Africa, she is invited to a conference in London to speak about her famous relative and his character, Elizabeth Costello. Thus, I let Eliza Coetzee tell the story of Elizabeth Costello. Page references in the text indicate Coetzee (2003b). Since first noticing this resemblance in 2003, I only encountered one other critic referring to it in his work: Ronald Suresh Roberts in No Cold Kitchen (2005), his biography of Nadine Gordimer. For details of Elizabeth Costello’s trajectory from that first lecture in 1996 to her appearance in Elizabeth Costello – Eight Lessons in 2003 see D. Attridge (2004: 192–7). As Roberts points out the caricature is well-known in the South African literary scene. This is of course an adaptation of Mihail Bahktin’s notion of the dialogic. This idea was introduced to me by Edwin Hees.

Works Cited Anonymous publisher comments (http://www.powells.com/biblio?PID=27086&cgi=pro duct&isbn=0670031305, accessed 15 January, 2005). Attridge, Derek (2004), J. M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading – Literature in the Event. Chicago, London: University of Chicago Press. Clingman, Stephen (1986), The Novels of Nadine Gordimer – History From the Inside. Johannesburg: Ravan Press. Coetzee, J. M. (1980), ‘Review of Nadine Gordimer by Michael Wade’, Research in African Literatures, 11, (2), 253–6. —(1992), ‘Nadine Gordimer, The Essential Gesture (1989)’, in Derek Attwell (ed.), Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews. Cambridge, London: Harvard University Press, pp. 382–8. —(1999a), Disgrace. London: Secker & Warburg. —(1999b), The Lives of Animals. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. —(2001), ‘Gordimer and Turgenev’, in Stranger Shores: Essays 1986–1999., London: Secker & Warburg, pp. 268–83.

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

Chapter 4

Wordsworth and the Recollection of South Africa Pieter Vermeulen

In spite of difference of soil and climate, of language and manners, of laws and customs: in spite of things silently gone out of mind and things violently destroyed; the Poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society . . . William Wordsworth, ‘Preface to Lyrical Ballads’

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

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

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

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

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

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complete reading of Disgrace, but a shorthand for the book’s development may run as follows. Lurie’s disgrace develops as the increasing impossibility to remain blind to the fact that it is not so much the ‘disciple’ that is disappearing as the complement of the ‘master’ in post-apartheid South Africa, but rather the ‘servant’ or the ‘slave’. In other words, while the real problems besetting Lurie can be described as an effect of the disappearing distinction between master and slave (his daughter’s neighbour Petrus becomes ‘his own master’; D 114–17), Lurie attempts to solve them by a restoration of the relation between master and disciple (as when ‘guiding’ Lucy after her rape; D 156, 161). What primarily feeds this blindness is the figure of Wordsworth: talking to Melanie, Lurie says that ‘Wordsworth has been one of my masters’, and the book adds: ‘It is true. For as long as he can remember, the harmonies of The Prelude have echoed within him’ (D 13). I have already pointed to the violence of this harmonization in the Alps passage. Disgrace offers a second scene of the disgrace of this masterly instruction when Lurie, after the exposure of his dealings with Melanie, is referred to as ‘the disgraced disciple’ of Wordsworth with a reference to The Prelude’s ‘Blest Babe’ passage. This passage from the second book offers The Prelude’s most explicit exposition of Wordsworth’s pedagogical programme: its subject is the blessed babe, ‘[n]ursed in his Mother’s arms,’ and thereby ‘[a]n inmate of this active universe’ (ll 235, 255): Along his infant veins are interfused The gravitation and the filial bond Of nature that connect him with the world. (ll 243–5) This graduation from mother into ‘the world’ has, in this passage, an explicit poetological correlate: The infant’s ‘mute dialogues with [his] Mother’s heart’ are, because they figure as the origin of Wordsworth’s poetical development in The Prelude, retroactively qualified as ‘the first / Poetic spirit of our human life’, that remain ‘[t]hrough every change of growth and of decay, / pre-eminent till death’ (ll 269, 261–6). With this assured possession of the poetical spirit, Wordsworth’s poetical education is then the mere ‘display’ of the unchanged means ‘[w]hereby this infant sensibility’ was ‘[a]ugmented and sustained’ (ll 270–3). Because it is the development of an intrinsically meaningful project, this programme can henceforth transfigure the negativity of experience, ‘the onslaughts of reality’ (D 24), into a stage in the growth of the childhood mind into that of which the mother has always already made it the father. It is this blissful educational fantasy that enters the life of John in Boyhood in the shape of his childhood companion, the Children’s Encyclopaedia: Childhood, says the Children’s Encyclopaedia, is a time of innocent joy, to be spent in the meadows amid buttercups and bunny-rabbits or at the hearthside

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

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

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

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

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

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Boyhood offers, then, is first and foremost that of testimony’; as a ‘documentary work’ (Attridge 2004: 155). To return to David Attwell’s appraisal of Coetzee’s ‘fiction’s capacity to reconfigure the rules of discourse’, as I have tried to show this reconfiguration is ‘at once an embrace and a reconfiguration’ (Wenzel 2000: 108) of what it responds to as its insistent given. This can be the unburied corpse of aunt Annie, the Karoo, the mewling foetus in Youth, and, as the latter is the fruit of a conflict that is also Coetzee’s, also Coetzee’s own prose. I want to suggest that by paying attention to the books’ performance of reconfiguration, we no longer require a philosophical statement to make this work meaningful, as the work assures its own significance through its reconfigurative ‘(myt)historical’ performance. Importantly, one of the insistent remains that the books’ performance can be said to reconfigure is Wordsworth’s poetry itself. The relation between Wordsworth and Coetzee must then not be reduced to an opposition between the ‘colonial’ and the ‘postcolonial’, or between ‘poetry’ and ‘prose’. Rather, Coetzee reconfigures Wordsworth’s poetry into a form of prose that is more adequate to the South African situation to which it responds. His autobiographies stand as testimonies to literature’s persistent capacity to re-structure the rules of discourse.

Notes 1

Page references to Disgrace, Boyhood, and Youth are cited in the text preceded by the abbreviations D, B and Y, respectively.

Works Cited Attridge, Derek (2004), J. M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading. Literature in the Event. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Barney, Richard (2004), ‘Between Swift and Kafka: Animals and the politics of Coetzee’s elusive fiction’. World Literature Today, 78, (1), 17–23. Becker-Leckrone, Megan (1998), ‘‘Sole author I, sole cause’: Wordsworth and the poetics of importance’, MLN, 113, (5), 993–1021. Coetzee, J. M. (1988), White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa. New Haven: Yale University Press. —(1998), Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life. London: Vintage. —(1999), Disgrace. London: Vintage. —(2002), Youth. New York: Viking. Coetzee, J. M. & David Attwell (1992), Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews. Cambridge, MA / London: Harvard University Press. Collingwood-Whittick, Sheila (2001), ‘Autobiography as Autrebiography: The fictionalisation of the self in J. M. Coetzee’s Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life’, Commonwealth Essays and Studies, 24, (1), 13–23.

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

Chapter 5

Border Crossings: Self and Text Sue Kossew

She [Elizabeth Costello] is of the opinion that until I have crossed a certain threshold I am caught in limbo, unable to grow . . . (Slow Man: 112).

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

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

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

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

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protagonist, Paul Rayment, itself raises an important issue in relation to the text as performance. In addition to the connotations of the word ‘raiment’ as dress, clothing or costume, we are told some time into the text that Paul’s surname should be pronounced to rhyme with the French word ‘vraiment’ or truth (Coetzee 2005: 192). Clearly, both these aspects of the name draw attention to this border between, on the one hand, the performativity of the character and his slowness to perform – Elizabeth’s frustration with him is shown when she declares that he should cure himself, she ‘will try not to hurry [him] on any more’ (Coetzee 2005: 161) – and, on the other, the notion of ‘truth’ or the ‘reality effect’. On another level, this revelation to the reader about the pronunciation of Paul’s surname raises the issue of freedom and determination or choice, another theme that is integral to the text. What authority does the anglophone reader have in deciding how to pronounce ‘Rayment’, given that, like Elizabeth Costello, we have probably been mentally rhyming it with ‘payment’ until Paul corrects her (and us)? There are other implications, though, arising from the ambivalence that the text engenders through Elizabeth Costello’s intrusive entrance, which give rise to questions such as the following. Did Paul actually die in the accident and does the account of its after-effects take place in ‘real life’ or in the afterlife? What effect does the manipulation of the text and its main character by Elizabeth have on the reading experience? Where do the borders between creator and creation lie? Between body and prosthesis? At the borders of the body itself? Between originality and the fake? And what is the significance of the hybrid identities of the characters in the text, whose diasporic nationalities defy categorizations of belonging or not belonging? In another story involving the writer Elizabeth Costello entitled ‘As a Woman Grows Older’, Coetzee has her muse on the nature of ambivalence in both life and fiction: Well, ambivalence should not disconcert her. 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 only heads or tails and nothing in between? (Coetzee 2004: 1) In addition to what could of course be read as a self-reflexive comment on Coetzee’s own narrative method, this latter comment gives pause for thought. For what can be more clearly binaristic than ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ on a coin? And how can there be anything ‘in between’? One way to visualize this dismantling of the border between opposites is to reconstruct the idea of a coin, not as an either/or but as showing ‘two sides of the same coin’ (as the Magistrate comes to realise in Waiting for the Barbarians) at the same time. This doubling or mirror image is one that undermines the certainty and equivalence of signifier– signified, and that embraces the idea of ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or’,

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

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

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

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

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

Notes 1

There is one significant change, though, to the first words of the novel. Elizabeth recites the words but uses the word ‘tumbles’ rather than ‘flies’ that appears on the first page of the book (my thanks to Zoë Wicomb for pointing this out). The implication of this is that Elizabeth’s authorship itself is being overwritten as of course it is, by J. M. Coetzee.

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Elizabeth draws the homophonic names to Paul’s attention when she tells him: ‘Her name is Marianna, as I said, with two ns. I cannot help that. It is not in my power to change names . . .’ (98). The focus on pronunciation in this novel reminds us of the orality of Coetzee’s texts which take on a life through being read aloud. Coetzee himself is, of course, a consummate performer of his own texts and, indeed, reading his own texts is the only public performance he engages in.

Works Cited Ashcroft, Bill (2001), Post-colonial Transformations. London and New York: Routledge. Bhabha, Homi(1990), ‘The third space: Interview with Homi Bhabha’, in Jonathan Rutherford (ed.), Identity, Community, Culture, Difference. London: Lawrence and Wishart. — (1994), The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge. Carter, Paul (1987), The Road to Botany Bay. London: Faber. Coetzee, J. M. (2003), Elizabeth Costello: Eight Lessons. Australia: Knopf, an imprint of Random House Australia; first pub. in the UK by Secker & Warburg 2003. — (2004), ‘As a woman grows older’, New York Review of Books, 51, (1) (January 15 2004). Available at: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/16872 — (2005), Slow Man. Australia: Knopf, an imprint of Random House Australia; first pub. in the UK by Secker & Warburg 2005. Derrida, Jacques (1991), ‘Living on: Border lines’, in Peggy Kamuf (ed.), The Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds. New York: Columbia University Press. Gordimer, Nadine (1999), ‘Living on a frontierless land: Cultural globalization’, in Nadine Gordimer, Living in Hope and History: Notes from our Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp. 207–13. Henderson, Mae G. (1994). ‘Introduction: Borders, boundaries, and frame(works)’, in Mae G. Henderson (ed.), Borders, Boundaries and Frames: Essays in Cultural Criticism and Cultural Studies. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 1–30. Schimanski, Johan, and Stephen Wolfe (2004), ‘Border Poetics? A Comparative Perspective’, Tromso 11–13.11.2004: 2. Available at: http:uit.no/getfile.php?Pageid= 9778.Fileid=231. Wicomb, Zoë (2006), ‘Slow Man and the Real’, Conference Paper presented at ‘A Dialog Conference on J. M. Coetzee’ held at Universität Salzburg 22–24 June 2006.

Chapter 6

Sex, Comedy and Influence: Coetzee’s Beckett Derek Attridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Beckett’s, in spite of the evident importance of Beckett in Coetzee’s development as a writer, it may be because the shadow of those demands falls on every sentence.

Notes

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5

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7

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9

10 11

I would like to thank Asja Szafraniec for helpful comments on an earlier version of this essay. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, Pelican Freud Library 6, ed. Angela Richards (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976), 286. Jokes 293–301. Freud’s examples include ‘gallows humour’, as when the criminal on his way to execution on a Monday says, ‘Well, this week’s beginning nicely’ (294). Freud revisited the question of humorous pleasure in a short paper written in 1927 (‘Humour’, Art and Literature : Pelican Freud Library 14, ed. Albert Dickson (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), 425–33). In his MA thesis on Ford Madox Ford, Coetzee cites Ford’s suggestion that the prose writer ‘should seek le mot juste as long as le mot is not too juste, too surprising’ (‘The Works of Ford Madox Ford’, University of Cape Town, 1963, Appendix B.11). Coetzee’s own practice here clearly contradicts Ford’s dictum. Coetzee remarks elsewhere that he had read Waiting for Godot in the 1950s (Doubling the Point, ed. David Attwell (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), 20); this would have been in his teens. During his stay in London, he also bought and read Octavio Paz’s collection of Mexican poetry, which was translated (with assistance) by Beckett; see ‘Homage’ (Threepenny Review, No. 53, Spring 1993: 5–7), 5. Coetzee’s MA thesis is a lengthy survey of Ford’s vast creative output, with the highest praise reserved for the ‘technical triumph’ of The Good Soldier, in which Ford’s use of an untrustworthy narrator is described as a ‘stroke of genius’ (5.24–5). ‘Beckett and the Temptations of Style’, Doubling, 46. Deleuze discusses these exhaustive and exhausting catalogues of possibilities in ‘L’épuisé’, published as an appendix to Beckett’s Quad (Paris: Minuit, 1992), 55–106. Three essays derived from the dissertation were reprinted in Doubling the Point: ‘The Comedy of Point of View in Beckett’s Murphy’ (1970), ‘The Manuscript Revisions of Beckett’s Watt’ (1972) (reprinted only in part), and ‘Samuel Beckett and the Temptations of Style’ (1973). In 1973 he also published a new essay, ‘Samuel Beckett’s Lessness: An Exercise in Decomposition’, Computers and the Humanities 7.4 (1972–73): 195–8. These pieces do not have the sceptical view of their own methodology that marks the conclusion of the dissertation. Coetzee agrees with Richard Begam that Kafka and Beckett are ‘writers of the ordinary’ (‘Interview’, Contemporary Literature 33 (1992): 419–31), 421. See David Attwell, J. M. Coetzee: South Africa and the Politics of Writing (Berkeley: University of California Press; Cape Town: David Philip, 1993). Philosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology 10.2 (2003): 133–4. Threepenny Review 53 (Spring 1993): 5–7.

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J. M. Coetzee in Context and Theory ‘Nabokov’s Pale Fire and the Primacy of Art’, UCT Studies in English 5 (1974): 1–7; Review of Deirdre Bair, Samuel Beckett: A Biography, UCT Studies in English 9 (1979): 86–9. Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000–2005 (London: Harvill Secker, 2007), 169–73; Knowlson, James and Elizabeth, eds. Beckett Remembering/Beckett Remembered (London: Bloomsbury, 2006); ‘Eight ways of Looking at Samuel Beckett,’ Borderless Beckett/ Beckett sans frontiers, ed. Minako Okamuro et al. (Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi). Another follower of Beckett is John Banville; here, for instance, is the narrator of Birchwood: For example, the vagina I had imagined as a nice neat hole, situated at the front, rather like a second navel, but less murky, a bright sun to the navel’s surly moon. Judge then of my surprise and some fright when, in the evening wood, tumbling with Rosie through the lush wet grass, I fingered her furry damp secret and found not so much a hole as a wound, underneath, uncomfortably close to that other baleful orifice. (London: Picador (1998), 13)

15

16

17 18

19

20

Of course, Banville doesn’t completely extirpate the erotic as Beckett (and Coetzee’s Dawn) do; the conventions of romantic sex are present in phrases like ‘evening wood’, ‘tumbling with Rosie’, ‘lush wet grass’ and ‘damp secret’. In a later sexual encounter, there is a reference to ‘that lugubrious puce stalk, my faintly pulsating blunt sword of honour, sticking out of my trousers’ (131): this could hardly be more Beckettian in its aneroticism. Manstupration is in fact an archaic French term for masturbation; the English equivalent (which is perhaps what Beckett was thinking of) is manustupration. Essays on Coetzee and Beckett include Paul A. Cantor, ‘Happy Days in the Veld: Beckett and Coetzee’s In the Heart of the Country’, South Atlantic Quarterly 93 (1994): 83–110; Gilbert Yeoh, ‘J. M. Coetzee and Samuel Beckett: Nothingness, minimalism and indeterminacy’, Ariel 31.4 (2000): 117–37 and ‘J. M. Coetzee and Samuel Beckett: Ethics, truth-telling, and self-deception’, Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 44. 4 (2003): 331–48; Chapter 4, ‘Coetzee Reads Beckett’, of Steven G. Kellman, The Translingual Imagination (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000); and Peter Boxall, ‘Since Beckett’, Textual Practice 20.2 (2006): 301–17. ‘A Frog’s Life’, London Review of Books, 25.20 (October 2003): 23. Is it significant that Coetzee’s first-person narrator’s name continues Beckett’s series of M’s? (It is followed, we might note, by the Magistrate, the Medical Officer, and – albeit not a first-person narrator – Michael K.) Many of Banville’s first-person narrators, too, have names beginning with M. In the fictional narrative of Diary of a Bad Year, the erotic is omnipresent, but there is no sexual activity; and the central character, although he is a 72-year-old writer suffering from increasing decrepitude and thoughts of death, is not a Beckettian figure, in spite of one or two highly Beckettian phrasings in his first-person narrative. For a reading of Disgrace which does ample justice to the novel’s comic elements, see Patrick Hayes, ‘Byron, Stavroguine, Lurie: Comique et gravité dans Disgrace’, J. M. Coetzee et la littérature européenne: Écrire contre la barbarie, ed. Jean-Paul Engélibert (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2007), 135–47.

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In the final paragraph of his dissertation, Coetzee mentions that Watt was written in France between 1941 and 1944, and in a later piece reprinted in Doubling the Point, ‘Remembering Texas’ (1984), he describes the manuscripts as having been written ‘on a farm in the south France, hiding out from the Germans’ (51). Attwell, in J. M. Coetzee (10), suggests that the dissertation’s close indicates Coetzee’s interest in the consequences of historical rootedness, something his novels will explore fully.

Works Cited Attwell, David (1993), J. M. Coetzee: South Africa and the Politics of Writing. Berkeley: University of California Press; Cape Town: David Philip. Banville, John (1998), Birchwood. London: Picador. Beckett, S. (1979), The Beckett Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnameable. London: Macmillan. — (1988), Watt. London: Picador. Boxall, Peter (2006), ‘Since Beckett’, Textual Practice, 20. 2, 301–317. Cantor, Paul A. (1994), ‘Happy Days in the Veld: Beckett and Coetzee’s In the Heart of the Country’, South Atlantic Quarterly, 93, 83–110. Coetzee, J. M. (1963), The Works of Ford Madox Ford. University of Cape Town: [MA Thesis] — (1969), The English Fiction of Samuel Beckett: An Essay in Stylistic Analysis University of Texas. [PhD Thesis] — (1972–3), ‘Samuel Beckett’s Lessness: An Exercise in Decomposition’, Computers and the Humanities, 7. 4, 195–198. — (1974), ‘Nabokov’s Pale Fire and the Primacy of Art’, UCT Studies in English, 5, 1–7. — (1977), In the Heart of the Country. London: Secker & Warburg. — (1979), ‘Review of Deirdre Bair, Samuel Beckett: A Biography’, UCT Studies in English, 9, 86–89. — (1980), Waiting for the Barbarians. London: Secker & Warburg. — (1982), Dusklands. London: Secker & Warburg. — (1992), Doubling the Point (ed. David Attwell). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. — (1992), ‘Interview’ with Richard Begam, Contemporary Literature, 33, 419–431. — (1993), ‘Homage’, Threepenny Review, 53, 5–7. — (1994), The Master of Petersburg. London: Secker & Warburg. — (1997), Boyhood. London: Secker & Warburg. — (1999), Disgrace. London: Secker & Warburg — (2002), Youth. London: Secker & Warburg. — (2003), ‘Fictional Beings’, Philosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology, 10. 2, 133–134. — (2005), Slow Man. London: Secker & Warburg. — (2006), ‘J. M. Coetzee’, in J. and E. Knowlson (eds.), Beckett Remembering/Beckett Remembered. London: Bloomsbury, 74–76. — (2007a), Diary of a Bad Year. London: Harvill Secker. — (2007b), Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000–2005. London: Harvill Secker.

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

Chapter 7

Writing Desire Responsibly Rosemary Jolly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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despite the remarkable number of perverse desires his fiction describes and, if we follow in the way of Elizabeth Costello’s reflections on West’s book, thereby enacts. In exploring devious desire, desire that does not and cannot know itself, in Coetzee’s fiction, I am limited by the strategic silences that prevent the author from betraying too much. Elizabeth Costello presents us with a correlative of these constructed silences in the blindness she manufactures to obscure her desire from Paul Rayment. She covers his eyes in a mixture of flour paste, so that he cannot see the substitute Marianna she provides for him to have sexual intercourse with in the place of the unattainable Marijana. She makes the substitution because she believes that Marianna is an appropriate and realizable vehicle for Rayment’s passion; Marijana is not. Whether one thinks that Costello, author, has indeed procured the mysterious blind woman from the elevator for Paul Rayment’s enjoyment, or whether Costello has somehow, impossibly, substituted herself, is a moot point. The encounter between, on the one hand, the author, wilfully blind to her character’s desire in her attempts to seduce him into her idea of who he ‘should’ be and who he ‘should’ desire, and on the other, the character, wilfully blind to the author’s desires for him, delightfully obstructive of them, forms a veritable parody of devious desire as the muse of fiction. Under the circumstances, one prefers not to speculate as to the nature of the desire, devious – perverse, even -- as it may well be, that drives the critic’s will to write.

Notes 1

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The pre-eminent figure of such embodiment can be found in Coetzee’s Foe (1986). Friday, in the final paragraph of the novel, is rendered by the unnamed narrator as one who lives in a place that is ‘not a place of words’ but ‘the home of Friday’ (157), where Friday’s corporeal being, although immediately inaccessible to the narrator precisely because the narrator’s world is that of words, is nevertheless substantial. Here bodies are not signs of metaphysical otherness; here ‘bodies are their own signs’ (157). In other words, the body, albeit rendered in words, does not stand, here, for a construct other than the body. For a reading of Dusklands as an analysis of relations between despotic mythmakers and disempowered ‘readers’ see Jolly 1996, pp 110–37. For a reading of Magda as part and parcel of Coetzee’s parody of the plaasroman in In the Heart of the Country, see Dovey (1988). Coetzee himself describes the features of the plaasroman he parodies in White Writing (1988). This is the first instance in which Coetzee narrates a rape from the perspective of the woman. In Elizabeth Costello he has the eponymous character describe her rape; I shall reference this narrative in the conclusion of my reading. In keeping with Magda’s mode of narration, the rape is told a number of times, so that the rape is anticipated by the reader in each repetition, creating an effect of inevitability and endlessness.

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This unfulfilled desire is represented by Magda’s description of herself as ‘a zero, null, a vacuum’ (1977b: 2); and as ‘a hole with a body draped around it’ (1977b: 41). Graham (2006) citing Attwell in Doubling the Point (Coetzee 1992), remarks on what Attwell calls Coetzee’s interest in ‘a poetics of failure’ (Coetzee 1992: 86), highlighting the poetics of failed reciprocity that attend upon both Coetzee’s reading of Achterberg’s ‘Ballade van de Gasfitter’ (Coetzee 1977a) and In the Heart of the Country, both published in 1977. For a discussion of the implicit censorship or silencing of particular subjects considered ‘inappropriate’ for fictional representation until the liberation of South Africa from apartheid had been accomplished, see Brink 1998 and Tlali 1998. For a brief rehearsal of the acidity with which Disgrace was received precisely because it does not represent the liberated South Africa as hero, see Jolly 2006a. See my argument against Michael Marais’ reading of Disgrace in Jolly 2006a. This argument counters two articles of Marais’ on Disgrace (see Marais’ 2000a and 2000b). See, for example, Head 2006 and Boehmer 2006. Note that this is, in fact, the core of Coetzee’s critique of the conservative relations between the censor and censored writer in Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship. Marianne’s name is, of course, very close to that of the addressee of Paul Rayment’s passion, Marijana who, like the youth Coetzee’s cousin, is also ‘out of bounds’, not least because she is married. In this respect, Dostoevsky’s imagining without bounds, his freedom to write, is specifically related to the perverse capacity to envision Matryona ‘in her ecstasy’ (Coetzee 1994: 76). Attwell, citing Coetzee’s work on Erasmus’ The Praise of Folly, highlights the fact that Coetzee analyses the nature of the author-ity proposed in Erasmus, relating it to ‘ek-stasis’. ‘What is unique about Folly’s mode of truth is its positionality,’ says Attwell (2006: 35): the truth is spoken by a character least presumed to be able to speak the truth. As such, ‘Folly’s truth entails “a kind of ek-stasis, a being outside of oneself, being beside oneself, a state in which truth is known (and spoken) from a position that does not know itself to be in the position of truth”’ (Coetzee 1996: 94 cited in Attwell 2006: 35). See Jolly 2006b.

Works Cited Attridge, Derek (2004), J. M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event. Chicago: Chicago UP. Attwell, David (2006) ‘The life and times of Elizabeth Costello: J. M. Coetzee and the public sphere’, in Jane Poyner (ed.), J. M. Coetzee and the Idea of the Public Intellectual. Athens, Ohio: Ohio UP, pp. 25–41. Boehmer, Elleke (2006), ‘Sorry, sorrier, sorriest: The Gendering of Contrition in J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace’, in Jane Poyner (ed.), J. M. Coetzee and the Idea of the Public Intellectual. Athens, Ohio: Ohio UP, pp. 135–47. Brink, André (1983), Mapmakers: Writing in a State of Siege. London: Faber and Faber.

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

Chapter 8

Literature, History and Folly Patrick Hayes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes 1

‘Reading a work of literature entails opening oneself to the unpredictable, the future, the other, and thereby accepting the responsibility laid upon one by the work’s singularity and difference . . . In a sense, the ‘literary’ is the ethical.’ Derek Attridge, J. M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading (Chicago, 2004) 111.

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2

‘Erasmus: Madness and Rivalry’, Giving Offense (Chicago, 1996) 83–103. Coetzee did not wish ‘The Novel Today’ to be reprinted in Doubling the Point, the 1992 collection of his literary-critical work. 3 Cervantes was later to write a parody of the genre, Dialogue of the Dogs, literalizing this metaphor by featuring two dogs as picaros, worrying about whether the fact of their ‘dogness’ was affecting their good judgement of the social scene they observed. 4 There are repeated references to Alonso Quixano’s regret that he occupies an ‘age of iron’: see especially 77, 142, 151, 481. 5 Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere 43–57. 6 Stephen Gilman argues for the importance of Sancho within Cervantes’s design, as ‘a sort of human buffer state between his master and the stony implacability of what was out there in the world’ (91–3). See also Auerbach’s account of Sancho in Mimesis (2003): ‘Sancho is his consolation and his direct opposite, his creature and yet an independent fellow being who holds out against him and prevents his madness from locking him up as thought in solitary confinement’ (353).

Works Cited Attridge, Derek (2004), J. M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Auerbach, Erich (2003), Mimesis. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Cervantes, Miguel de (1994), Don Quixote. Trans. Charles Jarvis. Oxford: OUP. Coetzee, J. M. (1988), ‘The novel today’, Upstream, 6, (1), 2–5. —(1990, 1998), Age of Iron. London: Secker & Warburg, 1990. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1998. —(1992), Doubling the Point. Ed. David Attwell. Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press. —(1996), Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Gilman, Stephen (1989), The Novel According to Cervantes. Berkeley: University of California Press. Habermas, Jürgen (1989), The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Trans. Thomas Burger with the assistance of Frederick Lawrence. Cambridge: Polity Press. Kundera, Milan (1988), The Art of the Novel. London: Faber & Faber. Perry, Ruth (1980), Women, Letters and the Novel. New York: AMS Press. Richardson, Samuel (1999), Pamela. Oxford: OUP.

Chapter 9

Queer Bodies Elleke Boehmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 10

Eating (Dis)Order: From Metaphoric Cannibalism to Cannibalistic Metaphors Kyoko Yoshida

My subjectivity has always been antagonized by its being in English . . . the mirror in which the cannibal of the language might glimpse himself. —John Mateer, ‘The Holy Spirit of Elsewhere’

Bodies That Eat In J. M. Coetzee’s fiction, bodies that eat are often depicted as something awkward and troublesome. Table scenes are often the stage of conflicts and dilemmas. Coetzee’s fiction treats the imagery of eating with caution and discomfort. This chapter will examine how eating has been a central issue in Coetzee’s fiction well before it became explicit in The Lives of Animals (1999) and Elizabeth Costello (2003). In this chapter, I focus on recurring images of eating in Coetzee’s fiction and explore ethical anxiety and semantic dilemma in relation to Coetzee’s figurative language – how the paradoxical metaphors work hand in hand with the conundrum of eating.

Metaphor of Incorporation Maggie Kilgour, in From Communion to Cannibalism (1990), analyses Western classics from Homer to Melville, paying special attention to the imagery of Communion and cannibalism, and argues that the textual imagery of eating reads as a metaphor of incorporation (absorption, assimilation, integration, embodiment) – in other words, as a model of encounter between inside and outside, between individuals and the world outside. Like food, the metaphor of

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

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

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

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like of which he could never have heard before’ (96). When Barton fantasizes about Friday, images of male and female sexuality are inverted as if to reflect Barton’s phallic desire to penetrate Friday, when, for example, she likens ‘Friday’s story’ to ‘buttonhole, carefully cross-stitched around, but empty, waiting for the button’ (121). According to James McCorkle (2000), the cannibals in this novel are Barton and Foe. The two in pursuit of their own versions of the island narrative may be well aware of their inability to discover the true story of the island, but that does not obstruct their writing, for through writing, producing texts, narrating stories, and embracing Others as readers, they establish their identity, which ultimately leads to their salvation (496). Barton wants Foe to author an island story, but she also insists on her own authority to tell her version of the story. Barton is possessed by seemingly conflicting desires, and that is why she calls herself both Foe’s muse and vampire (Coetzee 139; McCorkle 496). McCorkle points out that the scene in which the two make love the first time – while discussing bloodsucking and the relationship between muse and poet – reflects the psychology of endocannibalism whose purpose is to suck vitality and knowledge from other members of society (496). Anthropologist Peggy Sanday (1986) observes that in endocannibalism, ‘human flesh is a physical channel for communicating social value and procreative fertility from one generation to the next [. . .]. Endocannibalism recycles and regenerates social forces that are believed to be physically constituted in bodily substances or bones at the same time that it binds the living to the dead in perpetuity’ (7). In general, ‘the passing of tradition through graphesis’ takes over endocannibalism: the practice of endocannibalism becomes a displaced ritual or metaphor (McCorkle 497). What passes between muse and poet and between writer and reader takes over actual consumption of flesh. Barton and Foe’s case is situated in the blurred zone between hematophagia and literature. They both produce poetic text while sucking each other’s blood. In this relationship behind the artistic creation, anthropophagia serves as a metaphor for writing, and vice versa.

Metaphoric Cannibalism While Dusklands (1974) and Foe concern cannibalism explicitly, similar eating situations permeate Coetzee’s other books. The common logic here depends on problematic identities of self and other, equivalence of food and word, of eating and writing, and the reciprocal act of eating. Life & Times of Michael K (1998) could be defined as a story about one man’s sustenance. The text maintains detailed descriptions of K’s meals: K undergoes changes of diet from the omnivorous to the frugivorous, and then to selfstarvation. Initially, K eats whatever he can put his hand on, but as he hides in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited Camus, Albert (2000 [1942]), The Outsider. (L’Etranger. 1942.) Trans. by Joseph Laredo. London: Penguin.

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

Chapter 11

Acts of Mourning Russell Samolsky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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honouring of the corpses finally meet up. Unlike the guard dogs, the lame dog has little power and is of little use. However, the dog gestures towards an art (or is perhaps already an artist) that is beyond calculation, that holds itself open to the approach of the other as other, and that listens to the trace of the nonhuman other. It gestures to an art that, even as it succumbs to sacrifice, urges us to sacrifice sacrifice, and here surely, to give a different sense to my question, the animal is not outside the ambit of ethical responsibility. I want to close by drawing an ethical allegory between the return of the charred corpses of the dogs and the return of the disinterred bones of the tortured ANC fighters exhumed from unmarked burial sites on state torture farms by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Apartheid’s project was one of lösung, after all, and the interdiction of mourning. Refusing lösung, the dogs’ return offers David what I would like to call here the gift of mourning. In Specters of Marx, Derrida speaks with some disapproval of ontologizing remains as one of the tasks of mourning. The work of mourning, he remarks, ‘consists always in attempting to ontologize remains, to make them present, in the first place by identifying the bodily remains and by localizing the dead’ (Derrida 1994: 9). The work of mourning requires that the object of mourning be fixed and that it stay in place, but like the dogs that refuse the consuming fires of extinction, the bones of the tortured return not spectralized but cryptically incorporated in the collective consciousness of the new South Africa. They return, that is, in defiance of what must always go unmourned, apartheid’s totalitarian project of the interdiction of mourning.

Notes 1 2

3

This question has also been addressed by Rita Barnard (2003: 202). For a different treatment of the question of sacrificial responsibility, see Lucy Graham (2002). For an article that is much more circumspect about the possibility of entering the dog into the opera, see Louis Tremaine (2003: 603–4).

Works Cited Attridge, Derek (2004), J. M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Barnard, Rita (2003), ‘J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and the South African pastoral’, Contemporary Literature, 44, 2, 199–224. Coetzee, J. M. (1999a), Disgrace. New York: Penguin Books. — (1999b), The Lives of Animals. Ed. Amy Gutmann. Princeton: Princeton UP. — (2001), Stranger Shores: Literary Essays, 1986–1999. New York: Viking.

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

Chapter 12

Sublime Abjection Mark Mathuray

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

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

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

Ab/Re-jecting the Sublime Drawing from the Kantian formulation of the sublime, Thomas Weiskel identifies, heuristically, three phases of the ‘mental movement’ involved in the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ized body of the historical other (and the ‘mysteries’ of the literary text itself). However, the sublime moment in Foe generates neither an ethical relation (to the historical other), nor a political vision. Precariously balanced at the limit, the text (and Barton) can only turn on and return to itself.

Notes 1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

For examples of these positions, see Splendore 1988, 59; Bishop 1990, 54; Marais 1996, 73; Macaskill and Colleran 1992, 446. Coetzee characterizes the defining feature of ‘white writing’ i.e. the literature of a people that are not quite European and not quite African, as a ‘literature of empty landscape [. . .] [which] is thus a literature of failure, of the failure of historical imagination’ (Coetzee, White Writing, 1988: 9). Kwaku Larbi Korang agrees, regarding Coetzee’s disfiguring and disabling of Friday as a locking into place of blackness, a hedging in that underwrites a ‘quasiessentialist interpretation of race and culture’ (Korang 1998: 193). ‘Like Coetzee’s earlier fiction’, Pechey argues, The Master of Petersburg ‘concentrates – only then to displace away from itself – a force of sublime dissonance’ (Pechey 1998: 71). The principal subjective dimension of the stalled sublime is alienation – the metaphysical homelessness of the modern subject and the solitary individual estranged from history are its correlatives. In In the Heart of the Country, Magda agonizes that: ‘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’ (Coetzee 1977: 10). The medical officer writes of Michael K as a ‘soul untouched by history’ (Coetzee 1985: 207). Susan Barton, in a flash of acute self-awareness, conjoins her eternal homelessness and her desire for redemption: ‘When I was on the island I longed only to be elsewhere, or, in the words I then used, to be saved’ (Coetzee 1987: 51). As identification with the historical other is often thwarted in Coetzee’s novels, their discursive strategy operates outside a structuralist model which relies on relation for meaning. Also, poststructuralist approaches that celebrate the playfulness of the text and the joy in the infinite deferral of meaning seem far removed from the anguish produced by the lack of meaning or connection in Coetzee’s characters. In White Writing, Coetzee relies heavily on Weiskel’s account of the sublime for his discussion of the absence of this aesthetic category in nineteenth-century South African poetry (see Coetzee 1988: 55–60). There are multiple registers in which Kristeva scores abjection. At times, the abject refers to the subject experiencing the breakdown (of meaning, identity, order). At others, abjection refers to the defiled object/other, which for Kristeva is a non-object, a non-other as abjection operates outside the logic of desire or representation (Kristeva 1982: 65). Yet at still other times, she relates abjection to the occasion, the impersonal moment that disturbs identity, order etc. See V. W. Turner’s The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure, 1969, 95–7.

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11 12

13

14 15

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The other two phases are the pre-liminal phase, in which the initiate is fully integrated into socially structural relations, and the post-liminal phase, in which s/he is re-integrated into a more advanced level in the social structure. The structure of rites of passage replicates that of the epic narrative. In Waiting for the Barbarians, however, the discourse of defilement and purification operates at the limits/boundaries of state power – at the frontier of the colony and in the torture chamber. Coetzee suggests that the torture chamber ‘provide[s] a metaphor, bare and extreme, for relations between authoritarianism and its victims’ (Coetzee, Doubling the Point, 1992: 363). For the Magistrate, the violence perpetrated in the torture cell sacralises the space and when he enters it, he wonders if he is ‘trespassing [. . .] on what has become holy or unholy ground’ (Coetzee 1982: 6). By perpetrating the most violent of rituals, torture, Colonel Joll, in the eyes of the Magistrate, becomes unclean, and, thus, the central problem in his relation to the torturer is his apparent lack of need for a rite of purification – his ability to move ‘without disquiet between the unclean and the clean’ after he has trespassed into the forbidden (12). The Magistrate asks the Colonel: ‘Do you find it easy to take food afterwards? I have imagined that one would want to wash one’s hands. But no ordinary washing would be enough, one would require priestly intervention, a ceremonial cleansing [. . .] Otherwise it would be impossible to return to everyday life’ (126). For an interesting discussion of the functioning of the sacred in Waiting for the Barbarians, see Trevor James’s ‘Locating the Sacred: J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians’. Kant, in his ‘analytic’ of the sublime, writes of the pleasure, the one half of the ambivalent sentiment generated in the sublime encounter, as ‘disinterested’ (Kant 1914: 113). There is no desire on the part of the subject to possess the object that facilitates the sublime experience. See Derrida’s ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’, 1981: 61–171. Kant’s dynamical sublime repeats at the level of the individual the importance of contesting the power of Nature. The power of the individual’s imagination replaces the enactment of ritual challenge.

Works Cited Bishop, G. Scott, (1990), ‘J. M. Coetzee’s Foe : A culmination and a solution to a problem of white identity’, World Literature Today, 64 (1), 54–47. Burke, Edmund (1998), A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and the Beautiful. London: Penguin. Coetzee, J. M. (1977), In the Heart of the Country. London: Secker and Warburg. — (1982), Waiting for the Barbarians. Harmondsworth: Penguin. — (1985), Life & Times of Michael K. Harmondsworth: Penguin. — (1987), Foe. London: Penguin. — (1988), White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa. London: Yale University Press. — (1992), Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews, David Attwell (ed). Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press.

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

Chapter 13

Authenticity: Diaries, Chronicles, Records as Index-Simulations Anne Haeming

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

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

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his inclusion of seemingly verifiable texts, including diaries, chronicles, exact sciences, physics and game theory. Coetzee’s writing questions whether humans can have authority over ontic reality. He examines this through the prominent appearance of diaries, travelwriting, letters and archive material in his work. The human being is cast as homo faber : a producer of ‘worlds’ which always refer to an existing author, initiator, cause or index. This locating as such elucidates Coetzee’s repeated emphasis on verifiable references, traces and inscriptions. In their analogous relation to the absent physical cause, I suggest that these traces are essentially messengers of authenticity.2

Diaries, Chronicles, Records Coetzee’s fictional use of seemingly verifiable references inevitably asks questions about the reliability of the ‘facts’ or, rather, the implication of facts being ultimately constructed as products of cultural performances. Coetzee’s merging of ‘fact’ and fiction reflects his own assertion that ‘[a]ll autobiography is storytelling, all writing is autobiography’(Coetzee, 1992: 391). Indeed, the textual ‘bastard’ is everywhere in his texts: journal entries, diaries, letters, travel writing. Much more overt than apparent official historical data in his writing, autobiographical accounts combine the verifiable side of historical experience with a seemingly truthful subjective perspective. Coetzee repeatedly uses these text forms and consciously includes details that underline the indexical quality of the writing. This technique acts as a simulation of collecting historical data, reflecting the objectives of the TRC. However, with these parallels, Coetzee concurrently highlights the shortcomings of these authenticity-driven attempts and, I suggest, almost anticipated what was at stake in the work of the TRC. In Foe, perhaps his most overt narrative discussion on historiography, Coetzee illustrates how the presence of an eyewitness alone is not sufficient to convey an impression of authenticity. After returning from the island, Susan Barton sets out to have an account written about her time as a shipwreck survivor.3 However, she soon discovers that there is an insurmountable gap between her own memory of this time and the version that is envisioned by Mr. Foe, the author she has elected to put her experiences down in words. More than that, Susan has to acknowledge that she has no proof of having lived on the island and has no indexical sign of her time there, except Friday who, bereft of his tongue, can tell neither her nor his own story: I brought back not a feather, not a thimbleful of sand, from Cruso’s island. All I have is my sandals. When I reflect on my story I seem to exist only as the one who came, the one who witnessed, the one who longed to be gone: a

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

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

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

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the barbarians that they should have the history of Empire laid upon them.’ (154) Instead, the Magistrate turns to oiling the slips in order that they might be buried where he found them so that others could discover them for themselves one day. The example of the Magistrate illustrates the thin line that exists between writing history and writing (auto)biography, and between historiography and mythography. These two variants are introduced as early as Dusklands, where both sections that form Coetzee’s first fictional text represent one of the two. Throughout this chapter, I have gestured towards the notion that every concept of history is framed by ideology.7 Coetzee’s works highlight the strong ‘links between colonial fictions, history, and exploitation’ (Kossew 1996: 33). Lejeune, responding to his own Autobiography in France, explores the idea of an implicit pact that exists between reader and author which underlies the reception of texts. This applies especially to those with historical allusions, which he terms ‘referential texts’ which ‘like scientific or historical discourse [. . .] claim to provide information about a ‘reality’ exterior to the text’ (Lejeune 1989: 22, original emphasis). Lejeune draws particular attention to the terms ‘referential’ and ‘verification’. These range from the referent, which is presented as verifiable, the truth and the real, but all are subsumed under the heading ‘prototype’ or ‘model’ (25). This is the ‘world-beyond-the-text’ (11) which finds its marks, images and representations in the world of the text. Appearing to fictionally respond to this idea, Coetzee plays with the expectations held by the reader about texts which are costumed as autobiography, letter, diary, chronicle, record, or archive material, thereby developing a ‘fictional pact’(Lejeune 1989: 15) based on simulation. ‘[I]s not the eighteenth-century novel composed precisely by imitating the different forms of personal literature (memoirs, letters, and, in the nineteenth century, diary)?’ (15) asks Lejeune. Indeed, Coetzee’s revival of this genre in the era of deconstruction is also recognizable among some of his fictional contemporaries.8

The Problem of Authenticity: Myth and History The notion of authenticity, as Lejeune understands it, is based on a relationship of semblance between ‘model’ and representation. Initially, the prominent status of resemblance seems to counter the emphasis put on indexical relations that I have established in this chapter. However, as I will now argue, there is sufficient justification to read the two notions in conjunction with each other. Lejeune lists two levels of resemblance between ‘model’ and sign: firstly accuracy, which is based on ‘information’; and secondly fidelity to the model, which he sees as involving ‘meaning’ directly (23). When comparing this to existing

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

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

Conclusion My readings of his fiction suggest that Coetzee is preoccupied with the human compulsion to hunt down and, lacking success, enforce authenticity. In light of the ongoing attempts to retrieve forgotten and/or repressed elements of

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South African history (as demonstrated by the panels of the Truth Commission), it seems that the craving for authenticity and verifiable stories has intensified. It is this defining impulse that Coetzee draws attention to when he writes around, against, and from the midst of the realm between intra-textual fiction and extra-fictional reality. Coetzee’s implicit appeal seems to be a truly moral plea: that it is worth stepping back from the endeavour to grasp, hold, and define that which cannot be grasped, or held, or defined. This appeal is echoed by Susan Barton in Foe as she acknowledges the arbitrariness of her colonial gesture of definition: I say Friday is a cannibal, and he becomes a cannibal; I say he is a laundryman, and he becomes a laundryman. What is the truth of Friday? [. . .] No matter what he is to himself, what he is to the world is what I make of him. (Coetzee 1987: 121–2).

Notes 1

2

3

4

5

6

7

‘From Greek authentikós, authénte¯s one acting on one’s own authority, master, perpetrator; autós self + -hénte¯s doer).’ (Barnhart 1988; 1995: 48). For more on the link between author and authenticity, see Knieper and Müller, 2003, pp. 7–9. With this construction, Coetzee manages to address the genre from two angles: on the one hand, there is Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe as prominent part of the canon; on the other is the early nineteenth-century topos of the female shipwreck as ‘an emblem of British and American nationalism’ (Miskolcze 1999: 52). The impulse to ‘see’ one’s thoughts as the product of excarnation seems to be a topic not uncommon for the indeterminate prose form called diary fiction. As Kallinis points out in regard to Kosmas Politis’ novel The Lemon Grove, the ‘frequent use of the verb “to see” when referring to memory confirms that one of his main purposes at the time of writing is to relive the past by re-seeing it’; as demonstrated by the phrase ‘To see my thoughts laid out on paper’ (Kallinis 1997: 59). Excarnation, as noted above, is used as introduced by Assmann, 1993, pp. 133–55. Kirby, with reference to Adrienne Rich, elaborates on the interrelationships between the proper name as the address of the space of one’s body and the ever larger circles of geographical location. While passing over Kirby’s profound critique of Rich’s arguments, it seems nevertheless reasonable to point out her conception of the different versions of address as ‘locating the subject in discursive and ideological structures’. In the end, hence, she argues for language as stuck knee-deep in the spatial ideology of power structures (Kirby 1996: 27). The author himself comments on this topic in an interview: ‘The numbers don’t point anywhere’ (Coetzee 1997: 90). Philippe Lejeune puts this in explicit words: Lejeune, 1989, p. 24.

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9

10

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Other well-known examples of this text form are V. S. Naipaul’s A Way in the World, Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, or Coming Through Slaughter, Michael Roes’ Haut des Südens, and especially many decidedly feminist writers such as Jeanette Winterson (Written on the Body), Carol Shields (The Stone Diaries) or Daphne Marlatt (Ana Historic), to name just a few of an extensive list. The second part’s title page, as well as the following three, including the Flaubert epigraph inserted on what would be page 53, are not paginated. This is the first page of the second part with a page number.

Works Cited Abbott, H. Porter (1984), Diary Fiction: Writing as Action. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Assmann, Aleida (1993), ‘Exkarnation: Gedanken zur Grenze zwischen Körper und Schrift’, in Jörg Huber and Alois Martin Müller (eds), Raum und Verfahren, Interventionen 2. Frankfurt a M., Basel: Stroemfeld/Roter Stern, 133–55. Barnhart, Robert K. (1988; 1995), The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology: The Origins of American English Words. New York: Harper Collins. Coetzee, J. M. (1974), Dusklands. London: Penguin. — (1980), Waiting for the Barbarians. London: Penguin. — (1983), Life and Times of Michael K. Harmondsworth: Penguin. — (1987), Foe. London: Penguin. — (1992), Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews, David Attwell (ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP. — (Spring/Summer 1997), ‘Voice and trajectory: An interview with J. M. Coetzee’, Joanna Scott, Salmagundi, 114/115, 82–102. — (1999), In the Heart of the Country. London: Random House. Collingwood-Whittick, Sheila (Spring 1996), ‘J. M. Coetzee’s Dusklands: Colonialist Myth as History’, Commonwealth, 18, (2), 75–89. www.doj.gov.za/trc/legal/bill.htm, 20th April 2008. Derrida, Jacques (1998), ‘Monolingualism of the Other: or, -the Prosthesis of Origin’, in Mieke Bal and Hent de Vries (eds), Cultural Memory in the Present. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP. During, Simon (1990), ‘Literature – nationalism’s other?: The case for revision’, in Homi K. Bhabha (ed.), Nation and Narration. London: Routledge, pp. 138–53. Kallinis, George (1997), ‘Λεηονοδα′ σος: Diary novel or diary fiction?’, Journal of Modern Greek Studies, 15, 55–66. Kirby, Kathleen M. (1996), Indifferent Boundaries: Spatial Concepts of Human Subjectivity. New York: Guilford Press. Knieper, Thomas, Marion G. Müller, (2003), ‘Vorwort’, in Thomas Knieper, Marion G. Müller (eds), Authentizität und Inszenierung von Bilderwelten. Köln: Halem, pp. 7–9. Kossew, Sue (1996), Pen and Power: A Post-Colonial Reading of J. M. Coetzee and André Brink, Cross/Cultures 27. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

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

Chapter 14

Disrupting Inauthentic Readings: Coetzee’s Strategies Katy Iddiols

Interpretation is a notoriously difficult concept to pin down and discuss in a theoretical discourse.1 However, in this chapter, I will not focus fundamentally on theories of the concept itself, but instead consider how Coetzee uses interpretation as a device in his writing in order to illuminate it (and other related issues) more effectively and from a more fruitful perspective than can be gained from the more traditional medium of philosophy. It is my suggestion that this practical (rather than theoretical) exploration allows for a much more convincing, productive and revealing examination of the dangers of interpretation (or, in the terms of this chapter, inauthentic reading). I am, of course, painfully aware of the irony of writing an academic chapter about the reductive dangers of interpretation as this project will inevitably require extended critical commentary, argument and acts of interpretation (on some level, at least). However, while the potential for falling into the trap of oppressive, reductive readings is a risk, this hazard cannot be avoided. As I begin this chapter, I emphasize my resolve to try to evade this quandary by resolutely responding to and conserving the voice of the texts themselves. Additionally, by avoiding the weight wielded by past theoretical considerations of the themes within this chapter, I seek to avoid speaking over the issues that it considers by keeping Coetzee as this chapter’s central theorist and author.

Reading Inauthentically: How, Why and At What Cost? Rather than leave his fiction open to attempts at hermeneutic mastery, I will illustrate how Coetzee’s writing tries to avoid the injury that can be inflicted on texts by inauthentic reading. In this chapter, I will explore what it means for us, as his audience, to read inauthentically before arguing that this type of reading can have harmful consequences. I suggest that when we read inauthentically, we privilege a different version of the text over the originality of the text itself. For

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

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

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

Coetzee’s Alternative: Reading Authentically In order to demonstrate Coetzee’s protective strategies, I will first establish a definition of the process of reading authentically. In the opening section of this chapter, I suggested that inauthentic reading occurs when more weight or authority is given to a secondary opinion, reading or response than to the primary text itself. With this in mind, then, I suggest that an authentic reading seeks to give its attention back to the text with all its originality and distinctiveness. This type of response also demands that readers allow the original texts to speak for themselves, and do not appropriate them through singular or overpowering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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South Africa and both sons are now ageing writers), I suggest that Coetzee has textually protected himself from the oppressive consequences of such inauthentic hermeneutic attempts. As readers, we are unable to appropriate this description of the writer’s fear for his father’s possessions for our own interpretative intentions. Instead, the extract remains haunting, sad and tender, and is allowed to speak for itself without being obscured or reclaimed by overenthusiastic readers. To borrow a phrase from Michael Marais (which was originally written in relation to Foe but is similarly applicable here), I suggest that Coetzee’s deliberate confusion of his possible role as a character in the text is: . . . only one of a number of strategies in Coetzee’s work through which the text attempts, by both anticipating and politicising the interpretive act, to forestall recuperation and, thus, to protect its difference from assimilation into the sameness of the reader’s interpretive community. (Marais 1996: 73) By overloading us with hermeneutic possibilities, I argue that Coetzee protects his texts from being restricted or foreclosed by one singular interpretation. By making his texts ultimately uninterpretable, Coetzee ensures a whole multiplicity of readings. The more varied attempts that are made at interpretation, the lower the risk that any one reading will be able to proclaim its mastery as the definitive meaning of the text. By showing us the impossibility of choosing any one of these interpretations over others, I argue that Coetzee undermines the validity of singular interpretations and inauthentic readings of his texts. My readings of Diary of a Bad Year illustrate a range of disruptive textual strategies which I have suggested compel Coetzee’s audience to read more authentically. In doing so, his text seeks to preserve and protect its irreducible contingencies from the injury inflicted by inauthentic readings.

Conclusion: Towards a More Authentic Way of Reading Repeatedly during his fiction, Coetzee implicates the reader with degrees of potentially oppressive power. Through his characters and his novels, we are constantly made aware of the harm that can be inflicted through singular interpretations. Throughout his oeuvre, we have seen a wide range of interpretative projects attempted with differing degrees of commitment and intention. These range from Eugene Dawn’s deliberate cruelty in his oppressive rewriting of the Vietcong in Dusklands, to Susan Barton’s misguided and selfish attempts to interpret the ‘secret’ of Friday in Foe. However, Coetzee never shows us the success or benefits of any of these attempts to interpret, leaving us to draw our own gloomy conclusions. Through their attempts at interpretation, his characters repeatedly abuse, exploit or just get it wrong. With them in mind, it would be

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understandable to conclude this chapter with a somewhat pessimistic suggestion of the impossibility of responsible interpretation. Should we, as readers of Coetzee (who have already had our job complicated by his refusal to offer his texts to us without a hermeneutic fight), translate the unrelenting failure of interpretation in his fiction as a textual warning to us all? Rather than being injured by the oppressive, reductive type of reading that his characters regularly fall victim to, I suggest that Coetzee instead encourages a response from his readers that declines to speak over the text, and is instead determined to recognize and preserve its multiplicities and contingencies. As Attridge asserts, ‘[Coetzee’s] novels demand, and deserve, responses that do not claim to tell their truths, but ones that participate in their inventive openings’ (Attridge 2006: 79). Coetzee refuses to allow his fiction to be reduced to inauthentic, singular interpretations by making it virtually impossible to be read and appropriated in this way. Instead, he repeatedly uses these kinds of strategies to complicate and disrupt our hermeneutic attempts, causing us, as readers, to rethink the ethics of interpretation. This challenge also implicitly encourages us to reconsider existing theories concerning the processes and the consequences of interpretation. In this chapter, I examined some of these different devices used by Coetzee in Diary of a Bad Year in order to suggest that he uses these techniques in his fiction to protect it from the injury caused by inauthentic readings. Through the text’s resistance to singular interpretation, it also forces us to reassess the role of the reader. As a result of our reconsideration of the interpretative process that Coetzee’s fiction demands, he leads us towards a more responsible, ethical, and ultimately authentic way of reading.

Notes 1

2

3 4 5

As I begin this chapter, I fully recognize that my discussion of the processes of interpretation and hermeneutic reading are intrinsically loaded with the immense weight of philosophical history. Theoretical discourses have repeatedly approached and considered these issues under many different movements and guises. However, rather than use this chapter merely to review and summarize these existing philosophical and theoretical positions, I will instead use Coetzee as my central theorist in order to reconsider these concepts from the new positions and perspectives that his writing reveals. It should be noted briefly that while I use the term ‘singular interpretation’ to refer to restrictive and limiting readings of a text, Attridge instead uses singularity as a concept that is closely aligned with uniqueness or originality. The third band of text first appears on p. 25 (Coetzee 2007). These essays begin on p. 39 and p. 115 of Diary of a Bad Year respectively. These extracts begin on p. 157 and p. 183 of Diary of a Bad Year respectively.

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

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Index

abattoir, and concentration camp 148 abjection of character in Foe 163, 167 abused women, refusal to testify 108 accuracy, based on information, Lejeune 180 act-event of reading 26 Adorno, Theodor, Aesthetic Theory 3 adventure of literature 19 affinity of writers, during apartheid 13 African National Congress fighters’ bones 157 Africans writing for Europeans 42 ‘Afrikaaner guilt’ 13 Afrikaans, writing in 14, 15 afterlife, bad dream of 42 Age of Iron 6, 14, 22, 29, 31, 65, 102–3, 112–22, 126, 177 clown characters in 119 link with The Praise of Folly (Erasmus) 6 Aida opera and stagehand story 17–18 alterity in novels 156, 159 Althusser, Louis, interpellation 153 ambivalence 42 in life and fiction 63 American Muslims 1 animal denial of recognition of its mortality 154–5 rights 3, 41, 42 similes in Foe 164 sounds, onomatopoeic quality 164 speaking through writer 153–4 under apartheid 150 anti-heros 142 apartheid 4 and interdiction of mourning 157 and South African writers 126 victim, narrative of 13

aphasia 142 appropriation of text 187 archive material 175–9 artistic creation 101 asylum seekers, incarceration of, by Australia 67 ‘At The Gate’ 25, 29 attacks on whites and dogs 147 attraction to Hellenic bodies 131 Attridge, Derek 71–89 The Singularity of Literature 26 Australian citizenship, adoption by Coetzee 63 Australian setting for Slow Man 61 authenticity 173–97 autobiography 180 enforcement of, in fiction 181 messengers of 175 problem of 180–2 role of 7 through touchable objects 176 autobiographical narrative by Coetzee 48 autobiography and history 178–9 bad faith 1, 2 Banville, John, Birchwood 88–9 Beckett, Samuel 72–85 Coetzee’s dissertation on 48 influence on Coetzee 5, 82–7 literary ancestor of Coetzee 3 secret 74 Behr, Mark, The Smell of Apples 13 Bethlehem, Louise 20–33 Elizabeth Costello as Post-Apartheid Text 4 Bhabha, Homi 60–1 biography as referential text 174 birth from anus 124

200

Index

black slave, Friday, in Foe 162 life of animal 164 silenced 159 victimized 29–30 blood spoor 30 bodily autonomy 5 body ‘extralinguistic’ 27 South African 28 body suffering in South Africa 96, 97 Boehmer, Elleke, queer bodies 123–33 Boer War, and Afrikaner history 16 border poetics 60 border policing in Australia 67 border tropes, postcolonial use 62 boundaries 60 Boyhood: A Memoir 5, 22, 47–58, 84, 126–9, 191 boys’ legs as fetishes of desire 123–5 Breytenbach, Breyten, Dog Heart 147 Brink, André Mapmakers: Writing in a State of Siege 96 on post-apartheid literature 1–19 The Rights of Desire 17 South African novelist 4 Butler, Judith Bodies that Matter 24–5 on chain of causality 26 Byatt, A. S., possible model heroines 40 Calvinist repression 96, 101 Camus, Albert death of hen 153 The Outsider (L’Etranger) 142 cannibalistic metaphors 135–45 cannibals, in Foe 139 Cervantes, Miguel de, Don Quixote 114–23 childhood 52–3 chivalric romance 114, 115 chronicles 175–9 civil libertarians in Australia 68 Claerhout, Father, painter 17 classification of text 188 Coetzee, J. M. embodiment in a woman 133 interpretation of his texts 191 novel writing 98

oeuvre, ‘hard to grasp’ 3 texts of, multiple readings 195 works Age of Iron 6, 14, 22, 29, 31, 65, 102–3, 112–22, 126, 177 clown characters in 119 link with The Praise of Folly (Erasmus) 6 Boyhood, autobiography 3, 5, 22, 47–58, 84, 126–9, 191 boys’ legs as fetishes of desire 123–5 Diary of a Bad Year 1, 3, 7, 44, 77, 88, 191–6 Disgrace 3, 6, 12, 22, 32, 37–41, 49–54, 88, 93–6, 105, 108, 110, 126–8, 130–2, 144 gang-rape and dog slaughter 147–56 liberation of South Africa 97 sex scene descriptions 83–4 Doubling the Point 31, 47–9, 55, 74, 76, 96, 97, 110, 121, 171 Dusklands 3, 62, 63, 71, 82, 94, 96, 103, 109, 139, 177, 179, 180–1, 195 Elizabeth Costello 3, 4, 6, 14, 18–33, 36–45, 60, 63–7, 69, 85, 86, 93–4, 98–9, 103, 105, 107–9, 124–32, 135, 142, 144, 148–9, 153–4 Foe 3, 18, 109, 131, 137–9, 159–70, 175–6, 182, 186, 191, 195 Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship 100, 105, 108, 110 In The Heart of the Country 12, 14, 22, 83, 88, 95–6, 109, 170, 177, 181 Magda 95–6, 170, 181 sex scene descriptions 83 The Life & Times of Michael K 3, 22, 37, 97, 139–42, 177, 187, 191 The Lives of Animals 3, 6, 39, 41, 63, 93, 109, 132, 135, 148 The Master of Petersburg 6, 51, 76, 103–5, 107, 161, 170 The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee 62, 94, 180 Slow Man 3, 5, 32, 44, 60, 61–3, 66–9, 85, 93–4, 98–9, 103, 124–8, 132

Index Stranger Shores 147 Waiting for the Barbarians 3, 12, 18, 22, 62, 64, 83, 96, 100, 143, 171, 178, 193 White Writing 5, 51, 53, 109, 162, 163, 170 Youth 5, 48, 50, 51, 54–8, 72–6, 84, 101–2, 124–9, 191 writings on Samuel Beckett 74 Coetzee, Jacobus, need to kill 96 coherence of past 38 ‘coldness towards women’ 129 colonization, Dutch 16 colonizer and savagery 61–3 comedy, sense of 5 comments by typist of novel 192–3 Communion, ‘breaking of bread’ 143, 144 Host as sacrifice to God 143 imagery of 135 comparison of Nadine Gordimer and Coetzee 37–46 confession-essay by Coetzee 47–8 conflict in South Africa, literary response 112 controlling the text 186 corporeal desire 101 corpses, honour of 149, 150 ‘correct’ readings 189 Costello, Elizabeth as alter ego of author 40 desexed by Coetzee 131 fictional novelist, embodiment of Coetzee 130 creative process, exposure of 19, 63 Creative Writing courses 19 ‘creature-consciousness’ 165 cremation 141 criticism in literature 1 Croatian immigrants in Australian novel 68 cross-dressing 133 cryptic Lessons from novel 42 cultural hybridity 61 Curtis, Adam, The Power of Nightmares (film) 1 Dangor, Achmat, Bitter Fruit 12

201

dark experiences of Beckett and Coetzee 86 dead, obsession with 102, 103 death desire and writing 103 of dog 55 of Hitler’s assassins 106 Defoe, Daniel, Robinson Crusoe 18 Derrida, Jacques 6, 61, 156–7 Coetzee’s novel Foe 159–71 on fiction 20, 21 on mourning 148–9 ‘Psyche’ 103 descriptions of works of art as limiting 187 desire to hurt in sex 105, 107, 108 need, denial of 96, 97 responsibility and 6, 93, 94 unfulfilled, Magda character 96 writing of 93–110 desire-to-read, -to-write 104 diaries 175–9, 182 Diary of a Bad Year 3, 7, 44, 77, 88, 191–6 diary style, In the Heart of the Country 177 diary writing in Foe 176 discipline of apartheid state 28 Disgrace 3, 6, 12, 22, 32, 37–41, 49–54, 88, 93–6, 105, 108, 110, 126–8, 130–2, 144 gang-rape and dog slaughter 147–56 liberation of South Africa 97 sex scene descriptions 83–4 disgrace of dying 151, 152 Disneyland trip, video 1 disruptive textual strategies 195 dog and ethical responsibility 55, 157 ‘dog undertaker’ 150 dogs killing of 147–56 trained as enemies to black man 153 treating us like gods 156 Don Quixote (Cervantes) 6, 114, 115, 118 Dostoevsky, Fyodor 76, 104 betrayal of, by Coetzee 105 literary ancestor of Coetzee 3

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Index

Doubling the Point 31, 47–9, 55, 74, 76, 96, 97, 110, 121, 171 Dusklands 3, 62, 63, 71, 82, 94, 96, 103, 109, 139, 177, 179, 180–1, 195 Eaglestone, Robert, Introduction 1–7 eating absorption and assimilation 136 anxiety about 135 discrimination 135 metaphor 6, 145 reciprocal act 139 selection 135 Eliot, T. S. 73 Elizabeth Costello 4–6, 18–33, 36–45, 60, 63–7, 69, 85, 86, 93–4, 98–9, 103, 105, 107–9, 124–32, 135, 144, 148–9, 153–4 based on Nadine Gordimer 37 cannibalistic imagery 142 post-apartheid text 20–33 emasculation of Friday, in Foe 169 embodiment of interpretation by Coetzee 191 release from 141 ‘embodying’, novels of 130 emergency state, in South Africa 29 empathy of dogs 153 endocannibalism 139 England and South Africa, comparison 57 Engle, Lars, on parallelism in two novels 38 epistolary novel 116–19 in Age of Iron 177 Erasmus, Desiderius, The Praise of Folly 6, 110, 113, 118 escape from own background 75 ethical action 117 evil 106, 132 experience-as-enrichment 56 ‘female domain’ 14, 15 femininity in South African fiction 14, 15 fiction and seeming realism 63 speaking through 2

fictions and autobiographies 50, 51 fidelity to the model, Lejeune 180, 181 figurative language 145 Flaubert, Gustave, on importance of history 180 flight from interpretation, modern art 188 Foe 3, 18, 109, 131, 137–9, 159–70, 175–6, 182, 186, 191, 195 on cannibalism 137, 138 interpretation of Friday, black slave 186 folly 118 Ford, Ford Madox 73 foreigners and natives 68 Freud, Sigmund 71–2 ‘gallows humour’ 87 Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious 72 on mourning 148–9 Galgut, Damon, The Good Doctor 12 gender issues 3, 38 genocide 150 Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship 100, 105, 108, 110 global state power 3 globalization 60 Gordimer, Nadine 36–45 The House Gun 12 My Son’s Story 12 None to Accompany Me 12, 39, 40 grace 44 Grecian form in statues, erotic love of 123–4, 127, 129 Griqua history 16 Haeming, Anne 173–97 Haraway, Donna, Companion Species Manifesto 153 harmonization, hermeneutic 49 Hayes, Patrick 112–22 heroines, nubile, young 117 historical accounts, emergence of 177–8, 180 ‘historical guilt’ 22 historiography 180

Index history and fiction 49, 61 memory manipulation 63–6 rivalry of 112 Hitler attempted assassination 106 ‘final solution’ 148 Holocaust see Jewish Holocaust Homer’s ram 29 homoerotic feelings about legs 123–5, 127 homosexuality 128 horizonality 61 The House Gun (Gordimer) 12 human experience in South Africa 11 human rights abuses, victims 28 humanity and animality 165 humour in sex scene descriptions 77–83 Iddiols, Katy 1–7, 185–96 ‘Immorality Act’ 17 In the Heart of the Country 12, 14, 22, 83, 88, 109, 170, 177, 181 Magda 95–6, 170, 181 sex scene descriptions 83 ‘In the Penal Colony’ (Kafka) 21, 29 individual and world outside, encounters 135 individual consciousness 117 internet reach 60 internment of bodies 28 interpretation 189 of Africa 42 dangers of 191 inauthentic reading 185–97 threat-reducing 187 intertextual citation 20 Isaac’s sacrifice on Mount Moriah 151 Jeanneret, Michel, Renaissance texts 145 Jerusalem Prize Lecture 114 Jewish Holocaust 132, 148 analogy with cattle killing 143 Jolly, Rosemary 93–110 Kafka, Franz 20, 21, 24 Kafka’s ‘Law’ 21 Kant, Immanuel 161 sublime 7, 168, 169

203

Khoi missionary 16 killing of dogs 149–50 Kossew, Sue 60–71 Kristeva, Julia, Powers of Horror: An Essay in Abjection 162 Kundera, Milan, Central Europe 114 Kunstlerroman 56 Kuzwayo, Ellen, Call Me Woman 14 Ladurie, Emmanuel Le Roi, Montaillou 16 landscape of South Africa 51 Landsman, Ann, Devil’s Chimney 17 language ‘apartheid’, Afrikaans 15 awareness 18 handling by Beckett 74 marker of identity 68 sex scene descriptions 77–83 legs of boys, beauty of 123, 124–5 Lejeune, Philippe, on autobiography 174 lesbian love 126 letters, in Foe 176 Levinas, Emanuel, on subjectivity 154 The Life & Times of Michael K 3, 22, 37, 97, 139–42, 177, 187, 191 literary criticism 189–90 literary movements 2 literary persona, Elizabeth Costello 67 literature of Coetzee 173 and history, relationship 112 and the world, relationship 3 Little Karoo 17 The Lives of Animals 3, 6, 39, 41, 63, 93, 109, 132, 135, 148 Lodge, David, on Costello in Disgrace 40–1 London experience for Coetzee 56 lost civilization, traces of 178 ‘madness of reading’ (Coetzee) 26 ‘magical realism’ 16, 17 Magona, Sindiwe, Mother to Mother 12 Malan, Rian, My Traitor’s Heart 13 manstupration 82, 88 master and slave in South Africa 52 The Master of Petersburg 6, 51, 76, 103–5, 107, 161, 170

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Index

mastery fantasy 94 masturbation 88 material body, irruption-into-text 24, 25, 29 Mathuray, Mark, sublime abjection 159–71 Matshoba, Mtutuzeli, Call Me Not A Man 14 Mda, The Madonna of Excelsior 17, 18 meat eating 3, 136 meat factory 142 memory, first 54 memory manipulation 63–6 metafiction 20, 22–3, 30, 63, 180 metaphoric cannibalism 139–43 metatextuality 63 mind-body, ill-matched 77 misogyny 6, 72 misrepresentation of characters 187 models from other authors 40 Mont Blanc, Wordsworth’s encounter with 49–50 moral arguments 2 mother, relationship with 52, 54 mourning 6 acts of 147–57 mouth functions 136 multiple responses provoked in Coetzee’s fiction 188 mutilation of bodies 28 tongue of black slave 162 My Son’s Story (Gordimer) 12 myth as disavowal of history 161 mythography 177, 180 Nabokov, Vladimir, literary radicalism 75 narrative controller 67 The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee 62, 94, 180 narrative voice 18, 191 national cultures, redefinition 60–1 national identity 68 and ‘third space’ 61 nature poetry, South African 51 Ndebele, Njabulo, The Cry of Winnie Mandela 14, 16

need, ‘threat’ of 96 Nobel Prize J. M. Coetzee 23 Nadine Gordimer 38 None to Accompany Me (Gordimer) 12, 39, 40 novel ‘wanting-to-write’, Coetzee 97, 98, 101 and history, rivalry 118, 119 novel protagonist as its critic 159–60 Odyssey, identification with ram 25 Oedipus, on happiness 94 old age, in Beckett and Coetzee characters 77 opera, voice of dog in it 155–6 oppressed, speaking for 159 originality of text, preservation of 189–90 ostrich feather boom 17 parallelism in two novels 38 Paul Rayment, novel protagonist 63–5 Pechey, Graham, on ‘postapartheid sublime’ 161 performance of South African writers 42 philistinism 187 picaresque romance 114–15 pigeonholing of text 188 poetical development of Wordsworth, Prelude 49–50 political experience in South Africa 11 pornography and abuse of women 99 post-apartheid South African literature 4, 11, 23 post-apartheid text 20–33 postcolonial novelists 2 ‘witnessing their society’ 174 postcolonial readings of Foe 159 post-modernism 1–3 Pound, Ezra 73, 75 power in silence 160 power of readers 190 Dusklands and Foe 195 power relations 14 Prelude (Wordsworth) 49, 52 ‘project of demystification’, Coetzee 180

Index prose versus poetry 57 psychopathic violence 147 queer love 6, 126–9 queerness of Coetzee 131, 133 racial differences 165 rape 94, 95, 109 as intercourse in Coetzee 105 shame of 108 Rayment as ‘raiment’ dress or clothing 63 as ‘vraiment’ (French, ‘truly’) 63 reading 94 inauthentic 185–96 performance 26 recollection and experience 56 recollection in tranquillity, Wordsworth 50, 53 reconfigurations 51, 57 of Wordsworth 55 redescription of characters 186 referential texts, Lejeune 179 refugees, unwelcome 67 ‘representational literalism’ 22 repression, challenge to 96 Richardson, Samuel, Pamela 116, 118 right of the reader 190 rite of passage narrative 166, 167 rites of purification 171 Rocinante, Don Quixote’s old horse 115 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Coetzee on 190 Russians and Americans 53–4 Rwandan genocide 150 Sachs, Albie, on culture 126 sacrificial structure, Disgrace 151 Samolsky, Russell 147–57 Sancho Panza, clownish figure 119 scar as violence to body 28–9 ‘Second Diary’ in Diary of a Bad Year 192–4 Sedgwick, Eve, Epistemology of the Closet 128 self and text 60–71 self-hatred 72

205

sex with Bushman girls 95 with Dutch girls 94–5 sex act, character’s ignorance about 121 sex as comedy 71–2 sex scene descriptions 77–83 sexual encounters, disastrous 101 sexual experiences with women 129 shipwreck survivor in Foe 175 shooting of dogs in cage 152–3 signification models 27 signifier and signified 27 silence and meaning 169 singular interpretation, resistance to 196 slaughter of dogs in Rwanda 148, 150 of guard dogs after apartheid 153 Sleigh, Dan, Islands 16 Slow Man 3, 5, 32, 44, 60, 61–3, 66–9, 85, 93–4, 98–9, 103, 124–8, 132 sex scene 85–6 sexual desire in 98–9 social and class differences 165 South Africa 3, 4, 7 experience 53 literature 11 nationalism, non-ethnic 28 post-apartheid 147 Spain of the reconquista 114 ‘spatial turn’ 60 ‘spectral universality’ 22 speech and silence in Coetzee 160 speechlessness in texts 160 spirits of the dead 17 ‘stalled sublime’ in Foe 161, 162 starvation 136 and language 141 state torture farms 157 stories of ‘impossible situations’ 18 storytelling of experience 12 Stranger Shores 147 ‘Strong Opinions’, in Diary of a Bad Year 192–3 subjectivity, limit of 169 subjects lectured on, in novel 41

206 sublime 7 Kantian formulation of 161–2 sublime abjection 159–71 sublimity of nature, Wordsworth 51 suspicion 1, 2 Szczurek, Karina, Coetzee and Gordimer 36–46 telling stories 18 temporality 55 terrorism, response to 1 text of novel, jocoserious (Age of Iron) 118, 119, 121 Texts B and C in Diary of a Bad Year 192–3 ‘third space’ of cultural hybridity 68 Tolstoy, ‘J. C.’s love of 2 tongue cutting of slave 137–8 torture 171 transcendent, in Kant 162 travel writing 76, 175–9 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) 23, 157, 173 corporeal economy of 29 political crimes 99 South African body 4, 28 storytelling, 12, 19 truth, and writing process 48 Tutu, Archbishop Desmond, on rebirth after cruelty 28 universal and abstract in Coetzee’s writing 4 vanity of experience, Prelude 56 vegetarianism 42 verbalizing process 18 verification desire for 174 Lejeune on 179 Vermeulen, Pieter 47–58

Index on Coetzee, Wordsworth and South Africa 5 victory over apartheid 161 ‘The Vietnam Project’ novella 62, 71, 180, 181 violation of girl child, Dostoevsky 105 violence 96 in South Africa 112 visitation of Elizabeth Costello 67 Vladislavic, Ivan, The Folly 17 Vries, Abraham die, Uit die kontreie vandaan 17 Waiting for the Barbarians 3, 12, 18, 22, 62, 64, 83, 96, 100, 143, 171, 178, 193 water scarcity, South Africa 56, 57 West African writers 166 white colonists 95 White Writing 5, 51, 53, 109, 162, 170 Whiteread, Rachel, sculptor, on artistic convention 5 woman novelist, Coetzee’s impersonation of 130 women’s history 16 women’s legs 123, 124 Wordsworth, William 47–58 The Prelude 5 and Coetzee 57–9 Wordsworthian innocence 53 work of art as singular 189 taming of 187 writers and lovers 101 writing, act of 18 writing as a woman 132 Xhosa’s cattle killing 16 Yoshida, Kyoko 135–45 Youth 5, 48, 50, 51, 54–8 ,72–6, 84, 101–2, 124–9, 191