A Companion to the Works of J. M. Coetzee

A Companion to the Works of J. M. Coetzee

Edited by Tim Mehigan
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt1x72rx
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  • Book Info
    A Companion to the Works of J. M. Coetzee
    Book Description:

    J. M. Coetzee is perhaps the most critically acclaimed bestselling author of imaginative fiction writing in English today. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003 and is the first writer to have been awarded two Booker Prizes. The present volume makes critical views of this important writer accessible to the general reader as well as the scholar, discussing Coetzee's main works in chronological order and introducing the dominant themes in the academic discussion of his oeuvre. The volume highlights Coetzee's exceptionally nuanced approach to writing as both an exacting craft and a challenging moral-ethical undertaking. It discusses Coetzee's complex relation to apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa, the land of his birth, and evaluates his complicated responses to the literary canon. Coetzee emerges as both a modernist and a highly self-aware postmodernist - a champion of the truths of a literary enterprise conducted unrelentingly in the mode of self-confession. Contributors: Chris Ackerley, Derek Attridge, Carrol Clarkson, Simone Drichel, Johan Geertsema, David James, Michelle Kelly, Sue Kossew, Mike Marais, James Meffan, Tim Mehigan, Chris Prentice, Engelhard Weigl, Kim L. Worthington. Tim Mehigan is Professor of Languages in the Department of Languages and Cultures at the University of Otago, New Zealand and Honorary Professor in the Department of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland, Australia.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-783-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    T. M.
  4. List of Abbreviations of Works by J. M. Coetzee
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Chronology of Main Writings by J. M. Coetzee
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)
    Tim Mehigan

    J. M. Coetzee is one of the most important writers in the world today. He is also one of the most distinguished: he was the first writer to win the Booker Prize on two occasions (1983 and 1999),¹ and the second South African writer, after Nadine Gordimer, to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature (2003). He is the recipient of numerous other literary awards including the Prix Femina Étranger, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and the Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society.

    Although he writes in English and was raised speaking English at home in his native...

  7. 1: Scenes from Provincial Life (1997–2009)
    (pp. 9-22)
    Sue Kossew

    J. M. Coetzee’s trilogy of fictionalized memoirs, or Scenes from Provincial Life as he has subtitled them, provides readers with a quirky and peculiarly Coetzee-like perspective on the genre of autobiography.¹ While some reviewers were confused as to the genre of Youth in particular, it is clear that these three texts — Boyhood (1997), Youth (2002) and Summertime (2009) — form a continuum in Coetzee’s life-writing or, as David Attwell puts it, a “life-of-writing.”² This most recent text, Summertime, is narrated by a “biographer” supposedly after Coetzee’s death. Covering the years 1972–77 of the writer’s life, and comprising interviews...

  8. 2: Style: Coetzee and Beckett
    (pp. 23-38)
    Chris Ackerley

    As plenary speaker at the 2006 Samuel Beckett Symposium in Tokyo, J. M. Coetzee presented a tantalizing “what might have been” had Samuel Beckett in 1937 succeeded with his half-hearted application for a lecturing position in Italian at the University of Cape Town and been appointed to that university where Coetzee was subsequently to spend much of his professional academic life. Rewriting the account for a set of reminiscences,¹ and again for the volume of essays from the Tokyo occasion,² Coetzee documents the circumstances leading to the application: a job vacancy advertised in the Times Literary Supplement and seen by...

  9. 3: Dusklands (1974)
    (pp. 39-55)
    David James

    Modernism has often caused Coetzee to do a double take. “I have never known how seriously to take Joyce’s — or Stephen Dedalus’s — ‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake’” (DP, 67). But the fact that Coetzee does look again at the ambivalence of modernism’s message, questioning how seriously one should regard its most emblematic and solemn pronouncements, suggests that he hasn’t been willing to think of modernism as finished. While he is adamant that “an unquestioning attitude toward forms or conventions is as little radical as any other kind of obedience” (DP, 64), Coetzee’s...

  10. 4: In the Heart of the Country (1977)
    (pp. 56-64)
    Derek Attridge

    The first thing the reader of In the Heart of the Country notices is that every paragraph is numbered. This simple device announces from the outset that we are not to suspend disbelief as we read, that our encounter with human lives, thoughts, and feelings is to take place against the background of a constant awareness of their mediation by language, generic and other conventions, and artistic decisions. It is testimony to the power of fictional narration that it is not difficult to forget the numbering as we read; after all, the division of virtually all novels into chapters or...

  11. 5: Waiting for the Barbarians (1980)
    (pp. 65-75)
    Mike Marais

    If the human subject is not a rational and free agent, but located in society and therefore located by society’s values, attitudes, and ways of knowing and seeing, it follows that it is not fully in control of itself and must therefore endlessly question its intentions and actions. The problem with such self-scrutiny is clearly not that it results in a form of solipsism, but rather that the self cannot even claim to know herself and, in the absence of such certitude, is forced to doubt her motives and hence her agency. Even the idea that the rational subject is...

  12. 6: Life & Times of Michael K (1983)
    (pp. 76-90)
    Engelhard Weigl

    J. M. Coetzee’s fourth novel, Life & Times of Michael K, is in many ways a distinctive work in his early fiction. Not only is it set in an exact geographical location in South Africa, but it also represents a specific reaction to dramatically escalating political developments in that country in the 1970s and 1980s, developments that signaled an approaching apocalypse to many white intellectuals. Apart from approximating fairly closely the political situation in South Africa at the time, Coetzee’s novel also engages directly with the work of Franz Kafka. The name of the hero of this fictional biography makes this...

  13. 7: Foe (1986)
    (pp. 91-112)
    Chris Prentice

    When J. M. Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003, his acceptance speech, entitled “He and His Man,”¹ should have come as no surprise to those familiar with his oeuvre. He had cast his autobiographical works Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life, Youth, and Summertime: Scenes from Provincial Life in the third-person voice, and had long engaged in what we may refer to as ficto-criticism.² Elizabeth Costello contains substantial sections of critical and philosophical discourse (lectures, essays), and Diary of a Bad Year includes a narrative “thread” of critical and philosophical commentary, while characters in such earlier novels...

  14. 8: Age of Iron (1990)
    (pp. 113-131)
    Kim L. Worthington

    In “The Novel Today,” J. M. Coetzee famously writes of the distinction between novels that “rival” history and those that “supplement” them.¹ In arguing strongly against the “powerful tendency, perhaps even dominant tendency, to subsume the novel under history,” he suggests that readers accord superior moral integrity and “greater truth” to “supplementary” novels not least because they engage with the “facts” of history (NT, 2). The “today” of the essay title marks a very specific period in South Africa, a time in which the moral and political purpose of literature was strongly debated. It refers to the tumultuous years of...

  15. 9: The Master of Petersburg (1994)
    (pp. 132-147)
    Michelle Kelly

    In an interview with David Attwell in the early nineties, J. M. Coetzee lamented not having the “badge of honor” of having had a book banned under the repressive apartheid censorship regime, which at that point was nearing the end of a forty-year reign. In the same interview, he suggests that “the intensity, the pointedness, the seriousness of Russian writing from the time of Nicholas I is in part a reflection of the fact that every word published represented a risk taken” (DP, 299). Playing down the power of South African censorship to thwart the circulation of texts that had...

  16. 10: Disgrace (1999)
    (pp. 148-171)
    Simone Drichel

    Disgrace is not just the most-discussed novel in Coetzee’s oeuvre; it is also one of the most widely discussed novels of the late twentieth century.¹ As well as two special issues of journals in 2002, recent years have seen the publication of both a collection of essays dedicated exclusively to the novel² and a short introductory monograph.³ Besides these book-length studies, there are a number of recent books on Coetzee that contain large sections or chapters on Disgrace.⁴ In addition, there is a profusion of scholarly articles that foreground a range of critical concerns and discuss these concerns from feminist,⁵...

  17. 11: Elizabeth Costello (2003)
    (pp. 172-191)
    James Meffan

    Elizabeth Costello canvasses the interrelated problems of self-knowledge, self-expression and other-knowledge: phenomenological problems. How can we truly represent ourselves when language — a social institution that preexists and constitutes every individual’s entry into subject-hood — requires a deviation from our direct, bodily experience in and of the world? How can we know what life is like for others when they too must constitute themselves in secondhand language in order to represent themselves to us? And does the removal of language from the relationship help matters? How successfully can we imagine ourselves into the lives of beings not like us, whether...

  18. 12: Slow Man (2005)
    (pp. 192-207)
    Tim Mehigan

    Two events of significance preceded the appearance of Coetzee’s novel Slow Man (2005). One was the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Coetzee at the end of 2003; the other Coetzee’s move from South Africa to Australia in 2002. Both events resonate at different levels of a novel whose setting is Coetzee’s adopted country of Australia. On the one hand, the novel can be read as a set of reflections on a problem that emerges in later life where one’s main accomplishments now lie in the past. For a writer who holds the conviction that, in the final...

  19. 13: Diary of a Bad Year (2007)
    (pp. 208-221)
    Johan Geertsema

    One of the most contentious of the strong opinions presented in J. M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year must be that of “On paedophilia” (BY, 53–57). While some, perhaps even many, readers may have considerable sympathy for the elderly writer JC’s opinions on torture, the war on terror, and animal rights, Anya — the young woman he has engaged as a secretary (BY, 15) and with whom he has grown “obsessed” (BY, 89) — probably speaks for the skeptical reader when she says that the opinion “On paedophilia” is disturbing and asks why he is writing about it....

  20. 14: Coetzee’s Criticism
    (pp. 222-234)
    Carrol Clarkson

    In his essay, “Die Skrywer en die Teorie” (“The Writer and Theory”), Coetzee makes a claim that, by his own admission, surely scandalized his South African literary audience when he first presented this paper at the SAVAL conference in Bloemfontein in 1980: “I must confess,” says Coetzee,

    dat die beste kritiek vir my meer inhou as die letterkunde. Dit is miskien ’n skande, maar ek lees liewer Girard oor Sofokles of Barthes oor Balzac as romans.¹

    [the best criticism holds more for me than literature does. It is perhaps scandalous, but I prefer reading Girard on Sophocles, or Barthes on...

  21. Works Cited
    (pp. 235-248)
  22. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 249-252)
  23. Index
    (pp. 253-258)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-259)