Disgraceful Metafiction: Intertextuality in the Postcolony

Article excerpt

Summary

My aim in this paper is to examine J.M. Coetzee's use of intertextuality in Disgrace (2002a), partly because many commentators have said something about some of the intertexts utilised in the novel, but nobody has made an attempt at a thoroughgoing analysis, particularly in terms of what intertextuality, or indeed postmodernism, means in postcolonialism today. I want to make the claim against those who see Disgrace as primarily a realist text that merely provides an avenue into discussing sociological issues in "the new South Africa" and that to read it in this way is to do a disservice to the novel, to Coetzee's views on the value of literature and the imagination, and perhaps even to the relationship between literature and the nation. Disgrace is an ostensibly realist text that consists of a chain of provocations tempting the reader into realist interpretations, but a more careful reading of the novel shows how intertextual it is, and how subtle its analysis of cultural history is. This metafictional component then asks the question that Coetzee has been grappling with in his entire oeuvre, which is the question of the valency of complexity within sociohistorical contexts that tend to reduce complexity, sometimes to the extent of viewing it as an indulgence or even dangerous distraction within the new nation.

Opsomming

My doel met hierdie artikel is om J.M. Coetzee se gebruik van intertekstualiteit in Disgrace te ondersoek. My rede hiervoor is deels dat, hoewel baie kommentators al melding gemaak het van sommige van die intertekste wat in die roman gebruik word, niemand nog 'n poging aangewend het om dit indringend te ondersoek hie--veral nie ten opsigte van die rol wat intertekstualiteit of trouens postmodernisme in postkolonialisme speel nie. Teenoor diegene wat Disgrace beskou as primer 'n realistiese teks wat bloot 'n kanaal vir die bespreking van sosiologiese kwessies in "die nuwe Suid-Afrika" bied, wil ek die aanspraak maak dat so 'n beskouing die roman self, Coetzee se beskouing van die waarde van literatuur en die verbeelding, en moontlik selfs die verhouding tussen literatuur en die nasie, 'n onguns bewys. Disgrace is 'n oenskynlik realistiese teks wat bestaan uit 'n reeks provokasies wat die leser in die versoeking bring om dit op realistiese wyse te vertolk. 'n Deurtastender lees van die roman toon egter hoe intertekstueel dit is, en hoe subtiel Coetzee se ontleding van kultuurgeskiedenis is. Hierdie metafiksionele komponent ontlok dan die vraag waarmee Coetzee sy hele oeuvre deur worstel, naamlik die aangaande die valensie van kompleksiteit in sosiohistoriese kontekste wat geneig is om kompleksiteit te verminder, soms dermate dat dit in die nuwe nasie as 'n verwenning of selfs 'n gevaarlike afleiding beskou word.

   Disgrace--n--loss of favour or respect,
   downfall from position of honour, ignominy,
   shame, (is in disgrace); thing or person
   involving dishonour, cause of reproach.

      Disgrace--v--Dismiss from favour, degrade
   from position of honour; bring shame or
   discredit on, be a disgrace to.

      (OED)

My aim in this paper is to examine the relationship between nation and imagination via an analysis of the meaning of intertextuality in postcolonialism, or what the valency of postmodernism in postcolonial fiction is today. Perhaps the first thing to establish is the notion of intertextuality. Prior to Kristeva's theoretical intervention which established intertextuality as the notion of the radical interconnectedness of all texts, intertextuality tended to be understood via the ideas of imitation and allusion. Imitation implied the conscious use of prior texts or textuality, a learning from prior masters that was advocated by classical thinkers such as Aristotle, Cicero and Horace and prevailed into the eighteenth century (Cuddon 1998: 415), whilst allusion was a form of implicit reference. Kristeva's "Revolution in Poetic Language" took these ideas further by suggesting that literariness was actually an interwoven universe, and hence that dependence upon other texts was a profound interdependence. …