J.M. Coetzee's Austerities

J.M. Coetzee's Austerities

J.M. Coetzee's Austerities

J.M. Coetzee's Austerities

Synopsis

Representing a wide range of critical and theoretical perspectives, this volume examines J.M. Coetzee's novels from Dusklands to Diary of a Bad Year. The choice of essays reflects three broad goals: aligning the South African dimension of Coetzee's writing with his "late modernist" aesthetic; exploring the relationship between Coetzee's novels and his essays on linguistics; and paying particular attention to his more recent fictional experiments. These objectives are realized in essays focusing on, among other matters, the function of names and etymology in Coetzee's fiction, the vexed relationship between art and politics in apartheid South Africa, the importance of film in Coetzee's literary sensibility, Coetzee's reworkings of Defoe, the paradoxes inherent in confessional narratives, ethics and the controversial politics of reading Disgrace, intertextuality and the fictional self-consciousness of Slow Man. Through its pronounced emphasis on the novelist's later work, the collection points towards a narrato-political and linguistic reassessment of the Coetzee canon.

Excerpt

“We think we understand the universe, but we only understand 4 percent of
everything,” said James Watson Cronin, who won the 1980 Nobel for physics
by proving that certain subatomic reactions escape the laws of fundamental
symmetry.

According to the most recent models, he said, 73 percent of cosmic energy
seems to consist of “dark energy” and 23 percent of “dark matter,” the pervasive but
unidentified stuff that holds the universe together and accelerates its expansion.

The remaining 4 percent consists of so-called “normal matter” such as atoms
and molecules.

AFP report on the Amsterdam conference on astro-particle physics in September 2007.

Coetzee as a “Late Modernist”

Philip, Lord Chandos, and the letter he wrote to Lord Bacon on “22 August 1603” exist only as non-non-fictional creations, like the novel in which Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello rewrote Ulysses from Molly Bloom’s point of view, and like Lady Chandos and her own letter to Bacon. The famous Chandos Letter was written in 1902 by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and was originally just called “A Letter” (“Ein Brief ”). Later, after Hofmannsthal’s death, this short work came to be regarded as a seminal European modernist text; it anticipated both Wittgenstein’s concern with the limits of language and thought and the kind of linguistic and philosophical, as well as fictional and existential, crisis that Jean-Paul Sartre recycled in La Nausée. As for Lady Chandos: although Hofmannsthal’s Lord Chandos refers to their four-year-old daughter Katherina Pompilia by name, he never names his wife. She received her name a century later, in 2002, when Intermezzo Press published Coetzee’s “Letter of Elizabeth, Lady Chandos”.

Although the 1902 and 2002 publication dates suggest that the second, Coetzeean “Letter” was some kind of centennial tribute from a “late modernist” writer to a pioneering predecessor, it was also an advance publication that

Coetzee is content to be described as a “late modernist”. See Derek Attridge, J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 2–6.

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