Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Reading in the In-Between: Pre-Scripting the "Postscript" to Elizabeth Costello

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Reading in the In-Between: Pre-Scripting the "Postscript" to Elizabeth Costello

Article excerpt

Summary

By offering a close reading and analysis of "Postscript", the text that concludes Coetzee's collection of "lessons" in his 2003 book E/izabeth Costello, in conjunction with Hofmannsthal's 1902 "Chandos Letter" (including brief reference to the Nobel Address "He and His Man"), the essay demonstrates the implications of palimpsestuous reading. Informed by Gerard Genette's study of the palimpsest as a mode of literary presentation particularly suited to poststructuralist understandings of the disassociation between author and protagonist, the essay argues, furthermore, that palimpsestuous writing articulates the conjunctive double of language and fiction as, philosophically speaking, the general and every single person's writing/reading as particular at the point where mutually historicising and historicised imaginings intersect along an elliptical axis connecting diachronic distance and synchronic proximity.

Opsomming

Die opstel bied 'n dieptelesing en -ontleding van "Postscript", die teks wat Coetzee se versameling "lesse" in sy 2003-werk Elizabeth Costello afsluit, tesame met Hofmannsthal se "Chandos Letter" van 1902 (met inbegrip van 'n vlugtige verwysing na die Nobel-toespraak "He and His Man"), en toon die implikasies van die palimpsestiese lees van 'n teks. Geinspireer deur Gerard Genette se studie van die palimpses as 'n literere aanbiedingsvorm wat veral geskik is vir poststrukturalistiese begrip van die disassosiasie tussen outeur en protagonis, voer die opstel voorts aan dat palimpsestiese skryfwerk uiting gee aan die konjunktiewe dubbelwerking van taal en fiksie as, filosofies gesproke, die algemene en elke enkele persoon se skryfof leeswerk as partikulier op die punt waar ondeding historiserende en gehistoriseerde verbeeldinge mekaar sny op 'n elliptiese as wat diachroniese afstand en sinchroniese nabyheid verbind.

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In the most recent Costello story, "As a Woman Grows Older", published in the New York Review of Books in 2004, Coetzee's fictional avatar, aging Elizabeth Costello, in anticipation of a rare meeting with her son and daughter, briefly reflects on the modality of "ambivalence": "Ambivalence should not disconcert her," says the narrative voice. "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 2004:11). The zone of the in-between, iterated in the two rhetorical questions, circumscribes both the focus and the locus of my essay; it is the gap between "heads and tails", the contiguous and yet distinct obverse and reverse "two sides of the coin"--to use yet another metaphor--or the "excluded middle" philosophically speaking which all Costello stories inhabit and which the "Postscript" (Coetzee 2003a: 227-230) contours. For what is implicitly at issue in the stories--or rather "lessons", as these hybrid texts are aptly subtitled in the book Elizabeth Costello--is the gap, the middle, the in-between, that they expose in numerous different thematic configurations. Thus the heads/tails--dichotomy comes into view, for instance, in the lecturer/speaker--audience/listeners binary in Lesson One: "Realism" (pp. 1-34); the contemplative life of the writer versus the active life of Christian missionary caring represented by sisters Elizabeth and Blanche/Bridget respectively in "The Humanities in Africa" (pp. 116-155), or between philosopher (Norma) and writer Elizabeth and between philosophical and literary discourse in "The Lives of Animals" (pp. 59-115), or between the "oral novel" (p. 53) of Africa and the European novel in "The Novel in Africa" (pp. 35-58), or between accounts of (imaginatively) demonstrated and experienced evil in "The Problem of Evil" (pp. 156-182), and between life and death and "other modes of being besides what we call human" (p. 188) in "Eros", and finally between the "fidelities" of "a writer" (p. …

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