Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Coetzee In/and Afrikaans

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Coetzee In/and Afrikaans

Article excerpt

Summary

This article investigates Coetzee's complex attitudes towards the Afrikaans language, and, by extension, his views on language, translation, and the potential and performative subject positions, or "fictions of the"--enacted in and determined by a given language. It reflects on relevant passages from Coetzee's criticism (including "Achterberg's 'Ballade van de Gasfitter'", "Emerging from Censorship", "What is a Classic?", and "He and His Man") and fiction (including In the Heart of the Country, Boyhood, Youth and Diary of a Bad Year). Partly concerned with the (auto)biographical, this essay also explores the idea of embarrassment (rather than the more frequently discussed shame) as a key affect in Coetzee's oeuvre.

Opsomming

Hierdie artikel ondersoek Coetzee se emosioneel gekompliseerde gesindheid teenoor die Afrikaanse taal. Dit raak ook aan die breer temas van vertaling en van die (performatiewe) identiteitsposisies--die "fiksies van die ek"--wat bepaal en gevorm word binne die strukture van 'n gegewe taal. Dit besin relevante passasies uit Coetzee se kritiese werk (onder andere "Achterberg's 'Ballade van de Gasfitter'"; "Emerging from Censorship", "What Is a Classic?" en "He and His Man") asook sy fiksie (onder andere In the Heart of the Country, Boyhood, Youth en Diary of a Bad Year). Vanuit 'n meer (auto)biografiese oogpunt, ondersoek hierdie artikel ook die moontlikheid dat verleentheid (eerder as skaamte, wat dikwels deur kritici bespeek word) die mees deurslaggewende emosie in Coetzee se oeuvre mag wees.

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That is the active paradox I must resolve: at one and the same time it must be known and not known. I want you to know that I don't want to show my feelings: that is the message I address to the other. Larvatus prodeo: I advance pointing to my mask. I set a mask upon my passion, but with a discreet (and wily) finger I designate this mask.

Roland Barthes, "A Lover's Discourse"

Let us begin by reflecting on a few lines from near the beginning of Coetzee's Nobel Prize address, which is not a lecture so much as an allegory about the process of writing.* Coetzee here adopts the persona of Robinson Crusoe, who, after returning from his remote island, lives in Bristol, and receives detailed reports on things that are happening in England from a keen traveller and observer whom he thinks of as "his man". The man is readily identified, not as Friday (though Friday is invoked in the epigraph to the address), but as Daniel Defoe by the fact that the reports are drawn almost verbatim from Defoe's A Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain and A Journal of the Plague Year:

The fens are home to many other kinds of birds too, writes his man, duck and mallard, teal and widgeon, to capture which the men of the fens, the fen-men, raise tame ducks, which they call decoy ducks or duckoys. Fens are tracts of wetland. There are tracts of wetland all over Europe, all over the world, but they are not named fens,fen is an English word, it will not migrate.

These Lincolnshire duckoys, writes his man, are bred up in decoy ponds, and kept tame by being fed by hand. Then when the season comes they are sent abroad to Holland and Germany. In Holland and Germany they meet with others of their kind, and, seeing how miserably these Dutch and German ducks live, how their rivers freeze in winter and their lands are covered in snow, fail not to let them know, in a form of language which they make them understand, that in England from where they come the case is quite otherwise: English ducks have sea shores full of nourishing food, tides that flow freely up the creeks; they have lakes, springs, open ponds and sheltered ponds; also lands full of corn left behind by the gleaners; and no frost or snow, or very light.

By these representations, he writes, which are made all in duck language, they, the decoy ducks or duckoys, draw together vast numbers of fowl, and, so to say, kidnap them. …

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