Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

Beckett and Coetzee: Alternative Identities/ Beckett En Coetzee: Alternatiewe Identiteite

Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

Beckett and Coetzee: Alternative Identities/ Beckett En Coetzee: Alternatiewe Identiteite

Article excerpt


Coetzee's scholarly interest in Beckett, and his aesthetic interest in the same (which carries a strong measure of readily acknowledged influence), diverge in the case Coetzee presents in a recent mini-biography cum autobiography, "Samuel Beckett in Cape Town--an imaginary history" (Coetzee, 2006:74-77), where both he and Beckett are imagined as having experienced alternative pasts in South Africa. Considering this acknowledged influence, which Coetzee (1992b) mentions in an interview with David Attwell in "Doubling the point", one might assume that it followed an initial scholarly interest in Beckett (Coetzee's Ph.D. was on Beckett, and was completed years before he himself became a creative writer). However, in the case at hand this causal sequence is broken, because the doubled Coetzee, though under the spell of Beckett's prose, does not wish to do scholarly work on the doubled Beckett. What is it about Coetzee's imagined Beckett that has this effect on him? And why is it that Coetzee engages in such metafictional blurred doubling when if comes to himself and Beckett? This article attempts to shed light on the problems that surround Coetzee's crafted interaction between authors who are also (in this rather odd context) characters.


Coetzee se vakkundige belangstelling in Beckett en sy estetiese belangstelling in horn (wat geredelik erken word as 'n sterk invloed), loop uiteen in Coetzee se onlangse kort biografie-cum-outobiografie "Samuel Beckett in Cape Town--an imaginary history" (Coetzee, 2006:74-77). Daarin word vir sowel Coetzee as Beckett verbeelde alternatiewe verledes in Suid-Afrika geponeer. Aangesien Beckett 'n selferkende invloed vir Coetzee (1992b) se skeppende werk is, soos blyk uit 'n onderhoud met David Atwell in "Doubling the point", sou 'n mens kon vermoed dat dit die uitvloeisel was van 'n aanvanklike vakkundige belangstelling. (Coetzee se Ph.D. het oor Beckett gegaan en is voltooi lank voordat hy self kreatief begin skryf het.) Hierdie moontlike oorsaaklike verband word egter in die teks hier ter oorweging weerspreek, want Coetzee se dubbelganger, hoewel onder die invloed van Beckett se prosa, het geen behoefte om vakkundige werk oor die Beckett-dubbelganger te doen nie. Wat is dit omtrent Coetzee se fiktiewe Beckett wat hierdie effek op hom het? Hoekom bemoei Coetzee hom met so 'n verdoeselde metafiksionele verdubbeling van homself en Beckett? Hierdie artikel probeer lig werp op die problematiese aard van Coetzee se verbeelde interaksie tussen skrywers, wat (in hierdie redelik vreemde konteks) terselfdertyd ook karakters is.

1. Introduction

J.M. Coetzee (2006:74), in Samuel Beckett in Cape Town: an imaginary history, makes reference to Beckett's following letter, in which the Irish writer applies for a lectureship in Italian at the University of Cape Town. (1) As in Summertime, Coetzee (2009) draws on "a matter of public record" in order to provide an objective point of reference for associated creative "fictioneering" (Kermode, 2009:10; Coetzee, 2009:225):

July 29th 1937

Dear Sir

I beg to apply for the post of lecturer in Italian in the University of Cape Town.

I enclose copies of testimonials and a brief curriculum vitae.

The following will act as referees:

[Three names are given, those of a solicitor, an army chaplain, and a doctor.]

Yours faithfully

Samuel Beckett [signature]

(Samuel Beckett, MA., T.C.D.) (2)

Had Beckett been accepted and had he accepted his acceptance, his life, speculates Coetzee, would have entered an alternative plane, and would have influenced an alternative Coetzee's intellectual life. As a professor twenty years later, and had he agreed to lend a hand with the Wednesday afternoon creative writing class, Beckett would have met a young undergraduate, John Maxwell Coetzee. His play, Waiting for Godot, its language inspired by the rough-neck slang of the Cape Flats, would have been known to the young Coetzee, who might even have seen a performance. …

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