n English in Africa - "He and His Man" : allegory and catachresis in J. M. Coetzee's Nobel Lecture

Volume 34, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0376-8902



The audience that turned out for Coetzee's Nobel Lecture in Stockholm in December 2003 must have wondered what on earth the new laureate thought he was doing. Instead of the customary distillation of a life lived for or through literature (in 1991 his countrywoman Nadine Gordimer had offered "Writing and Being"), Coetzee chose to read an odd little story ostensibly narrated by Robinson Crusoe - a character, as everyone knows, from a trilogy of novels published in the early eighteenth century. But those who had followed Coetzee's novelistic career might on reflection have recognized "He and His Man" as a reprise of some of the writer's most abiding concerns, most notably through its staging of a phenomenon that appears to be present - like a genetic defect, an original sin - in each and every act of writing and interpretation. Following Foucault and others, I have chosen to characterize this phenomenon as catachresis (Latin : ; English : "misuse"), although at times a variety of other terms - such as displacement, slippage, figuration, allegory - insist on their utility for accuracy's sake and will be employed. While it is true that this is by no means the first time that this aspect of language has been remarked, it is also true that, insofar as every instance of it is unique and not identical with any other, the term "catachresis" is itself a catachresis. Thus neither its staging in "He and His Man" nor the reader's response to it - although the latter is, in a sense to be elaborated below, essentially otiose - involve simple repetition.

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