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n Journal of Literary Studies - Writing as exploration and revelation : experiencing the environment, whether local or global, as envisioned by different role-players in J. M. Coetzee's latest novels

Volume 17, Issue 3_4
  • ISSN : 0256-4718
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Abstract

Coetzee has become famous for his ability to channel any social or political commentary he might intimate through the medium of writing, perhaps more specifically, through the art of story-telling. In this paper, I intend having a closer look at one aspect of his writing - his choice of characters who, one would presume, are supposed to act as spokespersons for the authorial voice. Although the postmodernist novel, &lt;I&gt;Foe&lt;/I&gt; (1986), was labelled by some critics as merely a frivolous, if clever and well-written, flaunting of poststructuralist theories masking his lack of social responsibility, the representation of Friday (Crusoe's companion on the island) anticipates his channelling of penetrating sociopolitical commentary through a character seemingly at a disadvantage and therefore in need of "upliftment". <I>In Age of Iron&lt;/I&gt; (1990) the social outcast is embodied in a derelict living on the street, as well as by rebelling black youths taking part in the struggle. Helplessness and ineffectuality are at the same time acted out by the firstperson narrator in this novel, an old middle-class, well-educated and affluent woman in the last stages of a debilitating terminal disease. The stark reality of "living" with age and illness is continued in <I>The Master of Petersburg&lt;/I&gt; (1997), where the identity of the narrator, a fictionalisation of Dostoyevsky trying to come to terms with the unnatural and untimely death of a son, invites a comparison of different countries and landscapes (as it does in <I>Foe</I>), shaping the identity of the characters. Contrasting with all the "helpless" or "pitiable" characters in the former novels, who all shared the characteristic of being "right" on a deeper level and therefore occupying the moral high ground despite being at odds with their environment, the narrator in &lt;I&gt;Disgrace&lt;/I&gt; (1999) is ineffectual because of his immorality. And it is through this character, "speaking" all the sins of political incorrectness, from sexual abuse to condescending racism, that Coetzee channels his uncompromising reading of the current South African sociopolitical situation. In all these novels, then, the characters, narrators as well as marginalised figures, enact different views of "culture, literature and man" in a localised space nevertheless ultimately, even if by implication only, subject to the levelling effects of globalisation.

Coetzee het bekend geword vir sy vermoë om enige sosiale of politieke kommentaar wat hy te kenne wil gee, te kanaliseer deur die skryfmedium, miskien meer spesifiek deur die vertelkuns. In hierdie artikel beoog ek om een aspek van sy werk onder die loep te neem - sy keuse van karakters, wat, so sou aangeneem kon word, veronderstel is om die outeurstem te verteenwoordig. Alhoewel die postmodernistiese roman &lt;I&gt;Foe&lt;/I&gt; (1986) deur sommige kritici bestempel word as slegs 'n ligsinnige, alhoewel vernuftige en goedgeskrewe vertoon van poststrukturalistiese teorieë wat sy gebrek aan sosiale verantwoordelikheid verbloem, antisipeer die voorstelling van Friday (Crusoe se kameraad op die eiland) Coetzee se kanalisering van deurdringende sosiaal-politieke kommentaar deur 'n karakter wat oënskynlik in 'n benadeelde posisie is en "opheffing" benodig. In <I>Age of Iron&lt;/I&gt; (1990) word die sosiale uitgeworpene vergestalt in 'n hawelose wat op straat woon, sowel as in swart jeugdiges wat aan die "struggle" deelneem. Hulpeloosheid en oneffektiwiteit word terselfdertyd uitgebeeld deur die eerstepersoonsverteller in hierdie roman - 'n bejaarde, geleerde, gegoede middelklas vrou in die laaste fase van 'n aftakelende terminale siekte. Die naakte werklikheid van "leef" met ouderdom en siekte word voortgesit in <I>The Master of Petersburg&lt;/I&gt; (1977), waar die identiteit van die verteller, 'n fiksionalisasie van Dostoyevsky wat poog om in sy seun se onnatuurlike en ontydige dood te berus, tot 'n vergelyking van verskillende lande en landskappe lei (soos in <I>Foe</I>), wat die identiteit van die karakters vorm. In kontras met al die hulpelose, of bejammerenswaardige karakters in die vroeëre romans, wat almal die karakteristiek van "reg" wees op 'n dieper vlak deel, en daarom dié morele beginsel toe-eien ten spyte van hulle haaksheid met die omgewing, is die verteller in &lt;I&gt;Disgrace&lt;/I&gt; (1999) oneffektief vanweë sy immoraliteit. En dit is deur hierdie karakter, wat al die oortredings van politieke onjuistheid, van seksuele misbruik tot neerhalende rassisme "uitspreek", dat Coetzee sy ongekompromiseerde interpretasie van die huidige Suid- Afrikaanse sosio-politieke situasie kanaliseer. In al hierdie romans, dus, vertolk die karakters, vertellers en ook die gemarginaliseerde figure verskillende sienings van kultuur, literatuur en die mens in 'n gelokaliseerde ruimte, wat nogtans uiteindelik, al is dit slegs by implikasie, onderhewig is aan die gelykmakende gevolge van globalisasie.

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/content/litstud/17/3_4/EJC62334
2001-12-01
2016-12-10

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