J.M. Coetzee: South Africa and the Politics of Writing

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University of California Press, Jun 11, 1993 - History - 160 pages
David Attwell defends the literary and political integrity of South African novelist J.M. Coetzee by arguing that Coetzee has absorbed the textual turn of postmodern culture while still addressing the ethical tensions of the South African crisis. As a form of "situational metafiction," Coetzee's writing reconstructs and critiques some of the key discourses in the history of colonialism and apartheid from the eighteenth century to the present. While self-conscious about fiction-making, it takes seriously the condition of the society in which it is produced.

Attwell begins by describing the intellectual and political contexts surrounding Coetzee's fiction and then provides a developmental analysis of his six novels, drawing on Coetzee's other writings in stylistics, literary criticism, translation, political journalism and popular culture. Elegantly written, Attwell's analysis deals with both Coetzee's subversion of the dominant culture around him and his ability to see the complexities of giving voice to the anguish of South Africa.


Contexts Literary Historical Intellectual
The labyrinth of my history Dusklands and In the Heart of the Country
Reading the Signs of History Waiting for the Barbarians
Writing in the cauldron of history Life and Times of Michael K and Foe
Conclusion Age of Iron
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Page 137 - ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE , Of YORK. MARINER: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of AMERICA, near the Mouth of the Great River of OROONOQUE; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. WITH An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by PYRATES. Written by Himself.
Page 15 - He defines the other choice, that of rivalry - obviously a position he himself identifies with - as resulting in: a novel that operates in terms of its own procedures and issues in its own conclusions, not one that operates in terms of the procedures of history and eventuates in conclusions that are checkable by history (as a child's schoolbook is checkable by a schoolmistress).
Page 3 - The point is that texts have ways of existing that even in their most rarefied form are always enmeshed in circumstance, time, place, and society — in short, they are in the world, and hence worldly.
Page 15 - ... schoolmistress). In particular I mean a novel that evolves its own paradigms and myths, in the process (and here is the point at which true rivalry, even enmity, perhaps enters the picture) perhaps going so far as to show up the mythic status of history — in other words, demythologising history ... a novel that is prepared to work itself out outside the terms of class conflict, race conflict, gender conflict or any of the other oppositions out of which history and the historical disciplines...
Page 15 - In times of intense ideological pressure like the present, when the space in which the novel and history normally coexist like two cows on the same pasture, each minding its own business, is squeezed to almost nothing, the novel, it seems to me, has only two options: supplementarity or rivalry.

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About the author (1993)

David Attwell is Senior Lecturer at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Attwell is also the editor of J.M. Coetzee, Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews (1992).

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