I’m very much intrigued by the intersection of literature, identity, and the human body. That is probably at least one reason why I enjoy reading J.M. Coetzee so much. The current issue of the TLS has a hugely interesting essay on Coetzee as a writer of the physical body (which I would wholeheartedly agree with). Here’s a taste . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Stephen Mitchelmore offers my first reasons to want to read Summertime and Diary of a Bad Year:
The Complete Review offers another curious judgement: “Coetzee is an incredibly talented writer and a master craftsman — and, yes, this is a meticulously crafted book, and one of [Summertime's] weaknesses is that it is so obviously a construct.” The key words here being “so obviously”. Perhaps the schism then is between those who are troubled by fiction as a construct and those who are not. One has to ask the question begged: how might this novel have . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Writing in 2000 on Jakob von Gunten:
As a literary character, Jakob von Gunten is without precedent. In the pleasure he takes in picking away at himself he has something of Dostoevsky’s Underground Man and, behind him, of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau of the Confessions. But—as Walser’s first French translator, Marthe Robert, pointed out—there is in Jakob, too, something of the hero of the traditional German folk tale, of the lad who braves the castle of the giant and triumphs against all odds. Franz Kafka, early in his career, admired Walser’s work (Max Brod records with . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Another one just popped up ($$$) in Harper's. This one takes the form of a mock interview with a woman whom a man referred to as "Coetzee" once propositioned, the woman declining because "Coetzee" seemed "soft."
Oddly enough, they've made a movie of what is probably JM Coetzee's most popular novel, Disgrace. And odder yet, it stars John Malkovich as the philandering professor Lurie. The trailer:
Looks almost decent, doesn't it? Although, I have my doubts . . . bad book = good movie, and vice versa.
For more on how Coetzee fits into the fiction of post-apartheid South Africa, see Matt Cheney's essay at The Quarterly Conversation.
Waiting for the Barbarians
Moving into prolific author territory, J.M. Coetzee will be publishing his 20th book in late summer, the aptly titled Summertime. Hat tip to the Literary Saloon for the head’s-up.
The book doesn’t yet have a U.S. Amazon webpage, although it is listed on the Wikipedia J.M. Coetzee page, where it has been grouped with Coetzee’s previous memoirs, Boyhood and Youth. So, looks like this will be the third installment of Coetzee’s reflections on a provincial upbringing.
And then I realized that I was marking up my teaching copy of Michael K. as if I were marking up a poem. I looked, then, at my teaching copy of Disgrace, from when I used it in a class a few years ago. The same thing. Lots of circled words, lots of "cf."s referring me to words and phrases in other parts of the book. Lots of sounds building on sounds, rhythms on rhythms in a way that isn’t particularly meaningful in itself, but that contributes to an overall tone-structure, a scaffold of utterance to . . . continue reading, and add your comments
With the publication of James Wood’s new book in England, we can already see the beginnings of the coverage that will soon attend its publication over here. In other words, more attention for the one literary critic in America who actually gets attention.
To me this seems unfair. Yes, Wood rightly deserves some attention, but he certainly doesn’t deserve this de facto coronation as the only thing going. Moreover, focusing on one critic to the exclusion of others is contrary to the idea of literary criticism, which thrives on a polyphonic chorus of competing voices.
In that . . . continue reading, and add your comments
I enjoy few novelists as critics as much as when JM Coetzee steps in to contribute on essay. He’s already written eloquently on Cees Nooteboom in the past, and here he is again, discussing the recently translated Lost Paradise.
Do angels exist? Does God exist? It is not only in the universe of postmodern fiction that such questions have a quaint, old-fashioned—that is to say, pre-postmodern and perhaps even pre-modern—air. In tolerant, post-Enlightenment societies we are free to make up answers to them as we choose, without risk of punishment. Indeed, in its advanced form the principle of . . . continue reading, and add your comments
In language and tone, I find Andre Gide’s The Immoralist reminding me much of the work of J.M. Coetzee, specifically Disgrace. Both authors use a very pared down, austerely beautiful language; in a translator’s note, Richard Howard calls Gide’s voice "raised almost to the tension of the lyre," which seems about as good a description as can be given. Thematically, both books are wrestling with the following idea, quoted from Gide: "The capacity to get free is nothing; the capacity to be free, that is the task."
Like Disgrace, The Immoralist’s protagonist eventually evolves into an amoral state (despite . . . continue reading, and add your comments