The Body Writer

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:

Coetzee has elsewhere sought to affirm this belief in the importance of physicality: “the body with its pain becomes a counter to the endless trials of doubt. (One can get away with such crudeness in fiction; one can’t in philosophy, I’m sure)”. We must learn, however, that Coetzee never writes in bold. The self-sealing parentheses are a giveaway: by ostentatiously highlighting what he wishes to convince us he is so “sure” about, Coetzee is pointing out the artificiality of its separation from the “trials of doubt”. A body with “its pain”, its own pain, may be something certain, but the nature of someone else’s pain must always be in question. Indeed, we can read the Coetzeean canon as a sustained investigation into the notion that pain can be shared, and its inevitable recognition of the doubtful results. Coetzee puts similar sentiments in the mouth of the Magistrate, in Waiting for the Barbarians; he argues at the beginning that “pain is truth; all else is subject to doubt”, but this view does not persist (even within the “crudeness” of the fiction). He later reflects on the exclusivity of suffering: “they exposed her father to her naked and made him gibber with pain; they hurt her and he could not stop them (on a day I spent occupied with the ledgers in my office)”.

Whole essay here.



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