Sobriquet 43.9

I just finished reading Rita Barnard's excellent essay, "J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace and the South African Pastoral." Written in the sort of clear-yet-erudite prose one does not encounter nearly as often as one would like, Barnard's paper examines the ways in which Coetzee's language conveys alienation and the impossibility of cultural translation in the "new South Africa," while thoughtfully touching upon the book's play on the plaasroman form and the troubling presence of potentially racist content. In stark contrast to Florance Strattion's extremely negative reading of David Lurie's racist comments, however, Barnard views the former professor's "cartoonish colonial stereotypes" and his "ridiculous, hopelessly dated vocabulary" as signs not of intolerance but of a failure to effectively translate the traumatic experience of the attack linguistically or culturally (211). I am also impressed by the critic's refusal to "beat [the novel's final scene] into a convenient shape with a critical shovel," a decision that encourages reader to continue asking the questions Coetzee raises in his novel. Bravo, Rita!

For tomorrow: Read another article or, if I'd like, work on my bibliography or watch Dust.

Work Cited

Barnard, Rita. "J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace and the South African Pastoral." Contemporary Literature 44.2 (2003): 199-224.


From Minxy:

Yay!!! An article that you liked!!! Awesome!!! They're so few and far between, I forget they exist. YAY!!!
Anonymous said…
I feel a bit like the protagonist of Foe, haunting you, the omnipotent author, with impertinent demands, but: Couldn't you, to a greater extent let us know just what you -yes you, not just the commentators whose articles you must force-feed yourself- make of Coetzee's novels? Or perhaps you're saving the golden nuggets for your dissertation. Anyqay, you broach the subject of Coetzee's style; this sparks in me something like a flash of enthusiasm. What do you make of Coetzee's style? It never occurred to me to read David Lurie's vocabulary as satire; I just figured it was Coetzee's way of achieving Brechtian Verfremdung. He uses it, or so it seems to me, in all of his novels, regardless of the gender and situation of the narrator. Do you detect a hint of satire, parody in David Lurie's discourse? Is Coetzee having a laugh? That reading would open up a new dimension in Coetzee's oeuvre, one I had failed to consider; to me, the almost academic tone, whether deployed in expounding on the operatic expression of desire or in expressing fury of the first degree, was simply Coetzee's trademark. Do you find the style(s) to be character-specific? If so, in what way?
Well, I do try to add some of my views from time to time, but the blog is more of an attempt to document the process of writing a dissertation than it is to present my opinions on Coetzee. Also, to be honest, I have kept myself from discussing the novels largely because I have so much to say and not nearly enough time to say it. I often intended to reflect upon the books but, as one who teaches full time as well as works on his dissertation, I found that I simply lacked the hours it would take me to express myself. I do, however, have an old review of Disgrace on this site, written a few years ago when I first read the novel.

As for Coetzee's style...good Lord, what a question! I mean, there are certain elements that permeate many (if not all) of his books: linguistic and semiotic meditations, for instance, as well as literary allusions and metanarrative strategies, but the prose is often very different from one book to the next. You have the insane verbiage of Eugene Dawn, the Faulkneresque density of Magda in In the Heart of the Country and the ever-so-slightly accented prose of Juan Coetzee in Diary of a Bad Year.

As for David Lurie's language. . .I can certainly see instances where one might say "hmm." I mean, I think Lurie can be read satirically, though I am not certain if he is intended to be so. If anything, I believe Coetzee does satirize academia (think of Elizabeth Costello's reflections on the role of the university) in several of his books, especially in Disgrace, so it would certainly be well within the realm of possibility that Lurie is, at least partially, satirical. Perhaps not so much so as, say, Jacobus Coetzee, but he does come across as pathetic, out-of-touch, and petty at times, traits often given to satiric characters.

Your final question is a difficult one. Is Coetzee's style character-specific? Well, yes and no. You're right: each of his novels has a certain academic quality, a certain linguistic deliberateness but his characters do, often subtly, differ from each other. Paul Rayment, for instance, speaks a rather proper English similar to Juan Coetzee's because both men are foreign-born residents of Australia. Magda's vocabulary seems to burst with her desire to prove herself worthy of being preserved. You can almost feel her trying to present herself as something she wishes to be but does not necessarily believe herself to be. Jacobus Coetzee's words are clearly the bombastic hot-air balloons of a pompous, self-righteous buffoon while the Magistrate's language belies a gentle disposition quite different from that of, say, the narrator of Life and Times of Michael K, who describes the epitome of gentle as he becomes a pastiche of Kafka's Hunger Artist. And there's a certain indignation that's always just beneath the surface of the frustrated Susan Barton's prose while the narrator of The Master of Petersburg seems geared to describing the Dostoevsky in such a way as to heighten the reader's disgust (think of the choice to include descriptions of food flying out of the man's mouth, for instance).

Unfortunately it is quite late, so I will have to cut this short, but I hope I made at least a little sense.

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