Last night, in my effort to traverse a metaphoric glacier, I decided to get some reading done for the Elizabeth Costello chapter I hope to begin fairly soon. I am, of course, still writing the Disgrace chapter, too, but given a confluence of situations beyond my control, it may be a week or so before I can sit down and really write anything in earnest. At any rate, I read three reviews of Elizabeth Costello and one on the pre-Elizabeth Costello volume, The Lives of Animals:
1. Of the four, Diana Nelson Jones's assessment of the novel is easily the most disparaging, regarding the book as a "highly dissatisfying work" with unknowable characters and an off-putting protagonist. Predictably, Jones does not seem especially fond of the format of the book, echoing the common refrain that the book is not a novel.
2. Caroline Moore, too, wonders if Coetzee "has come to the end of writing fiction," though in a considerably less negative tone. Moore's review is concerned with the book's commentary on the relationship between art and artist, fiction and reality and suggests that Coetzee, in speaking through Costello, may actually be inviting people to speculate about his place in the creation of the book and the exchange of ideas rather than attempting to hide behind Costello.
3. Contrary to the viewpoint espoused by readers such as Jones, Janet Maslin finds the "string of metaphysical pit stops" Coetzee has fashioned into a novel "improbably inviting at the simple narrative level."
4. David Fraser, in his reading of The Lives of Animals, praises Coetzee for his unique contribution to the debates on animal ethics:
Rather than raising new issues or proposing new solutions, he uses narrative, allusions, and conversation to capture the moral confusion that our use of animals creates. He helps us see this confusion not as an abstract debate, but as real people in conflict, with a host of differences in personality and worldview, making resolution (even dialogue) difficult and sometimes painful.
Today, I read Louise Bethlehem's "Materiality and the Madness of Reading," a highly poststructural discussion of corporeality in Elizabeth Costello. Although her ostensible aim is to establish, in Derridean terms, how Coetzee's novel contains traces "of South African literary culture" despite being written by an Australian and set primarily away from Africa, Bethlehem's study spends far more time entering into the rarefied discourses of body, language, and representation. Those of a more theoretical bent will likely find this essay thought-provoking.
For tomorrow: Read or plan.
Bethlehem, Louise. "Materiality and the Madness of Reading: J. M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello as Post-Apartheid Text." Journal of Literary Studies. 21.3-4 (2005): 235-54.
Fraser, David. Rev. of The Lives of Animals, by J. M. Coetzee, et. al. The Quarterly Review of Biology 76.2 (2001): 215-216.
Jones, Diana Nelson. Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 9 Nov. 2003. Available online.
Maslin, Janet. "The Mockery Can Still Sting With a Target in the Mirror." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. The New York Times 21 Oct. 2003. Available online.
Moore, Caroline. "Lessons Drawn From Fiction." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. 8 Sept. 2003. Available online.