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«Wooden Man»?

Masculinities in the Work of J.M. Coetzee («Boyhood», «Youth» and «Summertime»)


Daniel Matias

This book addresses the representation of masculinities in the work of J. M. Coetzee, with a particular focus on the writer’s trilogy: Boyhood (1997), Youth (2002) and Summertime (2009). Provocatively dealing with questions of autobiography, Coetzee’s trilogy provides a panoramic view of a man’s development through various stages of life and, equally, different geographical locations, such as apartheid South Africa, sixties London and South Africa in the throes of democratic revolution.

Attentive to the masculine formations that the trilogy represents, this work draws on conceptual frameworks and methodologies provided by the joint critique of gender and postcolonial studies, and is particularly animated by the discussions raised by men’s studies, a field that is nowadays patently interested in postcolonial / transnational masculinities. In this vein, the work discusses not only aspects related to violence and gendered formations as they occur and manifest themselves in the intersections of the local and global, but also the possibilities of refashioning identities increasingly attentive to an ethics of Otherness, one of the staples of Coetzee’s writing.

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I no longer know which story I am trying to write. Who could keep going in a straight line with so many stories, like feral siblings, separated and each running wild, chasing each other’s tales?

Zoë Wicomb, David’s Story

We began the present work by suggesting how gender and postcolonial studies, both in their academic presence and otherwise, are committed to inquire over the possibilities of community-making. John Maxwell Coetzee, one of the most prominent of writers in contemporaneity, given his influence, could have something to say regarding the matter. And yet, Coetzee seems to be adamant in foregoing any kind of involvement in such a political project: “I am not a herald of community or anything else.… I am someone who has intimations of freedom (as every chained prisoner has) and constructs representations—which are shadows themselves—of people slipping their chains and turning their faces to the light.”1

The above passage, taken at face value, makes one wonder what, if anything at all, Coetzee may contribute to such interested scholarship and everyday political practice. To take such a position would be, however, to acknowledge that one has learned nothing of relevance regarding this writer’s provocative way of being in the world. For the truth of the matter—and one←179 | 180→ can employ such an expression cognisant of its contested significance regarding this writer’s work—is that Coetzee has always been mired in the grasp of politics, either by...

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