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Poetics of Self in J. M. Coetzee’s Fictionalized Memoirs

Angela Müller

This study explores the poetics and politics of self in J. M. Coetzee’s «autre»-biographical works «Scenes from Provincial Life». The author provides a detailed analysis of Coetzee’s conception of self in his fictionalized memoirs, as well as of philosophical, aesthetic and political implications of «autre»-biography. She reads these works as literary figurations of an estranged self, maintaining that they engage with deeply historical but also universal questions of the relation between self and power. Coetzee’s fictionalized memoirs, she argues, are thus not merely dramatizations of the inherent elusiveness of the self but a critique of systems and discourses of normativization and oppression.

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4. Youth: A Youth Displaced or the (Un)Becoming of an Artist


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4.  Youth: A Youth Displaced or the (Un)Becoming of an Artist

David Attwell: “It [Youth] is partly (though also deeply)

the story of a man treading water,

being in a state of paralysis […].”

J. M. Coetzee: “Not a man treading water but,

precisely, a youth treading water.”

(Coetzee and Attwell 2006: 215–6)

Coetzee began work on Youth113 less than a year before the first memoir Boyhood was published: on 11 October 1996 (cf. Kannemeyer 2012: 506). Upon its publication in 2002, Youth was not explicitly marketed as a sequel to Boyhood. In the United Kingdom it was published without the subtitle the author had chosen for Boyhood or any other indication as to the former installment.114 While both protagonists bear the name John, the surname of Youth’s main character is never mentioned, but only alluded to as an “odd-sounding foreign name” (Youth 103) of “Boer” origin (86). The US edition of Youth, however, was subtitled Scenes from Provincial Life II and thereby made a clear connection to the first memoir.115 Moreover, the evocation of Tolstoy’s autobiographical trilogy Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth (1852–56) in the title,116 the reiteration of the narrative style used in Coetzee’s Boyhood, the South African setting, and the almost identical syntax of the first lines of Boyhood and Youth clearly align the two narratives and designate Youth as a continuation of the author’s self-examination begun...

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