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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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5. Summertime: The Prodigal Son or a Narrative of Conciliation


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5.  Summertime: The Prodigal Son or a Narrative of Conciliation

J. M. Coetzee: “[A]fter Youth, is there anything more

that can be made with my life, or is that life

for practical purposes now exhausted? […]

Will there be a third volume?

My feeling at present is, no.

Enough is enough.”

(Coetzee and Attwell 2006: 215–6)

The publication of Summertime153 as the third installment of the Scenes from Provincial Life series must have come as a surprise to many readers and critics. In the interview quoted above, conducted in 2002, Coetzee doubts that he will write a third volume. In April 2005, however, he began work on a manuscript that would eventually become the trilogy’s final component (cf. Kannemeyer 2012: 615). Yet, while this last installment ties in with the representation of the life story of John Coetzee begun in Boyhood and continued in Youth, it also differs considerably from its predecessors. The most apparent difference is to be located in the title itself: it fails to conform to the pattern of Coetzee’s previous autre-biographical works.

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