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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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6. “Where One Goes From There”: Concluding Remarks


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6.  “Where One Goes From There”: Concluding Remarks

“Yes, all autobiography is autre-biography,

but what is more important is where one goes from there.”

(Coetzee and Attwell 2006: 216)

As this study has shown, J. M. Coetzee’s autre-biography can be regarded as a subversive literary form. Its subversive character inheres, above all, in its undermining of canonical conceptions of autobiography and of the (autobiographical) self. While for Coetzee autobiography is always a construction and the autobiographical self, an estranged substitute for the true self, autre-biography can be regarded as a literary-narrative format designed to dramatize the estrangement between the writing and the narrated self that is implied in the process of autobiographical writing. The displacement of the autobiographical ‘I’ through a distanced third-person focalization and the replacement of a retrospective past-tense narrative by a more immediate present-tense mode, which I have defined as the narrative mode of autre-biography, accentuates this estrangement. In accordance with other revisionist and experimental forms of life writing, it challenges the idea of an unequivocal relation between author and autobiographical self.

The relation between author and autobiographical Self encapsulated in Coetzee’s autre-biography is complex and blurred. While the employment of a self-parodying and fictionalized third-person perspective suggests a profound dissociation from the former self, the figuration of the self in autre-biography indicates the ambiguous concomitance of distance and intimacy between the historical self and the self of writing. The authorial ‘I’ is...

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