Serious Fiction: Coetzee and Kertész Under the Sign of K
In the face of life’s horror – luckily most people notice it only on occasion, but a few whom inner forces appoint to bear witness are always conscious of it – there is only one comfort: its alignment with the horror experienced by previous witnesses.
Elias Canetti, Kafka’s Other Trial, 8
While there are certainly problems with the notion of literary “influence,” it is nonetheless natural to see evidence of reading and interest in select works of the tradition in any given book, particularly one by a very well read writer. We know from his academic training as well as his decades of book reviewing that Coetzee is such a writer, and he is not coy in stating his considered opinions about the books he reviews. This, though, is not really a matter of influence per se, though it certainly reveals the values of the reviewer.1 More telling, of course, are the unavoidable signs of “precursors” in the style of Coetzee’s novels. Despite the word “precursor,” I am interested here in influence less as the virile, agonistic-Oedipal struggle of Harold Bloom’s theory than as a matter of elective affinities or even irrepressible awe, admiration, engagement (thematized, as in the last lines of Diary of a Bad Year about Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, or evident more pathologically, as in the Bloomian account which is perhaps more relevant to the Kafka and Beckett influences). In this respect at least three clear influences inform Coetzee’s literary vision and style, namely:...
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