Reflections on Ethics and Creativity: A Discussion of Literary Works by J.M. Coetzee, Robert Musil and Czesław Miłosz
Ethics in the Works of Musil and Coetzee
The long list of writers whose works have been examined by J.M. Coetzee includes the Austrian author Robert Musil (1880–1942). Coetzee has written three texts on this writer: an essay (1986) later reprinted in Doubling the Point, an article for The New York Review of Books (1999), and an introduction to a new translation of Musil’s novel, The Confusions of Young Törless (2001). Replying to David Attwell’s question about Musil’s influence on his fiction, Coetzee opposes Musil’s florid style to his own, which he calls “hard and dry” (Coetzee 1992: 208). Indeed, there is little similarity between Musil’s essayistic prose, as known from his magnum opus The Man Without Qualities, and Coetzee’s succinct and allusive manner of writing. Perhaps, the concise form of Musil’s short stories is more akin to Coetzee’s style, but it is mainly the thematic similarities that are likely to attract the readers’ attention. Those similarities are important insofar as they reach to the heart of Coetzee’s prose, namely his preoccupation with the question of ethics. In the discussion of ethics in Coetzee’s prose, especially in Waiting for the Barbarians, this article will refer to the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, in particular to his notion of the Other. In the second part of this article, a connection will be made between Coetzee’s understanding of ethics and his philosophy of composition as presented in one of his most intriguing books, Elizabeth Costello.
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