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Travelling Texts: J.M. Coetzee and Other Writers

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Robert Kusek and Bozena Kucala

Travelling Texts: J.M. Coetzee and Other Writers is a collection of essays on mutual influences and inspirations between authors, with a special focus on J.M. Coetzee. Bringing together a group of international scholars, the book offers a wide range of perspectives on how canonical and less canonical texts travel between literatures and cultures. Chapter One is devoted to connections between Coetzee’s writings and Polish literature and theatre. Chapter Two is concerned with Dostoevsky’s presence in his fiction. The essays in Chapter Three identify and analyse connections and inspirations between Coetzee and other European writers, with a special focus on Central Europe as a distinct cultural entity. The collection’s scope is extended by the essays in Chapter Four, which deal with several writers for whom Africa has been a source of inspiration.
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Writing from a Middle World: Perspectives on, and from, South Africa

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Introduction

In his acceptance speech for the CNA Prize for his novel Waiting for the Barbarians in 1979, J.M. Coetzee asked the question whether one can “call South African literature in English a national literature” (in Kannemeyer 2012: 356). He concluded that, in relation to the metropolitan centres of Western Europe and North America, it could at best only ever be a provincial literature – but that this did not mean that it was inferior, he said: “A provincial literature is not necessarily minor. Russian literature of the age of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy is provincial and major” (ibid. 356–357). In this essay I would like to reconsider this question, with reference to three South African writers each of whom is recognised as a major national – and international – literary figure: the Afrikaans poet, Breyten Breytenbach, who has won every prestigious Afrikaans literary award, but whose prose works are mostly in English, and the Nobel laureates, Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee himself. I would like to compare their relations to the country of their birth, and show how each of them imaginatively inhabits a “middle world” in texts that travel between and across nations and cultures, including those of Central and Eastern Europe.

Breyten Breytenbach and inter-nationalism

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