The Middle Voice: Positionality and Agency in J.M. Coetzee’s Work
It has become part of English literary legend how in 1973, a year before the publication of his first novel, John Coetzee’s research work on Beckett met with derision in the USA. His computer-assisted stylistic analysis of Lessness appeared in Computers and the Humanities and was promptly reprinted in Scientific American. In The New York Times Book Review John Leonard dismissed Coetzee’s study as pointless (Leonard 1973: 27). Yet, as David Attwell correctly points out, with the benefit of hindsight we are able to see the meaning of this strange early text. It constitutes “a rigorous inquiry into the ontology of fictional discourse, and an attempt to locate a position from which Coetzee himself might one day begin to speak” (J.M. Coetzee 1992a: 1–2). Besides the broader ontological dimension, this quest for a foothold has a structural, or linguistic, side to it. Coetzee has published on the rhetorical meaning of the passive (J.M. Coetzee 1992d: 147–169) and the agentless sentence (J.M. Coetzee 1992c: 170–180). In his contribution to Momentum, entitled “A Note on Writing,” he comments on the residual presence of the middle voice in some modern languages. Following Roland Barthes’ reflections on the transitive-non-transitive and active-passive oppositions of the verb “to write,” Coetzee points out “the possibility of the threefold opposition active-middle-passive” (J.M. Coetzee 1984: 11). The attempt here is to establish in respect to writing a modality of agency that goes beyond the simplifications of the current critical discourse. As he argues, such...
You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.
This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.
Do you have any questions? Contact us.Or login to access all content.