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Literary Spaces in the Selected Works of J.M. Coetzee


Katarzyna Karwowska

This book closely examines the processes governing the construction of literary spaces in the selected works of J.M. Coetzee, focusing in particular on the writer’s subversive and destructive treatment of traditional modes of representation which participated in the imperial enterprise and served to overcome the ontological insecurity of colonisers. This strategy results in the formation of heterogenous, fluid and open locations which can be deciphered along the postmodern spatial theories of Foucault, Augé, Deleuze and Guattari. The transformation of topographies not only cleanses them of the conventional residue in preparation for alternative spatial rearrangements, but also initiates processes which reverse the colonising project by breaching the gap between the other and the self.
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← VI | 1 →Introduction


John Maxwell Coetzee is a writer who, like his fiction, reaches beyond easy definitions and fixed categorisations. Born and raised in South Africa, he emigrated to Europe and America to continue his university education and launch a professional career. As a result of his involvement in anti-Vietnam War protests, he was forced to return to his homeland and finally, after retiring, settled in Australia. This brief biographical outline might already hint at the ambiguous status of the writer: Coetzee’s fiction is deeply indebted to European literary tradition,1 yet it grows out of a local cultural, historical and material reality. Significantly, Coetzee distances himself from politics and from the role of a writer who is a South African national. In one interview, he asks “whether it isn’t simply that vast and wholly ideological superstructure constituted by publishing, reviewing and criticism that has forced on [him] the fate of being a ‘South African novelist’” (Morphet qtd. in Stanton 61). Nevertheless, it does not immediately follow that Coetzee severs all links with his homeland, relieving himself of the ensuing obligations and responsibilities. To the contrary, he sets some of his novels in South Africa and engages them in a dialogue with regional literary discourse. “His novels retreat and roam; like Michael K, they root themselves ‘nowhere,’” notices T. Kai Norris Easton, who then hastens to add: “[b]ut the South African base is there – in Cape, from which his stories emigrate. […] Indeed, Coetzee’s work carries a double tendency towards the South...

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