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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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In 1974 John Maxwell Coetzee published his first work of fiction, Dusklands. It happened shortly after he had been denied permanent residence in the United States of America and was forced to leave the country, which was the result of the author’s active participation in the anti-Vietnam-War protests. Upon returning to South Africa he finished his first fictional enterprise. This forced migration is reflected in the work’s content and structure: Dusklands is divided in two separate novellas, both participating in the discourse of colonialism. While the first novella is situated in the United States of the early 1970s and raises the subject of the country’s military involvement in the Southeast Asia, the second story takes place in the South Africa of the 1760s. These two distinct spatio-temporal settings reflect two significant moments in the history of colonisation, i.e. its beginnings and gradual demise. Significantly, “The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee,” an account of a hunting journey into the land of the Namaqua people in the times of Cape Colony, also constitutes the earliest reference to the South African territories to be found in Coetzee’s fiction. As such it provides adequate explanative material to the questions about spatial constructions in his subsequent novels whose events take place in the twentieth century South Africa. The analysis of the terms in which the colonial encounter is represented reveals the foundations of Coetzee’s future spatial strategies.

“The Narrative of Jocobus Coetzee” stages the scenes of confrontation of a frontiersman with the unexplored regions...

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