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Text and Hinterland: J. M. Coetzee and the South African Novel

J. M. Coetzee and T. Kai Norris Easton
Journal of Southern African Studies
Vol. 21, No. 4, Special Issue on South African Literature: Paradigms Forming and Reinformed (Dec., 1995), pp. 585-599
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2637210
Page Count: 15
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Text and Hinterland: J. M. Coetzee and the South African Novel
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Abstract

There is a certain paradox in placing a writer in a national or regional context, especially a writer like J. M. Coetzee who has distanced himself from such a reading. However, as much as his novels and scholarly criticism range well beyond a South African terrain, they also track this course-at times-quite deliberately. Think only of `The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee' in the second half of Dusklands or his collection of essays, White Writing. This article will explore the ambivalent space of Coetzee's fiction with particular reference to Life & Times of Michael K and Age of Iron. His novels retreat and roam; like Michael K, they root themselves `nowhere'. But the South African base is there-in the Cape, from which his stories emigrate. As such, Coetzee's oeuvre might be seen as a series of `travelling texts' which reinscribes, by dislocation, a South African topography. Indeed, Coetzee's work carries a double tendency towards the South African landscape: one which is concurrently removed and engaged. If it draws heavily from a European tradition, it also drifts in and out of a local one. The question I wish to pose is this: Is there a way to discuss Coetzee's narratives as `South African' without reducing his novels to a reading of the `nation'? Or to phrase it differently, can his novels be read as `national' texts precisely for their fragmented South Africanness-a `nationality' which presupposes diversity and a mingling of cultures and forms? The discussion which follows makes use of a dispersal of spatial terms. They are not, in any way, meant to contain Coetzee's fiction in a South African context, nor to imply that his fiction is self-containing. Rather, it will be argued that-perhaps against all intentions-his novels offer a new kind of mapmaking which opens up the space of South African fiction.

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