(More) variations on the works of J.M. Coetzee

Par Jean Sevry
Publication en ligne le 19 juin 2013

Texte intégral


1The treatment of space, in the works of J.M. Coetzee, presents us with a ceaseless variation, a constant shifting from vast and empty spaces to narrow and restricted nooks. As Magda puts it in In the Heart of the Country1, "I can expand to infinity just as I can shrivel to the size of an ant" (p. 50, § 9). This instils narration with an inner pulsation, a kind of biological rhythm oscillating between vasoconstriction. And this spasmodic flow also works as a system of opposition between the North and the South of the country, between Inside and Outside, between Within and Without.

2More precisely, if we look at Dusklands, we can see that the topology of this novel is often devoted to vast spaces befitting a conqueror ; spaces for conquest (E. Dawn and J. Coetzee), for vengeance and humiliation. In the Heart of the Country represents a different case, inasmuch as here, space is treated as the place for isolation, where a young woman finds herself marooned. In Waiting for the Barbarians, the land spreads out towards infinity, beyond the frontier where the would-be barbarians are supposed to dwell. This time, here is a space for "penance, reparation" (p. 81) where the magistrate endeavours to redeem himself and where there is some scope left for redemption, or forgiveness, in the Christian sense of the word. In Life and Times of Michael K, huge expanses of earth allow Michael to move towards the Karoo. Now, as everybody knows, within South African literature – from O. Schreiner to P. Smith and many others – the Karoo has always been part of a national mythology which situates heroes far from men and from human corruption. This is where Michael wants to go, to save himself and his mother, so as to escape war and migrate towards liberty. But such an empty landscape is also a cause for vertigo : "an arid landscape that tilted and threatened to tip him over his head" (p. 78).

Two : Of space, Narrow, and of Narcissism

3At the opposite pole of this treatment of vast spaces, we find what we might call narrow recesses where the ego retires into a self-inflicted cocoon, a restricted area entirely devoted to self-contemplation. Such places may look dull or drab, but they are packed with an inner life reduced to sheer necessity. As examples of this, we might quote Eugene Dawn and his bedroom in Dusklands as well as Jacobus Coetzee and his hut, or Magda on her farm, or again the magistrate and his cell in Waiting for the Barbarians, or Michael K and his cave which soon turns into a burrow in Life and Times of Mickael K. These, as I said, are spaces for retirement which, paradoxically enough, also work as spaces for imprisonment. Here the ego, probably because it is thus cooped up from the outer world, can gather itself. This attempt at self recuperation entirely consecrated to inner communication entails a complete interruption from any communication – Michael being the ultimate case – with any other human being. The process leads to the Gates of Death : some characters such as Magda are well aware of this : "I drown into myself" (In the Heart of the Country, p. 54, § 100).

4The mirror then presents the protagonist of this tragedy with the picture of his/her destruction. That is why Eugene Dawn uses a mirror to watch his downfall just as Jacobus Coetzee does to see his physical decay. The sign soon becomes unbearable. E. Dawn wants to change his body for another, to do away with "my ugly face dark desires" (p. 2). And when the Magistrate says of the girl "I undress her, I bathe her, I stroke her, I sleep beside her" (p. 43), he also discovers that the body of this girl acts as a sort of mirror. "It is I who am seducing myself" (p. 44).

5This is a correct definition of narcissism. According to the myth the hero drowns into himself trough self-comtemplation. He refuses communication and love for the acceptance of full communication may lead to such sentiments. And while he assumes the shape of a flower floating on dormant waters, the naiads are transformed into weeping willows to express their infinite sorrow. Narcissus portends death to himself and to others 2.

6Now we may wonder whether there is not a close similarity between a mirror and an island. For what is a mirror if not a surface within a frame ? A small island in spite of appearances is similarly defined : a stretch of land confined within a frame of waves. A mirror is an island and an island is a mirror. Both reveal the metaphysical loneliness of the self who is left alone and who is continually confronted with the reflection of his own picture. How do we react when we are faced with our mirror ? How can the ego react when it is abandoned marooned on a desert island ? The mirror and the island both act as question marks. And when quite naturally the narration tends to drift towards the Robinson Crusoe Tale whether it be a reminiscence of Daniel Defoe or of Michel Tournier. This is how Michael starts life afresh as a cultivator (p. 81). On his abandoned farm he does feel like Robinson : "I let myself believe that this was one of those islands without an owner" (p. 84). As a result of this isolation the reduction process is furthered : "I am becoming smaller and harder and drier every day" (p. 93), to such a point that Michael feels that if one should cut him blood would seep rather than ran. He also contrives various implements for his survival, such as a catapult, to shoot birds, a telescope to light a fire. He thus gradually rediscovers as every Robinson is bound to do the successive stages in the history of mankind from insect-picking activities to hunting and gardening. At times the narration unfurls with a demure touch of humour, especially when Michael's pumpkin is born. This is duly celebrated by a prayer to the first born (p. 155) where a biblical irony soon becomes apparent (Jonah, IV, 5-10). We may also notice – with the single exception of Michael K – how all these Robinsons are accompanied by their Fridays : Magda and Hendrik, the Magistrate and the girl, Jacobus and Klawer.

7The earth is often perceived as the mother (Gaiah). She becomes a matriarchal hollow, a symbolic womb. The hero then enters into symbiosis, a fusion with the deity. He therefore loses the distinction between Inside and Outside, between Within and Without3. In somecases this could be seen as the last stage of morbid narcissism, as the fatal fascination exerted by death lurking at the bottom of this weird pit. For this cavity is also a grave. When Magda, in In the Heart of the Country, vainly tries to bury her father, she repeatedly slips into this hole. But whose grave ? His ? Hers ? When she is at the bottom of his grave, she says :

I am wholly inside. [...] I close my eyes better to relish the dark. I search my heart and can find no reason to leave. I could make this my second home. I could get Hendrik to bring me food. I would not need much. At night I could crawl out to stretch my legs [...] howl to the moon [...] prowl for scraps, (p. 89, § 176).

8In a similar way, Michael K identifies not only with the earth, but also with the creatures, such as the worm, who live there : "like a worm he began to slither towards his hole" (p. 147). He sees the earth as his Goddess : "we are all children of the earth" (p. 190). And when children play in the camp, the reader is asked to go through what looks to me like the most poetic example of a fusion, for they tread on him as if he were part of the ground.

The smaller children [...] incorporated his body into their game. They clambered over him and fell upon him as if he were part of the earth. Still hiding his face, he rolled over and found that he could doze even with little bodies riding on his back. (p. 1ll)

9The deities of the water are also called up : below the earth there is water. Here is Magda invoking them.

Far down in the earth flow the underground rivers [...] My skirt billows and floats around my waist like a black flower [...] The mythic vortex, (p. 13, § 31)

10In his turn, in the last lines of The Life and Times of Michae K, the Cape gardener notices that as long as there is earth and water, life can go on, "and in that way he would say, one can live" (p. 250).

11The earth is also the place where time can be stopped or altered. It is often said of Michael K he has interrupted time, that "he is not of this world". Magda winds up the clock and thus pretends to remain in touch with the time of the outer world. But with a sort of perversity, she mixes colours, light and darkness, by dressing in white at night and in black in full daylight. Michael K also perverts time by sleeping during the day whereas he starts being busy at night : the order of time is set topsy-turvy. He eventually loses track of time : this is quite normal since very fusion with the earth kills it. This protection of the earth is synonymous with Death : in Death Time stops. You must remember that, according to the Greek myth, Chronos was the only one who dared stop the oppression of Uranus : Time kills Fusion. And it is the symptomatic inversion of time that nurtures fusion. Time introduces the notion of the Here and Now. Doing away with time leads into the nowhere of fusion. And once more, death looms.

Three : Of the Dislocation ot the Body

12In the works of J.M. Coetzee, the body is often seen by characters as a complete foreigner, or as an enemy. They have become totally estranged from what they perceive as a mass of flesh and sinews. Eugene Dawn in Dusklands, decrribes his body as a disobedient machine : "I am vexed by the indiscipline of my body. I have often wished I had another one" (p. 5) ; or again, "my enemy body" (p. 8), or "my tyrant body" (p. 32). In his representations, the lips become two parted slabs, the mouth a hole, and the tongue "a thing I can push out of the hole".

13Characters also tend to become obsessed with evacuation problems ; the body is then seen as a pile of dirt or a heap of shit. Jacobus Coetzee spares no details about his endless diarrhoea, which is also the case of the Magistrate in Waiting for the Barbarians. As for Magda, she presses comparisons between her father's defecationand hers. The insides are described as a vacuum which cannot even retain food.

14Love-making leaves Michael K indifferent. At times, the Magistrate feels his sex is disconnected from his personality : "sometimes my sex seems to me another being entirely" (p. 45). As for Eugene Dawn, he has a strange way of making love, which is expressed by the narrator with grim humour : "my seed dips like urine in the futile sewers of Marilyn's reproduction ducts" : the body is nothing but a series of holes and tubes. We are left with a completely dislocated representation of head and limbs. Magda wonders if, after all, she is not a mere "thing" "am I a thing among things, a body propelled along by a track of sinews " (p. 122). It is a weight, a burden she has to carry along, she "the angry spinster", since she could not share it with another person ; she has always been deprived of this communication : "a woman who has never lost possession of herself", "waiting for her little pink pig to knock" (p. 10). The mirror can reflect nothing but a fractured, a totally dislocated image of her body. She addresses her own figure as if it were not her own : "I have no cause to love this face [...] my hair [...] if it grows for corpses why should it not grow for me ?" (p. 22, § 43). And as she goes on with the stock-taking of the sundry parts of her body, we can see they are all divided, set asunder and destroyed in representation : the teeth are things to be pulled out, she would like to clench the jaws of pliers on her chin or eyebrows. The specular image thus undergoes negative changes, it is split and scattered 4 "whether I have two skins instead of seven, as the bookssay" (p. 22, § 43). This is probably why Magda enjoys pulling the legs out of a zeno beetle : a projection of what she actually senses about herself. A hole to be made whole, she stresses the emptiness of her body :

But I have quite another sense of myself [...] as a hole, a hole with a body draped around it, the two spindly legs hanging loose at the bottom and the two bony arms lapping at the side of the big head rolling at the top [...] I am hole crying to be whole, (p. 41, § 86)

15Destruction could be a solution, for at last it would give some meaning to this dislocation by completing it. In Dusklands, Jacobus Coetzee, who suffers terribly from the blister festering between his buttocks, dreams of a Hottentot ordeal during which his body would be torn apart and cut to pieces :

I underwent the Arcadian ordeal of losing toenails, toes, fingernails, fingers, nose, ears, eyes, tongue and privates, the whole performance accompanied by howls of the purest anguish and climaxing in a formal disembowelling. I might, yes, have enjoyed it. (p. 82)

16Doctor Masoch could not have put it better. This vocation for martyrdom by "natives" is animated by comparisons with various animals or insects. Coetzee's works teem with insects, mostly diehard, stonelike creatures, but all are well alive and aggressive, like Magda : "a fierce mantis of yore" (p. 116, § 227), turning into "an ant" (p. 15, § 35 ; p. 35, § 73 ; etc.). As is often the case – Coetzee has a greater sense of humour than one could believe on first reading – the irony is still there : "I hiss and spit, if spiders can spit" (p. 3, § 85). Eugene Dawn also confesses his admiration for these tiny creatures of the earth : "I find insects fascinating even more than birds. I am impressed by the invariability they achieve in their behavior" (p. 36).

17Magda presses this identification even further : she wants to become a grub, i.e. something not as elaborate as an insect :

I am a child again, an infant, a grub, a white shapeless life with no arms, no legs, nothing even to grip the earth with, a sucker, a claw ; I squirm, (p. 51, § 97)

18Now we can see the full meaning of these comparisons. Receding, retiring into the earth amounts to a movement of regression into the past beyond adulthood, beyond adolescence and childhood, beyond the minor stage, down into before birth into a primeval state of life where fusion never ceases5. It is very difficult here to ascribe influences to psychoanalytical sources. J.-M. Coetzee has probably some knowledge in this field of the human sciences. But we may accept the fact that the writer as the creator of a universe of fiction, as a metaphor-maker, is in a position which enables him to delve into the most secret recesses of the unconscious without being actually aware of this daydreaming activity. He thus rediscovers the grammar of psychoanalysis and some of its fundamental rules in terms of analogy, in terms of coincidence. After all, when Joseph suggests an interpretation of Pharaoah's dreams (Genesis, 41, 48-50) he is already working as a kind of analyst some time before Freud started his systematic exploration6. That is why, as far as interpretation isconcerned and in order to avoid the pitfalls of "wild analysis", discretion is probably the best solution.

19Magda's pictures of herself have very little to do with those of Michael K in spite of apparent similarities. He wants to be a worm : "like a worm he began to slither towards his hole" (p. 147) ; he wants to fill a hole contrary to Magda who wants to be filled. He wants to hide there and to feel like a mole : he "feels as naked as a mole in daylight" (p. 144). At time, he thinks he is a rabbit, "chewing as quickly as a rabbit" (p. 53), while picking raw carrots. Above all he wants to do away with the world of human beings by taking shelter in nature's bosom. Not so with Magda who is athirst for communication and sex even if it has to be imaginary, thus opening herself to a communication delirium. Michael is on a quest for complete oblivion so as to become a creature of the Veld : "I live in the Veld [...] I live nowhere". He tends to forget about his own respiration : "You are forgetting to breathe, he would say to himself " (p. 163).

20Special attention is devoted to the eye. Here is what Jacobus Coetzee says in Dusklands :

In the wild I lose my sense of boundaries. This is a consequence of space and solitude. The operation of space is thus : the five senses stretch out from the body they inhabit [...] Only the eyes have power, (p. 78)

21The eyes are seen as an extension of the body : they are needed for the gun which they will prolong. The explorer the colonizer are depicted as killers : their eyes are always on the alert, on the look out for a target. In Waiting for the Barbarians, the eyes remain hidden behind spectacles (Colonel Joll : "at home everyone wears them" [p. 1]) : they can see you but you cannot see them. They mean power, like General Jaruzelski. As for the eyes of W.O. Mendel, they are transparent : "I look into his clear blue eyes, as clear as if they were crystal lenses slipped over his eyeballs" (p. 118). One may also notice a sort of correspondence/opposition between the eyes of Colonel Joll which refuse to see, and those of the girl who would like to communicate but who cannot, since she has been blinded : "I look into the eye. Am I to believe that gazing back at me she sees nothing" (p. 31). And when the Magistrate meets a waterbuck, he cannot kill it : gone are the days of conquest and exploration, now there is nothing left but guilt. For what he cannot bear is the look of the victim confronted with death (see p. 39).

Four : Of Victim and the Victimized

22In terms of relationship, the victimization process is always there. In Dusklands as well as in In the Heart of the Country it becomes a vicious circle where victimizers are turned into the victimized. In Waiting for the Barbarians, things become far more complicated : Coetzee shows us how desire disguised by love can amount to victimization. The Magistrate is not really aware of it till truth suddenly lights upon him :

And with a shift of horror I behold the answer what has been waiting all the time to offer itself to me in the image of a face marked by two black insect eyes from which there comes no reciprocal gaze but only my double image cast back at me [...] It is I who am seducing myself [...] What depravity is it that is creeping upon me ? (p. 44)

23The Magistrate now discovers that since he had treated the other (the girl) as an object, she could be nothing but a reflection for the subject, i.e. the onlooker. This communication is vain, it is a fake : he is conscious of it, of the "depravity" of the relationship thus imposed. He goes even further : he is, in his own way, a torturer :

I undress her, I bathe her, I stroke her, I sleep beside her, but I might as equally well tie her to a chain and beat her, it would be no less intimate, (p. 43)

24For the relationship he has reached is similar to that existing between a torturer (whom he denounces) and his victim : it is obscene. In both cases, the other is treated as a mere object for the perverse satisfaction of the subject's desire. The other is manipulated as a pre-text, and not as a text. And therefore it acts as a dead mirror :

Now I begin to see what the girl is doing. She is building a fort of snow, a walled town which I recognize in every detail : the battlements with the four watchtowers, the gate with the porter's hut beside it, the streets and houses, the great square with the barracks compound in one corner. (p. 53)

25This fort, cold and icy like death, stands as the prison where desire has been made captive. This is the trap, in the South African context, laid by colonization. The captivity of desire is true for both partners, for the white as well as for the native : "The town she is building is empty of life" (p. 53).

26But when we move from Dusklands (1974) to Life and Times of Michael K (1983), we notice a general reduction within this process of victimization : K is a pure victim, he never acts as a victimizer, which is not the case with Eugene Dawn, with Jacobus Coetzee, Magda, or with the magistrate who goes through a process of complete identification with his victim ; he goes through a Passion, in a Christ-like way. He wants to be in her cell, to redeem himself by going through the same ordeal. And he obtains what he wanted by being badly humiliated and tortured : he has taken her place. The reference to the situation of apartheid becomes more patent though it be veiled behind a skein of metaphorization. After all, one could also read Life and Times of Michael K as the fierce denunciation of the Cape Resettlement Acts. For what is apartheid if not a bureaucratic (Eugene Dawn is seen as a desk-killer) system of relation established between the torturers (victimizers) and the tortured (victimized). And the writer is left with a very painful situation, as J.M. Coetzee once wrote, quoting Irwin, James and Freud :

The novelist is a person who, camped before a closed door, facing an insufferable ban, creates, in place of the scene he is forbiddento see, a representation of that scene and a story of the actors in it and how they come to be there.7

27Coetzee is becoming more and more interested in the fate of the victims. And the "system", the Empire, are denounced as beyond forgiving, as totally inacceptable.

Five : Of the Fragmentation of Language

28In Dusklands, language plays a fundamental role. With Eugene Dawn and his Vietman project, the cruelty of a scientific organization of destruction is at work. The whole project of a total air-war is then summarized by the mathematical formula (p. 28) :

29PI = aX-3/4 + (bX – c) Y

30This is the cold language of vengeance, as cold as lawful segregation. In the second part of the novel, Jacobus Coetzee also shows a fascination for numbers : we have Mathematics and Science, whilst the natives have none of this ; they are savages, mere animals, an easy prey to desk-killers :

I am a hunter, a domesticator of the wilderness, a hero of enumeration. He who does not understand number does not understand death. Death is as obscure to him as to an animal. This holds true of the Bushman, and can be seen in his language, which does not include a procedure for counting, (p. 80)

31This is a justification for a genocide (that of the Khoikhoi) which actually took place in South African history 8.

32Names also play an important part : there is some irony about the identity of Eugene "Dawn". I think the whole story could be, in some way, defined as a one-sentence narration. It starts with such lines as "My name is Eugene Dawn. I cannot help that. Here goes" (p. 1. Printed as an introduction). Then he changes to George Doob when he elopes with his child Martin (p. 36). And the tale ends with a concluding line which is also an interrogation on his origins and identity : is he a mere number or just "a" name ? "I have high hopes of finding whose fault I am" (p. 4). As far as Dusklands is concerned, there should not be any mistake or misunderstanding about the way narration is organized. There is no real opposition between two tales, one dealing with the Vietman Project, the other with Jacobus Coetzee. In fact, schemes of narration tally and overlap : "Had I lived two hundred years ago I would have had a continent to explore, to map, to open to colonization" (p. 32). The two stories should be read as one, as a systematic dismantling of colonization, from 1760 to 1973. And what Eugene Dawn, the desk-killer, does with words ("I grew out of books" [p. 301]), Jacobus Coetzee had already done with a gun and a whip. One kills in deeds, the other by writ. And language can be as murderous as a gun, as damaging as a whip. To me, allusions to apartheid are clear enough. The composition of this tale is very intricate : voices tend to mix, with the translator's preface, the first journey, the second journey, the Afterword, the Deposition. The narrator keeps shifting focus, alternates facts and fiction, historical realities about the Namaquas, and representations : there are several layers of narration. Coetzee is a fine linguist.

33If we look at In the Heart of the Country, we can match the emergence of identity problems. Magda exclaims "If I am an O" (p. 41, § 87). An "O" is a hole and a zero. In her case, the dislocation of the body runs parallel with the fragmentation of speech. Her lips are tired, as she says to Hendrik and Klein Anna (pp. 83-84, § 163). She has a nostalgia for the "long aaa" of the baby. She can no longer bear the law of language, she refuses to be articulate ; tired of the spaces left vacant between letters, she resents consonants, yearns after vowels, for the long "aaa" of the newborn, before the appearance of language. She tends to dote, to repeat herself. The central therme of the novel could be traced in such a nucleus sentence as "I ask myself" quoted four times (pp. 12-13, § 2, 29 and 30). Without language there is no communication. The dislocation of speech amounts to death. The novel spreads out like a long monologue, like the story of a woman who is not recognized because she is not called, because other people do not speak to her :

For the day will come when I must have another human being, must hear another voice, even if it speaks only abuse. This monologue of the self is a maze of words out of which I shall not find a way until someone else gives me a lead. (p. 1, § 35)

34If someone could speak to her, she could be born anew. Her desire would begin to find an existence9. But as there is no other to speak to, she feels cornered and compelled to engage in imaginary communication by contriving a language of her own that cannot exist for others. This is the dead-end of the complete dislocation of speech. The structure of narration which is made up of 266 paragraphs or sequences and no chapters, may leave the reader in a perplexed state : one thinks of verses in the Bible or of data processing, knowing Coetzee's interest in this field of research. But we could also consider that this systematic technique enables the narrator to dis-locate, in the proper sense of the word, to break the frontiers between reality and representation, between fact and fiction.This is reinforced by the frequent use of adverbs such as "perhaps" or of modals such as "might" and "could" which are operators of uncertainty. Here the linguist is at work10. The reader is puzzled and wonders whether Magda is telling facts ot fantasies.

35With Life and Times of Michael K, we can see how the word can liberate the human being and establish his existence. Michael K finds it extremely difficult to express himself : "The urge again came over him to speak [...] finally the right words would not come" (p. 66). And till the very end of the story, people blame him for his harelip, for his inability to speak. In his letter, the doctor pleads : "at last, open your mouth" (p. 208). Yet, on two occasions, Mickael K does open his mouth and assert his existence as a human being fit for communication. What is fascinating then is Coetzee's deep understanding of the nature of language : language cannot exist without a desire to reach to the Other 9. In both cases, Mickael K speaks out of a desire to help and protect the other ; p. 124, he wants to protect two little girls from the police at Jakkaldrift Camp : "Come and sit here with me ! " p. 132, a man is being stabbed in the Camp, and here comes Michael's reaction : "We must take him to the gate ! " K shouted. "It was the first time he had raised his voice in the camp and people looked curiously at him" (p. 132).

36In Waiting for the Barbarians, a very difficult battle against the forces of Darkness is launched. Thing are named, others are not, so that it becomes a strife between denomination and non- denomination. There are things that must be hushed over, and will remain unnamed because they are unspeakable : oppression belongs to the realm of anonymity. Who are those barbarians ? A name without an actual bearer. The fear is all the greater as it remains within the precincts of wordlessness. What we are most afraid of is never designated as such. And yet, if you cannot locate your anguish, it is magnified and becomes sheer terror : if the enemy is a mystery (the barbarians), fear looms11. This is commonly used by totalitarian regimes which warn about "the enemy from outside". Such rumours link threat – more imaginary than real – with anxiety. The Empire, the Third Bureau, the barbarians, Colonel Joll's glasses [...] are perfect illustrations of this. The same could be said of apartheid which is a legal system of segregation : if I act thus, according to colour, it is because the law says so with all the terrifying power of its anonymity. And the law I must observe, whether I like it or not. And who made it ? A man behind a desk, a legislator. This problem of a nameless power is also present in the works of Fran Kafka, especially in The Castle where the messenger has no name, and where K is not a name, like Michael K [...] In the end, the Magistrate succeeds in his enterprise inasmuch as he can designate the real enemy, who is then exposed and accused : "You are the enemy, you are an obscene torturer" (p. 114). And this has become so obvious that there is no need for an articulate language to convey this message of denunciation and justice to Colonel Joll. The Magistrate can lip-read, a method of communication generally used for the deaf. Joll is mentally deaf :

He looks out at me, his eyes searching my face. The dark lenses are gone [...] I have a lesson for him that I have long meditated. I mouth the words and watch him read them on my lips : "The crime that is latent in us we must inflict upon ourselves", I say, I nod, driving the message home. "Not on others", I say [...] He watches my lips. (p. 146)

37Coetzee also presents us with a possible definition of the writer's role. The magistrate has a passion for archaeological digging which is a source for the understanding of the present through the past. He collects slips, bits of paper which he tries to decipher. In turn, he writes some which he very carefully buries in the earth for the generations to come and to destroy the obliteration of the past imposed by the Empire (colonials always tended to say that Africa was an empty continent before the arrival of the white man) "When one day people come scratching around in the ruins, they will be more interested in the relics from the desert than in anything I may leave behind. And rightly so" (p. 155). And rightly so, because if you lose touch with this past, it erases your conscience of the present, and you treat the native as a creature without a culture : this clears the ground for another colonization. The writer, like the Magistrate, is he who testifies, he who bears witness, he who designates and denominates, he who helps you to realize : "You are precious, Michael, in your way you are the last of your kind… like the coelacanth" (Life and Times of Michael K, p. 208). The writer is a person who leaves messages behind for others to decipher and enjoy.

Six : Text, Context and Intertext

38The novels of J.M. Coetzee present us with a repeated description of the "Situation", where characters are enclosed within a jail and feel trapped. Apartheid is a trap, but here the situation is sublimated by metaphorization. This distance maintained by the novelist leaves scope for a better understanding of a situation through generalization and identification with any totalitarian political system. This could be criticized – and often is criticized in Europe – as a kind of escapism. Yet Coetzee denounces lives which, because of the "system" are not led as they should be. Characters are aware of this. The Magistrate, for example, tells the girl : "I had the feeling of not living my own life on my own terms" (p. 40). Later he gives us a full description of the power of this "Empire" (a description with biblical connotations [see Matthew, 6, 25-2]) :

What has made it impossible for us to live in time fish in water, like birds in the air, like children ? It is the fault of the Empire ! Empire has created the time of history [...] not the recurrent spinning time of the cycle of the seasons, (p. 133)

39Towards the end of the novel, the Magistrate harps on the same theme while children are making a snowman :

This is not the scene 1 dreamed of. Like much else nowadays I leave it feeling stupid, like a man who lost his way long ago but presses on along a road that may lead nowhere, (p. 15)

40He cannot think of a solution and the story eventually resounds with the grim clink of keys rattling in closed locks, the thud of "the bricklayers at work again" (p. 88), building new cells. In Life and Times of Michael K, the "situation" is becoming less and less metaphorized, and allusions tend to become more and more obvious. Places are named and clearly designated as belonging to South Africa : the Cape Point, Stellenbosch, Worcester and Paarl, the Karroo. And here again, as there is no solution in sight, the only one that is left is to escape, to be alone within a cosy burrow, far from oppression, from permits and passes, from the legislation of the Forced Removals, from the deafening howls of suffering people. The guilt of the whites is omnipresent even when they want to help. If social workers try to heal the poor at Jakkaldrift Camp, it is part of the "system" ; they also wish to appease their own conscience : "They just don't want to get upset. They want to sleep feeling good" (p. 121). People's desire to communicate makes them run the risk of being caught and sent to a camp :

A man who wants to live cannot live in a house with lights in the windows. He must live in a hole and hide by day. A man must live so that he leaves no trace of his living. That is what it has come to. (p. 135)

41Michael, therefore, will keep mute and look stupid : the idiot is not, socially speaking, a dangerous character (see pp. 85, 93, 135, 148, 185, 248). This is a problem of survival : The statement : "I am not in the war" (p. 194) reminds us of another uttered by the magistrate : "I never wished to be drawn into this [...] I did not mean to get embroiled in this" (p. 8). Michael K will slip out, "tiptoeing across the ground" (p. 133). To be of it is like to be in it. In a clearly inspired page Michael refuses to be in any camp : "Perhaps the truth is that it is enough to be out of the camp, out of all the camps all the time [...] I have escaped the camp ; perhaps if I lie low, I will escape charity too" (pp. 248-249). But Coetzee is not content with a mere description of such solutions. He also proposes interpretations. Characters often sense they are internally haunted by devils. In Dusklands, Eugene Dawn discovers : "Now, 1973, a hideous mongol boy who stretches his limbs inside my hollow bones, gnaws my liver with his smiling teeth [...] I want my deliverance ! " (p. 39). Similarly in In the Heart of the Country, Magda is haunted by a beast. Who is the beast ? Her father ? Hendrik ? Anna ? She ends with the question : "Who is the beast among us ? " In Waiting for the Barbarians, the Magistrate asks : " Show me a barbarian army and I will believe" (p. 8). In the Heart of the Country provides a metaphysical interpretation of all these situations. Coetzee abviously remembers Hegel's paradox on the Master and the Slave and their mutual dependence. This vicious relationship creates the guilt and the impossibility to live life as one would wish to :

It is the slave's consciousness that constitutes the master's certainty of his own truth. But the slave's consciousness is a dependent consciousness. So the master is not sure of the truth of his autonomy. His truth lies in an inessential consciousness and its inessential acts. (p. 130, § 250)

42The essential relationship between child and daughter is sullied because within this colonial context, it is clearly associated with a master-servant relationship. This blurs the pictures of authority ; the colonial situation stains this essential link and makes it impossible, renders it "inessential" in consciousness as well as in acts. By way of a joke I would say that the oedipian structure cannot work. All solutions are of no avail :

The medium, the median – that is what I wanted to be ! Neither master nor slave, neither parent nor child, but the bridge between, so that in me contraries be reconciled ! (p. 133, § 25)

43Perhaps the Magistrate has found a solution, in Waiting for the Barbarians ; but I am afraid it is more a dream than a reality. It is a recurrent vision (pp. 109 and 136) where the Christian bread of reconciliation and a vague image of the Holy Virgin may bring some peace to a tormented soul :

She is kneeling with her back to me before the snow castle she has built [...] She wears a dark blue robe [...] a gold thread in her hair. Also I can see that she is holding out to me a loaf of bread, still hot, with a coarse broken crust, (p. 136)

44No doubt Coetzee is well versed in the Bible, being of Calvinistic culture. In In the Heart of the Country, we can easily recognize Abraham's bush (p. 73), the snake and the Garden of Eden (p. 70) or Noah's sleep (p. 63). The Holy Book provides the writer with all kinds of imagery. We may also trace South African references. There is a strange affinity between Life and Times of Michael K and The Expedition to the Baobab Tree by Wilma Stockenström12, also a story of retreat, not within a cave, but within the trunk of a tree. Coetzee himself translated this marvellous tale from the Afrikaans in 1983, i.e. at the time when he was publishing his Life and Times of Michael K. And he had Stockenstrom's novel translated into French by Sophie Mayoux in 1985. Besides Defoe or Tournier's Vendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique13, Coetzee's works are also reminiscent of Dino Buzzati's The Tartar Steppe14 where a garrison is waiting for an invasion ; it takes thirty years before the Tartars reach the fort. This could have even provided Coetzee with his title. But Kafka seems to be the main reference (Coetzee can read German). Allusions to the Beast are frequent in the works of Kafka, especially in The Cares of a Family Man where Odradek may represent guilt in Jewish culture. The very precise description of torture in Waiting for the Barbarians (" 'there is a certain tone', Joll says" [p. 5]) does remind us of the harrow in Kafka's In the Penal Colony ("But howquiet he grows at just about the sixth hour ! Enlightenment comes to the most dull-witted" [p. 150]). The torture imagined by Joll (p. 105) is a kind of reproduction of this harrow inscribing letters on the back of the culprit. A fascination for insects can be found in The Metamorphosis as well as in "The Village Schoolmaster" or "The Giant Mole". Kafka's characters too, like the Girl or Michael K, find it difficult to stand on their own two feet (see The Metamorphosis or Description of a Struggle). In Life and Times of Michael K, the long episode in the burrow irresistibly evokes Kafka's short story "The Burrow", a long meditation on Within and Without. The general atmosphere of Waiting for the Barbarians has something in common with The Castle. In two short stories which Kafka published as "Introductory Parables" ("Before the Law" and "An Imperial Message"), we can find a philosophy, a vision of the Law, which may have had some influence on Coetzee. "Before the Law" is about a man who wants to enter the place where the Law is. He grows old, degenerates into a child. The story ends in a dialogue with the intractable doorkeeper :

"Why do you want to know, now ?", asks the doorkeeper ; "you are insatiable". Everyone strives to reach the law", says the man, "so how does it happen that for all these many years no one but myself has ever begged for admittance." The doorkeeper recognized that the man has reached his end, and to let his failing senses catch the words, roars in his ears : "No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it".15

45This is what we often feel when we read Coetzee's novels. But I would not speak of actual influences. Coetzee is a master of his text and it is probably his wide culture that prevents him from being provincial and enables him to attain the universal.

Seven : Of Writing, Narration and Anxiety : Whither Coetzee ?

46When I first read Foe (1986), I found the book tedious and the writing stilted. This feeling was reinforced by the reactions of some of my colleagues who launched into long discussions about Coetzee in Foe as standing at the "intersection of postmodernism, postcolonial and feminist discourse16. It seemed that the author had concocted a dish fit to please the palates of university dons, who could then pounce upon the novel to find justification of their literary theories. A full issue of the Journal of Literary Studies was published in Pretoria in 199017, the result of a special seminar ranging from metafiction (M.J. Marais) to postmodernist narrative strategies (I. Grabe), some articles showing remarkable insight (M. de Jong). The whole literary establishment had been gathered there to hail Foe, summoning Genette, Derrida, Foucault and, of course, Lacan [Theresa Dovey is the author of a very interesting study on Lacanian allegories in the works of Coetzee]18. Critics in South Africa delighted in applying their latest theories to this novel, at times with pompous verbosity. An armchair Marxist (M. Vaughan) sulked in his corner denouncing Coetzee's intellectualism which he opposed, as a counter culture, to black populism.

47On second reading, I changed my mind. I now consider it as an amusing experiment in the field of writing, a novel about the novel as a literary genre, an essay on fiction as well as a story, hence the multiple systems of narration and embedded layers working like Russian dolls : the story of Susan Barton marooned on a desert island, meeting Cruso and Friday and writing letters which come close to that of Mr Foe, the famous writer who is supposedly in charge of the final version. This story has been announced by many others for the novel abounds in Robinsons accompanied by their Fridays. But perhaps here Coetzee goes back to the dislocation of story found in Dusklands, his first novel, twelve years before.

48Above all, Foe is an interrogation on the nature of writing and on the process of creation. A writer questions himself about the possible meanings and implications of the book he is working on. The reader is a witness to the process. Paradoxically the story fills an absence with its would-be presence. As Foe puts it, "in every story there is a silence, some sight concealed, some words unspoken, I believe. Till we have spoken the unspoken we have not come to the heart of the story" (p. 141).

49But Friday remains a puzzle ; a castrated slave, he has also been deprived of speech – like Michael K and a few others – since his masters cut his tongue off. In this regard, Friday represents the pure "character to be". Susan is aware of this truism : "It is possible that some of us are not written, but merely are ; or else (I think principally of Friday) are written by another and darker author" (p. 143). This accounts for a constant hesitation between reality and fantasy, a situation already apparent in Waiting for the Barbarians. Though Susan Barton's letters are addressed to Foe, she keeps wondering about their destination and her own ontological destiny : "Who is speaking, me ? Am I a phantom too ? To what order do I belong ? And you : who are you ?" (p. 133).

50A fundamental equation runs through the novel, a pattern which gives it its skeleton, and which works as follows :

51[Creature/Creator Ë Object/Subject – Slave/Master – /Friday/Cruso/Susan/Foe – Foe/Coetzee À Text/Writer],

52This equation is reversible. As a result, reality here is represented by "substantial" and fantasy by "phantom" or "ghost".

53More adventures follow : during a meeting at the headquarters, Susan and Foe negotiate the making of the novel we read. Foe wishes to devote more pages to Susan's life in Bahia which she begrudges him and he would like to introduce cannibals on the island to bring variety. On page 117, he develops a theory on the composition of story, which is a direct application of Propp's theory on the structure of a tale, with all the necessary paraphernalia, the processes of loss, quest, recovery, beginning, middle and end.

54I suspect Coetzee had fun when he saw the critics taking the story seriously. One could also interpret this novel as a huge joke meant to take in a naive reader. It is possible that, despite his unsmiling appearance, Coetzee might be a trickster eager to spin a yarn ? To me Foe is a game about a game. Parody appears in unexpected moments : when Susan Barton travels with "her" Friday ("I do not love him but he is mine" [p. 111]) to Bristol so as to send him back to "his" Africa, she encounters endless adventures ; she is nearly raped by drunkards and both are thrown out of the inn by customers who mistake them for gypsies. It also appears in the very moving episode (reminiscent of the soap opera) in which Susan Barton's daughter Amy wants to pass as a lost child. The story of Jack, Mr Foe's servant, is also an obvious reminiscence of the eighteenth- century picaresque novel, of Smollett's Roderick Random, or Fielding's Tom Jones or of Diderot's Jacques le fataliste. This is another novel written along the road (see p. 99), along ditches, under hedgerows ("For prudence sake we lie low for we make an irregular couple" [p. 107]), inside inns, among the riffraff and to the accompaniment of lurid tales from Newgate. In parts II and III, one finds parody, pastiche, variations and Quixotic similes somewhat in the manner of Queneau's Exercices de style. The style itself is instinct with eighteenth-century idioms and linguistic oddities as in the passage when Susan humorously plans to entitle her story "The Female Castaway, Being a True Account of a Year Spent on a Desert Island, With Many Strange Circumstances Never Hitherto Related" (p. 67). Just as in Fielding's works, a character often steps in, interrupting the story, asking his way or wondering about the next episode. Eighteenth-century writers delighted in the dislocation of narration, a practice which Coetzee appreciates.

55I suspect that, at times, Coetzee adds a measure of self-humour aimed at the connoisseur. We cannot help thinking of Michael K when the protagonist of Foe remarks : "Living like a mole in your house has quite taken away my nut brown island hue" (p. 108). In part II, Friday, who has already put on Foe's robes for his dancing pranks, appears under the guise of Mr Foe and pretends he can write when he cannot despite Susan and Foe's attempts to teach him a few words. Similarly, when Susan tries to improve communication with her slave by playing the flute with him, she discovers that he is not only mute but also deaf. All's well that ends well : when Susan makes love to Foe, she will not have him lie on top of her ; instead she straddles him for, being a "muse", she must be careful about her copyrights.

56In 1988, Coetzee published White Writing, on the Culture of Letters in South Africa. This volume contains very interesting studies on the stereotyped image of the Hottentot in this literature. It also includes reflections on the interpretation of the South African landscape (a preoccupation present in Dukslands and Waiting for the Barbarians). Above all, it deals with the "Plaas Roman", the novel of the farm (with such authors as Van der Heever, Mikro, Olive Schreiner and Pauline Smith), which is presented as a microcosm of colonial society. In many pages, the author acknowledges his debt to Afrikaner culture despite all his reservations about it. In the Heart of the Country and, to a lesser degree, Life and Times of Michael K could be seen as the inheritors of a tradition in which linguistic preoccupations loom large : "The landscape art and landscape writing in South Africa from the XlXth century to the middle of the XXth revolve around the question of finding a language to fit Africa, a language that will be authentically African" (p. 7).

57Age of Iron differs widely from Foe in that allegory loses most of its weight ; it becomes transparent. Even if this novel starts with the same type of interrogation, with an old lady writing letters to her daughter in the United States without knowing whether they will ever reach their destination ("To whom this writing then ? The answer : to you but not to you : to me ; to you in me" [p. 5]), it soon develops into the confession of a woman who has been alone in her house for sixteen years and is now dying of a cancer which she attributes to self-inflicted shame : "I have cancer from the accumulation of shame I have endured in my life. That is how cancer comes about : from self-loathing : the body turns malignant and begins to eat away at itself" (p. 132). The allegory thus becomes limpid : at the same moment, the country is dying of its incurable cancer in the form of apartheid. She too has a Friday (Vercueil, for Cercueil…), a black vagrant who acts as a zoo-keeper, a dog-keeper, a guardian, who goes shopping for her, who cooks for her, shares her bed, an angel or a messenger who portends death, who eventually helps her with her own death. They spend a beautiful and innocent night, like children, like tramps, under a hedgerow. A woman of great learning, she can no longer bear the sound of the national anthem and asks Vercueil to switch the radio off. She feels sick of this society. Blacks terrify her, especially the "children of violence" who invade her house. She asks herself :

"Why do I let them into the house ? Because the reign of the locust family is the truth of South Africa, and the truth is what makes me sick. Legitimacy they no longer trouble to claim. Reason they have shrugged off. What absorbs them is the power and the stupor of power" (p. 25).

58She knows her days are counted. But it is not only this new black power she loathes ; it is also the country as a whole :

In silence we waited in the car, Vercueil and I, like a couple married too long… We who marry South Africa become South Africans : ugly, torpid, the only sign of life in us as a quick flash of fangs when we are crossed. South Africa : a bad-tempered old hound snoozing in the doorway, taking its time to die. (p. 64)

59She feels she is like "a museum in decay" and "when the pain bites deepest and I shudder and go pale and a cold sweat breaks on me, [Vercueil] sometimes holds my hand" (p. 175). Now emotion is no longer constrained in the straitjacket of allegory ; it can express itself ; it comes out loose and more relaxed. She faces the police, no longer afraid of driving into the black township, of committing herself in a vain attempt to help Florence, her maid, who is looking for her lost son. Narration too becomes simpler : I follow the pen, going where it takes me" (p. 99). "Once I came to myself facing the wall. In my hand was a pencil, its point broken. All over the wall were sprawling, sliding characters, meaningless, coming from me or someone inside me" (p. 167). The book ends with very poignant words, for Vercueil is still there to coddle her to death :

I got back into bed, into the tunnel between the cold sheets. The curtains parted ; he came in beside me. For the first time I smelled nothing. He took me in his arms and held me with mighty force, so that the breath came out of me in a rush. From that embrace there was no warmth to be had. (p. 181)

60Death interrupts the tale since it is one of the writer's powers to stop life from flowing through words, the way Tolstoy does in The Death of Ivan Ilyich. As Coetzee's protagonist says, "Death may be the last great foe of writing, but writing is also the foe of death" (p. 106).

61Age of Iron acts as a sort of revealer. It gives us a last grim picture of the vanity of things, of the sterility of this world. There is very little this old woman can do to stop her decay and death, to interrupt the violence shaking South African society and shattering it. It is like sitting on the brink of a fuming volcano. In Foe, Coetzee sets his characters "on an island without seed" (p. 83) and, in the most absurd manner, Cruso spends his days clearing his twelve terraces which remain barren for there is nothing to plant. As we have already suggested, what makes this soil sterile is the impossibility to sow the seeds of fertility ; it is an omnipresent anxiety that prevents this land from bearing fruit. Behind anxiety, guilt is lurking, stifling growth and inhibiting initiative. That is why guilt/anxiety is represented by a beast in In the Heart of the Country, "the hideous Mongol boy" in Dusklands, as quoted before. Reference to Kafka will make our meaning clearer : In The Cares of a Family Man there is a weird figure called Odradek, a word which does not exist in German, Yiddish or Czech. It "can stand upright as if on two legs"19. It keeps haunting the house : "he lurked by turns in the garret, the stairway, the lobbies, the entrance hall". Critics, with good reason, suggest an interpretation : Odradek could be the representation of Jewish guilt, for its shape is evocative of the star of David. It is quite a burden to be a member of the Elect, of the twelve tribes of Israel, the favourite and beloved child of Elohim. There is, I believe, a possible imaginary affiliation between Jewish and Afrikaner guilt, which may explain why Coetzee is so close to Kafka. Most Afrikaner leaders have always believed that they were sent to South Africa with a mission, that of acting as guardians to their "Fridays" since they are the Lord's anointed. In Age of Iron, the heroine is fully aware of this and she accuses the ancestors in a moment of inspired vision :

What, after all, gave birth to the age of iron but the age of granite ? Did we not have Voortrekkers, generation after generation of Voortrekkers, grim-faced, tight-lipped Afrikaner children, marching, singing their patriotic hymns, saluting their flag, vowing to die for their fatherland ? Ons sal lewe, ons sal sterwe. Are there not still white zealots preaching the old regime of discipline, work, obedience, self-sacrifice, a regime of death, to children some too young to tie their own shoelaces ? What a night-mare from beginning to end ! The spirit of Geneva triumphant in Africa. Calvin, black-robed, thin-blooded, forever cold, rubbing his hands in the afterworld, smiling his wintry smile. Calvin victorious, reborn in the dogmatists and witch- hunters of both armies. How fortunate you are to have put all this behind you ! (p. 47).20

62An Afrikaner is entering a state of rebellion. In The Story of an Afrikaner, Die Rewolusie van die Kinders ?,21 Katie Ferreira, another Afrikaner writer tells us about a strange beast that keeps on stifling men and depriving them of words. Ferreira calls it a "Dwurg". As far as I know, this word does not exist in Afrikaans (though "Wurg" does exist, meaning to strangle, to choke). To me, the "Dwurg" is just like Odradek. In Part IV of Foe, Susan tells how, on seeing the first pages of her manuscript on Foe's table, she imagined herself striking out towards the dark cliff among the petals strewn about by Friday who worships at strange altars :

I am in the great bed of seaweed : the fronds rise and fall with the swell. With a sigh, with barely a splash, I duck my head under the water. Hauling myself hand over hand down the trunks,/ descend, petals floating around me like a rain of snowflakes. (pp. 156-7).

63At that moment, she faces a new leviathan, a horrible monster, the Kraken :

The dark mass of the wreck is flecked here and there with white [...] The timbers are black, the hole even blacker that gives entry. If the Kraken lurks anywhere, it lurks here, watching out of its stony hooded undersea eyes (p. 156)

64This is no doubt a story in black and white. Could it be another South African allegory with a black devouring monster ? It is, as Coetzee would say, for the reader to decide. But the Kraken, as everybody knows, is supposed to be a Norwegian mythical sea monster who has the reputation of darkening the waters around him with its excretions like a kind of gigantic cuttlefish. He is the very embodiment of anxiety/guilt like Odradek, like the Beast or the "Dwurg". It is this guilt which imposes self-punishment according to Freud22. This process can easily be traced through the works of Coetzee. Needless to say, it is a specifically South African guilt.

65Anxiety and guilt are soon involved in a mutual relationship which becomes fundamental since each cannot do without the other. The two mutual friends share the same loneliness, the same boredom, the same misery. Carrying the burden of colonial inheritance is no easy task. Familiarity with unhappiness becomes a vital need which helps to keep the partners alive. Connivence entails indulgence. Suffering acts as a stimulator to the poison of intelligence ; always on the alert, it acts as a razor ready to dissect and to expatiate on the absurdity of the "situation". Pity and charity are of no avail. Cruelty and cynicism bring in more suffering ; but they give more lucidity, the only faculty left. As Dostoievsky's character says in Notes from Underground23, "now perhaps man is not so keen on his happiness. Perhaps he feels more attached to suffering. Perhaps suffering is as advantageous as happiness". The sufferer can no longer do without his suffering which he eventually cherishes. That is probably why masters, mistresses and Fridays walk like friends through the works of Coetzee, a long and winding band of brothers, "irregular couples" (Foe), like Beckett's Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot, in a desert, perhaps waiting only for death. Like Don Quixote, SanchoPança, Don Juan and Sganarelle, they witness to societies in fragments.

66Whither Coetzee ? I am sure he would refuse to answer such a question. No doubt, the bulk of anti-apartheid South Africa literature is bound to collapse as soon as the "situation" changes. Coetzee's works cannot suffer from such drastic changes since he has always endeavoured to transcend the merely topical with his allegories. But maybe he will feel at ease to write about other subjects. The great tragic dilemma in South Africa literature in the last fifty years has been : how can one write about what is happening ? Can one write about anything else ?

67Coetzee has often been stigmatized for his supposed political weaknesses. I strongly disagree with such condemnations. Literature is not to be mistaken for propaganda, as one can see through the various misfortunes of "social realism" in the USSR. Coetzee has always been explicit on this point as, for example, in his interview with Thorold and Wicksterd in 198724 :

It seems to me that what you're trying to do is absorb certain novels, my novels, into a political discourse [...] And it's perhaps a mark of all critical activity to try to swallow one kind of discourse into another kind of discourse [...] And what I'm now resisting is the attempt to swallow my novels into a political discourse, because I'm not prepared to concede that the one kind of discourse is larger or more primary than the other [...] / have to resist them because, frankly, my allegiances lie with the discourse of the novels and not with the discourse of politics.


1  We have used the following editions : In the Heart of the Country, London, Seeker and Warburg, 1977 ; Waiting for the Barbarians, London, Seeker and Warburg, 1980 ; Dusklands, London, Seeker and Warburg, 1982 ; Life and Times of Michael K, Harmonds worth, Penguin, 1983 ; Foe, London, Seeker and Warburg, 1986 ; White Writing : On the Culture of Letters in South Africa, New Haven and London, Yale UP, 1988 ; Age of Iron, London, Seeker and Warburg, 1990.

2  See what Denis Vasse says in Le Poids du réel, la souffrance, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1983 ; "En bref encore : le "moi" confondu et avec le sujet et avec l'objet. Cette confusion fait croire en un homme dont le division se trouve supprimée et la contradiction apparemment résolue ; alors rien ne lui manque : il a la fallacieuse unité de lui-même. En disparaissant dans l'eau noire de sa propre image, Narcisse ne crie même pas. Et nous en sommes d'ailleurs avertis : "à quoi lui servirait-il de crier ? Sa femme ne s'appelle-t-elle pas écho ? Il n'y a personne pour entendre" (p. 29).

3 I have here in mind such books as Mélanie Klein'sEnvie et gratitude Paris, Gallimard, 1975, and especially the chapter entitled "Se sentir seul" (pp. 121-137), and the notion of introjection. See also on this J.M. Petot,Mélanie Klein, premières découvertes et premier système, 1919-1932 Paris, Dunod, 1979. This desire of retire into the earth, through the figure of the cave, could also be seen as nostalgia for a bygone symbiosis. See on this Sandor Ferenczi, Thalassa. Psychanalyse des origines de la vie sexuelle Paris, Payot, 1977, p. 44 : "Une tentative du Moi, d'abord tâtonnante, puis de plus en plus nettement orientée et enfin partiellement réussie, de retourner dans le corps maternel, situation où la rupture, si pénible pour l'être vivant, entre le Moi et le milieu extérieur n'était pas encore consommée." See also some interesting reflections on the concepts of Inner and Outer to be found in R.D. Laing. Self and Others, London, Pelican Books, 1961 or on "The schizophrenic experience" in The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1967, pp. 84-107.

4 See Jacques Lacan's interprétation of the "mirror stage" and of the "corps morcelé" seen by J. Laplanche & J.B. Pontalis in their Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse, Paris, PUF, 1967, p. 453 : "Une telle conception pourrait être rapprochée des vues freudiennes sur le passage de l'auto-érotisme proprement dit, ce que Lacan nomme fantasme du "corps morcelé", correspondant à la première étape, et le stade du miroir à l'avènement du narcissisme primaire. Mais à une nuance, importante près : pour Lacan, ce serait le stade du miroir qui ferait rétroactivement surgir le fantasme du corps morcelé dans la cure psychanalytique : on le voit parfois apparaître dans l'angoisse de morcellement par perte de l'identification narcissique et inversement." Such a description fits in with the comparisons made by Magda.

5 See above, Note 4. One could also find more information on this fragmented image of the body in D. Anzieu,Le Moi-peau,Paris, Dunod, 1985, especially pp. 64 and 97. Such concepts as "sacs, écran, tamis" could easily apply to E. Dawn or Michael K. See also J.P. Valabrega,Phantasme, mythe, corps et sens, Paris, Payot, 1980, especially "une origine symbolique du clivage, Spaltung", (pp. 241-345).

6 In this regard, the writer could also be defined as an archaeologist of the unconscious, someone who exhumes, not unlike the Magistrate, who is always bent on his "diggings" in Waiting for the Barbarians. It is probably why O. Mannoni speaks of Freud as the "Champollion de l'inconscient" in his Freud, Paris, Le Seuil, 1968. See also J. Lacan, Ecrits I, Paris, Le Seuil, 1966, p. 175.

7  J.M. Coetze, « Into the Dark Chamber : The Novelist and South Africa » in The New-York Times Review (January 12, 1986), a contribution to the 1986 PEN Congress in New-York on the the theme « The Writer and The State ».

8 Namaquas, like Khoikhoi, were practically destroyed by the conquerors as well as by smallpox. See Richard Elphick, Khoikhoi and the Founding of White South Africa., Johannesburg, Ravan Press, 1985.

9 See Denis Vasse,Le Temps du désir,Paris, Le Seuil, 1969 : "Il ne suffit pas pour un bébé d'être nourri pour devenir un homme. Si cette nourriture n'est pas liée à l'expérience d'une présence qui disparaît et qui demeure, l'enfant n'accédera jamais à l'univers humain de la symbolisation. Il existe des enfants- loups. ...Si cette dissociation n'est jamais faite, dans un même acte, entre le besoin et le désir, les voies sont ouvertes au cannibalisme et au vampirisme, fantasmes qui ne sont pas absents des plus civilisés et des plus policés d'entre nous" (pp. 24-26). See alsoLe Poids du réel, la souffrance : "Ne pas être mis en voix, comme on est mis au monde, revient à rester dans l'extériorité du souffle, à être livré au vent", op., cit.,(p. 124).

10  See J.M. Coetzee, "Linguistics and Literature" in R. Ryan & S. van Zyl, eds., An Introduction to Contemporary Literary Theory, Johannesburg, Ad. Donker, 1982, pp. 41-51.

11 Freud was well aware of this when he wrote : "Lorsque celui qui chemine dans l'obscurité chante, il nie son anxiété, mais il n'en voit pas autant clair", Inhibition, symptôme et angoisse, Paris, PUF, 1973, p. 12.

12  Wilma Stockenström,The Expedition to the Baobab Tree, Johannesburg, Jonathan Ball, 1983. Translated into French by Sophie Mayoux, Rivages, Paris, 1985.

13  Michel Tournier, Vendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique, Paris, Folio, 1972.

14  Dino Buzzati, The Tartar Steppe, translated into English by Stuart Hood, London, Carcanet Books, 1985 (1945).

15  The Penguin Complete Short Stories of Franz Kafka, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1983.

16  Teresa Dovey, "The Intersection of Postmodern, Postcolonial and Feminist Discourse in J.M. Coetzee's Foe", Journal of Literary Studies, Vol. 5, N°2, Pretoria, June 1989, pp. 119-133.

17  Ibid.

18  Teresa Dovey,The Novels of J.M. Coetzee : Lacanian Allegories, Johannesburg, Ad. Dunker, 1988. See also Dick Penner,Countries of the Mind, the Fiction of J.M. Coetzee, Westport, Greenwood Press, 1989.

19  Franz Kafka, "The Cares of the Family Man" in The Penguin Complete Short Stories of Franz Kafka, London, 1983, p. 428

20  Here Coetzee quotes from the South African national anthem (C.J. Langenhoven) :
"Ons sal antwoort op jou roepstem, ons sal offer wat jy vra :
Ons sal lewe, ons sal sterwe – ons
vir jou, Suid Afrika."
(At thy call we shall not falter, firm and steadfast we shall stand,
At thy will to live or perish, O South Africa, dear land.) From A.P. Grove and C.J.D. Harvey,
Afrikaans Poems with English Translations, Cape Town, OUP, 1962, pp. 72-3.
Note the number of quotes in Afrikaans in this novel.

21  Nattie Ferreira,The Story of an Afrikaner, Die Rewolusie van die Kinders ?,Ravan Press, Johannesburg, 1980.

22  Freud analysed this problem inLe Deuil et la mélancolie as well as in Inhibition, symptôme et angoisse.He tried to show that this guilt causes a need for punishment urging the subject to annihilate himself.

23  Fedor Dostoyevsky, Notes d'un souterrain,translated by L. Denis, Paris, Aubier, 1972, p. 93.

24  Quoted by Teresa Dovey in her introduction to J.M. Coetzee, a Bibliography, Grahamstown National English Library Museum, p. 2.

Pour citer ce document

Par Jean Sevry, «(More) variations on the works of J.M. Coetzee», Cahiers FoReLLIS - Formes et Représentations en Linguistique, Littérature et dans les arts de l'Image et de la Scène [En ligne], J. M. Coetzee, Archives (1993-2001), mis à jour le : 19/06/2013, URL : https://cahiersforell.edel.univ-poitiers.fr:443/cahiersforell/index.php?id=120.