Reading Coetzee


Just as J. M. Coetzee’s post-2003 books present essays and narrative alongside one another, this book engages with its ideas through both critical and creative writing. Reading Coetzee interleaves critical essays on Coetzee’s works with an autobiographical narrative detailing MacFarlane’s more personal response to her reading and writing. The presentation of elements of the creative with the critical, and the critical within the creative, aims to challenge the traditional boundary between the two. This kind of methodology derives from the idea (and practice) of embodiment: that an idea or philosophy does not ‘float free’, but is tied to the idiosyncrasies, divergences, and subjective ‘travel’ of its speaker or writer. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello, Slow Man and Diary of a Bad Year explicitly address themes which abide more surreptitiously throughout his oeuvre: the divisions and paradoxes which occur the moment pen gains page, the value of literature, and the ethics of embodiment. In revealing the dialogue between writer-self and reader-self, and between author and character, these recent novels invite a rereading of Coetzee’s previous literature. Reading Coetzee explores Coetzee’s preoccupation with the act of writing using his recent books as a lens through which to view his eight previous novels as well as his memoirs and essays.
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Biographical Note

Elizabeth MacFarlane is a writer and researcher in the Creative Writing department at the University of Melbourne.

Review Quote

”My impression is that this is a significant and daring work. It is a rare and refreshing pleasure to read an academic book where the writer is willing to put herself on the line, not only through her assessment of someone else, but by writing stories and creative non-fiction that relate to her main line of investigation. (It turns out that some of those who teach also can do). This makes everything matter to the reader because it all clearly matters to and affects Elizabeth MacFarlane. Her enterprise is not a pursuit of status but a pursuit of understanding and fuller living.” – Per K. Brask, University of Winnipeg, Canada

Table of contents

Introduction This Book is Irregular: On the critical-creative nexus The middle voice ‘I have beliefs but I do not believe in them’ The voice of the literary critic The critical landscape Coetzee’s recurring blank page The written is always a compromise Metaphor as Contagion: On the Postscript of Elizabeth Costello Elizabeth Costello as Postscript to Coetzee’s oeuvre Lord Chandos’s total renunciation of literary activity Lady Chandos and the problem of metaphor The Author Divided in Coetzee’s Novels A moment of rupture: The white-haired woman Time, tense, and aspect Singing birds Divided and divined ‘A going against’: Coetzee, postmodernism, and late style Where is Coetzee? Authors and characters Her man and she The Ethics of Embodiment The ethics of embodiment: Philosophy and literature Costello’s progress, human to ape The dark chamber: Ethics and ambiguity Two suspended elements: sentence, narrative, text The metaphor of the real Short fiction The Nature of It Museum The Scar Triptych Conclusions Foreground and background Late style The wrong question Postscript: A Bad Year References Index