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6.3.11

J. M. Coetzee and Human Suffering

Stephen Abell on Coetzee, suffering and the novel
J. M. Coetzee
In light of recent social and political changes in a number of North African countries, Stephen Abell reflects on Nobel Prize winning South African writer J. M. Coetzee, and his portrayals of human suffering:
In an early essay reproduced in Doubling the Point (1992), J. M. Coetzee chose to “put it baldly” when he wrote that “in South Africa it is not possible to deny the authority of suffering and therefore of the body”. When we think of those novels imaginatively connected with the state of the South African nation – Waiting for the Barbarians (1980), say, or Age of Iron (1990) – it is hard to ignore their vivid testimony about bodily reality, the suffering of the afflicted. We recall the frail form of Elizabeth Curren and the “cold, obscene swellings” of her cancer (that “parody” of pregnancy), or the Magistrate creepily fingering the “firm-fleshed calves, manipulating the bones and tendons” of the tortured barbarian girl. But to put the case for Coetzee even more baldly (or boldly): in all of his fiction, he is our best authority on suffering, our most credible literary authority on the body. [Read more]

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