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One— Contexts: Literary, Historical, Intellectual
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Literary, Historical, Intellectual

In January 1969, five years before publishing his first novel, Coetzee submitted to the University of Texas a stylistic analysis of the English fiction of Samuel Beckett. Toward the end of the dissertation he identifies in Watt two indications of Beckett's dissatisfaction with English, warning signs of his forthcoming decision to turn to French. They are "systematic parody" and "binary patterning at every level of language:words imitating the patterns of other words, and words setting up their own obsessive pattern" (also called "the rhythm of doubt"; 95, 163).[1] But having made these observations, Coetzee concludes his study with the following extraordinary paragraph:

There is one further consideration we should not overlook if we wish to explain the nature of Watt. Watt was begun in 1941 and completed in draft in 1944. It is not entirely strange that during these years, while a statistician in Cambridge was copying De imitatione Christi word by word onto cards, while another statistician in a prisoner-of-war camp in Norway was tossing a coin and notating "H" or "I" [sic] one million times, that an Irishman in France should have been recording for posterity all the permutations which the nouns door, window, fire, and bed can undergo. ("English Fiction of Samuel Beckett" 164)

Coetzee does not refer to the fact that Beckett, when he was producing these permutations, was evading the Gestapo, living in Rousillon in the unoccupied Vaucluse. The reasons for Beckett's caution were his association with the French Resistance and the disappearance of his friend,


Alfred Péron (Kenner, Samuel Beckett 22). Coetzee is less interested in such details than in the fact that Beckett was killing time as a prisoner of the war itself, spinning out word games as a form of survival.[2] The emphasis of Coetzee's observation, concentrating on Beckett's struggle with history—a struggle encoded in prose narrative—is characteristic of Coetzee's own work. In this view, narrative discourse is, without question, historically rooted—indeed, history is a tyrannical presence—but more significantly, Coetzee is interested in the consequences of this rootedness. If history is a determining and circumscribing force, the question remains, what form of life is available to prose narrative as it attempts to negotiate that determination and circumscription?

The problem is a large one, of course, far larger than Coetzee himself. It touches not only on the complex and politically vexed question of the textual turn in postmodern literary culture but also on the theoretical conflicts between structuralism and poststructuralism, on the one hand, and history or historical discourses, on the other. To examine the novels of Coetzee contextually—that is, as novels both about and written from within the South African situation—is to engage these larger issues. The problem is complicated further by the fact that Coetzee admits to being a linguist before being a writer and speaks of a creative relationship between these functions.[3] In the era of structuralism's ascendancy in the West, an intellectual allegiance such as Coetzee's involves far more than simply being self-conscious about the nature of one's medium; it also involves working into fiction nothing less than the notion that language is a primary, constitutive element of consciousness and of culture at large. However, through Coetzee's writing and its historical placement, these modern Western intellectual currents flow into the turbulent waters of colonialism and apartheid. The consequence is a fictional oeuvre of unusual complexity, an oeuvre in which narrative discourse and social conflict struggle for authority, in which ethical questions fasten tenaciously to forms of reflexive play that elsewhere seem to have made a virtue of relativism, and in which, finally, the West confronts the limits of its own discursive powers, even its powers of subversion, historicization, and displacement.

The Debate On Realism

Coetzee cannot be confined to any particular tradition of linguistics or linguistically informed literary theory. His brief memoir on his experience as a graduate student at Texas, his published notes on writing, and


his linguistic and critical essays reveal interests that include historical linguistics, generative grammar, stylistics, Continental structuralism and semiotics, translation (from Dutch, German, and Afrikaans to English), and deconstruction. The linguistic-systemic orientation of his novels involves the recognition, rooted in all linguistic inquiry, that language is productive, that "making sense of life inside a book is different from making sense of real life—not more difficult or less difficult, just different" (Coetzee, "Grubbing for the Ideological Implications" 4). This conviction, couched in broad terms here, has cost Coetzee a great deal in South Africa. Many writers, and many more readers, would see the assertion of that "difference" as a form of political and ethical evasion:in South Africa, life under apartheid seems to demand a realistic documentation of oppression. Both the white liberal tradition since Olive Schreiner, continuing down to the radicalism of Nadine Gordimer today, and contemporary black prose narrative since the era of Drum magazine in the 1950s have adopted various forms of realism as the unquestioned means of bearing witness to, and telling the truth about, South Africa.

The predominance of realism in South African literary culture has led Coetzee, when pressed, to adopt positions that waver between embattled defensiveness and incisive critique. The remark about life being different in a novel was made with reference to Sipho Sepamla's A Ride on the Whirlwind and Mongane Serote's To Every Birth Its Blood, in both of which Coetzee finds "a failure, almost a refusal [later, a 'programmatic refusal'] to create a structure in which there is some centre of intelligence." In the interview cited above, Coetzee traces the "refusal" to the continuing influence of European and American naturalism on the popular novel (4). I doubt that naturalism is really the source of the problem in this instance, since contemporary black prose narrative in South Africa owes much more to local traditions of journalism than to the Western popular novel. However, black writers themselves do not represent a homogeneous voice on this question, and some of them have held, and continue to hold, opinions that are in basic agreement with Coetzee's.

Coetzee is on record as having participated, at a very early stage, in a debate on the status of realism in black South African fiction, a debate started by Lewis Nkosi and taken up more recently by Njabulo Ndebele. Nkosi argued, in a famous statement of 1967, that black fiction was filled with "the journalistic fact parading outrageously as imaginative literature" and that seldom were "social facts" transmuted into "artisti-


cally persuasive works of fiction" ("Fiction by Black South Africans" 222). In 1984 Ndebele took up the theme, saying that a journalistic documentation of oppression merely produces "an art of anticipated surfaces rather than one of processes," "an art that is grounded in social debasement," in which "little transformation in reader consciousness is to be expected since the only reader faculty engaged is the faculty of recognition. Recognition does not necessarily lead to transformation: it simply confirms" ("Turkish Tales" 45).[4] Against "political exposition" and the representation of oppression as "spectacle," Ndebele proposes that writers begin to "rediscover the ordinary" by focusing on the details of popular experience ("Rediscovery of the Ordinary" 143,152).

Coetzee entered this line of argument by way of his essays on Alex La Guma, the first of which, published in 1974, was written in response to Nkosi. He begins by asking, "What value does the experimental line in modern Western literature hold for Africa? … does not the Western experimental line assumeand perpetuate a rift between the writer and society at large which is a fact of life in the West but need not become a fact of life in Africa?" ("Alex La Guma" 6). The case of La Guma is interesting, Coetzee shows, because it is experimental without falling into the unwittingly conservative position adopted by Nkosi. In "Man's Fate in the Novels of Alex La Guma" Coetzee goes on to argue, via Georg Lukács's studies of realism, that La Guma is a critical realist who politicizes his art by gesturing toward a revolutionary transformation of history encoded in characterization and symbolism; thus, La Guma arrives at narrative solutions that have an implicitly progressive social hermeneutic. Coetzee's respect for La Guma and his grasp of realism's epistemological limitations concur: in leaning toward social realism, La Guma at least acknowledges a tradition, unlike the "refusal" that Coetzee finds in the more recent prose of Sepamla and Serote. Since the early 1970s Coetzee has followed other paths, but he has never abandoned this basic respect for the structural and political implications of form.

There can be little doubt that South Africa's most accomplished realist in the genre of prose narrative today is Nadine Gordimer. Not surprisingly, therefore, Gordimer and Coetzee are frequently paired and contrasted for their different approaches to fiction and its relationship to society and history. It is possible, of course, to overstate these differences: Gordimer's "realism" often takes the form of a record of a particular consciousness; moreover, in The Conservationist, as Stephen Clingman rightly shows, she uses myth and symbolism to deliver a


critique that is as psychological as it is political (Novels of Nadine Gordimer 156–69). Nevertheless, Gordimer and Coetzee would seem to have fundamentally different views about the nature of narrative discourse. For Gordimer the essence of the writer's role lies in her social responsibility, and responsibility is treated primarily as a form of witness. Fiction wil ultimately be tested by its accountability to the truth of its society, truth being the product of a dynamic interplay between what she calls "creative self-absorption and conscionable awareness" ("Essential Gesture" 298–300). To paraphrase, in terms of Gordimer's view one might say that narrative discourse inhabits the writer; it is the medium of her living connection to the social environment. Conversely, Coetzee might be taken to hold that thewriter inhabits narrative discourse. Or to put this another way, when Roland Barthes speaks in Writing Degree Zero of "a corpus of prescriptions and habits common to all writers of a period," Gordimer takes this remark as a reference to the shared state of a language, from which writers depart in their individual ways ("Essential Gesture" 286); but in fact, Coetzee is much closer to the spirit of Barthes than is Gordimer, for he respects the limitations imposed by the inner structures of discourse. Coetzee's fiction could also be described as illustrating what Barthes elsewhere calls the shift in contemporary culture from logos to lexis, from knowledge to the word—categories that might be taken to mark the different emphases of the two writers in question ("Introduction" 114).

To argue that the writer "inhabits narrative discourse," however, is not to appeal to some ethereal realm above or beyond the social process, for Coetzee's position implies that narrative is itself a historical product, existing in tension with other discourses of the moment that are also the products of history and the bearers of culture. In terms of such a position, one will therefore ask not what is the proper self-definition of a writer but, rather, what forms of self-definition are available within the culture—available, that is, to the writer, whose relationship to society rests on the way in which he or she transmits the discourses of fiction.

From Representation To Narration

Coetzee is more concerned, then, with narrative and its relation to other discourses than he is with representation per se. However, just as Gordimer cannot be accused of being narrowly realist, neither can Coetzee be placed on one side of the theoretical conflict between


textuality and historicity. Despite the discursive orientation of his fiction, it also establishes a historical narrative, one that is provided by the essential context of colonialism in each of Coetzee's novels. He has spoken about preferring "to see the South African situation [today] as only one manifestation of a wider historical situation to do with colonialism, late colonialism, neo-colonialism," adding, "I'm suspicious of lines of division between a European context and a South African context, because I think our experience remains largely colonial" (Coetzee, "Speaking" 23).

The basic narrative of Coetzee's oeuvre is indeed that of colonialism and decolonization. It underlies the entire corpus, which can be described sequentially as beginning with an aggressive imperialist violence in Dusklands followed by settlement of uncertain standing and duration in In the Heart of the Country. A defensive phase of anticipated revolution is presented in Waiting for the Barbarians, and in Life and Times of Michael K there is a stage of open civil warfare. Foe departs from the sequence but is no less concerned with questions of power and authority under colonialism, specifically, the power and authority of a mode of authorship straddling the metropolis and the colony, awaiting transformations that are as yet undetermined, perhaps indeterminable.

Up to and including Michael K, in other words, the fiction projects a teleology that pushes beyond the moment delivered up by the historical process itself. Michael K' s predictive admonition, in the form of a scenario of civil war, accounts for some of its critical energy; however, teleological conceptions of history are also questioned in the corpus. In Waiting for the Barbarians one finds a point at which history, in failing to transform the terms of discourse, becomes objectified as the myth of history, or History; with teleology thus undermined, the discursive nature of history is thrown into relief. This crucial and pivotal development enables Coetzee in his later fiction to explore the possibility that if history is not directly representable—if, as Fredric Jameson would say, our access to it is always textual(Political Unconscious 35)—then qualified forms of freedom might be discoverable in the writing of it. This marginal freedom, which is a function of textualizing, is staged in Michael K and later placed in question in Foe.

In hindsight one can see that Coetzee's struggle has always been to find appropriate points of entry into the narrative of colonialism for the specific interventions of which a self-consciously fictional discourse is capable. That this should have been and continues to be a struggle


results from the general insistence in South African cultural politics that writers provide the solace of truth, of political faith, not fictive irritants, one might say, which leave readers with fewer defenses against the collective trauma they inhabit. Only recently has Coetzee begun to speak explicitly (and with some difficulty) of this struggle. In his Weekly Mail Book Week address of 1987 he demonstrates how sharply he feels the prevailing epistemological tensions: "In times of intense ideological pressure like the present, when the space in which the novel and history normally coexist like two cows on the same pasture, each minding its own business, is squeezed to almost nothing, the novel, it seems to me, has only two options: supplementarity or rivalry" ("Novel Today" 3). Being a supplement to the discourse of history, Coetzee goes on to say, would involve the novel in providing the reader "with vicarious firsthand experience of living in a certain historical time, embodying contending forces in contending characters and filling our experience with a certain density of observation" (3). Rivalry with historical discourse, by contrast, would lead to

a novel that operates in terms of its own procedures and issues in its own conclusions, not one that operates in terms of the procedures of history and eventuates in conclusions that are checkable by history (as a child's schoolwork is checked by a schoolmistress). In particular I mean a novel that evolves its own paradigms and myths, in the process (and here is the point at which true rivalry, even enmity, perhaps enters the picture) perhaps going so far as to show up the mythic status of history—in other words, demythologizing history. Can I be more specific? Yes: for example, a novel that is prepared to work itself out outside the terms of class conflict, race conflict, gender conflict or any of the other oppositions out of which history and the historical disciplines erect themselves. (I need hardly add that to claim the freedom to decline—or better, rethink—such oppositions as propertied/propertyless, colonizer/colonized, masculine/feminine, and so forth, does not mean that one falls back automatically on moral oppositions, open or disguised, like good/bad, life-directed/death-directed, human/mechanical, and so forth.) ("Novel Today" 3)

Let me clarify why Coetzee should be so clinically articulate on this question. The polar opposite of Coetzee's position in the cultural politics of the period 1985–1987, the first two years of the States of Emergency and the years immediately preceding the address, would be the "People's Culture" campaign fostered by the United Democratic Front (UDF). (In the address Coetzee is talking about the politics of literature in reviewing and criticism, not about this particular campaign, but I refer to it as a


prominent example of correct cultural activism in the period preceding Coetzee's remarks.) The campaign was not the first of the populist cultural movements of contemporary resistance in South Africa. In the late 1960s and 1970s Black Consciousness had a strong cultural program, one that was more coherent, in some ways, than that of the later movement. I shall return to Black Consciousness toward the end of this chapter; here, suffice it to say that Black Consciousness produced a central core of myths, a historiography, even a style that was distinctive. The poetry and fiction of Sepamla and Serote, as well as others such as Mafika Gwala, Mbulelo Mzamane, Mtutuzeli Matshoba, Ingoapele Madingoane, and a number of writers' groups publishing in Staffrider magazine, acquired a cohesive generational stamp, as cohesive as the work of the Drum writers of the 1950s. The more recent campaign, however, was less a system of self-affirming ideas than a set of sociostructural emphases, a way of conceiving cultural work as praxis, and it was linked to the resurgence of nonracial democratic or "Congress" nationalism in the 1980s.

Four features distinguished the People's Culture campaign: its concern with the accessibility of art to underclass audiences and readerships; its aim of building a "national culture" that would unite different oppressed groups under a common symbolic framework; its emphasis on a concrete, documentary form of realism that depicts the life experience of the oppressed; and, finally, its insistence that artists—"cultural workers"—submit themselves to the discipline of a formal alliance with the mass democratic movement (Press 36–37).[5]

It is easy to see why, in a literary environment significantly influenced by such priorities, the argument Coetzee makes for "rivalry" with the discourse of history involves him in a rather chilly political choice—a choice involving a refusal of association and consensus. These implications are spelled out without apology:

I reiterate the elementary and rather obvious point I am making: that history is not reality; that history is a kind of discourse; that a novel is a kind of discourse, too, but a different kind of discourse; that, inevitably, in our culture, history will, with varying degrees of forcefulness, try to claim primacy, claim to be a master-form of discourse, just as, inevitably, people like myself will defend themselves by saying that history is nothing but a certain kind of story that people agree to tell each other—that, as Don Quixote argued so persuasively but in the end so vainly, the authority of history lies simply in the consensus it commands… I see absolutely no reason why, even in the South Africa of the 1980's, we should agree to agree that things are otherwise. ("Novel Today" 4)


Coetzee does not share the seeming abandonment of deconstruction's il n'y a pas de hors texte; rather, the claim is closer to the Jamesonian idea that history is not available for direct representation. The risks involved in making this claim, however, are on the surface: the argument's authority rests in the fact that Coetzee knows exactly what he is up against.[6]

It is Coetzee's right to defend his position, of course, but there comes a point at which one wonders about the costs of such polemic, whether it obscures points of contact between the polarized extremes and, still more damagingly, obscures the forms of historicity that do, in fact, operate in Coetzee's own fiction. Against the drift of Coetzee's argument, therefore, I shall explore the relationship between history and fiction in theoretical terms that seem to be appropriate for the kind of fiction Coetzee's novels actually represent. I do so in the belief that if South African conditions produce what seems to be an impasse at the level of cultural polemic, it is reasonable to look outside the context for resources whereby the conflict can be reexamined.

Situational Metafiction

The problem now confronting us can be defined sharply: is the turn toward textuality in Coetzee a turning away from history? It is primarily, in other words, a question of reference. Hayden White describes this question as "the most vexed problem in modern (Western) literary criticism" (2n). It is not within the scope of this study to survey the problem in all its dimensions, but I shall touch on various theoretical models drawn from narrative theory and semiotics that enable us to place the conflict between fiction and history in broader perspective.

In Paul Ricoeur, first, we find a conception of what he calls "the narrative function" that succinctly shows the relation between "narrativity" and "historicity." Both elements, Ricoeur argues (following Wittgenstein), participate in the language game of narrating, the "activity" or "form of life" called "narrative discourse." The unity of these functions is evident in their mutual reliance on the notion of plot, which involves both "figure and sequence, configuration and succession" ("Narrative Function" 282–83). Their unity also exists in the fact that both forms of discourse incorporate reference "beyond" the surface of the text. In historical discourse, the existence of the referent is not questioned; in the case of fiction, reference is present, simply, in a qualified form: it is "split or cleft reference, by which I understand a way


of relating to things which envelops, as a negative condition, the suspension of the referential claim of ordinary language" (293).

Ricoeur's formulation enables us to appreciate that even a posed, deliberate suspension of reference falls under the shadow of referentiality. This kind of speculation is developing among theorists of metafiction. Robert Scholes, for example, speaks of what he calls "modern fabulation" as a form of narrative that "tends away from direct representation of the surface of reality but returns toward actual human life by way of ethically controlled fantasy" (3).[7] In a more recent study that takes in the development of metafiction as part of its background, Robert Siegle argues that all narrative is reflexive to some extent and that where this function is in evidence, it draws attention to the conditions of meaning in a culture. Understood in these terms, reflexivity is a key element in what Siegle calls a "constitutive poetics" that is directed at "the mechanics and assumptions of composing, interpreting, structuring, positing," a poetics that is "a specialized application of a larger study of how a culture—whether in literature, cultural coding in general, science, or philosophy—composes its identity and that of its individuals and constitutes the'world' within which it takes place" (11–12).

While drawing attention to the constitutive discourses of a culture, reflexive fiction also reminds readers of their own productivity. This position is outlined by Linda Hutcheon in Narcissistic Narrative: The Metafictional Paradox. In Hutcheon's view, metafiction has a foot in the door of its own interpretation, while only seeming to flaunt its independence from reality. In the conclusion to Metafiction Patricia Waugh asks the tougher question of "the politically 'radical' status of aesthetically 'radical' texts," a gesture that suggests implicitly that metafiction cannot escape historicization in the moment of its interpretation, even when its authors might prefer otherwise (148). Coetzee himself, recognizing that there are limits to the extent to which metafiction can determine its own historicization (in an argument I shall take up later in relation to Michael K ), scrutinizes with some skepticism Vladimir Nabokov's implicit claims in Pale Fire to be able to preempt interpretation and assert the limitlessness of fictional mirroring ("Nabokov's Pale Fire " 4–7). Metafiction, then, in assuming the role of its own reader, merely foregrounds its complex and at times problematic relationship with history and society.

For Siegle, narrative reflexivity operates at a point at which "a thoroughgoing semiotics borders on ideological critique" (11). This remark can be substantiated by a brief examination of the historical


themes developed by the Prague School in its extended inquiry into signification. Although the Prague School never formulated a theory of literary history or literature in history per se, F. W. Galan assembles one on its behalf in Historic Structures, showing it to have emerged implicitly in the course of the school's work over a twenty-year period. The stages in the development of the theory are as follows: (1) there was an attempt to resolve the apparent incompatibility between historical and structural linguistics, diachrony and synchrony, inherited from Saussure; (2) having reconciled structural linguistics with the phenomenon of linguistic change, the next step was to extend this approach to the question of literary evolution; (3) a conceptual and methodological break developed at this point from formalism to semiotics proper, after which the Prague School looked beyond literary immanence to the relationships between literary and other, social structures; (4) finally, attention was paid to the question of reception.

The stage that initially concerns us here is (3), at which point there was an attempt, largely by Jan Mukarovsky, to reengage the problem of signification from the point of view of its location within the aesthetic function. The position inherited from Jakobson was that the sign in literature is self-referential; consequently, it obstructs reference to reality. This position was reformulated to accommodate the insight that in order for the sign to operate as a sign within a communicative context, a referent must be present; the problem was therefore to understand the paradox between the autonomous and communicative features of the work. Mukarovsky resolved this paradox by showing that the literary sign had a special way of pointing to reality that preserves the specificity of the aesthetic function: its reference was oblique and metaphorical. But out of this observation comes the more significant and illuminating paradox: precisely because the referents of signs in poetic language have no existential value—since these signs are directed at nothing "distinctly determinable"—the literary work refers to "the total context of socalled social phenomena." It is because of this global quality of literature's reference to reality, involving a "unity of reference and intention" (Galan 116), that it provides valuable images of the texture of historical epochs. Later in the history of the Prague School, Mukarovsky incorporated the category of the subject into his description of signification. The position, as modified by this final move, is formulated by Galan as follows: "The reality which as a whole is reflected in the aesthetic sign is also unified in this sign in accordance with the image of the unified subject" (117).


In its theorization, then, of signification and the concretization of meaning in reception, the Prague School would seem to have anticipated the course of later commentaries on reflexive narrative. But to complete this excursus: from such threads of narrative and semiotic theory it appears that one could legitimately speak of a situational metafiction. This would be a mode of fiction that draws attention to the historicity of discourses, to the way subjects are positioned within and by them, and, finally, to the interpretive process, with its acts of contestation and appropriation. Of course, all these things have a regional and temporal specificity.[8]

Postmodernism and Postcolonialism

Any discussion of metafiction today must pay some attention to what has become known internationally as the postmodernism debate. This is essentially an argument over the political status of what Jean-François Lyotard calls postmodernism's "incredulity towards metanarratives" (xxiv). The argument I have conducted thus far, on the relationship between reflexivity and historicity, implicitly adopts a position in this debate, one that shares with Linda Hutcheon a certain regard for the "paradoxically worldly" condition of particular forms of postmodern writing (Politics of Postmodernism 2). My account of Coetzee's fiction, however, touches on the question of postmodernism only in medias res, for although Coetzee's oeuvre draws significantly on modernism and its legacy, its strength lies precisely in his ability to test its absorption in European traditions in the ethically and politically fraught arena of South Africa. The problem, in other words, is to understand Coetzee's postmodernism in the light of his postcoloniality.

Here we run immediately into difficulties with respect to the postmodernism debate because the cosmopolitanism of the debate has become an obstacle to understanding the unique features of postmodern literature in different regional contexts. How we theorize about postmodern literature produced on the periphery of colonialism must involve an interplay between metropolitan and nonmetropolitan sources, but the specificity of regional forms of postmodernism is vulnerable to misrepresentation in the international scene. (The postmodernism debate is perhaps itself an instance of the global, homogenizing spread of postmodernity, a process embodied, in this instance, in the academic book trade.) Neil Lazarus, in a valuable essay on contem-


porary white South African literature, illustrates this vulnerability. Lazarus applies Theodor Adorno's account of the critical potential of modernism to the writing of Gordimer, Coetzee, André Brink, and Breyten Breytenbach. In the course of argument the following point emerges:

This literature must now be defined not only by its negativity, but also by its marginality and acute self-consciousness. And one is tempted to ask whether a literature displaying these characteristics, and written after—and frequently even in the idiom of—Kafka and Beckett and, for that matter, Kundera, could be anything other than modernist; especially when it is borne in mind that as a discourse it is so ethically saturated, so humanistic in its critique of the established order, so concerned to represent reality, and so rationalistic that it would be quite inappropriate to describe it as postmodernist. (148)

I share Lazarus's appreciation of the ethical value of this writing, but what is puzzling is his insistence that it would be impossible for postmodernism in any form to achieve an ethical stance; indeed, Lazarus drives the point home in a footnote, saying that he would "go so far as to argue… that 'postmodernist' literature in South Africa could only be reactionary" and that an aesthetic of modernism, because of its "rational humanism," "might well exist as the only aesthetic on the side of freedom" (148). But in the case of two of the writers mentioned— namely, Coetzee and Breytenbach (to a lesser extent Brink)—the label "modernist" does not explain the fact that these writers have relied on major developments in the European novel since the nouveau roman in developing their own responses to the state of deadened moral consciousness produced by South African oppression. If the decadence of postmodernism is assumed, then the oppositionality of white South African writing can be substantiated only by identifying it with earlier forms of modernism; but as we have seen, this maneuver entails an anachronism. What Lazarus says about white South African writing, via Adorno's aesthetic theory, ought to enable us to challenge the by now orthodox view of postmodernism, which is informed by the essentially metropolitan experience of post-1968 disillusionment, its accommodation to the postindustrial age, and its subsequent celebration of relativist experimentation. The fact that South Africa does not share this experience does not mean that postmodernist techniques do not percolate through its literary culture, taking on new forms and acquiring a different animating spirit.


In other words, there is postmodernism and there is postmodernism. In Australia and New Zealand, Simon During, Helen Tiffin, and Stephen Slemon have developed an interesting critical discussion of the specificities of postcolonial literary practices, partly in response to what they see as a lack of regional sensitivity within Euro-American versions of the postmodernism debate. Slemon argues, for instance, that a great deal of the work being done in the name of postmodern literary studies remains unaware of the historically "grounded "strategies of "deessentialization" evident in postcolonial literatures; this ignorance of postcolonial literatures "is perhaps contributive to postmodernism's overwhelming tendency to present itself… as a crisis, a contradiction, an apotheosis of negativity" ("Modernism's Last Post" 14).

The unique contribution of these critics has been their attempt to clarify the range of situations and discursive strategies emerging in postcolonial literary cultures. During's point concerning what he calls the "crisis of emptiness" in "postcolonizing" (as opposed to "postcolonized") discourses is particularly relevant to the situation of white South African writing:

The crisis of postcolonialism is not just a crisis for those who bore the burden of imperialism: who have seen the destruction of their modes of production, the de-privileging of their language and the mutilation of their culture. It is also a crisis for those who have been the agents of colonialism and who, once colonialism itself has lost its legitimacy, find themselves without strong ethical and ideological support. (370)

The challenge facing these writers. During argues, is to find a language that encodes new forms of historical and ethical vision without unwittingly celebrating colonialism's material and epistemic capture of the colonized world and its traditions. Tiffin speaks of a "canonical counter-discourse" that is characteristic of writers in this situation ("Post-Colonial Literatures and Counter-Discourse" 22); elsewhere, she argues that canonical counterdiscourse, like nationalist literatures in which the recovery of identity is a more or less feasible project, "still promotes polyphony, eschews fixity, monocentrism and closure, interrogates concepts such as history and textuality, opposes oral to written formulations, but does so by inhabiting the absences or the oppositional 'positions' in the imperial textual record, and from these absences or oppositions interrogating its presence or fixity" ("Post-Colonialism" 176). Coetzee's carefully positioned metafictional constructions would certainly fit this description. Slemon has distinguished the forms of


reiteration such projects involve from those of the metropolitan postmodern strategies discussed by Hutcheon in her studies of metafiction; like metropolitan postmodernism, Slemon argues, postcolonialism involves a parodic repetition of dominant, imperial forms of textuality, but unlike it, postcolonialism—including its "postcolonizing" varieties—remains basically oppositional and retains a "referential" or "recuperative" relationship to national issues ("Modernism's Last Post" 7–9).

To continue the implicit direction of this discussion, one ought to make further distinctions with respect to South Africa (though Coetzee provides these scholars with several examples of their leading propositions), for it needs to be acknowledged that there are fewer grounds in South Africa for the degree of optimism evinced by Slemon concerning the critical capacities of "postcolonizing" literature. What During calls the "crisis of emptiness" remains a significant determinant of white South African writing, so that the limited, marginal option of consistently "eroding one's own biases," as Tiffin puts it ("Post-Colonial Literatures and Counter-Discourse" 32), emerges as an ethically appropriate strategy in the armory of the postcolonial writer. Coetzee has fine-tuned this strategy to the extent of making it a hallmark of his later fiction. The fact, however, that he has developed fictional forms that dramatize so acutely the limitations of their authority raises questions about Coetzee's national situation that need to be addressed in different terms.

The Politics of Agency

The problem of authority, which is sharply focused in Coetzee's fiction, forces us to raise new questions concerning his relationship with his social environment. This is difficult terrain, however, because finely contextualized readings have been heavily influenced in recent years by symptomatic critiques. But what would it mean to contextualize so self-conscious a mode of writing as Coetzee's? Can a "symptomatic" reading be imposed on what is already a symptomatically sensitive discourse? There is some danger here that discussion might devolve into a sterile series of assertions and counterassertions about the relative weight of the diagnoses being offered. Bearing this in mind, I follow a path that respects the fiction's own symptomatics but that simultaneously reads Coetzee's novels as historical products; to do so, I invoke the concept of agency.


First, a distinction is needed. The notion of agency referred to here is unrelated to the problem in Marxist hermeneutics of how agency is to be considered as a form of revolutionary discipline within a dialectical understanding of historical causality. Rather, it has to do with the concept of nationhood—itself a significant lacuna in Marxist theory— that is, with questions of inclusion and exclusion, of finding or not finding a place for one's own particular story within the framework of the broader, national narrative. Agency, in the context of a fragmented state of nationhood like South Africa's, therefore serves as an umbrella concept for such notions as legitimacy, authority, and position.

Literary-intellectual life in South Africa is as subject to the divisions within the national polity as any other kind of social activity. For example, Antonio Gramsci's distinction between organic and traditional intellectuals (3) has been widely popularized on the South African Left. These categories can no doubt be put to use in more disinterested ways, but their usefulness to South Africans is undoubtedly tied up with the fact that they have provided many intellectuals with the means to validate themselves and denounce others in a country in which the social distance between intellectual and popular sectors remains embarrassingly visible. Although class factors are, of course, in evidence within black intellectual circles as well, race is a crucial determinant, perhaps the final determinant, of the social composition of intellectual life. And although democratic nonracialism provides a set of core values to which it is possible to appeal, the structural constraints built into educational institutions, scholarly disciplines, and, to a lesser extent, literary practices are inescapable. The national situation, in other words, in which intellectuals and literary artists work imposes on them a politics of agency.[9]

In Gordimer one can see the problem fictionalized both in Rosa Burger and in Hillela in A Sport of Nature, where the central issues involve the positions these protagonists achieve within the emergent body politic. Gordimer also deals with the issue explicitly in her 1982 lecture "Living in the Interregnum":

There is a segment preoccupied, in the interregnum, neither by plans to run away from nor merely by ways to survive physically and economically in the black state that is coming. I cannot give you numbers for this segment, but in measure of some sort of faith in the possibility of structuring society humanly, in the possession of skills and intellect to devote to this end, there is something to offer the future. How to offer it is our preoccupation. Since skills, technical and intellectual, can be bought in markets other than those of


the vanquished white power, although they are important as a commodity ready to hand, they do not constitute a claim on the future.

That claim rests on something else: how to offer one's self. (264)

Although this emphasis in Gordimer on the self's search for position in a newly emergent body politic is a poignant feature of her work, it is not always kindly received by others with an equal claim on the future. Lewis Nkosi, for example, says of A Sport of Nature, "A great part of the motivating force of this fiction is its fear of exclusion, the fear of loitering without intent in the vicinity of revolution" ("Resistance" 46).

Edward Said's concept of "worldliness," therefore, has an unhappily pertinent application to South Africa. In the case of the novel, the implied narrative subject—Coetzee's "self-of-writing"—resides within a web of dangerously consequential connections defined by relations of power in a society in contradictory stages of casting off the colonial yoke. Coetzee's narrative of colonialism has dramatized this situation implicitly in terms of rivaling nationalisms; in this respect, he has not shared the view of more strictly Marxist revisionists, for whom class struggle in the context of the industrial transformation of South Africa has been more significant than questions of race and nationhood have been. (In the early 1990s these elements seem to be "in solution" as never before: both radical and moderate nationalisms have begun to transcend racial divisions.)

By contrast, Coetzee's emphasis on race and colonialism seems to have been the result of biographical accident rather than the product of a desire for accurate historical representation. Although it is rarely acknowledged, Coetzee is in fact a regional writer within South Africa. His sense of the landscape and the history of the country has been shaped by his familiarity with the Cape and the Karoo, with their histories of slave and master-servant relations and "frontier" policies, rather than by the mining and industrial conditions of Johannesburg, conditions that make the Transvaal, by Coetzee's own admission, "practically a foreign country" to him ("Two Interviews" 458). The racial and colonial emphasis was reinforced later, of course, by the influence of the Vietnam War on Coetzee's thinking. Given this emphasis, Coetzee has been less inclined to invest in the notion of the self's finding a home within the future. Instead of Gordimer's leaps of faith, which have produced intriguing moments in her fiction—notably the ending of July's People, which continues to fuel critical discussion [10] —Coetzee provides the image of a wary, increasingly marginal narrative subject


who deftly negotiates the interstices of power, maintaining its ethical integrity but avoiding not only appeals for inclusion but also any over-statement of its own legitimacy and authority. Moreover, instead of this process being undertaken by the existential or historical self, as Gordimer defines it, it is undertaken in Coetzee by the subject of writing and becomes an element in the efforts of the fiction to textualize its own conditions of possibility.

An uncompromising question, at this point, would be to ask whether, in his unusual sensitivity to the problem of marginality, Coetzee in fact represents no one but himself—after all, he is distinguished not only by a Cape-specific background but also by a degree of intellectualism unmatched by any other South African writer. One of the effects of his intellectualism is that his fiction tends to distill what are essentially heuristic models into narratological forms—as in Friday's speechlessness, for instance—thus giving them a kind of ostensible "universality," a representativeness that they would lack were they written in a less refracted way.

But there is a powerful corollary to such a question: if Coetzee is more intellectual than many other writers, and also less obviously affiliated politically, then is he not more at liberty to articulate general conditions? This is not to suggest that he has superior insight, necessarily, but rather that his relative detachment enables him to be more explicit and more honest about his own social placement than more obviously engaged white writers can be about theirs. The question of audience affects every writer in South Africa, but Coetzee is unique in achieving a degree of critical objectification and control over the problem. Such, then, is Coetzee's politics of agency. The novel that takes up this issue most clearly is, of course, Foe, which gets behind the self-of-writing and questions its self-representation by setting it before the figure of Friday, who anticipates the silent, transformative potency of the body of history, the body of the future.

Coetzee and Revisionism

Thus far I have noted the differences separating Coetzee from certain streams of radical thought in South Africa. Now let me explore the similarities. The implications of a potentially revolutionary historical situation are present from the beginning of Coetzee's oeuvre; in this sense he participates in shaping a literary-intellectual moment that became generally understood as "postliberal." Thus, I shall explore the


situation to which Dusklands contributed by placing Coetzee's entry into fiction writing alongside the key social debates that were taking place in the country at the time.

In the early to mid-1970s South Africa began to reap the whirlwind over apartheid. The period saw a number of developments that either heralded the possibility of major historical transformation or responded to such a possibility. The most important of these developments were the rise, during a severe recession, of a militant independent labor movement culminating in large-scale strikes in the Durban area in 1973; the increasing militancy of black students and the rise of Black Consciousness, which quickly became popularized in schools and local communities and played a decisive role in the Soweto Revolt of 1976; and, finally, beginning in 1977, the development of the strategy of "reform" by the state as an attempt to manage the crisis it was facing by refining the constitutional, administrative, and economic structures on which its hegemony was based.[11] From this period on, then, South Africa seemed locked into an opposing set of categories, "revolution" or "reform," both of which drew their defining features from the large-scale historical momentum with which the decade had begun (Stadler 161–84).

In this climate an academic revisionism dating from the late 1960s in the field of historiography acquired a particular urgency. The origins of the movement, as its influence and purview increased and widened to embrace all the social sciences and humanities, would have to be traced to the prominence of radical philosophies in Europe in the 1960s (mainly existentialism and structuralism and, on a lesser scale, Marxism) and to the antiwar and civil rights movements in the United States. In the local situation these powerful models of the metropolitan culture seemed to open up new vistas of consciousness and praxis in a South Africa seemingly deadened by apathy, acquiescence, and repression.

The exemplary book of the period was The Eye of the Needle (1972), and the exemplary life was that of its author, Richard Turner, who was assassinated in 1977. Turner's exposure to existentialism and Marxism while a student in Paris in the 1960s translated into the conviction, expressed in his life and work as a labor activist and lecturer in philosophy, that objective conditions in South Africa were the consequence of human choices and actions and could therefore be challenged. The Eye of the Needle was written specifically to popularize this concept and to project ethical and political alternatives as being thinkable in a culture that blocked them. Herbert Marcuse's One Dimensional Man is a high


point of the period, with its resistance to "the closing of the universe of discourse" and its critique of the associations between Reason, technological rationality, and domination (themes that echo in Dusklands ). Turner gave currency to Marcuse, publishing an essay entitled "Marcuse:The Power of Negative Thinking" in the University of Cape Town student journal Radical (1970). Turner's most rigorous philosophical project, however, written while under a banning order, was an incomplete and unpublished analysis of the problem of "the nature and status of the knowing subject in a materialist dialectic" (Morphet, "Introduction" xxix). Apart from its obvious philosophical importance, the treatise's pertinence lay in its attempt to reconcile the different aspects of Turner's own life, to combine, in other words, a defensible ethical standpoint that was meaningful from the point of view of the subject with a firm grasp of the material forces underlying the larger, enveloping crisis (xxx).

The representative feature of Turner's life and work is this attempt to combine a particular perspective on the self with a larger, historical view. It is a problem toward which South Africa seems prone to drive its more thoughtful citizens. The prominence of autobiography since the early 1960s, in black writing especially, is evidence of this trend, but it is particularly visible in two major discursive events of the early 1970s:Black Consciousness itself and the Study Project on Christianity in Apartheid Society (SPRO-CAS). The Black Consciousness position was one of self-recovery and self-affirmation in response to the negations of racism. The black world was posited as an organic unity, a transindividual mode of selfhood, and it was reinforced by a teleology of moral justice. The resources used by the early exponents of Black Consciousness were classic statements of black assertion such as Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth and Stokely Carmichael's Black Power.

SPRO-CAS was initiated by Beyers Naude in mid-1969 with the following objectives: "to examine our society in the light of Christian principles; to formulate long-term goals for an acceptable social order;and to consider how change towards such a social order might be accomplished" (SPRO-CAS 1). The project established six commissions to address issues in economics, education, law, politics, society, and the church. The ethical framework underlying the project was defined in terms of three principles: the "sanctity of the human person," the need for redemption and reconciliation, and the necessity of working "with


our whole being now towards the maximum of justice and love in all human relationships" (5–6). The project combined the efforts of prominent white liberals from a range of backgrounds, but it also won participation from people like Turner as well as black intellectuals like Steve Biko and Ben Khoapa (who were spokespersons of Black Consciousness), Njabulo Ndebele, and, curiously enough, Gatsha Buthelezi. These two forms of critique, the most prominent of the period, were ragbags of critical thought articulated by people forming, in the case of SPRO-CAS, an unlikely alliance on the basis of a common opposition to apartheid.

The state took the challenge seriously, however. The Schlebusch Commission was set up to investigate the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), the Christian Institute (closely linked to SPRO-CAS), and the Institute of Race Relations. Its report, published in 1974, is a compendium of the minutiae of the day-to-day affairs of these organizations and their representatives, not excluding their private lives. Its distortions of logic are usually banal, although the consequences in terms of bannings and restrictions were not. An example is the chapter "Polarisation," an account of the formation, under Biko's leadership, of the South African Students Organization (SASO); this chapter tries to show that because Black Consciousness incorporated a dialectical account of the progress from racism, to black assertion, to an ultimately nonracial future, its whole method and its ethnic emphasis were a mask for a Leninist dialectical materialism (Schlebusch Commission 391–463). On the cultural organization within NUSAS called Aquarius, the commission quotes reams of evidence from student leaders apparently proving their de facto guilt by stating that they objected to the environmental conditioning around them (334–52). In these examples and others the commission tries to pin down subversion to particular configurations of thought or consciousness: for all parties, it seems, including the state, undergoing "paradigm shift" became a quintessentially political act.[12]

In the academic context the initial focus of the historiographical debate was the two-volume Oxford History of South Africa, edited by Monica Wilson and Leonard Thompson. For the revisionists (represented by F. W. Johnstone, Stanley Trapido, Harold Wolpe, Colin Bundy, Martin Legassick, Shula Marks, and Charles van Onselen) the kind of history it represented implied a liberal-positivist conception of racial "interaction," a top-down sense of agents and actors that under-


played the role of the underclasses and of structural factors in determining events, and a gradualist or reformist perspective on change. Above all, however, the debate centered on how the relationship between capitalism and apartheid was to be examined. In the liberal view., apartheid was irrational, and the dynamics of growth in a free market system were bound to undermine steadily the ability of the state to enforce it. In the revisionist viewpoint, apartheid was intrinsic to the logic of capitalist accumulation because it provided, among other things, for cheap labor by such means as regulating urbanization through the pass laws. Whereas liberal history implied that capitalism was a progressive force acting on and transforming precapitalist cultures and social structures in preparation for their assimilation into the "developed" world, revisionism held that capitalism was an invasion linked internationally to imperialism and that the proper object of study was the capacity of underclass communities to resist this presence, or at least to transform it according to their own interests (Marks 166–69).

From an early stage a similar renarrativization of South African history penetrated the literary culture. The conference held at the University of Cape Town Summer School in 1974, whose proceedings were published under the title Poetry South Africa, was undoubtedly a watershed. In particular, in the debate between Guy Butler and Mike Kirkwood one discerns the clash of fundamentally opposed systems whose scope includes historiography, literary practice, and cultural identity and commitment. What Kirkwood challenged was not Butler himself so much as "Butlerism," a certain liberal sense of what it meant to be an English-speaking South African (an ESSA, in Butler's account). This perspective looked back to the arrival of the 1820 settlers in the spirit of mission, in that the historical role of the English was thought to be an enlightening, humanizing one in a "frontier" society of harshly contending forces and ideologies. For Butler, the English were "Athenians," "traffickers in ideas, and in the arts, transmitters and popularizers of ideas and new ways of feeling" (quoted in Kirkwood 103). As the bearers of the English language, the English had a role to play in education and in the literary arts, but the social dimensions of Butler's thinking embraced involvement in every sphere, including (constitutional) politics. The historical reality of the settlers' positioning in a "buffer zone" between warring Xhosas and Afrikaners was rewritten as a cultural and political program: the English were to be "mediators," facilitating the emergence of a more humane national culture and polity. The approach was essentially Arnoldian, Culture and Anarchy trans-


posed from the class fractures of nineteenth-century England to the South African "frontier."

Kirkwood's challenge was based on a recontextualization of the ESSA identity in terms of imperialism. The historiographical aspect of the argument rejected the thesis that the English occupied a middle ground; the position occupied by the English was one they shared with the Afrikaners, namely that of the ruling class in an essentially colonial set of relationships, where stratification took on a racial coloring. Revisionist historiographers introduced the materialist argument into the terms of debate, and they are taken up by Kirkwood here; but Kirkwood goes on to examine the subject-position of the ESSA as colonizer, with reference mainly to Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth and Albert Memmi's The Colonizer and the Colonized. In a reading faithful to the informing philosophies of his sources, Kirkwood combines the materialist historiographical critique with the psychoanalytic and existentialist critique of imperialism. The heart of his presentation was to outline a three-part process whereby the "ontology of the colonizer" was revealed:

In the first [stage] there is an emphasis on cultures rather than on societies, on functional-structuralist anthropology, and on such matters as "the primitive mind." The characteristic of this phase is the confidence with which the colonizer makes the collective being of the colonized his object, fails to assert a critical awareness of his own ethnocentric assumptions and projections, and uses the colonized as exotic models for rudimentary raids into the fascinating history of his own psyche.

In the second an awareness of the colonial society as such is dawning but the colonizer retains the role of its interpreter. Mannoni's classic work, Prospero and Caliban, the Psychology of Colonization, represents this phase:the dependence of the colonized on the colonizer is noted, and a theory is evolved to explain it. The "colonizability" of the colonized is said to derive from the dependent relationships fostered by ancestor worship and its complementary family system. The colonizer's true task, if he can be enlightened, is not to perpetuate and bask in dependence, but to assist in the birth of a full personality in the colonized, launching his ego upon the troubled ocean of the inferiority complex. He must learn to endure the trauma of abandonment and stabilize his personality through desperate achievements. He must learn, as Western man has learned, to live out the myth of Tom Thumb.

In the third stage the initiative passes to the colonized, whose stirrings— Garveyism, negritude—have ushered in the second stage. The dependence theory of Mannoni and other notions of "colonizability" are angrily and summarily rejected. Colonization itself is revealed as the creator of its dependents, and a full psychological analysis of the colonial situation is undertaken. The reader for whom Fanon and Memmi write their descriptions is the


colonized man, the man who now seeks to re-make himself by destroying the situation which created him as colonized, and, in an expression which they both use, to "re-enter history." (121–22)

In an effective piece of rhetorical inversion, Kirkwood here rewrites the three phases identified by Fanon in the development of the national culture of indigenous peoples—namely, assimilation into the colonial culture, then reaction and immersion in the indigenous culture, followed by revolutionary commitment—from the point of view of the colonizer, who finds himself, as settler, having witnessed and lived through all three phases, with the effect that he grows in self-awareness as he observes himself being posited as the object of an emergent discourse of the colonized. This self-objectification is, of course, also a self-critique, and Kirkwood goes on to discuss some of the worst features of the colonizer self: what he calls "the Nero complex" ("Nero, the usurper of the birthright of Britannicus"); the relationships of intimacy which develop with the colonized but which are abused or repressed in the colonizer; the reliance on a language of dependence, full of imperatives and hierarchical modes of address; the mediocrity of colonial culture as the consequence of its provincial relationship with the metropolis; and the process whereby the colonizer ego is constituted on the assumption of superiority (125–31). The critique must eventuate, says Kirkwood, in self-transcendence, but he adds that "a life-technique, as well as an art-technique, will be required" (131–32).

In the year of the conference Poetry '74, Ravan Press—publisher of the SPRO-CAS reports and closely linked to the Christian Institute— brought out Coetzee's Dusklands. It, too, develops a critique of colonial history; moreover, it does so by positioning the subject within the colonial narrative and pursuing it through degrees of painful recognition and self-consciousness. Both in his mode of access to the culture and in his themes, in other words, Coetzee is an intimate and effective participant in opening up the new discursive possibilities. Yet his point of contact with these other developments is oblique. It is oblique because of personal history, for it came about through his exposure to America; it is oblique also because it is filtered by linguistic studies.

How does Coetzee's linguistic perspective factor into the revisionist moment? This is the question to be posed in turning to Dusklands. In the cultural estrangement of Texas, and linking different threads of his personal history and current situation, Coetzee brought aspects of his graduate studies to bear on the question of colonialism. In a sketch of


the period written fifteen years later for the New York Times Book Review ("How I Learned about America") he tells of writing a paper for the linguist Archibald Hill on the morphology of Nama, Malay, and Dutch, exploring their interconnections by sifting through documents of colonial discourse such as travelers' reports of the territory of South West Africa, accounts of punitive raids against the Nama and Herero, anthropological and linguistic descriptions, and missionary and other historical records. The foundations of the critical technique of parody, which is developed in Dusklands, seem to have been laid here. In another essay written in Texas, Coetzee examined the syntax of exotic languages and discovered for himself "that every one of the 700 tongues of Borneo was as coherent and complex and intractable to analysis as English." He then speaks of the curious effect of generative grammar on his emerging ambition to write:

I read Noam Chomsky and Jerrold Katz and the new universal grammarians and reached the point of asking myself: If a latter-day ark were ever commissioned to take the best that mankind had to offer and make a fresh start on the farther planets, if it ever came down to that, might we not leave Shakespeare's plays and Beethoven's quartets behind to make room for the last aboriginal speaker of Dyirbal, even though that might be a fat old woman who scratched herself and smelled bad? It seemed an odd position for a student of English, the greatest imperial language of them all, to be falling into. It was a doubly odd position for someone with literary ambitions, albeit of the vaguest—ambitions to speak one day, somehow, in his own voice—to discover himself suspecting that languages spoke people or at the very least spoke through them. ("How I Learned about America"9)

The Chomskyan notion of deep structure, therefore, seems to have initiated Coetzee's drift away from either realist or romantic conceptions of authorial creativity. Instead of being the independent producer of literary language, the writer sets discourses in motion, pursuing their inner logic, sometimes setting several discourses in parallel—as in Dusklands, where the interest lies in the critical distance set up between different discourses. Coetzee's cultural displacement seems to have precluded him from taking up unreservedly the political model that Chomsky also represented; however, he was influenced, no doubt, by Chomsky's American Power and the New Mandarins, which, in questioning the role of "objective" scholarship in the context of the Vietnam War, is close to the concerns represented by Eugene Dawn's "mythography." All told, generative grammar seems to have enabled Coetzee to disconnect the notion of discourse from the autonomous subject of


liberalism, a move confirmed by later reading in Continental structuralism and poststructuralism.

Coetzee's precursors in bringing linguistic studies into the field of colonial relations go back to the period of high imperialism and the work of orientalists such as Silvestre de Sacy and Ernest Renan. In Said's account in Orientalism, the successes of the orientalist philology of the nineteenth century included "comparative grammar, the reclassification of languages into families, and the final rejection of the divine origins of language" these achievements, in Renan especially, linked orientalism definitively with the ideals of progress and scientific knowledge (135). Although Renan's "philological laboratory" was a significant contribution to the extension and consolidation of European discursive authority, Coetzee, projecting himself now into colonialism's dying moments, follows the tracks left by this tradition and finds evidence of cultural relativism. Coetzee's early linguistic studies, therefore, put him in touch with the source of the historical process he inwardly knows, enabling him to find Europe's authority dispersed and undermined in the deep structures of the languages of the nonmetropolitan world.


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