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The resistance ot the treated body - the ethical-political dimension of the narrative in the work of J. M Coetzee


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Tukerić, Mario. (2017). The resistance ot the treated body - the ethical-political dimension of the narrative in the work of J. M Coetzee. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of Croatian Language and Literature.
(Poslijediplomski doktorski studij hrvatske kulture) [mentor Biti, Vladimir].

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In my doctoral dissertation I have analyzed the ethico-political tension in the novels of John M. Coetzee. In the center of this tension lies ambivalent status of the main character. As long as s/he herself/himself does not experience the pain and the suffering of the Other, s/he is no able to conceive and to understand this Other. That also means s/he must abandon politically (and socially) dominate position. In the long process s/he will change and learn to accept the otherness of the Other. But this change is not straightforward process and some of its aspects continue to be problematic. One of the most dominant aspects of Coetzee's fiction is a resistance of the so called character of otherness against epistemological seizure of the main character, which results with the same resistance in the reader's attempt to take control over the text. By means of various narrative techniques Coetzee protects the alterity of his characters/text and at the same time destabilizes the reader's interpretive attitude, confronting him with the constitutively non-cognizable otherness of the text. In such a way the reader is requested to reject familiar patterns of interpretation and to look after the new ways of respecting the otherness of the text. Because all of this aspects are central to the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida, I read and analyze Coetzee's fiction through some of their notions and concepts. From Levinas I take the notion of ethics as uncertain and precarious encounter in which subject always have ''one obligation more'' than the Other. From Derrida, insight that authority of the law lies not in its justice, but in violent act of its constitution. There is a gap between justice and law, because the latter relates always to the common and the first to the singularity (of the individual human being). Derrida claims that we always ought to question this ''mystical foundation'' of law and never be satisfied with its given boundaries (rules) because that means stopping and suppressing its opening to the marginal areas. From both thinkers I take the notion of ethics as an encounter with the Other in which her/his otherness always must be respected. That's not an easy demand though because every encounter with the Other is different and there's no general rule applicable. For Derrida this uncertainty in our own acts means beginning of ethics. For Levinas only rule that one must follow is command that comes from the face (visage) of the Other, which at the same time commands and begs for the respect of his otherness (life). In the Introduction I write about main aspects of Coetzee’s poetics and of the socio-political context of the South Africa which defined the whole cultural field. In the shadow of the struggle against apartheid, the only relevant and recognized mode of writing is one that describes and documents its evils. Aleready with his first novel Coetzee challenges this view and undermines the assumption of the correspondence between the reality and the fiction. Something that would become one of the most constant features of his writing. It is clear that from the perspective of the Marxist criticism, dominant at the time in South Africa, his novels will always lack political actuality, critique that will follow Coetzee through his whole oevre. But Coetzee will never accept any ideological enforcement and will continue to treat his writing as an act of personal freedom. This will result in somewhat ambivalent position: marginal in South Africa – emphasized even more by the fact of his extraordinary knowledge of literary and cultural history and of literary theory which he often uses in his writing – but at the same time well known and respected outside of it. In my reading this kind of marginality enables Coetzee to scrutinize his own role in the history of injustice and to challenge dominant model of relations which are grounded on power which excludes marginality and otherness. His particular attention to latter manifest itself in careful choice of narrative techniques and strategies which protects both alterity of his characters and text as a whole. This ethical moment also questions a political pragmatism and enables a new perspective of ethico-political relations. First step in that direction is abandoning of the position of the power and experience of pain on one’s own body. In the first chapter I analyze Coetzee’s first novel, Dusklands, and show that in spite of postmodern techniques that he uses, it is a powerful political statement and critic of violence, respectively of colonialism and imperialism. In the second chapter I analyze Coetzee’s third novel, Waiting for the barbarians. Here too motif of the violence is dominant, but now from the perspective of personal responsibility. I read Magistrate’s choices in the light of the Levinasian and Derridean understanding of ethics. In the third chapter I read the novel Life and times of Michael K in the two directions. In first, at the stake is meaning of the K’s resistance and respectively meaning and political relevance of the novel. The latter will be analyzed through the Nadine Gordimer's critic in which she claims its political failure. In the second direction I read K’s farming and elusiveness as an impossible quest for a place outside time, for a kind of carried out utopia – heterotopia. In the fourth chapter I read The age of iron. It’s a familiar ground of violence, state of emergency and copping with personal guilt. Like in Barbarians here too are the spheres of the public and the private interwoven, but now the future is even grimmer. I read this novel in the light of Coetzee’s insistence that there is no possibility of (satisfied) ending of the secular confession. Theme he will also be occupied with in the Disgrace. The age of iron also introduces a theme of old age and dependence on the other, process already initiated with Barbarians. In the fifth chapter I read Coetzee’s first novel dealing with postapartheid South Africa, Disgrace. If the charge of the lack of the political actuality were common for Coetzee’s novels before the end of apartheid era, now the situation is opposite. He is charged for the political incorrectness, even racism. The new South Africa in Coetzee’s eyes isn’t as bright and happy as its new slogan of rainbow nation tells. This time political actuality is undesirable. Iread Disgrace as a continuation of the search for a mode of coexistence between the races after centuries of racism and exploitation. Knowing Coetzee, it is clear that this is not an easy venture. I read Lurie’s unsuccessful attempts to enforce his solution of the problem and Lucy’s insistence on her autonomy in the light of Levinas notion of otherness, of accepting what is the most difficult to accept. I also problematize narrative instances and distribution of responsibility in the triangle author-narrator-character. In the conclusion I look at traumatic aspect of Coetzee’s writing which has a direct correlation in violent reality. The main purpose of this dissertation is to show how Coetzee treats and also resolves ethicopolitical tension, preserves the otherness of both his characters and text and always looks for a ways to confront dominant political powers by his own rules. It is my hope that this work will also bring Coetzee’s writing closer to attention of criticism in Croatia.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: Coetzee, aparthejd, etika, politika, tijelo, postmodernizam, Drugi, Levinas, Derrida, Foucault, Gordimer, Južna Afrika, Vijetnam, povijest, kolonijalizam, Buri, heterotopija
Subjects: Slavic languages and literatures > Croatian language and literature
Departments: Department of Croatian Language and Literature
Supervisor: Biti, Vladimir
Additional Information: Poslijediplomski doktorski studij hrvatske kulture
Date Deposited: 24 Oct 2017 10:33
Last Modified: 24 Oct 2017 10:33

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