Embodiment and Sacrifice in J. M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello

1. Introduction: Neither Fish nor Fowl
A recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature and other prestigious
awards, J. M. Coetzee has written novels, fictionalized biographies,
and essays. Coetzee’s early writings reflected his context as a dissident
writer living in apartheid South Africa. More recently, after his emigration
to Australia in 2003, the settings of his stories reflect a broader
ethnic and national context.
Despite this shift in location, “each of Coetzee’s novels,” Jane
Poyner writes, “portrays a (troubled) writer-figure or intellectual” in
communities animated by strong, conflicting beliefs.1 The intellectual
delivers a paradoxical message: the divisions animating these conflicts
are superficial; the violence each perpetrates renders the combatants
more alike than different. “The intellectual,” Poyner notes, “must
maintain independence from all organized social bodies, especially
political ones, in order to speak the truth to power.”

 

In Giving Offense, a series of essays on censorship, Coetzee
writes that he follows the “spirit of Erasmus” by pursuing an unwavering
social critique that is nonetheless “not certain of itself either.” Luther
dismissed Erasmus as “King of the Amphibians” for theologically
and politically being neither fish nor fowl.

To read more of this essay, please click here.

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