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John Maxwell Coetzee (1940 - )

Related: literature - 1900s literature

South-African novelist, critic, and translator, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003. The violent history and politics of his native country, especially apartheid, has provided Coetzee much raw material for his work, but none of his books have been censored by the authorities. Often he has examined the effects of oppression within frameworks derived from postmodernist thought. Coetzee's reflective, unaffected and precise style cannot be characterized as experimental, but in his novels he has methodically broken the conventions of narration. --http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/coetzee.htm [Dec 2006]


John Maxwell Coetzee (born February 9, 1940), often called J.M. Coetzee, is a South African author (now living in Australia) and academic. A novelist and literary critic as well as a translator, Coetzee won the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature.

He is currently regarded as one of the most important English language novelists. Nine of his novels were selected for 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, an honour only shared with Charles Dickens.

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J. M. Coetzee [Dec 2006]

What is a Classic? (2001) - J. M. Coetzee

Stranger Shores: Literary Essays (2001) - J. M. Coetzee
[FR] [DE] [UK]

In an essay entitled 'What is a Classic?' Coetzee includes commentary on his early confrontation with the classics, and the political direction it might have lent him. Taking a cue from Eliot’s 1944 lecture of the same title [in which Eliot asserts that classic status can be known "only by hindsight and in historical perspective."], Coetzee speaks of the classic in this way: "What does it mean in living terms to say that a classic is what survives? How does such a concept of the classic manifest itself in people’s lives?" This statement brings the classic from its supposed transcendental realm into the hurly-burly of history and makes it amenable not to passing fashions but to the sustaining values of each epoch. Whatever survives history’s ephemera, ‘that,’ according to Coetzee, ‘is the classic.’

In the first moment of aesthetic rapture upon hearing Bach, Coetzee muses: was the spirit of that culture 'speaking to me across the ages ... or ... was [I] symbolically electing high European culture, and command of the codes of that culture, as a route that would take me out of my class position in white South African society ... of what I must have felt ... an historical dead end? (10-11).

The novelist and essayist—now Nobel prize winner—JM Coetzee, in his provocative essay, 'What is a Classic? A Lecture' considers the possibility that we may read for self-centred, pragmatic reasons: the drive for economic and social power. He re-examines his first contact, as a young man, with a classic musical text which he felt, he says, 'was speaking to me across the ages, putting before me certain ideals.' Later in his life, he interrogates his response sceptically, wondering whether he was, in fact, 'symbolically electing high European culture, and command of the codes of that culture, as a route that would take (him) out of (his) class position in white South African society?' He puts the question succinctly: 'Was the experience a disinterested and ... impersonal aesthetic experience or was it really the masked expression of a material interest?' In his essay, Coetzee finally draws away from this sceptical account of his motives, but the doubt placed at the centre of the essay compels our attention. -- Hermina Burns via http://www.abc.net.au/rn/arts/ling/stories/s1308292.htm

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