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Marc Farrant on the major international conference that sparked new ways of thinking about the South African Nobel laureate
Coetzee, John 2010 (Photo by Marsha Miller)
J. M. Coetzee

How did you first encounter J. M. Coetzee, and what was it that sparked the idea for co-organising a conference on Coetzee & the Archive?

Like many Coetzee readers my first encounter was with the novel Disgrace. I was studying for a Masters at UCL and Disgrace was a core text on the year-long module covering modern English literature from the late nineteenth-century. It was immediately obvious why the novel was the on course, not least from the mixed reactions it provoked. Indeed, it was the only text we covered that year to garner opprobrium from some students in class. It’s a difficult read, the opening scenes that feature a licentious older man preying on one of his students, followed by the rape of his own daughter, test a reader’s mettle. But, it seemed to me at the time and still does, the open hostility the novel received required that one either ignore or abnegate a great deal of the responsibility the text places on the reader: the demand to respond to the ethical issues posed in the work beyond the staid and inherited conventions of moral outrage; to respond to the subtlety of a complex narrative voice that constitutes one of the best ever representations of complicity in the literary tradition, of the complicity of a liberal and educated conscience in crisis. Disgrace broaches the difficult terrain between both redemption and salvation, neither of which will fully serve since both partake of a certain violence or act of exclusion that would appear to tarnish the self-righteous anger of the oppressed as much as the villainy of the oppressor. If readers nevertheless insist that the novel is irresponsible it is therefore irresponsible, I would add, in the sense of informing us that it is perhaps never possible to be responsible enough, that responsibility is always lacking. Given its slender size the above, plus the intricate folds of literary and theological allusions, and the critique of the rationalizing project of secular modernity, makes for quite a novel! (more…)

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“Almost 13 years after his death, playwright Arthur Miller‘s archive finally has a home — at the University of Texas at Austin. […] Miller’s archive includes drafts of several of his plays, as well as short stories, screenplays, letters and journals, the university said in a news release. Some of the correspondence in the archive focuses on the House Un-American Activities Committee, which investigated Miller after the debut of The Crucible, a play about the Salem witch trials that he wrote as a critique of McCarthyism.” — LA Times

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“In one of his novels, [Robert] Walser’s protagonist adopts the motto “To be small and to stay small.” Walser, who receded from literary society in Berlin, who receded from the novel to shorter forms (stories, poems), finally writing his “microscripts” in a small room in a Swiss sanatorium. (The microscripts were first deciphered in 1972 and only recently translated into English; on one, an entire short story and a poem occupy the space of a postcard, with ample room to spare.)

Walser’s miniscule handwriting appeared at first to me as a further reduction of the miniscule hand of his admirer Walter Benjamin, whose writing I knew from reproductions of his meticulously kept notebooks. Benjamin, with his elaborate system of notebooks, his great care taken in selecting stationery and writing instruments, and who—despite writing voluminously throughout his lifetime—only published one full book (excluding his dissertation), a collection of fragments and aphorisms.

In a letter to a friend, Walser wrote that he developed his “pencil method” to get over his writer’s block. I wonder how this seemingly inscrutable handwriting helped protect him from writer’s block. Did it free him from doubt somehow? The manuscripts appear confident and without corrections. Was this because he knew they could not (or not without great difficulty) be read by another? That in this mode, his writing became a private writing?”

— John Vincler, The Daily, The Paris Review

Originally published in French as Malone meurt in 1951 and later translated into English by the author himself, Malone Dies is the second novel of Samuel Beckett’s Trilogy. The Making of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Malone Dies’/’Malone meurt’ is a comprehensive reference guide to the history of the text. Read the Bloomsbury press release over at the Samuel Beckett Society website.