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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“For a sixteen-year-old, it is an ambitious and serious library, comprising poetry, philosophy and translated classics, mostly affordable Everyman, Oxford and Penguin editions, those early-twentieth-century projects in the democratization of knowledge. The photograph is not well lit, but the large numbers on the spines of the Everyman volumes allow the identification of several of them. The key writings of Plato, St Augustine, Hobbes, Spinoza, Rousseau, Locke, Kant and Descartes are represented, as are Russian classics such as Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Tolstoy’s War and Peace. There are no English novels, nor is there any Shakespeare, but there are collected works of poetry by T. S. Eliot, Wordsworth, Tennyson and Keats. Books such as Euclid’s Elements point to Coetzee’s ambition to become a mathematician, though Marx’s Das Kapital may have been less influential. Several of these books would leave their mark on the later fictions, although important future influences such as Pound, Beckett and Kafka are not as yet present.”

— Hermann Wittenberg, Times Literary Supplement

“… I have been through the letters and diaries. What Coetzee writes there cannot be trusted, not as a factual record – not because he was a liar but because he was a fictioneer”

— J. M. Coetzee, Summertime

An upcoming international conference is offering scholars and enthusiasts a chance to engage with J.M. Coetzee’s work in new and interesting ways. Over the course of three days, the event will include a single day CHASE funded archival training workshop, and will feature a host of leading scholars in the field. Significantly, the Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee will be appearing in person to give a reading. (more…)

Anthony Uhlmann on co-editing a new essay collection exploring Coetzee’s recent novel, The Childhood of Jesus
Jennifer Rutherford and Anthony Uhlmann (eds.), J.M. Coetzee's The Childhood of Jesus (Bloomsbury, 2017)
Jennifer Rutherford and Anthony Uhlmann (eds.), J.M. Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus (Bloomsbury, 2017)

How did you first encounter J.M. Coetzee’s writing?

In 2002 I was working on the preparation for a major conference on Samuel Beckett that was to take place in Sydney in 2003 and I was looking for keynotes. There was a major public lecture at the Sydney Town Hall which is a reasonably grand space. We invited a number of people including Herbert Blau and Luce Irigaray (via videolink). Someone suggested I ask J. M. Coetzee who was on the board of one of the research groups related to Samuel Beckett. I then went and read a few of his novels, including Disgrace, Waiting for the Barbarians, and The Master of Petersburg and was blown away by the quality of the works. I told him when I finally met him that he had renewed my faith in contemporary fiction. He agreed to act as a keynote and read the ‘At The Gate’ Lesson from Elizabeth Costello which had not yet been published when he read it January 2003. He spoke briefly of having mostly gained an understanding of rhythm, and the structure of sentences, from reading and studying Beckett. After that I read all of his novels and have been working towards writing about him. (more…)

An inventory of imaginative potential

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Scott Esposito has recently published The Missing Books, a catalogue of written works that do not exist. LitHub, who has posted extracts from the work, describe its entries for ‘books that have not yet been published (but might one day be), books within books, and books whose authors did not manage to ever complete’. Among the nearly 100 texts listed are Jorge Luis BorgesBook of Sand, a work that promises totality and completeness but which never came to be; there is a non-existent universal dictionary of every word in every language; and H. P. Lovecraft‘s Necronomicon, a book of magic to be written and expanded by future authors. In each case, Esposito is alluding to books that seem to hover tantalizingly between presence and absence. (more…)

I talk to Jan Wilm about the Nobel winner. He shares his approach to Coetzee’s writing, and the first two novels that sparked his enthusiasm
J. M. Coetzee
J. M. Coetzee

When did you first encounter the works of J. M. Coetzee?

There seem to me to exist two very common encounters with the literary texts that change one’s life in one’s salad days. Encounter one is raw, perhaps pure, immediate and emotional, when one feels the literary text entering very deeply into what used to be called one’s soul. There, it seizes one, lifts one up and sets one on a course that will retrospectively seem like the right path. Encounter two is marked by bewilderment, lack of understanding, a sense of loss even, being shaken at the feeling that one has failed to taste from the greatness one was sure to find. (more…)

A call for papers for a panel at the upcoming ACLA conference in Utrecht, July 2017


This sounds interesting. Tom Chadwick has been in touch about something he is organizing for next year’s ACLA conference at Universiteit Utrecht in the Netherlands. He and co-organizer Pieter Vermeulen are putting together a panel exploring the relationship between contemporary literature and the archive, and they want to hear from you! (more…)

A refreshing new look at the writings of the Nobel laureate
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Jan Wilm, The Slow Philosophy of J. M. Coetzee
In The Slow Philosophy of J.M. Coetzee Jan Wilm analyses Coetzee’s singular aesthetic style which, he argues, provokes the reader to read his works slowly. The effected ‘slow reading’ is developed into a method specifically geared to analyzing Coetzee’s singular oeuvre, and it is shown that his works productively decelerate the reading process only to dynamize the reader’s reflexion in a way that may be termed philosophical. Drawing on fresh archival material, this is the first study of its kind to explore Coetzee’s writing process as already slow; as a program of seemingly relentless revision which brings forth his uniquely dense and crystalline style. Through the incorporation of material from drafts and notebooks, this study is also the first to combine an exploration of the writer’s stylistic choices with a rigorous analysis of the reader’s responses. The book includes close readings of Coetzee’s popular and lesser known work, including Disgrace, Waiting for the Barbarians, Elizabeth Costello, Life and Times of Michael K and Slow Man.

(more…)

An extract from James Wood’s 2011 review of Open City for the New Yorker
Teju Cole, Open City
Teju Cole, Open City
Publishers now pitch their books like Hollywood concepts, so Teju Cole’s first novel, “Open City” (Random House; $25), is being offered as especially appealing to “readers of Joseph O’Neill and Zadie Smith,” and written in a prose that “will remind you” of W. G. Sebald and J. M. Coetzee. This is shorthand for “post-colonialism in New York” (O’Neill), “lively multiracial themes” (Smith), “free-flowing form with no plot, narrated by a scholarly solitary walker” (Sebald), “obviously serious” (Coetzee), and “finely written” (all of the above). There is the additional comedy that Cole’s publishers, determined to retain the baby with the bathwater, boldly conjoin Smith and O’Neill, despite Smith’s hostility, advertised in an essay entitled “Two Paths for the Novel,” to O’Neill’s expensive and upholstered “lyrical realism.”

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In a 2000 article for the New York Review of Books, J. M. Coetzee reviews Robert Walser’s The Robber (translated by Susan Bernofsky) and Jakob von Gunten (translated by Christopher Middleton)
Robert Walser
Robert Walser
On Christmas Day, 1956, the police of the town of Herisau in eastern Switzerland were called out: children had stumbled upon the body of a man, frozen to death, in a snowy field. Arriving at the scene, the police took photographs and had the body removed.

The dead man was easily identified: Robert Walser, aged seventy-eight, missing from a local mental hospital. In his earlier years Walser had won something of a reputation, in Switzerland and even in Germany, as a writer. Some of his books were still in print; there had even been a biography of him published. During a quarter of a century in mental institutions, however, his own writing had dried up. Long country walks—like the one on which he had died—had been his main recreation.

(more…)

Introducing a new series of publications from Ibidem
Samuel Beckett
Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett in Company is a new series from Ibidem that seeks to place Beckett within an array of contexts – literary, historical, geographical, philosophical, theoretical and institutional – yet with the overarching rationale of tracing the relations of which Beckett is the centre.

Through a career that spanned prose, poetry, theatre, literary criticism, radio, film and television over a period of some 60 years, Beckett was influenced by, negotiated with, and then came to influence, a host of artists (both literary and non-literary), media and their associated institutions. By placing Beckett at the centre of such relations, the series aims to trace influences on Beckett, but also to investigate how he influenced subsequent artists, movements, media and institutions. Submissions that focus on new or previously neglected relations are particularly welcome. (more…)

I have always been fascinated by the daily rituals and routines that govern people’s everyday lives. Daily Routines has compiled a wide and varied selection of such rituals, taken from interviews and biographies of some of the world’s most distinguished writers and thinkers. It makes for fascinating reading – even if browsing the daily routines of others leaves little time for our own.

(more…)

From Scott Esposito (Center for the Art of Translation)
Robert Walser
Robert Walser

In 1993 when Susan Bernofsky published her first book-length translation of Robert Walser, the author was little-known in English and virtually unread in the United States. By 2009, when Bernofsky’s translation of The Tanners signified that all of Walser’s novels were available in English for the first time, the release of that book was greeted with praise from publications as diverse as BookForum, Time Out New York, and the Los Angeles Times.

The rise of Walser in translation over the past two decades has been nothing short of stunning, and it is thanks in no small part to a group of fine translators, of whom Bernofsky has played a leading roll. Since her first publication of Walser in 1993 she has published two other books by him, with two more on the way, as well as a critical biography of the author. No less a reader than the Nobel-winning novelist and critic J.M. Coetzee—one of Walser’s great contemporary admirers—has praised Bernofsky’s translations for their “ingenuity” and “resourcefulness” in dealing with his wide vocabulary and highly precise prose. (more…)