January 22, 2012
REREADING J. M. COETZEE FOR A PAPER NOT WRITTEN
J. M. Coetzee, Age of Iron: A Novel (New York: Random House, 1990) ("There were not so many of these homeless people in your time. But now they are part of life here. Do they frighten me? On the whole, no. A little begging, a little thieving; dirt, noise, drunkenness; no worse. It is the roaming gangs I rear, the sullen-mouthed boys, rapacious as sharks, on whom the first shade of the prison house is already beginning to close. Children scorning childhood, the time of wonder, the growing time of the soul. Their souls, their organs of wonder, stunted, petrified. And on the other side of the great divide their white cousins soul-stunted too, spinning themselves tighter and tighter into their sleepy cocoons. Swimming lessons, riding lessons, ballet lessons; cricket on the lawn; lives passed within walled gardens guarded by bulldogs; children of paradise, blond, innocent, shinning with angelic light, soft as putti. Their residence the limbo of the unborn, their innocence the innocence of bee grubs, plump and white, drenched in honey, absorbing sweetness through their soft skins. Slumbrous their souls, bliss-filled, abstracted." Id. at 7. "When a ragged stranger comes knocking at the door he is never anything but a derelict, an alcoholic, a lost soul. Yet how, in our heats, we long for these sedate homes of ours to tremble, as in the story, with angelic chanting!" Id. at 14. "This letter is not a baring of my heart. It is a baring of something, but not of my heart." Id. at 15. "There I lay in the dark, listening to the music of the stars and the crackling and humming that accompanied it like the dust of meteors, smiling, my hear filled with gratitude for this good news from afar. The one border they cannot close, I thought: the border upward, between the Republic of South Africa and the empire of the sky. Where I an due to travel. Where no passport is called for." Id. at 23. "I think of those abandoned farmhouses I drove past in the Karoo and on the west coast whose owners decamped to the cities years ago, leaving fronts boarded up, gates locked. How washing flaps on the line, smoke comes from the chimney, children play outside the back door, waving to passing cars. A land in the process of being repossessed, its heirs quietly announcing themselves. A land taken by force, used, despoiled, spoiled, abandoned in its barren late years. Loved too, perhaps, by the ravishers, but loved only in the bloomtime of its youth, and therefore, in the verdict of history, not loved enough." Id. at 25-26. "Every day I attempt it anew, in my heart the flicker of a hope that in this one case, my case, there may have been a mistake. And every day I stop before the same blank wall: death, oblivion. Dr. Syfret in his rooms: 'We must face the truth.' That is to say: We must face the wall, But not he: I." Id. at 26. "Television. Why do I watch it? The parade of politicians every evening: I have only to see the heavy, blank faces so familiar since childhood to feel gloom and nausea. . . . . Sluggish hearts, heavy as blood pudding." "And their message stupidly unchanging, stupidly forever the same, Their feat, after years of etymological mediation on the word, to have raised stupidity to a virtue. To stupefy: to deprive of feeling; to benumb, deaden; to stun with amazement. Stupor: insensibility, apathy, torpor of mind. Stupid: dulled in the faculties, indifferent, destitute of thought or feelings. From stupere, to be stunned, astounded. A gradient from stupid to stunned to astonished, to be turned to stone, The message: that the message never changes. A message that turns people to stone." Id. at 28-29. "Across the courtyard he squatted, smoking, listening. Two souls, his and mine, twined together, ravished. Like insects mating tail to tail, facing away from each other, still except for a pulsing of the thorax that might be mistaken for mere breathing Stillness and ecstasy." Id. at 30. " 'He lives here,' said Florence, 'but he is rubbish. He is good for nothing.' . . . 'He is not a rubbish person,' I said, lowering my voice, speaking to Florence alone. 'There are no rubbish people. We are all people together.' " Id. at 47." 'I keep thinking of what you said the other day: that there are no more mothers and fathers. I can't believe you meant it. Children cannot grow up without mothers or fathers. The burnings and killings one hears of, the shocking callousness, even this matter of beating Mr. Vercueil--whose fault is it in the end? Surely the blame must fall on parents who say, 'Go, do as you wish, you are your own master now, I give up authority over you.' What child in his heart truly wants to be told that? Surely he will turn away in confusion, thinking to himself, 'I have no mother now, I have no father: then let my mother be death, let my father be death.' You wash your hands of them and they turn into the children of death.' " Id. at at 49. "I did not like him. I do not like him. I look into my heart and nowhere do I find any trace of feeling for him. As there are people to whom one spontaneously warms, so there are people to one is, from the first, cold. That is all. . . . " Id. at 78-79. " '. . . Yet how else can one feel? Perhaps I should simply accept that that is how one must live from now on: in a state of shame. Perhaps shame is nothing more than the name for the way I feel all the time. The name for the way in which people live who would prefer to be dead.' " "Shame. Mortification. Death in life." Id. at 86. " 'Why don't you just put down your guns and go home, all of you?' I said. 'Because surely nothing can be worse than what you are doing here. Worse for your souls, I mean.' " Id. at 107. "I am trying to keep a soul alive in times not hospitable to the soul." Id. at 130. "That is my first word, my first confession. I do not want to die in the state I am in, in a state of ugliness. I want to be saved. How shall I be saved? By doing what I do not want to do. That is the first step" that I know. I must love, first of all, the unlovable. I must love, for instance, this child. Not bright little Bheki, but this one. He is here for a reason He is part of my salvation, I must love him. But I do not love him. Nor do I want to love him enough to love him despite myself." "It is because I do not with a full enough heart want to be otherwise that I am still wandering in a fog." "I cannot find it in my heart to love, to want to love, to want to want to love." "I am dying because in my heart I do not want to live. I am dying because I want to die." "Therefore let me utter my second, dubious word. Not wanting to love him, how true can I say my love is for you? For love is not like hunger. Love is never sated, stilled. When one loves, one loves more. The more I love you, the more I ought to love him. The less I love him, the less, perhaps, I love you." Id. at 136-137. " 'Mr. Thabane, let me make one thing clear to you. I am not trying to prescribe to this boy or to anyone else what he should do with his life. He is old enough and self-willed enough to do what he will do. But as for this killing, this bloodletting in the name of comradeship, I detest it with all my heart and soul. I think it is barbarous. That is what I want to say.' " Id. at 149. " 'I am far away, certainly,' I said, 'far away and tiny. Nevertheless, I fear I know comradeship all too well. The Germans had comradeship, and the Japanese, and the Spartans. Shaka's impis too, I am sure. Comradeship is nothing but a mystique of death, of killing and dying, masquerading as what you call a bond (a bond of what? Love? I doubt it). I have no sympathy with this comradeship. You are wrong, you and Florence and everyone else, to be taken in by it and, worse, to encourage it in children, It is just another of those icy, exclusive, death-driven male constructions, That is my opinion.' " Id. at at 150. " 'I have cancer!' I screamed. 'Put me down!' Cancer! What a pleasure to fling the word at them! It stopped them in their tracks like a knife. . . . Gingerly they laid me down on the sofa. 'Where is the pain?' asked the woman, frowning. 'In my heart,' I said. She looked puzzled. 'I have cancer of the heart.' Then she understood; she shook her head as if shaking of flies. 'Does it pain you to be carried?' 'It pains me all the time,' I said. She caught the eye of the man behind me; something passed between them so amusing that she could not keep back a smile. 'I caught it by drinking from the cup of bitterness,' I plunged on. What did it matter if they thought me dotty? 'You will probably catch it too one day. It is hard to escape.' " Id. at 155-156 (format omitted). "But did I want to survive? I was beginning to feel the indifferent peace of an old animal that, sensing its time is near, creeps, cold and sluggish into a hole in the ground where everything will contract to slow thudding of a heart. Behind a concrete pillar, in a place where the sun had not shone for thirty years, I curled up on my good side, listening to the beat of the pain that might as well have been the beat of my pulse." Id. at 157-158. "How is there space for them all? How is there space in the skies for the souls of all the departed? Because, says Marcus Aurelius, they fuse one with another: they burn and fuse and so are returned to the great cycle." "Death after death. Bee ash." Id. at 158. " . . . 'I had miscalculated. Where did the mistake come in? It had something to do with honor, with the notion I clung to through thick and thin, from my education, from my reading that in his soul the honorable man can suffer no harm. I strove always for honor, for a private honor, using shame as my guide, A long as I was ashamed I knew I had not wandered to into dishonor. That was the use of shame: as a touchstone, something that would always be there, something you could come back to like a blind person, to touch, to tell you where you were. For the rest I kept a decent distance from my shame. I did not not wallow in it. Shame never became a shameful pleasure; it never ceased to gnaw me. I was not proud of it, I was ashamed of it. My shame, my own. Ashes in my mouth day after day, which never ceased to taste like ashes. ' " Id. at 165. " 'What I had not calculated on was that more might be called for than to be good. For there are plenty of good people in this country. We are two a penny, we good and nearly good. What the times call for is quite different from goodness. The times call for heroism. . . .' " Id. at 165. "I lay down beside him again, my feet cold and muddy. It was quite light now. On our flattened-out box in the vacant lot we must have been visible to every passerby. That is how we must be in the eyes of the angels: people living in houses of glass, our every act naked, Our hearts naked too, beating in chests of glass. Birdsong poured down like rain." Id. at 166. " 'Then if by chance you have a change of heart,' I said, 'could you telephone a new prescription through to the Avalon Pharmacy in Mill Street. I have no illusions about my condition, doctor. It is not care I need, just help with the pain.' 'And if you change your mind and want to see me at any time, Mrs. Curren, day or night, you have only to pick up the telephone.' An hour later the doorbell rang. It was the deliveryman from the pharmacy bringing a new prescription in a fourteen-day supply." Id. at 183 (format deleted).).
J. M. Coetzee, Giving Offense: Essays on Censorship (Chicago & London: U. of Chicago Press, 1996) ("The most law-abiding countries are not those with the highest prison populations but those with the lowest offender rates. The law, including the law of censorship, has a dream. In this dream, the daily round of identifying and punishing malefactors will wither away; the law and it constraints will be so deeply engraved on the citizenry that individuals will police themselves. Censorship looks forward to the day when writers will censor themselves and the censor himself can retire. It is for this reason that the physical expulsion of the censor, vomited forth as a demon is, has a certain symbolic value for the writer of Romantic genealogy: it stands for a rejection of the dream of reason, the dream of society of laws founded on reason and obeyed because reasonable. Id. at 10-11.).
J. M. Coetzee, Lecture and Speech of Acceptance Upon the Award of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Delivered in Stockholm in December 2003 (New York: Penguin Books, 2003).
J. M. Coetzee, The Master of Petersburg : A Novel (New York: Viking, 1994) (" 'No one will accept that. No one will believe you.' 'Students will believe --you have quite a following among the students, as I told you. Particularly if they don't have to read a fat book to get the message. Students will believe anything.' 'Come on, Sergei Gennadevich!' says the other man. His tone is not amused at all. . . . 'What have you got against books? What have you got against students?' 'What can't be said in one page isn't worth saying. Besides, why should some people sit around in luxury reading books when other people can't read at all? Do you think Sonya next door has time to read books? And students chatter too much. They sit around arguing and dissipating their energy. A university is a place where they teach you to argue so that you'll never actually do anything. . . . Arguing is just a trap. They think that by talking they will make the world better. They don't understand that things have to get worse before they can get better.' His comrade yawns; his indifference seems to goad Nechaev. 'It's true! That is why they have to be provoked! If you leave them to themselves they will always slide back into chattering and debating, and everything will run down. . . . People who are suffering don't need talk, they need to act. Our task is to make them act. If we can provoke them to act, the battle is half won. They may be smashed, there may be new repression, but they will just create more suffering and more outrage and more desire for action. That's how things work. Besides, if some are suffering, what justice is there till all are suffering? And things will accelerate too. You will be surprised at how fast history can move once we get it moving. The cycles will grow shorter and shorter. If we act today, the future will be upon us before we know it.' 'So forgery is permitted. Everything is permitted.' 'Why not? There nothing new in that. Everything is permitted for the sake of the future--even believers say so. I wouldn't be surprised if it's in the Bible.' " Id. at 199-200 (format deleted). On the hear and soul: .