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Title:Self and politics in the novels of J. M. Coetzee
Author(s):Casey, John Shepard
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Garrett, Peter K.
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, African
Abstract:This dissertation examines the autodiegetic, psychological, colonial and postcolonial resonances in the novels of J. M. Coetzee. As an Afrikaner writing in English against the grain of a mythic Afrikaner past Coetzee blends allegory, realism and poststructural narrative techniques to produce powerful critiques of colonial and postcolonial domination. Coetzee can be said to have introduced poststructuralist themes like the linguistic constructedness of the subject and the aporiatic plot into South African letters. However, the novels also employ realistically grounded psychological descriptions to describe the fragmentation of liberal ambitions and ideals in the highly polarized social structure of South Africa. Coetzee's novels are investigations of the possibilities and difficulties of empathic and ethical communication between white selves alienated by their struggle to comprehend the brutality and oppression of various others and the others who are the subjects of such oppression. Thus, his novels increasingly come to represent a self centered on empathically-driven but realistically limited object relationships with these others. This self is not simply an apersonal, linguistically determined apparatus, but a flesh and blood protagonist in colonialism's and later apartheid's deadly games of exploitation. The dissertation argues that Coetzee's narrators avoid complicity with imperialist, colonialist and apartheid structures of power by moving beyond blindness to such structures and toward an ethically based object relationship with the other. The argument uses the self psychological theory of Heinz Kohut, particularly Kohut's theories on narcissism and empathy, to examine the ebb and flow of intersubjectivity in Coetzee's self/other relations. While the aim of Coetzee's narrators is nothing less than open relationship to the other, they find themselves often torn by their desire for this relationship and their imbrication in dysfunctional political structures which limit self development. Thus the dissertation argues that the system of self and those systems of ideological and political imbrication Coetzee presents are allegories about object relationship, and notes, in turn, how these allegories interact and play off each other. The ambiguities, absurdities and resistances that define the narrators in Coetzee's novels suggest a realistic appraisal of how politics limits self-actualization and ethical relationship.
Issue Date:1994
Rights Information:Copyright 1994 Casey, John Shepard
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9512318
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9512318

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