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‘My truth: how I lived in these times, in this place’: Reading the body-soul in J.M. Coetzee’s late fictions

Suthipinittharm, Pojanut (2015) ‘My truth: how I lived in these times, in this place’: Reading the body-soul in J.M. Coetzee’s late fictions. PhD thesis, University of York.

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This thesis offers readings of a number of less discussed texts by J.M. Coetzee and attempts to take as full an account as possible of the human beings that are embodied in these works. Suggesting that critical approaches are often too invested in their specific ideologies to accommodate for the protean nature of certain Coetzee’s narratives, it contends that a better ground for approaching his writing can be found in the unmediated experience of living, which Elizabeth Costello—Coetzee’s lecture alter ego—once calls ‘the body-soul.’ This study thus traces Coetzee’s fascination with what it means to be fully alive as an individual being in his writing during the period between his apartheid-era novel Age of Iron (1990) and the final fictional memoir Summertime (2009). By paying attention specifically to the living beings of the characters, or in the case of Coetzee’s fictional memoirs, that of John Coetzee himself, this thesis shows how it is possible to make better sense of Coetzee’s puzzling late works and their formal inventiveness. While on the whole the thesis advances an alternative approach of reading Coetzee’s fiction, its individual chapters focus on employing the concept of the body-soul to help release the works’ meaning. The first chapter examines Coetzee’s fiction-as-lecture ‘The Lives of Animals: The Philosophers and the Animals,’ which forms part of Elizabeth Costello. I reconstitute Costello’s philosophical exposition about the ‘sympathetic imagination’ for animals as being inseparable from her personal desires as a body-soul vulnerable to death. Chapter Two also centres on Coetzee’s characters as living beings and connects the metafictional Slow Man (2005) with the epistolary Age of Iron through their common reiterations of the figure of a writer who follows another character with his/her imaginative writing. In Chapter Three, the living being of John Coetzee in Boyhood (1997), Youth (2002), and Summertime provides a basis from which to contend with the narratives’ mixed tactics of fictionalisation and confessional truth-telling. Chapter Four looks at Elizabeth Costello’s ‘The Problem of Evil’ and The Master of Petersburg. Here again, the attention to the body-souls of the protagonists enables a confrontation with the possibility that Coetzee’s fiction writing and the living beings within it may not always be a force for good. Throughout the thesis, I assert that the truths contained in these works of Coetzee are truths of the body-soul that cannot be fully extricated from their embodiments, yet by their embeddedness in living experiences that cannot be doubted, they seem to be what Coetzee, as he was in those times and places of writing, was able to believe in.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: J.M. Coetzee, novels, body-soul, embodied soul, philosophy, autobiography, evil, sympathy, relationship, metafiction, archive, religion
Academic Units: The University of York > English and Related Literature (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.680608
Depositing User: Miss Pojanut Suthipinittharm
Date Deposited: 15 Mar 2016 12:40
Last Modified: 08 Sep 2016 13:33
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/11597

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