J. M. Coetzee, the Craftsman

Book review:

Attwell, David. J. M. Coetzee and the Life of Writing: Face-to-Face with Time. New York: Viking, 2015. xxiii + 248 pages. ISBN 978-0-525-42961-6. Pbk. $27.95.

“No country, this, for old men”: A View of the Aging Artist through Intertexts in J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace

J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999) features two emblematic modernist representations of the aging artist, William Butler Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium” and T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which have not been given enough critical attention. Focusing on the Romantic notions underlying David Lurie’s worldview, current critical discourse, with the notable exception of Mike Marais, suggests that Lurie’s career follows the patterns of the Bildungsroman. Taking its cue from Marais, the present intertextual reading discusses Lurie’s “anti-Bildungsroman” in the light of the novel’s non-Romantic intertexts. It argues that they highlight, on the one hand, Lurie’s chiastic thought-processes, which are likely to bracket any progress or development. On the other hand, they reveal his (self)-ageism and the entrenched ageism of the literary tradition he relies on. Those, in turn, also give a pessimistic prognosis of his discovering a protective discourse or worldview which would allow him—and post-apartheid South Africa—to “age gracefully.” Likewise, they manifest yet another aspect of the novel’s unreliable narration, which—unlike Lurie’s sexism and racism—is rooted in so universal fears that, instead of alienating readers from his perspective, it makes his bleak  vision of post-apartheid South Africa even more compelling. (AR)

Ali Smith’s How to be Both and the Nachleben of Aby Warburg: “Neither here nor there”

This paper offers a reading of Ali Smith’s 2014 novel, How to Be Both, in the context of Aby Warburg’s iconological interpretation of the frescoes by Francesco del Cossa in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara. Having reconstructed the story behind the creation, attribution, and reading of the frescoes, the paper argues for recognizing them as a major source of inspiration for Smith’s narrative. Furthermore, the principle of “bothness” is recognized as the novel’s foremost concern; both formal—pertaining to paratextual, graphic, and typeset solutions employed by the narrative—and thematic. With the help of Warburg’s concept of Nachleben and his proposition of traveling forms and images, How to Be Both is ultimately identified as a novel vitally indebted to Warburg’s theoretical and interpretative model. Last but not least, it testifies to the “after-life” of Warburg’s ideas. (RK, WSZ)