J. M. Coetzee's 'postmodern' corpus: Bodies/texts, history, and politics in the apartheid novels, 1974--1990
Table of Contents Acknowledgments iv Preface 1 Chapter One: Introduction 9 I. Apartheid Writing and South African Politics: History and the ―Real‖ 10 II. Postmodernism and the Politics of Representation 28 III. Postmodernism and the Periphery 39 IV. Coetzee‘s Postmodern Bodies: Bodily Events and Estrangement 48 V. Supportive Coetzee Scholarship and the Body 61 VI. Postmodern Allegory and the Body 75 Chapter Two: Transgressive Bodies/Texts: Age of Iron 79 and In the Heart of the Country I. The Female Body between Complicity and Subversion 79 II. Age of Iron: A Cancer Narrative 88 III. In the Heart of the Country: Writing the Body 124 IV. Coda: Feminine Bodies/Texts 157 Chapter Three: Leaky Bodies: Waiting for the Barbarians 159 and Life and Times of Michael K I. Introduction: ―Leaky Bodies‖ and the Problematic of Postmodern 159 Representation II. Waiting for the Barbarians: The Body vs. the Empire 163 i. Manichean Dualisms and the Barbarian Body 164 ii. ―Real‖ Bodies: Beyond and Back to Discourse 179
iii. Imperial Bodies: Personal Pain and the Institutionalized Body 198 III. Life and Times of Michael K: The Body vs. the State 216 i. Institutional and Discursive Bodies 219 ii. ―Real‖ Resistant Bodies 226 IV. Conclusion: Complicating Bodily Materiality 251 Chapter Four: Estranging and Framing the Body: Dusklands and Foe 252 I. Introduction: Complicating Material History 252 II. Dusklands: Metafictionality and Historiography 256 i. ―The Vietnam Project‖ 259 ii. ―The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee‖ 270 III. Foe: The Body between Doubt and Estrangement 291 IV. Conclusion: Toward Allegorizing the Body 320 Chapter Five: Conclusion: Postmodern Allegories and the Politics 322 of Representation I. Postmodernism and Allegory 322 II. Intellectual Allegories/Constructed Bodies 329 i. The Postcolonial and the Postmodern 335 ii. Allegorical Doubling 339 III. Visceral Allegories/Material Bodies 346 IV. Coda: Coetzee‘s Post-apartheid Novels 356 Works Cited 360
Preface: The Violated Body in a Global Context The body implies mortality, vulnerability, agency: the skin and the flesh expose us to the gaze of others, but also to touch, and to violence, and bodies put us at risk of becoming the agency and instrument of all these as well. Judith Butler, Precarious Life In times of political conflict, like the apartheid years in South African history, it is the material body as flesh and blood that suffers and makes history. Imprisonment, torture, rape, abuse, injury, starvation, control, and killing are variations on what touches the body under oppressive regimes. Under apartheid, black bodies were—among other things—segregated, disenfranchised, shot, imprisoned, and sometimes killed in detention. During the years of the National party in government, 1948-1994, the main premise behind apartheid was ―the division of all South Africans by race‖ (Worden 105). Through a series of legislative acts, Africans were forcibly removed from their residence locations to townships and segregated in public amenities. 1 The Sharpeville shootings in 1960 killed and injured many protesters against the pass laws, with many demonstrators shot in the back as they fled the firing police. What began as a campaign called for by the Pan African Congress ended as a massacre. 2 The township revolts in the 1970s, like those of
1 Two particular acts that enforced residential and social segregation were the Group Areas Act (1950) and the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (1953). The former officially separated races through distinct residential areas. The latter enforced separation in, among others, transportation, restaurants, public services. Other acts like the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (1949) prohibited marriage across racial lines. The Population Registration Act (1950) divided people according to race: white, colored, African, and Indian. See Worden, especially the chapter on “The Heyday of Apartheid,” pp. 115-133. 2 Another resistance movement against apartheid was the African National Congress (ANC). The ANC carried out guerilla acts of warfare and sabotage in the 1960s and 1970s in response to attacks against blacks. Its famous leader, Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned for many years by the apartheid government and released in 1990. Many of the movement’s leaders were exiled for promoting civil disobedience and political struggle.
black school children against teaching in Afrikaans, what is known as the Soweto uprising of 1976 and its aftermath of school boycotts and burnings and police retaliation, resulted in the death of hundreds of students and wounding thousands (Worden 131). The same turmoil between the police and black township youth resurfaced in 1985, and the spreading boycotts and clashes resulted in the State of Emergency that continued until 1990 and gave the police more powers for arrests and detention without trial (Worden 143). The students‘ protests, stones, and barricades were silenced by the armed forces and the police by 1987 (Worden 145). Many black leaders were exiled, imprisoned, or assassinated. The death of a detained Black Consciousness leader, Steven Biko, in 1977 under torture was a spark that revived internal resistance (Eades 20) and international condemnation of apartheid. Forced removals/relocations to ―homelands‖ 3 or townships and political detentions touched countless thousands throughout the apartheid years. Millions of malnourished bodies lived in extreme poverty and lack of basic services. By 1994, ―the Africans made up 75 percent of the South African population, but owned about 15 percent of land in South Africa and controlled about 2 percent of the nation‘s wealth‖ (Eades 51). Simply put, Africans suffered under the apartheid regime. For long years, protests, demonstrations, and underground activities did little to effect a real political change. Complex internal and external factors and sociopolitical dimensions contributed to the weakening of apartheid in the early 1990s and its demise in 1994 with the country‘s multiparty democratic elections. The South African apartheid history, however, is not something to be considered in itself and away from other historical contexts for bodily violations and loss of human
3 The Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act of 1970 required Africans to get citizenships in their new homelands, thus losing their citizenship rights in South Africa.
rights. Moreover, the body can be used to exercise some agency just as it often demonstrates naked vulnerability. Growing up in a small town in Jordan, I used to partake in my elders‘ daily evening pastime of watching the news. The typical sights on TV screens were those of violated Palestinian bodies crushed under a heavy Israeli war machine. The Intifada years of 1987-93, concurrent with the last years of apartheid, were a time of intense political turmoil in which bodies were maimed and killed in the course of a political struggle for land and equal rights. While I am not ignorant of acts of violence perpetrated by desperate Palestinians against a militarily superior Israel or against innocent Israeli civilians, or violence perpetrated by Palestinians against each other, I was constantly touched by the body‘s vulnerability to injury and death whenever we have bad times and people resort to violence—which is how this dissertation came into being. The old-new Middle Eastern situation, like the South African one I study in this dissertation, is part of a global context of material suffering whereby bodies are displaced and assassinated. And while the apartheid years are over, Palestinians still experience loss of land and rights. They have contributed martyrs, what the West knows as ―terrorists‖ or ―suicide-bombers,‖ for their cause, both men and women. Moreover, many Palestinians found in Hamas, a terrorist organization by Western standards, a legitimate avenue for political agency. Although political assassinations of Hamas leaders by the Israelis have continued over the past years, and despite international pressures and Israel‘s recent bloody military intervention in 2008, Hamas still holds its place in Gaza as a more militant alternative to mainstream Palestinian politics—and people continue to suffer under the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel. The same applies to HezbAllah in southern Lebanon. The recent military engagement with Israel in 2006 led to heavy
civilian deaths, infrastructure damage, and death of party members on the part of the Lebanese, but HezbAllah still exercises some agency in Lebanon for its option of armed- resistance against the Israelis regardless of the cost. Just as African bodies were violated in the process of a struggle for political rights which were ultimately gained, Palestinian and Lebanese bodies have also been violated in years of political strife against Israel‘s policies in the region like demolishing of homes, appropriation of lands, and massive airstrikes. On the other hand, violence against the Israelis is often viewed in the Arab world as a justified violence which a military tyrant should sustain. And as a graduate student in English at a university in Jordan with hopes of attending an American university for a Ph.D., I was stunned to see live coverage of hijacked airplanes slamming into the World Trade Center. This violent act, which took thousands of innocent lives and which I condemn and declare Islam to be innocent of, initiated the American ―War on Terror.‖ The Bush Administration began a relentless endeavor purportedly against religious fundamentalism in Afghanistan and, surprisingly for me, then, in Iraq. The rhetoric that they used reinforced the dichotomous logic of us vs. them, the axis of good vs. the axis of evil, the free, civilized West vs. its hateful Other. Bin Laden and his ―gang‖ became the ―barbarian enemy‖ that could stealthily strike anytime. There were no apparent connections between Al Qaeda and the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq then. Moreover, the US had already crushed Saddam‘s army in Kuwait during the Gulf War in the early 1990s, and Iraq was under heavy economic sanctions following the Gulf War right until the invasion of 2003. In both wars involving Iraq, however, the body was a site for violence. The military superiority of the American troops and their domination of the air battle exposed Iraqi troops in Kuwait to much fire
and inflicted much destruction on the fleeing forces trying to get to Iraq from Kuwait. Before the actual fighting in Kuwait, weeks of aerial bombardment of Iraq in 1991 burned bodies and shelters, amputated limbs, and killed children and women alike. With a shortage of medical equipment and the high number of war casualties, the situation was even worse in 2003 in Iraqi hospitals trying to accommodate war‘s broken bodies. American missiles fell on civilian areas and killed innocents, and this was attributed to technology failures or Saddam‘s use of civilian areas as a cover for his forces. About three thousand people lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks, and hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan lost their lives as well. The aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq in 2003 witnessed an abusive treatment of war prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. On the other hand, the war and its aftermath of insurgency in Iraq cost the U.S. thousands of troops and more injured troops who returned with amputated limbs, scars, and psychological trauma. The attacks of 9/11 forced America to change its immigration policies and execute more surveillance on ―foreign‖ bodies. My stay here on a visa and the related restrictions made me acutely conscious of the control that bodies are subjected to in the political field. The post 9/11 U.S. used racial profiling and other counterterrorist strategies at its international airports. The special registration I underwent upon entry to the U.S. (from the Middle East) and the security checks made me miss my Oklahoma flight. In violent times, the body becomes particularly visible, which is exactly what we find in Coetzee‘s apartheid fictions and what I intend to problematize in this dissertation. As I argue in the five chapters to follow, the colonial violence we see in Coetzee‘s Dusklands and the state-sponsored violence of torture, killing, and incarceration we find
in Waiting for the Barbarians, Life and Times of Michael K, and Age of Iron are particularly notable because they reveal the body‘s entrapment in the political of the sort we find in contemporary global politics. The black youth shot by the police in Age of Iron for resisting apartheid policies and the prisoners tortured or killed in Waiting for the Barbarians and Dusklands offer variations on the theme of the violation of the body in times of political pressure. The reign of terror let loose by the Empire on the suspicion of a supposed barbarian invasion in Waiting for the Barbarians is instantiated by the terrorism it inflicts on the other body. The wretchedness, deprivation, and strict bodily control of crowded camp life in Life and Times of Michael K mirror those of the concentration camps in which hundreds of thousands of Jews perished under the Nazis or were starved and tortured in the early 1940s. Similarly, the dehumanized prisoners held in the barracks in Waiting for the Barbarians and brutally and publically flogged by a hierarchy of state officials evoke images of the life at the Auschwitz camp. 4 The classification and categorization of prisoners at Auschwitz via the insignia they wore (McDonough 79) is also mirrored in the classification labels attributed by camp officials to K in Life and Times of Michael K. The forced physical exercise the weakened K and
4 There are parallels between Coetzee’s works, both apartheid and post-apartheid, and life in the Nazi death camps. The corpses of the bodies killed in gas chambers and thrown into burning ovens for cremation in Nazi death camps find implicit parallels in Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999) where stiff corpses of dogs are thrown for incineration. The idea is explicitly stated in Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello (2003) when Costello in a lecture defends animal rights and makes a problematic, even obscene and morally dubious, analogy between killing the Jews in the Holocaust and the mass slaughter of animals in abattoirs and labs. She reasons that in both cases people living close to mass killing places assume willful ignorance. Costello argues: “The crime of the Third Reich, says the voice of accusation, was to treat people like animals” (65). She indignantly describes how the victims “went like sheep to the slaughter” (64).The “obscenity” of her analogy makes a man in the audience, a Jewish poet, walk out in protest at her apparently anti-Semitic remark and miss the dinner held by the hosting college to honor her. Of course, it is problematic to assume that animals and humans belong to the same order of being. Jacques Derrida, commenting on the word “apartheid” and its legacy of racism, once said that “by itself the word occupies the terrain like a concentration camp. System of partition, barbed wire, crowds of mapped out solitudes” (292). Derrida’s comparison allows us to see the state camps in Life and Times of Michael K in the light of the experiences of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps and in the South African apartheid state.
the old magistrate perform for ―sadistic‖ guards is reminiscent of Auschwitz, where those ―chosen for ‗recreation‘ would be forced to do extreme physical exercises for hours‖ and many inmates made by the death squads do such exercises ―were exhausted and emaciated individuals hardly capable of standing up‖ (McDonough 83). The anonymous Empire in Waiting for the Barbarians and the civil war South Africa in Life and Times of Michael K are not much different from Nazi Germany in the hold of its authoritative discourses on the body. The suggestive bodily violence of mutilation and rape that Friday in Foe and Magda in In the Heart of the Country are subjected to, respectively and within a colonial context in each novel, also reveals the body‘s investment in political power, in oppressive and patriarchal discourses. The materiality of bodily suffering that gets represented in Coetzee‘s apartheid novels will be complicated in the following chapters within a postmodern theoretical frame because Coetzee, we will see, represents the violated body in pain but shows the construction of this body in discourse. Hence, this dissertation looks at the relationship among pain, the body, and language. A look at political strife around the world reveals the interplay between the material body and the body politic. As I am preparing this manuscript for deposition, Egyptians are heroically protesting against an oppressive regime that has dominated their lives for more than thirty years. Their demonstrations are being countered by the clubs, bullets, and tear gas of the regime‘s forces. Coetzee‘s novels can be read against global conflicts and as a critique of the foundations of imperial and political violence, and hence their continued relevance and the importance of such a dissertation. For example, Noam Chomsky says that the war against terrorism has often been described in American political rhetoric as ―a struggle against a plague, a cancer which is spread by barbarians,
by ‗depraved opponents of civilization itself‘‖ (217-218). Chomsky‘s statement is reminiscent of the political allegorization of cancer in Coetzee‘s Age of Iron and the treatment of the ―barbarians‖ as the Empire‘s enemy in Waiting for the Barbarians. Moreover, the anonymous Empire in Waiting for the Barbarians invites comparison and contrast with recent global, and inclusive, conceptions of ―Empire‖ of the sort Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri discuss in a groundbreaking book like Empire. Coetzee questions the roots of evil and injustice and his novels relate allegorically to global politics. History and politics converge over the body, and Coetzee interrogates what it means to be human under political oppression. For this reason, his novels have an enduring relevance within a postmodern project that questions humanism and points to its failures as a master code. Although I focus in the next chapters on Coetzee‘s apartheid novels and discuss them as postmodern texts that highlight the interplay between material and discursive bodies, this dissertation begins with the premise that the abundant materiality of the body in Coetzee‘s apartheid novels politicizes them and gives them value with reference to apartheid politics and globally beyond South Africa. It concludes by asserting and complicating the claim that this recurring materiality allegorizes the apartheid novels at different levels. In between the introduction and the conclusion, the middle chapters discuss thematically related novels by focusing each time on different facets of my central claim about the troubled relationship between the body and language. Shadi Neimneh Norman, Oklahoma (January 2011)
Chapter One: Introduction Inevitably, the characteristic of African literature during the struggle against colonialism and, later, neocolonialism and corruption in postcolonial societies, has been engagement—political engagement. …. ―Engagement‖ does not preclude the beauty of language, the complexity of human emotions; on the contrary, such literature must be able to use all these in order to be truly engaged with life, where the overwhelming factor in that life is political struggle. Nadine Gordimer, ―Turning the Page‖ For us, the direction and scale of the ambition of writing remained hidden for much of the early and middle parts of his career. What we failed to see was that Coetzee was in search of ways of speaking to history from his own ground and in his own voice. Tony Morphet, ―Reading Coetzee in South Africa‖ Discursive formations are not hermitically sealed, they overlap and intersperse in ways that may be fruitfully and reflexively utilized. It is, after all, at the point of intersection with other discourses that any discourse becomes determined. Bill Ashcroft et al, The Empire Writes Back One of the major tenets of postmodern thought is a critique of and a problematization of representation. Rather than simply rejecting the real, postmodernists experiment with how to represent and even re-represent the real. They make us ―think differently about representation‖ (Nealon 231). In their critique of essentialism, postmodernists reject an easy realism whereby there is a correspondence between fiction and reality and insist on the constructedness of meaning and the mediation of
experience. 5 Postmodern politics, it turns out, is also rooted in the politics of representation, in how historical materiality is related. And if we are to redeem the political relevance of a problematic body of literary works produced during an era of intense political pressure like the apartheid years in South Africa and accused of political irrelevance, of dehistoricizing the real, it becomes necessary to examine how such a body of writings transforms the way we understand the reality of material suffering and oppression. Before we look at the problematic apartheid novels in question of the white South African writer J. M. Coetzee and attempt to highlight their political value for us as global readers, it is essential to explore the way they were received within that apartheid context and how they were seen to diverge from traditional forms of committed writing. It is also imperative to elaborate the nature of postmodern politics of such works by showing how they represent the body as a primal site of material suffering and oppression in this case, in terms of both its materiality and constructedness. So, I endeavor in this introduction to give some background on South African politics of apartheid writing and establish relationships among postmodern representation, the body, and history. I. Apartheid Writing and South African Politics: History and the ―Real‖ White South African writers during and after the apartheid years had to find an appropriate political and ethical response to apartheid and tackle a collective historical guilt rooted in apartheid‘s legacy. It is not surprising that many writers resorted to neo- Marxism and non-fictional forms of writing to counter apartheid, thus making history and
5 It is no wonder that postmodernist writers often opt for techniques that blur the boundaries between realistic and non-realistic representation, between the fantastic and the real, as in magic realism and surrealism. The common charge is that postmodernism is “the most highly antimimetic of all the modes” (Lehan 262).
politics dominate their literary productions. The political tensions associated with apartheid made writers aware of a distinction between the aesthetic features of fiction and protest purposes. Few writers succeeded in striking a balance between their artistic vocations and their social commitments. Accordingly, it was customary to accuse of quietism works that did not show the economic and political factors of history or capture social realities and class struggle. For neo-Marxist critics, literature was evaluated by its public value of intervention, by a realism essential for the truth about political realities, and by its ability to protest against material factors of oppression. The pressing problem in writing about apartheid, then, was that of political engagement, of capturing the realities of such a history. However, engagement is not straightforward in Coetzee‘s apartheid writings. Even so, the aesthetic dimensions of such writings do not necessarily undermine their political potential. Critics of Coetzee‘s early fiction sometimes had problems with its Western tradition and experimental nature. They were not happy with what seemed metaphorical and universalized representations of South African politics. Hence, Coetzee has been criticized in South Africa for a lack of political commitment and social responsibility in his novels, as manifested in his use of unnamed empires and withdrawn characters as protagonists. Universalism, it seems, was not in line with radical politics in a country like South Africa. An old-new issue in the critical reception of the novels of Coetzee, and especially those of the apartheid era, is thus contextualizing such novels within a South African context and finding their relevance in relation to an anti-apartheid struggle. Hence, and looking at the history of the local reception of such works, one finds strong condemnation of Coetzee‘s oeuvre, whereas internationally Coetzee has been acclaimed
and rewarded in North America and Britain for writing critiques of apartheid. Because Coetzee did not use the (realist) conventions of politically committed writing, and thus seemed to advocate art above politics, 6 his early works were criticized by a neo-Marxist tradition within South Africa for their self-reflexivity and for not developing ―weapons‖ in a political struggle against apartheid. Coetzee was accused of elitism and lack of seriousness. Basically, neo-Marxists dismissed his works on grounds of their global ―postmodernism‖ and in line with others who saw in postmodernism no theory of agency. Postmodernism was thought to be self-absorbed, ironic, formally exaggerated, lacking in radical solutions in its inclusive logic, and neither confrontational nor documentary. Postmodern writing was equated with political paralysis, and Coetzee‘s postmodern affiliations made neo-Marxist critics dismiss his apartheid works as politically irrelevant with no historical value. As Ihab Hassan argues in The Postmodern Turn, critics were distressed by the broad, international scope of postmodernism, by its ―loose, baggy character‖ (xvi). A committed writing fighting political injustice was expected to go against rather than exploit poststructuralist, postmodernist leanings and to have a clear political agenda pertaining to a specific historical reality. Neo-Marxist critics of the early Coetzee did not find overt representations of material and historical conditions of life under apartheid. They were disheartened by the spatial and temporal displacements and self-reflexive dimensions of the works, a fact confirmed for them by the passing of Coetzee‘s works by the state censors. His
6 See for example Clive Barnett, “Constructions of Apartheid,” esp. p. 289 and p. 291. In “The Great South African Novel,” Coetzee paradoxically shows how South African writers have internationally been recognized for the peculiarity of their relationship with colonial themes and historical times. Coetzee writes: “Internationally, those South African writers who make the grade are given a wide and, it seems to me, remarkably respectful hearing. The reason is that they are seen to have privileged access to a theme of compelling importance which we may loosely call ‘the South African situation’” (74).
engagement of the realities of South African social and political life has been found lacking for not providing political solutions or protesting against apartheid policies. Compared with the work of white South African writers like Nadine Gordimer, Alan Paton, and Andre Brink, his work was not overtly political and engaged in South African realities. The fictions for Coetzee‘s detractors were ―postmodern‖ in the sense of being ahistorical and elitist. Coetzee was attacked within South Africa by neo-Marxist critics who evaluate works according to how they fit into a political struggle. For example, Coetzee was attacked by Paul Rich for complicity and expressing in his fictions ―the cultural and political dilemmas of a privileged class of white artists and intellectuals‖ (73). Rich finds Coetzee appealing to a trend to consider postmodernism (in its neglect of conventional realism and blatant interest in psychological realism) a vehicle for a privileged class of intellectuals in ivory towers and with cosmopolitan interests. On another occasion, Rich views Coetzee‘s Waiting for the Barbarians (1980) as lacking ―any understanding of the historical forces that produce actual imperial systems at particular phases of history‖ (―Apartheid‖ 385) and indicating that postmodernism in a postcolonial condition like that of South Africa ―is a moral dead end‖ (―Apartheid‖ 389). Peter Knox-Shaw saw in Coetzee‘s novel Dusklands (1974) an absence of critical import, ―a virtual effacement of economic motive‖ (28). He concludes his article on the novel by regretting that a writer of Coetzee‘s talent ―should play down the political and economic aspects of history in favor of a psychopathology of Western life‖ (37). Michael Chapman saw in another Coetzee novel, Foe (1986), a failed attempt to ―speak to Africa‖ and a ―kind of masturbatory release . . . for the Europeanising dreams of an intellectual coterie‖ (335). Michael Vaughan, in an early study on Coetzee and Matshoba, points out the