Friday, October 25, 2013


As I started reading this book I googled J.M.Coetzee. He came up as one of the most celebrated author in Anglosphere. I was living under a rock to have never ever heard of this two times booker winner and Nobel laureate . 

This book is supposed to be a fictional autobiography . That seems like an oxymoron does nt it? Well that is just the beginning of the interesting part. The author has written his story as interviews by his biographer with important people in his life. So what he has written are perceptions of other people of him. If you think it at the next level it is what the author perceives other people perceive of him. Tricky right? I found it very interesting , very unique. 

The biographer meets up with a Julia with whom he had an affair, Margot - a cousin, Adraina -a woman who he had a crush on, Sophie an old flame and Martin, a colleague. Since it is a fictional autobiography you tend to wonder how much of the characters are fact. 

The book takes us through his years in South Africa . He divulges bits of his relationship with his father, portions of his political affiliations and facets of his personality . The book is a very enjoyable and gripping read and the most engaging way of writing an autobiography ever. 

As usual I cannot do without putting forth the most appealing lines :-

As it is the fate of some generations to be destroyed by war, so it see,s the fate of the present one to be ground down by politics. --This is mentioned as bits from the diary of the author which the biographer records. 

If Jesus has stooped to play politics he might have become a key man in Roman Judea, a  big operator. It was because he was indifferent to politics, and made his indifference clear, that he was liquidated. How to live one's life outside politics , and one's death too:that was the example he set for his followers. 

So David Truscott who did not understand x and y, is a flourishing marketer or marketeer, while he , who had no trouble understanding x and y and much else besides ,  is an unemployed intellectual.What does that suggest about the workings of the world?What it seems most obviously to suggest is that the path that leads through Latin and algebra is not the path to material success.But it may suggest more: that understanding things is a waste of time;that if you want to succeed in the world and have a happy family and a nice home and a BMW you should not try to understand things but just add up the numbers or press the buttons or do whatever else it is that marketers are so richly rewarded for doing.

Did John love his father, do you think? Boys love their mothers,not their fathers. Don't you know you Freud? Boys hate their fathers and want to supplant them in their mother's affections. No,of course John did not love his father,he did not love anybody, he was not built for love. But he did feel guilty about his father.He felt guilty and therefore he behaved dutifully. With certain lapses.

For instance, white South Africans in those days liked to think of themselves as the Jews of Africa, or at least the Israelis of Africa: cunning,unscrupulous, resilient,running close   to the ground, hated and envied by the tribes they ruled over. All false.All nonsense. It takes a  Jew to know a Jew,as it takes a woman to know a man. Those people were not tough, they were not even cunning,or cunning enough. And they were certainly not Jews. In fact they were babes in the wood.That is how I think of them now:a tribe of babies looked after by slaves.

Their mutual grandfather had his finger in all too many pies. He was - the English word occurs to her - a go-getter in a land with few go-getters,a man with plenty of -another English word - spunk,more spunk probably than all his children put together. But perhaps that is the fate of the children of strong fathers: to be left with less than a full share of spunk.

I remember, in the days when I was a student, existentialism was the fashion, we all had to be existentialists. But to be accepted as an existentialist you had first to prove you were a libertine ,an extremist. Obey no restraints! Be free! -that was  what we were told.But how can I be free,I asked myself, if I am obeying someone else's order  to be free?

Students in my experience, soon work out whether what you are teaching matters to you. If it does, then they are prepared to consider letting it matter to them too.But if they conclude, rightly or wrongly, that it does'nt then, curtains, you may as well go home.

In Coetzee's eyes, we human beings will never abandon politics, because politics is too convenient and too attractive as a theatre in which to give play to our baser emotions. Baser emotions meaning hatred and rancour and spite and jealousy and bloodlust and so forth. In other words, politics is a symptom of our fallen state and expresses that fallen state.

Was he at ease with his black students - with black people in general? Was he at ease with anyone? He was not at-ease person(can you say that in English? ) He never relaxed. I witnesses that with my own eyes.So:Was he at ease with black people? No. He was not at ease among people who were at ease. The ease of others made him ill at ease. 

In the back pages of his diary he makes lists. Oneof them is headed Ways of Doing Away with Oneself.In the left-hand column he lists Methods, in the right-hand column Drawbacks . Of the ways of doing away with oneself he has listed , the one he favours on mature consideration is   drowning, that is to say, driving to Fish Hoek at night, parking near the deserted end of the beach,undressing in the car, putting on swimming trunks(why?) crossing the sand and entering the water(it will have to be a moonlit night), breasting the waves, striking out into the dark,swimming to the limit of physical endurance, then letting fate take its course.


I'll try 2 be truthful said...

After a point of time , I forgot that I was reading your blog and not the book itself .
Very good and clear writing indeed.

Renu said...

sounds intersting.will chk it.

Dont know why but in my family its not true that boys dont love fathers..It depends on the stage they are, like today my son is more attached to his father than me and my daughter is more attached to me..

Amrita said...

yea my post became a bit too long due to the excerpts but just couldnt stop myself from quoting.

Amrita said...

Renu - I dont agree with it either.. but somehow the way he put it seemed logical.. and anyways its supposed to be a Freudian theory and not everything Freud said stands correct today

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