Age of Iron (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Few writers have striven to work so relentlessly within so narrow a stylistic range yet managed, as I M. Coetzee has, to sharpen that style from book to book and to use it on a broad range of superficially diverse but essentially similar subjects. Few writers, that is, have managed so successfully to turn the postmodernist’s pursuit of style and the moralist’s preoccupation with the most basic and most vexing questions of contemporary life into brilliantly conceived and brilliantly executed aesthetic wholes, political but never merely polemical, polished but never fetishized. Simple in language yet strangely opaque in meaning, Coetzee’s two novellas and five novels resemble Samuel Beckett’s fictions. Both set their works in landscapes that seem less physical than philosophical, imbued with a strange aura of allegorical significance that is intensely felt yet only vaguely defined. Seeking to give voice to the inarticulate, their works create not so much characters as disembodied voices attempting to speak themselves into existence and into the reader’s imagination in an effort to give shape and therefore meaning to the deepest and most basic human needs. Paradoxically enough, the great power these voices possess derives from the condition of powerlessness from which they speak: in Coetzee’s case, the vengeful Boer in “The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee” (1974), the obsessive researcher in “Dusklands” (1974), the young diarist in In the Heart of...
(The entire section is 2336 words.)
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