Doubling the Point

Attwell, whose interviews with Coetzee introduce each of the book’s nine sections and double back on the points each makes, characterizes DOUBLING THE POINT as “a writer’s intellectual autobiography.” Coetzee’s six novels—DUSKLANDS (1974), WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS (1981), IN THE HEART OF THE COUNTRY (1977), LIFE AND TIMES OF MICHAEL K (1983), FOE (1986), and AGE OF IRON (1990)—are acutely self-conscious texts. In his essays and in his discussions of them, he is remarkably perceptive and articulate about his own art, among many other topics. DOUBLING THE POINT traces the development of Coetzee’s thoughts—on linguistics, translation, popular culture, literature, South Africa, and his own career—over the past two decades.

He offers detailed and sophisticated stylistic analyses of Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, Robert Musil, Isaac Newton, Leo Tolstoy, and Fyodor Dostoevsky, among others. An Anglophonic author from an Afrikaner background, formally trained in linguistics, Coetzee is most attentive to the ways in which language shapes perception. Whether he is discussing rugby, Captain America, or fellow South African author Breyten Breytenbach, Coetzee is particularly alert to efforts at thinking outside language. Reluctant to discuss himself even in this autobiographical forum, he examines the basic impulse toward confession. “He has been ill at ease with language that lays down the law,” says Coetzee, impersonally, about his own continuing rebellion against the conventions of self-expression, “that is not provisional, that does not as one of its habitual motions glance back skeptically at its premises.”