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Coetzee, J M

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1940-    ) South African author (in Australia from 2002) and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003, some of whose work relates to the fantastic. Works clearly standing outside any mimetic tradition include Waiting for the Barbarians (1980), which offers something like a Future War scenario – though one as chillingly abstract as that presented in Dino Buzzati's The Tartar Steppe (1940) – where a soldier in command of a border outpost during an interminable war (see Imperialism) violates the vicious racial policies of his home government, and is arrested and Tortured by "the Third Bureau"; it was adapted as an opera, Waiting for the Barbarians (2005), by Philip Glass. Life & Times of Michael K (1983) is set in a South Africa caught in the coils of a savage Civil War; the echoes of Franz Kafka throughout are manifestly central. Foe (1986) is an early instance of the use of classic texts – in this case Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) (see Robinsonade) – as a procreative frame for an intersecting tale, in this case the hegira of a woman looking for her kidnapped daughter, only to discover Cruso and Friday; her interactions with "Daniel Foe" are conspicuously post-modern. The Jesus sequence, beginning with The Childhood of Jesus (2013), takes place in a surreal Utopia in which two refugees from an unnamed land find themselves trapped, a territory whose abstractedly estranged absence of circumstantiality patently serves its function as an a priori for the kind of thematic investigation typical of the Mainstream Writer of SF.

Several of the essays and reviews assembled in Stranger Shores: Literary Essays 1986-1989 (coll 2001) and Inner Workings: Essays 2000-2005 (coll 2007) deal with the work of various authors, some examples – like the extensive commentaries on Harry Mulisch's The Discovery of Heaven (1992) and Philip Roth's The Plot Against America (2004) – being of sf interest. [JC]

see also: Race in SF.

John Maxwell Coetzee

born Cape Town, Cape Province, South Africa: 9 February 1940

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