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J.M. Coetzee

June 2, 2012
J.M. Coetzee - De Langzame man

J.M. Coetzee – De Langzame man (Photo credit: Fabio Bruna)

Today at breakfast while reading the Bangkok Post, I came across a review of the Nobel Prize in literature winning, South African author J.M.Coetzee‘s latest novel. It seems to be another of his semi-autobiographical novels; a format appears the current rage among serious writers. Bolanno and Vollman among others have made careers out of it. I call this the double lie format. First the author makes up the story of his own life that he wants you to believe. Then he makes up the people and their stories about observing the made up life of the author.

In his novel Coetzee invents a series of interviews with people (mostly women) asking them to give their recollections of Coetzee during that period in his life just before he began to become famous.

They mainly express the distress of the author’s friends and family at his indolent and unproductive lifestyle as an unlicensed tutor and lay about. The women often describe affairs that they had with the budding author or affairs that they knew about. As with love affairs in general, they usually proved unsatisfactory for everyone, those involved as well as for those merely observing. ( As Prince Humperdinck in the Princess Bride observes,”You truly love each other and so you might have been truly happy. Not one couple in a century has that chance, no matter what the story books say. And so I think no man in a century will suffer as greatly as you will.”)

After achieving his first success, Coetzee gets a job as a temporary lecturer at a local university and promptly begins another unhappy affair with one of his students or another lecturer (I do not recall which and it really doesn’t matter since one way or the other it was inevitable).

Unlike his fictional character, Coetzee himself has been described as:

“… a man of almost monkish self-discipline and dedication. He does not drink, smoke or eat meat. He cycles vast distances to keep fit and spends at least an hour at his writing-desk each morning, seven days a week. A colleague who has worked with him for more than a decade claims to have seen him laugh just once. An acquaintance has attended several dinner parties where Coetzee has uttered not a single word.”

What this all brings to my mind is not that artists tend to be incorrigibly self-indulgent and ego-maniacal, but only that what is written, sung, photographed or constructed is just the story, the truth is usually what has been left out.

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2 Comments
  1. You call it “double lie”. In literature it is called the genre of New Journalism. A lot of excellent writers make use of this genre.

    What is “truth” anyway? Which one of us know ourselves as other people experience us anyway. I think that a good bit of fantasy mixed in with the facts spices it all up very nicely. IMHO.

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