Writing in the Age of Iron

Special report: “Sources and resources of creation”
On two novels by J. M. Coetzee
By Françoise Neau

What does it mean to write under the shadow of war? The author would like to approach this question by reading two novels written by the South-African author John Maxwell Coetzee: The Life and Times of Michael K. (1983) and Age of Iron (1990). How do the two very different heroes of these two novels, one a young disabled black man, the other an old white woman in the terminal stage of cancer, both caught up in the war and death caused by apartheid and its struggles, manage to survive under the shadow of this terrible situation? In his fiction, Coetzee, who claims to reject the colonization of the novel by historical discourse, presents an epistemology of survival where processes of “survival identification” (as N. Zaltzman calls them) and de-alienating disidentification (in order to remain alive until her death, the heroine of Age of Iron must become “someone other than herself”) shape and embody “human resistance” against the reign of murder.

  • Coetzee J.M.
  • literature and history
  • fiction and psychoanalysis
  • self-preservation
  • survival identification
  • disidentification
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