Painful Belonging: Violence In J.M. Coetzee's Fiction

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Olivia Buck (Creator)
Appalachian State University (ASU )
Web Site:
Basak Candar

Abstract: J.M. Coetzee’s fiction invites its readers to engage with the representation of political violence during and after the Apartheid period in South Africa. His work wrestles with a consideration of the processes that inform the hierarchization of individuals — whether they be human or non-human — and how consequential iterations of physical and psychological violence affect victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. In short, his fiction represents the consequences of encountering and attempting to represent the Other. By comparing Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace, I have isolated three distinct ethical considerations that inform Coetzee’s representative engagement with violence in both texts: first, the infliction of direct physical pain on bodies that are marked as vulnerable due to specific ontological categories they possess; second, the violence perpetrated through the functioning of sovereign power in both ambiguous and specific spaces; and finally, the violence embedded within the criteria of citizenship and statelessness. The core of my analysis lies in arguing the fundamental interconnectedness of these three categories. Though they are distinct and can be examined in isolation, they also simultaneously and necessarily inform each other and tend to unfold in a myriad of combinations and settings — for example, the infliction of physical violence in a political setting can be understood as an articulation of the tenuous relationship between perpetual sovereign power and the precariousness of national belonging. This quality of fundamental association between these categories moves across the spaces and contexts of these two novels, and as I hope to show, may extend to non-fictional political violence. In order to effectively delineate the connection between these three considerations, I rely primarily on the theoretical scaffolding provided by the political philosophers Hannah Arendt and Giorgio Agamben, as well as the works of Elaine Scarry, Susan Sontag, and Idelber Avelar on violence. This project unfolds over four chapters; the introduction, which contextualizes Coetzee within debates surrounding global literature, and the subsequent three chapters, which conduct examinations of the three modes of political violence represented in both novels.

Additional Information

Buck, O. (2020). Painful Belonging: Violence In J.M. Coetzee's Fiction. Unpublished Master’s Thesis. Appalachian State University, Boone, NC.
Language: English
Date: 2020
J.M. Coetzee, Apartheid, South Africa, Waiting for the Barbarians, Disgrace, Violence, political violence, Hannah Arendt, Giorgio Agamben, Elaine Scarry, Susan Sontag, Idelber Avelar

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