letteratura mondo
ISSN 2281-1966

A limb of liberty: loss, disability and fictions of authenticity in J.M.Coetzee’s Slow Man

By Roberta Gefter Wondrich


J.M.Coetzee’s work is imbued with a preoccupation with individual freedom which is inextricably bound up with a concern for ethical and historical responsibility. These concerns are often expressed into fictional aporias and unfathomable conditions of uncompromising, resistant, crystallized isolation. As Derek Attridge puts it in his fundamental study of Coetzee’s work,

 the task Coetzee seems to have set himself is to convey the resistance of these figures to the discourses of the dominant culture (the culture, that is, which has conditioned the author, the kind of reader which the novels are likely to find, and the genre of the novel itself) at at the same time to find a means of representing the claims they make upon those who inhabit this culture (Attridge, J.M.Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading, 13).


In Slow Man (2005) Coetzee furthers his exploration of these forms of resistance with a special emphasis on the subjective borders – or limits – of freedom, by placing the body once again at the centre of his narrative construction. The all-pervasive presence of the body as cultural construct, ideologically and historically determined reality and primary site of power in postcolonial literature and criticism, alongside mainstream philosophy and cultural studies, with a main focus on the repressed and violated colonial other and on the female body, on the body of the other and as other, have almost turned body and otherness into something of a syntagm, or rather a buzzword collocation. This not the case of Coetzee’s work, though, in which most of his best novels, from Waiting for the Barbarians to Life and Times of Michael K, Foe and Disgrace feature the body as the paramount site of inscription of power, history, truth, as the ultimate, unalterable reality.


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