A study of J.M. Coetzee's novel, The master of Petersburg, with particular reference to its confessional aspects.
The dissertation focuses on lM. Coetzee's novel The Master of Petersburg, read as a confessional text and discussed in the light of theories of the western tradition of confession. By way of introduction some of the themes and features of Coetzee's novels that have been the subject of criticism and debate and are pertinent to this discussion are highlighted. Alluding to the politics, aesthetics and ethics of writing in South Africa, the introduction is not intended to provide a comprehensive overview ofthe criticism Coetzee's work has generated. In the second chapter, taking into account aspects of Coetzee's essay "Confession and Double Thoughts: Tolstoy, Rousseau and Dostoevsky", an essay he characterises as a dialogue between cynicism and grace, problems of truth, particularly "how to tell the truth in autobiography", self-knowledge and self-deception are discussed, drawing also on observations made by Dennis A. Foster in his book Confession and Complicity in Narrative and with reference to Jeremy Tambling's book Confession: Sexuality, Sin, the Subject. An important focus is the idea that the concept of sin serves to marginalise the subject who is inscribed in the discourse of confession. The third chapter focuses on the novel The Master of Petersburg and the main protagonist - a fictionalised Dostoevsky - who displays the hyper-self-consciousness of the confessant, and his actions and disclosures which he characterises, in the vocabulary of confession, as being sinful. Notions oftruth, self-knowledge, the nature of writing, the role ofthe reader, as well as critical responses to the novel itself, are examined in the light of theories of confession. In the final chapter, themes ofbetrayal, self-alienation and falling from grace are considered in the context of confession and the question "how are we to be ethical in a secular context?" emerges. How grace manifests itself in a secular world leads to the key question as to whether or not there is an ethical imperative in the process and practice of writing.