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The postmodernist text in contemporary South Africa : a defence of J. M. Coetzee

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One of the most pressing debates in South Africa concerns the need of writers to address the complex sociopolitical demands of the present day situation. In this paper I examine J M Coetzee's use of Postmodernism forms as an attempt to develop a language and structure of consciousness which offers a telling critique of authority and power in South Africa. My purpose is not primarily to offer an aesthetic appreciation of Coetzee's works, but rather to assess the efficacy of the Postmodernist approach in a world of material forces. The central problem which I explore is whether Coetzee's experimental fiction speaks to a world of "total politics". In the Introduction I consider the way that Coetzee himself establishes the terms for a debate of his texts, a debate which juxtaposes his rejection of realism, mimesis and the dictates of history, (a strategy necessitated by his Postmodernist and Poststructuralist understandings) with his call for a language adequate and sufficient to Africa. Section I explores the claims of those critics who view Postmodernism as a Eurocentric and highly recondite form of elitist exclusion which retards the development of a vital post-colonial expression while extending the ideology of capitalism. Thus Postmodernism is seen to lack a cogency adequate to address a South Africa dominated by a politics of oppression. Section II discusses the implications of Postmodernism as an interventionist strategy which deconstructs hegemonic notions of reality, replacing them with a radicalised doubt and scepticism. This doubt is seen as having an informative role to play in the constitution of a consciousness both subjective and political which is capable of providing a counter to the politics of hegemony, and the'monism of a one dimensional state, either of the left or right. In Conclusion I contend that J M Coetzee's texts pose a linguistic and fictional significance within the context of South African polity and literature.


Thesis (M.A.)-University of Natal, Durban, 1988.