White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa

Louise Bethlehem, J. M. Coetzee (Editor), Teresa Dovey (Editor)

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Teresa Dovey sees in J. M. Coetzee's novels a fusion of novelistic and critical discourses. "They are criticism-as-fiction, or fiction-as-criticism" (9). Coetzee's White Writing, for its part. may be less ambiguously classified. In this collection of seven critical essays. Coetzee addresses "certain of the ideas, the great intellectual schemas through which South Africa has been thought by Europe," on the one hand, and "the land itself, South Africa as landscape and landed property" (10). on the other. Coetzee's point of departure is the failure of the "garden myth. the myth of a return to Eden and innocence" (2). to take root in the newly established Cape Colony. In his first chapter, "Idleness in South Africa," Coetzee interrogates what he dubs the "Discourse of the Cape" (15), or the body of protoanthropological writings produced by seventeenth-century travelers to the colony, to elucidate this failure. Central to the discourse is a pervasive denunciation of Hottentot idleness.' This idleness, says Coetzee, takes on the force of an "anthropological scandal" (22). Not only is it incompatible with European ideological schemas—the Reformation's insistence on work as a divine edict. the Enlightenment's concept of leisure as a time for self-improvement—but it also "aborts one of the more promising of discourses about elemental man" (23).
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)706-709
Number of pages4
JournalPoetics Today
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1990


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