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J. M. Coetzee: Ethics, Subalternity, and the Critique of Humanism

Jani, Deepa (2013) J. M. Coetzee: Ethics, Subalternity, and the Critique of Humanism. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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In the era of globalization, postcolonial studies is again confronted with the question of Western humanism and its attendant project of universalizing Eurocentric assumptions about the human. My dissertation argues that J. M. Coetzee’s postmodern novels deliberately reconstruct a literary genealogy of this project from the colonial through the postcolonial periods in order to disrupt it. My thesis addresses four novels of Coetzee that cover his entire oeuvre: the early novel Waiting for the Barbarians (1980), the novel of the middle phase Foe (1986), and the later novels— Disgrace (1999) and Diary of a Bad Year (2007). Each chapter elaborates on the intertextual nature of Coetzee’s novels and explores the rich dialogue between him and the canonical Western writers—Daniel Defoe, Franz Kafka, and Michel de Montaigne. I argue that through metafictional literary forms such as allegory, parody, and the essay, Coetzee’s postmodern novels simultaneously construct and interrupt the Eurocentric humanist universals of progress, reason, rights, the sovereign subject, democracy, and universal history. The totalizing and humanizing impulses of these metanarratives have shaped much of the history of apartheid and colonialism, and continue to do so in our era of neo-imperial globalism. Coetzee’s fiction, with the exception of Dusklands (1974), exclusively stages the relationship between the figure of the liberal humanist and the subaltern, a self-other dynamic based on hegemony rather than pure domination. My analysis demonstrates that, in the figure of the representative humanist, Coetzee’s oeuvre stages the tendency of the humanizing discourses to produce gendered and racialized subaltern bodies. The novels also dramatize the resistance of the subalterns to the epistemic violence of these narratives, resulting in the eventual failure of the intellectual to grant voice to them. Thus, I propose that Coetzee’s work gestures towards an ethics of the other, in which the Eurocentric self is called into question by the other of history. In the tradition of postmodernism, the relationship between fiction and history is unstable and insecure. His fiction does not stand witness to or represent history, but ceaselessly re-presents the relationship between fiction and fiction, fiction and history, and fiction and the self-of-writing.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Jani, Deepadej1@pitt.eduDEJ1
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBové, Paulbove@pitt.eduBOVE
Committee MemberArac,
Committee MemberBeverley, Johnbrq@pitt.eduBRQ
Committee MemberLandy, Marciamlandy@pitt.eduMLANDY
Committee MemberJudy, Ronaldbuchnfar@pitt.eduBUCHNFAR
Date: 1 July 2013
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 10 April 2013
Approval Date: 1 July 2013
Submission Date: 19 April 2013
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 241
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Coetzee,Empire,Ethics,Postcolonial Literature,Postmodern Literature,Anglophone African Literature,Studies in Humanism.
Date Deposited: 01 Jul 2013 12:11
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2018 05:15


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