Sunday, August 26, 2007

Youth 9

Later in the same passage as in my previous post on Youth, there is another moment that is quite thrilling for this reading of Coetzee:

"As for ruthless honesty, ruthless honesty is not a hard trick to learn. On the contrary, it is the easiest thing in the world."

Coetzee is often praised for his "ruthless honesty," but as he points out here, that should not be such a big deal: it's not something "hard won," as many might imply, but a trick—a technique, as it were, to generate literary effects. I would add that such praise is surely of the "damning-with-faint" variety, because "ruthless honesty" is also a bit of a code for "a hard read."

This goes back to my first post on Boyhood, where I cited the young John's understanding of himself: "His only excuse is that he is merciless to himself too. He lies but he does not lie to himself." There, the mercilessness is not seen as a trick or a technique, but rather as a move in his relationship with his mother.

Alarm bells are going off: I'm getting close to saying that here we can see the development of that technique in Coetzee's biography. The argument would be that the "ruthless honesty" of his literary work is a technique that derives not from his understanding of literature and art but from his early relationship to his mother. I sure hope that is not what JMC himself would argue, because that's all too close to Freud for my taste.

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