‘Redemption’ or ‘Delegitimization’? The Artist on Trial in The Master of Petersburg
What, if anything, guarantees that literature is serious? How, for instance, can we be sure that the representation of the erotic in a work of literature offers us more than the kinds of objectification that characterize pornography? Or that the representation of politics offers us more than a work of propaganda? This chapter argues that in his portrait of the artist Coetzee refuses to accept any account of literary seriousness grounded in notions of aesthetic distance, privileged relation to the truth, or access to higher values, and that his interest lies instead in portraying the literary as an equivocal and even marginal kind of discourse that emerges only in an unsettling way from a deeply compromised position of weakness. It shows that Coetzee's thinking on this subject is informed by a profound exploration of Dostoevsky's late fiction—in particular The Devils and The Brothers Karamazov.
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