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Modernism, Postcolonialism, and GlobalismAnglophone Literature, 1950 to the Present$
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Richard Begam and Michael Valdez Moses

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780199980963

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199980963.001.0001

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Kafka and Coetzee

Kafka and Coetzee

(p.81) 3 Kafka and Coetzee
Modernism, Postcolonialism, and Globalism

Simon During

Oxford University Press

This chapter contends that J. M. Coetzee’s writing strives to achieve the detached and otherworldly modernism of Franz Kafka but fails to do so because political and ethical beliefs displace what the chapter calls the “Kafka effect,” a form of writing that stands apart from the world and refuses to judge it. The chapter examines three aspects of Coetzee’s work: his spare and minimalist style, his handling of authorial figures, and his turn toward the “reverse Bildungsroman.” Despite Coetzee’s “will to neutrality,” novels like Life and Times of Michael K (1983), The Master of Petersburg (1995), Disgrace (1999), Elizabeth Costello (2003), and Slow Man (2005) ultimately take an ethical turn, in which the style is engaged rather than detached, authorial figures develop sympathy for marginalized groups, and central characters become members of subaltern communities. In other words, Coetzee’s commitment to postcolonialism both complicates and qualifies his commitment to Kafka’s modernism.

Keywords:   modernism, postcolonialism, influence, style, Bildungsroman, ethics, politics, Franz Kafka, J. M. Coetzee

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