WRECK PARK

ISSUE NO. 0

Art by Elaine Whittaker

JAMES
MCADAMS

“He and His Woman”: J.M. Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello, and Bakhtinian Polyphony in The Lives of Animals

  How are they to be figured, this man and he? As master and slave? As brothers, twin brothers? As comrades in arms? Or as enemies, foes? What name shall he give this nameless fellow with whom he shares his evenings and sometimes his nights too, who is absent only in the daytime, when he, Robin, walks the quays inspecting the new arrivals and his man gallops about the kingdom making his inspections? (“He and His Man”)

  In his acceptance speech for the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature, J.M. Coetzee precedes the reading of his prepared text, “He and His Man,” by describing his initial stupefaction upon learning, as a boy, that Robinson Crusoe was in fact written by a man named Daniel Defoe. How is this possible, Coetzee recalls wondering, when Robinson Crusoe tells his own tale, one which even the title indicates is true?1 Who is this Daniel Defoe, and what is his relationship to Robinson Crusoe? “He and His Man” explores the more mature Coetzee’s conclusions and anxieties about the relationship between author and character, creator and created, fact and fiction. That such questions concerned Coetzee in 2003 is not mysterious, for that same year he had published Elizabeth Costello, a work of fiction consisting of eight “lessons” and one “post-script” exploring such issues as authority and truth, especially in Lessons 3 and Lessons 4, published in 1999 as The Lives of the Animals.

  The Lives of the Animals represents the printed version of the 1997-1998 Tanner Lectures J.M. Coetzee presented at Princeton University. While conforming to the conventions of the Tanner Lectures by speaking about an exigent ethical issue, in this case human treatment of animals, Coetzee still subverted tradition by creating the character of Elizabeth Costello, installing a fictional artifice or frame in between himself and his audience. Coetzee launched into the opening lines of “The Philosophers and the Animals” without preamble or explanation of the third-person present construction: “he is waiting at the gate when her flight comes in,” he started. As Derek Attridge describes it, Coetzee maintained this contrivance even during the Q&A session, during which “Coetzee tended to avoid the customary first-person consideration of points made to him, preferring locutions like: ‘I think what Elizabeth Costello would say is that’” (193).

  Much has changed since the initial publication of Robinson Crusoe in 1719. At that time, Defoe deployed numerous narrative devices to conceal the fact of the book’s fictionality and his status as its author and creator (the concomitant issue of Robinson Crusoe’s merely verbal and imaginative existence). Almost three centuries later, Coetzee stood in front of an eager audience in Princeton, NJ and deployed additional narrative devices to, if not to conceal, at least to complicate and befuddle the lecture’s status as discursive non-fiction by embodying it within the fictional frame of Elizabeth Costello’s life and narrative. In this paper I intend to demonstrate that Coetzee endorses or instantiates a complicated strategy in The Lives of Animals, one that creates a dialogue with the reader while leaving explicit principles, ideas, or axioms indeterminate. Before discussing this authorial strategy and its roots in Bakhtin’s concepts of polyphony and dialogism, it will first be necessary to consider the how the fictionality or factuality of the text increases or decreases the reader’s empathy with the characters and engagement with their ideas and emotions. The issue of how the assumed factuality of the text affects interpretations and empathetic engagement has a long history, and one that has recently come under reconsideration.

I

Factuality, Fictionality, and the Generation of Empathy

  During the advent of the English realistic novel in the eighteenth century, authors used a variety of tropes and narrative devices to create a sense of “mimesis,” or simulation of reality based on contemporary details, particularity of character, and usage of popular names (Watt). Basing their works on non-fiction texts like diaries, letters, deathbed confessions, travel accounts, and memoirs, these authors blended the appearance of truth with imagination, creating such genres as the epistolary narrative and the first-person travelogue (of which the “Robinsonade” may be the most famous).

  Whether by outright duplicity (as Coetzee points out was the case in Robinson Crusoe) or creative artifice, contemporary authors sought to create an illusion of reality which would render their fictions as important and compelling as non-fiction narratives such as histories or biographies, which at the time, by virtue of “having actually happened,” were considered more true and therefore capable of attracting the empathy of the reader. As Margaret Lenta points out, because of this strategy where “mundane details create an illusion of truth...Robinson Crusoe (1719), Gulliver’s Travels (1726), and Pamela (1740) were all mistaken for literal truth” (109)2. Watt describes Defoe as,
  at his best, convincing us completely that his narrative is occurring at a particular
  place and at a particular time, and our memory of his novels consists largely of
  these vividly realized moments in the lives of his characters, moments which are
  loosely strung together to form a convincing biographical perspective. We have a
  sense of personal identity subsisting through duration and yet being changed by
  the flow of experience. (24)

  For the most part, the consensus opinion over the past three centuries concurred with what Lenta and Watt suggest here. The truth wins out. Because an event has occurred, or a person has existed, that event and that person are considered ontologically superior to imaginative events and peoples; existence implies divine sanction. According to this model, we care more about Samuel Johnson in Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson than Tom Jones in Tom Jones, simply because the former actually existed. In attenuated form, then, the rise of the realist novel connects to these presuppositions by, as Watt notes, replacing distant anecdotes of myth and allegory and Rabelaisian excess with characters who look like us, live in a world like us, share similar problems as us—characters who could be us.

  This last point has become prominent in literary studies within the last few decades. Influenced first by the “new ethicists” such as Dorothy Hale, Martha Nussbaum, and Wayne Booth as well as the research of behavioral psychologists, neurologists, and cognitive scientists, literary scholars and cultural historians have increasingly called into question traditional models of reading responses which granted non-fiction a privileged position over fiction. A variety of sophisticated scientific tests, including EMGs, fMRIs, and brain-scans of neuronal activity, demonstrate that neuro-adaptation and-response occurs regardless of the recognized factuality or fictionality of imagined scenarios. Therefore, instead of fiction being denigrated as simply reflecting the realm of the imagination and the unreal, or at best as operating as a sophisticated illusion of an always superior reality, Suzanne Keen argues that fiction generates greater emotional responses from readers
  in spite of fiction’s historical mimicry of non-fictional, testimonial forms. My idea
  suggests that readers’ perception of a text’s fictionality plays a role in subsequent
  empathetic response, by releasing readers from the obligations of self-protection
  through skepticism and suspicion.
Thus they may respond with greater empathy to
  an unreal situation and characters because of their protective fictionality...   
  (emphasis added; 220)

  Keen’s point here is a good one, especially given the partisanship and ideological polarity of social discourse in the late-twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. A fictional situation or event does not demand our social response, whereas actual events call us to account, and often to rationalize reasons to not intervene in issues of possible injustice. Consequently, a novel of ideas, such as The Lives of Animals, can, in a way, trick a reader into considering controversial issues in a way a polemic, hortatory pamphlet, or blog cannot, simply because the latter pushes away the reader and the former lures him or her into a neutral environment. Coetzee himself has described this process, when he advises writers that
  you have to remember what and what is not possible in discursive prose. In
  particular you have to remember about passion, where a strange logic prevails.
  When a real passion of feeling is let loose in discursive prose, you feel you are
  reading the utterances of a madman...The novel, on the hand, allows the writer to   stage his passion. (Doubling the Point 61)

  Mark Bracher makes a similar point to Keen’s in emphasizing the role of fiction in developing empathy. Using cognitive science where Keen uses neuroscience, Bracher analyzes how reading fiction can change our “information-processing scripts,” increasing empathy through a process of cognitive-behavioral feedback loops. He cites a research study conducted by Kansas psychologist Daniel Batson, in which “people are instructed to imagine the feelings of a stigmatized individual—such as an AIDS victim, a homeless person, a drug dealer, or even a murderer—and as they listen to the individual’s story, they experience greater sympathy for, and subsequently offer greater assistance to, other members of the stigmatized group” (381). Most importantly, as Bracher notes, Batson’s research team discovered that the empathetic responses engendered by the experiment remained even after the people were told the stories were fictions.

  Bracher extends this assessment of the connection between empathy and fiction to an assertion of how empathy can influence readers to act for social justice. Keen, who dismissively termed this Nussbaumian conception the “empathy-altruism hypothesis,” disagrees, concluding that fiction can improve empathy only incrementally, and cannot inspire direct social action. The difference between the two scholars revolves around Bracher’s adoption of the cognitive appraisal theory of emotions. According to this approach, feelings (or “appraisals”) can be, simply, right or wrong, “because feelings depend on cognitive appraisals (judgments) and because these appraisals can be right or wrong—i.e., true or false, accurate or inaccurate, adequate or inadequate—feelings are ‘right’ when they are based on more or less complete and accurate appraisals of self and Other” (366). Bracher then applies these ideas to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, discussing how various sections of the book alert readers to wrong cognitive appraisals, urging them to correct “wrong thinking” and to therefore promote “right thinking” and concomitantly “right conduct” (here Bracher implicitly returns to the Socratic formulation whereby right knowledge equals right conduct).

  Both Keen and Bracher emphasize the importance of visualizing fiction as a way of engaging the reader’s (and in Bracher’s case, the student’s) emotions through a variety of techniques, such as first-person perspectives to increase character identification, narrative monologue, and dramatic depictions of the sufferings of Others. For Keen, this engagement results in incremental, habitual empathy; for Bracher, not only does certain fiction (he provides a mini-canon of didactic novels) work as a psychological course to teach us “right thoughts,” but it may also lead to direct ameliorative social action.

  Of course, The Lives of Animals is not constructed in such a manner:3 Coetzee, instead of allowing Elizabeth Costello to narrate her stories, vocalizes her through her alienated son and hostile daughter-in-law; the novel features no narrative situations or narrative monologues that would produce character identification or empathy for the reader; there is no tension, suspense, growth, learning: Aristotle would not approve. Furthermore, as noted by many reviewers and critics, the arguments are sloppy, incomplete, contradictory, and inadequate to correct or instruct readers appraisals in the manner envisioned by Bracher. So why, then, does Coetzee choose to frame these lectures as fictions, if he neglects to use the characteristics endemic to fiction to increase empathy and teach “right thinking”?

  The second part of this essay will attempt to provide an answer to this question by exploring the unique effect that Coetzee achieves in The Lives of Animals. Theoretically, I will be drawing on Bakhtin’s concepts of polyphony and dialogism to discuss how Coetzee’s complex aesthetic operates. The characteristics of this form—surface tensions, characters lacking depth, arguments lacking coherence, dramatic tensions lacking resolution—are almost wholly unique to Coetzee and suggest that what have been theorized as the traditional capabilities of the realist novel, from Robinson Crusoe to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to improve the social perceptions of readers through empathy and “correct” stereotypes, prejudices, and social injustice, are no longer relevant to the postmodern, and in indeed post-colonial, world in which Coetzee writes.

II

Bakhtin and Post-Realism; Or, The Instruction of Apes
and the Correction of Man


  Dostoevsky’s [Coetzee’s]4 extraordinary artistic capacity for seeing everything in coexistence and interaction is his greatest strength...This capacity sharpened, and to an extreme degree, his perception in the cross-section of a given moment, and permitted him to see many and varied things where others saw one and the same thing. Where others saw a single thought, he was able to find and feel out two thoughts, a bifurcation; where others saw a single quality, he discovered in it the presence of a second and contradictory quality. Everything that seemed simple became, in his world, complex and multi-structured. In every voice he could hear two contending voices, in every expression a crack, and the readiness to go over immediately to another contradictory expression; in every gesture he detected confidence and lack of confidence simultaneously; he perceived the profound ambiguity, even multiple ambiguity, of every phenomenon. (Bakhtin 30)

  Early in her lecture on “Philosophers and Animals,” Elizabeth Costello states that she “want[s] to find a way of speaking to fellow human beings that will be cool rather than heated, philosophical rather than polemical, that will bring enlightenment rather than seeking to divide us into the righteous and the sinners, the saved and the damned, the sheep and the goats” (The Lives of Animals 22). Although one needs to be careful not to conflate Costello and Coetzee, I believe in this case her desire to “find a way of speaking” mirrors Coetzee’s wish to create a new post-realist aesthetics adequate to represent the postmodern condition. What this aesthetics consists of, in part, is the replacement of old Enlightenment binaries and ideas of “ right versus wrong thinking” with a broader, more inclusive paradigm foregrounding indeterminacy and urging the reader to perform within the text to complicate its meaning and his or her understanding of the world. Mikhail Bakhtin’s writings on polyphony and dialogism provide us with perhaps the most fertile materials to discover how Coetzee conceives of this new way of writing, as Costello conceives of her new way of speaking.

  Like many Soviet intellectuals, Bakhtin’s work was suppressed by the Stalinist authorities and remained unknown to most Western intellectuals until after his death in 1975. Although frequently compared to the Russian Formalists with whom he shared a social milieu and certain intellectual approaches, Bakhtin’s work has, through the last few decades, been judged by the West as extremely nuanced and productive when applied to contemporary cultural, political, and literary issues. In his influential Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (1929; 1984), Bakhtin contrasted Dostoevsky’s method of putting ideologies in dialogue with one another and granting freedom to characters to the monologism of his contemporary counterpart Tolstoy. “Each novel [of Dostoevsky’s],” Bakhtin writes, “presents an opposition, which is never canceled out dialectically, of many consciousnesses, and they do not merge...likewise the author’s spirit does not develop or evolve within the limits of the novel...this spirit is a spectator, or becomes one of the participants” (26).

  While arguing that Dostoevsky wrote without ideology and authority is open to definite scrutiny, considering the fervency with which the later Dostoevsky wrote about Russian Orthodoxy, nihilism, and Slavophilism, the approach Bakhtin identifies has become invaluable, whether one ascribes them to Dostoevsky or not.5 In many ways a philosopher more than a literary critic, Bakhtin has provided the critical discipline with numerous technical terms, among them heteroglossalia, chronotype, carnivalesque, the grotesque, and, perhaps most importantly within the contemporary world of multiculturalism and ethical indeterminism, polyphony and dialogism. Michael Kochin brilliantly describes the connection between dialogism and the post-Enlightenment era, writing,
  Bakhtin’s observation [that monological principles depends on Enlightenment
  views on unity, teleology, and the primacy of reason] is central to the critique of
  Enlightenment reason (and of its successor, the idealistic spirit), the critique that
  we have come to call “postmodernism.” It is not merely that we reject the
  ideological content of Enlightenment monologues and their Romantic,
  nationalist, and Socialist successors. The very institutions that constitute the role
  of the monological author are dead, Bakhtin has made us realize, and yet they go
  on only with a kind of unlife as authors continue to write idealistic or ideological
  novels and give us idealistic or ideological lessons in essays, lectures, and
  interviews. (82)

  As has been noted by many scholars, in both his fiction and non-fiction, as well as those hybrid works like The Lives of Animals termed “works of indeterminate genre,” Coetzee fully resists the urge to, as Kochin expresses it, “write idealistic or ideological novels and give us idealistic or ideological lessons.” As B. Kite writes in “The Limits of Empathy,” “this [philosophical fuzziness] introduces the primary Costello frustration: the reader (or, at least, me) always wishes [Costello’s] arguments to be a little better than they are. One recognizes that they are often grounded in a resonant fictional context and also that their habitual foreshortening is a call for the reader to continue the debate in him/herself” (13), while Margaret Lenta suggests “when [Coetzee] speaks in public rather than publishing his writings, he has chosen to read accounts, it is because this particular mode suits his complex purposes, which go beyond advocacy of his views” (107). Kochin again articulates the full range and meaning of Coetzee’s stance, referring back to Dostoevsky and the historical changes so central to postmodern and postcolonial writing, arguing that
  in the Elizabeth Costello lessons, as in all of Coetzee’s fictions, Coetzee resists
  taking stands: he refuses to use his fiction to make a statement of what he
  believes. In part, Coetzee performs this refusal by having Elizabeth Costello take
  stands in her lectures, interviews, or conversations that are either confused or
  tiresomely disconnected from the way things are. By this repeated refusal, Coetzee
  shows us that the authority of the writer in false or phony: no twenty-first century
  author can be what Dostoevsky, who Coetzee fictionalizes as the ‘Master of
  Petersburg’ aspired to be for the Russians, the Slavs, and the Orthodox Christians.(89)

  The Lives of Animals may well be the prime example of this Coetzian-Bakhtinian method. By creating a narrative absent of dramatic tension or characters with whom the reader can engage, Coetzee foregrounds the arguments and ideological issues in the text. However, in Coetzee, discussions that might appear to be arguments or demonstrations of authorial conviction are in fact bent, refracted, involute, so that the complexity of the issue itself dominates any “right” or “wrong” perception of it. Describing Elizabeth Costello, Derek Attridge has written,
  one negative response to Elizabeth Costello has been to complain that Coetzee
  uses his fictional characters to advance arguments—about the human relation to
  animals, about the value of the humanist tradition, about the morality of
  representing evil in fiction—without assuming responsibility for them, and is thus
  ethically at fault. To level this charge is to take the arguments presented as
  arguments, and to take the making of them as the fundamental purpose of the
  pieces in which they occur. (Most of the respondents in The Lives of the Animals,
  for instance, engage with the arguments this way.) It is undeniable that the
  arguments have a certain weight and deserve to be taken seriously. The mistake
  would be to think that in doing so one had responded to the full ethical force of
  the fictions themselves. (197)

  As might be expected, Coetzee is reticent to admit to how conscious of or intellectually in debt to Bakhtin, especially the concepts of polyphony and dialogism, may be in his work. Like his many characters (and “his woman” Elizabeth Costello), Coetzee, as distributed across interviews, essays, book reviews, and essays, leaves a ghost-like trail full of ambiguities, discrepancies, omissions, and contradictions. For instance, in “The Artist at High Tide,” his 1995 New York Times Book Review of Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years: 1965-1971,6 Coetzee writes intelligently of Bakhtin’s work and influence on contemporary thought, even censoring Frank’s version of Bakhtin and lecturing
  in the orthodoxy of academic criticism today, “dialogical” has become a term of
  approval, “monological” a term of censure of the same order as “phallocentric.”
  Bakhtin cannot be blamed for vulgarizations of his thought, and in particular for
  the treatment of monologism and dialogism (or its Bakhtinian near-synonym
  “polyphony”) as alternatives (alternatives with telling ideological implications)
  between which a writer is free to choose. (Coetzee, “The Artist at High Tide”)
What could “alternatives with telling ideological implications” mean except as an anticipation of Kochin’s remark above, that in the current world a writer like Dostoevsky no longer exercises the ideological authority to be monological? And thus the necessary technique for contemporary writers who want to find a “new way to speak that...that doesn’t divide” would embrace dialogism. However, if Coetzee seems here to be representing himself as a Bakhtinian, he backs away from such a self-identification in an interview conducted with Joanna Scott just two years later. In response to her question about his interest in Bakhtin’s concept of dialogism, he replies
  Dialogism? More and more I suspect I don't understand the concept. The more I
  reread Bakhtin, the less I'm sure what dialogism is. Not, I think, because Bakhtin
  doesn't know what he means, but because there's something he's assuming in the
  way of shared cultural knowledge, specifically of Russian literature and maybe of
  Russian philosophy, that I don't have and very likely most of the people who take
  over the term dialogism from him don' t have either. That' s why I hesitate to
  answer your question. (89).

  Whether we choose to privilege one of these answers over the other (and of course they are not, strictly speaking, logical contradictions), the case remains that Coetzee’s work, especially The Lives of Animals, provides readers with an excellent example of how dialogism works in a post-realist, postmodern aesthetic, compared to the monolinguism of traditional realism. For example, Coetzee’s treasured Robinson Crusoe, which, as Coetzee notes in the Introduction to the 1999 Oxford Classics edition (the same year, of course, The Lives of Animals was published), endorses exactly the kind of ideological authority he mistrusts: “Robinson Crusoe is unabashed propaganda for the extension British mercantile power in the New World and the establishment of the new British colonies. As for the native peoples of the Americas and the obstacles they represent, Defoe chooses to represent them as cannibals” (ix).

  During the first lecture in The Lives of the Animals, Elizabeth Costello discusses Kafka’s ape-character Red Peter in “A Report to the Academy.” In the course of this lecture, she speculates on the real-life origin of the tale, locating it in the published research of Wolfgang Kohler’s The Mentality of Apes (1917), which describes the experiments “Master” Kohler performed on Sultan, a captured ape from Tenerife who proved to become “the best of his pupils” (28). These experiments consist of a series of manipulations of Sultan’s feeding schedule, specifically the way in which he is fed bananas.

  In the first experiment, “the man who used to feed him and has now stopped feeding him” hangs a bunch of bananas on a wire stretched three meters above the ground of the pen (ibid). He then introduces a series of crates into the pen and “disappears, closing the gate behind him, though he is still somewhere in the vicinity” (ibid.). Like an author of the realistic novel, the “master” of the experiment, like Dostoevsky, “the Master of Petersburg,” creates a situation determined to impart certain ideologies to the subject. As Costello describes it, “now one is supposed to think. That is what the bananas up there about. The bananas are there to make one think” (ibid.).

  However, unlike the indeterminate, open-ended experiment of Coetzee’s fictions, this experiment is designed to lead to a particular thought. There are right or wrong thoughts, and it is the purpose of the designer of the experiment to introduce the right thought, the right appraisal, the right judgment, into the mind of his subject. For, Costello imagines, there are many cognitive reactions open to Sultan to the fact that the bananas are now out of reach. Sultan might think, she imagines, that his master has stopped liking him, or that he no longer wants the crates he has moved into the pen, or other possible thoughts. However, the “master” does not want to open up Sultan’s mind to different ways of thinking, or to expand his imagination in a manner that Costello endorses and Coetzee’s work instantiates. Instead, like traditional realistic novels whose authors exploit ideological authority, and believe the project of fiction is to inculcate certain beliefs or “correct appraisals” (as Bracher argues), the master’s experiment seeks only one objective: to induce the “right thought” in Sultan: “the right thought to think is: How does one use the crates to reach the bananas?” (ibid.)

  Increasingly difficult, the experiments continue to be presented to Sultan. Everyday, a different permutation of wires, bananas, and crates are situated around Sultan, who is forced to develop further “right ways of thinking” in order to eat. If he thinks the wrong thoughts, he starves, “starved until the pangs of hunger are so intense, so overriding, that he is forced to think the right though, namely how to go about getting the bananas” (29).

  Costello’s argument focuses on how this treatment reduces Sultan’s apeness and complexity. Instead of thinking about actual issues exigent to this life (for example, where home is), Sultan’s mental processes become re-programmed such that, through the manipulation of his appetite, he is trained to think what his master considers right thoughts and to cease thinking what his master considers the wrong thoughts. Kohler, Costello accedes, might have been a good man, but he was “not a poet” (ibid.) Unlike Hughes’ poems “The Jaguar” and “The Second Look at the Jaguar,” Kohler simplifies the object of his attention, whereas Hughes (and Coetzee) opens up to the animal (and reader), appreciating the indeterminacy of its complexity. In a beautiful closing passage, Costello finally posits what she has been setting up:
  At every turn Sultan is driven to think the less interesting thought. From the
  purity of speculation (Why do men behave like this?) he is relentlessly propelled
  toward lower, practical, instrumental reason (How does one use this to get that?)
  and thus toward acceptance of himself as primarily an organism with an appetite
  that needs to be satisfied. Although his entire history, from the time his mother
  was shot and he was captured, through his voyage in a cage to imprisonment on
  this island prison camp and the sadistic games that are played around food here,
  leads him to ask questions about the justice of the universe and the place of this
  penal colony in it, a carefully plotted psychological regimen conducts him away from
  ethics and metaphysics toward the humbler reaches of practical reason.

  (emphasis added; 29)

  In describing this experiment in these terms, Coetzee (through “his woman” Elizabeth Costello) figures the relationship between the master and the captive ape as similar to that between the author and the reader in the traditional realist tradition. Just as the Kohler and his team use various configurations of bananas, crates, and wires to induce the “right thoughts” in Sultan, authors in the Bracherian tradition use dramatic techniques, narrative perspectives, and complex characterization to induce empathy in the reader and generate right thoughts. Coetzee’s project here, I suggest, is to point out how banal and old-fashioned a model of literature this presents.

  By employing a fictional artifice in The Lives of Animals, J.M. Coetzee provides himself with the opportunity to create vivid characters, dramatic tensions, and suspenseful narratives. According to critics such as Keen and Bracher, these unique properties of fiction allow for the generation of empathy in the reader, which for Keen results in incremental ameliorative social action and for Bracher leads to “right thinking” and direct ameliorative social action. However, Coetzee, as Elizabeth Costello express it, would say “If principles are what you want to take away from this talk, I would have to respond, open your heart and listen to what your heart says” (Elizabeth Costello 37). It is our hearts, and not our heads, to which Coetzee’s “new way of writing” appeals.


1The complete title of Robinson Crusoe reads The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventure of ROBINSON CRUSOE, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabitated island on the coast of AMERICA, near the Mouth of the Great River of ORONOOQUE; having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. WITH an Account how he was at least strangely deliver’d by PYRATES.—-Written by Himself.
2Lenta fails to provide a citation for the literally incredible claim that people, however unsophisticated, believed in the reality of Lemuel Gulliver’s account. For example, the talking horses in Book IV, etc.
3The points I’m about to make refer only to The Lives of Animals and Lessons 1, 3, and 4 (Lessons 3 and 4 are transposed directly from The Lives of Animals). The other five lessons and the post-script feature far more character identification with Elizabeth Costello, including narrative devices of first-person or narrated monologue. Considering that lessons 1, 3, and 4 were the first ones composed by Coetzee, it’s hard to avoid speculating that the more he wrote about her the more intimate and engaged he became with her as a more rounded, realistic character such as those of Defoe described by Watt above.
4Emendation made by current author (McAdams).
5 David Foster Wallace, in his review of Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years: 1965-1971 (it would be interesting to compare his review with Coetzee’s, q.v. infra) points out that Bakhtin’s famous description of Dostoevsky as a non-ideologue was due more to the exigencies of publishing during the Soviet era than close reading or honest textual analysis. “The political situation,” writes Wallace, is one reason why Bakhtin’s famous Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, published under Stalin, had to seriously downplay FMD’s involvement with his own characters. A lot of Bakhtin’s praise for Dostoevsky’s ‘polyphonic’ characterizations, and for the ‘dialogic imagination’ that supposedly allowed him to refrain from injecting his own values into his novels, is the natural result of a Soviet critic’s trying to discuss an author whose ‘reactionary’ views that State wanted forgotten” (269).
6 Coetzee had of course just published The Master of Petersburg, in which he adopts the persona of Fyodor Dostoevsky, in 1994.

Works Cited:

Attridge, David. J.M. Coetzee & the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event. Chicago:   University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Attwell, David. Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews: J.M. Coetzee. Cambridge,   MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. Trans. Emerson, Caryl.
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Bracher, Mark. “How to Teach for Social Justice: Lessons from Uncle Tom’s Cabin and   Cognitive Science.” College English, Vol. 71, No. 4 (2009): 363-386.

Coetzee, J.M. Elizabeth Costello. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.
---. The Lives of Animals. Edited by Gutmann, Amy. Princeton: Princeton University   Press, 1999.
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---. Robinson Crusoe. Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Classics, 1999.
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Keen, Suzanne. Empathy and the Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
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