Qui | 22.02.18
Marcos BilaCoetzee does not actually write fiction any more
Coetzee invites us to consider philosophies of fiction
- Plato was famously dismissive of the seductive properties of mimetic literature, which urge us to make an imaginative identification with a fictional world. He would have agreed without hesitation that novels are for babies. Philosophy is for adults. On the evidence of this austere, barely realised mise-en-scène, it is difficult not to feel that Coetzee, like Plato, is no longer much interested in the accidents of our quotidian human world, the shadows on the cave wall. He is after essence alone, the pure, ungraspable fire. In his fidelity to ideas, to telling rather than showing, to instructing rather than seducing us, he does not actually write fiction any more. The Schooldays of Jesus, philosophically dense as it is, is parched, relentlessly adult fare
For real reading you have to submit yourself to what is written on the page. You have to give up your own fantasies. You have to stop being silly. You have to stop being a baby.
(“don’t ever let them forgive you, and don’t ever listen when they promise you a new life”).
his 2013 book The Childhood of Jesus poses an intriguing question: when is a novel not a novel? The driving energy of the book, like that of its predecessor, is philosophical rather than narrative: at this stage of his career, Coetzee is far more concerned with ideas than character or plot
The book picks up where the first one left off, in a nameless country where everyone speaks Spanish and where refugees arrive on boats, are given new names and identities, and are “washed clean” of all their old memories and associations. The capital city is Novilla, a socialist utopia whose citizens are without desires or appetites (the standard fare is bread and bean paste) but are fond of having ad hoc philosophical debates in their breaks from comradely manual labour
No one in the novel is called Jesus. The Jesus of the title alludes to a motherless refugee child named Davíd who, in the previous volume, is taken under the wing of Simón, an earnest middle-aged man not entirely happy with this brave new world. Simón recruits a suitably virginal young woman, Inés, to be Davíd’s new mother, but their makeshift family unit is threatened when the boy, who has unusual intellectual gifts, begins to resist the officially approved methods of learning and is sent to a reformatory. (He escapes.)