Friday, February 29, 2008

Stripping Off the Covers

- Derek Thomas -

The Prince Albert Writers’ Guild invited newcomer to Prince Albert, Colin Bower, to be the guest speaker at their January get together.

Colin is a published writer of some note himself and has reviewed the writings of J.M. Coetzee with impressive thoroughness. Coetzee basks in the light of his two Booker Prize awards (1983 & 1999) and Nobel Prize in Literature (2003).

Nevertheless, Colin’s incisive peer-reviewed critique appears in the UNISA Journal ‘Scrutiny’ in 2003, which raised a storm in the literary establishment. To Colin, who enjoys open debate, this was a response he relished.

The discussion was attended by 18 enthusiastic writers and readers, some of whom have read all of Coetzee’s books.

Views ranged widely, from endorsement of Coetzee’s writings, with accolades such as the “language is exquisite like a surgical operation, structurally interesting, philosophical and intellectual” to robust criticism, such as “Coetzee installs the reader in the mould then undermines it, and he writes by numbers – where is the living connection? He writes from no creative or lived experience, and lacks humour. He just fills the page.”

Deciding on the Nobel Literature Prize is inevitably a subjective affair. Prescribed by Alfred Nobel, the Award winner should be awarded to the “person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”. The issue is whether this criterion has been satisfied in the case of JMC.

Whichever position is taken, Coetzee’s enigmatic rise to fame remains controversial. Is he of the Post Modern genre, who, “once [they] have been ushered into the contemporary pantheon, we will lie to ourselves to keep [them] there” (B. R. Myers, US critic)?

Colin Bower was thanked sincerely for provoking a stimulating debate.

As is the custom with the Writers’ Guild, divergent views are welcomed and remain open-ended rather than needing a conclusion.

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