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Much of Coetzee's writing reflects either directly or indirectly on recent events unfolding within South African society, although critics have warned against straightforward allegorical readings of his work.More productively we might think of Coetzee's writing as questioning any easy correspondence between fictional representation and the rapid, traumatic changes that have transformed and continue to transform South Africa.
For Coetzee the post-colonial does not signal the formal disintegration of empire, but rather a new, and in many respects more insidious phase of colonisation.
For example, his debut novel, (1974) comprises two novellas that evoke apparently discrete historical events, one colonial and the other post-colonial, in a manner that clearly asks us to reflect upon their relationship to one another and to contemporary South Africa more generally. The second is set 200 years earlier and focuses on a Boer settler in the 1700s.
When Lurie is disgraced by his university following an affair with a student, the professor retreats to his daughter's isolated smallholding.
The personal differences between David and his daughter unfold against this backdrop as tensions rise within the recently emancipated local community.
His first encounters with literature, the awakenings of sexual desire, and Coetzee grew up in a new development north of Cape Town, tormented by guilt and fear.
His first encounters with literature, the awakenings of sexual desire, and a growing awareness of apartheid left him with baffling questions; and only in his love of the high veld ("farms are places of freedom, of life") could he find a sense of belonging.The barbarians, it would seem, lie at the heart of the very empire that constructs them as other.The plight of these two characters, both of whom are physically disabled, gets worse as they find themselves without a secure home or income in a South Africa torn apart by civil war.As the narrative of his recent Man Booker Prize-winning novel (1999) demonstrates (with its metafictional elements, its suspension in the present tense and its generation of critical uncertainty) veracity is something Coetzee seeks to problematise rather than produce.At the centre of is 52-year-old David Lurie: 'Once a professor of modern languages, he has been, since Classics and Modern Languages were closed down as part of the great rationalization, adjunct professor of communications.Like all rationalized personnel, he is allowed to offer one special-field course a year, irrespective of enrolment, because that is good for morale.This year he is offering a course on the Romantic poets.For the rest he teaches Communications 101, “Communication Skills,” and Communications 201, “Advanced Communication Skills.” ' In Lurie’s fall from Romantics Professor to Professor of Communications we witness the wider reduction of art and language to the realm of the literal, the functional, the practical.Within this new world academics have become, as Lurie goes on to put it 'clerks in a post-religious age'.The novel, which is on one level an exploration of the relationship between barbarity and civilisation, takes its title from a poem by the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy.Winning the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the spare, razor sharp prose celebrated in has become a trademark of Coetzee's later fiction.