Elizabeth Costello has ratings and reviews. Fabian said: It Since , J. M. Coetzee has been dazzling the literary world. After eight novels that. by J. M. Coetzee (Viking; $) embedded within the story of an aging novelist, Elizabeth Costello, as she goes on the lecture circuit. Even more uncompromising than usual, this latest novel by Coetzee (his first since ‘s Booker Prize–winning Disgrace) blurs the bounds of fiction an.

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Literature and literary criticismFictionPhilosophy. There may be many readers who, on hearing of J. For some time now, he has been in the habit, when invited to deliver a lecture, of employing a richly deflective device: The frame story allows Coetzee elizabbeth share ideas while obscuring his overt j.m.cketzee of them.

That he chooses to read a fiction in a lecture hall rather than a lecture enables him to pose the unspeakable instead of talking about the impossibility of speaking it. J.m.coetxee year he and I took part in a conference in Holland on the problem of evil.

The participants fumbled around with the primary grotesquerie of speaking about evil at j.m.coftzee well-fed and well-managed conference; this was well before we got to the unspeakability of evil itself.

Coetzee, by contrast, read a story about Elizabeth Costello, who — in the fiction — had been invited to Amsterdam to talk about the problem of evil. Costello, Coetzee said, had become convinced that some kinds of evil were too disturbing to be represented. This was to be the thrust of her talk in Amsterdam.

Indeed, Costello had lost her faith in storytelling. Given the choice between telling a story and doing good, she would try to do good. It was a strange, provoking, deliberately self-contradictory tale, which instantly sparked heated commentary. Yet the fictive device had justified itself: The paradox of the chosen form is that on the one hand Coetzee seems to be playing his usual withholding game: For if Coetzee were merely playing it safe by dramatising rather than propounding arguments, why make the arguments so violently unsafe?

The device that seems to lead away from the author leads right back to him, as he surely knows. But he actually read two stories elizabet Elizabeth Costello, who — again, in the fiction — had been asked to deliver similar lectures at somewhere called Appleton College. In addition to her trips to Amsterdam and Appleton College, Costello talks about realism at a college in Pennsylvania, takes a job on a cruise ship to lecture to the passengers about the future of the novel she is pessimisticelizabethh, on a visit to Johannesburg, talks about the possibility of learning anything from the humanities.

James Wood reviews ‘Elizabeth Costello’ by J.M. Coetzee · LRB 23 October

The book has a shape, rather a religious one: The penultimate chapter is a Kafka-like parable in which Costello seems to be at the gate of heaven, only to find that she must give an account of her beliefs to a presiding jury.

Against all likelihood, the book is more affecting j.m.coetzde anything else he has j.j.coetzee, and, I think, deeply confessional. Aristotle recommends, in his Rhetoricthat the best way out of a stylistic bind is publicly to correct oneself, and it may at first seem that this is all Coetzee is up to.


He slumps in the costllo, worrying that his mother is rambling or sermonising. Is this Coetzee protecting himself by pre-empting criticism? The technique of fiction within fiction is much more complicated than the mere evasion of idea-ownership. To take a small point: The House on Eccles Street was her fourth novel, her rewriting of Ulyssesand she has written five since then.

No other Costello novel is made much of. Coetzee commits the sins that Costello censures. When she addresses the conference in Amsterdam, she announces that certain horrors, the Holocaust for instance, should not be written about.

She has been especially exercised by an English novel about the Stauffenberg conspiracy, by the way the novelist dwells on the punishment of the conspirators. One of her complaints is that the English novelist must have imagined many of the hideous details, and in so doing has brought horror into new life when he should have let well alone.

Where else could the novelist have got his information? It is a remarkable passage, and shows, incidentally, how much Coetzee achieves in his prose through rhythm rather than ornament. But it is wildly unstable. Palpably, it performs what Costello costelllo keen to proscribe, since it evokes an unspeakable horror.

Coetzee seems to be making some kind of atonement, professing membership in a general treason of clerks: But the passage also slips towards unreason; it is incantation, not argument. Is it, in fact, the punishment of the July plotters that Costello is describing here, or some generalised scene of Holocaust degradation? One of her arguments is that philosophical reason has prevented us from entering the consciousness of animals. Once we decide that such access is limited, we tend to think that we are entitled to do what we want with such restricted life-forms.

At the same time she says that she has imagined what it means to be a corpse. For a moment we are that knowledge. To be full of being is to live as a body-soul. One name for the experience of full being is joy. I would wager a fair amount. What one can say is that her reply to Nagel is the reply of literature to elizabetn, and that those who heard Coetzee speak it at Princeton were surely hearing something very rare — rare in its passion, its unclothedness, its determination to trade in narrative.

It’s very novel, but is it actually a novel?

Costello, and Coetzee also at this moment, are not only telling us that such knowledge is not abstract, they are enacting its non-abstract concreteness by refusing to argue philosophically, just as Tolstoy does in his novella.

Literary argumentation must take literary form. But this in turn means that ideas cannot be won, that they are vulnerable. Just because ideas cannot be won does not mean that they cannot be traced. Fictional form has its own thematic, and these chapters are cunningly constructed. Far from being evasive, I think that Coetzee is passionately confessing, and that his entire book vibrates with confession.

The reference to Ivan Ilyich is the key. It is by contemplating her own death that she can enter the suffering — the millions of deaths — of animals. Our mortality is animal mortality. And likewise, to think about animal death is to think of our own death. Coetzee underlines the connection by subtly activating dead metaphor: He comforts her by saying: It will soon be over. If Tolstoy is one sponsor of this marvellous book, Dostoevsky is the other.

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Not just because these philosophical dialogues seem indebted to the Dostoevskian dialogical principle, whereby ideas are circulated rather than dropped, and whereby an author can seem to argue against his own publicly voiced ideas. Again and again, Costello notes that she is overflowing the bounds of reason.

Later in the book, quoting Ivan Karamazov, she talks about handing back her ticket. His brother Alyosha does not even really try. Dimitri Karamazov submits to being tried for the murder of his father even when he knows himself to be innocent. Costello, like both Alyosha and Dimitri, believes in gesture rather than argument; and like Ivan, she believes in parable rather than reason.

In her Amsterdam lecture, she says: Evil, all of it, an evil universe invented by an evil god. And like Dimitri, she is willing to make herself the sacrifice. Let reason do what it wants with me. I am not an idea. She is not an idea. Death is not an idea; suffering is not an idea. Coetzee, I think, is confessing the immensity of his own sensitivity to suffering, and perhaps hinting at its elements of irrationality.

Likewise, Coetzee is constantly pushing here against the unsayable, and we can only faintly feel his traces on the page. But they are certainly there. Then she revises her statement and describes the river she grew up alongside, in Australia.

Elizabeth Costello – Wikipedia

In particular, she recalls the frogs, how they clustered on the river-bed, how they died and were regenerated, year after year.

It is the moment at which this highly religious book finally declares itself — but only to appropriate religion in a pagan turn. It is also the moment at which animals and literature are again united: And this is a kind of religion, akin to the worship of a God who gives us nothing back.

If it represents the paganisation of belief in God, it also represents the sacralisation of belief in fiction. Because, like suffering and death, fiction, too, is not an idea. Rather, he is exploring the pitfalls of confession. Costello does just what Coetzee will not: And she ends up making absurd claims: In that case, why the elaborate get-up?

Why are there encounters with past and present lovers, why dinner parties? Why is Costello surrounded by fans, acolytes, antagonists and the indifferent? Why does the book contain such a range of reactions to her, from impassioned to dull? She is, however, both aped and parroted; and misrepresented and dismissed. Coetzee is famous for his unwillingness to appear, or appear as himself; on the evidence of Elizabeth Costellohe is right to be unwilling.

Mary Elkins and Mattias Brinkman, so sure that J. But anyway, there is some evidence to support my hunch. First, Elizabeth Costello is not a conventionally written fiction. Most of its chapters were delivered in lecture halls and published separately over several years.

It is less a novel than a collection of linked sketches.