STOCKHOLM, 2 October 2003 - This
year's Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to the South African writer
John Maxwell Coetzee for his writings born out of his experiences of the former
apartheid system in his country.
The Swedish Academy in Stockholm
honours the writer because "he is a scrupulous doubter, ruthless in his
criticism of the cruel rationalism and cosmetic morality of western
civilisation. His intellectual honesty erodes all basis of consolation and
distances itself from the tawdry drama of remorse and confession." In its
announcement the academy said, "J.M. Coetzees novels are characterised by
their well-crafted composition, pregnant dialogue and analytical brilliance."
John Maxwell Coetzee was born in 1940 in Cape Town in South Africa. His
background is both German and English. His parents sent him to an English
school and he grew up using English as his first language. At the beginning of
the 1960s he moved to England where he worked initially as a computer
programmer. He then studied literature in the USA and went on to teach
literature and English at the State University of New York at Buffalo up until
1983. In 1984 he became Professor of English Literature at the University of
Cape Town. In 2002 he moved to Australia, where he is attached to the
University of Adelaide. Coetzee made his debut as a writer of fiction in 1974.
His international breakthrough came in 1980 with the novel Waiting for the
Barbarians. He was awarded the Booker Prize in the United Kingdom for
Life and Times of Michael K (1983), a novel set in Cape Town on the
verge of racial wars.
Coetzees interest is directed mainly at
situations where the distinction between right and wrong, while crystal clear,
can be seen to serve no end. Like the man in the famous
Magritte painting who is studying
his neck in a mirror, at the decisive moment Coetzees characters stand
behind themselves, motionless, incapable of taking part in their own actions.
But passivity is not merely the dark haze that devours personality, it is also
the last resort open to human beings as they defy an oppressive order by
rendering themselves inaccessible to its intentions. It is in exploring
weakness and defeat that Coetzee captures the divine spark in man, the Swedish
His earliest novel, Dusklands, was the first
example of the capacity for empathy that has enabled Coetzee time and again to
creep beneath the skin of the alien and the abhorrent. A man working for the
American administration during the Vietnam
war dreams of devising an unbeatable system of psychological warfare, while
at the same time his private life disintegrates around him. His reflections are
juxtaposed with a report on an expedition to explore the country of the native
Africans, which purports to have been written by one of the 18th-century Boer
pioneers. Two forms of misanthropy, one of them intellectual and megalomaniac,
the other vital and barbaric, reflect each other.
One element in his
next novel, In the Heart of the Country, is the portrayal of psychosis.
A careworn spinster living with her father observes with distaste his love
affair with a young coloured woman. She has fantasies of murdering both of
them, but everything seems to indicate that she decides rather to immure
herself in a perverse pact with the house servant. The actual sequence of
events cannot be determined, as the readers only sources are her notes,
where lies and truths, crudeness and refinement alternate capriciously line by
line. The high-flown Edwardian literary style of the womans monologue
harmonises strangely with the surrounding African landscape.
for the Barbarians is a political thriller in the tradition of Joseph
Conrad, in which the idealists naivety opens the gates to horror. The
playful metanovel Foe spins a yarn about the incompatibility and inseparability
of literature and life, told by a woman who yearns to be part of a major
narrative when in reality only one of minor importance is
With Life and Times of Michael K, which has its roots in
Defoe as well as in Kafka and Beckett, the impression that Coetzee is a writer
of solitude becomes clearer. The novel deals with the flight of an
insignificant citizen from growing disorder and impending war to a state of
indifference to all needs and speechlessness that negates the logic of
The Master of Petersburg is a paraphrase of Dostoevsky's
life and fictional world. To die in ones heart away from the world, the
temptation that Coetzees imagined characters face, turns out to be the
principle of the unconscionable liberty of terrorism. Here, the writer's
struggle with the problem of evil is tinged with demonology, an element that
recurs in his most recently published work, Elizabeth
In Disgrace Coetzee involves us in the struggle of
a discredited university teacher to defend his own and his daughters
honour in the new circumstances that have arisen in South Africa after the
collapse of white supremacy.The novel deals with a question that is central to
his works: Is it possible to evade history?
Boyhood circles mainly around his fathers humiliation and the
psychological cleavage it has caused the son, but the book also conveys a magic
impression of life in the old-fashioned South African countryside with its
eternal conflicts between the Boers and the English and between white and
black. In its sequel, Youth, the writer dissects himself as a young man
with a cruelty that is oddly consoling for anyone able to identify with
Coetzee, 63, is the sixth South African to win a Nobel Prize, and
the second to win the Literature Prize 12 years after fellow South African
Nadine Gordimer took home the prestigious award.
This year's Nobel
Prize is worth the equivalent of 1.11 million euros, 1.3 million dollars and
will be presented on 10 December in Stockholm.
The prize for literature
was awarded last year to the Hungarian writer
Imre Kertész. In 2001 it
went to the Trinidadian-born Briton V.S.
Naipaul.. In 2000 it was awarded to Gao Zingjian, the Chinese writer living
in exile in France. In 1999, Günter Grass received the prize.
Nobel site :http://www.nobel.se