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Groarke, S. (2018). The Disgraced Life in J. M. Coetzee's Dusklands. Am. Imago, 75(1):25-51.

(2018). American Imago, 75(1):25-51

The Disgraced Life in J. M. Coetzee's Dusklands

Steven Groarke

… I levelled

And blew the small hour through his heart.

—Ian Duhig, “The Lammas Hireling”

There is an inherent tension between literature and psychoanalysis as distinct but overlapping perspectives on inwardness. It is important that we credit the specificity of these two perspectives, while at the same time exploring the potential for productive overlap. By “overlap” I mean those occasions when two relatively autonomous forms of understanding intersect, usually on account of a common problem or theme, if not a comparable attitude towards a given problem. In this essay, I present a close reading of J.M. Coetzee's Dusklands along these lines, with respect to the “inner workings” of narrative fiction, on the one hand, and to the overlap between psychoanalysis and literature in Coetzee's defining preoccupation with the “psychic” deformations of violence and brutality, on the other (Coetzee, 1987, 2007a). I do not propose to define “inwardness” in the abstract. The essay is presented as a literary-critical reconstruction of a particular attitude towards the inner life rather than a general philosophical argument.

Coetzee is not in any meaningful sense of the word a “psychological” novelist. The interior life is presented in his novels as the cumulative effect of so many discursive configurations or language games. This interplay of process and patterning, which comes to the fore in Coetzee's various forms of self-referential storytelling, includes the internal configuration of anxiety. I address the latter, in the colonial context, as a type of religious anxiety. In particular, I identify the inner workings of violence, in this historical and political context, with the horror of aloneness, an ineradicable sense of longing in the absence of God.

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