Saturday, May 27, 2006

Coetzee's cry against philistinism

Finished Coetzee's Youth this morning. The book, though fictional, is a sort of memoir and part two in his looking back on his early years. John's disenchantment with his job at IBM closely mirrors Coetzee's own and mine too, which is why despite his sleeping with practically every woman he encountered (and then couching it in existential angst rather than plain old desire), I looked upon him with benevolence, because I could at least empathise with the technical versus life of the mind bit of it.

Some of the statements were extraordinary, and I am certain it is those that are pointers to Coetzee's coruscating intelligence, the aspect of his personality that has made this not very writerly person garner two Bookers and (one) Nobel.

But the book was also a relief for me. Because if a person racked by the extremities of self-doubt can end up being a successful (and how!!) writer, there is hope for me still. There are long passages in which Coetzee, through John, questions his credentials of even aspiring to be a wordsmith, and the spark of creative inspiration. To be fair, Coetzee is not a wordsmith. You don't read his books to get dazzled by the quality of the writing (which is fine, because that makes him more approachable in a way). What Coetzee offers you, rather, are insights so sharp that you are left singing in appreciation.

Next on to Graham Greene's End of the Affair, which I haven't read still. It begins with this saying by Leon Bloy:

Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering in order that they may have existence.

Chilling, and if I may be allowed to become John myself for a bit, what does one need to do, what depths does one plumb, to come up with prose so exquiste, so exact, so damn hurting in its truth?

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