Real Otherness in Barnard

I’m intrigued by one distinction the Barnard essay makes in particular, which she seems to suggest enacts a fundamental shift in Coetzee’s style and/or treatment of education: “It seems that the overall thrust of Coetzee’s work shifts, around the time of The Master of Petersburg, from an interest in structures of domination (and how to elude them) to an interest in the dangerous irruption of the new or ‘the other’ in various guises or valences’ (37). What’s most striking about this distinction is the re-emphasis appears to reframe the individual as the important subject within a given discourse. While “structures of domination” do grant interpretive breadth to the individual identities it enfolds, the move to the individual shifts subjectivity such that we are made aware of how otherness functions as a personal experience, rather than one that presses from the top down. It’s possible that I’m missing one nuance of her argument, but otherness itself signifies structural domination—we’d like to think that some society can appreciate differences without judging them superior, but certainly none of the ones presiding in Coetzee’s fiction do this.

It’s interesting that Barnard, herself offering translations for the German texts that she deploys, chooses to translate die groot andersmaak as “becoming other,” because that explicitly ties her to a Deleuzian genealogy (intentional or not) that might raise some interesting questions. For Deleuze, the process of becoming-other occurs when the constitutive elements of an entity undergo a process of departure from stasis, enacting a change that reorganizes the entity as a whole. Deleuze suggests that these sorts of transformations (becoming-woman, becoming-animal) are transformative processes available to majority individuals (else how could they become other in the first place?), but often I find Deleuze’s lack of emphasis on the social or cultural forces of an entity’s constitution leads to a naïve understanding of what the other is, culturally or historically. It’s possible that we might see Lurie’s relocation from the university, or the pain that he suffers as a result of the attack on the farm, as a transformation that others him, though doing so might risk oversimplifying the actual historical complexity of South African shifts in power. Barnard herself, however, does seem to place him in the same sort of position: “[Lurie’s] failure…initiates even more dangerous transformative invasions in the course of the novel: encounters with darker aspects of the new—with emergent sex-gender systems, systems of ownership, and brute power” (38).

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1 Response to Real Otherness in Barnard

  1. Anne Gulick says:

    A useful gloss on the distinction Barnard makes between the theoretical investments in Coetzee’s earlier vs later work. Do read Waiting for the Barbarians or Life and Times of Michael K and I think the shift in emphasis she’s noting will make sense just in terms of how the stories work; I often pair Barbarians with selections from Hardt and Negri’s Empire, as that novel begs ruminations on sovereignty and state violence and the (im)possibilities of resistance in ways that do contrast rather starkly with what we get in Disgrace.


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