The Art of Evasion: Writing and the State in J.M. Coetzee's Life & Times of Michael K

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of Literary Studies, Volume 28, p.55–76 (2012)



Summary This article focuses on {J.M.} Coetzee's Life & Times of Michael K (1983) in light of current theoretical concerns with issues of sovereignty and the state (raised by, among others, Hardt and Negri and Agamben), issues which Coetzee explicitly addresses in his recent Diary of a Bad Year. I analyse the novel's engagement with several of the narrative formations of political modernity, both generally and in the South African context, and focus in particular on the following: the social contract, as formulated by Hobbes, and its rebuttal by Rousseau; as well as the historical events that came to underpin the modern South African state: the Great Trek and Van Riebeeck's garden. I argue that the novel attempts to counter these narrative underpinnings of state sovereignty, not so much with a literary sovereignty, but with its own strategies of rescripting, defamiliarisation, and evasion. I situate Coetzee very much within the context of not only South African, but also global modernity here: at a historical moment when the articulation between the state and its subjects is becoming increasingly problematic, I argue that Coetzee's novel is eminently worth revisiting.

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