J.M. Coetzee Interview on Writers & Company – CBC Radio (excerpt)



the fall of 1990 brought a rare opportunity for a conversation with JM Coetzee a rare because code SIA is not only one of South Africa's most famous writers he's also famously private but his work is as fascinating and elusive as its author he was born in Cape Town in 1940 and grew up speaking Afrikaans as well as English he became the first writer to win the Booker Prize Twice first in 1983 for his novel life and times of Michael Kay and then again in 1999 for disgrace by then he was refusing all interviews and didn't even go to London to collect that second Booker but I was lucky enough to get to speak with him in 2000 when I went to Cape Town for a special series on South Africa in 2002 cocea left South Africa for Australia a year later he was awarded the Nobel Prize when I first met JM Coetzee ax in late 1990 we discussed his newest book age of iron a spare powerful novel about an old woman dying of cancer who hates the government and lives she feels in a perpetual state of shame but she must find her own words she can't borrow anyone elses rage he says where it wouldn't be true I asked them why that was so important it's a question of authenticity one must come to one's own realizations and if one is a writer as as she is in the book because the book is cast in the form of a long letter from her to her daughter if one is a writer one must express one's awareness not in someone else's words but in one's own those are the only authentic words there are one's own words can't be borrowed one of the things that she realizes is that to be good isn't enough that there are plenty of good people but that the timers required heroism yeah that's the form in which she puts her dilemma to herself and it's a particularly difficult dilemma for her because of course she sees plenty of examples of heroism around her but they are forms of heroism that involve violence that she can't find it in her to imitate and she's thinking here of course particularly of the heroism of young black revolutionaries teenage black revolutionaries in fact she's torn between art rage I suppose that is the word at children who not only have not yet lived but really don't know the meaning of life I mean they don't know the meaning of life in the sense that they as she understands it are incapable of imagining death and she feels herself all too capable of imagining death so she's torn between art rage at their full hardness or recklessness of their own lives and this overpowering realization that as you say in the words you quoted being a good person living in terms of love and charity let us say is actually not enough in the particular historical situation of South Africa do you feel like Elizabeth Curran no I don't Elizabeth Curran is a representative I think of a generation that was particularly betrayed by its leaders and really didn't live long enough to do anything about it but instead lived long enough to understand that a it had been betrayed and B it had excuse for having been betrayed it should have known better I see it was with current as representative of generation that was born I suppose you know around 1910 1920 at the end of waiting for the barbarians that the central character a white magistrate concludes that his liberalism was no more helpful than the soldiers who made war in tortured people and wondered if any ways is a reflection of some sort of disillusionment with liberalism generally why if the barbarians of courses is set in a very undefined landscape and Millia in which words like white and black actually no longer mean anything and insofar as liberal let's say has a capital L and has a particular historical basis and and provenance he lives in a time when no one has heard the word liberal much less knows exactly what liberalism with a capital L is I tend to think of him rather as a man of humane values is he disillusioned with humane values no I don't think he's disillusioned with humane values but I think what he does see is that power is capable of using humane values and people who aspires humane values for its own end and sometimes the people who believe in an act in terms of humane values get used when you put it in terms of humane values it makes the magistrate of waiting for the barbarians in that sense some similar to Elizabeth Curran an age of iron someone who believes in humane values and comes to recognize their futility well if I believed that humane values were futile in every sense of the word I wouldn't be writing these books on the other hand if I believed that humane values were the answer to every problem I wouldn't either be writing these books why I'm writing these books is to pose the question of what the good is of humane values we can believe in humane values we cannot only believe in humane values quite sincerely but we can act in terms of humane values the question is is that going to be enough so if African writer JM Coetzee ax in a conversation from the fall of 1990 you're listening to a special 25th anniversary edition of writers and company on CBC Radio 1 on Sirius XM radio and around the world on CBC CA I'm Eleanor Wachtel

2 thoughts on “J.M. Coetzee Interview on Writers & Company – CBC Radio (excerpt)

  1. A rare speech. Coetzee hardly talks about his book rather once quipped why not scrap the fiction itself instead of asking the writer anything. Thanks for this

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