“Tracing a Poetics of Animacy”
In this talk I’m interested to follow a certain trajectory in Coetzee’s oeuvre that appears to run counter to a writing typically marked by its linguistic precision and economy. This trajectory explores intimations of another kind, alluding to an affective realm that does not lend itself easily to expression in words, indeed, appears to be beyond the confines of language entirely. In Foe, one of the endings takes the reader to “the home of Friday... where bodies are their own signs” (157). Discussing
Ted Hughes’ “The Jaguar” Elizabeth Costello notes that we do not so much think our way into making sense of the jaguar
as feel “the body... as it moves... [we] inhabit that body” (51). In Waiting for the Barbarians, the Magistrate is caught off guard by his difficulty in shooting a waterbuck and despite his attempts to “shrug off this irritating and uncanny feeling” (40) he remains oddly sensitive to the ways humans “crush insects beneath [their] feet, miracles of creation too, beetles, worms, cockroaches, ants” (107).
These moments of intuition are marked by an intense sensation of shared embodiedness and ensouledness, of a creaturely fullness of being, an existence beyond language where animality constitutes an experiential realm in need of a tongue that knows how to touch without defining and circumscribing. I will trace instances in Coetzee’s texts where what I would like to call a poetics of animacy accentuates instances of muteness, of intensities, of the ability to move and being moved. This poetics of animacy creates a productive tension between what is said and what cannot be said yet finds expression in the intuition of an intense perception of what it means to be a living soul.
Traverses: J. M. Coetzee in the World; Adelaide, South Australia, November 11-13 2014