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Elizabeth Costello – An Intellectual and Artistic Quagmire

May 16, 2011

Elizabeth Costello marks the beginning of the late years of Coetzee, the period in which his narrative powers degenerate into an intellectual quagmire. In the story, Elizabeth Costello is the alter ego of Coetzee, representing his other womanly self. Cruelty of men over women, whites over blacks and masters over slaves and men over animals are some eternal themes of Coetzee and in this book we see them again.

All his life Coetzee has been busy, shrieking at the top of his voice that despite being a white European male, he neither shares the feelings of the whites nor of men. He thinks of vegetarianism and teetotalism as somewhat womanly qualities, and considers himself as an exception. Costello, the eponymous protagonist, opposes cruelty against animals and gives lectures on the topic all over the world. Here Coetzee is making a sharply political statement.

Although Costello is for animal rights, she does not support her stance with logic. Her speeches are meaningless rants which do not convince anyone. Her argument is consciously illogical as according to her nothing is logical; according to her logic does not exist. By this Coetzee fraternizes with other post-modernist authors for whom logic is an anathema to art. In their view, an artist has to be illogical. Anything logical is inartistic for them. For these post-modernists rationalism is old-fashioned.

This book is also a rejection of Australia, Coetzee’s new homeland. He fled from South Africa as he thought it to be cruel and violent. He could not choose America as he was involved in criminal activities there; although he haughtily claims that it is beneath his dignity to reside in a country involved in so many crimes. He finally rejects Australia too as he thinks that goodness is not possible; that everything is inherently evil and only he in his incomprehensible thoughts can construct a good reality.

I have never read a more miserable writer…

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