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Making History Minor: Coetzee and the Colonial Explorer - Lynda Ng

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Seminar Room S226

John Woolley Building

University of Sydney

Camperdown, NSW 2050

Australia

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Presented by the Department of English

Abstract:

The concept of minor literatures first advanced by Deleuze and Guattari in 1975 has proven to be remarkably fertile for the fields of postcolonial studies, cultural studies and world literary theory. Deleuze and Guattari nominated writers such as Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett as key examples of ‘minor’ authors, but others such as Albert Camus, Harry Mulisch, Günter Grass and J. M. Coetzee would arguably fit the description too. The humble beginnings of these authors within a minor culture are eclipsed by the enduring impact that their works have had on literary culture in a wider – i.e., more ‘major’ – sense.

This paper broadens the theoretical scope beyond that of minor literatures, to consider how this dyadic relationship of minor-major seeps into other areas, such as that of history and language. In particular, I consider how Coetzee’s early novels ‘minoritize’ history. By highlighting the importance of colonial explorer tracts in the genesis of Dusklands and Waiting for the Barbarians, I will show the ways in which Coetzee challenges the veracity of the historical record, and how each of these two works can be critically reappraised as a ‘fiction of a fiction’. A concern with the processes that allow minor cultures to be so definitively erased and absorbed by major ones takes tangible form, in Coetzee’s early works, through a critique of the strictures and impediments of language – a natural consequence of the multilingual encounters and collisions of travel and discovery.

Lynda Ng is a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Education at the University of Sydney, and an Adjunct Fellow with the Writing and Society Research Centre at Western Sydney University. She has published essays on censorship and literary value, cosmopolitanism, and neoliberalism. Her edited collection of essays, Indigenous Transnationalism: Essays on Carpentaria, is due out this year with Giramondo Press, and she is currently collaborating on an Australian Research Council Discovery Project about the work of J. M. Coetzee, entitled ‘Transnational Coetzee’.

Entry is free and all are welcome. Registration is not required.

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Seminar Room S226

John Woolley Building

University of Sydney

Camperdown, NSW 2050

Australia

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