Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Communications and Arts


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Dr Jill Durey


This thesis is an examination of the fictional works of J.M. Coetzee to date. There are two aspects to my argument. First I posit that Coetzee adumbrates the prevailing crisis of belonging in the world and the universal yearning for a sense of connectedness. Secondly, I maintain that Coetzee prompts a review of the demarcation lines that divide and alienate in two ways. He installs boundaries that are shifting and. unstable. He also represents numerous frontier transgressions that expose the permeability of these finite conceptual constructions and reveals their potential for revision. It is my contention that Coetzee exploits the discrepancy between an ideal of stasis and the dynamic nature of reality in order to demonstrate the possibilities inherent in change. The opportunities for reimagining frontiers and expanding a sense of belonging are evident in the aporias that show up in both the fixed notion of frontier and the mutating individual experiences of belonging. This study not only examines a broad range of general cultural theory and more specific critical commentary on Coetzee’s fiction but also provides an integrated response to Coetzec's own writing, both fictional and non-fictional. Coetzee's project can be seen as both metaphysical and metafictional. I concur with most recent critical assessment- that his fiction transgresses critical containment and offers extension to a range of debates, from theories on the ethics of reading to postcolonial discourse. The physical realities that Coetzee traces lie across the bounds of national thinking. He •uses textual representations of the body •as ontological sites that exceed existing epistemological frameworks. It is my thesis that his oeuvre challenges the very conditions upon which Western discursive structures are founded. These transgressive modalities that lie outside familiar socio-political models call for a creative response from the reader. I have identified the traditional African philosophical concept of ubuntu as a useful tool with which to articulate Coetzee 's feint gesture towards a future site of shared belonging. This study argues that the responsibility of the reader is central to this process. Coetzee uses the performative function of fiction to adumbrate his metafictional objective, which is to inspire his readers to ethical action. The overarching claim of this thesis is that Coetzee’s ethical call is to make a difference in the real world. Coetzee’s novelistic methods urge the reader to extend a sense of responsibility beyond hermeneutic engagement with the texts into their own life. Coetzee’s enterprise is , consequently, of great significance in the ongoing debate about the value of literature, the relevance of theory and the need for continuing scrutiny of the agendas of all participants. Similarly, his writing contributes to the vibrant cross-cultural dialogue within South Africa across the wider African continent and globally, and this continues to open up fresh opportunities for belonging.