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Is man the yardstick for all things?

Once again, JM Coetzee shows that he is able to tear the ground away from the reader's feet.


JM Coetzee:
The Schooldays of Jesus
Harvill Secker, 2016

"According to one strand of legend, Metros said there is nothing in the universe that cannot be measured. According to another strand, he said that there can be no absolute measurement – that measurement is always relative to the measurer. "

The South African-Australian, award-winning author JM Coetzee's enigmatic novels has accumulated a number of dissertations and master's theses worldwide (my own included). His works are inspired by everything from Kafka and Dostoevsky to linguistics and mathematics, while several of them have led South Africans to question both the apartheid and post-apartheid communities. In other words, there is a lot to cater for both literary scholars and philosophers. Novel of the Year, The Schooldays of Jesus (sequel to the 2013 novel The Childhood of Jesus), also does not lack range for interpretation.

A new life. In short, acting The Childhood of Jesus og The Schooldays of Jesus about the unorthodox composed family consisting of Simón, Inés and David. They have all arrived in a nameless, Spanish-speaking country with no clear idea of ​​where they come from. It is suggested that in this universe you get more lives, but no memories from the previous. You are washed clean, but it is marked early on that Davíd is special, for he has memories of the past that he cannot articulate, but which, for example, causes him to repeatedly repeat that Davíd is not his real name. Simón, his guardian, tries to tell him that names don't matter, that they might as well have been assigned numbers.


Here the conflicts between the two open up. On the one hand: the rational, righteous and self-sacrificing Simón, and on the other: the individualistic, creative and emotion-driven child Davíd. In the first book they live in the city with the symbolic name Novilla, and here the inhabitants are almost too rational and passionate even for Simón. When Davíd is dropped out of school because he actively opposes learning, the family chooses to move to the city with the no less symbolic name of Estrella. Here Davíd meets his like mind at The Academy of Dance, where they learn to dance stars and numbers and profess to a vaguely numerology-inspired philosophy where every thing is unique and unmeasurable and the body and music speak a language that is more true than the conventional.

In this novel, Coetzee shows how fragile our stories are, and how unbearably small we feel if the narratives disappear and the world is reduced to a collection of physical laws.

Moral Philosophical Studies. I Youth (2002) asks Coetzee's alter ego (or Secondly, ego is perhaps more accurate, since he called his autobiographical trilogy autrebiography) about when in history one was chosen Either-or- rather than one and-or-logic. Inspired by post-colonialism's relationship with post-structuralist thinking, he has, through his novels, deconstructed dichotomies such as rational / irrational, white / black, master / slave, man / woman, us / them and animals / human. The latter is also part of this year's novel, for example, when Davíd's older friend Dimitri is accused of murder and Simón tries to tell Davíd that psychiatry will not help him, because it is not the brain but his heart that is not well: " "Maybe the doctor should take a bear's heart and put it in Dimitri," Davíd suggests. In one sentence, Coetzee manages to question both what sets us apart from animals and whether free will exists, and he once again demonstrates that the novel can be an excellent form of moral-philosophical and metaphysical research.

Bearing stories. The silent majority is compared to the dance academy's teachers with ants, but the novel is more dialogic than the dance teacher; it does not condemn the practical and rational ant features that build a society. Rather, it reminds us how much of reality is mental edifice. These are the stories that are the most basic structures of our lives, and Coetzee shows in this novel how fragile these really are, and how unbearably small we feel if the narratives disappear and the world is reduced to a collection of physical laws. Davíd often says that he becomes "tiny" when he feels that he is being pushed into a world full of laws and regulations: Then he sees only the black holes he can fall into – the distance between the established words, texts and narratives. He finds the solution at the dance academy, where the teacher declares that "words are feeble – that is why we dance".

At an evening school, Davíd overhears a teacher talk about the universe, responding to her claim that "There is no beyond". «How can the woman be so sure of herself? His own opinion is that, whether or not there is a beyond, one would drown in despair were there not an idea of ​​a beyond to cling to ». This, despite the book's title, does not necessarily point to the religious, it may as well point to the art, as represented in the novel through the music, the dance and the novel itself (Davíd and Simón read the actual novel, Don Quijote). As the Financial Times' reviewer pointed out, the Academy's teachers carry the Spanish versions of the names of JS Bach and his other wife. If I know Coetzee right, it's hardly a coincidence.

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