Doubling the point on Dusklands: J.M. Coetzee's dogged quest for a post-Cartesian, embodied and inter-subjective consciousness

In addition to what has been said about J.M. Coetzee's first and seminal novel since its publication in 1974, one could argue that, in some of his writings, Coetzee consistently contends that a Cartesian ontology could have been responsible for the legitimisation of a wide range of discriminato...

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Published in: Scrutiny 2 Vol. 19; no. 2; pp. 71 - 82
Main Author: Mfune, Damazio
Format: Journal Article
Language: English
Afrikaans
Published: South Africa Routledge 07-03-2014
Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group
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Summary: In addition to what has been said about J.M. Coetzee's first and seminal novel since its publication in 1974, one could argue that, in some of his writings, Coetzee consistently contends that a Cartesian ontology could have been responsible for the legitimisation of a wide range of discriminatory and exploitative practices. Among the practices Coetzee singles out are political and economic colonialism, ecological colonialism and gender discrimination. From the seventeenth century onwards, the Cartesian outlook has dominated Western thinking and praxis. Coupled with biological and social Darwinism, and Hegelian phenomenology, these ushered in a highly mechanised, but instrumentalist and utterly morally deficient and alienating era in human history. In book after book, through a series of Cartesian characters whom he invariably satirises, Coetzee delineates the Cartesian trajectory and its consequences, but also explores ways of transcending this illusory ontology. Part of this exploration involves the possibility of an embodied and inter-subjective consciousness which arises from, and is capable of, both the sympathetic and empathetic imagination. These forms of imagination - which are at the centre of an understanding of inter-subjectivity - are seen as a counter to the alienating and brutalising consequences of a Cartesian ontology. What may need emphasising, however, is that discrimination and exploitation are not a preserve of a Cartesian ontology; they are consequences of our ignorance of the constitution of a proper and valid process of consciousness-formation and they manifest themselves in such practices as regionalism, ethnicity, tribalism and sexism. However, because in Dusklands Coetzee deals with the larger geo/eco-politics, my analysis will also go along with his trajectory.
ISSN: 1812-5441
1753-5409
DOI: 10.1080/18125441.2014.958923