J. M. Coetzee

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It is a good thing that life is not as serious as it seems to a waiter.
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Truth is not spoken in anger. Truth is spoken, if it ever comes to be spoken, in love.

John Maxwell Coetzee (born 1940-02-09), often called J.M. Coetzee, is a South African author (now living in Australia) and academic. A novelist and literary critic as well as a translator, Coetzee won the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature.


Disgrace (1999)

  • Although he devoted hours of each day to his new discipline, he finds its first premise, as enunciated in the Communications 101 handbook, preposterous: 'Human society has created language in order that we may communicate our thoughts, feelings, and intentions to each other.' His own opinion, which he does not air, is that the origins of speech lie in song, and the origins of song in the need to fill out with sound the overlarge and rather empty human soul.
    • p. 3-4
  • Isaacs has a cheap Bic pen in his hand. He runs his fingers down the shaft, inverts it, runs his fingers down the shaft, over and over, in a motion that is mechanical rather than impatient.
  • Talking to Petrus is like punching a bag of sand.

'Are you giving him up?' 'Yes, I am giving him up.'

Youth (2002)

  • At the Everyman Cinema there is a season of Satyajit Ray. He watches the Apu trilogy on successive nights in a state of rapt absorption. In Apu's bitter, trapped mother, his engaging, feckless father he recognizes, with a pang of guilt, his own parents. But it is the music above all that grips him, dizzyingly complex interplays between drums and stringed instruments, long arias on the flute whose scale or mode — he does not know enough about music theory to be sure which — catches at his heart, sending him into a mood of sensual melancholy that last long after the film has ended.
  • Hitherto he has found in Western music, in Bach above all, everything he needs. Now he encounters something that is not in Bach, though there are intimations of it: a joyous yielding of the reasoning, comprehending mind to the dance of the fingers. He hunts through record shops, and in one of them finds an LP of a sitar player named Ustad Vilayat Khan, with his brother — a younger brother, to judge from the picture — on a veena, and an unnamed tabla player. He does not have a gramophone of this own, but he is able to listen to the first ten minutes in the shop. It is all there: the hovering exploration of tone-sequences, the quivering emotion, the ecstatic rushes. He cannot believe his good fortune. A new continent and all for a mere nine shillings! He takes the record back to his room, packs it away between sleeves of cardboard till the day he will able to listen to it again.

Elizabeth Costello (2003)

  • She no longer believes very strongly in belief... Belief may be no more, in the end, than a source of energy, like a battery which one clips into an idea to make it run. As happens when one writes: believing whatever has to be believed in order to get the job done.

Slow Man (2004)

  • But truth is not spoken in anger. Truth is spoken, if it ever comes to be spoken, in love.
  • Can desire grow out of admiration, or are the two quite distinct species? What would it be like to lie side by side, naked, breast to breast, with a woman one principally admires?
  • 'Paul here is unhappy because unhappiness is second nature to him but more particularly because he has not the faintest idea of how to bring about his heart's desire. And I am unhappy because nothing is happening. Four people in four corners, moping, like tramps in Beckett, and myself in the middle, wasting time, being wasted by time.'
  • Why does love, even such love as he claims to practise, need the spectacle of beauty to bring it to life? What, in the abstract, do shapely legs have to do with love, or for that matter with desire? Or is that just the nature of nature, about which one does not ask questions?
  • 'Our lies reveal as much about us as our truths.'

Diary of a Bad Year (2007)

  • Someone should put together a ballet under the title Guantanamo, Guantanamo! A corps of prisoners, their ankles shackled together, thick felt mittens on their hands, muffs over their ears, black hoods over their heads, do the dances of the persecuted and the desperate. Around them, guards in olive green uniforms prance with demonic energy and glee, cattle prods and billy-clubs at the ready. They touch the prisoners with the prods and the prisoners leap; they wrestle prisoners to the ground and shove the clubs up their anuses and the prisoners go into spasms. In a corner, a man on stilts in a Donald Rumsfeld mask alternately writes at his lectern and dances ecstatic little jigs.

    One day it will be done, though not by me. It may even be a hit in London and Berlin and New York. It will have absolutely no effect on the people it targets, who could not care what ballet audiences think of them

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