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8 March 2013

J.M. Coetzee, Jesus Christ & a visit to Adelaide

Lying prone in a front room of a Melbourne suburb, I’m reading this J.M. Coetzee essay about Aussie poet Les Murray. I did not previously know of Murray or his poems — my bad, my loss, he is apparently “the leading Australian poet of his generation.” Could be! At least I was quite struck by these lines excerpted in Coetzee’s piece:

(bird minds and ours are so pointedly visual):

a field all foreground, and equally all background,

like a painting of equality. Of infinite detailed extent

like God’s attention. Where nothing is diminished by perspective.

It’s interesting the way artists put themselves in God’s shoes. For example, here’s one impressionistic flash from Adelaide Writer’s Week¬†which took place simultaneous with Brassland’s program at Adelaide Festival. Coetzee now resides in Adelaide. He relocated there in 2002, just after retiring from his university position in South Africa, and just before winning the Nobel prize. Yet he seems, at best, a phantom presence.

For example, something of a recluse, Coetzee declined to appear in support of his new novel which has something to do with Jesus Christ. (Guilty as charged: I have not read it…yet.) He did, however, supply the festival with 75 signed copies of his book, a number of which remained unsold at the festival’s conclusion Thursday night. (Evidence pictured above.)

I’m a fan of Coetzee — especially his memoirs — and while the chilly nature of his prose is one of its appeals — his distance — I could not help but see a bit of comedy (unselfconscious self-parody?) in this gesture and in this state of affairs: a pile of unsold author signed copies on a work about Jesus. I may be giving undue credit for the good humor of the work itself. For example, in a summary of the book from Wikipedia:

The Childhood of Jesus, as its title was later revealed to be, was released March 2013, and concerning the early life of Jesus, particularly his struggles to free himself from the iron-fisted discipline of his long-suffering parents, get the girl, earn a decent wage, and find his place in an unforgiving world.

“Get the girl”?

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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