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The Incurious Seeker: Waiting, and the Search for the Stranger in the Fiction of Samuel Beckett and J.M. Coetzee

Mike Marais

Abstract


This article argues against Patrick Hayes’s assertion that the principal difference between Samuel Beckett’s and J.M. Coetzee’s writing lies in the former’s solipsism and the latter’s attempt to imagine the ‘good community.’ I demonstrate that the search for the lost self that is thematized in much of Beckett’s fiction is a search for that from which the seeker has been estranged by community. At the same time, I contend that this Beckettian quest is also present in Coetzee’s writing, where it takes the form of a search for the lost, abandoned, or unborn child. The difference, though, is that, in Coetzee’s work, the search for this stranger is inextricably related to the presence of community’s outsider: the foreigner. In order to find the lost child, the seeker has to see the foreigner not as a foreigner, and therefore the bearer of the differences through which community constructs itself, but as a stranger. In other words, an unlimited form of hospitality is required of the seeker. This ethic of hospitality, which is closely related to the notion of waiting in Beckett’s writing, cannot but threaten community since the foreigner can only be received as a stranger by disabling the differences that enable community. In this argument, then, a community is only ‘good’ if it constantly calls itself into question and thereby renders itself incomplete.

Keywords


Samuel Beckett; J.M. Coetzee; Jacques Derrida; waiting; hospitality; stranger; foreigner; community; language; selfhood; identity

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