The Ecological Thought of J. M. Coetzee: The Case of Life and Times of Michael K
This paper argues that J. M. Coetzee’s 1983 novel Life and Times of Michael K is informed by a rich and early ecological vision that has not been adequately considered so far. It argues that Coetzee demonstrates an interest in all living organisms and pays attention to their environment and interaction. It is argued that Coetzee’s ethicopolitical vision is not limited to humans and that minor forms of life like plants and animals are as significant as human life on earth. The result is that the “non-human other” is never ignored in Coetzee, which testifies to the importance of a broad philosophical vision that acknowledges rather than subsumes difference. This paper, hence, makes a connection between Coetzee’s ecological vision and his ethicopolitical attention to otherness. The result is what we can call Coetzee’s “ecological postcolonialism.” In addition, my argument explores and defends an often underplayed theme in Coetzee’s fiction, namely that of gardening. While some recent Coetzee scholarship has acknowledged the significant presence of animals in his fiction, that of vegetation remains by far underplayed. In Coetzee’s vision, plants and landscapes are unduly ignored and exploited in times of political strife, which accounts for Coetzee’s ecocritical—and by implication political—relevance. In other words, Coetzee’s ecological vision—I seek to prove—is still richly political as an inveigh against various forms of injustice, including but not limited to apartheid.
Key words: Coetzee; Fiction; Ecology; Life and Times of Michael K; Postcolonialism; Ethics; Politics; Ecocriticism
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