The conference “Travelling Texts: Encounters of Literatures” (13–15 March 2014) aimed at exploring mutual influences and inspirations between authors. The focus of the conference was the South African writer J.M. Coetzee, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in literature in 2003. This conference provided a forum for scholars with a strong interest in the works of J.M. Coetzee throughout the world.
In my presentation, I showed how the thematic linkage observed in J.M. Coetzee’s In the Heart of the Country and Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing is related to the notion of indigenous violence in South Africa. The two writers have both demonstrated how the status of the white masters is challenged in colonized rural South Africa. Besides analyzing how white sovereignty is substituted by indigenous patriarchy, I show how the confinement of white women to domesticity victimizes them. As African indigenous servants become inseparable from white households through working on their farms, they revive indigenous patriarchy at the expense of white sovereignty. Eventually, they subordinate the domesticated Anglo-European woman masters through imposing violence upon them. The terror that emerges in the domestic setting is subsequently allegorized as the failure of the traditional gendering of Anglo-European families which exposes women to retributive punishment when indigenous patriarchy strikes back and substitutes white sovereignty.
I benefited greatly from this 3-day conference. The presentation stimulated the writing of my PhD dissertation. Besides this, the question and answer session and exchanges throughout the conference allowed me to have a better understanding of the perception of J.M. Coetzee around the world.
I also benefited from several presentations that gave me a different understanding on various notions related to Coetzee and his works. One of the keynote speakers, Zbigniew Bialas, provided conference participants with an updated piece of information on the biographical root of J.M. Coetzee. He pointed out that Coetzee recently realized that he is off Polish descent , though he used to believe in his German origin.
Several presenters worked on the analysis of J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and some did point out the incapability of the English language in the South African milieu. Lilia Miroshnychenko from Ukraine remarked that the above observation shows how words become incompetent to express the complexity of the modern world.
Garfield Lau is a PhD student in the Department of English Language and Literature at Hong Kong Baptist University. Her thesis is about the depiction of family and violence in African Anglophone narratives.