Beyond the Ancient Quarrel: Literature, philosophy and J.M. Coetzee
Oxford University Press, $112.95 hb, 264 pp, 9780198805281
Beyond the Ancient Quarrel: Literature, philosophy and J.M. Coetzee is a new collection of essays on J.M. Coetzee, perhaps the most important author of imaginative literature in the world today. Unifying the diverse strands of argument animating this thoughtful volume, the book’s editors, noted Coetzee scholars Patrick Hayes and Jan Wilm, link the aims of the collection to the ‘ancient quarrel’ between philosophy and literature in Greek antiquity. In their view, Coetzee’s writing can be taken not only to re-examine this quarrel and the way it was settled (in favour of philosophy and against literature in Plato’s Republic), but also, and more importantly, to break with the uneasy truce that has been deemed to govern intellectual life ever since.
In assaying such difficult ground, the volume is enriched by the contribution of several philosophers who use Coetzee either as a foil for an independent investigation or as a sympathetic agent of reform based on what can be known of his commitments. With all this in mind, the reader is not offered straightforward enlightenment of Coetzee’s works and concerns. The collection, indeed, is very much one for the philosophically minded and the specialist – readers well versed in Coetzee’s dense and eclectic worlds of spare prose, unresolved plotlines, and proliferating intellectual complexity.