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The Hybrid Subject in J.M. Coetzee’s "Boyhood"
Throughout the 20th century, concepts such as identity, self, and other were consequently constructed and deconstructed and gained new areas of interest. For example, the concept of hybrid identity has become a staple of political correctness from a way of distinguishing between pure blood and tainted blood (not just from a racial perspective): nations are overvalued, while cultural and regional identities gain ground.
In this essay, I discuss race, religion, political and cultural views, etc. I propose to take a closer look at the cross-identity structures of apartheid South Africa. J. M. Coetzee is indeed a typical result of this hybridization: he is an atheist Dutchman living in Africa, going to a Catholic school with Coloreds, Americans and Russians, hardly a man among women. It is the result of a collision of histories: Dutch, Anglo-Saxon, Eastern European, African heritage merged into an artifact of cultural identity.
As mentioned earlier, personality plays a leading role in the show. It can be seen as a way of understanding both the self and the other, but throughout history it has been used as a means of subjugation in the name of imperialism. Usually one (conquest, Empire) is the point of origin, the genesis of civilization, and the other is Exotic, wild, which is interesting to the point of being dangerous to the ways of Power.
Postmodernism brought about a reversal of roles, shifting the point of view off-center, from Empire to its victims.
As seen by Foucault, power is a way to dominate the weak. According to the French philosopher, it “has no structural relation to the social as a whole, and it does not presuppose an institution as the origin of its activity” and “is not subjective even after Foucault’s archaeological analysis” (Williams, 177). not related to this or that topic. The self is now seen as a subject, as a representation of the subject, as governed (left) or constituted (middle) in a relation of Power, meaning that all kinds of discourses of power constitute the subject (Butler, 50). -1).
Childhood… is the starting point of a series of autobiographical novels. It represents the struggle of a child who cannot find his own identity, but gradually becomes a confusing vortex of different, simultaneous versions of the same Coetzee. Each version is catalyzed by a different encounter with the other, meaning that the self appears in the mirror of the other. It cannot exist without the other, it is the Frankenstein of imperialism. There is no egocentric “I”, there is no such mirror that can say “I am this” or “I am that”. The mirror became an ocean of percentages and trends.
Coetzee needs to maintain certain appearances so that his family does not see infection by foreign elements:
He shares nothing with his mother. His school life is kept very secret from him. He will know nothing of what he settles, except what appears in the quarterly report, which will be flawless. […] As long as the report is flawless, he will have no right to ask questions. (5) The great secret of his school life, the secret he told no one at home, was that he was a Roman Catholic, a Roman Catholic for all practical purposes. (18)
But it’s not just from the child’s perspective. It has a very strong geographic and cultural valence, an either/or relationship between the elements that make up society, in this case South Africa. These schizoid relationships between groups cannot be overlooked when dealing with postcolonial literature.
Not only did he hide his school/social life from his parents, but he also hid his allegiance: a series of paintings of Russian naval victories, because “liking the Russians was not part of the game, it was not allowed.” Mixing was also not allowed. Society is structured in such a way that each member plays a specific role, and the Power has ensured that they are maintained through such means as propaganda:
There are Whites, Coloreds, and Natives, of whom the Natives are most despised and ridiculed. The parallel is inescapable: Natives are the third brother.
[…] Although he gets all the history questions right in his exams, he doesn’t know to his heart’s content why Jan van Riebeeck and Simon van der Stel are so good and Lord Charles Somerset so bad. […] Andries Pretorius, Gerrit Maritz and others sound like teachers in secondary schools or Afrikaners on the radio: angry, stubborn and full of threats and talking about God. (65-66)
Coetzee is Afrikaner (Dutch), as is the majority of the South African population. There is a small English minority, “except himself and his brother, who were only English in one way” (67). Despite his appearance, he sees himself as English. Afrikaners are considered dangerous:
They use their tongue as a club against their enemies. It is best to avoid their groups in the streets; even individually there is a grim, intimidating air. […] It is inconceivable that he should ever be thrown into their midst: they will crush him, kill the spirit in him. (124-5)
Apart from racial and national discrimination, like any traditional society, South African women have a low status in society. Coetzee’s mother is not allowed to own a horse and to replace it, she buys a bicycle, ignoring her husband’s strong rebuke that women should not ride bicycles. Even when her husband is bankrupt, she cannot claim her property. She is a typical image of a woman’s social sacrifice, as she “spent a year at university before making way for her younger brothers”. (124). Coetzee stays between his parents during the fight, but although he supports his mother, he cannot be a (future) man.
The sense of repressing sexuality is also very strong: although his parents are quite open about it (his mother actually had a book about it), school officials completely refuse to even mention it. When he takes the book to school, it immediately becomes a textbook for all the boys, but when he is discovered by the authorities, he is quietly but fiercely reprimanded:
[…] his heart pounding as he waited for the announcement and the humiliation that would follow. The announcement does not come; but in every passing speech of Brother Gabriel, he finds a hidden reference to the evil he has brought to the school as a non-Catholic. (147)
In one of his most famous works, “Culture and Imperialism”, Edward Said notes that the majority of the Earth’s population has been influenced in one way or another by former empires (4). He adds that “imperialism did not end, it did not suddenly become ‘the past’ after decolonization triggered the destruction of classical empires” (341). Consequently, we are dealing with a very complex equation of History and Power:
If from the outset we accept the massively knotted and complex histories of particular, yet overlapping and interconnected experiences—of women, of Westerners, of blacks, of nation-states, and of cultures—to give each and all of them a specific intellectual cause there is no particular intellectual reason for ideal and essentially separate status. However, as long as we preserve a part of human society and the actual races that contribute to its formation and are a part of it all, we would like to preserve what is unique about each. (16)
Therefore, Coetzee does not belong to any individual group, but is the eclectic result of a hybrid society with a unique identity, of which he is a part of all. Homi Bhabha defines this rhetoric of hybridity as “the locus of culture”: hybridity is a limited paradigm of colonial anxiety. Therefore, colonial hybridity is a “cultural form” that “creates uncertainty in colonial masters and thus alters the authority of authority.” Also, Bakhtin’s polyphony is very popular in folklore and anthropological studies. (Wikipedia, Hybridity).
By using the 3rd person to refer to himself, Coetzee manages to create distance between a character and the objective audience, but at the same time he cannot escape himself. What it is may be impossible to determine through introspection, but when you add the other(s) into the equation, the result tends to be apparent: JM Coetzee.
Coetzee, JM Boyhood, Scenes from Provincial Life. London: Vintage, 1998
Rohmann Chris. A Dictionary of Important Ideas and Thinkers. London: Arrow Books, 2002
Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism. London: Vintage, 1994
Butler, Christopher. Postmodernism, A Brief Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002
Williams Caroline. Modern French Philosophy. London: Athlone Press, 2001
Hybridity. Wikipedia link
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