Corporeal Frailty in Selected Fiction by J.M. Coetzee

Hyun Oh

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The principle aim of this thesis is to investigate J.M. Coetzee’s presentation of corporeal frailty, in the forms of illness, torture, and death, which drives subjectivity to dissolve individual identity and thereby to become an impersonality, drawing on Gilles Deleuze’s theory of the self-affective and associative power of corporeality. As a South African-born writer, Coetzee’s oeuvre has frequently been examined in terms of the ethical and political contexts of (post)apartheid South Africa. Recently, with Coetzee’s move to Australia, the transpositions of corporeality relating to animals, physical disability and dying bodies have received a greater focus than the foregrounding of the politicized and historicized body. However, commentators on the issues of responsibility and corporeality tend to draw on the theoretical writings of Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida and thus address the body as a site of “Otherness” located in a transcendental position, featuring a “traumatic” or “internally split subject” divided between itself and a demand for the Other. However, these theories have not sufficiently dealt with Coetzee’s presentation of the self-dissolving and synthetic power of corporeal frailty, which offers the potential for interactions between the subject and the Other. Deleuze’s conception of corporeality engages with the non-organic and collective forces of the body without resorting to dualistic negation or dialectical materialism. Specifically, drawing on Deleuze’s theories of “masochism”, “exhaustion”, “impersonality”, “the sublime”, “meat”, “sympathetic imagination” and “becoming”, this thesis attempts to articulate how Deleuze’s theories break the Otherness of the body and thereby pose the possibility of a dynamic self-differentiating and transformative processes of corporeal frailty. To investigate the issue of corporeal frailty, my thesis aims to explore six of Coetzee’s novels through Deleuze’s theories: Waiting for the Barbarians, Life & Times of Michael K, Age of Iron, The Master of Petersburg, Disgrace and Elizabeth Costello. By analyzing Coetzee’s six novels, I will demonstrate that the subject’s corporeal frailty generates a sense of self-dissolution and thereby its transformation into the becoming-impersonal. Thus, an encounter between Coetzee’s and Deleuze’s corporeal frailty creates a new configuration of impersonality rather than an “identification” or “resemblance” between the subject and the Other, escaping the logics of sacrifice and revenge, and opening to the community to come.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Hampson, Robert, Supervisor
Award date1 Feb 2019
Publication statusUnpublished - 2 Dec 2018


  • J.M. Coetzee
  • Gilles Deleuze
  • corporeal frailty
  • impersonality
  • masochism
  • exhaustion
  • sublime
  • meat
  • sympathic imagination
  • becoming-animal

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