Innovations and Reproductions in Cultures and Societies
(IRICS) Vienna, 9 - 11 december 2005

<< Postcolonial innovations and transformations: Putting language in the forefront

A silent resistance: J. M. Coetzee’s Life & Times of Michael K

Lily Saint (The Graduate Center, City University of New York, USA)



In Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature, Deleuze and Guattari (1986) propose a revolutionary kind of writing, a minor literature, which “doesn’t come from a minor language; it is rather that which a minority constructs within a major language” (16). Using this concept as a springboard to an analysis of J.M. Coetzee’s novel Life and Times of Michael K, I will examine the central role that imagination must play in fictional creations which attempt to forge a minor voice within a major language, to represent the underrepresented and silenced ones of history. A comparison between Toni Morrison and Coetzee will help us to understand the philosophical and ethical decisions that an author must make when seeking to supply a voice for the voiceless. Morrison’s project has consistently been to “rip that veil drawn over ‘proceedings too terrible to relate’” and Coetzee’s novel, Michael K, does this — relentlessly forcing the reader to confront the protagonist’s lifetime of tragic experiences (191). While Morrison wants to give a voice to those who “were silent about many things,” Coetzee’s novels reveal a deep suspicion of the spoken word’s ability to rectify the tragic abuses of history (191). Indeed, his novel teeters on the edge of a large silent chasm, which questions the very notion and function of self-expression.

This paper will explore language’s limitations, and with a particular focus on language reverberating in the aftermath of colonialism, I shall attempt to argue that an appropriation and métissage of the spoken and written word may not be sufficient. Language can only be used justly when it emanates from a being free to be silent.


Deleuze, Giles, and Félix Guattari. Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. Trans. Dana Polan. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986.

Morrison, Toni. “The Site of Memory.” Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir. Ed. William Zinsser. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

Innovationen und Reproduktionen in Kulturen und Gesellschaften (IRICS) Wien, 9. bis 11. Dezember 2005

WEBDESIGN: Peter R. Horn 2005-10-06