Articulating Substance: on Silence and Namelessness in J.M. Coetzee’s Foe and Life & Times of Michael K
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Within postcolonial theory, the issue of gaining a voice has been very important. As Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin explain in The Post-Colonial Studies Reader (2008), language has the power to provide, because of its function of naming, a means for knowing the world that surrounds us (with, in a colonial situation, the surrounding world being a colonized place or people): “To name the world is to „understand‟ it, to know it and to have control over it. (…) To name reality is therefore to exert power over it (…).” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, Tiffin 2008: 261). The one that names is able to understand the world and control it; he or she is in a subject position. Thus, in a postcolonial situation, a way for the colonized to take back control over their world is to name it; to make their voice heard, where at first the voice of the colonizers was made heard loudest. This emphasis on the importance of having a voice sheds an interesting light on the fictions of J.M. Coetzee. Many of his novels contain characters that have trouble speaking or do not speak at all: characters without a voice. This thesis explores the idea that, even though Coetzee‟s (nearly) silent characters do not have a (strong) voice, it seems possible to attribute a certain positive value to their silence. Their silence seems to be important, rather than a problem. It is this importance of silence, within the novels Foe and Life & Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee, and the way in which this perspective on silence differs from the usual perspective within postcolonial thinking, that this thesis addresses.