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Genre Crossings: J.M. Coetzee in World Literature - ENG00090H

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. David Attwell
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20

Module summary

J.M. Coetzee is an artist’s artist, or a novelist’s novelist, often described as the most important living writer (sometimes ‘in English,’ sometimes just ‘writer’). Why? Apart from the fact that he writes near-perfect prose, some of it has to do with his internationalism (he is especially good on Empire and its aftermaths); some of it with what is called his intermediality (with music, opera, photography, and film); and some of it with interdisciplinarity (philosophers are just as interested in him as literary critics).

This module is interested in the Coetzee who is never satisfied with the hand that’s dealt him via the established genres of fiction, because in every work he reinvents the rules. He is therefore an experimental writer, but the experiments are not ends in themselves. As Kafka once said of the purposes of fiction, he breaks the ice to release the frozen sea inside us. The module looks at the high points in Coetzee’s oeuvre, from the early to late fiction, exploring fiction-as-parody, dream topographies, the metafictional picaresque, the gendering of Robinson Crusoe, fictionalized memoirs, the postcolonial farm, the essay-as-fiction and fiction-as-essay, and writing ‘beyond history’ through a re-imagining of Jesus. 

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2019-20

Module aims

The module will appeal to anyone interested in studying an especially powerful and enigmatic authorship. It will be particularly relevant to those who might want to venture into fiction-writing themselves. It aims to explore the genres of contemporary fiction through close study of a single author’s adaptations, critiques, parodies, and reinventions. That Coetzee is a postcolonial writer does not mean that his influence is limited to the field of postcolonialism; it extends to the connections between novel-writing and history, philosophy, ethics, and our perceptions of animal being. The module aims to elucidate the resourcefulness and the dedication to craft of a major writer.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with a range of fictional experiments by a Nobel laureate.
  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with the work of an author exploring post-realism, metafiction, autobiography, parody, and essay-as-fiction.
  3. Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields of the contemporary novel, literary theory, life-writing and postcoloniality.
  4. Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 3500 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will be given the opportunity to hand in a 1000 word formative essay in the term in which the module is taught (usually in the week 7 seminar). Material from this essay may be re-visited in your summative essay and it is therefore an early chance to work through material that might be used in assessed work.

This essay will be submitted in hard copy and your tutor will annotate it and return it two weeks later (usually in your week 9 seminar). Summary feedback will be uploaded to your eVision account.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 3500 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

  • You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours  
  • For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment

Indicative reading

By J.M. Coetzee: Dusklands, In the Heart of the Country, Waiting for the Barbarians, Life & Times of Michael K, Foe, Disgrace, Elizabeth Costello, Diary of a Bad Year, Summertime, The Childhood of Jesus.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.