Selected academic publications
This article takes as its starting point the divergent responses that J.M. Coetzee’s Jesus trilogy (The Childhood of Jesus, The Schooldays of Jesus and The Death of Jesus) has drawn from reviewers and scholars respectively. Where reviewers have generally regarded these works’ difficulty as obstructive, scholars have taken their difficulty as both the justification and catalyst for sustained engagement. This divergence is explained, in part, as a consequence of the literacies developed by and in response to modernism – literacies which regarded difficulty as both the signature of the worthwhile artwork and as the criterion which justifies the special attention of specialized readers. If one aim of this article is to situate Coetzee and Coetzee studies within this tradition, a second aim is to ask whether the forms of attention garnered by his late trilogy are less an index of intrinsic challenges than of Coetzee’s reputation as a challenging writer. To do so is to worry the overready ascription of ‘Coetzeean’ difficulty – along with the modes of reading it tends to enlist – in order to reposition bewilderment, embarrassment and other ugly aesthetic-affects as generative for criticism.
Explicator 79.3, 2021
This article identifies Max Nordau’s controversial work of social criticism, Degeneration (1892), as a source text for the worm-man conjunction in Samuel Beckett’s novel, How It Is (1964). This overlooked debt helps us understand the novel’s preoccupation with ignorance as a product of ontological degeneration, rather than a willed attempt to “get back to ignorance”.
Literature and Theology 34.2, 2020
Despite the coy designation of ‘Interlude’, the sermon in T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral presents a nexus of tension. On the one hand, it constitutes a crucial dramatic component of a play that balances on the knife-edge between pride and humility. On the other hand, it retraces certain theological assimilations found elsewhere in Eliot’s writing which collectively shape his understanding of Christian humility and good will. In circling around recurring phrases and influences, this article traces a conceptual genealogy behind the play’s sermon and offers a revaluation of Murder in the Cathedral as the creative culmination of Eliot’s ongoing engagement with secular humanism.
Journal of Modern Literature 42.4, 2019
Beckett warned against the neatness of identification. Yet the dangers of conflation are often courted—both in the fictional worlds themselves where suffering is at a constant, and also in the sometimes overly-familiar narratives of surrounding scholarship. Given this conflict, how does humiliation—and responses to it—define Beckett’s individual “creatures”? In Molloy, despite the many likenesses between the title character and his near-doppelgänger, humiliation manifests as an ontologically determining phenomenon that disallows the conflation and consolidation of private suffering. Alongside the many instances of wretchedness and abuse, the novel quietly posits humility as ethical imperative when approaching the suffering of others.
Current Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa 31.2, 2019
The question – “how does fiction respond to nonfiction?” – implies several others. One has to do with a special kind of mimesis and asks whether formal aspects of the ‘documentary’ mode are directive for fictional modes. Another question pertains to motives. This article addresses the latter, but with an eye on criticism itself. It argues against instrumental readings that promote aesthetic values on the basis of ethical values, not because this is inherently problematic, but because such an approach risks neglecting the degree to which fiction and nonfiction alike partake in mimetic strategies that promote a ‘truth-effect’ with compelling and sometimes troubling immediacy. Without positioning it as representative of “fiction’s response”, Damon Galgut’s In A Strange Room is considered here as exemplary in its ability to disrupt the charms of mimesis through its estranging use of punctuation, self-representation, and intertextuality.
Book chapter in The New Cambridge Companion to T. S. Eliot, 2017
In the latter half of a war-torn decade, Eliot produced scores of reviews and essays but published only a handful of poems. While the most influential of his polemical pieces went on to shape literary discourse, the quatrains of Poems (1920) made but a negligible impression. In the wake of the positive reception of Prufrock and Other Observations, Eliot's formal experiments struggled to find an audience. They have been denigrated as plagiaristic, pseudo-scholarly and preparatory; they are seen to have little in common with the lyrical and psychologically poignant poems that stand on either side of these experiments. Yet Eliot's choice to trade free verse for the tautness of cross-rhymed tetrameters was deliberate. According to Ezra Pound, with whom Eliot scrutinised Théophile Gautier's quatrain poems in Émaux et Camées between 1917 and 1919, the two poets sought a way of addressing the lax formalism of their contemporaries. Eliot, perhaps less concerned with the general state of poetry than with framing his own thoughts, conceded in an interview that the “form gave the impetus to the content.” The statement is as cryptic as the content of the poetry is varied: subject matter ranges from sexual debasement to the tepidity of institutionalized religion, and the only common denominator would seem to be rhyme and rhythm. But the textual history of the quatrain poems suggests that they are also unified by an undercurrent of personal pain.
For a full list of academic publications, click here.