In our book club, we were reading J. M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello when one of the members chimed in that she'd met Coetzee. He used to teach at the same university. "Cold, a cold man," she let everyone know. "Barely said a word at parties. He came across as not really liking people. He definitely hated chit chat."
I'm a Coetzee fan. I appreciate his mission throughout his fiction to upset your conceptual applecart. He draws on the long tradition in philosophy of being critical of modern humans for being too rational. The evidence? Disgrace, Elizabeth Costello, Diary of a Bad Year.
When should a reader let an author's private world, in this case his disposition, interfere with the reading of his or her work? I should think never; as my mother would say, "Do unto others..." Writers are flawed, certainly, as flawed as any other human being. There's a long history of the genius artist who produced great work, and yet was a schmuck as a father, a husband, a lover, a friend--fill in the blank. And yet, as a reader, I, too, am only human. I can't help but wonder: Who is the person behind the words? What mind is whirring? What heart?
I'll still read whatever Coetzee writes. I love his mind, and the questions it poses; for what comes across as his firm belief that for modern humans, art is one of the few ways we can access a feeling of pure embodiment without intellectualizing. And yet, I think pulsing in the background will be an image of him in the corner, watching, perhaps pursing his lips, as the party goes on.
Causes Nina Schuyler Supports
National Resources Defense Council