GIVING OFFENSES by J.M. Coetzee

GIVING OFFENSES

Essays on Censorship
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

These closely argued essays on censorship's insidious subtleties make for dense but rewarding reading. As a noted South African writer under apartheid, Coetzee (The Master of Petersburg, 1994, etc.) long suffered the stifling shadow of the censor. Indeed, almost half of the essays in this collection concern South Africa's particular brand of censorship and how it was leveled at fellow writers such as Andre Brink and Breyten Breytenbach. Broadening his examination, Coetzee also looks at Solzhenitsyn's struggles with the Soviet state, undercuts Catherine MacKinnon's dogmatic anti-pornography stance, deconstructs D.H. Lawrence's belief in breaking taboos, and closely reads the works of several writers operating under censorship conditions. Those looking for simple, ringing denunciations of censorship's evils will be disappointed. Coetzee explicitly rejects such noble tritenesses. Instead, drawing on the works of modern theorists such as Lacan, Foucault, and Girard, he pursues censorship's deeper, more fickle meanings and unmeanings. In his essay on the South African Publications Appeal Board, for example, he reveals the unreasoning paranoia that governs even the most "enlightened" censorship. In other words, censorship can never be a wholly rational act. Almost every page is thick with such provocative insights and ideas, but Coetzee does not always do his arguments justice. Unlike his lucid, elegant fictions, here he is often unnecessarily opaque and obscure. He has the South African intellectual's fatal fondness for academic jargon (though not the usual accompanying cant), and his logic occasionally short-circuits. But his erudition and intelligence remain truly formidable throughout. And as Coetzee's own experience has shown, censorship ultimately fights a losing battle: "The artist, if he is patient enough and persistent enough, always wins, or at least emerges on the winning side."
Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-226-11174-1
Page count: 294pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1996




MORE BY J.M. COETZEE

NonfictionLATE ESSAYS by J.M. Coetzee
by J.M. Coetzee
FictionTHE SCHOOLDAYS OF JESUS by J.M. Coetzee
by J.M. Coetzee
NonfictionTHE GOOD STORY by J.M. Coetzee
by J.M. Coetzee

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionCENSORS AT WORK by Robert Darnton
by Robert Darnton