Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Diasporic Sensibility in J. M. Coetzee’s Youth

Dr. Anshu Pandey                                                                                                                                  
 Department of English
 C. M. P. Degree College                                                                                                                                                                       University of Allahabad Allahabad

Keywords: Cultural Reconstruction, Self-Identity, Nostalgia, Identity Crisis, Trauma

                J.M. Coetzee, a South-African novelist, translator, and critic, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003. He is the first novelist to win the Booker Prize two times, for his famous novels Life and Times of Michael K in 1983 and Disgrace in 1999. J. M. Coetzee has given us a splendid novel Youth presents the struggle and conflicts of an inhabitant surviving in different Countries Coetzee has used his own experiences and diasporic sensibility. The mental condition of the displaced immigrants has caught the imagination of several novelists. Youth indicates that Coetzee still feels like an outsider, though the ending of the novel leaves a ray of hope for readers. Coetzee has long explored themes of exile, isolation and the effects of colonialism on psyche in his literature. It cannot be said that he should be considered a diasporic writer in a literal sense. But he is always one of the first writers mentioned in any general discussion of the African Diaspora. Andrew Gurr has described this theme of diasporic receptivity argues: Deracination exile and alienation in varying forms are the conditions of existence for the modern writer over. The basic response of such conditions is search for identity, the quest for home, through self discovery or self-realization 1
                        Youth consists all of Coetzee’s thematic concerns like search for identity, cultural dislocation, isolation and alienation. Youth presents the struggle and conflicts of inhabitants surviving in different Countries. The novels of Coetzee describes that numerous people and their sense of alienation, homelessness and modernity, bitter experiences missing a sense of feel right. They may yet find themselves about to make struggle form their existence in order to achieve their personal identity. Pramod K. Nayar has explained: Much of diasporic writing explores the theme of an original home. This original home as now lost-due to their exile-is constantly worked into the imagination and myth of the displaced individual/community. Nostalgia is therefore a key theme in diasporic writing 2  
                The novel is a brilliant study of culture, relations, customs, and values, cultural, slavery is directly manifested through these characters. They fail to assimilate new culture and give up original culture in totality. The protagonist of the novel Youth, Coetzee contract with young men recently arrived in the England of the 1960s to make their way in the world. Coetzee skillfully delineates the protagonist John's dilemma, his concern and need for self-existence in the novel. He sacrifices his native values. Several insulting incidents happened with him in England. He had to suffer the typical isolation in abroad. When he was very far from his homeland he suffered from neurotic anxiety, an isolation and depression. In the Novel Youth the main character John is in departure from the racial discrimination and political unrest of South Africa. He goes to foreign land because the emotional pressures of his family. Anxiety and alienation remain as personality issues after his escape from South Africa to England.
Commenting upon the diasporic nature of the novel Minoli Salgado remarks: The novel appears to replicate the author's predicament by foregrounding a sense of banishment and impending death,  3
                Throughout the novel John travel from one place to other without a concrete and considerable survival. It can be said that the novel is an autobiographical novel as it depicts Coetzee’s life from a distance. At the end of the record, the youth is balanced at the edge of a decision to further his higher study, in linguistics in the United States. He recognizes that he and his friend from India, Ganaphy, are two sides of the same coin. Ganaphy is very sad at his separation from his mother. Coetzee has also been escaping emotional confusions in his associations to his parents. In the youth's appreciation of relationship with Ganaphy, he clarifies his own emotions and accepts a connection to another person. When he is in London, his mother writes to him letters every week, which he obtains: What does she hope to achieve by her letters, this obstinate, graceless woman? Can she not recognize that proofs of her fidelity, no matter how dogged, will never make him relent and come back? Can she not accept that he is not normal? but If he were to cut all ties, if he were not to write at all, she would draw the worst conclusion, the worst possible; and the very thought of the grief that would pierce her at that moment makes him want to block his ears and eyes. As long as she is alive he dare not die. As long as she is alive, therefore, his life is not his own. 4
                He cannot achieve a permanent identity because of his multi-cultural background. It can be said that John seems to be the shadow of Coetzee himself as he has also a multi-cultural background and has not a fixed identity. Stuart Hall states: The processes of forced and “free” migration have become a global phenomenon of the so-called “post-colonial” world. Though they seem to invoke an origin in a historical past with which they continue to correspond, actually identities are about questions of using the resources of history, language and culture in the process of becoming rather than being: not “who we are” or “where we came from,” so much as what we might become, how we have been represented and how that bears on how we might represent ourselves: not the so-called return to roots but a coming-to-terms-with our “routes.” 5
                In the novel John goes to London and discovers his real identity so he leaves his native land to get education and earn ample amount of money but surprisingly he has to lose so many things instead, like loss of identity, loss of human relation etc. He consciously pre occupied with the thought of getting success but unconsciously he is uprooted from his cultural existence. As a result of the historical shame and violence of indifference he loses his connection to the land and the history of his family home.
                        John confronts the same situation in England. Though he goes to London to get his real existence and identity but very soon he faces the reality and accepts the harsh fact that he does not need to mutineer. John tries to adjust in a new kind of life which is also not of his own and begin to lead his life with that false identity. He left behind his girlfriend in Cape Town in the miserable condition of an abortion. He was very sad and does not know how to react: He is out of his depth.  Is Sarah still due to enter a period of mourning? And what of him ? Is he too going to mourn? How long does one mourn? Does the mourning come to an end, and is one the same after the mourning as before? 6 
                In London john can find no way of forming relationships on his own proposal. Anything joys and freedom John experiences here is fragmentary. John’s problems in Youth are equally bewildering. He manages to find sexual Partners but no permanent satisfaction, and he treats the women callously and dishonestly. Near the end of the novel, he begins to speculate the condition:  All the time he has been overestimating his worth on the market, fooling him in to believing he belongs with the sculptresses and actresses when he really belongs with the kindergarten teacher on the housing estate? 8
                In South Africa, Afrikaners who behave likes English people. Although he scorns the Afrikaners and longs to be English but he could not be able to fits in the culture. His difficulties finding love or even friendship seem to stem from a coldness of personality. Coetzee thinks of Afrikaners as people in a rage all the time because their hearts are hurt. He thinks of the English as people who have not fallen into a temper because they live behind walls and guard their hearts well.
He is conscious that he is not fully accepted there. He thinks that he can make his own identity unreservedly and he began to understand that he is free to present himself as he wished. John does not have a ready explanation for his problems His life becomes worthless when he finds that he has nothing in this world to live for. He starts believing that he is alone and found himself in acute neurotic anxiety.
                It is not only John but he has also experienced the racial prejudices; the victim of this foxian hostility of the west towards the East. People go to abroad for getting money, power and prosperity and they achieve it, but in return they fail to achieve the peace, pleasure and satisfaction. In England after getting tried by leading a life of false identity John decides to find out his own identity.
The reader who is even casually familiar with Coetzee’s life story also realizes that this young man is not going to be the great writer.
                        John was terrorized by several absurd questions like, why has he come to a foreign land? What would be the advantages after suffering so much? When shall he be really happy and satisfied? Would there be any pleasure in having been educated in foreign countries leaving your native country behind? Why should the foreigners embarrass the Indian? Is it true that Indian culture is inferior to the western ones? What is ecstasy? Why has he left his dear relatives? Coetzee has successfully written this beautiful novel because he has experienced his own condition. This self-realization forces him to get back the time he has wasted. The novel Youth is in many ways a comic novel. For example the funniest passages when he examines West Indians in London and thinks: What draws them from Jamaica and Trinidad to this heartless city where the cold seeps up from the very stones of the streets, where the hours of daylight are spent in drudgery and the evenings huddled over a gas fire in a hired room with peeling walls and sagging furniture? Surely they are not all here to find fame as poets.  9
Once again, in this novel Coetzee looks over his narrator’s bear at the reader, revealing his self-importance and affectation. Why should he feel himself so much more ambitious and individually remarkable than other colonial immigrants? Coetzee tries to depict the life of his central character, John, with his passion of poetry .It seems that his poems are the dead end of his identifications when he move back from the demands of poetry writing, his first attempt at fiction is, fairly suitably, a depiction of a destroyed love affair. Mark the statements: Nameless young man who takes a nameless young woman to a beach. From some small action of hers, he is suddenly convinced she has been unfaithful; furthermore, he realizes that she has seen him now’s and does not care. . . .That is how the piece ends.  10
Coetzee scrutinizes that the story refers to a woman he knew in South Africa. She is, perhaps, Caroline, who arrives in London to follow an acting career and behaves like a stranger which includes his suspicion that the lady is engaged in other love affairs.
The novel ends in a disposition of wandering, alienated hopelessness. The character John is a successful man of twenty-four year-old computer programmer in a world. John feels more alienated person in London in comparison to Africa He realizes his failure and thinks that he has achieved nothing worthwhile in London. He compares himself with his Indian friend Ganapathy: He and Ganapathy are two sides of the same coin: Ganapathy starving not because he is cut off from Mother India but because he doesn’t eat properly … ; and he locked into an attenuating endgame, playing himself, with each move, further into a corner and into defeat. One of these days the ambulance men will call at Ganapathy’s flat And bring him out on a stretcher with a sheet over his face. When they have fetched Ganapathy they might as well come and fetch him too. 11
                        The time which he has wasted in the search of his identity he might have use it. Thus the novel concludes with the self-realization of John. All the major protagonists of Coetzee suffer from the dilemma of displacement and identity crisis. These types of people always remain busy in wandering in search of their real existence. The novel is a close analysis of a person who leaves his native land and suffers from fundamental questions of identity and existence. He leaves his native land to get education but surprisingly he has to lose so money things instead, like loss of identity, loss of human relation etc. He consciously pre occupied with the thought of getting success but unconsciously he is uprooted from his cultural existence. John an immigrant cannot identify himself either with his previous land or to his new land.
Works Cited
1.        Andrew, Gurr. Writers in Exile: The identity of Home in Modern Literature (Sussex: The Harvester Pres, 1981).p. 14
2.        Nayar, Pramod K. Postcolonial Literature: An Introduction. New Delhi: Pearson Longman, 2008. p.191.
3.        Salgado, Minoli. “The Policies of Palimpsest in The Moor's Last Sigh”. The Cambridge Companion to Salman Rushdie. Ed. Abdulrazak Gurnah. Cambridge University, Press, 2007, pp. 153-168.
4.        Coetzee, J.M. Youth (London: Secker and Warburg, 2002) p.99.
5.        Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora.” Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory. Ed. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993. Pp.392-403.
6.        Ibid.p.36
7.        Ibid .p. 78-79.
8.        Ibid. p.150.
9.        Ibid .pp. 168-169.