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Ian Glenn and Imraan Coovadia Clash Over Coovadia’s Review of JM Coetzee: A Life in Writing

JM CoetzeeLast month Imraan Coovadia, associate professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at UCT, reviewed JC Kannemeyer’s biography JM Coetzee: A Life in Writing, expressing his dissatisfaction with the book.

Ian Glenn, head of The Centre for Film and Media Studies at UCT, took exception to Coovadia’s views and wrote a critical response, calling Coovadia’s review “hostile” and disputing some of the points that he made. In his response, Glenn refers to a Pierre Bourdieu quote that links cultural analysis with psychoanalysis, saying that Coovadia did not mean for his review to form part of the scholarship on Coetzee but rather that it was a “an attempt to reshape the literary field” and that “personal academic antipathies almost always reflect larger struggles in the field”.

Read Coovadia’s review here and see Glenn’s response below:

Coovadia and the attack on Coetzee

Imraan Coovadia, novelist, associate professor in the English Department at the University of Cape Town, and teacher in its creative writing programme, has written a controversial essay on JM Coetzee, novelist, former academic in the English Department at the University of Cape Town and one of the founders of the creative writing programme there. This essay was first published in Kritika Kultura, an electronic journal from the Philippines, and reprinted in Transformations, a collection of Coovadia’s essays. Coovadia has subsequently written a hostile review in the Mail & Guardian of Kannemeyer’s posthumously published life of Coetzee. My argument here will be that Coovadia’s essay is less interesting as cultural critique than it is as sociological evidence of the state of the South African literary and cultural field.

Omar Badsha published Coovadia’s response to Glenn’s criticism on his public Facebook page. In it Coovadia questions Glenn’s use of Bourdieu, asking “Why doesn’t he take off the mask of Bourdieu and take responsibility for his opinions?”. Coovadia goes on to say that “Glenn should have taken the trouble to read the Kannemeyer biography, rather than pretending to have read it” and says that this swapping of articles has come after “a long and unnecessary feud” between the two of them at the university. He then points out Glenn’s “barely concealed joy in being able to make a pseudo-intellectual argument about members of a “minority group” resorting to “denigration, malicious gossip and innuendo”.

Coovadia’s response sparked a flurry of comments on the post:

Let’s start with the easy part. I was misinformed about Coetzee’s middle name but my point about his use of initials stands. The date for Dusklands and the description of an adjective as an adverb are corrected in the book version of the essay. Nowhere do I say that Eliot’s Wasteland is a pure stretch of dialogue. I don’t reject the value of apocalyptic fiction. I don’t argue that Coetzee limited his research to computational studies. I don’t define Coetzee as a reactionary, nor do I accuse him of being a collaborator, but try to assess his mixed relationship to his political situation. I suggest that Coetzee’s writing in the 1980s and 1990s was the most interesting in the world. If this is such stringent criticism then Ian Glenn’s standards of tenderness are high.

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Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    January 7th, 2013 @12:33 #

    ...some pretty hot stuff in that Facebook thread...

  • Jonah
    January 7th, 2013 @13:16 #

    Those interested in this discussion should definitely read Coovadia's original article on Coetzee in Kritika Kultura:

  • Jonah
    January 8th, 2013 @10:49 #

    I should have been clearer - what I meant to say was that this article is somewhat misleading, because it claims that Glenn's article was a response to Coovadia's review of Kannemeyer, without mentioning Coovadia's article in Kritika Kultura. But in fact, Glenn is primarily responding to the Kritika Kultura essay, rather than the review of Kannemeyer. So people interested in this exchange really should read Coovadia's Kritika Kultura piece.

  • Amitava
    April 29th, 2013 @05:48 #

    On the original Coovadia's review of Kannemeyer:

    The review is full of personal attacks and a display of Coovadia's expensive education and who is somewhat claiming to know the history of South Africa by heart, when he was a transplant himself. I am an admirer of Coetzee's books, I am really hurt. A writer is doing what he is best at. It seems he was not in a very friendly place, I had a different idea.


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