Giving Offense by J. M. Coetzee
Essays on Censorship

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Synopsis

Winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature.

J. M. Coetzee presents a coherent, unorthodox analysis of censorship from the perspective of one who has lived and worked under its shadow. The essays collected here attempt to understand the passion that plays itself out in acts of silencing and censoring. He argues that a destructive dynamic of belligerence and escalation tends to overtake the rivals in any field ruled by censorship.

From Osip Mandelstam commanded to compose an ode in praise of Stalin, to Breyten Breytenbach writing poems under and for the eyes of his prison guards, to Aleksander Solzhenitsyn engaging in a trial of wits with the organs of the Soviet state, Giving Offense focuses on the ways authors have historically responded to censorship. It also analyzes the arguments of Catharine MacKinnon for the suppression of pornography and traces the operations of the old South African censorship system.

"The most impressive feature of Coetzee's essays, besides his ear for language, is his coolheadedness. He can dissect repugnant notions and analyze volatile emotions with enviable poise."—Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

"Those looking for simple, ringing denunciations of censorship's evils will be disappointed. Coetzee explicitly rejects such noble tritenesses. Instead . . . he pursues censorship's deeper, more fickle meanings and unmeanings."—Kirkus Reviews

"These erudite essays form a powerful, bracing criticism of censorship in its many guises."—Publishers Weekly

"Giving Offense gets its incisive message across clearly, even when Coetzee is dealing with such murky theorists as Bakhtin, Lacan, Foucault, and René; Girard. Coetzee has a light, wry sense of humor."—Bill Marx, Hungry Mind Review

"An extraordinary collection of essays."—Martha Bayles, New York Times Book Review

"A disturbing and illuminating moral expedition."—Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times Book Review
 

About J. M. Coetzee

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Born in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 9, 1940, John Michael Coetzee studied first at Cape Town and later at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a Ph.D. degree in literature. In 1972 he returned to South Africa and joined the faculty of the University of Cape Town. His works of fiction include Dusklands, Waiting for the Barbarians, which won South Africa’s highest literary honor, the Central News Agency Literary Award, and the Life and Times of Michael K., for which Coetzee was awarded his first Booker Prize in 1983. He has also published a memoir, Boyhood: Scenes From a Provincial Life, and several essays collections. He has won many other literary prizes including the Lannan Award for Fiction, the Jerusalem Prize and The Irish Times International Fiction Prize. In 1999 he again won Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize for Disgrace, becoming the first author to win the award twice in its 31-year history. In 2003, Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
 
Published April 15, 1996 by University Of Chicago Press. 297 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences, Literature & Fiction, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Giving Offense

Publishers Weekly

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In South African novelist Coetzee's intriguing theory, censorship arises out of a paranoid mentality when a dominant class, church or state, lashing out in fear from a sense of latent powerlessness, suppresses a writer or artist whose truth-telling gives offense.

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Publishers Weekly

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The South African writer teases out the implications of cases like Osip Mandelstam's ode to Stalin and Catharine MacKinnon's anti-pornography crusades.

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Project MUSE

Readers conveniently discard Cronjé's work once the very theory that sustains the state, the reader, and the author becomes too exposed by the very writers, like Cronjé, they once celebrated, making Cronjé into a pathetic spectacle clamoring for the readers he once possessed.

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Project MUSE

Certainly, if Coetzee turns out to be offended by my remark, this may well be because it compromises his dignity and his scholarly standing, and with it his reputation and power.

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