The Swedish Academy has this morning announced that this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to South African novelist J. M. Coetzee. From the New York Times:

In its citation, the academy spoke of the “well-crafted composition, pregnant dialogue and analytical brilliance” of Mr. Coetzee’s novels.

“But at the same time,” it said, “he is a scrupulous doubter, ruthless in his criticism of the cruel rationalism and cosmetic morality of Western civilization.” It added, “It is in exploring weakness and defeat that Coetzee captures the divine spark in man.”

I am working with a student this semester who is writing his senior thesis in part on Coetzee, and so have been trying to catch up in my reading of his work. It’s a nice confluence, and this citation reveals one of those moments at which the Nobel’s evident political underpinnings are put to admirable use.


  1. Despite the critics, my father has little interest in politics and cultural leanings. He is more interested, I suspect, in exploring human nature and in what motivates people to be who they are.

    Sincerely, Gisela Coetzee

  2. For fools admire but men of sense approve, to quote Alexander Pope. However, to simply say that I approve of the works of JM Coetzee seems an understatement too far. For a young South African who wishes to write meaningful beautiful novels the shadow cast by Coetzee is a dark one indeed; how to find one’s way to the lighter ground of originality, how to shake off the shackles of influence is a most vexing problem. I read and reread his novels and critical essays. The learning and craftsmanship which informs his work is inexhaustible in its ability to provide inspiration.

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