In the Heart of the Country and Pain: Re-reading Space, Gender and Affect


This essay offers a new spatial reading of In the Heart of the Country. It explores J. M. Coetzee’s interest in grounding white female narrators in heterotopic spaces which, while marked by terror and racial divisions, simultaneously enforce proximity and intimacy across the racial bar. It shows that grounding Magda within the specific phenomenology of the farm enables Coetzee to explore a set of traumatic double-binds which are not only discursive but also sensorial, psychic as well as affective. It concludes by arguing that the strong self-referentiality of the novel can itself be read as an affective symptom, the trace of psychic parceling which happens at the intersection of space, symbol and traumatic power relations.

J. M. Coetzee’s early female narrators – Magda in In the Heart of the Country (1977), Susan in Foe (1986) and Mrs Curren in Age of Iron (1990) – share a number of thematic tropes and narratological patterns They all write in the first person, privileging private genres such as the diary or the letter. They write from spaces which elicit a sense of loss, separation, or entrapment. Magda, for instance, writes from the room of an isolated farm in the middle of the Karoo semi-desert; Susan in Foe is a castaway on Cruso’s island and writes letters to Foe. Mrs Curren is not a castaway but she writes letters to her exiled daughter in America from a position of physical vulnerability as she is dying of cancer and becomes increasingly impaired in her mobility. Moreover, all three female narrators, although victims of a patriarchal system, write from a privileged…

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Published 25 February 2018 in Thematising Women in the Work of J. M. Coetzee. Subjects: Gender - Literary portrayal, Women - Literary portrayal, J.M. Coetzee, Phenomenological reading, Space.

Cite as: Borzaga, Michela. ‘In the Heart of the Country and Pain: Re-reading Space, Gender and Affect.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 33, no. 1, 2018, doi: 10.20314/als.21a46440e3.