Serving ‘a Male Philosophy’? Elizabeth Costello’s Feminism and Coetzee’s Dialogues with Joyce


In this essay, I show that J. M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello is shaped fundamentally by an engagement with Joyce’s Ulysses. However, the relationship between the two does not reveal itself in the rewriting of Joyce’s ‘Penelope’ that Costello’s literary and feminist reputation relies on, but through a range of references to ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, the ninth episode of Ulysses set in the National Library of Ireland and populated exclusively by men. Elizabeth Costello alludes to ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, I argue, because its philosophical dialogue, its dramatic form, its preoccupation with creativity, its investment in the life and reputation of the writer, and its attentiveness to the materiality of writing, offer Coetzee a model for his literary-philosophical experiments of the period. Drawing on archival evidence and published sources, the essay explores the apparent contradiction between Costello’s avowed feminist reclamation of Molly Bloom and the consistent intertextual engagement with ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, positioning the question of gender centrally within Coetzee’s broader engagement with philosophy in this period.

J.M. Coetzee’s authorial avatar Elizabeth Costello not only enjoys, like her creator, a significant international reputation as a writer, but an international reputation as a feminist writer.1 She ‘made her name’, we are told on the opening page of Elizabeth Costello (2003), with the 1969 novel The House on Eccles Street, whose main character is Molly Bloom, wife of Leopold Bloom in James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) (1). According to Susan Moebius, an academic who interviews Costello in the opening lesson, The House on Eccles Street is a ‘path-breaking’ feminist work, part of ‘the project of reclaiming women’s lives in general’ (12). Costello herself insists that she is not ‘challenging Joyce’, as Moebius claims, but her description of Molly Bloom plays into Moebius’s reading, while converging metaphorically with her recent commitment to animal welfare: ‘Queen bee, bitch . . . a lioness . . . stalking the streets, smelling the smells, seeing the sights. Looking for prey, even. Yes, I wanted to liberate her from that house, and particularly from that bedroom, with the bed with the creaking springs, and turn her loose – as you say – on Dublin’ (13).

Costello’s sensual, animalistic, and gendered description retains and intensifies the bodily preoccupations of ‘Penelope’, the final episode of Ulysses narrated from the point of view of Molly Bloom and acclaimed, as Moebius points out, ‘as the authentic voice of the feminine’ (14). Indeed, if Costello’s feminist reputation relies on her rewriting of Molly Bloom, we might assume that it would reveal itself in further allusions to ‘Penelope’ in Coetzee’s novel. Instead, by taking Molly out of the house, Costello – and Coetzee – appear to leave almost all direct reference to ‘Penelope’ behind. Nor is there any hint, beyond the predatory behaviour described above, of the public life imagined by Costello for Molly. Reading through the imaginary intertext of The House on Eccles Street, we learn little about the source of Costello’s literary reputation and feminist credentials. In fact, relying on Moebius’s assessment, Costello’s feminism seems deliberately clichéd (‘women’s lives in general’), placing the importance of her engagement with Joyce in doubt.

In this essay, I will show that Elizabeth Costello is nonetheless shaped fundamentally by a profound engagement with Joyce’s Ulysses. However, this relationship will not reveal itself, as we might expect, in a rewriting of Joyce’s ‘Penelope’, but through a range of references to ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, the ninth episode of Ulysses set in the National Library of Ireland and populated exclusively by men. If the relationship to Ulysses remains intact in this reading, it nevertheless raises serious questions about the nature of Costello’s acclaimed feminism and its apparent roots in a reworking of Joyce’s Molly Bloom.

Curious forms of Joycean identification are invited in Elizabeth Costello. Costello speculates in ‘Eros’ that her ‘wanderings around Dublin with that irremediably ordinary man’ make her ‘Elizabeth Bloom, second and ghostly wife of’ Leopold, hinting that her activities as reader and then writer have allowed her to displace Molly (190). Coetzee’s readers have likewise sought clues to Costello’s Molly in the character of Costello herself, thus shifting the act of rewriting from Costello as author-character onto Coetzee as author – the kind of identification between author and character that is consistently invited and complicated across the novel, and embodied in the early performances of the Costello stories when J. M. Coetzee read them aloud to various audiences. On the other hand, Joyce scholar Margot Norris writes in a review of Elizabeth Costello titled ‘Not a Bit Like Molly Bloom’, that ‘Coetzee could not have invented a woman more unlike Joyce’s Molly Bloom than his fictional novelist: an austere, humorless, exacting moralizer’ (1). Norris points out that Costello’s reputation as Molly’s feminist saviour relies on a reading of Ulysses that is fundamentally out of step with feminist scholarship on Joyce’s novel, in which Molly has long been ‘an intelligent woman with a musical career and a sharp critical edge to her thinking’ – qualities that Moebius attributes to Costello’s rather than Joyce’s Molly (Coetzee 14, Norris 1). Moebius’s account of Costello’s feminist rewriting, in other words, relies on an ironically unreconstructed Joyce.

In what follows, I will offer an account of the ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ episode of Ulysses, an episode in which literary reputation is the exclusive preserve of male writers and thinkers, dead and alive. I will then draw on published and archival sources to illustrate the extent to which Coetzee’s work of the late 1990s and early 2000s is in dialogue with it. Elizabeth Costello alludes to ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, I will argue, because its philosophical dialogue, its dramatic form, its preoccupation with creativity, its investment in the life and reputation of the writer, and its attentiveness to the materiality of writing, offer Coetzee a model for his literary-philosophical experiments of the period. The question that remains, however, is why, from the opening page, Elizabeth Costello invites us to read its relationship to Joyce’s Ulysses as a feminist rewriting of ‘Penelope’, thus obscuring its engagement with the all-male ‘Scylla and Charybdis’? This is especially puzzling given the apparently caustic treatment of feminism’s mouthpiece, the one-dimensional Susan Moebius.2 Is Costello, a female character invented by a male author, only ironically one of Moebius’s ‘other women whom we think of as having been given a voice by male writers, in the name of their liberation, yet in the end only to serve a male philosophy’ (14)?

I will suggest that there is more than a merely ironic feminism at work in Elizabeth Costello. If, as I argue, Coetzee’s experiments with the philosophical dialogue are mediated to a significant extent through Joyce, then the apparent contradiction between Costello’s avowed feminist reclamation of Molly Bloom and the consistent intertextual engagement with ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ positions the question of gender centrally within Coetzee’s broader engagement with philosophy in this period, including the philosophy of animal welfare. Laura Wright’s attentiveness to ‘the text of Coetzee’s performance of Elizabeth Costello’ shows that ‘Coetzee performs femininity and enacts embodiment in ways that counteract the masculinized notion of intellectual production’ in the service of her vegetarian politics (200, 207). I will draw on my reading of Coetzee’s engagement with Joyce as well as archival sources to build on Wright’s work, arguing that gender and embodied performance are central to Coetzee’s reworking of the philosophical dialogue, before concluding with a consideration of Coetzee’s feminist philosophy alongside the work of philosopher Adriana Cavarero. The contrast between the exclusively male ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ and the exclusively female ‘Penelope’, I will argue, becomes a productive one for Coetzee, and he builds a model of female artistry and a new form of philosophical fiction in part from the dialectical tensions between them.

‘Scylla and Charybdis’ and the Philosophical Dialogue

The ninth episode of Ulysses takes place at 2pm in the National Library of Ireland. The episode is a self-conscious performance of precocious literary talent by Stephen Dedalus, a kind of audition for admission to Dublin literary society delivered to real historical figures prominent in the Irish literary revival, among them George Russell and John Eglinton, and later Buck Mulligan. The centrepiece of Stephen’s performance is a reading of Hamlet rooted in Shakespeare’s biography. This is debated exhaustively, with the entire set-piece spoken through copious allusions to Shakespeare. Literary reputation is the main issue at stake: Stephen’s desire to establish his literary credentials before Dublin literary society, on the one hand, and the enormous reputation of Shakespeare, on the other. There is a relentless attention to the materiality of writing and the means through which a literary reputation is constructed. This is evident in the constrained material circumstances of Stephen, who mentally notes the need to procure slips of paper from the library to write on (205), and whose debt to Russell, who published under the pseudonym AE, is financial rather than aesthetic, and transformed by Stephen into the unspoken acrostic ‘A.E.I.O.U.’ (181). It is evident too in Stephen’s insistence on the importance of Shakespeare’s biography to his work, and in the range of reference to early modern travel and the contemporary events of the Anglo-Boer War, which positions Shakespeare within a history of imperialism that continues to the present day. These concerns are reinforced in the setting of the episode in the National Library, a repository of writing and consecrating institution, exemplified by Stephen’s sense that his performance is being judged by the anointed of the Dublin literary world and measured against great writers dead and gone.

The episode’s title, ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, comes from the Linati and Gilbert schemata, keys to the novel’s correspondences with The Odyssey and other symbols circulated by Joyce among close acquaintances.3 Scylla and Charybdis, the whirlpool and the rock, represent twin perils encountered by Odysseus as he navigates his return to Ithaca. According to the Gilbert schema, the organ of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ is the brain, the art is Literature, the symbols are Stratford and London, and the ‘technic’ is dialectic. Scylla and Charybdis are also mapped onto other prevailing oppositions in the episode: ‘Rock: Aristotle, Dogma, Stratford; Whirlpool: Plato, Mysticism, London; Ulysses: Socrates, Jesus, Shakespeare’ (735). While the Homeric parallels predominate in any account of Joyce’s engagement with Greek culture, this episode’s opposition between Plato and Aristotle, and the translation of the logic of opposition into the ‘technic’ of dialectic, invoke a different set of correspondences with the Greeks, focusing more on philosophy than epic. This becomes evident as the episode unfolds. Stephen’s preoccupation with history and the materiality of writing stands in stark contrast to the mysticism of his interlocutors. Russell ‘oracled out of his shadow’ to undermine Stephen’s argument about Shakespeare with his assertion that ‘Art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences’ (177). Stephen provokes his Platonic interlocutors further by asking ‘Which of the two [Plato or Aristotle] . . . would have banished me from his commonwealth?’ (178). The structure signals stylistic experimentation with the philosophical dialogue and dialectic, while the reminder that the poets and dramatists would have been banished from Plato’s Republic reasserts ‘the ancient quarrel’ between literature and philosophy.

Tensions within the Platonic dialogues between speech and writing are also on display. Stephen invokes Socrates’s account of the god Thoth, reputedly the inventor of writing, who suggested that in writing he had discovered ‘an elixir of memory and wisdom’ (Phaedrus 274e5). Thoth’s plea to teach writing to the Egyptians is rejected on the basis that it is ‘an elixir not of memory but of reminding’ (275a5–b1), and Socrates in turn compares writing to painting: ‘The off-spring of painting stand there as if alive, but if you ask them something, they preserve a quite solemn silence’ (275d1–e5). Within the library, Stephen’s comments recall these death-like qualities of writing: ‘Coffined thoughts around me, in mummycases, embalmed in spice or words. Thoth, god of libraries, a birdgod, moonycrowned’ (186).4 Socrates contrasts corpse-like writing with ‘the living, animate speech of the man who knows, of which written speech would rightly be called a kind of phantom’ (276a5).5 We are here at the center of the Platonic account of philosophical reality, of which writing is a mere imitation. This tension between writing and speech, sustained within the Platonic dialogue only by a disavowal of its written status, is staged and interrogated in the consistent attention to the materiality of writing in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’.

The episode’s engagement with theatre further charges the opposition between speech and writing as it straddles text and performance. Reference to the dialogic structure of Plato’s texts is paralleled with an emphasis on dialogue between the episode’s various characters. In contrast to the later ‘Circe’, in which the hallucinatory Nighttown is the stage for a range of theatrical genres, ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ is focused on the dramatic text itself, occasionally set out in dramatic dialogue. There are multiple allusions to Irish literary figures, frequently but not exclusively playwrights, like Synge, Shaw and Wilde. The latter features not just as a playwright, however, but also as author of philosophical dialogues and Portrait of Mr W. H., about Shakespeare’s sonnets. Stephen’s interlocutors at one point suggest that he too might publish his account of Shakespeare, underlining the distinction between Stephen’s performance and the written philosophical dialogue, and recalling Socrates’ privileging of ‘the living animate speech of the man who knows’ (267a5): ‘Are you going to write it? Mr Best asked. You ought to make it a dialogue, don’t you know, like the Platonic dialogues Wilde wrote’ (205). Indeed, Martin Puchner’s account of the closet drama in Stage Fright includes both ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ and ‘Circe’ within a tradition stretching back to the Platonic dialogues. The text of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ does not, of course, only comprise Stephen’s dialogue; his observations are constantly supplemented and interrupted by narrative description and his unarticulated thoughts, also frequently structured as dialogue. While the ‘spoken’ dialogue is dominated by Shakespeare, Stephen’s private thoughts are concerned with his own ambitions and anxieties, and often focused on gaining recognition as a writer.

Finally, it is important to note that the company at the National Library is exclusively male, though women occasionally feature in the discussion. Stephen’s reliance on Shakespeare’s biography in his account of Hamlet introduces Anne Hathaway as a central figure, and he speculates that it was Shakespeare’s eventual focus on daughters that enabled him to move from the dark tragedies to the later romances. This combines with his interest in Shakespeare’s role as father and son to produce an extended consideration of paternity, maternity and creativity across the episode, a set of preoccupations also reflected in its engagement with the philosophical dialogue. Stephen’s emphasis on Shakespeare’s women is rejected by his interlocutors; John Eglinton asks dismissively, ‘What useful discovery did Socrates learn from Xanthippe?’, to which Stephen replies, ‘Dialectic . . . and from his mother how to bring thoughts into the world’, alluding to the idea of Socrates as the midwife of ideas (182–83). The images of reproduction and intellect come directly from Plato’s Phaedrus and Symposium, especially the priestess Diotima’s account of love reported by Socrates at the end of the latter. The episode’s concern with reproduction and creativity, and theatre and philosophical dialogue, converges in Buck Mulligan’s announcement that he is ‘big with child. I have an unborn child in my brain. Pallas Athena! A play! The play’s the thing! Let me parturiate!’ (200). But Mulligan’s blend of gendered images is preceded by quite distinct and distinctly sexed understandings of fatherhood and motherhood. ‘Amor matris [mother’s love] . . . may be the only true thing in life’, according to Stephen, whereas paternity is stalked by uncertainty: ‘Paternity may be a legal fiction. Who is the father of any son that any son should love him or he any son?’ (170). For all that Stephen is haunted by the recent loss of his mother, he remains committed to the forms of creativity associated with the male artist through whose authority, according to Jeri Johnson, he seeks ‘to control the unruly material world through the distantiating transformative power of language’ (Joyce 827). Intellectual paternity remains the route to literary reputation and immortality for Stephen.

Coetzee, Joyce, and the Greeks

Disgrace (1999) and Coetzee’s other works of the late 1990s and early 2000s are inflected with many Joycean echoes, especially in the concern with paternity and maternity to which they give both intimate and violent form. The father-daughter relationship between David Lurie and Lucy is central to Disgrace, a bond that becomes increasingly strained in the context of her pregnancy and its uncertain paternity as a result of her gang rape. The issue of paternity and maternity also shapes the novel’s concern with the inheritance of land and historical legacies. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak draws attention to King Lear as an intertext for the novel’s intergenerational conflicts, hearing echoes of Cordelia’s ‘nothing’ in Lucy’s claim to be starting again ‘with nothing’ (Coetzee 205; Spivak 20). We know from the Coetzee Papers and from David Attwell’s account of them in J. M. Coetzee and the Life of Writing that the intertextual relationship with King Lear is to an extent mediated through Stephen Dedalus’s reading of daughters in Shakespeare in the ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ episode of Ulysses: he consistently takes the line, ‘Nothing matters, soon I will be dead anyway. In other words, he cannot see beyond his death. Somehow he (I too!) must get beyond that. Hence, of course, the daughter, the only way in which he (I too!) can conceive of the future. (Think of James Joyce on the girls in Shakespeare’s late plays)’ (qtd in Attwell 224–25).

Attwell is quoting from an entry for 21 April 1996 in the first of three consecutive notebooks that contain comments and speculations about the evolution of Disgrace and Coetzee’s other works of the period – the lectures that would eventually be gathered together as Elizabeth Costello, beginning with ‘Realism’ in late 1995, followed by ‘The Lives of Animals’ in May 1996; the notebooks also contain notes for Boyhood and Youth.6 One of the key insights offered by these notebooks is the extent to which ideas, phrases, and preoccupations are shared and migrate across the different texts during the writing process, a quality evident in Coetzee’s engagement with Joyce. Attwell also notes that the reference to Victor Hugo in Disgrace – Lurie’s determination to learn the ‘art of being a grandfather’ – is mediated through Joyce, and specifically ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ (Joyce 188, Coetzee 218).7 Both of these references to ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ are tied to the idea that children are a means of living on after death, an idea that runs deeply in Joyce’s text.

As we have seen, this idea is tested in Joyce’s novel, as it is in Disgrace. Stephen’s assertion that immortality is an intellectual rather than a procreative activity for men can be detected in Lurie’s desire to ‘leave something behind’: ‘a man wants to leave something behind. It's easier for a woman . . . I can't help feeling that, by comparison with being a mother, being a father is a rather abstract business’ (63). Lurie’s ‘abstract business’ chimes with Stephen’s ‘legal fiction’. The young poet John of Youth can also be identified with the Stephen of Ulysses, indeed consciously identifies with him in the bookish ‘Agenbyte of Inwit’, the title of a medieval confessional and a phrase used by Stephen to register feelings of guilt, frequently over his mother’s death (Youth 130). While much more could be said about the influence of Joyce, especially Portrait of the Artist, on Boyhood and Youth, my point here is simply to demonstrate that all of the texts that Coetzee was working on in this period contain at least glancing allusions to ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, and for the most part the allusions serve to invoke that episode’s concern with maternity, paternity, and creativity, which can be identified in Joyce’s novel with Plato’s philosophical dialogues.

Some of the most memorable sections of Elizabeth Costello too refer to ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ rather than the presumed intertext of ‘Penelope’. The library setting of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ immediately resonates with Costello’s reminiscences about the publication of her first book, and her enormous investment in sending legal deposit copies to the British Museum.8 Here we find a blend of creativity and reproduction that recalls not just Buck Mulligan but also Lurie’s anxieties about leaving ‘something behind’ (63). Costello describes her newly published book in terms of maternity, ‘this first-born of mine’ (17). She displays the same concern with legacy as Lurie: ‘if I, this mortal shell, am going to die, let me at least live on through my creations’ (17). But if Costello’s published book is ‘the real thing’ (16), so too are her children – at least according to her son, John, through whom our impressions of Costello in the first three lessons are focalised. He describes himself to Susan Moebius as ‘the real thing’, echoing his mother’s words: ‘Not a foundling, not an adoptee. Out of her very body I came, caterwauling . . . A half-sister, from the same place. The real thing, both of us. Flesh of her flesh. Blood of her blood’ (28). In an earlier unpublished draft of ‘Realism’, Costello’s son reinforces this link (in a comment that has been crossed out in the manuscript): ‘I hope I’m the brother of Four Eccles Street too’.9 Given the strictly gendered terms in which immortality was available in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, Costello offers a pointed contrast to Stephen’s distinction between maternity and paternity.

As in Ulysses, the preoccupation with the library and the printed book lends a physical reality to the artist’s immortality that is at odds with its philosophical sources in Platonic thought. Costello explicitly undermines her own naive visions of immortality, first by noting that her nearest neighbour in the British Museum is not Chaucer or Conrad, but Marie Corelli, the now largely forgotten author of the record-breaking bestseller The Sorrows of Satan, one of the first novels published in a single volume six-penny edition. Coetzee’s choice of Corelli is not an arbitrary one: The Sorrows of Satan is mentioned on the opening page of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ (176). But Costello goes further in imagining not only the obsolescence of ‘the British Museum or (now) the British Library’, but the indignity of ‘the ugly and unread and unwanted’ volumes which will eventually be ‘carted off to some facility or other and tossed into a furnace, and all trace of them will be liquidated from the master catalogue. After which it will be as if they had never existed’ (17). The terms of Costello’s description echo precisely the terms used to describe the ‘too menny’ dogs that are euthanised in Disgrace and disposed of in the hospital incinerator. From images of birth and procreation we move quickly to a vision of physical annihilation.

In ‘Eros’ we find the most direct reference to Ulysses, as Costello is reminded of the ‘god-haunted’ Leopold Bloom strolling ‘around the Dublin Public Library peeking, when no one is looking, between the legs of the statues of goddesses’ (190). The reference to Ulysses is in fact slightly scrambled. In ‘Lestrygonians’, immediately preceding ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, Bloom speculates over lunch about the statues in the ‘library museum’: ‘Can see them library museum standing in the round hall, naked goddesses . . . They have no. Never looked. I’ll look today. Keeper won’t see. Bend down let something fall see if she’ (168). Later in the episode, on his way to the National Library, Bloom dives into the National Museum to avoid Blazes Boylan: ‘His heart quopped softly. To the right. Museum. Goddesses. He swerved to the right . . . Quick. Cold statues: quiet there. Safe in a minute’ (175). This is clearly the episode that Costello has in mind, but she, like Bloom, combines library and museum. As Costello glosses it, Bloom’s interest is in sexual difference: ‘If Apollo has a marble cock and balls, does Artemis, he wonders, have an orifice to match? . . . What he really wants to know, however, had he only words for it, is whether congress is possible with the divine’ (190). But she misinterprets Bloom’s interest in the statues: the bodily cavity that he is searching for is the anus rather than the vagina.10 Bloom’s fascination with the statues is later explicitly framed as homoerotic in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ as Mulligan recalls seeing him in the museum: ‘O, I fear me, he is Greeker than the Greeks’ (192–93).

The slippage between library and museum in Bloom’s and Costello’s speculations about the statues suggests that we should read this section of ‘Eros’ as continuous with Coetzee’s engagement with ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ elsewhere. Indeed, it moves us towards a new understanding of Coetzee’s focus on this episode of Joyce’s novel. Bloom’s speculations that the possibility of intercourse with Greek goddesses can be verified somehow by the anatomical (in)correctness of classical sculpture – at least as Costello reads it – is the most literal example of correspondence with the Greeks, and with Greek art, in Ulysses. Len Platt describes the elaborate Homeric parallels of the Gilbert and Linati schemata as ‘a synecdoche for correspondence with classical Greek culture generally’ and Bloom’s fantasies about statues as a caricature of ‘the high status which Yeats and his allies’ – Stephen’s interlocutors at the library – ‘gave to the culture of ancient Greece’ (1998 101, 115). Coetzee, too, is mocking his own history of reworking ‘the classics’, but the preoccupation with the physical and gendered form of the statue also literalises the concern with the materiality of art in his own work and in Joyce’s, and places sexual difference centrally within it. It is significant too that the consideration of materiality and gender in classical art emerges not through Stephen Dedalus, whose intellectual prowess dominates the episode, but through the physically attuned Leopold Bloom, who appears only on the fringes.

Gender and the Philosophical Dialogue

How then do the concerns with legacy, creativity and materiality that characterise Ulysses, and ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ in particular, help us to understand Coetzee’s artistic project in Elizabeth Costello, and the role of gender or feminism within it? Reading across the correspondences and symbols of the Gilbert schema as a whole offers some insight into Coetzee’s focus on ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ rather than ‘Penelope’, which, as I have emphasised previously, features rarely in Elizabeth Costello. According to the categories of the schema, the contrast between ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ and ‘Penelope’ could not be greater: (setting) library vs bed; (organ) brain vs flesh; (technic) dialectic vs monologue. That is to say, the episodes are opposed in the most stereotypically gendered ways imaginable: the male community of the library in opposition to the woman in bed. While the art of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ is Literature, the category of art remains notoriously empty in the case of ‘Penelope’, an omission that has led critics to describe the closing episode of the novel, Molly Bloom’s long, sparsely punctuated monologue, as artless.

Reading the character of Costello through this apparent opposition between ‘Penelope’ and ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ shows that Coetzee is not simply rewriting Molly Bloom, but rejecting a house-bound Penelope in favour of a model of female artistry. When we find Costello sequestered in a room in her home, she is isolating herself briefly from her children so that she can write novels, the door locked from the inside:

For as far back as he can remember, his mother has secluded herself in the mornings to do her writing. No intrusions under any circumstances. He used to think of himself as a misfortunate child, lonely and unloved. When they felt particularly sorry for themselves, he and his sister used to slump outside the locked door and make tiny whining sounds. In time the whining would change to humming or singing, and they would feel better, forgetting their forsakenness. (4)

Costello is not the ‘prisoner in the house’ that Susan Moebius sees in Molly Bloom (13), but a woman writer, who happens to be a mother, creating for herself the ‘room of her own’ that in Virginia Woolf’s account, together with five hundred pounds a year, were the ‘conditions . . . necessary for the creation of works of art’ (102, 30). For all the prominence of women in the conversation between the men of the National Library in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, they feature for the most part in their biological or marital relation to men: Xanthippe and Socrates’ mother, Anne Hathaway, and the daughters of Shakespeare’s heroes who bring consolation to their fathers: Cordelia, Perdita, Marina, Miranda. Only the much-maligned Marie Corelli, who occupies a space on the shelves of the British Museum, is a creator in her own right. Of course, the limited access that women enjoyed to libraries, as readers or writers, is central to Woolf’s lectures on the topic of ‘women and fiction’ in A Room of One’s Own. Indeed, Woolf’s preoccupations with the material conditions of writing, the British Museum, and Shakespeare all resonate with both ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ and Elizabeth Costello. Aarthi Vadde has argued that Costello is a ‘descendent of Woolf’, highlighting the formal and political affinities between Coetzee’s and Woolf’s fictionalised lectures (238). If approaching Elizabeth Costello through ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ allows us to see Costello anew as Coetzee’s Penelope, this is also a Penelope reshaped in dialogue with Woolf: Penelope the writer.

Refracted through ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ and Woolf, Coetzee’s Penelope is being repositioned within a form closer to the philosophical dialogue than the epic. While critics have increasingly pointed to the shift towards philosophy and the philosophical dialogue in Coetzee’s work, especially since the publication of the Elizabeth Costello lessons, the emphasis has been largely on his direct engagement with philosophers and philosophical texts and debates, even if, as Stephen Mulhall acknowledges, ‘irreducibly posed by and through literature’ (3). In accounts by Mosca, Mulhall, Northover, Puchner, and Wilm that focus specifically on the philosophical dialogue, there is some discussion of whether or not Coetzee’s work is dialectical, and Northover and Wilm discuss the relationship between dialectic and Bakhtin’s dialogism.11 But there is no attention to the mediation of philosophical form through literary antecedents (like Joyce), no mention of the materiality of the literary or philosophical texts, nor is there any effort to engage with gender. Mulhall positions Coetzee’s focus on embodiment with and against the philosophical dialogue, as I will draw attention to later, but he does not address the specific issue of sexual difference. Nor does Northover, who acknowledges Coetzee’s ‘play with the Platonic ideas of biological and intellectual offspring’, but whose description of Costello as ‘midwife’, following Socrates, fails to engage with her embodiment as woman and mother. In a revealing footnote, Wilm concedes that ‘While Socrates had a high opinion of women, there are no female interlocutors in Plato’s world, a not unimportant problem with Plato’s dialectic, especially when considering the high number of (and highly reflexive) female characters in Coetzee’s oeuvre’ (161 n19). Only Wright draws attention to the convergence of philosophy, gender, and performance in The Lives of Animals, but her focus is on the feminised ‘rant’ of Costello rather than on the detail of her performance or her specific reworking of philosophical materials.

Poised between theatrical performance, philosophical dialogue and fictional narrative, ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ and Elizabeth Costello confront similar philosophical preoccupations through their respective forms and, in the case of the latter, both gender and the material form of the text itself become integral to its engagement with philosophy. A brief account of the conditions of emergence of the Costello lessons will allow this to emerge more clearly. The Acknowledgements page of Elizabeth Costello records the first publication of the various lessons. However, for the most part, the Elizabeth Costello pieces first emerged into the public domain in public readings delivered by the author. Coetzee, in other words, wrote these pieces in the first instance to be performed, more or less in line with the conventions of the authorial public reading. Only then were the stories published in limited editions, pamphlets, and periodicals, and subsequently collected in the novel Elizabeth Costello. Once again, the archive is enlightening, documenting this transmission history as the Acknowledgements of the published text do not.

The archive contains numerous typescripts of the various lessons prepared for different public occasions – some high-profile events like the Tanner Lectures, others more low-key public readings. These typescripts are frequently accompanied by mainly handwritten prefatory remarks, apparently offered by Coetzee to his audience by way of context for the material that he would read. The following examples are typical – the first introducing the Tanner Lectures, the second from his preface to ‘The Humanities in Africa’ at Stanford:

When I received the invitation from Prof. Kateb, I responded by saying that I was a writer, and not a philosopher, that if I pretended to be a philosopher speaking about human values I would only send people to sleep.

Prof. Kateb generously responded that I should speak under whatever guise, and within whatever format, I chose.

This afternoon I will be taking up that offer, and speaking to you as a writer, as a storyteller.12

Suffice it to say that I am suspicious about the pretentions to authority that seem to me implicit in the lecturing stance. For some years I have preferred to compose, instead of the lecture, something more like a philosophical dialogue, in which I have devoted considerable energy to fleshing out the narrative, so that the piece doesn’t simply emerge as an argument between disembodied voices. 13

Coetzee’s comments make his move from the public lecture to the philosophical dialogue explicit, but the preface to the Tanner Lectures also underlines that he produces not a philosophical dialogue, but ‘something like a philosophical dialogue’, and not as a philosopher but as a ‘writer . . . a storyteller’ (emphasis added). In the preface to ‘The Humanities in Africa’, on the other hand, the emphasis lies on the body: ‘fleshing out the narrative’, creating embodied rather than ‘disembodied’ voices. In other words, Coetzee draws clear distinctions between the philosophical dialogue and literature, distinctions that are based in part on literature’s commitment to writing and storytelling, and to the body.

If, as I am suggesting, Coetzee’s engagement with the philosophical dialogue is mediated through ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, then the terms of his distinction between literature and philosophy highlight a tension in the Gilbert schema. While the schema’s description of the brain as organ can be reconciled with the ‘technic’ of dialectic, it is not at all obvious that either can be identified with ‘Literature’; or perhaps brain, dialectic, and literature can only be reconciled if we think of the intellectual Stephen Dedalus rather than Leopold Bloom as the central figure of Ulysses. Coetzee’s reworking of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ suggests that there is, fittingly, a (deliberate?) dialectical tension between the different elements of the Gilbert schema for this episode, especially its ‘art’ and ‘technic’, literature and dialectic. Likewise, the opposition to the terms in which Joyce describes ‘Penelope’ are striking. If Costello’s explicit interest in Molly Bloom jars with Coetzee’s consistent engagement with ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, the Gilbert schema helps to resolve the apparent contradiction, and enhances our understanding of Coetzee’s own sense of the opposition between philosophy and literature. Coetzee’s (and Costello’s) commitment to embodiment in Elizabeth Costello unites the elements of the Gilbert schema for ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ and ‘Penelope’, at least in relation to the bodily organs: Elizabeth Costello is brain and flesh. Norris speculated in her review of Elizabeth Costello that Coetzee’s protagonist had more in common with the Stephen Dedalus of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ than Molly Bloom. But she was only half right. Elizabeth Costello is the artist figure in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, but embodied in the manner of Leopold and Molly Bloom rather than the abstract Stephen Daedalus, who, according to Richard Ellmann’s translation of the Linati schema, ‘does not yet bear a body’ (189).14 All of this suggests that Coetzee's creative project in Elizabeth Costello owes more to the dialectical structure of Ulysses as a whole than to Joyce’s embrace of the female voice in ‘Penelope’ strictly speaking.

Embodied Performance: Elizabeth Costello and the Public Reading

If the commitment of both Joyce and Coetzee to representing embodied experience stands in opposition to the philosophical dialogue, it also extends to their shared concern with the materiality of art. The ‘disembodied voices’ that for Coetzee characterise the dialogues point both to their disavowal of the physical body and to the elevation of speech above writing that lies at the heart of Plato’s philosophy. Reading Elizabeth Costello through ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, with its references to Plato’s Phaedrus that I described earlier, draws attention to the ways in which it too engages this tension between speech and writing, while also highlighting a significant formal divergence between Joyce and Coetzee.

Most of the Costello lessons incorporate staged public performances by Costello, and fictionalised discussions of ideas that, as we have seen, Coetzee himself compares to the philosophical dialogue. To this extent, Stephen’s performance in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ offers a close comparison for Costello. As I have shown, however, the Costello lessons first emerged as live performances rather than published texts when most of the episodes were read aloud by Coetzee.15 Significantly, there was never anything improvised or extemporised about these performances, nor any indication that Coetzee was acting the role of Elizabeth Costello. The archive shows that carefully prepared texts, drafted and redrafted, provided the scripts for Coetzee’s public readings, and their combination of third person, internally focalised, present tense narration and dialogue were read by the author in their entirety.16 One typescript in the archive even appears to be marked up in pen with pauses for a reader. So while these were public performances, they were firmly grounded in a written text; they were performances that preceded publication, rather than a speech preceding writing. While speech is privileged over reading in the opening pages of the Phaedrus, for Coetzee, there is no sense in which reading a text, albeit one written by himself, is inferior to speech. Indeed his comments on writing elsewhere suggest quite the contrary: ‘Truth is something that comes in the process of writing, or comes from the process of writing’ (Doubling the Point 18).

The tension between writing and performance becomes most explicit in ‘The Novel in Africa’. In this lesson, speech and writing function as a fault line between Costello and Emmanuel Egudu as they debate orality and the African novel. Costello resists Egudu’s privileging of orality in his account of the African novel, insisting that ‘the novel was never intended to be the script of a performance. From the beginning the novel has made a virtue of not depending on being performed’ (50). We might hear in Costello’s statement what we imagine to be Coetzee’s discomfort with the public performances demanded of him as a novelist, perhaps even a suggestion that public readings are superfluous. We might also detect an implicit distinction between the novel and, for example, the Homeric epic, which originates in oral culture. Costello’s opposition, however, is in tension with the text in which it appears. As I have noted, in his draft prefatory remarks to the Tanner Lectures, Coetzee disavows the role of philosopher to assert ‘I will be speaking to you as a writer . . . a storyteller.’ Hearing Coetzee’s self-description as an allusion to Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Storyteller’ lends fresh significance to his terms: Coetzee is a writer who speaks, and a writer and storyteller rather than, say, a novelist.17 In Benjamin’s account the rise of the novel corresponds to a decline in storytelling resulting from the individualised forms of narration and reading available in print culture; the novel ‘neither comes from oral tradition nor goes into it . . . The storyteller takes what he tells from experience – his own or that reported by others. And he in turn makes it the experience of those who are listening to his tale. The novelist has isolated himself’ (87). Coetzee’s self-description as ‘storyteller’, suggests that the Costello pieces, through their transmission in live performance, are something other than novelistic. For Benjamin, ‘A man listening to a story is in the company of a storyteller; even a man reading one shares this companionship’ (99). Benjamin’s storytelling, importantly, does not preclude writing; in this sense, Egudu’s privileging of the oral and of the voice is out of step with Benjamin. But ‘storytelling’ undoubtedly gestures towards a form of narrative that enjoys a certain intimacy and immediacy with its listeners or readers. Coetzee’s allusion to Benjamin suggests that the occasion of a live reading offers this; moreover, that the text’s transmission through live performance is integral to its formal and conceptual commitments.

For Stephen Mulhall, the tension between oral and written language in ‘The Novel in Africa’ is an extension of the focus on the body across Elizabeth Costello more generally, in this case, literature’s ‘dependence upon an idea of the human voice, and its ambivalence about that dependence’ (185). Coetzee’s tightly scripted public readings do not lay claim to an idealised orality, but they are unambiguously embodied acts whose power resides in part on the physical presence of the writer, J. M. Coetzee, as well as his distance from the character Elizabeth Costello, including gender difference.18 Here the tension between speech and writing in the philosophical dialogue is acted out through the body of the performing writer, and remains integral to published versions of the text.

Coetzee’s Feminist Philosophy?

It is clear from Mulhall’s account of ‘The Novel in Africa’ that the question of the materiality of art is closely related to Coetzee’s commitment to embodiment, which Mulhall contrasts with ‘philosophy’s apparently constitutional aversion to the imaginative inhabitation of the body’ (110). The issues at stake for Mulhall are the rival versions of reality that underpin philosophy and literature (implicitly, the issues at stake in Phaedrus). He reads Costello’s rewriting of Molly Bloom as an example of literature’s desire ‘to capture reality, to make the real manifest in words’, by embedding ‘the wholly fictional and yet vitally real Molly more deeply into nonfictional human reality’ through an ‘apparently more successful, fictional representation of real femaleness’ (35, 168). In the absence of reference to ‘Penelope’ in Coetzee’s novel, Mulhall has no more evidence of a ‘vitally real’ Molly than other readers of Elizabeth Costello. While I broadly agree with Mulhall’s argument that Elizabeth Costello is unusually preoccupied by literature’s relationship to an embodied real, given what we now know about the relationship of Elizabeth Costello to ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ with its male-dominated public literary space and philosophical dialogue, it is implausible that this extends to a ‘real femaleness’. Rather, I will argue in this final section, gender and sexual difference are fundamental to Coetzee’s critique of a certain kind of philosophical rationality that proceeds through an exclusion of the body.

The archive offers a suggestion that the terms of Coetzee’s reworking of the philosophical dialogue might, in part, proceed through an engagement with feminist philosophy.19 In the Disgrace Notebooks in 1996, the period in which Coetzee was working on the early Costello pieces as well as Disgrace, dated 20 June 1996, he quotes from a review of philosopher Adriana Cavarero’s In Spite of Plato:

From a review of Adriana Cavarero, In Spite of Plato: ‘Her argument is that the divine is allied not to the ending of mortal existence, but to its origin, and that it can be experienced above all in physis, ‘in the animal innocence that holds on to life without reflection’.’20

We have no further evidence that Coetzee read Cavarero’s book, but we know from the drafts of Disgrace that the ideas from this review were present consistently through the writing process as they appear in a selection of notes from the diaries reproduced at the end of each draft. Nonetheless, from the review, he takes Cavarero’s central point: that a patriarchal western philosophy disavows the event of birth, a physical act, and as a result deprivileges the role of women and mothers, sustaining instead a ‘solipsistic fantasy of masculine self-generation’ through a history of ‘dematerialized embodiedness’ (Cavarero 52). Indeed, the logic of Cavarero’s argument is more far-reaching than this, with implications for our understanding of Coetzee’s engagement with philosophy and feminism, and the centrality of Joyce to it.

For Cavarero, the philosophical reasoning that splits the person into a body and soul with different origins, ‘biological and material’ and ‘metaphysical and divine’, produces a version of ‘the individual living person’ as a ‘temporary union of these two parts, a stitching together of two elements that lasts until the definitive untying of death’ (24). In Cavarero’s account, this ‘separated and dematerialized embodiedness can more easily conceal its sexual connotation, always marked by difference’, thus universalising ‘male sexual difference as the sole gender of humans’ real true being’ (52). That philosophical reality is always male is therefore Cavarero’s starting point for a project of reclaiming the women of Greek philosophy, a project that she characterises as theft: ‘I will steal feminine figures from their context, allowing the torn-up fabric to show the knots that hold together the conceptual canvas that hides the original crime’ (5). In other words, Cavarero’s is the kind of feminist project that Costello, rhetorically at least, claims for The House on Eccles Street.

The figure of Penelope and her activity of weaving and unweaving is central to this project. ‘The work of the philosopher proceeds only in one direction’, according to Cavarero: ‘It unties, it releases, it undoes the corporeal ties that bind the soul’ (28). Cavarero’s Penelope, it should be noted, is not the Penelope of Homer, but the Penelope evoked by Plato in Phaedo, which gives Cavarero the epigraph for her chapter:

if it is the task of philosophy to untie the soul from the body, then the soul itself, untied from the body, should not return to prior pleasures and pains, nor deliver itself to their chains, thereby doing Penelope’s endless task, as she weaves and unweaves her cloth. Rather, it should secure protection from these . . . (Plato, Phaedo 84a–b, cited in Cavarero 12)

Plato’s Penelope, in other words, stands in opposition to the reasoning of what he terms ‘philosophic man’. Whereas Cavarero’s Penelope ‘truly weaves together what others, not she, have undone with philosophy’:

She weaves together soul and body, she reties the threads of a thick fabric where embodiedness is knotted to the soul, and most of all to thought, the part of the soul that (male) philosophers wish to untie from the body more than anything else. Penelope untangles and holds together what philosophy wants to separate. She brings back the act of thinking to a life marked by birth and death. (29)

Cavarero’s description of Penelope weaving together body and soul resonates with Coetzee’s reworking of Joyce to tie together the corporeal ‘Penelope’ and the cerebral ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ in Elizabeth Costello, not to mention Costello’s insistence on the experience of the body across the various lessons and in parallel with her intellectual and public life as a writer.

Cavarero’s account of Diotima encourages us to push the possibilities of a feminist critique of philosophy even further, however, as it is in Diotima that Cavarero finds the ultimate in ‘dematerialized embodiedness’ (26). In the closing stages of the Symposium, Socrates quotes from the priestess Diotima’s account of love. Diotima claims, according to Socrates, that ‘every human being is both mentally and physically pregnant’, and concludes that ‘the object of love is not beauty, as you imagine’, but ‘birth and procreation in a beautiful medium’.

‘Why procreation? Because procreation is as close as a mortal can get to being immortal and undying. Given our agreement that the aim of love is the permanent possession of goodness for oneself, it necessarily follows that we desire immortality along with goodness, and consequently the aim of love has to be immortality as well.’ (206c–207a, 48–49)

It is clear that Diotima’s account of love and immortality echoes through Joyce and Coetzee in their respective staging of the relationship between reproduction and creativity that I outlined earlier. For Cavarero, however, Diotima is a deeply problematic figure: ‘a woman who transmits the genuine teaching of Plato, and her words, far from being original or in some way rooted in the sex of the speaker, are the words of Plato re-echoing in a female voice’ (93).

In fact, Diotima’s words are doubly mediated by men, through Socrates and then through Plato, speaking in a register of procreation and parturition, but of the idealised and immortal world of forms and beauty. According to Cavarero:

What we find at work . . . is a subtle and ambiguous strategy requiring that a female voice expound the philosophical discourse of a patriarchal order that excludes women, ultimately reinforcing the original matricide that disinvests them . . . In Diotima’s speech maternal power is annihilated by offering its language and vocabulary to the power that will triumph over it, and will build its foundations on annihilation itself. (94)

I have shown how Joyce and, mediated through Joyce, Coetzee, rehearse the concerns of the Symposium (and Phaedrus) with maternity, paternity, and creativity. To an extent, the emphasis in both on an earthy maternity and an abstract and uncertain paternity, with real immortality only achieved intellectually, is simply a repetition of Diotima’s position. We need to remind ourselves only of the fact that Buck Mulligan represents the ‘pregnant, birth-giving male . . . the emblematic figure of true philosophy’ in Ulysses, to see that these ideas are, like much else in Joyce’s novel, subject to ridicule and parody (Cavarero 92). Indeed, gender and procreation are even more radically reinvented in the surreal theatre of the later ‘Circe’ episode as Bloom becomes a woman. In the case of Coetzee, we should bear in mind that Diotima’s position is identified with David Lurie, whose gender politics come under intense pressure throughout Disgrace. Elizabeth Costello, on the other hand, speaks from the position of both author and mother. In using the language of parturition in her accounts of writing and publishing she, too, lays claim to the metaphorical birth in Plato’s account of Diotima, but the account is narrated from the point of view of her other offspring, her son John, who reminds us of his less metaphorical birth from her body.

We also hear in Cavarero’s critique of Plato’s Diotima an echo of the feminist critique articulated by Susan Moebius: if Diotima’s ‘female voice’ expounds ‘the philosophical discourse of a patriarchal order that excludes women’, she is one of the ‘other women . . . given a voice by male writers . . . only to serve a male philosophy’ (14). Cavarero encourages us to think of this ‘male philosophy’ quite literally as the history of western philosophy, spoken in the Symposium by Diotima, and rehearsed and critiqued by Joyce, and then Coetzee through the figure of Elizabeth Costello.

I suggested in my introduction that there is some irony in the acclaimed feminism that underpins Elizabeth Costello, relying as it does on an essentialising reading of Joyce’s Ulysses. I have tried to show, nonetheless, that Joyce is crucial to understanding the gender politics of Elizabeth Costello, especially in the contrast between ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ and ‘Penelope’. In its relentless attention to the bodies of its male as well as female characters, Joyce’s is certainly not the ‘dematerialized embodiedness’ that Cavarero identifies at the heart of western philosophical thinking. For all the philosophical and rhetorical prowess that Stephen displays in the National Library, he is only truly remade in his encounters with Leopold Bloom. In the concluding lines of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, it is the womanly Bloom who offers an alternative to the episode’s structuring oppositions as he passes Buck Mulligan and Stephen Dedalus: ‘A man passed out between them, bowing, greeting’ (209).

In many respects, Coetzee does not offer the radical reworking of sex and gender norms that we find, for example, in ‘Circe’. His confrontation with philosophy in Elizabeth Costello has, rather, been read as a radical commitment to animal welfare. But his interest in animal life and death is part of a broader critique of a philosophical rationality that privileges soul or mind over body, exemplified formally in the ‘disembodied voices’ of the philosophical dialogue. It is reiterated in his contributions to the volume The Death of the Animal, which are marked by a similar frustration with the form of the philosophical dialogue, even as it takes shape among a group of philosophers and writers who share a commitment to animal welfare. For Coetzee, the interlocutors of Paola Cavalieri’s dialogue are ‘children of Socrates’, manifesting an ‘inhuman calm, which is of a piece with their unvarying rationality; they appear to have transcended those passions that we might call animal, or equally well, human’ (85). The terms of Costello’s description of Molly Bloom in the opening lesson of Elizabeth Costello ('Queen bee, bitch . . . a lioness') begin to orient the reader towards her preoccupations with nonhuman animals (13). But these are specifically gendered animals. Costello’s avowed feminist reworking of Joyce is one of Coetzee’s points of departure in a text that privileges those that have been excluded from Moebius’s ‘male philosophy’.

Coetzee insists, both through the figure of Elizabeth Costello and in his draft prefatory remarks for the early public performances of the lessons, that he intervenes in these debates not as a philosopher but as ‘a writer . . . a storyteller.’ In tracking the emergence and transmission of the Costello lessons through writing, performance, and publication, I have tried to show that Coetzee identifies the disavowal of the written text at the heart of the philosophical dialogue with the disavowal of the body that underpins Platonic thought, and the consequent disavowal of sexual difference and gender. This is an insight that he shares with Joyce, but the particular performance history of the Costello lessons is a point of divergence from his modernist forbear. The carefully scripted text and the undeniably embodied act of reading it in public combine to shape the unique form of the Costello lessons. The tension between speech and writing in the philosophical dialogue is acted out through the body of the performing writer. The irony that Coetzee speaks the words that he has scripted for his female writer, recalling the impossible position of Diotima, is embodied physically in his public performance and compels us to take seriously the apparently ironic feminism of Elizabeth Costello.


  1. I would like to thank Derek Attridge, Peter McDonald, and Emilie Morin for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this essay.

  2. The Möbius strip is a surface with only one side.

  3. According to Richard Ellmann’s account in Ulysses on the Liffey, the first schema, in Italian, was sent to Carlo Linati in 1920 and the second, revised schema, eventually published with Joyce’s approval by Stuart Gilbert, was given to Valery Larbaud more than a year later. Although the correspondences with The Odyssey remain more or less consistent across both schemata, there are significant divergences in other categories. For a comparison of both schemata see Ellmann’s Appendix (186–99).

  4. See Joely Wood for an account of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ and Phaedrus.

  5. These passages are central to Derrida’s ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’ in Dissemination. Coetzee’s engagement with these texts is undoubtedly also mediated through Derrida.

  6. These notebooks and other archival materials referred to in this essay are held in the J. M. Coetzee Papers at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin.

  7. There are photocopied pages from the French edition of Hugo’s Collected Poems with ‘research materials’ for Disgrace. It seems likely that the reference to Hugo originated in Coetzee’s reading of Joyce: ‘The art of being a grandfather, Mr Best gan murmur. L’art d’etre grand . . .’ (188). In the notes to her edition of Ulysses, Jeri Johnson notes that this passage became a source of editorial controversy in Hans Walter Gabler’s Ulysses: The Corrected Text (Joyce 842n).

  8. The National Library in Ireland became a legal deposit library in 1927.

  9. J. M.Coetzee, Container 30.3/13, J. M. Coetzee Papers.

  10. Although this is bound up with food in ‘Lestrygonians’, Bloom’s devotion to Molly’s buttocks and her account of their sexual activities in ‘Penelope’ suggests that his focus on the anus does not preclude sex.

  11. There is remarkable disagreement on whether the work is in fact dialectical. Northover and Mulhall both find elements of dialectic in Elizabeth Costello; for Mosca and Puchner, there are more moments of failed dialectic; Wilm finds both. For accounts of dialectic and dialogism, see Northover and Wilm.

  12. J. M. Coetzee, Container 30.1, J. M. Coetzee Papers.

  13. J. M. Coetzee, Container 61.2, J. M. Coetzee Papers.

  14. In the Linati Schema the category of ‘organ’ remains empty for the novel’s first three episodes which focus on Stephen Dedalus. Joyce glosses this absence with the comment ‘Telemaco non soffre ancora il corpo’, which Ellmann translates as ‘Telemachus does not yet bear a body’ (189).

  15. As far as I can tell from the archive, all of the ‘lessons’ were read publicly by Coetzee. Interestingly, the ‘Letter of Elizabeth, Lady Chandos’, which was commissioned for publication, is described as a ‘Postscript’ rather than a lesson, thus emphasising its exclusively written status.

  16. In the case of The Lives of Animals, only the footnotes are omitted, though as Flanery notes, the later published editions also omit the footnotes, and are therefore closer to the performed reading (72).

  17. Benjamin’s ‘The Storyteller’ achieved prominence in debates about literature in South Africa in the 1970s and 80s, exemplified in Njabulo Ndebele’s ‘Turkish Tales’.

  18. Laura Wright’s work is informed by Coetzee’s performance of a ‘female subject position’, but her attention to Costello’s performance focuses on her ‘polemical diatribe’, which Wright reads as feminised speech in opposition to the seemingly objective rhetoric of a philosophical lecture (195, 198).

  19. Wright draws attention to the importance of Carol Adams to the Elizabeth Costello project, and elsewhere I have argued that Giving Offense is informed by an engagement with feminist philosophy and legal theory.

  20. J. M. Coetzee, Container 35.2. J. M. Coetzee Papers.

Published 25 February 2018 in Thematising Women in the Work of J. M. Coetzee. Subjects: Gender - Literary portrayal, Modernism, J.M. Coetzee, James Joyce.

Cite as: Kelly, Michelle. ‘Serving ‘a Male Philosophy’? Elizabeth Costello’s Feminism and Coetzee’s Dialogues with Joyce.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 33, no. 1, 2018.