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Easton, Kai (2014) Maps and Notebooks: J. M. Coetzee & the Texas Archives. . Available from

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Maps & Notebooks: J. M. Coetzee & the Texas Archives Kai Easton (SOAS, University of London) A folded map on pink cardstock is found in Container 99.2 at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. It is an irregular square size, larger perhaps than A3. In blue biro the Cape Colony is drawn and labelled to scale; in particular the boundaries of the Colony are noted as of 1806 and the travels of the British naturalist William Burchell are marked. The mapmaker is J. M. Coetzee, but the work is undated. This map, together with many other manuscripts and materials, has now come to Texas, where Coetzee in fact arrived in 1965 to begin his doctoral coursework and a thesis on Beckett, whose own manuscripts he read through in Austin, searching for signs of a muse. This map was not included in the interim instalment of Coetzee’s archives at Harvard’s Houghton Library. It is an extraordinary addition, graphically highlighting as it does a formative interest in Burchell and Cape geography which leads him (if indeed the map precedes the text) to the writing of ‘The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee’, the first page of which was drafted in Buffalo on New Year’s Day, 1970. This interest in Burchell (and particularly Burchell on his travels in the Karoo) is also clear from other papers in his research file for later essays in White Writing (1988) and from the drafts of the second volume of his fictionalised memoir, Youth (2002). His interest is not in replicating Burchell, of course, but in thinking -- from a position far away -- of how to write his own version of the familiar territory that Burchell tries to describe. This is the genesis of what would eventually be published as Coetzee’s first novel Dusklands in 1974. This visual essay takes the form of an archival travelogue. Featuring footage of sites related to his trilogy, Scenes from Provincial Life, it also includes close-ups from family photo albums and other documents: for example, Coetzee’s early itinerant years in the Great Karoo (e.g., Victoria West and with visits to the family farm Voëlfontein near Leeuw Gamka), but also further afield (e.g., Johannesburg). The archives at Texas also include unexpected notebooks for his novels, but also further back are notebooks from his school days in Rosebank (Cape Town) and Worcester. These items, belatedly rejoining the original materials lodged in Cape Town and then at Harvard, provide further illustrations for the auto/biographical record that is now in circulation. Here, in the volumes headed ‘English’ and ‘Geography’, we see his youthful forays into writing and cartography, with farm stories and maps of South Africa and even Australia, which pre-date the illuminating map of Burchell’s Travels by some 10-20 years.

Item Type: Films
Additional Information: Traverses: J. M. Coetzee in the World 11-13 November 2014 Adelaide, South Australia 12 November 2014: Plenary Panel, 'The Coetzee Archives' with David Attwell, Hermann Wittenberg, and Sharon Zwi. Chaired by Elleke Boehmer. Podcast:
Keywords: J. M. Coetzee, Traverses conference, Adelaide, Cape Colony map, Burchell's Travels, Houghton Library, Harvard, Harry Ransom Center, Dusklands, The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee, Karoo, Scenes from Provincial Life, archives,
SOAS Departments & Centres: Legacy Departments > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Centre for English Studies [closed]
Legacy Departments > Faculty of Languages and Cultures > Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa
Copyright Statement: This visual travelogue was presented with an informal preface at the conference, 'Traverses: J. M. Coetzee in the World'. I am grateful to the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin and to John Coetzee, for permission to show archival images from the Coetzee, Beckett and Greene collections for this occasion. Due to copyright, the video is not uploaded here or in circulation.
Date Deposited: 03 Dec 2015 09:46

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