JM Coetzee responds to his critics:

Somebody That I Used to Know*

 By JM Coetzee

 Ghost written by Justin Fox

Now and then I think of when I used to live in Cape Town. Before moving to Adelaide. Before the Nobel Prize. I told myself Cape Town was right for me. But felt so lonely in its company. Intellectually lonely. But that was love and it’s an ache I still remember. The fynbos, riding my bicycle along the peninsula’s roads, the beauty of the place.

You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness. I definitely have. It’s what gives my writing a certain kind of poignancy. Like resignation to the end, always the end. Like Michael K. So when I found that I could no longer make sense of being in South Africa, being a South African, well, I had to go. I felt I could still be – how should I say? – ‘friends’ with the place. However, I’ll admit that I was glad that it was over.

But now it’s as though South African critics have cut me off. Made out like it never happened and that I was never a part of them. And I don’t even need their love. (Australia has been good to me, brought me out of my shell a bit.) They treat me like a stranger and that feels so … rough. Coovadia and Poplak didn’t have to stoop so low. Or even the traitorous Rian Malan. I didn’t need that. I felt naked, without even a lick of body paint to cover my privates. Now they’re just some critics that I used to know.

Now and then I think of all the times they screwed me over, but had me believing it was always something that I’d written. Or said in some convocation speech. Whatever the case, I don’t want to live that way, reading into every word they write. Which is what I do anyway. I am, after all, a man of letters. I moved to Australia to let it go. You won’t catch me hung up on critics, controversy mongers or members of the UCT English Department that I used to know.

They’re just nobodies that I used to know.

Nobodies that I used to know.


* Original by Gotye, another Australian writer

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