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Foe by j.m. coetzee

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Marina Drvodelic

on 8 April 2015

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Transcript of Foe by j.m. coetzee

The "Irresolvable Silences and Enigmas" of Susan Barton
(Lopez 295)
Through translation in J.M. Coetzee's Foe, we are able to better understand the relevancy of postcolonial and postmodern texts in depicting the subjectivity of translation, a process which marginalizes the Other and influences politics of representation. Through her desire to give Friday a voice Susan attempts to mold Friday into her subject. However, Friday stands at the margin, his tongue-lessness rendering his story inaccessible to those around him - the truth impossible to uncover. Thus, within translation always exist untranslatables, as not everyone or everything can ever be fully or truly represented.
Histographical Meta-fiction and Postmodernism qualifications
translation in foe by j.m. coetzee
By: Queenie, Sam, Marina, Hannah, Ben, and Michael
Hi everyone! We are Queenie, Sam, Michael, Marina, Hannah, & Ben!
We will be examining J.M Coetzee's Foe!
Overarching theme: translation and its effect on genre, representation, and language
The topics we will touch on in regards to the novel will be in the following order:
Metafiction and Postmodern Representation
Rewriting of Robinson Crusoe
Silence and Friday
Silence and Susan
Marginalization and language
Susan and Cruso:
"Is it not possible to manufacture paper and ink and set down what traces remain of these memories, so that they will outlive you; or, failing paper and ink, to burn the story upon wood, or engrave it upon rock?" (17)
"I will leave behind my terraces and my walls...They will be enough. They will be more than enough." (18)
[Captain Smith] "...you may depend on it, the booksellers will hire a man to set your story to rights, and put in a dash of colour too, here and there." (40)
"The story of Cruso's island will go there page by page as you write it, to lie with a heap of other papers..." (50)
Susan and Foe:
"Susan sits, or is compelled to sit, at the feet of her discursive superior (the professional author Foe)." (McLeod 13)
"When I reflect on my story I seem to exist only as the one who came, the one who witnessed, the one who longed to be gone: a being without substance, a ghost beside the true body of Cruso." (51)
"[Her story] is like a loaf of bread. It will keep us alive, certainly, if we are starved of reading; but who will prefer it when there are tastier confections and pastries to be had?" (117)
Susan and Friday:
"I call his name and am ignored, I put out a hand and am brushed aside." (92)
"He paid no heed to me, perhaps not even hearing my words." (95)
"So now I knew that all the time I had stood there playing to Friday's dancing, thinking he and I made a consort, he had been insensible of me." (98)
Susan's Silence: Deliberate or Imposed?
"The silence of Friday is a helpless silence...whereas the silence I keep regarding Bahia and other matters is chosen and purposeful: it is my own silence." (122)
"Hers are helpless utterances...while his silence is resolutely sustained with the clear purpose of avoiding a fate like hers." (McLeod 12)
"If I cannot come forward as author, and swear to the truth of my tale, what will be the worth of it? I might as well have dreamed it in a snug bed in Chichester." (40)
Marginalization Through
To what extent does Friday's silence make him a marginalized other or an agent against translation?

Whose marginalization do you find more sympathetic in this text - Susan or Friday? Why?
Marginalization Defined
Quotes in Marginalized Text
Marginalized Characters
Susan Barton
- Cruso ignores her, believes herself to be a burden

- Wants a baby to escape silence

- Cruso’s wife to avoid Sailors (Gender Marginalization)

- Friday ignores her efforts of communication

- Susan is not removed from Foe’s empty house

- Foe does not respond to her letters

Susan’s Daughter
- Susan gives up the search for her daughter

- Susan believes her island escape is more important than her missing daughter

- Foe marginalizes Susan’s island story with her search for her daughter

- Susan refuses to acknowledge the woman who claims to be her daughter

- Status as Cruso’s servant

- Unable to communicate his story and has assumptions

- Imposed upon him by Foe, Cruso, and Susan

- Mutilated tongue/Cannibalism

- Susan prioritizes his return to Africa over her fame

- Foe tries to teach him language

- Pirates attempt to obtain and sell him

- His island adventure is depreciated to a chapter in Susan's search for her daughter by Foe.

- Dies away from the island

- Dies early in the story despite the novel being a rewriting of his story.

Susan is convinced Foe should write her story because she is not an author.


“For though my story gives the truth, it does not give the substance of the truth…” (Coetzee, 51)

“I have none of these, while you have all.” (Coetzee, 52)

Susan cannot convince Foe to tell her story without fantastical elements because the true story is uninteresting


“The island is not a story within itself…It is like a loaf of bread. It will keep us alive, certainly, if we are starved of reading; but who will prefer it when there are tastier confections and pastries to be had?” (Coetzee, 117)

Foe asks Susan to teach Friday English to learn his story.


“All my efforts to bring Friday to speech, or to bring speech to Friday, have failed…” (Coetzee, 142)

““Have you shown him writing? Said Foe. “How can he write if he cannot speak?”” (Coetzee, 142)

To Marginalize is:

to put or keep (someone) in a powerless or unimportant position within a society or group

Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/marginalize

"Friday's silence as an epic gesture of defiance" against translation
(MacLeod 11)
"A Friday who chooses not to speak isn't a figure depicting 'an irrecoverable speech' (114) as Begam suggests, but rather an agent whose unvolunteered speech resist discursive conscription" (MacLeod 12).
"...it becomes possible to read Friday's silence as an epic gesture of defiance, a gesture that dwarfs his unconventional writing and his erasing of the slate in terms of his unwillingness to communicate" (11-12).
"Friday's silence can, then, be read as a mode of communication, a counter-discursive utterance, and, if this is so, critical notions of what Friday might signify need to be readdressed" (12).
Foe As a Rewriting Of Robinson Crusoe
Historical Context
One thing to keep in mind as the two novels are discussed is that Robinson Crusoe was first published in 1719, with the contents of the novel spanning from 1651-1687. The seventeenth century began to formalize England's colonization process and identified it as being a nation with rising imperial ambitions.

Both novels contain the characters named Friday and Cruso(e).
Both novels consist, in part, of characters stranded on an island.

The main characters manage to eventually leave the island in both novels.

In Defoe’s novel, Friday has the ability to speak and learns his master’s language. Coetzee’s Friday is not only unable to speak, but has had his tongue cut out.

The character of Crusoe is spelled with an e in Defoe’s novel, but without an e in Coetzee’s.

The addition of two major characters, Susan Barton and Mr. Foe, in Coetzee’s Foe.

Crusoe vs. Cruso
Defoe’s Crusoe is a clever craftsman, tirelessly shaping his surroundings to maintain a semblance of European life on the island.

Coetzee’s Cruso is very much indifferent to his environment and his fellow castaways.

Colonialism in Robinson Crusoe
Crusoe represents the English’s attitude of colonization through his actions on the island and in his treatment of Friday.

Foe in Contrast with Robinson Crusoe
Coetzee rewrites the story of the 18th-century white castaway. He makes us realize that an author writing a novel always has the intention of depicting a certain character in a certain light.

Susan Barton tells how the story really was before Mr. Foe sat down to turn it into a novel of his own intentions, altering and falsifying it.

Historiographical Meta-fiction
“those well-known and popular novels which are both intensely self-reflexive, and yet paradoxically also lay claim to historical events and personages” - Linda Hutcheon,
A poetics of Postmodernism
Some examples:
The General in His labyrinth, Ragtime, The French lieutenant’s Women
“Through the medium of words I have given Mr. Foe the particulars of you and Mr. Cruso and of my year on the island and the years you and Mr. Cruso spent there alone, as far as I can supply them” (51)
“I would gladly now recount to you of this singular Cruso as I heard it from his own lips. But the stories he told me were so various, and so hard to reconcile with one another. That I was more and more driven to conclude age and isolation had taken their toll on his memory, and he no longer knew what was truth, what fancy” (Coetzee 12)
Postmodernism in Foe
Unreliable narrator,
self reflexivity,
"How did you did you come to lose your tongue?... Why did you not desire me, you or your master?... I ask these questions because they are questions any reader of our story will not ask" (84-86)
Alexander Selkirk
Marooned on Juan Fernandez Island 1704 - 1709
"The Solitude Of Alexander Selkirk"
Robinson Cruso published 1719
“Return me to the substance I have lost, Mr. Foe: That is my entreaty. For though my story gives the truth, it does not give the substance of truth" (51).
Silence and Friday
"as a beneficent father putting a lump of fish into the mouth of child Friday" (Coetzee 68-69).

"We cannot play the same tune and be content. Or so least it is with civilized people. Thus at last I could not restrain myself from varying the tune..." ( 97).

"Friday's silence speak as well as the silence surrounding Friday" (142).

the E-Y-E translates into the pronoun "I" to signify Friday's subjectivity
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