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Vol. 12 No. 1 (2020): Transnational Literature

An Unrecorded Grammar: Speaking Embodiment in J. M. Coetzee’s "In the Heart of the Country"

August 15, 2020


This essay seeks to understand how J. M. Coetzee’s In the Heart of the Country elaborates a response to the suffering body by way of linguistic indeterminacy, including its structural presentation via numbered and often contradictory passages and the liminality of Magda’s consciousness.

Grounding the paper on the possibility that Heart functions through its lacunae, I argue that Magda rewrites the oppressive language she has inherited by pointing to realities it cannot grasp, including the irreducible witness of the body in pain. The body stands as an incontrovertible presence just outside the reach of language, where, in its refusal to be codified, it catalyses new, transgressive attempts at speaking.

Such attempts function as a body-speech that could transform the speaking-about of Magda’s monologue into the speaking-to of reciprocity. It is a language that Magda ultimately fails to articulate. She remains suspended in potentiality, reading the signals “in conformations of face and hands” that communicate, incompletely, the mysteries of another’s being.

But perhaps the act of speaking to another must always remain poised on the brink of failure: response to the unknown of another’s being requires an unrecorded grammar. Thus, in the lacunae of his unfixed text, Coetzee offers a linguistic event as a response to actual suffering.