J. M. COETZEE IS ONE OF the most important living authors. His ethics, a crucial factor in that importance, might be described, following W. B. Yeats, as the desire “to hold in a single thought reality and justice.” 1 Yet such a desire is by no means easily satisfied. In fact, a study of Coetzee's literary production since 1974, the year of publication of Dusklands, Coetzee's first novel, suggests that the desire for a just reality might ultimately remain unanswered. Despite this sober prospect, the ethical search, on the testimony of Coetzee's recent fiction, has lost none of its urgency for Coetzee. Indeed, we may take two of these works with their allusive titles, The Childhood of Jesus (2013) and The Schooldays of Jesus (2016), as a reminder of the ongoing importance of the ethical substrate in Coetzee's vision of the world.
The essays gathered in this volume recognize and honor, as well as assess and critique, Coetzee's continuing commitment to the ethical search. They do so in the conviction that, some time ago, Coetzee's exploration of ethical matters took him into areas of knowledge beyond a purely literary sensibility. At least since the publication in 2010 of Leist's and Singer's important collection of essays on Coetzee's ethics, it has become clear that Coetzee's forays into philosophy merit the attention of philosophers, not just philosophically interested literary critics and theoreticians. Following this lead, both philosophers and literary scholars come together again in the present volume to offer new assessments of Coetzee's attempts to arrive at an ethical understanding that is matched with, and takes proper account of, the complexity of our age. The novelty of the present volume does not only lie with the ambition to connect and interweave literary and philosophical discourses. It also lies with the desire to put European, if not to say, mainly Germanic, conversations about literature and philosophy in the same space as those issuing in the Anglophone domain in order that profit might be had from both. This two-fold intention was the original motivation for the conference at the University of Queensland in 2015 that anticipated this collection of essays, just as it remains the ambition of the collection now in its greatly expanded published form.