Life beyond law: Biopolitics, law and futurity in coetzee’s life and times of michael k

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JM Coetzee has on several occasions been criticised for his failure to elaborate a political vision of transformation beyond the social and political conditions that he describes in his novels. Focusing on the novel Life and Times of Michael K, I argue that this criticism fails to appreciate the conception of political futurity that is evident in Coetzee’s novels. For there emerges in Michael K a gesture of hope in which turning away from history is the condition of possibility for hope for the future. Central to elaborating this gesture is the question of the status of the subject before the law, for it is on condition of the law’s suspension — or what Giorgio Agamben has identified as a condition of abandonment — that the possibility for future transformation develops. Thus I show that Michael K can profitably be read in conjunction with Agamben’s conception of biopolitics and the condition of abandonment that he argues characterises contemporary political existence. Read within this conceptual framework, Michael K appears as a limit-figure of the human and animal, in which the caesuras that Agamben argues cross the human being in modern politics become evident. Despite this apparent conceptual congruence, though, the particular figuration of hope or political futurity that Coetzee develops differs from Agamben’s in significant ways. For the latter, pushing the condition of abandonment to its extreme limit is the necessary condition for the inauguration of a redemptive ‘form-of-life’ in which the human and inhuman elements of the human being can no longer be separated. Coetzee, however, offers a portrayal of hope that rests on the realisation of spaces for living within the ban of the law — spaces in which there is nevertheless ‘time enough for everything’.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-195
Number of pages19
JournalGriffith Law Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2006
Externally publishedYes

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