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LBianchin - September Notes.
[author: Luca Bianchin - postdate: 2007-10-01]

1) Brainstorming about the meaning of the word "Foe", the title of the novel by Cotzee.


Etimology of the word Foe:

Middle English "fo", from the Old English "fah".

"Foe" means enemy antagonist, adversary, opponent, especially an armed adversary, or a personal enemy (foeman), something prejudicial or injurious.
It could be a captivating term, because you must consider Foe as a mass-media product.
You must be aware the role of each word is differed in a post-modern artcraft. Therefore, in order to consider the meaning of the title you must remember the decisions by the novelist are shared with the commercial department of publishing houses. But the title has to fit to what the novelist wants to convey, too. "Foe" is short, neutral and posh, thus it raises the reader's curiosity.
The first association you can make is between "Foe" and the surname of the novelist's mastercopy: the fact is surely a post-modern choice.
The novel is gender-marked: the main difference about the narrative voice is that Cotzee uses a female narrator, instead of the male voice of Crusoe.
Foe belongs to the genre of meta-novels: it deals with the problem of writing novels.
The problem is more and more widen if considered that "There are no novels that are subsequentially re-written, but re-writing is part and parcel of

the act  of writing itself". The novels follow one the others, and that stress that always provides new meanings, not only to the last novels, but to all

the novels  and the themes raised since the architexts. All new production modifies the conception of the past production and that makes the past happen. 



2) All words acquire different meanings in different contexts

When you consider a word you must remember that it transforms it by the context where it is set.
In a literary text, as Eco recalls in his book "Opera Aperta", the relationship between the reader and the text is crucial, in the sense that the meaning of  the text is created by the reader, and the authority of the author is meaningless. Only the ideal reader can understand all the levels of a text, but he 
seems not to exist in a post modern novel at least. This is the typical feature of post-modernism: it readapts all the culture to spread it to a wider

public, it goes beyond modernism by adding new meaning to the same words. The new artcrafts are made for a multicultural audience, the ones enjoy the story, the ones enjoy the transcodification, the ones enjoy the scenery, this seems to be the flavour of today's.
In order to understand some of the different levels of the Novel Foe you have to consider all the possible links: starting from Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, till the last multi media rendering of such themes, for example the play the class saw last year. In that play the archi-text was adapted to the scenery, moreover the storyline  adopted only the points the authors consider suitable in order to vehicle their message. Language was also adapted and simplified, but it added meaning to the archi-text. Therefore the architext has to be modified on the level of storyline (the novelist maintains only the points he or she considers suitable to which themes he or she wants to convey), generally speaking the storyline is getting shorter and shorter, because  people hasn't got a lot of time for reading in today's society. Another level that has changed during the centuries is language and style: they get simplified, but they aren't necessary a reduction. The language used by re-writing included something that the architext didn't contain.


3) Post-modernism
Under the label of Post Modernism are included a lot of trends of thought. Post Modernism is a sort of umbrella, that goes beyond the modernism (1900-
1930). It looked back to modernism and widespread the artcrafts: they are made for a multicultural audience. "Post" associates with the age of Post 
Colonialism. The use of language has become the use of languages, language, like English is just a vehicle. What the narrator is talking about sums

up a lot  of meanings. The figure of the author loses its role, because there is no authority in post modernism, therefore there is not a stable perspective. The time  is fugitive and fragmented, a remote control disrupts the linear time. Moreover the emotional aspect of people is very important in post modernism because  it changes the way to learn. Post modernism excluded Modernism when rejected the difficult style it uses, it goes beyond because it readapts Modernism adding new meaning. Post Modernism is the languages the media uses today: it is an intratextual language. The quest is the root of all Post modern artcrafts. Post Modernism believes that using language you can change audience's mind.
Foe is a post-modern novel: it adapts a classical novel, in one act play, and this is a typical feature of post-modernism. Defoe was committed to use a wider description, in Foe all the detailed descriptions are transformed to an essential scenery: these tools become symbols. The stage in the novel Foe is wider.



4) Task

  • 1) Shortly summarize the main points of the
  • chapter.
    2) Who is the narrator? Why such a strange
  • epistolary letters?
    3) How is the balance between showing and
  • telling dealt with?
    4)  What is the tone and the atmosphere in
  • the chapter?
    5) Who are the characters involved in? How is
  • their characterization made up?
    6) How much of the economy of the text it
  • calls for and why?
    7) What is the position of the reader? (does
  • the chapter as for style, organisation, structure
  • and use of language asks a lot to the reader?)
    8) What the function of the chapter is? (In
  • the economy of the novel)
    9) How the content of the chapter deals with
  • threads treated in: the classical novel by Defoe;
  • the play saw during last year:
    10) What makes of this chapter a post modern
  • rendering of Robison Crusoe?

Analysing the word shipwreck: from the denotative point of view the tragedy takes place at sea, but both the shipwreck and the sea acquire additional

meaning. Shipwreck could also refer to a disorder of motions; and the sea recalls the mother's womb, it is also part of your feelings, something lyrical,

something  known. When you talk about the unknown you surely include the concept of adventure (undergoing situations that cannot be planned). Meeting the unknown means  to meet your unknown side. The shipwreck, if you consider its synonymous castaway raises also the theme of psychological isolation, and marginalization in  society (it is an extended metaphor). In your life either you can accept or refuse the shipwreck, you

can avoid difficulties, but also you can escape as a  form of survival. You must consider there are also shipwrecks you don't choose.


5) Cotzee characterizes his characters describing their existential efforts (Hamlet). Nature is sometimes ally and sometimes enemy: it 
doesn't represent only the landscape but it refer also to the inside of people. The novel suggest civilization is also a social bounder. The escaping, the voyage are other themes developed by Cotzee.
Choosing a woman to be protagonist Cotzee conveys a relativistic point of view: the novel is gender-marked and that implies the fact women brain is different to men's one. As a matter of fact Susan elaborates a reticular thought, not a linear one. The fact raises the problem of fragmentation.
Writing is an enemy, but literature is only a representation of life.
Friday represents the "alter":  further more to be without a tongue means the impossibility to communicate.
Susan on the contrary is worried about the communication themes: she wants to preserve memory.
Cotzee criticized apartheid: he is worried about the boundaries and the divides that categorizations crate.
The art of storytelling sums up a particular role in Cotzee's novel. Foe is a ghost writer, that means he writes for other people, he either wants to provide a point of view either the other and that perspective changes everything. In Robinson Crusoe the reader, the narrator and the story the

truth is one; on the  contrary Cotzee considers different points of view: he inspires of "Pensiero Debole" a relativistic trend of thought.
Susan Barton represents the marginal part of society as black people did in South Africa: Colonialism never thought what negroes feel, therefore Friday 
hasn't got the possibility to communicate.


6) The first page of Cotzee's novel makes use of direct speech. Susan Barton is a first person narrator, the reader cannot to believe other to what Susan says. What changes between Defoe and Cotzee is the voice: Foe has got a female narrative voice. The female narrator describes the arrival to the island physically, not following all her precedent vicissitudes as Robinson Crusoe did. The style recalls a poetic artcraft, the novelist uses a multi-layer  technique. Cotzee in a few pages summarizes Defoe's book.

Cotzee's novel starts "in medias res": right from the start the main technique used is the one of showing.
Therefore there are no truths in the text, there are only associations. Cotzee isn't interested in events because he is interested most in the psychological attitudes of the characters. Life in the past partly survive also in present, but time changes perspective of feelings, and of the past. The idea of reality has changed in time: Cotzee is interested in giving a different vision of events that you give for  grant. Cotzee concludes there is not reality, there are only feelings you can't completely communicate. This process refers to the disruption between Production and Representation. Any choice of the real novelist will have its consequences. Therefore, books leave reader's imagination free, but there are some limits the novelist puts: for

example in "Foe" you can discuss the shipwreck: it is a event that is given for sure, before you start reading.