Rewrite: a word that means a lot and, at the same time, it means “nothing”. If I search it in the dictionary, I can find this sort of description: “to write (a piece of writing) again in a different and more suitable way”.
But, this is just the literal meaning: in order to understand Coetzee’s operation in his novel “Foe” (from the classical novel by Daniel Defoe “Robinson Crusoe”) and, generally, by post-modernist authors.
Classical novels (like Robinson Crusoe), generally, described just one pointof view and they reflect the mentality and the attitude of the time of the author.
After years or centuries, the perception and also the interpretation of reality changes, new mentalities and visions of life: so, also literature changes.
But this is not enough: the author that is starting to re-write a history or a novel, has not simply to make a new version of the same history/novel.
After this operation, he can start also to modify contents and add new stylistic choices and what other necessary to rewrite that history/novel.
Like writing, re-writing is an operation that has nothing new, in a certain sense: the contents and the human mind are, more or less, the same in the centuries; but what changes is the cultural and social background, the narratives technique (about literature) and moreover the idea of the time and of space.
So re-writing the past helps people of today to understand the facts of “yesterday”: and, in addition to this, to make sense of today’s facts. Not with a simple comparison, but with a more complex reflection on the past in relationship with a new and different “labyrinth”, but that has some similar passages and exits.
As a matter of fact Coetzee, in the first chapte of his novel, concludes the facts of the “original” Robinson Crusoe: but this does not mean that his re-writing is less realistic, but just different.