Embodied encounters: the city and an alternative world of possibility in J.M. Coetzee's Slow Man (2005)

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsOral presentationResearch


This paper examines the marginalizing of the metropolitan space of Adelaide in J.M. Coetzee’s novel, Slow Man (2005), due to the reduced mobility of the protagonist after losing a leg, and in relation to narrative self-consciousness about the construction of the text. Seeing corporeal enfeeblement as an analogue to the waning of fictional powers, it suggests that the novel’s metafictional dimension, the struggle for authorial control between the hero, Paul Rayment, and his alter ego, Elizabeth Costello, masks a search for alternative realms of meaning, given the corporeal body is no longer fitted to its environment. As the urban milieu becomes more circumscribed and as the fictional world expands, hidden feelings, dependencies and memories emerge. The narrator’s struggle towards fictional mobilization, paralleling his physical immobility, and his ‘othering’ by Costello, provides a level of fictional performativity. The paper examines how Coetzee’s construction of his protagonist in terms of corporeal suffering introduces a change of scale in thinking about regional and global connectivity. Although Paul Rayment’s physical horizons shrink following the loss of his leg, he finds transnational connectedness through recognising his migrant identity, and through his embodied urban encounters with diasporic others. Conceptual remapping, catalysed by his problematic engagement with nurses and carers and his struggle with the writing process, focuses on the spatiotemporal realities of the metropolis and the nation state. These markers of location are revalued in his reach towards an imaginary alternative world from which new solidarities may emerge.
Period5 Apr 2017
Event title16th Triennial European Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (EACLALS) Conference: Performing the Urban: Embodiments, Inventories, Rhythms
Event typeConference
LocationAsturias, SpainShow on map


  • Coetzee
  • Slow Man
  • corporeal suffering
  • embodiment
  • metropolitan
  • performativity