Statue of Rhodes, University of Cape Town

State of urgency: The Humanities in South Africa (AHHE 15.1)AHHEcrop

JM Coetzee ‘Letter to John’

JM Coetzee ‘Letter to John’ In J.M. Coetzee’s novel, Disgrace, the newly emerging managerial and disciplinary practices of the modern university were satirized in its presentation of events at a thinly-disguised University of Cape Town.  Here, in a frank response to a former colleague’s recent work on academic freedom in South Africa, Coetzee suggests that ‘too few of us have been humanists in heart and spirit, too many simply card-carrying academics’. For Nobel Prize winner Coetzee, the current plight of the humanities in South Africa reflects a global situation.  He notes how the ‘record of universities… in defending themselves against pressure from the state has not been a proud one’ and asks how ‘to keep humanistic studies alive in a world in which universities have redefined themselves out of existence’.  His hard words are essential reading for all those interested in understanding the depth of the crisis facing the academic humanities in the new century.


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