Streams of Consciousness

Diary of a Bad Year, J.M. Coetzee, 2007


The latest from Nobel Laureate Coetzee is uniquely written as three distinct streams of consciousness, one of which is presumably intended to meet the vague contract obligations of a German publisher but consists primarily of ranting about the history of governance, Bush and the complicity of Australian former Prime Minister John Howard in Bush foreign policy, the criminality of the Bush administration, avian flu and viruses, terrorism and the cold war, child pornography, children learning numbers and number theory, Australia’s treatment of Aborigines contrasted to Apartheid in South Africa; you get the idea. The other two streams represent the thoughts of the writer and his typist-hospitality worker alternating with dialog between them and between the girl and her boyfriend discussing the writer. Each of the three streams occupies the top, middle, and bottom of each page respectively, separated by lines. Since the three are unrelated and all have the undisciplined nature of streams of consciousness, reading this book presents a real challenge: Do you read an entire chapter of each stream and then go back and read the next? Or do you read all three streams a page at a time (but sometimes paragraphs and even sentence go on to the next page) until you get a natural break? And how do you keep track of the each matter under discussion? Does it even matter?

The aging writer, who was born in South Africa in 1934, meets the pretty girl with the short skirt and beautiful behind in the apartment’s laundry room. So he can meet her again he asks her to type his latest manuscript as he dictates it to tape. She calls herself his Filipina and is intrigued by this presumed dirty old man, constantly speculating about his sexual inclinations especially as she types the section on child pornography. She grew up in a diplomatic family, living in many countries, but remains surprisingly naive. Her boyfriend thinks the old man, a successful writer, must have money stashed somewhere, and wants the girl to snoop around since, when the old man dies, the money will go somewhere as the vultures descend. She interprets the boyfriend’s curiosity as male competitiveness. When she threatens to quit, the writer tones down his writing to treat more gentle subjects with literary figures and use of language. The boyfriend gets stuck in reflections on the dinner party given by the writer to celebrate the completion of the book where the boyfriends has acted badly and loses his girlfriend.

An interesting experiment in writing.