Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 321–334 | Cite as

Allegories of the Bioethical: Reading J.M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year

  • Stuart J. MurrayEmail author


This essay reads J.M. Coetzee’s novel, Diary of a Bad Year, as an occasion to problematize contemporary bioethical (and neoliberal) paradigms. Coetzee’s rhetorical strategies are analyzed to better understand the “scene of address” within which ethical claims can be voiced. Drawing on Foucault’s Socratic understanding of ethics as the self’s relation to itself, self-relation is explored through the rhetorical figure of catachresis. The essay ultimately argues that the ethical voice emerges when the terms—terms by which I relate to myself, to others, to my own body, and to the bodies of others—are themselves subject to catachrestic refiguration.


Bioethics Catachresis J.M. Coetzee Michel Foucault Rhetoric 


  1. Anker, Elizabeth S. 2008. “Human Rights, Social Justice, and J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.” Modern Fiction Studies 54: 233-67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arendt, Hannah. 2005. Responsibility and Judgment. New York: Schocken Books.Google Scholar
  3. Attridge, Derek. 2004. J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  4. Attwell, David. 2010. “Mastering Authority: J.M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year.” Social Dynamics 36: 214-21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1984. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. Edited and translated by Caryl Emerson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  6. Beauchamp, T.L., and J.F. Childress. 2009. Principles of Biomedical Ethics, 6th edition. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Butler, Judith. 2005. Giving an Account of Oneself. New York: Fordham University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Coetzee, J.M. 2008. Diary of a Bad Year. London: Vintage.Google Scholar
  9. Coetzee, J.M., and David Atwell. 1992. “Autobiography and Confession: Interview.” In Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews, edited by David Atwell, 243-50. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Dancygier, Barbara. 2010. “Close Encounters: The Author and the Character in Elizabeth Costello, Slow Man and Diary of a Bad Year.” In J.M. Coetzee’s Austerities, edited by Graham Bradshaw and Michael Neill, 231-52. Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing.Google Scholar
  11. de Man, Paul. 1986. The Resistance to Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  12. Draguniou, Dana. 2011. Vladimir Nabokov and the Poetics of Liberalism. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Foucault, Michel. 1997. “The Ethics of the Concern for Self as a Practice of Freedom.” In Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, edited by Paul Rabinow and translated by Robert Hurley et al., 253-80. New York: The New Press.Google Scholar
  14. --------. 2005. The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1981-1982. Edited by Frédéric Gros. Translated by Graham Burchell. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  15. Krugman, Paul. 2011. “Free to Die.” New York Times, September 16.
  16. Lear, Jonathan. 2010. “Ethical Thought and the Problem of Communication: A Strategy for Reading Diary of a Bad Year.” In J.M. Coetzee and Ethics: Philosophical Perspectives on Literature, edited by Anton Leist and Peter Singer, 65-88. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Leist, Anton, and Peter Singer, eds. 2010. J.M. Coetzee and Ethics: Philosophical Perspectives on Literature. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  18. McDonald, Peter D. 2010. “The Ethics of Reading and the Question of the Novel: The Challenge of J.M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 43: 483-99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Murray, Stuart J., and Judith Butler. 2007. “Ethics at the Scene of Address: A Conversation with Judith Butler.” Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy 11: 415-45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Nussbaum, Martha C. 1995. Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  21. Plato. 1997. “Apology.” In Complete Works, edited by John M. Cooper and D.S. Hutchinson, translated by G.M.A. Grube, 17-36. Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing.Google Scholar
  22. Warminski, Andrzej. 1987. Readings in Interpretation: Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Canada Research Chair in Rhetoric and Ethics, Department of English Language and LiteratureCarleton UniversityOttawaCanada

Personalised recommendations