Shipwreck as Symptom in J. M. Coetzee’s Foe

This article reads Coetzee’s Foe (1986) as a reflection on the novel’s generic debt to shipwreck narratives and thus to a certain mythology of Empire. It argues that Coetzee challenges these ideological affinities through a radical shift in narrative poetics leading to the breakdown of novelistic discourse in the last section of the book. Drawing on Slavoj Žižek’s association of the wreck and the «sublime symptom», these final scenarios are seen as the impossible irruption of the subaltern Friday’s speechless voice into the novel’s symbolic totality, in a way which echoes Coetzee’s reflections on the unspeakable truth of apartheid.

Keywords: J. M. Coetzee, Foe (novel), shipwreck, postcolonial literature, Slavoj Žižek