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It is hard to overstate how disrespectful empathy is—it is imagining the other on the toilet, and probably masturbating as you do so. But we live in abysmally stupid neo-Victorian times, in which a histrionically guilty elite delights itself with its tears over the bodies wracked to provide its comforts and pleasures.

The Master of Petersburg | novel by Coetzee |

One would infinitely prefer self-satisfied conquerors. I write all this because I have overflowing reserves of empathy.

It is about learning to empathize with nihilism, child molestation, demonic possession—learning to empathize with those who desire to do you in. It is about learning that these things outside the self could just as well be in it. It is alluded to a few times, but mostly evaded. This is a novel about the loss of a son, about deep ineradicable love and hate, about the rivalry felt between a father and a son, about rebellion and guilt, about the mythic and the real.

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Coetzee has played around with the historical facts with considerable freedom. He has used them for his own purposes, as a disguise for his own expression of extreme grief.

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The book is also, perhaps most importantly, about writing and the necessary gall the last word used in the book involved in the recording of our lives. The writer must be willing to write about anything—nothing, not even the death of a child, can be sacred.

Master Of Petersburg

The great writer must be willing to make the pact with the devil, to sell his soul. The searing honesty of the book, the courage, and its unflinchingly direct look at human nature in all its bestiality, while recording the sinister truths of our souls, are its great virtues. Interviews with the judicial investigator, Maximov, and encounters with Nechaev leave Dostoevsky in a powerless, indecisive state of suspicion towards both "sides".

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  • The Wizard and the War Machine (The second book in the War Surplus series).
  • The Master of Petersburg.
  • The authorities are unhelpful, inquisitorial, unsympathetic, bent on involving Dostoevsky in the hit-list of conspirators. The novelist is led into the netherworld of disguise, undercover insurrection and amorality of the nihilists. Coetzee, like Dostoevsky, suggests that the latter are possessed by the devil, pervaded by evil.

    The distraught father fails to find a truthful explanation for Pavel's death in these structures of crime.

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    Here Coetzee introduces the notion of confessional literature as a means of gaining access to the soul. By having the father read his dead son's papers as a closure to the novel, and entitling the final chapter "Stavrogin", Coetzee parodies Stavrogin's Confession, refused by the historic Dostoevsky's editors, and usually put at the end of The Devils.

    Perhaps here the grieved father will find what Coetzee in his article "Confession and Double Thoughts" calls, "the forms of stirrings of the heart, intimations of the unacknowledged, utterances of the inner self'? This literary technique gives a heightened awareness of the self's presence to the self. We come to see at the end of The Master of Petersburg that in trying to evoke Pavel's spirit, in trying to gather and conserve memories, Dostoevsky is in fact mourning for himself.

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    The present tense insists on the immediacy and urgency of such a task. We take leave of the Master lost, sick, calling on God to manifest himself, writing. Poetry may after all bring back that which is lost. Haut de page. David COAD