The distinctive ethical force of literature inheres not in the fictional world portrayed but in the handling of language whereby that fictional world is brought into being. Literary works that resist the immediacy and transparency of language— as is the case in modernist writing—thus engage the reader ethically; and to do justice to such works as a reader is to respond fully to an event whereby otherness challenges habitual norms. When the fiction itself concerns the ethics of otherness, as in J. M. Coetzee's two earliest fictions, Dusklands and In the Heart of the Country, modernist techniques can be especially powerful as a means of involving the reader ethically. In these two works, Coetzee undermines the conventional discourses that are traditionally employed to represent—and in so doing disempower—servants in the same gesture by which he tests the conventions of fictional representation.
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Derek Attridge; Ethical Modernism: Servants as Others in J. M. Coetzee's Early Fiction. Poetics Today 1 December 2004; 25 (4): 653–671. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-25-4-653
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