This article argues that J. M. Coetzee's The Childhood of Jesus embodies a poetics of study. Noting Coetzee's sustained interest in educational thought, the article places Coetzee's enigmatic novel in dialogue with Giorgio Agamben's idea of study, which brings together the latter's foundational thinking on infancy, impotentiality (Agamben's term for the distinctly human capacity to withhold a certain potential), and the messianic. It shows how The Childhood of Jesus prompts its readers towards the experimentative pursuit of infinite possibilities for thought in the present moment, inviting a different mode of reading than the future-directed Derridean/Levinasian ethics of hospitality through which Coetzee's work is often read. In showing how Coetzee's late work resonates with Agamben's thought rather than Derrida's, the article highlights the emergence in Coetzee's fiction of a view of learning (and, analogously, of reading) that is characterized by irresponsibility and the idea of study with no presupposed end in sight—a dynamic that is quite distinct from an ethics of reading guided by responsibility towards a presupposed "other" to come.


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pp. 163-190
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