I learned how to pronounce J.M. Coetzee’s name correctly this morning. I’ve been saying “Coat-zee,” with the accent on the first syllable. But in my first class this morning, Davide, who is from S. Africa, corrected me with the proper Afrikaans pronounciation. The “oe” sounds more like the “e” in the French “je.” Actually, the first syllable of “Coetzee” sounds exactly like the French “que.” The accent is on the first syllable. The “t” is a really hard “t” followed by an equally hard “z.” And then it gets interesting. The final “zee” is pronounced as two syllables and sounds like “zee-yeh.” The closest I can get in an American English transliteration might be “Kut-zi-yeh.” Ack!
At any rate, I stood in front of my freshman comp. class explaining my research project on Coetzee’s Disgrace and Davide raised his hand and said, “It’s Kutziyeh,” and I got to have one of those phenomenally yucky moments of acknowledging how ignorant I am, even though, as I said to the class, I’ve got a blessed Ph.D. that is now almost two decades old; I’ve written plenty plenty academic papers; I speak German — and still, I was unable to correctly pronounce the name of the author about whom I am currently writing an academic paper. Phmeh. Ignorance. It happens. Important to acknowledge it, correct the mistake, go on, learn from the mistake. American arrogance is a good thing to take down many notches.
I enjoyed the writing we did. We wrote everything we knew about our research topics in five minutes. Then we re-read what we wrote and wrote down any questions, notes about gaps in our knowledge, places we wanted to investigate, observations about our work so far. I noticed I was focusing a lot on Coetzee himself rather than on the novel. I also am trying to do too much. And my original idea of reading Sindiwe Magona’s Mother to Mother alongside Coetzee’s Disgrace to get at the answers for why I feel so uneasy about the portrayal of Black S. African characters in Disgrace…well, that might not be the way to go. But I’m still not sure. Will have to see after more research and thinking.