As elsewhere in J.M. Coetzee's fiction, Michael K's body is a central repository of signification. His life-threatening thinness operates as a supple metaphor for the novel's ambivalent relationship with liberal doctrine. As a marker of the staggering cost of K's commitment to self-determination, it highlights the suffering that attends a liberal prioritization of freedom over welfare. Yet in spite of its unflinching acknowledgement of liberalism's limitations, the novel anchors its deepest moral convictions in Kantian and Rawlsian liberal doctrine. Coetzee's quarrel with communitarianism and qualified endorsement of liberal values are traced back to the complicity he sees between communitarian discourse and the theoretical underpinnings of apartheid. Life & Times of Michael K exposes the alliance between communitarian and consequentialist ethical principles, and reveals the ways in which these principles abet oppression and exploitation by prioritizing the maximization of good outcomes over the claims of freedom. Copyright

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Journal of Commonwealth Literature
Carleton University

Dragunoiu, D. (2006). J.M. Coetzee's life & times of Michael K and the thin theory of the good. Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 41(1), 69–92. doi:10.1177/0021989406062919