Ashamed of Shame
Ashamed of Shame
J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace
This chapter focuses on J.M. Coetzee's novel Disgrace, the first half of which details the scandal that erupts when Professor David Lurie has an affair with a young female student. Although the university implores David to express repentance and regret for his affair in exchange for maintaining his teaching position, he vehemently refuses. Critics have observed that this offer of amnesty allegorizes the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which advocated a restorative rather than retributive justice through which perpetrators of Apartheid confessed their crimes in return for amnesty. If, as Desmond Tutu has remarked, reconciliation promises to restore both the victim and the perpetrator's humanity, David's rejection of the offer of amnesty implicitly refuses his rehumanization. This apparent embrace of animality eschews the conception of sexuality as calculable, predictable, and tameable. In addition to its concern with desire, sexuality, and animality, Disgrace is equally preoccupied with the processes of aging and dying. While Heidegger argues that death is a possibility or capacity from which animals are excluded--animals “perish” rather than truly die—this chapter concludes that death names precisely an incapacity, a vulnerability according to which human death can no longer be elevated above animal perishing.
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