Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Difference and J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Difference and J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace

Article excerpt

Summary

In this essay, I would like to argue that Disgrace (1999) is part of a transition in South African writing, (1) from the fictional representation of difference among people based on the biological notions of blood and genes to notions of difference based on culture and social origin. For South African writers after 1990, this shift signalled incorporation into the global order. Coetzee contemplates South Africa during its emergence from centuries of colonialism and settler racism and reflects on the notion of being in post-apartheid South Africa. As both an internationally recognised writer and a prominent South African academic, he inscribes a view of region and nation in his works that I would suggest is indebted to the cadastral gaze of Empire. (2) In this novel, Coetzee's view is significantly marked by a postmodern appreciation of culture and society reflected in his extensive allusions to classical and modernist art and literature. In this essay I outline key shifts in postmodern racism and consider how a range of critics have responded to Disgrace. Following this I examine the way in which Coetzee circumvents typologies based on race by inscribing a more nuanced typology based on cultural difference and social history. Finally I look at how the violation of women and the consequences of such deeds are represented in this novel.

Opsomming

In hierdie essay voer ek aan dat Disgrace (1999) deel is van 'n oorgang in Suid-Afrikaanse skryfkuns, van die fiktiewe uitbeelding van andersheid tussen mense op grond van die biologiese opvattings van bloed en gene na opvattings van andersheid op grond van kultuur en sosiale oorsprong. Vir Suid-Afrikaanse skrywers na 1990 het hierdie skuif inkorporasie in die globale orde ingelui. Coetzee besin oor Suid-Afrika tydens die land se verrysing uit eeue se kolonialisme en setlaarrassisme en oor hoe post-apartheid-Suid-Afrika ervaar word. As sowel 'n internasionaal erkende skrywer as 'n vooraanstaande Suid-Afrikaanse akademikus, skryf hy 'n beskouing van streek en nasie in sy werk in wat na my mening veel te danke het aan die kadastrale empire. In hierdie roman word Coetzee se standpunt oorwegend gekenmerk deur 'n postmoderne waardering van kultuur en samelewing wat deur sy uitgebreide toespelings op klassieke en modernistiese kuns en literatuur weerspieel word. In hierdie essay skets ek kernskuiwe in postmoderne rassisme en neem ek die reaksies van 'n reeks kritici op Disgrace in oenskou. Vervolgens ondersoek ek die manier waarop Coetzee tipologiee op grond van ras omseil deur 'n meer genuanseerde tipologie op grond van kultuurverskille en sosiale geskiedenis in te skryf. Ten slotte kyk ek na hoe die ontering van vroue en die gevolge van sulke dade in hierdie roman uitgebeeld word.

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In order to contextualise this transition within a global framework, I wish to utilise insights of the critical theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Empire (2000). In what Fredric Jameson has described as a "theoretical synthesis of the new millennium", the authors trace the shift from the modern territorial sovereignty of the nation state to the deterritorialised imperial sovereignty of Empire. (3) In this study of the nature and trajectory of globalisation in today's "imperial society", (4) the authors argue that postmodern forms of racism have changed their foundations from a "theory based on biology to one based on culture" (2000: 191). In the late 1980s, on a global level, the notion of biological essentialism was abandoned and differences among races were seen as constituted by social and cultural forces. Consequently representations of racial hatred and fear are now ascribed to sociological and cultural signifiers. In a world where races are no longer viewed as biological units, the behaviour of individuals, their abilities or aptitudes can not be calculated on the basis of blood and genes. It is to historically determined cultures that we now ascribe flexible differences that hinge on effects of social history. …

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