Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Discipline in Disgrace

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Discipline in Disgrace

Article excerpt

In Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee provides a critique of the contemporary market-driven university and its disciplinary apparatus that is indebted to Michel Foucault's analysis of disciplinary power. Coetzee stages the disciplining of an academic whose conduct, driven by deviant desires, runs counter to the objectives of the corporate university.

In its representations of forms of domination and resistance, J.M. Coetzee's writing is, as he has acknowledged, indebted to the work of Michel Foucault. On a number of occasions on which he engages with the history of colonialism and its aftermath in his non-fictional writing, he relies on a Foucauldian reading of power. Two examples that he provides are an essay on the anthropological writings on "Hottentots" entitled "Idleness in South Africa" in White Writing (12-35), and his essays on censorship in Giving Offence (Doubling 247). Coetzee's novels also bear the imprint of Foucault's analysis of power. David Attwell claims in an interview with Coetzee, who does not contradict him, that "one could usefully read from Discipline and Punish to [Life and Times of] Michael K" (Doubling 247). It is equally instructive to read from Discipline and Punish to Waiting for the Barbarians.

Waiting for the Barbarians was written in response to state violence and acts of torture by agents of the state in apartheid South Africa. In it Coetzee depicts in a colonial context two aspects of Part 1 of Discipline and Punish ("Torture"), which deals with the infliction of torture in the course of criminal procedure and punishment during and after the Middle Ages. Colonel Joll's torturing of "barbarian" prisoners to induce them to confess to crimes against the Empire (2-5) is an instance of what Foucault calls "secret [...] interrogation under torture" (Discipline 35) and "a torture of the truth" (40), designed to produce a confession of guilt concerning the crime of which the victim is accused. Subsequently in the same novel, in Joll's public torture of a group of twelve barbarian captives (115), Coetzee dramatizes Foucault's account of spectacular public torture-as-punishment, which represents on the part of the sovereign (in this case, the Empire) an act of "revenge [...] a ceremonial by which a momentarily injured sovereignty is reconstituted" (Discipline 48-49). (1)

Following South Africa's transition from apartheid to liberal democracy, Disgrace evidences a shift of Coetzee's attention away from a concern with capturing the (premodern and colonial) mode of power as torture and spectacular punishment (Part 1 of Discipline and Punish), towards representing (modern, liberal democratic) disciplinary power (Parts 2 and 3 of Discipline and Punish): strategies through which delinquents are treated and reformed rather than tortured and executed. In the first six chapters of Disgrace, which several critics have characterized as satire, and especially in Coetzee's depiction of the disciplinary hearing of its protagonist in which this first section of the novel culminates, a critique of the modern university and its disciplinary apparatus is discernible.

The events of Disgrace are situated in the late 1990s, a few years after South Africa's transition to liberal democracy, which followed the repressive state violence of the states of emergency in the mid and late 1980s, the political context of Coetzee's novel Age of Iron. David Lurie is a lecturer at a university in Cape Town. The first section of Disgrace, after the end of his association with the prostitute Soraya, deals with Lurie's aggressive seduction of Melanie Isaacs, a coloured student (2) enrolled in his Romantics course, and the disciplinary hearing that ensues. Lurie's predation is foreshadowed by Dostoevsky's pursuit of Anna Sergeyevna in Coetzee's novel immediately preceding Disgrace, The Master of Petersburg: "He takes her by the arm [...] she cannot free herself. He presses himself against her, but she turns away [. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.