Disgrace By Coetzee Lecture Notes 7

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Disgrace by CoetzeeJ.M. Coetzee's Disgrace (1999) delves deeply into the mind of a twice-divorcedacademic, David Lurie, as he struggles to overcome the impediments imposed bysocietal standards on the fulfilment of his sexual desire. After being fired from hisCape Town position as a result of sexual misconduct with a student, the professor moves in with his daughter, Lucy. Lurie, a specialist in Romantic literature, is throwninto a rural South Africa that bears little resemblance to the scenes described byWordsworth. Salem's landscape is blighted by crime, poverty, and rape, and Lurie andhis daughter must salvage what they can of their relationship after tragedy strikes.

Disgrace earns a prestigious place in the genre of post-apartheid literature as theBooker Prize winner. While both black and white authors, such as Nadine Gordimer,Alan Paton, and J.M Coetzee himself, were instrumental in bringing apartheid to theworld's attention decades ago, many of these same authors were also instrumental inbringing attention to South Africa's post-apartheid condition. What sets post-apartheid literature apart from apartheid literature is its thematic focus. While race pervadesthese works, post-apartheid literature emphasises poverty, crime, bloodshed,homosexuality, and the AIDS epidemic. While Disgrace received widespread praisefor its brutal candour, South Africa's political establishment was less receptive. Thebook sparked debate in the House of Commons. Numerous members of the ruling party, the African National Congress, felt the book painted an overly pessimisticpicture of South Africa.

Disgrace was written following the adoption of South Africa's new constitution in1995. This constitution guaranteed equal rights for men and women. Additionally, the constitution guaranteed equality of rights regardless of sexual orientation (a fact veryrelevant to Lucy in the book). The ruling African National Congress (ANC), led byNelson Mandela, was one of the most prominent anti-apartheid movements. Mandelawon a landslide victory in 1994 to become South Africa's first President. However,post-apartheid South Africa was far from idyllic. The country's violence has increased significantly. Car jacking incidents increased, and many commercial farmers eitheremigrated or abandoned farming as a result of the violence directed at them. Between1989 and 1994, the murder rate more than doubled, and an average young SouthAfrican woman can expect to be raped twice in her lifetime. The changing landscapehas prompted many of South Africa's wealthier residents, particularly in Johannesburg, to relocate to gated communities.

Disgrace is stylistically unique in that, despite the fact that it is written in the thirdperson, David Lurie's point of view dominates the storey. The terms 'free indirectdiscourse' and 'third person limited' refer to this style of writing. Coetzee's decision to employ this technique provides his audience with access to both Lurie's spoken andunspoken thoughts. Lurie's desires, passions, and discourse become intimatelyfamiliar to the reader.

Indeed, Lurie's discourse is unmistakably academic in tone. David Lurie is an incessant thinker who prefers abstract thought to concrete experience. The narrativestyle of Disgrace is derived from Lurie's studies of literature and language. Coetzeeincorporates phrases in Afrikaans, Latin, German, Italian, and French throughout the

narrative. David Lurie draws inspiration from romantic poets such as Byron andWordsworth, Scarlatti sonatas, Charles Dickens novels, and Norman McLaren films. David Lurie is also an expert on language, even in casual conversation. Luriefrequently lingered over a word used by another character or even himself in thenovel, delving into its context, connotation, or etymology. Lurie's use of language isonly one manifestation of his alienation from South African society. In the country,the majority of the population speaks Xhosa, and Lurie's opera and philosophy are irrelevant. Yet his displacement began even before his exile to Salem, when Lurie,whose academic specialty is Romantic poetry, is demoted to the position ofCommunications professor with one literature elective per semester. Lurie is an exiledman. Lurie has been divorced twice and has been unable to sustain an intimaterelationship at the age of fifty-two. The novel's relationships demonstrate this lack of intimacy. For example, Soraya is a prostitute, Bev Shaw is a one-night stand, andMelanie is a typical student with whom he shares no interest in art or literature.Lurie's relationship with his daughter is his final opportunity to transcend himself.However, as violence infiltrates their world, Coetzee leaves us wondering if even thisrelationship is salvageable.

Apartheid is a term that literally translates as "separation" in Afrikaans and Dutch.Apartheid divided groups along racial lines. The major ethnic groups were White,Black, Indian, and Coloured. These classifications determined an individual'sgeographical location, employment, economic status, and access to resources such as education and healthcare. Although apartheid was not implemented legally until thewhite Afrikaaner-led National Party took power in 1948, it has its origins in SouthAfrica's colonial past under British rule. The objective of colonial rule was politicalsegregation, dubbed "grand apartheid." Segregation, dubbed "petty apartheid," did notbegin until the National Party took power.

Apartheid prohibited not only mixed-race marriages but also interracial sex. Eachindividual was classified according to race. If an individual's race was ambiguous, acommittee was formed to resolve the issue. Similarly to America, the society claimedto adhere to a standard of "separate but equal" treatment, which resulted in extreme disparity in practise. Black hospitals lacked adequate funding and staffing; housing inblack neighbourhoods was frequently devoid of plumbing and electricity.

The African National Congress (ANC) and other political entities provided resistanceto Apartheid. They organised demonstrations, marches, and strikes. As Western attention was drawn to apartheid's atrocities in the 1980's, the apartheid state wasrapidly weakened. South Africa was in a state of emergency during the final years ofapartheid. The most violent years were between 1985 and 1988, when the governmenttransformed itself into a police state, crushing any opposition or challenge to itsauthority. Nelson Mandela won the first post-apartheid election by a landslide in 1994, becoming South Africa's first president. David Lurie is an associate professor ofcommunications at Cape Town Technical University. He has been divorced twice, hasone child, and currently spends his Thursday afternoons with a prostitute namedSoraya for ninety minutes. After crossing the line by calling Soraya at her home, Lurieseeks fulfilment from one of his students. Melanie is initially noticed by Lurie in the university gardens and is invited to his home for wine and dinner. That same night,Melanie comes dangerously close to falling into Lurie's web of seduction until hequotes a cliche Shakespeare line, at which point she flees. Lurie's pursuits, however,

do not end there. He travels to campus over the weekend and uses the University'srecords to locate her address and phone number. Melanie agrees to have lunch with him after being startled by his call. They return to his residence and engage in sexualactivity on the living room floor. Melanie is passive for the majority of the act,whereas Lurie succumbs to sensory overload and falls asleep on top of her. Thefollowing class is awkward, and later that night, while she is rehearsing for a play,Lurie spies on her. Lurie arrives at Melanie's flat the following afternoon, pushes himself in, and carries her to her bed. She does not resist and requests that he leaveimmediately upon completion due to the arrival of her cousin. She misses her mid-term the following day and arrives sobbing at his house that night, in desperate needof a place to stay. Melanie's boyfriend pays the professor a visit shortly afterwards,and events spiral out of control. Melanie drops all of her classes and files a sexual harassment complaint against Professor Lurie.

The investigation unfolds in the manner of a criminal trial, with the judges serving ashis committee colleagues. With Melanie's testimony already delivered and the pressand activist groups gathered outside, Lurie is given the opportunity to profess remorse and pledge to seek treatment; however, he declines to be a spectacle. He receives nograce and is terminated. His only statement to the press is that the experience"enriched" him.

Lurie, a social outcast, pays a visit to his daughter Lucy on her Salem farm. The first few days are slow as Lurie adjusts to country life, but he quickly finds ways to fill histime volunteering at an animal shelter and assisting Petrus, the farmhand. Althoughboth of her parents are professionals, Lucy has chosen to live a rural lifestyle, sellingcrops and running a small kennel on weekends.

The country's peace does not last long. While Lucy and Lurie are out for a walk withsome of the dogs, they come across three Africans on the road who request to usetheir phone. Lucy makes the mistake of putting the dogs in the kennel, and the mentake Lucy into the house and lock the door behind them within moments. Lurie is temporarily unable to enter and protect his daughter. When he finally enters thekitchen, a blow to the head knocks him unconscious. Lucy is dragged into a backroom by the three men and raped. The robbers then shoot the dogs in the kennel,ransack the house, set fire to Lurie's car, and steal it. Lucy enlists the assistance of aneighbour to contact the police and transport her father to the hospital for treatment of his burns. They spend the night with the Shaws, who are Lucy's friends and run theanimal shelter where Lurie volunteers. They are able to access the damage thefollowing day upon their return to the farm. The house has been pillaged, and all dogsexcept one must be buried. Lucy reports the stolen property and her father's assault tothe police officer, but makes no mention of the rape.

Lucy suffers from depression following the attack. Because she rarely leaves her bed,her father takes on a great deal of household chores and is busy from sunrise tosunset. Lurie attempts to speak with his daughter about the incident several times, butshe either avoids his questions or responds sharply. Lurie is enraged that the perpetrators have not been apprehended, and Lucy fears that they may return. Lurie,on the other hand, does not believe the robbery was an isolated incident. He suspectsthat Lucy's farmhand, Petrus, was missing for several days following the robbery.

When Petrus returns, he is dressed in a new suit and has purchased supplies for hishouse's construction. Lurie believes Petrus purposefully left the house unprotected in order to facilitate robbery. When Petrus invites Lucy and Lurie to a party to celebratehis recent land acquisition, Lucy runs into one of her attackers, a mentally disturbedyoung man named Pollux. Pollux is a distant relative of Petrus' wife. Lurieimmediately calls the cops and has him arrested, but Lucy declines and returns home.

Lurie becomes increasingly involved at the shelter, and even has a brief affair with theshelter's owner, Bev. Lurie's primary responsibility at the shelter becomes apparent:when Bev Shaw administers a lethal injection to a dog, Lurie disposes of the dog'sbody in the incinerator. Lurie is unaware of how these killings have affected him untilhe is forced to pull over on the side of the road and cry.

Meanwhile, Petrus makes progress on his land. He rented a tractor, ploughed the land,and renovated his home. Petrus' wife is pregnant, and Pollux has moved in with them.Lurie confronts his daughter about the future following a false alarm that his car hadbeen recovered by the police. From his vantage point, she has little choice but to flee. It is dangerous for a woman to live unprotected on the farm, and Petrus cannot betrusted. He offers to pay for her trip to Holland, where her biological mother resides,with the proceeds from the sale of his house. Lucy is completely unreceptive to thisnotion. She is adamant about remaining in Salem. To mark a watershed moment intheir father-daughter relationship, she sends him a note that reads, "I cannot remain a child indefinitely. You cannot continue to be a father indefinitely. I appreciate yourgood intentions, but you are not the guide I require at the moment (161)."

Lurie returns to Cape Town, stopping in George to visit Mr. Isaacs on the way. Mr.Isaacs is not at home, and the door is answered by his daughter, Desiree Isaacs. Lurie, who finds the young girl quite attractive, does not stay long and instead visits Mr.Isaacs at work. Mr. Isaacs is a middle school principal. Lurie makes an attempt tojustify himself in the office. Mr. Isaacs invites Lurie to dinner with his family despitehis confusion over his words. While the evening is undoubtedly uncomfortable, Mr.Isaacs eventually receives what he seeks: an apology. When Lurie returns to his Cape Town home, he discovers that it has been burgled and vandalised. He returns to hisoffice and discovers that his replacement has taken his place at his desk. Lurieattempts unsuccessfully for a time to get his opera on Byron off the ground. Life inCape Town is not the same; he discovers himself to be an outcast. Lurie decides to seeMelanie perform in a play after receiving an update on Melanie from his ex-wife Rosalind. Melanie's boyfriend notices Lurie in the audience during the play andharasses him, telling him to stick with his own kind.

Lurie maintains contact with Lucy via phone, but suspects she is withholdinginformation. Lurie decides to visit his daughter following an ambiguous conversation with Bev Shaw. Lucy is pregnant as a result of the rape and has chosen to keep thechild. Lurie is taken aback, believing she had taken all necessary precautionsfollowing the incident. He offers her an escape once more, but she will not flee. Lucymakes her own decisions. In exchange for protection and the right to remain in herhouse, she will sign over her land to Petrus (contractually marrying him). Lurie rents a room in Grahmstown to assist his daughter at the market once a week and to devotehimself to the shelter's dog carcass disposal.

David Lurie undergoes a significant transformation in the novel regarding his attitudetoward animals. At first, he is repulsed by Bev Shaw, the owner of the animal shelter; she is unattractive and reeks of the animals she spends her days with. He reluctantlyagrees to volunteer at the shelter as suggested by his daughter. His involvement inanimal treatment and etherisation broadens his perspective. Lurie, who was onceconvinced that animals lack souls, is disturbed when two sheep he has come to knoware slaughtered for Petrus' party. By the book's conclusion, Lurie realises that his life's purpose is not to write a famous opera about Byron or even to be an animal rightsadvocate. He finds meaning in the menial task of properly disposing of the dogs'bodies.

From the novel's inception, David Lurie and Lucy Lurie share an unusual father- daughter relationship. Lucy, despite being raised in a home with two academics, haschosen the life of a farmer. Her income is derived from the sale of flowers andvegetables, as well as the care of dogs on her farmland. She lives alone in Salem,South Africa, as a white lesbian woman. Lurie, on the other hand, is a Cape Townresident. His livelihood is derived not from manual labour but from the generation of ideas. He has published three books and is currently working on an opera aboutByron. Both are diametrically opposed, yet both are caught up in devastation thatforever alters their lives. Disgrace binds them together. Lurie was fired from hisprofessorship following allegations of sexual misconduct with a student. Lucy hasbeen raped by three Africans and is now subjected to the shame and humiliation that the crime entails in her community.

Disgrace is set in South Africa following the end of apartheid. Even though apartheidwas abolished legally, its legacy continues to haunt the country. Robbery andvandalism are common in rural areas. Rape is a prevalent crime. The outrage generated by a history of oppression and violence is inexhaustible. When David Luriearrives in Salem, J.M. Coetzee brings racial tensions to the forefront of the novel. Hisdaughter, Lucy, is one of the region's few remaining white farmers. An African namedPetrus lives in the back of her property, tending to the garden and assisting with thefarm. He is in a position of subordination. When Petrus is implicated in indirectly facilitating a robbery on her land, the racial dynamics become more strained. Hevanishes during an attack by three men and reappears with building supplies torenovate his new house. When Lurie confronts Petrus, the division becomes clear. Thenovel's conclusion, however, blurs this distinction when Lucy becomes pregnant withone of the robbers' children and thus becomes an unwitting member of Petrus' family.

Lucy is raped by three men during a house robbery. Rape is a heinous, violent act.Despite the fact that they are strangers, the encounter is described as "personal." Lucymakes the critical choice not to report the rape because it is a personal matter for her.She also recognises that no true justice will be served in contemporary South Africa. Her relationship with her father is forever altered as a result of the rape. Men andwomen are now clearly separated. Her father joins them. Her father must watchhelplessly as his daughter suffers the aftereffects of fear and depression, unable tooffer any consolation or solace.

As an ideal, justice serves as the yardstick for determining guilt and innocence.However, in this novel, J.M. Coetzee delves into the moral underpinnings of justice.The university's investigation into sexual harassment charges brought against Lurie isstructured similarly to the criminal justice system. Guilt and confession areinextricably linked throughout the hearing. Justice devolves into a public act motivated by guilt and shame. Lucy, too, is a victim of the justice system. To protecther privacy, she chooses not to report her rape. However, even when theft and robberycharges are filed, justice is never served. Criminals are never brought to justice.

David Lurie, age fifty-two, is a sexually active man. He has been married twice and currently relies on a prostitute to satisfy his sexual desires. The issue arises whenLurie crosses departmental and generational lines by sleeping with his student. As aprofessor, sleeping with a student is against the University's code of conduct. WhenLurie crosses this line, he puts the student in a precarious position. While shecomplies, Lurie benefits unfairly from his position of power. The young student eventually drops out of school and files charges. When the student's boyfriendcommands him to "stick to your own kind," Lurie is fired and publicly chastised forhis actions.