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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.67, No.1, 3 ~ 22, 2021
Animal Ethics and the Human Question in J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace
Sunyoung Ahn
In Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee scrutinizes what it might mean, in post-apartheid South Africa still fraught with racial and political animosity, to tell the story of a disgraced man learning to relate to animals with compassion and humility. The novel highlights the urgency of this animal ethics in that it mitigates the cruelty of utilitarian logic that reduces all living beings to the status of disposable things. In addition, it interrogates the ways in which speciesism operates hand-in-hand with racism and racial discourse. Notwithstanding the importance attached to the issue of suffering animals in South Africa, however, I argue that the novel also illuminates how the cultivation of human-animal companionship obfuscates the urgency of developing human relationships. Animal ethics in Disgrace carries a treacherous quality in that it simultaneously has the effect of being a turn away from the human by shelving the problems of the human domination of humans, which not infrequently takes place by way of favoring and elevating animals while further alienating the already de-privileged and marginalized human. Disgrace, then, reflects on the ways in which ethics is extended to nonhumans without necessarily practicing it among and between humans. At the dawn of post-apartheid democracy, to cultivate animal ethics by choosing to be “like a dog” in the act of self-abnegation, as if to renounce the occupancy of political space, may be inadequate; the novel therefore highlights the ethical imperative to become neighbors to each other by recognizing fraternity and shared power.
Key Words
animal ethics, human ethics, fraternity, neighbors, post-Apartheid
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