CISLE: Center for the International Study of Literatures in English

Activity: Talk or presentationtalk or presentation in privat or public eventsResearch

Maria Moss - Speaker

The Postcolonial 'Other'?: J.M. Coetzee's "Disgrace" and "The Lives of Animals"

The representation of animals in literature raises moral and epistemological issues, many of which revolve around the problems posed by anthropomorphism. Although the animal trope allows writers to enter spaces devoid of humans, narratives surrounding the fates of animals are often constructions based on human terminology. In such narratives, the universalizing character of humanness and its anthropomorphic constructions of identity become apparent. For animals to not be “other” but instead be an equal player in cultural discourse, traditional categories of human/non-human identity constructions need to be questioned and possibly dissolved.
In my paper, I will discuss two novels (both published in 1999) by South African novelist J.M. Coetzee which center on the fate of animals. By comparing the animal as a postcolonial subject in Disgrace to the animal as an academic subject in The Lives of Animals, I will demonstrate how Coetzee enters the contested terrain of animal consciousness and human ideology, thereby not only questioning but indeed transgressing the previously thought unalterable border between animal and human representation. While in Disgrace animals occupy a postcolonial – if not colonial – space, i.e. they mirror essentialist views of racial difference, animals in The Lives of Animals are subjects worthy of a post-humanist recognition.

My analysis of these two novels will show that Coetzee achieves this hybrid space of “in-betweenness” not only by employing an academic alter ego – celebrated writer and animal activist, Elizabeth Costello – but also by complementing The Lives of Animals with essays by philosophers such as Amy Gutman and Peter Singer. Thus, by transgressing narrative genres Coetzee offers perspectives – both fictional and non-fictional – which open up new ways of re-drawing the boundaries between humans and animals.



International Conference of the Center for the International Study of Literatures in English - CISLE 2015


Göttingen , Lower Saxony, Germany

Event: Conference