Transcript: Robert Adams on J.M. Coetzee's novel Disgrace | Feb 04, 2001

A black slate reads "Robert Adams. J.M. Coetzee. Disgrace."

[Applause.]

Robert Adams stands behind a wooden lectern on a stage in a dimly-lit auditorium and addresses an audience. He's in his late sixties, with receding white hair and a goatee. He's wearing glasses, a gray suit, white shirt, and red tie.

He says THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
I'M GOING TO BE TALKING FOR A
WHILE ABOUT A MASTERPIECE.
DISGRACE
BY JOHN MICHAEL
COETZEE--THREE SYLLABLES,
CUT-ZEE-AH.
THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE ON THE
INTERNET, WILL HAVE SEEN TWO OR
THREE REFERENCES TO THE FACT
THAT HIS FIRST NAMES ARE JOHN
MAXWELL.
THE INTERNET, AS IT OFTEN IS, IS
WRONG.
HIS NAME IS JOHN MICHAEL.
JOHN MICHAEL COETZEE.
BUT BEFORE I BEGIN TO TALK ABOUT
THIS INCREDIBLE BOOK, I THOUGHT
IT MIGHT BE USEFUL TO BEGIN BY
TALKING ABOUT SOMETHING
CONNECTED BUT NOT QUITE THE
NOVEL.
I THOUGHT I MIGHT BEGIN BY...
SINCE THE BOOK DEALS, IN PART,
WITH CONTEMPORARY RELATIONSHIPS
BETWEEN BLACK AND WHITE SOUTH
AFRICANS, I THOUGHT IT MIGHT BE
USEFUL TO BEGIN BY CONSIDERING
HOW THERE ARE
WHITE
SOUTH AFRICANS.
HOW THERE CAME TO BE EUROPEANS
IN SOUTH AFRICA IN THE FIRST
PLACE.
AND SO, I HAVE PREPARED A VISUAL AID.

He lifts a cardboard model of the African continent with the southern tip highlighted in red.

[Audience laughs]

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Robert Adams on J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace."

Robert continues THE FIRST
EUROPEAN IN SOUTH AF--THE FIRST
EUROPEAN
SETTLEMENT
IN
SOUTH AFRICA WAS IN 1652.
A DUTCHMAN, JAN VAN RIEBEECK,
ESTABLISHED A SMALL SETTLEMENT
ON THE VERY TIP, THE CAPE OF
GOOD HOPE.
IT WAS REALLY NOTHING MORE THAN
A STOPPING-OFF STATION FOR DUTCH
SHIPS ON THEIR WAY TO THE FAR
EAST AND THE SPICE ISLANDS.
BUT THE LAND WAS GOOD AND OVER
THE NEXT 150 YEARS, DUTCH
FARMERS CAME AND SETTLED.
NOW THE DUTCH WORD FOR FARMER IS
A
BOER
[Pronouncing it "boo-er"]
BUT I'M USED TO THE
ENGLISH PRONUNCIATION OF BOER
[Pronouncing it "bow-er"]
SO THAT'S THE ONE I'M
GOING TO USE.
AND THE BOERS SETTLED THERE AND
THEY ESTABLISHED A VERY
PROSPEROUS LITTLE COLONY, THE
CAPE COLONY AT THE TIP OF SOUTH
AFRICA.
BUT HOLLAND WAS A PART OF
NAPOLEON'S GREAT EMPIRE AND
DURING THE NAPOLEONIC WARS,
BRITAIN SEIZED THE DUTCH COLONY
AT THE TIP OF SOUTH AFRICA TO
PROTECT BRITISH TRADE WITH
INDIA.
THE DUTCH FARMERS WERE VERY
UNHAPPY TO COME UNDER BRITISH
RULE.
AND THE LAST STRAW CAME IN 1833
WHEN THE BRITISH OUTLAWED
SLAVERY IN THE BRITISH EMPIRE,
AND THE DUTCH DECIDED THEY'D HAD
ENOUGH OF BRITISH RULE, AND THE
ANTI-SLAVERY LAWS, AND SO THEY
DECIDED TO MOVE INLAND.
THEY CROSSED THE GREAT D--YOU
KNOW, I FIND WHEN I START TO
TALK ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA, I
DEVELOP AN AFRIKANER ACCENT.

[Audience laughs]

Robert continues IF I DO, FORGIVE ME.
THEY DECIDED TO TAKE THEIR
FAMILIES AND THEIR SLAVES AND
MOVE INLAND, ACROSS THE
DRAKENSBERG MOUNTAINS.
THEY CALL IT "THE GREAT TREK."
IT BEGAN IN 1833 AND IT WENT ON
FOR 16, 17, 18 YEARS.
SOME OF THEM CROSSED THE ORANGE
RIVER AND FOUNDED AN INDEPENDENT
BOER PUBLIC, THE "ORANGE FREE
STATE."
SOME OF THE BOER TREKKERS WENT
FURTHER.
THEY CROSSED THE VAAL RIVER AND
THEY ESTABLISHED A SECOND,
INDEPENDENT BOER REPUBLIC.
THEY CALLED IT INITIALLY THE
"SOUTH AFRICAN REPUBLIC," LATER
"THE TRANSVAAL."
SO BY THE MIDDLE OF THE 19TH
CENTURY, ABOUT 1850, YOU HAD TWO
BRITISH COLONIES ON THE COAST
BECAUSE THE BRITISH TOOK, NOT
ONLY THE DUTCH COLONY OF THE
CAPE, BUT THE OTHER LITTLE DUTCH
COLONY OF NATAL, CENTRED ON THE
CITY OF DURBAN.
BY 1850, TWO BRITISH COLONIES ON
THE COAST AND TWO BOER REPUBLICS
INLAND.
AND THAT SITUATION WOULD HAVE
GONE IN PEACEFULLY EXCEPT FOR
THE FACT THAT THE BOERS, THE
AFRIKANERS, THE DUTCH SPEAKERS,
MADE TWO TERRIBLE MISTAKES.
THEY DISCOVERED GOLD AND THEY
DISCOVERED DIAMONDS.
AND WHEN THEY DID THAT, THE
BRITISH SAID, "YOU NEED
PROTECTION."
PROTECTION FROM WHAT I CAN'T
IMAGINE, EXCEPT THE BRITISH, BUT
FOR THE NEXT 50 YEARS THERE WAS
CONFLICT BETWEEN THE TWO BRITISH
COLONIES AND THE TWO BOER
REPUBLICS.
AND IT ERUPTED IN 1899 INTO THE
BOER WAR.
THE BRITISH COULD NOT DEFEAT THE
DUTCH FARMERS.
THESE FARMERS ON THEIR LITTLE
PONIES, GUERRILLA TACTICS,
LITTLE UNITS--THEY CALLED THEM
"COMMANDOS"--IT'S WHERE THE WORD
COMES FROM.
SO BY THE SECOND YEAR OF THE
WAR, THE BRITISH DECIDED THEY
HAD TO FIND A NEW SOLUTION TO
THE PROBLEM SO THE BRITISH
INVENTED THE CONCENTRATION CAMP.
THEY COULDN'T DEFEAT THE BOERS
SO THEY BURNED THEIR FARMS AND
THEY IMPRISONED THEIR WIVES AND
CHILDREN.
AND WHEN THEY HAD STARVED 30,000
OF THESE INNOCENTS TO DEATH, THE
BOERS SURRENDERED.
IN 1902, THE BOER WAR WAS OVER.
AND NOW THERE WERE FOUR BRITISH
COLONIES AT THE BOTTOM OF SOUTH
AFRICA--CAPE COLONY, NATAL, THE
ORANGE FREE STATE, AND THE
TRANSVAAL.
AND IN 1910, THE BRITISH UNITED
THEM INTO A NEW COUNTRY, "THE
UNION OF SOUTH AFRICA," WITH TWO
OFFICIAL LANGUAGES--ENGLISH AND
DUTCH--ENGLISH ON THE COAST,
DUTCH INLAND.
IN 1925, IT WAS DECIDED THAT THE
DUTCH OF SOUTH AFRICA HAD
EVOLVED SO DIFFERENTLY FROM THE
DUTCH OF THE MOTHER COUNTRY OF
HOLLAND, THAT IT WAS IN FACT A
SEPARATE LANGUAGE AND SO IN
1925, THE UNION OF SOUTH AFRICA
HAD TWO OFFICIAL LANGUAGES...
ENGLISH AND THE NEW LANGUAGE,
AFRIKAANS.
AMAZINGLY, THERE WAS NO OFFICIAL
RECOGNITION OF ANY BLACK SOUTH
AFRICAN LANGUAGE, LIKE ZULU OR
XHOSA.
THE BLACKS, IN THE FIRST HALF OF
THE 20TH CENTURY, WERE THE
HEWERS OF WOOD AND THE DRAWERS
OF WATER, FOR BOTH THOSE OF
DUTCH AND BRITISH DESCENT.
THE 1910 CONSTITUTION OF THE
UNION OF SOUTH AFRICA, GAVE SOME
SMALL REPRESENTATION TO SOUTH
AFRICANS OF MIXED RACE.
SOME SMALL REPRESENTATION TO
SOUTH AFRICANS OF ASIAN DESCENT.
BUT NO REPRESENTATION WHATSOEVER
IN PARLIAMENT TO
BLACK
SOUTH AFRICANS.
AND THAT CONTINUED FOR THE FIRST
HALF OF THE 20TH CENTURY.
AND THEN AFTER THE SECOND WORLD
WAR, THINGS BECAME EVEN WORSE
FOR BLACK SOUTH AFRICANS BECAUSE
IN 1948, THE AFRIKANER-DOMINATED
NATIONALIST PARTY, FOR THE FIRST
TIME, WON THE FEDERAL ELECTIONS.
UP TO THEN, IT HAD BEEN THE
ENGLISH-DOMINATED UNITED PARTY.
AND WHEN THE AFRIKANERS CAME TO
FEDERAL POWER IN SOUTH AFRICA,
THEY LOOKED OUTSIDE AT THE REST
OF THE WORLD, AND THEY REALIZED
THAT ALL OVER THE WORLD NON-
WHITE PEOPLES WERE BEGINNING TO
AGITATE FOR THEIR INDEPENDENCE
FROM THEIR COLONIAL OPPRESSORS.
SO THE AFRIKANERS, THE BOERS,
DECIDED ON A PRE-EMPTIVE STRIKE.
THE RACIAL SEGREGATION THAT
ALREADY EXISTED, IN FACT
DEFACTO, THEY DECIDED TO
SYSTEMIZE INTO LAW, INTO A
SYSTEM THEY CALLED "SEPARATE
GROWTH."
THEY USED THE DUTCH WORD
APARTHEID.
AND IN 1948, THEY PUT INTO
AFFECT, A WHOLE SYSTEM OF LAWS
DESIGNED TO KEEP BLACK SOUTH
AFRICANS IN A PERMANENT STATE OF
SUBJECTION.
THEY RECEIVED A RELIGIOUS
BLESSING FOR THIS SEPARATION.
THE CHURCH, THE DUTCH REFORM
CHURCH, FAVOURED BY MOST
AFRIKANERS, GAVE APARTHEID
RELIGIOUS LEGITIMACY BY TEACHING
ALL THE PREDICANTS, THEIR
PREACHERS ANNOUNCED THIS, THAT
BLACKS ARE DESCENDED FROM THE
YOUNGEST SON OF NOAH.
NOW YOU WILL REMEMBER IN THE
STORY OF NOAH IN GENESIS, YOU
WILL REMEMBER CHAPTER 12, VERSE 25.

[Murmuring from audience]

Robert continues YOU WILL REMEMBER THAT NOAH'S
YOUNGEST SON, HAM, WAS
REBELLIOUS AGAINST HIS FATHER.
HE LOOKED UPON HIS FATHER'S
NAKEDNESS, AND AS A RESULT, GOD
CURSED HIM AND HIS DESCENDANTS.
GOD SAID "CURSED BE CANAAN AND
HIS DESCENDANTS WILL BE SERVANTS
FOREVER."
AND THE DUTCH REFORM CHURCH
SAID, "BLACKS ARE DESCENDED FROM
HAM AND THEY WILL BE SERVANTS
FOREVER."
AND SO YOU HAD APARTHEID.
ONE INSULT LED TO ANOTHER.
THEY CREATED THE SOUTH AFRICAN
GOVERNMENT, BLACK HOMELANDS, TEN
OF THEM.
THEY CHOSE TEN DESERT AREAS
WITHIN THE UNION OF SOUTH
AFRICA.
PLACES WITHOUT WATER, WITHOUT
HOMES, WITHOUT BUILDINGS,
WITHOUT RIVERS.
AND THEY SAID "THESE ARE THE
BLACK'S ANCESTRAL HOMELANDS."
EVERY BLACK IN SOUTH AFRICA IS A
CITIZEN OF ONE OF THOSE
HOMELANDS, THEREFORE, IN SOUTH
AFRICA ITSELF, JOHANNESBURG,
PRETORIA, BLOEMFONTEIN, CAPE
TOWN, DURBAN, HE IS A FOREIGN
WORKER.
SO YOU HAVE THE SYSTEM WHEREBY
ALL BLACK SOUTH AFRICANS WERE
UNWELCOME, FOREIGN WORKERS IN
THEIR OWN COUNTRY.
BY 1961, THE REST OF THE WORLD
WAS SO ANGERED BY APARTHEID THAT
THEY CRITICIZED VOCALLY, AND
OFFENDED, SOUTH AFRICA, IN 1961,
DECLARED ITSELF A REPUBLIC AND
WITHDRAW FROM THE COMMONWEALTH
AND ENTERED A 30 YEAR PERIOD OF
ISOLATION.
SOUTH AFRICA BECAME A PARIAH
AMONGST THE NATIONS.
WITHIN SOUTH AFRICA, THERE WAS
OPPOSITION.
BLACK SOUTH AFRICANS FORMED THE
"AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS,"
WITH SOME WHITE SUPPORT, SOME
SUPPORT FROM THE MIXED RACES.
BUT THE AFRICAN NATIONAL
CONGRESS, THE A.N.C., WAS
PROSCRIBED BY THE GOVERNMENT AS
A COMMUNIST ORGANIZATION, AND
ITS LEADER, NELSON MANDELA, WAS
JAILED IN 1964 FOR THE REST OF
HIS LIFE.
AFTER MANDELA HAD BEEN IN PRISON
FOR 26 YEARS, 18 OF THEM--THE
FIRST 18 AT HARD LABOUR, THE
SITUATION BECAME UNTENABLE FOR
THE WHITES OF SOUTH AFRICA,
EXCEPT PERHAPS FOR THE MOST
EXTREME OF AFRIKANER
NATIONALISTS.
THE DEMOGRAPHICS MADE THE
SITUATION IMPOSSIBLE TO
CONTINUE.
OF A POPULATION IN 1990 OF ABOUT
30 MILLION PEOPLE, 72 percent WERE
BLACK, 9 percent WERE OF MIXED RACE AND
3 percent WERE OF ASIAN DESCENT.
THIS MEANT THAT 84 PERCENT OF
THE PEOPLE LIVING IN SOUTH
AFRICA WERE NOT WHITE.
THE 16 percent WHITE MINORITY COULD NO
LONGER HOLD THE LINE AND
GRADUALLY, THE OLD RACIAL LAWS
WERE ALLOWED TO FALL INTO
ABEYANCE.
THE PASS LAWS WHEREBY EVERY
BLACK WORKING AS A DOMESTIC OR
AS A MINER FOR GOLD OR DIAMONDS,
HAD TO CARRY A PASS, AND LEAVE
HIS FAMILY IN ONE OF THE
HOMELANDS.
THE LAW WAS ALLOWED TO FALL INTO
ABEYANCE.
THE LAW AGAINST RACIAL
INTERMARRIAGE WAS ALLOWED TO
FALL INTO ABEYANCE.
AND IN 1990, NELSON MANDELA WAS
FREED AFTER 26 YEARS OF
IMPRISONMENT.
AFTER LENGTHY NEGOTIATIONS
BETWEEN THE A.N.C. AND THE
GOVERNMENT, UNDER THE STAT
PRESIDENT F.W. DE KLERK, IN
1994, ON MAY THE 10TH, SOUTH
AFRICA HAD ITS FIRST FREE
ELECTION.
ONE PERSON, ONE VOTE.
AND NELSON MANDELA BECAME
PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC WITH
DE KLERK AS VICE PRESIDENT.
IT WAS AN
INCREDIBLE
TRANSFORMATION.
THERE WAS SOME VIOLENCE BUT MUCH
LESS THAN ANYBODY HAD
ANTICIPATED.
SOME AFRIKANERS, SOME OF THE
EXTREMISTS LIKE "TERRE BLANCHE."
FORMED PRIVATE ARMIES BUT THEY
WEREN'T TOO SERIOUS.
THERE WAS TENSION WITHIN THE
BLACK COMMUNITIES.
BETWEEN THE XHOSA-DOMINATED
AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS AND
THE ZULU-DOMINATED ENCARTA
PARTY.
BUT, THE VIOLENCE WAS RELATIVELY
MINOR.
THE DIE WAS CAST.
IN 1994, A NEW SOUTH AFRICA WAS
BORN.
THERE WAS A CRIME WAVE.
THE SOUTH AFRICAN POLICE LOST
THEIR ABSOLUTE POWER.
FREEDOM IS INITIALLY
EXHILARATING.
THE FALL OF ANY DICTATORSHIP,
WHETHER IT BE IN RUSSIA OR SPAIN
OR SOUTH AFRICA, WILL MEAN THAT
PEOPLE SUDDENLY ERUPT.
BUT THERE WAS A MUCH GREATER
PROBLEM THAN THE CRIME WAVE.
BLACKS AND WHITES IN SOUTH
AFRICA HAD TO REDEFINE THEIR
RELATIONSHIP TO EACH OTHER.
BECAUSE THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA
CAME WITH A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF
BAGGAGE, UNTIL 1994 FOR EXAMPLE,
FOR EVERY 30 dollars SPENT ON THE
EDUCATION OF A WHITE CHILD, 1 dollar
WAS SPENT ON THE EDUCATION OF A
BLACK CHILD.
FOR DECADES, BLACK SOUTH
AFRICANS HAVE BEEN TREATED AS
FOREIGNERS IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY.
FOR A CENTURY, WHITE SOUTH
AFRICANS, PARTICULARLY THE
AFRIKANERS, HAD SEEN THEMSELVES
AS GODS-ANOINTED.
ALL THOSE ATTITUDES HAD TO
CHANGE AND THE CHANGE WAS OF
NECESSITY, PAINFUL.
THAT PAINFUL CHANGE IS THE
CONTEXT, THE BACKGROUND, OF OUR
NOVEL TONIGHT, COETZEE'S
DISGRACE.

The book appears briefly on screen. The cover features a picture of a scrawny dog walking along a dirt road.

Robert continues IT WON AN UNPRECEDENTED SECOND
BOOKER PRIZE FOR COETZEE IN
1999.
HE WON THE FIRST ONE IN 1983 FOR
LIFE AND TIMES OF MICHAEL
K .
HE'S AN INTERESTING MAN,
COETZEE.
HE WAS BORN IN 1940 WHICH MAKES
HIM...60 YEARS OLD.
HE WAS BORN IN CAPE TOWN.
HE GREW UP ABOUT 90 MILES NORTH
OF CAPE TOWN IN A DESERT AREA
CALLED "THE KAROO."
HE WAS THE CHILD OF AFRIKANER
PARENTS WHO WERE VERY
PROGRESSIVE, VERY PRO-ENGLISH,
VERY PRO-UNITED PARTY.
YOU SEE THAT IN HIS FIRST NAME,
"J.M.," IT'S NOT "JAN MARITZ."
IT'S "JOHN MICHAEL."
HE GREW UP IN A RURAL, DRY AREA.
HIS FATHER WAS A WEAK MAN, AN
ALCOHOLIC, A COUNTRY LAWYER WHO
JUST SCRATCHED OUT A LIVING.
COETZEE WROTE ABOUT HIS
CHILDHOOD BRILLIANTLY.
IN 1997, HE CALLED IT
BOYHOOD, SCENES OF A
PROVINCIAL LIFE .
HE IS PROBABLY THE SHYEST MAN IN
THE WORLD.
AND IN HIS MEMOIR OF HIS
BOYHOOD, HE WROTE IN THE THIRD
PERSON.
HE WROTE ABOUT A LITTLE BOY
CALLED "JOHN."
IT'S HIMSELF.
AND FOUR OF THE MEMORIES IN THAT
BOOK STRUCK ME AS VERY
SIGNIFICANT.
ONE, THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN HIS
MOTHER AND HIS FATHER, THE
ALCOHOLIC AND THE STRONG WOMAN.
TWO, THE FLOGGING OF NON-WHITE
SERVANTS HE SAW IN HIS OWN
HOUSEHOLD.
THREE, THE BULLYING HE ENDURED
AT SCHOOL.
HE WAS A SICKLY CHILD AND BIGGER
BOYS MADE HIS LIFE DIFFICULT.
FOUR, ON HIS MOTHER'S FATHER'S
SHEEP FARM, HIS GRANDFATHER'S
SHEEP FARM
HE SAW HOW ANIMALS WERE TREATED,
PARTICULARLY HE NOTICED THE
CASTRATION OF SHEEP.
NOW IF YOU TAKE THOSE FOUR
MEMORIES--THE MOTHER-FATHER
STRUGGLE, THE BULLYING AT
SCHOOL, THE FLOGGING OF THE
SERVANT AND THE CASTRATION OF
ANIMALS, YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE A
FREUDIAN TO BE ABLE TO GUESS AT
WHAT MIGHT BE THE THEME OF THE
EIGHT NOVELS HE WOULD COME TO
WRITE LATER.
HIS NOVELS HAVE SOMETHING IN
COMMON.
THE TECHNIQUES CHANGE, BUT ALL
HIS NOVELS, INCLUDING THIS ONE,
ARE ABOUT THE EXERCISE OF POWER.
THE NATURE OF POWER.
AND THE EFFECT OF EXERCISING
THAT POWER, BOTH ON THOSE WHO
EXERCISE THE POWER AND THOSE ON
WHOM IT IS EXERCISED.
AT THE SAME TIME, ALL OF
COETZEE'S NOVELS, INCLUDING
TONIGHT'S NOVEL
DISGRACE, CONSIDER THE
UNIVERSAL NATURE OF THE HUMAN
BEING.
THE PROFOUND PROBLEMS OF
EXISTING, IN WHAT COETZEE SEES
AS A HOSTILE UNIVERSE, A
UNIVERSE WITHOUT GOD BECAUSE
COETZEE IS NOT A BELIEVER AND
NEITHER IS HIS PROTAGONIST
TONIGHT, DAVID LURIE.
NOW BECAUSE HE IS CONCERNED WITH
THE UNIVERSALITY OF HUMAN
NATURE, UNTIL THIS NOVEL,
COETZEE RESOLUTELY REFUSED TO
ANCHOR ANY OF HIS NOVELS IN A
PARTICULAR TIME AND A PARTICULAR
PLACE.
IF YOU THINK OF THE FIRST BOOKER
PRIZE WINNER,
LIFE AND TIMES
OF MICHAEL K, IT IS ABOUT A
SIMPLE MAN, AN OUTCAST, LIVING
IN A CIVIL WAR, IN AN UNNAMED
COUNTRY.
AND THE ONE QUESTION THAT
OBSESSED HIM IS "WHERE IS HOME
AND HOW DO I GET THERE?"
BUT WE DON'T KNOW WHERE OR WHEN
THE NOVEL IS SET.
THAT WAS TRUE OF ALL HIS FIRST
SEVEN NOVELS.
MAYBE NOT THE SIXTH,
AGE OF
IRON.
THERE IS A SPECIFIC SOUTH
AFRICAN REFERENCE IN THAT NOVEL,
BUT IT ISN'T IMPORTANT.
WHAT THE NOVEL IS ABOUT,
AGE
OF IRON, IS SOMEONE'S
PREPARATION FOR DEATH.
MOST OF THE TIME IN HIS PREVIOUS
NOVELS, COETZEE HAS CHOSEN THE
FABLE.
NOT ANCHORED IN TIME, NOT
ANCHORED IN A PLACE.
THE FABLE, AS HIS VEHICLE TO
TELL A STORY.
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF
MICHAEL K.
THE PEOPLE HAVE CALLED HIM THE
SUCCESSOR TO KAFKA, THE GREAT
TELLER OF FABLES.
AND THERE IS SOMETHING OF KAFKA
IN HIS EARLY WORK, WITHOUT THE
MAGIC REALISM.
THERE ARE NO SIX FEET
COCKROACHES IN COETZEE'S WORK.
BUT IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO PIN HIM
DOWN AND CALL HIM THE "SUCCESSOR
TO KAFKA."
HIS VIRTUOSITY IS INCREDIBLE.
HE WROTE HIS FIRST NOVEL 1974,
DUSKLANDS
IN AFRIKAANS,
TWO FABLES, MESHED TOGETHER,
THEN HE TRANSLATED IT INTO
ENGLISH.
THEN HE MOVED TO ENGLISH
PERMANENTLY IN HIS SECOND NOVEL.
HE EXPLORED THE STREAM OF
CONSCIOUSNESS AS A NARRATIVE
METHOD.
THEN HE WENT INTO POST-MODERNISM
WHERE YOU TAKE BITS OF HISTORY
AND REWRITE THEM AND WORK WITH
THEM AND TOY WITH THEM.
HE RETOLD, FOR EXAMPLE, IN
FOE, WHICH I REVIEWED
YEARS AGO, HE RETOLD THE STORY
OF ROBINSON CRUSOE, FROM THE
POINT OF VIEW OF Mrs. CRUSOE.
IN
THE MASTER OF
PETERSBURG, HE TOOK APART A
DOSTOEVSKY'S LIFE AND REWROTE
IT, REWORKED IT AND MADE IT
UNIVERSAL IN ITS APPLICATION.
IMPOSSIBLE TO PIN HIM DOWN.
ONE THING THAT IS COMMON TO ALL
HIS WORK IS AN ECONOMY WITH
WORDS.
A
BRILLIANT
USE OF
WORDS.
HE HATES THE WASTED WORD.
AS A MATTER OF FACT, HE HATES
SPEAKING.
HE IS A CHRONICALLY SHY MAN AND
HE WILL NOT SAY ONE WORD TO
MANY.
HE'S WRITTEN SOME BEAUTIFUL NON-
FICTION, IN MEMOIR OF HIS
BOYHOOD CALLED
BOYHOOD,
AND IN 1998, AFTER GIVING THREE
LECTURES AT PRINCETON
UNIVERSITY, HE PUT THEM TOGETHER
IN A MARVELLOUS BOOK CALLED
THE LIVES OF ANIMALS.
AND TYPICAL OF HIS SHYNESS, HE
CREATED, FOR THE THREE LECTURES
HE GAVE, WHEN HE PUT THEM IN A
BOOK, AN ALTER-EGO, A PERSONAE,
SOMEONE OTHER THAN HIMSELF, A
PROFESSOR SPEAKING AT A
UNIVERSITY.
BUT IT WAS SOMEBODY ELSE,
ELISABETH COSTELLO.
AND INTO HER MOUTH HE PUT HIS
WORDS.
AND SHE FORMULATED SUCH A
BEAUTIFUL QUESTION.
ELIZABETH COSTELLO, OTHERWISE
COETZEE, SAID IN
THE LIVES
OF ANIMALS, "IN
LABORATORIES, CLINICS, ZOOS, IN
THE EYES OF ANIMALS, I ALWAYS
SEE THE SAME QUESTION AND IT IS
THE SAME QUESTION THAT EVERY
HUMAN BEING ASKS--WHERE IS HOME
AND HOW DO I GET THERE?"
TONIGHT'S NOVEL, IN BEV SHAW'S
CLINIC, WE SEE THE SAME QUESTION
IN THE EYES OF UNWANTED ANIMALS
WHO ARE GOING TO BE GIVEN A
GENTLE DEATH, THAT SAME
QUESTION--WHERE IS HOME AND HOW
DO I GET THERE?
PLEASE REMEMBER THAT WHEN
COETZEE WRITES ABOUT DOGS, IT IS
NOT A METAPHOR.
WHEN HE WRITES ABOUT GOATS, IT
IS NOT A METAPHOR.
HE IS NOT--MANKIND'S PERSECUTION
OF ANIMALS IS NOT A METAPHOR FOR
PERHAPS THE WHITE EXPLOITATION
OF BLACKS.
WHEN COETZEE WRITES ABOUT DOGS,
HE IS WRITING ABOUT DOGS.
WHEN HE WRITES ABOUT GOATS, HE
IS WRITING ABOUT GOATS.
THE ANIMAL WORLD IS TERRIBLY
IMPORTANT TO HIM.
BEFORE I COME TO THE NOVEL
PROPER, ONE LAST WORD ON
COETZEE.
HE IS A SUPREMELY WELL-EDUCATED
MAN.
HIS FIRST DEGREES ARE IN ENGLISH
AND MATHEMATICS.
HE HAS A DOCTORATE IN
LINGUISTICS FROM THE UNIVERSITY
OF TEXAS WHERE HE ALSO TAUGHT.
HE WAS A COMPUTER ANALYST FOR
IBM IN LONDON, IN ENGLAND, FOR
THREE YEARS IN THE SIXTIES.
HE TAUGHT AT NEW YORK STATE
UNIVERSITY IN 70 AND 71.
ONLY IN 1972, DID HE GO BACK TO
AFRICA, SOUTH AFRICA, AND BECOME
A PROFESSOR OF LITERATURE AT
CAPE TOWN UNIVERSITY, WHERE HE
HAS BEEN TEACHING FOR THE LAST
28 YEARS.
HIS PERSONAL DETAILS, HE'S
DIVORCED.
HE HAD TWO GROWNUP CHILDREN.
HIS SON DIED IN A TRAGIC
ACCIDENT.
HE HAS A SURVIVING DAUGHTER.
HE IS A CONFIRMED VEGETARIAN,
THAT SHOULD NOT SURPRISE US.
HE IS, AS I SAID, EXCEPTIONALLY
SHY.
HE HAS GIVEN, TO MY KNOWLEDGE,
ONLY THREE INTERVIEWS OVER THE
YEARS.
I THINK I'VE HEARD--WELL I KNOW
I'VE HEARD ALL THREE--I DON'T
THINK THERE ARE OTHERS.
HE HAS BEEN ATTACKED BY OTHER
SOUTH AFRICAN WRITERS LIKE
NADINE GORDIMER FOR NOT TAKING A
POLITICAL STANCE, BUT HE SAYS "I
WILL NOT ANCHOR MY WORK IN SPACE
AND TIME."
HE WAS CRITICIZED FOR NOT TAKING
A STAND ON APARTHEID.
THIS, HIS EIGHTH NOVEL, IS THE
FIRST TO REMOTELY DEAL WITH
SOCIO-POLITICAL PROBLEMS IN
SOUTH AFRICA.
BUT IN THIS NOVEL, HE COMES TO
REALISM.
AND YET, AND YET, THERE ARE, AS
I HOPE TO SHOW, THERE ARE AS
MANY LAYERS IN THIS REALISTIC
NOVEL, AS THERE ARE IN ANY OF
HIS EARLY WORKS WHICH ARE KAFKA-
LIKE FABLES.
THE PLOT OF THE NOVEL IS SIMPLE,
DECEPTIVELY SIMPLE.
IT CERTAINLY DECEIVED ME.
I'M GOING TO SUMMARIZE IT.
TAKES ME TWO MINUTES, I'VE TIMED
MYSELF.
IT'S FOR THE BENEFIT OF THOSE
PEOPLE WHO MAY HAVE READ THIS
NOVEL A YEAR AGO, OR WHO HAVEN'T
HAD TIME TO READ IT AT ALL.
IT'S SO EASY AND IT GIVES US
SOMETHING TO HOLD IN OUR MIND.
THE PROTAGONIST, THE CHIEF
CHARACTER IS DAVID LURIE, 52
YEARS OLD, TWICE DIVORCED, A
PROFESSOR AT A UNIVERSITY IN
CAPE TOWN, RECENTLY RENAMED
"CAPE TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY."
HE'S 52 AND HE HAS A BRIEF
AFFAIR WITH A 20 YEAR OLD
STUDENT.
IT BECOMES KNOWN, HE IS CENSURED
AND HE RESIGNS FROM HIS POST.
HE GOES TO LIVE WITH HIS GROWNUP
DAUGHTER, WHO LIVES 900 MILES TO
THE EAST IN CAPE PROVINCE, IN
RURAL CAPE PROVINCE.
SHE HAS LIVED ALONE ON A SMALL
HOLDING SINCE HER WOMAN LOVER,
HELEN, LEFT HER.
SHE WAS HELPED BY A BLACK MAN,
PETRIS, WHO HAS JUST BEEN ABLE
TO BUY ONE OF HER FIVE HECTARES
OF LAND, LAND GRANT FROM THE NEW
MANDELA GOVERNMENT.
SHE MAKES A SUBSISTENCE LIVING
SELLING FLOWERS AND FARM PRODUCE
AT THE LOCAL MARKET.
EX-PROFESSOR LURIE ARRIVES AT
HIS DAUGHTER'S SMALL HOLDING AND
SHE MAKES THREE SUGGESTIONS AS
TO HOW HE MIGHT OCCUPY HIMSELF.
FIRST, "HELP ME AT THE MARKET ON
SATURDAYS."
SECOND, "PETRIS, MY ASSISTANT,
NOW MY NEIGHBOUR, IS BUILDING A
NEW HOUSE.
YOU MIGHT LIKE TO WORK FOR HIM,
DIG TRENCHES."
THIRD, "WOULD YOU LIKE TO HELP
MY FRIEND AT HER ANIMAL CLINIC?
MY FRIEND, BEV SHAW.
SHE'S AN AMATEUR, BUT SHE GIVES
GENTLE DEATHS, EUTHANASIA, TO
UNWANTED, WRETCHED, TORMENTED
ANIMALS."
NOW, IT WOULD SEEM AT FIRST
SIGHT THAT THIS IS A MARVELLOUS
STEP FOR EX-PROFESSOR LURIE
BECAUSE THE GREAT LOVE OF HIS
LIFE, IN TEACHING, IS THE
TEACHING OF THE ROMANTIC POETS.
THOSE GREAT POETS WHO WROTE IN
ENGLAND BETWEEN THE FRENCH
REVOLUTION OF 1789 AND THE
COMING TO THE THROWN OF VICTORIA
IN 1837.
THE EARLY 19TH CENTURY, PEOPLE
LIKE BLAKE, WORDSWORTH, KEATS,
SHARON, BYRON--BYRON, HIS
PARTICULAR FAVOURITE.
NOW ALL THOSE PEOPLE WERE
FOLLOWERS OF THE FRENCH
PHILOSOPHER, JEAN JACQUES
ROUSSEAU WHO ADVOCATED A BACK-
TO-NATURE MOVE.
IN NATURE, THE NOBILITY OF MAN
WOULD BECOME EVIDENT, HIS THEORY
OF THE NOBLE SAVAGE.
FROM CIRCUMSTANCES, PROFESSOR
LURIE HAS COME TO A RURAL AREA.
HE IS GOING TO LIVE WITH HIS
DAUGHTER ON HER FARM.
HE HAS EFFECTIVELY COME "BACK-
TO-NATURE" LIKE HIS BELOVED
ROMANTIC POETS, AS ADVOCATED BY
THEIR MENTOR ROUSSEAU.
HE IS GOING TO LIVE WHAT HE HAS
ADVOCATED FOR SO LONG, THE
PASTORAL IDYLL.
HOWEVER, THAT IDYLL IS SHATTERED
WHEN THE FARM IS ATTACKED.
HE IS BURNED; THEY POUR
MENTHOLATED SPIRITS ON HIM,
TAKES AWAY HIS HEAD, DISFIGURES
HIS EAR, MAKES HIM PRE-MATURELY
OLD.
HIS DAUGHTER IS GANG-RAPED WHILE
HE IS LOCKED IN THE LAVATORY.
AND IN AN ACT OF GRATUITOUS
VIOLENCE, THE THREE RAPISTS
SHOOT THE SIX DOGS THAT HIS
DAUGHTER HAS BEEN BOARDING.
THE NOVEL ENDS WITH DAVID LURIE,
LIVING IN A LITTLE RENTED ROOM,
WORKING AT THE ANIMAL CLINIC,
PUTTING DOWN UNWANTED ANIMALS.
HIS DAUGHTER, PREGNANT AS A
RESULT OF THE RAPE, HAS TO FORGE
A NEW LIFE FOR HERSELF AND HER
UNBORN CHILD, AND OF COURSE, A
NEW RELATIONSHIP WITH HER BLACK
NEIGHBOURS.
IS THAT A FAIR SUMMARY OF THE
NOVEL?

The audience remains silent.

Robert continues YES!

[Chuckles from audience]

Robert continues AFTER MY FIRST READING OF THE
NOVEL, I WAS IMPRESSED.
I LOVED COETZEE'S WORK, BUT I
SAW IT CLEARLY AS AN ALLEGORY,
WITH A SYMBOLIC ROLE FOR EACH OF
THE CHARACTERS.
I SAW OTHER SYMBOLISM.
AT ONE LEVEL I THOUGHT, DAVID
LURIE AND THE THREE BLACK
RAPISTS REPRESENT PATRIARCHY,
MEN IMPOSING THEIR WILL UPON
WOMEN.
I FOUND A SYMMETRY IN THE NOVEL
BETWEEN DAVID LURIE'S SEDUCTION
OF A YOUNG STUDENT, AND THE
THREE STRANGERS' RAPE OF HIS
DAUGHTER.
I THOUGHT THAT DAVID LURIE AND
HIS DAUGHTER REPRESENTED WHITE
SOUTH AFRICA GOING THROUGH THE
PAIN OF TRANSITION INTO A NEW
SET OF ATTITUDES WITH THEIR
BLACK NEIGHBOURS.
THE OLD WORLD THEY KNEW HAS
VANISHED FOREVER.
IN THE OLD SOUTH AFRICA, HIS
DAUGHTER'S RAPISTS WOULD HAVE
BEEN FOUND AND PUNISHED WITHIN
DAYS.
THE BLACK NEIGHBOUR WOULD HAVE
BEEN TORTURED.
PETRIS, YOU WEREN'T HERE, YOU
MUST HAVE KNOWN SOMETHING ABOUT
THIS.
ONE OF THE BLACK RAPISTS, A BOY,
IS NOW LIVING ON PETRIS' FARM,
HE WOULD HAVE BEEN ARRESTED.
THEY WOULD HAVE BEEN TORTURED.
THE NOVEL WOULD HAVE ENDED WITH
RETRIBUTION FOR THE CRIMINALS.
BUT THESE TWO SYMBOLS OF WHITE
SOUTH AFRICA HAVE TO FACE A NEW
WORLD WHERE THE SOUTH AFRICAN
POLICE DON'T HAVE THAT KIND OF
POWER.
WHERE THE OLD CERTAINTIES, THE
OLD REINFORCEMENTS DON'T EXIST.
THAT WAS MY FIRST READING OF THE
NOVEL, AND I WAS VERY HAPPY WITH
IT, FOR SOME TIME.
AND THEN I BEGAN TO THINK ABOUT
THE EARLIER WORK OF COETZEE THAT
I HAD READ AND THE INTERVIEWS
THAT I HAD LISTENED TO.
AND I THOUGHT PARTICULARLY OF
SOMETHING THAT COETZEE HAD SAID
OVER AND OVER AGAIN, BOTH IN THE
THREE INTERVIEWS AND IN
PUBLISHED LECTURES.
HE HAS ALWAYS SAID, "I DO NOT
WRITE ALLEGORIES.
MY PEOPLE ARE NOT SYMBOLS.
MY PEOPLE ARE INDIVIDUALS."
AND I THOUGHT THAT'S VERY
INCONVENIENT TO ME.

[Audience laughs]

Robert continues WITH THAT IN MIND, I DECIDED TO
RE-READ
DISGRACE
AND
THIS TIME FOCUSSING ON THE
CHARACTERS AS "UNIQUE
INDIVIDUALS" AND NOT
ALLEGORICAL, SYMBOLIC FIGURES.
AND IT WAS THEN THAT I
DISCOVERED HOW SIMPLISTIC MY
FIRST READING WAS.
I REALIZED THAT I HAD UNCOVERED
ONE OF MANY LAYERS OF MEANING IN
THE NOVEL AND THAT I HAD NOT
UNDERSTOOD CORRECTLY EVEN THAT
FIRST LAYER.
LET US GO NOW TO THE NOVEL AND
TO ITS PROTAGONIST, DAVID LURIE.
HE TEACHES WHEN WE MEET HIM AT
THE AGE OF 52, AT CAPE TECHNICAL
UNIVERSITY.
BUT THE BIG CHANGE THAT HAS
AFFECTED HIS LIFE--THE NOVEL IS
SET AROUND SAY 1996, TWO YEARS
AFTER MANDELA.
BUT HE WAS TEACHING IN CAPE
TOWN.
THAT WAS NEVER AS AFFECTED BY
THE RACE LAWS AS THE INTERIOR
AFRIKANER CITIES.
CAPE TOWN WAS ALWAYS MORE
LIBERAL.
HE HAS FOR A LONG TIME HAD NON-
WHITE COLLEAGUES.
THE CHANGE THAT HAS REALLY
AFFECTED DAVID LURIE WHEN WE
MEET HIM IN THE MID-SIXTIES, HAS
BEEN THE CHANGE IN EDUCATION.
IT IS CALLED IN THE BOOK, THE
"RATIONALIZATION OF EDUCATION."
NOW I WAS A TEACHER FOR 36
YEARS.
I LIVED THROUGH THE
"RATIONALIZATION OF EDUCATION."
IT SWEPT THE WESTERN WORLD IN
THE LAST TWO DECADES OF THIS
CENTURY--OF THE LAST CENTURY.
THE "RATIONALIZATION OF
EDUCATION"--I LIVED THROUGH IT
IN ENGLAND, IN CANADA, DAVID
LURIE HAS LIVED THROUGH IT IN
SOUTH AFRICA--WAS THE BELIEF
THAT NOTHING SHOULD BE TAUGHT
THAT IS NOT RELEVANT TO THE
STUDENT.
NOW WHAT IS "RELEVANT" TO A 16
YEAR OLD OR AN 18 YEAR OLD OR A
20 YEAR OLD?
HISTORY IS NOT RELEVANT.
GREEK IS NOT RELEVANT.
LATIN IS NOT RELEVANT.
ANTIQUITY IS NOT RELEVANT.
WHAT IS RELEVANT?
SCIENCE IS RELEVANT.
MATHEMATICS IS RELEVANT.
THE COMPUTER IS RELEVANT.
AND ABOVE ALL, COMMUNICATIONS
ARE RELEVANT.
SO DAVID LURIE, A ONE TIME
PROFESSOR OF CLASSICAL AND
MODERN LANGUAGES, HAS BECOME A
PROFESSOR OF COMMUNICATIONS.
HE TEACHES COMMUNICATIONS ONE,
COMMUNICATIONS TWO AND
COMMUNICATIONS 405.
AND WHAT, YOU MAY ASK, DO OUR
MODERN YOUNG COMMUNICATE TO EACH
OTHER, SINCE THEY ARE NOT TAUGHT
HISTORY, THEY ARE NOT TAUGHT THE
PAST, THEY KNOW NOTHING OF 6,000
YEARS OF HUMANKIND'S DREAMING
AND ASPIRING AND WONDERING AND
WISHING?
NONE OF THAT.
WHAT DO THEY COMMUNICATE TO EACH
OTHER?
I CHALLENGED MY OWN
GRANDDAUGHTER ON THE MATTER.
I SAID TO HER, "IN 1870, GERMANY
WAS UNIFIED.
THE IMPLICATIONS WERE ENORMOUS.
IN THE SAME YEAR, ITALY WAS
UNIFIED.
WAS THERE ANY CONNECTION BETWEEN
THE TWO?"
AND MY GRANDDAUGHTER SAID, "I
DON'T KNOW."
NOW SHE'S FIVE YEARS OLD...

[Audience laughs]

Robert continues BUT THE DIRECTION IS CLEAR!
I JOKE, BUT THE FACT IS, THOSE
OF YOU WHO ARE PARENTS OR
GRANDPARENTS, ARE YOU NOT AMAZED
BY HOW LITTLE OF THE PAST YOUR
CHILDREN OR GRANDCHILDREN KNOW?
I KNOW I AM.
THEY KNOW NOTHING OF THE GLORY
THAT WAS GREECE OR THE GRANDEUR
THAT WAS ROME.
THEY KNOW NOTHING OF THE PAST.
WHEN THEY COMMUNICATE ON THE
INTERNET AND THEIR MACHINES AND
THE LITTLE SCREEN, WHAT DO THEY
SAY TO EACH OTHER?
"HI.
WHATCHA DOIN?
NOTHING SPECIAL."

[Audience chuckling]

Robert continues "WHERE YA GOIN?
DON'T KNOW.
DID YOU SEE THE MOVIE?
WELL LIKE, LIKE, YOU KNOW, LIKE,
LIKE, I DON'T--."
WHAT ARE THEY TALKING ABOUT TO
EACH OTHER?!
THE CRITICS OF THE NEW
"RATIONALIZATION OF EDUCATION,"
THAT EVERYTHING MUST BE
RELEVANT, THE PAST DOESN'T
COUNT.
THE CRITICS OF THE NEW
RATIONALIZATION WOULD CALL IT A
"DUMBING DOWN OF EDUCATION."
CERTAINLY DAVID LURIE FEELS
HIMSELF EMASCULATED.
PART OF AN ELITE WITH NO MORE
PLACE IN EDUCATION.
HE HAS CONTEMPT FOR HIS POST-
LITERATE STUDENTS.
HE HAS CONTEMPT FOR THE MATTER
HE IS REQUIRED TO TEACH.
I QUOTE HIM, "HE HAS NO RESPECT
FOR--," I QUOTE THE NARRATOR,
"HE HAS NO RESPECT FOR THE
MATERIAL HE TEACHES.
HE CONTINUES TO TEACH BECAUSE IT
PROVIDES HIM WITH A LIVELIHOOD."
NOW CAPE TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY
OFFERS A SOP TO DAVID LURIE AND
HIS RATIONALIZED COLLEAGUES.
EACH OF THEM IS ALLOWED TO TEACH
ONE COURSE A YEAR, A SUBJECT OF
THEIR CHOICE.
I LIVED THROUGH THAT.
I TAUGHT RENAISSANCE THEATRE.
IT'S WHAT KEPT DINOSAURS LIKE
ME, LIKE DAVID LURIE, ALIVE.
DAVID LURIE CHOOSES TO TEACH HIS
ONE COURSE ON THE EARLY 19TH
CENTURY ROMANTIC POETS,
PARTICULARLY BLAKE AND BYRON,
WORDSWORTH.
AND YET THERE IS AN IRONY
BECAUSE HIS LOVE HAS ALWAYS BEEN
THE ROMANTIC POETS AND YET,
ALTHOUGH HE ADMIRES THE
ROMANTICS FOR THE FULLNESS OF
THEIR PASSION--AFTER ALL WHAT
DID THEY ADVOCATE THE ROMANTICS?
THEY ADVOCATED A RETURN TO A
NATURAL STATE.
THEY ADVOCATED ENERGY,
EXCITEMENT, PASSION.
NO TALK OF CONSEQUENCE.
ACT.
THEIR GOVERNING IMAGE WAS
WORDSWORTH'S IMAGE OF THE
FOUNTAIN OVERFLOWING.
THEIR GOVERNING AXIOM WAS
BLAKE'S GREAT PROVERB, "HOW CAN
YOU KNOW WHAT IS ENOUGH UNTIL
YOU KNOW WHAT IS TOO MUCH?"
NOW HE LOVES THEM.
HE LOVES BYRON.
BYRON, WHO EXPLORED EVERY
EMOTION HE FELT TO ITS FULLEST,
FATHERED A CHILD ON HIS OWN
SISTER, WENT TO FIGHT IN A
REVOLUTION IN GREECE THAT WAS
NOT HIS OWN.
ACTION, ENERGY, NO THOUGHT OF
CONSEQUENCE.
HE ADMIRES THESE PEOPLE
TREMENDOUSLY, AND YET, THE IRONY
IS DAVID LURIE, SUCH A BRILLIANT
CREATION BY COETZEE IS NOT A
ROMANTIC MAN.
HE IS A CONFINED MAN.
A MAN WHO CONFINES HIS LIFE.
AS T.S. ELLIOT SAID, "HE IS A
MAN WHO MEASURES OUT HIS LIFE IN
COFFEE SPOONS."
SOMETIMES HE REFLECTS ON THE
ROMANTICS HE ADMIRES.
THE FRENCH ROMANTIC, GUSTAV
FLAUBERT.
HE THINKS ABOUT
MADAME
BOUVERIE, FLAUBERT'S GREAT
NOVEL, AND THINKS ABOUT ONE
PASSAGE IN
MADAME
BOUVERIE, WHENEVER BOUVERIE,
I QUOTE, I HAVE TO EXPLAIN THAT...
I QUOTE, "EMMA BOUVERIE COMES
HOME FROM AN AFTERNOON OF
RECKLESS FUCKING.
SO THIS IS BLISS SAYS EMMA.
SO THIS IS THE BLISS THE POETS
SPOKE OF."
AND DAVID LURIE REFLECTS, "I
WOULD SHOW HER WHAT BLISS CAN
BE, A MODERATE BLISS, A
MODERATED BLISS," SUCH A
BRILLIANT CREATION.
HIS SCHOLARLY LIFE IS ENTIRELY
CONCERNED WITH THE ROMANTICS WHO
GAVE THEMSELVES TO PASSION AND
ACTION AND ENERGY, NO COUNTING
OF COST.
THE WORD "RECKLESS," [indistinct
Latin word], "TO COUNT"--NONE OF
THAT.
AND YET IN HIS OWN LIFE, HE IS
AS CAREFUL AS J. ALFRED PRUFROCK
OR ANY OF ANITA BRUCKNER'S
PROTAGONISTS.
NOW HE ACKNOWLEDGES HIS OWN
SEXUAL NEEDS, AND HE SATISFIES
HIS OWN SEXUAL NEEDS.
WE ARE MADE PRIVY TO THAT IN THE
MARVELLOUS OPENING LINE OF THE
NOVEL.
I LOVE OPENING LINES OF NOVELS
AS I THINK I'VE MENTIONED
BEFORE.
THE GREATEST OF COURSE IS IN
MOBY DICK
--"CALL ME
ISHMAEL" AND YOU ARE BROUGHT
INTO THE STORY.
MY FATHER, HE WAS A GREAT
READER, MY FATHER'S FAVOURITE
FIRST LINE I REMEMBER--I DON'T
REMEMBER THE NOVELIST BUT THE
LINE WAS "IT WAS ON THURSDAY
AFTERNOON THAT Mr. BROWN DECIDED
TO MURDER HIS WIFE."
[Robert makes popping noise]

[Audience laughs]

Robert continues MY OWN WAS AN OPENING LINE IN
ONE OF BERNICE REUBEN'S, THE
WELSH WRITER'S NOVELS, WHERE SHE
SAID "Mrs. SMITH DECIDED TO
COMMIT SUICIDE AT 6 O'CLOCK ON
THURSDAY AFTERNOON.
SHE THOUGHT THAT SHE WOULD WATCH
THE NEWS FIRST.
THERE SEEMED ON POINT IN
LISTENING TO THE WEATHER
FORECAST."

[Audience laughs]

Robert continues NOW, THE OPENING LINE OF THIS
NOVEL IS UP THERE IN THAT
LEAGUE.
"FOR A MAN HIS AGE, 52,
DIVORCED, HE HAS, TO HIS MIND,
SOLVED THE PROBLEM OF SEX RATHER
WELL."
NOW, THAT BRINGS ME ANYWAY,
RIGHT INTO THE NOVEL.
FIRST OF ALL, WHAT IS THE
PROBLEM OF SEX?
AND HOW DO YOU SOLVE IT "RATHER
WELL"?
FIRST OF ALL, NO TRUE ROMANTIC
COULD EVER HAVE SAID "THE
PROBLEM OF SEX."
THEY REVELLED IN SEX.
IT WAS AN EXPRESSION OF PASSION,
OF EMOTION.
HOW DID HE SOLVE THE PROBLEM.
WELL WHEN HE WAS YOUNGER, DAVID
LURIE REMEMBERS, WITH HIS
BYRONIC GOOD LOOKS AND HIS
FLOWING HAIR, WOMEN FLOCK TO
HIM, AND THERE WAS NO DIFFICULTY
IN SATISFYING HIS APPETITES.
AS HE GREW A LITTLE OLDER, AS HE
PUTS IT IN ROMANTIC VEIN, HIS
POWERS FLED.
HE HAS TO DO A LITTLE MORE
ACTIVE PURSUING.
HE GOES THE USUAL PATH.
YOU KNOW, COLLEAGUES, WIVES AND
TOURISTS.

[Audience chuckling]

Robert continues NOW, AFTER TWO FAILED MARRIAGES,
AND A RELATIVE LOSS, AS HE SAYS,
OF POWER, HE CONTENTS HIMSELF
WITH THURSDAY AFTERNOON
ASSIGNMENTS WITH A PROSTITUTE.
HER NAME IS SORAYA.
SHE IS ASIAN.
SHE WORKS ONLY IN THE AFTERNOONS
WHILE HER CHILDREN ARE AT
SCHOOL.
HE ALSO HAS, AS HE SAYS, THE
OCCASIONAL AFFAIR WITH A
STUDENT.
BARELY A TERM PASSES WHEN HE
DOES NOT FALL FOR ONE OR ANOTHER
OF HIS CHARGES.
BUT HE FINDS SEX A PROBLEM.
HE EVEN, IN ONE IDLE MOMENT,
CONSIDERS CASTRATION.
I QUOTE, "MIGHT WANT TO APPROACH
A DOCTOR AND ASK FOR IT.
A SIMPLE ENOUGH PROCEDURE
SURELY.
THEY DO IT TO ANIMALS EVERY DAY
AND ANIMALS SURVIVE WELL
ENOUGH."
IF ONE IGNORES A CERTAIN RESIDUE
OF SADNESS.
NOW THIS IS A VERY LONG WAY FROM
THE PASSION OF THE ROMANTICS
BITING OFF THE UNIVERSE IN GREAT
CHUNKS.
HE THINKS OF SORAYA, THE
PROSTITUTE, AND HE IMAGINES THAT
HIS AFFECTION FOR HER IS
RECIPROCATED.
I QUOTE, "AFFECTION MAY NOT BE
LOVE, BUT IT IS AT LEAST, ITS
COUSIN."
THIS IS NOT A ROMANTIC?
SORAYA THINKS HE'S GETTING TOO
FAMILIAR.
HE TRIES TO STRIKE UP AN
ACQUAINTANCE WITH HER OUTSIDE
BUSINESS HOURS, AND SHE WON'T
SEE HIM ANYMORE.
SO HE TURNS TO A STUDENT,
MELANIE ISAACS.
HE CALLS HER MEL-ANN-IE.
THE GREEK WORD "MEL-ANN-IE."
MEANS DARK, INK, STAIN.
THE DARK ONE.
HE CALLS HER THE DARK ONE.
NOW YOU MAY WANT TO SEE IN HIS
RELATIONSHIP WITH AN ASIAN
PROSTITUTE, AND THE DARK HAIRED
WHITE GIRL, SOME ECHO OF THE
WHITE-BLACK EXPLOITATION
SITUATION.
BUT I PREFER TO THINK OF IT--I
THINK IT WOULD BE MORE
PRODUCTIVE IF WE FOCUS ON THE
INDIVIDUAL DAVID LURIE AS
EXPLOITING HIS SITUATION AS A
TEACHER, THE POWER OF THE
TEACHER'S FUNCTION.
HE INVITES THE STUDENT TO DINNER
AND THEN HE HAS HIS SEDUCTION
SCENE AND IT'S COETZEE AT HIS
BEST.
ON PAGE 16, A 52 YEAR OLD MAN
AND A 20 YEAR OLD STUDENT...

He reads
"YOU'RE VERY LOVELY HE SAYS.
I'M GOING TO INVITE YOU TO DO
SOMETHING VERY, VERY RECKLESS.
STAY, STAY WITH ME TONIGHT.
ACROSS THE RIM OF THE CUP SHE
REGARDS HIM STEADILY.
WHY?
BECAUSE YOU OUGHT TO.
WHY OUGHT I TO?
WHY?, BECAUSE A WOMAN'S BEAUTY
DOES NOT BELONG TO HER ALONE.
IT'S PART OF THE BOUNTY SHE
BRINGS INTO THE WORLD.
SHE HAS A DUTY TO SHARE IT.
AND WHAT IF I ALREADY SHARE IT?
THEN, YOU SHOULD SHARE IT MORE
WIDELY."

[Audience laughs]

Robert continues I FIND THAT SO BEAUTIFUL.
IT REMINDS ME OF THOSE MOVIES OF
THE 1930'S, "I'M GOING TO KISS
YOU VERY, VERY HARD."

[Audience laughs]

Robert continues IT IS A MARVELLOUS SEDUCTION
SCENE.
IT DOESN'T WORK, BUT...IT HAS AN
ACCUMULATING EFFECT, SHE DOES
FINALLY SLEEP WITH HIM.
NOW WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THAT
PASSAGE IS IT ENDS WITH SMOOTH
WORDS.
OH YES, SMOOTH WORDS AS OLD AS
SEDUCTION ITSELF.
YET AT THIS MOMENT, HE--AT THIS
MOMENT, HE BELIEVES IN THEM.
NOW THAT PASSAGE AS I SAID, IS
COETZEE AT HIS MOST BRILLIANT.
BECAUSE DAVID LURIE IS NOT ONLY
PERSUADING MELANIE, HE IS
PERSUADING HIMSELF.
IN HIS SMOOTH WORDS, HE IS USING
THE TWO AXIOMS OF THE WHOLE
ROMANTIC MOVEMENT OF THE 19TH
CENTURY.
FIRST, ONE HAS A DUTY TO ONESELF
TO ACT RECKLESSLY, WITHOUT
THOUGHT OF CONSEQUENCE.
WE THINK BACK TO THE "RECKLESS
FUCKING OF EMMA BOUVERIE."
SECOND, BEAUTY, HE SUGGESTS, IS
A VALUE IN AND OF ITSELF.
BEAUTY IS OWNED BY NO ONE.
BEAUTY IS AN INDEPENDENT TRUTH
WHICH WE MUST ALL SERVE, AND WE
THINK OF KEATS'S GREAT LINES,
"BEAUTY IS TRUTH.
TRUTH BEAUTY.
THAT IS ALL YOU KNOW ON EARTH
AND ALL YE NEED TO KNOW."
AND AS DAVID LURIE SERVES UP THE
ROMANTIC LINE TO HIS STUDENTS,
AT THAT MOMENT, HE BELIEVES IN
THEM.
AND TO HIS COST, HE ADOPTS A
STANCE, TOTALLY FOREIGN TO HIS
REAL NATURE.
HE ADOPTS THE STANCE OF THE HIGH
ROMANTIC, THE BYRON, THE BLAKE.
IT WILL PROVE HIS UNDOING
BECAUSE MELANIE BECOMES
FRIGHTENED BY THE AFFAIR.
HER BOYFRIEND FINDS OUT.
HER FATHER FINDS OUT.
AND DAVID LURIE IS TAKEN BEFORE
THE UNIVERSITY SEXUAL HARASSMENT
COMMITTEE.
AND IN HIS ARROGANCE, PERHAPS
HIS MOST IMPORTANT QUALITY AT
THE BEGINNING OF THE NOVEL, IN
HIS ARROGANCE, HE REFUSES TO
GIVE UP THE ROMANTIC STANCE HE
HAS ADOPTED.
HE SAYS, TO THE COMMITTEE, "YES
I DID IT."
THEY SAY, "YOU SLEPT WITH THE
STUDENT?"
"YES."
"YOU MARKED HER PRESENT WHEN SHE
WAS OFTEN ABSENT?"
"YES."
"YOU GAVE HER A PASSING MARK FOR
A MID-TERM TEST WHICH SHE DID
NOT WRITE?"
"YES, I DID ALL THAT."
"THEN, DO YOU REPENT?"
HE SAYS, "I WAS NOT MYSELF.
I WAS NO LONGER A 50 YEAR OLD
DIVORCEE AT LOOSE ENDS.
I BECAME A SERVANT OF EROS."

[Audience laughs]

Robert continues NOW THAT'S HIS DEFENCE!
AND HE REFUSES TO ADMIT SORROW
BECAUSE NO ROMANTIC WOULD HAVE
ADMITTED SORROW.
THIS IS WHERE I BEGIN TO FEEL
THE CHASM BETWEEN THE SEXES IN
THIS NOVEL.
THE WOMEN ON THE COMMITTEE WANT
HIM CRUCIFIED.
THE MEN, NOT SO.
HIS FRIEND, COLLEAGUE, DESMOND
SWARTZ, SAYS TO HIM "LOOK, ARE
YOU PREPARED TO SIGN A STATEMENT
OF REPENTANCE THAT WE CAN
PUBLISH?
IT MIGHT MEAN A SUSPENSION
RATHER THAN A DISMISSAL."
AND HE WILL NOT COME DOWN FROM
HIS HIGH HORSE, HIS HIGH,
ROMANTIC HORSE.
AND DESMOND SWARTZ SAYS TO HIM,
"YOU MUST SAY YOU REPENT.
YOU DON'T HAVE TO MEAN IT, BUT
YOU MUST SAY IT."
NOW WHEN HE'S TALKING LATER TO
HIS DAUGHTER, DAVID LURIE SAYS,
QUOTING WILLIAM BLAKE, "I COULD
NOT COME DOWN.
SOONER MURDER AN INFANT IN ITS
CRADLE THAN NURSE UNACTED
DESIRES."
TO THE STUDENT REPORTERS OUTSIDE
THE COMMITTEE ROOM, HE SAYS, "IT
WAS AN ENRICHING EXPERIENCE."
HE CANNOT COME DOWN.
AND SPEAKING OF THE COMMITTEE TO
HIS DAUGHTER, HE SAYS, IT
REMINDED ME TOO MUCH OF MAOIST
CHINA.
RECANTATION, SELF CRITICISM,
REPENTANCE, PUBLIC APOLOGY,
ABSOLUTION, REHABILITATION.
NOW, I THOUGHT THAT WAS
ABSOLUTELY SUPERB ON COETZEE'S
PART.
COETZEE IS DOING WHAT HE OFTEN
DOES, HE'S OFFERING US A FALSE
PATH.
DAVID LURIE DOESN'T LIKE THE
COMMITTEE BECAUSE IT SOUNDS LIKE
THE RED GUARD'S COMMITTEE BUT
WE
SURELY THINK MUCH
MORE ABOUT THE T.R.C.'S.
WHEN MANDELA CAME TO POWER IN
1994, THEY HAD TO FORGE A NEW
SOUTH AFRICA, AND THERE WAS A
LOT OF BAGGAGE.
AND SO WELL-MEANING PEOPLE FROM
THE BLACK COMMUNITY AND THE
WHITE COMMUNITY, PEOPLE LIKE
ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU
SUGGESTED "TRUTH AND
RECONCILIATION COMMITTEES,"
T.R.C.'S.
IF YOU HAD COMMITTED A WRONG, IF
YOU WERE WHITE, OR A BLACK
WORKING FOR THE WHITE POWER
STRUCTURE, YOU APPEARED BEFORE
THE T.R.C.
YOU CONFESSED YOUR SIN.
YOU REPENTED AND YOU RECEIVED
ABSOLUTION.
NOW I THINK COETZEE WANTS US TO
LOOK, NOT AT THE RED GUARD'S
SELF CRITICISM PANELS BUT AT THE
T.R.C.'S BECAUSE I THINK COETZEE
WANTS US TO THINK THAT--OR HE IS
SUGGESTING THAT TRUTH,
REPENTANCE, ABSOLUTION,
RECONCILIATION, ARE MUCH MORE
COMPLEX THAN WORDS IN FRONT OF
COMMITTEES, ESPECIALLY WORDS
THAT YOU DON'T HAVE TO MEAN.
EVEN A COMMITTEE AS WELL-
INTENTIONED AS ARCHBISHOP TUTU.
LURIE, TRAPPED IN THE IMAGE HE
HAS CREATED FOR HIMSELF, THE
HIGH ROMANTIC IMAGE, IS NOT
PREPARED TO MAKE SUCH A
COMPROMISE.
HE CLOSES HIS CAPE TOWN HOUSE,
RESIGNS FROM THE UNIVERSITY AND
GOES TO JOIN HIS DAUGHTER LUCIE,
FAR AWAY IN THE RURAL, EAST OF
CAPE PROVINCE.
AT FIRST SIGHT, LUCIE, BAREFOOT,
SPREADING VISIBLY, COMFORTABLE,
IS LIVING THE IDYLLIC EXISTENCE
PROPOSED BY THE ROMANTIC POETS.
SHE IS LIVING IN A STATE OF
NATURE WHERE THE TRUE NOBLE
HEART OF HUMANKIND WILL MANIFEST
ITSELF.
HOW DID SHE GET THERE?
SHE JOINED A COMMUNE, A COMMUNE
THAT DRIFTED APART.
SHE STAYED ON WITH HER WOMAN
LOVER WHO HAD LEFT HER AND NOW
SHE IS ALONE ON FIVE HECTARES OF
LAND.
SHE HAS SOLD ONE TO HER
ASSISTANT, THE BLACK ASSISTANT
PETRIS, AND HE IS NOW HER
NEIGHBOUR.
BUT APPARENTLY, SHE IS LIVING
THE PERFECT IDYLL AND THE
RESULTS ARE WONDERFUL.
HER FATHER BEGINS TO HELP HER AT
THE SATURDAY MARKET.
THE STALLS TO THE LEFT OF HER
ARE RUN BY THREE BLACK SOUTH
AFRICAN WOMEN.
ON THE RIGHT, A CHARMING,
AFRIKANER COUPLE WHOM EVERYONE
CALLS
OOM
AND
TANTA, UNCLE AND AUNTY.
THIS IS RACIAL HARMONY.
ROUSSEAU WAS RIGHT, IF YOU GO TO
NATURE, ALL THE HATREDS WILL
FALL AWAY, ALL THE NOBILITY WILL
COME OUT.
DAVID LURIE, THE ROMANTIC,
SHOULD FIT IN WONDERFULLY WELL.
HIS DAUGHTER HAS LONG REJECTED
CAPITALIST NOTIONS LIKE THE
ACCUMULATION OF WEALTH.
SHE HAS REJECTED THE
"TRADITIONAL" FEMALE ROLE OF
MARRIAGE AND MOTHERHOOD.
SHE HAS FOUND WHERE "HOME" IS.
AFTER THE COLLAPSE OF HIS FIRST
MARRIAGE AND HER DUTCH MOTHER
HAD GONE TO HOLLAND, SHE WENT
WITH HER MOTHER, DIDN'T LIKE
HOLLAND, CAME BACK, LIVED WITH
HER FATHER IN CAPE TOWN, DIDN'T
LIKE CAPE TOWN AND NOW SHE IS IN
NATURE AND LOVING IT.
AND HAS FOUND THE ANSWER TO
"WHERE IS HOME AND HOW DO I GET
THERE?"
SHE IS CLOSE TO THE ANIMAL
WORLD, SHE BOARDS DOGS; SHE HAS
SIX AT THE MOMENT.
SHE IS CLOSE TO HER FRIEND BEV
SHAW WHO OPERATES THIS ANIMAL
CLINIC, GIVING A PEACEFUL,
DIGNIFIED DEATH AND COMFORTABLE
LAST DAYS TO UNWANTED, TORMENTED
ANIMALS.
BEV SHAW SEEM TO BE A KIND OF
CROSS BETWEEN St. FRANCIS OF
ASSISI AND MOTHER THERESA.
AND LUCIE TRIES TO EXPLAIN TO
HER FATHER WHAT SHE, BEV FIND IN
THIS COMPASSION FOR THE ANIMAL
WORLD.
QUOTE, "THEY, THE ANIMALS, ARE
NOT GOING TO LEAD ME TO A HIGHER
LIFE.
THERE IS NO HIGHER LIFE.
THIS IS THE ONLY LIFE THERE IS.
WHICH WE SHARE WITH ANIMALS.
THAT'S THE EXAMPLE THAT PEOPLE
LIKE BEV TRY TO SET.
THAT'S THE EXAMPLE I TRY TO
FOLLOW.
TO SHARE SOME OF OUR HUMAN
PRIVILEGES WITH THE BEASTS."
HER FATHER CAN'T HER POINT.
AND HER POINT IS COETZEE'S
POINT.
WE READ IT IN
THE LIVES OF
ANIMALS.
HE ARGUES GENTLY BECAUSE HE
LOVES HIS DAUGHTER.
WE ARE TOLD THAT.
"FROM THE DAY HIS DAUGHTER WAS
BORN, HE HAS FELT FOR HER
NOTHING BUT THE MOST
SPONTANEOUS, MOST UNSTINTING
LOVE" AND I HAVE NO REASON NOT
TO BELIEVE THAT.
HE ARGUES GENTLY WITH HER,
"LUCIE MY DEAREST DON'T BE
CROSS.
I AGREE THIS IS THE ONLY LIFE
THERE IS.
AS FOR ANIMALS, LET US BY ALL
MEANS, BE KIND TO THEM.
BUT LET US NOT LOSE PERSPECTIVE.
WE ARE OF A DIFFERENT ORDER OF
CREATION FROM THE ANIMALS.
IF WE ARE GOING TO BE KIND, LET
IT BE OUT OF SIMPLE GENEROSITY,
NOT OUT OF LOVE.
NOT OUT OF EMPATHY, NOT OUT OF
COMPASSION."
I SAID A MOMENT AGO THAT HE
LOVED HIS DAUGHTER.
"HE HAS FELT FOR HER NOTHING BUT
THE MOST UNSTINTING LOVE," AND I
BELIEVE THAT TO BE TRUE, BUT
THIS COETZEE IS NOT ONE TO MAKE
YOU FEEL...

He clears his throat and continues NOT ONE TO MAKE YOU FEEL
COMFORTABLE.
IF YOU REMEMBER IN HIS
RELATIONSHIP WITH THE STUDENT,
WHEN SHE BEGINS TO BE FRIGHTENED
BY THEIR AFFAIR, HE SAYS TO HER,
"TELL ME WHAT IS WRONG."
ALMOST HE SAYS, "TELL DADDY WHAT
IS WRONG" AND WE REMEMBER THAT
ALL HIS RELATIONSHIPS ARE WITH
WOMEN SUBSERVIENT OR YOUNGER.
NOW I'M NOT SUGGESTING THAT FROM
THAT ONE REFERENCE, WE SHOULD
DEDUCE ANY UNNATURAL
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DAVID LURIE
AND HIS DAUGHTER.
WHAT I AM SUGGESTING IS THAT
NOTHING IN COETZEE'S WORK IS AS
SIMPLE AS IT FIRST APPEARS.
HE HAS TREMENDOUS DIFFICULTY IN
ACCEPTING THE FULL AUTONOMY OF
HIS DAUGHTER'S EXISTENCE.
PERHAPS ALL PARENTS DO,
CERTAINLY.
THEY HAVE DIFFICULTY
COMMUNICATING.
THEY CAN COMMUNICATE AT THE
EASY, SUPERFICIAL, ELEGANT,
WITTY, EDUCATED LEVEL.
FOR EXAMPLE, WHEN HE TELLS HIS
DAUGHTER HE CANNOT BACK DOWN
FROM HIS HIGH, ROMANTIC STANCE,
SHE SAYS TO HIM, "I SEE, YOU
HAVE DECIDED TO GO ON BEING BAD.
YOU HAVE DECIDED TO GO ON BEING
MAD, BAD AND DANGEROUS TO KNOW."
IT'S A VERY CLEVER LITTLE
REFERENCE AND HER FATHER PICKS
IT UP.
THAT WAS WHAT LADY CAROLYN LAMB
SAID ABOUT THE POET LORD BYRON,
"YOU ARE MAD, BAD AND DANGEROUS
TO KNOW," AND WHEN SHE SAYS IT
TO HER FATHER, HE CHUCKLES AND
THEY ARE UNITED IN THEIR TERMS
OF REFERENCE.
I'VE USED THE SAME LINE MYSELF.
I HAVE A GREAT FRIEND, HE WAS MY
STUDENT 30 YEARS AGO.
HE'S BECOME A POET OF SUBSTANCE,
BUT HE HAS SOME SELF-DESTRUCTIVE
TENDENCIES.
AND I SAID TO HIM ONCE, YOU
KNOW, CALL HIM "JOHN.".."YOU
KNOW JOHN, YOU ARE MAD, BAD AND
DANGEROUS TO KNOW."
HE DIDN'T PICK UP THE BYRON
REFERENCE AND HE SAID "THAT'S
BRILLIANT!"

[Audience chuckles]

Robert continues "THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT I AM."
AND I KNOW HE TOLD ALL HIS
FRIENDS IN MONTREAL AND
VANCOUVER, AND I DIDN'T HAVE THE
HEART TO TELL HIM THAT IT WASN'T
ORIGINAL.
I AM QUITE HAPPY THAT HE GOES
THROUGH LIFE BELIEVING THAT I AM
THE MASTER OF THE EPIGRAM.

[Audience laughs]

Robert continues NOW, AT THAT LEVEL, THE WITTY,
EDUCATED LEVEL, DAVID LURIE AND
HIS DAUGHTER COMMUNICATE, BUT AT
NO DEEPER LEVEL CAN THEY
COMMUNICATE.
SHE CANNOT MAKE HER FATHER
UNDERSTAND WHAT SHE FEELS.
FOR EXAMPLE, ABOUT THE ANIMAL
WORLD.
WITH THIS ROMANTIC LOVE OF
BEAUTY, HE CANNOT UNDERSTAND WHY
SHE HAD A LOVER, HELEN, WHO WAS
UNATTRACTIVE.
WHY SHE SHOULD MAKE A FRIEND OF
BEV SHAW WHOM HE SEES AS A
SHORT, DUMPY, MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN.
THEY CANNOT COMMUNICATE AND
THERE'S A MARVELLOUS IRONY IN
THAT IF YOU REFLECT.
THE PROFESSOR OF COMMUNICATION,
WHO SO DESPISES COMMUNICATIONS
CANNOT COMMUNICATE WITH HIS OWN
DAUGHTER.
ONE OF THE MANY IRONIES IN THE
NOVEL.
THE NOVEL IS FULL OF IRONIES,
SOMETIMES, IT IS WE, THE
READERS, WHO DETECT IT.
SOMETIMES, IT IS THE CHARACTERS
THEMSELVES.
FOR EXAMPLE, WHEN LUCIE SAYS "WHY DON'T YOU HELP PETRIS, MY
NEW NEIGHBOUR DIG HE FOUNDATIONS
FOR HIS NEW HOUSE?
ASK HIM TO PAY YOU."
DAVID SMILES, "GIVE PETRIS A
HAND, I LIKE THAT.
I LIKE THE HISTORICAL PIQUANCY.
THE WHITE PROFESSOR WORKING FOR
WAGE FOR THE BLACK FARMER."
AND THEN IS THIS MARVELLOUS,
PASTORAL, IDYLL, COMES THE RAPE.
THREE STRANGERS, TWO MEN AND A
BOY ARRIVE.
THEY LOCK DAVID IN THE LAVATORY.
THEY TAKE TURNS WITH THE
DAUGHTER IN HER BEDROOM.
THEN THEY SET HIM ALIGHT.
THEY STRIP THE HOUSE OF
POSSESSIONS, STEAL HIS CAR.
AND IN A FINAL GRATUITOUS ACT OF
CRUELTY, THEY SHOOT THE SIX DOGS
IN THE KENNELS.
WE ARE NEVER GIVEN THE DETAILS
OF LUCIE'S RAPE.
IT'S ANOTHER BRILLIANT DECISION
BY COETZEE.
THE HORROR OF THE EVENTS IS
HEIGHTENED BY THE FACT THAT WE
HAVE TO IMAGINE THEM.
EVEN WORSE, HER FATHER HAS TO
IMAGINE THEM.
FOR LUCIE, THE RAPE IS A PRIVATE
MATTER FOR WHICH SHE WILL FIND A
PRIVATE SOLUTION.
WHEN HER FATHER CALLS THE
POLICE, SHE SAYS TO HIM, "YOU
TELL WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU.
I WILL TELL WHAT HAPPENED TO
ME."
SHE DECIDES THAT SHE MUST TAKE
NO ACTION AGAINST THE RAPISTS.
SHE MUST NOT EVEN SAY THAT RAPE
TOOK PLACE.
SHE ADMITS TO HER FATHER THAT
SHE FEARS THE RETURN OF THE
RAPIST.
SHE SAYS, "I FEAR I AM MARKED."
BUT HER HOUSE IS THE ONLY HOME
SHE KNOWS.
SOUTH AFRICA, THE COMMUNE, IS
THE ONLY HOME SHE KNOWS.
SHE BELIEVES THE ONLY WAY SHE
CAN STAY THERE IS TO ACCEPT THE
PAST.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED?
AND TO MOVE INTO THE FUTURE
WITHOUT SEEKING REVENGE.
SPEAKING TO HER FATHER SHE SAYS ABOUT HER FEAR OF A RETURN, SHE
SAYS, "WHAT IF THAT IS THE PRICE
ONE HAS TO PAY FOR STAYING ON?
PERHAPS THAT IS HOW
THEY
LOOK AT IT.
PERHAPS THAT IS HOW I SHOULD
LOOK AT IT TOO.
THEY SEE ME AS OWING SOMETHING.
THEY SEE THEMSELVES AS DEBT
COLLECTORS, TAX COLLECTORS."
NOW PETRIS, HER BLACK NEIGHBOUR,
KNEW ABOUT THE IMPENDING ATTACK.
HE WAS UNUSUALLY AND
CONVENIENTLY ABSENT.
THE BOY OF THE THREE RAPISTS,
POLLOCKS, IS CLEARLY A RELATIVE
OF PETRIS'.
HE COMES TO LIVE ON THE FARM, ON
THE NEIGHBOURING HECTARE OF
LAND.
NOW THE DAYS ARE GONE WHEN DAVID
COULD HAVE GONE TO THE POLICE
AND HAD SWIFT ACTION.
HE GOES TO PETRIS, THE BLACK
NEIGHBOUR, AND HE CHALLENGES
PETRIS.
HE SAYS "YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENED
TO MY DAUGHTER" AND PETRIS SAYS,
"YES."
"IT WAS WRONG!" AND PETRIS, THE
BLACK NEIGHBOUR SAYS "YES, IT
WAS WRONG."
AND HE SAYS "THAT BOY ON YOUR
FARM, HE WAS ONE OF THEM."
PETRIS SAYS "HE IS NOT GUILTY.
HE IS TOO YOUNG."
IT WAS JUST A BIG MISTAKE.
AND PETRIS' FINAL WORDS ON THE
MATTER WERE, "IT WAS WRONG, BUT
NOW IT IS ALL RIGHT.
I WILL PROTECT HER."
NOW MY FIRST REACTION WHEN I
READ OF THE MULTIPLE RAPE AND I
READ OF LUCIE'S SOLUTION TO TAKE
NO ACTION, AND I READ PETRIS'
WORDS, "IT WAS WRONG," BUT IT IS
FINISHED, NOW IT IS RIGHT.
MY FIRST REACTION WAS ONE OF
HORROR.
WAS IT NOT YOURS?
I WANTED THESE RAPISTS CAUGHT,
HURT, TORN.
IS THAT NOT A NATURAL REACTION?
BUT COETZEE IS SO BRILLIANT
BECAUSE I THOUGHT ABOUT IT AND I
THOUGHT IT AND I REALIZED THAT
LUCIE'S ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM TO
TAKE NO ACTION BUT TO MOVE INTO
THE FUTURE IS
PRECISELY,
PRECISELY, WHAT THE OUTSIDE
WORLD IS ASKING OF BLACK AFRICA,
PRECISELY.
9 percent OF THE POPULATION OF SOUTH
AFRICA IS OF MIXED RACE.
THEY DID NOT COME THERE BY
VIRGIN BIRTH.
THEY CAME THERE AS A RESULT OF A
WHITE OCCUPIER FORCING HIMSELF
ON THE BLACK WOMEN OF SOUTH
AFRICA.
ALL THE WRONGS DONE TO BLACK
SOUTH AFRICANS, IN 1994, WITH
THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA,
BLACK SOUTH AFRICA WAS BEING
ASKED TO DO WHAT LUCIE HAS
UNDERTAKEN TO DO.
TO SEEK NO RETRIBUTION, NO
REVENGE, NO PUNISHMENT.
THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION
COMMITTEES, ALL YOU HAD TO DO
WAS APPEAR AND SAY "I DID WRONG
AND I AM SORRY."
AND I THOUGHT, COETZEE IS SO
BRILLIANT!
HE FIRST DRIVES ME TO INSANE
RANGE AND THEN HE SHOWS ME THAT
MY RAGE WILL DESTROY THE FUTURE,
IF THERE IS TO BE A FUTURE.
DAVID LURIE HAS IMMENSE
DIFFICULTY IN ACCEPTING LUCIE'S
SOLUTION, PARTICULARLY WHEN SHE
GOES FURTHER.
SHE AGREES TO SIGN OVER HER
REMAINING FOUR HECTARES OF LAND
TO PETRIS.
SHE WILL ACCEPT EVEN THE
POSITION OF HIS THIRD WIFE.
IN RETURN, FOR THE RIGHT TO LIVE
IN HER HOUSE ALONE, BUT WITH
HERSELF AND HER UNBORN CHILD,
UNDER THE PROTECTION OF PETRIS.
FATHER SAYS, "LUCIE, LUCIE, I
PLEAD WITH YOU.
YOU WANT TO MAKE UP FOR THE
WRONGS OF THE PAST, BUT THIS IS
NOT THE WAY TO DO IT."
BUT LUCIE IS ADAMANT.
ONE PART OF HER REFUSAL TO
LISTEN TO HER FATHER IS HER
DESIRE FOR AUTONOMY.
SHE SAYS TO HIM, "WHAT HAPPENED
TO ME IS
MY
BUSINESS,
MINE ALONE, NOT YOURS.
AND IF THERE IS ONE RIGHT I
HAVE, IT IS THE RIGHT NOT TO BE
PUT ON TRIAL LIKE THIS.
NOT TO HAVE TO JUSTIFY MYSELF,
NOT TO YOU, NOT TO ANYONE ELSE."
AND SHE POINTS OUT TO DAVID,
"YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED.
YOU WERE LOCKED UP."
AND HER FRIEND, BEV SHAW, IN
WHOM SHE HAS OBVIOUSLY CONFIDED
SAYS, "YOU WEREN'T THERE DAVID.
SHE TOLD ME, YOU WEREN'T THERE."
AND THERE IS A CLEAR REFERENCE
TO THE CHASM BETWEEN THE SEXES.
THE WOMEN ARE SAYING TO HIM,
"YOU CANNOT KNOW THE
IMPLICATIONS OF RAPE FOR A
WOMAN."
THE IMPLICATIONS, IT'S ONLY A
PART OF PATRIARCHY, MISOGYNY.
SHE SAYS TO HER FATHER, "I DON'T
KNOW WHY THEY HATED ME.
WHY IT WAS SO PERSONAL."
BECAUSE IN HER NAIVE WAY, I AM
PART OF NATURE.
THEY ARE PART OF NATURE.
WHY WOULD THEY WISH TO HURT ME?
SHE CAN'T BELIEVE THAT THEY ARE
NOT SUBJECT, AS SHE IS, TO THE
NOBILITY OF NATURE.
SHE SAYS TO HIM, "PERHAPS
VIOLENCE MAKES IT MORE EXCITING
FOR ME.
YOU ARE A MAN, YOU OUGHT TO KNOW
THAT."
THEN I THINK BACK ABOUT DAVID
LURIE.
HIS PREFERRED RELATIONSHIP WITH
STUDENTS, PROSTITUTES.
I THINK BACK TO THE FACT THAT HE
HAD TWO MARRIAGES.
NOW WE MEET HIS SECOND WIFE,
ROZ.
IT IS AMICABLE, THEY HAVE LUNCH
TOGETHER FROM TIME TO TIME.
SHE IS A VERY INTELLIGENT WOMAN,
HIS SECOND WIFE, ROSALIND.
AND I BEING TO THINK PERHAPS
THAT'S WHY HIS MARRIAGE FAILED.
PERHAPS LURIE IS INCAPABLE OF A
RELATIONSHIP WITH A WOMAN AS AN
EQUAL.
YOU CAN HAVE A RELATIONSHIP IF
SHE IS SUBORDINATE.
WHEN HIS AFFAIR WITH MELANIE WAS
COMING TO AN END AND THEY HAD
SEX FOR THE LAST TIME.
HE SAYS, "THERE WAS SOMETHING OF
THE VICTIM IN HER.
NOT RAPE.
NOT QUITE THAT BUT UNDESIRED
NEVERTHELESS.
UNDESIRED TO THE CORE.
AS THOUGH SHE HAD DECIDED TO GO
SLACK.
LIKE A RABBIT WHEN THE JAWS OF
THE FOX CLOSE ON ITS NECK."
SO EVERYTHING DONE TO HER, MIGHT
BE DONE, AS IT WERE FAR AWAY.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT HE
DID FOR MELANIE AND WHAT THE
RAPISTS DID TO HIS DAUGHTER.
IT'S ONLY A MATTER OF DEGREE IN
THE EXERCISE OF POWER.
AND I REPEAT, I HAVE NEVER FELT
THE CHASM BETWEEN THE SEX AS
ACUTELY AS I DID IN THIS NOVEL.
THE GREAT IRONY OF THE NOVEL OF
COURSE, AND THERE IS NO
CONSOLATION TO FEMINISTS IS THAT
LUCIE, IN ASSERTING HER AUTONOMY
FROM HER FATHER AND HER
INDEPENDENCE, PUTS HERSELF UNDER
THE PROTECTION OF PETRIS.
SHE SUBSTITUTES ONE PATRIARCHY
FOR ANOTHER.
THERE IS NO HOPE FOR WOMEN IN
THE BLEAKNESS OF COETZEE'S
ENDING.
SHE WILL BE LUCKY IF ALL PETRIS
WANTS IS HER LAND.
I LOVED, BY THE WAY, THE NAME
PETRIS.
LIKE THE GREEK PETROS, MEANS
"ROCK."
IT'S A NICE LITTLE PLAY BY
COETZEE.
ON CHRIST'S WORDS IN THE GOSPEL
OF St. MATTHEW, CHAPTER 16,
VERSE 18, YOU SHOULD KNOW IT...

[Audience chuckles]

Robert continues NO YOU SHOULD.
IT IS THE ONE VERSE IN THE
CHRISTIAN NEW TESTAMENT THAT
JUSTIFIES THE PAPAL AUTHORITY.
IT'S THE ONLY VERSE THAT
JUSTIFIES THE POWER OF THE
CHURCH.
IT'S THE VERSE WHERE CHRIST SAYS "BLESSED ART THOUGH SIMON
BARJONAH, THOUGH ART PETER, AND
UPON THIS ROCK SHALL I BUILD MY
CHURCH."
NOW PETER, PETROS, THE ROCK.
IT'S A NICE LITTLE PUN BY CHRIST
AND COETZEE, AS MY BROTHER, MY
LATE BROTHER TONY ONCE SAID TO
ME, "IT IS REMARKABLE WHEN YOU
THINK ABOUT THAT A NAZARENE
CARPENTER COULD MAKE A PUN IN
GREEK."

[Audience laughs]

Robert continues HOWEVER, FATE KNOWS NO
LIMITATIONS.
I LOVED THE NAME PETRIS BECAUSE
PETRIS IS PART OF THE 86 percent NON-
WHITE MAJORITY.
HE IS THE ROCK ON WHICH THE
FUTURE OF SOUTH AFRICA WILL BE
BUILT.
HE IS THE ROCK TO WHICH LUCIE
CONFIDES HER SAFETY AND THAT OF
HER UNBORN CHILD.
BRILLIANTLY COETZEE MAKES SURE
THAT OF ALL THE CHARACTERS IN
THE BOOK, HE IS THE ONE WE KNOW
LEAST ABOUT.
WHAT DO WE KNOW OF PETRIS?
HE HAD A WIFE IN THE HOMELAND
AND A LOCAL WIFE.
THAT WAS COMMON IN APARTHEID
SOUTH AFRICA.
HE WANTS LAND.
HE SEEKS TO ACQUIRE MORE LAND.
HE PROTECTS HIS OWN.
THE BOY WHO IS SOMEHOW RELATED
TO HIM.
THAT'S ALL WE KNOW ABOUT HIM.
AND THEN I THOUGHT, THAT'S A
VERY BRILLIANT OBSERVATION ON
SOUTH AFRICA BECAUSE UNTIL 1994,
PETRIS WAS PART OF THE EXPLOITED
CLASS.
NOW PETRIS WILL KNOW THE WHITES
BUT THE WHITES WILL NOT KNOW
PETRIS.
THE SERVANT MUST ALWAYS KNOW THE
MASTER.
THE MASTER NEVER HAS TO KNOW THE
SERVANT.
TRUE IN ALL RELATIONSHIPS OF
UNEQUALS.
THE SUBORDINATE MUST ALWAYS
STUDY HE, SHE, WHO DOMINATES.
THE DOMINATOR NEVER HAS TO KNOW
THE VICTIM WELL.
IF I WENT BACK TO THE--I'M NOT
REFERRING TO YOU, BUT TO THE
TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE, I WOULD
SAY THE SAME THING WAS TRUE.
THAT THE WIFE KNEW THE HUSBAND
VERY WELL BUT THE HUSBAND DID
NOT KNOW THE WIFE WELL.
THE OPPRESSOR KNOWS THE
OPPRESSED BUT THE OPPRESSED
KNOWS THE OPPRESSOR.
PETRIS I FOUND A SUPERBLY DRAWN
CHARACTER, SIMPLY BECAUSE WE
DON'T GET TO KNOW HIM.
IF ANY ONE CHARACTER IN THIS
NOVEL REPRESENTS MORE THAN
HIMSELF, I THINK IT IS PETRIS.
HE IS THE SOUTH AFRICA OF THE
FUTURE.
LUCIE, I FOUND AN INDIVIDUAL AND
A FASCINATING MIX OF WISDOM AND
INNOCENCE.
SHE IS WISE IN HER RECOGNITION
OF HER FATHER'S NEED TO DIRECT
HER LIFE, BUT SHE IS INNOCENT,
EVEN NAIVE IN HER FAITH IN
NATURE.
WHEN HER FATHER SAYS TO HER
ABOUT THE UNBORN CHILD, "DO YOU
LOVE HIM?"
SHE SAYS, "NOT YET, HOW COULD I?
BUT I WILL.
LOVE WILL GROW.
ONE CAN TRUST MOTHER NATURE FOR
THAT."
I THOUGHT IF THERE IS A LESSON
IN THIS NOVEL, IT IS YOU CANNOT
TRUST MOTHER NATURE FOR
ANYTHING.
THE PASTORAL MYTH IS SHATTERED
IN THIS NOVEL.
LIVING IN A STATE OF NATURE DID
NOT MAKE THE RAPISTS LESS
VIOLENT.
LIVING IN A STATE OF NATURE DID
NOT MAKE PETRIS LESS ACQUISITIVE
OF LAND.
LIVING CLOSE TO LAND, NEVER
MODERATES VIOLENCE; I'VE NOTICED
THIS BEFORE.
THE TERRIBLE MISTAKE THE
ROMANTIC POETS MADE--WORDSWORTH,
BLAKE, SHELLY, BYRON, DID NOT
LIVE IN NATURE.
THEY LIVED IN CITIES.
THEY ADMIRED NATURE FROM AFAR.
I GREW UP IN NATURE.
I GREW UP IN A VILLAGE, A TINY
VILLAGE.
I DON'T TRUST NATURE.
I WILL NEVER, NEVER AGAIN LIVE
IN A VILLAGE.
I WILL LIVE IN A BIG CITY,
MONTREAL, TORONTO, LONDON.
THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO LONG TO LIVE
IN THE COUNTRY ARE PEOPLE WHO
HAVE NEVER LIVED IN THE COUNTRY.
[Audience laughing]
WITH VERY FEW EXCEPTIONS, NO ONE
BORN IN THE COUNTRY, CLOSE TO
NATURE, EVER WANTS TO GO BACK TO
IT.
YOU CANNOT TRUST NATURE.
FAR MORE ACCURATE THAN THE
ROMANTIC POETS WERE THE LATER
VICTORIAN POETS LIKE TENNYSON
WHO CORRECTLY OBSERVED THAT
NATURE IS "RED AND TOOTH AND
CLAW."
NATURE IS VICIOUS.
HOW IS NATURE IN THE ANIMAL
WORLD SHOWN IN THE BOOK?
AT BEV SHAW'S ANIMAL CLINIC,
THERE IS A GOAT, A LIVING GOAT,
WITH MAGGOTS IN HIS PRIVATE
PARTS BECAUSE EVERY NIGHT, IN
NATURE, DOGS COME TO GNAW AT ITS
TESTICLES.
THAT'S NATURE.
NATURE IS NOT DAFFODILS ON THE
HILL.
NATURE IS TERRIBLE AND IT DOES
NOT INDUCE NOBILITY IN HUMAN
BEINGS.
AS THE NOVEL ENDED, AS FAR AS
LUCIE WAS CONCERNED, I WORRIED
FOR HER.
COETZEE IS FAMOUS FOR HIS OPEN-
ENDED NOVELS.
SHE HAS CONFIDED HER FUTURE TO A
MAN AND A NATURE FOR EACH OF
WHOM I HAVE A PROFOUND DISTRUST
FOR.
I FEAR FOR HER SAFETY BUT, AS
HER FATHER HAS NO RIGHT TO
GAINSAY HER ANSWER, NEITHER HAVE
I.
I MUST ACCEPT IT.
IT IS A MARK OF DAVID LURIE'S
GROWTH DURING THE NOVEL THAT
WHEN LUCIE FINALLY PROCLAIMS HER
BELIEF IN NATURE, AND HER DESIRE
TO BE A GOOD PERSON, HE SAYS TO
HER "YOU GO AHEAD, YOU ARE WELL
ON THE WAY."
THE DAVID LURIE AT THE END OF
THE NOVEL IS NOT THE DAVID LURIE
OF THE BEGINNING.
THE ARROGANT ACADEMIC WHO
ESPOUSED THE ROMANTIC CAUSE.
BY THE END OF THE NOVEL, DAVID
LURIE HAS GIVEN UP EVERYTHING.
HE HAS LOST EVERYTHING.
HE IS LECHERY.
HIS JOB, HIS APPEARANCE, EVEN
HIS NAME--HE ADOPTS A MISPRINT
IN ONE OF THE NEWSPAPERS...
"LOWRIE" HE CALLS HIMSELF.
INSTEAD OF BEING THE TEACHER, BY
THE END OF THE NOVEL, HE IS THE
STUDENT, THE STUDENT OF BEV
SHAW, THE LITTLE DUMPY, FAT
MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN WHOM HE SO
LAUGHED AT WHEN HE FIRST CAME TO
THE CLINIC.
WHEN HE FIRST CAME TO THE
CLINIC, SHE SAID TO HIM, "DO YOU
LIKE ANIMALS?"
HE SAID "I EAT THEM, I SUPPOSED
I DO."

[Audience chuckles]

Robert continues BUT SOMETHING BEGINS TO WORK IN
DAVID LURIE AND IT IS HIGHLY
CONNECTED WITH HIS WORK AT THE
CLINIC.
WHEN PETRIS GIVES A FEAST TO
CELEBRATE HIS NEW HOUSE AND HE
PROPOSES SLAUGHTERING TWO SHEEP,
DAVID LURIE SAYS TO HIS
DAUGHTER, "I'M RELUCTANT TO GO.
I HAVEN'T CHANGED MY IDEAS.
I STILL DON'T BELIEVE THAT
ANIMALS HAVE PROPERLY INDIVIDUAL
LIVES.
NEVERTHELESS, NEVERTHELESS, IN
THIS CASE I AM DISTURBED.
I DON'T KNOW WHY."
AS HE WORKS AT THE CLINIC, THE
MORE KILLING HE ASSISTS IN, THE
MORE JITTERY HE GETS.
ONE SUNDAY, DRIVING HOME IN
LUCIE'S COMBIE, HE ACTUALLY HAS
TO STOP AT THE ROADSIDE TO
RECOVER.
TEARS FLOW DOWN HIS FACE, HE
CANNOT STOP, HIS HANDS SHAKE.
HE CANNOT UNDERSTAND WHAT IS
HAPPENING TO HIM.
UNTIL NOW, HE HAS BEEN MORE OR
LESS INDIFFERENT TO ANIMALS.
AFTER BEV INJECTS THE ANIMALS AT
THE CLINIC, IT IS DAVID WHO
TAKES THEM TO THE HOSPITAL
INCINERATOR.
AT FIRST, HE THROWS THE BODIES
ON THE GARBAGE DUMP, SOMEONE
ELSE WILL LOOK AFTER THEM LATER.
BUT AS THE NOVEL PROGRESSES, HE
TAKES THE ANIMAL DIRECTLY TO THE
INCINERATOR AND GIVES IT ITS
INDIVIDUAL CREMATION.
HE IS NOT PREPARED TO INFLICT
DISHONOUR UPON THEM.
AND AS HE LOSES HIS
ANTHROPOCENTRIC, HIS HUMAN BEING
CENTRED VIEW OF THE UNIVERSE,
EVERYTHING IN HIM BEGINS TO
CHANGE.
JUST AS HE ACCEPTS HIS DAUGHTER...
FINALLY ACCEPTS HIS DAUGHTER'S
AUTONOMY.
HE GOES TO THE GIRL'S FATHER Mr.
ISAACS AND PROCLAIMS HIS SORROW
AT WHAT HE DID.
NOW Mr. ISAACS IS A RELIGIOUS
MAN AND HE TELLS DAVID, "YOU ARE
FOLLOWING A PATH ORDAINED BY
GOD."
BUT DAVID IS NOT A BELIEVER.
HE CANNOT SEEK REFUGE IN AN
EASY, RELIGIOUS, ABSOLUTION.
HE SAYS HIMSELF, "I AM SUNK INTO
A STATE OF DISGRACE FROM WHICH
IT WILL NOT BE EASY TO LIFT
MYSELF."
IF HE IS TO FIND GRACE, IT WILL
BE BY HIS OWN ACTION.
HE RETURNS TO CAPE TOWN.
HIS DAUGHTER HAS PUT HERSELF
UNDER PETRIS' PROTECTION.
THERE IS NOTHING MORE HE CAN DO
FOR HIS DAUGHTER AND HER SMALL
HOLDING.
HE GOES BACK TO CAPE TOWN.
HE FINDS HIS HOUSE STRIPPED AND
VANDALIZED.
HE TRULY HAS LOST EVERYTHING.
HE REALIZES THAT HIS ANSWER TO
THE QUESTION, "WHERE IS HOME AND
HOW DO I GET THERE?" IS BACK IN
THE ANIMAL CLINIC.
AND HE RETURNS THERE, RENTING A
LITTLE ROOM IN THE NEARBY TOWN.
HE HAS LOST ALL HIS PERSONAL
VANITY.
WHEN HE FIRST MET BEV SHAW, HE
DESPISED HER, AS HE DESPISED
ANYONE WHO DIDN'T HAVE BEAUTY.
BUT NOW, BEV SHAW OFFERS HIM
SEXUAL CONGRESS, OFFERS HIM HER
BODY AND HE ACCEPTS HUMBLY.
COETZEE, YOU KNOW, NEVER
EXPLAINS WHY SHE OFFERS HIM HER
BODY.
BEV SHAW IS MARRIED.
WHY DOES SHE OFFER HIM SEXUAL
UNION?
IT'S ONE OF THE MARKS OF COETZEE
THAT HE DOESN'T ALWAYS EXPLAIN
HUMAN MOTIVATION.
DAVID LURIE WONDERS "WHY DID
THIS WOMAN OFFER THIS GIFT?"
HE THINKS PERHAPS SHE IS JUST
BEING NICE TO HER FRIEND'S
FATHER.
HELPING HER FRIEND WITH A
DIFFICULT GUEST.
AND WE ARE NEVER TOLD ANYTHING
FURTHER THAN THAT.
WE ARE NEVER TOLD FOR EXAMPLE IN
THE NOVEL, WHAT HAPPENS TO BEV
SHAW'S HUSBAND?
ALL WE KNOW IS THAT DAVID LURIE
ACCEPTS AN OFFER THAT HE WOULD
NOT HAVE ACCEPTED BEFORE, AND HE
ACCEPTS IT WITH GRACE AND
HUMILITY.
AS THE NOVEL COMES TO ITS END,
LURIE IS A TWISTED, DEFORMED,
BALD OLD AND CHILDREN MOCK HIM.
AND LURIE LOOKS AT THEM AND SAYS "THEY SEE ME AS A MAD, OLD, MAN."
AND THEN IT STRUCK ME LIKE A
THUNDERBOLT.
A MAD, OLD, MAN.
HIS NAME IS LURIE.
NOT TOO FAR FROM HERE.
YOU CAN'T IN LITERATE WRITE "MAD
OLD MAN" AND--STRIPPED OF
EVERYTHING...
[Knocks on table]
AND NOT THINK ABOUT THE
ARCHETYPE MAD, OLD, MAN.
KING LEAR, STRIPPED OF
EVERYTHING; ARROGANCE AT THE
BEGINNING OF THE PLAY.
AT THE END OF SHAKESPEARE'S
GREATEST TRAGEDY, STRIPPED OF
EVERYTHING, LEAR FINDS SALVATION
AND REDEMPTION IN A TOTAL LOSS
OF ARROGANCE, OF ALL PRETENSION,
ALL POSE IN THE SIMPLEST OF LOVE
FOR HIS ONCE REJECTED DAUGHTER,
CORDELIA.
I BEGAN TO LOOK AT THIS AS A
RESTATEMENT OF LEAR.
AND I THOUGHT I FOUND IT BECAUSE
WHEN DAVID LURIE AND HIS
DAUGHTERS SPEAK, THEY SAY, "WE
START AT GROUND LEVEL WITH
NOTHING, WITH NOTHING.
NO CARDS, NO WEAPONS, NO
PROPERTY, NO RIGHTS, NO DIGNITY.
LIKE A DOG.
YES, LIKE A DOG!"
SOME CRITICS HAVE SEEN IN THAT A
KAFKA-LIKE REFERENCE BECAUSE
IT'S THE LAST LINE OF KAFKA'S
"THE TRIAL," BUT I SEE IT VERY
MUCH MORE AS A REFERENCE TO
LEAR.
DAVID LURIE STRIPPED TO HIS
ESSENCE, TO THE THING ITSELF.
CONSIDER THE STORY OF THE OPERA,
THE OPERA HE PLANNED AT THE
BEGINNING OF THE NOVEL IN ITS
HIGH, ROMANTIC STATE.
IT WAS GOING TO BE ON HIS
FAVOURITE POET, BYRON.
IT WAS GOING TO BE THE
MAGNIFICENCE OF THE LOVE BETWEEN
BYRON AND HIS LAST MISTRESS, THE
VOLUPTUOUS 19 YEAR OLD COUNTESSA
[indistinct]
AND HE SAYS "I THINK OF LUSH
ORCHESTRATION, BORROWING FROM
STRAUSS" AND AS THE NOVEL
PROGRESSES AND HE LOSES HIS
VANITY, HIS PRETENCE, HIS POSE,
HE SIMPLIFIES HIS CONCEPTION OF
OPERA HE WILL WRITE UNTIL
FINALLY, AT THE END OF THE
NOVEL, THERE IS NO MORE MAD LOVE
BETWEEN BYRON AND THE GIRL.
HE THINKS OF A TIME WHEN BYRON
IS LONG DEAD.
AFTER HE ABANDONED HIS MISTRESS
AND LAUGHED AT HER TO HIS
FRIENDS.
AND THE COUNTESS, NOW MIDDLE-
AGED, AND LONELY...PLAYS A
LITTLE TUNE ON A BANJO TO HER
LOST LOVE.
PLUNKA, PLUNKA, PLUNKA.
THAT'S WHAT BECAME OF HIS OPERA.
DAVID LURIE NO LONGER IDENTIFIES
WITH BYRON OR WITH THE WOMAN, OR
EVEN WITH THE LOVE BETWEEN THEM
OR ANYTHING THAT HAPPENED
BETWEEN THEM.
NOW DAVID LURIE IDENTIFIES WITH
THE SIMPLE TUNE ON THE BANJO...
PLUNKA, PLUNKA, PLUNKA.
THE SIMPLE, SAD, MUSIC OF
HUMANITY.
HE IS STRIPPED TO THE ESSENCE
AND HIS DREAM IS STRIPPED TO ITS
ESSENTIAL.
AS WE COME TO THE LAST PAGES OF
THE NOVEL, HE WORKS SIDE BY SIDE
AT THE ANIMAL CLINIC WITH BEV
SHAW.
HE AND BEV DO NOT SPEAK.
HE HAS LEARNED BY NOW, FROM HER,
TO CONCENTRATE ALL HIS ATTENTION
ON THE ANIMAL THEY ARE KILLING.
GIVING IT WHAT HE NO LONGER HAS
DIFFICULTY IN CALLING BY ITS
PROPER NAME, LOVE.
THE NOVEL IS CALLED
DISGRACE
AND THERE IS
MUCH DISGRACE WITHIN IT.
DAVID LURIE DISGRACED HIMSELF AS
A TEACHER.
THE RAPISTS DISGRACED HIMSELF AS
HUMAN BEINGS.
WHITE SOUTH AFRICA DISGRACED
ITSELF IN ITS POLICY OF
APARTHEID.
THE BLACK SOUTH AFRICAN, PETRIS,
DISGRACES HIMSELF AS A PATRIARCH
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF A VICTIM OF
RAPE.
BUT THE NOVEL COULD AS EASILY
HAVE BEEN CALLED
GRACE
BECAUSE THAT IS THE STATE OF
BEING THAT DAVID LURIE ACHIEVES
AT THE END OF THE NOVEL.
NOT PERFECTION.
I CAN FIND FAULT AT THE END OF
THE NOVEL WITH DAVID LURIE.
WHY DOES HE GO TO Mr. ISAACS TO
OFFER REPENTANCE?
THAT'S PATRIARCHAL.
THAT'S LIKE A FATHER SAYING "I
ABUSED YOUR PROPERTY, YOUR
DAUGHTER."
WHY DOES HE CUT SHORT THE LIFE
OF THE DOG BY ONE WEEK.
I'M NOT PERFECT AT THE END, BUT
I WOULD ARGUE DAVID LURIE AT THE
END IS IN A STATE OF GRACE.
CONSIDER THE LAST PARAGRAPH.
"DAVID HAS DEVELOPED A
PARTICULAR LOVE FOR ONE,
UNWANTED, YOUNG, MALE DOG WITH A
WITHERED CRIPPLE LEG THAT IT
DRAGS BEHIND IT."
AND THE LAST PARAGRAPH, "HE
OPENS THE CAGE DOOR, COME HE
SAYS AND OPENS HIS ARMS.
THE DOG WAGS ITS CRIPPLED REAR...
HIS LIPS, HIS CHEEK, HIS FACE,
LICKS HIS EARS.
HE DOES NOTHING TO STOP IT.
BEARING HIM IN HIS ARMS, LIKE A
LAMB, HE RE-ENTERS THE SURGERY.
I THOUGHT YOU WOULD SAVE HIM FOR
ANOTHER WEEK," SAYS BEV SHAW.
"ARE YOU GIVING HIM UP?"
"YES, I AM GIVING HIM UP."
THIS IS NOT THE HATEFUL,
ARROGANT DAVID LURIE OF THE
BEGINNING.
THIS IS A NEW MAN, STRIPPED TO
HIS ESSENTIAL SELF.
FULL OF LOVE.
HE CARRIES THE DOG LIKE A LAMB.
COETZEE IS NOT A MAN TO USE
WORDS WITHOUT CHOICE.
I WAS MOVED IN THE LAST
PARAGRAPH TO A VISION OF DAVID
LORIE OFFERING UP THE DOG, AND
HIS LOVE FOR THE DOG AS A
SACRIFICE, A PASCAL SACRIFICE,
LIKE A LAMB.
TO A GOD WHOM HE DOES NOT
BELIEVE, THE SUPREME IRONY OF
THE NOVEL.
IN SPITE OF THE BLEAKNESS OF THE
NOVEL, THE UNCERTAINTY OF
LUCIE'S FUTURE.
I WAS LEFT WITH A VISION OF AN
INDIVIDUAL HUMAN BEING, NOT A
SYMBOL OF ANYTHING, WHO HAS
FOUND HOME IN THE ANIMAL CLINIC
AND LIVES IN A STATE OF GRACE.
AND WHO, BECAUSE OF THAT, IS TO
BE ADMIRED AND ENVIED.
I THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

[Applause]

Classical music plays as the end credits roll.

Comments and queries, email: bigideas@tvo.org

Telephone: (416) 484-2746.

Big Ideas, TVONTARIO, Box 200, Station Q, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. M4T 2T1.

Producer, Wodek Szemberg.

Associate Producer, Mike Miner.

Sound, Maurice Dalzot.

Executive Producer, Doug Grant.

A production of TVOntario. Copyright 2001, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Watch: Robert Adams on J.M. Coetzee's novel Disgrace