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Ethics and otherness: You sound like Mum and accompanying critical essay Aristotle, Deleuze and lack of closure : ethics and reader reflection in Coetzee's Disgrace

Boon, Lucy (2010) Ethics and otherness: You sound like Mum and accompanying critical essay Aristotle, Deleuze and lack of closure : ethics and reader reflection in Coetzee's Disgrace. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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My thesis consists of two parts. One of the sections is a critical essay which is focused on Coetzee's novel, Disgrace (1999), in reference to the ethical implications of the work, particularly regarding notions of marginalization and bearing witness. The controversial depictions of sexism and racism in the novel have caused a diverse range of reactions, some of which claim that such depictions are unethical in the context of post-apartheid South Africa. However, I argue that this is not the case.

I first draw on Aristotle's notion of a 'tragic hero,' emphasizing the ways in which tragedy provides a cathartic process of moral learning in its audience. I work through this theory to show how Disgrace can be taken as a tragedy, and how the main character, David Lurie, can be seen as the tragic hero. Through Lurie's experience of disgrace and person catharsis, the readers can reflect in this personal progression and learn about how to lead moral lives.

I then consider Disgrace in the context of the work of Deleuze and Guattari's concepts of 'line of flight,' 'rhizome,' and 'becoming-other.' I show how Lurie's disgrace can be understood as a process of becoming-other. Lurie's transition from a narrow-minded, self-centred white male, to a person who can be treated like an animal, interrogates the idea of clear-cut definitions and shows the true malleability of categories of gender, race and species. Using Deleuze and Guattari's theory, we can see the importance of literature as a form of representation and medium for critiquing such constructions of the 'Other.' By drawing on a Deleuzian perspective, we can examine how literature serves as the 'speculative leap' which enables us to experience the point of view of the Other through a process of 'becoming-other.'·

Finally I argue that Disgrace's resistance to closure, presenting this difficulty without any resolution, means that the reader must contend with the issues raised. Hence, by denying closure, the reader is urged to take personal responsibility for what they have read about, rather than just forgetting about the moral issues after they have finished the novel.

I use the theories brought up in the critical essay to inform the creative component of this thesis, a work of fiction entitled, You Sound Like Mum. The fiction follows the child protagonist, Nick, as he negotiates the difficult family dynamic that occurs after his mother dies. He and his brother, Michael, both struggle to cope with the loss of their mother and the reappearance of the father who left them years before. Loosely drawing on the concepts of Deleuze and Guattari, the reader is privy to Nick's 'becoming-parent', when he takes up the role of parent to Michael. This new role leads Nick to gradually change his attitude toward his father from resentment to acceptance. The story ends with a number of difficult questions which are left unanswered. For instance, the circumstances that drove Michael to underage drinking remain troublingly unresolved and the reader is left to ponder how the situation might be repaired.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Supervisor(s): Owen, Christine
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