Sympathy and Scapegoating in J.M. Coetzee

In Anton Leist & Peter Singer (eds.), J. M. Coetzee and Ethics: Philosophical Perspectives on Literature (2010)
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J.M. Coetzee’s book, 'Elizabeth Costello' is one of the stranger works to appear in recent years. Yet if we focus our attention on the book’s two chapters dealing with animals, two preoccupations emerge. The first sees Coetzee use animals to evoke a particular conception of ethics, one similar to that of the philosopher Mary Midgley. Coetzee’s second theme connects animals to the phenomena of scapegoating, as it has been characterized by the philosophical anthropologist René Girard. While both themes involve human interactions with animals, each transcends application to that particular issue and raises deeper questions, respectively concerning the foundations of morality and the therapeutic allure of political violence. Making explicit these two preoccupations enhances our understanding of Coetzee’s fiction, particularly Disgrace. However, when Coetzee’s two philosophical strands are analyzed in their own terms, the ethics of sympathy is shown to be a more coherent notion than the understanding of politics he takes over from Girard.

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Andy Lamey
University of California, San Diego


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