In addition to reading a bit of Life & Times of Michael K. today, I read Charles Sarvan's "Disgrace: A Path to Grace?" Although I vaguely remember reading the essay a few years ago while researching the novel for my last-ever paper for my last-ever graduate seminar, I'd forgotten virtually everything about the article.
To be honest, I did not find Sarvan's essay particularly helpful. In fact, the essay reads like a rather uninspired book report, albeit with good grammar. The bulk of the article is plot summary, though the occasional critical insights do make the piece a bit more substantial than, say, your average scholarly book review. To Sarvan's credit, he does pick up on and discuss some of the novel's more overlooked content (the incestuous overtones of David Lurie's relationship with Melanie Isaacs, for instance). Otherwise, the essay retreads fairly common critical territory such as the various meanings of (dis)grace and the novel's commentary on post-Apartheid South Africa. The essay's big fault, however, is its over-reliance on a strangely eclectic group of classic literary and philosophical texts to "support" what often amounts to merely pedestrian observation. Citing everyone from novelists as varied as Thomas More and Nadine Gordimer to poets like W. H. Auden and William Butler Yeats to philosophers like Martin Heidegger and Boethius as well as canonical works of Eastern religious thought (The Upanishads and The Dhammapada, in particular), it often seems like Sarvan is more eager to display the breadth of his learning than he is in probing Coetzee's novel -- and, in doing so, often derails what has the potential to be a thoughtful and provocative discussion. Indeed, "A Path to Grace?" does little more than scratch the surface of an intricate novel, leaving readers with the level of insight one might expect from a casual reading.
For tomorrow: Write. If I find the energy, read a bit as well.
Sarvan, Charles. "Disgrace: A Path to Grace?" World Literature Today 78.1 (2004): 26-29.