Sobriquet 43.22

I read Rebecca Saunders's "Disgrace in the Time of a Truth Commission" this evening. Although I have come across scads of essays connecting Disgrace to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Saunders's is among the best that I have seen. She makes a thoroughly convincing case for reading Coetzee's novel as "structured around a series of disturbing interrogations" that essentially interrogate interrogation:
These scenes of interrogation, I wish to argue, not only interrogate each other, but engage a number of urgent ethical problems opened up by teh TRC, at the core of which lie a series of significant tensions between the 'visceral' and 'reason'. Both Disgrace and the TRC question, that is, whether the visceral (conceived as the emotional, instinctive and deeply embodied) can be reasonable, or is in necessaryopposition to reason; or whether reason, and the justice and truth that derive from it, are by nature eviscerated, whether they inevitably translate the visceral into abstract value, disembodied meaning or immaterial recovery. (99)
For instance, drawing upon Nietzsche's observations on the almost economic nature of justice, Saunders argues that "Lurie's position [during his disciplinary hearing] insists that justice is a matter of calculable adequation, of indemnity and exchange" (100). Of course, Farodia Rassool and the committee members are not satisfied with David's admission of guilt; they want to see that he is sorry. This is where Saunders's essay gets really interesting. She locates the schism between the reasonable functionality of an organized judiciary body (like the university committee or the TRC) and the visceral, emotive, and even irrational needs and desires of the people involved within such a body. The essay, like Coetzee's novel, raises more questions than it answers: what role, if any, must outward performance play in reconciliation?; if one admits to guilt, must he or she also be genuinely sorry for the wrongdoing or is it sufficient to "pay" a judicial penalty?; how can the law measure something like sincerity?; is it reasonable to expect a guilty party to transform into a different type of person as part of reconciliation?; will the victim of wrongdoing accept any punishment?; is reconciliation even possible? And on and on. Ultimately, Saunders concludes, Disgrace "leaves us with a messy nettle-strewn bed on which the social conscience is destined to find little rest" (105). And this, I imagine, is Coetzee's point: there are no easy answers; we should toss and turn on questions like these.

For tomorrow: Read another essay.

Work Cited

Saunders, Rebecca. "Disgrace in the Time of a Truth Commission." Parallax 11.3 (2005): 99-106.


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