Today was one of those days that make me appreciate this blog project of mine. To be honest, I probably would not have done any work at all (today, I mean) had I not felt the obligation to "read another article or two." There have been quite of few of these days over the past six months, but I notice that they occur more frequently when I am not reading fiction. In other words, I am less inclined to the reading and writing of literary criticism than I am to reading fiction. No surprise there, I'm sure. Still, since all I have been doing lately has been reading and writing literary criticism, the temptation to not work has been growing stronger with each passing day. Not that a day off would hurt, but it might set a precedent. You know, a day or two of putting off work can quickly become a week or two of doing nothing. So I am glad that I have this blog (and its readers) to pressure me into reading an article every day.
Of course, the fact that one of my neighbors was playing the drums until 1:30 in the morning may also have contributed to the difficulty I found in getting myself through today's reading.
Anyway, I read Martin Swales's "Sex, Shame, and Guilt: Reflections on Bernhard Schlink's Der Vorleser (The Reader) and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." As its title indicates, Swales's essay deals with the sex, shame, and guilt, though the focus is primarily on the concept of shame. Drawing upon Gabriele Taylor's discussion of pride, shame and guilt, Swales distinguishes between the legal, secular concept of guilt and the emotional (and even spiritual) nature of shame.
Shame, for Swales, results from the "comingling of inappropriate contexts." Once the chance encounter with David causes Soraya's "compartmentalized double life" to collapse in on itself, for instance, a sense of shame prevents the pair from continuing their sexual relationship (15). Here, the comingling of Soraya's two existences produces powerful feelings of shame for the woman. In another vein, when David admits that he is guilty of having (at the very least) broken his university's policy regulating sexual contact between faculty and student, his lack of "appropriate" shame causes him to lose his job.
Additionally, Swales spends a good deal of time exploring the interrelatedness of shame and guilt (especially in terms of their relationships to sexuality), paying particular attention to the areas where the legality of guilt and the emotionality of shame clash. To this end, Swales devotes a good amount of his essay to a discussion of Lurie's behavior during the university's inquiry into his relationship with Melanie Isaacs as well as David and Lucy's differing responses to her rape.
In the end, Swales largely dismisses the readings of Disgrace focusing upon the "transferred meaning" of socio-political and allegorical implications of the novel as inadequate, choosing instead to view Coetzee's text as a study in the anguish of "a condition of pained and painful specificity, at the interpretative intractability of personal experience[s]" such as guilt and shame (20).
For tomorrow: Read another article or two.
Swales, Martin. "Sex, Shame, and Guilt: Reflections on Bernhard Schlink's Der Vorleser (The Reader) and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Journal of European Studies 33.1 (2003): 7-22.