I am pleased to report that the once-towering pile of Disgrace criticism sitting on my desk has shrunk considerably over the course of the summer. I always knew the amount of criticism on Disgrace would dwarf the amount devoted to Age of Iron, The Master of Petersburg, Elizabeth Costello, and Slow Man, but this has been an epic struggle for me. I mean, after a while, an overwhelming sense of deja vu hits you and you begin to feel as if you have already read what you're reading at the moment. Usually, when that feeling hits me, I moan and groan to myself and move on, hoping that what seems the same is actually different. Today, however, I discovered that a full three of the "unread" essays I had sitting before me were really, truly versions of essays I had already read. Indeed, while titles differed a bit and a few sentences were added here and there and a couple of phrases were reworded, the essays were, in fact, the same. Oh, I was delighted . . . I am now sixty pages further into my reading than I was earlier in the day and I didn't even have to put effort into it!
Anyway . . .
Of the essays I reviewed over the past couple of days that were not slightly modified versions of themselves, two (Gareth Cornwell's "Disgraceland: History and the Humanities in Frontier Country" and Ron Charles's "A Morality Tale With No Easy Answers") were articles that I had originally read several years ago when researching my first article on Disgrace, so I was not wholly unfamiliar with the terrain. At any rate, I do not hesitate to say that Gareth Cornwell stands alongside Rita Barnard as one of the Coetzee critics I most enjoy reading. His prose is extremely accessible, his foci interesting, and his research comprehensive. In "Disgraceland," Cornwell contextualizes Coetzee's novel by juxtaposing events in the book with historical accounts of Salem village and Grahamstown, highlighting several thought-provoking parallels between the relationship of the indigenous Xhosa inhabitants of the area with the European settlers and the interactions of blacks and whites in Disgrace. The essay also includes an exploration of the novel's intertextual relationship with "The Humanities in Africa," foregrounding the limitations of the values bestowed by a (romanticized) European past in contemporary South Africa.
Charles's review, while brief, does an admirable job of highlighting many of the novel's key themes.
Finally, the third essay that I read, Tim McIntyre's "Autobiography and Confession in Boyhood, Youth, and Disgrace," focuses primarily on Coetzee's autobiographical writing. Although he only briefly discusses the novel, McIntyre argues that Disgrace foregrounds the necessity of selfless love so painfully absent in the young John of the memoirs: "[w]hat is central to Disgrace are the same issues that are paramount to the Confessions of St. Augustine: the slow growth of love in the heart of the protagonist and the impersonal passion for truth that drives the writing" (177).
For tomorrow: More reading.
Charles, Ron. "'A Morality Tale With No Easy Answers." The Christian Science Monitor (Boston) 10 November 1999: 20.
Cornwell, Gareth. "Disgraceland: History and the Humanities in Frontier Country." English in Africa 30.2 (2003): 43-59.
McIntyre, Tim. "Autobiography and Confession in Boyhood, Youth, and Disgrace." J. M. Coetzee: Critical Perspectives. Kailash C. Baral, ed. New Dehli: Pencraft International, 2008. 170-178.