I actually got today's work done fairly quickly. You see, I had a party to attend, so I was actually motivated to plough through my reading. I read so quickly, in fact, that I considered reading more than I had planned just to feel doubly accomplished. Then I got hit with a headache, skipped both the extra reading and the party, and fell asleep. Now, even though I did make the progress I'd hoped to make today, I somehow feel less satisfied with myself. I mean, it's one of those instances where one's success is diminished by his or her sense at having failed to fulfill one's potential.
Regardless, I did read Peter D. McDonald's "Disgrace Effects," in which the author investigates whether or not Coetzee's novel can resist the "racialized readings" many critics have given the book (326). Along the way, McDonald reviews the varied critical responses to the novel in South Africa, paying particularly close attention to that of the ANC. If, as many critics of the novel maintain, Disgrace amounts to Coetzee's allegorical "report on white racism" in post-Apartheid South Africa, the novel is "dangerously uncertain in its implications," lending itself to troubling readings in which Coetzee himself emerges as something of racist (326). For McDonald, however, the book cannot be reduced to a mere piece of contemporary South African literature interested only in commenting upon the nation out of which it emerges and, as such, cannot be expected to comment exclusively on the socio-political situations in Coetzee's homeland. Instead, while "[t]he questions it raises about racist language, the violations of human dignity, and the ethics of redress are not universal . . . they do have a bearing on many times and places" (329). Consequently, McDonald concludes, "the novel is written in such a way as to risk putting contemporary expectations, especially with regard to trading texts called 'literary,' provocatively to the test" (330). As McDonald addresses the many criticisms hurled at Coetzee in the months following the publication of Disgrace, he does an admirable job of exposing the flaws inherent to many of the racialized readings of the novel while not becoming an apologist. Ultimately, McDonald's reading is ambiguous in its evaluation, a wholly appropriate response to Coetzee's "charged story, artful rhetoric, dense allusiveness, and studied refusal to moralize" (330). Disgrace, like any great novel, does not answer nearly as many questions as it poses and McDonald, in an exceptional example of critical restraint, refuses to offer a "definitive" reading of the novel, choosing instead to free Coetzee's book from the one-dimensional readings so many commentators have given the text and inviting future readers to consider a variety of angles when approaching Disgrace.
For tomorrow: Same stuff, different day.
McDonald, Peter D. "Disgrace Effects." interventions 4.3 (2002): 321-330.