Although I have only read a relatively small fraction of the critical writing on Elizabeth Costello, I have been impressed by the sheer amount of philosophical and interdisciplinary writing engaging with Coetzee's novel. Of course, this is not especially surprising information. After all, Costello rather explicitly abandons literary pursuits in favor of traveling the world and lecturing on a variety of themes. Still, for someone as accustomed to reading academic writing within a single discipline as I am, the transition has been an interesting one for me. I find, for example, that I appreciate the rigorous acumen of scholars working within the social sciences and, while it certainly resembles analogous patterns in my own field of expertise, I find the circuitous reasoning of certain philosophy scholars to be a touch more difficult to get through than, say, the matter-of-fact approach taken by primatologists.
And that's really the thing about Elizabeth Costello: for a single work of fiction, it galvanizes thinkers in a staggeringly wide range of academic fields and spawns an impressive degree of interdisciplinary writing, much of which focuses on a single idea Costello expounds upon rather than the entirety of the novel.
The essay I looked at today, for instance, Angi Buettner's "Animal Holocausts," situates Elizabeth Costello within the contemporary debate about the uses of the Holocaust as analogies for lowercase-h holocausts such as the slaughter of animals, the very comparison Costello makes to anger Isaac Stern in Coetzee's novel. In a discussion that also focuses on Stephen Wise's Rattling the Cage, Buettner suggests that, while reactions like that of Coetzee's fictional poet, Stern, are understandable, "[w]hen the Holocaust is used to point out and work against newly created suffering . . . it is not pointless" or gratuitous (41).
For tomorrow: Read.
Buettner, Angi. "Animal Holocausts." Cultural Studies Review 8.1 (2002): 28-44.