Nonbeing and Woundedness
It is difficult to apply only one quotation to only one scene in Disgrace since the novel is an assemblage of characters and themes interwoven and interlocking; analyzing only one scene destroys the assemblage. Thus, I must interweave my analysis of David Lurie’s realization that he is at risk of the same fate as the lösing dogs he takes to the incinerator with ideas from other areas of the text. Cora Diamond quotes Simone Weil, “To be aware of this [that we may lose everything including what we consider to be our being, ourselves, our interiority] in the depth of one’s soul is to experience non-being” (75), and Cary Wolfe quotes the fictional Elizabeth Costello, “What I know is what a corpse cannot know: that it is extinct, that it knows nothing and will never know anything more” (32) because she now knows “the anguish of this vulnerability” (qtd. in Wolfe 18). This idea of being aware of the possibility of nonbeing, of mortality, is one of the themes in Disgrace.
In chapter 18 David and Lucy finally discuss, as much as she will allow, her rape (155-161). Bev Shaw contends, unspoken, that David cannot possibly understand what happened to Lucy because he was not there (160). Earlier in the novel, David analyzed his own daughter as a nonbeing, assessing her “ample” hips and breasts (59). David finds, though, that “if he loses himself” he can “be there, be the men” but he wonders if he has “it in him to be the woman” (160). Can he, as Lucy responds to her father’s note with one of her own, be the dead person Lucy feels that she has become (161)? Can David feel the nonbeing the women in his life have felt? As a womanizer, David thinks of Melanie as a bird needing protection (32) and insists to Melanie he does not collect (29) women. To feel nonbeing, an understanding of mortality, David will have to open a wound (Wolfe 2)
Once David realizes what womanizing and rape do to women through Lucy’s wounding by rape, once he realizes that Lucy now feels soulless by her statement that she is “a dead person and [does] not know yet what will bring [her] back to life” (161), David finally understands what nonexistence is. He realizes that the dogs each have “a body and soul inside” the bags that hold their corpses (161), but he still does not see females as Being. When he meets Melanie’s sister, Desiree, he “thinks: fruit of the same tree, down probably to the most intimate detail” (164). He has allowed dogs a Being, but it isn’t until after his conversation with Mr. Isaacs and his bowing down to Mrs. Isaacs and Desiree (173), when he lays aside his rationalizations and is vulnerable to the two women, that the women he treated as dogs are actual Beings for him.
David has finally realized that just as Lucy “meant nothing to [the rapists], nothing. [Lucy] could feel it” that he has treated the women in his life as if they were nonBeings. He understands woundedness, nonBeing, mortality, his own vulnerability to death and that man, dog, and women feel that vulnerability. So, then, in an act of further wounding, of being vulnerable, of being aware of a shared mortality, David, “bearing [the lame dog Bev named Driepoot] in his arms like a lamb” (219-220), gives himself to “embracing the darkness” (213). It is as the end of Disgrace that David finally lives with the disgrace of knowing that he, too, is nothing and can feel it.
Coetzee, J. M. Disgrace. Penguin: New York, 1999.
Diamond, Cora. “The Difficulty of Reality and the Difficulty of Philosophy.” Philosophy and Animal Life. Columbia UP: New York. 43-89. Provided by professor.
Wolfe, Carey. “Introduction: Exposures.” Philosophy and Animal Life. Columbia UP: New York. 43-89. Provided by professor.