J.M. Coetzee – literary work casting intimate light on our harshness toward animals


Budak just recommended writer J.M. Coetzee‘s Diary of a bad year.

He is an author whose works feature animals, casting what feels to me like a knowing intimacy on our harshness toward animals. In a “diary of a bad year review” (link above), Coetzee’s inclusion of animal/animal themes is described thus:

Coetzee’s treatment of animals (in Disgrace and Elizabeth Costello, among other places) lays out the issue in the starkest terms. We kill animals as casually as we do, he suggests, because we have trained ourselves neither to care about them—not to feel for them because we no longer feel ourselves to be like them—nor to take care of them, at least not once they’ve outlived their utility or been designated for slaughter. In a memoir about his childhood in Afrikaner South Africa, Coetzee offered a boy’s-eye view of the suffering of barnyard animals, linking the gratuitous mutilation of chickens and sheep to brutality toward humans, be they “Natives” and “Coloureds”—apartheid-era labels for nonwhite South Africans—or the white schoolchildren who, like him, were educated at the end of a lash. Coetzee’s novels close in on the suffering of the human animal, often taking as their starting point its moment of maximal vulnerability: senescence, when the body loses its beauty and its basic capacities, and the protection of a respected identity.

Budak also recommends Disgrace, which he described here. The passage Budak quoted stirs something deep inside me, as no doubt it will for any who feels compassion. It will even tighten the chest in a familiarly painful gripe for those who are familiar with shelter animals or abandoned pets.

Alas, both books are not available in the NLB‘s catalog. But The Lives of Animals is. I will try to get my hands on that.

(More references on the writer here.)

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