Disgrace is a novel by South African author J.M Coetzee, published in 1999. The story follows David Lurie, a South African English professor who loses his job after sleeping with a vulnerable student, Melanie Isaacs, and later, when stops attending h...
Disgrace is a novel by J. M. Coetzee, published in 1999. It won the Booker Prize. The writer was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature four years after its publication.
John Maxwell Coetzee born 9 February 1940) is a South African-born novelist, essayist, linguist, translator and recipient of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature. He has also won the Booker Prize (twice), the CNA Prize (thrice), the Jerusalem Prize, the Prix Femina étranger, The Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and holds a number of other awards and honorary doctorates.
He is one of the most critically acclaimed and decorated authors in the English language.
Coetzee relocated to Australia in 2002, and currently lives in Adelaide. He became an Australian citizen in 2006.
Awards, recognition, appearances
Coetzee has been the recipient of numerous awards throughout his career, although he has a reputation for avoiding award ceremonies.
and 1999 Booker Prizes1983
He was the first writer to be awarded the Booker Prize twice: first for Life & Times of Michael K in1983, and again for Disgrace in 1999. Two other authors have since managed this – Peter Carey (in1988 and 2001) and Hilary Mantel (in 2009 and 2012).
Summertime, named on the 2009 longlist,was an early favourite to win an unprecedented third Booker Prize for Coetzee. It subsequently made the shortlist, but lost out to bookmakers' favourite and eventual winner Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Coetzee was also longlisted in 2003 for Elizabeth Costello and in 2005 for Slow Man.
The Schooldays of Jesus, a follow up to his 2013 novel The Childhood of Jesus, was longlisted for the2016 Booker Prize.
Nobel Prize in Literature2003
On 2 October 2003, Horace Engdahl, head of the Swedish Academy, announced that Coetzee had been chosen as that year's recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, making him the fourth African writer to be so honoured and the second South African after Nadine Gordimer.When awarding the prize, the Swedish Academy stated that Coetzee "in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider". The press release for the award also cited his "well-crafted composition, pregnant dialogue and analytical brilliance", while focusing on the moral nature of his work. The prize ceremony was held in Stockholm on 10 December 2003.
Other awards and recognition
He is a three-time winner of South Africa's CNA Prize.His Waiting for the Barbarians received both the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, Age of Iron was awarded the Sunday Express Book of the Year award, and The Master of Petersburg was awarded The Irish Times International Fiction Prize in 1995. He has also won the French Prix Femina étranger and two Commonwealth Writers' Prizes for the African region - for Master of St Petersburg in 1995 for Disgrace in 2000 (the latter personally presented by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace) - and the 1987 Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society.
Coetzee was awarded the Order of Mapungubwe (gold class) by the South African government on 27 September 2005 for his "exceptional contribution in the field of literature and for putting South Africa on the world stage." He holds honorary doctorates from The American University of Paris, the University of Adelaide, La Trobe University, the University of Natal, the University of Oxford, Rhodes University, the State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of Strathclyde, the University of Technology, Sydney, the Adam Mickiewicz University in Pozna? and the Universidad Iberoamericana.
In 2013, Richard Poplak of the Daily Maverick described Coetzee as "inarguably the most celebrated and decorated living English-language author".
In 2004, Coetzee was handed the keys to the city by the Lord Mayor of Adelaide.
In 2010, he was made an international ambassador for Adelaide Writers' Week, along with American novelist Susanna Moore and English poet Michael Hulse.
He is patron of a research centre and cultural hub established in 2011, the J.M. Coetzee Centre for Creative Practice (JMCCCP). The Centre runs workshops with practitioners with the aim of providing "a stimulating environment for emerging and established writers, scholars and musicians". Coetzee's work provides particular inspiration to encourage engagement with social and political issues, as well as music. The Centre was established in 2015.
In November 2014, Coetzee was honoured with a three-day academic conference entitled "JM Coetzee in the World", held in his adopted city of Adelaide. It was described as "the culmination of an enormous collaborative effort and the first event of its kind in Australia" and "a reflection of the deep esteem in which John Coetzee is held by Australian academia".
Coetzee first visited Adelaide in 1996 when he was invited to appear at Adelaide Writers' Week. He has subsequently made appearances at the literary festival in 2004, 2010 (where he introduced Geoff Dyer) and 2019 (where he introduced Marlene van Niekerk)
Reception and interpretation
According to Adam Mars-Jones, writing in The Guardian, "Any novel set in post-apartheid South Africa is fated to be read as a political portrait, but the fascination of Disgrace is the way it both encourages and contests such a reading by holding extreme alternatives in tension. Salvation, ruin." In the new South Africa, violence is unleashed in new ways, and Lurie and his daughter become victims, yet the main character is no hero; on the contrary, he commits violence in his own way as is clearly seen in Lurie's disregard for the feelings of his student as he manipulates her into having sexual relations with him. This characterization of violence by both the 'white' and the 'black' man parallels feelings in post-apartheid South Africa where evil does not belong to the 'other' alone. By resisting the relegation of each group into positive and negative poles Coetzee portrays the whole range of human capabilities and emotions.
The novel takes its inspiration from South Africa's contemporary social and political conflict, and offers a bleak look at a country in transition. This theme of transition is represented in various forms throughout the novel, in David's loss of authority, loss of sexuality and in the change in power dynamics of groups that were once solely dominant or subordinate.
Sarah Ruden suggests that:
As in all of his mature novels, Coetzee here deals with the theme of exploitation. His favorite approach has been to explore the innocuous-seeming use of another person to fill one's gentler emotional needs.
This is a story of both regional and universal significance. The central character is a confusing person, at once an intellectual snob who is contemptuous of others and also a person who commits outrageous mistakes. His story is also local; he is a white South African male in a world where such men no longer hold the power they once did. He is forced to rethink his entire world at an age when he believes he is too old to change and, in fact, should have a right not to. This theme, about the challenges of aging both on an individual and societal level, leads to a line, "No country, this, for old men," an ironic reference to the opening line of the W. B. Yeats poem, "Sailing to Byzantium". Furthermore, Lurie calls his preference for younger women a "right of desire", a quote taken up by South African writer André Brink for his novel "The Rights of Desire".
By the end of the novel, though, Lurie seems to mature beyond his exploitative view of women. In recognizing the right of Lucy to choose her course in life, he finally puts "their strained relationship on a more equal footing" — the first time in his relationships with women.His pursuit of a sexual relationship with Bev Shaw also marks something of a path toward personal salvation, "by annihilating his sexual vanity and his sense of superiority."
This is Coetzee's second book (after Life and Times of Michael K) where man is broken down almost to nothing before he finds some tiny measure of redemption in his forced acceptance of the realities of life and death. Coetzee has always situated his characters in extreme situations that compel them to explore what it means to be human.Though the novel is sparse in style, it covers a number of topics: personal shame, the subjugation of women, a changing country, and romantic poetry and its allegory and symbolism.
Another important theme in the novel is the difficulty or impossibility of communication and the limits of language. Although Lurie teaches communications at Cape Town Technical University and is a scholar of poetry, language often fails him. Coetzee writes:
Although he devotes hours of each day to his new discipline, he finds its first premise, as enunciated in the Communications 101 handbook, preposterous: 'Human society has created language in order that we may communicate our thoughts, feelings, and intentions to each other.' His own opinion, which he does not air, is that the origins of speech lie in song, and the origins of song in the need to fill out with sound the overlarge and rather empty human soul.
A 2006 poll of "literary luminaries" by The Observer newspaper named the work as the "greatest novel of the last 25 years" of British, Irish or Commonwealth origin in years between 1980 and 2005.
A film adaptation of Disgrace starring John Malkovich had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008, where it won the International Critics' Award.
On November 5, 2019, the BBC News listed Disgrace on its list of the 100 most influential novels.
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