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The Neo-Pagan God of Modern Humanism in Disgrace

Author(s): Xia WANG | Nan YANG

Journal: Studies in Literature and Language
ISSN 1923-1555

Volume: 1;
Issue: 3;
Start page: 16;
Date: 2010;
Original page

Disgrace, published in 1999, is set in the post-apartheid South Africa. After its publication, many critics read the novel as a response to the current political affairs of South Africa: the whites seeking a way to reconcile with the blacks in the new South African land. Besides, the novel is also read as an existential novel. Many critics are concerned with Lurie’s personal growth in which animals play an important transformative role: dogs make Lurie aware of the suffering of beings. Lurie is thus entitled as a “dogman,” a “scapegoat,” or a “scapegrace.” However, all of these critics neglect one trait of Lurie, that is, he is actively inventing his own perverse life rather than life transforms him. He willfully woos one of his students thirty years younger than him. Afterwards, he asserts his right of desire and refuses to repent for his sexual harassment on his student. Finally he determinedly chooses to become a dogman in the rural land of South Africa. In the fifth chapter of his 2003 novel Elizabeth Costello titled “The Humanity in Africa,” Coetzee expresses his view of Humanism which, I found, can shed a light on interpreting the protagonist Lurie’s character in Disgrace. In “The Humanity in Africa,” Coetzee suggests that Greek-Renaissance Humanism and Judean-Christianity have been rivaling, yet at the same time miming each other. Modern Humanism is usually regarded to be originated from Greek civilization as opposed to Christianity, yet, Coetzee suggests, it incorporates the two European civilizations: it follows the Greeks to pursue human beauty and also learns caritas from Christianity. Human pride is the backbone of Modern Humanism, which makes men their own gods: Human beings assert their human subjectivity and pursue human beauty and at the same time assume the role of Christ to suffer as a human flesh and suffer for others. In this thesis, I argue that one of the protagonist Lurie’s remarkable traits is that he, inspired by his human pride, willfully self-invents his perverse life. Lurie’s pride is actually a pride of a Modern Humanist, which drives him to completely pursue human beauty and endows him with the strength to willingly suffer human disgrace. Lurie’s human pride is so strong that it grants Lurie’s absolute sovereign self and elevates him to a Neo-Pagan God of Modern Humanism.Keywords: Human Pride; Greek Humanism; Judean-Christianity; Beauty and Ugliness
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