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Borrowed FormsThe Music and Ethics of Transnational Fiction$
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Kathryn Lachman

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9781781380307

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781781380307.001.0001

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Opera and the Limits of Representation in j. M. Coetzee's Disgrace

Opera and the Limits of Representation in j. M. Coetzee's Disgrace

(p.113) Chapter Four Opera and the Limits of Representation in j. M. Coetzee's Disgrace
Borrowed Forms

Kathryn Lachman

Liverpool University Press

Chapter Four considers the status of opera in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace (1999). In the tradition of major modernist novels, Disgrace offers a meditation on artistic creation and uses music in order to stage the problems of writing. The novel's protagonist, David Lurie, is an aging English professor at Cape Town University who attempts to write an opera about Lord Byron's late romance with an Italian countess. A failed affair with a student, followed by the loss of his job and a brutal attack on his daughter's farm, challenge Lurie's assumptions about justice, entitlement, violence, and representation in post-apartheid South Africa. While critics have generally read the opera as an embedded narrative that sheds light on Lurie's developing ethical sensibilities, this chapter reads the opera against feminist music criticism, Coetzee's broader work, and French theory, to argue that it constitutes a far more radical disruption in the text. The opera opens a space of opacity and unreadability in the narrative, staging the problem of representing the other. Coetzee draws on opera to re-evaluate the relationship between ethics and aesthetics in contemporary South Africa—and in literature itself.

Keywords:   opera, J. M. Coetzee, silence, ethics, representation, rape, post-apartheid South Africa, Maurice Blanchot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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