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Secretaries of the Negligible: Reading Animals in Kafka and Coetzee

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This dissertation approaches J. M. Coetzee’s work through the lens of critical animal studies. Puzzling out the frequent appearances of animals in his work, numerous scholars have attempted to answer the following question: What is Coetzee writing about when he writes about animals? But while many have engaged with the problem of animal rights and representation in his oeuvre, no one has done so in the terms which I propose. This project takes as its point of departure the writerly connection between Franz Kafka and Coetzee, which the latter has frequently evoked through explicit references in his fiction and personal utterances, as well as in his themes and language.', ' ', 'My work undertakes a sustained analysis of the relationship between the two authors, which brings to the fore questions of allegorical and literal interpretation. In particular, I explore embedded scenes of performance in Elizabeth Costello and “Ein Bericht für eine Akademie†and argue that Coetzee lays out a blueprint of human/non-human relationality that depends not on language, but on the body as a vehicle for performance. This, I argue, is different from the theories of embodiment that scholars such as Elizabeth Anker and Donna Haraway have outlined. Keeping this in mind, I question existing readings of Disgrace that interpret the protagonist David Lurie’s slow change throughout the novel as a moral transformation that is assisted by his relationships with animals. Interrogating the double-sided nature of representation as both advocacy and depiction, I draw attention to the uneven power dynamics inherent in Lurie’s often well-intended representations of others—particularly the dogs in his life.', 'Finally, this dissertation zeroes in on the tendency that Kafka and Coetzee share of using transcendental language to describe a secular world. Though some scholars have understood Coetzee’s use of terms like “salvation†and “grace†to come hand-in-hand with an embrace of animal life, I show how any positive association between animals and “redemption†in Coetzee is in fact troubled by their relationship to violence. Meanwhile, the animal rhetoric he employs serves to highlight key distinctions between the “literal†and the “literary.â€

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  • 10/21/2019
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