Saturday, August 11, 2007

Disgrace 2

"The real truth, he suspects, is something far more — he casts around for the word — anthropological, something it would take months to get to the bottom of, months of patient, unhurried conversation with dozens of people, and the offices of an interpreter."

Here, in Disgrace, Coetzee's David Lurie is pondering the implications of his daughter Lucy's having been raped on her farm by three black attackers. One feature of his pondering is that he thinks that Petrus, who used to work for Lucy but has now become more her neighbor, had something to do with the attack — at least that he was in the know.

What strikes me about the issue of Lucy's rape in the novel is that Lurie's response to it contrasts so starkly with his response to the harassment charges against him that I commented on a few weeks ago. There, he wanted to reduce the matter to an issue of pleading guilty or not guilty, without pursuing the details of the story or getting involved in any further atonement for his acts (such as going to counseling or some other such thing). But here, when his daughter is involved, he no longer treats the issue as purely legal (a matter of justice) but insteads treats it as moral, which involves telling a story.

He does not notice the contrast, of course: when he is the perpetrator, he does not want a story to be told; instead, he wants a verdict to be reached. When his daughter is the victim of a crime, he does want a story to be told. In the first case, a legal result; in the second, a matter of naming whose legitimacy he did not recognize in the first:

"Violation: that is the word he would like to force out of Petrus. Yes, it was a violation, he would like to hear Petrus say; yes, it was an outrage."


ADDENDUM: Later, Lucy responds to her father's demand that she press charges against her attackers: "... if there is one right I have it is the right not to be put on trial like this, not to have to justify myself, not to you, not to anyone else."

Here, the irony of Lurie's position is clear: he could have said almost the same thing in response to the harassment charges — that he did not have to justify himself, but only to file a plea.

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