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The Dispossession of David Lurie

The Dispossessions of David Lurie:
A Philosopher Among the Animals

Kevin D. O’Neill
Department of Philosophy
University of Redlands

Running Head: The Dispossession of David Lurie

Two things happen to David Lurie in Disgrace. He is exiled from world of men (in the generic sense) and “exiled to” or finds himself in, a world of animals in which he discovers a new understanding of the soul, and of identity, that provide him a new home, albeit one without the possibility of transcendence or salvation. He comes to believe in an embodied soul for all living things, and in unique subjectivity for all, but he rejects the idea that such a soul can live past the death of its body, even though we must honor and mourn each passing soul. Coetzee can be read as a primer for the care of souls that have no hope of transcendence.
But Coetzee also argues in Disgrace that coming to know this soul bears a heavy price. His protagonist David Lurie only discovers the world of the fully embodied soul when he has become a scapegoat, driven out of both his city environment and his country refuge by his inability to understand what he doesn’t know, and by a stiff-necked Platonizing that causes him to lose every argument in his attempts to maintain his status in the human lifeworld. Lurie can no longer think or speak as others think and speak, and is therefore thrust “down” the scale of being to the world of animals.
This is the opposite of a bildungsroman, because rather than developing Lurie devolves. It is the opposite of a story in which the hero comes to a deeper self-understanding by transcending his situation. At the end Disgrace Lurie has all but lost his name – he has become “a mad old man who sits among the dogs singing to himself”(Coetzee, 212) and (Coetzee, 145) “simply a man who began arriving on Mondays with the bags for Animal Welfare”. He, like the dog he refuses to name (Coetzee, 215), has become anonymous. What little self-understanding he ever thought he had is gone. As he tells Bev Shaw (Coetzee, 210), “I don’t know what the question is, anymore.” He has lost whatever idea he ever had of himself, and become more like the dogs among which he lives, a body among other bodies. His idea of himself has become not the but an “idea of the world”, and it is this idea that we shall, by the conclusion of this essay, have explored.
We can get at what happens to Lure in two stages. First, from a beginning in which he is sure he knows exactly what is going on in his urban world of reason, we will detail a series of arguments he loses, in both the city and the country, that drive him out of the world of humans and into the putatively lower world of animals. Second we will visit Lurie in that world and see what truths he learns from his sojourn there.
The Descent
How did he get there? And what exactly does he find when he gets there? He begins the novel as a scholar interested in the work of the British Romantic poets, in particular Wordsworth and Byron. Both these men, spiritual allies of Plato and to a lesser extent of Descartes, believed that one could know about and inhabit a world exactly the opposite of the world of animals. This is evident from the fragment of Book Six of Wordsworth’s Prelude that we find Lurie teaching the day after he first has sex with Melanie. Wordsworth laments that he and his party are actually arriving at Mont Blanc, which cannot live up to the idea of Mont Blanc with which they are possessed, a much better and more perfect thing than the actual Mont Blanc. (Coetzee 21)
We also first beheld
Unveiled the summit of Mont Blanc, and grieved
To have a soulless image on the eye
That had usurped upon a living thought
That never more could be.
Wordsworth believes there is a higher and better world of Ideas, in the Platonic fashion, and that art, especially poetry, invokes and makes such perfect things present. “The great archetypes of the mind, pure Ideas, find themselves usurped by mere sense images” (Coetzee 22); and we will never find these ideas unless we “climb in the wake of the poets”(Coetzee 23) with an “eye half turned toward the great archetypes of the imagination we carry within us.” It is under this rubric that he conceives his initial seduction of Melanie Isaacs: he tells her (Coetzee 16) that she “ought” to spend the night with him because “a woman’s beauty does not belong to her alone. It is part of the bounty she brings into the world. She has a duty to share it.” Then he quotes a line: “‘From fairest creatures we desire increase, that thereby beauty’s rose might never die.’” (Shakespeare, Sonnet One) Because of this – that beauty is a rose that must never die and has an existence in and of itself, Melanie “does not own herself. Beauty does not own itself.” (Coetzee 16) Lurie says that with respect to this beauty he “is in the grip of something”, namely “Beauty’s rose”. (Coetzee 18)
This attitude extends to how Lurie sees his attraction to Melanie. When we love someone we want to get beyond their physical appearance: “do you truly wish to see the beloved in the cold clarity of the visual apparatus? It may be in your best interest to throw a veil over the gaze, so as to keep her alive in her archetypal, goddesslike form.” (Coetzee 22)
Wordsworth seeking the perfect archetype of the mountain, Lurie seeking a perfect archetypal beauty that does not belong to those who bear it – both attest to the reality of a realm of pure ideas, in which the Platonic soul and/or Cartesian cogito can know pure archetypes. Lurie begins Coetzee believing in such ideas and in such souls.
He is not, however a pure Platonist because he is also a sensualist and a seducer. So he teaches that, however seductive pure ideas might be, “We cannot live our daily lives in the realm of pure ideas, cocooned from sense experience. The question is not, how can we keep the imagination pure, protected from the onslaughts of reality? The question has to be, can we find a way for the two to coexist?” (Coetzee, 22)
Lurie argues that Wordsworth means, in line 599 of the Prelude, to strike such a balance between ideal and actual by privileging the “sense image”, which is halfway between “the pure idea, wreathed in clouds” and “the visual image burned on the retina.” (Coetzee, 22) But even this “sense image” appears to privilege the Platonic idea: these images are to be “kept as fleeting as possible, as a means toward stirring or activating the idea that lies buried more deeply…” (Coetzee, 22), because “sense organs reach the limit of their powers, their light begins to go out”. And at the moment such a limit is reached, “that light leaps up one last time, giving us a glimpse of the invisible.” What matters, ultimately, to Lurie, Wordsworth and Plato, is the invisible, the category that Plato associates with the soul.
The Double Expulsion
Lurie’s journey to the edges of knowing and being is not something he either wills or expects. He begins the novel in a state of self-involved self-deception, full of epistemological and ontological hubris. He is exactly the sort of man who thinks he knows, whom Plato used so often as Socrates’ foil in his dialogues. Lurie’s downfall, his disgrace, has two overlapping trajectories. First, Lurie is progressively excluded from the urban environment, in which he occupies a position of power as a professor of Communications, because he sees the world differently from everyone around him. Second, he is equally excluded from the country society that centers on his daughter Lucy’s farm, for not knowing what is going on and for not understanding what he sees. His epistemological obtuseness leads, in both cases, to ontological exile.
Expulsion from the City
The first argument Lurie loses in the city is with his weekly “escort”, Soraya. He believes that he has “solved” the problem of sex through his assignations with this woman. The falsity of his assumptions about “Soraya” become clear when he sees her in public, as her day-to-day self, with her children, and begins to imagine himself with her as part of a couple. He assumes that he has seen into the invisible depths of their relationship, that he knows how Soraya sees him. (Coetzee, 2)
Because he takes pleasure in her, an affection has grown up in him for
her. To some degree, he believes, this affection is reciprocated. They have
been lucky, the two of them: he to have found her, she to have found him.
When he sees her in public he assumes that he has the further right to “see” even more. “In Soraya’s arms he becomes, fleetingly, their father: foster-father, step-father, shadow-father.” (Coetzee 6) Lurie feels Soraya transforming herself “into just another woman and him into just another client.” (Coetzee 7) His mistake is not to understand that he was always “just another client”. Lurie has crafted an idealized Soraya and an idealized relationship. This becomes clear when he hires a private investigator to get her telephone number and calls her. Soraya reacts with anger: “’I don’t know who you are’, she says. ‘You are harassing me in my own house. I demand you will never phone me here again, never.” (Coetzee 9-10)
Lurie completely missed what was going on – he did not know something he could easily have known. Second, Soraya denies that she even knows who Lurie is. What this means is that since she was using a false name – she was an interchangeable “Soraya” – he has no idea who she is and conversely, she has no idea who he is. Whatever she “knew” about him was circumscribed by the client-prostitute relationship in which neither party is bound to tell truth, because telling the truth is not what the relationship is about. Lurie should have known that a woman using a false name would not reciprocate affection or feel anything at all toward him.
This rebuff to his idealizing tendency seems to have little effect on Lurie. He never seems to understand that he was mistaken about Soraya, and he moves quickly to a sordid, exploitive connection with a departmental secretary and then to his disastrous “affair” with Melanie Isaacs, a relationship as inherently false as that with “Soraya.”
The second argument that Lurie loses in the city is with his ex-wife, Rosalind. He has dinner with her after the charges are leveled. Lurie’s template for interpreting the affair is radically different from Rosalind’s. She tells him that he is “too old to be meddling with other people’s children” (Coetzee 45) He “should have known”; what he did was “stupid” and “disgraceful” ” (Coetzee 45), and he must “expect no sympathy, … no mercy, in this day and age.” (Coetzee 44) Rosalind’s tone is minatory. He has done something indefensible, “meddling” with “children” when he is himself a parent. It is almost as if he is child molester, and Rosalind assures him that absolutely no one will be on his side.
Lurie tries to introduce the question of love, to change the “language game” from child molestation to the erotic. He tells Rosalind: “You haven’t asked whether I love her. Aren’t you supposed to ask that?” Rosalind quickly responds with deflating irony. “Very well. Are you in love with the young woman who is dragging your name through the mud?” (Coetzee 45). Rosalind obviously never considers the possibility that love had anything to do with the matter, just as Soraya never thought for a minute that there was any sort of affection between her and Lurie.
Lurie begins his meeting with the University’s Committee of Inquiry with a similar disjunction between the way he wants to talk about the event and the way they do. The Committee is interested in whether he accepts their members. Lurie wants to raise what he calls a “philosophical objection”. The Committee chair responds that this cannot be done because the Committee is required address only the “legal sense” of the events under discussion. (Coetzee 47) Mathabane, the chair, adds that this is an “inquiry” rather than a “trial”, whatever that might mean.
Lurie, however, following his now lengthening list of misunderstandings, promptly pleads guilty to both the charges, as if this were a trial. But since this is an inquiry, an attempt to find out the truth, not decide guilt or innocence, the Committee is not satisfied with Lurie’s admission and wants him to do something different, namely to “state his position.” (Coetzee 49) His only position is that he is guilty, which requires no further statement. But again the Committee is not satisfied because, to put the matter crudely, Lurie is speaking the wrong way. They want to know: “Guilty of what?”
Lurie’s answer, that he is guilty of everything that “Ms Isaacs avers”, and of falsifying the records, is exactly what they do not want to hear. He is warned that his approach, which seems to the Committee like “talking in circles”, is “not prudent” but “quixotic.” He is not playing the correct language game. Even if the chair of the Committee stated that the inquiry was strictly about legal matters, and Lurie has stuck to strictly legal responses, the Committee wants something more, and the more they want begins to come clear when a female member of the group, asks “ ‘Would you be prepared to undergo counseling?’ ” (Coetzee 49)
Counseling as a suggestion emerges, for Lurie, from “another world, another universe of discourse.”(Coetzee 58) The disjunction comes because the Committee chooses to understand Lurie’s inner life differently than Lurie does. Even though the chair claims that what goes on in Lurie’s “soul” “is dark to us” (Coetzee 58) and that they do not want repentance but a public statement that appears to be repentant, the suggestion about counseling belies this claim. The Committee seems to see Lurie’s inner self, his “soul”, as a territory open to “counseling”, that is inspection and correction. And in calling for such surveillance and discipline they are also implying that his motive – what he calls Eros – was not an autonomous force but some version of mental illness. They are in fact rejecting the idea that souls can be visited by anything but their own urges and delusions, and arguing that love is a purely psychological and political event rather than a form of possession.
Against this “idea of the world” Lurie is defending two ideas: first the primacy and irreducibility of the invisible soul, and second the legitimacy of the invisible motive force, Eros. In both cases Lurie is basing his argument on the real existence of two important invisibles, Eros and the soul. That the invisible Eros, not Eros as biological instinct but Eros as metaphysical force, can move the invisible soul is the nub of his argument. But Eros has no currency in the paradigm used by the Committee, just as what Lurie considers a religious category, repentance, should, in his opinion, have no currency in the supposedly purely secular, legal guidelines under which the Committee operates.
But the Committee can reject the “language game” in which his confession is couched just as they are implicitly rejecting the “language game” of Romantic poetry in which such figures as Eros are considered real, and just as Rosalind rejected the language game of love, and Soraya of genuine affection. The Committee can impose its logically mixed, even inconsistent language game on Lurie. They can reject “philosophical objections” in favor of purely legal procedural standards on one hand, then call for extra-legal “repentance” and public statements accepting moral blame, and a call for the therapeutic intervention of counseling, on the other, because their templates for discourse are currently hegemonic and Lurie’s are “quixotic” and “subtly mocking”, styles of thinking and talking from which the Committee tries to save Lurie.
Lurie loses this third argument decisively and loses his job. He also, by this act, loses his place in the city. He goes to visit his daughter on her small farm in the East Cape. When Lurie shows up at his daughter’s farm, the discussion is about his status. She says, “What if we don’t call it a visit? What if we call it a refuge? Would you accept refuge on an indefinite basis?”
(Coetzee 65)
Lurie wants to act as if his appearance at the farm is voluntary, part of a possible “long ramble.” If Lurie is a refugee then his status has been reduced. So the question is: who knows his current status, and how is it to be established? Lucy feels that she knows more about his status than he does. He contests her description. The farm is not a refuge. He says that he is not (66) “a fugitive.”
Lucy counters by saying that Rosalind, her mother, told her that he had been let go under adverse circumstances. Lurie offers his account. He says that he brought it all on himself – which contests the idea that he is either a refugee, an outcast, someone whom the authorities have condemned. He says he sealed his own fate because he would not accept what he describes as “Re-education. Reformation of the character. The code word was counseling.” (Coetzee 65)
He associates such a proposal with “Mao’s China. Recantation, self-criticism, public apology.”(Coetzee 66) He rejects this because it belittles his claims about Eros and reduces his invisible inner self to a therapeutic site that needs correction. Such a redescription makes the invisible completely visible, something Lurie consistently resists.
He makes this position clear when he says,
“These are puritanical times. Private life is public business. Prurience is respectable, prurience and sentiment. They wanted a spectacle: breast-beating, remorse, tears if possible. A TV show, in fact. I wouldn’t oblige.” (Disgrace 66) In these times, the soul is turned inside out. What was once invisible is now made visible, becomes a spectacle, and thereby becomes a “show”, essentially inauthentic in its visibility.
But we have seen how poorly Lurie’s platonizing “explanations” work: they are seen as ‘quixotic’, “stupid”, “disgraceful. Lurie’s language games have been repudiated. They are not wrong. They just don’t mean anything in the current world of discourse. Lucy tells him “You shouldn’t be so unbending. It isn’t heroic.” (Coetzee 67) She does not respond directly to his claims. She neither agrees not disagrees, but thinks that whatever his position it is not worth maintaining at the cost of turning him into someone who requires refuge. Lurie has lost this argument because Lucy has not accepted his definition of who he is and of what happened to him. She might or might not agree with the Committee’s description of the world, but she definitely does not agree with his.
Lurie has a second dinner with his ex-wife when he returns to Cape Town, and it reinforces his exchange with Lucy. Rosalind has heard more about the “trial”, and tells him that she hears that he did not “perform” well. He responds that it was not a question of performing well but of defending a principle, which he says was “ ‘Freedom of speech. Freedom to remain silent.’” What he means by this “principle” is that he wanted the freedom to speak in the diction he chose, rather than in the language of confession and counseling. And he wanted the right to remain silent about his motives, about the dark recesses of his soul.
But Rosalind, like Lucy, is skeptical. Where Lucy saw him as too unbending, Rosalind thinks that Lurie is a “great self-deceiver”, that he might just have “ ‘gotten caught with (his) pants down’” (Coetzee 188), and that even if he was fighting for a principle, that principle was “too abstruse”, so that the Committee believed he was merely “obfuscating.” (Coetzee 189) Again, the way Lurie talked and the way the Committee, and perhaps even his ex-wife, was hearing, did not match. The Committee did not think Lurie was wrong. They did not know what he was talking about.
His exclusion from his former urban environment is settled once for all by two incidents that happen during his brief stay in Cape Town, incidents that reaffirm the gap that exists between him and the world he once inhabited. First, he goes to the super market and runs into Elaine Winter, chair of his “onetime department”. She tells him that a contract instructor in “applied language studies” has replaced him. (Coetzee 179) Lurie thinks to himself, “So much for the poets, so much for the dead masters.” His way of speaking and thinking have been displaced by a language technocrat who belongs to the same culture as that which wants him to go into counseling.
His former colleague never asks how he is doing. She waves goodbye after she has made her purchases, a symbolic kiss-off from a world that has ejected him.
He receives an analogous sendoff when he attends the play in which Melanie has a part. Ryan, Melanie’s boyfriend, drives Lurie out of the theater by throwing spitballs at him and hissing. Outside, Ryan tells him to “’Stay with your own kind’.” And, “’Find yourself another life, prof. Believe me!’” (Coetzee 194)
These events in Cape Town make it clear that both the University and Melanie’s world have rejected him, his language, and his manner of life. He is not their “kind”; he is being waved off. The question is, then – who are his kind, and what other life should he find?
These questions are especially pressing because the events just noted come, in the novel, after the attack on Lucy’s farm and after his relationship with his daughter has deteriorated. He does not have a “kind” to be with, at least not a human kind, and the other life he tried to develop seems not to be working out.
Expulsion From the Country Refuge
After he retreats to the country life settles down. Lurie helps Petrus around the farm, accompanies Lucy to the market and assists Bev Shaw at the clinic. But then there is the attack and Lurie’s position in his country retreat begins to erode under the pressure of a new series of lost arguments, this time with his daughter, Petrus and Pollux. In the interests of space we will only review the arguments with his daughter.
The attack is a violent physical argument in itself that both Lucy and Lurie lose. Lurie has, in a literal, profound sense, been dispossessed of his refuge. But the dispossession is not complete until after a series of arguments with his daughter. These arise from the fact that he and Lucy, like he and the Committee, use different “language games” to understand the world.
The first argument breaks out when Lucy and Lurie are preparing to speak to the police. Lucy tells him that there will be two stories – hers and his. She wants to control her narrative, intends not to tell the police that she was raped. Just as Rosalind and the Committee invalidated Lurie’s story of his relationship with Melanie Isaacs, so Lucy invalidates whatever story Lurie was planning to tell about her rape. “You tell what happened to you, I tell what happened to me.” (Coetzee 99) Lurie disagrees: “’You’re making a mistake.’” (Coetzee 99). Lucy does not offer a counter-argument but simply says, “’No I’m not.’” To which Lurie’s only reply is “‘My child, my child!’” (Coetzee 99). Lurie’s version of the world is once more rejected.
The next argument Lurie loses occurs after Lucy has told her story and visited her doctor. Lurie speaks as if the doctor can solve Lucy’s problems “ ‘And is he taking care of all eventualities?’” Lucy answers: “’She,’ she says. ‘She, not he. No, how can she? How can a doctor take care of eventualities? Have some sense!’” (Coetzee 105) They are clearly speaking from different universes of discourse. Lurie has chosen to take a clinical approach, as if being raped were a purely medical matter. Lucy understands that it is much more, and responds in kind. Lurie is now accused of not having any “sense”, by which Lucy means common sense or sensitivity. Once more Lurie is being rebuffed, told he does not get it, doesn’t understand.
The next part of the exchange confirms this. Lucy says that she is going back to the farm and resuming her life. Here Lurie tries to apply the “sensible” descriptor, and fails. He tells his daughter to “be sensible”, that going back is too dangerous, not a “good idea.” (Coetzee105) She responds that going back is not an idea at all, but what she is about to do. “’I’m not going back for the sake of an idea.’” (Coetzee 105) Not only does Lurie lack “sense”, but he is again accused of being an out-of-touch idealist, “quixotic”: there is no guiding rational principle in Lucy’s return. She is “just going back.” And this is the “sensible” thing to do. It is again, in her eyes, Lurie who lacks sense.
Lurie, in this as in his arguments with the Committee and with Rosalind, tries to defend an idea and gets rebuffed.
The next contretemps between Lucy and Lurie happens shortly thereafter as they sit down to dinner in her home. Lurie again contests her decision to maintain two stories about the incident. “’Lucy, my dearest, why don’t you want to tell? It was a crime. You are an innocent party.’” (Coetzee 111) Lurie is again invoking “ideas” – “innocence”, “crime”, that Lucy might not apply to the situation. He also assumes that Lucy is not telling because she feels ashamed of what happened and is somehow blaming herself for it. “Shame” is another “idea.” He then imagines, in a bit of narcissistic folly, that Lucy’s reason for remaining silent has to do with him. She is perhaps trying to make a point to him, namely that women suffer at men’s hands. Lucy rejects this “explanation,” as well as Lurie’s reference to crime and innocence.
She tells him the real reason for her silence. She says that “’as far as I am concerned, what happened to me is a purely private matter. At another time, in another place, it might be held to be a public matter. But in this place, at this time, it is not. It is my business, mine alone.’” (Coetzee 112) We cannot help but think back to what Lurie said earlier about private life becoming public business. Lucy invokes what appears to be the same principle that made Lurie “unbending” to her, “quixotic” to the Committee and “shameful” to Rosalind.
Lurie responds that his daughter cannot deceive herself into thinking that keeping the rape now will protect her in future. The reason it will not is that “vengeance”, which is an abstraction, “ ‘is like a fire. The more it devours, the hungrier it gets.’ ” (Coetzee 112) Lucy completely rejects this: she says that she is not keeping the rape quiet “ ‘just to save my skin’ ”. She is keeping quiet so she can stay as part of the new system. And she is also saying that she rejects Lurie’s explanation that the rapists are driven by some abstract thing called “vengeance” that has its own characteristics that operate almost independently of those who feel vengeful. What moves the rapists is an economy of protection that has nothing to do with vengeance.
Lurie counters with another possible explanation, another hypothesis: if Lucy is not trying to buy safety through meekness, then she must be trying to pay off some imagined debt. “ ‘Do you hope to expiate the crimes of the past by suffering in the present?’” (Coetzee 112)
Again Lucy rebuffs him. She rejects “guilt” and “salvation” as explanatory concepts in this circumstance. She says that they, like vengeance are “abstractions”, and abstractions are not something that appropriately describe Lucy’s acts. “ ‘I don’t act in terms of abstraction.’” (Coetzee 112) She is not seeking salvation; she does not want to expiate past crimes with her silence; she does not just want to save her own skin. But she never says what she does intend by the silence, only that Lurie’s “abstractions” are off the point, perhaps not “sensible”. Again he is rebuffed, told that his explanations for things are just wrong.
They clash again when one of the attackers, the boy Pollux, appears at Petrus’ party. Lurie rushes back to Lucy’s house to telephone the police but Lucy stops him, and tells him not do it because it will ruin Petrus’ party. “ ‘Be sensible.’” she says, not for the first time. Lucy tells him not to blame Petrus. He rounds on her:
He is astonished. ‘For God’s sake, why isn’t it Petrus’ fault? It was he
who brought these men in the first place. And now he has the effrontery
to invite them back. Why should I be sensible? Really, Lucy, from
beginning to end I fail to understand.
(Coetzee 133)
What Lurie “fails to understand” – again we have a reference to knowledge – is why Lucy did not report the rape and why she does not want to admit that her neighbor had a hand in planning it.
They clash again when Lurie senses that Lucy is not doing well after the attack. He thinks she should leave the site of so many “ugly memories”. Referring to the original decision to tell separate stories, Lurie tells his daughter that she can “ ‘start a new chapter elsewhere’” (Coetzee 155) Lurie is proposing that Lucy craft a new story, because the old story that excluded the rape is not working. Lurie thinks this is the right solution:
“ ‘Can’t we talk rationally?’” (Coetzee 155)
Lucy counters that Lurie is again missing what is going on. “ ‘ There are things you just don’t understand. To begin with, you don’t understand what happened to me that day. You think you understand, but you don’t. Because you can’t.’” (Coetzee 157) This echoes something Bev Shaw told him. He told Bev that he knew what Lucy was going through because “ ‘I was there.’” Bev answers: “ ‘But you weren’t there, David. She told me. You weren’t.’” (Coetzee 140)
Lurie is baffled both times. He knows that he was there. The question is, what does “there” mean in this context? For Lurie being “there” meant he was in the home, powerless, when the rape took place. Being there means being present and unable to save his daughter from violation. For Lucy, however, being there means having experienced, felt and understood, in an unmediated way, what it to be attacked by three men who “ ‘do rape’”. (Coetzee 158), and who have “marked” her, as a dog might mark its territory.
But not only did Lucy experience their hate directly. She has learned something from being treated as part of the rapists’ “territory”:
‘But isn’t there another way of looking at it, David? What if that is the
price one has to pay for staying on? Perhaps that is how they look at
it. Perhaps that is the way I should look at it, too. They see me as
owing something. They see themselves as debt collectors. Why
should I be able to live here without paying? Perhaps that is what they
tell themselves.
(Coetzee 158)
Lurie objects that Lucy’s earlier characterization of the attack as an act of hatred was more apt. “ ‘Trust your feelings. You said you felt only hate from them.’” (Coetzee 158) Lucy agrees that there was hate but argues that hate, men and sex go together in ways that make the rapists indistinguishable from all other men. If that is true then the “tax collector” theory can still stand: they act in hatred, as all men do, and are beside, tax collectors, markers of territory. One explanation does not exclude the other.
Exasperated by his inability to get through to her, Lurie writes a letter that tells Lucy that she is wrong in wanting to stay. He suggests that Lucy is doing what she is doing because she wants to “humble (her) self before history”(Coetzee 160), but he says that this is the “wrong” road and that if she continues she will be “strip(ped) of all honour.”
Lurie assumes that Lucy feels some obligation to the abstraction, ‘History’, whatever that means. Perhaps he is referring to the record of apartheid and is arguing that Lucy mistakenly feels that she owes her rapists something because of past injustices. But Lucy has never suggested such a thing, and nothing in her disquisitions about tax collecting or male hatred indicate such a stance. As to honor, she has never mentioned “honor”, another abstraction like “principle” or “history”. These terms may be, as Rosalind suggests, “too abstruse”. They do not seem to have much to do with Lucy’s decisions, and so Lurie gets it wrong again,
Lucy’s response makes this clear. She writes: “You have not been listening to me. I am not the person you know. “ This must mean that the person, Lucy, whom David sees and with whom he talks and eats and walks, is not the “real” Lucy. She is, in reality, “a dead person”. The one who feels the hate from men and who thinks that being marked is the price she has to pay to remain where she is, is also “dead”.
Lucy accuses him of blindness. “’You did not see this.’” And “’It is as if you have deliberately chosen to sit in a corner where the rays of the sun do not shine. I think of you as one of the three chimpanzees, the one with paws over his eyes.’” (Coetzee 161) So, just when Lurie thought he understood, once more he is proven wrong. Bev Shaw was right. He was not there and does not understand. And as he loses this “argument” he is pushed further out of the world in which he thought he might find asylum.
The arguments with Lucy are not however finished. Lucy tells Lurie that she is pregnant and that she is going to have the baby. She accuses Lurie of always making his daughter a minor character in the story of his life. She has her own life; she is the subject of her own narrative, to which Lurie must now adapt. Lurie accepts the new reality but, shattered by his daughter’s new and enduring connection to the world dominated by Petrus and the rapists, he “hid(es) his face in his hands, he heaves and heaves and finally cries.” (Coetzee 199)
When Pollux the “jackal boy” returns, Lurie again pleads with Lucy to leave and go to visit her mother in Holland. With one her rapists on the scene, the situation, in which Pollux could be the father of Lucy’s child, has become in Lurie’s view “sordid” and “ridiculous”. But again Lucy does not listen and Lurie becomes ever more marginal.
The penultimate argument between Lurie and Lucy centers on Lucy’s decision to offer Petrus an “alliance”, a deal whereby Lucy will give him her land in return for his protection. She will “creep in under his wing” as some sort of wife, and he will be the father of Lucy’s child. Lurie thinks that the proposal is “preposterous”, a form of “blackmail” by whose invidious terms Lucy is allowed to stay in her house unmolested in return for giving up her farm and with it her dreams of an independent rural life. The “dogs and daffodils” with which Lurie first found her will all be gone.
Lucy, as we have come to expect, rejects Lurie’s criticism. Again she tells him “ ‘I don’t believe you get the point, David.’” (Coetzee 203) She knows that the situation is humiliating but she takes the humiliation differently. She takes the end of her hopes as a possible starting point. “ ‘Perhaps that is what I must learn to accept. To start at ground level, with nothing. No cards, no weapons, no property, no rights, no dignity. Like a dog.’” (Coetzee 205)
In this speech Lucy is surrendering it to Petrus, to the way things currently are. This becomes clear in the final argument, when Lurie attacks Pollux with the bulldog and Lucy comes to the boy’s defense. At this point Lurie must be asked to leave.
‘David, we can’t go on like this. Everything was peaceful again,
until you came back. I must have peace around me. I am prepared
to do anything, make any sacrifice, for the sake of peace.’
‘And I am part of what you are prepared to sacrifice?’
‘I didn’t say it, you said it.’
‘Then I’ll pack my bags.’
(Coetzee 208)
He becomes a scapegoat for a second time because his way of seeing the world, and the way his world is seen by those who control it, are so deeply at odds. He is, once more, exiled from the realm of culture and full being and relegated, finally, to the place he has always already belonged: the world of animals against which both Plato and Descartes have warned us.

Lurie and the Animals

Coetzee is filled with figurative animal references – more than forty in all , but it is the literal meetings with animals that make a difference in giving him a new “home” on the margins of the world.
When he and Lucy go to the market to sell produce he meets Bev Shaw, who the Animal Welfare League clinic that she and her husband sustain as best they can because the new government has lost interest in the plight of animals.
They go to Bev’s home and Lurie is put off by Bev’s lack of attention to her appearance, by the lack of taste in the way the house is furnished, and by the back yard. He is also offended by the odors in the clinic itself – urine and mange and cleaning fluid. (Coetzee 72) After they leave Lucy asks him what he thought of Bev and her clinic. Lurie is impressed by her dedication but he has reservations. “ ‘I don’t want to be rude. It’s a subculture of its own.’” (Coetzee 73)
I’m sorry, my child, I just find it hard to whip up an interest in the subject. … to me,
animal welfare people are a bit like Christians of a certain kind. Everyone is so
cheerful and well-intentioned and after a while you wish to go off and do some
raping and pillaging. Or to kick a cat. (Coetzee 73)
Lurie does not take people like Bev, and by extension his daughter, terribly seriously. He sees them as earnest do-gooders whose focus on animal welfare is one of those admirable but unimportant things that only a certain kind of (failed) people would spend time on. “ He has nothing against … animal lovers. The world would no doubt be a worse place without them.” (Coetzee 72)
Lucy understands this perfectly. She says, “ ‘You think I ought to involve myself in more important things. I ought to be doing something better with my life.’” (Coetzee 74) Lucy knows that Lurie believes in what she calls a “higher life”, which is better than the life she and Bev are leading. Such a life would include things like “ ‘painting still lifes or teaching (one)self Russian.’ ” (Coetzee 74) And it might include Platonic ideas and higher forms of Eros.
Lucy counters with her own vision of the world. She does not believe that there is a higher life: “There is no higher life. This is the only life there is. Which we share with animals. That’s the example I try to follow. To share some of our human privilege with the beast.” (Coetzee 74) Lurie half agrees with her, but makes some significant exceptions. “ ‘I agree, this is the only life there is. As for animals, by all means let’s be kind to them. But let us not lose perspective. We are of a different order of creation from the animals. Not higher, necessarily, but different.’” (Coetzee 74)
Lurie demonstrates a certain inconsistency. On one hand he agrees with Lucy that “this is the only life there is”, with the implication that “There is no higher life”. Despite this admission Lurie argues that animals and humans are of different “orders of creation”. But the notion of “orders of creation” presupposes a hierarchy. In any event Lurie asserts a difference between humans and animals that seems to echo his earlier Platonizing view of the world. Under this view kindness to animals is an act of optional generosity rather than a moral obligation to an equal.
Despite his differences with Bev about the place of animals in the scheme of things Lurie agrees to volunteer at the clinic. At first Lurie is skeptical. “ ‘It sounds suspiciously like community service. It sounds like someone trying to make up for past misdeeds’” (Coetzee 76) Lurie does not want to do anything that hints that he has moral obligation to animals, and he does not want to do anything that suggests he has done something wrong for which he must compensate. There is no justice involved, only generosity. He agrees to help with the stipulation “ ‘only as long as I do not have to become a better person’”
(Coetzee 75)
Before he begins this work Lurie has an interaction with Lucy’s dogs that hints of what is to come. The younger ones recognize him; he has become part of their world. But the old abandoned bulldog, Katy, pays him no attention. (Coetzee 62) She, like Lurie, has found a refuge with Lucy. Lurie crawls into the pen with her, “stretches out on the bare concrete”, under the blue sky, and “His limbs relax.” (Coetzee, Coetzee 78) He sleeps stretched out next to the abandoned dog, where his daughter finds him. She asks whether he is making friends and Lurie replies that this is not easy, as “ ‘Poor old Katy, she’s in mourning.’” (Coetzee 78)
What the nap represents is an incipient connection in which Lurie and the animals share the space of being, take up the same bodily location and coexist in the same space and time. When Lucy said that she did not believe in higher things and that she believed that we share this single life with the animals she might have had something like this in mind and this is precisely what Lurie rejects in words, even though it is what he finds himself doing, in practice. He has, perhaps, despite his protestations to the contrary --we are of a different order of creation – implicitly accepted Lucy’s egalitarian metaphysic; accepted it at least on the level of how he lives in his body.
But Lurie’s view of the world still differs from his daughter’s, if in unexpected ways. He mentions having a soul, and Lucy says “ ‘I’m not sure that I have a soul. I wouldn’t know a soul if I saw one.’” (Coetzee 79) Lurie, who has agreed with Lucy that this world is all there is, that there are no “higher things”, puzzlingly tells her that she is wrong, that “ ‘You are a soul. We are all souls. We are souls before we are born.’” (Coetzee 79) He seems to be suggesting that even in a world in which there are no higher things, no fundamental divisions between higher and lower, there are also “souls”, which pre-exist their appearance in bodies. He appears to be a dualist but we are not sure which sort, especially since he later tells Mr. Isaacs that he does not believe in God. (Coetzee171)
We are also not sure what he means when he says “We are all souls.” Does he mean all humans are souls, or is the mourning Katy, for example, included? If the latter, then Lurie has changed his metaphysics. Perhaps he is not thinking about consistency, or is still in process of working things out and, as Ian Hacking has perspicaciously remarked in this connection, things aren’t always so consistent when one is working out one’s views.
When Lurie goes to the clinic he helps Bev hold down a dog with an abscessed tooth. She has no anesthetics or antibiotics. She is not a veterinarian but a volunteer and can only relieve what pain she can, with her small skills and with her thoughts. She tells Lurie, “ ‘Think comforting thoughts, think strong thoughts. They can smell what you are thinking.’” (Coetzee 81). Lurie thinks this last idea is ridiculous but Bev does tell him that he is “ ‘a good presence. I sense that you like animals.’” (Coetzee 81) Bev lives in and by her body; she lives in a world in which thoughts have an odor, where thoughts have a physical presence and impact, where one’s bodily presence matters, where beings feel each other, in touch and smell and sound. She inhabits her body as if she is not of a different order of creation than the animals whose bodies she treats. Lurie, despite his skepticism, has already foreshadowed this embodied metaphysic in his nap with Katy, and might, whether he knows it or not, have been enacting it as he held the terrified dog. Lurie might be moving into a different sort of being-in-the-world, to a large extent unrelated to the world of Platonic ideals, or to the worlds of argument in which his ideas were consistently rejected.
Right after the dog with the abscessed tooth has been treated, a woman brings in a grand old goat that has been savaged by dogs. His scrotum is badly infected. The wound has been left too long and there is nothing Bev can do to save him. But as she treats the goat, Bev does something extraordinary.
She kneels down beside the goat, nuzzles his throat, stroking the throat upward
with her own hair. The goat trembles but is still. She motions to the woman to
let go of the horns. The woman obeys. The goat does not stir. She is whisper-
ing. ‘What do you say, my friend? What do you say? Is it enough? The goat
stands stock still, as if hypnotized. Bev continues to stroke him with her
head. (Coetzee 83)
Bev tells the woman that she can euthanize the animal. “ ‘He will let me do that for him.’” And she adds, “ ‘I will help him through, that’s all.’” (Coetzee 83) The woman does not want him put down; the local people have their own way of slaughtering their animals. Bev describes him in human terms: “‘What a pity! Such a good old fellow, so brave and straight and confident!’” Bev sees the goat as a subject, an agent who has a right to control his fate, and she “consulted” with him by stroking his hair with hers and by speaking with him.
Lurie, surprisingly, finds himself trying to comfort Bev by offering a theory, one made up or realized on the spot, about what goats do and do not know. This is a goat epistemology proposed as consolation, but is also perhaps a disquisition on the goat soul. He says:
‘Perhaps he understands more than you guess. Perhaps he has already been
through it. Born with foreknowledge, so to speak. This is Africa, after all.
There have been goats here since the beginning of time. They don’t have
to be told what steel is for, and fire. They know how death comes to a goat.
(Coetzee 84)
What is Lurie saying here? Is he claiming that goats have a kind of Platonic innate knowledge, an embodied Form of the Goat, always already imbedded in their consciousness, so that they know when death approaches as the slave boy in Meno knows that the sides of a square twice the area of another cannot be assessed by doubling the sides of the square? Lurie does not seem to be advancing a biological theory about genetic coding, but says that goats know how they are going to die and also therefore know what it means to live as a goat, to have a goat body and a goat consciousness.
Bev half believes him but disagrees about one point. Even if the old goat knew how he was to die she does not think that knowing is sufficient. For Bev dying, in whatever species is an essentially social act. Rejecting Heidegger’s characterization of death as Dasein’s “ownmost non-relational possibility” without ever having read or heard of Heidegger , Bev asserts “ ‘I don’t think we are ready to die, any of us, without being escorted.’” (Coetzee 84)
For Lurie, the penny drops. He begins to understand what Bev is doing. Bev cannot be a healer because she has neither the skill nor the means to heal. Bev, like St. Hubert, offers a last refuge to the hunted and harried. “Beverly Shaw is not a veterinarian but a priestess, full of New Age mumbo-jumbo trying, absurdly, to lighten the load of Africa’s suffering beasts.” (Coetzee 84) There is something “absurd” about Bev’s mission, in trying to give these animals their own deaths. But Lurie has just contributed to what he calls “New Age mumbo-jumbo” with his theory about goat foreknowledge. Perhaps this is all to be read in the register of the darkly comic. But at the same time Lurie is taking part in this absurd activity on both a practical and a theoretical level, and he might be learning something in the process.
The next stage in Lurie’s education is when he watches the dogs in Bev’s clinic eat. He sees that despite their hunger and their numbers, they allow each other access to the food without snarling and biting. “ ‘They are very egalitarian, aren’t they?’” (Coetzee 85) Their problem, says Bev, is not a lack of morals but that there are too many of them. Dogs do not understand, and as Bev says we cannot tell them, that there are too many dogs, “ ‘by our standards.’” If dogs had their way they would do exactly as we have done – “ ‘They would just multiply and multiply if they had their way, until they fill the earth.’” (Coetzee 85)
Lurie listens and as he listens he is allowing a dog to smell his face. He is getting involved on a bodily level, squatting by the cage, letting the dogs touch him, feeling them, falling for and into Bev’s “New Age mumbo-jumbo”.
The attack reinforces Lurie’s awakening new awareness with respect to animals. I will not attend to the details of the attack except to note two things. First, there is the execution of the dogs. The killings are related in detail, almost as if the animals were humans who were being murdered
Lurie, who has been “bled dry” by the attack, and is “without hopes, without desires, indifferent to the future”, like “an old man, tired to the bone.” (Coetzee 107) still takes care of the dead dogs by burying them. (Coetzee 110) He treats the dead animals as if they warranted an almost-human burial.
Second, Lucy goes to the dogs and holds them, calling them “’My darlings, my darlings’”, as if they were human lovers. It is as if, although they disagree about almost everything else, Lucy and Lurie are coming closer on the question of what animals mean.
Lurie begins to notice animals in a new way. When Petrus is planning to throw a party to celebrate the completion of his new house (and Lucy’s impending capitulation?) he purchases two sheep to be slaughtered for the event. Petrus stakes them out in the sun with no grass for forage and no water. Lurie moves them to a better location. “Sheep do not own themselves, do not own their lives. They exist to be used, every last ounce of them, their flesh to be eaten, their bones to be crunched and fed to the poultry.” (Coetzee 124) And then he says something interesting about the sheep’s’ “soul”, new evidence that his earlier claims about the difference between people and animals is shifting. “Nothing escapes, except perhaps the gall bladder. Descartes should have thought of that. The soul, suspended in the dark, bitter gall, hiding.”
When Petrus moves the sheep back their shadeless spot Lurie ponders how he can help them. He has no way to take care of sheep. He is a refugee himself living on a half-ruined farm. And even f he bought these sheep Petrus would use the money to replace them with others who would be slaughtered. Lurie understands that he cannot be an animal savior because animals are “too menny”. So, if he is going to be implicated in the lives of animals it cannot be as a savior. He will have to redefine his connection, which he does later in his roles as undertaker, psychopomp and harijan.
But this incident takes him one step closer to a new relationship with animals. Even Lucy argues that there is nothing to be done about the sheep. This is Africa, after all, and the country besides. This is how people do things. This might be a suggestion of an attitude that allows Lucy to make an “alliance” with Petrus later, but is one that Lurie, unbending as he is, cannot adopt. Even though he tells his daughter, “’I haven’t changed my ideas’”, in the sense that he “ ‘still do (es) n’t believe that animals have properly individual lives.’”(Coetzee 126), at the same time, “ ‘ in this case I am disturbed. I can’t say why.’ “
His disturbance has two sources, both of which belie his claim that he still doesn’t believe that animals have individual lives. First, in ways he does not understand, “a bond seems to have come into existence between himself and the two Persians.” (Coetzee 126) that makes him regard their treatment as “indifference, hardheartedness.” He purports not to feel anything for the sheep. “The bond is not one of affection.” (He will later admit affection for the crippled young dog, and say that he “loves” the dogs he kills.) And, denying that individual animals matter, he says, “It is not even a bond with these two in particular, whom he could not pick out from a whole mob in a field.” (Coetzee 126)
But he undercuts his denial of animal individuality, and his claim that he has no affection for these animals when he approaches the animals and they edge away. He says that he is “looking for a sign” – of recognition? Of shared being? And when he does not get that sign – the animals do shy away – he remembers Bev Shaw with the goat, “nuzzling (him), stroking him, comforting him, entering into his life.” (Coetzee 126) (Italics mine). This certainly seems like an instance of recognizing the very individuality he has denied and of valuing affection for such individuality. Even though he might not be able to pick out the two Persians in a field, they might still, like the old goat, possess “souls”, individual identities.
This theme of animal individuality reasserts itself when Lurie thinks about the people who bring dogs in to be euthanized. These people want something like what the Nazis wanted in the Holocaust, a Lösung, or “solution”, a quick disappearance of the animal/person, “leaving no residue, no aftertaste”. (Coetzee 142) Is this way of dealing with animals a refusal, a willing, not to see their individuality, as the Nazis treatment of the Jews was a similar refusal? And are both, equally, sins?
It to precisely these “excess” dogs, for whom people want a “final solution”, that Bev Shaw as priestess/ escort, gives her attention as if each individual dog had an importance, as if each one were a subject, had a soul. “To each, in what will be its last minutes, Bev gives her attention, stroking it, talking to it, easing its passage.” (Coetzee 142) Lurie thinks that he impedes this process because he is filled with shame at his role, and the dogs can “smell (his) thoughts”, precisely the idea he had earlier ridiculed. He still lacks that “communion with animals” that Bev has. It is “Some trick he does not have.” (Coetzee 126)
But as he participates in the killings they become more of his daily life. “His whole being is gripped by what happens in the theater.” (Coetzee 143) And, despite his claim that he does not know “whether by nature he is cruel or kind” and is, in a moral sense, “simply nothing” (Coetzee 143), the pain gets worse. He lacks what he calls “the gift of hardness”, and because of this he finally breaks down
“The more killings he assists at, the more jittery he gets. One Sunday evening,
driving home, he actually has to stop at the roadside to recover himself. Tears flow
down his face that he cannot stop; his hands shake.” (Coetzee 143)
This, from the man who said “Which among them get to live, which get to die, is not . . . worth agonizing over.” (Coetzee 127)
He begins to become convinced, falling into the “New Age mumbo-jumbo” he once rejected, that the dogs sense (know?) what is about to happen to them. “The dogs in the yard smell what is going on inside. They flatten their ears, they droop their tails as if they feel the disgrace of dying.” Once inside, none will look at the needle, “which they somehow know is going to harm them terribly.” (Coetzee 143) The dogs know. Again, as when Lucy called the dead dogs “darling” and when Bev Shaw speaks softly to the goat, or to dogs about to die, Lurie is beginning to speak about the animals as if they were not on a different level of being than the humans. Each dog, each goat, knows; perhaps each, as Lurie earlier conjectured, also has foreknowledge, a sense in their embodied consciousness of what it means to be a dog or a goat, and what that means with respect to how they will die. Each dog, perhaps, has the soul that Lurie earlier said that we all have, even though he does not believe in God and believes, with Lucy, that this world is all the world there is.
Though he is powerless to save the dogs, Lurie can attend to the dogs when they have died. Lurie describes how he deals with the dead dogs. “The business of killing is over for the day, the black bags are piled at the door, each with a body and a soul inside.” (Coetzee 161) Each dead dog is both body and soul. Has he extended his beliefs about souls to animals? Has he moved beyond his claim that that do not have “properly individual lives”?
This is certainly indicated by his behavior and especially by his explanations for it. Lurie will not leave the bodies of the dogs with “the weekend’s scourings” of hospital waste. The dogs’ bodies are not waste, but bodies, and Lurie “is not prepared to inflict such dishonour upon them.” (Coetzee 144) And, when he left them before he noted that rigor mortis had set in, making the bodies difficult to fit into the incinerator. “The hospital workers would break the legs so that the bags would fit more easily into the incinerator and the burning would be more complete.” (Coetzee 145)
He asks himself why he has taken on the job. It is partly to help Bev Shaw, but it cannot, he says, be for the dogs, which are dead by the time he helps them. He does it mostly “for himself. For his idea of a world in which men do not use shovels to beat corpses into a more convenient shape for processing.” (Coetzee 146) What world is this? We immediately get images of crematoria and death camps and genocidal massacres and mass graves – instances in which men did use shovels to beat corpses into shape for “processing”. We also get images of industrial plants that “process” chicken and steer and pig corpses, of animal control centers that “process” unwanted cats and dogs. Once we remove qualifying adjectives from “corpses”, and allow “processing” its full range of meanings, we cannot help but be reminded of Coetzee’s other work on such issues, that is Elizabeth Costello’s two part lecture, The Lives of Animals and the claims Elizabeth makes about the moral equivalence of abattoirs and death camps.
I do not think it is either accurate or useful to push this reminder further. Lurie is by no means an animal advocate with a developed theory. He is the nameless old man, the “mad old man” (Coetzee 212) who brings the dogs in bags to the incinerator. He himself is not clear about what he is doing or even confident that it is not “daft” or “wrongheaded”. But there is some principle involved, and I do not think it excessive to call it a form of Kantian deontology. Lurie seems to believe that it is just wrong to show such disrespect to the dead, and he does not want to live in a world where such practices go unchallenged. He has an “idea of the world”, of the whole world, in which there ought to be a rule: do not use shovels to beat corpses into convenient shapes, or, do not dishonor the corpses of the dead. The importance of the rule becomes clear when he goes back to Cape Town and misses his assigned job: “From Monday on the dogs released from life within the walls of the clinic will be tossed into the fire unmarked, unmourned. For that betrayal, will he ever be forgiven?” (Coetzee 178)
Whom is he betraying? I think that Lurie is groping toward a new principle – namely that the animals he helps to kill do have individual identities, are subjects, and are therefore worthy of honor, and as deserving of post-mortem respect as any dead human. He believes that every dog – and by extension every sheep, every goat – should be “marked” and “mourned” in its passing, should be, that is, escorted across the line between life and death as Bev escorts her animals, and then honored after its death by someone like himself – a nameless, mad old psychopomp who lacks the “trick” of communing with animals while they are alive.
Mourning suggests, as Derrida makes clear, that the one who died is worthy of remembering, that he or she had a life history, an irreplaceable “take” on things, a way it was like to be her, whose loss is worth grieving. Lurie could not possibly have known all the dead dogs intimately. He could not have experienced each of their irreducible “takes” on the world, and if he had he would certainly not have understood them in the way the dog-subject did. But he could mourn the fact that he knew that each dog did have such a take on things, and that each such subjectivity is worth honoring in and of itself, in a non-instrumental, Kantian way. Kant’s description of the subject is of an ens a se, an end-in-itself, worthy to be mourned simply because it was.
Additional evidence that animals possess a nameless and unmarked subjectivity is that, in addition to being able to suffer and to know that they suffer, they love. “Of the dogs in the holding pens, there is one he has come to feel a particular fondness for. No visitor has shown an interest in adopting it. Its period of grace is almost over; soon it will have to submit to the needle.” (Coetzee 215) About this dog with its withered haunches that is wanted even less than the other dogs, “he is sensible of a generous affection streaming out toward him from the dog. Arbitrarily, unconditionally, he has been adopted; the dog would die for him, he knows.” (Coetzee 215) The dog loves him.
Sometimes Lurie lets this young dog out of the pen. It plays and sleeps at his feet, although he will not name it. He even considers allowing the dog to “sing” alongside Teresa, whom he definitely loves, in his opera. They are, after all, equals in their sorrow: “Would he dare do that: bring a dog into the piece, allow it to loose its own lament to the heavens between the strophes of lovelorn Teresa’s” (Coetzee 215) The dog in fact never contributes to the opera because Lurie allows it to go under the needle. But he almost included it, included it in principle, because it had a lament as individualized and as legitimate as the human Teresa’s.
This might be the key. Other animals suffer and know it, and this dog unconditionally but accidentally loves Lurie. It also likes music and might want to sing a lament in his opera. These are particular “personal” facts about this young crippled dog for which Lurie has developed an affection. But Lurie is not a savior. He is an undertaker and psychopomp. A harijan, one who handles and guides the dead, not the living. In honoring the dead he is asserting that each of them, individually, had love to give unconditionally and accidentally, that each might or might not have liked music, and might or might not have wanted to, or been capable of, adding a lament to the opera. Lurie’s “idea of the world” includes honoring all of these anonymous, powerless, dogs that were each capable of suffering, loving and singing. His pledge, which he can no longer betray, is to all of them, and for this reason he cannot select one as more important or valuable than the rest. A man who has lived by selecting women for his private enjoyment has moved beyond all selection and become a guardian of all the dead, which excludes him from selecting any one of them to live.
This is how Lurie ends up – like a dog, and among the dogs. He begins to live, more or less, at the clinic. The yard that he described with such distaste and condescension when he first saw it has become his preferred residence. “In the bare compound behind the building he makes a nest of sorts, with a table and an old armchair from the Shaws and a beach umbrella to keep off the worst of the sun.” (Coetzee 211) This is the yard that he once described as “ an apple tree dropping worm-ridden food, rampant weeds, an area fenced with galvanized iron sheets, wooden pallets, old tires.” (Coetzee 72) Lurie now has nothing but his gas stove and his canned food, and of course his banjo. He lives on the very edge of the human world. He has become a true dog-man. Living by their cages, in his own “nest”, he has become more than a psychopomp. He feeds them and cleans out their pens. He talks with the animals. He is in their world, as lacking in dignity and almost as lacking in property as they are. Like a dog, he sits quietly, dozing in the heat. He has left the world of men, entered the world of dogs, and found there a new vision of the soul – temporal, embodied, unnamed – and real.
And, in finding this new understanding the soul, Lurie discovers that he has one, too.
Sunday has come again. He and Bev Shaw are engaged in another
One of their sessions of Lösung. One by one he brings in the cats,
then the dogs: the old, the blind, the halt, the crippled, the maimed,
but also the young, the sound – all those whose time has come.
(Coetzee 218)
Lurie works silently alongside Bev, putting the bodies in the plastic bags. He “has learned by now, from her, to concentrate all his attention on the animal they are killing”. Lurie’s obligation is to focus all his attention on the individual animal that is dying. He is their escort, their guide, not their owner or master. This is where Lurie expends his emotion: in paying attention to each animal as it dies, Lurie knows that he is “giving it what he no longer has difficulty in calling its proper name: love.” (Coetzee 219)
Cast out of the city, out of the country, as a scapegoat who cannot ever win an argument, Lurie has “descended” to the world of the animals and found, if not salvation, then a way to love and certainly, a new way to belong.

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