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Fictions of DignityEmbodying Human Rights in World Literature$
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Elizabeth S. Anker

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780801451362

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801451362.001.0001

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J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace

J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace

The Rights of Desire and the Embodied Lives of Animals

(p.149) Chapter Five J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace
Fictions of Dignity

Elizabeth S. Anker

Cornell University Press

This chapter offers a reading of J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace, which tackles the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) experiment in human rights—in particular its agenda of uncovering stories of violation and holding them up for public scrutiny. Located explicitly in post-apartheid South Africa, Disgrace challenges the philosophical and practical wisdom of using the language of rights either to condemn wrongdoing or to instigate sociopolitical recovery. This chapter examines Disgrace's use of the animal world as a surrogate approach to social justice, its focus on the ambivalences of human rights rhetoric within and in the aftermath of the project of South African reconciliation, its explanation for why rights logic has failed to meaningfully reverse the many injustices of the apartheid era, and its condemnation of what it considers to be more systemic failures afflicting the liberal articulations of selfhood that consolidate dominant discourses of human rights.

Keywords:   human rights, J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace, TRC, South Africa, social justice, reconciliation, apartheid, selfhood

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