Spectacles of Disgrace: Nietzsche, Coetzee and Life After the Death of God


School of Humanities and Languages and Biopolitical Studies Research Network mini-symposium

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them

with his eyes. “Whither is God?,” he cried; “I will tell you.

We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers.

But how did we do this?…”

—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125

 My aim in this presentation is to situate the novels of J.M Coetzee in the philosophical-literary lineage of Nietzsche’s pronouncement of the “death of God.” My particular concern is to model the self-destructive behavior of David Lurie, the protagonist of Disgrace, on the antics of Nietzsche’s Madman, who, I offer, created a spectacle [Schauspiel] in the marketplace so as to shed the burden of moral responsibility. Like the Madman, that is, David Lurie would rather engineer his own disgrace than continue to navigate the disappointments and uncertainties arising from the “death of God.”

 Unlike Nietzsche, who is primarily concerned with the “few” who are said to welcome the “death of God,” Coetzee follows the lives of those who cannot muster the “cheerfulness” [Heiterkeit] expressed by Nietzsche’s buoyant “we.” David Lurie’s halting interactions with his daughter Lucy are emblematic of the turbulence of his life in the wake of the “death of God.” Of particular interest in this respect are David’s largely failed attempts to make sense of Lucy’s decisions following the brutal assault, most notably her decision to place herself and her unborn child under the protection of a neighbor whose extended clan also includes (at least) one of her assailants. Resisting the cautious optimism that Nietzsche attributes to his quasi-heroic “we,” Coetzee scans the darkened horizon for previously unnoticed glints and glimmers of grace (or something like it). As depicted by Coetzee, life after the “death of God” may not be graced by the prospect of redemption [Erlösung], but it may yet afford David Lurie a solution [Lösung] to (some of) the problems he has created for himself.



Lunch will be provided at the mini-symposium. Please RSVP to Paul Patton prp@unsw.edu.au


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