Bestiaries the animal and the human in Mila Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being and J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

In his book, The Open (2004), Giorgio Agamben suggests that the border between the human and the animal passes "first of all as a mobile border within living man". At stake in the construction of this border is a division of the human and the animal into separate and homogenous groups, and subsequently a denial of a multiplicity of life forms and experience. This relates to what Derrida (2004) has deemed "the self-interested misrecognition of what is called the Animal in general", and is something other critics working in the field of animal studies have discussed. In this thesis I read Milan Kundera's novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being and J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace in line with Agamben's notion of the fluidity of the human-animal border. The first chapter of this dissertation, 'Behaving like Animals', offers a reading of the biblical tale of Genesis and of the numerous sexual encounters in the novels that complicate the assumption of shame as being 'proper to man'. The second chapter, "Alternative lives, Alternative Deaths", challenges the idea of Driepoot's death in Disgrace as being "euthanasia" and, moreover, examines the complexities of mourning the death of what Jeff McMahan has deemed "beings on the margins of life", which includes both humans and animals. In my analysis of these novels, I have borrowed from different, seemingly disconnected, critical discourses. In some cases, this has meant "inserting" the animal into these theories in places where the animal was not explicitly named. This has meant putting pressure on existing lines of enquiry. My multi-disciplinary approach to theorising animals, and our relations to and with them, suggests different avenues for research in the growing field of animal studies.

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