So, we return this week to J. M. Coetzee’s novel, Disgrace, and?the lower-than-snake-shit-in-the-track-of-a-wagon-wheel main character, Dr. Lurie…
DAVID AS COLONIZER
David is the epitome of a colonizing political force, defining women?in terms of?”other.”?He sees them as uncivilized?and ignorant sexual beings?until,?once conquered by his desire, they benefit from the experience of knowing him. ?Melanie is complicit in this sordid experience only to the extent that?African citizens were robbed of their homeland during apartheid, or Native Americans?lost their?Great Turtle Island. They were all manipulated and conquered. David is but one player of many in a long social history of oppressing women. His type is the catalyst for the trials they face.
David’s point of view?resembles?remnants of racial opinion in America, at the very least. He is speaking with Lucy after she has been raped, telling her:
Either you stay on in a house of ugly memories and go on brooding on what happened to you, or you put the whole episode behind you and you start a new chapter elsewhere. Those, as I see it, are the alternatives. (Coetzee 155)
This smacks of the sentiment prevalent in the South after Lincoln’s freeing of the slaves. Yes, we know you’ve been used to our benefit. You have been raped of your culture, your identity, your religion, your language, your parents, your wives, your husbands, your children,?your health… But can’t you just get over it and move on??Oh, you can stay here and brood for the rest of your life,?OR you can go back to Africa. Those are your two options, as we see it. This same attitude seems prevalent in the relationships between David and all his women – his daughter included.
LUCY AS A COMMODITY
When?David’s daughter Lucy is raped, her sense of being is forever changed. Only when it happens to “one of his own” does David try to protect her from men no different than himself. Still, she decides to stay on the farm, regardless of?the debilitating?fear that she will be violated again. She says in regard to her transgressors:
I think I am in their territory. They have marked me. They will come back for me … what if that is the price one has to pay for staying on? Perhaps that is how they look at it; perhaps that is how I should look at it too.
This idea of payment in terms of a sex/gender system is discussed in?Gayle Rubin’s theory?”The Traffic in Women.”
Women are given in marriage, taken in battle, exchanged for favors, sent as tribute, traded, bought, and sold … Women are transacted as slaves, serfs, and prostitutes,?but also simply as women. (Rubin 1673)
First off, Lucy’s acceptance of her role as payment suggests the strength of social structures oppressing women in Africa. To keep the life she creates and loves, she considers the cost as imposed by these men. It is also possible that these men didn’t take payment of their own accord. David?alludes to?Petrus’ involvement, which?seems to be substantiated when Petrus confidently claims the power to protect Lucy from a recurrence. If this is true, has Lucy?become a commodity for trade – as a woman? Has Petrus offered the sex/gender of?his neighbor?for his own personal gain? We can only suspect at this point, but I thinks it’s a pretty good hunch. He is a man with two wives, after all, and?what they mean to him is “pay, pay, pay.” Pretus won’t acknowledge that Lucy is the one who pays the highest price. She may be poisoned with HIV and has no idea yet?if AIDS is in her future. If so, will she even have a future in a country so limited in health care.
A side note that deserves further examination:
The sex/gender role is played out between two men and a woman. In light of Lucy’s sexual preference, does this deepen the wound?
LUCY AS BEING
Lucy’s decision to stay on the farm, regardless of the?danger,?lays claim on her being?much in the same way that?Fanon returns to Negritude.?
I defined myself as an absolute intensity of beginning. So I took up my Negritude, and with tears in my eyes I put its machinery back together again. What had been broken to pieces was rebuilt, reconstructed by the intuitive lianas of my hands. (Fanon 138)
Negritude embraces both the French meaning of black and derogatory Martinique meaning of?”nigger.”?Those who accept this inclusive definition?empower themselves?to redefine their own meaning. (As Dr. Phil says, we cannot change that which we do not acknowledge.) Lucy also embraces the duality?of her being,?encompassing who she was before as well as who she?is?after transgressions were commited?against her. This?provides no comfort in the face of being violated, as Fanon too experiences, but to relinquish that sense of?being, to retreat?and accept?the identity of victim as imposed by another,?would allow only for absolute?defeat.?
Interestingly, David is such a goddamn baby when he loses an ear. Lucy has her very soul damaged, questioning whether or not it exists, and she is still far braver than her wuss-ass father. This book might redeem itself yet… but?will it tell us WHY women?bear the shame of violation when it is men who are committing the crime?