The Wounded Animal

The Wounded Animal: J. M. Coetzee and the Difficulty of Reality in Literature and Philosophy

STEPHEN MULHALL
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7svqt
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  • Book Info
    The Wounded Animal
    Book Description:

    In 1997, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist J. M. Coetzee, invited to Princeton University to lecture on the moral status of animals, read a work of fiction about an eminent novelist, Elizabeth Costello, invited to lecture on the moral status of animals at an American college. Coetzee's lectures were published in 1999 asThe Lives of Animals, and reappeared in 2003 as part of his novelElizabeth Costello; and both lectures and novel have attracted the critical attention of a number of influential philosophers--including Peter Singer, Cora Diamond, Stanley Cavell, and John McDowell.

    InThe Wounded Animal, Stephen Mulhall closely examines Coetzee's writings about Costello, and the ways in which philosophers have responded to them, focusing in particular on their powerful presentation of both literature and philosophy as seeking, and failing, to represent reality--in part because of reality's resistance to such projects of understanding, but also because of philosophy's unwillingness to learn from literature how best to acknowledge that resistance. In so doing, Mulhall is led to consider the relations among reason, language, and the imagination, as well as more specific ethical issues concerning the moral status of animals, the meaning of mortality, the nature of evil, and the demands of religion. The ancient quarrel between philosophy and literature here displays undiminished vigor and renewed significance.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3753-3
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Chapter One INTRODUCTION: THE ANCIENT QUARREL
    (pp. 1-18)

    In 1997, the eminent novelist and critic J. M. Coetzee (later to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature) gave two Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Princeton University, under the general title “The Lives of Animals.” They took the form of two fictions—two linked short stories about the visit of the eminent novelist Elizabeth Costello to Appleton College to deliver the annual Gates Lecture (together with a seminar in the literature department), in which she chooses to speak about animals, and in particular the ways in which animals have been and are treated not only by human beings...

  5. PART ONE: THE LIVES OF ANIMALS
    • Chapter Two ELIZABETH COSTELLO’S LECTURE: STORIES, THOUGHT-EXPERIMENTS, AND LITERAL-MINDEDNESS
      (pp. 21-35)

      Before taking seriously the ways in which Costello and Coetzee variously contextualize it, we need to acknowledge that it is one fundamental purpose of Costello’s first lecture to engage as directly as she can with the claims and assumptions of a number of philosophers who have pronounced (for very different reasons) upon the nature of nonhuman animal life, and in particular on the ways in which human beings can understand and should treat such animals. When discussing the particular case of Thomas Nagel and his famous article “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”¹ she specifies the nature of...

    • Chapter Three ELIZABETH COSTELLO’S LECTURE: THREE PHILOSOPHERS AND A NUMBER OF APES
      (pp. 36-57)

      In this chapter i will attempt to take literally Elizabeth Costello’s claim to be engaging with philosophers qua philosophers. That engagement will turn out to have three faces or aspects: an essentially internal critique of three exemplary instances of philosophical reflection on nonhuman animals; an attempt to contest a deeply held philosophical assumption about the essential comprehensibility of animate being and indeed being as such; and the deployment of a famous literary exemplar in such a way as to invite a radical reconception of the weight of every word in her lecture.

      In her first lecture, Costello claims to honour...

    • Chapter Four FOOD FOR THOUGHT: TWO SYMPOSIA
      (pp. 58-68)

      Like red peter’s report to the academy, which is at once a consummate demonstration of his human acculturation and yet everywhere touched by the threat of insanity, Costello’s lecture is both a complete and subtle exercise of imaginatively grounded thought and an extended cry of pain. How, therefore, should one respond to her words?

      This is a question that arises within and without Coetzee’s fiction. It confronts Costello’s academic hosts, who have arranged a dinner in her honour at the Faculty Club, where it will be the topics of conversation at least as much as the construction of the menu...

    • Chapter Five FOOD FOR THOUGHT: A THIRD SYMPOSIUM
      (pp. 69-94)

      Three years after the Tanner Lectures and responses first appeared in print, Cora Diamond gave a paper at a different kind of symposium—a conference at the New School for Social Research in New York, in honour of Stanley Cavell.¹ The paper was entitled “The Difficulty of Reality and the Difficulty of Philosophy” and has now itself appeared in print, in a much-expanded version of the New School conference proceedings.² In it, Coetzee’s Tanner Lectures provide one among a range of examples of what Diamond wants to call (using a phrase from John Updike) “the difficulty of reality,” and of...

    • Chapter Six FOOD FOR THOUGHT: AN UNINVITED GUEST?
      (pp. 95-109)

      Before concluding this sequence of symposia, I cannot avoid confronting in more detail what will—from a philosophical perspective—appear to be at once an obvious and an utterly disabling objection to Diamond’s idea of a “difficulty of reality.” For if it really does depend upon taking seriously the possibility that phenomena, or at least our experience of them, might be constitutively resistant to our thinking, so that to understand them is to comprehend them as incomprehensible, and so to resort to forms of words that violate the limits of our language games and the order of our concepts, then...

    • Chapter Seven ELIZABETH COSTELLO’S SEMINAR: TWO POETS AND A NOVELIST
      (pp. 110-121)

      Although costello waxes lyrical in her lecture about philosophy’s apparently constitutional aversion to the imaginative inhabitation of the body, and all the contradictions it generates, she is far less forthcoming about her more favoured mode of access to the life of nonhuman animals—the poet’s feel for the ape’s experience. She fulfils this obligation more extensively, and so supplements and refines her conception of this mode of access, in her seminar on “The Poets and the Animals.” the second academic set-piece of her visit, which forms the core of Coetzee’s second Tanner Lecture.¹ In this chapter, I will focus on...

    • Chapter Eight ELIZABETH COSTELLO’S SEMINAR: PRIMATOLOGY AND ANIMAL TRAINING, PHILOSOPHY AND LITERARY THEORY
      (pp. 122-136)

      Costello’s seminar thus adds new animals to the troop who marched through her lecture: Red Peter, Red Sally, Sultan, and Nagel’s bat are joined by a panther, a jaguar or two, some piglets, and some horses. She takes the literary reality of each to be both continuous and discontinuous with that of other literary animals, and with that of real animals; they are neither reducible to nor entirely free from their real-life originals, and always already embedded in a range of intersecting literary genres and the specific predecessors and successors generated within them. Their meaning resides in a complex, open-ended...

  6. PART TWO: ELIZABETH COSTELLO
    • Chapter Nine REALISM, MODERNISM, AND THE NOVEL
      (pp. 139-161)

      The tanner lectures were not in fact the first occasion on which Coetzee made use of Elizabeth Costello in an honorific academic context. In November 1996, as the Ben Belitt Lecture at Bennington College, Coetzee had presented a short fiction about Costello’s visit to Appleton College to receive the Stowe Award (conferred biennially on a major world writer, and involving a purse of fifty thousand dollars as well as a gold medal) and make an acceptance speech. Speech and fiction alike are entitled “What is Realism?” and were published (in the journalSalmagundi) before the Tanner Lectures were delivered; accordingly,...

    • Chapter Ten COSTELLO’S REALIST MODERNISM, AND COETZEE’S
      (pp. 162-183)

      In the previous chapter, I portrayed interrelated elements of work by Eagleton, Watt, Diamond, and Fried in order to articulate a general context (Fried himself might think of it as a nonabsorptive tableau of intellectualmorceaux) embodying the thought that the genre of the novel is inherently implicated in the projects of realism and modernism. In this chapter, I want to trace out in some detail the way in which Costello’s Stowe acceptance speech utilizes Kafka’s “Report to an Academy” in order to specify her particular relation to this nest of problems, and so helps to specify our understanding of...

    • Chapter Eleven THE BODY IN AFRICA
      (pp. 184-202)

      In the terms provided by the first lesson ofElizabeth Costello, a moderate realist who cannot honestly pretend that the word-mirror of literature is still intact might nevertheless find that it can continue to reflect reality if one reconstitutes it from its own shards. Such a mirror would no longer present a single, coherent image to those looking into it, and so would no longer be in a position to deny its own reality as a medium or intermediary; it would rather declare its reflective nature by virtue of the fact that each constituent shard would at best fit imperfectly...

    • Chapter Twelve EVIL AS OBSCENITY
      (pp. 203-213)

      In june 2002, coetzee participated in a Nexus Conference on “Evil,” in Tilburg, Holland, by giving a fictional account of Elizabeth Costello’s participation in a conference on the question of evil in Holland. His presentation, announced as a “reading” rather than a lecture, was under the heading “The Possessed; Crime and Punishment; Guilt and Atonement” and appears as lesson 6 ofElizabeth Costello; Costello’s talk is entitled “Witness, Silence and Censorship” and was advertised under the heading “Silence, Complicity, Guilt.”

      ”Rather than give her routine talk about censorship, Costello chooses instead to explore an experience that has recently led her...

    • Chapter Thirteen TWO EMBODIMENTS OF THE KAFKAESQUE
      (pp. 214-230)

      The last two lessons ofElizabeth Costelloare the only ones to have found their first public printed form in that book; so it is unsurprising that they should be among the most tightly tied to the problem-setting context of the book as a whole, as outlined in the first lesson on “Realism.” More specifically, my account of those concluding portions in the present chapter is based on the assumption that they constitute two very different, and yet internally related, attempts to live up to the understanding of what it might be to be a realist in the tradition of...

    • Chapter Fourteen CONCLUSION: THREE POSTSCRIPTS
      (pp. 231-252)

      The final section ofElizabeth Costello—a novel that neither denies nor asserts that it is a novel, but rather declares that the form it takes (as a novel?) is that of eight lessons—is not a lesson, but a postscript in the form of a letter.¹ Should we, then, take it to be part ofElizabeth Costello, or not? Whatever evidence in favour of the latter answer that might be assembled by examining this postscript is unlikely to settle the matter, since it might well be taken simply to show that what we have is, indeed, a postscript—something...

  7. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 253-256)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 257-259)