Author(s)Northover, Richard Alan
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AbstractConsidering how fruitfully Schopenhauer’s philosophy promises to provide a unified interpretation of J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and The Lives of Animals, the critical neglect of this philosopher seems surprising. Schopenhauer was a Romantic philosopher who, according to Gray (2002), provided the “first and still unsurpassed critique of humanism,” who challenged the Enlightenment belief in Reason and Progress, and who firmly embedded humanity in the animal world and completely embodied mind in body, pre-empting Darwin, sociobiology and deep ecology. His deep pessimism, his vociferous opposition to vivisection, his belief in secular salvation through art (especially music), and his basing ethics on compassion rather than reason are only some of the more obvious points of convergence with Coetzee. What is most remarkable about Schopenhauer’s ethics is that despite its atheism, it provides a naturalistic basis for a Christian-like ethics of compassion, thus offering an alternative ethics to the individualistic and egoistic materialism that dominates the post-religious West and yet which is in tune with modern science. This seems to signal Coetzee’s movement away from a Nietzschean discourse of power in his earlier fiction toward a Schopenhauerian preoccupation with suffering and sympathy in his later fiction, or at least a balancing of the two.
Northover, R. Alan. 2014. Schopenhauer and secular salvation in the work of J.M. Coetzee. English in Africa 41(1): 35-54..