n English in Africa - J. M. Coetzee’s aesthetics of ahimsa : towards a Gandhian reading of The Lives of Animals and Disgrace

Volume 44 Number 2
  • ISSN : 0376-8902



The topical subject of vegetarianism and non-violence towards animals is gaining currency in literary circles, as is attested by the award of the Man Booker International Prize to Han Kang’s The Vegetarian in 2016. There has been a rash of talks and conferences which explore the idea of veganism/vegetarianism and its representation in works of art. While the ethical implications of being a vegetarian have been a constant theme in discussions all over the world, the present essay seeks to uncover the spiritual and aesthetic significations attached to vegetarianism. It aims at reading selected works by J. M. Coetzee as an aestheticised/fictionalised discourse on ahimsa (non-violence) from a Gandhian spiritual perspective. It is important to remember that Gandhi’s vision of spirituality is not necessarily contingent on religious belief. One may or may not follow a particular faith yet be spiritual in nature. This is because spirituality, in the Gandhian sense, primarily manifests itself in just or ethical action. I will critically examine how Coetzee in Disgrace (1999) and The Lives of Animals (1999) represents the treatment of animals by humans, suggesting that these works be read as aestheticized manifestations of a Gandhian vision of spirituality. Now that we know that these books were being written at the same time (Attwell 216), it would be interesting to explore how Coetzee’s literary imagination was being shaped by Gandhian insights. The paper also describes how Gandhi conceptualised and practised his own version of ahimsa. Gandhi’s choice to be a vegetarian was not made automatically or unquestioningly. The paper seeks to demonstrate that just as Coetzee highlights the ambivalence of truth in his writings, Gandhi’s life is replete with paradoxical choices, which make his ideas at once theoretically debatable and practically spiritual.

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