We are reading “The Philosophers and the Animals,” one of the Tanner Lectures of 1997-1998 collected in The Lives of Animals, by J.M. Coetzee. It is available on the resources page and can be accessed, if password-protected, using the password on the course syllabus.
Coetzee’s lectures are in the form of fiction, and they feature a novelist (like Coetzee) giving a lecture in which she recounts a story about an educated ape giving a lecture. This form or genre of fiction, which calls attention to itself as a fiction, is often called “metafiction.” The subject of the lecture is typical of the Tanner Lectures in that it centers on an ethical issue; in this case, it is the treatment of nonhuman animals. The subject is provocative and so are some of the statements or comparisons she makes; and in fact her comparisons with the Nazi persecution of Jews are particularly unsettling and may trigger uncomfortable feelings in people. I am available in my office hours and after class to talk about it beyond the class time for anyone who is interested or concerned.
The Lives of Animals is an increasingly canonical text when it comes to contemporary fiction, and it will come up in future course reading, so it is important to have some familiarity with the story and the way it is told.
Be sure, when you read it, to pay attention to the social norms expressed in the things that the characters say and in the silences that Coetzee narrates. There seem to be an increasing amount of narrated silences during the dinner scene in pages 40-43 and I will be curious to know what you make of them and why they factor in so heavily to the story. I’ll be curious to know, too, what you take to be the story, because, as you may know, what happens and what the story “is” often differ.
On Saturday evening I will post new discussion forum topics. Please check in after that time and post to the forum. The questions will focus on pages 33-35 and pages 40-44.