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Elizabeth Costello

by J M Coetzee

  Print book : Fiction  |  1st American ed

on the respect due animals (the lives of the animals)   (2011-01-12)


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by dacase

    This is one of the best literary treatments of the issue of so-called animal rights.  I beg the pardon of my readers who have not read it for giving away the essence of the issue from Coetzee's point of view, which is that so much of our sentimental feelings towards animals is due to our own sense of mortality.  We irrationally over-value non-humans because we alone know that we are mortal, and what that entails.  Animals have no clue.  Their naivety in this is what causes (part of what causes) some of us to sentimentalize them, indeed to see in the 'stupid' critters moral worthiness virtually beyond human comprehension/attainment.  It is doubtful how many readers understand this central thesis of the novel, much less the dog, cat, and horse (etc.) lovers for whom he is trying to get around the barriers of ignorance to educate, as only a true expert writer of fiction can hope to attain.  Elizabeth Costello's simultaneous pride and embarrassment to her scientific professor son, upon the receipt of her life-long writing success ceremoniously honored at his university, is a beautiful story of the contradictions of animal rights sentiments.  The whole theme is exquisitly captured by the incident in their car when leaving the ceremonies, alone together, when Elizabeth breaks down in tears in recognition of her obviously illogical talking in front of the most expert academics life knows, to which her son consoles, (paraphrasing) "It's okay, it's almost over."  It is her life, in fact, that is almost over, not the simple embarrassment of this episode, and in particular her love of her son (their relationship of mother to son, son to mother) being a big part of that, and it is just nothing more or less than that--an end to a long life of a highly-fulfilled, productive, basically satisfied person who mothered well.  It is just a sad thing which some try to cope with it with animal sentimentality.  How better than a novel such as this to try to come to grips with such a reality?   This is a monumentally valuable book that everyone should read, re-read, and study.

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