Subverting the pastoral: the transcendence of space and place in J.M. Coetzee’s <i>Disgrace</i>

  • Smit-Marais S
  • Wenzel M
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This article investigates how J.M. Coetzee’s “Disgrace” (1999) – portrayed as a postcolonial and postmodern fictional event – embodies, problematises and subverts the vision of the pastoral farm novel tradition by transcending traditional configurations of space and place. The novel offers a rather bleak apocalyptic vision of gender roles, racial relationships and family relations in post-apartheid South Africa and expresses the socio-political tensions pertaining to the South African landscape in terms of personal relationships. As a fictional reworking of the farm novel, “Disgrace” draws on the tradition’s anxieties about the rights of (white) ownership, but within a post-apartheid context. As such, “Disgrace” challenges the pastoral farm novel’s “dream topography” (Coetzee, 1988:6) of the family farm ruled by the patriarch – a topography inscribed – with the help of the invisible labour of black hands – as a legacy of power and ownership to be inherited and cultivated in perpetuity. Accordingly, the concept “farm” is portrayed as a contested and liminal space inscribed with a history of violence and dispossession – a dystopia. This article therefore conceptualises “Disgrace” as an antipastoral farm novel that reconfigures the concept “farm” – within the context of the South African reality – by subverting, inverting and parodying the structures of space and place postulated by the pastoral farm novel.




Smit-Marais, S., & Wenzel, M. (2006). Subverting the pastoral: the transcendence of space and place in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. Literator, 27(1).

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