Pharmakon

In chapters 3 and 4 of Coetzee’s novel Disgrace, we arguably find the protagonist David Lurie at his most morally contemptible. The scenes are uncomfortable in the extreme, and taking place so early in the novel set the tone for what is sure to be a difficult novel. While there is much to discuss in these pages, I find myself deeply troubled by the implications for art, literature and theatre specifically.

Given Lurie’s actions with his student, the irony of his lecture on Wordsworth’s The Prelude is enough to make one agree that the poets ought be cast out of every city! 

“Usurpation is one of the deeper themes of the Alps sequence. The great archetypes of the mind, pure ideas, find themselves usurped by mere sense-images […] He pauses. Blank incomprehension. He has gone too far too fast. How to bring them to him? How to bring her?” ~J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace

Yet, here we are, reading Coetzee’s novel. Here we are, hopefully, catalyzed by Coetzee’s novel to improve our world so such scenario’s as we have already read cease to occur, or at least occur less than they have. The double-edged nature of literature, literature as pharmakon, seems to be a key concern for Coetzee along side some of the more obvious considerations. 

Admittedly, I come down in favor of literature, in favor of allowing the poets within the city walls as they please. I’m sure it’s no surprise given my chosen profession, but despite all the numerous examples of deluding, harmful, and even hateful works of literature I still believe in its essential ability to open, expand, and connect.