This essay uses Kierkegaard and Schlegel’s concept of philosophical irony to read J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. In the novel Coetzee uses irony to suggest that the contradictions of ethical representation are rooted in South Africa’s racial history. In effect, the novel argues that in South Africa ethical representation can be successfully achieved through irony because the other can be addressed only indirectly. Disgrace therefore speaks with a forked tongue, a deliberate avoidance of the priorities of literary realism by which Coetzee suggests that reticence about the other—and acknowledgement of the failure to capture the other as a complex being in time and space—is more ethical than realistic portrayal.


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