Inspired By the Novel ‘Disgrace’

‘Capturing the spirit and tone of the original ideas laid down by J.M. Coetzee in his novel ‘Disgrace’, here you’ll find the story of a man, a dog, a lover, and a people trying to make their voice heard as they speak in a strange language to strangers in their home.’

Disgrace, disgrace, a fall from grace

Cast out of a land you thought was yours.

If you could have made a stand,

If you had felt it your place,

Even then you could not avoid

your fall from grace.

,

Such lowly creatures that are prey to their instincts

You begin to look upon with sympathy—

This, an unexpected understanding,

For you’d never thought about these creatures before.

Injured and abandoned dogs,

Goats bought for slaughter this very week,

You do not understand why,

Your heart goes out to them.

You feel it almost your duty to hear them out—

Maybe because you recently were not given a chance,

To have your say,

In a matter that concerned you intimately.

But what could you have said?

In what language would you have spoken?

It couldn’t have been political,

For you had no platform on which to stand.

Nor could it have been bureaucratic,

For the system did not recognize your position

(which, to be clear, was unapologetic).

How about a language more of the culture,

More landed and foundation-bearing—

Or is that particular language not even your own,

Even though you were born and bred on this soil?

(the natives don’t think it is)

Again, which language could you have used?

Given time, out in the country,

Where your big-city ideas,

And big-city words,

Fall flat

(even ring false)

You get to thinking that it is the language of love, poetry, passionate flame,

In which you’ve been trying to speak all along:

With this surely you can best articulate yourself—

Should have articulated yourself,

In that matter which your colleagues deemed ‘Grave misconduct’,

For which they left you unemployed and without a future

(whereas you, to be clear, look to it as a kind of apotheosis, in your life).

Oh, woe to you if you had said that!

So, with this time on your hands,

And using a language you have studied,

You find yourself imagining a historical affair:

A heated entanglement between a poet and his beloved.

Exciting scenarios run through your head as you pour over the many letters they shared,

And the many letters they wrote to their friends.

You decide you want to make out of these documents a grand opera,

Professing love to be the flame you once felt within your heart,

Which for so many years impelled you to act passionately, without reservation nor regret

(not even in that final episode—in fact, especially not then!).

But as you strive to compose the accompanying music and realize this vision,

What you realize instead is that this flame,

Which you consider to have been misunderstood, misplaced, mistreated,

Is slowly dying—

And there is much you don’t know about that.

No, you don’t know about dying,

Nor about falling,

Out of grace, out of life

(and yet you have fallen out of both)

You look ahead to your remaining years,

And see them as years having to be lived out, like a prison sentence:

Without flame, without passion,

Without even a path down which you may follow your instincts;

In a land that you see as existing outside of the life you knew.

A sort of middle land, if you please, in-between two worlds:

That of the life you have lost, and that of the death you do not understand.

You suffered a cruel lesson at the hands of beings who seem capable of living here—

For them it is no midway point.

Indeed for them it is a fine place to start a life, to move toward a goal, even build a home.

These people you cannot understand.

And the lesson they taught you, violently, without your consent,

Is one which you struggle to make sense of, before, eventually,

Finally,

Giving up on it.

What you find yourself understanding more easily are these dogs abandoned by these same people;

Abandoned, and even given over to you, by them, so that they may be euthanized.

How that came to be your responsibility was a weird twist of fate:

Though it seemed totally incidental, at first, you find yourself peculiarly suited for the task;

You try to be respectful,

And this is where the sympathy begins.

These dogs are to be euthanized

(you’re given to understand)

Because if they were left alone they may turn wild,

May threaten these people and what they are trying to build.

Days pass, and your opera, your love, has begun to sound its best when expressed

By the metallic twang

Of an old guitar.

You pull at one string, let it reverberate over the dusty, arid field behind the kennel where you work.

Then you pull another, and in your mind,

In some odd way,

You hear it harmonizing with the sound of that poet’s beloved, crying.

Crying out into the night,

Crying, calling, without end:

Her love gone, never to return.

You can see—nay, you can hear—that she is nothing without her love;

You know this in an articulate way, whilst for her it need not ever be so.

You keep pulling at that guitar string, brooding,

Thinking about how your grand vision has played out in a way you could not have expected,

But that at least one of the abandoned dogs seems to like it—

This metallic twanging, this crying.

Another note, then another, sent out across the dusty field,

Over the rusted car sitting on its chassis, its tires gone and

Straw-coloured grass growing through the windows with panes missing

(either broken or stolen).

And you think, isn’t it odd how

(like a couple hundred before him, it’s true)

You will soon lend your hand to help with this dog being put down—

This dog that likes your music,

This dog that has responded to you in a way no one else in your life has

In a very long time.

When the moment comes you feel like you’re giving him up,

Like he is some sacrifice you do not fully understand

(perhaps because you’re still searching for the language to comprehend it).

You were sure you did not like the killing of these creatures—

Think of the goats on your neighbour’s farm, destined to be given up for slaughter,

Which you went out of your way to care for, in the days leading up to their end—

And then another twang of your guitar, after the deed is done.

You let it float in the hot, still air.

Funny words, these: ‘Given up’.

You say them out loud and they don’t feel so bad on your tongue—

Somehow they echo across your recent memories, recent lessons,

In a way that’s not ill-suited.

You think, if someone were to have asked you, when you helped put down that dog—

Having seen that you had formed a bond with it,

This dog who liked your strange, sad homage to love, to flames, to instincts—

Asked you:

“Are you giving him up?”

You would have responded, without hesitation,

(and maybe even with a little understanding, after all)

“Yes, I’m giving him up.”

And with that you consign yourself to living out your days,

In this middle land which is not your own,

Which is outside all that you have known,

Unable to understand the language spoken among those who inhabit it.

Indeed, now without any language with which you would feel comfortable expressing yourself,

Except those few, twanging notes on your guitar’s string,

And the imagined cry of someone’s old love

(old flame)

Given up to an unending night.

At least the dog seemed to like it.

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6 thoughts on “Inspired By the Novel ‘Disgrace’

  1. First of all I want to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question that
    I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was innterested to know
    how you center yourself and clear your head before writing.
    I’ve had trouble clearing myy thoughts in getting my ideas out
    there. I do take pleasure in writing however it
    just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend
    to be lost just trying to figure out hoow to begin.
    Any recommendations oor hints? Kudos!

    1. Maybe pick out a small detail from the subject you wish to explore, and for those first fifteen minutes write an exhaustive description of that small detail which goes far beyond the care or attention you would otherwise have given to it. For example, if you write fiction, then the small detail could be the lantern and sign at the corner of the street where the action takes place, or it could be the hat and posture of the lady sitting off to the side of the room who otherwise has little to do with the scene.

      That’s one suggestion from an endless list of things you could try, but all I can really recommend with confidence is to keep trying, keep writing, and you will learn what works for you.

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