South Africa, novel at center of discourse

A visiting scholar of humanities delivered a lecture on an essay that discussed the changing politics and identities of South Africa.

Nirvana Tanoukhi presented her essay of criticism, “A Matter of Setting: Fate and Geography in Coetzee,” about the novel “Disgrace,” by J. M. Coetzee Thursday evening in room 110 of the Roy G. Cullen building.

Tanoukhi, a Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University, visited UH on Thursday as part of the Martha Gano Houstoun Distinguished Visiting Scholar series.

Tanoukhi chose this novel because of its impact on her students, as well as its beauty.

“This is the kind of novel that is as beautiful as it is disturbing,” Tanoukhi said. “Also, it has a generative effect on my students. It generates them to think and ask questions. That’s a good sign as it gives a teaching of belonging.”

“Disgrace” is about the changing politics of South Africa and how they are starting over as the characters are starting their lives over in the novel. The novel is widely read in South Africa, Tanoukhi said.

Her take on the novel is about the development of the characters and how the setting is under the rubric of description. It uses detailed descriptions to set each scene.

Tanoukhi said that she reads this novel as an allegory of realism because such realism implies how setting can be an ongoing project.

She also said that Coetzee uses the novel to turn a geographic place into a horizon of possibility.

For her essay, Tanoukhi focused on the novel’s dualism found in two key elements.

“(The essay aims) to produce a satisfactory explanation of why the novel is beautiful and provocative,” Tanoukhi said. “I wanted to show how it’s both and not just one.”

She also said she wanted to show how the picture looks different in different places when it comes to global English.

As for her personal connection to the story, Tanoukhi said that it confronts similar ethical issues of her everyday life.

Tanoukhi holds a doctorate in modern thought and literature from Stanford University.

The lecture was presented by UH, the Martha Gano Houstoun Endowment, UH’s African American Studies Program, the departments of English and History and the Center of Public History and Voices Breaking Boundaries.

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