top of page
  • Gail Wilson Kenna

To Be a Good Person in Bad Times. Not a Bad Resolution…

David Lurie, a “disgraced” professor, has this thought about his adult daughter, Lucy, near the

end of Disgrace. J.M. Coetzee won the 1999 Booker prize for this novel; and four years later the

South African writer won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Two-hundred and twenty pages of brilliant prose in Disgrace. Yesterday I finished it for the third time, though had read the novel years earlier. Am I a slow reader? Yes, purposely.

Many women in book clubs these days gobble the latest advertised popular fiction in one quick read, then head to next month’s “got to get” novel. I call this a Facebook approach to reading and life. Whoosh, dash. What stays in the mind? Reminds me of the late 1960s? Collages in print and film, flurry of images, a precursor to index finger on phones today, scanning photos taken anywhere and everywhere for years. A kind of technological amnesia. Yes, I have a bias. So did Ted K. Only I don’t send letter bombs… just blab on a blog. How Anglo Saxon! No lambent lucidity of French in one syllable English words.

Returning to the caption above …

Yesterday I reread what I marked years ago in Why Can’t We Be Good, by Jacob Needleman. I went through the book, thinking about Professor David Lurie in Disgrace. Lurie is Everyman, flawed, a womanizer, and a father who is not the same man at the end of the novel as he was on the first page. Needleman says this on page 186:

…the essential work of man is to cultivate access to that interior Self, which breaks through in the silence of sorrow or in the unbearable, impersonal outrage in the face of monstrous injustice, or in the adamantine quiet of the awareness of one’s own inevitable death or, sometimes, in heart-breaking disappointment; or, always, in the trembling joy of the sensation of wonder in front of great nature or the face of a beloved, or at the birth of a new human life.”

This is wordy. But I sense that Needleman spit this out in a burst; and I’m not about to edit his words. He capitalizes Self, as the God within, the consciousness greater than the first person, I. And four pages from the end of Disgrace, Lurie sees Lucy at work among her flowerbeds. She wears a pale summer dress and a wide straw hat. “A scene ready-made for a Sargent…” the narrator says. Lurie’s eyes see beauty. He sees with different vision.

36 views0 comments
bottom of page