Joanne Yao

Columbia University / J.M. Coetzee

J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace
Project by Joanne Yao
In collaboration with Chelsea Hyduk

 

With this narrow path I’m trying to convey the progression and mind of protagonist David Lurie, a South African college professor who is fired after he refuses to apologize for raping a student and then goes to live with his daughter on an isolated farm in order to escape stigma, to watch over her, and to work on an opera about the aging writer Byron’s last affair with a young married beauty named Teresa. Lurie endures a series of traumatic events (represented by the knife-like cuts) which produce temporary changes in his perception, but he continues to believe that women have a natural responsibility to excite and bear male passion, judging even his daughter in terms that hinge on her attractiveness: his path zigzags, but change is illusory because it is headed in the same direction. At the end of Disgrace, Lurie replaces the young Teresa in his opera with a tired older Teresa whose happiest days with Byron are irretrievably behind her – this voluntary move showing Lurie’s new ability to relate to women as fully human is paralleled by the waterfall at the path’s end which allows the walker to glimpse his or her reflection below for an instant before the water flows away.

Having to extract a 3D structure out of words subverted my natural reading instinct, which is to accept a story and the storytelling passively. Instead, we questioned (obsessively) the purpose of major literary devices and details from an architectural point of view, and how they fit together to make a cohesive reader experience. This process has changed the way I approach my own writing by giving me a new way into story construction, a way that approaches its elements through newly-articulated considerations of relativity/distance, submergence, balance between internal and the reach of the outside world. All these nuances I had a lesser grasp of before taking this class.