cover image The Lives of Animals

The Lives of Animals

J. M. Coetzee, Amu Gutmann. Princeton University Press, $31.95 (136pp) ISBN 978-0-691-00443-3

The audience of the 1997-98 Tanner Lectures at Princeton probably expected South African novelist Coetzee to deliver a pair of formal essays similar to those on censorship he presented in Giving Offence. Instead, he gave his listeners fiction: a philosophical narrative about an imaginary feminist novelist, Elizabeth Costello, and the lectures she reads at the fictional Appleton College on the subject of animal rights. Platonic in structure and coolly tight-lipped in style, Coetzee's two stories, ""The Philosophers and the Animals"" and ""The Poets and the Animals,"" mirror the sometimes acrimonious exchanges in academic debate. While Coetzee is on Costello's side, he does not make her infallible; she is not only uncompromising and sometimes rude, but also an extremist in her antirationalism and an occasionally muddled reasoner. The Appleton professors score intellectual points off her even as she implores them to open their hearts to animals. Coetzee's fictional gambit makes it awkward for the real-life scholars who respond to him in the ultimate section of the book, ""Reflections."" The criticisms of literary critic Marjorie Garber, bioethicist Peter Singer, religious scholar Wendy Doniger and primatologist Barbara Smuts seem redundant after the overdetermined self-criticism of the novel. (Apr.)