Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Allen Dunn

Committee Members

Urmila Seshagiri, Amy Elias


This work asks how and for whom humiliation can be therapeutic. J. M. Coetzee, in his works Waiting for the Barbarians, Life & Times of Michael K and Disgrace, does not simply critique the mentality of Empire, an “Enlightenment” or colonialist mode of knowing that knows no bounds to reason, but offers an alternative through the Magistrate, Michael K and David Lurie, all of whom are brutally shamed and “abjected”. Each character, I propose, experiences a Lacanian “therapy of humiliation” resulting in a subversion of their egos, which they come to understand as antagonistic, a site of misrecognition. In doing so, these characters confront limitation, whether by means of a Lacanian “death drive” or the abjection of the self. I argue, this subversion of their egos necessitates a return to the humility of the body resulting in a new ethical openness to others and an engagement with the world through “care” or “love” or “beauty” which manifests as careful negotiation and attentiveness. Confrontation with death, thus, allows the Magistrate, Michael K and David Lurie to slough off “Enlightenment” values in favor of an anti-humanist way of living.

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