Animals like us

Disgrace- JM Coetzee (1999) Penguin.


He goes to the Animal Welfare clinic as often as he can, offering himself for whatever jobs call for no skill: feeding, cleaning, mopping up.

  The animals they care at the clinic are mainly dogs, less frequently cats: for livestock, D Village appears to have its own veterinary lore, its own pharmacopeia, its own healers. The dogs that are brought in suffer from distempers, from broken limbs, from infected bites from mange, from neglect benign or malign, from old age from malnutrition, from intesttinal parasites, but most of all from their own fertility. There are simply too many of them. When people bring a dog they do not say stright out, ‘I have brought you this dog to kill,’ but that is what is expected: that they will dispose of it, make it disappear, dispatch it to the oblivion. What is being asked for is, in fact Lösung (German always to hand with an appropriately blank abstraction): sublimation, as alcohol is sublimed from water, leaving no residue, no aftertaste.

  So on Sundays afternoons the clinic door is closed and locked while he helps Bev Shaw lösen the week’s superfluous canines. One at a time he fetches them out of the cage at the back and leads or carries them into the theatre. To each, in what will be its last minutes, Bev gives her fullest attention, stroking it, talking to it, easing its passage. If, more often than not, the dog fails to be charmed, it is because of its presence: he gives off the wrong smell (they can smell your thoughts), the smell of shame. Nevertheless, he is the one who holds the dog still as the needle finds the vein and the drug hits the heart and the legs buckle and the eys dim.

  He had thought he would get used to it. But that is not what it happens. The more killings he assists in, the more jittery he gets. One Sunday evening, driving home in Lucy’s kombi, he actually has to stop at the roadside to recover himself. Tears flow down his face that he cannot stop; his hands shake.

  He does not understand what is happening to him. Until now he has been more or less indifferent to animals. Although in an abstract way he disapproves of cruelty, he cannot tell whether by nature he is cruel or kind. He is simply nothing. He assumes that people from whom cruelty is demanded in the line of duty, people who work in slaughterhouses, for instance, grow carapaces over their souls. Habit hardens: it must be so in most cases, but it does not seem to be so in his. He does not seem to have the gift of hardness.

  His whole being is gripped by what happens in the theatre. He is convinced the dogs know their time has come. Despite the silence and the painless of the procedure, despite the good thoughts that Bev Shaw thinks and that he tries to think, despite the airtight bags in which they tie the newmade corpses, the dogs in the yard smell what is going on inside. They flatten their ears, they drop their tales as if they too feel the disgrace of dying; locking their legs, they have to be pulled or pushed or carried over the threshold. On the table some snap wildly left and right, some whine plaintively; none will look straight at the needle in Bev’s hand, which they somehow know is going to harm them terribly.

  Worst are those that sniff him and try to lick his hand. He has never been licked and his first impulse is to pull away. Why pretend to be a chum when in fact one is a murderer? But then he relents. Why should a creature with the shadow of death upon it feel him flinch away as if its touch were abhorrent? So he lets them lick him, if they want to, just as Bev Shaw strokes them and kisses them if they will let her.

pp. 142-143


~ por rubiha en mayo 2, 2007.

Una respuesta to “Animals like us”

  1. El fragmento, tomado de la novela Disgrace de Coetzee es el mas poderoso, indica el cambio de David Lurie como persona en su relacion con la gente, lo hace ponerse en el lugar de otros por primera vez al ser como ellos, uno de esos exiliados del afecto humano.


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