Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 459
In J.M. Coetzee's The Lives of Animals, the novelist Elizabeth Costello delivers two lectures at Appleton College, where she has been invited. She was expected to deliver a lecture on literature, given that it is her specialty, but she surprises everyone by talking about animal rights and morality instead.
In this quote, Elizabeth compares the inhumane treatment of animals to life in the Third Reich. These extreme claims alienate members of the audience, notably a Jewish poet, Abraham Stern, who refuses to attend her second lecture in protest. Here's what Elizabeth says:
Let me say it openly: we are surrounded by an enterprise of degradation, cruelty, and killing which rivals anything that the Third Reich was capable of, indeed dwarfs it, in that ours is an enterprise without end, self-regenerating, bringing rabbits, rats, poultry, livestock ceaselessly into the world for the purpose of killing them.
Abraham Stern's response demonstrates Coetzee's philosophical sophistication and his ability to look at both sides of an argument:
You took over for your own purposes the familiar comparison between the murdered Jews of Europe and slaughtered cattle. The Jews died like cattle, therefore cattle die like Jews, you say. That is a trick with words which I will not accept. You misunderstand the nature of likenesses; I would even say you misunderstand wilfully, to the point of blasphemy. Man is made in the likeness of God but God does not have the likeness of man. If Jews were treated like cattle, it does not follow that cattle are treated like Jews. The
inversion insults the memory of the dead. It also trades on the horrors of the camps in a cheap way.
Elizabeth thinks that our inhumane treatment of animals stems from a failure of the imagination or, rather, an...
(The entire section contains 459 words.)
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