This essay approaches the global as an ethos emergent within contemporary fiction, taking J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace (1999) as its primary example. Recent accounts of global or world literature have generally considered these solely as spheres of circulation, while dominant accounts of the novel's ethics have been predicated upon its capacity to circulate otherness. Departing from these models, the essay revisits Erich Auerbach's claim that the contemporary novel would bear reference to “a common life.” And it considers alternative accounts of the ethics of culture in Lukács's and Heidegger's thought in order to propose that the potential for supranational circulation impinges upon the novel's mimesis: specifically, how figurations of character, action, and event relate to a larger social or communal horizon—the work's ethos. Attending to the problem of ethos in Disgrace clarifies the political scandal of its representation of postapartheid South Africa and draws out how the novel figures compelling ways of being and acting not limited to a South African horizon. Tracing this potential of figure in Disgrace's famous last scene, and through reference to Auerbach's early essay “Figura” (1938), the essay concludes by showing how fiction by Teju Cole and W. G. Sebald similarly respond to historical injustice by opening up an ethical horizon delimited by the work's trajectory rather than by given cultural and political formations. In this way, it argues for contemporary fiction's capacity to manifest an ethical notion of globality that does not simply reflect the workings of neoliberal globalization or other global processes.

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