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    Sobriquet 37.11

    Friday, December 21, 2007
    Today was one of those days when, prior to beginning this blog project, I would not have worked on my dissertation at all. I woke up with an earache that became a full-fledged headache by midday and I was uncommonly groggy despite having slept well. So I napped for a few hours, woke up, and napped for another few hours, essentially wasting the day. A month ago I would have declared the day "lost" and spent the rest of afternoon and evening surfing around on the internet or solving crossword puzzles or some such activity.

    Now, I am not going to lie and say I did not dawdle part of the evening away reading the Mitchell Report, but I did manage to read the two articles I set aside for myself. Granted, I did have to drive myself to the Old Country Buffet and the Barnes and Noble Cafe to find places to read far enough away from my bed to avoid the temptation to just sleep my way through the entire day.

    In any case, I picked up The Master of Petersburg at the Barnes and Noble, effectively increasing my reading list again.

    Still, I am pleased that I read what I set out to read despite the fact that today was not one of my more positive days, mood-wise. The more my head throbbed, it seemed, the more irritated I grew at the prospect of spending so much time reading critical articles, trying to squeeze a few drops of useful (to me, at least) information for the dissertation. I felt discouraged and perhaps a bit childish (more of the sense of "bud aye doan' wanna" rearing its ugly head). But I did it, largely thanks to this blog so, again, I want to thank those of you kind enough to keep reading this and checking in on me...your support really has made a significant difference.

    Today's readings, unfortunately, were largely irrelevant to my research, but did yield a few precious nuggets of critical insight into Age of Iron. The first article I read, Travis V. Mason's "Dog Gambit: Shifting the Species Boundary in J. M. Coetzee's Recent Fiction" adds another dozen or so pages to the already skyscraping pile of criticism focusing on human/animal relations in Disgrace and The Lives of Animals. Having read a good deal of the critical writing surrounding Disgrace, I am relatively familiar with the pre-existing critical miasma enveloping much of the author's recent oeuvre, and have come to appreciate many of the arguments for Coetzee's work as the author's attempt to raise concern for animal rights. Although some of the animal rights-oriented critics have made the mistake of using Coetzee as a soapbox from which to make an assortment of decidedly unliterary claims, Mason manages to stay true to the texts he discusses, though, in my opinion, he reads his own ideas too deeply into the words of another on several occasions. The most glaring example of this tendency would have to be Mason's assertion that, via what the critic rather misleadingly terms "pronominal shiftiness" (the latter term evokes an almost sinister connotation when, in fact, Mason does not mean to imply anything of the sort), Coetzee 's Disgrace "suggest[s] the possibility that the dogs are speaking to each other, or to Lucy and David" (38) in the scene preceding Lucy's rape:

    Three men are coming toward them on the path, or two men and a boy. They are walking fast, with countrymen's long strides. The dog at Lucy's side slows down, bristles.

    "Should we be nervous?" he murmers.

    "I don't know."

    She shortens the Dobermanns' leashes. The men are upon them. A nod, a greeting, and they have passed.

    "Who are they?" he asks.

    "I've never laid eyes on them before." (91)


    "Gramatically speaking," Mason observes, "the first line of dialogue is attributable to the last character mentioned. Since Coetzee "uses the pronoun 'he' to identify the speaker," Mason argues, and since "the last character mentioned" is "the dog at Lucy's side," the critic suggests the "referent-ambiguity" may imply that the male dog literally speaks in the scene (38). Admitting, however, that "the transgression of a species boundary" may be "too radical a reading," Mason does shift his focus the rather common assertion that Coetzee uses the aforementioned pronominal shiftiness to enable the novel to be read in "a political context as a challenge to a particular type of person's--white, male, human--ownership of voice," essentially echoing scores of earlier critical assessments of Coetzee's work as fundamentally dealing with the relationship between language and power (38).

    Overall, though, Mason's essay is a readable, if not altogether fresh, reading of Coetzee's interest in human/animal relationships.

    The second essay I read, Frank Schulze-Engler's "Literature and Civil Society in South Africa," deals only briefly with Age of Iron. Not having read some of the novels Schulze-Engler discusses, I cannot make any claims as to the validity of his readings, but his consideration of the ways in which the socio-political milieu of South Africa (and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the world) interact with creative works seems plausible enough.

    For tomorrow: As Friday promises to be a busy day, I will read one article tomorrow in addition to the work I will continue to do on my non-dissertation writing.

    Works Cited

    Coetzee, J. M. Disgrace. New York: Vikings, 1999.

    Mason, Travis V. "Dog Gambit: Shifting the Species Boundary in J. M. Coetzee's Recent Fiction." Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature. 39.4 (2006): 129-44.

    Schulze-Engler, Frank. "Literature and Civil Society in South Africa." ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature. 27.1 (1996): 21-40.

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  1. Hmm...talking dogs...interesting. Though Mason's observation of the grammar does suggest his point is valid. I'm not sure I buy into it, though.

    By Blogger minxy on 21 December, 2007
     

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