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    Sobriquet 40.27

    Monday, March 31, 2008
    It's been a few days since I last posted anything and, as I had assumed would be the case, I did not get a whole lot of work done over the weekend. I did, of course, continue reading (and enjoying) Waiting for the Barbarians and I have been doing a little bit of prewriting. I seem to have hit another of those instances when writing begins to feel both daunting and irksome. As my doubts swarm around me like midges on Joba Chamberlain, I find that although I feel as if I should be starting the chapter in a day or two, I never seem to get any closer to the actual writing. It sucks.

    I would have gotten a bit more done today, but I decided that having the opportunity to meet Mike Gravel this evening was too tempting to pass up. Now, after having listened to Senator Gravel speak in person (he is a tremendously eloquent man, especially when given more than a few seconds to speak as was the case during the Democratic debates) I have no qualms about unequivocally supporting the newly-minted Libertarian candidate for president.

    Seriously, if the nation would just listen to this man speak for an hour or two, most people would probably embrace him as the best candidate. No joke. This man is really, really bright, very eloquent and, in my opinion, the only one to actually support his rhetoric with, you know, facts and stuff...

    For tomorrow: Really get a move on the prewriting. Read a bit more of Waiting for the Barbarians.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, March 27, 2008
    Although it is not even remotely late by my standards, and despite the fact that I am pretty psyched to be using the iMac I bought this morning, I am going to have to keep today's entry rather brief. You see, I still have loads of grading to do. Lots and lots of it...

    At any rate, I did reread another good chunk of Waiting for the Barbarians early this morning before setting out on my day-consuming journey into the Land of Mac. Having spent more time than I would care to admit sequestered in the windowless computer lab buried in the basement of Saint Olaf College typing English papers on Macs, I always thought of myself as a Mac person, even though I have been using PCs for the past eight years. I mean, the first computers I knew were Macs, I first surfed the Internet on Steve Jobs's brainchildren, and I most certainly recall being baffled by the second mouse button on PC mice. So it's nice to be back.

    Also, since this weekend is going to be packed, I may not post another entry for a few days, but I fully intend to continue doing what I have been doing these past few days. Also, if I get a chance to do so, I'd like to make a few comments on Don DeLillo's White Noise, which I finally finished this evening as I drove through a wintery mix of rain and snow on my way home from the Mac store.

    For tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow: Keep rereading and prewriting.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, March 26, 2008
    Since today marks another day in a succession of similarly structured days, I haven't much new to report. As usual, I spent an hour or so reading Waiting for the Barbarians, taking notes, reflecting on what I might be able to say about the novel and devoted a bit of time to plotting out the next chapter. Although I have baulked at outlining and extensive prewriting in the past, I found the the skeletal outline I threw together in a fit of desperation while struggling to find my bearings on the last chapter really helped me out. I mean, if nothing else, an outline does provide one with a road map to his or her project and, reassuringly, contains what can often feel like a sprawling, uncontrollable, unmanageable mass in a page or two of black text on 8 1/2" x 11" paper.

    At least that's what I tell myself.

    As for the reading: I continue to marvel at the fact that I found Waiting for the Barbarians forgettable the first time I read it. I mean, for every "oh yeah, I remember that moment," there's another "how on earth did I forget that" moment...

    For tomorrow: Since I have a good deal of grading I will be doing and since I have had to cancel plans to socialize with friends to finish that task, I do not have the highest of expectations for my own work. If anything, I'd like to do a teensy-weensy bit of prewriting and, maybe, squeeze in a couple more pages of Waiting for the Barbarians. If only to cultivate a sense of accomplishment, no matter how trivial it may be.

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    ____________________________________________
    Very long day = very short entry.

    Since it is getting quite late and I'm a bit on the sleepy side, I will just say that today was a good, solid day. I'm still enjoying my work, particularly as I get deeper into what is fast becoming one of my favorite Coetzee novels.

    For tomorrow: Again, the same.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, March 24, 2008
    Well, it's been an interesting day. I've been having quite a bit of computer trouble lately, which has limited my access to the internet and certain research avenues, but this morning the machine committed electronic suicide, quite literally offing itself and seemingly taking with it scads of documents and other precious data. Needless to say, I was not terribly pleased with the development but, having experienced similar "crises" in the past, I stoically took the thing in for an autopsy and had the computer coroner extract my files for me.

    And now I stand, sixpence cap clutched to my breast, humming Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" as the staid cemetery hands of this idiotically extended metaphor lower the corpse into the ground...

    Ah, but I did not weep. Nay. Rather I look to the future, knowing that the work started on one computer can easily be transferred to another like genes from parent to child.

    Deliberately sappy prose aside, it does suck to lose one's computer. I mean, obviously, for someone writing a dissertation, the word processing and research capabilities of the average PC are of tremendous value. Still, I am of a generation for whom memories of computer-less living rooms and dens are quite common. I didn't even own a computer until I had graduated from college and worked for several months, so working without the buzz of a CPU is not wholly foreign to me.

    Of course, I might have sung a different tune had I actually needed to use the computer today...

    I did continue working, as I had planned, and will work a bit more before bed. I am still enjoying Waiting for the Barbarians, though I do occasionally find the tone a tiny bit didactic. As a philosophical novel, however, I suppose such a tone is both inevitable and ultimately necessary.

    For tomorrow: Same old, same old.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, March 23, 2008
    Okay, so I said I was going to keep my entry brief yesterday before proceeding to ramble on for a few paragraphs. Today, however, I will stay true to my word and keep this on the short side. I kept the temptation to procrastinate at bay, so I finished virtually everything I'd set aside for myself to get done this afternoon relatively early, which afforded me the opportunity to spend my evening conversing over good, healthy food and diet soda (we all have our surfeits...). And, yeah, I am still loving Waiting for the Barbarians.

    For tomorrow: More of the same.

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    ____________________________________________
    A long day, I'm afraid is going to have to result in a short entry. I did get the work I set out to do finished, but it took me until the wee hours of the morning to do so. Though a significant chunk of my day consisted of a six hour block of teaching this morning and afternoon, I did procrastinate a bit more than I should have this evening. Or, rather, much more than I normally regard as acceptable. Granted, I had fun playing games with friends and watching old punk rock videos, but still...

    I dealt with a mild swell in dissertation anxiety this evening, as well. For some reason, I began dwelling on the amount of time I have spent/wasted so far in relation to the amount of time normally granted to a doctoral candidate to complete his or her dissertation at my university and felt the familiar pulsing of nervousness and doubt. As had happened so often already, my thoughts drifted from the task at hand to the unsettlingly unstable realm of academic marketability and professional branding. Of course, my supervisor does not seem concerned in the least and, given that she has supervised dissertations and the doctoral students who write them at this institution for three decades, I try to impose on myself the sense that I am doing at least reasonably well. But, still...

    Other than that, I continue to marvel at both the amount of stuff popping out at me from The Master of Petersburg and how much more I am enjoying Waiting for the Barbarians the second time around. I realize that some of my older readers will chuckle at this statement, but bear with me here...one of the most wonderful things about getting older is that, with accumulated experience, the beauty of truly brilliant art can be better appreciated. I mean, in the six years since I read the novel, I have experienced that much more of life's richness and, accordingly, appreciate the sublimity of Coetzee's book more deeply. I can only imagine how utterly transcendent an experience reading Moby-Dick is for someone of sixty or seventy.

    At any rate, I am going to sign off now. The sleepier I feel, the less confident I am in my ability to string together cogent sentences, so I will wrap this up while eyelids are light enough to hold open.

    For tomorrow: More o' the same.

    And, just in case you were wondering what was the most intense-sounding live performance of the 1980s, I suggest you plug "Husker Du" and "New Day Rising" into the search bar on YouTube.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, March 21, 2008
    Well, I continued rereading Waiting for the Barbarians today and, happily, I have really been enjoying it. Having read Dusklands and In the Heart of the Country so recently, I think, has given me a new perspective on the novel. Although Coetzee's first two books are undeniably excellent, they do not feel fully his, if that makes sense. In other words, while Coetzee's unique vision of the world certainly emerges at many points in both Dusklands and In the Heart of the Country, the shadow of the author's influences looms perhaps a bit heavier over his prose than one might like. With Waiting for the Barbarians, however, Coetzee seems to have come utterly into his own. Not only is the Magistrate Coetzee's first likable, sympathetic character, but the prose is markedly more fluid than any of Coetzee's earlier writing (with the possible exception of "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee," which is largely free of the dense prose of "The Vietnam Project" or In the Heart of the Country). One of Coetzee's great gifts, in my opinion, is his ability to wax philosophical and explore the same highly theoretical terrain as the poststructuralist thinkers of the sixties, seventies, and eighties without resorting to using the ostentatiously rarefied language so common among those folks. With Waiting for the Barbarians Coetzee achieves that difficult balance of plain language and deep thought and does so masterfully.

    So, yeah, I'm enjoying this.

    Now it's onto some pre-writing.

    For tomorrow: Same old, same old.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, March 20, 2008
    Although I'd wanted to write a bit more tonight, I really haven't a whole lot of time to devote to blogging this evening. At any rate, I did begin the pre-writing phase of the chapter on The Master of Petersburg this evening. Surprisingly, I found the process considerably less painful than I had anticipated and I even found myself marveling at the number of directions the chapter could take. I doubt that this will match the length of my first chapter, though it seems there will be more than enough material to make this section at least long enough. Still, it is a nerve-wracking procedure.

    For me, the pre-writing phase has always been the most tedious of ordeals. I find that the closer I get to writing, the less I want to arrange notes and plot things out. In the past, I have had quite a bit of success simply arranging my papers mentally but, of course, those were briefer essays that required less extensive planning in the first place. One of the biggest lessons I learned while writing my Master's thesis several years ago is that while what worked in the past on shorter, less complex papers may continue to work on the longer, more intricate pieces required by graduate departments, it is much easier to write when one has taken his or her time preparing extensively. Now, for me, the biggest obstacle preventing such preparations had always been the rather brief windows of time I had to work on a given paper. See, the shorter the time in which I had to work, the more tedious prep work I'd have to fit into a short time span, which can be maddening. I am learning now that one of the luxuries of having a relatively open-ended project like a dissertation is that the boring busywork I had eschewed in the past as too time-consuming and mind-numbing to squeeze into a few days can now be spread out into weeks and broken up into a series of short, bearable sessions. After all, the study skills gurus always said that working in brief bursts rather than long marathon stretches enables students to retain more information and produce higher quality work. It's the same thing here. It's like having 100 miles to run. No one can sprint it but if a sprinter runs a series of 100-yard dashes, he or she would likely make the 100 miles in less time (minus the breaks, obviously) than if an ultramarathon runner ran straight through.

    I also began rereading Waiting for the Barbarians this afternoon and am enjoying it a good deal. Prior to Disgrace, Barbarians was Coetzee's most famous book, the one most likely to end up on university syllabi--and I am beginning to see why. It is immensely readable, immediately assessable, and chock full of the themes Coetzee is known for.

    For tomorrow: More of the same.

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    ____________________________________________
    Well, I finished the last load of transcription I'd set out for myself and will be moving on to a bit of pre-writing for the next chapter. I have never enjoyed reviewing and planning, arranging notes and plotting outlines, but such preparations are a necessary evil and a measure of progress, so I really shouldn't complain. Still, I sorta dread the tedium.

    Other than pre-writing, I hope to start re-reading Waiting for the Barbarians, a novel I first read as a Master's student some six years ago. I recall liking the novel--and I particularly enjoyed reading about the Magistrate's fascination with the Void--but I do not remember it all that well, so I think a thorough re-reading will be good for me. At any rate, it will be a more enjoyable type of work than some of the other tasks I will have set out for myself.

    For tomorrow: Review and reread.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, March 18, 2008
    I spent a significant chunk of this afternoon transcribing quotations and notes about The Master of Petersburg, though I found that I also procrastinated quite a bit. I would have liked to have done something with my day, to have driven somewhere interesting for a few hours or to have taken care of some chores, but I decided to be lethargic today. Since I am taking on a fourth class this week, a two-month intensive course consuming six hours each Saturday until May, I figured I would grant myself the luxury of a lazy afternoon.

    The odd thing about this class is that I now have to work on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, which leaves me without a two-day break at any point in my schedule. Obviously, I still have three days off--which is a much nicer schedule than most people enjoy--but I think I will miss having a set "break" period I could look forward to each week as a destination...On the other hand, I might be able to use the strange structure of my schedule to my advantage, balancing my dissertation efforts by using "work" days to read and "off" days for more labor-intensive, time-consuming efforts like writing or transcribing.

    We'll see.

    For tomorrow: Transcription.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, March 17, 2008
    Having fallen ill rather suddenly yesterday night (after spending a delightful afternoon and evening with some friends), I had to cancel my classes for today. The shitty thing about calling in sick, of course, is that students in my 8 o'clock and 9 o'clock morning classes do not get to find out that they could have stayed home a bit longer and slept in until they walk into the classroom and read the notice declaring class is canceled. I never like doing that to anyone.

    As far as I am concerned, last night sucked. I mean really sucked. Today, fortunately, was substantially better, though I needed quite a bit of sleep to pull even the most sluggish of work days out of myself. To that end, I got a small amount of transcription taken care of, but not nearly as much as I would have liked to have gotten out of the way if I had been feeling well.

    Since it is getting late and I am still not 100%, I will sign off for the night and get some rest.

    For tomorrow: Transcription. Watch Dust if I have time.

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    ____________________________________________
    Since I am really sick tonight, I will just post my "for tomorrow" section and get to bed.

    For tomorrow: Transcribe a bit, if possible.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, March 16, 2008
    Today was, quite unexpectedly, one of the better days I've had lately, both in terms of working on the dissertation and enjoying myself. Though I had planned to finish reading In the Heart of the Country sometime tomorrow, I went ahead and read the rest of the book this afternoon. Then, energized after an evening of pub food and hanging out with friends (which I'd not planned on doing), I finished reviewing the criticism on The Master of Petersburg. So I'm in good shape.

    Now, it is a matter of getting myself back into writing mode after close to two months of reading and note-taking. It's strange: when I started writing what I'd intended to be a five- or ten-
    page section on Age of Iron in January, I'd assumed it would have been the first few pages of a long chapter on J. M. Coetzee. Although I was worried about the quality of my writing at that time, I wasn't too worried about the quantity of words devoted to Age of Iron, assuming that I would use the novel as an ingress into a broad discussion of several Coetzee novels. Now that the direction and focus of my dissertation has narrowed, however, I worry a great deal about the length of the next section. I think how can I possibly write another thirty page chapter on this novel? Having raised the bar of my expectations, I fear I will not be able to replicate the unanticipated success of the first section. Where I had very little difficulty writing more than I'd planned the last time 'round, this time I worry that I will struggle to hit my target length--and that worries me.

    That's where I stand now. I am staring at yet another seemingly insurmountable wall in what can only be described as a series of apparently insurmountable walls comprising an unfathomably huge obstacle. I try to remind myself that I already scaled the first wall, that I emerged unscathed but, man oh man, that sense of accomplishment is a flimsy one at best and relying too heavily upon past achievements for present success, I suspect, mightn't be too wise.

    We will see how things go.

    For tomorrow: Transcribe a bit of material.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, March 14, 2008
    Since I am pretty exhausted tonight and because I still have a bit of reading I'd like to finish before bed, I am going to keep this entry extremely brief. Happily, I am just about done with the re/reading of critical essays on The Master of Petersburg (I actually found a few I'd not read), so I will be moving on to the final stages of preparation for the chapter soon.

    I will probably have more to say another day when I'm not as sleepy as I am at the moment.

    For tomorrow: Finish up reviewing the critical writing on The Master of Petersburg and keep reading In the Heart of the Country.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, March 13, 2008
    I finally managed to bear down and get my work finished relatively early today. This diligence enabled me to actually enjoy myself for the rest of the day. Indeed, I watched my new Imaginationland DVD (not bad), listened to some Distillers (I threw together a quick review of Coral Fang for my record review blog) and HorrorPops (Kiss Kiss Kill Kill, by the way, is one hell of an album), and will probably go to bed after spending some quality time with J. M. Coetzee (yeah, I may actually read some more of In the Heart of the Country for fun. Sue me.) and Don DeLillo (I've been listening to an audiobook of White Noise on and off for a while now and would like to finish it soon).

    Speaking of free time, I have been thinking about actually assigning myself little tasks in addition to dissertation work because, as I mentioned a few days ago (and, I believe, several other times), I feel a bit constrained by the narrow focus of my studies at the moment. I have been debating setting up a regimen for watching movies, reading history books, or writing un-scholarly things (which, I suppose, I am doing by posting reviews on my music blog). Of course, such a plan would take some of the fun out of the endeavor, but at least I'd get something done...we'll see.

    Since this entry sounds like the rambling of a brain dead moron, I'll assume I'm tired and should get ready for bed and sign off for the night.

    For tomorrow: Read more of the novel and review another essay on The Master of Petersburg.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, March 12, 2008
    There's not a whole lot for me to report on today. I've read most of what I'd set aside for today and plan on reading a few more pages of In the Heart of the Country this evening before calling it a night. As has been the case so often lately, I found myself putting off the little bit of work I'd planned on getting through until evening. This, perhaps not surprisingly, hasn't been a huge problem--if one chooses to regard it as a problem at all--but such a tendency can have some unexpected consequences. For me, it is rather difficult to enjoy myself if I have left work unfinished, so the more time I spend procrastinating, the less free time I have at the end of the day, the time when I would most enjoy a period of relaxation during which I could entertain myself without the weight of work bearing down on me. Thus, I rarely enjoy procrastinating because the internal pressure I feel to address whatever task I have laid out for myself crowds out the pleasure I might otherwise get out of doing something fun.

    Still, despite the nagging pressure to get more reading done, I watched and enjoyed the season debut of South Park (and, okay, a documentary on the National Geographic Channel and maybe a little bit about Eliot Spitzer's resignation) this evening.

    Otherwise, my mood today has been consistent with the slightly heightened sense of anxiety I generally feel when starting a new project. As usual, I have been swatting away the pesky doubts swarming around my mind, trying to dampen the bombilation...I'll let you know how that goes.

    For tomorrow: Keep rereading the criticism on The Master of Petersburg and try to get through a bit more of In the Heart of the Country.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, March 11, 2008
    I seem to have hit something of a rut lately and, as is often the case with these sort of things, I have difficulty identifying a moment when what had been a steady pace began to slow into a wheezy stagger (this is one of those instances when I wish I could place footnotes in my text, so that I could make some snarky, if unfunny, quip about Weezie from The Jeffersons). Like so many other things, the development is gradual and one only recognizes that the change has taken place well into the process. On the other hand, I wonder if perhaps I have not really slowed down, that memory has colored past progress in an unrealistically rosy shade...

    Despite the hours spent procrastinating, however, I did make my way through the reading I'd set aside for myself today. I am enjoying In the Heart of the Country, as I believe I've already mentioned, though I find that reading the unhinged protagonist's stream-of-consciousness narrative is not always as easy or quick a task as I'd like it to be. Though I would like to say a few things about the book, I will hold off on discussing the novel at length until I have finished it.

    Other than the unpleasant sense that I am lagging a bit in my work, I have begun feeling some of the old anxious standbys creeping into my consciousness. For instance, as I progress down the rather narrow intellectual path a doctoral dissertation necessarily requires of the beleaguered scholar, I crave a broader knowledge of fields outside my own. I long to read history books, philosophical treatises, religious screeds, political exposes, and scientific studies. I want as thorough an education as Will Durant, as deep an understanding of things--of everything--as is humanly possible, and yet I haven't the photographic memory of a Harold Bloom (not to mention his astounding ability to read in excess of ninety pages an hour), I lack the focus and, above all, the time to devote to that sort of extended study. And, boy, it tasks me.

    That restlessness extends to this blog, too. There are times when I would like to write a short essay on some aspect of higher education that I feel particularly passionate about, but I do not feel as if I have the time to devote to that sort of effort. There is one thing, however, that I would like to say about something wholly unrelated to this blog: I am astonished by the overwhelming outpouring of support among my 18-35 year-old peers for Barak Obama's presidential candidacy. I should emphasize that I am not particularly concerned with the possibility that Mr. Obama will become the next president of the United States, as I am sure he will be about as effective a leader as any of the current candidates. What concerns me, however, is the blind acceptance with which so many young people seem to embrace Obama's message. Bearing a message of hope as consistently vague as it is enthusiastic, Obama seems to have channeled the spirit of Beatlemania as effectively as any politician. Now, messages of hope and progress have always drawn the enthusiasm of socially-concerned, altruistic idealists--as should be the case--but the unquestioning enthusiasm with which Obama's brand of political optimism has been accepted suggests that the widespread dissatisfaction many Americans feel towards the Bush-Cheney era has weakened the healthy skepticism with which we normally scrutinize political rhetoric to a point when unremarkable statements dressed in decidedly eloquent, powerful oratory are welcomed as both novel and genuinely profound. Again, I am not saying that Mr. Obama's upbeat message is anything but a positive thing, but I hesitate to dismiss his lack of political experience, his inconsistent legislative record, or his astonishing self-importance (three traits many candidates share) as irrelevant to an evaluation of his candidacy as so many people seem to do. Therein lies the problem: Mr. Obama is as glib, as charming, as eloquent as any politician ought to be but we've lost our skepticism as a nation. In our haste to usher out what many perceive as a shamefully bleak era in American history, we have suppressed our skeptical nature, the hallmark of critical thinking and that is the problem with Barak Obama's candidacy. He has channeled the zeitgeist of a dissatisfied nation into an infectiously electric frenzy and very few commentators seem comfortable questioning whether such a splenetic mass mentality is healthy. If Mr. Obama wins the Democratic nomination, I suspect we will see some of these issues raised in the media and I suspect they will be spun as part of a conservative agenda, but they are not meant to favor the John McCain ticket or even a Hillary Clinton-headed Democratic slate. What I fear is reactionary fervor, blind acceptance as the result of sheer disdain, and a moment in our history when we lose an opportunity to reflect upon the consequences of jumping on a jingoistic bandwagon in the wake of a horrible tragedy by simply jumping on another bandwagon after the first one crashes.

    For tomorrow: More reading.

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    ____________________________________________
    Again, I am going to have to keep tonight's entry short. I haven't quite finished the reading I'd set aside for today and, as it is approaching two in the morning, I'd like to wrap it up so that I can get to bed.

    At any rate, I have been procrastinating a bit more lately than I have in quite some time. I'm not sure why I am having as much trouble bearing down as I am, but I suspect it is the result of one or more of the following factors:

    1. I haven't taken a day off since early December and, really, could use a long rest.

    2. Approaching mid-semester, I find I am tired and a bit more restless after half a term of grading and waking up at ungodly hours of the morning.

    3. I caught a whiff of Spring earlier this week and kinda-sorta wanna go play outside.

    4. I am nearing the writing phase again and, as I was in the days and weeks leading up to the time I spent writing my Age of Iron chapter, am full of doubts and anxieties regarding the feasibility of writing a whole chunk of the dissertation on The Master of Petersburg.

    5. I have been relaxing and socializing a bit more lately and, like a drought-parched field sprinkled with rain, I ache for more, more, more...

    Whatever the case happens to be, though, I will continue doing what I have been doing, embracing the lag as part of the whole experience...irritating as it may be.

    For tomorrow: Read more of In the Heart of the Country and reread a bit more of the criticism on The Master of Petersburg.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, March 10, 2008
    As I had suspected would be the case this weekend, I did not get quite as much done as I would have liked to school-wise, but I did spend a good deal of time with my friends--which, as I have learned, is as valuable a component of one's graduate education as writing the dissertation. I mean, working on a long, highly-specialized research project necessarily isolates an individual, so time spent in the company of fun, interesting people is a real delight--and an absolute need.

    Still, despite the welcome distractions, I have continued to read more of In the Heart of the Country (which does seem poised to figure into my dissertation) and reread a teensy-weensy bit of criticism on The Master of Petersburg.

    For tomorrow: Reread some more criticism and read a bit more of In The Heart of the Country.

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    Friday, March 7, 2008
    Since I stayed up much later this evening than I would have liked (for good reason, though: I was preparing to teach Ibsen's A Doll's House), I am going to keep this extremely brief. I reread Derek Attridge's essay on The Master of Petersburg and Derrida's arrivant and made some progress in In the Heart of the Country, which I am really enjoying so far. Coetzee's novel is set in what essentially amounts to a South African Yoknapatawpha and the Faulknarian feel of the text makes for an intriguing, if surreal, read.

    For tomorrow: Reread another essay and/or continue reading In the Heart of the Country.

    Note: Since I will be somewhat busier this weekend than usual, I may wait a day or two before I post another entry. If this happens to be the case, I will continue reading In the Heart of the Country and/or rereading criticism each day, post or no post.

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    Wednesday, March 5, 2008
    Although I have only just barely cracked the spine of J. M. Coetzee's second book, 1977's In the Heart of the Country, I find myself more than a little intrigued by this slender novel. The narrator of the book breaks her story up into tiny fragments of prose, presumably set away in a locked diary. At turns lucid and obscure, the protagonist's stream-of-consciousness narrative almost has the feel of a Faulkner novel set in rural South Africa. While I have obviously not yet read enough of the book to determine whether it will figure into my dissertation, I have the suspicion, having read several bits of criticism discussing the In the Heart of the Country, that it may well prove to be a central text in some of my discussions. Here's to hoping! The book was also made into a film called Dust (1985), which I am trying to track down.

    Other than beginning In the Heart of the Country, I reread another critical article on The Master of Petersburg, continuing my regimen of pre-writing review. Also, for anyone interested in such things, I added a brief review of Husker Du's (I know that there's an umlaut over each "u," by the way, but for some reason the character is unreadable when processed by my blogging software) New Day Rising to my little music side project.

    For tomorrow: Reread another essay and continue reading In the Heart of the Country.

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    Tuesday, March 4, 2008
    I finally finished reading "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee" this evening. Having completed Dusklands now, I am looking to begin reading In the Heart of the Country, which I will probably start one of the next few days. I just do not want to push myself to far away from my current focus, which is to wrap up the preparatory phase for the next section of the dissertation and begin writing on The Master of Petersburg. To that end, I have begun rereading the criticism and will work my way through the pile over the next few weeks. Still, I think reading another novel will be a pleasant break from the denser, less pleasurable texts I will be revisiting.

    I did enjoy Dusklands, especially "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee," the second--and longer--of the two novellas making up Coetzee's first book. While "The Vietnam Project" is considerably more pertinent to my research, "The Narrative" was a more enjoyable read. Like much of Coetzee's work, the second novella explores many of the power dynamics at work in a colonial society as well as the role of history and counterhistory in the construction of nationhood. Unlike the psychologically disturbing Eugene Dawn of "The Vietnam Project," Jacobus Coetzee is a laughably foppish character throughout much of the text, which makes for an easier read. He is, however, a violent, vengeful racist at the center of some horrifying scenes, which can strike a very different chord of discomfiture than those involving the tragically insane Dawn. Whereas the vile behavior of Dawn can be chalked up to a lone individual's mental illness, Jacobus Coetzee's moral transgressions are bolstered by state-supported attitudes of racial superiority--something many readers will find very painful to contemplate (though, I'm sure, a similarly strong case could be made for the dehumanizing effects of military bureaucracy in "The Vietnam Project"). Not his best work, but a wonderful book nonetheless.

    For tomorrow: More criticism and, if I feel up to it, begin In the Heart of the Country.

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    Well, I finished the transcription and the reading I set out for myself today. Obviously, I have a considerable amount of reading left to do, but having finally finished the transcription work, I have to accept that I am close to resuming the writing process. I do tend to find the actual writing of the dissertation somewhat nerve-wracking, so the closer I get to picking up the proverbial pen, the more stressful my days become. I mean, damn, writing the dissertation, actually synthesizing the ideas of others and presenting one's own makes the whole thing feel real.

    Since I have re-thought the shape and direction of my dissertation after speaking with my supervisor last month, I have decided to revisit the criticism on The Master of Petersburg. When I first read the novel and the criticism it inspired earlier this winter, I had assumed the section I would be devoting to the text would be perhaps five pages long. Consequently, my focus when familiarizing myself with the critical discussion of the novel was not nearly exhaustive enough for someone preparing to write a considerably longer section on The Master of Petersburg. Fortunately, having read the criticism prior to rereading the novel, I found second read-though yielded quite a few new insights. Given the nagging sense that my limited focus may have led me to miss some of the more valuable discourse surrounding The Master of Petersburg, I have decided to reread the criticism on the novel--which, happily, is not nearly as voluminous as that centered on some of Coetzee's other books--as a final step in the pre-pre-writing phase. I hope to read an essay or two each day and, withing a fortnight or so, begin the plotting out of the next section of the dissertation. Ugh.

    Before I sign off for the evening, though, I want to thank the various people who have commented on the blog, emailed me, or linked to this little project. Over the course of the last few months, I have had the pleasure of corresponding with several people interested in Coetzee, ranging from the leader of a book club in California to scholars whose work I mention in various posts, not to mention the supportive teachers, friends and family who have been with me all along. It's been fun.

    For tomorrow: Continue reading "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee" and reread one critical essay.

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    Sunday, March 2, 2008
    Though my illness did keep me from attending a potluck at my friends' house in Ithaca yesterday evening, it did not keep me out of commission this afternoon, which was nice. One of my friends officially introduced me to the ins and outs of Dungeons and Dragons, a game I never really found myself able to get into. When I was younger--in grade school and high school, especially--several people I knew played the game, but I never really ran with that particular crowd, so I did not get involved their elaborate role playing games.

    As a member of the Nintendo generation, however, I did grow up with video games and I had played a few computer RPGs. Still, I never really got that passionate about any of the vaguely medieval fantasy worlds in which the games were set. Granted, as an English/Norwegian double major, the scenarios my gamer friends would discuss often reminded me of the Arthurian legends and Icelandic sagas I loved...so I was never averse to playing what many of my peers often dismissed as the pastime of nerds. I just hadn't met anyone with whom I felt I would enjoy playing an intensely imagination-based game.

    As someone who spends a good deal of time reading and writing, the fundamentally creative aspect of non-computerized RPGs interests me a great deal. I suppose what I like most is the storytelling, especially the interactive nature of it. I mean, you place a character in a pre-existing world with an elaborate faux-history and extensive mythological system, but create little stories as you progress through it, thereby adding to the lore. Plus, by collaborating with friends--especially those with whom you have some rapport--you engage parts of your mind that you mightn't otherwise use. Seriously, one of the worst parts of growing up is the tendency we have to move away from the make-believe of childhood. With a game like Dungeons and Dragons, though, you can revisit that playful part of your mind in a way that--unlike, say, running down the streets of Manhattan, arms outspread while yelling "Vroom, I'm an airplane!"--won't cause anyone to lock you away. As for me, I see it as a pleasant way to spend time with friends and an intellectually-stimulating way to break out of the sometimes difficult moments of dissertation mode.

    Speaking of which, I did read and transcribe. I am still enjoying "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee," though I doubt I will devote much space to it in my dissertation. At times, I find myself questioning whether I am, in fact, doing enough work. Occasionally, if I notice that what I am in the process of reading does not appear to be relevant to my work, I wrestle with the temptation not to continue reading. This is often the case with critical articles, but also applies to some of the fiction I have been working with. My approach, so far, has been to keep reading, keep taking notes. You know, just in case. And sometimes what I dismiss as irrelevant ends up yielding more than those texts I had assumed would be the most significant. Still, when I feel I am not reading something that will add much to my project, I tend to feel that I am wasting time...This, of course, is ridiculous. I mean, I am reading. I am enriching my life and broadening my knowledge of the world in which I live...which is precisely what I must remember: the dissertation is not my entire life and learning is never irrelevant. The dissertation is part of a larger whole. Not everything I read will go into it, which is fine. Normal, even. Furthermore, the point of writing a dissertation is not simply to produce a document. One learns a good deal as well, much of which will never make its way into the dissertation. But, hey, that's great. So, this is what I tell myself: Let the tip of the iceberg be the dissertation...but be certain to appreciate all the unseen ice below the surface, holding the damn thing up.

    For tomorrow: Continue reading and finish transcribing.

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    Since I am still feeling quite ill, I won't write very much tonight. I did continue reading "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee," though, which I have been enjoying. So far, the only qualm--if one could even call it that--I find I have with the novella is that it does not really sound like it had been written in the late eighteenth century. This is, of course, a relatively minor objection. After all, given the text's internal claim to have been translated from Afrikaans to English during the modern age, the English into which the fictional Coetzee translates the original text would not be noticeably dated or anachronistic. Still, the text itself feels a bit too contemporary, a bit too aware of the postcolonial discourse it would inevitably become a part of two centuries after it was written.

    For tomorrow: More of the same.

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    Saturday, March 1, 2008
    Since it's relatively late and because I am feeling rather ill, I am going to have to keep this entry extremely brief. I did begin reading "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee," the second of the two novellas making up Dusklands and, so far, I have been enjoying it. I will hopefully have more to say about it when I have made a bit more progress in the book. And I did get the transcription done, despite a powerful urge to put it off until I felt better.

    For tomorrow: Read some more of "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee" and/or finish transcribing.

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