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    Sobriquet 41.25

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008
    One of the things I hate most about working on my dissertation is how long it takes me to get started writing on certain days. Today was one of those days.

    I sat in front of the computer eager to do anything other than write about J. M. Coetzee. Despite having a surprisingly large number of things to say about the topic, I sometimes find myself struggling to begin (or, perhaps more accurately, resume) writing, which can be frustrating.

    But I pushed my way through the block, wrote a page I was not satisfied with, revised the page, and ended up doubling the amount I thought I would get done. So it wasn't all bad. Just frustrating.

    For tomorrow: Read an article or continue with Life & Times of Michael K.

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    ____________________________________________
    I just finished reading the brief essay I'd set out for myself today, Elizabeth Lowry's duel review of Disgrace and The Lives of Animals. Like most pieces from the London Review of Books, Lowry's "Like a Dog" is written in language highly influenced by literary-critical writing but does not get bogged down by the often super-specialized argot one typically associates with such prose. I think Lowry's understanding of both Disgrace and the two fictionalized lectures in The Lives of Animals that would later form the center of Coetzee's excellent Elizabeth Costello is far superior to that of many fellow critics. She is both attuned to the novel's relationship to the author's well-established (and oft-criticized) oblique engagement with South African power dynamics, colonizer-colonized relationships, and postmodern undermining of narrative authority as well as some of the less-discussed developments in Coetzee's later work, which translates to an exceptionally insightful review that any budding Coetzee scholar would do well to read.

    For tomorrow: Dissertate.

    Work Cited

    Lowry, Elizabeth (1999) "Like a Dog." London Review of Books 21.20 (1999): 1-12. Available online.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, April 27, 2008
    Okay, so I wake up today and kinda-sorta have a hankering to play Civilization again. Not surprisingly, I also woke up not particularly keen to work on my dissertation. Oh, and the battle of Erik versus Erik began.

    The cool part about fighting with yourself, I find, is that you always win, even when you lose. This is how it unfolded:

    1. the part of me that felt impelled to write (Part A) beat the part of me that wanted to procrastinate by playing Civ (Part B).

    2. Part A wrote a good chunk of the chapter on The Master of Petersburg.

    3. Part A called up Part B (metaphorically speaking, of course; Part A has no phone) to see if Part B wanted to hang out.

    4. Part B, addicted to the aforementioned computer game, said "only if we play Civ, you dissertation-writing jackass."

    5. Part A said: "Deal."

    6. I played Civilization and racked up my best score ever.

    Neat, huh?

    For tomorrow: Read another critical article on Disgrace; read Life & Times of Michael K, if I have the time.

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    ____________________________________________
    Today was a cross between working a lot (i.e. my epic six-hour Saturday class) and slacking off (a.k.a. playing around on the computer, surfing the internet and playing Civilization). In between the gainful employment and the fun, I did manage to read some more of Life & Times of Michael K, which is increasingly becoming one of my favorite Coetzee novels. It took me a while to get into the book -- like fifty or sixty pages -- but once it got going, I was swept up in the "Kafka meets Beckett in war-torn South Africa" feel of the narrative and have not wanted to put it down even when my eyelids drooped on me.

    So, it was a light-heavy day today and I'm not complaining.

    For tomorrow: Dissertate (which, after some reflection, I have decided does indeed sound better than "tate the disser," in case you were wondering).

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, April 26, 2008
    Just a quickie tonight...

    For tomorrow: Read a bit more.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, April 24, 2008
    I did get some writing done today, though I started much, much later than I had hoped. I got through another two or so pages of writing, bringing the current chapter up to the lower end of what I imagine is an acceptable length for a dissertation chapter. I would really, really like to finish this one up before the end of the term. That way, I can have a clean break with the chapter and the semester. I have no idea why I feel this way, but I think it would be a nice way to start the summer.

    For tomorrow: Since I've got so much grading to get through, just read some of Life & Times of Michael K.

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    ____________________________________________
    I'm not going to write much tonight. In fact, I'm just going to say thank you to Mike Kissack and Michael Titlestad of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg for having written an extremely readable, highly insightful essay on Disgrace. I want to thank them because I found the essay so readable that I finished today's workload much earlier than I had expected, leaving me with that ever-elusive free time I have been longing for. So, yeah, I got to play Sid Meier's Civilization without feeling guilty. 'Twas glorious.

    Their essay, "Humility in a Godless World: Shame, Defiance and Dignity in Coetzee's Disgrace" is a wonderful example of what scholarly writing can and should be: a clear, concise, focused reading of a difficult text. The essay discusses the concept of a secular humility as a redemptive force in David Lurie's life, enabling the disgraced academic to achieve some measure of peace in his life. Although the essay is pretty solid all the way through, I found the discussion of the rift between David Lurie's secular conception of humility and Mr. Isaacs's Christian understanding of the concept especially interesting.

    For tomorrow: Dissertate.

    Work Cited:

    Kissack, Mike and Michael Titlestad. "Humility in a Godless World: Shame, Defiance and Dignity in Coetzee's Disgrace." Journal of Commonwealth Literature 38.3 (2003): 135-147.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, April 22, 2008
    I'm still struggling a bit with the whole day-on/day-off schedule. Every "on" day tends to start like a Monday and end feeling like a Friday while each "off" day feels quite a bit like a Sunday. You know, the whole "I'm dreading tomorrow" feeling that comes over you on Sundays? Yeah, I get that, like, four days a week now.

    On the other hand, I have been fairly productive. I actually wrote about four pages on Monday and I read about a fifth of Life & Times of Michael K. today in addition to writing another page or so. I mean, each "off" day, since it feels like a Sunday, tends to carry with it a certain sense of immediacy, as if I'd slacked off all day Friday and all day Saturday and simple haveta get work done.

    I guess it has helped in that sense.

    So, yeah. I got quite a bit done today, which was nice. I spent the majority of the day alternating between reading and dozing off before finally settling in to write a bit on The Master of Petersburg in the early evening. My logic was this: normally, I find it difficult to read anything after I expend energy on writing, but I can usually read before writing without much difficulty. That and the fact that I really didn't feel like writing.

    The funny thing, though, is that I really, really got into Life & Times of Michael K. I got so into it, in fact, that I simply had to read more after I wrote for a few hours. Though I found the book a bit difficult to get into, I now classify it as an exemplary novel, the sort of book I would direct someone to if he or she wanted to know how to write a good book.

    So it was a good day.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

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    ____________________________________________
    I think I may have finally found a use for poststructuralist literary criticism. As I read today's essay, I found myself overcome with strange urges to, say, dust my bookshelves or wash dishes. For instance, I felt an uncommonly strong urge to sweep the kitchen floor when I encountered Pamela Cooper's assertion that
    The women [in the "new" south Africa] are effectively placeholders, ready to be animated by energies beyond their control. These are the power relations of a society in transition, evinced in the novel by the actions of men and the relations among them. On 'Lucy's patch of earth' in 'Old Kaffraria,' the emergence of these energies is played out as a phallic drama (197, 122). Specifically, the displacement of the white phallus--its being left to hang, as it were--is expressed in the attack by the three anonymous black youths. Here Lurie is effectively castrated... (29)
    Seriously, when you can almost hear Larry, Curly, and Moe "nyuk-nyuk-nyuking" at an awful pun, the desire to clean something dirty begins to make a lot of sense. Later, when Lucy and Bev Shaw "effectively shunt [David Lurie] off the streetcar named desire," I found myself, garbage bag in hand, picking up whatever errant scraps of paper I could find on my floor, wondering if either Tennessee Williams or Marlon Brando would have found the reference as gratuitous as I did (31). Likewise, when I saw that Cooper considers Petrus's biography to be "the neomasculinist narrative of futurity in a democratic South Africa," I remembered that I needed windshield wiper fluid. Or, at the very least, some sort of distraction.

    What's really unfortunate, actually, is that while the essay actually makes several really good points -- I mean, really good, underline-worthy, quotable observations -- Cooper's language is unnecessarily oblique (which does not work well when someone tries to inject a measure of humor into his or her prose) and often a bit too theory-laden. Really, once the essay is stripped of the Lacanian penis talk and the Derridean circumlocution, Cooper comes across as a very intelligent, perceptive critic. But to get to that point, whew.

    At least I got some housecleaning done, though.

    For tomorrow: Dissertate.

    Work Cited

    Cooper, Pamela. "Metamorphosis and Sexuality: Reading the Strange Passions of Disgrace." Research in African Literatures 36.4 (2005): 22-39.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, April 21, 2008
    Since I spent the majority of today writing, I am not going to write very much at all this evening. It's been a good, long while since I managed to write more than a page or so in a day, so I am pretty pleased with myself (mostly because I am too tired to over-analyze my writing) and will just hit the hay for the evening.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, April 20, 2008
    Well, since it has been a long day for me today, I won't write too, too much. I did read the article I set aside for myself and, unlike the one I read yesterday, I found it made a good deal of sense and was easy to read. Although I don't have the energy to discuss the essay at the moment, I will say that Sue Kossew is easily one of the most readable Coetzee scholars out there. Had I not spent the bulk of my evening at the local drive-in movie theater, I would probably write quite a bit more than this, but while Drillbit Taylor was surprisingly enjoyable, I had to shut my brain off (figuratively speaking, mind you) for the day after watching about three minutes of the second half of the double feature, a predictably inane flick called Superhero Movie. While both films were formulaic, strong performances by Owen Wilson and his supporting cast made Drillbit more that watchable. The latter film, however, sought to combine the campy atmosphere of the Naked Gun series with the lowbrow satire of the Scary Movie/Not Another Teenage Movie franchises, failing miserably at the first, and "succeeding," if one can call it that, at the second. Still, for the opportunity to experience an increasingly rare bit of Americana, even Superhero Movie was worth the time. Barely.

    For tomorrow: Write. Read an article or a bit of Life & Times of Michael K., if possible.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, April 19, 2008
    Just when I thought I might be hitting my stride, I found myself struggling to get through the article I set aside for myself to read today. I won't get into it now because it is so late, but Good God, I am so happy that post-structuralist criticism is on its way out. Seriously.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, April 17, 2008
    Since it's late and I need to get to bed soon, I'll just say that I did get some writing done today. Like a paragraph. And it took, like, three hours. As had been the case with the chapter I wrote on Age of Iron in January and February, I find that I write at an excruciatingly slow pace. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had always aimed to write about five pages per "writing day," ever since my undergraduate days when realized that I could usually squeeze out roughly that much writing in an afternoon. Now, it seems, I am lucky to get more than a page. Still, I am plugging away at my section on The Master of Petersburg and planning/preparing for the next chapter.

    I also read a bit more of Life and Times of Michael K.

    For tomorrow: Read an article.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, April 16, 2008
    In addition to reading a bit of Life & Times of Michael K. today, I read Charles Sarvan's "Disgrace: A Path to Grace?" Although I vaguely remember reading the essay a few years ago while researching the novel for my last-ever paper for my last-ever graduate seminar, I'd forgotten virtually everything about the article.

    To be honest, I did not find Sarvan's essay particularly helpful. In fact, the essay reads like a rather uninspired book report, albeit with good grammar. The bulk of the article is plot summary, though the occasional critical insights do make the piece a bit more substantial than, say, your average scholarly book review. To Sarvan's credit, he does pick up on and discuss some of the novel's more overlooked content (the incestuous overtones of David Lurie's relationship with Melanie Isaacs, for instance). Otherwise, the essay retreads fairly common critical territory such as the various meanings of (dis)grace and the novel's commentary on post-Apartheid South Africa. The essay's big fault, however, is its over-reliance on a strangely eclectic group of classic literary and philosophical texts to "support" what often amounts to merely pedestrian observation. Citing everyone from novelists as varied as Thomas More and Nadine Gordimer to poets like W. H. Auden and William Butler Yeats to philosophers like Martin Heidegger and Boethius as well as canonical works of Eastern religious thought (The Upanishads and The Dhammapada, in particular), it often seems like Sarvan is more eager to display the breadth of his learning than he is in probing Coetzee's novel -- and, in doing so, often derails what has the potential to be a thoughtful and provocative discussion. Indeed, "A Path to Grace?" does little more than scratch the surface of an intricate novel, leaving readers with the level of insight one might expect from a casual reading.

    For tomorrow: Write. If I find the energy, read a bit as well.

    Work Cited
    Sarvan, Charles. "Disgrace: A Path to Grace?" World Literature Today 78.1 (2004): 26-29.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, April 15, 2008
    Having spent far too much time photocopying essays last night, I did not get home until close to five this morning. Still, though it did take me some time to fall asleep, I did not sleep in too late this afternoon and I did manage to get some writing done, which was nice.

    At any rate, I really wanted to get some writing done yesterday, though I'd only assigned myself the simple task of finishing Disgrace. At any rate, having finished rereading the novel relatively early yesterday, I'd hoped to get some writing done before bed, mostly to combat the sense of not making progress that tends to nag me when I skip more than a day of writing when I'm in "writing mode." Feeling that I'd wasted a golden opportunity to make some headway, I decided to try to be productive in another way. Hence the hour's drive to the library. Furthermore, I figured, such a trip meant I could listen to an audiobook and visit with a friend that will be moving to China in a few months, two extra-curricular activities I knew I would enjoy, and which I rarely have the time for while working on the dissertation.

    So it was a good day.

    Of course, a significant chunk of the afternoon's procrastination stemmed from the renewed sense that Jeezus, man, this thing takes so freaking long to get done! Finding out that there are more than eighty articles dealing with Disgrace -- only about a third of which I was able to get my not-so-greedy hands on -- did not cheer me up, either. Nor did spending more than twenty dollars photocopying that one-third of the criticism on the novel. The only tiny bit of relief came when I realized that if I did not count my own publications on the novel, I could cut the number of essays I need to read down to just under eighty. I was, like, thank you me. That helps!

    So, I got some writing done today. The process remains a slow one, the work remains a less-than-satisfying experience for someone restless to just finish it already, but progress is progress, right?

    For tomorrow: Read an article on Disgrace or fifteen pages in Life & Times of Michael K. Keep it light.

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    ____________________________________________
    Well, since it is three-thirty in the morning and I am sitting in a library an hour's drive from my home, I will keep this extremely brief.

    I finished rereading Disgrace today.

    I spent more than twenty dollars photocopying essays on Disgrace this evening.

    I'm not even halfway done getting the articles.

    Un-fucking-real.

    For tomorrow: Dissertate.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, April 13, 2008
    I remember back in my retail days, when "part-time" usually meant working about five minutes less than full-time each week, I used to hate the irregular scheduling my co-workers and I would have to deal with. You know, working until closing time one night and opening up the store early the next morning or never having two days off in succession--which is what I really hated. Perhaps attending thirteen years of formal schooling on a Monday-through-Friday schedule conditions an individual to expect a weekend; I'm sure, for some people, at least, this is the case. It certainly is the case for me. At any rate, my new schedule, to which I have not been able to fully adjust myself, requires that I teach on Saturdays, thereby eliminating the two-day recess I looked towards to help give my life some semblance of order and to act as the carrot dangling on my proverbial string each week. Of course, weekends still feel like weekends. I still want to stay up late on Friday evenings, I still expect to hear church bells on Sunday, and I certainly expect the post office to be open on weekdays on which I do not work, but I miss the patterned schedule a weekend provides. That extra work day seems to have the same effect on my life as a scratch has on an LP: what once had an easily recognizable beginning, middle, and end now seems to go on and on, ceaselessly and monotonously stuck in a middle without a terminus.

    I'm trying not to let the new schedule affect my dissertation work but, not surprisingly, it does have an effect on what I do outside of the classroom. I now have one less "open" day to stretch out in bed before facing the blank page, one more day of lingering fatigue, one more evening of having to go to bed earlier than what feels natural. Still, I managed to make my way through this past week, despite being busier than I have been in quite some time.

    I have continued reading Disgrace, and should finish the novel tomorrow. I have also continued writing the chapter on The Master of Petersburg though, oddly, I did not do any writing on my "off" days, having found it easier to cram some typing into the after school hours. As always, I love reading Disgrace, Coetzee's tremendously powerful 1999 novel of the "New South Africa." I think this is the fourth or fifth time I've read the book, in fact, and I still love it. My copy, purchased only a couple of years ago, is so creased, so heavily-underlined, and so yellowed that I may have to buy a replacement soon.

    Reading the seemingly endless pile of criticism associated with the book, however, makes the normally satisfying feeling of finishing the book a bit less pleasant. Fortunately, having written about Disgrace in the past and having published a bit of criticism on the novel myself, I am already familiar with the bulk of what has been written about the book, but I still feel the need to re-read the articles I have read and dig up the ones I've not yet seen--and that promises to take quite a bit of time. Disgrace is, after all, one of the most frequently taught and discussed contemporary novels.

    As for me, I hope to have more days like Friday, when I somehow managed to get a good chunk of reading completed between a full day spent teaching, grading and writing the Petersburg chapter. For a moment, I felt as productive as I used to feel as an undergraduate...Still, my big accomplishment this weekend may have been getting the Southern Tier's most famous blogger to watch Kiss of Death, the 1947 film noir classic featuring the late, great Richard Widmark as the psychopathic Tommy Udo, which Mr. Parker briefly mentions in today's post. Seriously, the movie--especially Widmark's performance--is fantastic.

    For tomorrow: Finish reading Disgrace.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, April 10, 2008
    I didn't get a whole lot done today, but I did manage to complete the rather modest amount of reading I'd set aside for myself. I spent much of the afternoon recuperating from a Tuesday night's marathon grading session, dozing on and off until sundown, but I woke refreshed and eager to work.

    Tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday are all fairly packed days for me, so I do not anticipate making as much progress as I would normally make in a three day span, but I would like to make some real progress in Disgrace and, if I find a few hours to do so, get some writing done. And grade.

    For the next few days: Dissertate. Read. Grade.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, April 9, 2008
    Looooooooooooooong day = No post.

    For tomorrow: Read.


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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, April 7, 2008
    Although it isn't particularly late and while I'm not especially tired, I am going to just post a quick little entry and be off with it. Today was a surprisingly good day, especially considering it was my first day back at work after a week's break. I read the section of Disgrace I'd set out for myself and wrote some more of the dissertation chapter on The Master of Petersburg, so I have no complaints.

    Also, for anyone interested, my essay "Remembering Norman Mailer" finally made its way into the latest issue of Logos.

    For tomorrow: Busy day, so just try to read some more of Disgrace.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, April 6, 2008
    As much as I would like to write this evening, I really haven't the time to devote to anything worth reading, so I will keep this on the brief side. Although I enjoyed the all-too-rare company of my parents for much of the weekend, and while I spent a good deal of time walking around the jetties on Seneca Lake, snapping pictures of gulls and enjoying the sixty degree weather, I actually got a decent amount of work done. I read a hefty chunk of Disgrace, which looks like it will be the focus of my next chapter and, as is always the case when reading Coetzee's 1999 novel, enjoyed the experience.

    Like many other Coetzee readers, I consider Disgrace to be his best novel, though I enjoy Waiting for the Barbarians, Elizabeth Costello, and Slow Man nearly as much. The book has become a major focus of my academic work over the past few years, yielding a term paper, part of a field examination, a conference paper, and even work appearing in peer-reviewed publications. Needless to say, I have quite a bit I could say about Disgrace, but I will direct anyone interested in my impression of the book to a review I wrote after reading the novel for the first time. It's considerably less academic in tone and much easier to locate.

    For tomorrow: Read more of Disgrace. Write some more, if possible.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, April 5, 2008
    Today sort of made up for yesterday, I think. I wrote more this afternoon than I did yesterday and, all things considered, feel fairly satisfied with the result. So it was a good day, a productive day.

    Today's internal struggle, unlike yesterday's, had relatively little to do with the writing process, though it is quite closely linked to the dissertation or, rather, to what the dissertation represents. It may have been the proverbial April showers that prompted the mood that swept over me this evening by reminding me of the cool drizzles I'd experienced in Bergen some twelve years ago or it could have been the Sugar (Copper Blue, to be precise) playing on my iPod, I don't know but, regardless of the cause, I've spent the past few hours really missing some of the places I've called home over the years.

    Nostalgia, that gross over-romanticizing of the past, certainly has a big role in the persistent, even stubborn, refusal of this mood to dissipate, but it extends beyond a mere dissatisfaction with my present circumstances. As I said earlier (like two sentences ago), a major contributing factor to this semi-wistful, strangely pleasant melancholy is my reflection upon the semiotic value of my dissertation. This paper, this huge, hulking beast of an assignment marks the end of my formal education and so, as I contemplate finishing it, I cannot help but look back on the events that led me to where I am.

    I've often said--if not on this blog, then certainly to my friends and family in person or on the telephone--that I wish I had never gone to graduate school, that I would have stayed in St. Paul, that I would have done something else with my life. I also know full well that had I not gone to graduate school, had I not worked my way through a master's program and a doctoral program, I would have spent those years regretting my decision not to go. So, essentially, when I say I wish I never attended graduate school, it sounds like I am saying I wish I wasn't me, which is ludicrous. I like being me. So, what am I really saying?

    What it comes down to is that, like Rod Stewart, I wish I knew then what I know now, namely that fulfillment in one area of my life can contribute to a significant lack of fulfillment in other, more important areas. So, while I was living in Montreal, reading Joseph Heller and eating smoked meat and poutine, my friends moved on with their lives. Sure, we stayed in touch. I even visited Minnesota a few times and welcomed old friends into my home, but I always felt as if I was putting my life, my "real life," on hold. A part of me always felt Minnesota and Norway, for a variety of reasons, were my real homes, that Quebec and upstate New York were merely places in which I would study for a few years before returning. On days like today, I still feel that way. Then I remember nostalgia is more about the present than the past. Longing for the past is really no more than a discomfort with the present.

    I also know that those people I love, those people whose presence made those places home, have spread out and live in New York City, southern Mississippi, Santa Fe, Oslo, and a slew of other spots even the most accurate of pushpinning cartophiles wouldn't be able to locate. Home, after all, is where the heart is and, in this case, home is both a place and a time. In other words--or, rather, in the words of Thomas Wolfe--you can't go home again.

    Another huge component of this mood is the fact that I never really took to the Southern Tier of New York. I mean, sure, I love the topography and the well-preserved Painted Ladies poking out of centuries-old deciduous forest. As someone who was born in New England and raised in rural New Jersey, the appeal of living among houses dating back to the Boston Tea Party and among woods and rolling almost-mountains has always been strong. The problem, for me, is that this particular swath of America is so economically depressed, so overpopulated and underemployed, that it might as well be called America's stretch mark. I mean, as the nation grew large and prosperous, places like Binghamton and Elmira boomed. Business thrived and the affluent population built stately homes and other monuments to their pecuniary status. Then, for a number of different reasons, the economy began to recede and once-proud industries went bye-bye, leaving factories and storefronts empty and sucking the population out of their homes. Now, thanks to the inevitable forces of entropy coupled with an inability or unwillingness to systematically renovate decrepit buildings, the area is the ugly scar of America's once fat belly too quickly made thin again by disease and age. In other words, the region is a poignant reminder that everything (including friendships and one's own happiness) breaks down when neglected.

    And now, having spent nearly five years here, I look back and really want to leave. While I could pick up and go, it is easier to stay here to finish my dissertation. So, to make a long story a bit longer, the dissertation represents the last wall, the final gate I must pass through before my life is mine again. What I mean by this is that, when I decided to take the route that I have taken, I made a commitment to myself to work and work until I finished my doctorate, no matter where it took me. That was my choice, but it set a course I could not allow myself to swerve away from. That's just tenacious ol' me, I guess. But when the dissertation is done, I will not "have" to stay away from the places I love. I will no longer have to live in a situation that feels more and more like exile. What the whole thing comes down to, I suppose, what it really amounts to, is that I am tired of being a student. I've grown weary of living paycheck to paycheck, of putting my life on hold until I can afford to live in a nice home with a bank account large enough to make visiting my distant friends possible. That's what the dissertation has grown to signify for me. I chose a path seven years ago, a road leading away from the places and faces most dear to me, and the dissertation is the last leg of that path, the part that will swing around and join the original road. And there's a freedom there that I've not experienced in quite some time: whereas grad school was more or less mapped out for me, point by point from master's seminars to the dissertation, the future is emphatically not planned, there is no set course and I welcome that. I can take a job or not take a job. I can choose not to take a job in a region I do not think I would like. I can apply for jobs only in places in which I would want to reside (this, of course, will be mitigated by the dearth of the sort of jobs I want, but let me dream for now). I could even, in a quixotic move, return to Minnesota or Norway.

    At the same time, I wouldn't trade what I have done or where I have been for the world. Sure, there are things I would rather not have seen, people I would rather not have met, far-away events I would have liked to have seen, but it's been a worthwhile journey. I'm just eager for it to end so I can start the next one.

    For tomorrow and Sunday: I'm gonna be busy the next few days so if I cannot get any writing done, at least get some reading out of the way.

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    Thursday, April 3, 2008
    I wrote about a page more on The Master of Petersburg this afternoon. I spent over an hour trying to figure out how to begin the lone paragraph I managed to squeeze out and it took me another two hours to finish the damn thing. I mean, I have come to realize that it often takes me a pretty significant chunk of time to get going, but today was painful. Seriously, the scatological image of a constipated person straining to relieve his or her bowels of the shit that has stuck around for too long comes readily to mind. I feel as if I strained and strained, sweat pouring down a face contorted by pain and concentration, only to produce a misshapen, stubborn little nut of a turd.

    In other words, I feel as if I have expended far more energy and spent a good deal more time than my work will show. And those pesky doubts that normally plague me when writing? They swarmed about me like flies in an outhouse on a humid summer day.

    But, yeah, I'm glad to have gotten another one percent of the dissertation written.

    For tomorrow: More of the same.

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    Well, I finally started writing about The Master of Petersburg today. I'm not too crazy about what I have written so far, but I do not think it is complete crap. If anything, it is only 88% crap. The other twelve percent is shit. Or so it always seems when I start writing a new essay.

    In all seriousness, though, I rarely feel confident about my academic writing. I mean, my work has earned a few accolades over the past few years and I have published my share of scholarly writing in peer-edited journals, but none of that really changes how I feel about my current academic writing. For me, it's always a matter of what have you done for me lately? Only the "you" becomes "I" and "the academy" replaces "me."

    So that's where I am, again. I know that I was in a similar place when I began writing what was to become my chapter on Age of Iron back in January, but whatever tenuous confidence I carry from that ordeal's surprisingly positive conclusion hardly counteracts the heavy doubts that always seem to spring up when I work on academic writing.

    At any rate, I brushed aside as many of the doubts as I could this morning and set about starting the introduction. Having spent far more time producing less than satisfactory preparatory writing than I would have liked, it was both refreshing and uncomfortable for me to begin writing the new chapter. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I had initially intended the Age of Iron and The Master of Petersburg sections to form part of a chapter on Coetzee. Now, however, since the direction of my dissertation seems to have shifted from a multi-author study in which Coetzee figured to be one of several authors whose recent fiction I would examine towards a more concentrated single author study of Coetzee, I find myself more than a little bit concerned with the amount of insightful writing I could possibly devote to a novel I had long assumed would require no more than five or six pages of my project to discuss. As a result of the new direction I have taken, I spent an additional month or so reviewing The Master of Petersburg which, while not wholly unpleasant, has added a sense of stagnation to the process. This, of course, is neither an accurate assessment of the time spent rereading the novel nor an entirely unreasonable sensation. What it amounts to, though, is a rather hefty dose of unwelcome nervousness.

    The resultant anxiety has made beginning the chapter a bit more difficult than I had hoped and I find myself forgetting the various insights I made during fits of nerve-induced academic amnesia. Likewise, although I jotted down reams of notes and have thrown together an outline flexible enough to accommodate freshly remembered ideas, I sometimes feel lost amid an overwhelmingly sprawling body of knowledge. If anything, I feel like Lucy trying to maintain order among the chocolate candies on an increasingly speedy conveyor belt:



    So I started writing and, so far, the people to whom I have shown my writing assure me that, despite my fears to the contrary, it makes sense.

    In addition to writing, I would like to continue working on the dual-track approach I have been using (reading for/preparing for/writing the present chapter while reading/preparing for later chapters), so I will probably begin rereading Disgrace soon.

    For now, though, I am going to put my still-aching body to bed and listen to a bit more of the Paul Auster novel

    For tomorrow: Write and/or plan a bit more. Begin rereading Disgrace if I find the time and energy to do so.

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    Tuesday, April 1, 2008
    Today basically sucked. I woke up this morning feeling achier than Billy Ray Cyrus's early-to-mid nineties heart. My joints ached, my muscles (I use the term liberally) ached, my aches ached. I couldn't stay awake, I felt weak and unbalanced when perambulation became necessary. It was one of those days that feel as if they should be spent wrapped in a tattered bathrobe, sipping gallons of weak tea, staring out a kitchen window. Instead, I spent the day in bed reading and listening to Paul Auster's Travels in the Scriptorium (imagine Samuel Beckett re-writing the screenplay for Memento) on audio.

    Needless to say, I found working rather difficult. At one point, as I sat in front of my computer screen, I found that I could not focus my blurry vision and had to return to bed. Somehow, I managed to read the rest of Waiting for the Barbarians in between fitful snatches of sleep. Though I finished the novel a full three days before I planned to do so, I still feel annoyed with myself for not having gotten much pre-writing done. I will have to go out and work on that now.

    For tomorrow: Prewriting and a lot of it.

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