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    Sobriquet 42.31

    Saturday, May 31, 2008
    Well, it would seem that I have become nocturnal. The problem is that I don't really want to stay up all night. Whereas a few weeks ago, I would routinely fall asleep by one or two in the morning, I now find myself struggling to fall asleep by six or seven. It's ridiculous.

    Of course, it is my fault. Since I haven't much of a schedule at the moment, I don't have to wake up by any particular time. So I sleep in. A lot. Not surprisingly, if I sleep until one in the afternoon, it's hard to fall asleep before, say, three or four in the morning. I also know that I should probably not be drinking caffeine at two a. m., even if it is part of a beverage that tastes really, really good.

    Plus, I nap too much. Part of the problem there is that I read in bed. If I left the house, say, and plopped myself down in an nice air-conditioned place, I might get more done, but I don't feel comfortable spending money on gas and other expenses, so I stay home...and read in bed...and fall asleep...and stay up all night...and sleep until the next afternoon...

    But, whatever. I will be working again soon (thankfully), so I will consider days like today a luxury. And the money I save by not driving around, perhaps, could go towards decaffeinated drinks. Practical, innit?

    All lamenting aside, I have finished several audiobooks just by laying in bed when I can't fall asleep at night. And that's good, right?

    At any rate, despite sleeping in far too late this afternoon, I did manage to get myself working, rereading Sue Kossew's short essay "The Politics of Shame and Redemption in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Like many of the studies of Coetzee's 1999 novel, Kossew's paper deals with David Lurie's growth as a person, from a self-centered academic rake at the beginning of the novel to a self-effacing and empathetic "dog-man" by the book's conclusion. Along the way, Kossew discusses Coetzee's use of the body as a locus for the dramatization of power struggles, the Dostoevskian complexities of the confessional mode, and the implications of Lucy Lurie's acquiescent behavior in the wake of a brutal sexual assault. Ultimately, though, Kossew focuses on the meanings signified by the concepts of grace and disgrace during a period of turbulent change, concluding that Disgrace shows us that it is "not through any grand revelation or absolution, but through attending to the everyday" that one can attain some semblance of grace (161).

    Work Cited

    Kossew, Sue. "The Politics of Shame and redemption in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Research in African Literatures 34.2 (2003): 155-162.

    For tomorrow: It's a busy day, so either read another essay or work on my bibliography.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, May 30, 2008
    Well, I finally finished writing the chapter on The Master of Petersburg. I'll call it a draft, but if I have to do any major revisions, I'll be about as enthused as if I were starting the whole thing over. The bastard measures in at a little under fifty-one pages or roughly one-fifth the length of Coetzee's novel.

    I won't say much else at the moment, but I would like to thank my loyal readers for stopping by regularly. I would especially like to single out Minxy, the Literary Chica, and Rennesa for their kind comments and/or emails. You three would be surprised by how much your support has helped!

    For tomorrow: Read, when not fretting about the quality of The Master of Petersburg chapter.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, May 29, 2008
    When I began writing the chapter on The Master of Petersburg eight weeks ago, I had hoped to finish the thing by the end of the semester. Ideally, I thought, I'd like to make it to thirty pages. That'd be real swell, I reckoned. Today, a solid fortnight into summer vacation, I am still writing the damn chapter. I hit page fifty this evening. Page fifty! I'm telling you, this chapter does not want to end. I thought I was running out of steam around page fifteen. When I hit page twenty-five, I thought to myself, whew, I'm almost done. By the time page thirty-five rolled around, I thought, surely I'm a page or two from finishing. And I've felt that way ever since. I felt that way yesterday and I felt that way this morning as I set out to write today's bit. And I feel that way now.

    But it's not done yet. The curser continues to blink on-off, on-off, benignly reminding me that there's still a few more letters, another couple of sentences to be typed. And, the closer I get, the more I dread finishing. I mean, I really do not want to ship this hulking thing off to my supervisor only to hear that it doesn't work or that I have to revamp the whole thing. I realize, of course, that revision is a fundamental part of the whole dissertation process, but I've labored on this chapter far more than I thought possible and, to be honest, I'm not too confident that I can do much more with it.

    At the same time, I just want the damn thing to be done. I want to type that final period, hit "Save," send it off to the people who want/have to read it, and just do something else.

    One of the things I find most difficult is that the further I get into a given chapter, the more I worry about its quality. This seems to happen every time I write anything of a certain length. I suppose it is only natural that, the more one invests in a given project, the more he or she stands to lose if it is rejected. Still, the anxiety that accompanies the latter stages of the chapter can make writing that much more difficult.

    Since one cannot know whether or not a given chapter will be accepted until after it is completed, a chart of the progress one makes in writing a dissertation looks more like a set of stairs than a ramp. What I mean to say is that the work one puts into the dissertation only counts after a chapter is accepted. Let's use a really crappy picture to illustrate this observation:



    Okay, so let's call the diagonal line "real work" and the steps "validated work." We'll call the base line "perceived work." Every day I work on the dissertation, I feel as if I am ascending the "real work" ramp. Of course, unless I produce something to show for the real work, however, it will be as if I have been walking along the "perceived work" path. Since the "real work" of reading and writing does not count until it becomes the "validated work" of an accepted chapter (at which point the "perceived work" path suddenly leaps to the level of the most recently completed chapter, as depicted below, in red), I feel trapped on the "perceived work" path despite also feeling as if I belong on the "real work" path:

    Basically, although I feel as if I am already at the junction of "validated work" and "real work" for the second chapter, in reality, I am still stuck on the red horizontal line a full step below where I feel I should be. And, until my supervisor okays the chapter and the red line sends an arrow up to the junction where real and validated work await, I'm stuck.

    And the pattern promises to continue for each damn chapter.

    Ugh.

    For tomorrow: Either read some criticism or try to finish the damn chapter. For real.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, May 28, 2008
    Today was pretty much a duplicate of yesterday. I stayed up late and slept all day. I didn't feel like working and couldn't get myself started until quite late at night. And, like yesterday, I managed to get a bit more writing done. The one advantage I had today was that, having written a solid piece yesterday, I did not feel too far removed from the chapter. That had been a problem for me yesterday. I find that skipping more than a day or two between writing sessions tends to make the resumption of the writing process difficult.

    I have noticed that when I am actively engaged in writing a chapter, I feel physically tethered to my home. I sometimes feel as if I have to finish the chapter before I take a trip anywhere, as if leaving a chapter temporarily unfinished is somehow inappropriate. You know, like partially bandaging a wound, leaving the unfinished job to watch a rerun of Jake and the Fat Man, and then resuming after the credits begin to roll.

    Ugh.

    For tomorrow: Read an article or write.

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    ____________________________________________
    It just won't end. Seriously.

    I just finished the forty-fifth page of my chapter on The Master of Petersburg. I was aiming for two-thirds that amount. When I wrote my Master's thesis several years ago, my longest chapter was forty-five pages. It dealt with seven novels. The last time I checked, The Master of Petersburg is one book.

    Un-fucking-real.

    This isn't to say that I don't like the book, but I would really like to finish this chapter. I am, of course, really concerned with the quality of the chapter. Though I have tried to keep it focused and well-organized, it sometimes strikes me as a sprawling mess. I mean, anything that is so long that a standard stapler will not fasten the pages together has a good chance of being unwieldy and I can't help feel that I should have done something differently to make the chapter better. I just don't know what I would have done differently.

    My problem is that I hate most of what I write. It's that whole "you're your own worst critic" thing, but I always feel as if something isn't good enough, as if something is lacking. Ugh.

    That said, I wrote a good chunk tonight, though it took me a good ten hours to finally get myself to sit down and write. It was one of those days where I'd wake up, stretch, realize that I had work to do, and promptly return to the Land of Nod. I also felt quite a bit of anxiety throughout the day, some of which was caused, I'm sure, by the fact that it has been several days since I was last in writing mode. I also suspect that approaching the end of the chapter and the inevitability of having to let my advisor read it only heightened the intensity of the anxiety. That and just wanting to finish it.

    Which isn't to say I am thrilled at the prospect of spending the next few months reading almost exclusively literary criticism, but I do want to finish writing this.

    For tomorrow: Read an article or two or dissertate.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, May 27, 2008
    Again, I will have to keep this entry on the brief side. After a wonderful weekend spent with family and friends (and cats, birds, and guinea pigs), I found myself a bit out of sorts this afternoon. While my mood was not particularly bad, I had a hard time returning to my work-centered existence. This is why:

    1. Having finished Diary of a Bad Year, the only reading I really need to do for my research at the moment is literary criticism, a type of writing which, unlike fiction, I generally do not enjoy reading. With a few exceptions, literary criticism does not capture my imagination in the same way a good novel does. I mean, sure, it can be edifying, even interesting, but I'd much rather read Coetzee than criticism of Coetzee's fiction. So, there was a letdown there.

    2. Going from a full house to an empty house can be a tough transition.

    and

    3. I got distracted. Really, really distracted. This resulted, of course, in a significant amount of procrastination which, in turn, meant that I would be doing my work late at night, when fatigue makes focusing difficult.

    But I did what I set out to do and read some of the criticism. It just took me all day to get around to it.

    For tomorrow: Dissertate or read at least two essays.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, May 26, 2008
    Well, I did it. I finished reading Diary of a Bad Year and, in doing so, have made my way through the entirety of J. M. Coetzee's published fiction. It's satisfying. I do have a lot I'd like to say about the novel, but it is late and I have to be getting to bed, so I will leave off with the promise to address the novel at greater length when I have the opportunity to do so.

    For tomorrow: Either write, read an article on Disgrace, or transcribe.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, May 23, 2008
    So, despite today being a rather busy day, I did manage to read a bit more of Diary of a Bad Year. There are times when I am really into it, and other moments when the book strikes me as having hit a false note, where Coetzee's alter-ego seems to resemble Joseph Heller's Eugene Pota, the fictional author struggling to write one last novel in Portrait of the Artist as An Old Man. Like Pota, the fictional Juan Coetzee realizes that he hasn't the time left to write everything he wants to put on paper and, consequently, crams as many half-formed ideas as he can into his strange little book. Then, at other times, the novel seems to shine with the sort of energy and insight only a true master could produce at the zenith of his powers. So, yeah. It's a weird one, that's for sure.

    Just for fun (especially since I was so glum-sounding yesterday), and since one of the more entertaining essays in Strong Opinions is Juan Coetzee's screed on grammatical and linguistic entropy, I'll leave you with a grammatically terrible Coca-Cola slogan I found painted on the side of an old soda machine this evening:


    For tomorrow and Sunday: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    I'm going to keep tonight's entry short, though not because I haven't much to say. No, I'm going to keep this entry relatively brief because the sooner I finish, the sooner I can go to bed and put today behind me. While yesterday was a surprisingly productive day, today was a bust in pretty much every possible way. I woke up with a headache, a neck ache, an earache and a knuckle ache, the lattermost being something I didn't even know was possible until this morning. At least two of these aches had aches of their own (meta-aches?), too.

    Needless to say, a good deal of the morning, afternoon, and evening was spent in bed, drifting in and out of sleep. When I finally got up for the "day," it was nearly dark and I still couldn't move my neck without unleashing a pain that would shoot up from my shoulder (I must have slept in an awkward position), through my neck, and up to my right ear, at which point, the pain would ricochet off my eardrum and come to a clanging, throbbing halt somewhere in my occipital lobe. Consequently, sitting in front of the computer for several hours to write a bit in the dissertation would be both figuratively (which is normal) and literally (which is not) painful.

    Instead, I read some more of Diary of a Bad Year, which I hope to finish by Monday.

    Oh, and I fixed a toilet, with which I will now symbolically flush this crappy day away.

    For tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, May 21, 2008
    If anything, summer vacation does make schoolwork easier to get through. I mean, I benefit tremendously from knowing that I will have a relatively open schedule, enabling me to work at my own pace, without having to worry about cramming things into whatever gaps there may be in my work work (as opposed to schoolwork) schedule. Of course, unless you have a particularly generous grant or an especially lucrative job during the school year, you'll have to work at least a little bit during the summer -- but, still, for folks as thoroughly institutionalized (I simply cannot understand the five-days-a-week, eight-hours-a-day, fifty-weeks-a-year thing. Work for me is kind of an all day, everyday thing but without the need to be physically present at a workplace for more than thirty hours a week or between mid-May and late August) as myself, there's a special kind of liberation and sense of completion (not to mention confusion) that comes with the end of the school year. Like the Literary Chica says, "a year is divided into semesters. Not seasons, not months: semesters."

    At any rate, I find myself more productive and less anxious now that the time constraints of work work have slackened. So, today, despite getting a late start (sleeping in, hanging out with Minxy, drooling over bikes I can't afford), I still managed to churn out a few more pages and I can finally I see the end of this chapter on The Master of Petersburg on my horizon. We will, for the time being, not mention the many doubts I have about the quality and effectiveness of said chapter. We will, instead, try to focus on the good stuff. Let's make Fred Rogers proud, I say.

    For tomorrow: Same old, same old.

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    ____________________________________________
    I've continued reading Diary of a Bad Year and, save for a few passages of relatively run-of-the-mill anti-Americanism, I have found the "strong opinions" well worth poring over. I have also enjoyed reading the contrapuntal voices of the fictional author and his equally fictional typist. What I have found most interesting, however, are the ways in which the information revealed in the diaries seem to shape the development of the ostensibly non-fiction essays and, given the author's reputation for exploring the nature of the writing process, I am pretty certain that much of the critical discussion on the novel will focus on this relationship.

    For tomorrow: Read and/or write.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, May 20, 2008
    Well, the past couple of days have been fairly packed, but in a good way. As I have mentioned before, I have a tendency to isolate myself socially whenever I have a lot of work to do. Not that such solitude is abnormal or unnecessary, but it can take a psychological toll on you if you don't take care to counteract extreme the solitude with some form of socialization. So, I jumped at the opportunity to play Dungeons and Dragons with some friends on Sunday, figuring the creative aspect of the game, combined with the pizza-eating, light-hearted atmosphere would do me good. And it did. I've felt recharged and considerably less solipsistic and, surprisingly, not the least bit nerdy. The time spent with my friends also helped improve my mood, which enabled me to get quite a bit more solid work out of myself.

    Other than that, I have been dealing with the annoying habit I have of sleeping too much during the day (because I can) and staying up too late at night (because I can and because I'm not tired after my nap), so my daily routine has taken on a slightly different schedule. Today, for instance, I decided to start writing much later than I normally would have liked but produced a few pages of what I feel is a rather strong section of this never-ending chapter on The Master of Petersburg. So, I'm not complaining. I've also made good use of the dead hours (you know, those hours between two and six when nothing's open and there's not much to watch on television) of the early morning when I cannot fall asleep. With these empty hours, I have finished several audiobooks and will probably finish Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake tonight, so I have a sense of real intellectual accomplishment, which is nice. The added bonus, of course, is that I can simultaneously feel enriched and, as a result of laying in bed while listening to the books, thoroughly lazy.

    For tomorrow: Tuesday will be a busy day involving all sorts of errand-running, so I will just assign myself some more reading in Diary of a Bad Year.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, May 17, 2008
    I'm going to keep this brief because I really haven't much to say. I made some more progress in Diary of a Bad Year, but chose not to write anything today, largely because I've been feeling a bit groggy. Still, I really cannot wait to finish writing this chapter on The Master of Petersburg. Seriously, it's fifteen pages longer than I thought it was going to be, and it keeps getting longer.

    For tomorrow: Since it's a busy day, just read a bit more in Diary of a Bad Year.

    For Monday: Read and/or write.

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    ____________________________________________
    Yeah, so I'm still reading Diary of a Bad Year and I'm still really enjoying it. My plan to read "traditionally," however, may soon have to be scrapped. You see, whereas each sub-text fragment would end neatly with a period on each page of the first few chapters of the novel, the pattern does not continue into the middle of the book, almost forcing the reader to read each section before returning to another.

    I also wrote a few more pages on The Master of Petersburg, which I had not expected to have gotten done.

    And I finished Matheson's I Am Legend.

    And now I am going to bed.

    For tomorrow: Read and/or write.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, May 16, 2008
    Although I would have liked to have gotten some writing done today, I decided to spend some time tidying up my workspace instead. Now, I have always been the sort of person for whom clutter is normal. If anything, I prefer the chaotic to the ordered, if only because the law of entropy tells me that anytime I clean something, it's just going to get dirty again. (Seriously, why make a bed if you're only going to unmake it later? Unless you're having guests over, of course.). The problem, I find, is that during periods of heightened stress (marathon paper-writing sessions, especially) my manageable mess evolves into a sort of all-encompassing mass of clutter, which can be depressing to look at and can make the simple act of walking a treacherous ordeal. So, I cleaned up and already I feel better. Furthermore, though I thrive in clutter, I loathe the other, non-human entities that flock to piles of paper and books, clusters of empty diet soda cans and discarded packaging materials. So, yeah. I have the feeling writing will be a bit more pleasant now.

    Other than that, I have made some more progress in Diary of a Bad Year. I especially enjoy Coetzee's skewering of university life. Like Elizabeth Costello before him, the protagonist of Diary of a Bad Year regards universities as business enterprises wholly unrelated to education. Elsewhere, the fictional author at the center of the novel, blames the over-usage of poststructuralist theory in literature departments for the increasingly absurd misappropriation of its relativistic thought by paranoid, dimwitted politicians eager to find meaning hidden where nothing is hidden.

    I'm also finding that, by reading the novel in the traditional mode I described yesterday, the book reads very smoothly, enabling the reader to make subtle (and not-so-subtle) connections between the various characters and sub-texts. So, yeah. I'm enjoying it.

    For tomorrow: It's a busy day, so just read some more.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, May 15, 2008
    For whatever reason, I have not been able to get my blog to publish properly this evening, so while I am writing this late Wednesday evening, I have no idea whether or not it will appear anytime soon. It's frustrating because I actually have quite a bit to say and the excitement of instant publication has been replaced by a deflated sort of resignation.

    At any rate, I began reading Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year this evening. I bought the book back in the fall, when it had only been released in parts of Europe and South Africa (that's the cover in the upper left-hand corner), paying the extra money to import the novel before it hit U.S. shelves (the American cover is further down on this page). My intention, of course, was to read the novel as soon as I could, seeing if it would fit into what was then supposed to be a dissertation chapter on Coetzee's fiction I'd planned to write between semesters. I'd hoped to write a solid fifty pages or so on the author's fiction since 1990, in an attempt to flesh out and expand the brief essay I'd written on Disgrace a few years ago. Then I was going to move on to Philip Roth or Joseph Heller.

    Now, after somehow stretching what I'd intended to be five or ten pages on Age of Iron into a full chapter in its own right, I find myself looking at Diary of a Bad Year, wondering if it will yield a full chapter, too.

    Strange how things change.

    I just wish I'd have known then that I would be spending the next six months reading all of Coetzee's other novels so that I wouldn't have spent the extra cash to import the book. Mais, c'est la vie, n'est-ce pas?

    So, anyway, getting to the book. Diary of a Bad Year is not a normal-looking novel. In fact, it's the sort of novel whose structure Alain Robbe-Grillet would have been defending had it been published a half-century earlier. Indeed, Diary of a Bad Year forces the reader to contemplate what he or she believes about what makes a novel a novel. Each page of Coetzee's text presents multiple sub-texts, each separated by a thin black line. The topmost passage, invariably, comes from a series of essays that the fictional author ostensibly writing the novel intends to publish as part of an anthology titled Strong Opinions. The second and third passages, taken from the diaries of the fictional author and his secretary, form a metafictional narrative of the events surrounding the preparation of the manuscript, especially the interactions between the author and his newly-hired typist.

    Of course, the question of how to read the novel has already generated some buzz in the blogosphere and in more mainstream reviews. Does one, for instance, simply read each page from left to right and top to bottom, as is customary? Or do we read each section individually, following one narrative from beginning to end before flipping back to page one and starting with the next narrative? Do we read each essay and the accompanying diary entries as separate sections? Does it matter?

    I, for one, have decided to read this untraditional novel in the most traditional of ways. I will start at the first page, read it from top to bottom, then turn it over and repeat the process until I have finished the book. My reasoning is this: if Coetzee really, really wanted up to read each section separately, wouldn't he have written the novel in such a way as to make that the logical choice? You know, by placing each section one after the other like Fowles did in The Collector, by placing Ferdinand's journal before and after Miranda's...

    We'll see how it turns out.

    In naming the fictional book of essays Strong Opinions, Coetzee makes a clear reference to Vladimir Nabokov, whose assorted essays, interviews, and other bits of non-fiction were collected in a volume with the same title and, like the Russian-American master's Pale Fire, Diary of a Bad Year seems poised to question the nature of textuality and authority. This is, of course, familiar terrain for Coetzee, who has long placed the act of writing under a microscope, scrutinizing the boundaries between author and fiction in nearly all of his work. In Dusklands, for instance, both "The Vietnam Project" and "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee" feature characters with the author's last name, a Kafkaesque trick (Joseph K., anyone?) he reprises in Diary of a Bad Year by bestowing both his own last name as well as elements of his own biography to the fictional author. In both Foe and The Master of Petersburg, Coetzee fictionalizes actual novelists and spins new tales from Robinson Crusoe and The Possessed, respectively. In his memoirs, Coetzee writes about himself in the third person. Elizabeth Costello has served as his mouthpiece in The Lives of Animals and Elizabeth Costello, penning essays that could easily have appeared in Strong Opinions (not to mention problematizing things by appearing in Slow Man and suggesting the possibility that she, not Coetzee, writes the novel). I'm sure critics and scholars will be as eager to revisit these texts after reading Diary of a Bad Year as I am.

    But it's late, and I still can't get this thing to publish. So I will call it a night.

    For tomorrow: Read some more of Diary of a Bad Year and/or write a bit more on The Master of Petersburg.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, May 14, 2008
    I've had an oddly productive few days here. In just this past week, I've finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Chuck Palahniuk's Diary, Coetzee's Foe, and a good, long chunk of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. Oh, and I wrote another bit today, so I'm in surprisingly good shape.

    Strange how a few days off can change one's life for the better...

    For tomorrow: Either write a bit more about The Master of Petersburg or read what little Coetzee I haven't yet read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, May 13, 2008
    I managed to get some writing done this afternoon, which was nice. As I'd suspected, the anxiety I'd been wrestling with lately vanished as soon as classes ended and my schedule opened up. Still, I'm tired of this chapter and cannot wait to wrap it up, even though I fear it won't be accepted in its current incarnation.

    Ugh.

    But it's late and I am heading to bed, so all I will say is that I'd like to finish Foe tomorrow. I'm not sure I'm in the mood to write two days in a row, so I'll make writing optional.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, May 11, 2008
    I had a feeling yesterday that I woudn't get any writing done today. I've been tired lately and I figured that I would be lacking the energy to produce anything worth reading. And, I'm sure, there's a bit of the "it's the end of the semester and I don't have to cram writing into my itty-bitty periods of free time" feeling, too.

    So I spent a few too many hours sleeping this afternoon (oh, but it was divine) and continued reading in Foe for the remainder of the day. I also spent some time listening to the audiobook of Cormac McCarthy's excellent The Road, which I will likely be featuring in one of my classes next semester.

    So, it was a good, lazy Sunday for me. Finally.

    For tomorrow: Read the rest of Foe and/or write a bit more on The Master of Petersburg

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    ____________________________________________
    Well, I've already written a long post for the day, so this one will be little more than an addendum.

    For tomorrow: Read some more of Foe and/or get some writing done.

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    Saturday, May 10, 2008
    One of the best professors I have ever had once asked me if I wanted to become a professor because I never really wanted to leave college behind. My answer, of course, was Yes. Yes, that's precisely it. I loved living among and learning aside bright, inquisitive people and I cherished the many wonderful intellectual exchanges I'd had as an undergraduate. And, yes, I said, the possibility of experiencing that sort of exchange, that beautiful sharing of minds, for my career, that was what motivated me to attend grad school. Of course, cynicism crept into my perspective as I found myself driving deeper and deeper into my studies. The publish or perish mentality, the university politics I saw swirling around me, the realization that many students are not in college to learn for the sake of learning, the economic realities of the profession: they all contributed to a less idealistic impression of what higher education is (which, I have learned, must be distinguished from what it could be). Still, beneath the dissatisfaction, under the layers of scar tissue caused by comments such as "reading is stupid" or "I don't ever really finish homework," I always looked forward to the exchanges I knew were possible.

    One thing that I have learned is that some classes are just better than others. Sometimes you get a group of students that really click, that work together like a well-oiled engine. Other times, it feels you've got jalopy chugging along, about to sputter out and die. Inevitably, you wonder "have I lost it?" and "what did I do wrong?" And, indeed, you will find several things every semester -- several shoulda-couldas -- that would have made things better had you thought to do things differently. Often, you'll have one "good" class and one "bad" class the same term, even though the material each class is identical, and you'll wonder why, just why, your strategies work for one but not the other. Of course, classes are like any other randomized group of people. Some folks get along well with others; some people don't. Some students appreciate a particular teaching style; others do not benefit from it. Some people are quiet, others talkative; some diligent, others lazy. The binarism goes on ad infinitum: smart/not so smart, open-minded/closed-minded, nurturing/self-centered. And you never know how the mix of people is going to end up.

    Once in a while, you have an exceptional class. You know, one that either blows your mind or makes you shake your head. More often than not, early morning classes tend to be quieter, a bit more reserved, noticeably groggier and later classes tend to be more active, occasionally hyperactive -- so the time slot factors into forming the classroom dynamic. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of my "best" classes have been mid-day courses full of well-rested but not restless people.

    This semester, though, was an odd one for me. Many of my colleagues have mentioned that, for whatever reason(s), students this term have been markedly worse than in previous years. Fewer students turned in homework, more people withdrew from classes, attendance has been poor, and grades have been quite low. Furthermore, several of my students have mentioned that something "just didn't feel right" about this term. And, I have to admit, I felt a bit dismayed at times, too. There were days where I'd have prepared discussion questions only to find out that most of the class hadn't done their reading assignment. Some of the trouble, of course, stemmed from the fact that my classes were early in the morning -- which, given that so many of my students are commuters, often meant that they'd barely slept the night before. Another factor is that I taught at a community college this term where, prior to even meeting my classes, I was told that the percentage of students withdrawing from a given course would be quite high. In other words, students would drop out one-by-one until only a handful of the hardiest would remain. One of my colleagues went from twenty students in January to three at term's end. You could almost see the tumbleweed. And you could definitely see the pain it wreaked on her; it was not her fault but, as an educator, every lost student can feel like a personal failure -- or worse, a betrayal, an unfulfilled promise to enlighten, inspire, and improve.

    I was lucky because I did not lose as many people as some of my colleagues. I did, however, struggle some days to engage groggy classes, to coax discussion out of students who simply hadn't read the assignment. Still, each of my classes had some wonderful students, eager to learn and succeed, and they made the rougher patches that much easier to weather.

    The one truly bright spot in my week, however, was my Saturday class, a six-hour intensive writing class, populated by mostly older students. This class was wonderful. Every week, we'd have a lively discussion of our reading. The students' writing improved over the course of the semester, the pupils shaking themselves free of grammatical errors and the passive voice. It was a beautiful thing.

    The most beautiful thing, though, was the way the class worked together. No one was excluded from our discussions and many were willing to provide support to a classmate academically and, in several extremely touching cases, emotionally. I found that discussions never lagged and that I became a better teacher as a result. My students inspired me. Their eagerness to learn ignited my eagerness to teach, to share the literature and ideas I love.

    And I learned a hell of a lot. I've always felt that the best approach for a teacher of literature to have towards the discussions he or she leads is to share what he or she knows while being open to new ideas, especially those that challenge his or her previous beliefs. And, boy, I felt like a student again. Every Saturday, when I returned home from class, I felt enriched. I felt myself learning and it was wonderful.

    Today, on the last day of class, with a reading assignment due and no test looming to make certain everyone read, we had an amazing discussion of Emily Dickenson and The Seventh Seal, making all sorts of connections I never would have thought possible. I leave this class a better person than when I started it with a fuller appreciation of the many (largely existential) texts we covered and a genuine love of teaching renewed, refreshed, and rekindled by this inspiring group of people. When we said our goodbyes, I received the sort of Thank Yous any teacher would be ecstatic to receive, I saw books I'd recommended tucked into bookbags and wedged between arms and torsos, and I watched some of the best teachers I've ever had walk out of the room. And for a moment, I wanted to cry with gratitude.

    For all those rough days ahead: remember, Erik, this is why you're working on a dissertation: for the privilege, the honor, and the pleasure of the exchange of ideas, the expanding of minds and souls, and the forging of friendships.

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    This'll have to be a really short entry because I've stayed up much later than I should have. So, yeah, I procrastinated quite a bit today, but I did get my reading done. So there!

    For tomorrow: Read some more of Foe.

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    Thursday, May 8, 2008
    Okay, so I wrote about the anxiety I have been feeling more intensely the deeper into the writing process I get with this chapter. It got really bad today. I mean really bad. Normally, when I feel anxious, I have a heightened sense of nervousness, but nothing more difficult to deal with than that. Today, though, my nervousness had a bit of panic-y agitation added into the mix, which was quite unpleasant. Now, I have several friends with anxiety disorders, many of whom suffer from panic attacks, so I know a bit about what to look for and, fortunately, this wasn't one of those. I mean, I felt my heart beating a bit more rapidly than normal, but that was about the extent of any physiological symptoms. So, I was lucky in that respect, I suppose. At any rate, I managed to finish what I was writing and took the evening off to relax, using the time to finish listening to the end of Chuck Palahniuk's Diary on audiobook.

    Still, it's irritating to find oneself really, really anxious, even when the reasons for the sensation are plain. All I can say, though, is that virtually everyone I have spoken to in academia have had similarly unpleasant experiences while working on a manuscript or preparing for a comprehensive examination, which is nice to know. At any rate, my approach to instances like this one is to focus on the task at hand, force myself to finish working without giving into the stress. That way, I reason, I can show myself that I can work through such times in case I encounter another bout of dissertation anxiety.

    So, yeah. I wrote some more.

    For tomorrow: Read some more of Foe and grade papers.

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    I think I may have figured out why I have been having such a difficult time writing. Here's my theory:

    1. Since I have not had two days off in a row since March, I have gotten into the habit of writing on my single off days.

    2. I like to sleep in on my writing days to ensure that I will be alert enough to write effectively.

    3. By starting later, I feel pressured to finish writing early enough to be certain that I will get enough sleep for my early morning class the next day.

    4. The anxiety to finish what I set out to write by a reasonable hour makes starting that much harder.

    5. By the time I finish writing, generally, it is late and I feel like I haven't had a day off.

    6. I get cranky and, consequently, associate that crankiness with writing.

    7. So I take my teaching days off to unwind.

    Repeat.

    I do suspect that if I write in the evenings after work, as I have occasionally done, I will not feel as much pressure because "there's always tomorrow to finish up/fix shit." And, once done writing, I can stay up late knowing that I can sleep in the next day.

    And I almost did that today.

    Almost.

    Instead, I kept reading Foe, which has been an awesome experience. It is fast becoming one of my favorite Coetzee novels.

    For tomorrow: Dissertate.

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    Wednesday, May 7, 2008
    It seems that the deeper I get into the chapter I'm writing on The Master of Petersburg, the longer it takes me to get started each time I sit down to work on it. I'm sure part of my problem is related to the standard end-of-the-semester crunch and I am equally certain that I'm just plain tired of writing about this novel. I'd say that one of the worst parts of the dissertation-writing process for me is the fact that, while writing a given section, I have no idea whether or not what I am writing will be deemed "good' by the people who ultimately decide whether or not to award the doctorate. The further I get into the chapter, the greater the amount of writing that can be picked apart and rejected. And that's not always easy to deal with, especially since I am not particularly fond of what I have produced thus far on The Master of Petersburg.

    There have been times when I have felt some satisfaction, have sensed that the day's work was pretty solid but, as is much more often the case, I tend to feel as if I have not done a good enough job, that my work is a sprawling mess, that I have veered off topic. And the weight of those doubts tend to get heavier over time.

    Oh, well. Que sera, sera, I suppose.

    So, after sitting around for several hours, I did get some writing done, hitting the thirty page mark for the chapter, though that may very well mean nothing if I have to rework much of it. Still, there is some satisfaction in round numbers.

    I also read some more of Foe, which I continue to enjoy a great deal.

    For Tomorrow: Read some more of Foe.

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    Tuesday, May 6, 2008
    There's not much to report on this evening. I did begin reading Foe tonight and I will probably read a bit more of the novel before calling it a night. So far, Foe seems like it is going to be a pretty good read. I find the book has engaged my interest from the get-go, so I have a good feeling about this one, even though I can't imagine how one could successfully follow up a novel as great as Life & Times of Michael K.

    Otherwise, while I have been reading up on the critical writing inspired by Disgrace, I have decided to put that venture on hold while I finish the home stretch of this semester and work on wrapping up the chapter on The Master of Petersburg. My reading assignments for the next little while, then, will be in Foe.

    For tomorrow: Dissertate. Read Foe, if I find the time.

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    Monday, May 5, 2008
    I'm glad I've got this Sunday behind me. It was one of those days where I wake up, realize that I don't really want to write, go back to sleep, wake up, realize that I don't really want to write, go back to sleep . . . you get the picture.

    Once I did get myself up and out of bed, though, I managed to sit myself down in front of the computer, open up all the word processing files I'd need to refer to, and stare at the screen, groaning to myself about how I didn't wanna write. Then I got some food, saw what a nice day it was to walk outside, went back inside, ate, found that I still couldn't get writing, played with my cat, sat back down, put my head on my folded arms, groaned some more, sat up, and started surfing the internet.

    That is to say I did not get started writing until much later than I had hoped.

    But I did get a good chunk of writing done. I still don't like what I've been writing, finding fault everywhere, but I pushed through the vexation, forced myself to finish the train of thought before quitting for the night, and found the idea of visiting a Wal*Mart really, really late really, really enticing.

    Seriously, though, today was one of the rougher days I've had.

    I'm glad it's over. Not in the sense that I particularly enjoy being a day closer to death, but I think you probably get my meaning.

    For tomorrow: Read an article on Disgrace or, as will more than likely be the case, start reading Foe.

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    Saturday, May 3, 2008
    Not too long ago, a friend of mine in our university's Philosophy department mentioned that many of his peers dislike the ways in which literary scholars appropriate philosophical writing when discussing novels, plays, and poetry. Those of us engaged in literary study -- especially, he says, those folks in Comparative Literature -- have a reputation for avoiding the clarity of language with which most philosophy scholars seek to present their ideas.

    So, when I began reading Paul Patton's Deleuzean "Becoming-Animal and Pure Life in Coetzee's Disgrace," I expected to find myself bombarded with the sort of poststructuralist language my friend accuses my fellow literary scholars of using to render clear ideas opaque.

    This was not the case.

    Patton's essay is a remarkably clear reading of Coetzee's novel through the lens of Gilles Deleuze's vitalist philosophy. Through the process of becoming-animal, Patton argues, David Lurie comes to a greater understanding of who he is, what his place is in the world, and how he can achieve a greater sense of peace in life despite the inevitability of his own mortality.

    So, I thought, my friend is wrong! Here's a wonderful example of a literary scholar writing with the precise sort of prose he'd accused us of lacking! Yay for our team, right?

    Nope.

    As it turns out, Paul Patton is a Philosophy professor at the University of New South Wales.

    D'oh.

    At any rate, when I published an essay on Disgrace several years ago, I, too, read the novel as a portrait of David Lurie's existential maturation, though I took a decidedly different route to arrive at the same conclusions. What I really like about this essay, though, is that Patton links readings of Disgrace consistent with my own to the many readings of the novel focusing on Coetzee's treatment of animals in a way that illuminates both interpretations. Were I teaching the novel, this essay would be on my syllabus.

    For tomorrow: Dissertate.

    Work Cited

    Patton, Paul. "Becoming-Animal and Pure Life in Coetzee's Disgrace." ARIEL 35:1-2 (2006): 101-119.

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    Well, it's been a long night largely spent grading papers, so I'm hardly in the mood to write much (what with the yawning an all). See, even that first sentence sucks!

    At any rate, I wish I was in the mood to write more because, having finished Life and Times of Michael K, I have quite a bit I'd like to say about what I now consider to be one of Coetzee's three best novels.

    But, alas, I have to get up in, like, 5 1/2 hours...

    For tomorrow: Read an article on Disgrace.

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    Thursday, May 1, 2008
    This will have to be another very short entry. Not that there's all that much to report on, but still...

    At any rate, I got a little writing done this afternoon, which was nice. I'm still not 100% confident about the quality of what I have written so far, but those people who have read what I have produced seem to feel I am giving myself a hard time. So I will try to believe that.

    For tomorrow: Grade papers and finish Life & Times of Michael K.

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    ____________________________________________
    I don't have much to say about today other than that I read a bit more of Life & Times of Michael K and continue to love the book. If anything, it is probably Coetzee's most "positive" novel, though that term may still be misleading. This is one of those books I can't wait to finish; it's also one of those books that I enjoy so much that I do not want to finish it.

    For tomorrow: Dissertate.

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