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    Sobriquet 43.31

    Monday, June 30, 2008
    The article I read today, Mike Marais's "The Possibility of Ethical Action: JM Coetzee's Disgrace," only superficially addresses the Booker Prize-winning novel. Despite its title and Marais's lament that "[w]hile the novel has been widely discussed, nothing much has been said about it," the essay is more of a theoretical treatise on the other than an analysis of Coetzee's novel. Still, since Marais is an important Coetzee scholar and the author of many texts central to the critical discussion surrounding his fiction, researchers may find this brief essay to be a useful supplementary reading when approaching the ever-expanding body of Coetzee criticism.

    For tomorrow: read another essay.

    Work Cited

    Marais, Mike. "The Possibility of Ethical Action: J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." scrutiny2 5.1 (2000): 57-63.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, June 29, 2008
    One of the more rewarding aspects of this dissertation, for me, has been learning a decent amount about South Africa and that nation's social and political history. As I have mentioned before, I had not initially planned on writing a dissertation specifically on J. M. Coetzee. In fact, I had assumed he would not be the subject of much more than a fifth of the project. Not surprisingly, then, my interest in the author had little do do with his status as a South African writer. As the focus of my dissertation has narrowed into a single author study, however, I have had to read quite a bit of material related to a place and an epoch to which I hadn't paid as much attention as I have to those a bit closer to home. And this has been surprisingly fulfilling. I have always had a predilection for Scandinavian history and culture and have more than a passing interest in the sociological aspects of circumpolar studies, so shifting my attention to a country like South Africa has certainly been a wholly new as well as enlightening and enriching experience.

    Of course, as a literature graduate student, I have spent a significant amount of time reading postcolonial literature and theory and I have even pursued those studies beyond the confines of the classroom in my own leisure reading, so I am well acquainted with much of the critical and philosophical language one finds in the criticism surrounding J. M. Coetzee's fiction. Words like alterity, the other, and liminality (and the concepts they signify) have long been part of my academic vocabulary, but this project has given my understanding a much more nuanced texture, which I appreciate.

    Of the central concerns of postcolonial studies, not surprisingly, is the concept of the border, the subject of the essay I read yesterday afternoon. As Grant Farred asserts, "the border [is] the meeting of difference," the site of hybridity and conflict, a physical or metaphysical plain in which the familiar mingles with the foreign (16). Farred, like several other commentators, views Disgrace as a novel problematically situated "on the historical frontier" of the Eastern Cape, the "site where race, racism and race relations are most deeply embedded, most resistant to being reconstructed" (17). The "psycholandscape" that comes into being in such a historically-contested region (the indigenous population, Afrikaner Trekkers, and British colonists have a long history of bloody conflict in the area) is one in which "change - the dominant rhetoric in post-apartheid South Africa - comes last, not first" (17). It is here that David Lurie, arguably an embodiment of pre-apartheid white privilege, comes into direct conflict with the cultural and social reconfigurations of the "new South Africa," as embodied by the increasingly powerful figure of Petrus. Of course, Lucy, David's daughter, also figures prominently in Farred's essay. Consistent with the negative (which should not be confused with "poor") reading of the novel that he articulates elsewhere, Farred argues that "Disgrace transforms the frontier into a site that is even more disturbing because it functions not through confrontation but complicity . . . the novel leaves the women with no option but to exchange the violation of their bodies for a minimal safety," a particularly dismal version of "post-apartheid white acquiescence" (18):
    At the borderlines, at the fringes of the new society, subjects rely not on new inscriptions for and of the land, but on older forms of exchange: the tacit compact: violence is endured, vague safety is expected. Life at the border works not because of the regognition that the language of both liberation and reconciliation has failed. Historical changes can be absorbed and transformed into new racial codes, new forms of enfranchisements, reinstating older forms of violence. (19)
    Though his reading is decidedly bleaker than most, Farred's analysis of Disgrace is consistently intelligent and thought-provoking and, for readers interested in understanding why so many South Africans found Coetzee's version of the Rainbow Nation so difficult to swallow, an extremely useful resource.

    I also read an interesting review of Andre Brink's The Rights of Desire in the Norwegian journal Vinduet. I don't know if Norwegian literary criticism is inherently clearer than its anglophone counterpart, but despite it being written in my second language, Kristen Skare Orgeret's essay is an extremely lucid example of literary criticism. Although Orgeret focuses on Brink's novel, she devotes a significant amount of attention to Coetzee's novel (from which Brink draws the title for his book). Although her reading of Disgrace is not quite as bleak as Farred's, Orgeret does view the novel as an extremely dark portrait of contemporary South African society. She does, however, conclude that "[s]elv om baade Vanaere og Attraaens rett er moerke, brutale og paa mange maaater pessimiske fremstillinger av regnbuenatsjonen som gikk tapt, handler de ogsaa om haap og om muligheten ti aa leve ansvarlig med andre," echoing the sentiments of many anglophone critics. Of her many insightful comments on both novelists, readers interested in a comparative reading of the two books may find Orgeret's assertion that while Brink's Ruben Olivier represents the Afrikaner's position in the new South Africa, David Lurie embodies the British-descended part of South African society to be most valuable. There is, however, much more to be found in the essay (for those readers who can read Norwegian, at least).

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Work Cited

    Farred, Grant. "Back to the Borderlines: Thinking Race Disgracefully." scrutiny2 7.1 (2002): 16-19.

    Orgeret, Kristin Skare. "Der Smaafugl skjelver." Vinduet 18 March 2002. Available online.

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    ____________________________________________
    Since it's almost two in the morning, I'll keep this post short. I had an extremely productive day, though. Having finished the essay I set out for myself rather early in the afternoon, I managed to prepare for the next week's teaching and wash clothes before spending seven hours with friends. Of course, I find, it's much easier to get through critical readings when I know that I will have something nice to do later in the day. It sorta gives me a reason to work diligently...

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, June 27, 2008
    One of the more difficult aspects of the dissertation-writing process, for me, has been ensuring that I have read virtually everything on Coetzee. Every time I finish photocopying and ordering articles, it seems, I come across a reference to another, even-harder-to-find essay that I must then attempt to locate. More often than not, the source of the article I cannot find is a South African publication ('cuz, you know, I'm writing about one of that nation's most famous authors), which makes it considerably more difficult to obtain in the States than, say, a Canadian magazine. If anything, the process has taught me that supporting freely-assessable web-based e-journals should figure high on the list of the Academy's priorities. There's so much information out there and we have the means to distribute it efficiently and cost-effectively. . .let's do it!

    Anyway, I read Carrol Clarkson's "'Done because we are too menny': Ethics and Identity in J M Coetzee's Disgrace" this evening. Focusing largely on the ethical implications of Darwinian theory, Clarkson uses Coetzee's allusions to Hardy's Jude the Obscure to enter into a discussion of human ephemerality in Disgrace. Ultimately, Clarkson argues, Coetzee presents his reader with a document that emphasizes "the transtemporality of the individual life as a carrier of something larger than" one's own existence (87). Also, in a completely unrelated note, Clarkson pens what may be the single greatest bit of prose I have ever seen in a piece of literary criticism, especially when taken out of context:
    Humankind shares 40% of its genes with the banana. This may surprise you, but I would hazard a guess that the staggering ontological fact in itself does little to appease your general sense of miserable alienation, let alone your more profound European Angst... (84)
    Overall, Clarkson's essay is a solid study of the role of animals in Coetzee's novel as agents of humility, their very existence forcing humanity to reconsider its assumptions about the value of individual existence.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Work Cited

    Clarkson, Carrol. "'Done because we are too menny': Ethics and Identity in J M Coetzee's Disgrace" Current Writing 15.2 (2003): 77-90.

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    ____________________________________________
    I've given myself a bit of a break these past two days. I have continued reading essays on Disgrace as I had planned, but the two most recent articles have been book reviews. I did, however, get quite a bit of time-consuming e-library work done this afternoon, so I may be misrepresenting how much effort I have put into things a bit.

    At any rate, the one full-length article I read (on Tuesday) was Kai Easton's "J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace: Reading Race/Reading Scandel," an extremely interesting look at the ways in which the South African public received Coetzee's novel upon its publication in 1999. As part of a collection of essays dealing with "scandalous fictions," Easton's study discusses how Disgrace offended a great many South Africans with its bleak depiction of black-on-white violence in the immediate aftermath of Apartheid. Considering the responses of Coetzee's colleagues in academia and among the South African literati in addition to the ANC's use of the novel to demonstrate lingering racial tensions in the country, Easton provides an intelligent survey of the most negative emotional and political interpretations of the book. Interestingly, Easton suggests that Coetzee may have deliberately crafted his novel in such a way as to encourage and even solicit such harsh criticism in an effort to ask readers "Can we read beyond race?" (200).

    Of the two review essays I read, I enjoyed Andrew O'Hehir's article for Salon the most. Although it does not make any startlingly novel observations, O'Hehir's review covers virtually all of the themes that would come to dominate the critical discussion of the novel in the decade following its publication. In fact, it may well serve as an ideal introduction to a collection of criticism centered around the novel. The second review I read, Adam Mars-Jones's "Lesbians are like that because they're fat" also makes some very good observations, though the title is misleadingly salacious and draws the reader's attention away from an article that has next-to-nothing to do with lesbian women. Mars-Jones's most important contribution to the larger critical discussion of Disgrace, in my opinion, is his reading of the novel as:
    simultaneously a story of redemption and of collapse, just as a famous optical illusion is simultaneously a duck and a rabbit, but can only be seen at any one moment as one or the other. The reading mind responds to the possibilities in disconcerting alternation.
    In other words, Mars-Jones suggests that Disgrace tells two stories "built from the same set of materials" -- namely, David Lurie's evolution from the selfish, proud, anachronistic Romantic he is at the novel's outset to the humble manual laborer content to tend to dying dogs at the book's conclusion and a disparaging portrait of racial relations in the 'new South Africa" -- that one must focus on individually in order to fully appreciate.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Works Cited

    Easton, Kai. "J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace: Reading Race/Reading Scandal." Scandalous Fictions: The Twentieth-Century Novel in the Public Sphere. Eds. Jago Morrison and Susan Watkins. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan (2006): 187-205.

    Mars-Jones, Adam. "Lesbians Are Like That Because They're Fat." The Observer 18 July 1999. 26 June 2008.

    O'Hehir, Andrew. Rev. of Disgrace, by J . M. Coetzee. Salon.com. 5 Nov. 1999. 6 June 2008.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, June 25, 2008
    Since I just finished a twenty-three mile loop on my bike, I'm feeling a bit tired and don't really have the energy to write much tonight. I did, however, keep up with my reading, which I will discuss at greater length tomorrow when, presumably, I will be so sore and immobile that I will have plenty of time to sit in front of the computer.

    For tomorrow: Read another article or begin reading Youth.

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    ____________________________________________
    Since it is getting quite late and I need to wake up fairly early tomorrow (and by "tomorrow," of course, I mean "today, after I have slept") morning, I will keep this post brief. I can say that today has been a productive day, though, and that my meeting with my dissertation advisor was very pleasant and encouraging. I will write more soon, when I am not as groggy.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, June 23, 2008
    When I first decided to write an essay on Disgrace several years ago, I found that the bulk of the published criticism focusing on the novel (at least those articles I encountered) dealt in some way with Coetzee's conception(s) of (dis)grace. Now, I find, much of the critical discussion tends to take up one of two principal concerns, either the novel's reflection upon the Truth and Reconciliation Commission or Coetzee's treatment of animals -- especially in light of the assertions presented in the Tanner Lectures delivered by the author at Princeton University and subsequently published as The Lives of Animals and the eponymous chapters of Elizabeth Costello. Onno Oerlemans's "A Defense of Anthropomorphism: Comparing Coetzee and Gowdy" is a particularly strong example of the latter strain of critical concern. In it, Oerlemans examines Coetzee's careful treatment of the alterity of non-human presences in Disgrace, focusing, as many of his fellow commentators have done, on the oft-cited concluding scene of the novel in which David Lurie consigns Driepoot, the crippled dog with whom he has forged a tenuous bond, to Bev Shaw's needle. The ambiguous ending of the novel, Oerlemans concludes, while apparently "calculated to shock readers out of a sense that Lurie might finally" achieve some semblance of the elusive and ill-defined "grace" he has somehow lost, "it is thematically consonant with the rest of the novel's depiction of animals" (188). "The shock of emotion" the concluding scene elicits from the reader, Oerlemans continues, "forces us to acknowledge the reality of animal being," indicating that "Lurie's moral progress in the novel is not marked by his failed chance to save the animal" but by his newfound ability to focus his love on the doomed canine as it dies (188-189).

    Still, Oerelmans maintains, Coetzee refuses to fully anthropomorphize the dogs, emphasizing the ultimate alterity of the animal-as-other as well as highlighting the undeniable physical presence of non-human existence. Animals, then, remind readers "of the problem of representation itself," a theme of central importance to Coetzee's entire ouevre (189). Thus, like many behaviorist ethologists, Coetzee strives to represent "the unbridgeable nature of the divide between human and non-human sentience," refusing to appropriate the subjectivity of the non-human other by endowing animals with human characteristics (185). In the end, we may glimpse some of the animality within ourselves and we may sense a very real individuality in the non-human other, but these realizations remain, necessarily, vague, enigmatic, and inscrutable. In other words, it's a delightfully existential understanding that we can never fully know an/other and that we can never properly depict the other's complete reality.

    For tomorrow: Read another article and/or do some library work.

    Work Cited

    Oerlemans, Onno. "A Defense of Anthropomorphism: Comparing Coetzee and Gowdy." Mosaic 40.1 (2007): 181-196.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, June 22, 2008
    About half an hour ago, a friend of mine lamented that she has been suffering from a bout of writer's block and -- BAM! -- it hit me. I have been suffering from reader's block. That's why it has been taking me so long to get through some of the criticism I have been reading. Once the flashbulb went off in my mind (I should emphasize that the flashbulb in question is metaphorical; I am not, as far as I can tell, some sort of Philip K. Dick/Ridley Scott replicant), I felt a tiny bit better. Once in a while, I find, it's nice to label something, compartmentalize it, and make it manageable. So there, reader's block! I stick my tongue at thee!

    Anyway, once I stomped the reader's block into submission, I finished reading the introductory essay Derek Attridge penned for the special issue of interventions devoted to Disgrace. As always, Attridge synthesizes an extremely large amount of material (in this case, the rapidly-expanding critical discussion of Coetzee's 1999 novel) into an extremely readable and thoughtful essay. For anyone interested in a quick introduction to the various strains of scholarly debate surrounding Disgrace, Attridge's essay is a wonderful place to start. One of the more pleasing aspects of Attridge's essay, too, is his staunch support for reading Coetzee's novel as literature rather than "historical reportage, political prescription, or allegorical scheme," defending literature as "a challenge to other discourses, including the discourse of politics, which so often attempts to close it down" and as a text that "disturbs. . .any simple faith in the political efficacy of literature - a faith upon which some styles of postcolonial criticism are built" (319-320).

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Work Cited

    Attridge, Derek. "J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace: Introduction." interventions 4.3 (2002): 315-320.

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    ____________________________________________
    I read Rebecca Saunders's "Disgrace in the Time of a Truth Commission" this evening. Although I have come across scads of essays connecting Disgrace to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Saunders's is among the best that I have seen. She makes a thoroughly convincing case for reading Coetzee's novel as "structured around a series of disturbing interrogations" that essentially interrogate interrogation:
    These scenes of interrogation, I wish to argue, not only interrogate each other, but engage a number of urgent ethical problems opened up by teh TRC, at the core of which lie a series of significant tensions between the 'visceral' and 'reason'. Both Disgrace and the TRC question, that is, whether the visceral (conceived as the emotional, instinctive and deeply embodied) can be reasonable, or is in necessaryopposition to reason; or whether reason, and the justice and truth that derive from it, are by nature eviscerated, whether they inevitably translate the visceral into abstract value, disembodied meaning or immaterial recovery. (99)
    For instance, drawing upon Nietzsche's observations on the almost economic nature of justice, Saunders argues that "Lurie's position [during his disciplinary hearing] insists that justice is a matter of calculable adequation, of indemnity and exchange" (100). Of course, Farodia Rassool and the committee members are not satisfied with David's admission of guilt; they want to see that he is sorry. This is where Saunders's essay gets really interesting. She locates the schism between the reasonable functionality of an organized judiciary body (like the university committee or the TRC) and the visceral, emotive, and even irrational needs and desires of the people involved within such a body. The essay, like Coetzee's novel, raises more questions than it answers: what role, if any, must outward performance play in reconciliation?; if one admits to guilt, must he or she also be genuinely sorry for the wrongdoing or is it sufficient to "pay" a judicial penalty?; how can the law measure something like sincerity?; is it reasonable to expect a guilty party to transform into a different type of person as part of reconciliation?; will the victim of wrongdoing accept any punishment?; is reconciliation even possible? And on and on. Ultimately, Saunders concludes, Disgrace "leaves us with a messy nettle-strewn bed on which the social conscience is destined to find little rest" (105). And this, I imagine, is Coetzee's point: there are no easy answers; we should toss and turn on questions like these.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Work Cited

    Saunders, Rebecca. "Disgrace in the Time of a Truth Commission." Parallax 11.3 (2005): 99-106.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, June 21, 2008
    I struggled to get any reading done today. I mean, I really struggled. Anything and everything seemed more interesting to me and, no matter what I did or where I went, I could not get myself to focus. This may, of course, be the result of knowing that I have to get through literally thousands of pages of criticism on Disgrace -- a daunting task, to say the least. Whatever the reason, though, I had the attention span of a gnat for much of the day and, eventually, after I abandoned two longer essays, I managed to read Anne Longmuir's extremely brief "Coetzee's Disgrace." Basically, Longmuir reviews the negative criticism of Disgrace and, using the text-based analysis that is the staple of The Explicator, refutes some of the harsher assessments of the novel by suggesting "Coetzee carefully undercuts and undermines" the possibly racist nature of David Lurie's narrative (119).

    In addition to Longmuir's discussion of Disgrace, I read several other essays over the past few days. Ute Kauer's "Nation and Gender: Female Identity in Contemporary South African Writing" touches upon Disgrace in a larger discussion of South African fiction. Although Kauer's reading of Disgrace is relatively brief, she makes several interesting observations about Lucy Lurie's pragmatic approach to life in the aftermath of the rape at the center of the novel. Colleen M. Sheils's "Opera, Byron, and a South African Psyche in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace" is one of the more overtly psychoanalytic readings of the novel. Heavily indebted to Jacqueline Rose's States of Fantasy, Sheils's essay offers an interpretation of Disgrace in which the opera David Lurie attempts to write towards the end of the book reveals the former academic's tumultuous unconscious. Among other things, in her troubling (though plausible) reading of the composition, Sheils suggests that Lurie experiences a nostalgia for the benefits of Apartheid, a longing which manifests itself in the ex-professor's inability to resurrect Lord Byron through music. In the end, Lurie "chooses to be disengaged from the difficulties of life" and "condemns Byron to hell" (49). The opera's failure is also Lurie's failure; he simply will not adjust to the often difficult racial milieu of post-Apartheid society.

    Additionally, I read a pair of essays from the special issue of interventions devoted to Coetzee: Mark Sanders's "Disgrace" and Graham Pechey's "Coetzee's Purgatorial Africa." Sanders's essay is an interesting linguistic study of Coetzee's novel. Comparing Coetzee's critique of university "rationalization" and the syntactical quirks of David Lurie and Petrus with Njabulo Ndebele's socio-linguistic theories about the role of English as a tool of colonialism in Africa, Sanders suggests that Coetzee presents an unfinished linguistic state, capturing a moment of African history in which the English language is in a heightened state of flux, bridging the gap between a colonial then and the post-Apartheid future with a linguistically slippery now.

    Pechey's essay disappointed me somewhat. Having praised his "eminently readable prose" in a previous entry, I was a bit surprised by the long-windedness of this essay. Sharing some of Sanders's linguistic concern (but discussing several other issues as well), Pechey also focuses on an Africa in flux, a society that is no longer mired in the Hell of Apartheid but not yet the paradise of a racially-integrated and peaceful post-Apartheid state.

    I regret not having the time to discuss the essays any further since there is much more to each reading that the tiny bit that I have discussed here, but it is quite late and I must be getting to bed.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay

    Works Cited

    Kauer, Ute. "Nation and Gender: Female Identity in Contemporary South African Writing." Current Writing 15.2 (2003): 106-116.

    Longmuir, Anne. "Coetzee's Disgrace." The Explicator 65 (2007): 119-121.

    Pechey, Graham. "Coetzee's Purgatorial Africa: The Case of Disgrace." interventions 4.3 (2002): 374-383.

    Sanders, Mark. "Disgrace." interventions 4.3 (2002): 363-373.

    Sheils, Colleen M. "Opera, Byron, and a South African Psyche in J .M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Current Writing 15.1 (2003): 38-50.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, June 19, 2008
    All right. It's been a few days since I last wrote anything of substance. The big development, if one can regard the isolated toiling of an obscure academic as "big," has been the completion of the second chapter of my dissertation, the seemingly endless section on The Master of Petersburg that I put together between February and May. Although I finished writing the sprawling beast a couple of weeks ago (wow, has it really been that long?), I was not comfortable regarding it as finished until it met with the approbation of my supervisor. I'm funny that way, I suppose.

    The real problem, though, is one of faith. Although I use the term in a purely secular sense, I realize that faith inevitably invokes the spiritual. And this is not without good reason: faith, after all, requires us to discard empiricism and suspend our truth-seeking faculties in favor of paradoxically accepting something unverifiable as fact. That's the principle behind much of the world's religious belief: the individual senses or feels something to be true to the point of "knowing," but ultimately can't "prove" it. But, let's drop the quasi-spiritual for the moment.

    But by taking the whole seeing is believing thing, we see the problem: there is, quite obviously, a difference between believing that, as I write this, my right hand is attached to my right wrist (which I see) and believing that the sun will rise tomorrow (which I do not see). And yet, were I to say that I do not believe the sun will rise tomorrow, I would likely be regarded as something of a fool with an eschatological fixation. The ceaseless string of dawns spanning the millennia of recorded human history, of course, has made such statements essentially absurd. (But, seriously, try prove in the present what will occur in the future).

    In other words, we accept the extremely frequent as axiomatic or inevitable (how many people bet their bottom dollar on the 18-0 Patriots winning just one more?). And we do this in every facet of our existences. I mean, how do you really know your parents didn't kidnap you as an infant, forge a birth certificate, and feed you an elaborate story? We just believe it and take it for granted, right?

    That's sort of what this whole dissertation thing is like. I know that people have written dissertations in the past and I know that I have written literary criticism that is of the quality sought by academic journals and dissertation panels. The problem for someone like me is in the therefore that will link these tangible observations to an as-yet unrealized (and thus wholly unprovable) future scenario. I have to take it for granted that my hard work will, in the end, result in a doctorate. Like George Michael says, I gotta have faith in something as intangible as this:

    An individual

    A) Displays an ability to write literary criticism at the level deemed appropriate for successful doctoral work;

    B) Knows that others with a similar aptitude have written dissertations and received their PhDs;

    and

    C) Works hard and steadily.

    D) Therefore, he or she will be able to earn a PhD.

    The logic, though appealing, is flawed. Such a doctoral student will have to go on faith that A + B + C will equal D when, in truth, A + B + C has only been shown to frequently result in D. That's on the macro level. On the micro level, it's more like this: I know that I have written a solid chapter. Therefore, if I work as hard as I did on that chapter, I will write another solid chapter this time around.

    The root of the problem, of course, is that, while I am engaged in a discipline that teaches the virtues of doubt, skepticism, and adamantine refusal to accept the fundamentally unknowable, I am also encouraged to do precisely that towards which I am wholly disinclined.

    And then there's the waiting. I often feel like Vladimir or Estragon, patiently waiting for the unseen Godot. Were I a Tralfamadorian, this would not be an issue because I would see what comes after the now.

    Instead, I have to be like Little Orphan Annie: the sun'll come up tomorrow . . . (we'll not mention, for the moment, that I live in one of the cloudiest regions of the nation). At any rate, I've already bet my bottom dollar on it . . . (and that's on an adjunct's salary!)

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, June 18, 2008
    Since I hardly slept last night and I do not anticipate staying up much longer, I'll just post another very brief entry to acknowledge that I did read the article that I intended to go over today. Again, I fully intend to discuss the articles I've read these past few days in a future entry, but I am too tired at the moment to write much of substance.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, June 17, 2008
    I will write more later, but I want to to get to bed now. I will, however, acknowledge that, despite my horrible sleep schedule, I did get my reading done today.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

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    ____________________________________________
    Although it's only a few minutes to one, I'd like to try to get to bed at what might be called a reasonable hour, so I won't write much today. I did read an article (which I will discuss later) and I did manage to enjoy a few hours of daylight, so it has been a good day.

    And, to top it off: stunningly, my supervisor seems to like my chapter on The Master of Petersburg despite the fact that I had more than a few doubts about the quality of that Brobdinagian block of text. So, yeah. I'm, like, eighty pages into my dissertation now, which is nice. It sort of validates the past few months for me. I mean, sure, there's still loads more to be done, but it's considerably harder for me to shake a stick at eighty pages than, say, thirty. At any rate, if I accept that the "average" dissertation length is somewhere in the 250-300 page range, I'm somewhere between a quarter and one-third done with the raw text of mine. Now it's just a matter of reading a few thousand pages of criticism and I can start the next chapter...

    But now I need to get myself to bed.

    For tomorrow: Read another article or two.

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    Monday, June 16, 2008
    I'm still wrestling with my completely out-of-whack sleep schedule and, as a result, I tend to finish my reading much later than I would like. Still, I suppose, I have been getting things done. I just have this nagging feeling that I would get more done if I could return to a schedule a bit more in sync with the rest of the world. I mean, I have never been comfortable with getting myself out of bed earlier than, say, ten in the morning but this sleep-by-day, work-by-night thing doesn't work too well when you live in an area where you are essentially the only person on that schedule. In other words, I want to work when other people are also working. Otherwise, I'll keep feeling thoroughly disconnected from the world, a feeling that tends to have an adverse effect on my productivity.

    Part of my difficulty, too, stems from the critical reading that I have been doing and will continue working on for the foreseeable future. Were an individual merely preparing to teach a course on a topic, he or she might read some of the "canonized" criticism surrounding a given work and then move on to the next text on which he or she intended to focus, bypassing many of the hard-to-locate articles from obscure international journals. (Although, ideally, one would like to have as complete a knowledge of his or her subject as possible and might, time permitting, seek out the truly rare texts). With a dissertation (or any other book-length project), however, one has the obligation to perform an exhaustive amount of research, culminating in an elite state of expertise. Now, the end result is delightful, I'm sure, but the road to getting there is another story entirely. When working on an author as prominent as J. M. Coetzee, tackling the sheer amount of critical writing can be a quite daunting -- and, after a while, rather monotonous -- task. My problem, then, is pushing my way through the many articles that repeat the same information that I have already read several times over. Of course, many of the articles are, in themselves, wholly original readings of the text but, having read scads of other essays, I find that much of the information in one paper can be found piecemeal in a selection of other essays. Thus, once one has plowed through a few dozen essays, say, any new essay is not likely to shed much light on the text. Unless, of course, it is the rare article that either identifies an important narrative thread that had hitherto been passed over or the annoyingly left-field essay that advances untenably absurd theories about the text. Basically, if my reading does not engage my attention with new or interesting insights, I have a harder time focusing, which often results in my spending much longer on an article than I would like. So, the longer it takes to read, the more likely I will be up late and, consequently, the later I will sleep in the next day. Repeat.

    As for my reading today, Grant Farred's "The Mundanacity of Violence: Living in a State of Disgrace," I really haven't much to say. The essay is another of the more negative readings of Disgrace, highlighting what the author terms the "mundanacity" of horrific violence in post-Apartheid South Africa. Basically, Farred shares a convincing, if pedestrian, impression of Coetzee's novel as depicting a state of existence in which indifference and acquiescence have become epidemic and people no longer bat a proverbial eyelid at the most disturbing instances of crime. In other words, rape, murder, and robbery have become so ubiquitous in the South Africa that Coetzee depicts that they recede into the background with the equally unnoticeable chirruping of birds and rustling of leaves.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Work Cited

    Farred, Grant. "The Mundanacity of Violence: Living in a State of Disgrace." interventions 4.3 (2002): 352-362.

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    Sunday, June 15, 2008
    I passed the afternoon at Cornell, photocopying some of the journal articles I was unable to locate at my university's library. As always, I spent a good deal more time and money obtaining fewer materials than I would have liked, but it was a productive day nonetheless. Besides, it's always pleasant to be in a college town.

    In addition to the gruntwork that is article-hunting, I read Jacques Van Der Elst's "Guilt, Reconciliation and Redemption: Disgrace and its South African Context," a rather unexceptional lecture on Coetzee's novel. Largely devoid of analysis, Van Der Elst's paper makes brief mention of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, summarizes the novel's plot, and rehashes the familiar accusations of authorial nihilism. Although I don't think the lecture will shed much light on the novel for people researching Coetzee, it may be of interest to readers unfamiliar with the more negative interpretations of the book.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Work Cited

    Van Der Elst, Jacques. "Guilt, Reconciliation and Redemption: Disgrace and its South African Context." A Universe of (Hi)stories: Essays on J. M. Coetzee. Ed. Liliana Sikerska. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2006. 39-44.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, June 14, 2008
    Again, since it's quite a bit later than I had hoped it would be when I finished my reading for the day, I will have to keep this entry on the briefer side of things.

    When I began seriously working on the dissertation in December, I made it a point to look back at my years in college and graduate school, analyzing what has and has not worked for me in terms of academic success and personal satisfaction. As an undergraduate, I learned that one ultimately has the choice of whether or not to succeed. For someone like myself, this meant restricting my extracurricular activities to my weekly two-hour punk rock radio show and postponing socializing until I had finished whatever homework I had to do. Often, I would be in the library for ten hours a day. When I did hang out with my friends, though, I had the benefit of knowing that I had not left anything undone, so I enjoyed myself more than I would otherwise have done.

    I have since revised this approach, partly because I have come to realize that some semblance of a social life really improves one's mood and often makes working considerably easier to get through. Now I try to prioritize my friends and family whenever possible, which occasionally disrupts my study patterns. After all, their lives do not revolve around the same academic calendar as mine does. Likewise, my friends no longer live in the same building or dine at the same eateries as I do. So, when the opportunity to socialize comes up, I put down my books and head out to wherever it is that my friends and I have decided to spend time. The problem, of course, is that I have to ensure that I do not neglect my work, either. In other words, I have my cake and I want to make sure that I also eat it. Thus, I must work before and/or after having fun.

    Today was one of those days. I was to spend some time with friends, but had not finished reading the article that I'd set aside for the day. So, I had to stay up late reading.

    Fortunately, I only had to reread Derek Attridge's "Age of Bronze, State of Grace: Music and Dogs in Coetzee's Disgrace" today. I say that I am fortunate not only because I have already read the essay but because Attridge is one of the absolute best Coetzee critics out there. His articles are always comprehensive, extremely readable, and often, among the handful of "definitive" studies of the work in question. This essay focuses primarily on David Lurie's time in and around his daughter's smallholding outside of Grahamstown, attempting to identify and locate what might be considered the former professor's attainment of grace. Recalling his earlier essay on The Master of Petersburg, in which the Derridean concept of the arrivant plays a central role, Attridge suggests that grace "is the arrival of the unexpected in unexpectedly beneficent form" (112). Like many of his fellow commentators, Attridge devotes significant attention to Lurie's work with the doomed canines at Bev Shaw's veterinary clinic. It is here, among the unwanted dogs of the Eastern Cape, Attridge suggests, that Lurie's grace descends upon him. As the former professor composes his quirky chamber opera about Lord Byron and cares for the dogs about to be euthanized, Lurie senses a change in himself that, for lack of a better word, may well be described as "grace."

    There is, of course, a great deal more in the essay, but I will call it a night and stop here.

    For tomorrow: Either do library work, bibliographical work, or read an essay or review on Disgrace.

    Attridge, Derek. "Age of Bronze, State of Grace: Music and Dogs in Coetzee's Disgrace." Novel 34.1 (2000): 98-121. Also available online.

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    Friday, June 13, 2008
    I'm going to keep this entry extremely brief. I did get some reading done today: Tom Herron's "The Dog Man: Becoming Animal in Coetzee's Disgrace." Although Herron covers a subject (the Deleuzean/Guattarian concept of "becoming animal") many of his fellow scholars have already discussed at length, his essay is easily the best, most comprehensive study of the topic that I have encountered. Herron deftly synthesizes difficult theoretical material and weaves it seamlessly into his reading of Disgrace to produce an extremely clear, utterly convincing interpretation of the novel that is both appreciative and, when merited, critical of Coetzee's treatment of animals and animality. Any student of Coetzee would do well to read this essay early on in his or her investigations into the criticism surrounding Disgrace. Seriously, this might be the first essay I've on read on Disgrace to which I would give an unreserved "A."

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Work Cited

    Herron, Tom. "The Dog Man: Becoming Animal in Coetzee's Disgrace." Twentieth Century Literature 51. 4 (2005): 467-90. Available online.

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    Wednesday, June 11, 2008
    Today was a relatively light day for me. I reread Geoffrey Baker's "The Limits of Sympathy," focusing on the author's reading of Disgrace. Though my initial response to the essay was that it is "a rather pedestrian consideration of sympathy," I did find myself less critical the second time around. While I do not think the essay's perspective is particularly unique, I do feel that it handles its subject matter more effectively (read: more clearly) than many papers expressing similar concerns.

    I suspect that at least some of this revised response stems from the increased familiarity I now have with Coetzee's fiction and the critical discussions surrounding his work. Furthermore, when I read the essay the first time around, my focus was on Age of Iron. I had, after all, been under the impression that I had already sufficiently covered Disgrace and would merely be expanding an earlier essay on the novel into a chapter on several Coetzee books. In other words, I may not have paid as close attention to the section I reviewed today. So, the reading may not be unique, but I do admire Baker's contribution to the discussion of what Elizabeth Costello has famously termed the "sympathetic imagination." I found Baker's etymological explanation of Coetzee's linguistic play especially valid and I suspect many students of Coetzee will benefit from the critic's insights. For instance, when discussing David Lurie's assessment of Soraya as "[a] ready learner, compliant, pliant," Baker emphasizes the "tidy trick of language" Coetzee uses to highlight "the lack of sympathy in Lurie's associations with Soraya":
    the prefix com is sharply dropped, as if the sym in sympathy, and with it any real togetherness or interpersonal connection, were disappearing before the reader's eyes (41).
    Again, while such insights are hardly earth-shattering in their originality, they are precisely the sort of observations one would want to share with readers unfamiliar with the complex layers of Coetzee's language, especially undergraduates approaching the author's work for the first time.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay or work on the bibliography.

    Works Cited

    Baker, Geoffrey. "The Limits of Sympathy: J. M. Coetzee's Evolving Ethics of Engagement." ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 36.1-2 (2005): 27-49.

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

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, June 10, 2008
    Since today marks the sixth-month anniversary of the dissertation blog project, I thought it might be fun to do a little retrospective thing. Unfortunately, I am having some difficulty publishing the blog this evening, so this may appear a day or two later.

    Okay, when I started this blog project in December, my understanding of what I would be writing was a bit different that it is today. Initially, I imagined that I would read Diary of a Bad Year and The Master of Petersburg and re-read Age of Iron (which I was in the process of doing at the time) and Slow Man to add some content to a brief essay I'd published on Disgrace a few years ago. I was hoping that the effort would yield a fifty- or sixty-page chapter. Since then, my focus has shifted entirely to J. M. Coetzee's fiction. Dissertations, it would seem, are highly mutable.

    Now, after six months of blogging my way through the dissertation, this is what I've got to show for it:

    Blog posts: 170 (171 including this one).

    J. M. Coetzee novels read: 8 1/2 (I was about halfway through rereading Age of Iron when I began. I also read The Master of Petersburg twice).

    Total novels finished: 17 1/2.

    Top Five Novels (in no particular order): Disgrace, The Road (Cormac McCarthy), Invisible Monsters (Chuck Palahniuk), Life and Times of Michael K, Waiting for the Barbarians.

    Critical essays read: 57 (plus a hell of a lot of rereading and consulting sections of books).

    Total pages written: 83.

    Chapters written: 1 (with a second pending supervisor's approval)

    Computers used: 3

    Computers killed: 1

    Restaurants in which I have done work: Barnes and Noble Cafe, Bob Evans', Cyber Cafe West, Denny's, Old Country Buffet, Friendly's (3), Iron Skillet, Soul Full Cup Cafe. And I am probably forgetting some.

    Libraries used: at least fourteen.

    Literary critics that have contacted me: 2.

    Reading groups that have contacted me: 1.

    Courses taught: 7.

    Sense of accomplishment: better after six months than before.

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    ____________________________________________
    I got through another two essays today, which was a nice bit of progress. I'm still inching along at the proverbial snail's pace, but my "read" stack is beginning to hold its own when lined up next to the "unread" pile (I should emphasize that this is a figurative statement; I have not been spending time carefully piling photocopied journal articles).

    The first essay I read, Gillian Gane's "Unspeakable Injuries in Disgrace and David's Story" addresses troubling representations of women in both Coetzee's and Wicomb's novels. Gane's reading of Lucy's rape and its aftermath in Disgrace, a topic to which she devotes significant attention, is among the more convincing interpretations of the scene I have seen. I also find her reading of the novel as "dis-raced" particularly interesting. Though I do not wholly agree with her, Gane's essay strikes me as an exceedingly solid example of an important, Lucy-centric strain in the novel's criticism.

    The second essay I read (or, rather, re-read) was Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's essay "Ethics and Politics in Tagore, Coetzee, and Certain Scenes of Teaching." Spivak's paper is, as one familiar with the author might expect, rather heavily theory-laden. I mean Levinas enters in the second sentence of the paper, Derrida in the third, and Kant in the fourth. But this is to be expected. Spivak is, after all, one of the academic superstars for whom abstruse poststructural rhetoric has produced many a bulging paycheck. That said, Spivak's paper is considerably more readable than much of her writing, though her language does occasionally resemble that of a child presenting a book report (introducing a quote with "These are some of the daughter Lucy's last words in the novel" reminds me of statements like "This is the sound a puppy makes" [20]). Still, she does make a few interesting observations, including reading Lucy's response to her attack as "a refusal to be raped" (21). All-in-all, this essay will likely serve those Coetzee scholars interested in aphasia and other linguistic considerations rather well. The highlight, though, is Spivak's one-sentence summarization of "Can the Subaltern Speak," suggesting that the oft-maligned essay could in fact, as many frustrated academics have claimed, be summed up in one brief sentence.

    For tomorrow: Another essay.

    Works Cited

    Gane, Gillian. "Unspeakable Injuries in Disgrace and David's Story" Kunapipi 24.1-2 (2002): 101-113.

    Spivak. Gayatri Chakravorty. "Ethics and Politics in Tagore, Coetzee, and Certain Scenes of Teaching." Diacritics 32.3-4 (2002): 17-31.

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    I just finished reading Rita Barnard's excellent essay, "J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace and the South African Pastoral." Written in the sort of clear-yet-erudite prose one does not encounter nearly as often as one would like, Barnard's paper examines the ways in which Coetzee's language conveys alienation and the impossibility of cultural translation in the "new South Africa," while thoughtfully touching upon the book's play on the plaasroman form and the troubling presence of potentially racist content. In stark contrast to Florance Strattion's extremely negative reading of David Lurie's racist comments, however, Barnard views the former professor's "cartoonish colonial stereotypes" and his "ridiculous, hopelessly dated vocabulary" as signs not of intolerance but of a failure to effectively translate the traumatic experience of the attack linguistically or culturally (211). I am also impressed by the critic's refusal to "beat [the novel's final scene] into a convenient shape with a critical shovel," a decision that encourages reader to continue asking the questions Coetzee raises in his novel. Bravo, Rita!

    For tomorrow: Read another article or, if I'd like, work on my bibliography or watch Dust.

    Work Cited

    Barnard, Rita. "J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace and the South African Pastoral." Contemporary Literature 44.2 (2003): 199-224.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, June 9, 2008
    I'm still really irritated with myself, largely because I am working at a snail's pace. There are really two main reasons for this:

    Uno: I have been sleeping in so late that, by the time I finally get started, it feels as if I have already been procrastinating all day. Somehow, this tendency translates into a sense of having already struggled to get through whatever it is I am about to begin. Needless to say, this isn't a good feeling to have when setting out do something.

    Dos: Having spent so much time reading fiction -- which is much easier for me to get through than the critical writing I am reading now -- I have grown accustomed to reading more in a shorter time span than is possible when reading the dense scholastic prose I have been working with the past few days.

    At any rate, I read Kimberly Wedeven Segall's "Pursuing Ghosts: The Traumatic Sublime in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace" yesterday and I just finished Gareth Cornwell's "Realism, Rape, and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace" a few moments ago. I'd actually read Segall's essay before, but re-read it to refresh my memory as I shift my focus from The Master of Petersburg to Disgrace. Although I generally dislike psychoanalytic criticism, I find that the rationale behind Segall's essay is not unreasonable. While the essay did occasionally strike me as a bit too Freudian and there are a few blatant misreadings sprinkled throughout the article (Segall identifies David Lurie as the narrator and claims that Melanie Isaacs attempts suicide), the bulk of the paper deals with the the ways in which David Lurie sublimates the traumatic experiences of his time in Grahamstown, creating "ghostly" presences with which he may interact (via dreams) and address the anxiety he feels.

    Segall distinguishes the "traumatic sublime" from the classical sublime of Longius (in which art can bring about ekstasis), Edmund Burke's Gothic sublime (in which great art sparks such a strong sense of terror in one's mind that an awareness of self is utterly impossible), and the Romantic sublime of William Wordsworth (where art so enraptures an individual that one's sense of self expands):
    In what I am calling the traumatic sublime, in contrast [to the earlier conceptions of literary sublimity], experiences of violence are changed into images of oppressed subjects and ghosts. These images of ghostly figures serve as troubling memory sites. Because these disturbing memories are not easily ignored nor assimilated into a narrative of identity, these mnemonic images resist a complete erasure of the past, especially in a postcolonial setting where there is a historical legacy of violation. With their uneasy sublimation of the past, these identity-fracturing traumatic images pose a potential crisis for the protagonist. These ghostly images represent the friction between traumatic images and identity. The traumatic sublime, as a troubling sensation that occurs when a painful event of the past is changed into a disturbing image, shifts the gaze from the self to an-other. Unlike the gothic loss of self or the romantic expansion of self, the traumatic sublime alters the focus from the protagonist to another character...As in the uncanny, the traumatic sublime uses symbols and disturbing images to reformulate a character's past... (42)
    Essentially, unresolved traumas (those the individual cannot confront directly) manifest themselves as new ghostly images that produce similar anxieties as the original traumatic experiences, but projected outward. In other words, when the individual cannot directly confront a trauma he or she has experienced, the traumatic sublime allows him or her to envision the pain in another, detached form and address it from a "safe" distance. In Disgrace, Segall argues, "[t]he sublimated ghostly bodies all lead to the central signified of Lucy's raped body," preventing Lurie from blocking the memory of her rape and forcing him to confront it. In doing so, the traumatic sublime brings violation and subjugation to the front of Lurie's consciousness, highlighting those instance in which he himself has played a part. Haunted by these ghosts, Lurie begins the moral transformation so many critics view as central to the novel.

    Gareth Cornwell, I have to admit, amuses me to no end. Eschewing the "logical and historical emptiness" of "post-Saussurean, Derridean" readings of Disgrace, Cornwell opts to make "a couple of common-sense observations" (311). He also criticizes "the metaphysical dread to which Derridean differance can lead if we are prepared to take its anti-realism too seriously":
    [M]eaning endlessly deferred as words drop their eyes and shake their heads in embarassment, gesturing towards their equally feckless fellows, abdicating their own authority to signify, and performing an empty act of delegation. (311)
    Seriously, that has to be one of the absolute greatest assessments of Derridean excess ever published in a major literary journal.

    That said, Cornwell makes many solid observations about Disgrace. His essay deals primarily with the text's use of the realist mode to present David and Lucy Lurie's stories. Ultimately, Cornwell concludes that Coetzee fashions a plot out of the seemingly contradictory antirealist allegorical and the realist mimetic modes of representation, thereby reflecting "Coetzee's abiding ambivalence towards realism and his suspicion of the reflexivity of antirealism or 'antiillusionism' as the alternative."

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Works Cited

    Cornwell, Gareth. "Realism, Rape, and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Critique 43.4 (2002): 307-322.

    Segall, Kimberly Wedeven. "Pursuing Ghosts: The Traumatic Sublime in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Research in African Literatures 36.4 (2005): 40-54.

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    Sunday, June 8, 2008
    Again, I will have to keep this brief.

    I did get some reading done, but not nearly as quickly as I would have liked. It was entirely my own fault. As much as I would like to blame the heat or my friends or sleeping in, I was the culprit. I had plenty of time to work and I kept procrastinating.

    Which sucks.

    For tomorrow: Read another article or two.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, June 6, 2008
    After last night's epic effort, I will keep this entry on the short side. Despite the persistence of my screwed up sleep schedule, I didn't sleep in too late today and managed to review two essays dealing with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, Isidore Diala's "Nadine Gordimer, J. M. Coetzee, and Andre Brink: Guilt, Expiation, and the Reconciliation Process in Post-Apartheid South Africa" (which, annoyingly, was poorly photocopied and will have to be replaced) and Jacqueline Rose's "Apathy and Accountability: South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Comission." Neither article devotes more than a few pages to Disgrace, but I found both to be extremely readable and, especially in the case of Diala's essay, quite quotable (a trait any beleaguered dissertation-writer will love).

    Diala's reading of Disgrace is consistent with much of the critical literature surrounding the novel:

    Coetzee's black characters are perhaps too deprived, brutalized, and aggrieved to inspire hopes of racial harmony. Coetzee hardly seems to be under any delusions of the immediate possibility of reconciliation so soon after apartheid. (68)

    ...if Lucy's mode of engagement with history is Coetzee's valid paradigm for whites' negotiation for a precarious foothold in post-apatheid South Africa, then his conception of their fall from grace evokes near absolute depravity. (60)

    After a lengthy discussion of the TRC, Rose shares a reading of the novel "as Coetzee's response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission" (191).

    While neither essay explores the novel in depth, I would say that they are both extremely good starting points for anyone interested in one of the more popular (and plausible) interpretations of Disgrace.

    For tomorrow: Read another article or, if I'd prefer, transcribe notes or work on my bibliography.

    Works Cited

    Diala, Isadore. "Nadine Gordimer, J.M. Coetzee, and Andre Brink: Guilt, Expiation, and the Reconciliation Process in Post-Apartheid South Africa." Journal of Modern Literature 25.2 (2001-2002): 50-68.

    Rose, Jacqueline. "Apathy and Accountability: South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission." Raritan 21.4 (2002): 175-95.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, June 5, 2008
    Part the First

    Just to be clear, my yesterday ended around the time most people in my time zone began their todays, so, in the following paragraphs, you can think of my "yesterday" as "early this morning" and my "today" as "this afternoon and early evening."

    Well, yesterday started out like pretty much any other day, with me waking up at the crack of dusk, stretching, and really not wanting to read any literary criticism. Anyway, sensing that I would not get much reading done at home, I decided to stay outside of my house (i.e. far away from the sundry temptations of my bed, punk 'zines, internet, cat, and crossword puzzles) to try to focus on what promised to be a long read. The day started out nicely enough: I managed to catch a late (like, 12-14 hours late) breakfast at Denny's, where I read a few pages of Gilbert Yeoh's "Negotiating Foundations: Nation, Homeland and Land in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Having finished my Belgain waffle, I drove over to a cafe to read some more and, with a satisfying cup of peppermint herbal tea, I plodded through a few more pages. Then the cafe closed and I had to return home.

    Enter the distractions. Between the purring and hand-licking of what may well be the world's cutest (and, at least among my friends, most popular) feline and the constant urge to procrastinate by screwing around on the internet, I did not get much done. I did, however, spend a good deal of time planning an evening of music-listening and relaxation. You know, for the many hours of empty leisure time I would no doubt enjoy as soon as I finished the article.

    By the time two-something A.M. rolled around, I realized that I'd
    barely read ten pages all day. As the temptation to call it a night grew stronger, I decided to motivate myself to read a bit more of the essay by promising myself -- ahem -- lunch from McDonald's.

    So, by the time three-something flashed on the clock, I dragged my sleepy body over to the local death-by-cholesterol dealer, and came upon a "brilliant" idea: why not, said I to myself, drive to the local 24-hour Wal*Mart and read in the dim light of the parking lot? Responding to myself, I said, God, that's stupid. Okay, I'm in.

    Now, as incredibly stupid as it sounds, I stand by my decision. Here's why:

    1. I wanted to stay awake long enough to finish the essay.

    2. I wanted to go to bed before finishing the essay.

    3. Removing myself from the vicinity of the bed would make sleeping in bed well neigh impossible.

    4. The greater the distance from bed, the greater the possibility that I would not return to bed until I had finished what I set out to do.

    5. I enjoy really stupid things. The idea of reading an essay on intertextuality and apartheid politics in the dim light cast by a retail store's parking lamp, then, struck me as at least as amusing as it was moronic.

    6. I find that, if enclosed in a television-less, internet-less space, I have a much easier time focusing on things that do not engage my immediate interest.

    7. Unlike my neighborhood, which is populated by people who think playing the drums at 1:30 in the morning is a good idea, the Wal*Mart parking lot is pleasantly calm and extremely quiet at the most ungodly of hours.

    Not only did my strategy work, I had the wonderful opportunity to watch bread delivery trucks unload their wares, laconic cart-collecting employees collect carts laconically, and campers unable or unwilling to find a campground park for the night. Oh, my friends, it was bliss. Of course, with the coming of daylight came the first trickle of customers, so I returned home, determined more than ever to finish the essay, which I did sometime before seven in the morning.

    That said, I would not have finished the essay had I not felt obliged to report on it here. I would have slacked off and I would have probably done the same today as I recuperated from my -- shall we say, unnatural? -- schedule.

    Part the Second

    Anyway, I did struggle to get through Gilbert Yeoh's essay, which I found to be, by turns, both insightful and far-fetched. As the title indicates, Yeoh is concerned with the notion of South African foundations, both literal and figurative. The first third of his essay consists of a rather unconvincing argument for a perceived intertextual relationship between Disgrace and Homer's Odyssey (as well as related canonical texts such as Joyce's Ulysses), a relationship Yeoh suggests highlights a post-Apartheid "homecoming" for native black South Africans (the Odysseus figures) return to reclaim their homeland. Besides not being convinced by Yeoh's argument, I found the implications of his reading to be highly disturbing.

    Lucy Lurie, Yeoh would have us believe, is Coetzee's Penelope-figure, "[David] Lurie parallels the defiant suitors" while Petrus and the men who rape Lucy supposedly mirror Odysseus triumphantly returning to Ithaca (2). His main point seems to be that the violence and intensity of the rape scene draws upon the Homeric celebration of Odysseus's noble revenge against the men who have wronged him by courting his wife and wrecking his home in order to dramatize a particularly frightening possibility plaguing the imaginations of the white minority in post-Apartheid South Africa: that the cumulative pain of the atrocities committed by whites against blacks since South Africa was first colonized by Europeans will result in violent acts of vengeance. Since the Christian-inspired ethics of forgiveness and amnesty promoted by Desmond Tutu's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Yeoh informs us, the consequent Human Rights Violations (HRV) hearings sought to force victims of state-sponsored human rights violations to accept the confessions of and forgive those who had mistreated them in the name of national unity. An utterly insufficient solution, the TRC and HRV could not possibly erase the centuries of horrible mistreatment and, as a result, whites feared massive acts of vengeance fueled by the TRC's policy of forgiving the essentially unforgivable.

    Though Yeoh's parallels strike me as wholly unconvincing, I am more disturbed by the implications of his reading of Lucy's rape. In comparing the rapists to Odysseus, Yeoh seems to imply -- perhaps inadvertently -- that they are somehow in the right, that their atrocity is ultimately justified (as, indeed, Lucy wonders) by the fact that it is an act of reclamation carried out against an aspect of colonial presence. What I wonder is whether Yeoh actually wishes to suggest the crime has a positive aspect. It would seem to me that the old adage that two wrongs do not make a right is at least part of Coetzee's message. Furthermore, as other critics (including Florence Stratton, who I will discuss shortly) have noted, the depiction of black men raping white a white woman, if anything, taps into a deep-rooted colonialist bias.

    Still, I do like some of Yeoh's observations about the relationship of the South African to the land, especially those he makes in the second third of his essay, devoted to Coetzee's use of South African pastoral imagery and ideology. If anything, Yeoh's intertextual reading is an elaborately-supported one, but may well be the result of a troubling aspect of literary criticism: since jobs and reputations are largely based upon one's published work, laying claim to a new reading or novel interpretation of a text can help establish a scholar. Perhaps Yeoh's unconvincing reading is the result of an honest desire to plant the first flag on an uncolonized (hah!) critical planet?

    At any rate, the second section of the essay, as I mentioned, deals with a critique of the South African pastoral genre pioneered by Olive Schreiner and Pauline Smith and, especially, of the Afrikaans plaasromans of C. M. van der Heever. In what is probably among the strongest readings of Coetzee's novel, Yeoh demonstrates how David Lurie's constant misreadings of his daughter's actions as attempts to secure a bucolic idyll consistent with the romanticized depictions of rural life in van der Heever's farm novels reveal the inadequacy of pastoral narratives of rootedness as a means to understand Lucy's tenacious will to continue living on in the Eastern Cape after her rape.

    Despite a seemingly gratuitous use of Samuel Beckett's trilogy to illustrate the tendency for people to proceed beyond an endpoint, the final section of Yeoh's essay seems to venerate Lucy's acquiescent tenacity as the necessary component in negotiating an existence in the oft-discussed "New South Africa."

    Part the Third

    Since I had a couple of chores I needed to get done today, I managed to leave the house with several hours of daylight yet to be enjoyed. And, seriously, there was daylight. Lots of it. The sight of green mountains on a sunny day never fails to please me. So, today started off rather well.

    Though I did feel sleepy and wanted to return to bed, I decided to sit in the mall, in air-conditioned bliss. Auntie Anne, of course, always makes things better. Again, I figured that keeping myself away from my house would make working easier. It did. But I also had a second reason for selecting the mall as a good place to read at 5:45 in the afternoon: when I was younger, my roommate was pretty money-conscious and rarely used the air conditioning in our apartment. As a result of her adamant frugality (which, as it turns out, is wise), I took to driving to the Mall of America to read. I recall enjoying the air conditioning so much that I would plough right through Moby-Dick and Underworld while sitting at a sufficiently isolated Caribou Coffee table. Malls, it seems, do not distract me. It's odd, but somehow the crowds and the advertising and the usually shitty music tend to recede into the background, leaving me with enough white noise to focus on the task at hand.

    So I went to the mall and finished my reading much earlier than I had anticipated.

    Part the Fourth

    The essay I read this evening, Florence Stratton's "Imperial Fictions: J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace" is a good example of the negative criticism that followed the publication of the novel in 1999. Although Stratton claims to be one of only a very few critics who have discussed racial coding in Disgrace, she is, in fact, one of many commentators to find fault with the author's treatment of black characters in the novel. That said, Stratton does make many solid points about the racist, colonialist assumptions embedded in Disgrace, but she faults Coetzee for Lurie's racist failings, citing what she considers the author's inability to fully ironize aspects of the text.

    At times, Stratton seems rather racist herself, accusing Coetzee of fashioning a text that reproduces many of the more lamentable racist assumptions held by some whites in South Africa and abroad. Occasionally, she makes a good observation. More often than not, however, Stratton seems set on expressing a political agenda and reading it into Disgrace, even when the text does not support her claims. For instance, when David expresses a concern for Lucy's health after her rape, he suggests that she be tested for HIV. While most people would agree that such a concern is natural for a parent of a child raped by strangers, Stratton uses the question as justification for launching a diatribe on colonialist construction of the other as a hypersexualized "bearer of frightening disease" (90):
    Coetzee is, here, evidentially treating his character ironically. For in the narrative, he deconstructs the colonial differential between the morally pure European and the depraved African by characterizing David, himself, as hypersexual. The identification of Africans with HIV/AIDS remains, however, intact in the narrative. For though David apparently engages in unprotected sex -- condoms are only mentioned with reference to David's affair with Bev Shaw (149-150) -- and though he has multiple (literally hundreds of) sexual partners (192), no suggestion is ever made, not by his ex-wife who berates him on other topics, or even Melanie's enraged father, that David might be a source of HIV/AIDS infection. (91)
    Of course, Stratton neglects to consider several key factors:

    1. While the text only mentions David's use of condoms once, Coetzee never pens a passage saying David does not use a condom (or that the woman does not use contraception). He may or he may not. Any assumption is presumptuous.

    2. If HIV and AIDS are associated with Africans, as Stratton suggests is often the case among those enmeshed in colonialist discourses, the fact that David has sex with Melanie (whose race Stratton discusses at length) would seem to suggest that David does not share this association.

    3. Disgrace is written from David's perspective. For all we know, he has been tested for AIDS on a regular basis, but he hasn't expressed that in the narrative. Again, any assumptions about what Lurie does or does not do are presumptuous.

    In other words, Stratton seems so eager to make Coetzee appear racist that she twists the facts.

    Furthermore, she insists that "Lucy's rapists have an almost palpable presence in Coetzee's earlier narratives," though, oddly, she does not mention the one clear instance of a black man raping a white woman in Coetzee's earlier work (Hendrik's rape of Magda in In the Heart of the Country). Instead, claims that John in Age of Iron "masturbates while waiting for the police who will shoot and kill him" and that the rapists "are lurking in the shadows of such figures as the sexless Michael K and the apparently castrated Friday, waiting for their presence to be known" (90). Ultimately, Stratton concludes, "when the rapist hidden within Michael K bursts forth in Disgrace, the implication is that all black men are potential rapists" (90).

    The "masturbation" scene she references, I suspect, is the following, in which Mrs. Curren observes John "intent on some object in his hand" one evening:
    I did not mean to spy. But I was wearing slippers, the door to Florence's room was open, his back was to me. He was sitting on the bed, intent on some object he had in his hand. When he heard me he gave a start and thrust it beneath the bedclothes.
    "What is it you have there?" I asked.
    "It is nothing," he said, giving me one of his forced stares. I would not have pressed him had I not notices that a length of baseboard had been prized from the wall and lay on the floor, revealing unplastered brickwork. (147)
    Certainly, such a scene could suggest onanistic activity. However, most critics interpret the scene as John handling the gun he hides under the floorboards. Even if one wants to be all Freudian and say a gun is a phallic symbol, it seems more likely that the hole in the floor is a hiding place for an illegal weapon rather than a filched copy of Hustler. Still, even if John is masturbating when Mrs. Curren peeks in on him, it is not while he waits for the police, as Stratton claims. He is hiding, trying to evade them. He does not expect them to come that evening. Besides, what is wrong if he is masturbating? It doesn't make him hypersexualized; it makes him human. Instead, Stratton paints the boy as something of a modern day Nero, fiddling while Cape Town is burning.

    In other words, I think she's wrong. He's hiding a weapon.

    And, though she presumably uses Michael K. symbolically in her hyperbolic statement, even saying the "rapist hiding within" the meek, "sexless" man is an affront to art.

    Lastly, she discusses the references to cannibalism in Disgrace and provides sufficient support for her claim that such alimentary activity is "colonialism's pre-eminent signifier of African primitiveness, savagery, and otherness" by citing respected scholars like Bill Ashcroft. Oddly, she decides to share an incredibly racist comment made by Toronto's mayor Mel Lastman about why he did not want to attend a meeting in Mombasa to discuss his city's Olympic bid in which he refers to cannibalistic natives to demonstrate how the bias she discusses persists (93). While not quite a red herring, it is a non-sequitur that will strike readers as gratuitous and, as she has already made a convincing point, perhaps a bit of an overkill.

    But, that seems to be Stratton's modus operandi. She takes an important topic (the tragic tenacity of racism and the pervasiveness of white colonialist discourse), identifies several troubling passages in a white South African's novel (which do pose problems for some of Coetzee's defenders), and proceeds to provide inaccurate or, at the very least, insufficiently supported interpretations of Coetzee's novels before invoking larger (and extremely important) modes of discourse. The problem is that while Stratton makes many valid and insightful observations, she comes across as indignant which, when taken together with her misreadings of Coetzee's fiction, will prevent readers from appreciating her concerns.

    That said, her paper is meticulously researched.

    Oh, and I sent off my chapter on The Master of Petersburg yesterday. As a result, I am waiting for a "this is good, but. . ." from my supervisor. Ugh.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Works Cited

    Coetzee, J. M. Age of Iron. New York: Penguin, 1990.

    Stratton, Florence. "Imperial Fictions: J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." ARIEL 33.3-4 (2002): 83-104.

    Yeoh, Gilbert. "Negotiating Foundations: Nation, Homeland and land in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." ARIEL 35.3-4 (2004): 1-38.

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    Well, it's 5:45 in the morning, so I am going to call it a night. I have quite a bit to say about what I read, but I will save that for another day.

    For tomorrow: Read an article. Or, if I'd prefer, do one of the following instead: work on my bibliography, transcribe, or watch Dust.

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    Wednesday, June 4, 2008
    Today was one of those days that make me appreciate this blog project of mine. To be honest, I probably would not have done any work at all (today, I mean) had I not felt the obligation to "read another article or two." There have been quite of few of these days over the past six months, but I notice that they occur more frequently when I am not reading fiction. In other words, I am less inclined to the reading and writing of literary criticism than I am to reading fiction. No surprise there, I'm sure. Still, since all I have been doing lately has been reading and writing literary criticism, the temptation to not work has been growing stronger with each passing day. Not that a day off would hurt, but it might set a precedent. You know, a day or two of putting off work can quickly become a week or two of doing nothing. So I am glad that I have this blog (and its readers) to pressure me into reading an article every day.

    Of course, the fact that one of my neighbors was playing the drums until 1:30 in the morning may also have contributed to the difficulty I found in getting myself through today's reading.

    Anyway, I read Martin Swales's "Sex, Shame, and Guilt: Reflections on Bernhard Schlink's Der Vorleser (The Reader) and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." As its title indicates, Swales's essay deals with the sex, shame, and guilt, though the focus is primarily on the concept of shame. Drawing upon Gabriele Taylor's discussion of pride, shame and guilt, Swales distinguishes between the legal, secular concept of guilt and the emotional (and even spiritual) nature of shame.

    Shame, for Swales, results from the "comingling of inappropriate contexts." Once the chance encounter with David causes Soraya's "compartmentalized double life" to collapse in on itself, for instance, a sense of shame prevents the pair from continuing their sexual relationship (15). Here, the comingling of Soraya's two existences produces powerful feelings of shame for the woman. In another vein, when David admits that he is guilty of having (at the very least) broken his university's policy regulating sexual contact between faculty and student, his lack of "appropriate" shame causes him to lose his job.

    Additionally, Swales spends a good deal of time exploring the interrelatedness of shame and guilt (especially in terms of their relationships to sexuality), paying particular attention to the areas where the legality of guilt and the emotionality of shame clash. To this end, Swales devotes a good amount of his essay to a discussion of Lurie's behavior during the university's inquiry into his relationship with Melanie Isaacs as well as David and Lucy's differing responses to her rape.

    In the end, Swales largely dismisses the readings of Disgrace focusing upon the "transferred meaning" of socio-political and allegorical implications of the novel as inadequate, choosing instead to view Coetzee's text as a study in the anguish of "a condition of pained and painful specificity, at the interpretative intractability of personal experience[s]" such as guilt and shame (20).

    For tomorrow: Read another article or two.

    Work Cited

    Swales, Martin. "Sex, Shame, and Guilt: Reflections on Bernhard Schlink's Der Vorleser (The Reader) and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Journal of European Studies 33.1 (2003): 7-22.

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    Tuesday, June 3, 2008
    I read another article dealing with Disgrace this evening, Eluned Summers-Bremner's "'Poor Creatures': Ishigiro's and Coetzee's Imaginary Animals." Published in the same issue of Mosaic as Travis V. Mason's "Dog Gambit," Summers-Bremner's essay also explores the text's treatment of animality, though through a decidedly psychoanalytic lens. Indeed, Jacques Lacan looms behind many of the article's assertions.

    At any rate, Summers-Bremner barely strays from the well-tread critical path analyzing the changes in David Lurie's character after he begins to sympathize with the dogs at Bev Shaw's clinic. Her discussion of the inadequacy of language (an extremely common theme in Coetzee's fiction and an especially popular topic among critics), however, is quite good and well worth reading.

    For tomorrow: Read another article or two.

    Work Cited

    Summers-Bremner, Eluned. "'Poor Creatures': Ishigiro's and Coetzee's Imaginary Animals." Mosaic 39.4 (2006): 145-160.

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    Monday, June 2, 2008
    Although I initially doubted whether I would find the time and energy to re-read Michiel Heyns "'Call No Man Happy': Perversity as Narrative Principle in Disgrace" today, I did manage to get through the essay. (I love how I make reading a short essay out to be, like, this massive achievement).

    At any rate, the essay is a decent piece of work. It's not exactly mind-blowing and it doesn't break new ground, but Heyns does do an admirable job of succinctly synthesizing some of the major critical preoccupations of his colleagues into a lucid argument. Basically, Heyns begins his paper by dividing the existing scholarship on Disgrace into two broad interpretive camps: that penned by critics concerned with the novel's relationship to contemporary South African politics and that written by folks more interested in analyzing the book "in terms of an intellectual position which is seen to have indirect ethical implications" (57). Insisting that "neither reading does justice to the novel," Heyns suggests that we look to the "predetermined pessimism" of Sophoclean tragedy for clues about how to approach Disgrace (58). Unlike Oedipus, whose destiny has been determined by the gods on Olympus, Heyns tells us, David Lurie seems to have free will. His free will, however, resembles that of Thomas Hardy's Micheal Henchard in The Mayor of Casterbridge, a man whose free actions precipitate a series of events upon which he has less and less influence, ultimately trapping the man in an almost Oedipal scenario in which free will has been trumped by a fate predetermined by the initial "free" choice. Thus, when Lurie observes Soraya (a prostitute he visits weekly) shopping with her two children, he decides to follow her, a "free" choice that dooms the professor to a series of increasingly disastrous scenarios. To wit:

    1. When Soraya refuses to meet Lurie, he seeks other outlets for his sexual desires.
    2. Unsatisfied with prostitutes and Communications Department secretaries, Lurie seduces a student.
    3. When the student does not seem to welcome his advances, he pursues her anyway.
    4. He sexually assaults the girl.
    5. The girl begins to skip class.
    6. Lurie falsifies his records to "protect" the student from failing.
    7. The girl drops out of school.
    8. The girl presses charges.
    9. Lurie is investigated and his grading irregularities causes trouble.
    10. Lurie refuses to apologize, but acknowledges his actions.
    11. Lurie is dismissed from his job and thrust into disgrace, et cetera.

    As Lurie's descent into disgrace continues, he finds himself with fewer and fewer vocational choices and ends up living in the country, where he has no influence and few allies. Thus condemned to a difficult fate, Lurie must find a way to live. For Heyns, Lurie's situation is the result of an authorial decision to doom the man to perversity so that he (Lurie) will experience an abasement which will allow him to sympathize with suffering animals, thereby learning the value of the sympathetic imagination Elizabeth Costello discusses in The Lives of Animals.

    In other words, Coetzee is a meanie, torturing David Lurie in order to make a point about our ability to endure suffering and the need for us to sympathize with those less fortunate than ourselves.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Work Cited

    Heyns, Michiel. "'Call No Man Happy': Perversity as Narrative Principle in Disgrace." English Studies 45.1 (2002): 57-63.

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