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    Sobriquet 45.24

    Saturday, August 30, 2008
    In between shopping, visiting friends, and grumbling to myself over the Bengals' cutting of Rudi Johnson, Deltha O'Neal, and Willie Anderson, I read Georgie Horrell's "Post-Apartheid Disgrace: Guilty Masculinities in White South African Writing." Horrell's essay situates Coetzee's novel within a discourse concerned with the intersection of whiteness and gender in contemporary South Africa. Drawing on key works of male and whiteness studies, Horell views Disgrace as Coetzee's contribution to the burgeoning debate on the nature of white male identity in the new dispensation of his native land. Like many critics, Horrell views David Lurie as the embodiment of South African men struggling with their own increasing sense of irrelevance and feelings of guilt for having benefitted from apartheid.

    Before I sign off for the evening, I would also like to mention a few of the essays I read last week. The first, Tim Trengrove-Jones's review of Andre Brink's The Rights of Desire, compliments Horrell's essay by reading Coetzee's novel as well as that of his friend and colleague as depictions and analyses of the "decline and diminishment" of white males of David Lurie's generation (131). In the second essay, Michael S. Kochin perceives "[t]he new inverted order" of South Africa, "in which blacks act as colonial exploiters of their former white overlords" as "offer[ing] no greater hope than the white racial colonialism it replaces" (6). Typical of such readings, Kochin's essay views Petrus as emblematic of the same old problems dressed in new clothes. Finally, in comparing and contrasting Disgrace with William Faulkner's "Barn Burning," Ruth Cook sees David Lurie as responding to a South African society similar to the postbellum Southern American landscape of Abner Snopes. Through a series of parallels, Cook's essay proceeds to demonstrate the ways in which the two obsolescent white men confront a newly integrated landscape in which white privilege has begun to disintegrate. Whereas Snopes responds violently, Cook argues, Lurie merely acquiesces silently and without protest, fading into the irrelevance he has come to expect and accept.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Works Cited

    Cook, Ruth. "Fire and Disgrace in the South: Faulkner's Snopes Meets Coetzee's Lurie." Tennessee Philological Bulletin 44 (2007): 37-45.

    Horrell, Georgie. "Post-Apartheid Disgrace: Guilty Masculinities in White South African Writing." Literature Compass 2.1 (2005): 1-11.

    Kochin, Michael S. "Postmetaphysical Literature: Reflections on J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Perspectives on Political Science 33.1 (2004): 4-9.

    Trengrove-Jones, Tim. "Not Irredeemably Disgraced?" Rev. of The Rights of Desire, by Andre Brink. Current Writing 12.2 (2000): 131-134.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, August 29, 2008
    Here's a shitty thing about being a grad student: You can spend the better part of the day running errands, catching up on chores, and exercising . . . and still end up feeling unaccomplished. It's weird. I feel as if I have been lazy whenever I spend a lot of time running around, actively going about my daily business and I feel accomplished when I spend a good chunk of an afternoon reclining in bed, reading a book.

    That's backwards, man.

    Backwards though it may be, that's how I feel this evening after having devoted much of my day to non-academic pursuits. I suspect some of this feeling stems from the fact that, with the new semester underway, I have less time to complete more brain work. Still, though, it sucks.

    I suppose I am also somewhat disappointed with myself because, in my heart, I had wanted to read a longer essay than I ended up reading. Ah, the petty worries of the bourgeois, huh?

    What I did end up reading today was Salman Rushdie's review of Disgrace, republished in Step Across This Line as "J. M. Coetzee." Now, I have always found Rushdie's book reviews to be uncommonly insightful, but I really think he dropped the ball with Coetzee's novel. Weirdly, for an author so concerned with the freedom of expression, Rushdie seems to believe that a writer has certain obligations to his readers, namely that the novelist must "provide the reader with the insight lacked by the characters" in the novel, lest the book "merely become a part of the darkness it describes" (297). With regard to Disgrace, Rusdie seems to feel that Coetzee's narrator should shed revelatory light on the problems of post-apartheid South African society rather than simply depict a series of troubling circumstances taking place within a specific place and time.

    This is, of course, reminiscent of Nadine Gordimer's criticism of Coetzee. Both seem to think Coetzee should say something redeeming or illuminate a path out of the murk of the post-Apartheid era. That's a bit unfair, in my opinion. To me, Rusdie fails to consider the value of presenting such darkness. Disgrace is a novel that works its way under the reader's skin, that unsettles one. We want answers and Coetzee does not provide them. Instead, he poses a question. He presents us with a problem and, like any good teacher, expects us to find our own answer(s).

    Rushdie accuses Coetzee of failing to shed light on a prickly historical situation, on simply presenting us with a fictional version of what is already happening. It's funny. So many people have attacked Coetzee for refusing to situate his fictions in recognizable places in the present day. It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't sort of situation.

    I think Disgrace has proven its worth by sparking the sorts of debate it has. It's unreasonable to expect an artist to be a visionary capable of leading us out of error (though, undoubtedly, some writers have done so). I don't doubt that J. M. Coetzee could make suggestions about how to fix South Africa, but I think he does us a greater service by giving us a text that has motivated scholars, politicians, everyday citizens, black, whites, South Africans, non-South Africans, men, and women to discuss why Disgrace is so bleak, to take up the difficult issues the novel touches upon, and attempt to solve the problems they pose.

    Although there's certainly much more to be said, I want to move on and mention another couple of articles I read last week. As I mentioned previously, I really enjoyed Jonathan Lamb's "Modern Metamorphosis and Disgraceful Tales." In it, Lamb uses Disgrace as a starting point for a lengthy and penetrating analysis of and meditation on the nature of artistic representations of the sympathetic imagination. While the section on Disgrace forms only a small part of Lamb's essay, the critic provides Coetzee's readers with several important insights into the mechanisms of sympathy in the novel. I was particularly impressed with Lamb's analysis of Elizabeth Costello's identification of a mutual appreciation for and understanding of the fear of death as the basis for sympathy, an analysis that sheds light on David Lurie's transformation while at the clinic. Extending that fear to an apprehension of pain, Lamb writes:
    What we sympathize with in the presence of pain is the fantasy of our being in pain, too. The solidity of identity hampers spiritual transmigration and cuts off any possibility of speaking for another being or as another being. Coetzee's idea of disgrace is intended to dismantle that barrier. Disgrace is a collapse of the ego induced by pain and humiliation so severe that the acute sense of dispossession and self-disgust accompanying it is not a hypothesis or fantasy but a brutal expulsion from familiar thoughts into presentiments so alien, so unconsoling, and vivid that they could belong to someone of something else. (138)
    Hmm . . . I rather like the idea that the subject of so much critical debate -- the meaning of disgrace -- is, essentially, on a continuum with the debates central to the Lives of Animals and Elizabeth Costello.

    There's loads more to say about Lamb, but I haven't the sort of time to write much more than I have. At any rate, the essay is brilliant from start to finish and covers a good deal more than Coetzee.

    Jane Taylor's wonderful review of Coetzee's novel, by contrast, views Disgrace as a reflection of "the failure of a Western liberal tradition premised upon an 18th century model of philosophical sympathy" (25). Both Taylor and Lamb, in my opinion, are among the most indispensable voices in the ongoing debate on Coetzee's treatment of the sympathetic imagination.

    One final essay I would like to briefly mention tonight is Annie Gagiano's "Adapting the National Imaginary: Shifting Identities in Three Post-1994 South African Novels," which only cursorily references Disgrace. Typical of many South African commentators, Gagiano feels "Coetzee's novel endorses and legitimises a number of prevalent stereotypes - particularly in its depiction of racial identities (and shifting roles) within the dispensation following the formal end of apartheid rule" (814). I think many students of Coetzee should be familiar with some of post-Apartheid South Africa's other literary treatments and Gagiano's essay provieds a nice way to situate Coetzee in a larger, localized context.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Works Cited

    Gagiano, Annie. "Adapting the National Imaginary: Shifting Identities on Three Post-1994 South African Novels." Journal of Southern African Studies 30. 4 (2004): 811-824.

    Lamb, Jonathan. "Modern Metamorphoses and Disgraceful Tales." Critical Inquiry 28.1 (2001): 133-166.

    Rushdie, Salman. Step Across This Line. New York: Random House, 2002.

    Taylor, Jane. "The Impossibility of Ethical Action." Mail & Guardian 27 July 1999: 25.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, August 28, 2008
    Okay, so I finally sit myself down with the intention of discussing some of what I've been reading the past few days and, just as I begin typing, I find myself suddenly feeling much, much more sleepy than I thought I would. I was up pretty late last night re-reading the Book of Revelation, preparing for what ended up being a lively classroom discussion this afternoon. Between spending the wee hours of the morning envisioning rivers of blood and other bits of Judeo-Christian eschatology and waking up early to prepare for classes this morning, I didn't get nearly enough sleep, so you'll have to bear with me if tonight's post is a little disorganized.

    That said, I would like to mention two of the articles I've read before succumbing to sleep:

    Brenna Moremi Munro: "Queer Democracy: J. M. Coetzee and the Racial Politics of Gay Identity in the New South Africa." Like Elleke Boehmer's essay, Munro's study of Coetzee's fiction finds the author's strikingly candid descriptions of homoerotic longing in Boyhood to be a compelling point of departure for an examination of queer themes in both Boyhood and Disgrace. Although I initially found some of Munro's reading to be a bit unconvincing, I think she makes some really interesting observations, especially in relation to "Twilight at the Globe Salon," the fictional play in which Melanie Isaacs performs in Disgrace. Read allegorically, Munro suggests, gay identity may form part of Coetzee's commentary on race relations and alterity in South African society.

    Patrick Smith: "'I Wrote Books About Dead People': Art and History in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." This extremely brief bit of commentary looks at the ways in which Coetzee's book presents the failure of artistic endeavors to improve the bleakness of life in post-Apartheid South Africa.

    I hope to use some of my not-so-sleepy weekend hours to review a few more essays at greater length.

    On a final note, I would like to draw my readers' attention to two particularly thoughtful comments posted by Mattias earlier this afternoon. Here is my response to the first comment:

    "Hello, Mattias!

    Thank you for what is probably the single most thoughtful comment I have received since beginning this blog project. Indeed, you cut right to the heart of several extremely key issues.

    Firstly, I think many readers would agree with your first paragraph. Levinas, of course, figures prominently in several discussions of Coetzee's fiction and the impossibility of the colonial masculine subject to confront the other, as you suggest, is undoubtedly a concern as early as Dusklands.

    Furthermore, I completely agree with you regarding Coetzee's "cold eye." I cannot imagine that a writer as text-conscious as Coetzee could possibly miss the currents you speak of. For someone as notoriously deliberate as Coetzee, one can only assume that he is only too aware of the implications of such thematic ground. This is, I think, precisely what interests several of the critics I've mentioned (Boehmer, Munro). Why he chooses to broach the subject when he does really seems to interest some readers. Munro, in particular, sees Coetzee's willingness to discuss gay themes in a time of tumultuous social upheaval as an especially important detail.

    Of course, with a writer as deliberate and intelligent as Coetzee, it is difficult to say with any certainty "this is a fiction" and "that is true." His texts often blur these categorical distinctions to such an extent that one must necessarily reflect on the very natures of narrative and knowledge. Also, in Boyhood (and later, during the episode in Youth when John has an awkward homosexual liaison), the reader is struck by the candor with which a famously reclusive author describes extremely personal encounters. This surprise, one must assume, is at least part of Coetzee's intent, for he must be aware of his reputation as standoffish and reticent. Thus, one might assume that Coetzee is playing with the notion of authorship. The public's perception of a writer as intensely private as Coetzee seems unable to accommodate such bold honesty. Then again, given the general belief that Coetzee's memoirs are fictionalized, one cannot help but to wonder if these are fictional episodes intended to bring about such confusion. Add to this Coetzee's comments on confessional narratives and you have one incredibly ambiguous, unsettling book...which, I suspect, is precisely the author's intent. That unsettling feeling, after all, runs through the entirety of Coetzee's oeuvre and forces us to ask the sort questions you raise.

    As for the "grotesque" eroticism, I do think Coetzee's texts present an uncommonly bleak view of sex. There is little joy to be found in any of the trysts in the author's work and violence is frequently a major theme. You raise an interesting point: does Coetzee drain these scenes of their essence and shock value in order to say something about the ways in which their real-world counterparts are treated? Quite possibly. There are, certainly, many readers who would agree with you.

    Thanks so much for reading!"

    And to the second comment, I replied:

    "Well, I do try to add some of my views from time to time, but the blog is more of an attempt to document the process of writing a dissertation than it is to present my opinions on Coetzee. Also, to be honest, I have kept myself from discussing the novels largely because I have so much to say and not nearly enough time to say it. I often intended to reflect upon the books but, as one who teaches full time as well as works on his dissertation, I found that I simply lacked the hours it would take me to express myself. I do, however, have an old review of Disgrace on this site, written a few years ago when I first read the novel.

    As for Coetzee's style...good Lord, what a question! I mean, there are certain elements that permeate many (if not all) of his books: linguistic and semiotic meditations, for instance, as well as literary allusions and metanarrative strategies, but the prose is often very different from one book to the next. You have the insane verbiage of Eugene Dawn, the Faulkneresque density of Magda in In the Heart of the Country and the ever-so-slightly accented prose of Juan Coetzee in Diary of a Bad Year.

    As for David Lurie's language. . .I can certainly see instances where one might say "hmm." I mean, I think Lurie can be read satirically, though I am not certain if he is intended to be so. If anything, I believe Coetzee does satirize academia (think of Elizabeth Costello's reflections on the role of the university) in several of his books, especially in Disgrace, so it would certainly be well within the realm of possibility that Lurie is, at least partially, satirical. Perhaps not so much so as, say, Jacobus Coetzee, but he does come across as pathetic, out-of-touch, and petty at times, traits often given to satiric characters.

    Your final question is a difficult one. Is Coetzee's style character-specific? Well, yes and no. You're right: each of his novels has a certain academic quality, a certain linguistic deliberateness but his characters do, often subtly, differ from each other. Paul Rayment, for instance, speaks a rather proper English similar to Juan Coetzee's because both men are foreign-born residents of Australia. Magda's vocabulary seems to burst with her desire to prove herself worthy of being preserved. You can almost feel her trying to present herself as something she wishes to be but does not necessarily believe herself to be. Jacobus Coetzee's words are clearly the bombastic hot-air balloons of a pompous, self-righteous buffoon while the Magistrate's language belies a gentle disposition quite different from that of, say, the narrator of Life and Times of Michael K, who describes the epitome of gentle as he becomes a pastiche of Kafka's Hunger Artist. And there's a certain indignation that's always just beneath the surface of the frustrated Susan Barton's prose while the narrator of The Master of Petersburg seems geared to describing the Dostoevsky in such a way as to heighten the reader's disgust (think of the choice to include descriptions of food flying out of the man's mouth, for instance).

    Unfortunately it is quite late, so I will have to cut this short, but I hope I made at least a little sense."

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Works Cited

    Munro, Brenna Moremi. "Queer Democracy: J. M. Coetzee and the Racial Politics of Gay Identity in the New South Africa." Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies 10.1 (2003): 209-225.

    Smith, Patrick. "'I Wrote Books About Dead People': Art and History in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Notes on Contemporary Literature 34.5 (2004): 6-8.

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    ____________________________________________
    Again, I am going to have to keep this much briefer than I would like. The onset of a new semester seems to be sapping virtually all of my time and energy. Not that this is a bad thing, of course. I mean, I love being in the classroom and I often find that there is a really positive synergy between my research and my teaching. It just means that I haven't as much time to sit down and discuss the criticism I have been going over. Or, rather, I have the time, but am usually so sleepy when I sit down at the computer that I hesitate to write anything lest I do a fellow scholar the injustice of wearily glossing over his or her work. I will, instead, try to discuss some of the texts over the weekend. I would especially like to discuss the wonderful essay by Jonathan Lamb that I read this afternoon. If anything, Lamb's essay proves that my decision to keep reading criticism despite feeling less and less inspired as I progress through the often repetitive body of Disgrace scholarship was a good one. As I read through Lamb's article, I began to see a possible bridge between two of my (planned) dissertation chapters taking shape. It was, nerdily enough, quite exhilarating.

    For tomorrow: More reading.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, August 27, 2008
    As much as I'd like to be able to sit down and discuss what I have been reading, I will not be able to write more than a few sentences tonight. Since I have been up for nearly eighteen hours, much of which was spent in the classroom, I really don't feel like I have enough in me to arrange my words into anything worth reading this evening. Despite my rather hectic schedule, though, I did manage to read a couple of brief review essays for the dissertation including the elusive South African review of Disgrace I had spent so much time hunting down over the weekend. Interlibrary loan is a beautiful thing, let me tell you. From microfiche at the University of Cape Town via Ohio University's excellent ILL hub, Jane Taylor's review of Coetzee's novel finally made it to this desolate stretch of New York. "Finally" mightn't be the best word, actually. I mean, having spent several hours looking for the essay to no avail, it feels like a finally situation but, since the article went from South African microfilm to highlight-smeared American computer printout in one business day, it's really more of a wow-that-was-quick-and-I-shouldn't-complain situation.

    So I won't.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, August 25, 2008
    This is going to have to be really brief. Since I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow and because I had a busy day today, I really want to hit the hay soon. Still, despite all the time spent running errands and such, I did go over another two articles, which I will discuss one day soon.

    All I can say now is that, with a new semester and a new set of challenges before me, the pressure to work on the dissertation every day has intensified and the resultant anxiety has reached new heights. I'll try to document that here, though my packed days may mean fewer long entries. We'll see.

    Oh, and on a totally off-topic note: Jean-Paul Sartre is delightful.

    For tomorrow: Read another article, transcribe a bit, or work on the bibliography.

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    ____________________________________________
    I'm getting frustrated. Now that my pile of unread Coetzee criticism has ballooned to a size that will probably require another month's worth of work to get through, I find myself increasingly irritated by the prospect of reading more criticism. I mean, geez. I had hoped to have finished writing the chapter by now but, with every article I read, it seems another two tack themselves on to the bottom of my reading list. Still, as I grow more frustrated by the often repetitive nature of my research, I try to remind myself that recently, in response to a question posed by my father, I was actually able to give a long, thought-out lecture on Disgrace, discussing topics I would never have known anything about had it not been for all those texts I have read. In other words, all this reading hasn't been for naught. It just feels that way sometimes.

    Clearly, the frustration stems from the fact that the process keeps drawing itself out like a particularly viscous piece Silly Putty. Ugh. (Of course, having spent several hours fruitlessly attempting to track down an oft-cited article from a South African newspaper this afternoon may have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back . . . ).

    I'd write more, but it is nearly two-thirty and I would like to get to bed soon. I will have to put off discussing the article I read today until another day, unfortunately. I'm just a bit too drowsy to write anything requiring more than a minimal amount of concentration.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, August 23, 2008
    This post is a continuation of Sobriquet 45.16.

    The remainder of my reading consisted of relatively brief articles and reviews. In "J. M. Coetzee's Cultural Critique," Harald Leusmann provides a reading of the novel that would likely fit under the umbrage of what Marais terms an "orthodox response," viewing the novel as a reflection of "the collective mood of present-day South Africa's white population at the end of the dark twentieth century" (60). As is common with such readings, Leusmann regards Lurie's development over the course of the novel as a journey of self-discovery in which the protagonist eventually realizes that loving the other is more rewarding than the brand of self-love with which he begins the book. In Sarah Lyall's brief article on Coetzee's second Booker Prize, the critic briefly reviews the same ground as Leusmann. David Attwell, in his excellent review of Disgrace, the critic delivers what amounts to one of the most definitive readings of the novel, emphasizing many of the issues Leusmann and Lyall consider as well as highlighting (among other things) the linguistic, sexual, and historical ideas so many later critics have elaborated on. As is the case with much of Attwell's work, "Coetzee and Post-Apartheid South Africa" is required reading for any student of Coetzee. Sarah Ruden's brief review of Coetzee's novel, while short, draws attention to the spiritual aspect of the novel several later critics discuss at greater length when she notes that the "novel brings to mind the theology of kenosis, the self-emptying necessary for spiritual growth." In "After the Fall," Michael Gorra praises Coetzee for his brave willingness to depict "an almost unrelieved series of grim moments" and, presciently, implies that the novel will likely bring the author the Nobel he would eventually win in 2003.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Works Cited

    Attwell, David. "Coetzee and Post-Apartheid South Africa." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. Journal of Southern African Studies 27.4 (2001): 865-867.

    Gorra, Michael. "After the Fall." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. New York Times 28 Nov. 1999: BR7+.

    Leusmann, Harald. "J. M. Coetzee's Cultural Critique." World Literature Today 78.3 (2004): 60-63.

    Lyall, Sarah. "J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace Wins Booker Prize." New York Times 26 Oct. 1999. Available online.

    Ruden, Sarah. Rev. of Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee. Christian Century 16 Aug. 2000. Available online.

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    ____________________________________________
    Today was one of those days where I ended up sleeping in until, like, five in the afternoon. To make matters worse, I actually went to bed at -- get this -- 6:30 last night, so I lost about a day. Admittedly, I did wake up a few times and I did use the three or four waking hours to read and eat and such, but I still slept at least eighteen out of the past twenty-four hours! Save for a few exceptionally rare instances of extreme illness or travel-induced fatigue, I haven't come close to that sort of percentage in a quarter century. Oddly, those precious few hours of wakefulness proved to be among the most productive I have had all summer in terms of reading.

    Speaking of reading, I recently returned to the indexing services I'd used when I first began collecting the criticism on Coetzee. Expecting to find perhaps two or three additional articles, I plugged in the familiar keywords ("Coetzee" and "Disgrace") and was stunned to find that, in the three months since I started the reading, another dozen or so articles have made the indexes and, as a result, my reading list has grown longer. I'd be lying if I said I was ecstatic. I have been really looking forward to a change of pace from reading so much academic writing, even if it meant beginning the equally challenging and trebly stressful process of chapter writing. But I have consoled myself with the knowledge that, when I teach Disgrace later on this semester, I will come across as fairly well-prepared. I have also been allowing myself the luxury of reading Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life just to remember what it feels like to pick a book up, buy it because I want to read it and read it because it interests me. I'd almost forgotten what a joy it can be to read a book when motivated solely by the desire to learn about a topic, without having to worry about deadlines, note-taking, cross-referencing and the like.

    Although it may seem obvious, I really want to emphasize the importance of reading for fun, especially for those of us who have become, for lack of a better classification, professional readers. Often, what had once been solely a source of joy has become toil. It's important to remember what it was like to want to read when you feel like you have to read. The other night, I caught myself sitting up well past my bedtime, thoroughly exhausted but unable to stop reading Azerrad's book. And there was a moment when I sat there and realized that I had not felt so compelled to read in a long time (though, admittedly, there was a similar sense of not wanting to put the book down when I was reading Life & Times of Michael K). Forgetting that feeling, I think, would be a tragedy.

    When I wasn't reading for pleasure (or preparing for a new semester or entertaining family or fixing up my home or sleeping way more than I should have), I continued reading the seemingly endless pile of criticism on Disgrace.

    The essay I found most interesting, Elleke Boehmer's "Coetzee's Queer Body," doesn't actually discuss Disgrace at length. Perhaps because the subject matter Boehmer tackles has not figured into nearly any of the essays I have read on Coetzee, I found her exploration of the homoerotic undertones of the author's work refreshingly original. Beginning with the "provocative" fascination the young John Coetzee of Boyhood feels towards the legs of his male classmates, Boehmer traces an undeniably homoerotic streak throughout much of Coetzee's writing and address many of the important questions such content raises for readers of "a writer usually assumed to be unquestioningly heterosexual." For Boehmer, Coetzee's characters, seem to be drawn to a Grecian ideal of bodily perfection privileging the male body and viewing the female form as "soft."At the heart of her reading, therefore, is what Boehmer perceives as Coetzee's misogynistic inability or refusal to identify with the female other, especially apparent in Disgrace (when David Lurie cannot understand Lucy's perspective) and Elizabeth Costello, though Age of Iron also figures in her discussion. Since Boehmer's essay is merely an early attempt at addressing "the relative paucity of queer readings of [Coetzee's] work," the critic cannot be expected to do much more than scratch the surface of what may well provide the groundwork for someone else's dissertation or monograph. Still, readers of Boehmer's essay will surely benefit from a reading that immediately encourages us to consider several themes in Coetzee's oeuvre in a new light. Think, for example, of the sheer dissatisfaction of heterosexual intercourse in Waiting for the Barbarians, Life & Times of Michael K, Disgrace, and Slow Man. Likewise, the Magistrate's fascination with the barbarian girl's legs in Barbarians may be worth revisiting.

    I also read Michael Marais's "Very Morbid Phenomena: 'Liberal Funk', the 'Lucy-Syndrome' and JM Coetzee's Disgrace," in which the critic reads against the "orthodox response to the novel" as "exemplifying whites' acceptance of their peripherality in the 'new' South Africa" (32). Drawing on G. W. F. Hegel's understanding of power relations, affirmation, and recognition between the dominant and subservient, Marais views Coetzee's novel as an attempt to halt the historical "cycle of domination and counter-domination" in which Lucy Lurie finds herself (35). Thus, where many critics view Lucy's response to her rape as a disturbing acquiescence, Marais attempts to show how strongly self-aware Lucy deliberately cultivates a sense of community and equality in her relationship with Petrus by treating her rape as she does. Still, like Magda's tumultuous relations with Hendrik and Klein-Anna in In the Heart of the Country, Lucy's relationship to Petrus does not gel the way she hopes it will. Instead, "what Coetzee sketches out in this text is a failed dialectic of recognition" in which Petrus continues the cycle Lucy attempts to halt (36). Despite this failure, however, Marais believes Disgrace raises questions about the "endless struggle for affirmation" and recognition "that determines colonial and post-colonial history" and encourages readers to "think beyond conventional antinomies" and "imagine possibilities of being and belonging with difference that are excluded by these dualisms" (38).

    Works Cited

    Boehmer, Elleke. "Coetzee's Queer Body. Journal of Literary Studies 21.3-4 (2005): 222-34.

    Marais, Michael. "Very Morbid Phenomena: 'Liberal Funk', the 'Lucy-Syndrome' and JM Coetzee's Disgrace." scrutiny2 6.1 (2001): 32-38.

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    Monday, August 18, 2008
    I read Brian Worsfold's brief "Post-Apartheid Transculturalism in Sipho Sepamla's Rainbow Journey and J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace" this evening and, despite its brevity, I found the essay to be a valuable contribution to the critical discourse surrounding Coetzee's novel. Worsfold's reading is of the allegorical variety, perceiving "David Lurie's quasi-tragic fall grace [as] Coetzee's symbolization of white disempowerment in post-apartheid South Africa" (91). Although such readings are quite common, the emphasis Worsfold places on Lurie's sexuality as a symbol is much less common and well worth noting.

    Since I have a string of extremely busy days coming up on the horizon, I won't post a "for tomorrow" assignment since I may not post another entry for a few days. In its stead, I will simply announce my intention to keep reading essays on or by Coetzee until I have the chance to sit down again.

    Work Cited

    Worsfold, Brian. "Post-Apartheid Transculturalism in Sipho Sepamla's Rainbow Journey and J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Towards a Transcultural Future: Literature and Society in a 'Post'-Colonial World. Geoffrey V. Davis, Peter H. Marsden, Benedicte Ledent, and Marc Delrez, eds. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004. 89-94.

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    Saturday, August 16, 2008
    I had hoped to read one of the longer essays on Disgrace this evening after I finished some housecleaning and socializing. Unfortunately, I seem to have come down with one of those colds that don't quite qualify as "bad," but nevertheless make reading and other such activity difficult.

    Since I didn't want today to be a total washout in terms of dissertation work, I decided to read James Hynes's "Sins of the Father," one of the more negative assessments of Coetzee's novel. Although Hynes finds the first section of the book "riveting," he faults Coetzee for lapsing into didacticism in the final three quarters of the novel (1). Declaring that the book "has a Calvinist sternness" and "a whiff of brimstone" in its "joylessness," Hynes wishes "for a recognition that life, even in the moral and political morass of post-apartheid South Africa, is not solely a moral obstacle" as he perceives Coetzee to present it (1).

    Such a reading is fairly typical and, to be fair, more than a little understandable. Disgrace is, certainly, a novel that presents an austere and bleak picture of life, but I disagree with Hynes's statement "that Coetzee seems to lack . . . a profound sense of comedy" (1). True, the novel is not a laugh-a-minute joke-fest, but there is undeniably some humor in seeing Lurie's quixotic operatic aspirations reduced to the tinny plucking of notes on a child's toy banjo. Likewise, if we view Lurie as the less-than-exemplary man he is, much of the novel (recall his pitying attitude towards Bev Shaw during their tryst in the animal clinic) can be read satirically. Still, the humor is of a very thin variety and quite a few readers share Hynes's reaction to the novel.

    For tomorrow: Same as today.

    Work Cited

    Hynes, James. "Sins of the Father." Rev. of Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee. Washington Post 16 January 2000: X1+.

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    I read Kai Easton's "Coetzee's Disgrace: Byron in Italy and the Eastern Cape c. 1820" this evening and really haven't much to say about the essay. If anything, I'm grateful to Easton for providing me with a bit of a break from reading "straight" literary criticism since she devotes a significant portion of the text to a survey of historical and artistic depictions of the Salem region of the Eastern Cape. Although Easton does acknowledge that Rita Barnard, Grant Farred, and Gareth Cornwell have all made significant contributions to the critical discussion surrounding Coetzee's decision to place Lucy's smallholding in the vicinity of Salem-Grahamstown, she feels critics have largely neglected the ways in which the story of Lord Byron's time in Ravenna relates to a region of the Eastern Cape weighed down by the burden of history. Admitting that linking "these two seemingly unrelated plots" may strike readers as peculiar, Easton proceeds in her reading despite sensing that "[t]hese two story-lines may only be tangentially linked by intersecting facts and dates, empirical histories and a network of coincidences and geographical placements" (113, 134). In fact, it occasionally seems as if Easton tries a bit too hard to establish such links. There are undeniably several similarities between the brand of European Romanticism we (perhaps erroneously) associate with Lord Byron and the hyperbolic idealism with which the Eastern Cape has been depicted but the connection remains a loose one. Still, despite relying perhaps a bit too heavily on coincidental points of convergence between the history of the Eastern Cape and Lord Byron's life, Easton's essay does highlight several very interesting aspects of Coetzee's novel and is a valuable companion to the aforementioned studies by Barnard, Cornwell, and Farred.

    For tomorrow: Read an article on Disgrace, a bit of Inner Workings, or work on the bibliography.

    Work Cited

    Easton, Kai. "Coetzee's Disgrace: Byron in Italy and the Eastern Cape c. 1820." Journal of Commonwealth Literature 42.3 (2007): 113-130.

    Edited on 2/2/09

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    Thursday, August 14, 2008
    I am pleased to report that the once-towering pile of Disgrace criticism sitting on my desk has shrunk considerably over the course of the summer. I always knew the amount of criticism on Disgrace would dwarf the amount devoted to Age of Iron, The Master of Petersburg, Elizabeth Costello, and Slow Man, but this has been an epic struggle for me. I mean, after a while, an overwhelming sense of deja vu hits you and you begin to feel as if you have already read what you're reading at the moment. Usually, when that feeling hits me, I moan and groan to myself and move on, hoping that what seems the same is actually different. Today, however, I discovered that a full three of the "unread" essays I had sitting before me were really, truly versions of essays I had already read. Indeed, while titles differed a bit and a few sentences were added here and there and a couple of phrases were reworded, the essays were, in fact, the same. Oh, I was delighted . . . I am now sixty pages further into my reading than I was earlier in the day and I didn't even have to put effort into it!

    Anyway . . .

    Of the essays I reviewed over the past couple of days that were not slightly modified versions of themselves, two (Gareth Cornwell's "Disgraceland: History and the Humanities in Frontier Country" and Ron Charles's "A Morality Tale With No Easy Answers") were articles that I had originally read several years ago when researching my first article on Disgrace, so I was not wholly unfamiliar with the terrain. At any rate, I do not hesitate to say that Gareth Cornwell stands alongside Rita Barnard as one of the Coetzee critics I most enjoy reading. His prose is extremely accessible, his foci interesting, and his research comprehensive. In "Disgraceland," Cornwell contextualizes Coetzee's novel by juxtaposing events in the book with historical accounts of Salem village and Grahamstown, highlighting several thought-provoking parallels between the relationship of the indigenous Xhosa inhabitants of the area with the European settlers and the interactions of blacks and whites in Disgrace. The essay also includes an exploration of the novel's intertextual relationship with "The Humanities in Africa," foregrounding the limitations of the values bestowed by a (romanticized) European past in contemporary South Africa.

    Charles's review, while brief, does an admirable job of highlighting many of the novel's key themes.

    Finally, the third essay that I read, Tim McIntyre's "Autobiography and Confession in Boyhood, Youth, and Disgrace," focuses primarily on Coetzee's autobiographical writing. Although he only briefly discusses the novel, McIntyre argues that Disgrace foregrounds the necessity of selfless love so painfully absent in the young John of the memoirs: "[w]hat is central to Disgrace are the same issues that are paramount to the Confessions of St. Augustine: the slow growth of love in the heart of the protagonist and the impersonal passion for truth that drives the writing" (177).

    For tomorrow: More reading.

    Works Cited

    Charles, Ron. "'A Morality Tale With No Easy Answers." The Christian Science Monitor (Boston) 10 November 1999: 20.

    Cornwell, Gareth. "Disgraceland: History and the Humanities in Frontier Country." English in Africa 30.2 (2003): 43-59.

    McIntyre, Tim. "Autobiography and Confession in Boyhood, Youth, and Disgrace." J. M. Coetzee: Critical Perspectives. Kailash C. Baral, ed. New Dehli: Pencraft International, 2008. 170-178.

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    ____________________________________________
    I'm actually not quite finished reading the article I set aside for today, so it has become tonight's bedtime reading.

    For tomorrow: More reading.

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    Tuesday, August 12, 2008
    After a long weekend spent with family, an old college friend, and Buckminster Fuller (at the Whitney Museum, in the form of a retrospective), I find myself a bit too tired to write anything more than a few sentences this evening. I have, however, kept up with my reading, making my way through a few more of Coetzee's essays in Inner Workings as well as the introduction to A Land Apart, which the novelist co-authored with Andre Brink, and another critical essay dealing with Disgrace.

    I will try to discuss my reading at greater length soon, when I am not as fatigued as I am at the moment of this writing.

    For tomorrow: More reading.

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    Friday, August 8, 2008
    Desiring a change of pace, I chose to read J. M. Coetzee's essay on Italo Svevo in Inner Workings in lieu of any critical writing on Coetzee himself. Although I haven't much to say about his views on Svevo, I can say that I enjoyed Coetzee's review and, if I had the time, would certainly consider picking up a copy of a Svevo novel (probably Senility) after reading Coetzee's comments on the Triestine author.

    Since I will probably not have much time over the next few days, I will try to continue reading in Inner Workings if I cannot read any of the remaining essays on Disgrace. I'll also take a few days' break from updating the website, but I will continue reading, I promise.

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    Thursday, August 7, 2008
    Well, today sort of made up for yesterday. Whereas I spent the better part of Wednesday afternoon sleeping and the majority of the evening procrastinating, I finished my work relatively quickly today and, despite playing computer games for a few hours, I fit some exercise and housecleaning into my schedule, too.

    At any rate, I would like to discuss what I have been reading these past few days, if only briefly, so you'll have to forgive me for making such an abrupt transition . . .

    Of the four essays I read, David Attwell's "Race in Disgrace" and Michael Holland's "'Plink-Plunk': Unforgetting the Present in Coetzee's Disgrace" stand out as particularly strong readings of the novel. Attwell, as always, draws upon his enviable familiarity with Coetzee's writing to expose the rampant critical misinterpretations, misapprehensions, misrepresentations, and misunderstandings in much of the commentary inspired by Disgrace. Using the ANC's treatment of the novel in its submission to the Human Rights Commission as a starting point, Attwell identifies several instances where readers have deliberately racialized the text in order to serve their own political ends. Referring to the controversy over the novel's "socially mimetic function" as "an over-heated discussion about what is the least complex - and arguably least interesting - area of the novel's performance," Attwell addresses several of the more egregious "creative misreadings" of Disgrace before integrating the discussions arising from them into his extensive examination of the "ethical turn" David Lurie undergoes during the course of the novel (332, 333, 339).

    Michael Holland's essay, taken from the same issue of interventions in which Attwell's article appears, examines how Coetzee "relegate[s] the defunct language of western masculinity to the past" in order to posit a new means of communication fit for post-apartheid South African society (395). Reading David Lurie's position in the novel as one of deeply existential isolation, Holland discusses how the pull of Lurie's nostalgia for an unattainable, romanticized past intensifies the former professor's temporal displacement and contributes to his disgrace. It is through the comedically pathetic music of his diminished operetta, ultimately, that David Lurie discovers "the absolute priority of the raw material of language" and is able to bring the "reader of the novel in direct contact with the immediate present of material existence," bringing him or her to a purer, more visceral understanding of existence as well as the means of communicating and processing that experience (404). Obviously, there is much more to the article than what I have mentioned here, but the complexity and insight of Holland's reading really cannot be summarized without necessarily diminishing one of the strongest readings of Disgrace yet published. In other words, you should read it yourself.

    Despite the seemingly gratuitous exposition on the workings of literary criticism in a poststructural paradigm with which H. P. van Coller begins "A Contextual Interpretation of J.M. Coetzee's Novel Disgrace," the critic does make several important contributions to the body of Coetzee criticism. The most convincing section of the essay is van Coller's excellent discussion of Disgrace's relationship to the plaasroman, especially in regards to the transgenerational significance of the farm in the South African (especially Afrikaans) literary imagination. While the rest of the essay touches upon several interesting aspects of the novel, I find the section on the plaasroman to be on par with some of the best readings of Disgrace that I have come across and will, in all likelihood, draw upon van Coller's insights when writing the chapter on Disgrace.

    The fourth and final essay I read was Benaouda Lebdai's "Bodies and Voices in Coetzee's Disgrace and Bouraoui's Garcon Manque," which focuses primarily on Lucy Lurie's role in the novel. Viewing the female body as the field upon which historical anxieties are enacted, Lebdai presents one of the more comprehensive readings of Lucy's character and, in the end, paves the way for future examinations of corporeality in the novel.

    For tomorrow: More reading.

    Works Cited

    Attwell, David. "Race in Disgrace." interventions 4.3 (2002): 331-341.

    Holland, Michael. "'Plink-Plunk': Unforgetting the Present in Coetzee's Disgrace." interventions 4.3 (2002): 395-404.

    Lebdai, Benaouda. "Bodies and Voices in Coetzee's Disgrace and Bouraoui's Garcon Manque." Cross Cultures 94 (1999): 33-44.

    Van Coller, H.P. "A Contextual Interpretation of J.M. Coetzee's Novel Disgrace." A Universe of (Hi)stories: Essays on J. M. Coetzee. Ed. Liliana Sikerska. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2006. 15-37.

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    ____________________________________________
    Today was a tough day to get through. I was tired all day and couldn't get myself to get any work done until close to midnight. I did, however, manage to read another essay, bringing me one step closer to finishing the huge pile of Disgrace criticism I have been wrestling with since last semester.

    Ugh.

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    Wednesday, August 6, 2008
    I spent a good portion of today driving around the Finger Lakes, taking in the scenery, drawing inspiration from the landscape, and otherwise enjoying the afternoon. I drove along the entire Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway, which was something I had been wanting to do for quite some time. When I got to Cayuga Lake State Park, a bit east of Seneca Falls, I decided to stop and get some reading done by the lakeside. It was a nice change of pace from the coffee shop - library - coffee shop - cafe gamut I normally run during the course of a "get out and read day."

    At any rate, I would like to address the three essays (or, rather, the two essays and one review) that I read since I last posted anything about the Coetzee criticism with which I have been working, so I'll not spend any additional time rambling on about my little tour . . .

    All right, getting to the criticism.

    So, I finally got around to reading James Wood's review of Disgrace, which I found to be rather nasty, if occasionally insightful. If anything, the review reads like a catalog of the different backhanded compliments one might toss as Coetzee. For instance, Wood initially seems to praise the novelist because "Coetzee's vision is impressively consistent: his books eschew loosened abundance for impacted allegory," but the critic later laments that "most depressingly, people like allegory" because "people like novels that, however intelligently, tell them what to think." Coetzee, Wood continues, "is very subtle and refined, so that much of the time he does not really seem to be telling us what to think; better still, his novels self-consciously display an involvement in their own modes of presentation, so that Coetzee will often seem to be telling us what to think about being told what to think (which is still a species of being told what to think, of course)." In other words, Coetzee is didactic, but clever enough to trick us into thinking he's not really all that preachy. And this is only one of many such instances where Wood turns praise into vitriol. Elsewhere, Wood discusses a passage in Disgrace he feels "would not be out of place in a mass-market thriller. It is the sheerest conventionality . . . It is cheap writing, literally cost-saving." Furthermore, Wood argues, David Lurie "is little more than a conduit for Coetzee's taut language," essentially reducing the entire novel to an onanistic exercise in linguistic exhibitionism.

    What bothers me most, in addition to the thinly-veiled disdain Wood seems to direct at Coetzee throughout the review, is the critic's entirely tangental and disarmingly acerbic attack on the Man Booker Prize, using the author of Disgrace as an excuse to air his opinions. Since the South African is, in Wood's unflattering assessment merely, "a very good writer and not a great writer, Coetzee emits prize-pheromones." All right. We get it: Wood thinks Coetzee is overrated. Fair enough. But he goes further and unaccountably attacks the critics who have considered Disgrace worthy of an award. Evidentially, such committees are drawn to the pheromones of mediocrity like tomcats to a queen in heat. Moreover, statements like "prize juries are known, more often than not, for their invincible wrong-headedness" sound exceedingly inappropriate coming from someone who, according to the Booker Prize's website, "recommended a novel by Clare Messud to his fellow judges, conveniently forgetting to mention that she was his wife" a full five years before Coetzee won his second prize.

    It's a shame that Wood cannot contain his contempt because he is, in all honesty, one of the most insightful critics actively discussing literature today. It's a shame, too, because the half-formed insights into Disgrace could have been developed more fully in the space Wood devotes to his attacks on fellow critics. (Wood's reviews of Coetzee's other novels, in my opinion, are considerably more valuable contributions to the body of Coetzee criticism than the one currently under discussion.)

    Still, Wood's response to Coetzee's novel does provide readers with several interesting points to consider, especially when contemplating the book's possibly allegoric nature. Interestingly, it is precisely "the limitations of allegory" Wood identifies as the "significant weakness" in Coetzee's text that David Attwell takes up in the essay I read this afternoon. Unfortunately, I will have to discuss Attwell's essay (as well as Michael Holland's fascinating essay on language in Disgrace) another day because I spent so much time writing this evening's post. I will catch up though, I promise.

    For tomorrow: More reading or work on the bibliography.

    Work Cited

    Wood, James. "Parables and Prizes." The New Republic. 10 May 2001. Available online.

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    Tuesday, August 5, 2008
    Today was a decent day in terms of getting my reading done, which I got through relatively early despite the complexity of the article I'd set aside for the afternoon. Although I slept in a bit later than I would have liked, I felt energetic enough to walk down to the library, where I managed to get most of my reading done. It was nice. At any rate, I will keep tonight's entry brief because I am too sleepy to give the readings I've done these past couple of days the attention I feel they deserve. Instead, I'll sign off now with the promise to address them in the next day or two.

    For tomorrow: Read more.

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    Monday, August 4, 2008
    Since it's really late and because I feel the reading I did today deserves more than an offhanded late-night synopsis, I'll not write much this evening. I will, however, use this space to express my sadness upon learning of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's passing. As a teenager, I distinctly remember watching a television documentary about the author while he was still living in exile in Vermont and growing utterly fascinated with the man. As soon as I could, I cadged a ride to the tiny Waldenbooks near my home and bought One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. I have never forgotten how harrowing I found Solzhenitzen's story to be and, when I revisited the novel a few years ago, I was pleased to discover that, for me, Ivan Denisovich, like Moby-Dick and Slaughterhouse-Five, is as stunning and powerful a book on a second or third reading as it was when I first cracked the novel's spine that afternoon in New Jersey.

    For better or worse, it seems, we only pay tribute to great people when we no longer have the blessing of their presence in this world. Forgive me, then, if I have not said so while the man was still with us, but Alexander Solzhenitsyn is a vital voice in the discordant chorus of human history and we can only hope that his absence will serve to amplify the crucial messages the author smuggled out of the snow-swept Siberian gulags, wrought into heart-wrenching prose, and bestowed to the world. May you rest in peace, Mr. Solzhenitsyn.

    For tomorrow: More reading.

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    Sunday, August 3, 2008
    I actually got today's work done fairly quickly. You see, I had a party to attend, so I was actually motivated to plough through my reading. I read so quickly, in fact, that I considered reading more than I had planned just to feel doubly accomplished. Then I got hit with a headache, skipped both the extra reading and the party, and fell asleep. Now, even though I did make the progress I'd hoped to make today, I somehow feel less satisfied with myself. I mean, it's one of those instances where one's success is diminished by his or her sense at having failed to fulfill one's potential.

    Ugh.

    Regardless, I did read Peter D. McDonald's "Disgrace Effects," in which the author investigates whether or not Coetzee's novel can resist the "racialized readings" many critics have given the book (326). Along the way, McDonald reviews the varied critical responses to the novel in South Africa, paying particularly close attention to that of the ANC. If, as many critics of the novel maintain, Disgrace amounts to Coetzee's allegorical "report on white racism" in post-Apartheid South Africa, the novel is "dangerously uncertain in its implications," lending itself to troubling readings in which Coetzee himself emerges as something of racist (326). For McDonald, however, the book cannot be reduced to a mere piece of contemporary South African literature interested only in commenting upon the nation out of which it emerges and, as such, cannot be expected to comment exclusively on the socio-political situations in Coetzee's homeland. Instead, while "[t]he questions it raises about racist language, the violations of human dignity, and the ethics of redress are not universal . . . they do have a bearing on many times and places" (329). Consequently, McDonald concludes, "the novel is written in such a way as to risk putting contemporary expectations, especially with regard to trading texts called 'literary,' provocatively to the test" (330). As McDonald addresses the many criticisms hurled at Coetzee in the months following the publication of Disgrace, he does an admirable job of exposing the flaws inherent to many of the racialized readings of the novel while not becoming an apologist. Ultimately, McDonald's reading is ambiguous in its evaluation, a wholly appropriate response to Coetzee's "charged story, artful rhetoric, dense allusiveness, and studied refusal to moralize" (330). Disgrace, like any great novel, does not answer nearly as many questions as it poses and McDonald, in an exceptional example of critical restraint, refuses to offer a "definitive" reading of the novel, choosing instead to free Coetzee's book from the one-dimensional readings so many commentators have given the text and inviting future readers to consider a variety of angles when approaching Disgrace.

    For tomorrow: Same stuff, different day.

    Work Cited

    McDonald, Peter D. "Disgrace Effects." interventions 4.3 (2002): 321-330.

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    Friday, August 1, 2008
    For some reason, I struggled to get through my reading yesterday. I kept procrastinating and biking from one cafe to another, trying to focus. In the end, my inability to focus got the better of me and I ended up reading until three or so this morning. Today's reading, fortunately, went a bit more smoothly for me. I find that, on the days when I visit Cornell's campus, I tend to be more productive. Part of the reason for this increased diligence, I'm sure, stems from the fact that visiting the venerable old institution requires that I spend more time, energy, and money than I would otherwise do, essentially making the afternoon an outing and cultivating a certain sense of obligation in my mind. I'm also convinced that the gothic architecture and breathtaking scenery have a favorable effect on my mindset. The school I currently attend, having been built during the pragmatic years of the American twentieth century, consists almost exclusively of the featureless, squat brick buildings one associates with the utilitarian values of the Cold War. Needless to say, the bland functionality of the buildings' design does not inspire the same set of emotions as the sweeping columns and decorative friezes common among older institutions. To be honest, I like the musty old buildings, the well-worn marble floors, the exquisite latticework, and the grand, sweeping curves of Cornell's campus because they remind me of similarly "academic" features of the institutions where I did my Bachelor's and Master's degrees. And I like the oldness of the campus because, it makes it easier to envision Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Farina, Vladimir Nabokov, M. H. Abrams and several of my favorite professors working in the same spot in years past. I mean, there's a reason we humans flock to certain historical places. We go to the Pyramids or the Tower of London or Chichen Itza because we know something happened in those places and we wish to imbibe what we can of those historic events or, at the very least, draw inspiration from them.

    And that's what I do when I sit among the trees overlooking Ithaca.

    Now, I'm not saying that a muse will descend upon me or that some quasi-spiritual force permeates the air I breathe when at the university. No. That's a bit too quixotic for me. But I do like the scholarly feel of a tradition-rich academic milieu and I do like to be reminded of the intellectual lights that have gone before me because such things get me thinking about scholarship and put me in the mood to push through my own work.

    And speaking of my own work, I'd like to briefly mention the essays I read these past two days. The first essay, co-authored by Jerzy Koch and Pawel Zajas, draws upon an immense collection of Polish and Dutch reviews of Coetzee's fiction to address instances where foreign critics have misread the author's fiction. The duo's most significant contribution to the canon of Coetzee criticism, in my estimation, is their discussion of the plaasroman and the author's critical engagement with the genre. Like Rita Barnard, Koch and Zajas make an exceedingly strong case for reading Disgrace with the conventions of the plaasroman in mind.

    The essay I read this afternoon, John Douthwaite's linguistic analysis of the opening chapter of Disgrace is clearly the work of a master linguist, though much of the essay simply explains how Coetzee's writing creates the emotional response most readers have when confronting the text of the novel. Where Douthwaite really shines, however, is in his meticulous unpacking of Coetzee's prose to reveal the text's "conversational, or dialogic" nature, thereby opening Disgrace up to a host of intriguing readings rarely discussed among the novel's commentators (53).

    For tomorrow: More of the same.

    Works Cited

    Douthwaite, John. "Coetzee's Disgrace: A Linguistic Analysis of the Opening Chapter." Towards a Transcultural Future: Literature and Society in a 'Post'-Colonial World. Geoffrey V Davis, Peter H. Marsden, Benedicte Ledent, and Marc Delrez, eds. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004. 41-60.

    Koch, Jerzy and Pawel Zajas. "'They Pass Each Other By, Too Busy to Even Wave': J.M. Coetzee and His Foreign Reviewers." A Universe of (Hi)stories: Essays on J. M. Coetzee. Ed. Liliana Sikerska. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2006. 111-150.

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    Since I spent the majority of July 31 riding my bike and otherwise avoiding work, I find myself well into the third hour of August still working on my reading for today. I will finish it before going to bed tonight, but I will not be able to discuss it until tomorrow. And speaking of tomorrow...

    For tomorrow: Same old, same old.

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