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    Sobriquet 46.26

    Tuesday, September 30, 2008
    If there were any doubts that an advanced degree in the liberal arts appeals to employers, I suggest you read the following announcement sent to the English graduate student listserv at my university this afternoon under the title "Job Opening":
    JOB POSTING: [Company name removed for privacy] has an immediate opening for a full-time receptionist/administrative assistant. The successful applicant need not have knowledge of the window tinting industry, but must be willing and able to learn the company's trade. This position requires a personable and responsible employee with a professional attitude and outstanding phone etiquette. An understanding of scheduling, invoicing, and accounts payable is required for this busy, rewarding position.
    When headhunters looking for "a full-time receptionist/administrative assistant" begin targeting people with MAs and PhDs, one cannot help but reflect upon his or her decision to attend graduate school. There is, of course, nothing wrong with a receptionist position in the window tinting industry, but from a certain jaded perspective, one has to wonder what this says about the relative value of a decade of post-secondary education in an economy like ours . . . I mean, theoretically one need not attend college to qualify him- or herself for a career in the service industry or in retail, yet many people I know with fancy-sounding degrees end up working in fields they need not have spent so much time and money in school to enter. Obviously, the psychological, intellectual, and spiritual value of an education should be enough of an incentive for an individual to attend post-secondary schools, but the reality of the situation is that the vast majority of people in the United States who attend college and graduate school with the explicit goal of obtaining a particular type of job and lifestyle theoretically only possible with an expensive and time-consuming education. And, sadly, it seems, many of these dreams will go unfulfilled despite the best efforts to succeed. This, too, is another throbbing anxiety in the mind of many a graduate student: will all this work pay off and position me for a satisfying career in academia? The answer in all its painfully unsettling glory: maybe.

    And speaking of emails, I received this message yesterday:
    A request you have placed:

    Cape Argus
    10 August 1999
    Title: Coetzee thinks publicly about new SA
    Author: Michael Morris

    TN: 339109

    has been cancelled by the interlibrary loan staff for the following reason:

    We have exhausted all possible sources.

    There is no library who can supply this item.
    I have a hard time believing that no library has a copy of the Cape Argus from less than a decade ago, so if there's anyone who might have a copy of this brief newspaper article, I would be elated if you could contact me.

    As far as reading goes, I finished two articles since yesterday evening, both of which deal heavily with poststructural theory. Of the two, the essay I read this afternoon -- Zoe Wicomb's "Translations in the Yard of Africa" -- struck me as most relevant to my dissertation. In her discussion of the correlations between the act of cultural transformation and literal and figurative translation, Wicomb cuts to the heart of one of the central issues in postcolonial studies: the palimpsestic nature of cultural production. Indeed, the traces of apartheid-era society is never fully erased and, in Coetzee's book, they often foil attempts at translating experience. This, in Wicomb's estimation, can be shown to reveal "the failure of transition as a crossing over to democracy" (Wicomb). The essay I read last night, Lucy Graham's "'Yes, I am Giving Him Up': Sacrificial Responsibility and Likeness With Dogs in JM Coetzee's Recent Fiction," like so many others, deals with the connections between The Lives of Animals and Disgrace. Although Graham is one of the Coetzee scholars I most enjoy, I wasn't as impressed by this essay as I normally am. This is not to say that her essay is not very good -- it is -- but I feel that the weight of the theory she brings into the article detracts from her astute reading of the novel. Jacques Derrida, Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault, Emmanuel Levinas, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, among others, each make an appearance in this brief (eleven pages!) essay. Although many academics are quite familiar with what amounts to a who's who of postmodern thought, Graham's tightly-packed essay demands a certain readerly vigilance not to get lost in the waves of complexly-wrought theoretical language running throughout the text. That said, Graham reads against the Mike Marais's Levinasian interpretation of Disgrace, arguing that Coetzee's texts "challenge the limitations of autrui and dissociation implicit in notions of transcendence," providing a slightly different (yet valuable) interpretation of the oft-cited "sympathetic imagination" at work in both Disgrace and The Lives of Animals / Elizabeth Costello (4). While I do not wholly agree with Graham's reading, I applaud her focus on the body as a site of suffering as well as the negative presence of silenced suffering in the two texts.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Works Cited

    Graham, Lucy. "'Yes, I am Giving Him Up': Sacrificial Responsibility and Likeness With Dogs in JM Coetzee's Recent Fiction." scrutiny2 7.1 (2002): 4-15.

    Wicomb, Zoe. "Translations in the Yard of Africa." Journal of Literary Studies 18.3-4 (2000): 209-33.

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    ____________________________________________
    Since it's well after three in the morning, I'm going to keep this entry extremely brief. Despite the fact that it took me an exceptionally long time to do, I eventually sat myself down and read the article I'd set aside for the day. I'll discuss it (and hopefully several other texts I have not yet talked about) in a day or so. For now, though, it's an audiobook or a crossword puzzle and then sleep.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, September 28, 2008
    Although I had initially planned to spend the day reading one of the longer critical articles I still have sitting around, I opted instead to read a couple of reviews on Disgrace. Normally, when I end up reading newspaper reviews, I do so out of desperation. Either I have been unable to focus on a longer essay or I have been working (for-money working) all day and haven't the time or energy left to read much more than a briefer, less scholarly-sounding text. Today, though, was different. It's only 1:30 in the afternoon, so I really can't claim that I have been struggling to read an essay all day long. Likewise, it is a Sunday, so I can hardly blame long hours in the classroom or around the conference table for not getting much done.

    Instead, a friend invited me over for the afternoon to play Dungeons and Dragons, like the proper icosahedronic dice-rollers that we are. Having been a bit lonely lately, I figured, socializing might well be the ticket to ensuring a better attitude towards my own work. It certainly can't hurt.

    So, I read a couple of reviews so that I could enjoy myself knowing I had gotten some work completed already. The first review, Rachel L. Swams's "After Apartheid, White Anxiety," as the title suggests, situates Coetzee 's text among "a new literature of South Africa's whites that vents and explores their fears about the post-apartheid nation" (1). Drawing comparisons to Nadine Gordimer's less negative House Gun, Swams sees Coetzee's novel as depicting the "chilling indifference" of a society in which vengefully violent acts of retribution may be exacted upon seemingly innocent white individuals like the "warm-hearted" Lucy Lurie (1). Swams's essay, it seems to me, stands out as a particularly strong introduction to a certain vein of critical concern among the South African literary establishment. Additionally, by drawing upon critics such as David Attwell and contemporary novelists such as Zakes Mda, Swams effectively presents a learned, relatively unbiased view of this branch of critical discourse in her native land. I also read Robin Vidimos's review of Disgrace which, despite misidentifying the novel's protagonist as "James Lurie," is a fairly solid reading of the text. Although not explicitly evoked, existentialism seems central to Vidimos's interpretation of the book and, accordingly, focuses on the origins and solutions to the "rudderless" Lurie's detachment (5).

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Works Cited

    Swams, Rachel L. "After Apartheid, White Anxiety." The New York Times 14 Nov 1999: 4.1.

    Vidimos, Robin. "Midlife Tragedy Quickly Grabs and Retains Interest." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Denver Post 14 Nov. 1999: F5+.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, September 27, 2008
    Since I haven't yet done so, I am going to use this post to mention some of the articles I never got around to discussing when my access to the internet was limited to brief sessions in crowded library computer labs as well as a few of those essays I neglected to write about when I felt too tired to type anything worth reading.

    In his brief review marking the release of Disgrace in paperback, Michael Holland rather pithily writes "[c]olonialism at best is the tyranny of the paternal. Disgrace is not knowing when to let go," an observation I believe adroitly synthesizes several of the central themes running through Coetzee's narrative. Indeed, the colonial past haunts David Lurie, the man many critics view as an embodiment of apartheid-era white privilege, who struggles to adjust to the post-apartheid society into which history has thrust him. Indeed, as Tony Freemantle writes, David Lurie "no longer has control in the new social order" and, accordingly, "he cannot find his place in this unfamiliar land" (15). Furthermore, the refusal to "let go" highlighted by Holland extends beyond the political sphere, into Lurie's bedroom, where the professor's "libido . . . won't politely fade away with flagging physical appeal and status." Disgrace, then, "develops into a debate between generations," revealing the social, political, sexual, and ontological fissures separating David Lurie's generation from that of his daughter and post-apartheid South Africa in general (Adams). I also read Suzanne Rhodenbaugh's early review of the novel in which she views the "disillusionment and emptiness" David Lurie experiences as signs of an existential crisis (12). As always, I tend to agree with the existential reading, having written (and published) essays highlighting precisely this concern. All bias aside, though, Rhodenbaugh does provide one of the better American reviews of the novel, especially among the early critics.

    In addition to the reviews mentioned above, I also read Agata Krzychylkiewicz's survey of Coetzee's reception in Russia, which highlights several interesting readings of Disgrace, as well as the author's other novels, especially (and, perhaps, predictably) The Master of Petersburg. The Russian critics Krzychylkiewicz cites tend to view Coetzee's narrative as both a supremely realized example of literary refinement and an extremely bleak, often painful-to-read depiction of modern life. Particularly illustrative of the Russian response to the novel is the reviewer for NaStoiaschaia literatura's comment that Disgrace is an "echellent and at the same time hopeless novel" that presents a "repugnant" world in which "[o]ne can get on . . . only when one submits to it" (qtd. in Krzychylkiewicz). Likewise, Dmitrii Olshanskii claims that, for Coetzee, "life [is] chaotic and terrifying" while the anonymous reviewer writing for Knizhnyi klub asserts that "[t]he topic of the book is as always in Coetzee's writing twisted and dizzy" (qtd. in Krzychylkiewicz).

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Works Cited

    Adams, Phoebe-Lou. "Brief Reviews." The Atlantic Monthly. March 2000. Available online.

    Freemantle, Tony. "The 'New South Africa': Damaged Souls Struggle For Redemption, Answers." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. Houston Chronicle 19 Dec. 1999: 15.

    Holland, Michael. Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Observer. 23 April 2000.

    Hollands, Glenn. "Sophisticated Award Winner." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Dispatch. 20 May 2000. Available Online.

    Krzychylkiewicz, Agata. "The Reception of J. M. Coetzee in Russia." Journal of Literary Studies 21.3-4 (2005): 338-368.

    Rhodenbaugh, Suzanne. "Professor Takes on the Coils of Predator, Loving Father in 'Dog's Life' Existence." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. St. Louis Post-Dispatch 12 Dec. 1999: 12.

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    ____________________________________________
    I really struggled to get anything done today. Initially, I had wanted to read another critical article but, after nearly five months of reading essays on Disgrace, I just did not have it in me today. I did, however, read four brief reviews of the novel.

    Still, I am at a stage in my research where I really don't feel as if my reading is likely to further my understanding of Coetzee's novel in any way. Since virtually everything I read now seems to be another way of phrasing something I have already read several times previously, I find that I am lucky if, upon finishing an article, I have underlined a few cleverly-phrased passages that I can draw upon when writing a chapter I thought I would have started months ago.

    And that's not good. Reading shouldn't become a chore I have to force myself to complete in spite of a conviction that it is a futile, bankrupt endeavor.

    But, I suppose that this is a common feeling for people working with texts that have been glossed hundreds of times over. Yuck, though.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, September 25, 2008
    The rather unpleasant combination of a fourteen hour work day today and a poor night's sleep last night has rendered me more or less inarticulate this evening, so you will have to excuse me if I sound a bit spaced-out. I mean, it was a good day (after all, I enjoyed my classes and the ailing loved one for whom I have been caring seems to be on the mend), but it has also been the culmination of an emotionally- and financially-draining week, so tonight's fatigue is not one a glass of soda or a cup of tea (I'm not a coffee person) could fix. Accordingly, this post will have to be yet another brief entry taking the place of the much longer piece I would prefer to write. But que sera, sera, I suppose.

    Despite my obligation-crammed schedule, however, I did manage to read a pair of articles on Coetzee culled from the pages of The London Times this evening. The first, Ranti Williams's review of Disgrace, is fairly consistent with much of the initial non-South African commentary on Coetzee's novel, highlighting as it does David Lurie's transformation in the aftermath of his daughter's rape while only cursorily addressing the racial issues so prevalent in the often-negative assessments of the author's countrymen. I do appreciate Williams's rather prescient reading of sexuality in the novel as a key to understanding David Lurie's existentially dissonant position in the book, an interpretive angle largely glossed over by other reviewers and only tangentially referred to in most recent critical studies. Despite a handful of forgivable misreadings (David Lurie is not, as Williams suggests, a professor at the University of Cape Town, but rather an instructor at the fictive Cape Technical University, for instance), Williams proves to be an uncommonly observant reader, capably situating Coetzee's book within the larger context of the author's oeuvre while also closely analyzing the text and discussing the unique qualities that mark Disgrace as the beginning of a new phase in the Nobel laureate's career. I also read a short, anonymously-penned biographical essay on Coetzee written shortly after he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2003. Predictably, the author's reclusive nature receives a disproportionate amount of attention in the piece, but the article does provide a succinct overview of Coetzee's writing as well as a largely sympathetic glimpse into the mind and life of a contemporary literary giant.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Works Cited

    "Triumph of a One-Man Truth Commission." The Sunday Times [London] 5 Oct. 2003. Available online.

    Williams, Ranti. "A Man's Salvation." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Times [London] 25 June 1999. Available online.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, September 24, 2008
    Having spent most of the day running errands I really wish I hadn't had to run, I was exhausted by the time I sat down to read today's essay. I knew that I would be too sleepy to read one of the handful of longer critical articles on Disgrace which I have yet to make my way through, so I attempted to read a bit of Inner Workings instead. When my attention flagged, I cracked open Doubling the Point and The Rights of Desire, but I was unable to focus on those texts either. In the end, desperate to make at least a tiny bit of progress on my dissertation, I read John Mullan's brief discussion of sex in Disgrace. Surprisingly, despite it's brevity, Mullan's review provides readers with a slew of useful insights into the nature of sex and sexuality in Coetzee's novel. Particularly relevant to discussions of David Lurie's alienation, for instance, is Mullan's observation that "sex sharpens the character's sense of separateness," an observation so profoundly obvious (at least once one hears it) that it strikes one as astonishing that so many of Coetzee's subsequent commentators have neglected to make note of it when discussing topics that would be illuminated by its inclusion.

    Work Cited

    Mullan, John. Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Guardian 15 June 2002. Available online.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay or a bit of The Rights of Desire.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, September 23, 2008
    As was the case on Friday and Saturday, I decided to read a bit of Inner Workings in lieu of scholarly articles about Disgrace. Whereas I was tired of reading criticism late last week and opted to give my mind a bit of a break, I was just plain tired today. Wiped out, in fact. Knowing that I would probably not gain much from a longer critical reading given how much difficulty I had been having keeping my eyes open all day, I figured reading something less demanding than your average academic journal article would be a good idea. I mean, I wanted to get something done, but I really couldn't expect a whole lot from myself. Still, progress is progress and my little bit of reading in Coetzee's collection did yield a few bon mots that may find their way into my dissertation. So I am not complaining.

    But I am yawning.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, September 22, 2008
    Well, I have the internet again. I just haven't the time to post much tonight. I have kept of with my reading, though it has admittedly been a challenge to motivate myself. Still, I am moving closer to the end of the criticism on Disgrace, which will be a change of pace and a whole new set of anxieties, I'm sure.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay or a bit of The Rights of Desire.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, September 17, 2008
    Well, it looks like my internet problem will be solved some time Monday, which will be nice. I will try to post an entry every so often until then, but I can't promise to publish anything on a daily basis before I have that issue resolved.

    On the dissertation front, I actually had a brief impromptu meeting with my supervisor yesterday afternoon. Among other things, we chatted a bit about some of the ideas I have been toying with for the chapter on Disgrace. I left feeling better about things; it's always nice to get a vote of confidence from someone when you've been toiling in isolation for as long as I have.

    I also read some more of Inner Workings as well as another critical essay on Disgrace, which I will have to discuss later, when I have more reliable (i.e., not restricted to an hour of use) access to the internet. Inner Workings is a wonderful little book, by the way. Coetzee is an extremely insightful literary critic who does not write in an overtly academic voice. Rather than inundate readers with evidence of his own scholarly research as is common in smaller, explicitly academic publications, Coetzee directs his writing at a broader, though equally literate, readership (most of the essays in the collection were originally published as reviews in the New York Review of Books, for instance). In doing so, he combines the sort of critical attention to detail one associates with scholars writing for their colleagues with the enthusiasm of someone who writes a monthly column in a more accessible intellectual magazine. The end result, as is often the case with good criticism, makes the reader want to seek out the book in question and read it for him- or herself.

    For tomorrow through Monday: Read an essay or a bit of The Rights of Desire each day.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, September 15, 2008
    Well, I still haven't got the internet at home, so I am accessing the web at the library. Despite the fact that I said I would not be writing something every day until I can solve this delightful little dilemma, I decided to try and get something down today. Basically, I don't want to use my lack of internet access as an excuse to be lazy. It's not like I have a whole lot to report since yesterday, though. I spent the vast majority of the time I should have been reading fixing my laptop so that I can at least have some way to get online when not at work. After all, I can't lug my desktop to a wifi hotspot at will. Despite my success is resurrecting my laptop, however, I regard yesterday as the shitty nadir of my week. Even my rise-from-the-dead Phoenix of a computer couldn't lift me out of the slough of non-productivity into which I had sunk. Although I had a full afternoon and evening to work, I found ways not to do anything. I slept, I found a Tim Hortons in Cortland, I exercised, I fixed the aforementioned laptop, I chatted with a neighbor, I made plans to see a friend later this week, I listened to some old Bad Brains songs. I just didn't get my reading done. Finally, when I realized that I could not possibly make sense of the article I was trying to read at nearly four in the morning, I decided to read another of Coetzee's essays in Inner Workings. And, yeah, the author's comments on Hugo Claus actually proved to be quite enlightening, so the day was not wasted and I did get my "read an essay" assignment done, but it sure as hell didn't feel like a good day.

    For tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow: Keep it up. Read another essay or part of Brink's novel.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, September 14, 2008
    Since my internet has been dead for a few days now, I have been having some real trouble getting online. As a result of this difficulty, the entry I wrote in a word processing program last night (Sobriquet 46.14) cannot be posted. I will try to post it (and any other "unplugged" entries) when I get the chance. Still, since I haven't the foggiest clue when I will next have internet access at home, I can't promise to make daily posts to the blog. I can, of course, access the internet at the library (as I am doing now), but given how few terminals there are, I mightn't get much time to write anything. But I assure you, I am continuing to work on the dissertation.

    For today, tomorrow, and until I can get get this internet access problem solved: Read an essay or a section of The Rights of Desire each day.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, September 13, 2008
    Written on 9/13/2008; posted 9/22/2008:

    Well, my internet connection isn't working again, so I am typing this in my computer's word processing program and will cut and paste it into my blogging software when I can get online. Ironically -- I swear this isn't intentional -- I am listening to Face to Face's "Disconnected" while I write. Weird.

    As I have mentioning repeatedly over the past few days, I have really been struggling to get through the final dozen or so articles on Disgrace. At least three-quarters of them have underlining or highlighting on the first page or two from my aborted attempts to read them. This isn't to say that the articles are poorly written or anything. It's just that I find myself saying "yeah, I know" to quite a few of the critics I have been reading lately because, to be honest, I have not been encountering much in the way of new information. You see, I've already encountered quite a few analyses of, say, Coetzee's critique of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission or the role of animals in stoking David Lurie's sympathetic imagination -- and, more often than not, I have already read the arguments presented in a given article two or three times in other criticism.

    Of course, there have been some very fine exceptions, articles that do shed new light on the novel and I appreciate them a great deal. This, though, sounds like more complaining, which is not my aim. If anything, I am trying to document my frustration. I want to share this with those of you who have been kind enough to share your own experiences as dissertation writers with me in case you ever find yourself in a similar predicament. I also want to write my way through the frustration. I want to be able to look back on this experience and, with the aid of these notes of exasperation, keep the distortions of memory to a minimum. That way, I can realistically say I have been here, done this and have written proof of it.

    That said, I did make my way through another essay this afternoon. Admittedly, had I not had plans for dinner, I mightn't have finished my reading so early. Fortunately, I ended up having a nice time with some really wonderful people and I now have the energy to write a bit, so I will try to discuss a few of the essays I have been meaning to mention. As a caveat, I should mention that I will only discuss certain elements of the essays. Each one is considerably more complex and broader in scope than my brief entry could possibly convey and should be sought out by serious students of Coetzee.

    The essay I went over this afternoon, Margot Norris's "The Human Animal in Fiction," only deals briefly with Disgrace. With particular attention to sexuality and the use of bestial metaphors to express human sexuality, Norris's study will prove quite useful to readers interested in broader issues of materialism as well as to those wanting to locate Coetzee within a tradition of human-animal representations. In a similar vein, I also read Kennan Ferguson's "I [Heart] My Dog," which like Norris's essay, considers Coetzee's treatment of animals as part of a larger trend in literary history. Consistent with what may be the orthodox interpretation of dogs in Disgrace, Ferguson views the canine presence in Coetzee's novel as a catalyst in the reformation of David Lurie's character.

    Among the other articles I read over the past week, only Jane Poyner's "Truth and Reconciliation in JM Coetzee's Disgrace" deals exclusively with the novel. Typical of many essays concerned with the theme of reconciliation, Poyner reads the character of David Lurie as representative of the white male figure in post-apartheid South Africa. Where she deviates from the pack is in her refining of that reading from the general to the specific: David Lurie represents not only the while male but the white male writer. Accordingly, Poyner sees the failure of David's musical project as analogous to the white writer's difficulty in finding an appropriate voice for expressing his angst, guilt, and desire for an unobtainable closure in post-Apartheid South Africa. Similarly, Johan Jacobs discusses the ways in which the increasingly comic Byron in Italy mirrors the many reversals taking place in the novel as well as in South African society, including Petrus's displacing of the Luries' on the Eastern Cape smallholding purchased by the latter.

    Works Cited

    Ferguson, Kennan. "I [Heart] My Dog." Political Theory 32.3 (2004): 373-395.

    Jacobs, Johan. "Writing Reconciliation: South African Fiction After Apartheid." Cross Cultures 71 (2004): 177-196.

    Norris, Margot. "The Human Animal in Fiction." Parallax 12.1 (2006): 4-20.

    Poyner, Jane. "Truth and Reconciliation in JM Coetzee's Disgrace." scrutiny2 5.1 (2000): 68-77.

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    ____________________________________________
    Well, I suppose every productive day has its unproductive counterpart. And today, unlike Wednesday, was not a particularly good day for my dissertation. Although I woke up with plenty of energy and a desire to get some real work done, I ended up struggling to focus all day. No matter where I went -- restaurants, bookstores, you name it -- I could not get into a groove and now, at a quarter past midnight, I am still working on the day's article. Ugh.

    As I have mentioned many, many times before, I have grown pretty tired of reading literary criticism, which I have been doing almost daily for more than three months now. Again, I realize full well that I could probably write my chapter on Disgrace without reading the remaining criticism, but I feel obliged to finish what I started. I don't like the idea of doing anything half-assed and I know that if I were to skip the last few articles, I would end up regretting it and I would undoubtedly carry that regret with me for a long, long time. So, in an effort to make finishing the criticism a bit easer for myself, I have decided to read a bit of Andre Brink's The Rights of Desire (Donkermaan) in lieu of Disgrace criticism whenever I feel I really need a break from the monotony of that particular project. Brink's novel, as many Coetzee scholars are eager to point out, takes its English title from David Lurie's statement to the university disciplinary committee that his "case rests on the rights of desire," and provides an interesting and significant intertextual reference point for readers of Disgrace. Since it appears in so many discussions of Disgrace and because the two novels deal with many of the same issues, I feel that I should at least read The Rights of Desire and, if I'm lucky, I might be able to integrate it into my chapter. We'll see.

    For tomorrow: Read another article and/or a bit of The Rights of Desire.

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    Thursday, September 11, 2008
    As I mentioned yesterday, I have been supplementing the the critical essays on Disgrace that I have been reading with some reviews of the novel and I would like to use tonight's entry to briefly mention a few of these pieces. One recurring point of interest among the critics I've read recently has been, perhaps not surprisingly, the ways in which Coetzee's novel reflects and comments upon "the unreconciled dilemmas of . . . his country's predicament" (Williams). Trevor Royale, for instance, maintains that Coetzee's "political metaphors are impossible to avoid" while Michael Upchurch praises Disgrace for "admirably [taking] on the malaise of post-Apartheid South Africa." Of particular interest to several critics, notably Gail Caldwell and Stuart M. Kurland, is David Lurie's increasingly obsolescent position in the country. For both Caldwell and Kurland, the protagonist's status as an academic is especially important in its foregrounding of the inability of Western European values to make sense of post-Apartheid South Africa. The fact that, "from the moment of his arrival" in the Eastern Cape, "Lurie's intellectual tools - his scholarly pursuits, his interminable irony - are worse than useless" (Caldwell 1), highlights "the deep, unresolved conflicts of race, sex, and class" in the author's homeland as well as the widening gap between David's generation and that of his daughter (Kurland). Thus, for Michael Morris, David Lurie embodies the older generation's "responses to the dispassionate, unforgiving tide of history" in a nation where "all codes of behavior for people, black and white, have become perverted and twisted" (Grant). In the end, Coetzee's novel is a "towering" (Higgins) testament to the need for human perseverance even if, as Laurence Phelan suggests, it amounts to "a defeated acceptance of the new world order."

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Works Cited

    Caldwell, Gail. Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Boston Globe. 14 Nov. 1999: P1+.

    Grant, Katie. "A Very Foreign Country." Rev. of Disgrace, by J . M. Coetzee. The Spectator 10 July 1999.

    Higgins, Charlotte. "Booker's Best Six." Mail and Guardian 23 May 2008.

    Kurland, Stuart M. Rev. of Ravelstein, by Saul Bellow, Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee, and The Human Stain, by Philip Roth. Academe. July/August 2001.

    Morris, Michael. "Coetzee on Shortlist for Booker Prize." Cape Argus 23 Sept. 1999.

    Phelan, Laurence. "More Sinned Against Than Sinning." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Independent 23 April 2000.

    Royle, Trevor. "Braving Cape Fear." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Sunday Herald 18 July 1999.

    Upchurch, Michael. "Deserving Acclaim: Our Critic Closes The Book on '99 With His Top Ten Picks." The Seattle Times. 26 Dec. 1999.

    Williams, Stephen. Rev. of Discharge (sic), by J. M. Coetzee. African Business Nov. 1999.

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    Wednesday, September 10, 2008
    All right. Since it seems like my internet is functioning at the moment, I'll try to get a post online this evening.

    Today was a remarkably productive day, surprisingly. Not only did I get myself up and out of bed relatively early, I read two articles, got quite a bit of prep work done for my classes, and hiked a beautiful mountain trail.

    That said, I still have a good deal of work I want to get done before bed, so I won't write nearly as long an entry as I would like. I will, however, review some of the critical reading I have done this past week in an effort to make up for the string of "I'm too tired to write anything" entries preceding this one.

    Of the critical essays I read over the past week, Louis Tremaine's "The Embodied Soul: Animal Being in the Work of J. M. Coetzee" is, by far, the most interesting. Animals, Tremaine asserts, are almost always associated with death and decline in Coetzee's fiction. In his analysis, Tremaine convincingly argues that the role of animals in works such as Age of Iron, Disgrace, and Elizabeth Costello is, at least partially, aimed at addressing "that perpetually recurring question in Coetzee's writing: how to live with the knowledge of impending death" (594).

    Although all of the essays I read address Disgrace, only two -- Ranajit Das's "Prophet of Pain" and Lucy Graham's "Reading the Unspeakable" -- deal exclusively with Coetzee's novel. Das's essay is peculiarly charming in its unabashed enthusiasm for Disgrace. With a reverential tone more commonly found in medieval hagiographical writing than in contemporary literary criticism, "Prophet of Pain" dismisses the significance of the "'local history' factor" so many critics have viewed as central to the novel as secondary to universal existential allegory Das sees as the book's most important aspect (219). Graham's essay, on the other hand, is intensely local in its focus. Using the widespread outrage at Coetzee's depiction of the rape of a white woman by three black assailants as her starting point, Graham discusses both David Lurie's rape of Melanie Isaacs and Lucy Lurie's rape at the hands of Pollux and his two comrades as key elements in Coetzee's subtle inversion of the racist "black peril" narratives reflecting white anxieties in post-Apartheid South Africa. Among her many insightful comments, Graham makes a compelling argument for Lucy's silence as a catalyst for the evolution of her father's sympathetic imagination.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.


    Works Cited

    Das, Ranajit. "Prophet of Pain: J. M. Coetzee and His Novel Disgrace." Indian Literature 48.1 (2004): 165-173.

    Graham, Lucy Valerie. "Reading the Unspeakable: Rape in J . M. Coetzee's Disgrace." 29.2 (2003): 433-444.

    Tremaine, Louis. "The Embodied Soul: Animal Being in the Work of J. M. Coetzee." Contemporary Literature 44.4 (2003): 587-612.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thanks to a spotty internet connection, I have not been able to get online since yesterday afternoon. At any rate, I did read a handful of brief reviews of Disgrace, largely culled from South African newspapers, and I intend to read another article this afternoon as I inch ever closer to the point when I can really begin prepping for the chapter.

    Since I am not certain whether or not I will have reliable access to the internet for the foreseeable future, though, I will simply say that my daily assignments will essentially be the same "read another article" until I cross the finish line. I will, naturally, attempt to get online when I can, but if I miss a day, it won't be out of laziness.

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    Monday, September 8, 2008
    Well, I did get my dissertation reading done early today. That was nice. Sure, the reading ended up only being a few pages long, but I did it, so I felt a tiny bit better about things than I did last night. Still, I found that my attention span has evaporated and virtually anything can distract me. I mean, sure, maintaining focus has always been difficult for me, especially when directed towards something that either does not immediately grab my interest or, as has been the case recently, with which I am frustrated (contrast my struggle to get through piles of literary criticism with, say, the fact that I could not put down Our Band Could Be Your Life). I'm curious to see how things go when, after I finish reading the next month's worth of essays (yeah . . . another month), I no longer have to read criticism. I remember just how hellish I found writing the chapter on The Master of Petersburg, though, so I am not exactly anticipating bliss, but I reckon a change (at least for the first week or two) will be nice.

    Still, I suppose this is what a dissertation is. Or what it can be. It's a constant struggle with oneself. Every day, I question the value of what I am doing, the likelihood of it paying off in the way I would like it to, and the implications of my struggles (am I doing the right thing with my life? and is it possible to fashion a satisfying life while doing something as difficult and time-consuming as writing a dissertation?).

    Ugh.

    And yet I go on.

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

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    I think I can officially say that I have hit a wall. These past few days (with the exception of yesterday) have been really difficult for me to get through in terms of work. I can't begin to count the number of essays I began reading only to give up after a few sentences or, in my more ambitious moments, a page or two. As I have intimated, I suspect my overwhelming desire not to read any additional criticism stems from the fact that I'm at the point in my reading where very few essays add much to the information I have gleaned from the previous eighty or ninety articles I have already read. It sucks. What should take me an hour or two ends up consuming an entire day

    I do, however, feel obliged to read the remaining essays. I mean, I know that I could probably do just fine by skipping the dozen or so I have left, but I simply can't bring myself to do that. It feels too much like giving up, like taking a shortcut in a race you know you can't win. And, of course, there's always the possibility that buried somewhere in the remaining readings lies a really significant nugget of insight.

    I have hit a wall, yes, but it's not solid. I will make my way through it, but it's going to painful. It's like I have been running through a field and, with each step closer to the other side, the undergrowth grows taller, thicker, more tangled.

    But I did read another essay, albeit bucking all the way.

    As the willowy voice of The Unnameable puts it, "I can't go on, I'll go on."

    For tomorrow: Pull out the machete and cut through a bit more of the tangled flora.

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    Sunday, September 7, 2008
    Today was a marked improvement over yesterday. I finished reading Lucy Graham's essay relatively early, giving me plenty of time to attend my friend's birthday party. That said, it's nearly two in the morning so I'll keep this entry short with the promise to write more tomorrow. Speaking of which . . .

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

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    Saturday, September 6, 2008
    Well, today was a crap day. When I woke up this morning, I sensed that it was going to be a productive afternoon. It wasn't. I pretty much found every possible way to procrastinate. Every time I sat down to begin reading a critical essay, some part of me began itching to go to the mall or surf the internet or nap or watch a movie. The repetitive nature of my reading and the cumulative fatigue resulting from amount of time I have spent working on Disgrace criticism, I think, just wore me down today. It wasn't until a few minutes past midnight that I finally read anything and what I did end up reading was quite short. That said, of the two brief reviews that I did go over this evening, one seems poised to enter into my dissertation. So it wasn't a complete washout; it just felt that way.

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

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    Thursday, September 4, 2008
    Since I have been up for close to eighteen hours now and because the heat and humidity here render this hyperborean hyperthermic, I am going to put off writing a longer post until tomorrow when, presumably, I will have rested myself.

    Despite the heat and what seemed like an endless series of Kafkaesque bureaucratic obstacles, I managed to read another essay this afternoon. If anything, though, the stifling heat and frustrating administrative chores made teaching Beckett's Endgame that much more rewarding. (Ironically, on one of the sunniest afternoons we've had all summer, my students could not help but comment that the gray, "corpsed" setting of the play is eerily reminiscent of New York's Southern Tier. Indeed, the oft-overcast Binghamton-Elmira-Corning corridor bears more than a passing resemblance to the setting of Beckett's play, as I have often noted to myself.).

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

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    Wednesday, September 3, 2008
    Thanks to what WebMD classifies as either allergies or Lupus, I'm not really up to writing much this evening. I did, however, read a wonderful article, which I will discuss in a day or two.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

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    Tuesday, September 2, 2008
    Here's a strange phenomenon: I've been getting my work done earlier since the semester started. I'm even blogging before noon today. I mean, it makes sense. After all, now that I have classes to prepare for, my days aren't nearly as open as they've been. Now, if I want to be certain that I get my dissertation work and my prep work done every day, I need to crack open the books earlier in the morning and work later in the evening, cramming my empty space with productivity. Audiobooks help.

    At any rate, thanks to the rather rude awakening I had this morning courtesy of the staccato bleat of a neighbor's car alarm, I was up a bit earlier than I would have liked. Since it took me quite a bit longer to fall asleep last night and because I was awake so early, I reasoned, I wouldn't get much reading done this evening after work and I decided to read John Banville's oft-cited review of Disgrace. Despite having to pay The New York Review of Books a whopping three dollars for the privilege of accessing the online archives (I do realise, of course, that it costs money to provide such conveniences as immediate access to half a century of text, but I was bleary-eyed and vexed by the knowledge that I would not be getting any additional sleep, so I am expressing a hyperbolic exasperation for comedic -- albeit as unfunny a variety as possible -- effect), I found the essay well worth the effort of obtaining (you know, a click here, a click there . . . real tough stuff).

    All joking aside, The New York Review of Books is undoubtedly one of the best resources out there for people researching contemporary literature and John Banville is a fantastic, erudite novelist in his own right and a first-rate critic to boot. Though Banville's assessment of the novel is largely a positive one, he does seem to feel that there is a disjuncture between Disgrace's opening segment and the longer middle section devoted to David's time on the smallholding with Lucy. Indeed, Banville appears to rate Coetzee's account of the Luries' time together as one of the author's finest, most provocative pieces of writing. Significantly, Banville pays particularly close attention to the author's treatment of Petrus, rightfully reading the man as the novel's most fully realized -- and potentially disturbing -- character:
    For all his taciturnity, Petrus is perhaps the most convincing character in the book. In his strength, his tenacity, his peasant slyness, and his ruthlessness, he represents something as ancient and elemental as the land itself, yet never does he become a mere symbol; craggy and dangerous, he is, as his name implies, the rock on which, for better or worse, a new South Africa will be built.
    Elsewhere, Banville astutely notes what many fellow critics have not been able to locate within the novel, namely a sense of humor. From the novel's first sentence, which Banville suggests opens "with what might be a sly wink" to the book's culminating scene of canine euthanasia, Coetzee lightens the gloom with discreet humor, even "allow[ing] himself now and then a Dantesque wan smile." Indeed, satire and irony do permeate the narrative, though in a muted, "moderated" sort of way.

    I'd write more, but I have some chores to get done between now and my next class . . .

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Work Cited

    Banville, John. "Endgame." Rev. of Disgrace, by J . M. Coetzee. The New York Review of Books 47.1. Available online.

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    Monday, September 1, 2008
    Since I'm planning on spending the rest of the day preparing for classes, running errands, and getting a little bit of exercise, I'm going to post an extremely rare early afternoon blog entry.

    I just finished reading Daniel L. Medin's excellent "Trials and Errors at the Turn of the Millennium: On The Human Stain and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace," which I consider to be one of the better comparative essays I have come across in quite some time. Though the parallels between South Africa's most decorated novelist and the man who has become, arguably, the United States' most celebrated contemporary writer are undeniably easily spotted, Medin's essay is a valuable contribution to the critical discourse surrounding both millennial novels. In it, Medin examines the ways in which both Coetzee and Roth, via the private and public trials of David Lurie and Coleman Silk, critique the often thoughtless waves of political correctness and sanctimonious scapegoating sweeping through academia and, by extension, contemporary South African and American society.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Work Cited

    Medin, Daniel L. "Trials and Errors at the Turn of the Millennium: On The Human Stain and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Philip Roth Studies 1.1 (2005): 82-92.

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    ____________________________________________
    All right. Here I am, fifteen minutes into September, still working my way through the criticism on Disgrace, a task I had initially hoped to have completed no later than 11:59 PM on August 31.

    At any rate, in between re-reading Waiting for Godot and Oryx and Crake and watching YouTube videos featuring Ralph Nader (let him in the debates, already!), I managed to read Diane Green's "'A Man's Best Friend is His Dog': Treatments of the Dog in Jane Eyre, Kate Greenville's The Idea of Perfection, J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace, and Jean Winterson's 'The 24 Hour Dog.'" Green's essay, while often interesting, strikes me as perhaps a bit too presumptive, often assuming the validity of highly metaphoric readings of particular scenes in Coetzee's novel without providing any real evidence to convince a healthily skeptical reader of such validity. Not surprisingly, given the article's title, dogs are given an uncommonly -- and often contradictory -- set of metaphoric meanings ranging from black Africans (149) to white Africans (150), Indeed, Green argues, "[a]t different times and from different perspectives the dog in this novel is symbolic of every character and race" because of "how radically the position of underdog can change" (151). While I do not find all of her arguments convincing, I do think Green provides us with a strong reading of David Lurie's character as one of diminishing value, drawing interesting parallels between the disgraced academic, post-Apartheid South African society, and the abandoned bulldog, Katy.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Work Cited

    Green Diane. "'A Man's Best Friend is His Dog': Treatments of the Dog in Jane Eyre, Kate Greenville's The Idea of Perfection, J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace, and Jean Winterson's 'The 24 Hour Dog.'" English 52 (2003): 139-61.

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