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    Sobriquet 50.8

    Thursday, January 29, 2009
    So, I'm still working on reviewing my notes from the criticism I spent half a year reading. As has been the case with every part of the Disgrace chapter, this has taken me several times longer than I had anticipated to get through. I should finish within the next week or so, leaving me with the still daunting task of attempting to arrange all this stuff into a readable chapter on the novel. I have to admit that, at times, this chapter feels so big that it almost seems un-startable. I say almost because, fuck it all, I'm gonna get this damn thing done. I am still debating with myself over how I am going to proceed with the outlining phase, whether I will need to re-organize the re-read notes into more user-friendly thematic bites or if I am going to outline the chapter first, then arrange the notes. Although I initially thought I would arrange the notes first, I am leaning towards the latter approach because it will enable me to foreground my own logic in the structuring of the chapter. Then, as I re-arrange the notes, the writing process will, essentially, be underway. I will have, after all, started saying what's been pent up for so long.

    Soundtrack for the past week: Big Black's Songs About Fucking.

    For the next little while: Keep reading over the notes and working on the bibliography.

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    Wednesday, January 21, 2009
    I'm currently at a stage in the prewriting phase of Chapter Three that I find tremendously difficult to work my way through. Like many people with hyperactive minds, I often need to harness my excess energy in order to focus on something that does not interest me as much as, say, the crossword puzzle book sitting on my nightstand or the copy of Morris Kline's Mathematics for the Non-mathematician sitting atop it, but I have really been struggling to re-read the pages of notes on and quotes from the critical articles on Disgrace. I mean, I have been making progress, but it is a haltingly slow, frustrating affair. I suspect that I am chomping at the bit a little, itching to begin writing the chapter, thereby building up a fairly potent store of impatience which, in turn, makes it harder to focus on the task at hand. Another factor contributing to the difficulty I have been having sustaining focus, I reckon, is that, having already separated the critical wheat from the chaff, each quotation is something that requires a good deal of concentration and reflection to be properly processed. Thus, in terms of the mental effort one must exert, it's rather like running one sprint after another for the length of a marathon.

    And, of course, there's the constant struggle to mentally arrange things as one reads such material with the intention of writing something worth reading, a struggle that is only partially alleviated by the addition of a pad and pen.

    So, yeah. Like everything else with this chapter, this stage seems like it will take longer than I'd hoped.

    For the next day or two: Continue re-reading and bibliographizing.

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    Sunday, January 18, 2009
    Although it took me a day longer than I'd hoped, I finished transcribing my notes on and quotes from Disgrace. What this means is that I have "only" to review the 170 pages of transcription (the critical material, of course, dwarfing the primary material), organize my notes in such a way as to make sense of the whole lot, outline the chapter, and begin writing. The unsettling thing is that, for the past half-year or so, the writing was a phase set in the distant future, so I really did not stress over the writing the way that I am beginning to do now.

    For tomorrow, etc: Read over notes and quotes.

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    Wednesday, January 14, 2009
    Well, I finally finished transcribing all the quotations from and notes I've taken on the critics' essays on Disgrace. In total, the document ended up exceeding 140 pages of single-spaced text. I also finished re-reading the novel earlier this evening. I'd bought another copy of Disgrace a day or so before Christmas because I did not want to risk damaging my already-disintegrating copy of the book by subjecting it to the rigors of holiday travel. Also, I thought it would be a splendid idea to try and read the book (and jot down even more notes) without my previous scrawl to distract me. I figure that when I begin transcribing all that stuff tomorrow, I can compare the two copies and see if I underlined all the same passages and such. You know, see if I'd missed anything. This way, hopefully, I'll have about as thorough a selection of material from which to draw as possible when I begin what promises to be an exceedingly long period of prewriting.

    Since I have been away from writing since the spring, I have to admit I am a bit nervous about beginning the chapter. Whatever groove I'd gotten myself into back then has morphed into something quite different. Naturally, I am also relieved to have finally finished was has been, admittedly, an extremely tedious procedure, but with that relief comes the realization that I must face the blinking curser and begin writing. Again.

    Furthermore, working with the sheer amount of critical writing on Disgrace is more than a little daunting. I mean, I know what it is I want to say but I am currently struggling to find a way to situate my reading of the novel within a huge body of pre-existing discourse without subverting my voice or ignoring the relevant voices of others. It will be tough, I reckon, to sort things out, but I am going to follow the same approach that has served me so well in the past: doing a small but significant amount of work each day, devoting a good chunk of time to the plotting out and outlining of the chapter, and reminding myself daily that Rome wasn't built in a day.

    The anxiety, obviously, stems primarily from the fact that there's just so much of everything: critical essays, notes, quotes, things to say, references to check, bibliographical entries to be made. I simply feel overwhelmed, which is why I will have to spend as much time prewriting as I suspect I am going to be doing over the next few weeks -- a stage in the process I really do not enjoy because it means I have to shake myself out of the inaction that has settled in and begin the invariably hard (though rewarding) phase of creative endeavor.

    I will, naturally, keep my handful of readers posted.

    For tomorrow: Either transcribe a bit of notes from the novel, work on the bibliography, or begin reviewing the 140+ pages of stuff I just transcribed.

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    Saturday, January 10, 2009
    By Erik Grayson

    One of the curious (though, surely, least surprising) effects of having spent the past half year reading and reviewing the literary criticism surrounding Disgrace is that certain things in the text stand out in ways I hadn't noticed during previous readings. Often, critical comments about the author's perceived lack of humor or his (supposedly) didactic prose will pop up while I am reading a passage and I will reflect on the relative accuracy of the accusations / interpretations. In the case of the former, for instance, I have noticed myself appreciating a certain humorous aspect of the book this time through. The humor one finds in Disgrace, of course, is not the sort of ribaldry one associates with expressly comedic writers, but neither is it the more subtle variety of black humor we often find in writers like Kafka or Beckett to whom Coetzee is often compared. No. If anything, the humor one finds in Disgrace is of the sort that might elicit a barely perceptible smirk from a cynic.

    Since David Lurie, a man many readers find unappealing for much of the novel (though it is certainly possible to like him. Like all of Coetzee's novels, Disgrace is far too multi-dimensional to reduce David to a flat stock character, but from a certain common perspective, David is easy to dislike), is the narrative's focalizer, he is, predictably, also the novel's comedic epicenter, the butt of the joke. We laugh at him, at his inability to connect with the world around him, at his hypocrisy, at his pomposity, at his seemingly pathetic attempts to communicate with his daughter. Indeed, we laugh with Lucy, the only major character in the novel to openly find humor in her father's social ineptitude. The example of Lucy's laughter that comes most readily to mind, for me, occurs during the scene between David and Lucy when the former expresses his aversion to attending Petrus's party:
    He speaks to Lucy. 'I have been thinking about this party of Petrus's. On the whole, I would prefer not to go. Is that possible without being rude?'

    'Anything to do with his slaughter-sheep?'

    'Yes. No. I haven't changed my ideas, if that is what you mean. I still don't believe that animals have properly individual lives. Which among them get to live, which get to die, is not, as far as I am concerned, worth agonizing over. Nevertheless . . .'

    'Nevertheless?'

    'Nevertheless, in this case I am disturbed. I can't say why.'

    'Well, Petrus and his guests are certainly not going to give up their mutton chops out of deference to you and your sensibilities.'

    'I am not asking for that. I would just prefer not to be one of the party, not this time. I'm sorry. I never imagined I would end up talking this way.'

    'God moves in mysterious ways, David.'

    'Don't mock me.' (127).
    Here, Lucy's sarcastic jab verifies the reader's sense that David has rather amusingly made an about-face regarding his (and, by extension, humanity's) capacity to develop a genuine emotional bond with non-human animals. Remember, this is the same man who, in response to Bev Shaw's comment that she senses he must like animals, replies "'Do I like animals? I eat them, so I suppose I must like them, some parts of them'" (81). We smirk at the blowhard as his pompous, theory-laden talk of animals lacking souls evaporates in the harsh glare of reality. A reverse bumpkin, the city-bred intellectual gains knowledge among the most primal of nature's realities, carnivorous appetites rarely make concessions for the feelings of those beings about to be consumed.

    Elsewhere, the narrator's free indirect style slips, exposing the slightest of gaps between the narrative voice and the focalizer in which humor may be located. Likewise, since the narrator makes no effort to present David in such a way as to make him appear likable, we are able (if not invited, then certainly permitted) to laugh at David's behavior. His crass treatment of Bev Shaw, for instance, is immediately something that the average reader will see as utterly uncalled for and, accordingly, we recognize that David's attitudes (towards women as well as many other topics) are often laughably out of sync with reality. I mean, it's not like he's Adonis, after all.

    In other words, David is often a pompous figure and pompous people are often funny. Lurie is rather like an annoyingly self-important relative or friend at a dinner party (so you're stuck within earshot), the sort of person who enjoys the sound of his own voice, who believes he is always right when frequently he is dead wrong. We try not to listen to him, but he's loud and insistent and he keeps saying the sort of stuff we want to roll our eyes at, the sort of stuff friends and relatives may cringe at or knowingly glance at one another to wordlessly communicate something like "oh, he's at it again!"

    Regarding Coetzee's didacticism, as some critics have called the author's tendency to discuss philosophical matters pertaining to animal rights, all I can say is that, on first reading, I did not feel I was being preached to in any way. Only after reading several essays claiming such a tone did I, on occasion, think to myself, "well, I suppose one might interpret this passage as a bit preachy."

    Before I sign off for the night, I want to make three additional observations:

    1. I have overheard people ridicule clerical jobs with rather heavy transcription components as the sort of job anyone can do. That's B.S. Having spent more than a month transcribing notes on a daily basis, I can say without a doubt, I could not do what those men and women do. Not by a long shot. It's hard work.

    2. There's a critic I came across named Hans Moleman. As a child of the Simpsons generation, I cannot help but think of the diminutive, myopic character sharing the appellation every time I see his name in print. We can only hope the human Hans Moleman finds humor in his cartoon namesake's foibles.

    3. I came across two articles in which a literary critic uses the word "fuck." This should be especially valuable information for people with parents claiming that "if you want to be a/n  [something socially acceptable], you can't use language like that." Yes you can. And you can get a job at a major university and publish in respected journals.

    For tomorrow, etc.: Read or transcribe.

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    Tuesday, January 6, 2009
    I'm not a huge fan of winters in upstate New York. Traditionally, I have always been fonder of extreme cold than heat of any sort but, after having spent six years in this region, I have grown to really dislike the winter months. It's not the cold that I object to, actually. That's still something I like. No, it's this horrible cloud cover that tends to sit on New York's Southern Tier like vomit on a drunk's lapel. To put it succinctly, this region of the country is extremely gloomy in the winter because the clouds block out whatever little sunlight the shortened days would otherwise allow us to enjoy and I find it to be a real damper. In other words, it's not the best time to be working on something as isolating as a dissertation. Still, I have been doing my little bit every day and I am now actually a few days away from finishing the transcription of notes. I'm at page 125 or so now and, to be honest, I am ready to be done. The rest of the pre-writing process, I'm sure, will be equally frustrating because of the length of everything, but it is getting done. Finally.

    For tomorrow, etc.: Read or transcribe.

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    Friday, January 2, 2009
    I just really didn't feel like doing anything today. This, of course, is a fairly pedestrian sensation for me, especially as work on the Disgrace chapter enters it's ninth month. I mean, I really think it's about time this baby is born, you know? At any rate, I slogged through the lethargy and used the evening to reread/take notes on a bit more of the novel. And, truth be told, it was a pleasant enough evening. I took my book over to Friendly's, transported myself to Lucy Lurie's smallholding for an hour or two, and left off feeling that I'd made some real intellectual progress. At least the amount of marginalia I scrawled seems to suggest as much.

    For tomorrow, etc.: Read or transcribe.

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    Thursday, January 1, 2009
    Since I spent several hours working on non-dissertation academic work today, I found that I had somewhat less energy to work with than I normally do when transcribing, so I only got about a third my usual amount of work done this evening. Not that I am complaining. I have known for quite some time that there is only so much brain work I can comfortably complete in a given day and if some of that brain time is spent working on some non-dissertation obligation, I don't mind taking a less intense approach to the dissertation that day.

    For tomorrow: Read or transcribe.

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