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    Sobriquet 56.19

    Thursday, July 30, 2009
    I finally finished writing my Disgrace chapter this afternoon. I sincerely hope I do not have much editing ahead of me because, if the truth be told, working on it for as long as I have has made me not want to look at it ever again . . . Ultimately, my biggest fear is that my supervisor will request I make substantial changes because I am so thoroughly exhausted from this chapter that I simply cannot imagine summoning up the energy or sustained focus I would need to re-do it.

    For tomorrow: Read a little, play a lot of punk rock, and take a break.

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    Saturday, July 25, 2009
    Well, I've spent the past few days planning and writing the final section of the Disgrace chapter, which has been both exciting and thoroughly frustrating. On the one hand, it's nice to be nearing what I hope to be the end of the longest, most difficult section of my dissertation. On the other hand, I am so worn out from all the work I've been doing that I just want it to be done.

    For tomorrow: Write a bit more.

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    Thursday, July 23, 2009
    I've used the past two days to review the critical material I will be drawing upon for the final section of the Disgrace chapter. I cannot wait to finish.

    For tomorrow: Continue prepping for the next writing phase.

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    Monday, July 20, 2009
    Although I would have liked to have gotten more done today, I will have to content myself with having combed through the nearly 150 pages of notes I typed up after reading the towering pile of Disgrace criticism I worked my way through last year in order to pluck out 25 or so pages of material relevant to the final section of the chapter I've been writing. I'll be reviewing these notes over the next day or so and should, with a little luck, begin writing within the week. Hallelujah.

    For tomorrow: Prep.

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    ____________________________________________
    While I initially thought I would begin writing the penultimate phase of my chapter on Disgrace tomorrow, today's prep work has led me to believe that I should really combine the final two stages of the chapter into a single unit. Thus, I will be spending the next few days reviewing what I was going to save for the very end and try to fashion an outline for a more nuanced final section. This should take a few days, but it will be wonderful to finally finish this interminable chapter. Of course, this chapter will still have to meet with my supervisor's approval, so merely completing the writing is only the prelude to either a gigantic triumph or a massive failure. That fact, understandably, has made writing the chapter increasingly difficult as every word amounts to a wager of one's recent life, embodied in text, on the hope that one has been successful. . .

    Ugh.

    For tomorrow, etc.: Prepare.

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    Sunday, July 19, 2009
    I made today a fairly light day for myself, reviewing some passages in Disgrace this afternoon in preparation for the penultimate section of the seemingly interminable chapter on which I have been toiling for more than a year. I hope to get a bit of outlining done tomorrow and begin writing as early as Monday.

    For tomorrow: Prep.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, July 17, 2009
    I've had a fairly productive few days since I last posted anything. On Tuesday, I finished the mini-section I'd been working on since before my hard drive crashed, which was a nice little personal triumph. Now, at the outset of the penultimate mini-section of my chapter on Disgrace, it seems the end has finally popped into view.

    On Wednesday, I read Alan A. Stone's sympathetic review of Elizabeth Costello for The American Journal of Psychiatry. In it, Stone recounts how he, like Coetzee's fictional poet Abraham Stern in The Lives of Animals, initially baulked at Costello's likening of contemporary slaughterhouses to the death camps of Hitler's Third Reich. The "infuriatingly memorable" lectured "stuck in [Stone's] craw" and he began reading more deeply in Coetzee's oeuvre, ultimately concluding that Both Costello and Coetzee are admirable in their "unblinking search for truth."

    Other than read and write, I spent some time combing through my notes in preparation for the next mini-section, which I intend to begin rather soon.

    For tomorrow: Read, write, or plan.

    Work Cited

    Stone, Alan A., M.D. Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. American Journal of Psychiatry 161.12 (2004): 2336-2337.

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    Tuesday, July 14, 2009
    Since I'm having some rather painful carpal tunnel issues I am going to refrain from writing a whole lot tonight. I'll just say that I did get a small, though not inconsiderable, chunk of writing done this afternoon and am, happily, a tiny bit closer to the end of this endless chapter.

    For tomorrow: Read or write.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, July 13, 2009
    Since I had earmarked today for socializing, I hadn't intended to get a whole lot done. What I did do was review a brief essay that, in the end, only touched upon Elizabeth Costello in the most cursory of ways: Lynn Meskell and Lindsay Weiss's "Coetzee on South Africa's Past: Remembering in the Time of Forgetting." Although it does not add much to my current project, the essay is a well-written and thought-provoking examination of J. M. Coetzee's engagement with South African history, especially in Waiting for the Barbarians.

    I also spent a bit of time reviewing some of the essays I encountered in May, when I first started reading up on Elizabeth Costello. The best essay I read then, Thorsten Carstensen's "Shattering the Word-Mirror in Elizabeth Costello: J. M. Coetzee's Deconstructive Experiment" includes one of the better discussions of the political implications of literary production while also interrogating the decidedly postmodernist structure of the novel.

    I also glanced over some of the book reviews I'd read:

    Oliver Herford's "Tears for Dead Fish" reads Elizabeth Costello as a deliberately confrontative text designed to rankle readers with its "terminal, comfortless" content.

    Siddhartha Deb's "Mind Into Matter" is a thoughtful, sympathetic reading of the novel that resists the temptation to dwell on formal issues in order to focus on deeper thematic concerns.

    Andrew Marr's "He is Both Fish and Fowl" is typical of many reviews, focusing largely on the difficulty of presenting serious philosophical inquiry as part of a serious literary project.

    Judith Shulevitz's "Author Tour" is one of the most comprehensive, penetrating reviews of Elizabeth Costello to appear outside of academic journals.

    Sarah Coleman's "Thanks, But No Thanks" is a fairly negative take on the form of Coetzee's fiction, though not  dismissively so.

    For tomorrow: Read or (preferably) write.

    Works Cited

    Carstensen, Thorsten. "Shattering the Word-Mirror in Elizabeth Costello: J.M. Coetzee's Deconstructive Experiment." Journal of Commonwealth Literature 42.1 (2007): 79-96.

    Coleman, Sarah. "Thanks, But No Thanks." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. San Francisco Chronicle 2 Nov. 2003.

    Deb, Siddhartha. "Mind Into Matter." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. Boston Globe 26 Oct. 2003.

    Herford, Oliver. "Tears for Dead Fish." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. The Times 5 Sept. 2003.

    Marr, Andrew. "He is Both Fish and Fowl." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. The Telegraph 8 Sept. 2003.

    Meskell, Lynn and Lindsay Weiss. "Coetzee on South Africa's Past: Remembering in the Time of Forgetting." American Anthropologist 108.1 (2006): 88-99.

    Shulevitz, Judith. "Author Tour." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. New York Times 26 Oct. 2003.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, July 12, 2009
    Having lost several hours of prime internet access to the vicissitudes of summertime electrical storms, I find myself writing tonight's entry quite a bit later than I would otherwise have done. I mean, I am routinely awake after two in the morning, but I am a bit sleepier than I would prefer to be when trying to write something of even marginal readability. Oh, well. At least I have the Descendents to keep me energized this evening...

    At any rate, I used my Saturday to read a bit more criticism on Elizabeth Costello. Well, actually, I thought I would be reading about Elizabeth Costello but the article I plucked from the stack -- Kate McInturff's "Rex Oedipus: The Ethics of Sympathy in Recent Work by J. M. Coetzee" -- ended up having more to do with Disgrace than Coetzee's subsequent novel. This, of course, is likely the result of the essay having been indexed by the MLA after I last scoured the database for Disgrace-centered criticism.

    So. Getting to the article: McInturff draws on Elizabeth Costello's oft-discussed fascination with the human capacity for a sympathetic imagination that dissolves the species barrier in an effort to establish the ways in which Coetzee explores intergender, interracial, and interspecies power dynamics. The theoretical framework with which McInturff shapes her discussion of Coetzee borrows heavily from previous research by Anne McClintock and Judith Butler and stages a well-reasoned critique of the patriarchal ideologies influencing post-Enlightenment familial structure and the socio-political analogues that have shaped so much of the troubled post-apartheid culture Coetzee examines in Disgrace. Extending Costello's desire to do away with the human/non-human binaries justifying the abusive treatment of those beings (both human and non-human) that people regard as somehow inferior to themselves to the exploitative racial and gender hierarchies at the heart of Coetzee's 1999 novel, McInturff adds a passionate voice to one of the more crucial veins of Coetzee criticism.

    For tomorrow: Read or write.

    Work Cited

    McInturff, Kate. "Rex Oedipus: The Ethics of Sympathy in Recent Work by J. M. Coetzee." Postcolonial Text 3.4 (2007).

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    Saturday, July 11, 2009
    I've had a fairly productive two days, making some progress on both the chapter I am currently in the process of writing as well as the chapter I intend to write next. So it's been a satisfying, if unpleasantly humid, couple of days at my desk.

    The article that I read yesterday evening, Chris Danta's "'Like a dog . . . like a lamb': Becoming Sacrificial Animal in Kafka and Coetzee," was one of the more interesting bits of criticism that I have read lately. Focussing largely on the figure of the scapegoat, Danta mounts a strong case for viewing animals -- particularly those designated as sacrificial -- as bearers of narratives. What Coetzee scholars will find most interesting, however, is likely to be Danta's reading of Elizabeth Costello and Disgrace as texts in which animals -- and, more specifically, the bodies of animals enable -- the human being to confront and grasp his or her own mortality.

    This afternoon, I returned to my chapter on Disgrace and ended up writing a few more pages, bringing myself ever-so-slightly closer to the end of this behemoth.

    For tomorrow: Read or write.

    Work Cited

    Danta, Chris. "'Like a Dog . . . Like a Lamb': Becoming Sacrificial Animal in Kafka and Coetzee." New Literary History 38 (2007): 721-737.

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    Thursday, July 9, 2009
    I finally managed to sit down and get some writing done this afternoon, which, to my relief, was not as difficult as it could have been given the length of time I have been away from the text. The anxiety with which I occasionally struggle when returning to a text from which I have taken a break was mercifully mild today and, within a few moments of sitting down, the words began flowing with relative ease. In other words, it was a good day and a successful return to a text I simply cannot wait to finish.

    For tomorrow: Read or, if time permits, write.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, July 8, 2009
    I spent today working on some of the more practical aspects of the dissertation: I repaired my laminated particle board desk, bought and assembled an office chair, and re-reformatted my entire Disgrace chapter to date. Although there is an element of satisfaction one can take in fixing and/or building a physical object, there's considerably less pleasure to be found in meticulously going through sixty-odd pages of writing, ensuring that the footnotes are properly placed and trying to figure out why the "new" version of the paper is a page or so shorter than the previous incarnation. The only thing I can come up with, since all the text is apparently intact, is that the line spacing or font size has been oh-so slightly altered in all the format migration.

    I also finished reading my notes.

    For tomorrow: Try to get some writing done. Otherwise, read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, July 6, 2009
    Although it's only a quarter past six in the evening, I figured I'd throw together a post a bit earlier in the day than I normally do.

    For whatever reason, I tend to struggle a good deal more than I would care to admit when attempting to begin writing after a break of any substantial amount of time. I assume a significant chunk of this difficulty stems from a perceived sense of having fallen out of whatever rhythm I'd established in my writing. And this happens every time, without fail. A second factor, of course, is the exasperation I feel at taking what I believe to be too long to write this chapter. I had never planned on spending over a year of my life writing a chapter of my dissertation and, while it has yielded a couple of publications and is longer than my previous two chapters, I am want it finished. This lack of patience, too, has become increasingly vexing for me. In my heart, I am through with graduate school, more than ready to close this segment of my life and try to move on to the next phase, whatever that may happen to be. The problem, however, is that I have to finish the dissertation in order to truly be finished. Combine not wanting to work any longer with having to work harder and you get a potent form of dissertation anxiety and it is that brand of discomfiture that I find myself struggling with today. I mean, every time I sit down to read or write, I grow frustrated with myself because, like everything with the Disgrace chapter, this final phase (writing it) is taking far longer than I'd wanted. And, with summer speeding by, I cannot help but feel I am too far behind my ideal schedule to finish the whole dissertation by my original target date.

    At any rate, and much to my admitted chagrin, I am going to spend time rereading my notes for the mini-section I am currently writing so that, within a day or two, I can return to the interrupted chapter (stupid hard drive failure) with a renewed familiarity and chug through that last bit and begin the penultimate mini-section within the week.

    Ugh.

    For today and tomorrow: Read and, if at all possible, write.

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    ____________________________________________
    As I anticipated would be the case yesterday evening, I finished reading The Lives of Animals quite early in the day today. While I do not expect to make more than a passing reference to the slim volume in my Elizabeth Costello chapter, I did want to read the book and I am glad that I did so. Prior to beginning my dissertation on Coetzee, I had not heard of the Tanner Lecture series but, if The Lives of Animals is any indication of the symposium's capacity to spark intelligent cross-disciplinary discourse, I'm all for it. What I really enjoyed about the essays contained in the book is their ability to provoke reflection without resorting to the sort of hyper-specialized argot so common in academic publishing. True, specialists in a particular field might prefer deeper, more nuanced discussions of a given issue than what their discipline's representative contributes to the book, but he or she will no doubt also benefit tremendously from the less academically rigorous language employed by those writers speaking from other scholarly niches. This is not to say, of course, that The Lives of Animals is a dumbed-down version of academic writing but that it is, rather, an attempt to bridge disciplinary rifts by dispensing with unnecessary jargon and finding common ground. Indeed, the book is so successful at sparking interdisciplinary discussion that it has spawned at least two full-length works of Wittgensteinian philosophy (most recently Stephan Mulhall's The Wounded Animal) that seek to address the many important considerations the essays in The Lives of Animals brings to light.

    For tomorrow: Read or try to get back into the swing of writing.

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    Sunday, July 5, 2009
    I'm going to keep this post brief since, as it nears four in the morning, I haven't a whole lot of energy left with which to write. All I will say is that I did continue reading for the Elizabeth Costello chapter and should, with almost no effort, finish reading the Princeton Tanner symposium collected as The Lives of Animals sometime tomorrow.

    For tomorrow: Read and, if possible, try to get ready to return to the Disgrace chapter.

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    Saturday, July 4, 2009
    I had a surprisingly productive day today, tearing through three of my Elizabeth Costello readings. If I can read even half of what I read today tomorrow, it will be a successful Fourth of July, methinks.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    Friday, July 3, 2009
    Well, I have my computer back, with a brand-new hard drive installed. This means, of course, that I lost virtually everything I'd had on my previous hard drive, which sucks. A lot. Still, having somehow managed to salvage the single file containing my Disgrace chapter, I'm really not in especially bad shape.

    Here's the weird thing: Apple keeps old, defective hard drives they replace. Sleek, cult-like, the Apple store almost seems like it's attempting to silence its nonconformist hardware. I envision hip, tattooed techies sitting at some sterile stainless steel table in California, staring at my former hard drive, asking it pointed questions:

    Apple Techie #1 (hunched over): So, what do you have to say for yourself?
    Hard Drive: Sssssssssssss.
    Apple Techie #2: (forcefully): He asked you what you have to say for yourself.
    Hard Drive: Sssssssssssss.
    Apple Techie #2 (to Techie #1): He won't talk.
    Apple Techie #1 (brandishing a phillips head screwdriver): Oh, he'll talk.
    Hard Drive: Sssssssssssss.
    Fade to black. The familiar "bing!" of a Macintosh being turned on.

    When I got my computer home, I realized I was treating it in much the same way as one might treat a friend recently returned home from the psychiatric ward of a hospital. That is to say, I treated it quite gingerly, wary of making any sudden movements, fearing that I might somehow jostle the brain right out of order again.

    Within a few days, though, I should have all the word processing software installed and should, with a bit of luck, get back to the Disgrace chapter shortly.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, July 2, 2009
    Well, I am back online, though I rather enjoyed my two-day internet vacation. I may have to work a few more of them into my schedule. Not surprisingly, the lack of distraction makes reading a whole lot easier.

    At any rate, while I spent the majority of my self-imposed internet sabbatical driving around southern New England, listening to Chelsea's Evacuate album, I did get some reading done for my Elizabeth Costello chapter. Accordingly, I can now add Greater Hartford to the list of places in which I have worked on my dissertation.

    For tomorrow, etc.: Keep reading.

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