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    Sobriquet 57.11

    Monday, August 31, 2009
    These past few days have been unbelievably long, but I am trying to make sure I keep reading in preparation for the final push on the dissertation. This is one packed semester, though, so there may be a few periods during which I will only be able to read a few pages. Tonight is a prime example of that. I'm pooped, but I want to get a bit of work done, so that's what I'm going to do before hitting the hay.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    Friday, August 28, 2009
    I think writing the last chapter on Disgrace took more out of me than I had initially assumed. I mean, I knew was more ragged around the edges that I had been in some time, but wow: the past few days I have been trying to work on an academic side project, as I do from time to time, and I have been positively miserable. Like a petulant child, I feel like stomping my feet and shouting I doan' wanna! at the top of my lungs every time I look at the screen. I have made some headway with the project, but I wish I had more patience than I do at the moment. Instead of taking my time, calmly working my way through it, I just want to be done with it. Since it took me such a long time to complete the last chapter, I did not really have much of a summer vacation and, with school starting very soon, I suppose part of my difficulty stems from the fact that I want to enjoy a break before resuming my teaching duties. Thus, there's some misplaced resentment aimed at what is, actually, a very nice project to be working on. The timing is just terrible. But that's grad school sometimes. You work until you cannot work any more, then you work some more. Then school starts and you work even more and, somehow, you make progress. That's what I have got to remember: you either do or you do not do and you can only complain if you do do. And, believe me, I intend to enjoy the privilege :)

    Now, before I hit the hay, I'm going to do a bit of work and try to read a few pages of Slow Man.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    Thursday, August 27, 2009
    Since I have been uncommonly busy with non-dissertation academic work this week, I haven't had as much time to devote to the preparation of the introduction or conclusion. I have basically resigned myself to a down week in terms of dissertation work and have simply tried to read a little bit of Slow Man each day. Things promise to pick up quite a bit in the next little while, but I anticipate returning more fully to the dissertation within a week or so.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    Sunday, August 23, 2009
    I'm going to keep this entry brief and just say that I spent the past few days re-reading Waiting for the Barbarians and will begin re-reading either Slow Man or Elizabeth Costello in preparation for my concluding chapters.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    Friday, August 14, 2009
    One of the things I have learned about dissertation-writing while writing my dissertation has been that one must both approach the project purposefully and be willing to adjust that approach as he or she progresses. This is why my dissertation morphed from a multi-author project to a focused study of Coetzee's fiction after I began writing what I believed to be the first section of my first chapter. Now, after having spoken with my supervisor, it looks like I will be shifting gears again, though not nearly as drastically as that first time. This time, rather than broadening or contracting my focus, I will simply be combining what would have been a few comparatively brief sections into a single, comprehensive conclusion. Accordingly, I will spend the next few weeks re-reading a couple of Coetzee's novels (especially Elizabeth Costello), reviewing criticism, and -- get this! -- preparing to finish my dissertation. In addition to outlining and writing the conclusion and introduction, I will make a few (mercifully) minor edits to my previous chapters and cross the administrative Ts and dot the bureaucratic Is that accompany the closing stages of one's doctoral degree. It should be interesting.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    Wednesday, August 12, 2009
    Although I have been prioritizing some non-academic stuff these past few days, I have been keeping up with my dissertation reading. Still, the next week or so promises to be even more hectic, so I am going to have to cut down my reading goals for a while in order to balance things. But I will keep plugging away.

    For tomorrow: Read. A little.

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    Monday, August 10, 2009
    While I did get some reading done earlier today, I'm a bit too tired to discuss literary criticism, so I am going to put that off for another day. What I would like to say, however, is that my supervisor emailed me this evening to let me know that she has read my Disgrace chapter -- and she likes it. In other words, I can now say that I have doubled the length of my dissertation and can see, for the first time, the end of the tunnel. The Disgrace chapter, I always knew, was going to be the longest, most brutal section for me to get through, so being able to officially put it behind me is huge. I can now say, unbelievably, that I am almost finished with my dissertation. I could not say that yesterday.

    Before I sign off for the night, I want to stop and thank Minxy for her unstinting support, without which I cannot imagine having gotten as far as I have on this project. When I started this blog, I asked my friends to check in on me once in a while, so that I felt a certain amount of duty to complete my daily assignments. A few did, but none so consistently as Minxy, whose daily encouragement really helped me establish the work patterns that I needed to develop in order to start and push through my dissertation. She rules.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    Since I'm writing this in the middle of an electrical storm and I haven't much confidence in either my internet connection or my apartment's ability to keep the power on, I will keep tonight's entry brief. I looked at two essays today, only one of which really offered much for scholars interested in Elizabeth Costello. The first piece I looked at, Paulo de Medeiros's "(Re-)Constructing, (Re-)Membering Postcolonial Selves," while an interesting look at identity formation in postcolonial contexts, only mentions Elizabeth Costello in passing. The second essay, Margaret Lenta's "Coetzee and Costello: Two Artists Abroad," on the other hand, deals exclusively with Coetzee's 2003 novel. Although much of Lenta's text is given up to plot summary, the critic does raise valuable questions about the role of literature in shaping peoples' ideas and the nature of Coetzee's relationship to Costello and her various literary interlocutors.

    For tomorrow: Read.

    Works Cited

    de Meidros, Paulo. "(Re-)Constructing, (Re-)Membering Postcolonial Selves." Stories and Portraits of the Self. Eds. Helena Carvalhao Buescu and Joao Ferreira Duarte. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007. 37-49.

    Lenta, Margaret. "Coetzee and Costello: Two Artists Abroad." English in Africa 31.1 (2004): 105-120.

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    Saturday, August 8, 2009
    Although I have only read a relatively small fraction of the critical writing on Elizabeth Costello, I have been impressed by the sheer amount of philosophical and interdisciplinary writing engaging with Coetzee's novel. Of course, this is not especially surprising information. After all, Costello rather explicitly abandons literary pursuits in favor of traveling the world and lecturing on a variety of themes. Still, for someone as accustomed to reading academic writing within a single discipline as I am, the transition has been an interesting one for me. I find, for example, that I appreciate the rigorous acumen of scholars working within the social sciences and, while it certainly resembles analogous patterns in my own field of expertise, I find the circuitous reasoning of certain philosophy scholars to be a touch more difficult to get through than, say, the matter-of-fact approach taken by primatologists.

    And that's really the thing about Elizabeth Costello: for a single work of fiction, it galvanizes thinkers in a staggeringly wide range of academic fields and spawns an impressive degree of interdisciplinary writing, much of which focuses on a single idea Costello expounds upon rather than the entirety of the novel.

    The essay I looked at today, for instance, Angi Buettner's "Animal Holocausts," situates Elizabeth Costello within the contemporary debate about the uses of the Holocaust as analogies for lowercase-h holocausts such as the slaughter of animals, the very comparison Costello makes to anger Isaac Stern in Coetzee's novel. In a discussion that also focuses on Stephen Wise's Rattling the Cage, Buettner suggests that, while reactions like that of Coetzee's fictional poet, Stern, are understandable, "[w]hen the Holocaust is used to point out and work against newly created suffering . . . it is not pointless" or gratuitous (41).

    For tomorrow: Read.

    Work Cited

    Buettner, Angi. "Animal Holocausts." Cultural Studies Review 8.1 (2002): 28-44.

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    Although the bulk of today's dissertation work was of the physical variety -- collating and stapling a draft, driving an hour to campus, and stuffing it in my supervisor's mailbox, as well as finding photocopying essays on Elizabeth Costello -- I did get a bit of reading done, too.

    In Lesson 6 of Elizabeth Costello, "The Problem of Evil," a fictional version of the very real novelist Paul West attends a conference with the novel's heroine. In her speech at that conference, Costello cites West's real-life novel, The Very Rich Hours of Count von Stauffenberg, as an example of the sort of text in which the author crosses a line -- bringing more evil into the world than good -- by imagining and recreating scenes of horrific cruelty. Although Costello's arguments are disjointed and frequently unconvincing, she raises a few interesting points about the power of literature to alter the real world and the ostensible duty authors have to wield that tremendous power in a way that does not damage humanity -- and she leaves West in the precarious position of having to defend himself rationally against the emotionally-charged allegations at the heart of her jeremiad.

    In "The Novelist and the Hangman: When Horror Invades Protocol," West addresses his place in Coetzee's novel, assesses the book as following somewhat in the tradition of the French New Novel, and offers a thoughtful response to Costello's comments about literature's relationship to evil. While readers will be likely be most interested in hearing West's response to Costello's allegations (a privilege Coetzee's text had denied the man), his reply is ambivalent: West is seemingly flattered by Coetzee's attention while clearly miffed by Costello's ill-formed ideas about the author's role as a potential conduit for evil. Using Costelo's words as a departure point, West revisits his own novel and reasserts his belief that writers should continue probing the depths of the human psyche, dragging muck to the surface and dragging surface-dwellers through the muck.

    For tomorrow: Read.

    Work Cited

    West, Paul. "The Novelist and the Hangman." Harper's Magazine July 2004. 89-92, 94.

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    Friday, August 7, 2009
    In the week or so following the completion of my draft of the Disgrace chapter, I've not done nearly as much work as I would have liked. Although I have, at a minimum, read a few pages each day, I find that my final push to complete the chapter has drained me quite a bit more than I had anticipated. As a result of this realization, I have been a bit less demanding of myself, reasoning that I am at a stage in the dissertation where resting for a spell mightn't be the worst of ideas.

    For tomorrow: Read and/or hunt down critical articles.

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