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Sobriquet 51.9

Wednesday, February 11, 2009
I'm just going to make a quick post this morning to

a) acknowledge that I did get a bit of reading done yesterday

and to 

b) Assign myself today's work.

For today: Read some more of Elizabeth Costello or, if I can somehow manage my time to do so, work on the Disgrace chapter in some capacity.

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Sobriquet 51.8

Monday, February 9, 2009
I spent a few hours this afternoon adding to the chapter I began writing yesterday. Though it's only been two days since I started the Disgrace chapter, I'm beginning to recall all sorts of unpleasant writing-related sensations that I'd forgotten about in the months since I wrapped up the chapter I put together on The Master of Petersburg: the feeling of being tethered to my office, the annoying tendency I have to find fault with everything I write, and (perhaps I should add especially) the weight of the albatross I wake up with each morning, reminding me to crack my knuckles and start writing. The lattermost feeling actually reminds me a bit of how I imagine the protagonist of Groundhog Day must feel when he wakes each morning. You know, when Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" jars Bill Murray's character out of the oblivion of sleep and back into the consciousness that, though he feels like he may have moved into the future, he's right back where he was the day before. Now, obviously, I have made progress on my dissertation and I am clearly a bit farther along today than I was yesterday, but that feeling of waking up to a whole lot of the same is, nevertheless, a significant part of my writing days in the hours before I sit down at the computer.

For tomorrow: Since it's going to be a long day, full of meetings and other thoroughly non-dissertation obligations, I will say either reread a bit more of Elizabeth Costello or do a bit of planning for the next bit of writing. Of course, if I somehow find the time to write a bit more, that would be splendid.

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Sobriquet 51.7: On The Road Again

Sunday, February 8, 2009
Since it didn't seem like the anxiety I've been dealing with the past couple of days was heading anywhere I decided to start writing the chapter. Not outline, not tweak the outline, start writing. And so I did. Admittedly, it took me more than an hour to write the first sentence in a way that I found satisfactory (the image of the obscure clerk in Camus's The Plague struggling to write the perfect opening sentence did come to mind. Several times, in fact) but I started writing and, eventually, a few pages dripped out. As usual, I hate pretty much every word I've written and I have been analyzing my tone ever since I stopped writing but, fuck it all, the damn thing is underway.

Aside from writing more than I thought I would be able to squeeze out of myself, I actually read some more of Elizabeth Costello, too. Overall, not a bad day.

For tomorrow: Read or write or prep for writing.

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Sobriquet 51.6

Saturday, February 7, 2009
I woke up this morning with the same weighty anxiety as I felt yesterday and, to be honest, a part of me really wanted to succumb to it for a second consecutive day. I also knew that if I did hide from the blank page, I'd just be pissed off at myself and I'd have made it that much more difficult for myself to push through the unpleasantness.

So, while I did procrastinate a bit, I made myself promise to myself that I would, before it got too late, actually try to complete the outline I started on Thursday evening. Ironically, part of my procrastination consisted of reading another chunk of Elizabeth Costello. So, yeah. I put off working on my dissertation by working on my dissertation.

What I have come to accept about myself, though, is that I have a real problem here. There is a part of me that keeps finding (and in some cases, adding) work to do before beginning the chapter, presumably out of the fear of not being prepared to tackle what, in some ways, I have been avoiding for more than a year. (After all, I originally planned to rework a brief essay I'd published on Disgrace a few years ago, add a bit about Age of Iron and Slow Man, and turn it into a sixty page chapter on Coetzee). Here's the thing: Disgrace is just so huge, so significant a benchmark in contemporary literary history that I knew addressing it would require a half-year or more of preparation and that scared me. Now that I have done the prep work, though, I have begun feeling anxious over the sheer size of the project, anxious over my mastery of so many interlinking and often contradictory ideas. So, I'm worried. And this feeling, as I saw it today, left me with two distinct choices:

1. Write.

or

2. Don't write.

Now, since not writing tends to lead to more not writing while writing leads to less writing, I decided that the first choice was really the only way to go, so, for a little while this evening, I sat down with my outline and finished plotting out the general direction and shape of the chapter-to-be. I'm thoroughly dissatisfied with it, of course, but there's quite a bit of stuff laid out now and I have a road map to help me negotiate the foggy course I am about to take. I imagine I will spend some time over the next few days digging around in my recently-reviewed notes for various info-nuggets to put into the writing but, since that may not be as time-consuming a task as the Erik-in-fear-of-beginning might hope for, I may also dive into the chapter, outline in one hand and reams of notes in the other and stop putting off the inevitable sooner rather than later. We'll see.

For tomorrow: Read, prepare notes, and/or dissertate.

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Sobriquet 51.5

My dissertation anxiety may have gotten the better of me today, though it did not prevent me from getting some work done. The part of me that I'd managed to spur into action last night, the part that had gotten some outlining done, froze today. I realize I could have nudged myself back into gear, forced myself to confront the tauntingly regular blink of the cursor on the page, but I opted instead to read a little bit in Elizabeth Costello.

Now, while re-reading the novel was not my ideal approach towards dissertation work for the day, I did find that the reading reminded me of a couple of things I need to work into the Disgrace outline when I settle down and try to finish it in the next day or two. So, really, I oughtn't complain. Still, I dislike acknowledging that the anxiety surrounding this chapter affects me so thoroughly. This is part of the rationale for "assigning" myself an alternative reading each day, of course. I mean, sometimes one simply needs a break from the intellectual intensity of writing but other times, the need is more emotional or psychological. One needs to remind oneself of certain things, think and feel one's way through a relevant worry before proceeding.

At any rate, I have really been enjoying Elizabeth Costello, which ranks as one of my favorite Coetzee novels. I enjoy the metafictional and philosophical musings (trends that the author continues to develop in both Slow Man and Diary of a Bad Year) Coetzee weaves into the fabric of the narrative and, admittedly, I find the actual ideas the fictional Australian novelist presents in her rationally-flawed, emotionally-charged speeches to be among the more though-provoking passages in contemporary fiction. Elizabeth Costello is one of those novels that I enjoy both as a reader and as a student, a book I feel challenges me intellectually to question my assumptions about the world and the art it produces as well as provides me with a pleasant way to spend a chilly winter evening.

For tomorrow: What I said yesterday for today said today for tomorrow.

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Sobriquet 51.4

Thursday, February 5, 2009
All right. So, I started outlining the Disgrace chapter this evening. Since it involved actually typing and arranging words thoughtfully on the page, I have decided to say I have begun the chapter. I haven't necessarily begun writing it, maybe, but it is undoubtedly underway.

Finally.

After, like, six months or something equally insane.

At any rate, I had a brief meeting with my advisor this afternoon and, it seems, she thinks that my general approach to this behemoth of a chapter is a reasonable one so, with more anxiety than I would care to admit, I sat down at my computer a few hours ago, strained to remember as much of what I told her as I could, and begun shaping the course of the chapter-to-be.

And, boy, was it a nerve-wracking experience. Since it's been a half-year or so since I last wrote anything, I suspect it will take me a bit longer to work myself into the sort of writing-rhythm I'd had by the time I finished the seemingly endless chapter on The Master of Petersburg in April or May of last year. So, basically, I had to turn the key a few times for the ignition to catch but, eventually, I sputtered my way into producing a few pages of an outline.

So, yeah. There're still some hurdles left to clear, memories to dust off, notes to consult, but the trip has begun. Again. Still, when you've been off the road for a while, it's kinda exciting to pull back onto the great concrete expanse, look in the rearview mirror at the distance you've come, and forward to a road sign on which, for the first time, the milage separating you from your destination is displayed, even if the number is pretty big.

For tomorrow: Read some of Elizabeth Costello or work on the outline some more.

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Sobriquet 51.3: On the Brink

Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Now that I have finished reviewing the reams of notes on and quotations from the primary, secondary and, unbelievably, tertiary material I will be drawing upon for my Disgrace chapter, my next few days will probably consist of thinking about things in a manner similar to that depicted here:


For tomorrow: Either begin outlining the chapter or, since the day is going to be fairly busy, begin re-reading Elizabeth Costello in preparation for the next chapter.

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Sobriquet 51.2

I drew this meat grinder to help illustrate the way I currently feel about the Disgrace chapter I am about to write. Imagine you've got, like, a herd of cattle. Now imagine cramming that herd into the little funnel at the top of the meat grinder and trying to turn the crank.

Now, imagine that herd of cattle is really a herd of literary critics and my brain is the grinder and the crank is . . . well, you get the picture.

For tomorrow: Finish putting the meat in the grinder; prepare to turn the crank.

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Sobriquet 51.1

Monday, February 2, 2009
I finished reviewing the pile of notes on the critical writing about Disgrace yesterday evening after watching the Super Bowl. This afternoon, I began what promises to be the much briefer process of reviewing my notes on the novel itself. I anticipate starting the outlining process within a few days. As much as I know I will probably struggle with and strain over the actual writing stage, I am glad it is nearing. It marks the beginning of the end of a very, very long segment of the dissertation process, a period of time I am eager to see in my metaphorical rear-view mirror.

Now, of course, this isn't to say that I am glad to see Disgrace go because, like the handful of other books I consider to be among my favorites, the novel is one that has irrevocably enriched my life and one from which I will certainly continue to draw food for thought. What I am pleased to have behind me is the criticism or, more precisely, the act of reading so much of it. I recently spoke with a fellow doctoral candidate I know at an Ivy League institution and, as is common in our exchanges, we frequently discuss the trials and tribulations of the typical graduate student at our respective institutions. I'm consistently fascinated by the subtle differences between student life at an elite private institution and that of the average student at a large, public institution. Often, the little differences are intriguing, revealing a good deal about graduate-level study in contemporary America. One of the things that was not different, though, is the approach many scholars take towards reading literary criticism when working on a book, dissertation, or essay: you simply do not read all of the stuff out there on your topic.

Now, obviously, there are certain writers about whose work so much criticism has been published that it would be well-neigh impossible to read even most of the secondary material published about a given work. Take Hamlet, for instance. Were I to write my dissertation on Shakespeare's great tragedy, I doubt I would have the time or money to track down the bookshelves of material written about the play over the past few centuries. And, clearly, the amount of material published about works like Moby-Dick, Ulysses, Don Quixote, the Divine Comedy, and the Bible would be equally difficult to master, especially in the time allotted for a graduate student to write a dissertation. When it comes to a book like Disgrace, though, about which several hundred articles have been published, I cling to the idea that such a comprehensive reading is both possible and, if anything, proper for an individual seeking to include a discussion of the novel in his doctoral dissertation. And this is where I have been mired for the past half year. While many of my peers will have read a page or two of many articles before summarily dismissing them, I have felt an obligation to read everything I could on the book. And I have. Now, certainly, not every article is relevant to my dissertation, but I always assumed that the dissertation writer will want to secure as comprehensive, if not encyclopedic, a familiarity with the material he or she chooses to focus on as possible. I realize that it is easier and, in a situation where time and money are both in appallingly short supply, perhaps even more reasonable to take the shorter, more direct route through the process. But I find that I cannot. If I am going to put my name on the dissertation, I reason, I want it to be something I can say I put my best, most concentrated effort into completing. And, to do so, I feel that I have to have the sort of comprehensive familiarity with the critical literature I have sought to achieve. . . Still, with the pragmatic approach espoused by so many of my colleagues ringing in my ears, I am so glad to be done with the critical reading on this section of the dissertation. I did it my way and, thankfully, I have not tossed in my towel, despite often hating the sheer monotony of it all. In the end, though, I want to be able to respect myself, to be able to say I did the whole damn thing the "right" way . . . And, you know what? I actually learned some pretty amazing stuff in the process of reading a bunch of stuff I reckon other people in my position would've skipped over.

So, I've got that.

But, damn, am I glad it's behind me now. Ecstatic, even.

For tomorrow and the next day or so: Re-read the quotations from and notes on the novel.

For fun, here're a few links to this blog from elsewhere on the internet:

Sobriquet Magazine, according to this Swedish university's website is "an invaluable source of reflection for the serious scholar of Coetzee's ouevre. Here one finds, with a modicum of perusing, nearly all the members constituting the central body of scholarly commentary concerning Coetzee."


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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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