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    Sobriquet 45.8

    Thursday, August 7, 2008
    Well, today sort of made up for yesterday. Whereas I spent the better part of Wednesday afternoon sleeping and the majority of the evening procrastinating, I finished my work relatively quickly today and, despite playing computer games for a few hours, I fit some exercise and housecleaning into my schedule, too.

    At any rate, I would like to discuss what I have been reading these past few days, if only briefly, so you'll have to forgive me for making such an abrupt transition . . .

    Of the four essays I read, David Attwell's "Race in Disgrace" and Michael Holland's "'Plink-Plunk': Unforgetting the Present in Coetzee's Disgrace" stand out as particularly strong readings of the novel. Attwell, as always, draws upon his enviable familiarity with Coetzee's writing to expose the rampant critical misinterpretations, misapprehensions, misrepresentations, and misunderstandings in much of the commentary inspired by Disgrace. Using the ANC's treatment of the novel in its submission to the Human Rights Commission as a starting point, Attwell identifies several instances where readers have deliberately racialized the text in order to serve their own political ends. Referring to the controversy over the novel's "socially mimetic function" as "an over-heated discussion about what is the least complex - and arguably least interesting - area of the novel's performance," Attwell addresses several of the more egregious "creative misreadings" of Disgrace before integrating the discussions arising from them into his extensive examination of the "ethical turn" David Lurie undergoes during the course of the novel (332, 333, 339).

    Michael Holland's essay, taken from the same issue of interventions in which Attwell's article appears, examines how Coetzee "relegate[s] the defunct language of western masculinity to the past" in order to posit a new means of communication fit for post-apartheid South African society (395). Reading David Lurie's position in the novel as one of deeply existential isolation, Holland discusses how the pull of Lurie's nostalgia for an unattainable, romanticized past intensifies the former professor's temporal displacement and contributes to his disgrace. It is through the comedically pathetic music of his diminished operetta, ultimately, that David Lurie discovers "the absolute priority of the raw material of language" and is able to bring the "reader of the novel in direct contact with the immediate present of material existence," bringing him or her to a purer, more visceral understanding of existence as well as the means of communicating and processing that experience (404). Obviously, there is much more to the article than what I have mentioned here, but the complexity and insight of Holland's reading really cannot be summarized without necessarily diminishing one of the strongest readings of Disgrace yet published. In other words, you should read it yourself.

    Despite the seemingly gratuitous exposition on the workings of literary criticism in a poststructural paradigm with which H. P. van Coller begins "A Contextual Interpretation of J.M. Coetzee's Novel Disgrace," the critic does make several important contributions to the body of Coetzee criticism. The most convincing section of the essay is van Coller's excellent discussion of Disgrace's relationship to the plaasroman, especially in regards to the transgenerational significance of the farm in the South African (especially Afrikaans) literary imagination. While the rest of the essay touches upon several interesting aspects of the novel, I find the section on the plaasroman to be on par with some of the best readings of Disgrace that I have come across and will, in all likelihood, draw upon van Coller's insights when writing the chapter on Disgrace.

    The fourth and final essay I read was Benaouda Lebdai's "Bodies and Voices in Coetzee's Disgrace and Bouraoui's Garcon Manque," which focuses primarily on Lucy Lurie's role in the novel. Viewing the female body as the field upon which historical anxieties are enacted, Lebdai presents one of the more comprehensive readings of Lucy's character and, in the end, paves the way for future examinations of corporeality in the novel.

    For tomorrow: More reading.

    Works Cited

    Attwell, David. "Race in Disgrace." interventions 4.3 (2002): 331-341.

    Holland, Michael. "'Plink-Plunk': Unforgetting the Present in Coetzee's Disgrace." interventions 4.3 (2002): 395-404.

    Lebdai, Benaouda. "Bodies and Voices in Coetzee's Disgrace and Bouraoui's Garcon Manque." Cross Cultures 94 (1999): 33-44.

    Van Coller, H.P. "A Contextual Interpretation of J.M. Coetzee's Novel Disgrace." A Universe of (Hi)stories: Essays on J. M. Coetzee. Ed. Liliana Sikerska. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2006. 15-37.

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    Friday, August 1, 2008
    For some reason, I struggled to get through my reading yesterday. I kept procrastinating and biking from one cafe to another, trying to focus. In the end, my inability to focus got the better of me and I ended up reading until three or so this morning. Today's reading, fortunately, went a bit more smoothly for me. I find that, on the days when I visit Cornell's campus, I tend to be more productive. Part of the reason for this increased diligence, I'm sure, stems from the fact that visiting the venerable old institution requires that I spend more time, energy, and money than I would otherwise do, essentially making the afternoon an outing and cultivating a certain sense of obligation in my mind. I'm also convinced that the gothic architecture and breathtaking scenery have a favorable effect on my mindset. The school I currently attend, having been built during the pragmatic years of the American twentieth century, consists almost exclusively of the featureless, squat brick buildings one associates with the utilitarian values of the Cold War. Needless to say, the bland functionality of the buildings' design does not inspire the same set of emotions as the sweeping columns and decorative friezes common among older institutions. To be honest, I like the musty old buildings, the well-worn marble floors, the exquisite latticework, and the grand, sweeping curves of Cornell's campus because they remind me of similarly "academic" features of the institutions where I did my Bachelor's and Master's degrees. And I like the oldness of the campus because, it makes it easier to envision Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Farina, Vladimir Nabokov, M. H. Abrams and several of my favorite professors working in the same spot in years past. I mean, there's a reason we humans flock to certain historical places. We go to the Pyramids or the Tower of London or Chichen Itza because we know something happened in those places and we wish to imbibe what we can of those historic events or, at the very least, draw inspiration from them.

    And that's what I do when I sit among the trees overlooking Ithaca.

    Now, I'm not saying that a muse will descend upon me or that some quasi-spiritual force permeates the air I breathe when at the university. No. That's a bit too quixotic for me. But I do like the scholarly feel of a tradition-rich academic milieu and I do like to be reminded of the intellectual lights that have gone before me because such things get me thinking about scholarship and put me in the mood to push through my own work.

    And speaking of my own work, I'd like to briefly mention the essays I read these past two days. The first essay, co-authored by Jerzy Koch and Pawel Zajas, draws upon an immense collection of Polish and Dutch reviews of Coetzee's fiction to address instances where foreign critics have misread the author's fiction. The duo's most significant contribution to the canon of Coetzee criticism, in my estimation, is their discussion of the plaasroman and the author's critical engagement with the genre. Like Rita Barnard, Koch and Zajas make an exceedingly strong case for reading Disgrace with the conventions of the plaasroman in mind.

    The essay I read this afternoon, John Douthwaite's linguistic analysis of the opening chapter of Disgrace is clearly the work of a master linguist, though much of the essay simply explains how Coetzee's writing creates the emotional response most readers have when confronting the text of the novel. Where Douthwaite really shines, however, is in his meticulous unpacking of Coetzee's prose to reveal the text's "conversational, or dialogic" nature, thereby opening Disgrace up to a host of intriguing readings rarely discussed among the novel's commentators (53).

    For tomorrow: More of the same.

    Works Cited

    Douthwaite, John. "Coetzee's Disgrace: A Linguistic Analysis of the Opening Chapter." Towards a Transcultural Future: Literature and Society in a 'Post'-Colonial World. Geoffrey V Davis, Peter H. Marsden, Benedicte Ledent, and Marc Delrez, eds. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004. 41-60.

    Koch, Jerzy and Pawel Zajas. "'They Pass Each Other By, Too Busy to Even Wave': J.M. Coetzee and His Foreign Reviewers." A Universe of (Hi)stories: Essays on J. M. Coetzee. Ed. Liliana Sikerska. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2006. 111-150.

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    Sunday, June 15, 2008
    I passed the afternoon at Cornell, photocopying some of the journal articles I was unable to locate at my university's library. As always, I spent a good deal more time and money obtaining fewer materials than I would have liked, but it was a productive day nonetheless. Besides, it's always pleasant to be in a college town.

    In addition to the gruntwork that is article-hunting, I read Jacques Van Der Elst's "Guilt, Reconciliation and Redemption: Disgrace and its South African Context," a rather unexceptional lecture on Coetzee's novel. Largely devoid of analysis, Van Der Elst's paper makes brief mention of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, summarizes the novel's plot, and rehashes the familiar accusations of authorial nihilism. Although I don't think the lecture will shed much light on the novel for people researching Coetzee, it may be of interest to readers unfamiliar with the more negative interpretations of the book.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Work Cited

    Van Der Elst, Jacques. "Guilt, Reconciliation and Redemption: Disgrace and its South African Context." A Universe of (Hi)stories: Essays on J. M. Coetzee. Ed. Liliana Sikerska. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2006. 39-44.

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