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    Sobriquet 48.4

    Wednesday, November 5, 2008
    Well, today has been another long day, but I did manage to get a bit of transcription done this evening. I can sense that this stage of the chapter is going to be pretty tedious because of the sheer amount of time I will have to spend typing up the notes I have been making and the passages I have highlighted or underlined, but I suppose it is progress...right?

    At the moment, I find myself a bit overwhelmed by the many obligations I have. In addition to the dissertation work, I have a rather heavy pile of papers to grade, a messy home to clean, and lectures to prepare. Stress has, not surprisingly, become a factor for me and I find it difficult to focus on any one task because I cannot ignore the nagging feeling that I am not doing what I should be doing. And this is not a particularly pleasant feeling to have while copying notes. But, as always, I will push my way through. Ergo...

    For tomorrow: Read or transcribe.

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    Thursday, October 9, 2008
    Today's been another of those days where I wake up relatively early, feel extremely tired from the long hours I'd worked the day before, decide to sleep off the clinging fatigue, wake up with the intention to read the day's article before evening, begin reading the article, and find I am unable to focus.

    Oh, I've read about half the essay for the day, but it's past one in the morning and I am going to have to use it as bedtime reading, putting off completing A Canticle for Liebowitz or Man in the Dark for another night, dagnabit. I'll finish it, though.

    For tomorrow: More of the same.

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    Sunday, October 5, 2008
    As a result of staying up so late yesterday night, I've been sleepy all day even though I slept much later than I had hoped to do. I did, however, get through another article this evening, bringing me a tiny step closer to finishing what has been an incredibly draining undertaking. As much as I love Disgrace and as interested as I am in the interpretive possibilities the novel offers, I simply cannot wait to be finished reading the criticism. Lately, I have been spending whole afternoons struggling to get through an essay. I mean, I'll read a page, get up, check email, return to the text, read two lines of the article, get up again, take a walk or a drive, find a nice place to read, read a tiny bit, get bored, get up, find a new place, and repeat. It sucks. And it's not that the criticism is lousy. I just hate reading the same things over and over. After a while, one grows numb and his or her eye's begin to wander and it's harder to absorb information.

    But this, too, is something I must accept as part of the dissertation.

    And so I do.

    But I grumble, too. I occasionally grit my teeth as well. And once, in a particularly weak moment, I beat my breast and shouted lamentations to the heavens. Then again, I may have read that somewhere.

    As far as what I have been reading, today I read Rachel McCoppin's "Existential Endurance: Resolution from Accepting the 'Other' in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace," from the special Stirrings Still issue devoted entirely to Coetzee. In it, McCoppin bypasses the critical tendency to turn towards Emmanuel Levinas's conception of the other, back to the Sartrean understanding of the concept and towards Nietzsche for an understanding of the formation of David Lurie's personal ethical system in the novel. What McCoppin does most effectively is reveal just how much the poststructuralists are indebted to the existentialists they are so often said to have superseded, especially in terms of the concept of the Other. Much of her reasoning does, however, proceed along the same general lines as many other readings of the novel: Lurie's encounters with the Other -- be they with his daughter (one of McCoppin's more inspired interpretations), the three assailants, or non-human animals -- force him to recognize the ultimate value of the Other, the necessity of relinquishing the drive to dominate that which he cannot control, and the small blessings brought about by the assumption of a humility hitherto absent from his existence. In a similar -- though explicitly Levinasian -- vein, Michael Marais concludes that the humbling "responsibility [for the Other] is an effect of [Lurie]'s loss of control over that which [he] thought [he] could control" (18). Unlike McCoppin's essay, which emphasizes Lurie's conscious decision to become a better person, Marais's text -- "Impossible Possibilities: Ethics and Choice in J. M. Coetzee's The Lives of Animals and Disgrace" -- suggests that "[a]lthough he becomes a better person in the course of the novel, he does not do so of his own volition" (10). Indeed, in learning to love despite himself, Lurie joins the ranks of the doctor in Life & Times of Michael K, Elizabeth Curren in Age of Iron, and Dostoevsky in The Master of Petersburg by loving the unloveable and/or unknowable: K., John, and Sergei Nechaev, respectively.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Works Cited

    Marais, Michael. "Impossible Possibilities: Ethics and Choice in J. M. Coetzee's The Lives of Animals and Disgrace." The English Academy Review 18.1 (2001): 1-20.

    McCoppin, Rachel. "Existential Endurance: Resolution from Accepting the 'Other' in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Stirrings Still: The International Journal of Existential Literature 3.1 (2006): 71-81.

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    Saturday, October 4, 2008
    Well, I fucked up today. I had the whole day off: no obligations, no errands, nothing. And guess what I did? Nothing. I couldn't focus on anything and so now, at three-thirty in the morning, I have to buckle down and read a brief essay before bed.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay. And do it before three-thirty in the damn morning!

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    Thursday, January 3, 2008
    Yeah, so today was another one of those days where I stayed in bed far later than I should have and, once I did get out of bed, I could not focus on my work. I have not taken a full day's break from the dissertation in over two weeks and I am beginning to think I should take a couple of days off to recharge my reserves, but I know I will not enjoy myself unless I have something written to show for my effort. Still, I'm getting to the point where I am just groaning at the thought of reading any more criticism and I notice more and more that my chagrin manifests itself in a stubborn refusal to focus on whatever I am reading.

    Needless to say, I procrastinated much of the day.

    I sorted songs in my iTunes library, then I solved a few crossword puzzles, then I told myself I would check email (and ended up procrastinating more). Then it was, like, ten at night. When I finally managed to eat a bit (while watching Seinfeld), it was well neigh eleven...and I still hadn't done much.

    At that point I seriously contemplated driving six hours to New Bedford, Massachusetts to attend the annual Moby-Dick marathon reading. Something, anything to escape the wretched sense of stagnation I feel. In the end, though, I opted to make a few more votive candles, if only because the lengthy process would force me to stay up late enough (it's almost four-thirty) to get something done.

    And I did.


    As I mentioned earlier, I have been working my way through the book-length studies of Coetzee, picking up a few useful tidbits of critical insight and cursing Age of Iron for having inspired so much discussion. I feel obliged to review every piece of criticism published on the book if I am going to write about it, but I am really struggling. I have grown weary of the repetitive nature of the critical discourse and frustrated by the time it takes to digest the unnecessarily convoluted writing style some critics still use. Thankfully, the chapter I read this evening was not one of those. Graham Huggan, one of the more prominent figures in postcolonial literary studies, penned an interesting look at entropy and evolution in Age of Iron for a collection of essays he edited, and I found the chapter insightful and rather unique in perspective.

    Regardless, I have felt burnt out and frustrated over the past few days, and I crave a bit of unencumbered free time. Since the next semester starts up in less than a fortnight, however, I don't know how likely it is that I will find the time to do so. I desperately want to finish the section on Age of Iron so that I can take a couple of days to relax without the anxiety not having written a word would likely inspire. Although a daytrip would help me recoup some of the energy I will need to better handle the stress of preparing syllabi and beginning the next phase of the chapter, I imagine I will have to find some other, more immediate outlet for my tension. Indeed, batting cages come to mind...

    I am disappointed in myself for having spent as much time as I have on a novel that doesn't figure very prominently in my overall project, but I am hoping that, with Disgrace (which inspired a huge critical discussion) already tackled, I will be able to move more quickly through Elizabeth Costello and Slow Man (and possibly Diary of a Bad Year, which I have yet to read). Since the post-2000 novels have considerably fewer articles written about them--a fact which likely owes more to their relatively recent publication dates than to their lack of rich content--and because I enjoy the texts a good deal more than Age of Iron, I imagine it will be a bit easier to make my way through the criticism.

    I hope.

    I suppose I am just burnt out, again. I mean, I have been in a consistently burnt-out state since partway through my Master's degree, so I am accustomed to periods of exasperation, but as my thirtieth birthday looms menacingly on the horizon, I often feel that I just want to finish this chapter of my life, close the book, tuck it snugly between my past and my future, and move the #@$% on.

    All I can say is that graduate study is definitely not for those people who crave instant gratification.

    Still, I refuse to allow today's frustrations to get the better of me. This is not the nadir of my will be a reminder to myself in the future that I have gotten through bad days before and can do so again.

    For tomorrow: Try to get through as much of the remaining book-borne criticism as possible.

    Work Cited

    Huggan, Graham. "Evolution and Entropy in J. M. Coetzee's Age of Iron." Critical Perspectives on J. M. Coetzee. Eds. Graham Huggan and Stephen Watson. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

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    Wednesday, December 12, 2007
    For someone who would probably have been diagnosed as ADHD had he attended grade school ten years after he did, struggling to maintain my focus on a given task has always been something of an academic albatross around my neck, but not something that has prevented me from succeeding in my scholarly pursuits. As an undergraduate, for instance, I simply compensated for my zig-zagging thoughts by spending more time in the library than did many of my peers. Still, despite the coping mechanisms I have developed, I find there are days when I struggle much more than others and today was one of those frustratingly unfocused days.

    When I woke up this morning, I attempted to write a blog entry in which I was intending to set out my goals for the day, but felt I had not slept enough and, rather than risk drowsily slogging through the day, I decided to sleep a bit longer. Waking up a few hours later, pleasingly alert and energized, I found that my kitten and cockatiel were uncommonly hyperactive, chirruping and meowing to such an extent that any attempts I made to read were futile. Not to be discouraged, I decided to head over to a coffee shop and read there. And I did, but very slowly and with a painful amount of re-reading.

    I detest the days when I find myself reading every line of text two or three times before moving on because in the time it would normally take me to read five or ten pages, I am a mere paragraph or two into the reading. Naturally, this frustrates the living shit out of me, especially since I must fight off the urge to silently lament my slow progress. The lure of checking email and Facebook, too, becomes unbearably strong and I begin wondering whether so-and-so emailed me while I am straining to read the same sentence I have been working on for five minutes.

    One reason for the constant re-reading, I imagine, is the stress I put myself under to know "everything" about the text I plan to write about. I want to ensure that my eyes not only pass over the words in whatever book I am reading but that I fully process each and every word and image the author sets before me. This has been a concern for me every since I first realized, as an undergraduate, that I had somehow developed a nasty habit of hastily skimming text in lieu or actually reading it. With some genuine effort, I managed to read more slowly and with greater attention, until I was able to process the texts I worked with at the level I felt was appropriate for a college student attending a competitive school.

    After college, however, some of the old habits returned. I assume that as I encountered increasing amounts of literary criticism (which, for me, is much less interesting than primary sources) and piles of student writing, I burned myself out processing material considerably less interesting and thought-provoking than the sort of texts I would have chosen to read outside of the institutionalized setting in which I placed myself.

    In any case, my initial goal for today was to read fifty pages in J.M. Coetzee's Age of Iron, a book I first read earlier this autumn and which I hope to devote some space in the first chapter of my dissertation (a chapter, not surprisingly, devoted to Coetzee's work) as well as travel an hour to the university library to pick up some critical articles. Although I did not make an official declaration of the assignment in the blog, I did elect to approach the day as if I had made the assignment, though I opted to save the drive for Friday.

    And, boy, did I struggle to push myself through the text. Granted, Age of Iron does not strike me as nearly as strong a book as Disgrace, Elizabeth Costello, or Slow Man, but it is a good read and should not strike me as so tough to get through, especially since I had so recently read it. But I pushed through and, ultimately, read what I set out to do. The way I see it, I will encounter days like this, but I have to work in spite of the difficulties if I am to make any progress on my project. Today, I hope, will serve as proof that it is possible to work on "bad days." It just took much longer than I would have liked. Much, much longer.

    I suspect a good deal of my struggle originates in the fact that I want to begin writing this chapter soon. As I prepared to write, however, I found that I did not recall Age of Iron as clearly as I felt I should, so I put off the pre-writing for the chapter until I finish re-reading the book. I think I am annoyed at myself for stupidly assuming that reading four or five novels, a bunch of criticism, and some philosophy while teaching at two different colleges for over fifty hours a week would be a good idea. Thus, the baby steps I mentioned in the previous post.

    In other words, after reading enough additional material to forget Age of Iron, I have come to the conclusion that I should read up one novel, write about it, then move on to another rather than try to work with such a large body of material all at once. This way, I imagine, I will maintain a stronger grasp on material as I work with it, resulting in a stronger end product. We'll see how that goes.

    For tomorrow: Since I have a packed day tomorrow, and since I have to administer and begin grading final exams, I will not say that I should finish the novel. I will, however, say that I should read 25 pages by bedtime tomorrow, enabling me to finish the book on Friday and begin reading the criticism I will need to start writing the chapter. Wish me luck.

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