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    Sobriquet 53.10

    Thursday, April 16, 2009
    I accomplished very little today and it was entirely my own fault. Last night, after I finished my reading for the day, I set about tweaking one of the little art projects with which I occasionally amuse myself. Before I knew it, it was quite a bit past four in the morning and I could hear the first birds cheeping merrily outside my window. So I slept in. Then, when I woke up, I felt the familiar twinge of anxiety I associate with those moments I feel pressed for time. So, rather than write, I decided to take a long walk, enjoying what I hope will be the first of many pleasant spring days, socialize, watch South Park poke fun at the economic stimulus package, and read Adam Mars-Jones's rather negative review of Elizabeth Costello.

    Faulting Coetzee for the author's absent "sense of play" in the book, Mars-Jones dislikes the literary effect of the novel's strange structure, finding the Costello family a bit too conveniently arranged "to dramatise the divide between the arts and sciences" or bring about a "confrontation between humanist and religious" worldviews. Interestingly, this type of arrangement is a quality of realist fiction Coetzee's narrator discusses rather early on in the novel when (s)he claims
    Realism has never been comfortable with ideas. It could not be otherwise: realism is premised on the idea that ideas have no autonomous existence, can only exist in things. So when it needs to debate ideas. . .realism is driven to invent situations - walks in the countryside, conversations - in which characters give voice to contending ideas and thereby in a certain sense embody them. (9)
    The result of such philosophical embodiment in Elizabeth Costello, for Mars-Jones, is that "[e]ven the heroine's inmost experiences, of sexual pleasure, generosity or trauma, feel like enrichments of the debate rather than revelations of the character." Furthermore, Mars-Jones continues, "[a]s the book goes on, it becomes more abstract, not less," effectively alienating readers with an imperfectly crafted hybrid text that is, by turns, didactic and confusing.

    For tomorrow: Read, write, or prep.

    Works Cited

    Coetzee, J.M. Elizabeth Costello. Penguin: New York, 2003.

    Mars-Jones, Adam. "It's Very Novel, but is it Actually a Novel?" Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. The Observer 14 Sept. 2003. Available Online.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, June 27, 2008
    I've given myself a bit of a break these past two days. I have continued reading essays on Disgrace as I had planned, but the two most recent articles have been book reviews. I did, however, get quite a bit of time-consuming e-library work done this afternoon, so I may be misrepresenting how much effort I have put into things a bit.

    At any rate, the one full-length article I read (on Tuesday) was Kai Easton's "J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace: Reading Race/Reading Scandel," an extremely interesting look at the ways in which the South African public received Coetzee's novel upon its publication in 1999. As part of a collection of essays dealing with "scandalous fictions," Easton's study discusses how Disgrace offended a great many South Africans with its bleak depiction of black-on-white violence in the immediate aftermath of Apartheid. Considering the responses of Coetzee's colleagues in academia and among the South African literati in addition to the ANC's use of the novel to demonstrate lingering racial tensions in the country, Easton provides an intelligent survey of the most negative emotional and political interpretations of the book. Interestingly, Easton suggests that Coetzee may have deliberately crafted his novel in such a way as to encourage and even solicit such harsh criticism in an effort to ask readers "Can we read beyond race?" (200).

    Of the two review essays I read, I enjoyed Andrew O'Hehir's article for Salon the most. Although it does not make any startlingly novel observations, O'Hehir's review covers virtually all of the themes that would come to dominate the critical discussion of the novel in the decade following its publication. In fact, it may well serve as an ideal introduction to a collection of criticism centered around the novel. The second review I read, Adam Mars-Jones's "Lesbians are like that because they're fat" also makes some very good observations, though the title is misleadingly salacious and draws the reader's attention away from an article that has next-to-nothing to do with lesbian women. Mars-Jones's most important contribution to the larger critical discussion of Disgrace, in my opinion, is his reading of the novel as:
    simultaneously a story of redemption and of collapse, just as a famous optical illusion is simultaneously a duck and a rabbit, but can only be seen at any one moment as one or the other. The reading mind responds to the possibilities in disconcerting alternation.
    In other words, Mars-Jones suggests that Disgrace tells two stories "built from the same set of materials" -- namely, David Lurie's evolution from the selfish, proud, anachronistic Romantic he is at the novel's outset to the humble manual laborer content to tend to dying dogs at the book's conclusion and a disparaging portrait of racial relations in the 'new South Africa" -- that one must focus on individually in order to fully appreciate.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Works Cited

    Easton, Kai. "J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace: Reading Race/Reading Scandal." Scandalous Fictions: The Twentieth-Century Novel in the Public Sphere. Eds. Jago Morrison and Susan Watkins. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan (2006): 187-205.

    Mars-Jones, Adam. "Lesbians Are Like That Because They're Fat." The Observer 18 July 1999. 26 June 2008.

    O'Hehir, Andrew. Rev. of Disgrace, by J . M. Coetzee. Salon.com. 5 Nov. 1999. 6 June 2008.

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