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    Sobriquet 60.5

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009
    I finished the conclusion of my dissertation on Friday afternoon, which was a few days after I originally thought I would complete it. I sent it off to my supervisor and, though she made a few small suggestions for revision, it looks like I am essentially done with that section of the dissertation now, too. This means that, save for the sort of minor editing one does with any book-length manuscript, all I have left to do is write my introduction.

    This, however, is a bit more daunting a task than it may sound. Because it has to be fairly lengthy and because it requires that I summarize my ideas, but especially because I know it will be the first thing any potential reader encounters, I am feeling a bit more anxiety about its writing than I had anticipated. I mean, when I wrote my M.A. thesis back in 2003, the introduction was probably the easiest part of the entire project and, really, it did not take me an especially long time to put together. This introduction, on the other hand, feels different, weightier, more demanding. And, indeed, it is. When speaking with my advisor over the weekend, I was more than a little surprised to learn how long the average introduction tends to be. My initial response was, perhaps not surprisingly, mild dismay. "Damn," I thought, "I guess I won't be finishing it by the last day of the semester!" And all my dreams of celebratory December vacations to warmer climes dissipated.

    Of course, it's idiotic to feel anything but satisfaction at this point. I mean, I am remarkably close to the end of my dissertation, something that I could only imagine -- and imagine poorly -- two years ago. Still, it probably means that I will have to do a bit of re-reading over the next couple of weeks in preparation for that final bit of writing. I'll have to read over my dissertation, of course, but also Foe and In the Heart of the Country. I will have to reread some criticism, too. It feels like I have just finished the eleventh hour of a twelve-hour drive and, stifling yawns and straining to keep my eyes open, I see a construction zone ahead.

    So, I guess I will have to shift gears this one last time, regroup, and begin the homestretch.

    On a separate, though related note, I finally got around to watching the film adaptation of Disgrace. It's not a bad movie. The acting is pretty solid all the way through, the cinematography is beautiful, the plot largely true to the book. The problem with the adaptation is that the film essentially dismisses the reflective layer of Coetzee's novel. John Malkovich's David Lurie does all, or virtually all, the things Coetzee's Lurie does, but that's only the most superficial layer of the novel. David's internal life, the thoughts and feelings and reflections that animate and illuminate the book are, by necessity, largely absent from the film. There are, to be sure, moments where David's words or a particularly well-crafted scene gives a sense of the man's thoughts, but that crucial layer of the text is lost in translation.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, July 12, 2009
    Having lost several hours of prime internet access to the vicissitudes of summertime electrical storms, I find myself writing tonight's entry quite a bit later than I would otherwise have done. I mean, I am routinely awake after two in the morning, but I am a bit sleepier than I would prefer to be when trying to write something of even marginal readability. Oh, well. At least I have the Descendents to keep me energized this evening...

    At any rate, I used my Saturday to read a bit more criticism on Elizabeth Costello. Well, actually, I thought I would be reading about Elizabeth Costello but the article I plucked from the stack -- Kate McInturff's "Rex Oedipus: The Ethics of Sympathy in Recent Work by J. M. Coetzee" -- ended up having more to do with Disgrace than Coetzee's subsequent novel. This, of course, is likely the result of the essay having been indexed by the MLA after I last scoured the database for Disgrace-centered criticism.

    So. Getting to the article: McInturff draws on Elizabeth Costello's oft-discussed fascination with the human capacity for a sympathetic imagination that dissolves the species barrier in an effort to establish the ways in which Coetzee explores intergender, interracial, and interspecies power dynamics. The theoretical framework with which McInturff shapes her discussion of Coetzee borrows heavily from previous research by Anne McClintock and Judith Butler and stages a well-reasoned critique of the patriarchal ideologies influencing post-Enlightenment familial structure and the socio-political analogues that have shaped so much of the troubled post-apartheid culture Coetzee examines in Disgrace. Extending Costello's desire to do away with the human/non-human binaries justifying the abusive treatment of those beings (both human and non-human) that people regard as somehow inferior to themselves to the exploitative racial and gender hierarchies at the heart of Coetzee's 1999 novel, McInturff adds a passionate voice to one of the more crucial veins of Coetzee criticism.

    For tomorrow: Read or write.

    Work Cited

    McInturff, Kate. "Rex Oedipus: The Ethics of Sympathy in Recent Work by J. M. Coetzee." Postcolonial Text 3.4 (2007).

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, July 11, 2009
    I've had a fairly productive two days, making some progress on both the chapter I am currently in the process of writing as well as the chapter I intend to write next. So it's been a satisfying, if unpleasantly humid, couple of days at my desk.

    The article that I read yesterday evening, Chris Danta's "'Like a dog . . . like a lamb': Becoming Sacrificial Animal in Kafka and Coetzee," was one of the more interesting bits of criticism that I have read lately. Focussing largely on the figure of the scapegoat, Danta mounts a strong case for viewing animals -- particularly those designated as sacrificial -- as bearers of narratives. What Coetzee scholars will find most interesting, however, is likely to be Danta's reading of Elizabeth Costello and Disgrace as texts in which animals -- and, more specifically, the bodies of animals enable -- the human being to confront and grasp his or her own mortality.

    This afternoon, I returned to my chapter on Disgrace and ended up writing a few more pages, bringing myself ever-so-slightly closer to the end of this behemoth.

    For tomorrow: Read or write.

    Work Cited

    Danta, Chris. "'Like a Dog . . . Like a Lamb': Becoming Sacrificial Animal in Kafka and Coetzee." New Literary History 38 (2007): 721-737.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, May 3, 2009
    When I read James Wood's review of Disgrace last August, his contemptuous tone left a bad taste in my mouth, and I said so in the post I wrote that day. Today, with some curiosity, I picked up Mr. Wood's write-up of Elizabeth Costello and was somewhat surprised by the near-reverent language with which the critic assesses the novel.

    Wood, of course, is one of the world's better English-language literary critics and, when a novel piques his interest or evokes his passion for literature, he tends to pen some of the most insightful and assessable reviews you'll ever come across. Happily, his review of Elizabeth Costello falls into this category. After dismissing the understandable aversion some readers have to the author's curious framing of the novel and positing that Coetzee is not simply "protecting himself by pre-empting criticism" or shying away from taking ownership of often unreasonable ideas, Wood insists, rather lyrically, that the then newly-minted Nobel Laureate has crafted a supreme defense of literature and emotion against the unfeeling onslaughts of some of the modern world's more disarmingly rational approaches to existence. Ultimately, Wood argues, Elizabeth Costello "inclines towards death" while celebrating the beauty of the sympathetic possibilities of the human imagination.

    Recently, I also read Rebecca Ascher-Walsh's dismissal of the novel as a "near miss," Adrienne Miller's generous assessment of the book as a highly effective novel of ideas, and  D. J. Taylor's seemingly reluctant embrace of Coetzee's difficult text. Wood's review, though, is by far the most insightful of the lot.

    For tomorrow: Read or plan.

    Works Cited:

    Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca. Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. EW.com. 17 Oct. 2003. Available online.

    Miller, Adrienne. "Great Writing About Not Writing." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. Esquire 22 Oct. 2003. Available online.

    Taylor, D. J. Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. The Independent 30 Aug. 2003. Available online.

    Wood, James. "A Frog's Life." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. London Review of Books 23 Oct. 2003. Available online.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, February 13, 2009
    For the second straight day, I've ended up staying up a bit later than I would have liked and, since I did not get a chance to read anything today (and, admittedly, because I got really into music for a few hours), I have not yet done my work for the day. So, not wanting to delay any longer, I'm gonna go do that. . .

    For tomorrow: Preferably, dissertate. Alternately, read or prep.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, January 10, 2009
    By Erik Grayson

    One of the curious (though, surely, least surprising) effects of having spent the past half year reading and reviewing the literary criticism surrounding Disgrace is that certain things in the text stand out in ways I hadn't noticed during previous readings. Often, critical comments about the author's perceived lack of humor or his (supposedly) didactic prose will pop up while I am reading a passage and I will reflect on the relative accuracy of the accusations / interpretations. In the case of the former, for instance, I have noticed myself appreciating a certain humorous aspect of the book this time through. The humor one finds in Disgrace, of course, is not the sort of ribaldry one associates with expressly comedic writers, but neither is it the more subtle variety of black humor we often find in writers like Kafka or Beckett to whom Coetzee is often compared. No. If anything, the humor one finds in Disgrace is of the sort that might elicit a barely perceptible smirk from a cynic.

    Since David Lurie, a man many readers find unappealing for much of the novel (though it is certainly possible to like him. Like all of Coetzee's novels, Disgrace is far too multi-dimensional to reduce David to a flat stock character, but from a certain common perspective, David is easy to dislike), is the narrative's focalizer, he is, predictably, also the novel's comedic epicenter, the butt of the joke. We laugh at him, at his inability to connect with the world around him, at his hypocrisy, at his pomposity, at his seemingly pathetic attempts to communicate with his daughter. Indeed, we laugh with Lucy, the only major character in the novel to openly find humor in her father's social ineptitude. The example of Lucy's laughter that comes most readily to mind, for me, occurs during the scene between David and Lucy when the former expresses his aversion to attending Petrus's party:
    He speaks to Lucy. 'I have been thinking about this party of Petrus's. On the whole, I would prefer not to go. Is that possible without being rude?'

    'Anything to do with his slaughter-sheep?'

    'Yes. No. I haven't changed my ideas, if that is what you mean. I still don't believe that animals have properly individual lives. Which among them get to live, which get to die, is not, as far as I am concerned, worth agonizing over. Nevertheless . . .'

    'Nevertheless?'

    'Nevertheless, in this case I am disturbed. I can't say why.'

    'Well, Petrus and his guests are certainly not going to give up their mutton chops out of deference to you and your sensibilities.'

    'I am not asking for that. I would just prefer not to be one of the party, not this time. I'm sorry. I never imagined I would end up talking this way.'

    'God moves in mysterious ways, David.'

    'Don't mock me.' (127).
    Here, Lucy's sarcastic jab verifies the reader's sense that David has rather amusingly made an about-face regarding his (and, by extension, humanity's) capacity to develop a genuine emotional bond with non-human animals. Remember, this is the same man who, in response to Bev Shaw's comment that she senses he must like animals, replies "'Do I like animals? I eat them, so I suppose I must like them, some parts of them'" (81). We smirk at the blowhard as his pompous, theory-laden talk of animals lacking souls evaporates in the harsh glare of reality. A reverse bumpkin, the city-bred intellectual gains knowledge among the most primal of nature's realities, carnivorous appetites rarely make concessions for the feelings of those beings about to be consumed.

    Elsewhere, the narrator's free indirect style slips, exposing the slightest of gaps between the narrative voice and the focalizer in which humor may be located. Likewise, since the narrator makes no effort to present David in such a way as to make him appear likable, we are able (if not invited, then certainly permitted) to laugh at David's behavior. His crass treatment of Bev Shaw, for instance, is immediately something that the average reader will see as utterly uncalled for and, accordingly, we recognize that David's attitudes (towards women as well as many other topics) are often laughably out of sync with reality. I mean, it's not like he's Adonis, after all.

    In other words, David is often a pompous figure and pompous people are often funny. Lurie is rather like an annoyingly self-important relative or friend at a dinner party (so you're stuck within earshot), the sort of person who enjoys the sound of his own voice, who believes he is always right when frequently he is dead wrong. We try not to listen to him, but he's loud and insistent and he keeps saying the sort of stuff we want to roll our eyes at, the sort of stuff friends and relatives may cringe at or knowingly glance at one another to wordlessly communicate something like "oh, he's at it again!"

    Regarding Coetzee's didacticism, as some critics have called the author's tendency to discuss philosophical matters pertaining to animal rights, all I can say is that, on first reading, I did not feel I was being preached to in any way. Only after reading several essays claiming such a tone did I, on occasion, think to myself, "well, I suppose one might interpret this passage as a bit preachy."

    Before I sign off for the night, I want to make three additional observations:

    1. I have overheard people ridicule clerical jobs with rather heavy transcription components as the sort of job anyone can do. That's B.S. Having spent more than a month transcribing notes on a daily basis, I can say without a doubt, I could not do what those men and women do. Not by a long shot. It's hard work.

    2. There's a critic I came across named Hans Moleman. As a child of the Simpsons generation, I cannot help but think of the diminutive, myopic character sharing the appellation every time I see his name in print. We can only hope the human Hans Moleman finds humor in his cartoon namesake's foibles.

    3. I came across two articles in which a literary critic uses the word "fuck." This should be especially valuable information for people with parents claiming that "if you want to be a/n  [something socially acceptable], you can't use language like that." Yes you can. And you can get a job at a major university and publish in respected journals.

    For tomorrow, etc.: Read or transcribe.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, December 30, 2008
    Well, having finished The Rights of Desire a few days earlier than I anticipated (I gave myself, unofficially, very light reading assignments while I visited family over the holiday break), I began re-reading Disgrace, largely because I'd left the critical notes and quotes I have yet to transcribe in my office with my other, less-portable dissertation materials.

    At any rate, this is at least the fourth or fifth time I've read the novel and, happily, I enjoy it as much as ever. I do find it a bit strange re-reading the book after having spent so much time reading the criticism on it because, since I have seen so many passages from the book cited and dissected by critics, my mind constantly bounces between the pleasurable act of reading a novel I enjoy a great deal and the critical discussions inspired by a given bit of prose. It is helpful, though, as I have been taking notes and making comments I hadn't necessarily thought the first few times through the text.

    I also read Brooke Allen's brief discussion of Disgrace in The New Leader. Taking a somewhat "standard" view of the novel, Allen proposes that we read the novel as an allegory of the aging white figure in a new, multiracial South Africa that "has consigned David [and, presumably, the class of people of which he is a part] to the trash can." Though the essay is largely a summary of the plot, Allen does provide several interesting insights into the book, especially in relation to David's strained bond with his daughter.

    For tomorrow: Transcribe or read.

    Work Cited

    Allen Brooke. "Unravelling a Historical Moment." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The New Leader 13 Dec. 1999. 27-28.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, October 23, 2008
    I had the rather odd -- though thoroughly pleasing -- experience of reading my own published essay on Disgrace this evening. Now, this is not always a pleasant activity. We do well to remember Thomas Pynchon's apt reflections on rereading his early fiction in the introduction to Slow Learner: revisiting "anything you wrote [in the past], even cancelled checks" can be a major "blow to the ego" (3).

    Fortunately, I found that I continue to agree with my earlier assessment of the book. What I wrote then strikes me now, even after having read virtually every published essay on the novel, as a strong, reasonable reading of Disgrace. So I was mercifully spared a major blow to my ego. Of course, I'd be a very poor critic (which is not to imply that I am, in fact, a good one) if I did not find flaws in my earlier work. And I did. I think I may have been a bit too generous in my assessment of David Lurie at times. For instance, I have to place myself among the many critics who have referred to Lurie's dubious relationship with Melanie Isaacs as "an affair" rather than a sexual assault.

    Overall, though, I find that the essay remains a firm articulation of my initial reading of the novel and accurately reflects my current understanding of Disgrace. Naturally, with time, my interpretation of the book has become fuller and more nuanced, but fundamentally my interpretation has not altered a great deal. I continue to view Disgrace as a portrait of David Lurie's existential maturation and I think the essay does a fine job of expressing this belief. But there is more to be said.

    For tomorrow: Same as today.

    Works Cited

    Grayson, Erik. "'A Moderated Bliss': J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace as Existential Maturation." J. M. Coetzee: Critical Perspectives, ed. by Kailash Baral. New Delhi: Pencraft, 2008. 161-169.

    Pynchon, Thomas. Slow Learner: Early Stories. Boston: Little, Brown, 1985.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, October 22, 2008
    I'll have to keep tonight's entry brief. It's late; it's been an exceedingly long day and I am tired. I struggled to fall asleep last night so, despite having the opportunity to listen to the first fifth of Herman Hesse's Demian, the latest on my "Audiobooks to Play in the Dark When I Can't Sleep" list (having finished listening to Paul Auster's excellent Man in the Dark last week), I awoke this morning with a bit more grumpiness than usual. That said, it was not a bad day by any stretch of the imagination, the grumpiness dissipating rather quickly. But it was a busy, fatiguing day nonetheless.

    As far as dissertation work goes, I reviewed Richard Brock's "Putting the Soul in Order," another of the essays in the Stirrings Still issue devoted entirely to Coetzee. Brock's text only briefly touches upon Disgrace in what amounts to an oeuvre-encompassing study of the "purgatorial" spaces in Coetzee's fiction. Brock's reading of Disgrace is consistent with a significant strain of Coetzee criticism, namely that which views bodily suffering as the means of achieving a metaphysical understanding of the human (and, perhaps, non-human animal) condition. Furthermore, Brock writes extremely readable prose, making a complex topic both accessible and comprehendible.

    For tomorrow: Same as the past couple of days.

    Work Cited

    Brock, Richard. "Putting the Soul in Order: Purgatorial Spaces and the Role of the Writer in the Novels of J.M. Coetzee" Stirrings Still: The International Journal of Existential Literature 3.1 (2006): 110-127.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, October 20, 2008
    I received one of the essays I requested via interlibrary loan this afternoon: Mary Leontsini and Jean-Marc Leveratto's "Online Reading Practices and Reading Pleasure in a Transnational Context: The Reception of Coetzee's Disgrace on Amazon Sites." The essay, a chapter from The Global Literary Field, is a well-written and interesting article that offers relatively little to the Coetzee scholar. As the title implies, the essay focuses on the ways in which the reception of Coetzee's novel by Canadian, American, British, and French audiences reflects the differences in reading practices around the globe.

    Over the past few weeks, I skipped over a few of the essays I read, feeling too tired or too pressed for time to discuss them on the website. Although I cannot give them the attention they deserve, I would like to at least mention them.

    Among the essays in the as-yet unmentioned bunch, two essays by Mike Marais --"Race, Reading, and Tolerance in Three Postapartheid Novels" and "J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace and the Task of the Imagination" -- stand out as particularly strong contributions to Coetzee studies. In the former essay, Marais touches upon the pastoral elements in Disgrace as well as the significance of Lurie's "misreading" of his daughter, two extremely important foci in the commentary surrounding the novel. The second essay is, in many ways, a companion to the former. In it, Marais devotes more attention to Lurie's ultimate inability to apprehend and process Lucy's supreme alterity. Together, these two 2006 essays are essential texts for any serious student of Disgrace.

    I also read Ina Grabe's interesting "Theory and Technology in Contemporary South African Writing," an essay discussing Zakes Mda's The Heart of Redness and Andre Brink's The Rights of Desire in addition to Coetzee's novel. Although her analysis of Disgrace is comparatively brief, Grabe's observations about the "leveling process" David Lurie undergoes over the course of the novel is well worth reading.

    Finally, I would like to mention Wendy Woodward's excellent "Dog Stars and Dog Souls: The Lives of Animals in Triomf by Marlene van Niekerk and Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee." Although human-animal relations in Disgrace has long been one of the most frequently debated themes among critics working on the novel, Woodward's essay is easily one of the most comprehensive and vital contributions to the discussion. Of especial significance is the depth of the spiritual discourse Woodward brings to her discussion. Moving beyond the superficial questions of whether or not animals have souls, Woodward looks at the ways in which animals "teach us about impermanence, suffering and death" (113).

    For tomorrow: Same as today.

    Works Cited

    Grabe, Ina. "Theory and Technology in Contemporary South African Writing: From Self-Conscious Exploration to Contextual Appropriation." In Cybernetic Ghosts: Literature in the Age of Theory and Technology, ed. by Dorothy Matilda Figueira. Provo, UT: Brigham Young UP, 2004. 203-12.

    Leontsini, Mary and Jean-Marc Leveratto. "Online Reading Practices and Reading Pleasure in a Transnational Context: The Reception of Coetzee's Disgrace on Amazon Sites." In The Global Literary Field, ed. by Anna Guttman, Michel Hockx and George Paizis. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2006. 165-180.

    Marais, Mike. "J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace and the Task of the Imagination." Journal of Modern Literature 29.2 (2006): 75-93.

    ---. "Race, Reading, and Tolerance in Three Postapartheid Novels." In The Responsible Critic: Essays on African Literature in Honor of Professor Ben Obumselu, ed by Isidore Diala. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2006. 253-270.

    Woodward, Wendy. "Dog Stars and Dog Souls: The Lives of Dogs in Triomf by Marlene van Niekerk and Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee." Journal of Literary Studies / Tydskrif vir literatuurwetenskap 17.3-4 (2001): 90-119.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, October 18, 2008
    Although I have a few essays still on order through interlibrary loan, my pile of unread photocopied essays is no longer a pile. True, I have a few book chapters to read, but the endless pile is, for the first time since the spring, empty. Oh, the faux wood grain of my desk is as beautiful to me now as the face of a long-absent lover come home again!

    The article I read this afternoon, Matt DelConte's "A Further Study of Present Tense Narration: The Absentee Narratee and Four-Wall Present Tense in Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace," offers relatively little to the Coetzee scholar. If anything, DelConte uses Coetzee's fiction (which, despite the title, the author does not mention until halfway through the essay) to illustrate the concepts of the "absentee narratee" and "four-wall narration" he has coined for the purposes of his discussion. To be honest, I found the vast majority of the discussion to be an exercise in explaining the obvious, though there were several points in the essay where DelConte makes some thoughtful observations about Coetzee.

    Among the other essays I have read recently, neither Liv Lundberg's "Mesteren fra Cape Town" nor Mary Eagleton's "Ethical Reading: The Problem of Alice Walker's 'Advancing Luna - and Ida B. Wells' and J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace'" added a great deal to my understanding of the novel, though both are quite well-written and interesting. Lundeberg's essay is a wonderful piece of Norwegian literary criticism: part introductory survey, part intellectual memoir. Given the relative dearth of Norwegian-language criticism on Coetzee, "Mesteren" is an important step in ensuring Coetzee's place in that country's literary discourse. Eagleton's essay, on the other hand, is an intensely focused study of the trauma of rape as depicted in the two works mentioned in the article's title. With its theory-informed close reading of the two texts, "Ethical Reading" treats such topics as Lucy's willful silence following her rape with great insight.

    Yesterday, I read Laura Wright's "'Does He Have it in Him to be the Woman?': The Performance of Displacement in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Dr. Wright, in my estimation, is one of the most readable critics working on Coetzee. Although the essay is relatively brief, Wright manages to survey much of the pre-existing critical discourse on Coetzee's novel, extract the most vital themes (animal alterity, the creative process, trauma, the sympathetic imagination, the burden of history, etc.) and weave together a wholly coherent reading of the book as a performative text in which the unknowability of the other is central, ultimately concluding that:
    While one can never be the other, on an ethical level, one must continue to attempt to imagine the subjectivity of that which one is not, and, more importantly, one must continue to respect the alterity of that which cannot be imagined. (100)
    For tomorrow: Read another essay, work on transcription, read a bit of The Rights of Desire, or work on the bibliography.

    Works Cited

    DelConte, Matt. "A Further Study of Present Tense Narration: The Absentee Narratee and Four-Wall Present Tense in Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace." JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory 37.3 (2007): 427-446.

    Eagleton, Mary. "Ethical Reading: The Problem of Alice Walker's 'Advancing Luna - and Ida B. Wells' and J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace.'" Feminist Theory 2 (2001): 189-203.

    Lundberg, Liv. "Mesteren fra Cape Town." NordLit 14 (2003): 109-125.

    Wright, Laura. "'Does He Have it in Him to be the Woman?': The Performance of Displacement in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." ARIEL 37.4 (2006): 83-102.

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    ____________________________________________
    Although I assumed that I would be too sleepy to read much more than a few pages of a novel yesterday evening, I decided to at least make an effort to do something more -- and ended up reading Kari Weil's "Killing Them Softly: Animal Death, Linguistic Disability, and the Struggle for Ethics" in addition to a bit of The Rights of Desire. Weil's essay, like quite a few others, views David Lurie's relationship with animals as central to an understanding of Disgrace. Although there is a good deal more to the paper, I find Weil's use of autistic-animal relations as a key to opening a discussion of pre-verbal empathy between humans and non-humans to be one of the more fascinating things I have read lately. If anything, this short article proves that, as heavily discussed a novel as Disgrace happens to be, there is plenty of room for further critical debate.

    As for today, I still have another four pages of criticism to read before bed, so I am going to sign off for the evening/early morning.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Work Cited

    Weil, Kari. "Killing Them Softly: Animal Death, Linguistic Disability, and the Struggle for Ethics." Configurations 14 (2006): 87-96.

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    Sunday, October 12, 2008
    I did not enjoy today. I mean, it was a beautiful, cloudless autumn afternoon and the temperature was moderate enough to make wearing a sweatshirt as comfortable as wearing a tee-shirt. The yellows, reds, and oranges blotching the mountainsides made for a spectacular view in every direction. Birds chirruped and neighbors made pleasant small talk. The light breeze was delightful. And yet, I still managed to ruin it for myself.

    At some point during the day I began reflecting on graduate school, something that rarely results in a sense of self-satisfaction, to say the least. Once the math (the number of doctoral students entering the job market, the growing percentage of non-tenured positions, graduate school rankings, the percentage of Ph.D.s with whom I am acquainted finding tenure-track jobs, the number of publications I have had, and so on) began swirling in my mind, my mood plummeted. In Looney Toons-style, I would go from frolicking around the bucolic splendor of a crisp autumn day to getting smacked squarely in the jaw with some exceedingly heavy Acme brand product. The sound of a record scratching would bring the Peer Gynt Suite to which I had so gaily been frolicking to an abrupt halt just in time to segue into a Maurice Ravel's "Prelude a la Nuit: Rhapsodie Espagnole." Clouds would then darken the skies, the wind would pick up, a desolate-sounding dog would howl mournfully in the distance, and a few heavy drops of cold rainwater would dampen my face as I trudged home.

    Seriously, thinking about graduate school can be mind poison, no matter the institution one attends. That hyper-competitive job market just doesn't bode well for many of us. I mean, second-tier students tend to worry about the relative value of their credentials while top-tier students now have to wrestle with the fact that employers are increasingly skeptical about hiring them now, too (so sayeth a New York Times article the LiteraryChica sent my way a while back) because of the sort of hyper-specialization encouraged by many departments.

    Still, despite the weight of the worry (and it was substantial), I brushed the fears away, tamped down the self-doubts as best I could, and read what turned out to be one of the better essays I have come across while working on Disgrace.

    John Douthwaite's "Melanie: Voice and its Suppression in J M Coetzee's Disgrace" picks up quite literally where "Coetzee's Disgrace: A Linguistic Analysis of the Opening Chapter" leaves off. Focusing on chapters two through four, Douthwaite applies the same rigorous linguistic analysis to the Melanie-centered section of Disgrace as he does to the first chapter. The result of Dothwaite's work, not surprisingly, is a stunningly revealing close reading highlighting, among other things, the role of the void in Coetzee's novel as well as the linguistic activities David Lurie employs in a vain attempt at filling it. What I found most compelling in the essay, however, is Douthwaite's rather novel reading of the novel as presenting the free direct thought of Lurie (as opposed to the almost-universally accepted critical assessment of the book as having been written in an overtly free indirect mode). Given that J. M. Coetzee delivered the Tanner Lectures by reading an account of Elizabeth Costello, penned two autobiographical works in the third-person, and accepted his Nobel Prize by reading a narrative centered on Daniel Dafoe, the possibility Lurie is the "author" rather than simple focalizer of Disgrace is a compelling and thought-provoking approach to the novel, indeed. In making his case, Douthwaite nudges open several hitherto unseen (and potentially enlightening) avenues for scholarly discourse. Normally, I do not enjoy linguistic analysis, but Douthwaite is a superior scholar with a genuine gift for literary criticism, making his two essays essential reading for anyone working with Coetzee's text.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Work Cited

    Douthwaite, John. "Melanie: Voice and its Suppression in J M Coetzee's Disgrace." Current Writing 13.1 (2001): 130-161.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, October 11, 2008
    I'm going to try to play catch-up a bit today and discuss a few of the articles that I haven't yet mentioned.

    Over the course of the past three days, I read two essays -- Gerald Gaylard's "Disgraceful Metafiction: Intertextuality in the Postcolony" and Margot Beard's Lessons from the Dead Masters: Wordsworth and Byron in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace -- dealing with the ways in which Coetzee draws upon British Romanticism to layer, enrich, and nuance his novel. Of the two, I personally found Beard's reading to be a bit more useful for my own purposes, but Gaylard's essay is an equally strong contribution to the body of criticism surrounding Disgrace. Although Gaylard does not limit his exploration of intertextuality to Coetzee's engagement with the Romantic period, he does devote the strongest sections of his essay to its prominent place in the novel. Beard, on the other hand, uses the professional specialization in the Romantic poets she shares with David Lurie to highlight, among other things, the city-country, pastoral-urban, and simple-sophisticated binaries Coetzee invokes through David Lurie's fascination with "masters" such as the rakish Lord Byron and the almost willfully quaint William Wordsworth. Her strongest observations come when Beard addresses the critical misreadings of pastoralism in several previous studies of he novel.

    I also read Neville Smith's "Difference and J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace," an attempt to place Coetzee's novel among a growing body of fiction commenting upon the ways in which cultural and social prejudices have displaced biologically-motivated bigotry as a means of enforcing difference and maintaining positions of power over others. Smith does a wonderful job of making his case, though the essay does seem to make the same point ad infinitum. Smith also devotes a good amount of time to a survey of the critical response to Disgrace, situating his reading squarely in the center of many scholarly discussions of Coetzee's text.

    For today: see previous post.

    Works Cited

    Beard, Margot. "Lessons From the Dead Masters: Wordsworth and Byron in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." English in Africa 34.1 (2007): 59-77.

    Gaylard, Gerald. "Disgraceful Metafiction: Intertextuality in the Postcolony." Journal of Literary Studies 21.3-4 (2005): 315-337.

    Smith, Neville. "Difference and J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Journal of Literary Studies 23.2 (2007): 200-216.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, October 8, 2008
    Well, it's been a busy few days for me. Between grading several classes worth of student essays, reading a significant chunk of A Canticle for Liebowitz for another one of my classes, and teaching for more than nine hours a day, I haven't had a whole lot of time to devote to working on my dissertation, but I did read a few brief reviews, figuring reading something small each day would be better than not reading anything.

    Of the reviews I've read these past couple of days, I found Peter Ho Davies's "Truth and Consequences - J.M. Coetzee's Rigerous Tale of Guilt and Regret in South Africa," from the Chicago Tribune, to be the most interesting. In his reading of Disgrace, Davies asserts that David Lurie's "disgrace began much earlier than the public humiliation of the denounced affair" between the academic and Melanie Isaacs. By locating the beginning of Lurie's downfall prior to the opening of the novel, Davies suggests that the professor's disgrace is not, as quite a few reviewers have asserted, the result of an act of foolish Romantic bravado, but rather evidence that Lurie has, in fact, been complicit in "the long history of exploitation" to which Farodia Rassool refers during the university disciplinary meeting (Coetzee 53).

    One of the stranger readings of Disgrace that I have come across is that of Mark Shechner, who describes Melanie as "the usual coed fatale," depicting the young woman as a "predator" preying on Lurie. Otherwise, the reviews I read are fairly standard interpretations of the novel. Oscar C. Villalon, for instance, reads Lurie's development in the novel from a self-centered academic to a (somewhat) compassionate veterinarian's assistant as suggestive of South Africa's potential to heal after apartheid while Elizabeth Gleick and Bob Hoover interpret the book as painfully bleak and unremittingly hopeless in its depiction of the nascent post-apartheid state.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay or read a bit of The Rights of Desire.

    Works Cited

    Coetzee, J. M. Disgrace. New York: Penguin, 1999.

    Davies, Peter Ho. "Truth and Consequences - J.M. Coetzee's Rigorous Tale of Guilt and Regret in South Africa." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. Chicago Tribune 28 Nov. 1999. 3.

    Gleick, Elizabeth. "Cries of the Displaced - A Bleak but Brilliant Novel of South Africa." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. Time 29 Nov. 1999. 82.

    Hoover, Bob. Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 7 Nov. 1999. Available online.

    Shechner, Mark. "Post-Apartheid Trauma Sidetracked." The Buffalo News. Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. 28 Nov. 1999. F6+.

    Villalon, Oscar C. "Hard Truths in a New South Africa." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. San Francisco Chronicle 28 Nov. 1999. Available online.

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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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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, September 30, 2008
    If there were any doubts that an advanced degree in the liberal arts appeals to employers, I suggest you read the following announcement sent to the English graduate student listserv at my university this afternoon under the title "Job Opening":
    JOB POSTING: [Company name removed for privacy] has an immediate opening for a full-time receptionist/administrative assistant. The successful applicant need not have knowledge of the window tinting industry, but must be willing and able to learn the company's trade. This position requires a personable and responsible employee with a professional attitude and outstanding phone etiquette. An understanding of scheduling, invoicing, and accounts payable is required for this busy, rewarding position.
    When headhunters looking for "a full-time receptionist/administrative assistant" begin targeting people with MAs and PhDs, one cannot help but reflect upon his or her decision to attend graduate school. There is, of course, nothing wrong with a receptionist position in the window tinting industry, but from a certain jaded perspective, one has to wonder what this says about the relative value of a decade of post-secondary education in an economy like ours . . . I mean, theoretically one need not attend college to qualify him- or herself for a career in the service industry or in retail, yet many people I know with fancy-sounding degrees end up working in fields they need not have spent so much time and money in school to enter. Obviously, the psychological, intellectual, and spiritual value of an education should be enough of an incentive for an individual to attend post-secondary schools, but the reality of the situation is that the vast majority of people in the United States who attend college and graduate school with the explicit goal of obtaining a particular type of job and lifestyle theoretically only possible with an expensive and time-consuming education. And, sadly, it seems, many of these dreams will go unfulfilled despite the best efforts to succeed. This, too, is another throbbing anxiety in the mind of many a graduate student: will all this work pay off and position me for a satisfying career in academia? The answer in all its painfully unsettling glory: maybe.

    And speaking of emails, I received this message yesterday:
    A request you have placed:

    Cape Argus
    10 August 1999
    Title: Coetzee thinks publicly about new SA
    Author: Michael Morris

    TN: 339109

    has been cancelled by the interlibrary loan staff for the following reason:

    We have exhausted all possible sources.

    There is no library who can supply this item.
    I have a hard time believing that no library has a copy of the Cape Argus from less than a decade ago, so if there's anyone who might have a copy of this brief newspaper article, I would be elated if you could contact me.

    As far as reading goes, I finished two articles since yesterday evening, both of which deal heavily with poststructural theory. Of the two, the essay I read this afternoon -- Zoe Wicomb's "Translations in the Yard of Africa" -- struck me as most relevant to my dissertation. In her discussion of the correlations between the act of cultural transformation and literal and figurative translation, Wicomb cuts to the heart of one of the central issues in postcolonial studies: the palimpsestic nature of cultural production. Indeed, the traces of apartheid-era society is never fully erased and, in Coetzee's book, they often foil attempts at translating experience. This, in Wicomb's estimation, can be shown to reveal "the failure of transition as a crossing over to democracy" (Wicomb). The essay I read last night, Lucy Graham's "'Yes, I am Giving Him Up': Sacrificial Responsibility and Likeness With Dogs in JM Coetzee's Recent Fiction," like so many others, deals with the connections between The Lives of Animals and Disgrace. Although Graham is one of the Coetzee scholars I most enjoy, I wasn't as impressed by this essay as I normally am. This is not to say that her essay is not very good -- it is -- but I feel that the weight of the theory she brings into the article detracts from her astute reading of the novel. Jacques Derrida, Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault, Emmanuel Levinas, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, among others, each make an appearance in this brief (eleven pages!) essay. Although many academics are quite familiar with what amounts to a who's who of postmodern thought, Graham's tightly-packed essay demands a certain readerly vigilance not to get lost in the waves of complexly-wrought theoretical language running throughout the text. That said, Graham reads against the Mike Marais's Levinasian interpretation of Disgrace, arguing that Coetzee's texts "challenge the limitations of autrui and dissociation implicit in notions of transcendence," providing a slightly different (yet valuable) interpretation of the oft-cited "sympathetic imagination" at work in both Disgrace and The Lives of Animals / Elizabeth Costello (4). While I do not wholly agree with Graham's reading, I applaud her focus on the body as a site of suffering as well as the negative presence of silenced suffering in the two texts.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Works Cited

    Graham, Lucy. "'Yes, I am Giving Him Up': Sacrificial Responsibility and Likeness With Dogs in JM Coetzee's Recent Fiction." scrutiny2 7.1 (2002): 4-15.

    Wicomb, Zoe. "Translations in the Yard of Africa." Journal of Literary Studies 18.3-4 (2000): 209-33.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, September 28, 2008
    Although I had initially planned to spend the day reading one of the longer critical articles I still have sitting around, I opted instead to read a couple of reviews on Disgrace. Normally, when I end up reading newspaper reviews, I do so out of desperation. Either I have been unable to focus on a longer essay or I have been working (for-money working) all day and haven't the time or energy left to read much more than a briefer, less scholarly-sounding text. Today, though, was different. It's only 1:30 in the afternoon, so I really can't claim that I have been struggling to read an essay all day long. Likewise, it is a Sunday, so I can hardly blame long hours in the classroom or around the conference table for not getting much done.

    Instead, a friend invited me over for the afternoon to play Dungeons and Dragons, like the proper icosahedronic dice-rollers that we are. Having been a bit lonely lately, I figured, socializing might well be the ticket to ensuring a better attitude towards my own work. It certainly can't hurt.

    So, I read a couple of reviews so that I could enjoy myself knowing I had gotten some work completed already. The first review, Rachel L. Swams's "After Apartheid, White Anxiety," as the title suggests, situates Coetzee 's text among "a new literature of South Africa's whites that vents and explores their fears about the post-apartheid nation" (1). Drawing comparisons to Nadine Gordimer's less negative House Gun, Swams sees Coetzee's novel as depicting the "chilling indifference" of a society in which vengefully violent acts of retribution may be exacted upon seemingly innocent white individuals like the "warm-hearted" Lucy Lurie (1). Swams's essay, it seems to me, stands out as a particularly strong introduction to a certain vein of critical concern among the South African literary establishment. Additionally, by drawing upon critics such as David Attwell and contemporary novelists such as Zakes Mda, Swams effectively presents a learned, relatively unbiased view of this branch of critical discourse in her native land. I also read Robin Vidimos's review of Disgrace which, despite misidentifying the novel's protagonist as "James Lurie," is a fairly solid reading of the text. Although not explicitly evoked, existentialism seems central to Vidimos's interpretation of the book and, accordingly, focuses on the origins and solutions to the "rudderless" Lurie's detachment (5).

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Works Cited

    Swams, Rachel L. "After Apartheid, White Anxiety." The New York Times 14 Nov 1999: 4.1.

    Vidimos, Robin. "Midlife Tragedy Quickly Grabs and Retains Interest." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Denver Post 14 Nov. 1999: F5+.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, September 27, 2008
    Since I haven't yet done so, I am going to use this post to mention some of the articles I never got around to discussing when my access to the internet was limited to brief sessions in crowded library computer labs as well as a few of those essays I neglected to write about when I felt too tired to type anything worth reading.

    In his brief review marking the release of Disgrace in paperback, Michael Holland rather pithily writes "[c]olonialism at best is the tyranny of the paternal. Disgrace is not knowing when to let go," an observation I believe adroitly synthesizes several of the central themes running through Coetzee's narrative. Indeed, the colonial past haunts David Lurie, the man many critics view as an embodiment of apartheid-era white privilege, who struggles to adjust to the post-apartheid society into which history has thrust him. Indeed, as Tony Freemantle writes, David Lurie "no longer has control in the new social order" and, accordingly, "he cannot find his place in this unfamiliar land" (15). Furthermore, the refusal to "let go" highlighted by Holland extends beyond the political sphere, into Lurie's bedroom, where the professor's "libido . . . won't politely fade away with flagging physical appeal and status." Disgrace, then, "develops into a debate between generations," revealing the social, political, sexual, and ontological fissures separating David Lurie's generation from that of his daughter and post-apartheid South Africa in general (Adams). I also read Suzanne Rhodenbaugh's early review of the novel in which she views the "disillusionment and emptiness" David Lurie experiences as signs of an existential crisis (12). As always, I tend to agree with the existential reading, having written (and published) essays highlighting precisely this concern. All bias aside, though, Rhodenbaugh does provide one of the better American reviews of the novel, especially among the early critics.

    In addition to the reviews mentioned above, I also read Agata Krzychylkiewicz's survey of Coetzee's reception in Russia, which highlights several interesting readings of Disgrace, as well as the author's other novels, especially (and, perhaps, predictably) The Master of Petersburg. The Russian critics Krzychylkiewicz cites tend to view Coetzee's narrative as both a supremely realized example of literary refinement and an extremely bleak, often painful-to-read depiction of modern life. Particularly illustrative of the Russian response to the novel is the reviewer for NaStoiaschaia literatura's comment that Disgrace is an "echellent and at the same time hopeless novel" that presents a "repugnant" world in which "[o]ne can get on . . . only when one submits to it" (qtd. in Krzychylkiewicz). Likewise, Dmitrii Olshanskii claims that, for Coetzee, "life [is] chaotic and terrifying" while the anonymous reviewer writing for Knizhnyi klub asserts that "[t]he topic of the book is as always in Coetzee's writing twisted and dizzy" (qtd. in Krzychylkiewicz).

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Works Cited

    Adams, Phoebe-Lou. "Brief Reviews." The Atlantic Monthly. March 2000. Available online.

    Freemantle, Tony. "The 'New South Africa': Damaged Souls Struggle For Redemption, Answers." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. Houston Chronicle 19 Dec. 1999: 15.

    Holland, Michael. Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Observer. 23 April 2000.

    Hollands, Glenn. "Sophisticated Award Winner." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Dispatch. 20 May 2000. Available Online.

    Krzychylkiewicz, Agata. "The Reception of J. M. Coetzee in Russia." Journal of Literary Studies 21.3-4 (2005): 338-368.

    Rhodenbaugh, Suzanne. "Professor Takes on the Coils of Predator, Loving Father in 'Dog's Life' Existence." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. St. Louis Post-Dispatch 12 Dec. 1999: 12.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, September 25, 2008
    The rather unpleasant combination of a fourteen hour work day today and a poor night's sleep last night has rendered me more or less inarticulate this evening, so you will have to excuse me if I sound a bit spaced-out. I mean, it was a good day (after all, I enjoyed my classes and the ailing loved one for whom I have been caring seems to be on the mend), but it has also been the culmination of an emotionally- and financially-draining week, so tonight's fatigue is not one a glass of soda or a cup of tea (I'm not a coffee person) could fix. Accordingly, this post will have to be yet another brief entry taking the place of the much longer piece I would prefer to write. But que sera, sera, I suppose.

    Despite my obligation-crammed schedule, however, I did manage to read a pair of articles on Coetzee culled from the pages of The London Times this evening. The first, Ranti Williams's review of Disgrace, is fairly consistent with much of the initial non-South African commentary on Coetzee's novel, highlighting as it does David Lurie's transformation in the aftermath of his daughter's rape while only cursorily addressing the racial issues so prevalent in the often-negative assessments of the author's countrymen. I do appreciate Williams's rather prescient reading of sexuality in the novel as a key to understanding David Lurie's existentially dissonant position in the book, an interpretive angle largely glossed over by other reviewers and only tangentially referred to in most recent critical studies. Despite a handful of forgivable misreadings (David Lurie is not, as Williams suggests, a professor at the University of Cape Town, but rather an instructor at the fictive Cape Technical University, for instance), Williams proves to be an uncommonly observant reader, capably situating Coetzee's book within the larger context of the author's oeuvre while also closely analyzing the text and discussing the unique qualities that mark Disgrace as the beginning of a new phase in the Nobel laureate's career. I also read a short, anonymously-penned biographical essay on Coetzee written shortly after he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2003. Predictably, the author's reclusive nature receives a disproportionate amount of attention in the piece, but the article does provide a succinct overview of Coetzee's writing as well as a largely sympathetic glimpse into the mind and life of a contemporary literary giant.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Works Cited

    "Triumph of a One-Man Truth Commission." The Sunday Times [London] 5 Oct. 2003. Available online.

    Williams, Ranti. "A Man's Salvation." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Times [London] 25 June 1999. Available online.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, September 24, 2008
    Having spent most of the day running errands I really wish I hadn't had to run, I was exhausted by the time I sat down to read today's essay. I knew that I would be too sleepy to read one of the handful of longer critical articles on Disgrace which I have yet to make my way through, so I attempted to read a bit of Inner Workings instead. When my attention flagged, I cracked open Doubling the Point and The Rights of Desire, but I was unable to focus on those texts either. In the end, desperate to make at least a tiny bit of progress on my dissertation, I read John Mullan's brief discussion of sex in Disgrace. Surprisingly, despite it's brevity, Mullan's review provides readers with a slew of useful insights into the nature of sex and sexuality in Coetzee's novel. Particularly relevant to discussions of David Lurie's alienation, for instance, is Mullan's observation that "sex sharpens the character's sense of separateness," an observation so profoundly obvious (at least once one hears it) that it strikes one as astonishing that so many of Coetzee's subsequent commentators have neglected to make note of it when discussing topics that would be illuminated by its inclusion.

    Work Cited

    Mullan, John. Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Guardian 15 June 2002. Available online.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay or a bit of The Rights of Desire.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, September 13, 2008
    Written on 9/13/2008; posted 9/22/2008:

    Well, my internet connection isn't working again, so I am typing this in my computer's word processing program and will cut and paste it into my blogging software when I can get online. Ironically -- I swear this isn't intentional -- I am listening to Face to Face's "Disconnected" while I write. Weird.

    As I have mentioning repeatedly over the past few days, I have really been struggling to get through the final dozen or so articles on Disgrace. At least three-quarters of them have underlining or highlighting on the first page or two from my aborted attempts to read them. This isn't to say that the articles are poorly written or anything. It's just that I find myself saying "yeah, I know" to quite a few of the critics I have been reading lately because, to be honest, I have not been encountering much in the way of new information. You see, I've already encountered quite a few analyses of, say, Coetzee's critique of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission or the role of animals in stoking David Lurie's sympathetic imagination -- and, more often than not, I have already read the arguments presented in a given article two or three times in other criticism.

    Of course, there have been some very fine exceptions, articles that do shed new light on the novel and I appreciate them a great deal. This, though, sounds like more complaining, which is not my aim. If anything, I am trying to document my frustration. I want to share this with those of you who have been kind enough to share your own experiences as dissertation writers with me in case you ever find yourself in a similar predicament. I also want to write my way through the frustration. I want to be able to look back on this experience and, with the aid of these notes of exasperation, keep the distortions of memory to a minimum. That way, I can realistically say I have been here, done this and have written proof of it.

    That said, I did make my way through another essay this afternoon. Admittedly, had I not had plans for dinner, I mightn't have finished my reading so early. Fortunately, I ended up having a nice time with some really wonderful people and I now have the energy to write a bit, so I will try to discuss a few of the essays I have been meaning to mention. As a caveat, I should mention that I will only discuss certain elements of the essays. Each one is considerably more complex and broader in scope than my brief entry could possibly convey and should be sought out by serious students of Coetzee.

    The essay I went over this afternoon, Margot Norris's "The Human Animal in Fiction," only deals briefly with Disgrace. With particular attention to sexuality and the use of bestial metaphors to express human sexuality, Norris's study will prove quite useful to readers interested in broader issues of materialism as well as to those wanting to locate Coetzee within a tradition of human-animal representations. In a similar vein, I also read Kennan Ferguson's "I [Heart] My Dog," which like Norris's essay, considers Coetzee's treatment of animals as part of a larger trend in literary history. Consistent with what may be the orthodox interpretation of dogs in Disgrace, Ferguson views the canine presence in Coetzee's novel as a catalyst in the reformation of David Lurie's character.

    Among the other articles I read over the past week, only Jane Poyner's "Truth and Reconciliation in JM Coetzee's Disgrace" deals exclusively with the novel. Typical of many essays concerned with the theme of reconciliation, Poyner reads the character of David Lurie as representative of the white male figure in post-apartheid South Africa. Where she deviates from the pack is in her refining of that reading from the general to the specific: David Lurie represents not only the while male but the white male writer. Accordingly, Poyner sees the failure of David's musical project as analogous to the white writer's difficulty in finding an appropriate voice for expressing his angst, guilt, and desire for an unobtainable closure in post-Apartheid South Africa. Similarly, Johan Jacobs discusses the ways in which the increasingly comic Byron in Italy mirrors the many reversals taking place in the novel as well as in South African society, including Petrus's displacing of the Luries' on the Eastern Cape smallholding purchased by the latter.

    Works Cited

    Ferguson, Kennan. "I [Heart] My Dog." Political Theory 32.3 (2004): 373-395.

    Jacobs, Johan. "Writing Reconciliation: South African Fiction After Apartheid." Cross Cultures 71 (2004): 177-196.

    Norris, Margot. "The Human Animal in Fiction." Parallax 12.1 (2006): 4-20.

    Poyner, Jane. "Truth and Reconciliation in JM Coetzee's Disgrace." scrutiny2 5.1 (2000): 68-77.

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    Well, I suppose every productive day has its unproductive counterpart. And today, unlike Wednesday, was not a particularly good day for my dissertation. Although I woke up with plenty of energy and a desire to get some real work done, I ended up struggling to focus all day. No matter where I went -- restaurants, bookstores, you name it -- I could not get into a groove and now, at a quarter past midnight, I am still working on the day's article. Ugh.

    As I have mentioned many, many times before, I have grown pretty tired of reading literary criticism, which I have been doing almost daily for more than three months now. Again, I realize full well that I could probably write my chapter on Disgrace without reading the remaining criticism, but I feel obliged to finish what I started. I don't like the idea of doing anything half-assed and I know that if I were to skip the last few articles, I would end up regretting it and I would undoubtedly carry that regret with me for a long, long time. So, in an effort to make finishing the criticism a bit easer for myself, I have decided to read a bit of Andre Brink's The Rights of Desire (Donkermaan) in lieu of Disgrace criticism whenever I feel I really need a break from the monotony of that particular project. Brink's novel, as many Coetzee scholars are eager to point out, takes its English title from David Lurie's statement to the university disciplinary committee that his "case rests on the rights of desire," and provides an interesting and significant intertextual reference point for readers of Disgrace. Since it appears in so many discussions of Disgrace and because the two novels deal with many of the same issues, I feel that I should at least read The Rights of Desire and, if I'm lucky, I might be able to integrate it into my chapter. We'll see.

    For tomorrow: Read another article and/or a bit of The Rights of Desire.

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    Thursday, September 11, 2008
    As I mentioned yesterday, I have been supplementing the the critical essays on Disgrace that I have been reading with some reviews of the novel and I would like to use tonight's entry to briefly mention a few of these pieces. One recurring point of interest among the critics I've read recently has been, perhaps not surprisingly, the ways in which Coetzee's novel reflects and comments upon "the unreconciled dilemmas of . . . his country's predicament" (Williams). Trevor Royale, for instance, maintains that Coetzee's "political metaphors are impossible to avoid" while Michael Upchurch praises Disgrace for "admirably [taking] on the malaise of post-Apartheid South Africa." Of particular interest to several critics, notably Gail Caldwell and Stuart M. Kurland, is David Lurie's increasingly obsolescent position in the country. For both Caldwell and Kurland, the protagonist's status as an academic is especially important in its foregrounding of the inability of Western European values to make sense of post-Apartheid South Africa. The fact that, "from the moment of his arrival" in the Eastern Cape, "Lurie's intellectual tools - his scholarly pursuits, his interminable irony - are worse than useless" (Caldwell 1), highlights "the deep, unresolved conflicts of race, sex, and class" in the author's homeland as well as the widening gap between David's generation and that of his daughter (Kurland). Thus, for Michael Morris, David Lurie embodies the older generation's "responses to the dispassionate, unforgiving tide of history" in a nation where "all codes of behavior for people, black and white, have become perverted and twisted" (Grant). In the end, Coetzee's novel is a "towering" (Higgins) testament to the need for human perseverance even if, as Laurence Phelan suggests, it amounts to "a defeated acceptance of the new world order."

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Works Cited

    Caldwell, Gail. Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Boston Globe. 14 Nov. 1999: P1+.

    Grant, Katie. "A Very Foreign Country." Rev. of Disgrace, by J . M. Coetzee. The Spectator 10 July 1999.

    Higgins, Charlotte. "Booker's Best Six." Mail and Guardian 23 May 2008.

    Kurland, Stuart M. Rev. of Ravelstein, by Saul Bellow, Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee, and The Human Stain, by Philip Roth. Academe. July/August 2001.

    Morris, Michael. "Coetzee on Shortlist for Booker Prize." Cape Argus 23 Sept. 1999.

    Phelan, Laurence. "More Sinned Against Than Sinning." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Independent 23 April 2000.

    Royle, Trevor. "Braving Cape Fear." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Sunday Herald 18 July 1999.

    Upchurch, Michael. "Deserving Acclaim: Our Critic Closes The Book on '99 With His Top Ten Picks." The Seattle Times. 26 Dec. 1999.

    Williams, Stephen. Rev. of Discharge (sic), by J. M. Coetzee. African Business Nov. 1999.

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    Wednesday, September 10, 2008
    All right. Since it seems like my internet is functioning at the moment, I'll try to get a post online this evening.

    Today was a remarkably productive day, surprisingly. Not only did I get myself up and out of bed relatively early, I read two articles, got quite a bit of prep work done for my classes, and hiked a beautiful mountain trail.

    That said, I still have a good deal of work I want to get done before bed, so I won't write nearly as long an entry as I would like. I will, however, review some of the critical reading I have done this past week in an effort to make up for the string of "I'm too tired to write anything" entries preceding this one.

    Of the critical essays I read over the past week, Louis Tremaine's "The Embodied Soul: Animal Being in the Work of J. M. Coetzee" is, by far, the most interesting. Animals, Tremaine asserts, are almost always associated with death and decline in Coetzee's fiction. In his analysis, Tremaine convincingly argues that the role of animals in works such as Age of Iron, Disgrace, and Elizabeth Costello is, at least partially, aimed at addressing "that perpetually recurring question in Coetzee's writing: how to live with the knowledge of impending death" (594).

    Although all of the essays I read address Disgrace, only two -- Ranajit Das's "Prophet of Pain" and Lucy Graham's "Reading the Unspeakable" -- deal exclusively with Coetzee's novel. Das's essay is peculiarly charming in its unabashed enthusiasm for Disgrace. With a reverential tone more commonly found in medieval hagiographical writing than in contemporary literary criticism, "Prophet of Pain" dismisses the significance of the "'local history' factor" so many critics have viewed as central to the novel as secondary to universal existential allegory Das sees as the book's most important aspect (219). Graham's essay, on the other hand, is intensely local in its focus. Using the widespread outrage at Coetzee's depiction of the rape of a white woman by three black assailants as her starting point, Graham discusses both David Lurie's rape of Melanie Isaacs and Lucy Lurie's rape at the hands of Pollux and his two comrades as key elements in Coetzee's subtle inversion of the racist "black peril" narratives reflecting white anxieties in post-Apartheid South Africa. Among her many insightful comments, Graham makes a compelling argument for Lucy's silence as a catalyst for the evolution of her father's sympathetic imagination.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.


    Works Cited

    Das, Ranajit. "Prophet of Pain: J. M. Coetzee and His Novel Disgrace." Indian Literature 48.1 (2004): 165-173.

    Graham, Lucy Valerie. "Reading the Unspeakable: Rape in J . M. Coetzee's Disgrace." 29.2 (2003): 433-444.

    Tremaine, Louis. "The Embodied Soul: Animal Being in the Work of J. M. Coetzee." Contemporary Literature 44.4 (2003): 587-612.

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    Tuesday, September 2, 2008
    Here's a strange phenomenon: I've been getting my work done earlier since the semester started. I'm even blogging before noon today. I mean, it makes sense. After all, now that I have classes to prepare for, my days aren't nearly as open as they've been. Now, if I want to be certain that I get my dissertation work and my prep work done every day, I need to crack open the books earlier in the morning and work later in the evening, cramming my empty space with productivity. Audiobooks help.

    At any rate, thanks to the rather rude awakening I had this morning courtesy of the staccato bleat of a neighbor's car alarm, I was up a bit earlier than I would have liked. Since it took me quite a bit longer to fall asleep last night and because I was awake so early, I reasoned, I wouldn't get much reading done this evening after work and I decided to read John Banville's oft-cited review of Disgrace. Despite having to pay The New York Review of Books a whopping three dollars for the privilege of accessing the online archives (I do realise, of course, that it costs money to provide such conveniences as immediate access to half a century of text, but I was bleary-eyed and vexed by the knowledge that I would not be getting any additional sleep, so I am expressing a hyperbolic exasperation for comedic -- albeit as unfunny a variety as possible -- effect), I found the essay well worth the effort of obtaining (you know, a click here, a click there . . . real tough stuff).

    All joking aside, The New York Review of Books is undoubtedly one of the best resources out there for people researching contemporary literature and John Banville is a fantastic, erudite novelist in his own right and a first-rate critic to boot. Though Banville's assessment of the novel is largely a positive one, he does seem to feel that there is a disjuncture between Disgrace's opening segment and the longer middle section devoted to David's time on the smallholding with Lucy. Indeed, Banville appears to rate Coetzee's account of the Luries' time together as one of the author's finest, most provocative pieces of writing. Significantly, Banville pays particularly close attention to the author's treatment of Petrus, rightfully reading the man as the novel's most fully realized -- and potentially disturbing -- character:
    For all his taciturnity, Petrus is perhaps the most convincing character in the book. In his strength, his tenacity, his peasant slyness, and his ruthlessness, he represents something as ancient and elemental as the land itself, yet never does he become a mere symbol; craggy and dangerous, he is, as his name implies, the rock on which, for better or worse, a new South Africa will be built.
    Elsewhere, Banville astutely notes what many fellow critics have not been able to locate within the novel, namely a sense of humor. From the novel's first sentence, which Banville suggests opens "with what might be a sly wink" to the book's culminating scene of canine euthanasia, Coetzee lightens the gloom with discreet humor, even "allow[ing] himself now and then a Dantesque wan smile." Indeed, satire and irony do permeate the narrative, though in a muted, "moderated" sort of way.

    I'd write more, but I have some chores to get done between now and my next class . . .

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Work Cited

    Banville, John. "Endgame." Rev. of Disgrace, by J . M. Coetzee. The New York Review of Books 47.1. Available online.

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