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    Sobriquet 65.3: A Few Parting Words

    Monday, April 26, 2010
    Note: Since Blogger's free off-site publishing program is about to suspend operations, and because I have completed this blog's goal of chronicling my journey from A.B.D. to Ph.D., this post will likely be the final piece of material published as part of the blog project.

    As a final post, I thought it would be nice to address a few of the more frequently-asked questions I have received while working on my dissertation, so, without any further ballyhoo, here you go:

    What is the single most important bit of advice you can give someone about to write his or her own dissertation?
    I would have to say that getting oneself into the habit of working regularly is, by far, the most important thing anyone can do when writing a dissertation. For some people, especially those without teaching duties or other vocational or familial obligations, taking a 9-5 approach to the whole ordeal and working forty hours a week works well. I suspect such a schedule would have driven me batty, even if I did not have five classes to teach every semester. For me, I found doing one task each day, whether it be reading an article or a few pages in a novel, transcribing notes, outlining a bit of the chapter, or writing a page or two, worked very well. Now, I worked seven days a week, every day, for over two years, which resulted in a pretty severe case of burn-out, but it did work. If I set out to do it all over again, I would probably work at least one off day into my schedule each week. The key, of course, is finding a schedule that works for you and sticking with it. The ability to delay gratification, too, is very important because you will not finish your dissertation overnight. You have to be able to work every day -- or nearly every day -- with the belief that, even when it doesn't feel that way, what you're doing will eventually result in a degree. I found that limiting myself to doing a tiny bit of work each day enabled me to focus on the step in front of me rather than the whole staircase, or even the particular flight of stairs I was climbing. This often helped keep my stress at a manageable level all the way through.

    Why write a blog?
    Well, for me, blogging was a motivation for keeping up with my work. I didn't want to fail publicly, so I decided to start the blog. Over time, though, I found that it provided me with a way to organize my summaries of and ideas about various critical essays, so I began blogging about the the Coetzee criticism I encountered in order to help myself stay on top of things. Interestingly, a number of Coetzee scholars have found the blog to be a useful tool in sorting through the vast sea of critical material surrounding the author's fiction, so I eventually found additional motivation in trying to maintain a quality resource for my fellow students of Coetzee.

    Are you an expert on Coetzee?
    I have written a dissertation on the author, focusing on the fiction of the 1990s, for which I have read a good deal of literary criticism. Whether this fact makes me an expert or not really depends on your definition of an expert. Despite the fact that I have been called "a rockstar in J.M. Coetzee scholarship," I would hesitate to use such a definitive-sounding label. If anything, I would call myself a student of Coetzee.

    What is best thing you have gotten out of blogging?
    Other than manage to write a dissertation, I would have to say the most satisfying consequence of the whole blog project is having networked with Coetzee critics around the world. As a direct result of my blog, I have been invited to write articles for scholarly publications, been mentioned in major studies of Coetzee, made friends (including the person who ended up serving as the outside reader on my dissertation committee), and become part of a community of readers and writers. Put differently, my blog helped turn what could have been a very lonely endeavor into a social one.

    Why didn't you publish anything about your own research?
    Well, for one, my dissertation was a work-in-progress, so I didn't want to say anything that I might later want to amend. Furthermore, the amount of time it would take for me to write lengthy, analytical posts simply exceeded the amount of time I had to blog. Of course, graduate students are cautioned against sharing their ideas before their dissertations are published because, unfortunately, plagiarism is a very real problem and tales of graduate students having their ideas stolen by unscrupulous students and even professors echo throughout the halls of Academia, so we're kind of instructed to keep things under wraps anyway. It's a shame, really, because I suspect that blogging one's dissertation or other scholarship as one writes it could actually encourage some truly amazing collaborative work. Maybe in the future, someone will blog an entire dissertation and the comments will become an integral part of the whole document...

    What advice would you give a prospective English grad student?
    Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Right now, the are far more Ph.D.s than there are professorships and a disarmingly high percentage of brilliant scholars cannot find full-time academic jobs. Unless you get into a school that pays your tuition and provides you with a stipend, you will likely incur a lot of debt and there is no guaranteed employment at the end of the line to help pay off that debt. If these realities do not deter you, then grad school can be a very positive experience.

    What is going to happen to the dissertation blog now that you're finished?
    It's going to stay right where it is. I am honored by the amount of interest the blog has generated among Coetzee scholars and I will leave it online, in its current form, for the use of any future scholars interested in what I have here.

    Thanks again to everyone for reading this weblog and helping me as I struggled to write my dissertation. You may contact me at email (at) sobriquetmagazine.com.

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    ____________________________________________
    I just wanted to write a quick post to thank all of the people who have read this blog, especially those of you who have been so kind as to offer your encouragement by sending emails and posting comments. I have already thanked Minxy, who has been, by far, the most supportive reader Sobriquet Magazine has had over the past few years, but I would now like to take the time to thank everyone else: you have helped make something I often felt was impossible possible. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

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    ____________________________________________
    I am now Dr. Erik Grayson.

    On April 9, I successfully defended my dissertation on J. M. Coetzee.

    Although I had spent the better part of a month worrying about the defense, the actual event was anything but stressful. In fact, I would characterize the general tone of the defense as warm and celebratory. I was fortunate to have a fairly large crowd of supporters (including my parents, the ever-supportive Minxy, a couple of former colleagues and classmates, and, touchingly, several of my former students) in attendance. My best friend even travelled over a thousand miles to be there.

    The biggest surprise, for me, was the overwhelmingly positive response of my committee members to the document I had spent so much time fretting over. I was stunned to learn that my dissertation had been nominated for a university-wide award and I was humbled by the assessments of my work as being of a very high quality. The general feedback was that I really ought to add a couple of chapters on Coetzee's fiction prior to Age of Iron and following Disgrace and seek out a publisher. I'm still trying to process it all.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, March 21, 2010
    I have spent the first few weeks of the post-dissertation era trying to figure out what one does when one is not writing a dissertation.

    Given how tremendously burnt-out I was when I finished the dissertation, I spent a few days vegging out, playing Sim City, and taking care of some minor editing. Once I recuperated a bit, I began taking care of some of the more tedious dissertation-related activities: formatting, printing, photocopying, mailing, and filling in paperwork. Now, after a couple of weeks, I am beginning to find myself craving projects again, which is good. I'm still a bit resistant to the idea of jumping headlong into another large-scale scholarly endeavor, but I intend to. For the time being, though, I want to focus on some of the things I relegated to the sidelines while writing the dissertation.

    Of course, I still have my defense ahead of me. And that's no small thing. So I have been -- and will continue -- working on my dissertation topic for the foreseeable future.

    In other Coetzee-related news, my chapter on teaching Disgrace in an existentially-focused literature course will appear in the MLA's upcoming volume, Approaches to Teaching Coetzee's Disgrace and Other Novels. Also, Modern Fiction Studies will be publishing my review of Stephen Mulhall's The Wounded Animal: J. M. Coetzee and the Difficulty of Reality in Literature and Philosophy. I wrote each of these while working on my Disgrace chapter last summer, so it's nice to see that some of the work I produced during that time come to light.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, February 28, 2010
    I received an email from my dissertation supervisor this evening informing me that the introduction I'd sent her late last week meets with her approval and that, as of 6:02 post meridiem this 28th day of February, 2010, my dissertation on J. M. Coetzee is complete. This is not to say that I do not have some polishing left to do; I have several typos to fix and some formatting yet to do, but the actual writing of the dissertation is behind me.

    Since there remains a good deal for me to say about the whole experience and because I have been asked to write a little bit about what I have learned about graduate school and dissertation-writing, this will not be the final post I make to the blog. I would like to devote some real time and energy to recording and sharing my observations on the dissertation and the blog project -- and I will do so in relatively short order.

    Tonight, though, I really want to thank my friend, Minxy, for having been such a tremendous support the entire time I have been blogging my way through my dissertation.

    On December 13, 2007, three days after I began my blog project, and before my dissertation had become a single-author study, I sent the following message to a few dozen friends and acquaintances:
    Dear friends,

    I am writing with a rather odd request, but one I hope a few of you will accept:

    I have decided to blog my way through my dissertation. My logic is this: if I make regular posts to my blog and give myself small assignments knowing my friends are watching me, I figure I will get more done. Basically, I am requesting peer pressure. Knowing that you're expecting me to be productive will help me be productive, so read my website, link to it from your website(s), tell your friends, tell your enemies, whatever...just make me feel like someone expects me to do a bit of work every day. Please be the proverbial carrot for this mule!

    Here's the address: www.sobriquetmagazine.com. The project begins with the post numbered 37.1
    While a handful of my friends have regularly visited the blog, and although I have picked up a few readers over time as people researching Coetzee stumbled upon this website, Minxy has been, by far, my most consistent reader and commenter. Day-in and day-out, through the excruciatingly boring periods during which I posted little more than "I transcribed notes today" for weeks on end, Minxy has always been there to cheer me on.

    And I needed that cheering. In the early days, especially, before a forced routine became habit, it really helped me to know that someone would check in on me to make sure I'd done a little bit of work. Now, more than two years later, when people are commending me on my dedication, I want to take a few seconds to thank Minxy for her dedication. It's a rare friend that will say "I've got your back" and, for literally twenty-seven months, have your back.

    So, thank you, Minxy, from the bottom of my heart. I honestly cannot imagine having written this dissertation without you.

    For tomorrow: Read a bit of Summertime. Because, you know, it'll be fun to read Coetzee for fun.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, February 20, 2010
    After a fairly lengthy bout with distraction, I finally settled into a writing groove late Friday evening and now, three or four hours later, I find myself at a remarkably interesting place to be. I am, quite literally, staring the end of my dissertation in the face. Somehow, without really realizing it, I wrote my way through what I had assumed would be the most difficult part of the introduction (the section for which I spent the better part of two months reading) in a comparatively brief stretch of time and am approaching what I had assumed would be the easiest part as I would confront an extraordinarily difficult undertaking, even by dissertation standards. It's odd.

    At any rate, I may or may not get any writing done tomorrow, though I would certainly like to do so. Rather than jump right into the matter, I think I will do a bit of review and some additional pre-writing so that I can do justice to a subject about which I actually care a very great deal. I do not know how long the review/pre-writing process will take (I would not be surprised if it took a few hours or a few days), but I hope I can get some more writing done this weekend. If I do, all I will have left to do for this draft will be to introduce the four chapters I have already written. Then, amazingly, there's a single paragraph to be added to my conclusion and . . . well . . . and then I will be finished.

    For tomorrow: Prepare for the last part of the penultimate mini-section and, if possible, begin writing it.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, February 18, 2010
    Although it has been about a week since I last posted anything, I have continued working on the dissertation each day and, as of this evening, am currently writing the penultimate mini-section of my introduction. I had a few days where I needed to prioritize certain non-dissertation aspects of my life, which actually turned out to have a positive impact on my dissertation. By having a legitimate reason (or, rather, legitimate reasons) to lighten my workload, I seemed able to get a bit of much-needed mental rest and, although I have a few doubts about what I did end up writing this evening, I felt clearer-headed and more confident than I have in quite some time and I think I can made some significant progress over the next few days. I do anticipate encountering a theoretical knot I will have to untangle towards the end of the mini-section but, by the time I get there, I imagine I will have made enough progress to make spending some time with that problem seem less like a problem and more like a justified break in the action.

    For tomorrow: Write or prep.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, February 11, 2010
    I've had a busy couple of days. I finished the second mini-section of my introduction late last night (or, rather, early this morning) and spent some time this afternoon reading over the many, many notes that I took in December and January. I anticipate spending another day or two on this preparatory phase and then, if all goes well, I should begin the third mini-section as early as the end of this weekend.

    In dissertation-related news -- indeed, in dissertation blog-related news -- I recently discovered, quite by accident, that Carrol Clarkson mentions my blog project in a rather lengthy endnote in her recently-published study, J. M. Coetzee: Countervoices, which I promptly ordered a few days ago. Still, with curiosity eating away at me, I did a "Look Inside This Book" search, and was delighted to see that Carrol described my blog as "an invaluable resource for Coetzee scholars."

    I am truly humbled by Carrol's generous assessment of this blog and I sincerely hope that it continues to be a worthwhile place for Coetzee scholars to visit. Indeed, while I am nearing the conclusion of my dissertation and, consequentially, the conclusion of this particular endeavor, I fully intend to keep the blog and its archives available on the Sobriquet Magazine website.

    For tomorrow: Read and prepare for the next mini-section.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, February 8, 2010
    I managed to squeeze out a tiny bit more writing this evening and, again, I am not sure how I feel about it. Some of what I have written strikes me as decent, even solid scholarship, but I cannot help but shake the feeling that, at least in a few places, what I have written is superfluous. True, I am introducing my subject, so contextualizing my study will necessarily take me beyond that subject. Still, I feel uneasy about some stuff I've been working with, even though, in reality, it's probably not that bad at all.

    For tomorrow: Read or write.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, February 7, 2010
    I had a really hard time getting myself out of bed this morning. In fact, I had a hard time getting myself to do much of anything today: I struggled to get out of bed, I took nearly two hours to get myself out of my apartment once I had gotten out of bed, and I had a difficult time focusing on my reading when I got myself to the cafe at which I had hoped to make a bit of progress. In the end, I did manage to get a tiny bit of writing done, most of which seems at least consistent, quality-wise, with what I have been writing lately. I was actually planning on writing some more before going to bed tonight but, after having composed a few lines, I find myself too sleepy to maintain the sort of focus I would need to produce anything worth reading, so I am going to call it a night fairly early and try to use tomorrow to get some more work done.

    As I have mentioned several times previously, I am really struggling with the introduction. I continue to find myself disoriented by a mode of writing that is both similar to and different from the sort of prose I've been writing all along. It is academic, of course, so I am still in scholar-mode, but it is also less critical, which means I have to shift gear to a more general form of writing that, at times, feels alien to me. I mean, I am used to doing lots and lots of very specific research and analysis in preparation for my writing and, while the introduction certainly requires both, the type of research and mode of analysis are just different enough to disorient me a bit. The other very big problem I have been having is that I am so profoundly burnt out (this is the perfective "burnt out" now, which should be distinguished from the less total "burned out") that even the simplest of tasks (reading over criticism, prewriting, taking notes) have become excruciating ordeals for me.

    Then again, I keep reminding myself, my supervisor has rather explicitly told me that I need not devote nearly as much preparation time nor as much mental energy on the introduction because, as I have said, the very mode of writing does not demand the same sort of rigor with which I approached previously-written (i.e., subsequent) chapters. But this knowledge causes problems for me, too: I cannot seem to avoid taking the same approach as I have been taking all along yet I lack the energy to do so.

    But I am trying.

    For tomorrow: Write or prep.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, February 6, 2010
    I did a little bit more writing this evening, which brought me to about half the minimum suggested length of the introduction. Today's writing did go a bit more smoothly than yesterday's, too, so I am almost feeling satisfied with myself tonight.

    Since I would like to do a bit of re-reading before proceeding with the rest of this mini-section, I may not do any additional writing this weekend, though I would certainly prefer to do so...

    For tomorrow: Read and, if possible, write a bit.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, February 5, 2010
    I began writing the next mini-section of my introduction this evening and, while I am not especially enamored with it, it is nice to have gotten a bit of work done.

    I'm still feeling pretty burned out, which is probably to be expected when one has worked on something every single day for more than two years. Still, I suspect the burnout runs a bit deeper than that. I mean, I felt burnt out after my first year as a master's student in 2002, and have felt as if I were running on fumes for the past seven years. I suppose it's rather like a too-perfectly-scripted movie: the car runs out of gas and has to drift, slower and slower, towards the ultimate destination, which it hits just as it stops moving...

    For tomorrow: Write more.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, February 3, 2010
    I finished what I hope is the second mini-section of my introduction this evening and, after having spent far more time writing and rewriting what is, actually, one of the least important bits of prose in my entire dissertation, I am ready to move on to the next mini-section. But I am frustrated with things again. I am largely dissatisfied with what I have written and, while I doubt there is much I can do to improve it (I mean, really, there's only so much one can do with an introduction), I cannot seem to let go of what I have just done. I keep feeling like I want to do something more to improve the damn thing when, really, I need to just move on. I suspect that a huge part of the problem is that, having already said everything I wanted to say in the body of the dissertation, the introduction feels extraneous. I mean, I understand its function, but, since I am not adding to or building upon anything I have already written, I find it uninteresting. What worries me most about this feeling is that I do not want it to affect the way that I write the introduction because, while it may be old-hat to me, it serves a very real and very important purpose for my readers.

    Or maybe I'm just growing impatient with the end of the project so near at hand. I feel like I am done, ready to defend the dissertation, but I still need to finish writing it. The introduction, in other words, feels like a technicality...

    For tomorrow: Prepare for the next mini-section.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, January 31, 2010
    I haven't been having the most productive of stretches. I had hoped to finish rereading Coetzee's Youth a day or two ago, but I found it remarkably difficult to focus on reading. Part of this difficulty has no doubt been the result of readjusting myself mentally to the routine of a new semester, which can be challenging for an individual like myself, who eschews waking up early in the morning yet regularly ends up with early-morning classes...

    But school-adjustment (and its resulting fatigue) is only part of the problem. The other part is a mélange of extreme burnout, vocational anxiety, and a strange sense of unease with my current bit of writing. It's funny. What is arguably the easiest -- and according to some people -- the least important part of the dissertation, has turned out to be the most nerve-fraying part of the whole project. Perhaps this unpleasant emotion is simply the surfacing of all the negative feelings and worries I'd been able to ignore when the bulk of the project was unfinished, when the conclusion of grad school was still sitting at some as-yet unknown point in my future: I don't really know. Still, it has made working rather difficult at times.

    At any rate, I have done more socializing over the past couple of days than I have in quite a while, which took up most of my weekend. This included an epic two-hour chess match (epic in length, I should say; neither I nor my opponent are particularly good at the game), a few nice meals, a lot of wonderful conversation, a bunch of music, some movies, and more conversation. The socializing I have enjoyed these past couple of days, fortunately, seems to have invigorated me a little bit and I finally made some real headway in my reading this evening. I intend to continue reading for a while this evening before going to bed and, hopefully, I can start February off on a positive note.

    For tomorrow: Read, plan, and/or write.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010
    Since it is getting late (by school night standards, that is) and I have only done a little reading for my dissertation, I will not spend a whole lot of time writing tonight and, instead, try to read some more before going to sleep.

    For tomorrow: Read and/or write.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, January 26, 2010
    Naps are beautiful, beautiful things sometimes.

    One of the biggest worries I had coming into the semester has been a concern for how working five days a week would affect my dissertation schedule. For the past two years, I have worked very long (my days would often exceed fourteen hours) Tuesdays and Thursdays so that I could secure long weekends for writing. Sometimes this strategy worked wonderfully, giving me a regular pattern of school-free clusters during which I could research and write my dissertation. Other times, working fourteen hours and driving two hundred miles twice weekly would result in my sleeping through a significant portion of Wednesdays and Fridays. So it had its ups and its downs. This term, as I have mentioned, I am working five days each week, just like a normal person. Only my work days will involve no more than seven hours of my time, driving included.

    It's odd. I feel like I have less time because I have fewer "off" days, but I'm also unaccustomed to finishing work by, say, two in the afternoon, relaxing for a while at home, napping for a couple of hours, and waking up as fresh as the proverbial daisy, all ready to sit down and write. But that's exactly how today panned out for me. I ended up revising the paragraph I had written a couple of days ago and with which I had found so much fault yesterday. It is now two longer paragraphs with which I find significantly less fault, so I am closer to feeling satisfied with myself than I felt yesterday.

    Like I said, naps are beautiful, beautiful things sometimes.

    Still, now that I have elaborated this one particular sub-section, I feel the distinct need to expand the concluding bit of this mini-section of the chapter before moving on, so I may spend the next day or two preparing to do just that. Either way, I have made some progress and am, for better or worse, that much closer to being finished with this monstrosity of a dissertation!

    For tomorrow: Read and/or write.

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    ____________________________________________
    I'm going to be brief this evening because I really want to get a little bit of reading done before I go to bed. I am currently working on plotting out the next mini-section of my introduction, so my reading is largely a review of material with which I am already familiar. While this makes it easier to read, it also makes it more difficult for me to focus because I have a nagging sense of "I know this already!" drawing my attention away from the task at hand.

    One thing worth noting is that I have been quite uncomfortable with some of what I wrote yesterday and I may have to delete, rewrite, or otherwise heavily edit the offending bit of text before I can even feign satisfaction with the chapter. I hope to work on that tomorrow.

    For tomorrow: Prepare for the next mini-section and/or address the unsatisfactory passage.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, January 25, 2010
    I am thoroughly exhausted at the moment. It's 1:30 in the morning and I have been working, more or less constantly, for ten consecutive hours. The majority of the time went into designing the syllabi for the four courses I will be teaching this semester, though I did set aside a solid chunk of time to devote to writing my introduction. I have finished the first mini-section, which is nice, though each subsequent mini-section will be more difficult, so I do not feel particularly accomplished yet. The doubts about the quality of my writing have begun pestering me already, though.

    For tomorrow: Begin preparing for the next mini-section.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, January 24, 2010
    I began writing my introduction late this afternoon. One of the challenges I face in writing this introductory piece is that, fundamentally, an introduction is quite a bit different from a regular dissertation chapter. I'm not used to writing about that which I have already written, for instance, and I am totally unaccustomed to the comparatively superficial type of commentary an introduction requires. Thus, when it suddenly struck me that I was basically prepared to begin the first section of the intro -- that after a very brief bit of prewriting, I was ready to hit the keyboard -- I was kinda dumbfounded. I mean, I had expected to do some more reading, some more review, some more prewriting. And I will, for each subsequent mini-section. But this first one? I'm good to go. So I went.

    For tomorrow: Try to write a bit more in between the preparatory work for the immanent semester. Or, at the very least, read up a bit for a later mini-section.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, January 23, 2010
    I got a bit of reading done today, which was nice, but my real progress came when I sat down and wrote up a preliminary outline for the introduction. While I fully intend to expand upon what is, at this point, still a very basic outline, it is a huge step in the right direction to have finally, decisively taken a real step towards beginning the writing process.

    For tomorrow: Read and/or begin fleshing out the first section of the outline.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, January 22, 2010
    Although it took me a while to settle into my reading this afternoon, I eventually made some progress. I'm still struggling to focus on my task, which I suspect owes as much to burnout as it does to the fact that, for all intents and purposes, I already know -- and in some cases have already read -- the material I am looking over. There's certainly a deep restlessness, an anticipatory eagerness that makes jumping the gun and just starting to write without having finished all my preparatory measures seem really appealling. I recognize the presence of this jumpiness and hope that I can, by writing about it here, channel my energy into more productive behavior. So, I will try to read a tiny bit more before bed tonight and, after running a few errands, try to pick up tomorrow where I leave off this evening.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, January 21, 2010
    I'm going to keep tonight's post very, very short and just say that, after a day of really struggling to focus on my reading, I finally managed to review a little bit of critical material before bed. I'm not too pleased with my progress but, having just spent a week working at a dramatically more intense level than that to which I have grown accostomed, I reckon my body and mind pulled a very natural, though admittedly frustrating, revolt. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.

    For tomorrow: Read...and try to read more than I read today.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, January 20, 2010
    Well, I did hunt down a few hundred pages of critical material on Coetzee that I want to (re-)read prior to beginning the introduction. Fortunately, I am familiar with the vast majority of the literature, the only significant exceptions being studies that have been published in the short time between when I finished my chapter on Disgrace and now.

    Since it is late, I will keep this entry very brief and just say that I will try to do a little reading before bed.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, January 19, 2010
    I finished transcribing the notes on and quotes from the philosophy I spent the better part of a month reading earlier this evening. All told, I typed fifty-three single-spaced pages over the past couple of days, so I am, needless to say, pretty tired of looking at my computer. Still, I want to look at this glowing rectangle a bit longer, so that I can at least make a brief entry tonight, if only to to acknowledge that, had it not been for my desire to complete the task I assigned myself here last night, I probably would not have finished tonight. So, yeah. Once again, my blog project has helped me work my way through a tough spot.

    On a nice note, the frustration I have been feeling lately as a result of spending so much time transcribing stuff seems to have had at least one postive effect: I have turned to exercise as a means of stress reduction.

    For tomorrow: Read and/or hunt down the remaining bit of critical literature I need to review.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, January 18, 2010
    One of the most frustrating things about transcription is that the activity can become almost unbearably tedious if you're at it for a prolonged period of time. Today, for instance, was one of my "difficult" days, and I really got struck with what I can only describe as transciption-induced cabin fever. I mean, I did manage to type up what I'd hoped to get done today, but there were a few moments of pure nuh-uh! where I had to wrestle with myself in order to continue. All I can say is that sometimes taking a stroll in the rain can really take the edge off, which is exactly what I did in order to center myself a bit. And it worked splendidly.

    For tomorrow: Try to finish the transcription and/or read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, January 17, 2010
    Although it took me quite a bit longer than I had hoped, I did manage to finish transcribing the nearly thirty pages of notes I took from the several hundred photocopied pages of critical and theoretical material I'd been working with this week. This means that I have another batch of notes to transcribe from the nearly six hundred pages of philosophy I'd spent much of December reading, a few days' worth of reading over Coetzee criticism, and then it'll just be a bit of review, some outlining, and writing.

    But, damn, this stuff is wearing me out.

    For tomorrow: Transcribe and/or collect and review criticism.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, January 15, 2010
    I transcribed about eighteen single-spaced pages of notes today, and it looks like I will have a couple more days of transcription ahead of me before I am through with the massive pile of notes and quotes I pored over on Wednesday and Thursday. As usual, everything seems to take me much longer than I would like it to take, which is frustrating. From some perspectives, I am probably making this project more difficult than I need to make it, but I really cannot imagine doing this in any other way than exactly the way I have been doing it all along -- which is to say, as comprehensively and exhaustively as I can. And I am making progress. Just not as quickly as I would like.

    I also read and reviewed some material on Coetzee criticism, refreshing my memory in preparation for the introduction which is, despite my lamentations, not too far in the future.

    For tomorrow: transcribe and/or read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, January 14, 2010
    Whereas I was pleased with my ability to plow through a couple hundred pages of photocopied material yesterday, I spent a good chunk of today irritated at myself for procrastinating. In the end, though, I finished my review of the massive pile of photocopied literary criticism I'd set before myself and, while I still have a few days' worth of research and review left ahead of me, I can finally begin the process of transcribing notes and quotations that heralds the beginning of the pre-writing phase. Most of my remaining reading, furthermore, will actually be a general review of material with which I am already more than cursorily familiar, so it should not be as time-consuming as it might otherwise be. I sincerely hope that I can make some serious headway on both fronts in the next couple of days. For now, though, my brain needs a break and I think I will hit the hay a bit earlier than usual for precisely that reason.

    For tomorrow: Transcribe and/or read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, January 13, 2010
    I had a hugely successful day today, plowing through the majority of the remaining theoretical material I'd set aside for myself. Still, with the semester fast approaching, I can't help but feel a good deal of stress as I try to position myself to begin writing the introduction sometime in the next fortnight.

    For tomorrow: Try to get through the remainder of the theoretical material.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, January 9, 2010
    Cincinnati, OH

    Part 1: Somewhere Outside of Akron

    I am writing this on a bus en route to Cincinnati, where I will be attending tomorrow evening's AFC wild card game between the Bengals and Jets. Besides the obvious draw of the football game, I had hoped to use the bus trip to get some work done for my dissertation, reasoning that a dozen hours on board a bus would provide me with a relatively quiet, distraction-free stretch of time during which I could get in some serious reading. And, while I have been able to get some reading done, I have been struggling to focus because the bus driver for the longest leg of the trip -- Buffalo to Cincinnati via Erie, Akron, and Columbus -- has been screening movies the entire time. Now, I appreciate his genuine attempt at making a long bus ride more enjoyable for his passengers, but I wish listening to (if not watching) Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Night at the Museum II, and Casino Royale (so far) were not mandatory. I mean, we're constantly told that we should keep cell phone conversations to a minimum and to "make sure that the volume on any personal electronic devices should be kept low enough to ensure that no one other than the user will be disturbed" by hearing it. And, for the most part, people follow these rules. This was, in fact, a tendency I was hoping to make use of on my bus trips in order to get work done away from the distractions of my home that have, in recent weeks, slowed my dissertation progress considerably. Needless to say, the irony of an employee and the company disregarding an institutional policy is not lost on me. So, I will continue trying to read just as some of my fellow passengers attempt to sleep with explosions and assorted other special effects rumbling in the background and predictable dialogues wash over, through, and into our respective consciousnesses. Perhaps I will write a bit more later on. Hopefully, I'll be able to report having made a bit more progress despite the difficulties I am having focusing with Judy Dench's voice shouting in my ears...

    Part 2: Columbus

    Well, the bus driver kindly turned the volume down on the in-cabin stereo system, so it has been a bit easier for me to read. Now, if only the old guy smoking pot in the bus's bathroom could've waited a couple of hours and didn't stink up the entire cabin, this could've actually turned out to be a halfway decent place to get some work done. Seriously, that shit stinks something fierce.

    Casino Royale has just ended. I dread the next film... I spied a few possibilities in the driver's collection that could be really, really painful.

    And, thanks to a vote among other passengers (I abstained), Airforce One is slated to blare from here to the Queen City. For what it's worth, we'll be spared Wild, Wild West . . .

    Part 3: Cincinnati

    Since there's hardly any wifi at the hotel, I'll keep this brief and just say that, while I did not get quite as much reading done as I had hoped, I did make some significant progress and will read a bit more before bed.

    The Queen City, by the way, is beautiful.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, January 8, 2010
    The reason I've not written anything here since late December is because I have been doing exactly the same thing every day. I'm still reading the huge pile of theoretical material I want to get through before writing the introduction to my dissertation and, while I have made some real progress, there's not been a whole lot to say. If anything, I have been rather frustrated with the slow pace I have been on and the anxiety I feel to make some real headway before the beginning of the semester has been a constant stressor. Still, I am getting where I need to go, but excruciatingly slowly.

    For tomorrow: Read. A lot.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, December 29, 2009
    I am pleased to report that, for the second consecutive day, I made some significant progress in my reading, ploughing my way through as many pages in the past two days as in the previous eight or so days combined. So, while I still I have quite a bit of work ahead of me before I feel suitably prepared to begin the introduction, I am allowing myself a modest degree of optimism. I'd like to continue this trend.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, December 28, 2009
    After a string of frustratingly unproductive days, I had a fairly successful day today. I spent the afternoon and early evening traveling by train and bus, which gave me several uninterrupted hours of prime reading time to work my way through some of the philosophical readings I will be using for my introduction. I still have quite a long way to go before I feel confident in my preparation, but I am much, much farther along today than I was yesterday, and that's a good thing.

    In dissertation-related news, I picked up a copy of Coetzee's Summertime, which looks wonderful. I look forward to reading it.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, December 19, 2009
    I had a moderately successful day today in terms of reading. It seems that I have picked up my pace a bit, moving from that of the snail to that of the tortoise. Hopefully, I can squeeze a few more pages of reading in before I fall asleep tonight. That, at the very least would make up a bit for the sluggish pace of the past few days...

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, December 16, 2009
    I have been having a really hard time concentrating over the past few days. I don't know if the accumulated fatigue of the past semester is to blame or what, but, man, I have been wrestling with myself something fierce. Still, I've read a hundred pages of a six-hundred page book, so I have made some progress, though at a considerably slower rate than I wanted. I suspect some of the problem stems from the fact that I really, really want to get a lot of work done -- to finish the dissertation, in fact -- before the next semester begins and have, essentially, gotten myself all worked up. I mean, for the first time I feel like I have a deadline to meet...

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, December 10, 2009
    Today was the last day of the semester at both campuses I have been teaching at this term, so I find myself looking at a weekend of heavy grading and, following that, a few weeks of relatively empty days I will use to work on finishing my dissertation. There's quite a bit of (re-)reading and note-taking I'd like to get through before I begin writing the introduction, so I anticipate a pretty intense few weeks.

    On a happy note, upon investigating a spike in traffic directed to this site, I came across Effacement of the Postcolonial Subject, a new blog devoted to its author's process of writing a master's thesis on J. M. Coetzee. The author seems to have found some inspiration in my blog project and has some very kind words to say about it. I wish my fellow Coetzee-blogger-scholar luck in what promises to be an exciting, challenging experience!

    For tomorrow: Continue reading the theoretical material I checked out of the library today.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, December 9, 2009
    Today marks the last day of the second year I have been working on my dissertation, so, to mark the occasion, here's the third installment in my dissertation by the numbers series:

    Blog posts: 513.

    "Fans" in the Sobriquet Magazine Fan Club: 85.

    Courses taught: 19.

    Gray hairs sprouted: About six.

    Computers used: Five.

    Articles published: Four.

    Chapters written: Four, including the afterword.

    Trips to Vermont: Three.

    Short stories published: Two.

    Computer crashes: Two.

    Punk rock concerts attended: One (The Queers. They kicked ass).

    Dissertations written: Almost one.

    Sense of accomplishment: Better than a year ago.

    For tomorrow: Research or read In the Heart of the Country.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, December 8, 2009
    As I have mentioned a few times before, my Tuesdays and Thursdays tend to be exhausting. After all, I wake up before seven, drive forty-five minutes to one college, teach until one, drive another forty-five minutes to another school, teach until seven, and drive an hour or so until I get back home. Not surprisingly, I find it a bit difficult to fit a whole lot of dissertation work into these long, crammed days. Today was no exception, though I did manage to squeeze a little bit of reading and note-taking into the gaps in an otherwise jam-packed morning schedule.

    While I only read a few pages of theoretical material this morning, I can already feel myself beginning to make the sort of connections I will need to pull together for this final bit of writing. Fortuitously, I even came across the perfect epigraph for one of my chapters.

    Still, despite the overall positive nature of today's developments, I still find myself struggling to adjust to the rather unique mode of preparation the introduction requires, abandoning depth for breadth and situating a pre-existing study (my own) within a larger theoretical framework in such a way as to satisfy both the casual reader and the seasoned Coetzee scholar while neither losing the former nor boring the latter.

    For tomorrow: Keep reading and taking notes.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, December 7, 2009
    I spoke with my supervisor on Friday afternoon, hoping to resolve a few of the concerns I have about the introduction. As usual, I walked out of her office with a greater sense of confidence than I'd had when I walked in and, more importantly, a greater sense of direction. Still, despite these very positive developments, I still found myself struggling to get any work done over the weekend. To be sure, I read a bit, but nowhere near as much as I would have liked. Ultimately, I think that the reason for my stalling is the same compounded burn-out brought on by a full teaching load of five courses wrapping up, a semester's worth of very long days, and nearly two years of working on the dissertation each day, without a break that I've alluded to before. This is unsurprising, of course, and even understandable, but the difficulty in getting myself to do anything productive always frustrates me. There's definitely a part of me that wants to wait until the semester is officially over to begin working on the introduction, which would make sense if it weren't for the fact that I feel like I am running on momentum. If I stop running, I suspect it might be difficult to pick up and go again.

    So I go on.

    One of the most difficult stages of dissertation-writing, I find, is the period during which the writer must sift through his or her raw research material, plucking out the relevant bits, trying not to feel too overwhelmed by the often huge pile of books and articles. And that's precisely where I find myself at the moment. So, as has been my strategy all along, I will try and do a tiny bit each day and blog about it to keep myself centered. Here goes.

    For tomorrow: Read In the Heart of the Country or go over some of the theoretical material I checked out of the library today.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, December 3, 2009
    The end of the semester is never an easy time for anyone affiliated with a major research institution, and I am certainly no exception to this rule. Between the the time spent grading, prepping for five different classes, and holding extended office hours at two separate schools, I really haven't had much time to work on the dissertation. Still, while my progress has certainly slowed these past couple of weeks, I continue creeping towards the next and final stage of writing, which I will begin this month. It just does not feel that way sometimes.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, November 30, 2009
    I'm still reading a few pages of Coetzee each day, trying to keep myself moving forward without exerting too much energy on my introduction before meeting with my supervisor later this week. I reckon the intro will involve a bit more intense an effort than the previous bit of writing required of me, so, given that the semester is ending soon (and, accordingly, I am both tired and inundated with last-minute work), I figure this period of comparatively light is more a necessity than a luxury. This isn't to say that I have been slacking off over Thanksgiving break; I haven't. It's just that, in addition to the dissertation, I've had more than 700 pages of reading to do for my classes. So, though my progress has been slow, I am pleased with myself.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, November 24, 2009
    I'm still in that interstitial rest mode that I fall into when, having finished one large chunk of dissertation writing, I need to recharge before beginning the next writing phase. During these refractory periods, I tend not to get as much work done, and I refuse to chastise myself for taking it easy. So, when I say that I have been reading a few pages of Foe each of the past few days, that's quite literally all of the dissertation work that I have done. Still, I continue to work on my project every day and will, I imagine, continue doing so until the day comes when I can say, honestly, I am finished.

    For today: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, November 23, 2009
    After a really nice weekend spent with friends and family, I find myself back in New York with a renewed sense of purpose. This happens every time I leave New York's Southern Tier, actually, though this recent, fortuitously-timed trip really helped me regain my bearings and I am looking forward to the time in the not-so-distant future when I am no longer tethered to a chronically overcast region of the Rust Belt. If that's not a motivating factor for finishing my doctorate, I don't know what is.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, November 22, 2009
    Long Valley, New Jersey
    Because I am typing this post with my thumbs on an iPod Touch, I am going to keep tonight's entry very short and just say that I have been re-reading (and re-enjoying) Foe over the past couple of days. I intend to continue doing so for a bit longer. After having spent so much time writing my afterword and preparing for classes and grading student papers over the last few weeks, I am enjoying a much-needed bit of downtime.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    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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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, November 9, 2009
    "I can't go on, I'll go on."
    -Samuel Beckett, The Unnameable

    Although I did manage to get a bit of writing done each day this weekend, I still have another day or so's worth of work left in front of me before I finish the draft of my Afterword. This, in itself, is not an especially big deal, but I have to admit I am somewhat less than satisfied with what I have written thus far, which makes it considerably more difficult for me to soldier on. But I have to. And I will.

    For tomorrow: Prep for the final bit of the Afterword.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, November 6, 2009
    Although I really wanted to sit down and write a more substantial entry this evening, I seem to have grown rather yawny and a bit headachy. So, not wanting to exacerbate the unpleasantness, I'm not going to spend much time staring at this glowing rectangle as I might otherwise have done. Instead, I'll just report that, despite having guests this weekend and despite the grading and class preparation on which I have been working, I did get a bit more writing done this afternoon and remain on schedule for finishing the draft of my Afterword by Monday or so. I may also have settled on a title for my dissertation, which is kinda nice. There's a satisfying sense of finality in that, let me tell you.

    For tomorrow: Write more.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, November 4, 2009
    Since my Tuesdays are excruciatingly long, I rarely have much time or energy to devote to my dissertation. Today was no exception, though I did manage to make a couple of tiny additions to the section of the Afterword on which I spent the past few days. Slowly, I am inching my way to the end.

    For tomorrow: Do some preparatory outlining at the very least and write, if at all possible.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, November 2, 2009
    While it has been a solid fortnight since I posted anything to this blog, I have been working steadily on the Afterword the entire time. Right now, I am more than halfway done with the draft. It did take me a bit longer to work my way through the pile of materials I felt compelled to review prior to beginning than I had hoped to spend, but the actual writing of the chapter has gone comparatively quickly and I anticipate finishing the section within a week or so.

    For tomorrow: Write.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, October 15, 2009
    Although I've not done a whole lot of work for the dissertation today, having spent a very pleasant afternoon discussing Miller's A Canticle for Liebowitz and Camus's The Fall with my students, I find myself sufficiently energized to get a bit of reading done this evening despite the fatigue I feel. So, that's what I am going to do.

    For tomorrow: A bit more reading.

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    ____________________________________________
    Today was another long -- though largely positive -- day. Thus, while I haven't gotten any reading done for the dissertation yet, I did make my way through enough of my lingering vocational obligations to make spending a few minutes with Coetzee possible before shutting down for the night.

    For tomorrow: Keep reading.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, October 13, 2009
    Having just returned home from another thirteen-hour work day, I haven't much energy to write this evening. Still, given my recent struggle to cope with what seems like an insurmountable workload, I want to use this space to my advantage. Since I would very much like to begin the Afterword this weekend, what I aim to do between now and then is finish rereading Diary of a Bad Year. I need to make that a priority, so I am. I mean, I still have lots of work-for-salary work to do, but I think that this is a reasonable goal. And that's what I am going to do now: sit down and work on Coetzee for a bit before bed.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, October 12, 2009
    This afternoon, I regained a tiny bit of the momentum I lost yesterday. I plowed through a good chunk of reading relatively early in the day and, though I was not nearly as efficient in the later afternoon, a nice meal with a good friend seems to have energized me just enough to get me through some reading for the dissertation as well as a bit more prep work for my classes this week.

    I'm still rather distressed by the seemingly unending onslaught of work coming at me from all sides. I want to finish the dissertation relatively soon, but I have so much other work to get through that I feel I am not making much progress, which is tremendously frustrating for me. I realize now, when it is far too late, that I probably should have applied for a dissertation fellowship of some sort. Instead, I am teaching more than twice as much as the average tenure-track professor just to fund the tail end of my education. But I have to try not to focus on that sort of thing. I suppose I'll take a lesson from Epictetus and expend my energy elsewhere.

    For tomorrow: Since it is a long day for me, just read a little bit more of Diary of a Bad Year.

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    ____________________________________________
    Today turned out to be one of those days I wish I could do over. Although I woke up fairly early, I got off to a sluggish start and really didn't get anything done until the later part of the afternoon. I spent a few hours grading papers while watching the Yankees-Twins game which, coming on the heels of the Bengals' defeat of the Ravens in Baltimore, made for a very satisfying day for Erik, the Sports Fan but a somewhat less fulfilling day for Erik, the Scholar.

    As I alluded to yesterday, I have been struggling with a remarkably heavy work load this week, a burden that, in its daunting immensity, has resulted in an overwhelming sense of anxious inertia more than a few times over the past couple of days. Thus, while yesterday was a fairly productive period for me, today was unpleasantly slow, work-wise, and I really could not focus on much of anything academic for most of the day.

    As far as dissertation work goes, I have had next to no time to devote to my own work, and this frustrates me something fierce. Although my rereading of Diary of a Bad Year is important, I would really rather have made some headway on my conclusion. Hopefully, I will be able to make some progress on that front this coming week. I'd really like to finish the dissertation by semester's end, if at all possible.

    For tomorrow: Read or, if possible, try to get a bit of prep work done.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, October 11, 2009
    It's been rough going these past few days. I've got piles of student papers to grade, several hundred pages of fiction to read, and a few midterm examinations to write, so I haven't had much time to devote to the dissertation. Perhaps understandably, I've had a good deal of anxiety which, on occasion, has made it difficult for me to concentrate on my work. Today, though, has been fairly productive and, while I have not yet sat down to read a bit more of Diary of a Bad Year, I have made significant headway in my preparations for the coming week. Still, it frustrates the shit out of me to feel that I haven't the time to spend on my dissertation. Hopefully, things'll get easier after this week and I can begin writing my conclusion shortly.

    For tomorrow: Read and prep.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, October 7, 2009
    I finished transcribing my notes on Elizabeth Costello this evening. This means I will be reviewing these and other materials, putting myself in position to start outlining the next bit of writing relatively soon.

    There's something disarming about the home stretch. It's like seeing an oasis materialize out of the desert . . . I can't help but feel it's a mirage.

    For tomorrow: Prewrite.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, September 30, 2009
    This semester is turning out to be a bit more demanding than I had initially assumed it would be, so I have not had quite as much time to work on the dissertation. Still, I have been doing a little work each day, continuing to follow the pattern that has gotten me this far. Having finished rereading Slow Man and "As A Woman Grows Older," I have moved onto the prewriting stage of the Intro and Afterword. I figure I will be able to alternate between rereading Diary of a Bad Year and transcribing notes on the various other texts I will discuss in the final bit of writing. That way, I can have a bit of variation in my daily routine. Hopefully that'll energize me a bit and keep me fresh.

    For tomorrow: Transcribe or read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, September 27, 2009
    Pittsburgh, PA
    I am going to have to keep tonight's post extremely brief because I am "typing" it with my thumbs on an iPod Touch. At any rate, I am in a motel room in Pittsburgh, where I have spent the past two days, taking in a Pirates-Dodgers game at PNC Park and snapping pictures of the city. It has been a much-needed break for me, though I used my drive time to listen to an audiobook version of one of the novels I will be teaching this week and I should finish re-reading Coetzee's "As a Woman Grows Older" before calling it a night. That is, as soon as I finish grading a few more papers and prepping for classes. Ah, vacation!

    Also, having now finished re-reading Slow Man, I am literally only days away from the prewriting phases of the Introduction and Afterword of the dissertation.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, September 22, 2009
    This past week has been a fairly productive one for me. On Friday, I spent close to a dozen hours putting together what may be the last substantial bit of bureaucratic work I need to finish before writing the Introduction and Afterword to my dissertation. Basically, I spent a solid twelve hours piecing together a document justifying what I have spent the past twenty-two months doing and outlining my the final pieces of writing I will need to officially finish the dissertation and transform myself from ABD to Doctor. I submitted the document on Saturday morning and received word this afternoon that it had been accepted. I will now begin preparing to write the Introduction and Afterword.

    The nice thing about my insanely crammed schedule this semester is the sense of urgency I feel whenever I have actually manage to secure a bit of time to work on my dissertation. I mean, it sucks to feel that sort of pressure, but it does spur one on. Of course, having finished my big task for the weekend and, not being able to proceed with my dissertation until I learned whether or not my submission was approved, having an uncommonly large chunk of free time, I put an audiobook in my stereo (yes, I was still preparing for classes) and drove up to Niagara Falls. It was delightful. And then the Bengals won. It was a good day.

    For tomorrow, etc.: Prepare for the home stretch.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, September 15, 2009
    Well, I'm still here, still plugging away at the dissertation, though it hardly seems like it. Between the twelve-hour days I have been pulling at work and the seemingly interminable amount of preparation I need to do in order to teach the five classes I've got going this semester, I haven't had much time to write anything here. Likewise, I have not had a whole lot of time to work on the dissertation, but I have tried to read a few pages of Slow Man each evening before my body decides it can no longer keep itself awake. Once I finish the rereading, I hope to begin putting together the various synopses and filling in the many forms I will need to complete in order to take care of the administrative side of the degree. And once that's finished -- or, more likely, concurrent with it -- I intend to begin plotting out and writing the final bits of the actual dissertation. It still feel far away and I feel pressed for time.

    For tomorrow: Read and/or prep.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, September 7, 2009
    One of the major difficulties many dissertation-writing students face is securing some semblance of economic stability while working on their scholarship. Grad school does, after all, cost money. As does the food and shelter one requires to prevent death while writing. Because I have opted not to take out any loans, I tend to work perhaps a bit more than some people in similar circumstances. Since I genuinely enjoy teaching, however, this is rarely something that I mind. In fact, I tend to be a bit more productive when I have a regular teaching schedule because, having significantly less free time, I feel more pressure to get my work done in a timely fashion. Still, this week has been a rough one.

    The beginning of any semester, of course, is a nerve-wracking experience as you try to cram all the bureaucratic errands that pop up into the same first few days of classes when you also have to prepare lesson plans and re-read the materials with which you will be teaching. Combined with the rather difficult transition from a schedule more in sync with my nocturnal tendencies to one more appropriate for, say, a dairy farmer, I did not have the smoothest of weeks, but I am satisfied with it, all things considered. I mean, I have continued rereading Slow Man even though I have had to read essays on educational theory, existential philosophy, part of the Bible, and the first chunk of a hefty Margaret Atwood novel for my classes. So, yeah. I'm still working on "me" stuff, but I have been too exhausted much of the time to write anything for the blog.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, August 31, 2009
    These past few days have been unbelievably long, but I am trying to make sure I keep reading in preparation for the final push on the dissertation. This is one packed semester, though, so there may be a few periods during which I will only be able to read a few pages. Tonight is a prime example of that. I'm pooped, but I want to get a bit of work done, so that's what I'm going to do before hitting the hay.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, August 28, 2009
    I think writing the last chapter on Disgrace took more out of me than I had initially assumed. I mean, I knew was more ragged around the edges that I had been in some time, but wow: the past few days I have been trying to work on an academic side project, as I do from time to time, and I have been positively miserable. Like a petulant child, I feel like stomping my feet and shouting I doan' wanna! at the top of my lungs every time I look at the screen. I have made some headway with the project, but I wish I had more patience than I do at the moment. Instead of taking my time, calmly working my way through it, I just want to be done with it. Since it took me such a long time to complete the last chapter, I did not really have much of a summer vacation and, with school starting very soon, I suppose part of my difficulty stems from the fact that I want to enjoy a break before resuming my teaching duties. Thus, there's some misplaced resentment aimed at what is, actually, a very nice project to be working on. The timing is just terrible. But that's grad school sometimes. You work until you cannot work any more, then you work some more. Then school starts and you work even more and, somehow, you make progress. That's what I have got to remember: you either do or you do not do and you can only complain if you do do. And, believe me, I intend to enjoy the privilege :)

    Now, before I hit the hay, I'm going to do a bit of work and try to read a few pages of Slow Man.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, August 27, 2009
    Since I have been uncommonly busy with non-dissertation academic work this week, I haven't had as much time to devote to the preparation of the introduction or conclusion. I have basically resigned myself to a down week in terms of dissertation work and have simply tried to read a little bit of Slow Man each day. Things promise to pick up quite a bit in the next little while, but I anticipate returning more fully to the dissertation within a week or so.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, August 23, 2009
    I'm going to keep this entry brief and just say that I spent the past few days re-reading Waiting for the Barbarians and will begin re-reading either Slow Man or Elizabeth Costello in preparation for my concluding chapters.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, August 14, 2009
    One of the things I have learned about dissertation-writing while writing my dissertation has been that one must both approach the project purposefully and be willing to adjust that approach as he or she progresses. This is why my dissertation morphed from a multi-author project to a focused study of Coetzee's fiction after I began writing what I believed to be the first section of my first chapter. Now, after having spoken with my supervisor, it looks like I will be shifting gears again, though not nearly as drastically as that first time. This time, rather than broadening or contracting my focus, I will simply be combining what would have been a few comparatively brief sections into a single, comprehensive conclusion. Accordingly, I will spend the next few weeks re-reading a couple of Coetzee's novels (especially Elizabeth Costello), reviewing criticism, and -- get this! -- preparing to finish my dissertation. In addition to outlining and writing the conclusion and introduction, I will make a few (mercifully) minor edits to my previous chapters and cross the administrative Ts and dot the bureaucratic Is that accompany the closing stages of one's doctoral degree. It should be interesting.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, August 12, 2009
    Although I have been prioritizing some non-academic stuff these past few days, I have been keeping up with my dissertation reading. Still, the next week or so promises to be even more hectic, so I am going to have to cut down my reading goals for a while in order to balance things. But I will keep plugging away.

    For tomorrow: Read. A little.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, August 10, 2009
    While I did get some reading done earlier today, I'm a bit too tired to discuss literary criticism, so I am going to put that off for another day. What I would like to say, however, is that my supervisor emailed me this evening to let me know that she has read my Disgrace chapter -- and she likes it. In other words, I can now say that I have doubled the length of my dissertation and can see, for the first time, the end of the tunnel. The Disgrace chapter, I always knew, was going to be the longest, most brutal section for me to get through, so being able to officially put it behind me is huge. I can now say, unbelievably, that I am almost finished with my dissertation. I could not say that yesterday.

    Before I sign off for the night, I want to stop and thank Minxy for her unstinting support, without which I cannot imagine having gotten as far as I have on this project. When I started this blog, I asked my friends to check in on me once in a while, so that I felt a certain amount of duty to complete my daily assignments. A few did, but none so consistently as Minxy, whose daily encouragement really helped me establish the work patterns that I needed to develop in order to start and push through my dissertation. She rules.

    For tomorrow: Read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Since I'm writing this in the middle of an electrical storm and I haven't much confidence in either my internet connection or my apartment's ability to keep the power on, I will keep tonight's entry brief. I looked at two essays today, only one of which really offered much for scholars interested in Elizabeth Costello. The first piece I looked at, Paulo de Medeiros's "(Re-)Constructing, (Re-)Membering Postcolonial Selves," while an interesting look at identity formation in postcolonial contexts, only mentions Elizabeth Costello in passing. The second essay, Margaret Lenta's "Coetzee and Costello: Two Artists Abroad," on the other hand, deals exclusively with Coetzee's 2003 novel. Although much of Lenta's text is given up to plot summary, the critic does raise valuable questions about the role of literature in shaping peoples' ideas and the nature of Coetzee's relationship to Costello and her various literary interlocutors.

    For tomorrow: Read.

    Works Cited

    de Meidros, Paulo. "(Re-)Constructing, (Re-)Membering Postcolonial Selves." Stories and Portraits of the Self. Eds. Helena Carvalhao Buescu and Joao Ferreira Duarte. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007. 37-49.

    Lenta, Margaret. "Coetzee and Costello: Two Artists Abroad." English in Africa 31.1 (2004): 105-120.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, August 8, 2009
    Although the bulk of today's dissertation work was of the physical variety -- collating and stapling a draft, driving an hour to campus, and stuffing it in my supervisor's mailbox, as well as finding photocopying essays on Elizabeth Costello -- I did get a bit of reading done, too.

    In Lesson 6 of Elizabeth Costello, "The Problem of Evil," a fictional version of the very real novelist Paul West attends a conference with the novel's heroine. In her speech at that conference, Costello cites West's real-life novel, The Very Rich Hours of Count von Stauffenberg, as an example of the sort of text in which the author crosses a line -- bringing more evil into the world than good -- by imagining and recreating scenes of horrific cruelty. Although Costello's arguments are disjointed and frequently unconvincing, she raises a few interesting points about the power of literature to alter the real world and the ostensible duty authors have to wield that tremendous power in a way that does not damage humanity -- and she leaves West in the precarious position of having to defend himself rationally against the emotionally-charged allegations at the heart of her jeremiad.

    In "The Novelist and the Hangman: When Horror Invades Protocol," West addresses his place in Coetzee's novel, assesses the book as following somewhat in the tradition of the French New Novel, and offers a thoughtful response to Costello's comments about literature's relationship to evil. While readers will be likely be most interested in hearing West's response to Costello's allegations (a privilege Coetzee's text had denied the man), his reply is ambivalent: West is seemingly flattered by Coetzee's attention while clearly miffed by Costello's ill-formed ideas about the author's role as a potential conduit for evil. Using Costelo's words as a departure point, West revisits his own novel and reasserts his belief that writers should continue probing the depths of the human psyche, dragging muck to the surface and dragging surface-dwellers through the muck.

    For tomorrow: Read.

    Work Cited

    West, Paul. "The Novelist and the Hangman." Harper's Magazine July 2004. 89-92, 94.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, August 7, 2009
    In the week or so following the completion of my draft of the Disgrace chapter, I've not done nearly as much work as I would have liked. Although I have, at a minimum, read a few pages each day, I find that my final push to complete the chapter has drained me quite a bit more than I had anticipated. As a result of this realization, I have been a bit less demanding of myself, reasoning that I am at a stage in the dissertation where resting for a spell mightn't be the worst of ideas.

    For tomorrow: Read and/or hunt down critical articles.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, July 30, 2009
    I finally finished writing my Disgrace chapter this afternoon. I sincerely hope I do not have much editing ahead of me because, if the truth be told, working on it for as long as I have has made me not want to look at it ever again . . . Ultimately, my biggest fear is that my supervisor will request I make substantial changes because I am so thoroughly exhausted from this chapter that I simply cannot imagine summoning up the energy or sustained focus I would need to re-do it.

    For tomorrow: Read a little, play a lot of punk rock, and take a break.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, July 25, 2009
    Well, I've spent the past few days planning and writing the final section of the Disgrace chapter, which has been both exciting and thoroughly frustrating. On the one hand, it's nice to be nearing what I hope to be the end of the longest, most difficult section of my dissertation. On the other hand, I am so worn out from all the work I've been doing that I just want it to be done.

    For tomorrow: Write a bit more.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, July 23, 2009
    I've used the past two days to review the critical material I will be drawing upon for the final section of the Disgrace chapter. I cannot wait to finish.

    For tomorrow: Continue prepping for the next writing phase.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, July 20, 2009
    Although I would have liked to have gotten more done today, I will have to content myself with having combed through the nearly 150 pages of notes I typed up after reading the towering pile of Disgrace criticism I worked my way through last year in order to pluck out 25 or so pages of material relevant to the final section of the chapter I've been writing. I'll be reviewing these notes over the next day or so and should, with a little luck, begin writing within the week. Hallelujah.

    For tomorrow: Prep.

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    ____________________________________________
    While I initially thought I would begin writing the penultimate phase of my chapter on Disgrace tomorrow, today's prep work has led me to believe that I should really combine the final two stages of the chapter into a single unit. Thus, I will be spending the next few days reviewing what I was going to save for the very end and try to fashion an outline for a more nuanced final section. This should take a few days, but it will be wonderful to finally finish this interminable chapter. Of course, this chapter will still have to meet with my supervisor's approval, so merely completing the writing is only the prelude to either a gigantic triumph or a massive failure. That fact, understandably, has made writing the chapter increasingly difficult as every word amounts to a wager of one's recent life, embodied in text, on the hope that one has been successful. . .

    Ugh.

    For tomorrow, etc.: Prepare.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, July 19, 2009
    I made today a fairly light day for myself, reviewing some passages in Disgrace this afternoon in preparation for the penultimate section of the seemingly interminable chapter on which I have been toiling for more than a year. I hope to get a bit of outlining done tomorrow and begin writing as early as Monday.

    For tomorrow: Prep.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, July 17, 2009
    I've had a fairly productive few days since I last posted anything. On Tuesday, I finished the mini-section I'd been working on since before my hard drive crashed, which was a nice little personal triumph. Now, at the outset of the penultimate mini-section of my chapter on Disgrace, it seems the end has finally popped into view.

    On Wednesday, I read Alan A. Stone's sympathetic review of Elizabeth Costello for The American Journal of Psychiatry. In it, Stone recounts how he, like Coetzee's fictional poet Abraham Stern in The Lives of Animals, initially baulked at Costello's likening of contemporary slaughterhouses to the death camps of Hitler's Third Reich. The "infuriatingly memorable" lectured "stuck in [Stone's] craw" and he began reading more deeply in Coetzee's oeuvre, ultimately concluding that Both Costello and Coetzee are admirable in their "unblinking search for truth."

    Other than read and write, I spent some time combing through my notes in preparation for the next mini-section, which I intend to begin rather soon.

    For tomorrow: Read, write, or plan.

    Work Cited

    Stone, Alan A., M.D. Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. American Journal of Psychiatry 161.12 (2004): 2336-2337.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, July 14, 2009
    Since I'm having some rather painful carpal tunnel issues I am going to refrain from writing a whole lot tonight. I'll just say that I did get a small, though not inconsiderable, chunk of writing done this afternoon and am, happily, a tiny bit closer to the end of this endless chapter.

    For tomorrow: Read or write.

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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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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, July 9, 2009
    I finally managed to sit down and get some writing done this afternoon, which, to my relief, was not as difficult as it could have been given the length of time I have been away from the text. The anxiety with which I occasionally struggle when returning to a text from which I have taken a break was mercifully mild today and, within a few moments of sitting down, the words began flowing with relative ease. In other words, it was a good day and a successful return to a text I simply cannot wait to finish.

    For tomorrow: Read or, if time permits, write.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, July 8, 2009
    I spent today working on some of the more practical aspects of the dissertation: I repaired my laminated particle board desk, bought and assembled an office chair, and re-reformatted my entire Disgrace chapter to date. Although there is an element of satisfaction one can take in fixing and/or building a physical object, there's considerably less pleasure to be found in meticulously going through sixty-odd pages of writing, ensuring that the footnotes are properly placed and trying to figure out why the "new" version of the paper is a page or so shorter than the previous incarnation. The only thing I can come up with, since all the text is apparently intact, is that the line spacing or font size has been oh-so slightly altered in all the format migration.

    I also finished reading my notes.

    For tomorrow: Try to get some writing done. Otherwise, read.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, July 6, 2009
    Although it's only a quarter past six in the evening, I figured I'd throw together a post a bit earlier in the day than I normally do.

    For whatever reason, I tend to struggle a good deal more than I would care to admit when attempting to begin writing after a break of any substantial amount of time. I assume a significant chunk of this difficulty stems from a perceived sense of having fallen out of whatever rhythm I'd established in my writing. And this happens every time, without fail. A second factor, of course, is the exasperation I feel at taking what I believe to be too long to write this chapter. I had never planned on spending over a year of my life writing a chapter of my dissertation and, while it has yielded a couple of publications and is longer than my previous two chapters, I am want it finished. This lack of patience, too, has become increasingly vexing for me. In my heart, I am through with graduate school, more than ready to close this segment of my life and try to move on to the next phase, whatever that may happen to be. The problem, however, is that I have to finish the dissertation in order to truly be finished. Combine not wanting to work any longer with having to work harder and you get a potent form of dissertation anxiety and it is that brand of discomfiture that I find myself struggling with today. I mean, every time I sit down to read or write, I grow frustrated with myself because, like everything with the Disgrace chapter, this final phase (writing it) is taking far longer than I'd wanted. And, with summer speeding by, I cannot help but feel I am too far behind my ideal schedule to finish the whole dissertation by my original target date.

    At any rate, and much to my admitted chagrin, I am going to spend time rereading my notes for the mini-section I am currently writing so that, within a day or two, I can return to the interrupted chapter (stupid hard drive failure) with a renewed familiarity and chug through that last bit and begin the penultimate mini-section within the week.

    Ugh.

    For today and tomorrow: Read and, if at all possible, write.

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    As I anticipated would be the case yesterday evening, I finished reading The Lives of Animals quite early in the day today. While I do not expect to make more than a passing reference to the slim volume in my Elizabeth Costello chapter, I did want to read the book and I am glad that I did so. Prior to beginning my dissertation on Coetzee, I had not heard of the Tanner Lecture series but, if The Lives of Animals is any indication of the symposium's capacity to spark intelligent cross-disciplinary discourse, I'm all for it. What I really enjoyed about the essays contained in the book is their ability to provoke reflection without resorting to the sort of hyper-specialized argot so common in academic publishing. True, specialists in a particular field might prefer deeper, more nuanced discussions of a given issue than what their discipline's representative contributes to the book, but he or she will no doubt also benefit tremendously from the less academically rigorous language employed by those writers speaking from other scholarly niches. This is not to say, of course, that The Lives of Animals is a dumbed-down version of academic writing but that it is, rather, an attempt to bridge disciplinary rifts by dispensing with unnecessary jargon and finding common ground. Indeed, the book is so successful at sparking interdisciplinary discussion that it has spawned at least two full-length works of Wittgensteinian philosophy (most recently Stephan Mulhall's The Wounded Animal) that seek to address the many important considerations the essays in The Lives of Animals brings to light.

    For tomorrow: Read or try to get back into the swing of writing.

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