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    Sobriquet 45.12

    Thursday, August 14, 2008
    I am pleased to report that the once-towering pile of Disgrace criticism sitting on my desk has shrunk considerably over the course of the summer. I always knew the amount of criticism on Disgrace would dwarf the amount devoted to Age of Iron, The Master of Petersburg, Elizabeth Costello, and Slow Man, but this has been an epic struggle for me. I mean, after a while, an overwhelming sense of deja vu hits you and you begin to feel as if you have already read what you're reading at the moment. Usually, when that feeling hits me, I moan and groan to myself and move on, hoping that what seems the same is actually different. Today, however, I discovered that a full three of the "unread" essays I had sitting before me were really, truly versions of essays I had already read. Indeed, while titles differed a bit and a few sentences were added here and there and a couple of phrases were reworded, the essays were, in fact, the same. Oh, I was delighted . . . I am now sixty pages further into my reading than I was earlier in the day and I didn't even have to put effort into it!

    Anyway . . .

    Of the essays I reviewed over the past couple of days that were not slightly modified versions of themselves, two (Gareth Cornwell's "Disgraceland: History and the Humanities in Frontier Country" and Ron Charles's "A Morality Tale With No Easy Answers") were articles that I had originally read several years ago when researching my first article on Disgrace, so I was not wholly unfamiliar with the terrain. At any rate, I do not hesitate to say that Gareth Cornwell stands alongside Rita Barnard as one of the Coetzee critics I most enjoy reading. His prose is extremely accessible, his foci interesting, and his research comprehensive. In "Disgraceland," Cornwell contextualizes Coetzee's novel by juxtaposing events in the book with historical accounts of Salem village and Grahamstown, highlighting several thought-provoking parallels between the relationship of the indigenous Xhosa inhabitants of the area with the European settlers and the interactions of blacks and whites in Disgrace. The essay also includes an exploration of the novel's intertextual relationship with "The Humanities in Africa," foregrounding the limitations of the values bestowed by a (romanticized) European past in contemporary South Africa.

    Charles's review, while brief, does an admirable job of highlighting many of the novel's key themes.

    Finally, the third essay that I read, Tim McIntyre's "Autobiography and Confession in Boyhood, Youth, and Disgrace," focuses primarily on Coetzee's autobiographical writing. Although he only briefly discusses the novel, McIntyre argues that Disgrace foregrounds the necessity of selfless love so painfully absent in the young John of the memoirs: "[w]hat is central to Disgrace are the same issues that are paramount to the Confessions of St. Augustine: the slow growth of love in the heart of the protagonist and the impersonal passion for truth that drives the writing" (177).

    For tomorrow: More reading.

    Works Cited

    Charles, Ron. "'A Morality Tale With No Easy Answers." The Christian Science Monitor (Boston) 10 November 1999: 20.

    Cornwell, Gareth. "Disgraceland: History and the Humanities in Frontier Country." English in Africa 30.2 (2003): 43-59.

    McIntyre, Tim. "Autobiography and Confession in Boyhood, Youth, and Disgrace." J. M. Coetzee: Critical Perspectives. Kailash C. Baral, ed. New Dehli: Pencraft International, 2008. 170-178.

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    Monday, June 9, 2008
    I'm still really irritated with myself, largely because I am working at a snail's pace. There are really two main reasons for this:

    Uno: I have been sleeping in so late that, by the time I finally get started, it feels as if I have already been procrastinating all day. Somehow, this tendency translates into a sense of having already struggled to get through whatever it is I am about to begin. Needless to say, this isn't a good feeling to have when setting out do something.

    Dos: Having spent so much time reading fiction -- which is much easier for me to get through than the critical writing I am reading now -- I have grown accustomed to reading more in a shorter time span than is possible when reading the dense scholastic prose I have been working with the past few days.

    At any rate, I read Kimberly Wedeven Segall's "Pursuing Ghosts: The Traumatic Sublime in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace" yesterday and I just finished Gareth Cornwell's "Realism, Rape, and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace" a few moments ago. I'd actually read Segall's essay before, but re-read it to refresh my memory as I shift my focus from The Master of Petersburg to Disgrace. Although I generally dislike psychoanalytic criticism, I find that the rationale behind Segall's essay is not unreasonable. While the essay did occasionally strike me as a bit too Freudian and there are a few blatant misreadings sprinkled throughout the article (Segall identifies David Lurie as the narrator and claims that Melanie Isaacs attempts suicide), the bulk of the paper deals with the the ways in which David Lurie sublimates the traumatic experiences of his time in Grahamstown, creating "ghostly" presences with which he may interact (via dreams) and address the anxiety he feels.

    Segall distinguishes the "traumatic sublime" from the classical sublime of Longius (in which art can bring about ekstasis), Edmund Burke's Gothic sublime (in which great art sparks such a strong sense of terror in one's mind that an awareness of self is utterly impossible), and the Romantic sublime of William Wordsworth (where art so enraptures an individual that one's sense of self expands):
    In what I am calling the traumatic sublime, in contrast [to the earlier conceptions of literary sublimity], experiences of violence are changed into images of oppressed subjects and ghosts. These images of ghostly figures serve as troubling memory sites. Because these disturbing memories are not easily ignored nor assimilated into a narrative of identity, these mnemonic images resist a complete erasure of the past, especially in a postcolonial setting where there is a historical legacy of violation. With their uneasy sublimation of the past, these identity-fracturing traumatic images pose a potential crisis for the protagonist. These ghostly images represent the friction between traumatic images and identity. The traumatic sublime, as a troubling sensation that occurs when a painful event of the past is changed into a disturbing image, shifts the gaze from the self to an-other. Unlike the gothic loss of self or the romantic expansion of self, the traumatic sublime alters the focus from the protagonist to another character...As in the uncanny, the traumatic sublime uses symbols and disturbing images to reformulate a character's past... (42)
    Essentially, unresolved traumas (those the individual cannot confront directly) manifest themselves as new ghostly images that produce similar anxieties as the original traumatic experiences, but projected outward. In other words, when the individual cannot directly confront a trauma he or she has experienced, the traumatic sublime allows him or her to envision the pain in another, detached form and address it from a "safe" distance. In Disgrace, Segall argues, "[t]he sublimated ghostly bodies all lead to the central signified of Lucy's raped body," preventing Lurie from blocking the memory of her rape and forcing him to confront it. In doing so, the traumatic sublime brings violation and subjugation to the front of Lurie's consciousness, highlighting those instance in which he himself has played a part. Haunted by these ghosts, Lurie begins the moral transformation so many critics view as central to the novel.

    Gareth Cornwell, I have to admit, amuses me to no end. Eschewing the "logical and historical emptiness" of "post-Saussurean, Derridean" readings of Disgrace, Cornwell opts to make "a couple of common-sense observations" (311). He also criticizes "the metaphysical dread to which Derridean differance can lead if we are prepared to take its anti-realism too seriously":
    [M]eaning endlessly deferred as words drop their eyes and shake their heads in embarassment, gesturing towards their equally feckless fellows, abdicating their own authority to signify, and performing an empty act of delegation. (311)
    Seriously, that has to be one of the absolute greatest assessments of Derridean excess ever published in a major literary journal.

    That said, Cornwell makes many solid observations about Disgrace. His essay deals primarily with the text's use of the realist mode to present David and Lucy Lurie's stories. Ultimately, Cornwell concludes that Coetzee fashions a plot out of the seemingly contradictory antirealist allegorical and the realist mimetic modes of representation, thereby reflecting "Coetzee's abiding ambivalence towards realism and his suspicion of the reflexivity of antirealism or 'antiillusionism' as the alternative."

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Works Cited

    Cornwell, Gareth. "Realism, Rape, and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Critique 43.4 (2002): 307-322.

    Segall, Kimberly Wedeven. "Pursuing Ghosts: The Traumatic Sublime in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Research in African Literatures 36.4 (2005): 40-54.

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