Sobriquet Home | Author Index | About Us | Book Reviews | Music Reviews | Email | Punk Encyclopedia | Punk Links | Writers


Dissertation Blog Home
About the Blog
Email & Comment Policy
About the Zine
Record Reviews
Sobriquet on Facebook
Sobriquet on MySpace
Sobriquet on Twitter
Sobriquet on Tumblr


The Chronicle


Cincinnati Bengals
New York Yankees
Cleveland Cavaliers
Montreal Canadiens


New York Times
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Newark Star-Ledger
Chicago Tribune
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Washington Post
Los Angeles Times
San Francisco Chronicle
Christian Science Monitor


Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter

    Powered by Blogger

    eXTReMe Tracker

    RSS Feed Readers

    Sobriquet 43.30

    Sunday, June 29, 2008
    One of the more rewarding aspects of this dissertation, for me, has been learning a decent amount about South Africa and that nation's social and political history. As I have mentioned before, I had not initially planned on writing a dissertation specifically on J. M. Coetzee. In fact, I had assumed he would not be the subject of much more than a fifth of the project. Not surprisingly, then, my interest in the author had little do do with his status as a South African writer. As the focus of my dissertation has narrowed into a single author study, however, I have had to read quite a bit of material related to a place and an epoch to which I hadn't paid as much attention as I have to those a bit closer to home. And this has been surprisingly fulfilling. I have always had a predilection for Scandinavian history and culture and have more than a passing interest in the sociological aspects of circumpolar studies, so shifting my attention to a country like South Africa has certainly been a wholly new as well as enlightening and enriching experience.

    Of course, as a literature graduate student, I have spent a significant amount of time reading postcolonial literature and theory and I have even pursued those studies beyond the confines of the classroom in my own leisure reading, so I am well acquainted with much of the critical and philosophical language one finds in the criticism surrounding J. M. Coetzee's fiction. Words like alterity, the other, and liminality (and the concepts they signify) have long been part of my academic vocabulary, but this project has given my understanding a much more nuanced texture, which I appreciate.

    Of the central concerns of postcolonial studies, not surprisingly, is the concept of the border, the subject of the essay I read yesterday afternoon. As Grant Farred asserts, "the border [is] the meeting of difference," the site of hybridity and conflict, a physical or metaphysical plain in which the familiar mingles with the foreign (16). Farred, like several other commentators, views Disgrace as a novel problematically situated "on the historical frontier" of the Eastern Cape, the "site where race, racism and race relations are most deeply embedded, most resistant to being reconstructed" (17). The "psycholandscape" that comes into being in such a historically-contested region (the indigenous population, Afrikaner Trekkers, and British colonists have a long history of bloody conflict in the area) is one in which "change - the dominant rhetoric in post-apartheid South Africa - comes last, not first" (17). It is here that David Lurie, arguably an embodiment of pre-apartheid white privilege, comes into direct conflict with the cultural and social reconfigurations of the "new South Africa," as embodied by the increasingly powerful figure of Petrus. Of course, Lucy, David's daughter, also figures prominently in Farred's essay. Consistent with the negative (which should not be confused with "poor") reading of the novel that he articulates elsewhere, Farred argues that "Disgrace transforms the frontier into a site that is even more disturbing because it functions not through confrontation but complicity . . . the novel leaves the women with no option but to exchange the violation of their bodies for a minimal safety," a particularly dismal version of "post-apartheid white acquiescence" (18):
    At the borderlines, at the fringes of the new society, subjects rely not on new inscriptions for and of the land, but on older forms of exchange: the tacit compact: violence is endured, vague safety is expected. Life at the border works not because of the regognition that the language of both liberation and reconciliation has failed. Historical changes can be absorbed and transformed into new racial codes, new forms of enfranchisements, reinstating older forms of violence. (19)
    Though his reading is decidedly bleaker than most, Farred's analysis of Disgrace is consistently intelligent and thought-provoking and, for readers interested in understanding why so many South Africans found Coetzee's version of the Rainbow Nation so difficult to swallow, an extremely useful resource.

    I also read an interesting review of Andre Brink's The Rights of Desire in the Norwegian journal Vinduet. I don't know if Norwegian literary criticism is inherently clearer than its anglophone counterpart, but despite it being written in my second language, Kristen Skare Orgeret's essay is an extremely lucid example of literary criticism. Although Orgeret focuses on Brink's novel, she devotes a significant amount of attention to Coetzee's novel (from which Brink draws the title for his book). Although her reading of Disgrace is not quite as bleak as Farred's, Orgeret does view the novel as an extremely dark portrait of contemporary South African society. She does, however, conclude that "[s]elv om baade Vanaere og Attraaens rett er moerke, brutale og paa mange maaater pessimiske fremstillinger av regnbuenatsjonen som gikk tapt, handler de ogsaa om haap og om muligheten ti aa leve ansvarlig med andre," echoing the sentiments of many anglophone critics. Of her many insightful comments on both novelists, readers interested in a comparative reading of the two books may find Orgeret's assertion that while Brink's Ruben Olivier represents the Afrikaner's position in the new South Africa, David Lurie embodies the British-descended part of South African society to be most valuable. There is, however, much more to be found in the essay (for those readers who can read Norwegian, at least).

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Work Cited

    Farred, Grant. "Back to the Borderlines: Thinking Race Disgracefully." scrutiny2 7.1 (2002): 16-19.

    Orgeret, Kristin Skare. "Der Smaafugl skjelver." Vinduet 18 March 2002. Available online.

    Labels: , , , , , , ,

    Permanent Link
    © Sobriquet Magazine

    Share: StumbleUpon Toolbar Add to Mixx! Digg!

    Monday, June 16, 2008
    I'm still wrestling with my completely out-of-whack sleep schedule and, as a result, I tend to finish my reading much later than I would like. Still, I suppose, I have been getting things done. I just have this nagging feeling that I would get more done if I could return to a schedule a bit more in sync with the rest of the world. I mean, I have never been comfortable with getting myself out of bed earlier than, say, ten in the morning but this sleep-by-day, work-by-night thing doesn't work too well when you live in an area where you are essentially the only person on that schedule. In other words, I want to work when other people are also working. Otherwise, I'll keep feeling thoroughly disconnected from the world, a feeling that tends to have an adverse effect on my productivity.

    Part of my difficulty, too, stems from the critical reading that I have been doing and will continue working on for the foreseeable future. Were an individual merely preparing to teach a course on a topic, he or she might read some of the "canonized" criticism surrounding a given work and then move on to the next text on which he or she intended to focus, bypassing many of the hard-to-locate articles from obscure international journals. (Although, ideally, one would like to have as complete a knowledge of his or her subject as possible and might, time permitting, seek out the truly rare texts). With a dissertation (or any other book-length project), however, one has the obligation to perform an exhaustive amount of research, culminating in an elite state of expertise. Now, the end result is delightful, I'm sure, but the road to getting there is another story entirely. When working on an author as prominent as J. M. Coetzee, tackling the sheer amount of critical writing can be a quite daunting -- and, after a while, rather monotonous -- task. My problem, then, is pushing my way through the many articles that repeat the same information that I have already read several times over. Of course, many of the articles are, in themselves, wholly original readings of the text but, having read scads of other essays, I find that much of the information in one paper can be found piecemeal in a selection of other essays. Thus, once one has plowed through a few dozen essays, say, any new essay is not likely to shed much light on the text. Unless, of course, it is the rare article that either identifies an important narrative thread that had hitherto been passed over or the annoyingly left-field essay that advances untenably absurd theories about the text. Basically, if my reading does not engage my attention with new or interesting insights, I have a harder time focusing, which often results in my spending much longer on an article than I would like. So, the longer it takes to read, the more likely I will be up late and, consequently, the later I will sleep in the next day. Repeat.

    As for my reading today, Grant Farred's "The Mundanacity of Violence: Living in a State of Disgrace," I really haven't much to say. The essay is another of the more negative readings of Disgrace, highlighting what the author terms the "mundanacity" of horrific violence in post-Apartheid South Africa. Basically, Farred shares a convincing, if pedestrian, impression of Coetzee's novel as depicting a state of existence in which indifference and acquiescence have become epidemic and people no longer bat a proverbial eyelid at the most disturbing instances of crime. In other words, rape, murder, and robbery have become so ubiquitous in the South Africa that Coetzee depicts that they recede into the background with the equally unnoticeable chirruping of birds and rustling of leaves.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Work Cited

    Farred, Grant. "The Mundanacity of Violence: Living in a State of Disgrace." interventions 4.3 (2002): 352-362.

    Labels: , , , , ,

    Permanent Link
    © Sobriquet Magazine

    Share: StumbleUpon Toolbar Add to Mixx! Digg!



    William Gaddis
    The Modern Word
    Kurt Vonnegut
    Chuck Palahniuk
    Free Audiobooks


    Ben Weasel
    Ed Kemp
    The Irascible Professor
    Jeremy Hance
    Ielle Palmer
    Literary Chica
    Rex Parker
    Tiffany Roufs
    Pop Sensation
    Lime Plate


    South Park Studios
    Garfield Minus Garfield
    The Onion
    Urban Legends
    Daily Rotten
    Rotten Library
    Six Sentences
    Eric Mattina's Film Reviews


    Arts & Letters Daily
    Stirrings Still


    The Atlantic
    Foreign Affairs
    National Geographic


    National Initiative
    Mike Gravel '08
    Ralph Nader '08

    Academic,  Learning & Educational Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory

    Add to Technorati Favorites

    Add to Google

    Site Visits:
    This site was built by modifying a template designed by Maystar Designs. All text, unless otherwise noted, is copyright 2001-2009 by Sobriquet Magazine (ISSN 1930-1820). © 2009 Sobriquet Magazine. All rights reserved. Sobriquet Magazine and the Sobriquet Magazine logo are registered trademarks of Sobriquet Magazine.