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    Sobriquet 40.20

    Friday, March 21, 2008
    Well, I continued rereading Waiting for the Barbarians today and, happily, I have really been enjoying it. Having read Dusklands and In the Heart of the Country so recently, I think, has given me a new perspective on the novel. Although Coetzee's first two books are undeniably excellent, they do not feel fully his, if that makes sense. In other words, while Coetzee's unique vision of the world certainly emerges at many points in both Dusklands and In the Heart of the Country, the shadow of the author's influences looms perhaps a bit heavier over his prose than one might like. With Waiting for the Barbarians, however, Coetzee seems to have come utterly into his own. Not only is the Magistrate Coetzee's first likable, sympathetic character, but the prose is markedly more fluid than any of Coetzee's earlier writing (with the possible exception of "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee," which is largely free of the dense prose of "The Vietnam Project" or In the Heart of the Country). One of Coetzee's great gifts, in my opinion, is his ability to wax philosophical and explore the same highly theoretical terrain as the poststructuralist thinkers of the sixties, seventies, and eighties without resorting to using the ostentatiously rarefied language so common among those folks. With Waiting for the Barbarians Coetzee achieves that difficult balance of plain language and deep thought and does so masterfully.

    So, yeah, I'm enjoying this.

    Now it's onto some pre-writing.

    For tomorrow: Same old, same old.

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    Tuesday, March 11, 2008
    I seem to have hit something of a rut lately and, as is often the case with these sort of things, I have difficulty identifying a moment when what had been a steady pace began to slow into a wheezy stagger (this is one of those instances when I wish I could place footnotes in my text, so that I could make some snarky, if unfunny, quip about Weezie from The Jeffersons). Like so many other things, the development is gradual and one only recognizes that the change has taken place well into the process. On the other hand, I wonder if perhaps I have not really slowed down, that memory has colored past progress in an unrealistically rosy shade...

    Despite the hours spent procrastinating, however, I did make my way through the reading I'd set aside for myself today. I am enjoying In the Heart of the Country, as I believe I've already mentioned, though I find that reading the unhinged protagonist's stream-of-consciousness narrative is not always as easy or quick a task as I'd like it to be. Though I would like to say a few things about the book, I will hold off on discussing the novel at length until I have finished it.

    Other than the unpleasant sense that I am lagging a bit in my work, I have begun feeling some of the old anxious standbys creeping into my consciousness. For instance, as I progress down the rather narrow intellectual path a doctoral dissertation necessarily requires of the beleaguered scholar, I crave a broader knowledge of fields outside my own. I long to read history books, philosophical treatises, religious screeds, political exposes, and scientific studies. I want as thorough an education as Will Durant, as deep an understanding of things--of everything--as is humanly possible, and yet I haven't the photographic memory of a Harold Bloom (not to mention his astounding ability to read in excess of ninety pages an hour), I lack the focus and, above all, the time to devote to that sort of extended study. And, boy, it tasks me.

    That restlessness extends to this blog, too. There are times when I would like to write a short essay on some aspect of higher education that I feel particularly passionate about, but I do not feel as if I have the time to devote to that sort of effort. There is one thing, however, that I would like to say about something wholly unrelated to this blog: I am astonished by the overwhelming outpouring of support among my 18-35 year-old peers for Barak Obama's presidential candidacy. I should emphasize that I am not particularly concerned with the possibility that Mr. Obama will become the next president of the United States, as I am sure he will be about as effective a leader as any of the current candidates. What concerns me, however, is the blind acceptance with which so many young people seem to embrace Obama's message. Bearing a message of hope as consistently vague as it is enthusiastic, Obama seems to have channeled the spirit of Beatlemania as effectively as any politician. Now, messages of hope and progress have always drawn the enthusiasm of socially-concerned, altruistic idealists--as should be the case--but the unquestioning enthusiasm with which Obama's brand of political optimism has been accepted suggests that the widespread dissatisfaction many Americans feel towards the Bush-Cheney era has weakened the healthy skepticism with which we normally scrutinize political rhetoric to a point when unremarkable statements dressed in decidedly eloquent, powerful oratory are welcomed as both novel and genuinely profound. Again, I am not saying that Mr. Obama's upbeat message is anything but a positive thing, but I hesitate to dismiss his lack of political experience, his inconsistent legislative record, or his astonishing self-importance (three traits many candidates share) as irrelevant to an evaluation of his candidacy as so many people seem to do. Therein lies the problem: Mr. Obama is as glib, as charming, as eloquent as any politician ought to be but we've lost our skepticism as a nation. In our haste to usher out what many perceive as a shamefully bleak era in American history, we have suppressed our skeptical nature, the hallmark of critical thinking and that is the problem with Barak Obama's candidacy. He has channeled the zeitgeist of a dissatisfied nation into an infectiously electric frenzy and very few commentators seem comfortable questioning whether such a splenetic mass mentality is healthy. If Mr. Obama wins the Democratic nomination, I suspect we will see some of these issues raised in the media and I suspect they will be spun as part of a conservative agenda, but they are not meant to favor the John McCain ticket or even a Hillary Clinton-headed Democratic slate. What I fear is reactionary fervor, blind acceptance as the result of sheer disdain, and a moment in our history when we lose an opportunity to reflect upon the consequences of jumping on a jingoistic bandwagon in the wake of a horrible tragedy by simply jumping on another bandwagon after the first one crashes.

    For tomorrow: More reading.

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    Friday, March 7, 2008
    Since I stayed up much later this evening than I would have liked (for good reason, though: I was preparing to teach Ibsen's A Doll's House), I am going to keep this extremely brief. I reread Derek Attridge's essay on The Master of Petersburg and Derrida's arrivant and made some progress in In the Heart of the Country, which I am really enjoying so far. Coetzee's novel is set in what essentially amounts to a South African Yoknapatawpha and the Faulknarian feel of the text makes for an intriguing, if surreal, read.

    For tomorrow: Reread another essay and/or continue reading In the Heart of the Country.

    Note: Since I will be somewhat busier this weekend than usual, I may wait a day or two before I post another entry. If this happens to be the case, I will continue reading In the Heart of the Country and/or rereading criticism each day, post or no post.

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    Wednesday, March 5, 2008
    Although I have only just barely cracked the spine of J. M. Coetzee's second book, 1977's In the Heart of the Country, I find myself more than a little intrigued by this slender novel. The narrator of the book breaks her story up into tiny fragments of prose, presumably set away in a locked diary. At turns lucid and obscure, the protagonist's stream-of-consciousness narrative almost has the feel of a Faulkner novel set in rural South Africa. While I have obviously not yet read enough of the book to determine whether it will figure into my dissertation, I have the suspicion, having read several bits of criticism discussing the In the Heart of the Country, that it may well prove to be a central text in some of my discussions. Here's to hoping! The book was also made into a film called Dust (1985), which I am trying to track down.

    Other than beginning In the Heart of the Country, I reread another critical article on The Master of Petersburg, continuing my regimen of pre-writing review. Also, for anyone interested in such things, I added a brief review of Husker Du's (I know that there's an umlaut over each "u," by the way, but for some reason the character is unreadable when processed by my blogging software) New Day Rising to my little music side project.

    For tomorrow: Reread another essay and continue reading In the Heart of the Country.

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