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    Sobriquet 47.21

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

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

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

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

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

    For tomorrow: Same as today.

    Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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    Sunday, December 30, 2007
    A few days ago, I wrote about the acute sense of isolation I have been experiencing since I started working on the dissertation in earnest a couple of weeks ago. This uncomfortably solipsistic mood, I suspect, has intensified as a result of my single-minded push to get this thing started at a time when, since I am currently between semesters, I do have a sense of external structure within which to arrange my life. For some people--including various incarnations of myself over the years--this sort of structureless situation can be a delightfully liberating experience, pulsing with an exciting blend of possibility and adventure. For me, at this time, in this place, however, it has not been particularly enjoyable. My sleep schedule, for instance, has morphed into that of Count Dracula. And, given the relatively little amount of sunlight one is likely to encounter during a typical upstate New York winter, I am missing natural light. Two days ago, I could not sleep until well after six in the morning, which prompted me to drink fewer caffeinated sodas yesterday, and I was able to fall asleep at a comparatively early hour. Then I proceeded to wake up at noon today, eat, do a crossword puzzle or two, and promptly fall back asleep until after five. I would yell "argh" at this point to emphasize my frustration with myself, but--since this is a written medium--that would not work very well.

    In any case, Minxy was kind enough to keep me company last night, effectively lifting the heavy sense of solipsism from my existence. It really is amazing how one can allow oneself to sink into such a state with such ease and it is equally amazing how quickly a friend can help ease that feeling. So, after I read the two articles I assigned myself yesterday, and after I had finished cleaning, Minxy and I made candles. I'd picked up some basic candle making equipment a few days ago in an effort to find a creative outlet wholly unrelated to my academic work. I'd always thought it would be an interesting enterprise and, as it turns out, it's rather enjoyable. Minxy actually posted an entry about it on her blog, if anyone cares to read about our little project.

    I find that I benefit a great deal from trying my hand at certain crafts because, in doing so, I am able to A) read for pleasure, even if only a few paragraphs; B) use long-neglected parts of my brain; C) come up with elaborate money-making schemes based on the rather silly notion that I could somehow transform myself into a master craftsman; and D) feel a sense of accomplishment at a time when I battle with wanting to stop writing my dissertation--which, I must emphasize, should not be confused with a desire to quit.

    Regardless, I have been feeling somewhat strained by the dissertation. I initially thought I would have finished a good deal of writing already and would be able to take a bit of a break. Instead, I desperately want to take a break but feel that I am no where near far enough along in the procedure to justify (to myself, always to myself) taking a breather. Plus, having already read so many articles on one novel, I find myself frustrated by the fact that so many of the essays I have been reading essentially repeat one another. Still, I have made my commitment to do the work I have set out to do, so I should not complain too much. It's not like there's a gun to my head (at least as far as I know. I cannot see behind me, but I am assuming this to be the case.).

    So, after finding that I was unable to fall asleep a few nights ago, I finished listening to the audiobook version of Don DeLillo's Mao II (figuring that, if I cannot read books for fun, I can listen to books for fun when driving or laying in bed), I read Brian Macaskill and Jeanne Colleran's peculiar "Interfering with 'The Mind of Apartheid,'" a thoroughly poststructuralist essay split into the essay proper and a sprawling commentary in the form of an exceedingly long footnote clearly inspired by the sort of linguistic/structural (inter)play one finds in Derrida's Glas (the text practically overflows with references to Derrida) and reminiscent of Nabokov's Pale Fire. Not surprisingly, with language alternating between lyrical and painful, the essay dealt with linguistics to such an extent that Age of Iron, when mentioned, was almost an afterthought.

    I also read Ina Grabe's "Writing as Exploration and Revelation: Experiencing the Environment, Whether Local or Global, as Envisioned by Different Role Players in J. M. Coetzee's Latest Novels" and Kay Sulk's "'Visiting Himself on Me': The Angel, the Witness, and the Modern Subject of Enunciation in J. M. Coetzee's Age of Iron" yesterday, making me feel quite accomplished, relatively speaking. Having read two of her other essays on Age of Iron, I was not surprised by the content or focus of this essay, though I still marvel at the sheer length of her essay titles. A good deal of this essay sought, again, to make the same connections between Foe and Age of Iron as she did in "Fictionalization of Current Socio-Political Issues in J.M. Coetzee's Writing: Narrative Strategies in Age of Iron and Foe," though extending the connections to The Master of Petersburg and Disgrace, as well. Sulk's essay, although largely a discussion of linguistic and rhetorical aspects of the novel, does provide some interesting insights into the character of Verceuil, which I found useful.

    Each of today's readings, Annunciata Arfiero's "The Vain Quest for the Word: Redemptive Silence in Age of Iron" and Nicholas Meihuizen's "Beckett and Coetzee: The Ethics of Insularity" deal with the well-established affinities between the two Nobel Laureates, though the latter essay, as its title indicates, focuses more specifically on the connections while the former compares two writers' work in a larger discussion of Coetzee's exploration of silence in Age of Iron. While both were well-written and thoughtful studies of Coetzee's work, neither provided any new insights into the work. Given the amount of critical discussion surrounding Coetzee's work--what William Gaddis would term "an academic cottage industry"--this is to be expected. In the words with which Beckett opens Murphy, "the sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new."

    And, yes, I cleaned some more.

    For tomorrow: Read another article (there's only one left in my stack!) and enjoy the day. I need a bit of a break, especially if I am going to start writing in a few days. . .

    Works Cited

    Arfiero, Annunciata. "The Vain Quest for the Word: Redemptive Silence in Age of Iron." Annali Di Ca' Foscari: Rivista Della Facoltà Di Lingue E Letterature Straniere Dell'Università Di Venezia. 32.1-2 (1993): 5-25.

    Gräbe, Ina. "Writing as Exploration and Revelation: Experiencing the Environment, Whether Local or Global, as Envisioned by Different Role-Players in J. M. Coetzee's Latest Novels." Journal of Literary Studies/Tydskrif Vir Literatuurwetenskap. 17.3-4 (2001): 120-44.

    Macaskill, Brian, and Jeanne Colleran. "Interfering with 'The Mind of Apartheid'." Pretexts: Studies in Writing and Culture. 4.1 (1992): 67-84.

    Meihuizen, Nicholas. "Beckett and Coetzee: The Aesthetics of Insularity." Literator: Tydskrif Vir Besondere En Vergelykende Taal- En Literatuurstudie/Journal of Literary Criticism, Comparative Linguistics and Literary Studies. 17.1 (1996): 143-52.

    Sulk, Kay. "'Visiting Himself on Me'-The Angel, the Witness and the Modern Subject of Enunciation in J. M. Coetzee's Age of Iron." Journal of Literary Studies/Tydskrif Vir Literatuurwetenskap. 18.3-4 (2002): 313-26.

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    Saturday, December 29, 2007
    Today was one of those eerily solipsistic days I find myself experiencing more often. Living alone, feeling the need to make use of the rare days when I do not have to wake up early to teach, I throw myself headlong into my work, forcefully cultivating a sense of urgency that seems to deemphasize the world outside of my dissertation to such a tremendous extent that my existence, for the moment, is inseparable from my work. I do not like this tendency of mine because I needlessly heap feelings of loneliness and desperation onto shoulders already stooped under the weight of a sizable (though voluntarily assumed) academic burden, producing a rather negative mood in which I refrain from socializing (saying to myself: I need to get "this" done first. . .) and fight the temptation to wallow in a self-pity in which I am wholly undeserving to wallow. When I am in such a state, I have learned, I become increasingly disorganized, allowing what might otherwise be playfully called "a little mess" to grow into a painfully ubiquitous layer of clutter taking over my living space. Accompanying this physical messiness is the rather vexing tendency to disregard healthy eating habits, the cumulative effects of which, I imagine, could very easily trigger a manic pessimism if I am not too careful. So, I am hereby resolving to clean my home tomorrow. Not entirely, perhaps, but certainly enough to make me feel in control of my life again. I have also determined to regularly take a night off to enjoy the company of my friends and family. That way, I hope, I can minimize the cumbersome weight of an unwelcome solipsism.

    In any case, I did go over two more articles, putting me within spitting distance of actually starting to write the first chapter (though this is a bit misleading since I already published a small piece on Disgrace a few years ago, which I intend to revise and incorporate into this chapter. . .so I guess I kinda-sorta started it already). All right, to get down to business: I tackled Derek Attridge's "Trusting the Other: Ethics and Politics in J. M. Coetzee's Age of Iron" and another of Ina Grabe's articles on Coetzee, "Fictionalization of Current Socio-Political Issues in J. M. Coetzee's Writing: Narrative Strategies in Age of Iron and Foe." Again, as the title indicates, Grabe focuses on issues of writing, narrative structure, and socio-political content, delivering a highly theoretical though not terribly unique reading of Coetzee's fiction. I found the article to be a prolix and occasionally repetitive discussion of insights more clearly and concisely expressed in the work of other critics. I also felt that the author was somewhat ineffective in her assertions about the relationship between Foe and Age of Iron, relying at times on reed-thin theoretical connections to support her case. Still, I applaud Grabe for addressing Age of Iron's relationship to the author's earlier novels. Without the benefit of having yet read The Master of Petersburg, Disgrace, The Lives of Animals, Elizabeth Costello, or Slow Man, Grabe struggles with the same issue many of her fellow critics faced with the publication of Age of Iron: there was simply nothing like it in Coetzee's previous work and, though not altogether convincing in retrospect, Grabe's essay does probe the author's oeuvre for signs of critically neglected themes underlying his entire body of work. In doing so, it would seem, Grabe paved the way for some of the later studies which, with the benefit of having read the author's post-apartheid fiction, explore those connections.

    Attridge, like Grabe, has been recognized as one of the foremost Coetzee scholars active in the academy. In fact, when assembling the editorial board for our journal's Coetzee issue a few years back, we were delighted to have Dr. Attridge assist us in vetting submissions. Having always found Attridge's treatment of Coetzee to be insightful, I looked forward to reading "Trusting the Other." Using a discussion of the epistolarity of the novel as a departure point from which to explore Coetzee's meditations on themes such as trust, love, (un)knowing, and alterity--themes of continued critical interest in the discourse surrounding Age of Iron--Attridge lays the framework for countless subsequent studies. I found Attridge's cautious treatment of Vercueil, in particular, quite useful; like several other readers, I did not explicitly read race into Vercueil and find his undefinability to be a fundamental aspect of his character. I have always felt that the man is more significant than simply serving as the emblem of middle-aged non-white poverty some critics construe him to be--and, like Attridge, find that that importance resides, at least partially, in his "unknowable" nature (67).

    For tomorrow: Two more articles and work on extracurriculars--including cleaning. . .

    Works Cited

    Attridge, Derek. "Trusting the Other: Ethics and Politics in J. M. Coetzee's Age of Iron." South Atlantic Quarterly. 93.1 (1994): 59-82.

    Grabe, Ina. "Fictionalization of Current Socio-Political Issues in J.M. Coetzee's Writing: Narrative Strategies in Age of Iron and Foe." Journal of Literary Studies/Tydskrif Vir Literatuurwetenskap. 9.3-4 (1993): 284-301.

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    Sunday, December 23, 2007
    Today's entry is going to have to be a very short one. I have been writing an article all day and, as I edge closer to 3 a.m., I find that my ability to construct cogent sentences has all but evaporated. This is a good thing, though. My fatigue now is a result of having reviewed an article (and re-read another) for the dissertation and having written more than half of an article I was commissioned to write. So, yeah, I feel accomplished. Whoo-hoo, as they say, whoo-hoo!

    Ina Grabe's "Voices in Contemporary South African Narrative: An Exploration of Narrative Strategies for Engaging with Current Socio-Political Issues" did not really offer much insight into Age of Iron.
    Gräbe focuses primarily on other works, only briefly touching upon Age of Iron, but her essay does seem to support some of my own interpretations of Coetzee's novel in relation to his earlier work, which was nice.

    For tomorrow: Read one article and finish writing the one I am working on.

    Work Cited

    Gräbe, Ina. "Voices in Contemporary South African Narrative: An Exploration of Narrative Strategies for Engaging with Current Socio-Political Issues." Journal of Literary Studies/Tydskrif Vir Literatuurwetenskap. 11.2 (1995): 29-37.

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