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    Sobriquet 46.17

    Wednesday, September 17, 2008
    Well, it looks like my internet problem will be solved some time Monday, which will be nice. I will try to post an entry every so often until then, but I can't promise to publish anything on a daily basis before I have that issue resolved.

    On the dissertation front, I actually had a brief impromptu meeting with my supervisor yesterday afternoon. Among other things, we chatted a bit about some of the ideas I have been toying with for the chapter on Disgrace. I left feeling better about things; it's always nice to get a vote of confidence from someone when you've been toiling in isolation for as long as I have.

    I also read some more of Inner Workings as well as another critical essay on Disgrace, which I will have to discuss later, when I have more reliable (i.e., not restricted to an hour of use) access to the internet. Inner Workings is a wonderful little book, by the way. Coetzee is an extremely insightful literary critic who does not write in an overtly academic voice. Rather than inundate readers with evidence of his own scholarly research as is common in smaller, explicitly academic publications, Coetzee directs his writing at a broader, though equally literate, readership (most of the essays in the collection were originally published as reviews in the New York Review of Books, for instance). In doing so, he combines the sort of critical attention to detail one associates with scholars writing for their colleagues with the enthusiasm of someone who writes a monthly column in a more accessible intellectual magazine. The end result, as is often the case with good criticism, makes the reader want to seek out the book in question and read it for him- or herself.

    For tomorrow through Monday: Read an essay or a bit of The Rights of Desire each day.

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    Monday, September 15, 2008
    Well, I still haven't got the internet at home, so I am accessing the web at the library. Despite the fact that I said I would not be writing something every day until I can solve this delightful little dilemma, I decided to try and get something down today. Basically, I don't want to use my lack of internet access as an excuse to be lazy. It's not like I have a whole lot to report since yesterday, though. I spent the vast majority of the time I should have been reading fixing my laptop so that I can at least have some way to get online when not at work. After all, I can't lug my desktop to a wifi hotspot at will. Despite my success is resurrecting my laptop, however, I regard yesterday as the shitty nadir of my week. Even my rise-from-the-dead Phoenix of a computer couldn't lift me out of the slough of non-productivity into which I had sunk. Although I had a full afternoon and evening to work, I found ways not to do anything. I slept, I found a Tim Hortons in Cortland, I exercised, I fixed the aforementioned laptop, I chatted with a neighbor, I made plans to see a friend later this week, I listened to some old Bad Brains songs. I just didn't get my reading done. Finally, when I realized that I could not possibly make sense of the article I was trying to read at nearly four in the morning, I decided to read another of Coetzee's essays in Inner Workings. And, yeah, the author's comments on Hugo Claus actually proved to be quite enlightening, so the day was not wasted and I did get my "read an essay" assignment done, but it sure as hell didn't feel like a good day.

    For tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow: Keep it up. Read another essay or part of Brink's novel.

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    Sunday, September 14, 2008
    Since my internet has been dead for a few days now, I have been having some real trouble getting online. As a result of this difficulty, the entry I wrote in a word processing program last night (Sobriquet 46.14) cannot be posted. I will try to post it (and any other "unplugged" entries) when I get the chance. Still, since I haven't the foggiest clue when I will next have internet access at home, I can't promise to make daily posts to the blog. I can, of course, access the internet at the library (as I am doing now), but given how few terminals there are, I mightn't get much time to write anything. But I assure you, I am continuing to work on the dissertation.

    For today, tomorrow, and until I can get get this internet access problem solved: Read an essay or a section of The Rights of Desire each day.

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    Saturday, September 13, 2008
    Written on 9/13/2008; posted 9/22/2008:

    Well, my internet connection isn't working again, so I am typing this in my computer's word processing program and will cut and paste it into my blogging software when I can get online. Ironically -- I swear this isn't intentional -- I am listening to Face to Face's "Disconnected" while I write. Weird.

    As I have mentioning repeatedly over the past few days, I have really been struggling to get through the final dozen or so articles on Disgrace. At least three-quarters of them have underlining or highlighting on the first page or two from my aborted attempts to read them. This isn't to say that the articles are poorly written or anything. It's just that I find myself saying "yeah, I know" to quite a few of the critics I have been reading lately because, to be honest, I have not been encountering much in the way of new information. You see, I've already encountered quite a few analyses of, say, Coetzee's critique of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission or the role of animals in stoking David Lurie's sympathetic imagination -- and, more often than not, I have already read the arguments presented in a given article two or three times in other criticism.

    Of course, there have been some very fine exceptions, articles that do shed new light on the novel and I appreciate them a great deal. This, though, sounds like more complaining, which is not my aim. If anything, I am trying to document my frustration. I want to share this with those of you who have been kind enough to share your own experiences as dissertation writers with me in case you ever find yourself in a similar predicament. I also want to write my way through the frustration. I want to be able to look back on this experience and, with the aid of these notes of exasperation, keep the distortions of memory to a minimum. That way, I can realistically say I have been here, done this and have written proof of it.

    That said, I did make my way through another essay this afternoon. Admittedly, had I not had plans for dinner, I mightn't have finished my reading so early. Fortunately, I ended up having a nice time with some really wonderful people and I now have the energy to write a bit, so I will try to discuss a few of the essays I have been meaning to mention. As a caveat, I should mention that I will only discuss certain elements of the essays. Each one is considerably more complex and broader in scope than my brief entry could possibly convey and should be sought out by serious students of Coetzee.

    The essay I went over this afternoon, Margot Norris's "The Human Animal in Fiction," only deals briefly with Disgrace. With particular attention to sexuality and the use of bestial metaphors to express human sexuality, Norris's study will prove quite useful to readers interested in broader issues of materialism as well as to those wanting to locate Coetzee within a tradition of human-animal representations. In a similar vein, I also read Kennan Ferguson's "I [Heart] My Dog," which like Norris's essay, considers Coetzee's treatment of animals as part of a larger trend in literary history. Consistent with what may be the orthodox interpretation of dogs in Disgrace, Ferguson views the canine presence in Coetzee's novel as a catalyst in the reformation of David Lurie's character.

    Among the other articles I read over the past week, only Jane Poyner's "Truth and Reconciliation in JM Coetzee's Disgrace" deals exclusively with the novel. Typical of many essays concerned with the theme of reconciliation, Poyner reads the character of David Lurie as representative of the white male figure in post-apartheid South Africa. Where she deviates from the pack is in her refining of that reading from the general to the specific: David Lurie represents not only the while male but the white male writer. Accordingly, Poyner sees the failure of David's musical project as analogous to the white writer's difficulty in finding an appropriate voice for expressing his angst, guilt, and desire for an unobtainable closure in post-Apartheid South Africa. Similarly, Johan Jacobs discusses the ways in which the increasingly comic Byron in Italy mirrors the many reversals taking place in the novel as well as in South African society, including Petrus's displacing of the Luries' on the Eastern Cape smallholding purchased by the latter.

    Works Cited

    Ferguson, Kennan. "I [Heart] My Dog." Political Theory 32.3 (2004): 373-395.

    Jacobs, Johan. "Writing Reconciliation: South African Fiction After Apartheid." Cross Cultures 71 (2004): 177-196.

    Norris, Margot. "The Human Animal in Fiction." Parallax 12.1 (2006): 4-20.

    Poyner, Jane. "Truth and Reconciliation in JM Coetzee's Disgrace." scrutiny2 5.1 (2000): 68-77.

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