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    Sobriquet 44.7

    Tuesday, July 8, 2008
    Despite the ninety-degree (32 Centigrade for my non-North American readers) heat and an air conditioner in need of a new filter, I managed to stay comfortable enough to get some work done, albeit sweatily. I read another bit of Boyhood, which I continue to find fascinating. I've not read many memoirs and, to be honest, some recent "masterpieces" of the form have not gripped me strongly enough for me to share the enthusiasm for the genre that has been blossoming in recent years. That said, I do believe memoirists have the potential to transform their lives into the stuff of universally relevant art and Coetzee, in my opinion, does precisely this with Boyhood.

    Other than reading the memoir, I have been taking it a bit easier than I have for some time, largely because the amount of academic writing I read in June began taking a toll on my ability to concentrate. Having grown accustomed to reading such material, however, I continue to feel a tiny twinge of obligation to pick up an article each day, especially because there are still so many essays to read and only a finite number of summer afternoons and evenings left in which to splay myself out on the futon or sit leisurely at a cafe, highlighter in hand. But we'll get through it all eventually (why I resort to a rhetorical strategy like the royal we is beyond me).

    At any rate, I did want to briefly mention the two essays I read last week but had not gotten around to discussing. Rosemarie Buikema's "Literature and the Production of Ambiguous Memory: Confession and Double Thoughts in Coetzee's Disgrace" falls into what I have begun referring to as the Truth and Reconciliation school of Disgrace criticism. Broadly speaking, there are roughly three major clusters of scholarly discussion surrounding the novel. Naturally, a good deal of the criticism on the novel falls outside the umbrage cast by these umbrella categories but I would venture to say at least half of the commentary on Disgrace could be classified as one of the following three types:
    1. Truth and Reconciliation: criticism in this category tends to focus on Coetzee's treatment of the reconciliation process in post-Apartheid South Africa. It deals extensively with race relations and often views David Lurie's disciplinary hearing as either a metaphor for the TRC itself or as an expression and exploration of the dynamics underlying such attempts at reconciling historically antagonistic parties. Lucy Lurie's attitudes towards Peturus, Pollux, and the two unnamed assailants and David's encounter with Mr. Isaacs in George also figure prominently in such criticism.

    2. Animals and human-animal relations: this school of criticism tends to focus on Lurie's relationship with dogs. Anthropomorphism and de-humanization are often major threads in this type of essay. The Lives of Animals and Elizabeth Costello, understandably, provide a wealth of intertextual insights and critics often discuss Coetzee's use of the figure of the absolute other as evidence of the novel's continuation of the author's career-long concern with issues relating to alterity and representation.

    3. Socio-political criticism: often sharing a concern for issues of interest to Truth and Reconciliation critics, socio-political criticism also focuses on representations of post-Apartheid violence, racism, sexism, and related tensions not exclusively the focus of the TRC. Lucy's rape, Lurie's assault on Melanie, and Petrus's relationship to the Luries tend to be central concerns for such critics. Much of the criticism in this vein, though certainly not all, views Disgrace in a negative manner, as a hopelessly bleak portrayal of the still-nascent Rainbow Nation.
    Obviously, most articles extend beyond the concerns of a given category, quite a few could fall into at least two of them, and many do not fit into any at all. But I do find it helpful to arrange my mental notes in this way.

    At any rate, Buikema's essay fits into the first category and save for a few factual errors (Lurie's assailants do not "pour gasoline on Lurie," as she claims, for instance; the men actually pour mentholated spirits on him), it provides a strong reading of the novel as deceptively and problematically allegorical (192). Readers interested in examining the ways in which literature can help shape and question the production of memory (especially that which has been shaped by officially-sanctioned organizations) will find it indispensable.

    Elleke Boehmer's "Sorry, Sorrier, Sorriest: The Gendering of Contrition in J . M. Coetzee's Disgrace," like many articles, interprets the novel's depiction of violence in South Africa as a bleak portrait of a society in which enduring the manifestation of historically-repressed animosity is the only option for those people unfortunate enough to live during an era "where the present is more often than not a rehearsal and prolongation of the past" (136). Where Boehmer differs from critics similarly convinced of the novel's "grin and bear it" attitude is in her frustration with Coetzee's depiction of female acquiescence. Understandably, Boehmer finds Lucy's attitude towards her rape problematic. After all, Boehmer asks, "[i]s reconciliation with a history of violence possible if the woman . . . is, as ever, barefoot and pregnant, and biting her lip?" (146).

    For tomorrow: Read some more of Boyhood.

    Works Cited

    Boehmer, Elleke. "Sorry, Sorrier, Sorriest: The Gendering of Contrition in J . M. Coetzee's Disgrace." J. M. Coetzee and the Idea of the Public Intellectual. Athens, Ohio: Ohio UP, 2006. 135-147.

    Buikema, Rosemarie. "Literature and the Production of Ambiguous Memory: Confession and Double Thoughts in Coetzee's Disgrace." European Journal of English Studies 10.2 (2006): 187-197.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, February 5, 2008
    Like most Monday-Wednesday-Friday afternoons, I returned home from work today and promptly napped for several hours. Despite the sleeping, however, I did manage to go over another article on The Master of Petersburg. Michael Marais, it seems, is one of the more prevalent names among Coetzee scholars, as this is the third essay of his I have encountered in a relatively short period of time.

    Marais's "Death and the Space of the Response to the Other in J. M. Coetzee's The Master of Petersburg," like many of the other essays dealing with the novel, focuses on the relationship between fiction and history. Using the rather common criticism that Coetzee's fiction does not engage with the politics of South Africa in any defined way as a starting point, Marais examines the author's claim that literature can rival rather than supplement history. Although it will in all likelihood have little bearing on the shape of my own work with Coetzee, Marais's essay does strike me as the type of criticism many other critics-to-be would benefit from reading.

    For tomorrow: Try to write some more...

    Though I do not want this blog to veer too far away from the documentation of my dissertation, I am compelled to briefly address tomorrow's massive "Super Tuesday" primary elections. A number of my friends have been swept up by the political fervor of certain campaigns and I find it disturbing how readily some of the brighter people I know take the words of particular politicians at face value. At any rate, having gotten emails from a number of my friends urging me to vote for a particular candidate, I want to say that I will not be voting for Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, Ron Paul, or any of the other candidates in tomorrow's primaries. I am, contentedly, politically unaffiliated. Furthermore, despite the oddly idealistic glasses through which some of my brighter friends have somehow decided to view certain unnamed candidates, I have very strong doubts about the front-running candidates. All of them.

    Granted, the president is largely America's diplomatic figurehead and I would hope the next president will represent our nation abroad with dignity and class, so I would prefer certain candidates over others strictly on the basis of their charisma...having lived abroad, I can say that the difference between the international response to Bill Clinton or George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush is night-and-day...we need someone the media in other countries will like. Still, I will not be voting for Hillary Clinton or Barak Obama or John McCain or Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee, no matter how charismatic they may be.

    Again, I will not attack any one candidate, though I do think there are more than a few sociopaths running and, like Ted Bundy before them, they've got people fawning over them...

    I will, however, endorse one candidate for tomorrow: Mike Gravel. Whether or not he'd make a good president, I respect what he has done with his career and he says things that none of the top-tier candidates want to say or hear. A vote for Gravel, it seems, would be a nice way of sending a message, however small, that common sense and individual liberty are important. If Sen. Gravel runs as a third-party candidate (with some Libertarians drooling at a cross-party Gravel-Paul ticket), I say vote for him there, too. You're not throwing your vote away by voting for a third party; you're making a small voice that much louder. And, believe me, we need that voice to get louder, we need third parties. Imagine if the Greens and Libertarians had a few seats in Congress...If you want a government to represent the people, you'll want a Communist, a Fascist, a handful of Libertarians, a smattering of Greens, a few dozen Socialists, a bunch of Democrats and a slew of Republicans. Take that first step now...take a voice away from the Big Two and vote for a small three.

    Work Cited

    Marais, Michael. "Death and the Space of the Response to the Other in J. M. Coetzee's The Master of Petersburg." J. M. Coetzee and the Idea of the Public Intellectual, ed. Jane Poyner. Athens: Ohio UP, 2006. 83-99.

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