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    Sobriquet 47.12

    Sunday, October 12, 2008
    I did not enjoy today. I mean, it was a beautiful, cloudless autumn afternoon and the temperature was moderate enough to make wearing a sweatshirt as comfortable as wearing a tee-shirt. The yellows, reds, and oranges blotching the mountainsides made for a spectacular view in every direction. Birds chirruped and neighbors made pleasant small talk. The light breeze was delightful. And yet, I still managed to ruin it for myself.

    At some point during the day I began reflecting on graduate school, something that rarely results in a sense of self-satisfaction, to say the least. Once the math (the number of doctoral students entering the job market, the growing percentage of non-tenured positions, graduate school rankings, the percentage of Ph.D.s with whom I am acquainted finding tenure-track jobs, the number of publications I have had, and so on) began swirling in my mind, my mood plummeted. In Looney Toons-style, I would go from frolicking around the bucolic splendor of a crisp autumn day to getting smacked squarely in the jaw with some exceedingly heavy Acme brand product. The sound of a record scratching would bring the Peer Gynt Suite to which I had so gaily been frolicking to an abrupt halt just in time to segue into a Maurice Ravel's "Prelude a la Nuit: Rhapsodie Espagnole." Clouds would then darken the skies, the wind would pick up, a desolate-sounding dog would howl mournfully in the distance, and a few heavy drops of cold rainwater would dampen my face as I trudged home.

    Seriously, thinking about graduate school can be mind poison, no matter the institution one attends. That hyper-competitive job market just doesn't bode well for many of us. I mean, second-tier students tend to worry about the relative value of their credentials while top-tier students now have to wrestle with the fact that employers are increasingly skeptical about hiring them now, too (so sayeth a New York Times article the LiteraryChica sent my way a while back) because of the sort of hyper-specialization encouraged by many departments.

    Still, despite the weight of the worry (and it was substantial), I brushed the fears away, tamped down the self-doubts as best I could, and read what turned out to be one of the better essays I have come across while working on Disgrace.

    John Douthwaite's "Melanie: Voice and its Suppression in J M Coetzee's Disgrace" picks up quite literally where "Coetzee's Disgrace: A Linguistic Analysis of the Opening Chapter" leaves off. Focusing on chapters two through four, Douthwaite applies the same rigorous linguistic analysis to the Melanie-centered section of Disgrace as he does to the first chapter. The result of Dothwaite's work, not surprisingly, is a stunningly revealing close reading highlighting, among other things, the role of the void in Coetzee's novel as well as the linguistic activities David Lurie employs in a vain attempt at filling it. What I found most compelling in the essay, however, is Douthwaite's rather novel reading of the novel as presenting the free direct thought of Lurie (as opposed to the almost-universally accepted critical assessment of the book as having been written in an overtly free indirect mode). Given that J. M. Coetzee delivered the Tanner Lectures by reading an account of Elizabeth Costello, penned two autobiographical works in the third-person, and accepted his Nobel Prize by reading a narrative centered on Daniel Dafoe, the possibility Lurie is the "author" rather than simple focalizer of Disgrace is a compelling and thought-provoking approach to the novel, indeed. In making his case, Douthwaite nudges open several hitherto unseen (and potentially enlightening) avenues for scholarly discourse. Normally, I do not enjoy linguistic analysis, but Douthwaite is a superior scholar with a genuine gift for literary criticism, making his two essays essential reading for anyone working with Coetzee's text.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Work Cited

    Douthwaite, John. "Melanie: Voice and its Suppression in J M Coetzee's Disgrace." Current Writing 13.1 (2001): 130-161.

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    Friday, August 1, 2008
    For some reason, I struggled to get through my reading yesterday. I kept procrastinating and biking from one cafe to another, trying to focus. In the end, my inability to focus got the better of me and I ended up reading until three or so this morning. Today's reading, fortunately, went a bit more smoothly for me. I find that, on the days when I visit Cornell's campus, I tend to be more productive. Part of the reason for this increased diligence, I'm sure, stems from the fact that visiting the venerable old institution requires that I spend more time, energy, and money than I would otherwise do, essentially making the afternoon an outing and cultivating a certain sense of obligation in my mind. I'm also convinced that the gothic architecture and breathtaking scenery have a favorable effect on my mindset. The school I currently attend, having been built during the pragmatic years of the American twentieth century, consists almost exclusively of the featureless, squat brick buildings one associates with the utilitarian values of the Cold War. Needless to say, the bland functionality of the buildings' design does not inspire the same set of emotions as the sweeping columns and decorative friezes common among older institutions. To be honest, I like the musty old buildings, the well-worn marble floors, the exquisite latticework, and the grand, sweeping curves of Cornell's campus because they remind me of similarly "academic" features of the institutions where I did my Bachelor's and Master's degrees. And I like the oldness of the campus because, it makes it easier to envision Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Farina, Vladimir Nabokov, M. H. Abrams and several of my favorite professors working in the same spot in years past. I mean, there's a reason we humans flock to certain historical places. We go to the Pyramids or the Tower of London or Chichen Itza because we know something happened in those places and we wish to imbibe what we can of those historic events or, at the very least, draw inspiration from them.

    And that's what I do when I sit among the trees overlooking Ithaca.

    Now, I'm not saying that a muse will descend upon me or that some quasi-spiritual force permeates the air I breathe when at the university. No. That's a bit too quixotic for me. But I do like the scholarly feel of a tradition-rich academic milieu and I do like to be reminded of the intellectual lights that have gone before me because such things get me thinking about scholarship and put me in the mood to push through my own work.

    And speaking of my own work, I'd like to briefly mention the essays I read these past two days. The first essay, co-authored by Jerzy Koch and Pawel Zajas, draws upon an immense collection of Polish and Dutch reviews of Coetzee's fiction to address instances where foreign critics have misread the author's fiction. The duo's most significant contribution to the canon of Coetzee criticism, in my estimation, is their discussion of the plaasroman and the author's critical engagement with the genre. Like Rita Barnard, Koch and Zajas make an exceedingly strong case for reading Disgrace with the conventions of the plaasroman in mind.

    The essay I read this afternoon, John Douthwaite's linguistic analysis of the opening chapter of Disgrace is clearly the work of a master linguist, though much of the essay simply explains how Coetzee's writing creates the emotional response most readers have when confronting the text of the novel. Where Douthwaite really shines, however, is in his meticulous unpacking of Coetzee's prose to reveal the text's "conversational, or dialogic" nature, thereby opening Disgrace up to a host of intriguing readings rarely discussed among the novel's commentators (53).

    For tomorrow: More of the same.

    Works Cited

    Douthwaite, John. "Coetzee's Disgrace: A Linguistic Analysis of the Opening Chapter." Towards a Transcultural Future: Literature and Society in a 'Post'-Colonial World. Geoffrey V Davis, Peter H. Marsden, Benedicte Ledent, and Marc Delrez, eds. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004. 41-60.

    Koch, Jerzy and Pawel Zajas. "'They Pass Each Other By, Too Busy to Even Wave': J.M. Coetzee and His Foreign Reviewers." A Universe of (Hi)stories: Essays on J. M. Coetzee. Ed. Liliana Sikerska. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2006. 111-150.

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