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    Sobriquet 47.19

    Saturday, October 18, 2008
    Although I have a few essays still on order through interlibrary loan, my pile of unread photocopied essays is no longer a pile. True, I have a few book chapters to read, but the endless pile is, for the first time since the spring, empty. Oh, the faux wood grain of my desk is as beautiful to me now as the face of a long-absent lover come home again!

    The article I read this afternoon, Matt DelConte's "A Further Study of Present Tense Narration: The Absentee Narratee and Four-Wall Present Tense in Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace," offers relatively little to the Coetzee scholar. If anything, DelConte uses Coetzee's fiction (which, despite the title, the author does not mention until halfway through the essay) to illustrate the concepts of the "absentee narratee" and "four-wall narration" he has coined for the purposes of his discussion. To be honest, I found the vast majority of the discussion to be an exercise in explaining the obvious, though there were several points in the essay where DelConte makes some thoughtful observations about Coetzee.

    Among the other essays I have read recently, neither Liv Lundberg's "Mesteren fra Cape Town" nor Mary Eagleton's "Ethical Reading: The Problem of Alice Walker's 'Advancing Luna - and Ida B. Wells' and J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace'" added a great deal to my understanding of the novel, though both are quite well-written and interesting. Lundeberg's essay is a wonderful piece of Norwegian literary criticism: part introductory survey, part intellectual memoir. Given the relative dearth of Norwegian-language criticism on Coetzee, "Mesteren" is an important step in ensuring Coetzee's place in that country's literary discourse. Eagleton's essay, on the other hand, is an intensely focused study of the trauma of rape as depicted in the two works mentioned in the article's title. With its theory-informed close reading of the two texts, "Ethical Reading" treats such topics as Lucy's willful silence following her rape with great insight.

    Yesterday, I read Laura Wright's "'Does He Have it in Him to be the Woman?': The Performance of Displacement in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Dr. Wright, in my estimation, is one of the most readable critics working on Coetzee. Although the essay is relatively brief, Wright manages to survey much of the pre-existing critical discourse on Coetzee's novel, extract the most vital themes (animal alterity, the creative process, trauma, the sympathetic imagination, the burden of history, etc.) and weave together a wholly coherent reading of the book as a performative text in which the unknowability of the other is central, ultimately concluding that:
    While one can never be the other, on an ethical level, one must continue to attempt to imagine the subjectivity of that which one is not, and, more importantly, one must continue to respect the alterity of that which cannot be imagined. (100)
    For tomorrow: Read another essay, work on transcription, read a bit of The Rights of Desire, or work on the bibliography.

    Works Cited

    DelConte, Matt. "A Further Study of Present Tense Narration: The Absentee Narratee and Four-Wall Present Tense in Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace." JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory 37.3 (2007): 427-446.

    Eagleton, Mary. "Ethical Reading: The Problem of Alice Walker's 'Advancing Luna - and Ida B. Wells' and J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace.'" Feminist Theory 2 (2001): 189-203.

    Lundberg, Liv. "Mesteren fra Cape Town." NordLit 14 (2003): 109-125.

    Wright, Laura. "'Does He Have it in Him to be the Woman?': The Performance of Displacement in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." ARIEL 37.4 (2006): 83-102.

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    Wednesday, January 9, 2008
    Well, I'm there. The notes have been typed up, the quotations have been reviewed, and the "extra-curricular" essay I'd been wrestling with has been accepted for publication. The essay--an obituary for the late Norman Mailer--will appear in the next issue of Logos, and I will provide a link to the URL when it becomes available.

    So, by "there," I mean I'm here, on the nerve-wracking threshold of the writing process I have been putting off for more months that I would care to admit. I am nervous, understandably, but I think I am about as well-prepared as one could hope to be, having read practically everything written about Age of Iron. Today, in addition to the pre-writing I have been addressing, I received the last essay I had requested via interlibrary loan so many weeks ago and reviewed it along with a few pages in Laura Wright's excellent study of Coetzee's fiction. So, despite the nerves, I got work done (though I did have to knit a bit more of my scarf while watching Seinfeld to settle those very nerves at one point not too long ago...)

    Saikat Majumdar's essay, "The Alien Insider" examines several of Coetzee's novels and displays a tremendous familiarity with the author's work, but did not add much to my particular area of research while Wright's book remains one of the best-written, most insightful works yet published on Coetzee.

    In any case, I would be lying if I did not admit to being nervous as I near the writing process, even for what amounts to a fairly insignificant section of the dissertation. Still, like anyone preparing to take the first step on a long journey, I sense the almost symbolic import of the first step. It marks the moment when I say yes I can to the challenge before me. It's like throwing down a gauntlet; you want to be certain that you're ready to do so...

    Still, Minxy and the Literary Chica are right: Just start.

    So I will.

    On a happy note, I got a wonderful email from one of my former students today. Here's one of the most beautiful things any teacher can ever hear:

    "[Y]ou made a hit here. [Our professor] asked us what we liked and what we hated about the course. Everyone who had you as a teacher said you. I thought that would brighten your day. A lot of students found a piece of mind with you, and thought you were an awesome teacher."

    Again, this is why I am writing the dissertation, more than anything else. To have the opportunity to work with such bright young people is, by far, the greatest motivation I can find. How serendipitous to have gotten such a nice letter here at base camp, on the eve of my ascent.

    For tomorrow: Put on the crampons and make my way to the Khumbu Ice Fall.

    Works Cited

    Majumdar, Saikat. "The Alien Insider." Atenea 23.1 (2003): 21-34.

    Wright, Laura. Writing Out of All the Camps: J. M. Coetzee's Narratives of Displacement. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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