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    Sobriquet 46.26

    Tuesday, September 30, 2008
    If there were any doubts that an advanced degree in the liberal arts appeals to employers, I suggest you read the following announcement sent to the English graduate student listserv at my university this afternoon under the title "Job Opening":
    JOB POSTING: [Company name removed for privacy] has an immediate opening for a full-time receptionist/administrative assistant. The successful applicant need not have knowledge of the window tinting industry, but must be willing and able to learn the company's trade. This position requires a personable and responsible employee with a professional attitude and outstanding phone etiquette. An understanding of scheduling, invoicing, and accounts payable is required for this busy, rewarding position.
    When headhunters looking for "a full-time receptionist/administrative assistant" begin targeting people with MAs and PhDs, one cannot help but reflect upon his or her decision to attend graduate school. There is, of course, nothing wrong with a receptionist position in the window tinting industry, but from a certain jaded perspective, one has to wonder what this says about the relative value of a decade of post-secondary education in an economy like ours . . . I mean, theoretically one need not attend college to qualify him- or herself for a career in the service industry or in retail, yet many people I know with fancy-sounding degrees end up working in fields they need not have spent so much time and money in school to enter. Obviously, the psychological, intellectual, and spiritual value of an education should be enough of an incentive for an individual to attend post-secondary schools, but the reality of the situation is that the vast majority of people in the United States who attend college and graduate school with the explicit goal of obtaining a particular type of job and lifestyle theoretically only possible with an expensive and time-consuming education. And, sadly, it seems, many of these dreams will go unfulfilled despite the best efforts to succeed. This, too, is another throbbing anxiety in the mind of many a graduate student: will all this work pay off and position me for a satisfying career in academia? The answer in all its painfully unsettling glory: maybe.

    And speaking of emails, I received this message yesterday:
    A request you have placed:

    Cape Argus
    10 August 1999
    Title: Coetzee thinks publicly about new SA
    Author: Michael Morris

    TN: 339109

    has been cancelled by the interlibrary loan staff for the following reason:

    We have exhausted all possible sources.

    There is no library who can supply this item.
    I have a hard time believing that no library has a copy of the Cape Argus from less than a decade ago, so if there's anyone who might have a copy of this brief newspaper article, I would be elated if you could contact me.

    As far as reading goes, I finished two articles since yesterday evening, both of which deal heavily with poststructural theory. Of the two, the essay I read this afternoon -- Zoe Wicomb's "Translations in the Yard of Africa" -- struck me as most relevant to my dissertation. In her discussion of the correlations between the act of cultural transformation and literal and figurative translation, Wicomb cuts to the heart of one of the central issues in postcolonial studies: the palimpsestic nature of cultural production. Indeed, the traces of apartheid-era society is never fully erased and, in Coetzee's book, they often foil attempts at translating experience. This, in Wicomb's estimation, can be shown to reveal "the failure of transition as a crossing over to democracy" (Wicomb). The essay I read last night, Lucy Graham's "'Yes, I am Giving Him Up': Sacrificial Responsibility and Likeness With Dogs in JM Coetzee's Recent Fiction," like so many others, deals with the connections between The Lives of Animals and Disgrace. Although Graham is one of the Coetzee scholars I most enjoy, I wasn't as impressed by this essay as I normally am. This is not to say that her essay is not very good -- it is -- but I feel that the weight of the theory she brings into the article detracts from her astute reading of the novel. Jacques Derrida, Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault, Emmanuel Levinas, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, among others, each make an appearance in this brief (eleven pages!) essay. Although many academics are quite familiar with what amounts to a who's who of postmodern thought, Graham's tightly-packed essay demands a certain readerly vigilance not to get lost in the waves of complexly-wrought theoretical language running throughout the text. That said, Graham reads against the Mike Marais's Levinasian interpretation of Disgrace, arguing that Coetzee's texts "challenge the limitations of autrui and dissociation implicit in notions of transcendence," providing a slightly different (yet valuable) interpretation of the oft-cited "sympathetic imagination" at work in both Disgrace and The Lives of Animals / Elizabeth Costello (4). While I do not wholly agree with Graham's reading, I applaud her focus on the body as a site of suffering as well as the negative presence of silenced suffering in the two texts.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Works Cited

    Graham, Lucy. "'Yes, I am Giving Him Up': Sacrificial Responsibility and Likeness With Dogs in JM Coetzee's Recent Fiction." scrutiny2 7.1 (2002): 4-15.

    Wicomb, Zoe. "Translations in the Yard of Africa." Journal of Literary Studies 18.3-4 (2000): 209-33.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, September 10, 2008
    All right. Since it seems like my internet is functioning at the moment, I'll try to get a post online this evening.

    Today was a remarkably productive day, surprisingly. Not only did I get myself up and out of bed relatively early, I read two articles, got quite a bit of prep work done for my classes, and hiked a beautiful mountain trail.

    That said, I still have a good deal of work I want to get done before bed, so I won't write nearly as long an entry as I would like. I will, however, review some of the critical reading I have done this past week in an effort to make up for the string of "I'm too tired to write anything" entries preceding this one.

    Of the critical essays I read over the past week, Louis Tremaine's "The Embodied Soul: Animal Being in the Work of J. M. Coetzee" is, by far, the most interesting. Animals, Tremaine asserts, are almost always associated with death and decline in Coetzee's fiction. In his analysis, Tremaine convincingly argues that the role of animals in works such as Age of Iron, Disgrace, and Elizabeth Costello is, at least partially, aimed at addressing "that perpetually recurring question in Coetzee's writing: how to live with the knowledge of impending death" (594).

    Although all of the essays I read address Disgrace, only two -- Ranajit Das's "Prophet of Pain" and Lucy Graham's "Reading the Unspeakable" -- deal exclusively with Coetzee's novel. Das's essay is peculiarly charming in its unabashed enthusiasm for Disgrace. With a reverential tone more commonly found in medieval hagiographical writing than in contemporary literary criticism, "Prophet of Pain" dismisses the significance of the "'local history' factor" so many critics have viewed as central to the novel as secondary to universal existential allegory Das sees as the book's most important aspect (219). Graham's essay, on the other hand, is intensely local in its focus. Using the widespread outrage at Coetzee's depiction of the rape of a white woman by three black assailants as her starting point, Graham discusses both David Lurie's rape of Melanie Isaacs and Lucy Lurie's rape at the hands of Pollux and his two comrades as key elements in Coetzee's subtle inversion of the racist "black peril" narratives reflecting white anxieties in post-Apartheid South Africa. Among her many insightful comments, Graham makes a compelling argument for Lucy's silence as a catalyst for the evolution of her father's sympathetic imagination.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.


    Works Cited

    Das, Ranajit. "Prophet of Pain: J. M. Coetzee and His Novel Disgrace." Indian Literature 48.1 (2004): 165-173.

    Graham, Lucy Valerie. "Reading the Unspeakable: Rape in J . M. Coetzee's Disgrace." 29.2 (2003): 433-444.

    Tremaine, Louis. "The Embodied Soul: Animal Being in the Work of J. M. Coetzee." Contemporary Literature 44.4 (2003): 587-612.

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