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    Sobriquet 52.5

    Friday, March 6, 2009
    Since it's already half past one in the morning, I'm going to have to keep tonight's post on the brief side. As I have mentioned elsewhere, Tuesdays and Thursdays are my busiest days this term, so I rarely have the time (and, even less frequently, the energy) to get make any substantial progress on my dissertation, so I have had to satisfy myself with reading a bit of criticism on Elizabeth Costello. The review I read this evening, David Lodge's "Disturbing the Peace," is probably one of the longer reviews of the novel that you're likely to come across and, I am guessing, one of the more comprehensive discussions of the book to appear in a popular (though, certainly, quasi-academic) publication. As one might expect from a piece in The New York Review of Books, Lodge devotes the majority of his attention to an uncommonly detailed summarization of the text's plot, though he frequently interjects with his own thoughtful reflections on the book (and its place in the author's oeuvre), raising what I imagine will turn out to be some of the most frequently discussed aspects of the novel among subsequent critics: the novel's dizzyingly complex metafictional structure, Coetzee's bold decision to place fictionalized versions of his literary contemporaries in the text, the ethics of human-animal relations, literary authority, and artistic transcendence. 

    I especially appreciate Lodge's handling of the rather difficult question of authority in Elizabeth Costello, refusing as he does both the temptation to gloss over the author's multi-faceted exploration of the theme as well as the urge to offer a definitive interpretation. Instead, Lodge poses questions about the ways in which the unidentified narrator of Elizabeth Costello, the novel's eponymous heroine, and the book's creator interact with and comment upon one another without allowing the fragile narrative labyrinth to implode.

    Of further significance is Lodge's treatment of Elizabeth's physical and pathological frailty and their bearing on her struggles to connect with others throughout the book. At once critical of her shortcomings both as a character and as a fictional construct and sympathetic to Coetzee's ambitious artistic aims, Lodge's analysis of the book questions Elizabeth's sanity, moral convictions, and ability to reason while engaging with her on an intellectual level, even going so far as to include a discussion of the Paul West novel at the center of one of the book's "Lessons," concluding that, while her logic may be lacking, her impressions are valid.

    Work Cited

    Lodge, David. "Disturbing the Peace." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. The New York Review of Books 50.18 (2003). Available Online.

    For tomorrow: Read, transcribe, or -- preferably -- write.

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