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    Sobriquet 54.6

    Wednesday, May 6, 2009
    Last night, in my effort to traverse a metaphoric glacier, I decided to get some reading done for the Elizabeth Costello chapter I hope to begin fairly soon. I am, of course, still writing the Disgrace chapter, too, but given a confluence of situations beyond my control, it may be a week or so before I can sit down and really write anything in earnest. At any rate, I read three reviews of Elizabeth Costello and one on the pre-Elizabeth Costello volume, The Lives of Animals:

    1. Of the four, Diana Nelson Jones's assessment of the novel is easily the most disparaging, regarding the book as a "highly dissatisfying work" with unknowable characters and an off-putting protagonist. Predictably, Jones does not seem especially fond of the format of the book, echoing the common refrain that the book is not a novel.

    2. Caroline Moore, too, wonders if Coetzee "has come to the end of writing fiction," though in a considerably less negative tone. Moore's review is concerned with the book's commentary on the relationship between art and artist, fiction and reality and suggests that Coetzee, in speaking through Costello, may actually be inviting people to speculate about his place in the creation of the book and the exchange of ideas rather than attempting to hide behind Costello.

    3. Contrary to the viewpoint espoused by readers such as Jones, Janet Maslin finds the "string of metaphysical pit stops" Coetzee has fashioned into a novel "improbably inviting at the simple narrative level."

    4. David Fraser, in his reading of The Lives of Animals, praises Coetzee for his unique contribution to the debates on animal ethics:
    Rather than raising new issues or proposing new solutions, he uses narrative, allusions, and conversation to capture the moral confusion that our use of animals creates. He helps us see this confusion not as an abstract debate, but as real people in conflict, with a host of differences in personality and worldview, making resolution (even dialogue) difficult and sometimes painful.
    Today, I read Louise Bethlehem's "Materiality and the Madness of Reading," a highly poststructural discussion of corporeality in Elizabeth Costello. Although her ostensible aim is to establish, in Derridean terms, how Coetzee's novel contains traces "of South African literary culture" despite being written by an Australian and set primarily away from Africa, Bethlehem's study spends far more time entering into the rarefied discourses of body, language, and representation. Those of a more theoretical bent will likely find this essay thought-provoking.

    For tomorrow: Read or plan.

    Works Cited

    Bethlehem, Louise. "Materiality and the Madness of Reading: J. M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello as Post-Apartheid Text." Journal of Literary Studies. 21.3-4 (2005): 235-54.

    Fraser, David. Rev. of The Lives of Animals, by J. M. Coetzee, et. al. The Quarterly Review of Biology 76.2 (2001): 215-216.

    Jones, Diana Nelson. Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 9 Nov. 2003. Available online.

    Maslin, Janet. "The Mockery Can Still Sting With a Target in the Mirror." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. The New York Times 21 Oct. 2003. Available online.

    Moore, Caroline. "Lessons Drawn From Fiction." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. 8 Sept. 2003. Available online.

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    Sunday, September 28, 2008
    Although I had initially planned to spend the day reading one of the longer critical articles I still have sitting around, I opted instead to read a couple of reviews on Disgrace. Normally, when I end up reading newspaper reviews, I do so out of desperation. Either I have been unable to focus on a longer essay or I have been working (for-money working) all day and haven't the time or energy left to read much more than a briefer, less scholarly-sounding text. Today, though, was different. It's only 1:30 in the afternoon, so I really can't claim that I have been struggling to read an essay all day long. Likewise, it is a Sunday, so I can hardly blame long hours in the classroom or around the conference table for not getting much done.

    Instead, a friend invited me over for the afternoon to play Dungeons and Dragons, like the proper icosahedronic dice-rollers that we are. Having been a bit lonely lately, I figured, socializing might well be the ticket to ensuring a better attitude towards my own work. It certainly can't hurt.

    So, I read a couple of reviews so that I could enjoy myself knowing I had gotten some work completed already. The first review, Rachel L. Swams's "After Apartheid, White Anxiety," as the title suggests, situates Coetzee 's text among "a new literature of South Africa's whites that vents and explores their fears about the post-apartheid nation" (1). Drawing comparisons to Nadine Gordimer's less negative House Gun, Swams sees Coetzee's novel as depicting the "chilling indifference" of a society in which vengefully violent acts of retribution may be exacted upon seemingly innocent white individuals like the "warm-hearted" Lucy Lurie (1). Swams's essay, it seems to me, stands out as a particularly strong introduction to a certain vein of critical concern among the South African literary establishment. Additionally, by drawing upon critics such as David Attwell and contemporary novelists such as Zakes Mda, Swams effectively presents a learned, relatively unbiased view of this branch of critical discourse in her native land. I also read Robin Vidimos's review of Disgrace which, despite misidentifying the novel's protagonist as "James Lurie," is a fairly solid reading of the text. Although not explicitly evoked, existentialism seems central to Vidimos's interpretation of the book and, accordingly, focuses on the origins and solutions to the "rudderless" Lurie's detachment (5).

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Works Cited

    Swams, Rachel L. "After Apartheid, White Anxiety." The New York Times 14 Nov 1999: 4.1.

    Vidimos, Robin. "Midlife Tragedy Quickly Grabs and Retains Interest." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Denver Post 14 Nov. 1999: F5+.

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    Saturday, August 23, 2008
    This post is a continuation of Sobriquet 45.16.

    The remainder of my reading consisted of relatively brief articles and reviews. In "J. M. Coetzee's Cultural Critique," Harald Leusmann provides a reading of the novel that would likely fit under the umbrage of what Marais terms an "orthodox response," viewing the novel as a reflection of "the collective mood of present-day South Africa's white population at the end of the dark twentieth century" (60). As is common with such readings, Leusmann regards Lurie's development over the course of the novel as a journey of self-discovery in which the protagonist eventually realizes that loving the other is more rewarding than the brand of self-love with which he begins the book. In Sarah Lyall's brief article on Coetzee's second Booker Prize, the critic briefly reviews the same ground as Leusmann. David Attwell, in his excellent review of Disgrace, the critic delivers what amounts to one of the most definitive readings of the novel, emphasizing many of the issues Leusmann and Lyall consider as well as highlighting (among other things) the linguistic, sexual, and historical ideas so many later critics have elaborated on. As is the case with much of Attwell's work, "Coetzee and Post-Apartheid South Africa" is required reading for any student of Coetzee. Sarah Ruden's brief review of Coetzee's novel, while short, draws attention to the spiritual aspect of the novel several later critics discuss at greater length when she notes that the "novel brings to mind the theology of kenosis, the self-emptying necessary for spiritual growth." In "After the Fall," Michael Gorra praises Coetzee for his brave willingness to depict "an almost unrelieved series of grim moments" and, presciently, implies that the novel will likely bring the author the Nobel he would eventually win in 2003.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Works Cited

    Attwell, David. "Coetzee and Post-Apartheid South Africa." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. Journal of Southern African Studies 27.4 (2001): 865-867.

    Gorra, Michael. "After the Fall." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. New York Times 28 Nov. 1999: BR7+.

    Leusmann, Harald. "J. M. Coetzee's Cultural Critique." World Literature Today 78.3 (2004): 60-63.

    Lyall, Sarah. "J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace Wins Booker Prize." New York Times 26 Oct. 1999. Available online.

    Ruden, Sarah. Rev. of Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee. Christian Century 16 Aug. 2000. Available online.

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