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    Sobriquet 46.14

    Saturday, September 13, 2008
    Written on 9/13/2008; posted 9/22/2008:

    Well, my internet connection isn't working again, so I am typing this in my computer's word processing program and will cut and paste it into my blogging software when I can get online. Ironically -- I swear this isn't intentional -- I am listening to Face to Face's "Disconnected" while I write. Weird.

    As I have mentioning repeatedly over the past few days, I have really been struggling to get through the final dozen or so articles on Disgrace. At least three-quarters of them have underlining or highlighting on the first page or two from my aborted attempts to read them. This isn't to say that the articles are poorly written or anything. It's just that I find myself saying "yeah, I know" to quite a few of the critics I have been reading lately because, to be honest, I have not been encountering much in the way of new information. You see, I've already encountered quite a few analyses of, say, Coetzee's critique of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission or the role of animals in stoking David Lurie's sympathetic imagination -- and, more often than not, I have already read the arguments presented in a given article two or three times in other criticism.

    Of course, there have been some very fine exceptions, articles that do shed new light on the novel and I appreciate them a great deal. This, though, sounds like more complaining, which is not my aim. If anything, I am trying to document my frustration. I want to share this with those of you who have been kind enough to share your own experiences as dissertation writers with me in case you ever find yourself in a similar predicament. I also want to write my way through the frustration. I want to be able to look back on this experience and, with the aid of these notes of exasperation, keep the distortions of memory to a minimum. That way, I can realistically say I have been here, done this and have written proof of it.

    That said, I did make my way through another essay this afternoon. Admittedly, had I not had plans for dinner, I mightn't have finished my reading so early. Fortunately, I ended up having a nice time with some really wonderful people and I now have the energy to write a bit, so I will try to discuss a few of the essays I have been meaning to mention. As a caveat, I should mention that I will only discuss certain elements of the essays. Each one is considerably more complex and broader in scope than my brief entry could possibly convey and should be sought out by serious students of Coetzee.

    The essay I went over this afternoon, Margot Norris's "The Human Animal in Fiction," only deals briefly with Disgrace. With particular attention to sexuality and the use of bestial metaphors to express human sexuality, Norris's study will prove quite useful to readers interested in broader issues of materialism as well as to those wanting to locate Coetzee within a tradition of human-animal representations. In a similar vein, I also read Kennan Ferguson's "I [Heart] My Dog," which like Norris's essay, considers Coetzee's treatment of animals as part of a larger trend in literary history. Consistent with what may be the orthodox interpretation of dogs in Disgrace, Ferguson views the canine presence in Coetzee's novel as a catalyst in the reformation of David Lurie's character.

    Among the other articles I read over the past week, only Jane Poyner's "Truth and Reconciliation in JM Coetzee's Disgrace" deals exclusively with the novel. Typical of many essays concerned with the theme of reconciliation, Poyner reads the character of David Lurie as representative of the white male figure in post-apartheid South Africa. Where she deviates from the pack is in her refining of that reading from the general to the specific: David Lurie represents not only the while male but the white male writer. Accordingly, Poyner sees the failure of David's musical project as analogous to the white writer's difficulty in finding an appropriate voice for expressing his angst, guilt, and desire for an unobtainable closure in post-Apartheid South Africa. Similarly, Johan Jacobs discusses the ways in which the increasingly comic Byron in Italy mirrors the many reversals taking place in the novel as well as in South African society, including Petrus's displacing of the Luries' on the Eastern Cape smallholding purchased by the latter.

    Works Cited

    Ferguson, Kennan. "I [Heart] My Dog." Political Theory 32.3 (2004): 373-395.

    Jacobs, Johan. "Writing Reconciliation: South African Fiction After Apartheid." Cross Cultures 71 (2004): 177-196.

    Norris, Margot. "The Human Animal in Fiction." Parallax 12.1 (2006): 4-20.

    Poyner, Jane. "Truth and Reconciliation in JM Coetzee's Disgrace." scrutiny2 5.1 (2000): 68-77.

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    Sunday, June 22, 2008
    I read Rebecca Saunders's "Disgrace in the Time of a Truth Commission" this evening. Although I have come across scads of essays connecting Disgrace to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Saunders's is among the best that I have seen. She makes a thoroughly convincing case for reading Coetzee's novel as "structured around a series of disturbing interrogations" that essentially interrogate interrogation:
    These scenes of interrogation, I wish to argue, not only interrogate each other, but engage a number of urgent ethical problems opened up by teh TRC, at the core of which lie a series of significant tensions between the 'visceral' and 'reason'. Both Disgrace and the TRC question, that is, whether the visceral (conceived as the emotional, instinctive and deeply embodied) can be reasonable, or is in necessaryopposition to reason; or whether reason, and the justice and truth that derive from it, are by nature eviscerated, whether they inevitably translate the visceral into abstract value, disembodied meaning or immaterial recovery. (99)
    For instance, drawing upon Nietzsche's observations on the almost economic nature of justice, Saunders argues that "Lurie's position [during his disciplinary hearing] insists that justice is a matter of calculable adequation, of indemnity and exchange" (100). Of course, Farodia Rassool and the committee members are not satisfied with David's admission of guilt; they want to see that he is sorry. This is where Saunders's essay gets really interesting. She locates the schism between the reasonable functionality of an organized judiciary body (like the university committee or the TRC) and the visceral, emotive, and even irrational needs and desires of the people involved within such a body. The essay, like Coetzee's novel, raises more questions than it answers: what role, if any, must outward performance play in reconciliation?; if one admits to guilt, must he or she also be genuinely sorry for the wrongdoing or is it sufficient to "pay" a judicial penalty?; how can the law measure something like sincerity?; is it reasonable to expect a guilty party to transform into a different type of person as part of reconciliation?; will the victim of wrongdoing accept any punishment?; is reconciliation even possible? And on and on. Ultimately, Saunders concludes, Disgrace "leaves us with a messy nettle-strewn bed on which the social conscience is destined to find little rest" (105). And this, I imagine, is Coetzee's point: there are no easy answers; we should toss and turn on questions like these.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Work Cited

    Saunders, Rebecca. "Disgrace in the Time of a Truth Commission." Parallax 11.3 (2005): 99-106.

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