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    Sobriquet 43.8

    Monday, June 9, 2008
    I'm still really irritated with myself, largely because I am working at a snail's pace. There are really two main reasons for this:

    Uno: I have been sleeping in so late that, by the time I finally get started, it feels as if I have already been procrastinating all day. Somehow, this tendency translates into a sense of having already struggled to get through whatever it is I am about to begin. Needless to say, this isn't a good feeling to have when setting out do something.

    Dos: Having spent so much time reading fiction -- which is much easier for me to get through than the critical writing I am reading now -- I have grown accustomed to reading more in a shorter time span than is possible when reading the dense scholastic prose I have been working with the past few days.

    At any rate, I read Kimberly Wedeven Segall's "Pursuing Ghosts: The Traumatic Sublime in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace" yesterday and I just finished Gareth Cornwell's "Realism, Rape, and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace" a few moments ago. I'd actually read Segall's essay before, but re-read it to refresh my memory as I shift my focus from The Master of Petersburg to Disgrace. Although I generally dislike psychoanalytic criticism, I find that the rationale behind Segall's essay is not unreasonable. While the essay did occasionally strike me as a bit too Freudian and there are a few blatant misreadings sprinkled throughout the article (Segall identifies David Lurie as the narrator and claims that Melanie Isaacs attempts suicide), the bulk of the paper deals with the the ways in which David Lurie sublimates the traumatic experiences of his time in Grahamstown, creating "ghostly" presences with which he may interact (via dreams) and address the anxiety he feels.

    Segall distinguishes the "traumatic sublime" from the classical sublime of Longius (in which art can bring about ekstasis), Edmund Burke's Gothic sublime (in which great art sparks such a strong sense of terror in one's mind that an awareness of self is utterly impossible), and the Romantic sublime of William Wordsworth (where art so enraptures an individual that one's sense of self expands):
    In what I am calling the traumatic sublime, in contrast [to the earlier conceptions of literary sublimity], experiences of violence are changed into images of oppressed subjects and ghosts. These images of ghostly figures serve as troubling memory sites. Because these disturbing memories are not easily ignored nor assimilated into a narrative of identity, these mnemonic images resist a complete erasure of the past, especially in a postcolonial setting where there is a historical legacy of violation. With their uneasy sublimation of the past, these identity-fracturing traumatic images pose a potential crisis for the protagonist. These ghostly images represent the friction between traumatic images and identity. The traumatic sublime, as a troubling sensation that occurs when a painful event of the past is changed into a disturbing image, shifts the gaze from the self to an-other. Unlike the gothic loss of self or the romantic expansion of self, the traumatic sublime alters the focus from the protagonist to another character...As in the uncanny, the traumatic sublime uses symbols and disturbing images to reformulate a character's past... (42)
    Essentially, unresolved traumas (those the individual cannot confront directly) manifest themselves as new ghostly images that produce similar anxieties as the original traumatic experiences, but projected outward. In other words, when the individual cannot directly confront a trauma he or she has experienced, the traumatic sublime allows him or her to envision the pain in another, detached form and address it from a "safe" distance. In Disgrace, Segall argues, "[t]he sublimated ghostly bodies all lead to the central signified of Lucy's raped body," preventing Lurie from blocking the memory of her rape and forcing him to confront it. In doing so, the traumatic sublime brings violation and subjugation to the front of Lurie's consciousness, highlighting those instance in which he himself has played a part. Haunted by these ghosts, Lurie begins the moral transformation so many critics view as central to the novel.

    Gareth Cornwell, I have to admit, amuses me to no end. Eschewing the "logical and historical emptiness" of "post-Saussurean, Derridean" readings of Disgrace, Cornwell opts to make "a couple of common-sense observations" (311). He also criticizes "the metaphysical dread to which Derridean differance can lead if we are prepared to take its anti-realism too seriously":
    [M]eaning endlessly deferred as words drop their eyes and shake their heads in embarassment, gesturing towards their equally feckless fellows, abdicating their own authority to signify, and performing an empty act of delegation. (311)
    Seriously, that has to be one of the absolute greatest assessments of Derridean excess ever published in a major literary journal.

    That said, Cornwell makes many solid observations about Disgrace. His essay deals primarily with the text's use of the realist mode to present David and Lucy Lurie's stories. Ultimately, Cornwell concludes that Coetzee fashions a plot out of the seemingly contradictory antirealist allegorical and the realist mimetic modes of representation, thereby reflecting "Coetzee's abiding ambivalence towards realism and his suspicion of the reflexivity of antirealism or 'antiillusionism' as the alternative."

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Works Cited

    Cornwell, Gareth. "Realism, Rape, and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Critique 43.4 (2002): 307-322.

    Segall, Kimberly Wedeven. "Pursuing Ghosts: The Traumatic Sublime in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Research in African Literatures 36.4 (2005): 40-54.

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    Tuesday, April 22, 2008
    I think I may have finally found a use for poststructuralist literary criticism. As I read today's essay, I found myself overcome with strange urges to, say, dust my bookshelves or wash dishes. For instance, I felt an uncommonly strong urge to sweep the kitchen floor when I encountered Pamela Cooper's assertion that
    The women [in the "new" south Africa] are effectively placeholders, ready to be animated by energies beyond their control. These are the power relations of a society in transition, evinced in the novel by the actions of men and the relations among them. On 'Lucy's patch of earth' in 'Old Kaffraria,' the emergence of these energies is played out as a phallic drama (197, 122). Specifically, the displacement of the white phallus--its being left to hang, as it were--is expressed in the attack by the three anonymous black youths. Here Lurie is effectively castrated... (29)
    Seriously, when you can almost hear Larry, Curly, and Moe "nyuk-nyuk-nyuking" at an awful pun, the desire to clean something dirty begins to make a lot of sense. Later, when Lucy and Bev Shaw "effectively shunt [David Lurie] off the streetcar named desire," I found myself, garbage bag in hand, picking up whatever errant scraps of paper I could find on my floor, wondering if either Tennessee Williams or Marlon Brando would have found the reference as gratuitous as I did (31). Likewise, when I saw that Cooper considers Petrus's biography to be "the neomasculinist narrative of futurity in a democratic South Africa," I remembered that I needed windshield wiper fluid. Or, at the very least, some sort of distraction.

    What's really unfortunate, actually, is that while the essay actually makes several really good points -- I mean, really good, underline-worthy, quotable observations -- Cooper's language is unnecessarily oblique (which does not work well when someone tries to inject a measure of humor into his or her prose) and often a bit too theory-laden. Really, once the essay is stripped of the Lacanian penis talk and the Derridean circumlocution, Cooper comes across as a very intelligent, perceptive critic. But to get to that point, whew.

    At least I got some housecleaning done, though.

    For tomorrow: Dissertate.

    Work Cited

    Cooper, Pamela. "Metamorphosis and Sexuality: Reading the Strange Passions of Disgrace." Research in African Literatures 36.4 (2005): 22-39.

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