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    Sobriquet 37.16

    Saturday, December 29, 2007
    Today was one of those eerily solipsistic days I find myself experiencing more often. Living alone, feeling the need to make use of the rare days when I do not have to wake up early to teach, I throw myself headlong into my work, forcefully cultivating a sense of urgency that seems to deemphasize the world outside of my dissertation to such a tremendous extent that my existence, for the moment, is inseparable from my work. I do not like this tendency of mine because I needlessly heap feelings of loneliness and desperation onto shoulders already stooped under the weight of a sizable (though voluntarily assumed) academic burden, producing a rather negative mood in which I refrain from socializing (saying to myself: I need to get "this" done first. . .) and fight the temptation to wallow in a self-pity in which I am wholly undeserving to wallow. When I am in such a state, I have learned, I become increasingly disorganized, allowing what might otherwise be playfully called "a little mess" to grow into a painfully ubiquitous layer of clutter taking over my living space. Accompanying this physical messiness is the rather vexing tendency to disregard healthy eating habits, the cumulative effects of which, I imagine, could very easily trigger a manic pessimism if I am not too careful. So, I am hereby resolving to clean my home tomorrow. Not entirely, perhaps, but certainly enough to make me feel in control of my life again. I have also determined to regularly take a night off to enjoy the company of my friends and family. That way, I hope, I can minimize the cumbersome weight of an unwelcome solipsism.

    In any case, I did go over two more articles, putting me within spitting distance of actually starting to write the first chapter (though this is a bit misleading since I already published a small piece on Disgrace a few years ago, which I intend to revise and incorporate into this chapter. . .so I guess I kinda-sorta started it already). All right, to get down to business: I tackled Derek Attridge's "Trusting the Other: Ethics and Politics in J. M. Coetzee's Age of Iron" and another of Ina Grabe's articles on Coetzee, "Fictionalization of Current Socio-Political Issues in J. M. Coetzee's Writing: Narrative Strategies in Age of Iron and Foe." Again, as the title indicates, Grabe focuses on issues of writing, narrative structure, and socio-political content, delivering a highly theoretical though not terribly unique reading of Coetzee's fiction. I found the article to be a prolix and occasionally repetitive discussion of insights more clearly and concisely expressed in the work of other critics. I also felt that the author was somewhat ineffective in her assertions about the relationship between Foe and Age of Iron, relying at times on reed-thin theoretical connections to support her case. Still, I applaud Grabe for addressing Age of Iron's relationship to the author's earlier novels. Without the benefit of having yet read The Master of Petersburg, Disgrace, The Lives of Animals, Elizabeth Costello, or Slow Man, Grabe struggles with the same issue many of her fellow critics faced with the publication of Age of Iron: there was simply nothing like it in Coetzee's previous work and, though not altogether convincing in retrospect, Grabe's essay does probe the author's oeuvre for signs of critically neglected themes underlying his entire body of work. In doing so, it would seem, Grabe paved the way for some of the later studies which, with the benefit of having read the author's post-apartheid fiction, explore those connections.

    Attridge, like Grabe, has been recognized as one of the foremost Coetzee scholars active in the academy. In fact, when assembling the editorial board for our journal's Coetzee issue a few years back, we were delighted to have Dr. Attridge assist us in vetting submissions. Having always found Attridge's treatment of Coetzee to be insightful, I looked forward to reading "Trusting the Other." Using a discussion of the epistolarity of the novel as a departure point from which to explore Coetzee's meditations on themes such as trust, love, (un)knowing, and alterity--themes of continued critical interest in the discourse surrounding Age of Iron--Attridge lays the framework for countless subsequent studies. I found Attridge's cautious treatment of Vercueil, in particular, quite useful; like several other readers, I did not explicitly read race into Vercueil and find his undefinability to be a fundamental aspect of his character. I have always felt that the man is more significant than simply serving as the emblem of middle-aged non-white poverty some critics construe him to be--and, like Attridge, find that that importance resides, at least partially, in his "unknowable" nature (67).

    For tomorrow: Two more articles and work on extracurriculars--including cleaning. . .

    Works Cited

    Attridge, Derek. "Trusting the Other: Ethics and Politics in J. M. Coetzee's Age of Iron." South Atlantic Quarterly. 93.1 (1994): 59-82.

    Grabe, Ina. "Fictionalization of Current Socio-Political Issues in J.M. Coetzee's Writing: Narrative Strategies in Age of Iron and Foe." Journal of Literary Studies/Tydskrif Vir Literatuurwetenskap. 9.3-4 (1993): 284-301.

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