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    Sobriquet 45.13

    Saturday, August 16, 2008
    I read Kai Easton's "Coetzee's Disgrace: Byron in Italy and the Eastern Cape c. 1820" this evening and really haven't much to say about the essay. If anything, I'm grateful to Easton for providing me with a bit of a break from reading "straight" literary criticism since she devotes a significant portion of the text to a survey of historical and artistic depictions of the Salem region of the Eastern Cape. Although Easton does acknowledge that Rita Barnard, Grant Farred, and Gareth Cornwell have all made significant contributions to the critical discussion surrounding Coetzee's decision to place Lucy's smallholding in the vicinity of Salem-Grahamstown, she feels critics have largely neglected the ways in which the story of Lord Byron's time in Ravenna relates to a region of the Eastern Cape weighed down by the burden of history. Admitting that linking "these two seemingly unrelated plots" may strike readers as peculiar, Easton proceeds in her reading despite sensing that "[t]hese two story-lines may only be tangentially linked by intersecting facts and dates, empirical histories and a network of coincidences and geographical placements" (113, 134). In fact, it occasionally seems as if Easton tries a bit too hard to establish such links. There are undeniably several similarities between the brand of European Romanticism we (perhaps erroneously) associate with Lord Byron and the hyperbolic idealism with which the Eastern Cape has been depicted but the connection remains a loose one. Still, despite relying perhaps a bit too heavily on coincidental points of convergence between the history of the Eastern Cape and Lord Byron's life, Easton's essay does highlight several very interesting aspects of Coetzee's novel and is a valuable companion to the aforementioned studies by Barnard, Cornwell, and Farred.

    For tomorrow: Read an article on Disgrace, a bit of Inner Workings, or work on the bibliography.

    Work Cited

    Easton, Kai. "Coetzee's Disgrace: Byron in Italy and the Eastern Cape c. 1820." Journal of Commonwealth Literature 42.3 (2007): 113-130.

    Edited on 2/2/09

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    Friday, June 27, 2008
    I've given myself a bit of a break these past two days. I have continued reading essays on Disgrace as I had planned, but the two most recent articles have been book reviews. I did, however, get quite a bit of time-consuming e-library work done this afternoon, so I may be misrepresenting how much effort I have put into things a bit.

    At any rate, the one full-length article I read (on Tuesday) was Kai Easton's "J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace: Reading Race/Reading Scandel," an extremely interesting look at the ways in which the South African public received Coetzee's novel upon its publication in 1999. As part of a collection of essays dealing with "scandalous fictions," Easton's study discusses how Disgrace offended a great many South Africans with its bleak depiction of black-on-white violence in the immediate aftermath of Apartheid. Considering the responses of Coetzee's colleagues in academia and among the South African literati in addition to the ANC's use of the novel to demonstrate lingering racial tensions in the country, Easton provides an intelligent survey of the most negative emotional and political interpretations of the book. Interestingly, Easton suggests that Coetzee may have deliberately crafted his novel in such a way as to encourage and even solicit such harsh criticism in an effort to ask readers "Can we read beyond race?" (200).

    Of the two review essays I read, I enjoyed Andrew O'Hehir's article for Salon the most. Although it does not make any startlingly novel observations, O'Hehir's review covers virtually all of the themes that would come to dominate the critical discussion of the novel in the decade following its publication. In fact, it may well serve as an ideal introduction to a collection of criticism centered around the novel. The second review I read, Adam Mars-Jones's "Lesbians are like that because they're fat" also makes some very good observations, though the title is misleadingly salacious and draws the reader's attention away from an article that has next-to-nothing to do with lesbian women. Mars-Jones's most important contribution to the larger critical discussion of Disgrace, in my opinion, is his reading of the novel as:
    simultaneously a story of redemption and of collapse, just as a famous optical illusion is simultaneously a duck and a rabbit, but can only be seen at any one moment as one or the other. The reading mind responds to the possibilities in disconcerting alternation.
    In other words, Mars-Jones suggests that Disgrace tells two stories "built from the same set of materials" -- namely, David Lurie's evolution from the selfish, proud, anachronistic Romantic he is at the novel's outset to the humble manual laborer content to tend to dying dogs at the book's conclusion and a disparaging portrait of racial relations in the 'new South Africa" -- that one must focus on individually in order to fully appreciate.

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Works Cited

    Easton, Kai. "J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace: Reading Race/Reading Scandal." Scandalous Fictions: The Twentieth-Century Novel in the Public Sphere. Eds. Jago Morrison and Susan Watkins. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan (2006): 187-205.

    Mars-Jones, Adam. "Lesbians Are Like That Because They're Fat." The Observer 18 July 1999. 26 June 2008.

    O'Hehir, Andrew. Rev. of Disgrace, by J . M. Coetzee. Salon.com. 5 Nov. 1999. 6 June 2008.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, February 2, 2008
    Having gone to bed somewhat later than I would have liked yesterday night, I woke up at six this morning with the sort of displaced resentment only possible when you blame a work schedule you willingly accepted for your own poor time management. Hearing the grains of ice tinkle against my window reminded me to check if we'd gotten a snow day, but there was nothing listed on the college's website. Disappointed, I putzed around for the next hour or so, checking email and reading news stories. As 7:20--the absolute latest time I feel comfortable leaving the house for work--neared, I sought something, anything to procrastinate just a tiny bit more. So I checked the college's website a second time.

    And lo and behold, there it was, in red letters: no school.

    I got myself a snow day!

    And this was the best possible day for a snow day, too. Mid-week snow days are nice surprises, but lack the added oomph of a weekend-extending snow day. Mondays are nice to have off, but those Monday-extended weekends never feel long because you only find out that you're off after you've already spent all day Sunday believing that you have work or go to school the next day...but Fridays...the moment you learn that you're off on Friday, you have a three-day weekend ahead of you.

    Mighty pleased, I was. This little bit of frozen serendipity made it possible for me to get a few more hours of sleep so that I could write a bit more of the dissertation in addition to reading the article I'd assigned myself for the day. Again, I can't say I am terribly pleased with the quality of my dissertation...I seem to have some weird, unrealistic and unreachable ideal in mind for it...but I am pleased that I have written as much as I have. If my supervisor approves of it, even with a few suggestions, I think I will be quite satisfied.

    At any rate, I read Rachel Lawlan's "The Master of Petersburg: Confession and Double Thoughts in Coetzee and Dostoyevsky," an essay examining, among other things, literature as a counterhistorical narrative, aspects of confessional literature, and the intertextual relationship Coetzee cultivates with Dostoyevsky. Over the past few days, I also read Stephen Watson's "The Writer and the Devil: J.M. Coetzee's The Master of Petersburg," Gerald Gaylard's "Mastering Arachnophobia: The Limits of Self-Reflexivity in African Fiction," and T. Kai Norris Easton's "Text and Hinterland: J. M. Coetzee and the South African Novel." As is common with many Coetzee scholars, both Easton and Gaylard evaluate The Master of Petersburg as in relation to specifically (South) African fiction while Watson and Lawlan look more closely at the themes of authorship in the novel.

    Without dwelling too much on any one essay that I have read, I have to say I am both disappointed by the extreme lengths to which some critics go to include a political discussion in every Coetzee novel as well as pleased to see the variety of reasonable readings of The Master of Petersburg, especially those which, like Watson's, provide extended considerations of the act of writing.

    With my free time, I watched Population 436, a wholly mediocre "thriller" featuring a surprisingly competent Fred Durst in one of the lead roles. Although I appreciate the unhappy ending of the film, I wasn't terribly engrossed by how the movie takes an idea that is only marginally interesting and, with a sub-stellar cast and average writing, makes a moderately entertaining, ultimately forgettable "thriller" about a town of religious fanatics. But, hey, free time is free time, innit?

    For tomorrow: Read another essay or write a bit more.

    Works Cited

    Gaylard, Gerald. "Mastering Arachnophobia: The Limits of Self-Reflexivity in African Fiction." The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 37.1 (2002): 85-99.

    Lawlan, Rachel. "The Master of Petersburg: Confession and Double Thoughts in Coetzee and Dostoyevsky." ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 29.2 (1998): 131-157.

    Norris Easton, T. Kai. "Text and Hinterland: J. M. Coetzee and the South African Novel." Journal of Southern African Studies 21.4 (1995): 585-599.

    Watson, Steven. "'The Writer and the Devil': J. M. Coetzee's The Master of Petersburg." New Contrast 22.4 (1994): 47-61.

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