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    Sobriquet 40.20

    Friday, March 21, 2008
    Well, I continued rereading Waiting for the Barbarians today and, happily, I have really been enjoying it. Having read Dusklands and In the Heart of the Country so recently, I think, has given me a new perspective on the novel. Although Coetzee's first two books are undeniably excellent, they do not feel fully his, if that makes sense. In other words, while Coetzee's unique vision of the world certainly emerges at many points in both Dusklands and In the Heart of the Country, the shadow of the author's influences looms perhaps a bit heavier over his prose than one might like. With Waiting for the Barbarians, however, Coetzee seems to have come utterly into his own. Not only is the Magistrate Coetzee's first likable, sympathetic character, but the prose is markedly more fluid than any of Coetzee's earlier writing (with the possible exception of "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee," which is largely free of the dense prose of "The Vietnam Project" or In the Heart of the Country). One of Coetzee's great gifts, in my opinion, is his ability to wax philosophical and explore the same highly theoretical terrain as the poststructuralist thinkers of the sixties, seventies, and eighties without resorting to using the ostentatiously rarefied language so common among those folks. With Waiting for the Barbarians Coetzee achieves that difficult balance of plain language and deep thought and does so masterfully.

    So, yeah, I'm enjoying this.

    Now it's onto some pre-writing.

    For tomorrow: Same old, same old.

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    Tuesday, March 4, 2008
    I finally finished reading "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee" this evening. Having completed Dusklands now, I am looking to begin reading In the Heart of the Country, which I will probably start one of the next few days. I just do not want to push myself to far away from my current focus, which is to wrap up the preparatory phase for the next section of the dissertation and begin writing on The Master of Petersburg. To that end, I have begun rereading the criticism and will work my way through the pile over the next few weeks. Still, I think reading another novel will be a pleasant break from the denser, less pleasurable texts I will be revisiting.

    I did enjoy Dusklands, especially "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee," the second--and longer--of the two novellas making up Coetzee's first book. While "The Vietnam Project" is considerably more pertinent to my research, "The Narrative" was a more enjoyable read. Like much of Coetzee's work, the second novella explores many of the power dynamics at work in a colonial society as well as the role of history and counterhistory in the construction of nationhood. Unlike the psychologically disturbing Eugene Dawn of "The Vietnam Project," Jacobus Coetzee is a laughably foppish character throughout much of the text, which makes for an easier read. He is, however, a violent, vengeful racist at the center of some horrifying scenes, which can strike a very different chord of discomfiture than those involving the tragically insane Dawn. Whereas the vile behavior of Dawn can be chalked up to a lone individual's mental illness, Jacobus Coetzee's moral transgressions are bolstered by state-supported attitudes of racial superiority--something many readers will find very painful to contemplate (though, I'm sure, a similarly strong case could be made for the dehumanizing effects of military bureaucracy in "The Vietnam Project"). Not his best work, but a wonderful book nonetheless.

    For tomorrow: More criticism and, if I feel up to it, begin In the Heart of the Country.

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    Sunday, March 2, 2008
    Since I am still feeling quite ill, I won't write very much tonight. I did continue reading "The Narrative of Jacobus Coetzee," though, which I have been enjoying. So far, the only qualm--if one could even call it that--I find I have with the novella is that it does not really sound like it had been written in the late eighteenth century. This is, of course, a relatively minor objection. After all, given the text's internal claim to have been translated from Afrikaans to English during the modern age, the English into which the fictional Coetzee translates the original text would not be noticeably dated or anachronistic. Still, the text itself feels a bit too contemporary, a bit too aware of the postcolonial discourse it would inevitably become a part of two centuries after it was written.

    For tomorrow: More of the same.

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