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    Sobriquet 56.11

    Monday, July 13, 2009
    Since I had earmarked today for socializing, I hadn't intended to get a whole lot done. What I did do was review a brief essay that, in the end, only touched upon Elizabeth Costello in the most cursory of ways: Lynn Meskell and Lindsay Weiss's "Coetzee on South Africa's Past: Remembering in the Time of Forgetting." Although it does not add much to my current project, the essay is a well-written and thought-provoking examination of J. M. Coetzee's engagement with South African history, especially in Waiting for the Barbarians.

    I also spent a bit of time reviewing some of the essays I encountered in May, when I first started reading up on Elizabeth Costello. The best essay I read then, Thorsten Carstensen's "Shattering the Word-Mirror in Elizabeth Costello: J. M. Coetzee's Deconstructive Experiment" includes one of the better discussions of the political implications of literary production while also interrogating the decidedly postmodernist structure of the novel.

    I also glanced over some of the book reviews I'd read:

    Oliver Herford's "Tears for Dead Fish" reads Elizabeth Costello as a deliberately confrontative text designed to rankle readers with its "terminal, comfortless" content.

    Siddhartha Deb's "Mind Into Matter" is a thoughtful, sympathetic reading of the novel that resists the temptation to dwell on formal issues in order to focus on deeper thematic concerns.

    Andrew Marr's "He is Both Fish and Fowl" is typical of many reviews, focusing largely on the difficulty of presenting serious philosophical inquiry as part of a serious literary project.

    Judith Shulevitz's "Author Tour" is one of the most comprehensive, penetrating reviews of Elizabeth Costello to appear outside of academic journals.

    Sarah Coleman's "Thanks, But No Thanks" is a fairly negative take on the form of Coetzee's fiction, though not  dismissively so.

    For tomorrow: Read or (preferably) write.

    Works Cited

    Carstensen, Thorsten. "Shattering the Word-Mirror in Elizabeth Costello: J.M. Coetzee's Deconstructive Experiment." Journal of Commonwealth Literature 42.1 (2007): 79-96.

    Coleman, Sarah. "Thanks, But No Thanks." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. San Francisco Chronicle 2 Nov. 2003.

    Deb, Siddhartha. "Mind Into Matter." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. Boston Globe 26 Oct. 2003.

    Herford, Oliver. "Tears for Dead Fish." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. The Times 5 Sept. 2003.

    Marr, Andrew. "He is Both Fish and Fowl." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. The Telegraph 8 Sept. 2003.

    Meskell, Lynn and Lindsay Weiss. "Coetzee on South Africa's Past: Remembering in the Time of Forgetting." American Anthropologist 108.1 (2006): 88-99.

    Shulevitz, Judith. "Author Tour." Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. New York Times 26 Oct. 2003.

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    Thursday, September 25, 2008
    The rather unpleasant combination of a fourteen hour work day today and a poor night's sleep last night has rendered me more or less inarticulate this evening, so you will have to excuse me if I sound a bit spaced-out. I mean, it was a good day (after all, I enjoyed my classes and the ailing loved one for whom I have been caring seems to be on the mend), but it has also been the culmination of an emotionally- and financially-draining week, so tonight's fatigue is not one a glass of soda or a cup of tea (I'm not a coffee person) could fix. Accordingly, this post will have to be yet another brief entry taking the place of the much longer piece I would prefer to write. But que sera, sera, I suppose.

    Despite my obligation-crammed schedule, however, I did manage to read a pair of articles on Coetzee culled from the pages of The London Times this evening. The first, Ranti Williams's review of Disgrace, is fairly consistent with much of the initial non-South African commentary on Coetzee's novel, highlighting as it does David Lurie's transformation in the aftermath of his daughter's rape while only cursorily addressing the racial issues so prevalent in the often-negative assessments of the author's countrymen. I do appreciate Williams's rather prescient reading of sexuality in the novel as a key to understanding David Lurie's existentially dissonant position in the book, an interpretive angle largely glossed over by other reviewers and only tangentially referred to in most recent critical studies. Despite a handful of forgivable misreadings (David Lurie is not, as Williams suggests, a professor at the University of Cape Town, but rather an instructor at the fictive Cape Technical University, for instance), Williams proves to be an uncommonly observant reader, capably situating Coetzee's book within the larger context of the author's oeuvre while also closely analyzing the text and discussing the unique qualities that mark Disgrace as the beginning of a new phase in the Nobel laureate's career. I also read a short, anonymously-penned biographical essay on Coetzee written shortly after he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2003. Predictably, the author's reclusive nature receives a disproportionate amount of attention in the piece, but the article does provide a succinct overview of Coetzee's writing as well as a largely sympathetic glimpse into the mind and life of a contemporary literary giant.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Works Cited

    "Triumph of a One-Man Truth Commission." The Sunday Times [London] 5 Oct. 2003. Available online.

    Williams, Ranti. "A Man's Salvation." Rev. of Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee. The Times [London] 25 June 1999. Available online.

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