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    Sobriquet 41.5

    Sunday, April 6, 2008
    As much as I would like to write this evening, I really haven't the time to devote to anything worth reading, so I will keep this on the brief side. Although I enjoyed the all-too-rare company of my parents for much of the weekend, and while I spent a good deal of time walking around the jetties on Seneca Lake, snapping pictures of gulls and enjoying the sixty degree weather, I actually got a decent amount of work done. I read a hefty chunk of Disgrace, which looks like it will be the focus of my next chapter and, as is always the case when reading Coetzee's 1999 novel, enjoyed the experience.

    Like many other Coetzee readers, I consider Disgrace to be his best novel, though I enjoy Waiting for the Barbarians, Elizabeth Costello, and Slow Man nearly as much. The book has become a major focus of my academic work over the past few years, yielding a term paper, part of a field examination, a conference paper, and even work appearing in peer-reviewed publications. Needless to say, I have quite a bit I could say about Disgrace, but I will direct anyone interested in my impression of the book to a review I wrote after reading the novel for the first time. It's considerably less academic in tone and much easier to locate.

    For tomorrow: Read more of Disgrace. Write some more, if possible.

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    Monday, March 24, 2008
    Well, it's been an interesting day. I've been having quite a bit of computer trouble lately, which has limited my access to the internet and certain research avenues, but this morning the machine committed electronic suicide, quite literally offing itself and seemingly taking with it scads of documents and other precious data. Needless to say, I was not terribly pleased with the development but, having experienced similar "crises" in the past, I stoically took the thing in for an autopsy and had the computer coroner extract my files for me.

    And now I stand, sixpence cap clutched to my breast, humming Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" as the staid cemetery hands of this idiotically extended metaphor lower the corpse into the ground...

    Ah, but I did not weep. Nay. Rather I look to the future, knowing that the work started on one computer can easily be transferred to another like genes from parent to child.

    Deliberately sappy prose aside, it does suck to lose one's computer. I mean, obviously, for someone writing a dissertation, the word processing and research capabilities of the average PC are of tremendous value. Still, I am of a generation for whom memories of computer-less living rooms and dens are quite common. I didn't even own a computer until I had graduated from college and worked for several months, so working without the buzz of a CPU is not wholly foreign to me.

    Of course, I might have sung a different tune had I actually needed to use the computer today...

    I did continue working, as I had planned, and will work a bit more before bed. I am still enjoying Waiting for the Barbarians, though I do occasionally find the tone a tiny bit didactic. As a philosophical novel, however, I suppose such a tone is both inevitable and ultimately necessary.

    For tomorrow: Same old, same old.

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    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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    Thursday, March 20, 2008
    Although I'd wanted to write a bit more tonight, I really haven't a whole lot of time to devote to blogging this evening. At any rate, I did begin the pre-writing phase of the chapter on The Master of Petersburg this evening. Surprisingly, I found the process considerably less painful than I had anticipated and I even found myself marveling at the number of directions the chapter could take. I doubt that this will match the length of my first chapter, though it seems there will be more than enough material to make this section at least long enough. Still, it is a nerve-wracking procedure.

    For me, the pre-writing phase has always been the most tedious of ordeals. I find that the closer I get to writing, the less I want to arrange notes and plot things out. In the past, I have had quite a bit of success simply arranging my papers mentally but, of course, those were briefer essays that required less extensive planning in the first place. One of the biggest lessons I learned while writing my Master's thesis several years ago is that while what worked in the past on shorter, less complex papers may continue to work on the longer, more intricate pieces required by graduate departments, it is much easier to write when one has taken his or her time preparing extensively. Now, for me, the biggest obstacle preventing such preparations had always been the rather brief windows of time I had to work on a given paper. See, the shorter the time in which I had to work, the more tedious prep work I'd have to fit into a short time span, which can be maddening. I am learning now that one of the luxuries of having a relatively open-ended project like a dissertation is that the boring busywork I had eschewed in the past as too time-consuming and mind-numbing to squeeze into a few days can now be spread out into weeks and broken up into a series of short, bearable sessions. After all, the study skills gurus always said that working in brief bursts rather than long marathon stretches enables students to retain more information and produce higher quality work. It's the same thing here. It's like having 100 miles to run. No one can sprint it but if a sprinter runs a series of 100-yard dashes, he or she would likely make the 100 miles in less time (minus the breaks, obviously) than if an ultramarathon runner ran straight through.

    I also began rereading Waiting for the Barbarians this afternoon and am enjoying it a good deal. Prior to Disgrace, Barbarians was Coetzee's most famous book, the one most likely to end up on university syllabi--and I am beginning to see why. It is immensely readable, immediately assessable, and chock full of the themes Coetzee is known for.

    For tomorrow: More of the same.

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