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    Sobriquet 55.11

    Saturday, June 20, 2009
    Today started off as another one of those mornings when, upon waking up only to see a weak light diffused through thick Southern Tier cloud cover, I really had no desire to do any work at all. I was groggy, too, and, after a less-than-halfhearted attempt to rev myself up for another afternoon of writing, ended up watching some Conan O'Brien sketches and napping for the better part of the day. When I finally woke up, I was considerably more alert and, with anxiety rising as I contemplated writing, I decided to run some errands. Oddly, though, just when it seemed as if I had burnt through an entire day, I sat down, opened the word processing file containing the chapter, and ended up writing more than I have in any single day in recent memory, effectively finishing the subsection of the Disgrace chapter I've been working on.

    For tomorrow: Begin preparing for the next, mercifully brief, subsection.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, February 14, 2009
    I've been struggling a bit these past few days to get my work done. As much as I would like to place the blame on the fifty-odd student essays I had to grade in less than two days, I can't. I had plenty of time to sit down and read and, despite loving Elizabeth Costello, I procrastinated during my free time on Wednesday and Thursday and ended up reading into the wee hours of the morning just to get a bit of work completed. Now, while I rarely give myself a set number of pages to read, I usually have an idea in my head, a secret threshold I'd like to hit each day. That number has been anywhere from a handful of pages to a pretty hefty chunk of reading. And, for the past two days, I read about half of what I wanted to read and I've been a bit disappointed with myself as a result.

    That said, I have been thinking a good deal about Elizabeth Costello. Like Diary of a Bad Year, Coetzee's 2003 novel consists largely of the philosophical speculation of a fictional character some readers are tempted to interpret as a stand-in for the novelist himself. What I enjoy most about both novels, but find especially appealing in Elizabeth Costello, is Coetzee's ability to present deeply thoughtful philosophical dialogues that truly present multiple sides to an important question. Never does Coetzee lapse into the sort of soapbox preaching into which so much of such highly philosophical fiction often disintegrates. Instead, he depicts the eponymous protagonist as fundamentally fallible and, accordingly, leaves her open to the often ruthless critiques of those who disagree with her. Coetzee's genius lies here, in leaving the reader with the raw material for personal speculation and inward growth. While I tend to agree with Elizabeth on many issues, I find, I also agree with her detractors. Thus, I am left with the not unpleasant burden of finding out what I actually believe. Of course, critics have long taken Coetzee to task for not answering the questions he raises in his fiction, have, since the publication of Dusklands in 1974, accused him of political evasiveness. This slipperiness, this adamantine refusal to provide a definitive perspective, though, is largely responsible for Coetzee's towering stature among contemoorary writers. I mean, good writers get people talking about the issues of the day, great writers get people talking about the eternal problems of mankind, but the masters, an elite group in which I would place Coetzee, get people to think before they talk.

    At any rate, I wrote a few more pages on Disgrace this afternoon and, as is so often the case for me, I have been doubting the quality of my writing all day.

    For tomorrow: Read or dissertate.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, February 13, 2009
    For the second straight day, I've ended up staying up a bit later than I would have liked and, since I did not get a chance to read anything today (and, admittedly, because I got really into music for a few hours), I have not yet done my work for the day. So, not wanting to delay any longer, I'm gonna go do that. . .

    For tomorrow: Preferably, dissertate. Alternately, read or prep.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, November 13, 2008
    Today has been a terrible day for me. A variety of factors -- ranging from the accumulated fatigue of 3/4 of a semester's worth of work to a recent deluge of work and chores -- have combined to make me tired and cranky, two traits that, when combined, rarely result in a particularly productive day.

    Basically, the more work I realized I had to complete before day's end, the more I started moaning like a cartoon dental patient. Either that or, especially when reading, I'd fall asleep, allowing what could have been some solid hours of work, to slip away.

    Not surprisingly, I am still working despite wanting desperately to call it a night and will continue working for quite some time. Hopefully, by the time I reach for The Rights of Desire, I won't be too, too zonked . . .

    For tomorrow: Read or transcribe.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, November 2, 2008
    It seems that the closer I get to finally finishing the critical reading I have been doing in preparation for my dissertation chapter on Disgrace, the harder it is for me to focus. I suppose that, like Sisyphus, I feel the weight of my task more heavily as I approach the final push, but this has been awful. Still, I did read another essay on Disgrace and, actually, since I am still waiting for The Philosopher's Dog to arrive in the mail, the only reading I have left is a bit of Coetzee's own criticism in White Writing. So that, I guess, is a good thing . . .

    The procrastination with which I have been wrestling, though, has been of a particularly bothersome variety. Granted, I am glad that I took the time to study fractal geometry this evening, but I wish I could have gotten my reading done before three . . . and that's with the extra hour I gain by setting the clock back.

    For tomorrow: Read or prewrite.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, November 1, 2008
    Well, it took me until half past three this All Saints Day morning to finish what I set out to do on Hallowe'en, but I did it. But, as it approaches four in the morning, I will have to put off writing about today (i.e. yesterday) until tomorrow (i.e. later today)...

    For tomorrow/later today: Same as today/yesterday.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, October 13, 2008
    There's a distinct possibility that I have been bitten by a tsetse fly. I say this because, without human African trypanosomiasis as a scapegoat, there's no reason I should have slept as much as I did today. Lacking an epidemiological explanation, all I can say is that I overslept. A lot. I mean, I woke up fairly late, having slept soundly all night. I even got out of bed and prepared breakfast. I ate lunch, too. And watched the New York Jets beat up my lowly Cincinnati Bengals. But then, as I began thinking about working on the dissertation, a little voice in my head began listing the virtues of the siesta for me. The list must have been long because, before it ended, I was fast asleep.

    So, having only had a few hours of late evening and early morning at my disposal, I have not yet completed my reading for today. I will, however, finish it before bed and try to discuss it a bit one the next few days (along with the pile of essays I still haven't gotten around to mentioning).

    For tomorrow: For the hundred-and-somethingth time, read another essay.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, October 5, 2008
    As a result of staying up so late yesterday night, I've been sleepy all day even though I slept much later than I had hoped to do. I did, however, get through another article this evening, bringing me a tiny step closer to finishing what has been an incredibly draining undertaking. As much as I love Disgrace and as interested as I am in the interpretive possibilities the novel offers, I simply cannot wait to be finished reading the criticism. Lately, I have been spending whole afternoons struggling to get through an essay. I mean, I'll read a page, get up, check email, return to the text, read two lines of the article, get up again, take a walk or a drive, find a nice place to read, read a tiny bit, get bored, get up, find a new place, and repeat. It sucks. And it's not that the criticism is lousy. I just hate reading the same things over and over. After a while, one grows numb and his or her eye's begin to wander and it's harder to absorb information.

    But this, too, is something I must accept as part of the dissertation.

    And so I do.

    But I grumble, too. I occasionally grit my teeth as well. And once, in a particularly weak moment, I beat my breast and shouted lamentations to the heavens. Then again, I may have read that somewhere.

    As far as what I have been reading, today I read Rachel McCoppin's "Existential Endurance: Resolution from Accepting the 'Other' in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace," from the special Stirrings Still issue devoted entirely to Coetzee. In it, McCoppin bypasses the critical tendency to turn towards Emmanuel Levinas's conception of the other, back to the Sartrean understanding of the concept and towards Nietzsche for an understanding of the formation of David Lurie's personal ethical system in the novel. What McCoppin does most effectively is reveal just how much the poststructuralists are indebted to the existentialists they are so often said to have superseded, especially in terms of the concept of the Other. Much of her reasoning does, however, proceed along the same general lines as many other readings of the novel: Lurie's encounters with the Other -- be they with his daughter (one of McCoppin's more inspired interpretations), the three assailants, or non-human animals -- force him to recognize the ultimate value of the Other, the necessity of relinquishing the drive to dominate that which he cannot control, and the small blessings brought about by the assumption of a humility hitherto absent from his existence. In a similar -- though explicitly Levinasian -- vein, Michael Marais concludes that the humbling "responsibility [for the Other] is an effect of [Lurie]'s loss of control over that which [he] thought [he] could control" (18). Unlike McCoppin's essay, which emphasizes Lurie's conscious decision to become a better person, Marais's text -- "Impossible Possibilities: Ethics and Choice in J. M. Coetzee's The Lives of Animals and Disgrace" -- suggests that "[a]lthough he becomes a better person in the course of the novel, he does not do so of his own volition" (10). Indeed, in learning to love despite himself, Lurie joins the ranks of the doctor in Life & Times of Michael K, Elizabeth Curren in Age of Iron, and Dostoevsky in The Master of Petersburg by loving the unloveable and/or unknowable: K., John, and Sergei Nechaev, respectively.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

    Works Cited

    Marais, Michael. "Impossible Possibilities: Ethics and Choice in J. M. Coetzee's The Lives of Animals and Disgrace." The English Academy Review 18.1 (2001): 1-20.

    McCoppin, Rachel. "Existential Endurance: Resolution from Accepting the 'Other' in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Stirrings Still: The International Journal of Existential Literature 3.1 (2006): 71-81.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, October 4, 2008
    Well, I fucked up today. I had the whole day off: no obligations, no errands, nothing. And guess what I did? Nothing. I couldn't focus on anything and so now, at three-thirty in the morning, I have to buckle down and read a brief essay before bed.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay. And do it before three-thirty in the damn morning!

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, September 30, 2008
    Since it's well after three in the morning, I'm going to keep this entry extremely brief. Despite the fact that it took me an exceptionally long time to do, I eventually sat myself down and read the article I'd set aside for the day. I'll discuss it (and hopefully several other texts I have not yet talked about) in a day or so. For now, though, it's an audiobook or a crossword puzzle and then sleep.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, September 15, 2008
    Well, I still haven't got the internet at home, so I am accessing the web at the library. Despite the fact that I said I would not be writing something every day until I can solve this delightful little dilemma, I decided to try and get something down today. Basically, I don't want to use my lack of internet access as an excuse to be lazy. It's not like I have a whole lot to report since yesterday, though. I spent the vast majority of the time I should have been reading fixing my laptop so that I can at least have some way to get online when not at work. After all, I can't lug my desktop to a wifi hotspot at will. Despite my success is resurrecting my laptop, however, I regard yesterday as the shitty nadir of my week. Even my rise-from-the-dead Phoenix of a computer couldn't lift me out of the slough of non-productivity into which I had sunk. Although I had a full afternoon and evening to work, I found ways not to do anything. I slept, I found a Tim Hortons in Cortland, I exercised, I fixed the aforementioned laptop, I chatted with a neighbor, I made plans to see a friend later this week, I listened to some old Bad Brains songs. I just didn't get my reading done. Finally, when I realized that I could not possibly make sense of the article I was trying to read at nearly four in the morning, I decided to read another of Coetzee's essays in Inner Workings. And, yeah, the author's comments on Hugo Claus actually proved to be quite enlightening, so the day was not wasted and I did get my "read an essay" assignment done, but it sure as hell didn't feel like a good day.

    For tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow: Keep it up. Read another essay or part of Brink's novel.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, September 13, 2008
    Well, I suppose every productive day has its unproductive counterpart. And today, unlike Wednesday, was not a particularly good day for my dissertation. Although I woke up with plenty of energy and a desire to get some real work done, I ended up struggling to focus all day. No matter where I went -- restaurants, bookstores, you name it -- I could not get into a groove and now, at a quarter past midnight, I am still working on the day's article. Ugh.

    As I have mentioned many, many times before, I have grown pretty tired of reading literary criticism, which I have been doing almost daily for more than three months now. Again, I realize full well that I could probably write my chapter on Disgrace without reading the remaining criticism, but I feel obliged to finish what I started. I don't like the idea of doing anything half-assed and I know that if I were to skip the last few articles, I would end up regretting it and I would undoubtedly carry that regret with me for a long, long time. So, in an effort to make finishing the criticism a bit easer for myself, I have decided to read a bit of Andre Brink's The Rights of Desire (Donkermaan) in lieu of Disgrace criticism whenever I feel I really need a break from the monotony of that particular project. Brink's novel, as many Coetzee scholars are eager to point out, takes its English title from David Lurie's statement to the university disciplinary committee that his "case rests on the rights of desire," and provides an interesting and significant intertextual reference point for readers of Disgrace. Since it appears in so many discussions of Disgrace and because the two novels deal with many of the same issues, I feel that I should at least read The Rights of Desire and, if I'm lucky, I might be able to integrate it into my chapter. We'll see.

    For tomorrow: Read another article and/or a bit of The Rights of Desire.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, September 8, 2008
    I think I can officially say that I have hit a wall. These past few days (with the exception of yesterday) have been really difficult for me to get through in terms of work. I can't begin to count the number of essays I began reading only to give up after a few sentences or, in my more ambitious moments, a page or two. As I have intimated, I suspect my overwhelming desire not to read any additional criticism stems from the fact that I'm at the point in my reading where very few essays add much to the information I have gleaned from the previous eighty or ninety articles I have already read. It sucks. What should take me an hour or two ends up consuming an entire day

    I do, however, feel obliged to read the remaining essays. I mean, I know that I could probably do just fine by skipping the dozen or so I have left, but I simply can't bring myself to do that. It feels too much like giving up, like taking a shortcut in a race you know you can't win. And, of course, there's always the possibility that buried somewhere in the remaining readings lies a really significant nugget of insight.

    I have hit a wall, yes, but it's not solid. I will make my way through it, but it's going to painful. It's like I have been running through a field and, with each step closer to the other side, the undergrowth grows taller, thicker, more tangled.

    But I did read another essay, albeit bucking all the way.

    As the willowy voice of The Unnameable puts it, "I can't go on, I'll go on."

    For tomorrow: Pull out the machete and cut through a bit more of the tangled flora.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, September 6, 2008
    Well, today was a crap day. When I woke up this morning, I sensed that it was going to be a productive afternoon. It wasn't. I pretty much found every possible way to procrastinate. Every time I sat down to begin reading a critical essay, some part of me began itching to go to the mall or surf the internet or nap or watch a movie. The repetitive nature of my reading and the cumulative fatigue resulting from amount of time I have spent working on Disgrace criticism, I think, just wore me down today. It wasn't until a few minutes past midnight that I finally read anything and what I did end up reading was quite short. That said, of the two brief reviews that I did go over this evening, one seems poised to enter into my dissertation. So it wasn't a complete washout; it just felt that way.

    For tomorrow: Read another essay or work on my bibliography.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, August 1, 2008
    Since I spent the majority of July 31 riding my bike and otherwise avoiding work, I find myself well into the third hour of August still working on my reading for today. I will finish it before going to bed tonight, but I will not be able to discuss it until tomorrow. And speaking of tomorrow...

    For tomorrow: Same old, same old.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, June 14, 2008
    Again, since it's quite a bit later than I had hoped it would be when I finished my reading for the day, I will have to keep this entry on the briefer side of things.

    When I began seriously working on the dissertation in December, I made it a point to look back at my years in college and graduate school, analyzing what has and has not worked for me in terms of academic success and personal satisfaction. As an undergraduate, I learned that one ultimately has the choice of whether or not to succeed. For someone like myself, this meant restricting my extracurricular activities to my weekly two-hour punk rock radio show and postponing socializing until I had finished whatever homework I had to do. Often, I would be in the library for ten hours a day. When I did hang out with my friends, though, I had the benefit of knowing that I had not left anything undone, so I enjoyed myself more than I would otherwise have done.

    I have since revised this approach, partly because I have come to realize that some semblance of a social life really improves one's mood and often makes working considerably easier to get through. Now I try to prioritize my friends and family whenever possible, which occasionally disrupts my study patterns. After all, their lives do not revolve around the same academic calendar as mine does. Likewise, my friends no longer live in the same building or dine at the same eateries as I do. So, when the opportunity to socialize comes up, I put down my books and head out to wherever it is that my friends and I have decided to spend time. The problem, of course, is that I have to ensure that I do not neglect my work, either. In other words, I have my cake and I want to make sure that I also eat it. Thus, I must work before and/or after having fun.

    Today was one of those days. I was to spend some time with friends, but had not finished reading the article that I'd set aside for the day. So, I had to stay up late reading.

    Fortunately, I only had to reread Derek Attridge's "Age of Bronze, State of Grace: Music and Dogs in Coetzee's Disgrace" today. I say that I am fortunate not only because I have already read the essay but because Attridge is one of the absolute best Coetzee critics out there. His articles are always comprehensive, extremely readable, and often, among the handful of "definitive" studies of the work in question. This essay focuses primarily on David Lurie's time in and around his daughter's smallholding outside of Grahamstown, attempting to identify and locate what might be considered the former professor's attainment of grace. Recalling his earlier essay on The Master of Petersburg, in which the Derridean concept of the arrivant plays a central role, Attridge suggests that grace "is the arrival of the unexpected in unexpectedly beneficent form" (112). Like many of his fellow commentators, Attridge devotes significant attention to Lurie's work with the doomed canines at Bev Shaw's veterinary clinic. It is here, among the unwanted dogs of the Eastern Cape, Attridge suggests, that Lurie's grace descends upon him. As the former professor composes his quirky chamber opera about Lord Byron and cares for the dogs about to be euthanized, Lurie senses a change in himself that, for lack of a better word, may well be described as "grace."

    There is, of course, a great deal more in the essay, but I will call it a night and stop here.

    For tomorrow: Either do library work, bibliographical work, or read an essay or review on Disgrace.

    Attridge, Derek. "Age of Bronze, State of Grace: Music and Dogs in Coetzee's Disgrace." Novel 34.1 (2000): 98-121. Also available online.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, June 9, 2008
    I'm still really irritated with myself, largely because I am working at a snail's pace. There are really two main reasons for this:

    Uno: I have been sleeping in so late that, by the time I finally get started, it feels as if I have already been procrastinating all day. Somehow, this tendency translates into a sense of having already struggled to get through whatever it is I am about to begin. Needless to say, this isn't a good feeling to have when setting out do something.

    Dos: Having spent so much time reading fiction -- which is much easier for me to get through than the critical writing I am reading now -- I have grown accustomed to reading more in a shorter time span than is possible when reading the dense scholastic prose I have been working with the past few days.

    At any rate, I read Kimberly Wedeven Segall's "Pursuing Ghosts: The Traumatic Sublime in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace" yesterday and I just finished Gareth Cornwell's "Realism, Rape, and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace" a few moments ago. I'd actually read Segall's essay before, but re-read it to refresh my memory as I shift my focus from The Master of Petersburg to Disgrace. Although I generally dislike psychoanalytic criticism, I find that the rationale behind Segall's essay is not unreasonable. While the essay did occasionally strike me as a bit too Freudian and there are a few blatant misreadings sprinkled throughout the article (Segall identifies David Lurie as the narrator and claims that Melanie Isaacs attempts suicide), the bulk of the paper deals with the the ways in which David Lurie sublimates the traumatic experiences of his time in Grahamstown, creating "ghostly" presences with which he may interact (via dreams) and address the anxiety he feels.

    Segall distinguishes the "traumatic sublime" from the classical sublime of Longius (in which art can bring about ekstasis), Edmund Burke's Gothic sublime (in which great art sparks such a strong sense of terror in one's mind that an awareness of self is utterly impossible), and the Romantic sublime of William Wordsworth (where art so enraptures an individual that one's sense of self expands):
    In what I am calling the traumatic sublime, in contrast [to the earlier conceptions of literary sublimity], experiences of violence are changed into images of oppressed subjects and ghosts. These images of ghostly figures serve as troubling memory sites. Because these disturbing memories are not easily ignored nor assimilated into a narrative of identity, these mnemonic images resist a complete erasure of the past, especially in a postcolonial setting where there is a historical legacy of violation. With their uneasy sublimation of the past, these identity-fracturing traumatic images pose a potential crisis for the protagonist. These ghostly images represent the friction between traumatic images and identity. The traumatic sublime, as a troubling sensation that occurs when a painful event of the past is changed into a disturbing image, shifts the gaze from the self to an-other. Unlike the gothic loss of self or the romantic expansion of self, the traumatic sublime alters the focus from the protagonist to another character...As in the uncanny, the traumatic sublime uses symbols and disturbing images to reformulate a character's past... (42)
    Essentially, unresolved traumas (those the individual cannot confront directly) manifest themselves as new ghostly images that produce similar anxieties as the original traumatic experiences, but projected outward. In other words, when the individual cannot directly confront a trauma he or she has experienced, the traumatic sublime allows him or her to envision the pain in another, detached form and address it from a "safe" distance. In Disgrace, Segall argues, "[t]he sublimated ghostly bodies all lead to the central signified of Lucy's raped body," preventing Lurie from blocking the memory of her rape and forcing him to confront it. In doing so, the traumatic sublime brings violation and subjugation to the front of Lurie's consciousness, highlighting those instance in which he himself has played a part. Haunted by these ghosts, Lurie begins the moral transformation so many critics view as central to the novel.

    Gareth Cornwell, I have to admit, amuses me to no end. Eschewing the "logical and historical emptiness" of "post-Saussurean, Derridean" readings of Disgrace, Cornwell opts to make "a couple of common-sense observations" (311). He also criticizes "the metaphysical dread to which Derridean differance can lead if we are prepared to take its anti-realism too seriously":
    [M]eaning endlessly deferred as words drop their eyes and shake their heads in embarassment, gesturing towards their equally feckless fellows, abdicating their own authority to signify, and performing an empty act of delegation. (311)
    Seriously, that has to be one of the absolute greatest assessments of Derridean excess ever published in a major literary journal.

    That said, Cornwell makes many solid observations about Disgrace. His essay deals primarily with the text's use of the realist mode to present David and Lucy Lurie's stories. Ultimately, Cornwell concludes that Coetzee fashions a plot out of the seemingly contradictory antirealist allegorical and the realist mimetic modes of representation, thereby reflecting "Coetzee's abiding ambivalence towards realism and his suspicion of the reflexivity of antirealism or 'antiillusionism' as the alternative."

    For tomorrow: Read another article.

    Works Cited

    Cornwell, Gareth. "Realism, Rape, and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Critique 43.4 (2002): 307-322.

    Segall, Kimberly Wedeven. "Pursuing Ghosts: The Traumatic Sublime in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Research in African Literatures 36.4 (2005): 40-54.

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    Sunday, June 8, 2008
    Again, I will have to keep this brief.

    I did get some reading done, but not nearly as quickly as I would have liked. It was entirely my own fault. As much as I would like to blame the heat or my friends or sleeping in, I was the culprit. I had plenty of time to work and I kept procrastinating.

    Which sucks.

    For tomorrow: Read another article or two.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, May 28, 2008
    Today was pretty much a duplicate of yesterday. I stayed up late and slept all day. I didn't feel like working and couldn't get myself started until quite late at night. And, like yesterday, I managed to get a bit more writing done. The one advantage I had today was that, having written a solid piece yesterday, I did not feel too far removed from the chapter. That had been a problem for me yesterday. I find that skipping more than a day or two between writing sessions tends to make the resumption of the writing process difficult.

    I have noticed that when I am actively engaged in writing a chapter, I feel physically tethered to my home. I sometimes feel as if I have to finish the chapter before I take a trip anywhere, as if leaving a chapter temporarily unfinished is somehow inappropriate. You know, like partially bandaging a wound, leaving the unfinished job to watch a rerun of Jake and the Fat Man, and then resuming after the credits begin to roll.

    Ugh.

    For tomorrow: Read an article or write.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, May 27, 2008
    Again, I will have to keep this entry on the brief side. After a wonderful weekend spent with family and friends (and cats, birds, and guinea pigs), I found myself a bit out of sorts this afternoon. While my mood was not particularly bad, I had a hard time returning to my work-centered existence. This is why:

    1. Having finished Diary of a Bad Year, the only reading I really need to do for my research at the moment is literary criticism, a type of writing which, unlike fiction, I generally do not enjoy reading. With a few exceptions, literary criticism does not capture my imagination in the same way a good novel does. I mean, sure, it can be edifying, even interesting, but I'd much rather read Coetzee than criticism of Coetzee's fiction. So, there was a letdown there.

    2. Going from a full house to an empty house can be a tough transition.

    and

    3. I got distracted. Really, really distracted. This resulted, of course, in a significant amount of procrastination which, in turn, meant that I would be doing my work late at night, when fatigue makes focusing difficult.

    But I did what I set out to do and read some of the criticism. It just took me all day to get around to it.

    For tomorrow: Dissertate or read at least two essays.

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    ____________________________________________
    Saturday, May 10, 2008
    This'll have to be a really short entry because I've stayed up much later than I should have. So, yeah, I procrastinated quite a bit today, but I did get my reading done. So there!

    For tomorrow: Read some more of Foe.

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    ____________________________________________
    Monday, May 5, 2008
    I'm glad I've got this Sunday behind me. It was one of those days where I wake up, realize that I don't really want to write, go back to sleep, wake up, realize that I don't really want to write, go back to sleep . . . you get the picture.

    Once I did get myself up and out of bed, though, I managed to sit myself down in front of the computer, open up all the word processing files I'd need to refer to, and stare at the screen, groaning to myself about how I didn't wanna write. Then I got some food, saw what a nice day it was to walk outside, went back inside, ate, found that I still couldn't get writing, played with my cat, sat back down, put my head on my folded arms, groaned some more, sat up, and started surfing the internet.

    That is to say I did not get started writing until much later than I had hoped.

    But I did get a good chunk of writing done. I still don't like what I've been writing, finding fault everywhere, but I pushed through the vexation, forced myself to finish the train of thought before quitting for the night, and found the idea of visiting a Wal*Mart really, really late really, really enticing.

    Seriously, though, today was one of the rougher days I've had.

    I'm glad it's over. Not in the sense that I particularly enjoy being a day closer to death, but I think you probably get my meaning.

    For tomorrow: Read an article on Disgrace or, as will more than likely be the case, start reading Foe.

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    ____________________________________________
    Sunday, March 23, 2008
    A long day, I'm afraid is going to have to result in a short entry. I did get the work I set out to do finished, but it took me until the wee hours of the morning to do so. Though a significant chunk of my day consisted of a six hour block of teaching this morning and afternoon, I did procrastinate a bit more than I should have this evening. Or, rather, much more than I normally regard as acceptable. Granted, I had fun playing games with friends and watching old punk rock videos, but still...

    I dealt with a mild swell in dissertation anxiety this evening, as well. For some reason, I began dwelling on the amount of time I have spent/wasted so far in relation to the amount of time normally granted to a doctoral candidate to complete his or her dissertation at my university and felt the familiar pulsing of nervousness and doubt. As had happened so often already, my thoughts drifted from the task at hand to the unsettlingly unstable realm of academic marketability and professional branding. Of course, my supervisor does not seem concerned in the least and, given that she has supervised dissertations and the doctoral students who write them at this institution for three decades, I try to impose on myself the sense that I am doing at least reasonably well. But, still...

    Other than that, I continue to marvel at both the amount of stuff popping out at me from The Master of Petersburg and how much more I am enjoying Waiting for the Barbarians the second time around. I realize that some of my older readers will chuckle at this statement, but bear with me here...one of the most wonderful things about getting older is that, with accumulated experience, the beauty of truly brilliant art can be better appreciated. I mean, in the six years since I read the novel, I have experienced that much more of life's richness and, accordingly, appreciate the sublimity of Coetzee's book more deeply. I can only imagine how utterly transcendent an experience reading Moby-Dick is for someone of sixty or seventy.

    At any rate, I am going to sign off now. The sleepier I feel, the less confident I am in my ability to string together cogent sentences, so I will wrap this up while eyelids are light enough to hold open.

    For tomorrow: More o' the same.

    And, just in case you were wondering what was the most intense-sounding live performance of the 1980s, I suggest you plug "Husker Du" and "New Day Rising" into the search bar on YouTube.

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    ____________________________________________
    Wednesday, March 12, 2008
    There's not a whole lot for me to report on today. I've read most of what I'd set aside for today and plan on reading a few more pages of In the Heart of the Country this evening before calling it a night. As has been the case so often lately, I found myself putting off the little bit of work I'd planned on getting through until evening. This, perhaps not surprisingly, hasn't been a huge problem--if one chooses to regard it as a problem at all--but such a tendency can have some unexpected consequences. For me, it is rather difficult to enjoy myself if I have left work unfinished, so the more time I spend procrastinating, the less free time I have at the end of the day, the time when I would most enjoy a period of relaxation during which I could entertain myself without the weight of work bearing down on me. Thus, I rarely enjoy procrastinating because the internal pressure I feel to address whatever task I have laid out for myself crowds out the pleasure I might otherwise get out of doing something fun.

    Still, despite the nagging pressure to get more reading done, I watched and enjoyed the season debut of South Park (and, okay, a documentary on the National Geographic Channel and maybe a little bit about Eliot Spitzer's resignation) this evening.

    Otherwise, my mood today has been consistent with the slightly heightened sense of anxiety I generally feel when starting a new project. As usual, I have been swatting away the pesky doubts swarming around my mind, trying to dampen the bombilation...I'll let you know how that goes.

    For tomorrow: Keep rereading the criticism on The Master of Petersburg and try to get through a bit more of In the Heart of the Country.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, March 11, 2008
    I seem to have hit something of a rut lately and, as is often the case with these sort of things, I have difficulty identifying a moment when what had been a steady pace began to slow into a wheezy stagger (this is one of those instances when I wish I could place footnotes in my text, so that I could make some snarky, if unfunny, quip about Weezie from The Jeffersons). Like so many other things, the development is gradual and one only recognizes that the change has taken place well into the process. On the other hand, I wonder if perhaps I have not really slowed down, that memory has colored past progress in an unrealistically rosy shade...

    Despite the hours spent procrastinating, however, I did make my way through the reading I'd set aside for myself today. I am enjoying In the Heart of the Country, as I believe I've already mentioned, though I find that reading the unhinged protagonist's stream-of-consciousness narrative is not always as easy or quick a task as I'd like it to be. Though I would like to say a few things about the book, I will hold off on discussing the novel at length until I have finished it.

    Other than the unpleasant sense that I am lagging a bit in my work, I have begun feeling some of the old anxious standbys creeping into my consciousness. For instance, as I progress down the rather narrow intellectual path a doctoral dissertation necessarily requires of the beleaguered scholar, I crave a broader knowledge of fields outside my own. I long to read history books, philosophical treatises, religious screeds, political exposes, and scientific studies. I want as thorough an education as Will Durant, as deep an understanding of things--of everything--as is humanly possible, and yet I haven't the photographic memory of a Harold Bloom (not to mention his astounding ability to read in excess of ninety pages an hour), I lack the focus and, above all, the time to devote to that sort of extended study. And, boy, it tasks me.

    That restlessness extends to this blog, too. There are times when I would like to write a short essay on some aspect of higher education that I feel particularly passionate about, but I do not feel as if I have the time to devote to that sort of effort. There is one thing, however, that I would like to say about something wholly unrelated to this blog: I am astonished by the overwhelming outpouring of support among my 18-35 year-old peers for Barak Obama's presidential candidacy. I should emphasize that I am not particularly concerned with the possibility that Mr. Obama will become the next president of the United States, as I am sure he will be about as effective a leader as any of the current candidates. What concerns me, however, is the blind acceptance with which so many young people seem to embrace Obama's message. Bearing a message of hope as consistently vague as it is enthusiastic, Obama seems to have channeled the spirit of Beatlemania as effectively as any politician. Now, messages of hope and progress have always drawn the enthusiasm of socially-concerned, altruistic idealists--as should be the case--but the unquestioning enthusiasm with which Obama's brand of political optimism has been accepted suggests that the widespread dissatisfaction many Americans feel towards the Bush-Cheney era has weakened the healthy skepticism with which we normally scrutinize political rhetoric to a point when unremarkable statements dressed in decidedly eloquent, powerful oratory are welcomed as both novel and genuinely profound. Again, I am not saying that Mr. Obama's upbeat message is anything but a positive thing, but I hesitate to dismiss his lack of political experience, his inconsistent legislative record, or his astonishing self-importance (three traits many candidates share) as irrelevant to an evaluation of his candidacy as so many people seem to do. Therein lies the problem: Mr. Obama is as glib, as charming, as eloquent as any politician ought to be but we've lost our skepticism as a nation. In our haste to usher out what many perceive as a shamefully bleak era in American history, we have suppressed our skeptical nature, the hallmark of critical thinking and that is the problem with Barak Obama's candidacy. He has channeled the zeitgeist of a dissatisfied nation into an infectiously electric frenzy and very few commentators seem comfortable questioning whether such a splenetic mass mentality is healthy. If Mr. Obama wins the Democratic nomination, I suspect we will see some of these issues raised in the media and I suspect they will be spun as part of a conservative agenda, but they are not meant to favor the John McCain ticket or even a Hillary Clinton-headed Democratic slate. What I fear is reactionary fervor, blind acceptance as the result of sheer disdain, and a moment in our history when we lose an opportunity to reflect upon the consequences of jumping on a jingoistic bandwagon in the wake of a horrible tragedy by simply jumping on another bandwagon after the first one crashes.

    For tomorrow: More reading.

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    ____________________________________________
    Again, I am going to have to keep tonight's entry short. I haven't quite finished the reading I'd set aside for today and, as it is approaching two in the morning, I'd like to wrap it up so that I can get to bed.

    At any rate, I have been procrastinating a bit more lately than I have in quite some time. I'm not sure why I am having as much trouble bearing down as I am, but I suspect it is the result of one or more of the following factors:

    1. I haven't taken a day off since early December and, really, could use a long rest.

    2. Approaching mid-semester, I find I am tired and a bit more restless after half a term of grading and waking up at ungodly hours of the morning.

    3. I caught a whiff of Spring earlier this week and kinda-sorta wanna go play outside.

    4. I am nearing the writing phase again and, as I was in the days and weeks leading up to the time I spent writing my Age of Iron chapter, am full of doubts and anxieties regarding the feasibility of writing a whole chunk of the dissertation on The Master of Petersburg.

    5. I have been relaxing and socializing a bit more lately and, like a drought-parched field sprinkled with rain, I ache for more, more, more...

    Whatever the case happens to be, though, I will continue doing what I have been doing, embracing the lag as part of the whole experience...irritating as it may be.

    For tomorrow: Read more of In the Heart of the Country and reread a bit more of the criticism on The Master of Petersburg.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, February 22, 2008
    I'm posting today's entry in the afternoon for two reasons: A) I have company coming over tonight, so I am not sure I will have much time--if any--to write anything later; and B) I am fighting the urge to nap.

    The latter issue, actually, has been bothering me lately. I have always enjoyed my naps, which until lately had almost exclusively been a night-owl's way to stay up late while having to get up early for work or school. Recently, though, I have started napping out of boredom which, if I am not mistaken, is often a sign of depression. I can't say that I am particularly melancholy, having maintained a sense of fulfillment in both my academic and personal lives for some time now. Still, I am troubled by my use of sleeping as a pastime. Granted, there is not a whole lot to do in the particular region of New York I currently call home, but I am disappointed in myself for having gotten into such a negative habit. I mean, many people, when depressed or sad, turn to sleep as an escape hatch from a stressful life, but it strikes me as something altogether unhealthy when not in that context (though, even in such a context, I would imagine it mightn't be regarded as all that positive of a thing to do). Sure, it can be relaxing to close one's eyes and sometimes even nap a bit when sleepiness is not really a factor--like at the beach, for instance. But to paradoxically resort to sleep out of restlessness strikes me as a symptom of a particularly poor approach to dealing with ennui.

    In previous posts, I mentioned the loneliness and isolation I often feel working on such a solitary project and I suspect some of sleep's appeal stems from my struggles with solipsism, but I hesitate to place an unfair amount of the blame on external factors. I am certain that, among other things, I have found napping to be a convenient means of procrastinating. I mean, one can always say "oh, hey, I had better get sleep out of my system so I can work on X-Y-Z without fatigue dragging me down."

    If anything, I suppose I have found something out about myself that I will want to change. I do not want to waste my life; I will have to find newer, healthier ways to fill my days. I will need to improve the quality of my downtime with something other than the crossword puzzles and naps I have been turning to...if only for my own mental health. I am wondering about possibly joining a gym. Again, I do not want to blame grad school or my dissertation for this peculiar development. This habit must be my own doing; it has to be a result of my own acquiescence and apathy, so it will have to be something I address as my own responsibility to change.

    Not that an extra nap here and there has really been much of a problem. I mean, I have managed to work on the dissertation, teach several classes, maintain a social life, and take care of various other responsibilities. I just don't want "not much of a problem" to become "a problem."

    At any rate, I am going to take a walk now, get some fresh air, and possibly check out the local gym (since I cannot afford a good treadmill, I reason, perhaps I should sweat all over someone else's). From what I hear, regular exercise improves the mood, energizes the individual, and can help one maintain focus...all of which seem like pretty solid benefits for a dissertationing fella like myself. Oh, and the weight loss and other health benefits seem pretty cool, too.

    So, I have gotten my work done for today and, again, have been surprised by how much I underlined. I am still quite nervous about this chapter and future chapters on Coetzee's other work, but I figure I will just have to press ahead, reminding myself that I have thirty solid pages down. Not that past work guarantees facility in future work, but it can at least provide a sense of being on one's way when struggling...

    Also, I may not write anything until Sunday because I have people visiting me this weekend, which may limit my time on the internet. I will, however, assign the same amount of reading I have been doing each day for both tomorrow and Sunday, aiming to finish rereading The Master of Petersburg by weekend's end.

    For tomorrow: See above.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, January 29, 2008
    Wow. Today was a horrible day in terms of productivity. I had hoped, coming off of a light weekend, that I would have been able to get quite a bit done.

    I didn't.

    As usual, waking up prior to seven in the morning took a bit of a toll on me and I felt sleepy all day. I spent some time after school playing chess at the coffee shop with Josh (losing, naturally) before heading home to promptly fall asleep for a few hours. When I did wake up, I found that I procrastinated far more than I have in quite some time, realizing as the minutes became hours that I wasn't going to get much completed at all. Finally, I did manage to read through most of an article, but as I grew increasingly tired, my mind kept wandering and I started the article several times before deciding that, given its length and complexity, I wasn't going to be able to do it the justice I felt it deserved.

    In the end, I decided to read a brief--and I mean really brief--essay the Literary Chica sent me a while back from the New York Times. I won't summarize it here since you can simply read it for yourself, but I will say that it pretty much captures the essence of the current critical debates surrounding Coetzee and is well worth reading, especially for readers unfamiliar with the author's work. And, yes, I took notes, so I technically did what I set out to do today. . .but only in the most pathetically literal of ways. And I am disappointed with myself for that reason. I do not want a few days' relaxation to snowball into the sort of unproductive periods I find so easy to fall into and so hard to climb out of. Ugh.

    Tomorrow looks like it may shape up to be a peculiar day, so I do not know how realistic it will be for me to get any writing done (though I would like to try). In any case. . .

    For tomorrow: Read today's aborted essay, plus at least one additional paper...OR, read the aborted essay and get some writing done.

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    ____________________________________________
    Tuesday, January 15, 2008
    I woke up this morning (I say "morning" because it was morning in the Central, Mountain, and Pacific time zones) and fought the temptation to go back to bed all day. In fact, I fought several different, equally compelling, forces: the aforementioned desire to succumb to sweet, sweet slumber; an overwhelming urge not to do any work; and, strangely, the desire to just go ahead and start writing the next section of my chapter.

    The underlying issue, I think, is the fact that I detest writing outlines with such passion that negative energy wells up inside me at an astounding pace every time I remember that I need to do one. Outlines, for me, have almost always been extraneous, tedious wastes of time and energy. In grade school, for instance, I would write an essay before writing the outline because it was easier that way. As I got older, I began to see the value of outlines, at least as a way to think on paper, but I still found that I had already plotted out my papers-to-be in my mind, and found arranging my ideas with Roman numerals and lowercase letters did next to nothing to make my paper any better. So I struggled with that much of the afternoon, procrastinating, driving around, cleaning, and doing pretty much anything but write an outline. Fortunately, to quell my anxieties (stemming from the fact that I'd not done much work), I read a few more chapters in The Master of Petersburg and plan to finish it on Friday.

    Still, I'd promised myself that I would plan things out in outline form, and I did. Eventually. I suppose it helped a bit, but I only wrote maybe a page worth of stuff. I should probably spend some time picking out examples and selecting quotations before I write the stupid thing, but I loathe doing so. I mean, I realize that irrigating a field requires that one dig little channels for the water before unleashing the flood, but still...what boring, idiotic, mind-numbing work!

    So, I guess that's what I will try to do tomorrow and/or Thursday: go through my notes again, find the passages I want to work with again, arrange them again, and hopefully end up with a well-written paper. Part of the difficulty I am having, too, probably originates in the growing sense of I want this blanking thing done now! that has been growing in me these past few years. There's something about being thirty (or, almost thirty) and still being a student that irks me. I mean, there's nothing wrong with going to school at any age, really, but I am plum tuckered out from spending all but one of the past twenty-five years in school. So, when I see the outline adding another day or two to the writing process standing between me and finished!, I can't help but buck a bit, writhing in the throes of immature I doan wanna! But I will try to push through the damn thing, knowing now more than ever before that I will need to build breaks into my schedule. After I finish the section on Age of Iron, I think, I should take more than a day or two off. Maybe give myself a week filled with day trips, junk food, and prodigal spending habits? We'll see.

    But that's how I am today.

    For tomorrow: Read another twenty pages in The Master of Petersburg and try, just try to get some more planning done for the second part of the chapter.

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    ____________________________________________
    Thursday, January 3, 2008
    Yeah, so today was another one of those days where I stayed in bed far later than I should have and, once I did get out of bed, I could not focus on my work. I have not taken a full day's break from the dissertation in over two weeks and I am beginning to think I should take a couple of days off to recharge my reserves, but I know I will not enjoy myself unless I have something written to show for my effort. Still, I'm getting to the point where I am just groaning at the thought of reading any more criticism and I notice more and more that my chagrin manifests itself in a stubborn refusal to focus on whatever I am reading.

    Needless to say, I procrastinated much of the day.

    I sorted songs in my iTunes library, then I solved a few crossword puzzles, then I told myself I would check email (and ended up procrastinating more). Then it was, like, ten at night. When I finally managed to eat a bit (while watching Seinfeld), it was well neigh eleven...and I still hadn't done much.

    At that point I seriously contemplated driving six hours to New Bedford, Massachusetts to attend the annual Moby-Dick marathon reading. Something, anything to escape the wretched sense of stagnation I feel. In the end, though, I opted to make a few more votive candles, if only because the lengthy process would force me to stay up late enough (it's almost four-thirty) to get something done.

    And I did.

    Finally.

    As I mentioned earlier, I have been working my way through the book-length studies of Coetzee, picking up a few useful tidbits of critical insight and cursing Age of Iron for having inspired so much discussion. I feel obliged to review every piece of criticism published on the book if I am going to write about it, but I am really struggling. I have grown weary of the repetitive nature of the critical discourse and frustrated by the time it takes to digest the unnecessarily convoluted writing style some critics still use. Thankfully, the chapter I read this evening was not one of those. Graham Huggan, one of the more prominent figures in postcolonial literary studies, penned an interesting look at entropy and evolution in Age of Iron for a collection of essays he edited, and I found the chapter insightful and rather unique in perspective.

    Regardless, I have felt burnt out and frustrated over the past few days, and I crave a bit of unencumbered free time. Since the next semester starts up in less than a fortnight, however, I don't know how likely it is that I will find the time to do so. I desperately want to finish the section on Age of Iron so that I can take a couple of days to relax without the anxiety not having written a word would likely inspire. Although a daytrip would help me recoup some of the energy I will need to better handle the stress of preparing syllabi and beginning the next phase of the chapter, I imagine I will have to find some other, more immediate outlet for my tension. Indeed, batting cages come to mind...

    I am disappointed in myself for having spent as much time as I have on a novel that doesn't figure very prominently in my overall project, but I am hoping that, with Disgrace (which inspired a huge critical discussion) already tackled, I will be able to move more quickly through Elizabeth Costello and Slow Man (and possibly Diary of a Bad Year, which I have yet to read). Since the post-2000 novels have considerably fewer articles written about them--a fact which likely owes more to their relatively recent publication dates than to their lack of rich content--and because I enjoy the texts a good deal more than Age of Iron, I imagine it will be a bit easier to make my way through the criticism.

    I hope.

    I suppose I am just burnt out, again. I mean, I have been in a consistently burnt-out state since partway through my Master's degree, so I am accustomed to periods of exasperation, but as my thirtieth birthday looms menacingly on the horizon, I often feel that I just want to finish this chapter of my life, close the book, tuck it snugly between my past and my future, and move the #@$% on.

    All I can say is that graduate study is definitely not for those people who crave instant gratification.

    Still, I refuse to allow today's frustrations to get the better of me. This is not the nadir of my existence...it will be a reminder to myself in the future that I have gotten through bad days before and can do so again.

    For tomorrow: Try to get through as much of the remaining book-borne criticism as possible.

    Work Cited

    Huggan, Graham. "Evolution and Entropy in J. M. Coetzee's Age of Iron." Critical Perspectives on J. M. Coetzee. Eds. Graham Huggan and Stephen Watson. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

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    ____________________________________________
    Friday, December 21, 2007
    Today was one of those days when, prior to beginning this blog project, I would not have worked on my dissertation at all. I woke up with an earache that became a full-fledged headache by midday and I was uncommonly groggy despite having slept well. So I napped for a few hours, woke up, and napped for another few hours, essentially wasting the day. A month ago I would have declared the day "lost" and spent the rest of afternoon and evening surfing around on the internet or solving crossword puzzles or some such activity.

    Now, I am not going to lie and say I did not dawdle part of the evening away reading the Mitchell Report, but I did manage to read the two articles I set aside for myself. Granted, I did have to drive myself to the Old Country Buffet and the Barnes and Noble Cafe to find places to read far enough away from my bed to avoid the temptation to just sleep my way through the entire day.

    In any case, I picked up The Master of Petersburg at the Barnes and Noble, effectively increasing my reading list again.

    Still, I am pleased that I read what I set out to read despite the fact that today was not one of my more positive days, mood-wise. The more my head throbbed, it seemed, the more irritated I grew at the prospect of spending so much time reading critical articles, trying to squeeze a few drops of useful (to me, at least) information for the dissertation. I felt discouraged and perhaps a bit childish (more of the sense of "bud aye doan' wanna" rearing its ugly head). But I did it, largely thanks to this blog so, again, I want to thank those of you kind enough to keep reading this and checking in on me...your support really has made a significant difference.

    Today's readings, unfortunately, were largely irrelevant to my research, but did yield a few precious nuggets of critical insight into Age of Iron. The first article I read, Travis V. Mason's "Dog Gambit: Shifting the Species Boundary in J. M. Coetzee's Recent Fiction" adds another dozen or so pages to the already skyscraping pile of criticism focusing on human/animal relations in Disgrace and The Lives of Animals. Having read a good deal of the critical writing surrounding Disgrace, I am relatively familiar with the pre-existing critical miasma enveloping much of the author's recent oeuvre, and have come to appreciate many of the arguments for Coetzee's work as the author's attempt to raise concern for animal rights. Although some of the animal rights-oriented critics have made the mistake of using Coetzee as a soapbox from which to make an assortment of decidedly unliterary claims, Mason manages to stay true to the texts he discusses, though, in my opinion, he reads his own ideas too deeply into the words of another on several occasions. The most glaring example of this tendency would have to be Mason's assertion that, via what the critic rather misleadingly terms "pronominal shiftiness" (the latter term evokes an almost sinister connotation when, in fact, Mason does not mean to imply anything of the sort), Coetzee 's Disgrace "suggest[s] the possibility that the dogs are speaking to each other, or to Lucy and David" (38) in the scene preceding Lucy's rape:

    Three men are coming toward them on the path, or two men and a boy. They are walking fast, with countrymen's long strides. The dog at Lucy's side slows down, bristles.

    "Should we be nervous?" he murmers.

    "I don't know."

    She shortens the Dobermanns' leashes. The men are upon them. A nod, a greeting, and they have passed.

    "Who are they?" he asks.

    "I've never laid eyes on them before." (91)


    "Gramatically speaking," Mason observes, "the first line of dialogue is attributable to the last character mentioned. Since Coetzee "uses the pronoun 'he' to identify the speaker," Mason argues, and since "the last character mentioned" is "the dog at Lucy's side," the critic suggests the "referent-ambiguity" may imply that the male dog literally speaks in the scene (38). Admitting, however, that "the transgression of a species boundary" may be "too radical a reading," Mason does shift his focus the rather common assertion that Coetzee uses the aforementioned pronominal shiftiness to enable the novel to be read in "a political context as a challenge to a particular type of person's--white, male, human--ownership of voice," essentially echoing scores of earlier critical assessments of Coetzee's work as fundamentally dealing with the relationship between language and power (38).

    Overall, though, Mason's essay is a readable, if not altogether fresh, reading of Coetzee's interest in human/animal relationships.

    The second essay I read, Frank Schulze-Engler's "Literature and Civil Society in South Africa," deals only briefly with Age of Iron. Not having read some of the novels Schulze-Engler discusses, I cannot make any claims as to the validity of his readings, but his consideration of the ways in which the socio-political milieu of South Africa (and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the world) interact with creative works seems plausible enough.

    For tomorrow: As Friday promises to be a busy day, I will read one article tomorrow in addition to the work I will continue to do on my non-dissertation writing.

    Works Cited

    Coetzee, J. M. Disgrace. New York: Vikings, 1999.

    Mason, Travis V. "Dog Gambit: Shifting the Species Boundary in J. M. Coetzee's Recent Fiction." Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature. 39.4 (2006): 129-44.

    Schulze-Engler, Frank. "Literature and Civil Society in South Africa." ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature. 27.1 (1996): 21-40.

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    Wednesday, December 19, 2007
    Anyone who has ever attended graduate school in the humanities, especially those folks in fields where the odds of landing a tenure-track job are not particularly high, will be familiar with the phrase "publish or perish," the unofficial motto of academia. Essentially, we are told from the moment we set foot in our first graduate seminar that if we do not publish research in our respective fields, the likelihood of securing a comfortable living teaching at a college or university is essentially that of the Miami Dolphins making the NFL playoffs this year. In other words, your dreams of a twenty hour work week perish if you do not publish a sufficient amount of research to prove your worth as a scholar. Now, for some people, research is a great joy and the primary reason for attending graduate school. For others, the research is something to do in order to secure a teaching post. I place myself in the latter camp; though I genuinely enjoy reading and researching the authors and ideas I find fascinating, I am primarily concerned with teaching. That is where I find the most joy in life and, ironically, classroom discussion often inspires the critical thinking behind the articles I write.

    In any case, I find myself at a rather interesting place in my academic career. As an ABD student, I am qualified to teach at many schools and have, fortunately, not had a great deal of difficulty finding employment. As a fifth-year doctoral student, however, I am entirely off funding at my graduate school and must teach more classes than would optimally enable me to work on my dissertation at the pace I feel it deserves. (Note: the following passage is painfully cyclical and may make the reader dizzy). As a result, I find that I have to do the thing I most want to do (teach) in order to afford to support the completion of my doctoral studies (research), which I need to finish in order to land the sort of teaching job that will give me time to research and be an effective educator. Thus, teaching becomes the means to an end (that is, in itself, essentially, another means to another end) rather than the end to a means, which can be frustrating. I feel as if I am both where I want to be and about as far from where I want to be as one can be.

    Add the pressure to publish on top of all this and one may well find oneself taking on research duties unrelated to his or her dissertation in order to prove his or her scholarly value to a potential employer which, with the deadlines such extracurricular work carries with it, often pushes the deadline-free dissertation to the proverbial back burner's back burner. Having spent a significant time producing such "extra" research, I have been fortunate enough to forge good relationships with a number of publishers who occasionally solicit additional work from me. Naturally, I really want to keep writing for these publications. Unfortunately, I find that I am at a stage in my career where I actually have to decline such flattering solicitations if I am to free up the time I need to work on my own, increasingly burdensome, projects. Again, I am both where I want to be and, in being there, preventing myself from securing a comfortable position in the spot I am already in.

    This is the place I find myself in at the moment. I am slowly finishing up a few projects I took on, including a few for publications I am honored to be affiliated with. The reason I bring all this up is to justify why I will be assigning myself somewhat smaller dissertation readings for the next little while. In other words, I am not lazy, I promise! So, here's my plan: finish up the stuff pushing the dissertation back, work on the dissertation, focus on teaching. Makes sense, right?

    In any case, I did review the two essays I assigned to myself for today. The first article I read was Mike Marais's "Places of Pigs: The Tension between Implication and Transcendence in J. M. Coetzee's Age of Iron and The Master of Petersburg." This essay, like the article of Marais's I reviewed a few days ago, devotes most of its space to a discussion of several key critical debates surrounding Coetzee's writing: those dealing with power, language, and their effects on one another. What I found most interesting, however, was Marais's discussion of the ways in which Coetzee uses the physical states of his protagonists to mirror and comment upon the social and political conditions of their respective environments, an issue I found myself contemplating as I re-read Age of Iron last week.

    A year or so ago, when the tiny academic journal I edit was assembling an issue devoted to Coetzee, several noted Coetzee scholars served on our editorial advisory board. One of the critics kind enough to work with our staff, Lidan Lin, penned the second essay I read today, "J. M. Coetzee and the Postcolonial Rhetoric of Simultaneity," a fact which sparked a bit more interest in the essay than I might otherwise have had. I am pleased to share my favorable impression of Lin's scholarship. This is another of the more accessible articles I have encountered and one with a pleasingly critical tendency to engage with poststructural and postcolonial theory in such a way as to problematize some of the more sweepingly poststructural readings of Coetzee's work while simultaneously acknowledging their value. Although the essay dealt overwhelmingly with Foe, Lin's exploration of Coetzee's "rhetoric of simultaneity" provides a valuable insight into the author's entire body of work. Whereas some critics fault Coetzee for seemingly avoiding a specifically South African literature, Lin rightfully praises the author for his "willingness to de-essentialize the uniqueness of colonial oppression by bringing it to bear on similar human experiences outside the historical specificity of colonialism" (43). Though brief, Lin's discussion of Age of Iron is insightful and adds to the discussion surrounding Curren's relationship with Vercueil by focusing on the role the other (the vagrant) plays in forming the self (Curren).

    For tomorrow: Read one article, work on the aforementioned "extras," and have a delightful evening socializing with my wonderful coworkers because, hey, I deserve a break!

    Works Cited

    Lin, Lidan. "J. M. Coetzee and the Postcolonial Rhetoric of Simultaneity." International Fiction Review. 28.1-2 (2001): 42-53.

    Marais, Mike. "Places of Pigs: The Tension between Implication and Transcendence in J. M. Coetzee's Age of Iron and The Master of Petersburg." The Journal of Commonwealth Literature. 31.1 (1996): 83-95.

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