Sobriquet 37.15

Well, I am back at my apartment after a few days spent visiting my family and I'm not sure which place is more deserving of the title "home." I feel like saying "I just got home from home," but that sounds pretty stupid. . .but that is how I always feel. Everywhere I have lived since becoming an academic nomad a dozen years ago has the strange quality of feeling both like home and like a place in which I do not belong. The old adage tells us that home is where the heart is, but when our heart splinters into dozens of shards in order to be with those people that we love--especially when those people we love live in areas we have never lived in ourselves--it seems the saying does not yield the meaning we want it to provide.

In a society where a person can conceivably fall asleep in the passenger seat of a car driving past a restaurant in one state and wake up in front of that same restaurant several hundred miles away in another state or country within a matter of hours, the meaning of home cannot carry the same connotations it once did. As we disperse, so too does the meaning of the word "home." I, for instance, am at home with my family, but miss my friends and so, feel away from home at precisely the moment I feel most at home. I feel at home when I am at work or in my apartment or at a friend's house, but miss my family. I often think that the only home I truly know is an idealized nostalgic home of the metaphysical sort, built upon memories and shaped by current dissatisfaction. Still, at this point all I know is that the entire time I was home, I wanted to come home to do work with which I feel anything but at home. And so continues the dissertation saga...

I find that I work most efficiently in my apartment because I can isolate myself from certain distractions with which I could not otherwise prevent myself from coming into contact. Still, I dislike being away from my friends and family. As I move forward with this oh-so-isolating project, then, I think I will have to devise some way to balance the desire to return home to my family with the need to work on my research. It seems to me that the best solution will be to arrange for a visit every month or so, during which time I will not work on my dissertation and thus focus on the relationships I feel I have neglected while allowing myself not to feel guilty for ceasing the work I feel an equally pressing desire to finish. I have already made some efforts to reconnect with my friends, many of whom I have neglected for far too long, and try to socialize with more regularity than I had hitherto allowed myself to do. I think that if I can establish that sort of routine, I will feel considerably better about myself. In order to do so, however, I suspect I will need to finish this first chapter of the dissertation, if only to prove to myself that I can do the sort of work one would expect from a doctoral student on his way to a Ph.D. The difference between having some tangible evidence that one can do the sort of work one is required to do as opposed to "knowing" or "believing" one can, it seems, is very great, indeed--and certainly something I feel I need to achieve in order to quell the anxieties and fears accompanying the dissertation. Then, with that knowledge secured, I can take breaks, knowing what it is I am taking a break from.

One of the bigger problems I find myself facing now is the rather annoying tendency of time to distort as I work on my project. If writing a dissertation can be likened to traversing a desert across which the corpses of A.B.D.s unable to finish their work lay scattered like the tumbleweed of Warner Brothers cartoons, then the projected date of completion for each section of the dissertation can be compared to a mirage. Seriously, I think to myself "I'll have the Age of Iron section written in a week," but, as I approach that date, the image of having finished the bit of writing in question still dances, teasingly, at as great a distance as it had when I first envisioned it.

Regardless, this is where I find myself today, plodding through the sand, sweating in the sun, trying to reach that first checkpoint, that initial oasis, that first notch on my belt, and feeling utterly, totally frustrated by the fact that it seems as far away as it ever was. So I turn to Aesop, rather than Warner Brothers: I must be the tortoise, not the hare, and plod along, ignoring the meep-meep of the Roadrunner whose speed I know I cannot match and dodging the Acme anvils Wile E. Coyote keeps dropping from the edges of the cartoon cliffs dotting the barren landscape in which I find myself.

So, I did go over an article a day the entire time I was at home: Myrtle Hooper's "'Sweets for My Daughter': Coetzee, Eliot and the Private Mode," Gilbert Yeoh's "J.M. Coetzee and Samuel Beckett: Ethics, Truth-Telling, and Self-Deception," Sheila Whittick's "In the Shadow of Last Things-The Voice of the Confessant in J. M. Coetzee's Age of Iron," and Mary Kinzie's "The Cure of Poetry: On the Discipline of Word and Spirit in Conditions of Dryness: An Essay with Admonishments from the Work of Louise Bogan, J. M. Coetzee, and Other Poets." Hooper's essay foregrounds the role of readership in the constitution of Age of Iron and considers how Coetzee's "personal" narrative strategy can bring readers to consider the very "public" issues some critics fault Coetzee for not explicitly addressing in his fiction. Whittick's essay considers the purpose(s) of confessional literature and shows how Mrs. Curren uses the confessional mode to absolve herself (though the author does not go so far as to assess whether or not Curren is successful in her attempts) of the guilt she feels at having lived in, benefited from, and contributed to the barbarousness of South African apartheid. Gilbert Yeoh also addresses the function of confessional literature and concludes that "[t]he self in Coetzee's fiction is irredeemably self-interested, fails to transcend itself to engage with the other as other and, in effect, is caught in an interpersonal aporia between self and the other," essentially echoing a half-dozen other critics who feel Mrs. Curren is irreversibly separated from and unable to truly comprehend the other (345). Finally, Kinzie's article explores the symbolic, allegoric, and metonymic function of several texts, including Age of Iron. Ultimately, she concludes that, as a "poet" in the truest sense of the term, Coetzee refuses to "substitut[e] an outward battle for an inward one" and "brought to the threshold of comprehension a wholeness of heart that moves surely from inward to outward, complementing the pressure of being-in-the-world in the opposing direction" (477-478). In other words, when Mrs. Curren realizes that she cannot effectively use metonymy to express "the power of love. . .to strengthen one for the journey away from the familiar and beloved" and resolves to love the unlovable, Coetzee presents the truth naked, without resorting to figurative language to serve as its vessel (476).

For tomorrow: Although I have to work on the article I mentioned a few times, I will try to get through two additional essays on Age of Iron.

Works Cited

Hooper, Myrtle. "'Sweets for My Daughter': Coetzee, Eliot and the Private Mode." Critical Survey. 11.2 (1999): 31-44.

Kinzie, Mary. "The Cure of Poetry: On the Discipline of Word and Spirit in Conditions of Dryness: An Essay with Admonishments from the Works of Louise Bogan, J. M. Coetzee, and Other Poets." Southwest Review. 76.4 (1991): 456-78.

Whittick, Sheila C. "In the Shadow of Last Things-The Voice of the Confessant in J. M. Coetzee's Age of Iron." Commonwealth Essays and Studies. 19.1 (1996): 43-59.

Yeoh, Gilbert. "J. M. Coetzee and Samuel Beckett: Ethics, Truth-Telling, and Self-Deception." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction. 44.4 (2003): 331-48.


minxy said…
"Home is where your ass is," an old friend once told me. I can imagine it's somewhat difficult to know where your heart is when your roots have been pulled out and transplanted many times. There are many changes that can't be made right now and you've mentioned the changes you CAN (and plan to) make, so make wherever you are your home and dwell not on the rest of it for now.

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