Sobriquet 37.18

A few days ago, I wrote about the acute sense of isolation I have been experiencing since I started working on the dissertation in earnest a couple of weeks ago. This uncomfortably solipsistic mood, I suspect, has intensified as a result of my single-minded push to get this thing started at a time when, since I am currently between semesters, I do have a sense of external structure within which to arrange my life. For some people--including various incarnations of myself over the years--this sort of structureless situation can be a delightfully liberating experience, pulsing with an exciting blend of possibility and adventure. For me, at this time, in this place, however, it has not been particularly enjoyable. My sleep schedule, for instance, has morphed into that of Count Dracula. And, given the relatively little amount of sunlight one is likely to encounter during a typical upstate New York winter, I am missing natural light. Two days ago, I could not sleep until well after six in the morning, which prompted me to drink fewer caffeinated sodas yesterday, and I was able to fall asleep at a comparatively early hour. Then I proceeded to wake up at noon today, eat, do a crossword puzzle or two, and promptly fall back asleep until after five. I would yell "argh" at this point to emphasize my frustration with myself, but--since this is a written medium--that would not work very well.

In any case, Minxy was kind enough to keep me company last night, effectively lifting the heavy sense of solipsism from my existence. It really is amazing how one can allow oneself to sink into such a state with such ease and it is equally amazing how quickly a friend can help ease that feeling. So, after I read the two articles I assigned myself yesterday, and after I had finished cleaning, Minxy and I made candles. I'd picked up some basic candle making equipment a few days ago in an effort to find a creative outlet wholly unrelated to my academic work. I'd always thought it would be an interesting enterprise and, as it turns out, it's rather enjoyable. Minxy actually posted an entry about it on her blog, if anyone cares to read about our little project.

I find that I benefit a great deal from trying my hand at certain crafts because, in doing so, I am able to A) read for pleasure, even if only a few paragraphs; B) use long-neglected parts of my brain; C) come up with elaborate money-making schemes based on the rather silly notion that I could somehow transform myself into a master craftsman; and D) feel a sense of accomplishment at a time when I battle with wanting to stop writing my dissertation--which, I must emphasize, should not be confused with a desire to quit.

Regardless, I have been feeling somewhat strained by the dissertation. I initially thought I would have finished a good deal of writing already and would be able to take a bit of a break. Instead, I desperately want to take a break but feel that I am no where near far enough along in the procedure to justify (to myself, always to myself) taking a breather. Plus, having already read so many articles on one novel, I find myself frustrated by the fact that so many of the essays I have been reading essentially repeat one another. Still, I have made my commitment to do the work I have set out to do, so I should not complain too much. It's not like there's a gun to my head (at least as far as I know. I cannot see behind me, but I am assuming this to be the case.).

So, after finding that I was unable to fall asleep a few nights ago, I finished listening to the audiobook version of Don DeLillo's Mao II (figuring that, if I cannot read books for fun, I can listen to books for fun when driving or laying in bed), I read Brian Macaskill and Jeanne Colleran's peculiar "Interfering with 'The Mind of Apartheid,'" a thoroughly poststructuralist essay split into the essay proper and a sprawling commentary in the form of an exceedingly long footnote clearly inspired by the sort of linguistic/structural (inter)play one finds in Derrida's Glas (the text practically overflows with references to Derrida) and reminiscent of Nabokov's Pale Fire. Not surprisingly, with language alternating between lyrical and painful, the essay dealt with linguistics to such an extent that Age of Iron, when mentioned, was almost an afterthought.

I also read Ina Grabe's "Writing as Exploration and Revelation: Experiencing the Environment, Whether Local or Global, as Envisioned by Different Role Players in J. M. Coetzee's Latest Novels" and Kay Sulk's "'Visiting Himself on Me': The Angel, the Witness, and the Modern Subject of Enunciation in J. M. Coetzee's Age of Iron" yesterday, making me feel quite accomplished, relatively speaking. Having read two of her other essays on Age of Iron, I was not surprised by the content or focus of this essay, though I still marvel at the sheer length of her essay titles. A good deal of this essay sought, again, to make the same connections between Foe and Age of Iron as she did in "Fictionalization of Current Socio-Political Issues in J.M. Coetzee's Writing: Narrative Strategies in Age of Iron and Foe," though extending the connections to The Master of Petersburg and Disgrace, as well. Sulk's essay, although largely a discussion of linguistic and rhetorical aspects of the novel, does provide some interesting insights into the character of Verceuil, which I found useful.

Each of today's readings, Annunciata Arfiero's "The Vain Quest for the Word: Redemptive Silence in Age of Iron" and Nicholas Meihuizen's "Beckett and Coetzee: The Ethics of Insularity" deal with the well-established affinities between the two Nobel Laureates, though the latter essay, as its title indicates, focuses more specifically on the connections while the former compares two writers' work in a larger discussion of Coetzee's exploration of silence in Age of Iron. While both were well-written and thoughtful studies of Coetzee's work, neither provided any new insights into the work. Given the amount of critical discussion surrounding Coetzee's work--what William Gaddis would term "an academic cottage industry"--this is to be expected. In the words with which Beckett opens Murphy, "the sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new."

And, yes, I cleaned some more.

For tomorrow: Read another article (there's only one left in my stack!) and enjoy the day. I need a bit of a break, especially if I am going to start writing in a few days. . .

Works Cited

Arfiero, Annunciata. "The Vain Quest for the Word: Redemptive Silence in Age of Iron." Annali Di Ca' Foscari: Rivista Della Facoltà Di Lingue E Letterature Straniere Dell'Università Di Venezia. 32.1-2 (1993): 5-25.

Gräbe, Ina. "Writing as Exploration and Revelation: Experiencing the Environment, Whether Local or Global, as Envisioned by Different Role-Players in J. M. Coetzee's Latest Novels." Journal of Literary Studies/Tydskrif Vir Literatuurwetenskap. 17.3-4 (2001): 120-44.

Macaskill, Brian, and Jeanne Colleran. "Interfering with 'The Mind of Apartheid'." Pretexts: Studies in Writing and Culture. 4.1 (1992): 67-84.

Meihuizen, Nicholas. "Beckett and Coetzee: The Aesthetics of Insularity." Literator: Tydskrif Vir Besondere En Vergelykende Taal- En Literatuurstudie/Journal of Literary Criticism, Comparative Linguistics and Literary Studies. 17.1 (1996): 143-52.

Sulk, Kay. "'Visiting Himself on Me'-The Angel, the Witness and the Modern Subject of Enunciation in J. M. Coetzee's Age of Iron." Journal of Literary Studies/Tydskrif Vir Literatuurwetenskap. 18.3-4 (2002): 313-26.


minxy said… linked to me in the text!!! You're so sweet.

I find it rather mind-boggling the number of essays you've read for this one book, and how much they repeat themselves. When it's all said and done (the dissertation, that is), you should write an essay about how so many essays don't bring anything new to the table. You may end up pissing off a few of your peers in academia, but maybe some will get the hint to try a different angle.

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