Sobriquet 37.6

Again, I find myself happy to report that this weblog project has done its job. Despite the fatigue, despite the nagging I doan wanna echoing in my mind, I did make the trek out to Ithaca and I did read two articles.

The nice thing about the trip to Cornell today--other than the fact that their library subscribes to many of the periodicals my home library does not--is that I can now make certain lofty-sounding statements that are undeniably, if misleadingly, true. For instance:

I worked on my doctorate at Cornell.

Or, alternately:

I did graduate work at Cornell.

Granted, statements like I did graduate work at the Charlotte International Airport and I worked on my doctorate at the International House of Pancakes in Vestal, New York are also equally valid.

I can recall visiting Cornell several years ago with my best friend and feeling absolutely miserable. Both of us had been rejected by what was, for us, the one school we most wanted to attend. Both of us had turned down the University of Chicago and other top-tier universities to take advantage of the opportunity not to go into debt by accepting a full ride from a school of lesser renown, and both of us found the grass to be considerably greener on Ithaca's side of the fence. I imagine much of my longing stemmed from the fact that I had been told, repeatedly, that a school's name matters and that a degree issued by a less well-known institution would make finding a job in an oversaturated market that much more difficult

In any case, the impressive buildings and decidedly collegiate feel of Cornell's campus still elicits--though in a markedly duller form--that fear-tinged sense of "had I gone here, I'd get a job no problem." Still, if there's anything I learned from my thesis supervisor at the "Ivy of Canada," it is that a school's name is not nearly as important as a scholar's work, which was my reason for being in Ithaca in the first place. I decided not to dwell on the pining.

So, I enjoyed my time at Cornell's excellent Olin Library, exploring the nooks and crannies of the venerable library and taking some satisfaction in noting that my carrel at school is much nicer than those of my peers at Cornell (is it just me, or does that scene in the film version of American Psycho when Patrick Bateman pathetically compares his business card to those of his colleagues come to mind?). Of the articles I managed to locate, I selected two to review today.

The first, a rather brief essay called "In Pursuit of the State: Uses of the Detective Novel Form in Recent South African Fiction," examines Age of Iron alongside novels by Andre Brink and Alex La Guma and posits that Coetzee fiddles around with the conventions of detective fiction to "confound [the reader's] expectations" (29). While not terribly convincing in its assertion that any genre-specific aspect of detective fiction is actually present in the novel, Susan Thornton's article is refreshingly clear and readable and, ultimately, provides a few precious nuggets of information I may actually be able to build upon in the chapter I plan to begin later this month.

If anything, Thornton's essay provides me with insight into two aspects of the novel's plot that I had overlooked: Vercueil, Mrs. Curren's consort, is black and Mr. Thabane, Florence's cousin, is a police informer. The latter information actually surprised me, leading me to wonder how I had been oblivious to certain--retrospectively obvious--clues while the former reminded me of a similar issue one encounters in several articles dealing with Disgrace. Although South African critics seem to take it for granted that Melanie Issacs's surname implies that she is not white, many international critics simply assumed the young woman was white, thereby missing an extremely important dimension of her and David Lurie's "affair." Here, in Age of Iron, I had envisioned Vercueil as Caucasian. Clearly, one's cultural ignorance can color what someone like myself sees in his or her mind's eye. Although the information has little bearing on my own use of the novel to discuss broader themes in Coetzee's ouevre, it is an interesting reminder that, as a reader, I must not always trust my uninterrogated interpretation of a given text, lest I overlook any number of potentially misleading subjective cultural biases.

The second essay I read, in stark contrast to Thornton's, is one of those tediously abstruse pieces of literary criticism weighed down by unwieldy poststructuralist language. At times I felt as if Johan Geertsema was more interested in using the novel to illuminate linguistic theory than vice versa, and I found myself frustrated by the author's persistent use of theory-laden argot in lieu of equally effective, less specialized language. In the end, however, "'We Embrace to Be Embraced': Irony in an Age of Iron," despite its anfractuous prose, does provide some support for my own reading of the novel and will, in all liklihood, make an appearance in my bibliography.

That said, it is time for bed.

For tomorrow: Read no fewer than four articles on Age of Iron.

Works Cited

Geertsema, Johan. "'We Embrace To Be Embraced': Irony in an Age of Iron." English in Africa. 24.1 (1997): 89-102.

Thornton, Susan. "In Pursuit of the State: Uses of the Detective Novel Form in Recent South African Fiction." Griot: Official Journal of the Southern Conference on Afro-American Studies, Inc. 10.2 (1992): 29-39.


minxy said…

Keep working, mister. You're doing an awesome job keeping on track. Yay Erik!!!!!

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