I struggled to get any reading done today. I mean, I really struggled. Anything and everything seemed more interesting to me and, no matter what I did or where I went, I could not get myself to focus. This may, of course, be the result of knowing that I have to get through literally thousands of pages of criticism on Disgrace -- a daunting task, to say the least. Whatever the reason, though, I had the attention span of a gnat for much of the day and, eventually, after I abandoned two longer essays, I managed to read Anne Longmuir's extremely brief "Coetzee's Disgrace." Basically, Longmuir reviews the negative criticism of Disgrace and, using the text-based analysis that is the staple of The Explicator, refutes some of the harsher assessments of the novel by suggesting "Coetzee carefully undercuts and undermines" the possibly racist nature of David Lurie's narrative (119).
In addition to Longmuir's discussion of Disgrace, I read several other essays over the past few days. Ute Kauer's "Nation and Gender: Female Identity in Contemporary South African Writing" touches upon Disgrace in a larger discussion of South African fiction. Although Kauer's reading of Disgrace is relatively brief, she makes several interesting observations about Lucy Lurie's pragmatic approach to life in the aftermath of the rape at the center of the novel. Colleen M. Sheils's "Opera, Byron, and a South African Psyche in J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace" is one of the more overtly psychoanalytic readings of the novel. Heavily indebted to Jacqueline Rose's States of Fantasy, Sheils's essay offers an interpretation of Disgrace in which the opera David Lurie attempts to write towards the end of the book reveals the former academic's tumultuous unconscious. Among other things, in her troubling (though plausible) reading of the composition, Sheils suggests that Lurie experiences a nostalgia for the benefits of Apartheid, a longing which manifests itself in the ex-professor's inability to resurrect Lord Byron through music. In the end, Lurie "chooses to be disengaged from the difficulties of life" and "condemns Byron to hell" (49). The opera's failure is also Lurie's failure; he simply will not adjust to the often difficult racial milieu of post-Apartheid society.
Additionally, I read a pair of essays from the special issue of interventions devoted to Coetzee: Mark Sanders's "Disgrace" and Graham Pechey's "Coetzee's Purgatorial Africa." Sanders's essay is an interesting linguistic study of Coetzee's novel. Comparing Coetzee's critique of university "rationalization" and the syntactical quirks of David Lurie and Petrus with Njabulo Ndebele's socio-linguistic theories about the role of English as a tool of colonialism in Africa, Sanders suggests that Coetzee presents an unfinished linguistic state, capturing a moment of African history in which the English language is in a heightened state of flux, bridging the gap between a colonial then and the post-Apartheid future with a linguistically slippery now.
Pechey's essay disappointed me somewhat. Having praised his "eminently readable prose" in a previous entry, I was a bit surprised by the long-windedness of this essay. Sharing some of Sanders's linguistic concern (but discussing several other issues as well), Pechey also focuses on an Africa in flux, a society that is no longer mired in the Hell of Apartheid but not yet the paradise of a racially-integrated and peaceful post-Apartheid state.
I regret not having the time to discuss the essays any further since there is much more to each reading that the tiny bit that I have discussed here, but it is quite late and I must be getting to bed.
For tomorrow: Read another essay
Kauer, Ute. "Nation and Gender: Female Identity in Contemporary South African Writing." Current Writing 15.2 (2003): 106-116.
Longmuir, Anne. "Coetzee's Disgrace." The Explicator 65 (2007): 119-121.
Pechey, Graham. "Coetzee's Purgatorial Africa: The Case of Disgrace." interventions 4.3 (2002): 374-383.
Sanders, Mark. "Disgrace." interventions 4.3 (2002): 363-373.
Sheils, Colleen M. "Opera, Byron, and a South African Psyche in J .M. Coetzee's Disgrace." Current Writing 15.1 (2003): 38-50.