Today was a relatively light day for me. I reread Geoffrey Baker's "The Limits of Sympathy," focusing on the author's reading of Disgrace. Though my initial response to the essay was that it is "a rather pedestrian consideration of sympathy," I did find myself less critical the second time around. While I do not think the essay's perspective is particularly unique, I do feel that it handles its subject matter more effectively (read: more clearly) than many papers expressing similar concerns.
I suspect that at least some of this revised response stems from the increased familiarity I now have with Coetzee's fiction and the critical discussions surrounding his work. Furthermore, when I read the essay the first time around, my focus was on Age of Iron. I had, after all, been under the impression that I had already sufficiently covered Disgrace and would merely be expanding an earlier essay on the novel into a chapter on several Coetzee books. In other words, I may not have paid as close attention to the section I reviewed today. So, the reading may not be unique, but I do admire Baker's contribution to the discussion of what Elizabeth Costello has famously termed the "sympathetic imagination." I found Baker's etymological explanation of Coetzee's linguistic play especially valid and I suspect many students of Coetzee will benefit from the critic's insights. For instance, when discussing David Lurie's assessment of Soraya as "[a] ready learner, compliant, pliant," Baker emphasizes the "tidy trick of language" Coetzee uses to highlight "the lack of sympathy in Lurie's associations with Soraya":
the prefix com is sharply dropped, as if the sym in sympathy, and with it any real togetherness or interpersonal connection, were disappearing before the reader's eyes (41).
Again, while such insights are hardly earth-shattering in their originality, they are precisely the sort of observations one would want to share with readers unfamiliar with the complex layers of Coetzee's language, especially undergraduates approaching the author's work for the first time.
For tomorrow: Read another essay or work on the bibliography.
Baker, Geoffrey. "The Limits of Sympathy: J. M. Coetzee's Evolving Ethics of Engagement." ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 36.1-2 (2005): 27-49.
Coetzee, J. M. Disgrace. New York: Penguin, 1999.