For some reason, I struggled to get through my reading yesterday. I kept procrastinating and biking from one cafe to another, trying to focus. In the end, my inability to focus got the better of me and I ended up reading until three or so this morning. Today's reading, fortunately, went a bit more smoothly for me. I find that, on the days when I visit Cornell's campus, I tend to be more productive. Part of the reason for this increased diligence, I'm sure, stems from the fact that visiting the venerable old institution requires that I spend more time, energy, and money than I would otherwise do, essentially making the afternoon an outing and cultivating a certain sense of obligation in my mind. I'm also convinced that the gothic architecture and breathtaking scenery have a favorable effect on my mindset. The school I currently attend, having been built during the pragmatic years of the American twentieth century, consists almost exclusively of the featureless, squat brick buildings one associates with the utilitarian values of the Cold War. Needless to say, the bland functionality of the buildings' design does not inspire the same set of emotions as the sweeping columns and decorative friezes common among older institutions. To be honest, I like the musty old buildings, the well-worn marble floors, the exquisite latticework, and the grand, sweeping curves of Cornell's campus because they remind me of similarly "academic" features of the institutions where I did my Bachelor's and Master's degrees. And I like the oldness of the campus because, it makes it easier to envision Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Farina, Vladimir Nabokov, M. H. Abrams and several of my favorite professors working in the same spot in years past. I mean, there's a reason we humans flock to certain historical places. We go to the Pyramids or the Tower of London or Chichen Itza because we know something happened in those places and we wish to imbibe what we can of those historic events or, at the very least, draw inspiration from them.
And that's what I do when I sit among the trees overlooking Ithaca.
Now, I'm not saying that a muse will descend upon me or that some quasi-spiritual force permeates the air I breathe when at the university. No. That's a bit too quixotic for me. But I do like the scholarly feel of a tradition-rich academic milieu and I do like to be reminded of the intellectual lights that have gone before me because such things get me thinking about scholarship and put me in the mood to push through my own work.
And speaking of my own work, I'd like to briefly mention the essays I read these past two days. The first essay, co-authored by Jerzy Koch and Pawel Zajas, draws upon an immense collection of Polish and Dutch reviews of Coetzee's fiction to address instances where foreign critics have misread the author's fiction. The duo's most significant contribution to the canon of Coetzee criticism, in my estimation, is their discussion of the plaasroman and the author's critical engagement with the genre. Like Rita Barnard, Koch and Zajas make an exceedingly strong case for reading Disgrace with the conventions of the plaasroman in mind.
The essay I read this afternoon, John Douthwaite's linguistic analysis of the opening chapter of Disgrace is clearly the work of a master linguist, though much of the essay simply explains how Coetzee's writing creates the emotional response most readers have when confronting the text of the novel. Where Douthwaite really shines, however, is in his meticulous unpacking of Coetzee's prose to reveal the text's "conversational, or dialogic" nature, thereby opening Disgrace up to a host of intriguing readings rarely discussed among the novel's commentators (53).
For tomorrow: More of the same.
Douthwaite, John. "Coetzee's Disgrace: A Linguistic Analysis of the Opening Chapter." Towards a Transcultural Future: Literature and Society in a 'Post'-Colonial World. Geoffrey V Davis, Peter H. Marsden, Benedicte Ledent, and Marc Delrez, eds. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004. 41-60.
Koch, Jerzy and Pawel Zajas. "'They Pass Each Other By, Too Busy to Even Wave': J.M. Coetzee and His Foreign Reviewers." A Universe of (Hi)stories: Essays on J. M. Coetzee. Ed. Liliana Sikerska. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2006. 111-150.