I've been struggling a bit these past few days to get my work done. As much as I would like to place the blame on the fifty-odd student essays I had to grade in less than two days, I can't. I had plenty of time to sit down and read and, despite loving Elizabeth Costello, I procrastinated during my free time on Wednesday and Thursday and ended up reading into the wee hours of the morning just to get a bit of work completed. Now, while I rarely give myself a set number of pages to read, I usually have an idea in my head, a secret threshold I'd like to hit each day. That number has been anywhere from a handful of pages to a pretty hefty chunk of reading. And, for the past two days, I read about half of what I wanted to read and I've been a bit disappointed with myself as a result.
That said, I have been thinking a good deal about Elizabeth Costello. Like Diary of a Bad Year, Coetzee's 2003 novel consists largely of the philosophical speculation of a fictional character some readers are tempted to interpret as a stand-in for the novelist himself. What I enjoy most about both novels, but find especially appealing in Elizabeth Costello, is Coetzee's ability to present deeply thoughtful philosophical dialogues that truly present multiple sides to an important question. Never does Coetzee lapse into the sort of soapbox preaching into which so much of such highly philosophical fiction often disintegrates. Instead, he depicts the eponymous protagonist as fundamentally fallible and, accordingly, leaves her open to the often ruthless critiques of those who disagree with her. Coetzee's genius lies here, in leaving the reader with the raw material for personal speculation and inward growth. While I tend to agree with Elizabeth on many issues, I find, I also agree with her detractors. Thus, I am left with the not unpleasant burden of finding out what I actually believe. Of course, critics have long taken Coetzee to task for not answering the questions he raises in his fiction, have, since the publication of Dusklands in 1974, accused him of political evasiveness. This slipperiness, this adamantine refusal to provide a definitive perspective, though, is largely responsible for Coetzee's towering stature among contemoorary writers. I mean, good writers get people talking about the issues of the day, great writers get people talking about the eternal problems of mankind, but the masters, an elite group in which I would place Coetzee, get people to think before they talk.
At any rate, I wrote a few more pages on Disgrace this afternoon and, as is so often the case for me, I have been doubting the quality of my writing all day.
For tomorrow: Read or dissertate.