I accomplished very little today and it was entirely my own fault. Last night, after I finished my reading for the day, I set about tweaking one of the little art projects with which I occasionally amuse myself. Before I knew it, it was quite a bit past four in the morning and I could hear the first birds cheeping merrily outside my window. So I slept in. Then, when I woke up, I felt the familiar twinge of anxiety I associate with those moments I feel pressed for time. So, rather than write, I decided to take a long walk, enjoying what I hope will be the first of many pleasant spring days, socialize, watch South Park poke fun at the economic stimulus package, and read Adam Mars-Jones's rather negative review of Elizabeth Costello.
Faulting Coetzee for the author's absent "sense of play" in the book, Mars-Jones dislikes the literary effect of the novel's strange structure, finding the Costello family a bit too conveniently arranged "to dramatise the divide between the arts and sciences" or bring about a "confrontation between humanist and religious" worldviews. Interestingly, this type of arrangement is a quality of realist fiction Coetzee's narrator discusses rather early on in the novel when (s)he claims
Realism has never been comfortable with ideas. It could not be otherwise: realism is premised on the idea that ideas have no autonomous existence, can only exist in things. So when it needs to debate ideas. . .realism is driven to invent situations - walks in the countryside, conversations - in which characters give voice to contending ideas and thereby in a certain sense embody them. (9)
The result of such philosophical embodiment in Elizabeth Costello, for Mars-Jones, is that "[e]ven the heroine's inmost experiences, of sexual pleasure, generosity or trauma, feel like enrichments of the debate rather than revelations of the character." Furthermore, Mars-Jones continues, "[a]s the book goes on, it becomes more abstract, not less," effectively alienating readers with an imperfectly crafted hybrid text that is, by turns, didactic and confusing.
For tomorrow: Read, write, or prep.
Coetzee, J.M. Elizabeth Costello. Penguin: New York, 2003.
Mars-Jones, Adam. "It's Very Novel, but is it Actually a Novel?" Rev. of Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee. The Observer 14 Sept. 2003. Available Online.