AustLit is a subscription service. The content and services available here are limited because you have not been recognised as a subscriber. Find out how to gain full access to AustLit

AbstractHistoryArchive Description

'Since J.M. Coetzee’s manuscripts, notebooks and miscellaneous other archival materials have become available for study at the Harry Ransom Centre (HRC) in Texas in 2013, it has become possible to shed new light on one of the more enigmatic aspects of Coetzee’s early fictions, namely the origins of the setting and landscape of Waiting for the barbarians. With his previous two novels, Dusklands (1974) and In the heart of the country (1977), Coetzee had established himself as a significant avant-garde South African writer, but the next novel, Barbarians (1980), on the face of it, seemed to veer off-course as an engagement with the historical trauma of his country. When the book was published, readers and critics found Coetzee’s choice of a richly detailed yet seemingly invented non-South African setting both attractive and puzzling. Irvin Howe wrote in the New York times that the novel’s landscape was an “unspecified place and time, yet recognizable as a ‘universalised’ version of South Africa”, and Bernard Levin, in an influential London Sunday times review, thought that the story appeared to indict the repressive South African political situation, “[b] ut that beneath the surface it is timeless, spaceless, nameless and universal” (1980: n.p.). A reviewer in Newsweek thought that Coetzee’s “terrain is African” but that “subtle dislocations in time and geography, however, make it clear that his political parable is set in a mythical realm” (Clemons 1980: 55). Peter Lewis (1980: 1270) also recognized allusions to South Africa, but concluded that “the place cannot be located on any map”. In many critical responses there was a tension between a desire to read the novel as a South African narrative, and a simultaneous recognition of the story’s non-specific emplacement which transcended the political oppression of late apartheid. It was precisely the text’s sense of geographical and historical dislocatedness that made it a compelling reading experience, as for example articulated by Peter Wilhelm: “The strange landscapes, part-African, part a country of the mind; the sense of action and thought scarcely disturbing the flux of time; the crystalline lucidity of the language – these will haunt the reader long after the novel has been set aside” (cited in Kannemeyer 2012: 345). ' (Author's introduction)

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

  • Appears in:
    y Scrutiny2 vol. 20 no. 1 2015 8742954 2015 periodical issue 2015 pg. 103-127
Last amended 21 Jul 2015 13:23:59
  • c
    South Africa,
    Southern Africa, Africa,
    Powered by Trove