After twenty years of peacefully running one of the Empire’s settlements, a magistrate takes pity on an enemy barbarian who has been tortured. He enters into an awkward intimate relationship with her, and then is himself imprisoned as an enemy of the state.
Waiting for the Barbarians is a disturbing political fable about oppression, the fraught desire for reparation, and about living with a troubled conscience under an unjust regime.'
Source: Publisher's blurb.
Nicolas and Gisela
Editions and translations have been updated for Waiting for the Barbarians by Eilish Copelin as part of a Semester 2, 2013 scholar's internship.
Given the international popularity of Coetzee's work, however, this record is not yet comprehensive. Due to the enormous breadth of critical material on Coetzee's work, indexing of secondary sources is also not complete.
''Waiting for the Barbarians' (1980) recounts the rebellion of the Magistrate of an Empire frontier outpost against the torture inflicted on those the Imperial administration which employs him considers as "barbarians." The first-person narration is a strategy enabling the author to personalize the Magistrate whose name he never reveals, above all because through it we are allowed to witness the workings of conscience. The novel is a drama of the opposition between justice and law, and of what happens when men who are supposed to uphold the law in fact neglect justice and abuse their power, themselves becoming worse than "barbarians." Within this complex moral and ethical framework the essay at hand proposes to explore the modalities of personhood as established by Coetzee, and its limits.' (Publication abstract)
'In her well-read work on contemporary feminist theory titled Nomadic Subjects (2011), Rosi Braidotti gets to grips with the Deleuzian notion of ‘becoming-woman’. Noting that the concept has experienced a good deal of criticism in feminist circles (and from some important feminists too, such as Luce Irigaray), Braidotti argues that there is still something of extreme importance in this concept for the feminist to recover. For Braidotti, ‘becoming-woman’ allows for ‘a nonunitary and multi-layered vision’ of the subject. That is to say, it allows for the description of ‘a dynamic and changing entity’ (5) – one that challenges the striated formulations of ‘woman’ found in phallo- and Euro-centric master codes. Importantly, however, it does so not by posing an essentialised subject position of ‘woman’ for others either to mimic or aspire to (often the grounds for the misreading of the concept), but rather by referencing ‘woman’ as an intensity of sorts, an intensity that is the pre-condition for both revolutionary thought and action (249-250).
'This paper takes the Deleuzian concept of ‘becoming-woman’ and uses it as a way to understand the enigmatic relationship that develops between the Magistrate and the barbarian girl in Coetzee’s early novel, Waiting for the Barbarians (1980). Beginning with a brief characterisation of the barbarian girl as an agent of transformation, this paper goes on to offer an explanation for why the encounter between the Magistrate and the barbarian girl necessarily results in the Magistrate’s turn away from the State.' (Publication abstract)
‘J.M. Coetzee’s early novels Dusklands (1974) and Waiting for the Barbarians (1980) outline the Western imperialist project to colonise and subjugate ‘other’ people, animals and the environment. The masculine colonising subject (in Cartesian terms, res inextensa) has separated itself from the world (res extensa) and seeks to conquer and subjugate in order to subsume it. Dusklands comprises two narratives: one, that of Jacobus Coetzee who hunts human and nonhuman animals and leaves a destructive trail behind him as he blazes a frontier in 1800s South Africa; and two, Eugene Dawn, an American mythographer, who advocates his ‘Vietnam Project’ to win the US war in Vietnam in the early 1970s by defoliating the environment and hunting the Vietcong ‘like animals’. In Waiting for the Barbarians, Colonel Joll deals with the Barbarian ‘threat’ to his Empire by similarly destroying the environment, hunting barbarians, and torturing woman and children. Each character is locked into a Cartesian ‘self’ consciousness that cannot interact with the ‘other’ (female, nonhuman animal, ‘indigenous’) except through violence and destruction. Hunting is a manifestation of this disease and the protagonists make no distinction between human, animal or vegetable in their path of destruction in the name of colonial expansion.' (Publication abstract)