The Body in Ruins: Torture, Allegory, and Materiality in J. M. Coetzee's <i>Waiting for the Barbarians</i>

Russell Samolsky

in Apocalyptic Futures

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780823234790
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823241248 | DOI:

Series: Modern Language Initiative

The Body in Ruins: Torture, Allegory, and Materiality in J. M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians

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This chapter begins by considering what is at stake in Coetzee's ascription of his novel Waiting for the Barbarians to his doppelgänger JC from Diary of a Bad Year. How might we regard the changes that accrue to Barbarians when it is abstracted from the context of late apartheid in which it was written, and brought into the context of the revelations of torture in the chambers of Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and “enhanced interrogation” at the Guantánamo camp? The chapter then proceeds to analyze Waiting for the Barbarians in relation to Paul de Man's Aesthetic Ideology and his concept of the materiality of the letter. This allows for an examination of the way in which Coetzee's text resists an accrual of spectacular power that was offered by the exposure of state torture in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings.

Keywords: Aesthetic Ideology; allegory; apartheid; Coetzee; Paul de Man; South Africa; torture; Truth and Reconciliation; Waiting for Barbarians

Chapter.  20097 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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