The State of Exception and Collective Shame in Coetzee: An Allegorical Reading of Waiting for the Barbarians

The State of Exception and Collective Shame in Coetzee: An Allegorical Reading of Waiting for the Barbarians

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The state of exception and collective shame in Coetzee: An allegorical reading of
Waiting for the Barbarians

Within J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians, the author implores an allegorical style to serve as a moral and cultural response to colonialism and the evils of torture. While the argument has been made that this novel represents a specific criticism of South African political structures, Coetzee's intentions were much broader and his novel is a critique of colonialism that is analogous to America's post 9/11 narrative. The rhetoric of exception within novel has displaced the ordinary rule of law to justify the actions of torture and the empire's colonial goals to vanquish the barbarians. This rhetoric of exception relates to America's practice of torture in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and the U.S. Government's attempts to justify its actions. I also focus on Coetzee's question of whether exceptional threats, like that of terrorism or the “barbarians,” call for exceptional responses and how it relates to American law and practice. While the novel points to the evils of colonialism, more important is how Coetzee puts us in what Jani calls a “timeless, placeless” (130) setting, where the reader can seek many different meanings. The purpose of this essay is to reveal how Coetzee's depictions of torture and his narrative choices are analogous to the post 9/11 narrative put forth by the Bush Administration. The novel acts as a lesson to all as a critique of colonialism and American Imperialism.
Coetzee's first person narrative and broad dissociation with a certain historical place help to make Waiting for the Barbarians applicable to a post 9/11 America. While scholars like

Anne Reef assert...


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Lenta, Patrick. “Waiting for the Barbarians after September 11.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing
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McClintock, Anne. "Paranoid Empire: Specters from Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib." Small Axe 13.1 (2009): 50-74. Project MUSE. Web. 21 Jan. 2011.

McMahan, Jeff. “Torture and Collective Shame.” J.M. Coetzee and Ethics: Philosophical
Perspectives on Literature. Ed. Anton Leist, Peter Singer. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. 89-105. Print.

Spencer, Robert. “J. M. Coetzee and Colonial Violence.” Interventions: International Journal of
Postcolonial Studies 10.2 (2008): 173-187. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web.
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