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Waiting for the BarbariansWaiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been re-reading this justly famous novel of 1980; more about Empire than the Barbarians, and Empire now as much as then.

“I know somewhat too much; and from the knowledge, once one has been infected there seems to be no recovering. I ought never have taken my lantern to see what was going on in the hut by the granary [where prisoners were tortured]. On the other hand, there was no way, once I had picked up the lantern, for me to put it down again. The knot loops upon itself. I cannot find the end.” The Magistrate


“Let me tell you what I find disheartening … even when border relations are good. … It is this contempt for the barbarians, contempt which is shown by the meanest ostler or peasant farmer …  How do you eradicate contempt, especially when that contempt is founded on nothing more substantial  than differences in table manners, variations in the structure of the eyelid?


“One thought alone preoccupies the submerged mind of Empire: how not to end, how not to die, how to prolong its era.  By day it pursues its enemies.  It is cunning and ruthless, it sends the bloodhounds everywhere.  By night it feeds on images of disaster: the sack of cities, the rape of populations, pyramids of bones, acres of desolation.”


“My torturers were not interested in degrees of pain.  They were interested only in demonstrating to me what it meant to live in a body, as a body, a body which can entertain notions of justice only as long as it is whole and well, which very soon forgets them when its head is gripped and a pipe is pushed down its gullet and pints of salt water are poured into it till it coughs and wretches and flails and voids itself.”


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