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En attendant les barbares (1980)

par J. M. Coetzee

Autres auteurs: Voir la section autres auteur(e)s.

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4,359782,673 (3.96)201
A modern classic by Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee. His latest novel, The Schooldays of Jesus, is now available from Viking. Late Essays: 2006-2016 will be available January 2018.  For decades the Magistrate has been a loyal servant of the Empire, running the affairs of a tiny frontier settlement and ignoring the impending war with the barbarians. When interrogation experts arrive, however, he witnesses the Empire's cruel and unjust treatment of prisoners of war. Jolted into sympathy for their victims, he commits a quixotic act of rebellion that brands him an enemy of the state. J. M. Coetzee's prize-winning novel is a startling allegory of the war between opressor and opressed. The Magistrate is not simply a man living through a crisis of conscience in an obscure place in remote × his situation is that of all men living in unbearable complicity with regimes that ignore justice and decency. Mark Rylance (Wolf HallBridge of Spies), Ciro Guerra and producer Michael Fitzgerald are teaming up to to bring J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians to the big screen.… (plus d'informations)
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» Voir aussi les 201 mentions

Anglais (62)  Néerlandais (9)  Espagnol (2)  Italien (2)  Allemand (1)  Suédois (1)  Toutes les langues (77)
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State is something over which lots of opinions clash. On one end you have the keepers of the what you might call status quo, often called conservatives, that see everything outside the state as aberration and threat to purity. On the other end of the spectrum you have people that advocate more loose state structure, ever more liberties and embracing of what conservatives might call the "others" - people that live outside the state.

Everyone in these polar opposite groups do agree on some common principles - like morality, ethics, justice - so state thrives but, similar to all sociological elements in any society, this holds water only to the point when there are means for it. Meaning when state gets into problems and cannot fund/support them all these ethical/sociological/philosophical/artistic elements are usually just dropped and scorned at (usual bully approach to denigrate something). This is the period of strife inside the state that (in case there is no vent in terms of external enemy) burns the state from within.

State (or Empire as it is called in this novel) is living organism - it is created, it grows until it cannot grow any more, it breaks and then new state(s) pop up in its place. It cannot be allowed to stagnate.

In case states are prosperous but static (they do not expand geographically) they will see huge influx of people from the outside - this again will cause unrest from local population after a while (this is always just a matter of time) and resentment towards the emigrants. Or the state can be stagnating and they need outside threat so they find it (or not so they turn to themselves). In both cases this ends very very bad for everyone.

And then you have people governing the frontier. These folks are usually sent out as form of punishment to spend their lives governing the wild-lands but they usually get in line with the local population and go-native as they say. And not necessarily native in terms of "Heart of Darkness" but more in terms of Lawrence of Arabia. They try to mediate but precisely because of their knowledge of the area they enter sort of Catch-22 situation - everyone thinks they are not objective and that they are compromised.

And this brings us to this novel (at last eh :)) Magistrate is official on the border of the Empire - his job is to govern the frontier and provide feedback on what goes beyond the border. He knows about the barbarians (everyone over the border) and he gets upset when Empire starts (again) with the warmongering. Being man of the people (which especially comes to the front at the very end of the novel) he gets into troubles because his comments on maltreatment of barbarians are met with cold gaze of state security apparatus and soon as state gets frustrated with unsuccessful attempts against barbarians he becomes the target of the oppression.

Magistrate is a realist of sorts - he is fond of barbarians but he wants to keep them from the city. Reason is very simple - he is aware that due to very simple way of life in the wild-lands these barbarians are no match for the guile of the city dwellers. They get lied and swindled and their possession lost when in contact with the underhand merchants. This is constant fight between nomad and city-dweller way of life. He likes to see them come but he also appreciates them leave because he does not want them to lose their way of life.

He is conflicted man - he is attracted to a young barbarian girl who got badly molested during interrogation but he is aware that for her he is just old man, what can he give her? You might look at this as clash of generations - one that has come to peace with the life itself is attracted to the young folks [who get mauled for all the reasons of the old generation (old grievances, wars, conquest)] and then feels ashamed of themselves when they see what they did to their future.

Book also shows in great way how self-preservation will always top the truth and justice. False reports and confessions, almost completely savage enjoyment in the pain of others (almost animal pack behavior in these cases when responsibility is spread across the entire populace), how easy is to involve the people to do atrocious things (like placing the stick into the hand of the young girl to strike the Magistrate hanging upside down, bare naked wearing woman's gown - giggling of the child when it does it and encouragement from the crowd shows how close inner savage is to all of us) and then wash the executioners hands using collective guilt to say "I only followed the orders".

Also well shown is how all the torturers and murderers acting for the state get out very easily and unharmed while leaving the local populace to their own means - although without all the provisions because these "security forces" need them. I was always taken aback by the fact how many middle and lower level officials (work-horses of every policy) of the Nazi regime (or Pinoche's regime or Argentinian junta or any other oppressive regime) walk freely as reformed citizens. Reformed by who or what exactly?

When encountering all of this one can only try to find the middle ground and try to live his/hers life following his own principles. As Magistrate says - if we throw down all the principles and values when encountering the outside threat - what exactly is one trying to defend and salvage? is everyone ready to take a sacrifice as Magistrate did? Mostly no but we need to live in hope we will have more people like Magistrate that will sacrifice themselves so that nobler ideas can live.
Only problem is that we need to be aware of that and not let the sacrifice to be in vain - and this is truly the achievement, moving the masses towards worthy goal and actually making the difference.

Excellent novel, highly recommended. ( )
  Zare | Jan 23, 2024 |
This was my first Coetzee and it was...fine. I hope this allegorical effort led to better things. I suppose it's the nature of allegory, but this examination of 'who is really the barbarian?' felt heavy-handed. And the focus on an old man's sexual activity with younger women didn't make it more profound. ( )
  mmcrawford | Dec 5, 2023 |
According to the (no doubt infallible) Nobel folks, this is "a political thriller in the tradition of Joseph Conrad, in which the idealist’s naiveté opens the gates to horror." Well, they’re entitled to their opinion. It is another great book that can trace its inspiration to C.P. Cavafy (Buzzati’s Tartar Steppe as well). I often got the feeling, as I was reading, that this was science fiction, in part due to Coetzee’s situating the story with virtually no context: no place, no time, nothing to give the reader a “handle” to help ground the story, about which more below. It is also worth keeping in mind that the townspeople use the word “barbarians” to describe the indigenous people around them and that Coetzee wrote this book in South Africa in 1982. There is a good summary of the narrative in Wikipedia if you want the story line, but this book is clearly about far more than the story—absorbing as that is. The most useful commentary I have found on the book comes from its review by Irving Howe, a masterful literary critic. Howe wrote that the book
“is a distinguished piece of fiction, and what Mr. Coetzee has gained from his strategy of creating an imaginary Empire is clear. But are there perhaps losses too? One possible loss is the bite and pain, the urgency that a specified historical place and time may provide. To create a 'universalized' Empire is to court the risk…that a narrative with strong political and social references will be ‘elevated’ into sterile ruminations about the human condition. As if to make clear what I'm getting at, Mr. Coetzee's American publishers quote from a London review of the novel by Bernard Levin: ‘Mr. Coetzee sees the heart of darkness in all societies, and gradually it becomes clear that he is not dealing in politics at all, but inquiring into the nature of the beast that lurks within each of us....' That ‘a heart of darkness’ is present in all societies and a beast ‘lurks within each one of us’ may well be true. But such invocations of universal evil can deflect attention from the particular and at least partly remediable social wrongs Mr. Coetzee portrays. Not only deflect attention, but encourage readers, as they search for their inner beasts, to a mood of conservative acquiescence and social passivity.” ( )
  Gypsy_Boy | Aug 24, 2023 |
I’ve read this novel several times and for me it’s a classic as I remember it’s plot and environment in detail. Often I’ll enjoy a novel but though years later I remember I loved it, I cannot recall it in any sort of detail. ( )
  kjuliff | Jan 17, 2023 |
It's been a while since I've come across a book that truly impressed me. "Waiting for the Barbarians" was a refreshing respite from the long, long list of half-finished books I was in the habit of reading. I found the author's voice to be genuine and relatable while at the same really deft at weaving a plot that hits you only halfway through as being a particularly poignant allegory on what it means to be civilised. Highly recommend. ( )
  kid-pr0-kuo | Dec 17, 2022 |
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Coetzees Roman ist ... voller Zeichen. Man möchte nicht von ihm lassen, ehe man ihn nicht entziffert hat.
 

» Ajouter d'autres auteur(e)s (17 possibles)

Nom de l'auteurRôleType d'auteurŒuvre ?Statut
Coetzee, J. M.auteur principaltoutes les éditionsconfirmé
Baiocchi, MariaTraducteurauteur secondairequelques éditionsconfirmé
BascoveArtiste de la couvertureauteur secondairequelques éditionsconfirmé
Bergsma, PeterTraducteurauteur secondairequelques éditionsconfirmé
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One evening, rubbing her scalp with oil, massaging her temples and forehead, I notice in the corner of one eye a greyish puckering as though a caterpillar lay there with its head under her eyelid, grazing.
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It has been growing more and more clear to me that until the marks on this girl's body are deciphered and understood I cannot let go of her. Between thumb and forefinger I part her eyelids. The caterpillar comes to an end, decapitated, at the pink inner rim of the eyelid. There is no other mark. The eye is whole.

I look into the eye. Am I to believe that gazing back at me she sees nothing--my feet perhaps, parts of the room, a hazy circle of light, but at the centre, where I am, only a blur, a blank? (Penguin Ink 35-36)
When Warrant Officer Mandel and his man first brought me back here and lit the lamp and closed the door, I wondered how much pain a plump comfortable old man would be able to endure in the name of his eccentric notions of how the Empire should conduct itself. But 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 retches and flails and voids itself. They did not come to force the story out of me of what I had said to the barbarians and what the barbarians had said to me. So I had no chance to throw the high-sounding words I had ready in their faces. They came to my cell to show me the meaning of humanity, and in the space of an hour they showed me a great deal. (Penguin Ink 132-33)
"No, you misunderstand me. I am speaking only of a special situation now, I am speaking of a situation in which I am probing for the truth, in which I have to exert pressure to find it. First I get lies, you see — this is what happens — first lies, then pressure, then more lies, then more pressure, then the break, then more pressure, then the truth. That is how you get the truth."
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A modern classic by Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee. His latest novel, The Schooldays of Jesus, is now available from Viking. Late Essays: 2006-2016 will be available January 2018.  For decades the Magistrate has been a loyal servant of the Empire, running the affairs of a tiny frontier settlement and ignoring the impending war with the barbarians. When interrogation experts arrive, however, he witnesses the Empire's cruel and unjust treatment of prisoners of war. Jolted into sympathy for their victims, he commits a quixotic act of rebellion that brands him an enemy of the state. J. M. Coetzee's prize-winning novel is a startling allegory of the war between opressor and opressed. The Magistrate is not simply a man living through a crisis of conscience in an obscure place in remote × his situation is that of all men living in unbearable complicity with regimes that ignore justice and decency. Mark Rylance (Wolf HallBridge of Spies), Ciro Guerra and producer Michael Fitzgerald are teaming up to to bring J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians to the big screen.

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