J.M. Coetzee and The Limits of Empire

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“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 its bloodhounds everywhere. By night it feeds on images of disaster: the sack of cities, the rape of populations, pyramids of bones, acres of desolation.”
J.M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians

You read Coetzee, the South African writer, now living in Australia, the Nobel Laureate, author of ‘Disgrace,’ and ‘Waiting for the Barbarians,’ and you cannot be patriotic, as an American citizen, in the U.S. anymore, even if you once held onto this elusive ideology. Coetzee, above, through the main character in ‘Waiting for the Barbarians,’ is describing an empire descending into death, through its own immorality and ruthlessness. It started as a crime, became prosperous with crime, war, rape, death, and enslavement, and it holds onto these values, especially now as things get more uncertain.

In ‘Waiting for the Barbarians,’ one of Coetzee’s most famous novels, the lead character the Magistrate, a loyal servant of the empire of South Africa, who rejects the heinous acts of the empire is asked: what do they (the natives in South Africa when the Europeans arrived) want from us? Coetzee’s Magistrate says the following, among other things, — “they want their land back, finally.” He adds: “they want to be free to move about with their flocks from pasture to pasture as they used to.”

The thoughts of the Magistrate explains our world now. These acts of human atrocity, done in the land known now as the U.S.A., is not accepted by many. It has been repeated, and is being repeated all over the world. Yet, those who supposedly want something from the West, continue to survive, and thrive. They believe that they will, as the Magistrate says in that same exchange, “outlast us.”

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