About Robert Adlam
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Name: Robert Adlam
City: Farnham Surrey
[ book tip by Robert Adlam ] Some philosophers think that the best modern philosophy is being done by writers such as J.M. Coetzee. Waiting for the barbarians shows why: the text reads like a brilliant extended lecture on the nature of human limitations; it grapples with ‘the black flower of civilization'. It is a short novel about pain, suffering and truth.
This is a ‘no-hiding place’ novel: Coetzee tells of an ageing magistrate, quietly filling his role in a remote frontier settlement, embodying the benign lie an Empire tells itself when times are easy. Then, he is shocked by the cruelties of the security police who are sent to quell insurrection on the borders of the Empire. He tries to act, to do the right thing and, after a devastating set of realisations, sets out on a mission to return a tortured girl to her nomadic people – the enemy, the ‘barbarians’. On his return he is imprisoned for ‘treasonable consorting’; he is a threat to the state. Then, he is gradually so degraded, so brutally abused that he screams and howls – because there is nothing else that he can do.
Twice, in the course of the narrative, an awful feeling of horror mixed with fear reached into and around my heart. (I get that feeling when I have terrible nightmares.) This feeling – this chill – stayed with me for a surprisingly long time. Part of me thinks that no review should stray from this, from the emotional grain of the novel. But Coetzee also embeds in his text a philosophical exploration of ‘No-saying’ and its consequences as well as a critique of the way civilisations exclude or deny other ways of being. On top of this, he succeeds in telling us a story about what happens as men grow older, about their search for intimacy and meaning and, finally, about how to die.
Written in a seemingly spare and economical style Waiting for the barbarians is an extraordinarily evocative piece of writing. This is a very important novel. I would love to see it included on any reading list concerned with political and moral philosophy as well as philosophy of mind.
[ Favourite quote ] 'One thought alone pre-occupies the submerged mind of Empire: how not to end, how not to die, how to prolong its era.'
[ book info ] Coetzee, J. M.: Waiting for the barbarians.
(Book language: English)