Portrayation Of Torture In Coetzee's Waiting For The Barbarians

1993 Words 8 Pages
Register to read the introduction… In Waiting for the Barbarians, the word “ENEMY” is inscribed on the barbarian captives just as the United States military used branding against its “barbarian” captives (121). In sworn statements from the prisoners at Abu Ghraib “the guards 'started to write words on our buttocks', while another confirmed 'they wrote on our bodies in English'” (Lenta 77). These similarities point to what Jeff McMahan calls “collective shame” (McMahan 89) and public torture. The Magistrate's reflections “cohere well with contemporary philosophical analysis of shame as the experienced public exposure of one's weaknesses or flaws” (McMahan 89). Witnessing the torture with a group of people, in public, justifies its brutality and therefore disassociates the individual from any responsibility. As Foucault reveals in Discipline and Punish , the effectiveness of this spectacular manifestation of power is dependent on the participation of the crowd. The torture inflicted on the barbarians within the novel is set in the arena or the public “square,” a place where everyone can see the injustice unfold and can cheer the torture on (Coetzee 118). Everyone has the chance to see the “twelve miserable captives, to prove to the children that the barbarians are real” (Coetzee 119). When photographing the scene and distributing …show more content…
Although Stephen Craps believes the narrative “refuses to translate the suffering produced by colonial oppression into historical discourse,” (Craps 1) I argue that reading Waiting for the Barbarians in light of the post 9/11 American narrative is important in understanding the similarities of all imperialist movements and their exceptional use of torture. While an analysis of Coetzee's newer Diary of a Bad Year might reveal an even closer relationship to American's use of torture, there is an important question that Waiting for the Barbarians poses. How should readers respond to the shame of torture? Is there what McMahan calls a “vicarious shame, a collective shame borne by the perpetrators' fellow citizens” (McMahan 86)? Yes, we should all feel a collective shame for the injustices perpetrated at Abu Ghraib and in the “war on terror.” We should collectively admonish the magistrate's lack of doing anything about the torture he sees. When men suffer unjustly, it is truly “the fate of those who witness their suffering to suffer the shame of it” (Coetzee …show more content…
Torture becomes not only personal, but detached from ordinary law and made exceptional and collective. The novel should then be seen, in my eyes, as a cultural resistance to post 9/11 U.S. policy and Imperialism. What critics should look closely at in Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians, is a “moral and cultural response to contemporary imperialism” (Spencer 173). This novel, other interpretations aside, proves to be even more topical now than when it was written and is pertinent to discussions of torture in modern day society. Let Coetzee's work serve as a tool of criticism against the modern post 9/11 narrative and all it does to justify American Imperialism and the abuses of power through

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