Mobile Fences: J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians

  • Eleonora Pizzinat University of Bologna
Keywords: J.M. Coetzee, frame, double bind, otherness, South-Africa, postcolonial


Fences usually enclose and separate, but they are also places of exchange neither inside nor outside. This concept is well represented in J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians, because not only this novel is setted on the border between an undefined Empire and the barbarians’ lands, but it also plays with various declinations of the idea of limit and boundary. Through a reading which intends to highlight every kind of frame in the novel, it will emerge that no border is fixed and conclusive. Namely, in this book every real or metaphoric fence is called into question: the distinction between the duality of “us and them” is actually determined by the Empire’s walls which separate the inside from the outside in an arbitrary way; the magistrate (with the empathy he feels for the barbarian girl) is inevitably caught in a double bind; and, according to Emmanuel Lévinas’ philosophy, the desire to understand otherness reveals its predatory intentions from a post-colonial point of view. It is not possible to delineate an ultimate bordeline, and it will emerge that instead of a binary logic there is a more fruitful way of thinking, a way based on frames, paradoxes and literary texts which cannot be read as flat mirroring devices.





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Author Biography

Eleonora Pizzinat, University of Bologna

Eleonora Pizzinat, PhD in Comparative Literature may 2009, Bologna University (Italy).
Recent research and publications: after a research about authorship and the writer-character in conteporary novels, she’s been studied J.M. Coetzee’s work especially about frames and the ethical value of literature. Lately she worked on Italian postcolonial literature as well.
Recent publications: "Slow Man di J. M. Coetzee: personaggi tra finzione e illusione di realtà", Il personaggio. Figure della dissolvenza e della permanenza, Ed. Chiara Lombardi, Alessandria, Edizioni dell’Orso, 2008: 591-597; "Mito infranto. Il miraggio italiano e la prospettiva coloniale nel romanzo di una scrittice etiopica" (con Chiara Mengozzi), Brava Gente. Memoria e rappresentazioni del colonialismo italiano, Eds. Elena Petricola - Andrea Tappi, «Zapruder» XXIII (2010): 116-123.


Attwell, David, J.M. Coetzee, South Africa and the Politics of Writing, Berkeley Cape Town, University of California Press, 1993

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Coetzee, J.M, Life and Times of Michael K, London, Secker & Warburg, 1983, trad. it. La vita e il tempo di Michael K, Torino, Einaudi, 2001.

Coetzee, J.M, Foe, London, Secker & Warburg, 1986, trad. it. Foe, Torino, Einaudi, 2005.

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Head, Dominic, J.M. Coetzee, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Helgesson, Stefan, Writing in Crisis: Ethics and History in Gordimer, Ndebele and Coetzee, Scottsville, University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2004.

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Lévinas, Emmanuel, Totalité et Infini, The Hague, Nijhoff, 1971, trad. it. Totalità e infinito, Milano, Jaca Book, 1977.

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Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, "Ethics and Politics in Tagore, Coetzee and Certain Scenes of Teaching", Diacritics, XXXII.3-4 (2002): 17-31, trad. it. "Etica e politica in Tagore, Coetzee e in certe scene dell’insegnamento", Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Tre esercizi per immaginare l’altro, Ed. Davide Zoletto, aut aut, 329 (gennaio-marzo 2006): 109-137.

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Zoletto, Davide, Il doppio legame Bateson Derrida. Verso un’etica delle cornici, Milano, Bompiani, 2003

How to Cite
Pizzinat, E. (2011). Mobile Fences: J.M. Coetzee’s <i>Waiting for the Barbarians</i&gt;. Between, 1(1).
Geocriticism, Geopolitics: The Gaze of the Other