J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians: Hermeneutics and Literary Theory

Shadi Neimneh, Nazmi Al-Shalabi, Fatima Muhaidat


This paper resists a traditional allegorical approach to one of Coetzee’s major apartheid novels, Waiting for the Barbarians, by focusing more on the novel’s structural and textual import rather than its discursive representation of South African politics. Although this reading is itself ultimately allegorical, it is argued that it is anti-allegorical because it points out the limitations of allegorical representation whereby we read a clear relationship between the text and its external context. Highlighting acts of reading and interpretation, often failed, the novel poses as a challenge to literary theory. As such, it is not only an allegory against itself but also a postmodern example of the relativity of truth, the indeterminacy of meaning, and the necessary textualization of experience via the written word.

Key words: Coetzee; South African fiction; Waiting for the Barbarians; literary theory; hermeneutics; allegory; writerly text; polyphony; postmodernism

Résumé Ce document résiste à une approche traditionnelle allégorique à l’un des romans de Coetzee fondamentales sur l’apartheid, Waiting for the Barbarians, en se concentrant davantage sur l’importation structurelle et textuelle du roman plutôt que sa représentation discursive de la politique sud-africaine. Bien que cette lecture est elle-même en fin de compte allégorique, il est soutenu qu’il est anti-allégorique, car il souligne les limites de la représentation allégorique dans lequel on peut lire une relation claire entre le texte et son contexte externe. Soulignant les actes de lecture et d’interprétation, souvent échoué, le roman se présente comme un défi à la théorie littéraire. En tant que tel, ce n’est pas seulement une allégorie contre lui-même, mais aussi un exemple postmoderne de la relativité de la vérité, l’indétermination du sens, et la textualisation de l’expérience nécessaires par l’intermédiaire du mot écrit.

Mots-clés: Coetzee; De la fiction d’Africainesud; Waiting for the Barbarians; La théorie littéraire; L’herméneutique; L’allégorie; Le texte scriptiblé; Polyphonie; le Post-modernisme


Coetzee; South African fiction; Waiting for the Barbarians; literary theory; hermeneutics; allegory; writerly text; polyphony; postmodernism

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3968/j.css.1923669720120801.790


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