Unformed Agency and Narrative Resistance in J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians
Keywords:postcolonial studies, agency and resistance, empire, psychoanalysis, J.M. Coetzee
This essay draws on theories of the unconscious and trauma to examine the representation of the barbarian girl in J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians. While scholars have claimed that the Magistrate as the narrator of the novel deploys a form of resistance to the Empire in his narrative production and interpretative method, I offer that the barbarian girl creates models of resistance in which she becomes the producer of meaning. In my reading of the novel, I foreground the ways in which the barbarian girl escapes and eludes the Magistrate’s attempt to foreclose her narrative within the history of the Empire. In doing so, the text presents the future life of the barbarian girl as the basis for an emergent, ethical future, a temporal disruption of Empire in which her own narrative creates the conditions for an unformed agency of social change.