Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 September 2012
It is certain that geography holds a special place within J. M. Coetzee's early novel, Waiting for the Barbarians (1980). Indeed, in this novel Coetzee exposes two combative conceptualisations of the earth that seem to characterise the colonial encounter. On the one hand is a State conceptualisation of the world that devours the essential quality of the earth, using it merely as a foundation to impose a reflection of its striated thought. It is a thought that thrives on the practice of limitation, organisation and compartmentalisation, which can only produce an always already falsified knowledge of the rich and various earth, but nevertheless continues to pass for truth. On the other hand is what we might think of as a smooth conceptualisation of the world – a world without limitation and organisation, a world that is not conceived as different from or apart from those that walk within it. This chapter discusses the way in which Coetzee uses the dynamic that develops between these two conceptualisations of the earth in the colonial encounter to describe the complex ontological character of the key figure of the unnamed Magistrate. Turning away from a State conceived and perceived organisation of physical and psychological space, the Magistrate enters into a process of ‘becoming-nomad’ that ultimately casts him in opposition to the colonial power that he serves. Such movement, according to both Coetzee and Gilles Deleuze, cannot be tolerated by the State, which must begin a process of capture that will seek once again to bring the Magistrate under its control – into its territory.
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