Waiting for the Barbarians Question 3: Setting

Waiting for the Barbarians by ‎J.M. Coetzee

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Waiting for the Barbarians Question 3: Setting

Unread post by fireflydances » Tue Sep 03, 2019 8:04 pm

Tonight we begin with questions that focus more specifically on the book rather than the movie.

This question relates to setting. Coetzee didn’t want to have this story centered on South Africa. Instead his setting pulls from different places and positions the story in an unnamed place. As you read the book, what kind of a setting did you imagine? Did you see a place? Did the setting create a mood for you?
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Waiting for the Barbarians Question 3: Setting

Unread post by SnoopyDances » Tue Sep 03, 2019 11:20 pm

Until the tidbits, I didn't know anything about Coetzee or where he grew up.

Reading the book, I imagined a dry, desolate place; not really a specific location.

I think he wanted to keep it neutral, with the focus on the story and a specific country or people.

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Waiting for the Barbarians Question 3: Setting

Unread post by nebraska » Wed Sep 04, 2019 12:57 pm

I envisioned the Southwest United States -- Utah/Arizona/New Mexico. The dessert areas and mesas and mountainous areas in that region. That probably had a lot to do with who I thought the Magistrate and Joll and the Barbarians were, the way I interpreted the story, and I so I placed it in a logical location.

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Waiting for the Barbarians Question 3: Setting

Unread post by fireflydances » Wed Sep 04, 2019 2:56 pm

SnoopyDances wrote:Until the tidbits, I didn't know anything about Coetzee or where he grew up.

Reading the book, I imagined a dry, desolate place; not really a specific location.

I think he wanted to keep it neutral, with the focus on the story and a specific country or people.
Yes, neutral -- I definitely agree with you on that Snoopy.
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Waiting for the Barbarians Question 3: Setting

Unread post by fireflydances » Wed Sep 04, 2019 3:00 pm

nebraska wrote:I envisioned the Southwest United States -- Utah/Arizona/New Mexico. The dessert areas and mesas and mountainous areas in that region. That probably had a lot to do with who I thought the Magistrate and Joll and the Barbarians were, the way I interpreted the story, and I so I placed it in a logical location.
Yes, I can see similarities between the Southwest and the setting of the story. When I did the tidbit about the geology of South African there were lots of commonalities to the Southwest -- salt pans etc.
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Waiting for the Barbarians Question 3: Setting

Unread post by fireflydances » Wed Sep 04, 2019 3:36 pm

I absolutely loved the setting of the book. I think that's a function of my love for the Southwest. I figured because Coetzee spent time in Texas, that he might have visited New Mexico etc. I love bare places for some reason. The other thing for me is the setting seemed very much like a stage -- simple and without much adornment. Although the action takes place both day and night, when I picture it 'in my head' it is either twilight or night, with a sort of mythical feel to it. Ancient excavations, timeless, eons old.

When I started reading Attwell's book, which features a lot about Coetzee's boyhood, I really started to learn about the commonalities between the US Southwest and portions of South Africa. So, one thing leads to another.

Here is Coetzee in a letter to Wieland Schultz Keil who had wanted to undertake the film back in the Eighties.

"I have never really explained to you why I have wanted the clause in the contract specifying that the story shall not be represented as taking place in South Africa. There are two reasons. The first is that, though the book does in fact in large part have its basis in the activities of the South African security police and their bosses, it is intended to portray a more general condition which places the security of the state above all other considerations. The second reason, frankly, is that I cannot afford to live in this country and be known as the author of a popular and widely distributed film which graphically depicts the activities of the south African police -- not only because it is actually a crime here to 'publish' so-called mis-information about the police, but also because I've also had a .38 slug put through the windshield of my car (years ago), and it's an eerie feeling reporting the particulars to the people you know in your heart committed the act, and seeing them religiously writing it all down, and smiling up their sleeves. In other words -- to be practical -- while I live here, and while the present regime lasts, I have to distance myself from a 'South African' Barbarians. "

I ran across the paragraph above when I did the tidbit on the struggle to get the film made. And no where else have I found such a very clear explanation of how the reality of censorship in South Africa affected every inch of this book. It's hard to imagine what it must have been like, you know?

( Source: Harmann Wittenberg, "Coetzee in California: adaptation, authorship and the filming of Waiting for the Barbarians)
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Waiting for the Barbarians Question 3: Setting

Unread post by stroch » Thu Sep 05, 2019 6:25 pm

Disturbing to read about Coetzee's experiences with the police. When I read the book, I pictured something like Turkey, where there are dry plateaus, mountains, lakes, and ruins, but of course as a fantasy land, more exaggerated than in real life.
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Waiting for the Barbarians Question 3: Setting

Unread post by nebraska » Thu Sep 05, 2019 8:36 pm

stroch wrote:Disturbing to read about Coetzee's experiences with the police. When I read the book, I pictured something like Turkey, where there are dry plateaus, mountains, lakes, and ruins, but of course as a fantasy land, more exaggerated than in real life.
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Yes, in the end it was "an exaggerated fantasy land". I was able to link my imagination to a real place but what I saw as I read was imaginary.

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Waiting for the Barbarians Question 3: Setting

Unread post by fireflydances » Fri Sep 06, 2019 2:58 pm

stroch wrote:Disturbing to read about Coetzee's experiences with the police. When I read the book, I pictured something like Turkey, where there are dry plateaus, mountains, lakes, and ruins, but of course as a fantasy land, more exaggerated than in real life.
Yes, yes. I echo nebraska in saying that we are very happy to have you stop by, and very glad you read the book also!
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Waiting for the Barbarians Question 3: Setting

Unread post by SnoopyDances » Mon Sep 09, 2019 10:15 pm



Depp addressed the topic of Barbarians, in which he plays a sadistic colonel wielding power against native peoples in an unnamed empire. He said the character stems from being taught to hate others in his youth. “There is no specific country — the problem is not far away from us and it's all around us. It is very much about injustice and people who are in a position to pervert justice, and free to act as they want without any real penalties because they have a badge.”
The Hollywood Reporter

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Waiting for the Barbarians Question 3: Setting

Unread post by fireflydances » Tue Sep 10, 2019 8:43 pm

SnoopyDances wrote:


Depp addressed the topic of Barbarians, in which he plays a sadistic colonel wielding power against native peoples in an unnamed empire. He said the character stems from being taught to hate others in his youth. “There is no specific country — the problem is not far away from us and it's all around us. It is very much about injustice and people who are in a position to pervert justice, and free to act as they want without any real penalties because they have a badge.”
The Hollywood Reporter
Good article snoopy!
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies