Wednesday, October 11, 2006

When Civilization Is Outlawed, Only the Uncivilized Will Be Civil

"I ought to go back to my cell. As a gesture it will have no effect, it will not even be noticed. Nevertheless, for my own sake, as a gesture to myself alone, I ought to return to the cool dark and lock the door and bend the key and stop my ears to the noise of patriotic bloodlust and close my lips and never speak again. Who knows, perhaps I do my fellow-townsmen an injustice, perhaps at this very minute the shoemaker is at home tapping on his last, humming to himself to drown the shouting, perhaps there are housewives shelling peas in their kitchens, telling stories to occupy their restless children, perhaps there are farmers still going calmly about the repair of the ditches. If comrades like these exist, what a pity I do not know them! For me, at this moment, striding away from the crowd, what has become important above all is that I should neither be contaminated by the atrocity that is about to be committed nor poison myself with impotent hatred of its perpetrators. I cannot save the prisoners, therefore let me save myself. Let it at the very least be said, if it ever comes to be said, if there is ever anyone in some remote future interested to know the way we lived, that in this farthest outpost of the Empire of light there existed one man who in his heart was not a barbarian." (J. M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians, 1980).


Blogger rv said...

I took my time over this book, and one bit that struck me especially was the one you've posted here. Have you read 'Disgrace' as well?

1:53 AM  
Blogger Anawim said...


No, I haven't read Disgrace. Its on my shelf staring at me accusingly, though.

3:59 PM  
Blogger rv said...

It jumped out at me (sneakily) in a book sale. I just read it, it doesn't seem to have the slap of 'Waiting for the Barbarians' though.

10:09 AM  

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