Becoming Traitor at the Margins of “Empire”


J.M Coetzee
Gilles Deleuze
Walter Benjamin

How to Cite

Asempasah, Rogers. 2019. “Becoming Traitor at the Margins of “Empire”: Radical Agency and the Search for Community in J.M. Coetzee’s ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’”. Brolly 2 (2):53 - 73.


This paper advocates for a nuanced understanding of treason and encounter in Coetzee’s “Waiting for the Barbarians” (1980) (hereafter WB). Although treason and encounter constitute critical sites for Coetzee’s interrogation of imperial or dogmatic thought and emphasis on the epistemic and agential value of becoming, their interpretive utility to the desire for community has remained largely underexplored. Drawing on Gilles Deleuze and Walter Benjamin, this paper contends that encounter and becoming-traitor function as sites of critique and the genesis of a new thought on the alternative community. The paper shows that beneath the dystopian atmosphere that pervades WB, Coetzee is a thinker of new thought as the precondition for the emergence of a new community. By focusing on encounter and becoming-traitor, it draws attention to Coetzee’s ethic of what the body can do and interrogates Colonel Joll’s narrow understanding of treason. The analysis focuses specifically on Magistrate’s encounter with Joll of the Third Bureau and the barbarian girl - as central to Magistrate’s becoming-traitor or betrayal of the dehumanising apparatus and temporality of “Empire”.