The Subversion of Enlightenment Rationality: On Two Vision-Blocking Metaphors in J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians

Wenquan WU


The present paper bases its arguments around two vision-blocking metaphors in Coetzee’s novel Waiting for the Barbarians. Revelations of the rich metaphorical meanings of the sunglasses and the blind eyes of the barbarian girl through close readings serve to demonstrate Coetzee’s reflections on and criticism of Enlightenment rationality. As a superb narrator well-versed in the antipathy of modern Western culture, Coetzee arranges in dichotomy the two metaphors similar in form but opposing in essence, so as to propel with their tension the narration forward and highlight the gist of the novel. With the operations of various irrational elements in the text, such as the purification rituals, the dreams, and allusions to myth, he manages to subvert Enlightenment rationality for the sake of getting control of the order of nature. 


Sunglasses; Blind eyes; Empire; Barbarians; Enlightenment rationality; Dream; Ritual

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