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Marking the body as a form of appropriation and power in Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee and “In the Penal Colony” by Franz Kafka

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  1. Introduction
  2. Looking at the first two levels
  3. An instrument of justice
  4. The branding of people
  5. The prostitute from the hotel
  6. Conclusion

In Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee as well as ?In the Penal Colony? by Franz Kafka, the marking of or writing on the body as a form of power or appropriation takes place on many levels. In both works, we have the inhumanly cruel military officials of the colonialist power - Kafka's Officer is completely deranged - who carry out acts of torture on members of the local population to subjugate them into debilitated passivity, or kill them in order to instill fear into the colonized population and demonstrate their strength and technological prowess.

[...] That is how you get the truth (Coetzee, We see this system first tried out on a young boy and his grandfather who are picked up in the beginning of the novel following a barbarian raid. The grandfather ends up dead after a confrontation with the interrogators, while the young boy falls sick due to the many small knife wounds he suffers during the torture. The that the boy tells in order to stop the torture is presumably what Colonel Joll wants to hear, an avowal of an impending barbarian invasion. [...]

[...] When it turns out that he condemned a man to torture and death by the machine for sleeping through an hourly salute and insulting his superior after he was horsewhipped across the face, it is clear that the Officer is more interested in seeing his beloved, elaborate machine in action than actual justice. In fact, we see that there is nothing just about this machine when the Officer programs it to inscribe the words Just? on his own body, but the machine works at whim and breaks down, murdering him with arbitrary stabs. [...]

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