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35534484 J M Coetzee Diary of a Bad Year

35534484 J M Coetzee Diary of a Bad Year

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Published by Mariana Ionita

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Published by: Mariana Ionita on Jul 03, 2012
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07/03/2012

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Diary of a Bad YearJ. M. Coetzee
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of theauthor's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living ordead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.Contents1. Strong Opinions2. Second DiaryNotes Acknowledgements155229231Strong Opinions12 September 2005 — 31 May zoo6Every account of the origins of the state starts from the premise that "we" — not we the readersbut some generic we so wide as to exclude no one — participate in its coming into being. But thefact is that the only "we" we know — ourselves and the people close to us — are born into thestate; and our forebears too were born into the state as far back as we can trace. The state isalways there before we are.(How far back can we trace? In African thought, the consensus is that after the seventhgeneration we can no longer distinguish between history and myth.)If, despite the evidence of our senses, we accept the premise that we or our forebears created thestate, then we must also accept its entailment: that we or our forebears could have created thestate in some other form, if we had chosen; perhaps, too, that we could change it if we collectivelyso decided. But the fact is that, even collectively, those who are "under" the state, who "belong to"the state, will find it very hard indeed to change its form; they — we —are certainly powerless toabolish it.It is hardly in our power to change the form of the state and impossible to abolish it because, vis-a-vis the state, we are, precisely, powerless. In the myth of the founding of the state as set downby Thomas Hobbes, our descent into powerlessness was voluntary: in order to escape the violenceof internecine warfare without end (reprisal upon reprisal, vengeance upon vengeance, thevendetta), we individually and severally yielded up to the state the right to use physical force(right is might, might is right), thereby entering the realm (the protection) of the law. Those whochose and choose to stay outside the compact become outlaw.My first glimpse of her was in the laundry room. It was midmorning on a quiet spring day and Iwas sitting, watching
 
the washing go around, when this quite startling young woman walked in. Startling because thelast thing I was expecting was such an apparition; also because the tomato-red shift she worewas so startling in its brevity.II J a 0 p Btct]Gsi440Be:a0i]Ttiet]AC(CThe law protects the law-abiding citizen. It even protects to adegree the citizen who, without denying the force of the law,nevertheless uses force against his fellow citizen: the punishment prescribed for the offendermust be condign with his offence. Even the enemy soldier, inasmuch as he is the representativeof a rival state, shall not be put to death if captured. But there is no law to protect the outlaw, theman who takes up arms against his own state, that is to say, the state that claims him as itsown.Outside the state (the commonwealth, the statum civitatis), says Hobbes, the individual may feelhe enjoys perfect liberty, but that liberty does him no good. Within the state, on the other hand,"every citizen retains as much liberty as he needs to live well in peace, [while] enough liberty istaken from others to remove the fear of them . . . To sum up: outside the commonwealth is theempire of passions, war, fear, poverty, nastiness, solitude, barbarity, ignorance, savagery; withinthe commonwealth is the empire of reason, peace, security, wealth, splendour, society, goodtaste, the sciences and good-will."1What the Hobbesian myth of origins does not mention is that the handover of power to the stateis irreversible. The option is not open to us to change our minds, to decide that the monopoly onthe exercise of force held by the state, codified in the law, is not what we wanted after all, that wewould prefer to go back to a state of nature.We are born subject. From the moment of our birth we are subject. One mark of this subjection isthe certificate of birth. The perfected state holds and guards the monopoly of certifying birth.Either you are given (and carry with you) the certificate of the state, thereby acquiring an identitywhich during the course of your life enables the state to identify you and track you (track youdown); or you do without an identity and condemn yourself to living outside the state like ananimal (animals do not have identity papers).The spectacle of me may have given her a start too: a crumpled old fellow in a corner who at firstglance might have been a tramp off the street. Hello; she said coolly, and then went about herbusiness, which was to empty two white canvas bags into a top-loader, bags in which maleunderwear seemed to predominate.Not only may you not enter the state without certification: you are, in the eyes of the state, notdead until you are certified dead; and you can be certified dead only by an officer who himself(herself) holds state certification. The state pursues the certification of death with extraordinarythoroughness — witness the dispatch of a host of forensic scientists and bureaucrats toscrutinize and photograph and prod and poke the mountain of human corpses left behind by thegreat tsunami of December zoo4 in order to establish their individual identities. No expense isspared to ensure that the census of subjects shall be complete and accurate.Whether the citizen lives or dies is not a concern of the state. What matters to the state and itsrecords is whether the citizen is alive or dead.

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