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Monday, January 9, 2012

First Page Mondays: Diary Of A Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee


As part of the First Page Mondays here at The Book Worm, here's the first page from the book 'Diary of A Bad Year' by J.M. Coetzee. This is one of those books that each time I pick it up, I can't help admiring the nuances. Love to read it in bits and parts over and over again. Hope you like it too.

'Every account of the origins of the state starts from the premise that "we" - not we the readers but some generic we so wide as to exclude no one - participate in its coming into being. But the fact is that the only "we" we know - ourselves and the people close to us - are born into the state; and our forebears too were born into the state as far back as we can trace. The state is always there before we are.

(How far back can we trace? In African thought, the consensus is that after the seventh generation 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 the state, then we must also accept its entailment: that we or our forebears could have created the state in some other form, if we had chosen; perhaps, too, that we could change it if we collectively so 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 to abolish it.

It is hardly in our power to change the form of the state and impossible to abolish it because, vis-avis the state, we are, precisely, powerless. In the myth of the founding of the state as set down by Thomas Hobbes, our descent into powerlessness was voluntary: in order to escape the violence of internecine warfare without end (reprisal upon reprisal, vengeance upon vengeance, the vendetta), 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 who chose and choose to stay outside the compact become outlaw.
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My first glimpse of her was in the laundry room. It was mid-morning on a quiet spring day and I was sitting, watching the washing go around, when this quite startling young woman walked in. Startling because the last thing I was expecting was such an apparition; also because the tomato-red shift she wore was so startling in its brevity.'

- Debolina Raja Gupta