This is tough, unremitting and depressing going but essential reading as we wind down to the end of empire. Mirrored in here are the actions of our own civilisation; just substitute terrorist for barbarian (as A Short History of Progress suggests). I do believe though that Coetzee is ambivalent about who are the true barbarians. Might they not be the enforcers of empire itself? The armies (and police forces)?
And are we at the end? Is there even an end? The author writes that: “Empire has located its existence not in the smooth recurrent spinning time of the cycle of the seasons but in the jagged time of rise and fall, of beginning and end, of catastrophe.” Indeed so far all civilisations have fallen so it’s as well to have an allegory for the times – tough, unremitting and depressing though it may be.