Barbarism and Its Discontents (Cultural Memory in the by Maria Boletsi

By Maria Boletsi

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Barbarism and civilization shape one of many oldest and so much inflexible oppositions in Western historical past. in accordance with this dichotomy, barbarism features because the detrimental typical by which "civilization" fosters its self-definition and superiority by means of labeling others "barbarians." because the Nineties, and particularly on account that September 11, those phrases became more and more well known in Western political and cultural rhetoric—a rhetoric that divides the realm into forces of fine and evil. This research intervenes during this fresh development and interrogates modern and historic makes use of of barbarism, arguing that barbarism additionally has a disruptive, rebel capability. Boletsi recasts barbarism as a effective thought, discovering that it's a universal thread in works of literature, artwork, and conception. by means of dislodging barbarism from its traditional contexts, this publication reclaims barbarism's facet and proposes it as an invaluable theoretical software.

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Example text

Thus, although civilization appears to be the powerful, superior term in the opposition with the barbarians, its dependence on them also makes it vulnerable. Presented as inexpedient, the system of piecemeal construction itself can be viewed as a barbarism—a foreign, inexplicable element—at the heart of China’s civilization. The barbarism that this system constitutes does not come from the outside but is internally generated: it is the decision of the high command. This fact, as we have seen, puzzles the narrator.

By moving around to build different parts of the wall, the supervisors could see finished sections on their way, renew their belief in their work, and feel they contributed to a great project that unified the nation. “Thus,” the narrator concludes, “the system of piecemeal construction becomes comprehensible” (238). But not quite. In the narrative there are only provisional conclusions, constantly overthrown by new ones. Thus, the psychological explanation gives way to a theological or transcendental one.

The narrator finds it curious that the scholar’s book even contained architectural plans for the tower that would be built on the basis of the wall. What I find most remarkable about this comparison is its grounds. There are several reasons—some pointed out by the narrator himself— why this comparison would be inappropriate. Discourses, genres, and even temporal frames are mixed without further justification: an ancient biblical myth belonging to the Judaic and Christian traditions is compared with an actual historical (though mythically invested) project from the Chinese tradition, within a fictional narrative in which the narrator declares to be offering a historical account of the wall.

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