Barbarism and Its Discontents

Barbarism and Its Discontents

Barbarism and Its Discontents

Barbarism and Its Discontents

Synopsis

Barbarism and civilization form one of the oldest and most rigid oppositions in Western history. According to this dichotomy, barbarism functions as the negative standard through which "civilization" fosters its self-definition and superiority by labeling others "barbarians." Since the 1990s, and especially since 9/11, these terms have become increasingly popular in Western political and cultural rhetoric-a rhetoric that divides the world into forces of good and evil. This study intervenes in this recent trend and interrogates contemporary and historical uses of barbarism, arguing that barbarism also has a disruptive, insurgent potential. Boletsi recasts barbarism as a productive concept, finding that it is a common thread in works of literature, art, and theory. By dislodging barbarism from its conventional contexts, this book reclaims barbarism's edge and proposes it as a useful theoretical tool.

Excerpt

Barbarism and Its Discontents is an inquiry into the operations of the concept of “barbarism” and the figure of the “barbarian” in modern and contemporary works of literature, art, and theory. Although barbarism is traditionally viewed as the negative offshoot of “civilization,” it can be recast as a creative and critical concept in cultural theory: it can unsettle binary oppositions, imbue authoritative discourses with foreign, erratic elements, and trigger alternative modes of knowing and relating to others. This study situates barbarism in a broad context: it touches on theory, politics, history, literature, and visual art and brings together cultural objects from several national contexts, including Argentinean, Czech, German, Greek, Mexican, North American, and South African. Staging encounters among diverse objects, media, and discourses pluralizes barbarism and charts its complex operations.

“Barbarism” and the “barbarian” are not only treated here as objects of analysis but are also cast as theoretical and methodological concepts, which help me reflect on how I do what I do. This study therefore contains bits and pieces of what I imagine as a barbarian mode of theorizing. the premises of this theorizing, which inform and guide my approach, can be sought in certain ongoing theoretical conversations. in the last three decades, theory in the fields of comparative literature, postcolonial studies, and cultural studies has been accompanied by metaphors of travel and mobility. Edward Said’s (1983) “travelling theory,” Mieke Bal’s (2002) “travelling concepts,” and Deleuze’s (2004) “nomadic thought” are cases in point. Said’s concept of “travelling theory” unsettles the tendency of theory to seek stability and abstract generalization and draws emphasis to specific “sites of production, reception, transmission and resistance to specific theories” (Clifford 1989). Bal proposes a concept-based interdisciplinary methodology for cultural analysis based on the possibilities that . . .

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