Now Available In Paperback
Inquisitions On Empire
[Dear readers: I am reposting this revised piece from April because Apocalypse Of The Barbarians is now available in print, in a completely revised and updated format. It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble after July 7th. And will be distributed to all fine bookstores by Ingram and Baker & Taylor in the coming month. The suggested retail price is $10.89. But I am offering to send signed copies to anyone who requests one for a total price of $9 (US shipping inclusive). Just send me an email request if you want one to firstname.lastname@example.org. The preface to the text follows]
Preface: Forgetting and Recollection
The background chatter is becoming increasingly loud and shockingly candid: America is facing a terminal crisis, a singular and perfect turning in its short history. Of course we can try to ignore all the talk or console ourselves with the belief that our culture, our way of life, could not fail to surmount such a challenge. And many feel that history emphatically validates this belief as they examine the record of the past. Yet the eventuality of this “long emergency” – as one fellow pilgrim has called it – will not be averted.
Historians apparently find some quiet pleasure in reminding us that those who fail to study the past are doomed to repeat it. So they implore us to look back over the shoulder to events of bygone times, trying to draw conclusions and avoid the errors of former epochs. Individually and collectively, we struggle in such a manner to maintain the imagined trajectory of both personal and cultural progress. All the while our experts – the scientists, technologists, and investment bankers – are looking ahead to the next wave, hoping against hope to pile up one solution on top of another, anxious to keep this thing afloat and moving comfortably forward to an ever brighter future with even bigger profits. Yet, it is now dawning upon many of the faithful that such a future may not arrive, the entire project having been just a mirage, artfully crafted by other professionals – the politicians and market makers.
But, perhaps the real error – what may have led stealthily and obscurely to this intractable predicament – is not what we failed to learn from history, but that which was forgotten (or perhaps erased) by our remote ancestors at the very dawning of historical consciousness.
History – the recorded memory of civilization – seeks to explain the rise and fall of empires and nations, memorializing those notable personalities and dramatic events that collectively comprise the delicate fabric of its carefully crafted narratives. America, in large measure, stands as benefactor and apotheosis in this arduous historical legacy. But the whole story – from its stunning beginnings in the ancient Near East nearly six-thousand years ago to our post-millennial American hegemony – the entire edifice rests upon a small cluster of hypotheses about the world and how it works; about the logic of scientific inquiry and historical narrative, about the nature of language and social discourse itself. These assumptions continue to shoulder our commonsense understanding of life in civil society today, including our own personal histories, while thwarting any recollection of what was lost with the emergence of history and the story of civilization.
This present offering is an inquiry, a hearing into those remote and founding hypotheses. Rummaging through current global affairs, this work serves as pretext, as a handle for unwinding some deeply ingrained historical prejudices. By illuminating aspects of our current predicament, it allows for the possibility of a “foundation razing critique” (Kant) of the American empire and its global footprint — “the curriculum of the West” (Bram). It may serve as a simple footpath, an invitation back along that ancient byway leading inexorably to civic life. It is intended to provide a means of recollecting the genetic memory trace that was erased at the shadowy origins of our history.
Was the transition to civilization, to history, an inevitability of our nature, a necessary consequence of evolutionary adaptation, or simply a pathological accident? This is a core question driving our ruminations in Apocalypse Of The Barbarians.
The term, “barbarian,” from the Greek βάρβαρος, originally referred to any foreigner not sharing in the recognized culture or language of the speaker. Historically, the word has been associated with those nomadic tribes – invading hordes – whose incursions wreaked havoc upon the stability and prosperity of early empires throughout Asia and Europe. What comes to mind are the fanciful images painted by historians: Attila the Hun or the Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan – Steppe warriors from the north and east, sacking, pillaging, and capturing territories as they moved.
As used in the title of this work, “barbarian” is meant to signify the previously obscured but unsavory underbelly of the predominant character of Western civilization; a culture that has treacherously sought its own hegemonic expansion (globalization), invading, manipulating or destroying anything “foreign” in its path, while pushing all life to the precipice of an apocalyptic collapse.
A critique of culture today needs to remind us about the end of kinship and the beginnings of kingship; about the origins of hierarchy and political institutions, of law and calculative thinking; about the nature of work, education, competition, violence, warfare, slavery, and modern alienation; about the problem of greed, winners and losers – the foundations of our current cultural crises. And ultimately, it must reconnect us with our bodies and our bodies with the world – the senses and the “earthly sensuous.” Only through such recollection can we hope to overcome the forced erasure of our pre-historic past and recover the memory of another, perhaps more humane way to live.
Sandy Krolick, 2011