Forgetting and Recollection: Apocalypse Of The Barbarians

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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 sandy@kulturcritic.com. 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

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10 Responses to Forgetting and Recollection: Apocalypse Of The Barbarians

  1. capt rick says:

    Actually You can change the course of today civilization known as American society by eliminating a small percentage of the criminal class that has taken us down this destructive path since WW2. Assign agency to individuals not social classes or systems You CAN ARREST THE WALL STREET BANKsTERS THE FOREST RAPERS ,THE OIL Barrions, THE MEMBERS OF CONGRESS AND ELIMINATE MUCH OF THE BARBARIAN PROBLEM. I AM NOT TO BLAME FOR HISTORIES FAILURES, PRESIDENT BUSH IS TO NAME ONE. Goldman Sacks is to name another.
    it REALLY CAN BE CLEANED UP BY LOCKING UP THE MILLION OR SO Psychopaths that have formed these credit default swaps and derivatives you don’t have to change history.
    There really are just a few bad apples.Stinking rotten to the core heads of banks, oli cos, coal cos. presidents of nations and so on.Let them eat off their gold toilet seats.

  2. kulturcritic says:

    You can do that Capt Rick; but wouldn’t there be others to take their place?

    • StrayCat says:

      Yes, others always take their place because the predatory “I want it all and I want it now!” ideal is baked into the cultures of East and West. When contemplating the character of the Aztec, Late Mayan and Inca cultures and empires, it is at least arguable that the very fact of city-state civilization has as a necessary consequence a kind of corruption of the human condition that leads always to our present circumstances. Were it just a few bad apples, there would be far less hesitation and difficulty in removing them. The city scape is not just physically alienating, but its requirements are psychologically and morally alienating. We get chopped into many small pieces, each piece having contradictory claims against it, we thus have to live in a state of permanent dislocation, and lives of quiet, or not so quiet desperation. Drugs, sex and alcohol lessen the pain at the surface, but do not either cure the condition or allay the deep ache that we all feel when we allow ourselves to feel.

  3. george berreman says:

    I’m currently in the middle of ‘The Barbaric Heart’ by Curtis White. Professor White is an astute observer and thinker as you are Mr Krolick with the idea of the spiritual aspect of our selves as a necessary part of the debate. His work would likely be appreciated by you and your readers if not already.

    • kulturcritic says:

      George – thanks, I will check it out this weekend and let you know my opinion

    • Brutus says:

      I read The Barbaric Heart a while back and was quite impressed with White’s arguments and writing skill. Like kulturcritic, he has redefined “barbarian” slightly, though in White’s case, it’s about unwitting, unthinking pursuits that tend to bring about their own inevitable, tragic self-destruction. Like most works of erudition and circumspection, White book appeals to a very narrow audience and is ignored by the rest.

  4. StrayCat says:

    Do any of you ever feel that when left alone you accomplish more, with more satisfaction and of better quality? Has the eight (or ten or twenty) hour day of compulsory work in concert with others also jammed into this mill hacked apart the ability to work with satisfaction? Real work is not drudgery, but is exhilerating (sp) and fulfilling. While some work may require organizing into cohorts, most work can be accomplished in other ways.

    • Disaffected says:

      StrayCat,

      In a word: YES! In fact, I spend most of my “working” day endeavoring to just that – eliminate the befuddlement induced by others’ involvement. But then again, I’ve always been a “special needs” child, as in in special need of not being fucked with when I do my thing.

      The modern workplace is full of retarded “managers” managing those who are either in no need of managing in the first place (the few), or for whom managing is simply a waste of time (the many). In the case of the former, they’re simply getting in the way; in the latter, both they and their sycophants should be fired to benefit EVERYONE’S best interests.

      Unfortunately, corporate profit margins and worker salaries are now such that a fair amount of fat can still be allowed while allowing for suitably obscene corporate profit margins. Some will maintain (usually upper level managers with suitably obscene salary and benefits packages) that that’s an advantage of the system. You decide. What’s for damn sure is that the current status quo, just like the last status quo, certainly won’t hold for long.

      Whether or not that’s a good thing productivity wise is anyone’s guess (mine is NOT). But then again, one has to continually ask oneself when working in the corporate environment, is any of this bullshit ever MEANT to be productive in the first place? You can probably guess the answer I always come to.

      In the end, the answer’s the same as it always was: It’s a job, a means to pay the bills, and something to do to fill the time in an otherwise largely meaningless consumer culture existence. And in the end, isn’t THAT what it’s REALLY ALL ABOUT?

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