The Barbarians


It is undeniable that the new technological connected world has brought to the collapse the past idea of relation, politics, education, art and somehow given voice and shape to a very long gallery of people who would have barely seen the light before: scarcely educated, rude, arrogant, tasteless, they flood the world with their superficial, trivial, sometimes violent but incredibly effective messages. As barbarians they implacably destroy our certainties and nothing seems it can be done but walking hopelessly among those ruins of the past. The point is: are these barbarians ruthless destroyers or maybe is this only the way we perceive and fear change ? After all, whatever cannot be fully understood is often seen as a threat. Am I just growing old and losing touch with the new? Maybe, we should just modulate the way we look at things rather than feeling continuously under attack.

bar2This is what suggests Alessandro Baricco, Italian novelist and essayist, for whom the barbarians represent innovation rather than violence and destruction. In his ” The Barbarians: an essay on the mutation of culture“, Baricco remarks that the beginners of a new era have always been considered barbarians by their contemporaries, because they smashed past tradition. What they had in common was a good degree of that foolishness so dear to Steve Jobs: the clear perception of change. In the past Diderot and D’Alembert must have seemed barbarians at the eyes of the intellectual elite of the ancient regime, let alone the revolutionary music of Mozart and Romantic poetry, of course, which in fell swoop destroyed all the canons of classicism.The use of simple, unelaborated language, common themes, blank verse, for the purist of the age was a barbaric act on classic form. Actually, I myself have often  thought while reading Wordsworth‘s “Daffodils”, for example: “uhm , so puerile” and quite annoying all that flood of synonyms of the word “happy” (bliss, joy, jocund…)  as  if that were the only way to communicate the reader how happy he felt, but rather, resulting in my mind as a sort of Pharrell William walking in that wood singing and dancing wildly “because I’m happy“. And pray, don’t be offended by the word “puerile”, I borrowed it from Shelley‘s comment on the poem. All these people had to vandalize past canons to let their genius explode.

bar-3You wouldn’t believe it, but even Beethoven was considered a barbarian for his age. The critic of the Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review used the following words to review his most celebrated ninth symphony in 1825: Elegance, purity and measures, which were the principles of our art, have gradually surrendered to the new style, frivolous and affected, that these days of superficial talent  have adopted. Brains that, for education and habit, cannot think of anything else but clothes, fashion, gossip, reading novels and moral dissipation, are struggling to experience the more elaborate and less febrile pleasures of science and art. Beethoven writes for those brains, and in this he seems to have some success, if I have to believe the praise that, on all sides, I bloom for his latest work.” And even the American reviews did not spare negative comments:”…very much like Yankee Doodle,” sniffed a Providence, R.I. newspaper in 1868 and “Unspeakable cheapness,” declared Boston’s Musical Record in 1899. Hence; Beethoven was only endowed with a superficial talent for them and treated like a pop musician.

bar6Baricco says that nowadays modern Barbarians are people like Larry Page and Sergey Brin who were only twenty when they invented Google and had never read Flaubert,of course; Steve Jobs, creator of the Apple world and that touch technology which is so typically childlike;  or Jimmy Wales the founder of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that has formalized the primacy of speed over accuracy. These people sincerely did not reject all the past, yet, at the time of designing the future rather than using the tools of tradition, they employed new standards with the side effect of destroying to the root, entire estates of knowledge and sensitivity that lie in a shared heritage of civilization.

So far, then, I understand that this sense discomfort that pervades me depends only on my inability of accepting the mutation of this age, as, put it in this way, the barbarians seem to be absolutely necessary for the evolution of our civilization to the same degree they accomplish the precious function of fuelling with young blood  and energy the world of ideas. But then, Baricco introduces a new category and everything becomes more clear to me. The presence of the barbarians has a physiological consequence: the growth of the numbers of the barbarized. This phenomenon has always occurred, but in an age of mass communication where everything happens so rapidly, the barbarized may eventually prevail and change the course of events, before the revolutions of the barbarians might be effectively rooted in society. Furthemore, differently from other ages, the barbarized are no longer hidden and victim of the contempt of the refined, but they are fiercely visible on tv, social media etc., some of them has even pursued a career in politics. Hence, is this what the new world is going to be like? A world in the hand of the barbarized?


52 thoughts on “The Barbarians

  1. It is not the changes themselves that concern me. It is the fawning over them and embracing them as the be-all-end-all of our society, culture, view of the world. There’s no need to denigrate what came before in exaltation of the new. 😉 xoM

    • Forgive me Sir, when you mention there are people leaving twitter because of bullying, insults and racist slurs. You, if you are not from the UK, should be aware that anyone who Voted to Leave the EU are having to endure being called Racists, Fascists and bullied. I know because I have had to put up with these comments. I have witnessed the UK being torn apart because a Democratic Vote to those that lost is no longer legal. No one has the right to call someone Racist/Fascist because they did not vote the way they wanted them to. President Trump was duly elected whether he is liked or not where is the respect for the President?

    • Thank you Barbara. I do really suggest it. It is amazing and Baricco explores this mutation in any aspect of modern society, starting from soccer, for example. Really great.🙋

  2. Great post and thanks for sharing the fascinating perspective from Baricco’s book. I can imagine that The Beatles, Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Sylvia Plath and many others were all viewed as barbaric in their time for their directness, but the art and talent is undeniable. If I think of Barbarianism today in the context of the internet, I think of those who post videos of beheadings, child porn, anything of a nature that inflicts pain, torture or death to another. There’s also those who post slanderous, crudely thought out comments in News Feeds and cower behind a pseudonym, or those who throw all social norms to the wind to attack anyone who disagrees with them. This sort of behavior has certainly existed throughout time. I don’t view these as the game changers but rather as the pestilence that continues to undermine civil society. Wow. You’ve really got me thinking Tinkerbell!

  3. Any artist who dares to create a path for himself is a barbarian since others put him down as departing from the norms. Rites of Spring by Stravinsky when it was performed created an uproar. The ear has now heard it and got used to it. We need remember a cliche has been a freshly minted expression and with everyday usage it shall be much less than what it was before.

  4. Fascinating post! I think there’s definitely something to it – I’m quite a social media junkie, and while there’s definitely plenty of nonsense, nastiness, etc. to wade through, there is value in the connections, in the immediacy, in the points of view that would never made it into a newspaper or book (sometimes quite rightly!!) I agree that many of those who dismiss it all as a mindless rabble are a bit like my grandparents when they dismissed The Beatles as ‘noise’!

  5. My overview is that the current barbarian invasion is, for the most part, retrogressive rather than progressive. Take music, for example. Subtlety and beauty have been replaced by any number of renditions of a few basic notes, with a beat which is not there to be sensed as a background feature but is force-fed non-stop. In art, ugly conglomerations invite one to find some esoteric significance, which in the main doesn’t exist. In poetry, the use of varied language and the beautiful representation of an idea with rhythm and metre which can be lightly varied to meet or confound expectations is infinitely preferable to the randomly-split and blathering prose which so often is passed off as a poem these days.
    We have wonderful tools, now, for advancing every sphere of life. Are they being used effectively? I think not..

  6. well e-tinkerbell – this post was fantastic…
    you write with such smoothness and have such deep insight about complex things – but can explain well. I do need to read again – and maybe again – so much to chew on….
    like this:
    “the barbarians seem to be absolutely necessary for the evolution of our civilization to the same degree they accomplish the precious function of fuelling with young blood and energy the world of ideas”

  7. This looks like an interesting book for interesting times. I am not sure it makes me less scared. The period after the fall of the Roman Empire which some might call the age of the Barbarians used to be called the Dark Ages, because a lot of knowledge and skills were lost. I am not sure I would call this progress.

    • From a historical point of view, you are right, however; whenever there is a change, a mutation, like the examples above, you cannot help having the feeling that something is gone lost, call it knowledge or taste, it is gone.

  8. Mrs. Tink!! Quite the interesting story as always
    by the way I hope the Barbarians was not a little slap for me…… I know what a fork is and, what is the other thing called…

  9. O” I almost forgot to let you know, I am going to reblog this one for you. Hopefully this will get a few more readers and followers sent your way. I hope you have a great week.—ted

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