The words “barbarism” and the “barbarian” are both accompanied by a seemingly negativity stemming from their connotations of violence, brutality, exploitation, and destruction as well as their opposition to the positive notions of culture, humanism, and particularly civilization. The rhetoric of “civilization versus barbarism” figures prominently in political rhetoric at the dawn of the new millennium and has persisted in Western politics, the media, historiography, political and cultural theory, and everyday speech. This book addresses the negative meanings and injurious effects of barbarism and the barbarian and argues that both terms also carry a performative force with a transgressive potential. It charts new sets of relations and contexts for barbarism and the barbarian within literature, art, and theory, from Franz Kafka's short story “The Great Wall of China” (1931) to Walter Benjamin's essay “Experience and Poverty” (1933), C. P. Cavafy's poem “Waiting for the Barbarians” (1904), J. M. Coetzee's homonymous novel (1980), Kendell Geers's labyrinthine installation Waiting for the Barbarians (2001), and Graciela Sacco's billboard-type installation Esperando a los bárbaros (1996).
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