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Barbarism and Its Discontents$
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Maria Boletsi

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780804782760

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804782760.001.0001

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(p.14) 1. Piecework
Barbarism and Its Discontents
Stanford University Press

This chapter explores the critical thrust of barbarism and its relation to civilization through a close reading of Franz Kafka's short story “The Great Wall of China” (1931). It also discusses the link between barbarism's positive and negative aspects, along with its connection to epistemological and comparative questions. “The Great Wall of China,” which revolves around an unfinished wall, shows barbarism as a force that ruptures the epistemological premises of established discourses and imbues them with foreign and erratic elements. Such interventions allow barbarism to overthrow the epistemological priority of civilization and promise other ways of knowing, which arise from a constant tension with negation, ambivalence, contradictions, and possible impossibilities. In the story, the barbarian nomads themselves are the ones with a better grasp of the construction project. Through his fiction, Kafka underscores the paradoxical dependence of civilization on its barbarians.

Keywords:   barbarism, barbarian, civilization, Franz Kafka, The Great Wall of China, construction

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