Here, then, is the first mark of the barbarian: the inability to appreciate the beautiful, the noble, or the grand. Dante says that when the barbarians invaded Rome during the fifth century and caught sight of the church of Saint John Lateran, they went dumb with wonder. Livy says that when the first Gauls invaded Rome and saw the streets empty and the great houses empty -- empty, that is, except for stern old men here and there within, dressed in the senatorial togas, awaiting their death -- they too were for a time stupefied. Those barbarians at least had sense enough to be impressed, before they began their sprees of destruction. In general, the barbarian, whether on the steppes of Asia or of the Capitol, has had a life ground down to mud by physical necessities or, perhaps, by stultifying indolence, and can manage only to be impressed by what is big or flashy or brazen, the subtle traceries of beauty escaping him altogether.A brand-new academic discipline called "fecopoetics" invented by a woman whose son was going through potty-training. Sigh! Recycling the Literary Decadent Movement...Who are the barbarians here? Some people have waaay too much time on their hands. Stultifying indolence, indeed!
So in Kalamazoo the barbarians congregated to have a pseudo-learned blast laughing and sneering at what they could not understand, or what they had not even the self-awareness and humility to confess that they could not understand. The age that stippled the continent of Europe with buildings of incomparable beauty, massive and soaring and delicate all at once, that invented the university, and far-flung capitalism, and the chivalric romance; that gave us the great and wise Dante and the greater and wiser addle-pated Francis, that age had to be "honored" with papers on "fecopoetics" and "menstruating male mystics" and Xena, Warrior Princess. If only a fireman from Ray Bradbury's incisive dystopia would show up, to put us all out of our jobs and our misery. "Geoffrey Chaucer, eh?" he chuckles in his cockney patois. "Lots of bleedin' potty trainin' in there. No use. Burn the dirty bugger." It would be a better fate for that old customs officer, wouldn't it? As it would be a better fate for the Nike of Samothrace to be ground at once to marble powder than to be made a mockery of, defaced and dissolved by barbarians passing by with their outlandish credentials, using it as a convenient post to relieve themselves upon.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Barbarians at the gate
~Anthony Esolen writes in Mere Comments about barbarians of old and of our own time.