cover image The Barbarians: An Essay on the Mutation of Culture

The Barbarians: An Essay on the Mutation of Culture

Alessandro Baricco, trans. from the Italian by Stephen Sartarelli. Rizzoli, $25.95 (176p) ISBN 978-0-8478-4291-9

In this insightful book, which reads as an episodic essay, Baricco (Emmaus) addresses the widespread fear%E2%80%94at least among intellectuals and academics%E2%80%94that we are facing a %E2%80%9Ccultural apocalypse,%E2%80%9D that civilized culture is being sacked by %E2%80%9Cpredators with no culture or history.%E2%80%9D These are his titular %E2%80%9Cbarbarians.%E2%80%9D Baricco begins by discussing three specific areas in which he sees the effects of this so-called apocalypse: %E2%80%9CHollywood wine,%E2%80%9D with its appealing color and lack of complexity; soccer with a tendency toward %E2%80%9Cmiddlingness,%E2%80%9D and a book publishing industry driven by %E2%80%9Cmarket logic.%E2%80%9D But, he says%E2%80%94and herein lays the main argument of his book%E2%80%94these are not, in fact, irrational, culturally destructive changes. Rather, these changes evidence a %E2%80%9Cmutation,%E2%80%9D %E2%80%9Ca sort of mental and architectural restructuring%E2%80%9D that results from a shifting cultural landscape dominated by forces such as Google. Baricco characterizes this mutation as a fundamental change in the %E2%80%9Cidea of what constitutes experience%E2%80%9D and how meaning is made. Though often theoretical, Barrico is an excellent guide and presents each short installment%E2%80%9D in a highly conversational, op-ed style. Ultimately the book is an optimistic defense for this mutation, a mutation %E2%80%9Cthat concerns everyone, without exception.%E2%80%9D (Jan.)