Crisis, Terrorism, and Post-Truth: Processes of Othering and Self-Definition in the Culturalization of Politics

in Subjects Barbarian, Monstrous, and Wild
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This essay revisits the historical narrative of the Roman Empire and its ‘barbarians’ and its evocations in Western public rhetoric since 1989. It sketches the political climate since the early 1990s that gave shape to what has been called the culturalization of politics—a redrawing of global political divides in terms of culture—and probes the rekindled rhetoric of civilization and barbarian invasions in relation to this discursive shift. In this context, the essay centers on two issues. First, it enters recent debates on terrorism in Western media and politics, comparing uses of barbarism with uses of the savage and the monster in responses to terror—a comparison that reveals the conflicting frames guiding the perception of ‘Islamic’ and ‘white’ terrorism. Second, it traces the ambivalent workings of the barbarian-figure in the terrain of ‘post-truth politics,’ where the barbarian is mobilized both for designating threatening external others and as a potentially affirmative figure for (self-)representation. The focus here lies on the role of the barbarian in the profiling of the political persona that has come to exemplify this politics: Donald J. Trump.

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