The Fall of Rome and Rise of Empire in Denys Arcand’s Les Invasions barbares

in Subjects Barbarian, Monstrous, and Wild
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This essay focuses on the surprisingly recurrent historical narrative of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire: a great civilization decaying from within before being invaded by barbarians. Sage traces this narrative from its inception in the eighteenth century through to its widespread schematic use following 9/11. Analyzing the strangely peripheral references to 9/11, the fall of Rome, civilization, and barbarism in Arcand’s 2003 film, Sage argues that the film works to discredit such simplifying narratives and destabilize such hierarchical oppositions but also calls into question the efficacy of such deconstructive operations when current, neoliberal forms of empire seem to embrace multiplicity, circulation, and relationality with ease. Following this line of questioning further, the essay considers the fall of Rome narrative as applied by and to Donald Trump in a post-truth era, suggesting Arcand’s film as an opportunity to rethink critical practice in such a climate.

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