Who are the barbarians?

Denys Arcand’s movie Les Invasions barbares (2003) is a sequel to The Decline of the American Empire that nicely works through the clash of two generations, the 60s book-oriented intellectuals of the left and their 90s/00s children who play computer games and make money with computers.

Some of the same issues are posed by the essay in FrontPage The Magic of Images by Camille Paglia. Paglia believes that knowing images is more important than ever, but our postmodern approach to the visual prevalent in universities doesn’t work. It is a literary approach grounded in the theories of our generation not the practices of our children.

My take is that the humanities lost relevance when we abandoned creation for criticism. As important as criticism is, as a practice it is sold as the practice of the custodians of value. There are the struggling artists and programmers who make and the custodians (think Plato’s guardians) who decide what is good. Well … no one pays attention to our connesseurship, even when grounded in French theory. Popular culture passed us by when we detached creative practices from criticism. Students passed us by when we were no longer teaching people to contribute culture, which is what they want to do. While it is expensive to teach the arts, we need to reincoporate them into the humanities. To some extent Philosophy is the last humanities discipline where to study philosophy is still to do it.

Returning to Arcand’s film – who are the barbarians? Are the game playing ADD students that we complain about the barbarians or are we? (Yes, I do have a beard.)

Here is a quote from Paglia:

Knowing how to "read" images is a crucial skill in this media age, but the style of cultural analysis currently prevalent in universities is, in my view, counterproductive in its anti-media bias and intrusive social agenda. It teaches students suspicion and paranoia and, with its abstract European terminology, does not offer an authentic anthropology of the North American media environment in which they came to consciousness. Post-structuralism and postmodernism do not understand magic or mystique, which are intrinsic to art and imagination. It is no coincidence that since postmodernist terminology seeped into the art world in the 1980s, the fine arts have receded as a major cultural force. Creative energy is flowing instead into animation, video games, and cyber-tech, where the young are pioneers. Character-driven feature films, on the other hand, have steadily fallen in quality since the early nineties, partly because of Hollywood’s increasing use of computer graphics imaging (CGI) and special effects, advanced technology that threatens to displace the live performing arts.