Independent scholar, cat addict, tattoo lover

The Barbarians - Alessandro Baricco, 2006

Do you feel sorry that wine is no longer an almost holy spirit? Grieve over the fall of the specialized football player at the feet of the all-round-field-runner? Feel regret in bookstores that besides high literature also serve masses of blah and coffee? Then perhaps you, unlike me, are not a barbarian - but you can become one after reading Baricco’s book.  

Baricco invites us to see the dethronement of Wine, Football and Literature not as incidents, but as movements of a new human. Some say this new species is degenerated, an animal they call ‘barbaric’ as it has lost its sense of Taste. It’s true, barbarians love the shallow life, grazing surfaces in search of experiences to satisfy short-term desires. You can see their coming with fear and disdain or you can, as Baricco does, try to understand their logic. Why do they prefer the horizontal surface over the vertical depth? To answer this question, Baricco goes back to the Romantic, when the bourgeois sought a terrain in which it could excel. This became ‘the soul’, an invention with which it could distinguish itself positively from the aristocracy. Soul searching became intertwined with craftsmanship. A ‘good soul’ demanded the same intense labor as a ‘good product’. And in reverse, a good craftsman put his soul into his work. All efforts and practice were focused on that one thing. Knowing it better and getting better at it were understood as ‘going in depth’. But what if, Baricco wonders, the personal soul proved rather dull, yet a common soul could fuel the people? What if this nationalist soul has resulted in centuries of hate, war and suffering? Is it inhuman of barbarians to back away from the concept that roots have to go deep? Is it an offense that they look for the soul in the immediate, the here and now? No, says Baricco, and so do I.

There’s more to say about this book, but I won’t. Why not? Because like my fellow barbarians the Tartars, I devour books and have already moved on to the next one.