Life is Colorless Without Barbarians

“Once in every generation, without fail, there is an episode of hysteria about the barbarians.” Waiting for The Barbarian

 

Life is colorless without barbarians.  Without them, there would be no  red or orange or yellow alerts. That is why every generation must have its barbarians. But the best barbarians are  those for whom you wait. Barbarians are like messiahs, always coming but never arriving. And contrary to what you might have heard, barbarians never die.

What though is the purpose of waiting? You know where barbarians live. The caves on the fringes of empire. The underwater villages that come and go with the tides. The sand dune cities, those ghostly towns that are visible only in the eye of a desert storm. You know where they hide.

You know the color of their skin, the specific hue of their blackness, black as the night in the cover of which they invade your bed and your kitchen and your soup. You know the strange shapes of their bodies. Yes, you’ve never met them. But from the signs of their coming, you have painted pretty damn accurate pictures of what their “faces of damnation” look like. So tell me, what exactly is the purpose of this waiting?

The truth is that what you fear is not their arrival.  You have nothing that they would want. Your water has been contaminated by your own urine. Your precious potatoes have all been eaten by your own scarecrows. Your daughters are so lean no one will even steal them. Look, you’ve lost just about everything. If the barbarians were to come today, there will be nothing left for them to plunder.

What you have not lost, however, is the capacity to wait. And since living is really at bottom a kind of waiting, to have nothing to wait for is to become a living dead. So you wait just so you can stay alive. So maybe you love your barbarians. Maybe you do not. But one thing is clear. Your barbarians are merely ciphers of the hope and the promise that you will live yet another day and another and another for as long as you can boast a nightmare.

For only when generations have disappeared do their barbarians appear. They arrive when there is no one left to meet them, when there are  no more tomorrows because there is no one left to anticipate them. They arrive to meet an empty world. They set down their filthy tents, and their fanny packs, and their flint stones, and their sun glasses. They sit down on the doorstep that used to be yours but that have have long since forgotten you.   Right there and then they are transformed into pioneers, founding fathers, trail blazers. But their future will not be certain until they name their own barbarians for whom they too must wait.

Photo credit: Igor Tishin: Barbarian Art Gallery

Tags: , , , , ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

3 Responses to “Life is Colorless Without Barbarians” Subscribe

  1. chibuzor 2011/05/19 at 12:46 #

    lovely. just brilliant. but i’ll hold furhter comment!

  2. Safranna 2011/05/23 at 19:40 #

    Brilliant perspective indeed! I’m intrigued… want to feast my understanding on more of your thoughts! And, full to bellyache on the silent truth of this… ~Much Respect~

  3. Ainehi 2011/05/24 at 18:47 #

    Chibuzor, thanks man.

    Safranna: Thanks for visiting Brittle Paper and thanks for your nice note. I wonder what you mean when you say “silent truth of this.” Sounds interesting.

Leave a Reply

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Archives

Announcing the Brittle Paper Literary Awards: The Shortlists

Facebook - The Brittle Paper Literary Awards

August 1, 2017 was Brittle Paper‘s seventh anniversary. In celebration of this milestone, we are launching the Brittle Paper Literary Awards, […]

It Starts From Writing Honestly | A Conversation with Wana Udobang | By Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún

Screen-Shot-2017-08-20-at-5.05.05-PM-e1503266832468 copy

Wana Udobang is a versatile artist. She has worked as a radio presenter, movie actor, television and web broadcaster, journalist, […]

British-Nigerian Erotica Writer Kiru Taye Opens Up About the Difficulty of Finding an Audience

kiru taye -

When we take the likes of Chimamanda Adichie as the model of authorship, achieving success in writing can appear effortless. […]

The 2017 Writivism Kofi Addo Prize for Nonfiction Goes to South Africa’s Charles King

The South African Freelancers' Association (Safrea) offered their members the opportunity of having a quick portrait done to improve their images on their social media pages - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.  Professional portrait photographer, Anna Morris, agreed to do the portraits.

The 2017 Writivism Kofi Addo Prize for Nonfiction has gone to South Africa’s Charles King. He won for “Meat Bomb.” Alongside […]

On Reclaiming Memory | Interview with Kechi Nomu, 2017 Brunel Prize Finalist

1528617_881012648578490_5897868622052699107_n

Africa in Dialogue published an e-book of interviews with the ten poets shortlisted for the 2017 Brunel Poetry Prize. The interviews were […]

The 2017 Writivism Short Story Prize Goes to Nigeria’s Munachim Amah

13173450_1619200638400857_2469687830281826926_o

The Writivism Short Story Prize has gone to Nigeria’s Munachim Amah. He won for his short story, “Stolen Pieces.” He will […]