Out of the Carnage of America First: Prosthetic Origins and Mythic Foundations

From January 2017 (“From this day forward, it’s only going to be America first, America first.”) to January 2018 (“America first, doesn’t mean America alone”), we have been suffering Trump’s monotonous solution meant to pivot from what he dubbed ‘this American carnage’ (aka anything prior to Trumptime). The doomsday phrase ‘American carnage’ sent journalists scurrying for some precedent, and aside from a spike during the tour of that name by iconic metal bands Slayer and Megadeath, the only other ripples were in the aftermath of 9/11 and on the release of Jerome Greene’s book American Carnage: Wounded Knee, 1890.

Wounded Knee carnage

It is no coincidence that the culmination of the genocide of indigenous people in the US, paved the way for an earlier ‘America First’ moment, this time in a lecture delivered in 1893 by the historian Frederick Jackson Turner. Turner used this moment of transition to establish the foundation of core ideals of American identity in the frontier period. Furthermore, he tracked this moment in American history back to other ‘Aryan’ cultures:

What first the Mediterranean Sea, and later the New World, were to the Aryan peoples, breaking the bond of custom, and creating new activities to meet new conditions, that the undeveloped West has been to the American descendants of the Aryans.

As Alan Gilbert has described it, Turner’s speech was taken up by a German historian, whose student taught Hitler’s secretary Rudolf Hess. This idea of an ethnically-charged frontier expansion (a Lebensraum) whether directly or through his reading of the cowboy novels of Karl May, inspired Hitler’s expression of Germany’s aims of eastern expansion into the Ukraine:

There’s only one duty: to Germanize this country by the immigration of Germans, and to look upon the natives as Redskins.

 

What does this tale of the the aftershocks of the American carnage that culminated at Wounded Knee for Hitler’s Germany tell us about Trump’s America? One way we understand it is that the claim to ‘America First’ returns to this primal scene of carnage (i.e. the genocide of Native Americans) by effacing and erasing not only other peoples from beyond our shores (e.g. potential immigrants, other nations), but also those living here, in addition to Native Americans, who like them do not fit into a white nationalist (Aryan) model (e.g. African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, non-European Immigrants).

Even though Trump’s white nationalist foundational discourse may not be explicitly grounded in a return to ancient Greece and early modern Europe, our own return to antiquity, as guided by contemporary artists, must make this hidden agenda clear. So, we have decided to offer our own Minus Plato guide to undercut prosthetic origins and foundation myths, from the Greco-Roman world to Trump’s America.

Our first step, as taken by Juliana Huxtable, enables us to acknowledge the pervasive and deep influence of ancient Africa and Near-East on Classical Greek and Roman culture (Jan. 11).

From here we can fully appreciate Adam Pendleton’s concept of Black Dada that offers a language through which to break free from the discursive framework of European weakness disguised as an artificial origin (Jan. 17).

Then, following William E. Jones, we will see how, when confronted with some icon of the Classical ideal, such as a sculpture of Hercules or a bust of a Roman Emperor, we can recognize how it participates in a series of copies and remakes, rather than crystallize some hallowed original (Jan. 15).

At this moment, when the statue breaks, we will find ourselves surrounded by the precarious multiplicity of things as carefully laid out by João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva, contradicting the Roman poet Lucretius’ poetic fantasy of his paving an ‘untrodden’ path for his readers in regurgitating Epicurean philosophy (Jan. 10).

We will now understand how the way that knowledge is systematized and made accessible is too often belittled by academia, showing a fetish for the ‘original source’ rather than successive layers of translation and mediation. Now we pick up our ‘Handbook’ or ‘Guide’, not to look back, but to lead us to form our own traditions and movements, to break away from an authoritarian mode of knowledge-transmission enshrined in the academy (Jan. 9).

Maybe we’ll find alternative do-it-yourself models for the so-called ‘Good Life’ along the way (Jan. 13).

Only then will we see the origins and foundations for what they are: prostheses and myths. From this point, we not only see Cy Twombly’s Greeks in Nadia Kaabi-Linke’s phalluses (Jan. 16), but also the founders of Spiral in Kerry James Marshall’s returns to Romare Bearden’s Odyssey (Jan. 14).

Even if we admit that we are surrounded by fear, terror and carnage, and agree with Hito Steyerl, who sees in the Berlin Wall as the original wall, which in its destruction scattered the seeds of the walls of today’s world (realized and imaginary), still we must also follow Wallace Berman’s Semina in generating our own ways of understanding the multiplicity and diversity of our various origin stories (Jan. 12)

Now we see that we must reject the monotony of ‘America First’ and the easy Classicism of the Greek source. We are brimming full of contradictory seeds, heading for the archaeological site of the future perfect.

 

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