Tag Archives: historical memory

Order on the Border: Prologue or Retrospective View?


Border security was the hallmark issue of the Presidency of President Donald J. Trump–as of his candidacy–that proudly foregrounded a specter of racial division. The promise to expand the fences that had been barriers along six hundred and fifty four miles of bollard, chain link fences, and even helicopter landing pads that were military materiel from Vietnam were to be expanded to a continuous wall by the man who, Ayn Rand style, promised he was master architect and builder of a border security system, in hopes to get the costly concrete wall he imagined would be perfect for the border built. He won election in no small part because of the assurance “I’m very good at building things,” first and foremost a wall to Make America Great Again. The President who disrupted conventions of government by provoking a government shutdown in 2019 resisted the prospect he would “give up a concrete wall” in government negotiations, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney reminded the nation, and in visiting Alamo TX, on the eve of his departure form office, appeared to relish the presence of the slatted wall he wanted–he vowed “a steel fence” back in 2019–and to affirm the centrality of the southwestern border for the nation he was loath to admit he would soon cease to lead, if a true national emergency could not be provoked.

If the visitation of the border provided a recurrent site for Trump to affirm his candidacy, Presidency, and indeed to wield and exercise executive authority by appropriating billions on the construction of a border wall–without even knowing if it is effective–the border wall provided an occasion to affirm a uniquely distorted vision of the state.

Trump’s visit to the US-Mexico Border paid final homage to the achievement of building a border wall that was indeed of concrete and reinforced steel core seemed to create a shrine for an image of the border rooted in white supremacy, and no better site for such a shrine seemed to exist than Alamo TX. The very name of the border city in Texas few had ever heard of before it was designated as a site to salute the completion of four hundred miles of Border Wall near the Rio Grande Valley evoked a society based not only on the state’s funding of border defense, but a nation that was “founded, nurtured, and financed” on White Supremacy, as Ta-Nehisi Coats put it long before the Trump Presidency. In visiting “Alamo,” the outgoing President was not only visiting the border. He was affirming the centrality of the border wall as a monument to his followers, a memorial to border protection that was a dog whistle in its name. For the hybrid constellation of an “Alamo” along the Border Wall elevated the symbolic value of the southwestern border of the United States as if it were a battle-line to fight for the permanence of a color line long fundamental to American democracy, but long denied as a brutality of racist ideology naturalizing a social hierarchy in ways that were enforced by state power.

The Border Wall was an icon of the Trump Presidency, a prop for his public political persona as President of the nation, and a site of illustrating the commitment to the defense of borders, fulfilling the syllogism there are no strong countries without strong borders–or that, per Ronald Reagan, “a country that cannot control its borders is not a nation”–as if the border were going to vanish from the map. And when Trump visited Alamo, eight days before leaving office, in a choreographed speech, he elevated the Border Wall to a spectacle. The visit on the surface sought to reprise a bond with the American people around construction of a Border Wall, and which he was proud at having allocated–or wrangled–$15 billion that the U.S. Congress had never appropriated. Designed to slow migrants and smugglers from crossing the border, but a token of an expanded system of border surveillance from helicopters, river boats, aerostatic blimps whose radar systems are Customs and Border Patrol’s “Eye in the Sky,” and military jeeps, and an archipelago of incarceration in detention facilities that deny migrants rights. But the concrete bastions he visited on the Rio Grande affirmed the spectacle of border defense. “The spectacle proves its arguments simply by going round in circles: by coming back to the start, by repetition,” as Guy Debord argued, “by constant reaffirmation in the only space left where anything can be publicly affirmed,” and the reaffirmation of the spectacle of the border seemed to ahistoricize and perpetuate the border wall as a defensive monument, refusing to obliterate and elide it from national memory, by eliding it with the border defense of Texas, before Texas was a state.

The visit to Alamo provided a fitting stage for the final lap of a “Promises Kept” tour, as it reprised the hostile border as a part of the American imaginary. Trump long claimed. that without borders. or border enforcement, “you don’t have a country,” as if a reinforced border was a needed affirmation of national security and identity and indeed–at least semantically–nationhood. He sought to summon dignity at the border, days after the fiasco of the insurrectionary staging of an assault at the U.S. Capitol, and warn then-President-elect Joe Biden not to destroy the wall lest he undermine immigration policies crucial to the nation, and erode the border to bring “calamity” to national security at the site he had long declared a national security threat. Seeking to both stop time, refocus national attention, and conflate myths of national identity at Alamo, the dog whistle of a defense of security at Alamo TX placed the border wall in the national mythos, to stay the prospect of these sections of concrete wall and levees from being dismantled, to keep alive the story of wall-building that he had long promised to the nation as he left office, casting it as a heroic effort of national defense and construction project that he had presented himself as the Presidential candidate as uniquely suited to create. To visit the completed section of the Border Wall near “Alamo” was to evoke the mythic nature of the crumbling wall of S. Antonio de Behar in San Antonio at the Alamo, the site of resistance of Texan Revolutionaries, still the model for many local militias and white supremacists, and recall the cleavage in society Trump invoked when claiming his impeachment would provoke a “new Civil War,” elevating his own Border Wall to the mythic status of an unsavory part of the collective memory of national defense.

In the final hours of the Trump Presidency, with only four hundred and fifty miles of the border wall built, lest it be reduced to Ozymandian fragments for visitors to look upon his Presidency and despair, Trump visited the poured concrete wall at Alamo, TX, as if to greet the final testament to the achievements of his Presidency and to unveil to the nation completion of the legacy of his Presidency, as if it were a final campaign stop. Visiting a small section of Border Wall mounted on concrete levees around the Rio Grande became an occasion to reprise his commitment to national security, and the culmination of a heroic struggle of border-building and defense of the nation’s territory. The heroic struggle seemed less so, in the shadow of the tragically empty theater of the Capitol Riots, but perhaps it was the memory of his legacy he felt most able to leave: it served to epitomize the difference of “us” from outsiders, in a way that might better play to the nation than the raucous display of angry identities of flag-waving separatists, and set the tone of framing an ongoing future Presidential campaign, praising the Caesar-like monument for which he had secured federal funding, and insisting it would never be buried in the public imagination.

Indeed, among the colorful flags waved with exultation on January 6, 2021 that incarnated a social body excluding the entrance of African Americans or migrants into the nation, from Confederate Flags to III Percenters, angry at any change inclusion in a social contract that had persistently excluded those marked by ancestry and melanin from the state, the prominence of flags waved at the combat around the inaugural stands by MAGA shock forces of militia groups who cast the nation as white treasured the mythic defense of Tejano lands by militia at The Alamo as a foundational historical precedent and basis for “keeping America great,” embracing the image of The Alamo as a war that was fought both for liberties and for racial hierarchy against Mexican troops–an image nurtured not by the state, but by the powerful cultural currency of The Alamo in Hollywood as a proxy for a race war.

Even if the 2020 Presidential campaign was effectively over, the values of white supremacy that had long forged the alliance of pro-Trump separatists and deniers were kept alive by what seemed a hastily engineered visit to the border town of Alamo TX. After an incompetently ineffective summoning of minions to interrupt the counting of electoral votes by Congress, and to create a legacy for his Presidency, visiting Alamo to affirming a border wall as a monument built to keep “undocumented” Mexicans out of the United States, destined to survive even if his Presidency ended: insisting on a specter of the dangers of cross-boundary migration for America, the visit seemed perfect stagecraft for asserting the timelessness of the border wall as a legacy of defending the nation’s borders at a new Alamo, as insistently as AK47s were historically conflated with the role militias to “repel . . . danger” in 1788, and its ratification in 1789 as guaranteeing a “Right to Keep and Bear Arms.”

On his final state visit, six days after the insurrection, Trump seemed to steer national attention from the danger of domestic terrorists ready to assault the U.S. Capitol in combat gear to a racial specter of invading migrants, criminals, rapists, and seekers of asylum, collectively invested with criminal intent. As Trump had long presented the border wall as a site of military engagement–perhaps even of armed forces–the visit to McAllen and Alamo provided a means of continuing to fight the same battle over national identity, but to fight it at the border wall. The President had concluded his presidency by disrupting conventions of governing again, by refusing to recognize the popular vote’s results and inciting a riot that invaded the U.S. Capitol by minions waving flags from the lost campaign, which they insisted was not over, amidst an inverted American flag of distress, which militia groups had been regularly raised in protests about counting votes and ballots with accuracy over the previous months in Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan, and Arizona, and has been displayed in discontent at the outcome of Presidential elections since 2012.

People rioting on the west side of the Capitol with Trump flags
Pro-Trump Protestors at West Side of U.S. CapitolThomas P. Costello/USA Today via Reuters

The sense of distress of the inverted flag that one protestor held signaled, in no small part, fear of failure to complete a continuous wall of two thousand miles in the desert promised to keep undocumented barbarians out of the nation. And as the center could not hold, days after the riot or insurrectionary attempt to end the certification of the electors, Trump concluded his Presidency in what might be a valedictory visit to the border as a site of materiality, as if to prove that it could hold, if his presidency could not. The intent to mythologize the border as a material statement of state power, and as an imaginary of the nation, was underscored by the visit to Alamo, TX–

Donald Trump Reviews U.S.-Mexico Border Wall at Alamo, TX Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon
)

–that recast the visit tot he border wall and concrete levee of the Rio Grande River as an occasion of state, and indeed a military event, to identify himself with the commitment of funds reallocated for the military budget to commemorate the construction of four hundred and fifty new miles of brand new wall along the southwestern border. Did President Trump imagine that doing so would enshrine the monumental status of the border wall would be elevated to the image of national defense? Although many had scoffed at his purposeful diversion of military funds to create the wall, which was not allocated funds by the U.S. Congress as Trump had demanded, the visit sought to cement the border wall in a project of military defense, assisted by the striking historical memories of the battle between Texian revolutionaries and the Mexican government in what later became Texas, in a battle that first redefined the US-Mexico border. If the Battle of the Alamo was famously lost by insurgents, it was thel Lost Cause: the often recited memory of the loss as an affront and injunction anticipated nationalism, and would inspire the Texan Revolt that led to the formation of Texas as a Republic; the line of the Rio Grande that Texans compelled the captured General Santa Anna to order the Mexican Army to retreat in 1836 below, nearly ten years before Texas was annexed as a state, created a new “line in the sand,” now drawn far South of The Alamo, and in the border town of what would be Alamo, TX. Indeed, the Texas flag of a militia, with the bronze six caliber “Gonzalez Canon” Spanish munitions seized by Tejano revolutionaries conflated arms, right to enslave, and defense of the national border–reprising the 1835 battle cry of Tejano colonist militia as a defense of ancient liberties with modern militia’s defense of bearing arms, in one of the most popular flags sold online during gun control debates of 2015, and a popular patch for militia.

Flag of Gonzalez Canon at Texas State Capitol

The “line in the sand” demanded no real logic or precedent or land claim. Its cartographic virtue lay in its simplicity: as a line drawn in the sand, traced by the drawn sword of Col. William Travis or by a Texian boot before infantry or soldiers, to incite them to battle, or even as a battle cry, the line required no real justification or legal precedent, or international recognition. This was not a line in the sand, but a wall in the sand, on a concrete pediment, dotted by American flags, lest we forgot who drew it, to sanction the cartoraphy of the border as a state affair, worthy of being the final public or private event of the Trump Presidency, affirming the crudest cartography of all: the line in the sand was invoked as the crudest technology of border cartography, and was the crudest of archeologies of the border, an assertion whose logic demanded no justification, but provided its own triggers of nationalism and national pride, and demanded no justification but could be unilaterally affirmed. A line in the sand could be drawn where the man who drew it, and determined as a line of defense.

As a myth, it demanded no formal explanation as a claim of sovereignty, but was affirmed by a simple signature, in a final signing statement bequeathing the legacy of the Trump era to the nation–a dog whistle, more than anything like a legal act. Was the cartography of the border an appeal to a mythical notion of national distinction, conjured to being to fabricate clear distinctions one wanted to call into being on a map? If this was a symbolic and performative act, the erection of the wall Trump sought to take responsibility and to celebrate, as well as to deny American reliance on immigrant labor, was designed to demean Mexican claims to sovereignty and elevating an oppositional ethnonationalism by building a wall along that line, in implicit reference ot the line drawn in the sand by the ragtag militia of defenders of The Alamo.

President Trump signs border wall plaque on Jan. 12, 2021, in Alamo, Texas
(Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Trump seemed to salute the wall to turn his back on the abuse of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, and rather to praise their service in to the nation as he toured the border wall on January 12, at the same time as over two million people were on the border, seeking to migrate across it, 60,000 having been returned to Mexico from Texas, to wait for their claims to be processed in camps. For Trump desired to recast the border wall as a historical achievement of Making America Great, turning a shoulder on the institutionalization of family separations, crowded and abusive conditions in ICE detention centers, and overwhelmed immigration courts. “Building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border [of the United States] is not a policy solution,” President Biden would soon proclaim on his first day in office, pausing construction work on the wall and calling for a reassessment of the legality of its construction.

In declaring a “National Emergency Concerning the Southern Boundary of the United States” in February 2019, Trump would diverted billions of dollars to the construction of the border wall, he fiction of the boundary that Trump sought to affirm in his visit, and had demanded in unilaterally fortifying the border as a subject of national defense, in treated as a National Emergency, rested on the need to “protect” American security, demonizing how migrants stand to “put countless Americans in danger.” shedding American blood and taking American jobs in order to redirect $8 billion to the border wall as a boundary that needed to be defended for national interests, without legislative oversight.

The legitimacy of the border was, of course, deeply engrained in our history and tied to our national mythos in ways that Trump was keen to exploit by staging his final signing visit to a section of border wall in a town called Alamo: as a Representative to Congress, Abraham Lincoln, later no stranger to the loss of life to determine national borders, detected the “sheerest deception” on the part of then-President James Polk in blaming the aggressiveness of Mexican soldiers across the Rio Grande as part of a campaign to admit Texas to the Union as state that would expand territories tolerating slaveholding: rebuking the mythic sense of the Rio Grande as a frontier of the nation, the barrier across which Spanish troops were forced to retreat in the aftermath of Tejano insurrectionists motivated by their loss at The Alamo, Lincoln doubted whether unquestioned acceptance of the Rio Grande as a frontier could serve as a basis to declare war: to rebuke charges that Mexican aggressors had crossed the Rio Grande to shed American blood, and rebuking the necessity of a national military reprisals against Mexico as inevitable–given that the determination of the boundary was contested. But the image of the “line in the sand” that gained incredible affective power as a statement of revolutionaries and in the Mexican-American war, provided the crudest of notions of the border’s stability and indeed of the border wall, not needing any precedent in law or in a mutual accord, but oddly naturalized into the landscape, at home within the construct of manifest destiny far more than in the legal record.

The fiction of locating the boundary line of the nation at the Rio Grande was a but a convenient invention, Lincoln had insisted back in the 1848, as it was, while asserted by Texans who looked to military treaties they had dictated for confirmation of their inclinations to take land, able to be manufactured as a sharp-edged mental construct of affirming value. The border of the Rio Grande’s course, Lincoln had observed, was claimed on paper by Texas as a western boundary for reasons of self-interest, but never internationally recognized as binding,–and had indeed never recognized by Congress as a question of American jurisdiction. Rather than accepting the groundless claim of a sitting President that “the soil was ours, on which the first blood was shed” in the Polk administration, eager to avoid a needless war, sending an army to fight with those Mexican resident who themselves never submitted to American sovereignty, Lincoln in 1848 found little in the historical record to accept the Rio Grande as the “boundary” of the nation, based on a unilateral declaration of the State of Texas, let alone as a binding basis for a cause of war between Mexico and the United States based on aggrandizement. Lincoln in 1848 sought to query the grounds for defending a boundary lacking mutual agreement as a boundary to be defended by American military. But the defenders of the Alamo, Travis, Crockett, and Boone, have been celebrated as patriots of Texas, and as defenders of a white tradition in recent years, as the Cenotaph in which their ashes were said to be translated in 1936 were defended by the Texas Freedom force, who in May 2020 urged members to “Defend the Alamo & Cenotaph if the need arises,” seeing the Cenotaph, as the statute of Col. William Barrett Travis, sword’s point touching the ground at his feet as he struck a pose of public oratory, on a plinth on the old Mission grounds, in Travis park, as symbols of national defense to be guarded against vandalism.

When Lincoln distinguished the international boundary line from where states claimed jurisdiction, he questioned the validity of unilateral assertion of a boundary line. Veneration of The Alamo elevated the drawing of the sand as a sacred event, a shrine for the defenders of the fortress, whose ashes in the Cenotaph have created a powerful monument to Anglo defenders, Travis, Crockett, Bowie and Boone, beneath the commitment to “never surrender-never retreat,” recently celebrated by the white supremacist militia as the “This is Texas Freedom Force,” that has urged members to “Defend the Alamo & Cenotaph if the need arises” in late May, 2020, standing guard over the Cenotaph and the statue of Col. William Barrett Travis, commander of Tejano troops who defended The Alamo, holding his sword’s point on the ground as he struck a posture of public oratory on the grounds of the old Mission. While the statue of Travis on a plinth deferred the final results of the stand–the all-out assault assault ordered at dawn by Mexican General Santa Anna left all one hundred and eighty nine defenders of the Mission grounds dead, its facade reduced to war-like visage of ruins–the heroic defense was embodied by the line in the sand, the poweful metaphor of boundary drawing to which the border town Alamo gestured. And although Travis’ statue voted to be relocated from the landscaped park that was once part of the Mission’s grounds, the confederate monument sought to be relocated in 2017, it still stands by The Alamo grounds.

In declaring emergency surrounded by U.S. Border Patrol members, the primary enforcers of the border with ICE, the very men who who become his personal agents since their early endorsement of his candidacy, and who he later visited at Alamo, TX, at the end of his term. Surrounded by the border patrol agents whose number had hovered about 2,000 until 1985, whose number peaked beyond 10,000 by 2000, Trump celebrated a border that circumvented congressional appropriations and the law, provoking a spate of lawsuits from many states and environmental preservation groups, extending the declaration of a state of emergency at the border in February 2020, and again renewing it, as he left office, two days before Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 18, 2021.  President Trump was confident, playing it by the numbers, that lawsuits against the National Emergency only emerged from “blue” states he did not need to win to be reelected, counting on the border imaginary to be preserved.

The visit to Texas was an attempt to bolster that border imaginary, to the site where the greatest “immigration enforcement” efforts against refugee influxes had begun with deployment of a large, flexible, mobile Border Patrol Task Force, then in the INS, in the most severe “border build-up” in memory: “Operation Hold the Line” deployed armed Border Patrol officers along the border, along the McAllen Sector administrating the Rio Grande Valley, as Operation Gatekeeper grew along 194 border checkpoints to construct the first section of border wall on the western border, introducing a militarized border oriented toward stopping or physically halting the passage of unwanted migrants and refugees. If the San Diego initiative of “Operation Gatekeeper” evoked a mock-pastoral metaphor of the “gate” to cast migrants as animals, and mask the violence of migrant deaths–1,200 migrants died trying to cross the border from 1993-96, when it was in force, with the greatest number where Operation Gatekeeper was in force, as many more were detained as criminals. In parallel, “Operation Hold the Line” emphasized the placement of Border Patrol stations along the border, to compensate for perception of no coherent federal vision for the border management, to replace standard practices permitting migrants to cross the border before they were apprehended and deported, mandating continuous presence at the border of Border Patrol. Stationing Border Patrol across the border began in the lower Rio Grande valley, by a model of Border Patrol echoing Tejano defense of the line “drawn in the sand” at the Alamo, was later deployed at El Paso as “Operation Blockade,” staunching all cross-border movement.

The image of the defense of a “border” that existed as a “line in the sand” tapped a mythos of the Texas revolutionaries who defended The Alamo, a site of an old Mexican mission–a stone complex constructed by Spaniards in San Antonio as a Franciscan mission hat had, mutatis mutandi, become a garrison, for all of its Franciscan origins, venerated for its defense by Travis, as a line able to be drawn between the intermingling of Mexican and Anglo cultures, the mixture so intolerable it had to be defined along an edge. In rallying a small group of insurrectionaries hoping to defend The Alamo, and to extend the “rights” to extend plantation systems into Tejano lands, William Travis had drawn the “mother of all lines” in 1836 in the sands before the mission complex, perhaps the archetype of all maps of the southwestern border: in drawing a line before the assembled rag tag insurrectionary Anglo troops he would lead against the approaching Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The line whose drawing is an archetype in all films about Texas gives narrative prominence to the defense along a line in American film, as if tracing an archetypal cartography as a topic of attention, tension, and crisis, that “visiting Alamo” seemed to seek to reprise for a President who was long in touch with television producers about choreographing his public appearances to present his political persona.

In a different cinematic key, outside the Trump canon of action films, John Sayles’ Lone Star referenced in the taunt of the owner of tire repair store in a border town who traces a line before his store to taunt the Anglo sheriff from across the border who is adamant in his cartographic convictions, “Bird flying south, you think he sees that line? Rattlesnake, javelina–whatever you got!–[once] halfway across that line, they don’t start thinking different. So why should a man?” The crossing by species of the border, especially at the rich and delicate habitat of the Rio Grande, stand in contrast with the lines that the American government has been increasingly insistent to draw, and that Donald Trump convincingly coupled to a display of national identity and a showpiece for Making America Great. Was it a coincidence that it was at The Alamo, according to the cheesy poster publicizing the Technicolor western epic written, directed and produced John Wayne, that the dangerous troops besieging The Alamo held Mexican flags, in what was openly mapped as a military confrontation at a border in terms of a race war, circa 1960, between latino extras and Anglo cowboy combattants, eager to hold their ground?

The image of the tactical defense of the walls of the old Spanish mission, since restored by the U.S. military as a shrine to national combat, has been memorialized in multiple dioramas emulating cinemascope as a historical struggle for identity, created in a recreationist model designed b Thomas Feely, has been recently expanded in a still more detailed diorama to incarnate the threat of Mexican troops flooding the walls of the citadel in San Antonio, showing at its central moment of dramatic tension the amassing of Mexican forces to breach the northern wall to show “how really doomed” its remaining defenders were as they remain to repulse the mass of armed Mexicans, placing 2,000 hand-painted pewter figurines in an dramatization of an action-packed version of this cartographically generational conflict, intended to replace the fifteen by thirteen foot diorama that already exists at the History Shop, just north of The Alamo. While such models are far from Alamo TX, the investment of the dramatic moment of history as an inspirational event–rather than a failed insurrectionary event–was channeled days after the Capitol insurrection, in Washington, DC, seemed to stage a dramatic pseudo-coup replete with its own historical myths, as if to affirm the inspirational value of the defense of the border as a national project.

Did the fantasy of a border that could be held again at The Alamo, or at least at the Rio Grande, create a powerful mental imaginary whose simplicity underlay the cartographic crudeness of the deep history of Trump’s border wall? Operations of controlling the border, as a fixed line, grew to hold an increasingly prominent place in the mental imaginary and mythos of border patrol agents near McAllen, as Border Patrol vehicles were increasingly stationed every hundred yards o the banks of the Rio Grande: as “Operation Blockade” reverted to “Operation Hold the Line” in El Paso, in the mid-1990s, it reflected the extension of the metaphor of a “line in the sand” at The Alamo to the entire border, and a basis for understanding the demand for “operational control over the international land and maritime borders of the United States,” borders that Trump would conflate with the identity of the nation. The expansion of Border Patrol Operations to stop migrant travel across the entire lower Rio Grande was amplified in the 2004 deployment of boats, fencing, and lighting along the banks of the Rio Grande to reduce migrants’ entrance across the border at a cost of $3.5 billion. The dream of instituting a “line in the sand” along the Rio Grande hoped that the invasive construction, amplified noise and lighting disturbed sensitive habitat and breeding behavior “temporarily” without adversity and “little permanent damage,” as if failing to consider the long-term nature of the “grand strategy” as it mutate into a multi-year project from 1997.

Border Patrol operations in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas. Cartography by Eric Leinberger. 
Eric Leinberger/US Border Patrol Operations in Lower Rio Grande against Migrants, 2011

The expansion of both border patrol officers, 20,000 by 2010, mirrored the allocation of $7 million for steel fences across the border, which expanded to Trump’s public requests for $8 billion for a border wall likely to cost as much as $25 billion. The huge sacrifice to the nation of building the border wall existed not only in the squandering of funds, but the legitimizing of a mindset of criminalizing and detaining trans-border migrants–and discounting of migrants’ lives. Migrants detained during the Trump Presidency in holding facilities along the border or in detention centers were willfully administered without humanity or dignity by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement: detention centers were sites of systemic abuse, operating with impunity in a culture of “dehumanizing physical, sexual, and medical abuse,” in the eyes of one observer, left over-crowded as President Trump sought to make them monitory examples to migrants. “Look, this is tough stuff . . . I know we’d see a system that is overcrowded,” adding on Twitter, “Tell them not to come to USA– . . . problem solved!” “Where do these people come from?”

Trump asked with open arms at a pro-border wall rally in February, 2019, anticipating the Presidential challenge of El Paso’s Beto O’Rourke, stirring up anti-immigrant sentiment, but ignoring the daily violence at the archipelago of Detention Centers that were administered by ICE. The project of wall building however became a monument in itself, the logic of whose construction as a monument to the nation consigned to oblivion migrants’ fates by being recast and dignified as a military project, and a military struggle–an elevation of the building of the border wall to a struggle for national identity that was referenced in the reference to defending the border at the celebration of the completion of four-hundred and fifty miles of wall at an American border town called Alamo, where the line in the sand could be firmly drawn by blocks of reinforced concrete with a rebar core–presented as the completion of a promise long made to the nation.

Trump in El Paso: Dueling rallies show border wall support, opposition
MAGA Border Wall Rally at El Paso Texas, 2019

The policy separation of migrant families at the border began in late 2016, before Trump was inaugurated. It was extended without public debate over the policy, however, and dramatically escalated in Trump’s Presidency. If the wall concealed America’s dependence on migrant labor, it also concealed the extent of this rampant abuse of human rights. The systemic family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border expanded despite documentation of its abuse–there are many cases of losing, abusing, and even killing children increasingly detained in centers in southeast Texas–but Trump tolerated and shouldered abuse as he had directed attention to the construction of the border wall that was financed almost two years ago, with the declaration of a National Emergency as Congress refused to apportion $5.6 billion he requested for its construction, but a fifth of his original request, with the assertion that the nation faced “tremendous dangers at the border” that demanded a border wall, seeking to secure the desired funds without the congressional approval by hyperbole, to use funds apportioned for military construction projects to redirect to a border wall he cast as a project for American armed forces as the funds were not forthcoming–but meeting legal challenge as only projects in which American armed forces were engaged didn’t demand congressional apportionment, and as, it was widely noted, border apprehensions were in decline. The steep increase in detentions at the border was cast as evidence of the need to build the wall, as policies of detention and increased numbers of those detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement created a sense of its increasing need.

But it was as true that the need for a wall as a shared cultural symbol grew to distract populations from the growing gaps of wealth, access to education, health care, and justice in the United States, and the growing wealth gaps between the super-wealthy and the rest diminished before the spectacle of the wall. The National Emergency was declared to secure funding for the border wall, concealing that the securing of the border was neither an emergency or a military operation, but a mythic redrawing of the border.

When President Trump visited Alamo, TX to review the border wall as his last and final public act as United States President, it seemed in a sense the end of an era. It was valedictory in its salute of the Border Guards who had first endorsed him for his Presidential run, and had turned into a sort of personal storm troopers of the executive wing, a set of armed men to attack and detain illegal immigrants as they acted to parol the borders. In visiting the border at Alamo, he seemed to reprise his promise to build an impassible border wall that would protect the United States–or a version of the United States–from the entrance of globalization. And the appeal that Trump had made as a presidential candidate of restoring national integrity and an illusion of American greatness began from the restoration of the values of The Alamo–a timeless a mythic defense of the United States at The Alamo, linking the border wall with a mythic project of national defense, even if the defense of The Alamo during by Texian Revolutionaries was not fought at the walls of the old mission by the American government. The visit to Alamo TX was an affirmation of the values of The Alamo of defending national sovereignty, and dedicating himself to the affirmation of sovereignty, as well as to whip fears of a return to an open borders policy he had tagged President Biden and the Democratic Party.

Was the myth of The Alamo not at the heart of the legend of national grandeur, rooted more in race than in nation? Rather than providing an outpost of the American government, the garrison of The Alamo that is linked with the start of the Texan Reolution was defended by men who have been retrospectively cast by white Americans as the self-annointed ancestors of Texians–they were the precursors and model of the current vigilante groups who have been encouraged to make citizen’s arrests of undocumented migrants. Varied groups, defining themselves as self-designated Patriots, took in upon themselves to seize land that was Mexican–and under Mexican sovereignty–to claim it as part of the United States. The “Come and Take It” flags first flown as a symbol of defiance to Mexican soldiers in 1835 provided a false originalism that flew as it was elevated in the insurrectionary Capitol Riots President Trump had not distanced himself for several weeks; the defiant Confederate flag affirmed Second Amendment rights, and the President’s own rhetoric of “taking back the country,” familiar among militia.

Come And Take It': A Texan Symbol Of Defiance For Sale : NPR

The ease with which Trump described the building of the wall was in 2015 was confirmed by the visit to the border Alamo, by staging a revisionary and selective history of the border wall rooted in national triumphalism and American flags. Trump had convinced the American electorate building a wall across a border of almost 2,000 miles, extending from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, across rugged topography was a piece of cake for someone so practiced in construction was itself a map-trick. Trump in fact possessed little sense of the practicalities of building in such terrain, and barely registered the scale of the problem save its effectiveness of a wall that would render the legal identity of the migrant opaque. Rather than dwell its logistics or practicalities, Trump had promoted the performative promise of constructing a border wall in his campaign–displaying pseudo-maps promising national security–whose simplicity lay in its denial of rights of migrant, a simplicity of evacuating rights by the border wall that was a subject of pleasure, an inspirational image whose financing he presumed that the office of the President would help waive established mechanisms of appropriating necessary funds.

The image of the fantasy wall bounding the nation, concrete punctuated by what seem hexagonal towers of surveillance, was attributed to “The People,” as a new embodiment of the nation, separate from international conventions or law.

What Trump owes his supporters, and now, the country | PBS NewsHour
2016 Presidential Candidate Trump Shows Border Wall Map Allegedly Given by 2015 Rally-Goer in Fayetteville, NC/
Johnathan Drake/Reuters

The fantasy of the border wall that Trump was offered at a political rally for his candidacy was completed at Alamo. The evocative name of continued resistance, and refusal to give up, was evoked by the place-name alone of one town near where the border wall spanned Hidalgo County that popped as a trigger for transmitted memory far more than the other towns the section of border wall passed near Ft. McAllen–‘Mission’, ‘San Juan’, ‘Weslaco’, ‘Mercedes’, and Brownsville, a frequent stop of border visit, and popped out of the map for some time. Plucked from the map, its prominence drowned the fate of migrants or the protected areas the Trump administration sought waivers to cut through from 2017, wrangled by 2018 as regions the wall was only permitted to extend by declaring a National Emergency at the border; Customs and Border Patrol waived environmental regulations in the Lower Rio Grande, as regulations preventing construction of border wall in protected lands were extended to the western regions through 2019. Was the Rio Grande Valley not a model for the waiver of environmental regulations limiting construction that President Trump long sought to wrangle?

Border Wall | Sierra Club
Proposed Levee Wall Constructed in Rio Grande Valley, 2017
Expanded Levees Proposed along Rio Grande Valley
Existing and Proposed Border Wall beside the Rio Grande River and Valley (2017)/Sierra Club

By late August 2019, the problem of extending the border wall and levees along the lower Rio Grande Valley still remained on Trump’s front burner, and the nagging question of how to extend these sections of existing border wall in a defensive line along the windy course of the Rio Grande near McAllen was a thorny question of securing needed exemptions.

As a realtor, Trump was habituated in the construction of hotels and golf courses to move around regulations and obtain special clearances with the ease he might move across the globe’s surface, and as he flouted regulations and Congressional approval by declaring a National Emergency in February, 2019, to circumvent budgetary approval, allowing himself to flout regulations as in the past. As a real estate promoter, Trump had mostly used maps to skirt regulations, gain tax breaks, tax-forgiveness, or debt relief, to generate much vaunted “gross operating products” to “pay as little in taxes as possible.” Tax-avoidance is the major strategy of wealth preservation of the ultra-wealthy, and the range of tax breaks that Trump gained in what constitutes as public assistance benefit all fifteen buildings at the core of his Manhattan real estate empire; circumvention of regulations of appropriation was the only way to achieve the building of the border wall, and was probably what Trump meant, if anything, when he argued that his expertise in building would allow the border wall to be publicly funded, even if he argued that deal-making skills would allow construction of a “big, beautiful wall” that no previous President had been able to deliver–and which demanded a voice outside the corrupt American political class.

Donald J. Trump, left, with Mayor Ed Koch, center and New York Gov. Hugh L. Carey, pointing to a rendering of what would become the Grand Hyatt Hotel, in June 1978. A crucial factor behind the hotel’s construction was 40-year tax break that has cost New York City $360 million to date.
Trump at June, 1978 groundbreaking for Grand Hyatt, Associated Press

The wall was a symbol of the popular mandate on which Trump promised to deliver, providing a monument of public safety no other president had been able to offer. The very narrative of its imminent construction had long offered a performative basis to save the Trump presidency, returned to several times as if it were a promise that was the basis of his alleged popular mandate and a demand for safety only he could meet or discern. If Trump clothed the construction of the wall and its funding in questions of border security, and the needs of economic and criminal security that he argued the lack of a border wall imperiled, arguing for the basis of domestic security to attract the broadest base, as an act of love–“you build a wall around your house not because you hate the people on the outside, but because you love the people on inside” (January, 2019), Tump was selling us a vision of domestic security akin to luxury living at a remove from the city’s sounds and diversity, concealing the economic dependence of the nation on immigration, and the violence of the border security apparatus, more costly, perhaps, if far less beautiful than the “big, beautiful wall” he promised.

Love? The wall emblematized an independence from international protocol or conventions, and human rights requirements, as a “line in the sand,” and was able to be drawn in the sand as the site to build the towering, opaque wall able to blot out what lies across the border, replacing the sovereign state with a model of border defense of earlier eras, eras predating sovereign claims we would recognize, and suggesting a Hobbesian state of nature. Trump saw the wall as, one might argue, a similar part of the landscape, able to blend seamlessly with its surroundings and necessitated by them.

–in a performance of sovereignty, rather than a sovereign discussion with other states: the border wall was long for domestic consumption as a spectacle, if it was argued, and presented, to be , and was involved in a mythos of the nation that was for domestic consumption, displacing claims of sovereignty in the ceremony of defining a dichotomous divide by fiat, on a reality show that was for national broadcast, rather than framed by a language of international law.

Trump staged his final visit to the border at Alamo, TX, seeking to savor the triumphant construction project he now cast as a monument of national achievement of what he had campaigned would be akin to the Eisenhower Highway System, funded by defense appropriations even if they unapproved by congress, but The wall provided a monument to the Trump Presidency, emblazoned with his name or his signature, as if in a gambit to claim that the structure deserved to be named after himself. He visited the poured concrete levees on the Rio Grande as a fruit of his presidency, the only concrete walls left of the entire border wall, which was vertical steel beams filled with concrete to replace fencing, but judged to meet the “operations requirements of the U.S. Border Patrol” in 2019–until, that is, they were found easy to be sawed through by a circular saw. Such “high security fencing” would cost 1.6 billion, but a fraction of the $25 billion Trump desired to allocate for border building, promising at the start of work “not only on some new wall, [but] . . . fixing existing walls and existing acceptable fences” very quickly. He had accelerated the pace of border construction in ways that seemed to be timed to the election, and had probably planned to visit the border wall for a final time in his Presidency, win or lose the election, as a platform of expanding the need for allocating more funding to the wall. When he came to “highlight his administration’s work on the border wall,” the valedictory visit sent the message that he. had done his hardest to keep the barbarians on the edge of the empire on the other side of the border, and sought to transmute into the national memory.

All of this was far from the town of Alamo, and even father from the mythic imaginary of The Alamo that had assumed a sacred importance in many Americans’ collective memory that Trump was eager to transfer to the Border Wall. President Trump’s visit was to a site near McAllen, Texas, rather than The Alamo, but the questions of how they were related quickly rose to the surface of newswire accounts. AP and other news outlets quickly reminded the nation, as the White House had left it unclear, that the city of Alamo TX near the military base was, indeed, not The Alamo in downtown San Antonio. But Trump had long claimed to love the uneducated, and the faithful, and the possible geographic confusion seemed an opportune way to fulfill the mission of the trip to tally achievements by affirming the threat came from south of the border at his term end–and elicit continued fears that the failure to complete border construction projects would not Keep American Great less cross-border flows of population continued to be stopped, as important to the nation as the historic “border conflict” by the so-called “defenders of the Alamo,” who had in fact started an insurrection in Mexican province.

As if visiting an outpost on the border of the empire where he sought to protect barbarians from invading, days after having incited riots that had staged an actual insurrection, at a rally where the President claimed Democrats “threw open our borders and put America last,” reminding them at President Biden would “get rid of the America First policy,” he ceremonially visited the border as if to mythologize it. Trump arrived in full regalia, as if denying his loos, but as if visiting the groundbreaking of a new hotel, accompanied by city officials, as if it were a privileged site of national defense, near the river whose meander had long defined the international boundary between Mexico and the United States, and indeed was a return to the Rio Grande Valley he had already visited to discuss border security in January, 2019, and sought to confront questions of the need to seize privately owned land to do so by eminent domaine. If the border wall was to be tall, daunting, fitted with flood lights, sensors, cameras and an enforcement zone that was a hundred and fifty feed wide was a steep goal, Trump treated government shutdown as a small price for 450-500 miles of border wall on track to be completed by the end of 2020, promoting a border wall whose construction would be completed by March 2021.

It still existed, even if that moment in history would never arrive. And although the story was told of population movement across the border, another story could be told about the disappearance of the boundary that almost seemed imminent by the mid-1990s, even as anti-migrant feelings grew: the expansion of the transboundary cooperation along much of the border that responded to the growth of the border region to almost a billion inhabitants in the 1990s, through which increasing billions of exports moved yearly–$3.3. billion at the San Diego checkpoint alone by 1990–that led Border Mayors Conference to request a transboundary zone allowing free movement to all of twenty five miles, as the increasing economic importance of the boundary brought an increased interest in drawing a boundary able to define the exclusivity of the wealth of an imagined community of Americans from outsiders, as a porous border region seemed less in control of the United States government, and almost a separate nation.

The line between nations that Trump chose to emphasize along the river delta where Alamo TX is located and which Trump visited is one of the sole places along the entire US-Mexico border where steel panels appear, fully mounted on large concrete levees. As one of the rare sites where the concrete wall that Trump promised actually exists, it became an important backdrop to conclude his Presidency in a final photo op, as well as to rehearse a new national imaginary.

The visit to the concrete levees of the Rio Grande Valley that were mounted by concrete-core steel fencing were a display of Presidential authority on a line drawn in the sandy riverbanks far from the Alamo, as newspapers had to remind their readers, but provided a tableaux vivant of sorts, eight days before the end of Trump’s presidency, to defend the necessity of drawing a firm line in the sand.

President Trump Visiting Border Wall at Alamo, TX, January 12, 2021–Alex Brandon/AP

The actual geographic distance between Alamo TX and The Alamo seems to have shrunk symbolically, if the car ride was still three and a half hours: Trump seemed to treat his visist as a retrospective view on the grand project of national redefinition on which he had coasted as he teared up in remembering the “great honor” after working so “long and hard” on the border wall as he found himself “here in the Rio Grande Valley with the courageous men and women of Customs and Border Patrol.” The encomium that he planned to the four hundred and fifty miles of wall built so far was an occasion of deep personal bonding with the built, akin to the ties Trump promoted to many real estate projects of construction over the years, on which he had affected the same deep tie by affixing his name in ways that we had understood as a promotion of his brand as much as a canny extension of self to a distributed global network. He had forged deep bonds to the wall, so it was difficult to decide where the wall ended and the candidate–or the man–began, as the monument he had promised so fulsomely from the declaration of his candidacy became a sign of the nation, a sign of national security, and a sign of the vision of national security that he, Trump, and only he could promise, akin to the visions of luxury lifestyle that he, Trump, could guarantee and promote.

The term that he had served out, and was now coming to a close, became an occasion to express, in mock humility, his gratitude for the very experience of having “gotten to know [the members of the Border Patrol] very well over the last four years,” praising the “incredible . . . really incredible” people at Border Patrol he had promised the wall to be built, and was now there to say he had delivered, and the promised were indeed kept. “We got it exactly as you wanted it–everything!–including your protective plate on top . . . for extra protection,” he noted, the real estate promoter returning as he surveyed the levees, and the reinforced concrete, ignoring the detention centers and the human lives lost in its construction, as well as the habitat destroyed, a concern which he was successful at having dismissed. The delivery of border wall concluded a transactional relation to the Border Patrol, as much as to protect the nation. Looking at the reinforced concrete structure with heavy slats, Trump channeled his identity as a builder that could be cemented with his status as an American President, explaining how it was “steel,” “concrete inside steel–and then its rebar–its rebar–a lot of heavy rebar inside the concrete,” channeling his inner engineer–“as strong as you’re going to get and as strong as you can have . . . . 100% of what you wanted!” The swansong speech promoting the achievement of an “extraordinarily successful building of the wall on the southern border,” of four hundred and fifty miles bookended Trump’s October 2018 speech at Calexico, CA, to commemorate the construction of two hundred miles of a “full wall system” looking suspiciously like a fence.

Gregory Bull, AP/President Trump Approaches Improvised Podium at Calexico, CA (Oct 26, 2018)

The border wall sections that had been commemorated for three years running revealed increments of two hundred miles by rolling out the border as a prop–a talking point, and a monument, more than an accomplishment. As monuments, each roll-out of border wall and affixed with the commemorative plaque crediting construction to President Trump staged a new era of border protection and defense. But the monuments to the militarization of the border wall and exclusion of refugees from the nation was based not on actual precedents, or a map, but gestured to a new national imaginary, and increasingly did so by comparisons to mythic events of the nation, rather than to actual events, migrant surges, or need.

Trump’s speech before the concrete levees in Alamo TX seemed uncoded. He deliver hope and a prayer that the piece of national infrastructure would survive as a personal legacy. But the comparisons he made were deeply coded, from the billing of the wall as a project of national infrastructure to the gesture to celebrating the militarization of the border at a city called Alamo, which effectively placed the border wall on two imaginary maps, neither coinciding with the lay of the land or the geographic situation of the border wall as a project of massive environmental destruction of sensitive habitat, inhumane treatment of detained migrants, and disrespect or acknowledgement of a world of increased displaced persons and refugees. Trump had bizarrely compared to the Eisenhower National Highway System from his campaign of 2015 would survive as a personal legacy for national development and will ensure memories of the success of his Presidency defending national security. When Donald J. Trump had first refurbished a political identity, he not only added a middle initial to his name in the fashion of Eisenhower, but presented “America’s Infrastructure First” as in the mold of Eisenhower, promising a transition that echoed the commander of allied forces in hopes to “implement a bold, visionary plan for a cost-effective system of roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, railroads, ports and waterways, and pipelines in the proud tradition of President Dwight D Eisenhower, who championed the interstate highway system”–as a basis for his credibility and perhaps legitimacy as a President. To be sure, the marquis project of a Border Wall System exhausted the budget and federal funds available. But in the way that Eisenhower mandated the highway system be federally funded as a national defense program in 1954, linking the need for roads to imminent the fears of nuclear attack, as much as for transportation needs, based on his experience in rebuilding Europe, the massive cost of the Eisenhower Highway System–which had unprecedentedly cost the United States $101 billion, far beyond the original federal bond that Congress had approved, provided the only comparable form of expenditure to the border wall that he had proposed. Even as the cost of the border wall had expanded,–and left President Biden noting that stopping the construction Trump had arranged by classifying it as a National Emergency might save the incoming administration $2.6 billion, freeing up needed funds for needed projects of national health, border barriers would have become the most pricey piece of infrastructure in the nation.

If being run by the Army Corps of Engineers, the visit to Alamo TX keeps alive the defense of the border and conjures the streaming of Mexicans over another wall, and the gesture to the improvised insurrection of The Alamo that might be effectively enlisted as a new model of service to an imagined nation. As he looked at the wall, the outgoing mused in his final days in office, unsubtly reminding his audience of the potential sacrifice to the nation of stopping the project, that the current wall was “as strong as you’re going to get and strong as you can have.” His audience new well that all bets were all off about building more wall in the Biden administration, and his words seemed to seek to rile up his long-term allies at Customs and Border Patrol, whose union had been the very first endorsed his presidential candidacy, excited by the priority he gave building a border wall in the first days of his campaign. For this real estate promoter turned salesman of a vision of the nation was most familiar with maps as a basis to evade building codes, zoning restrictions, or municipal regulation, by means of winning exemptions through wand-waving reclassifications that seemed a sort of grand opera of “deal”-making.

For Trump, such canny framing metaphors as a reference to infrastructure and a visit to Alamo helped to frame the project of the wall as one of national defense, requiring a reclassification of budgetary appropriations, and indeed fast-track prioritization as a project of national need. Both Eisenhower’s unprecedented achievement of infrastructure investment and the saber-rattling reference to The Alamo seemed to reframe the project in credible terms for a base, independent from the lay of the land or the practicalities and logistics of the border terrain: both metaphorical gambits removed the wall from the map, and mapped the border wall within a new logic of nation-building. Such reference to the Eisenhower Interstate, a model of expansion of infrastructure that had creeped up on the nation slowly, to become part of its national identity over time, had slowly created the expanse of national highways that fit with doubling of highwasy after World War I in the United States, as, the paved mileage of but 257,000 miles grew over time to almost 522,000, as the plans Eisenhower had laid were solidified as the Federal-Aid Highway Act would pave concrete interstates of 41,000 more miles–and adding 5,000 miles beyond Eisenhower’s mandated 41,000 miles of interstate provided, few have noted, a memorable event in Trump’s life, whose construction was elevated as a powerful model of what passed for public service in Trump’s youth. If Trump had ben celebrating the building of four hundred and fifty miles of wall, Trump framed the innovative nature of his future vision of a nation that was walled, by many more miles, as well as securing an image of the strength and identity of the nation that he had tried to cement. Eisenhower, famously, had mandated the project of the interstates during the Cold War as a project of national defense of the economy, in the event of attack, allowing federal dollars to flow to local projects. Was it only coincidence that Trump entertained audiences at his rallies, as if flying a trial balloon from August, 2105, “Maybe someday they’ll call it the Trump Wall,” he mused early in his candidacy, recognizing the power and unique privileges that the office of Presidency might bring. The fantasy became a near-actuality in his public platform as a candidate when by December of the same year he described the “Trump Wall,” in mid-July 2016, after he left the official campaign trail, promising a project of needed national infrastructure “someday named after me.”

The final days speech delivered with the dateline “Alamo” was hardly valedictory. It affirmed the section completed border wall as a great piece of infrastructure almost a personalized as a gift to the nation’s security. He cast his visit to the wall as forward-looking, for the right audience, as what might be a personal salute to his legacy of border defense, the trademark promise Trump made as an American politician, was not a retrospective but a final epideictic of the promise to Make America Great Again, elevating the conceit of a mythical defense against “illegal aliens” on the southwest border he had personalized as integral to the logic of his Presidency and the prime evidence of Presidential authority. Trump’s Presidency, he wanted to claim, might be remembered as a time of the building of a similar basis of the nation’s strength and architecture, as he sought to secure the centrality and preeminence of concrete wall-building to a vision of the nation. From his speech, one would think the wall had become a testimony to the strength of the nation in the Trump Presidency, and he championed the vision of the nation’s strength that he had long sought to promote, as if to celebrate and acknowledge a change in the topography of the nation and people’s relation to the nation, analogous to the highway system. It hardly mattered the drive to The Alamo was a couple of hundred miles, on Route 35 (three hundred and nineteen miles) or Route 37 (just short of two hundred and forty miles); the symbolic link of the wall to the nation was echoed, despite that quite considerable real world distance, to the map between a place symbolic of saving of a vision of national identity and a mission to defend national lands and liberties.

The link left salient during his speech was perhaps the greatest and most significant take away for the right audience, as it was its figurative intent: even in the light of failure of one battle at The Alamo, the fight was long, ongoing, and would in the end prevail as a new vision of the nation, and in the end, win out as a definition of the border in the national imaginary: if Representative Abraham Lincoln saw little precedent for the border to be drawn on the Rio Grande either in treaties or in law cases that showed recognition of the river as a mutually consented boundary line, save in the conceit of manifest destiny all abolitionists and Republicans disdained locating justifications of the border in God-given right to territorial expanse, Trump appealed to the very manifest destiny for which Lincoln demanded proofs in visiting Alamo–a “line in the sand” grounds to defend a nation, reprised as a myth of national defense in 1836, heroized by John Wayne in technicolor in the 1962 extravaganza Wayne starred, directed, and produced to promote Cold War principles of national defense.

The Alamo,” uncredited poster (1961)

While Trump had increasingly used history both strategically and purposefully as a distortion of bonds that tied the nation and its citizens, the heroic battle that the visit referenced was more likely the film version of The Alamo as a racialized struggle of white defenders against Mexican extras playing invading forces: the film, which itself downplays the location of The Alamo in Mexican Territory, and indeed the status of Texas as a Mexican state that belonged to a nation which prohibited slavery and enslavement, provided an iconic image of division that mapped onto Trump’s intent to divide the nation as he had devoted the summer of 2020 to address a broad and merciless left-wing attack to “wipe out our history,” conscripting numerous iconic images of the nation as props in his attempt to divide the nation by staging iconic patriotic tableaux to evoke a dogmatic use of historical memory.

The skill of wielding historical memory to further divides that was on show for most of 2020–from Trump’s bemoaning of attempts to “demolish our heritage” were long tagged along racial lines, from the defense of memorials and monuments to confederate soldiers, slave-owners, and anti-abolitionists he sought to preserve in our national memory, to the statues of colonizers as Christopher Columbus, who had introduced trade in enslaved peoples, to expand a sense of moral reckoning in response to social justice movements, opposing an official “patriotic” history against those who would “defame” our heritage, not acknowledging the erection of monuments to Confederate soliders belonged to a Jim Crow era designed to glorify segregation and disenfranchisement. Did the gesture of a visit to Alamo not situate the border wall in a context of defending a “line in the sand,” at the site of “Operation Hold the Line”? If this was not rationalized similarly, it was meaningful to members of the Border Patrol he visited there.

Trump Uses Mount Rushmore Speech to Deliver Divisive Culture War Message -  The New York Times
July 4, 2020/Anna Moneymaker, New York Times

The President has long lavished attention on the projected construction of border as if inhabiting the role of the public official, the enabler, and the fixer all at once in the unveiling of an even more majestic and far more grandiose national monument. Without ever conceding the election–and indeed instructing those who supported his candidacy in 2020 to “never give up, never concede,” Trump appropriately visited the border city that was named after a spirit of independence revealed in the refusal of the armed insurgents of 1835 to ever leave the garrison in Tejano lands that they sought. to hold, as if to hold off the advancing Mexicans soldiers that were valorized as creating a needed “barrier of safety to the southwestern frontier” long, long before it was ever described as a border, back in 1836. If that struggle was remembered in its day as a battle waged, as Stephen L. Austin wrote, in a May 4, 1836 letter to Senator L. F. Linn of Missouri, “by the mongrel Spanish-Indian and Negro race, against civilization and the Anglo-American race,” preserving what was enjoined to be “remembered” in public memory as a purification of ethnic and racial contamination.

The preservation of the memory of these insurgents as heroes had led them to be extolled President Trump in a historical pantheon, among public models of American heroism in a fiery State of the Union address of May, 2020 that extolled “our glorious and magnificent inheritance” as an alternative history to that of civil rights. He had praised the “beautiful, beautiful Alamo,” urging that all school children in America continue to learn the names of the “Texas patriots [who] made their last stand at the Alamo–the beautiful, beautiful Alamo,” beside the name of pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock as a foundational myth of the nation that confirmed its Manifest Destiny, eulogizing the defenders of the Alamo beside Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley, and the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock as Americans who “changed history forever by embracing the eternal truth that everyone is made equal by the hand of Almighty God.” Supported in their seizing of the Alamo-and the lands of Texas–by Trump’s hero, Andrew Jackson, who saw the benefits creating a “slavocracy” extending plantation lands across the South; the New Orleans Bee 1834 lamented the racial degradation Mexico embodied in bemoaning “the unfortunate race of Spaniard, Indian and African, is so blended that the worst qualities of each predominate.”   The visit to Alamo TX, named after the rebels whose leader had solemnly vowed “I shall never surrender and never retreat” seemed quite opportune as Trump sought to re-iterate the notorious vow he took January 6 to never give up and never concede.

The Associated Press

The speech memorialized a refusal to concede or Alamo to make a final performance of border security before the Rio Grande, and to acknowledge the depth of his commitment to boosting border security. The very emblem of the Alamo was among the flags of current militia who had arrived for the January 6 riots, and a powerful emblem of the Texas militia groups who had defended the commemoration of The Alamo as a nationalist cause, verging on white nationalism. In returning to the Rio Grande Valley, Trump announced in the Texas border town of Alamo that the border wall had progressed from a development project as “completion of the promised four hundred and fifty miles of border wall” he exaggerated as either in “construction or pre-construction” at pains to deny he had left the “wall,” the impressive centerpiece of his political promise to America, as scattered unbuilt fragments, after having rallied his candidacy behind the construction of a continuous concrete wall.

The collective struggle was ongoing and undying, in the post-Presidency of Trump, as the project of wall-building, he insisted, would continue in the appeals he had made in his candidacy, American flags draped behind him, to the flags behind him as he spoke at the wall he had guaranteed would be built, and the wall that would be a reason that folks had once sacrificed their lives. It is hard to imagine the huge costs of this project of wall building, and the expanse of an archipelago of detention centers that now existed along the border of the United States. (One might remember that it was in the Austrian border village of Braunau a son was born to the Customs Inspector Aloïs Hitler was born a future Führer.)

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Filed under Alamo, border barriers, border wall, Donald Trump, US-Mexico Border

Clipping Bears Ears

The recent demotion of Bear’s Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante as national monuments pose risk of a deepening widespread and almost inevitable alienation from public lands.  The tenuous status of public lands was apparent in the mandate of protection after intense lobbying of the American Petroleum Institute and other players in the energy industry to cut the limits of National Monuments across the United States, in ways that stand to redefined American West.  And even as our so-called President touts his relation to the common people, apart from the political class, the proprietary relation to public lands that he seeks to instill by removing protected lands of national monuments like Bears Ears stands sadly at odds with the longstanding image of the identification with the legends of the white man in the open space of the American west’s sun-drenched outdoors, whose landscape was open to the grit of white, male conquest of an empty space–although the decision to remove Bears Ears from the list of protected lands suggests an abandonment of that image of the heroic cowboy, replaced by the disillusioned world-weary post-industrialist capitalist character we seem to have as American President.

Trump and Wayne in western backdrop.jpg

For Trump has definitively moved away from that imaginary, and the image of the open frontier, or of this land is your land, this land is my land, into a vision where the very same land is now poised to be opened to mineral extraction and prospecting, reducing the area once identified with the West to an area defined by the priority of industrial claims, and transforming it to a terrain inviting the colonization by extractive industries.  With his pursed lips, and evasive eyes, turning his back on a monumental landscape of the West, President Trump appears oblivious the destruction of space to occur across the national monuments opened to prospective mining, extraction of resources, and mineral industries, as if to deny their history, and allow the big rigs of extractive industries to enter to repossess those areas they have claimed on the map.

The preservation of a national monument that would rejoin fragmentary Indian Lands, indeed, was the strategic scope of the declaration of the two regions as part of our protected national heritage, in an attentive to remove previously protected lands from mineral prospecting in southern Utah, with the aim to improving the local economy and attract investment to the state now represented by Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, who have both advocated the proposal to open the region to prospectors, with far less concern for its future of the country–responding to heavy lobbying by uranium mining company Energy Fuels Resources, which provoked a widely criticized Interior Department review, Trump issued executive orders that shrunk the monument to newly reduced boundaries.  For Hatch, eagerly labeling the designation of the national monuments as “unjustified federal land grabs,” evoking the increasingly militant anti-federal lands movement, particularly strong in Utah, who act as if the government had hidden interests in staking claims to a territories form wildlife refuges, conservation areas, national parks, or national monuments, summons a misguided anti-government credo as a basis for ending public lands.

Protection of National Monument of Bears Ears would expand claims to native lands in Southern Utah/Joe Burgess for New York Times

In replacing a sense of “goods” for the nation worthy of protection by the federal government–the purpose of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which expanded executive ability to conserve areas for preservation of their historical or scientific interest–to a vision of the executive asfacilitating abilities for exploitation of national space, and ensuring energy extraction.

The result is to threaten fragile material evidence of the region’s prehistoric inhabitation in a site recently put off-limits to oil and gas exploration on account of its use value to extractive industries, contesting the inherent value of preserving an area that has been considered among the most “endangered” historical sites in America. There is a well known precedent of prospectors seizing the sacred grounds of the Lakota Sioux native peoples, that were in fact ceded to them by the United States government in 1868, in the Black Hils of South Dakota, to create out of the former sacred site that became the National Park of Mt. Rushmore, after gold deposits were found underground, leading to a renegotiation attempt that led to a massive slaughter of hundreds of women and children, until the national monument of Mt. Rushmore confirmed the imperial acquisition of the land, by engraving iconic images of past Presidents on the Black Hills to affirm its incorporation into the nation’s body, with five faces of United States Presidents presiding in regal fashion over the region by sculpting their faces out of the Black Hills where GEn. Custer had defeated the valiant defensive acts of Sioux Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse:

If the same logic of prospecting has caused the National Monument of Bears Ears to be reduced to a rump, to allow extractive industries with ties to the current President to erode the Presidential Declaration of his predecessor, the point-based logic of GPS maps of underground reserves has determined a new perimeter to be drawn, reducing the size of the monument to allow rapid extraction and export of oil and other fossil fuels on rigs, to accommodate the request of oil and gas company requests to drill in the monument that have been advocated from 2013, allowing access to over 100,000 acres of land, often filled by sacred ruins, within a mile or inside of the declared eastern boundary of the National Monument, that stand to attract increased road traffic, vehicles, and workers in close proximity to the eighty-eight parcels of national lands that President Trump seeks to auction off–setting a terrifying precedent for privatizing public lands, and for privileging commercial interests regarding sites deemed of value without consideration for the landscape that lies above them.

Expresssed Aeas of Interests for Oil and Gas Drilling in Bears Ears National Monument\\

After a long and intense attempt to resolve inclusively an accord with the Inter-Tribal Council of areas that were deemed too sacred to be sacrificed for commercial interests, no matter their economic benefit, that led many native lands to be affirmed as a National Monument, the rewriting of the map of national priorities with which Donald Trump entered office has led to a wholesale revision of the map of protected lands, and the rewriting of federal land management and protection, as well as the power of the Antiquities Act to accommodate lands deemed of unique in their historical interest for the country, by economic criteria, rather than historic worth.

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Moving through Rome’s Pasts: from Piranesi to Freud and Back

We now map mega-regions that extend along highways far beyond the former boundaries of cities, along roads and through suburbs increasingly lack clear bounds.  The extent of such cities seem oddly appropriate for forms of mapping that seem to lack respect for physical markers of bounds.  These maps reflect the experience of their environments as networks more than sites, to be sure.  It may be surprising to see the mapping of the ancient world as a similar network, and to try to understand the mobility of the ancient world and Mediterranean in terms of modern tools of mapping travel: tracing the extension of extra-urban areas along distended networks of inhabited paved space, indeed, suggests the morphing of cities from the past, and almost removes them from historical time or erase the familiar palimpsestic relation to known space, or the city as a space for walking.

We may be compelled to apply the same data driven images to ancient Rome, driven due to our own continuing and increased disorientation on the proliferating data maps.  But does their logic maintain the complexity of time, space, and place in the ancient world, or how might it better attract interest, by casting the map as a site of investigating not only space, but time? Despite the limitations of their coverage of space, and the limited benefits of imagining the ability to measure times of travel or distances to monuments as a record of ancient space or Roman life, it is tempting to be satisfied with placing it in a network. For to do so offers a way of envisioning ancient Rome as a mega city and hub of transit.  But the erasure that this brings in humanistic experience of the map is striking.  

mobility fingerprint ROme

The risk of a loss of materiality is steep: for we seem to lose a sense of the presence of the map of the city, visualizing the distances of travel, costs of economic transit, and time of travel in a web of commercial exchange we both project back our own sense of disorientation.  When we use modern notions such as that of the urban mobility fingerprint as Moovel labs did in concretely visualizing the medieval saying that “all roads lead to Rome” in its  project of mapping distances from the ancient city, we run the risk of insisting on the transparency of data, reducing maps and the pattern of mapping to a substrate of spatial relations sufficient in an almost ahistorical sense, and risk asserting the authority of an app over material processes of building and mapping Rome across time.  The elision of time and political space on a map risks blind-spots of significance interpretive consequence: who can forget the justification Benito Mussolini made for his march on Rome as a unifying call of Italian fascism, a cartographic propaganda piece that he exploited in the fascist press, linking the march on Rome to the restoration of Italy’s martial greatness, without the seizure of Rome as Italy’s capitol, inviting Italians to realize how the March on Rome that he would long celebrate as a moment of national destiny: his vacuous platitude, in a mass media remembrance of soldiers’ slain in that campaign as evidence of Italy’s centrality on a global stage of armed combat–“there would never have been a march on Moscow today, without the March on Rome!”–was a staple of national myth-making, akin to medallions minted in 1942 of the March on Rome’s twentieth anniversary, and to affirm the global consequence of a moment that marked the start of the Fascist Party’s new national calendar.

We might be trying to find mooring in the mapping of the past in maps, as Mussolini, in lining the roads that went to Rome to the military lines of attack on Moscow, as a way of remapping Rome’s centrality in the national imaginary.  

We avoid the problem of mapping the presence of the ancient form of the city so long returned to be mapped, as a key to presence of the ancient city in the city, in ways that Rome was so long understood. The inscription of Rome’s authority in an empire without boundaries–or from the interest of archeological “maps” of Rome as a proto-nation in that repository for the nineteenth century imagination, the Baedeker Guide, as a way to look for moorings of the past; the current fad for positing mobility as a fons et origo of displacement, travel, and global mobility in the routes or roads to Rome, and creating materiality in the map. And while we do want to illustrate or understand flows from the city, and the location of Rome in a broader Mediterranean and European space–by privileging flow, we wonder–is mapping Rome’s place a way of coming to terms with the mobility of the modern world, or its lack of materiality?

Flow from Rome

is there some loss of the materiality of the ancient world? For rather than show the city of Rome, so often refigured in almost encomiastic terms, by asserting its pride of place in a network, and celebrating the construction of its almost vegetal organic network of modernized roads in order to bring it closer to the viewer, there is a visual trick of transferring a dataset to a schematic rendering that flattens the complex human patterns of the past, and does so by obscuring the deeply humanistic layered nature of the map and of the past, so clearly preserved in the famous bifolium image of Rome, that old imperial city, in the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle, based on a lost chorographic encomiastic of its buildings’ magnificence.

Nuremberg Chronicle, “Roma,” (1493), leaves LVII-LVIII

If we might consider the imperial schema of travel as a more exact map of space, the enhanced topographic rendering that calls attention to its place in a network, alters the intense interest that the mapping of the city’s place has held, so aptly illustrated back when the physician Hartman Schedel returned to his native Nuremberg, woodcut views of Rome and other Italians in hand, that he would assemble a massive genealogy that restored centrality to the place of Germans from the outskirts of the Roman Empire, to imagine Swabian cities as modern heirs of Rome’s imperial grandeur. The symbolic authority of the city, long akin ago a vessel of memory, retained symbolic authority even as maps encoded a continuous space.  In response to the danger of erasure by the a coordinate grid, the material practices of mapping Rome have their own history, neglected in data visualizations’ relatively flat space,–not to mention the sense of a space removed from history that they create.

Detail of Nuremberg Chronicle, leaves LVII-LVIII (1493)

The deep history of the material practices of mapping Rome constitute something of a deep source of meaning and a source of fascination; mapping of the city the remained in the city, negotiating the presence of the antique in the city.  Rather than disembody the routes of motion as defining the city, the images that embodied the material presence of the antique city was the dominant presence in a long history of mapping the city, whose ancient traces were preserved and excavated in the many maps of Rome made since before the Renaissance.  Such maps, viewed in their historical context and continuity, preserve a sense of the form of the antique that provided a form as an actor for visitors to Rome, and a lure for the site of the continued presence of traces of the space of a historical Rome that exists among the modern city’s space.  Indeed, maps may themselves offer the best ways to familiarize oneself to the material traces of orienting oneself to the presence of the antique that continue to inhabit its present.

And the prestige that the Baedeker guide long held in the German imagination during the nineteenth century to orient educated travelers who were reprising humanist physician Hartmann Schedel’s Reise as a voyage of cultural formation. For Schedel, following the footsteps of his father, Rome was a lost center, continuing in Vienna, and site of a mythic imaginary of a lost past that his father, Herman, who preceded him in traveling for studies to Italy. The transmission of a heritage of antiquity to the border of the ancient Roman empire in Nuremberg became a running conceit animating the transmission of classical luster across historical ages in the early illustrated book of the Lber Chronicarum, a book assembled form many. of woodcuts and city views in Schedel’s large library of printed images in a visual form that was almost a showpiece of early printed propaganda for the Holy Roman Empire just before the discovery of the New World.

While Vienna may be a strange place to begin with the exploration of Rome’s antique, but the fascination was in ways best seen–or first framed–from afar, and the imperial city of Vienna, on the edges of the Roman empire, was, with Nuremberg, looked to Rome as the site of an empire past, whose past still haunted he earth. The deeply affective ties to place led to the escalation of the Baedeker guides instilled tied practices of mapping to personal formation, as if to decode and interpret the past, and reconstruct the evidence of past worlds across time in particularly powerful ways, akin to the reconstruction of a past habitus or frame of mind that haunted the nineteenth century, and indeed haunts the present. Sigmund Freud must have eagerly used his Baedeker when he told his younger brother, Alex, with eagerness in 1905 of his “sense of obligation to identify–Baedeker in hand!–new regions, museums, palaces, ruins” in Italy, and must have used them to lead him to “wealth of Roman relics: that he fund in Aquilea in 1898, from “tombstones, amphorae, medallions of the gods from the amphitheater, statues, bronzes and jewelry” to a cornucopia of the past that the local museum held, and he was eager to index in his mind’s past and its traumas, as if the images of the antique might resolve a sense of psychic integrity and continuity in the personal formation of personhood that hysteria had, for Freud, disrupted and impeded: the creation of a sense and a story of continuity led Freud to turn to ancient images and archeological metaphors repeatedly in his work, not only for the purpose of dignifying his own “new science” of psychoanalysis, but to affirm the materiality of restoring a neurological harmonious balance by materializing the place of trauma in the personal past, by analogy to how material artifacts offered material testimonies that assured the survival of Rome’s historically removed past.

In consultation with his friend the art historian Emanuel Löwy, who Freud had relied for archeological maps and diagrams to discuss the romance of Rome’s ruins–or Roman ruins of Pompeii–provided a powerful visual metaphor and figurative form for describing the new science of psychoanalysis might uncover the repressed past, buried not under the earth, but in the mind, in a positivist and aesthetic analogy able to validate psychoanalysis as a cure. In presenting the case of Dora, only published in 1905, but based on earlier clinical observations of his analysand, the metaphor of archeology as a recovery of the concrete expression of the psyche was at hand: he told his readers of his scientific probity as a psychoanalyst by confessing he sought merely to follow “the example of those discoverers whose good fortune it is to bring to the light of day after their long burial the priceless though mutilated relics of antiquity.” If he admitted “I have restored what is missing, taking the best models known to me from other analyses,” like a painter, “I have like the most conscientious of archaeologists, not omitted to mention in each case where the authentic parts end and my reconstructions begin.”

While Freud’s sense of self as a similarly cultured man led him to accept works of art and literature as a model to grasp the workings of the unconscious, and to map the relation of repression and neurosis, viewing each as reflections of the mechanics of consciousness in poetic “motifs” (Dichtungstoffen) that he treated as “concrete expression” of the mechanics Freud described as the dream-work; the artistic object replaced the visual character of the dream-work–the “principle means of representation” in dreams–and itself “analogous to the decipherment of an ancient pictographic script, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs.” Analogy to archeological practices recalled the heroic image of Heinrich Schleimann’s fantastic discovery of what he claimed to be the ruins of ancient Troy, but dignified the work of psychoanalysis as uncovering objects of value in the mind–and the probity of uncovering the latent content within the dream work. They exemplified a mythos of the recovery of the past–as a reassembly of the artifacts of the past by the painstaking process of moral probity.

The diagnosis of hysteria was only arrived at through grasping self-representation of the psyche Freud called “the method of figuration characteristic of dreams,” so analogous to what the plastic arts found their own material “ways of expressing [zum Ausdruck zu bringen]” by which the skilled analyst unpacked often elusive logic of the dream work but by foregrounding its “latent content” usually concealed to the dreamer or analysand, by excavating their pasts. Freud readily translated the figurative notion and practice of the dream work to one of archeological excavating artifacts otherwise locked in a sedimented past: if his framing of Dora’s case with the metaphor of archeology betrays a certain sleight of hand as the course of analysis was not complete, the dignity of “priceless though mutilated relics of antiquity” offer a window to a past that would not otherwise be seen. The analogy was as self-serving as his display of a collection of plaster reproductions of ancient artifacts in his office. Freud readily consulted his art historian friend Löwy, whose work had also recently inspired art historian Aby Warburg, about artistic and archeological literature; Löwy argued primitive design be regarded as a mnemonic form influenced Warburg’s theory of images. Freud may well have known through his friend of Warburg’s own work on the physical character of the robed Florentine Nymph, a model Freud would have recognized in Jensen’s Gradiva–a figure Warburg argued had enjoyed a psychic status as a point of access of humans to the divine, and a point of access typical of Renaissance culture. If, for Warburg and Jolles, the nymph re-rendered the Roman goddess whose beauty was able to so overwhelms the viewer’s emotional response, the graceful posture of the Gradiva statue provoked sublime response able to transcend historical and personal time alike, when seen by Norbert Hannold., and unlocks the personal memories of repression at the seat of his neurotic condition.

The reappearance of the nymph as a site for motion from the ancient to modern, and from human to divine, was repeated in the “archeo-logic” by which Freud discussed the resolution of trauma. The search for a distinct form of logic influenced Freud’s fascination with the “archeo-logic” to move from dreams to consciousness, and from the consciousness or conscious observation, akin to the collective consciousness Schedel and his circle traced to a Roman past. Archeology by the nineteenth century had excavated the material past in a scientific manner. The image of excavation led him to universalize precepts of between analytic interpretation, personal case history, and therapeutic cure, as the role of material practices of archeology were combined with individual remembering of a past lost trauma in the story of Norbert Hannold that Jansen decribed in a short fiction published in the Neue Freie Presse in 1902 that become a model for practices of therapeutic analysis. Freud reflected early in his career on the “strange” manner by which his case histories of hysterics “read like short stories,” feeling strongly that the “story of the patient’s suffering” was entwined with the “symptoms of his illness” in 1895; when he read Jansen’s story in serialized form, Freud must have been struck by its beginning from a dream that transported the hero, Hannold, to a time before the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, in the ancient world, and a vision of the living image of a woman walking in splendor he later found in Pompeii during a trip that might constitute his archeological field. The fictional archeologist travelled Pompeii in ways that Freud read so readily an ideal of the therapeutic effects of repression on the mind, and liberating powers of the uncovering of an ancient past that Freud turned to it for insight into neurosis, and an example of how the psychic labor of dreams to express repressed desire. The transformation was illustrated in how a recently reconstructed archeological ruin offered insight to the inexpressable of Hannold’s uncosncious, envoicing a repressed desire: the inexpressable grace of Gradiva’s gait in a bas relief. The story’s final elucidation of the archeologist’s fascination with Gradiva’s distinctive gait, unable to be found in the gait of modern women, is only resloved in the story in the theatrical setting in the excavation of Pompeii, a site for access to the antique, the intermediate space of illusion and reality that the ruins of Pompeii presented in Jansen’s story; Freud placed the antique reproduction in his Viennese office to make it a transitory space between sickness and health.

The ruins became a basis for viewing the figure of the woman draped in diaphanous clothes–an archetype of desire–who had been identified by later archeologists as not walking at all, but dancing, the fluidity of her body no doubt communicating the beguiling motion communicated in the bas relief by which Hannold, Jansen, and Freud were beguiled. If Freud saw the mind as “the frontier between states of mind described as normal and pathological” divide, one that “each of us probably crosses it many times in the course of a day,” the story of a mind haunted by the gait of the form of a bas relief of a walking woman which lead an archeologist to travel to Pompeii’s ruins is a visit from normal to pathological and back. Hannold travels in the story to Pompeii in hopes of discovering a woman he witnessed in dreams emerging alive from the ruins, as if she were the last survivor of a city buried in a volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. He follows his uncanny attraction to ruins of Pompeii to find an ancient woman believed long dead who incarnates the object of his past desire; in the hot afternoon sun, he is unsure if he is dreaming, or experiencing real life. Traveling to Pompeii’s celebrated ruins, his mind haunted by recurrent encounters with the woman he calls Gradiva, “she who flourishes while walking,” first seen in Naples’ Archeological Museum and of which he owns in a copy, he cannot believe she has come to life. Freud argued that after this unexpected encounter magically unlocks his unacknowledged erotic attraction to a woman who walking with the same striking gait who seems to lead him from his study of archeology to love. Hannold is haunted by the vision of the woman from the bas-relief, Freud argued, reveals a suffering from repressed love that had been repressed by the sobriety of his archeological endeavors: when a figure of the same gait uncannily appears as if from the ruins, the elegance he believed specific to the ancient bas relief is revealed to belong to a forgotten love object from his past; what seemed a hallucination becomes a dramatic recognition scene in the excavated ruins. For Freud, the gait of the advancing woman was a model of catharsis of psychoanalytic cure that removed Hannold from neurotic tendencies, and passage to health, worthy of displaying in his analytic office as a an icon of reconstructing a patient’s repressed past; the past existed in this token as if grasping the plan of an ancient city that was excavated from beneath the earth.

maps pompeii
Old map of Pompei (Pompeii) museum site in 1929. Buy vintage map replica  poster print or download picture
Map of Pompeii, 1881 and 1912 (1:4200)

The story of Gradiva’s advance offered patients a prompt to uncover their past trauma, and its prominence in his office on the wall beside the patient’s couch suggests the extent to which the science of archeology haunted Freud’s formulation of psychoanalysis. While it it not known when the reproduction entered his possession, he wrote to his wife Martha how the encounter of a statue of Gradiva in the Chiaramonte Gallery of the Vatican Museums offered an occasion to attach special meaning to displayed in a reproduction for all patients in his Viennese office, as if it embodied the constant process toward health a psychoanalyst might provide.

Art historian Mary Bergstein felt Gradiva possessed, for Freud, a curative agency, that accorded respect as a female physician to cure neurosis–perhaps an acknowledgment of the liberatory role of Anna O. in their own discussions. He felt the bas-relief might offer all patients a visual prompt for moving from sickness and repression to health, and illusions to reality, the moving statue that Freud displayed in his study so that it would lie in the line of sight of the analysand or patient who lay on his couch as they recounted dreams took pride of place among antiquities as a motion from neurosis to health. If the field of the History of Art lay at the crossroads at that time of philosophy, psychology, and historical expertise, offering keys for the unpacking of cultural meaning, the Gradiva figure whose reproduction Freud owned provided a basis for the analyst to illustrate his cultivation and a philosophical prompt of the possible agency in narrating the story of repression, which Freud believed lay at the root of hysteric inability to move, as if loosening the bounds of restraint that prevented or inhibited patients from moving limbs; the figure of Gradiva who Jensen had described bore an uncanny parallel to the figure of the Nymph–the ninfa fiorentina–who for Aby Warburg and André Jolles argued in 1900 embodied a goddess who had descended to the world from Mount Olympus, entering the private bed-chambers of Florentines and populating the paintings of Florentine artists in a dancing pose that revealed distinctively flowing drapery; the mysterious female figure derived iconographic power through her miraculous embodiment that these Germanic men detected as they crossed the Alps, an image of unusual vitality, akin to the image of Gradiva. As historians of art, Warburg and Jolles argue the same nymph recurred dizzyingly and repeatedly in paintings of Botticelli, Fra Fillip Lippi, Pollaiuolo, Ghirlandaio, and Donatello, an unknown female figure–perhaps a freed slave, or a foreign subject–who assumed the status of a “real being of flesh and blood” in art, of particular emotive power.

Freud had found a strikingly similar image of Gradiva that would culminate his own interest in art collecting, begun in 1896 soon after his death, the year he had formulated the term “psychoanalysis.” As Warburg and Jolles viewed the dancing Nymph as descended from Olympus, to be a new source of vitality evident in Florentine iconography, Freud privileged the female figure of Gradiva for the fluidity of her movement, described by Jensen, that was perhaps attributed to her dancing movement. Freud may have recognized the dancing figure Warburg had described; she joined the “plaster copies of Florentine statues” he added to his study as objects “of exceptional recreation and comfort to me” (1896); finding Gradiva on a 1907 visit to Rome led him to delight in seeing the robed figure as if she was “an old friend,” even if perched in the Vatican Gallery’s Museo Chiaramonte at a distance, “high up on a wall.” The reproduction of the dancing woman was soon added to his study.

Gradiva in Freud’s Study, 1938/Edmund Engelman

Gradiva became an icon and emblem of a model of moving from the ruins into daylight, moving from neurosis to love–a figure who was seen by Jensen as “walking,” but .

Freud may have been especially attracted to the story as a privileged site of the observation of the ancient world, where the uncovered excavation of ruins provided as privileged site for the excavation of an entire city. First mapped from the late eighteenth century and an open-air museum for some twenty years by 1898, as above, which he knew from maps, the popular novella glossed observation of the antique prompted an erotics of encountering the past, eliding well-mapped archeological repository of the ancient world with liberating an unconscious repression Hannold hoped he could embody by a visit to Pompeii. The visit to the famous ruins prompted an unexpected unveiling of repressed childhood love that Freud valued for its dramatic power–if Jensen’s fiction was a potent allegory Freud mapped it onto an archeology of mental repression that produces hysteria, its allegory for the therapeutic cure in the ruins, as release from repression the archeologist a needed archeology of his past to leave his pursuit, enacting an archeology of the mind instead.

The story was useful to explain the curative possibilities of his own fledgling science. Freud’s circulation among acolytes and students of the piece of fiction as a sort of initiation into the new science he was eager to announce to the world circa 1907-8 led him to take a page from contemporary art historians, ancient archeologists, and antiquarians to shape a new plastic language to begin discussing the mind. If Jung recognized the similarities with which Freud was accustomed to exhibit antiquities to his patients as a basis for association, the reproduction acted as a prompt for passage to health that Freud saw almost as a talisman, and idea propt, for to excavate “strata of latent content,” as Bergstein argued, that the analyst might uncover in ways not accessible immediately to an unschooled reader, as a nexus of a global history of the destruction of Pompeii’s ruins and personal psychopathology, as the strata of ruins are magically elided with the psychic strata of the potential hysteric. It is not often noted that art historians including Arnold Hauser were in the same time reconstructing the Roman copy from fragments, in a powerful image of the recovery of the past. If Freud argued the fictional Hannold was typical of one vulnerable to neurosis by his intellectualization of ruins dangerously divided archeologist’s imagination and intellect, risking repression of biological instinct by intellectual attachments, his encounter amidst the ancient ruins of a woman he knew from childhood, “walking in splendor” her foot rising from the ground on flexed toes–embodied in the sublime site of Pompeii’s ruins amidst his “almost visionary state” as the love he was convinced existed, but did not know where to locate. Elision of the ancient ruins with memory created an uncanny scrutiny of her distinctive act of physical advance, haunted by the unique gait known only in his dreams; Hannold believes her a phantasm until he recognized the woman not asa delusion but a love object able to liberate him from his intellectualized passions.

The attempt to reconstruct the fragmentary images of the Horeae that Jensen called “Gradiva” was a current pursuit of archeological reconstruction, and served to problematize the archeological retrieval and reassembly of a past so central to analysis. The story of the ancient statue was not Pygmalion, but an animated statue able lead him from hysteria as could only the best analyst would, by purposfully navigating not only through the elision of time and space in Pompeii , so that the woman he feared killed by Vesuvius’ volcanic explosion moved from inanimate stone and embodiment, death to life, and hysteria to love, and across the different strata after being made manifest in his own unconscious mind. Freud so eagerly shared the novella with students and acolytes for its insight into the psyche by the ability to uncover its physical strata to reveal repression, a process he had struggled to imagine in pictorial terms. When he had presented his virtuoso analysis to the novella’s author, he learned Jensen had conceived the story without visiting Pompeii, before a reproduction, he sought a reproduction of the very image that would be installed in his study in a pride of place; it recalled, at least for Freud, the experience of being overcome in the “almost visionary state” surrounded by antique ruins beneath Pompeii’s noon sun for his own analytic study in Vienna, at the foot of the couch of patients: was it also perhaps an image by which he would be known?

The reproduction Freud displayed of the woman’s isolated her form became an icon for Freudian analysis in future years, and an image of the cure of hysteria and neurosis begun by repression, and needing to be recovered. Freud had cast his work as that of an archeologist discovering the most deeply buried primal scenes in Studies in Hysteria (1896), presented Jensen’s novella for its insight to how a sublimely cathartic encounter released repression of the past to prevent neurological disorder–he had shared the story as a discussion of the curing neurosis by the sublime encounter with the past in the setting of antique ruins with a woman who “accepted [his] delusion so fully to set him free of it,” perhaps beyond the abilities of analysis, by easing the trauma of repression in recognize the archeologist’s deep desire to bring her back into his life. For the story intersected with his own fascination with ancient artifacts as psychic prompts–his scholarly attachment to the neo-Attic relief was lifted by embodied love, due to the psychic release by the woman Hannold feared killed by Pompeii emerging from his past–although the reocnstruction was not of an isolated woman, so much as a procession.

“Horae,” Roman Reproduction of Fourth Century Greek original, Museo Chiaramonti, Vatican Museums

We do not know if Freud traveled to Rome and looked at the reassembled relief in the Vatican’s Museo Chiaramonti, above, to buy the reproduction–but he had described his own encounter with the statue in such animated terms to his wife by post as a moment of joyous recognition, he perhaps acquired a copy from an antiquities dealer. The bas relief that became as an icon of Freudian cure–displayed in the Bergstrasse study in Vienna, brought with him to London. Freud bought a reproduction of the figure Freud not as a broken complex, but an isolated figure: he rhapsodized to his wife of uncharacteristic joy and levity at the encounter on his final day in Rome, as “a dear familiar face [seen] after being alone so long” as if it was by chance, which made the entire city “more and more marvelous,” as if to explain a gift he permitted himself. He had written to Martha Bernays in response to news of her receipt of a piece of furniture he sent to her in Vienna; did he acquire the reproduction that very year?

The reproduction of the fragmented broken bas relief he purchased isolated he figure of the woman, as if timeless. The reproduction fortuitously erased any sense of her destruction by time, or any archeological debates as to the figure’s reconstruction, by framing her alone–as Jensen’s copy–as if it were a figure who removed from the past. He referred to her not by the title of Hauser’s reconstruction, but the very name Jensen gave her–Gradiva, echoing Homer’s “Mars Gradivus,” as an icon of health: the God dressed to approach battle, an iconic statue of securing peace; the new name of the advancing woman was an icon of an ability to overcome past trauma and transform neurosis to love. (The antiquity offered an emblem for Freud to “present” his craft to the public: Mars was dressed to enter battle in magnificence, but Gradiva became an image of restoring mental health, casting the psychiatrist as a master archeologist of sorts, able to lead his patient from neurosis into a mobility that was foreign from the neurotic patients afflicted by unwanted inability of partial paralysis.) The ancient statuary Jensen described as a phantasm surviving of a girl he knew in childhood, but had not acknowledged, mirrored the 1903 art historical reconstruction Arnold Hauser assembled of a set of fragmented figures, but the copy Freud purchased distilled it as a single figure.

If Freud famously longed to associate psychiatry with the metaphor of archeology before it was a field, he believed the novella of a fictional archeologist offered insight to the operations of the mind of the neurotic and its redemption: he excitedly shared the story of how the archeologist overcame neurotic fantasies as the figure of a walking woman emerged from temporal disorientation of the ruins of Pompeii, to be acknowledged not as an illusion of the past, but still living, and to dispel his neurosis by presenting the gait of a love from childhood, in a cathartic clarifying moment of cure. Before his visit, Freud learned with some disappointment that rather than an actual sublime event, Jensen had not encountered the illusion in Pompeii, or seen the statue save in reproduction: his belief it offered insight was perhaps just “an egocentric phantasy” analysis would reveal “bound up “his most intimate erotic experiences,” he confessed to Jung. Coining the term “Gradiva” for the woman advancing in the ancient city who emerged from the archeologist’s unconscious but called him to a better life, Freud felt, Jensen had taken the term from Mars Gradivus, the God of War walking into Battle, whose advancing across time Hauser had recently reconstructed, whose image Freud must have known in print. Freud wrote to his wife from Rome filled with uncharacteristic joy and levity as he informed his final days were interrupted by encountering “a dear familiar face . . . after being alone so long” which he must have visited in the Museo Chiaramonti intentionally, as if an encounter by chance, which suddenly rendered the entire city “more and more marvelous,” as if it were a gift he permitted himself, described to his wife in response to news of her receipt of furniture he sent to her in Vienna.

As Jensen’s fiction had focussed on the advancing woman, who seemed to emerge from the past for his hero, the image that was itself a reconstruction of fragments that Arnold Hauser had published some year before was treated by Freud as a key to the unconscious origins of neurosis. The image appealed to Freud as a prompt uncovering repression, a sublime therapeutic moment that he saw as casting archeology as an erotic encounter of the recovery of the past: if it is unclear if he had received the reproduction later hung in his office at the foot of his couch from Emanuel Löwy, an old friend who had taught art history in Rome, who he probably had seen in his 1907 vacation, who he often had consulted on Roman ruins; Löwy, on whom Freud long relied for purchases of reproductions of ancient art would send Freud his own monograph on neo-Attic art, with the simple inscription “for Gradiva–the author.

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Reconstruction of the Bas Relief, including the Figure of “Gradiva”

But Freud bought a reproduction that framed simply the figure Jensen had described, rather than the bas relief assembled rom fragments, a figure that belied its own fragmentation as a ruin. Magnified as if a goddess, who had transcended fragments, teh figure which Freud became as a convincing illustration of the treatment of neurosis and hysteria. Gravida became an icon for a science able to release patients from neuroses of which Jensen’s archeologist suffered was one of his early virtuosic case studies, based not on a patient, as Anna O, but framed the cases by which he would be known of obsessional neurosis that set for a therapeutic program–as if the case of Gradiva was a paradigm for the subsequent exemplary cases Freud produced that stood as models of sympathetic understanding. In each of the subsequent cases excavated the trauma to reveal restorative powers of remembering of repressed trauma that have left psychic scars the analyst uses sympathetic power to extricate the subject, Gradiva provided the fictional model for such an uncovery rooted it precisely in the ur-sight of archeological exploration, and a model for his own future studies of neurosis–Rat Man; Woolf Man; Schreber–as bravura analytic excavations of neurosis and pscyhosis. Freud located the excavation of a moment of transparency in dreams, but Jensen’s fantasia provided a literary model for narrating an uncovering of the unconscious, before his “ingenious” psychoanalysis of Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci from paintings “with a beautiful simplicity and vigor, whatever one might think of [his] conclusions,” as Meyer Shapiro put it, to reach larger audiences for his theory of mind, written not as case studies on hysteria and as a neurologist, but as a man of letters. The power of Gradiva as a token to overcome buried trauma led it to be placed in view of patients as a token of psychoanalysis in Freud’s study in both Vienna and London.

Twenty-three years after he wrote about Jensen’s architect and Gravida, Freud relied on Löwy’s work to cast the city of ROme as akin to a material record of the unconscious–as if the two walked in the ancient Forum, when he returned to the excavation of Rome’s stratigraphy as a metaphor of mind. Löwy would provide Freud the archeological prints that enabled his “flight of fancy” to detail the physical plant of Rome in some detail by 1930, but it must be acknowledged Freud had not only often returned to Rome but done so after consulting recent archeological books that detailed its plant which he had collected in his Viennese library. If the mastery of ruins–a therapeutic art–was an art metaphorically illustrated by art, Freud illustrated mastery by transcendence of ruins of the past trauma. Freud relied on how archeological engravings revealed past layers of the city’s inhabitation to use its physical plant was also a paradigmatic site of excavation of pastness, organized by artists in challenging ways that must have seized Freud not only in contemporary archeological prints, but the uncovering of “deep structures” hidden beneath the earth. Freud promised a “discovery” of buried ruins waiting to be uncovered for the observer.

The promise is eerily akin to the promise Francesco Piranesi, Giovanni Battista’s son, had made of Pompeii’s topography, 1785-92, a decade after the first maps of the site were drawn from memory, several years after visiting the site with his father, with whom he collaborated on engraving. These prints extended his father’s trade in views of ancient Rome in a explicitly archeological direction of interpretation. It is hard to dislike Piranesi, but it is also hard to say if he was designing the plan of Rome as a budding archeologist, as an image that used sketches made by his father to stake out the achievement of which he was able through his craft, or as a revelation of the interpenetration of landscape, the antique, and the antiquities trade that defined eighteenth century Roman antiquarianism. Those famous engravings of the plan of the city of Pompeii captured the romance of the city where Hannold fled to find the image of movement of gait that sunk deep in his mind, by unearthing it, which he had miraculously unearthed by his pilgrimage to the new wonder of the Grand Tour. For Freud, however, who was obsessed or entranced by the mechanics of uncovering, unveiling, revealing, and voyeuristically observing, the site of Pompeii, where one can look into the private homes and where bodies were excavated that were lying on floors, frozen in the act of eating, sleeping, or writing in pain, the erotics of unveiling were were presented by Francisco and his father.

Francesco Piranesi, (1758-1810), Topografia delle fabriche scoperte nella città di Pompeii

The city that had been a sight of cultural formation from the Grand Tour was perhaps a substitute for the archeological excavations his hero Heinrich Schliemann began in 1873 of Troy–it confirmed Freud’s as foremost archeologist of the mind, a Schliemann of the unconscious who made his own archeological maps in word pictures. The very transhistorical map of Rome’s physical plant recalls nothing so much as an archeological plan–an image of the sequential stages of buildings reconstructed from past fragments that condenses a purview of the history of place for ready apprehension at a glance; the plan would indeed stand as a surrogate for the very absence of a pictorial rendering of the mind, assembling the material fragments of the city into a readily coherent pattern.

Excavations at Troy of Heinrich Schliemann and Dorpfeild, 1908

The reproduction of Gradiva, as an iconic image of a woman moving through space, became an icon of excavation, and of the coaxing out memories of desire in Freudian analysis of memories that emerged, or re-emerged, in the room of psychoanalysis, as an overcoming of traumatic primal scenes that would otherwise remain a repressed past. The faux bas relief, a reproduction in plaster widely obtained in Rome, emerged a central piece of furniture in the psychoanalytic study, as well as validation of Freud’s own analytic skill; as a transformation of the fragmentary sculptures in the Museo Chiaramonti, where it hung on the wall, the reproduction that he bought in Rome or had sent to him in Vienna came to occupy a prominent place in the psychoanalyst’s office, directly at the foot of the couch and in the patient’s line of sight, as a surrogate for the procession through past trauma that the analyst might conduct.

The framed copy that arrived was not a fragment, of course, but an image that framed the subject of the walking woman as a subject of meditation, and advancement through time. Freud had arrived in Rome to acquire a copy of the bas-relief when traveling to Rome alone in 1907, visiting museums and encountering the day before he left the relief in the Vatican’s Museo Chiaramonti, probably while writing his analysis of Jensen’s fantasia of a young archeologist who traveled to Pompeii in hopes to encounter the woman who appeared in his dreams as a vision, and captivates his attention as soon as he encounters her in the ruins that leads him to abandon the field of archeology. As a relief on the wall of Hanold’s study served as the prompt in Jensen’s story, Freud would purchase his own reproduction to be displayed beside the psychotherapeutic couch, joining the antiquities he used as prompts for his patients–was it among the “small purchases” he told his wife he was in the course of negotiating before leaving? The iconic image of redemption from neurosis that Jensen’s archeologist experienced in watching a real woman emerge from the ruins of Pompeii who he had seen in dreams, leads him out of his paralyzing neurosis, to move through space as freely as the Hora who advances, the lifted toes of her left foot about to leave the ground–the name “Gradiva,” as if ‘Girl Splendid in Walking,’ is named for the associations of her movement through space, but might well be elided with her unique powers of movement through time, as if between epochs or strata–and leads him to see the embodied evidence of her grace in walking as she appears before him in the ruins, and the archeologist’s very perception of the iconic statue he places in Pompeii appears inextricably haunted by his desire.

The appearance of the Gradiva-or the copy that Freud kept in his office–became an icon for the establishment of psychiatry as a science, as indeed his essay on Gravida became a sor of assertion of the dignity of the field of inquiry akin to archeology. For as Freud was attracted to diagnose the novella as an overcoming of hysteria–as if the insight of the story offered a model of skillful “reconstruction” of a past by analogy to the established secular field–it was a part of the furniture of the office of the Freudian analyst to stimulate recovery of repressed memories of the unconscious. The metaphor of archeology confirmed the materiality of surviving memory traces of objects of desire to an artistic reconstruction of desire, using the excavation of objects in the field of archaeology to give epistemic status an archeology as an excavation of individual objects of desire, and sublimation of neurotic feelings into a present love–the reproduction isolated and iconically focussed attention on an the image of the female figure advancing, unlike the original. The framing of a woman moving through space–healing the viewer from being frozen or immobilized in neurosis–made the object an emblem of mystically moving through–and to lead the patient through–layers of time, moving to the present, uncannily inherited from the concept of the original Greek horae marking time on which it was based. Placed at the foot of the couch and in the line of sight of Freud’s patient, the icon was designed to provoke performing a therapeutic transit through strata of personal memories. Rather than the original Greek statue of the horae, figuring the procession of time, the individual reproduction isolated an enframed individual female figure advancing as a prompt to drill into personal consciousness, foreign from the collective procession of the marble copy: isolated to accentuate a determined progress of a woman decisively advancing with determination, Gradiva is removed from a context of the progression of figures of time, but acquired an individual intent absent from the relief.

For Freud took the image of individual advance in therapy not as a collective act or social rite, but a personal transformation. His association of the imagined visitation of the embodied statue in Pompeii’s ruins was especially powerful and iconic as a therapeutic process of moving through time. The story of Gradiva attracted Freud as it detailed the erotics of an imaginary encounter in archeological ruins as an occasion of insight into attachment, as if the ruins of memory by which the individual patient was enmeshed might provoke a similar occasion of insight. Freud championed the novella as paradigmatic as a moment of psychic insight that he felt was powerful enough to be apprehended by others: Jensen’s account of the temporal disorientation before ruins for an imagined archeologist was taken as autobiographical by Freud, who analyzed the story without talking to its author, not realizing Jensen’s fantasy was not based on an image Jensen had seen in situ–but provoked by a reproduction. Freud treated the relief as a confirmation of the power of metaphorically reconstructing memories in strata of the mind Freud saw as “primordial states of mind which have long been overlaid” (1929), and placed his own reproduction over his patients’ couch as if a shingle for the profession, and a sublime sandwich board and analytic promise of coming forth from trauma.

When Freud pursued the extended metaphor of archeological excavation of Rome’s physical plant twenty years later in Civilization and its Discontents, Rome materialized the precise localization of foundational individual memories. As Freud had converted his discussion of psychic structures to dramatic conflicts in ancient plays–Oedipus; Electra–was not Rome recognizable to secular Vienna, a compelling image of the cultural status of the very project of analysis? Rome was an intense object of personal fascination for Freud, who treasured an expansive collection of antiquities he often asked his patients to examine to prompt discussions. But he had mentioned Rome in such a detailed flight of fancy that were almost an erotics of contact with multiple layers of the past that could never be able to be clearly represented or delineated in a map, but which the stratigraphic images of spatially overlapping structures served to illustrate. The discussion of the pagan and Christian temples overlaid in Rome’s physical plant transcended religious dogma, and to some extent followed Freud’s personal doubts about existence of a timeless sense of religion–and his resistance to the mysticism implicit in Romaine Rolland’s notion of an “oceanic” feeling: for his part, Freud felt it hard to process that Rolland felt him to have insufficiently appreciated religion beyond the individual, even as he told his treasured friend of the “conflict between our instinctual nature and the demands made on us by civilization.” Freud called faith foreign to “my own blend . . . of Hellenic love of proportion, Jewish sobriety, and philistine timidity,” but may have elevated Rome as a paradigmatic city of ruins and trauma, to replace a deeper, if less accessible or articulated image of the uncovering of past trauma of Jerusalem more familiar to his ancestors,– and more primal, perhaps, to Freud himself, even if he preferred Troy, Pompeii, or Rome. Yet in contrasting the crisp delineation of the ruins of Rome as unlike to an “expansive” oceanic religious impulse, did Freud offer readers the recognized topography of Rome’s temples that substituted for the lamination of ages in Jerusalem’s destruction?

Historical Maps and Atlases
Jerusalem, City Map (London, 1911)

Was the archeological discovery of Pompeii or Rome a powerful substitution for the lamination of ages in the different Temples of Jerusalem that were known by his parents? Freud returned in the brief pages on the mapping of the Eternal City across time to its own ancient temples–Jupiter Capitolinus, the temple to Minerva built under the medieval church Christianized in the eight century as an act of uncovering of a physical still tangible past. The comparison to Rome surely fit his attachment to plots, stories, and dramas outside of the Jewish tradition of his parents, and indeed his Jewish family, but echoed archeological maps of the ages of the First Temple. Indeed, the centrality of ancient temples to the Gods in Rome would have been deeply familiar to the sacred archeology of the Bibel-Atlas (Berlin 1858) and the purification of the sacred image of Rome as a new, secularized Jerusalem, whose ruins were less tied to religious relics or sacred history, but included the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, and the Temple of S. Maria of Minerva, and the pagan temple over which it was built, as a recapitulation of the layers of sacred geography in Jerusalem that was associated with early mid-century plans of a historical Temple of Solomon, a submerged referent of Freud’s spatio-temporal fantasy of wandering among and distinguishing the historical ages in Rome’s urban plan, as a privileged observer amidst memory traces that survived like ruins in an individual’s mind.

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Bibel-Atlas. Berlin 1858
 Cassell’s Universal History (1888)

Freud focussed for his Viennese audience on the epistemic transport offered by the maps of the Baedeker, however. It was a visual guide to a foreign and fascinating space, affording a mobile view of surroundings in detail that allowed the visitor to gain a level of information and be informed both as a distillation of historical knowledge and a part of individual bildung, or cultural formation, and a guide to spatial travel able to orient one to a landscape as a whole. If Freud used the Baedeker as a guide to orient himself to the ruins of Roman archeology on his several visits to Rome, Venice, Naples and Florence, he showed striking disdain for philosophers who found it necessary to approach life along set precepts or frameworks as “finding the travels through life unable to be fully realized save by a Baedeker that provided the necessary points of reference on all its aspects,” as if the Baedeker offered a competing method for his own basis of the excavation of truth and meaning within the human mind. Freud imagined to his collaborator Wilhelm Fleiss, as if in jest, in June, 1900 that a plaque of historical commemoration analogous to those seen in Rome or Jerusalem might in the future mark his Bellevue house–“In this house on July 24, 1895 the Secrets of Dreams was revealed to Dr. Sigmund Freud“–confessing, in barely concealed dismay, “So far the chances seem rather slim.”

Freud would no doubt have been pleasantly surprised at the monumentality his writings had gained in the late twentieth century, now marked by the very passage of the letter in bronze, marking the site where he began to write the Interpretation of Dreams, as if a new Moses to whom the truths in the Holiest of Holies were revealed–

Commemorative plaque marking the spot where Freud began writing 'The Interpretation of Dreams'
Grounds of Freud House, Bellevue, Austria

–akin to the imagined ability of entrance to the lost image of the Temple of Solomon that whose center lay the Holiest of Holies itself, the deep interior of the mind that would be accessed only by passing through the Court of Hight Priests, that had been the most recent transcription of the image of a lost wisdom of the ancient world from the German Renaissance. Thesecularization of this vision of the Temple, however, unlike the role it held in the Jewish tradition, provided a basis that Freud might transfer to Rome to describe with the level of cultural bildung and training that he might present to his readers as a sign of his secular sophistication as an antiquarian scholar.

Templum Saolomonis in Jerusalem, Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

Freud resisted the notion of a guide to monuments a Baedeker would impose. He resisted the authority of a guide as an authoritative programmatic Lebensführer, in ways that may explain his ambivalent dalliance with the map of multiple ages of an ancient city–as if such a map might exist!–as a productive metaphor for consciousness and memory in Civilization and its Discontents (1930; first composed 1929), a treatise that attempted to the “organic repression” of education and learning that had led to the violence of the First World Wars, a s if education, bildung, and the psychic “dams” had given way to bae impulses that had over-run them, an image for which the destruction of Rome’s previous ages of Republicanism-and indeed “civilization”–were in the end overthrown, a history whose movements Freud condenses in alarmingly telegraphic manner as he invites readers to survey the topographic transpoformation of the settlement of the Septimontium, the foundation of the Republic, and Caesars and Aurelian emperors, a complex political history of transformation and tensions that mental organism. If Freud assured his readers he understands “how far we are from representing mental life in pictorial terms” that might be desired, as by a diagram, he preferred the register of the cartographic as preferable over several powerful pages; in astounding detail for a book with little archaelogical concerns, but in ways that seem to depend on the cultivation of his readers wihtin a tradition of western civilization, Freud surveyed in his head transformations from Roma Quadrata as if it “hardly ever suffered the visitations of an enemy” by trauma or inflammations, but might retain its intactness, even if only in a virtual manner, so. that the informed viewer could use a Baedecker to grasp the co-existance of its “long and copious past,” not only “to point out the sites where the temples and public sites of earlier eras once stood,” as in the present Rome, their places now occupied only by ruins, but locate the ancient sites now buried underground or beneath modern buildings, by sheer force of mental comprehension.

Through the conceit of such a map, he is able to traverse time and master place. The suggestion of the construction of such an improbably map of multiple dimensions is raised in detail before it was discarded out of hand rather abruptly, as if to affirm the importance that he would place in the therapeutic relation of exploring the past, rather than a view only of specific monuments. But the struggle for Freud to liberate himself of the map of Rome’s ruins, and to learn more by a method of investigation that depends on the immersion of analysand on points of orientation and active exploration–suggest a far more dialectic engagement with the tourist map than the prescriptive reading of maps he associates with philosophers who adhere to one single worldview, rather than react to their surroundings to better understand their psychical landscapes without coming to them with preconceptions. While these guides demand a post of their own, this post turns attention to how the media of mapping Rome gained particular sensitivity, as preserving access to the past, and of orienting viewers to a a panorama of presence no longer present to observers, as do most all archeological maps of Rome.  

Yet the metaphor of the map offered a unique sense of access–or the image of access–to an elusive past, and not only for Freud. Freud took the metaphor of the uncovering of ruins that remained in the wake of huge trauma or organic injury and inflammation, imagining the ability to be able to reconstruct the Apollonian objective view on place that might seem disorienting at first by thier nature. He prompted the analyst and indeed the reader to take up the bait at Freud’s gambit of a decoding of the preserved traces of the past–“memory traces”–that he believed were lodged and able to be excavated in some form, or conceived as concealed atavistic structures, in the human mind, traces of past experiences that still had a vital role in the present-day, and imagine the central site of meaning that lay at the origins of other maps.

1. By considering the mapping of Rome as datamaps, and the presence that they encode, one almost seems obligated to begin from what may be the primary image–if not primal image–of the way that all roads lead to Rome, or are claimed to run there.    If it is a truism that “all roads lead to Rome,” that preserves a deeply ahistorical sense of the centrality of the city for much of the middle ages, when the statement gained currency, the possibly medieval rendering of the ancient “Peutinger Map” or Tabula Peutingerianawhich presents Rome at the center of an ancient road network–across the empire–and was suggested to be  copied from the form of a large frieze on a building, but survives in a paper copy that quite distinctively distorted the landscape to focus all roads along the elongated peninsula, whose borders reduced oceans to strips to foreground its road network, as an enthroned image of Rome.

Routes remain perhaps the oldest maps. Rarely are they understood as networks. The trick of topographic rendering of privileging the disposition of roads and their distances–measured in local units, but spanning the Empire–do not radiate, but extend laterally across mapped space.  The form of the antique led to the eager the recovery of the prized Peutinger map of the peninsula, surviving in the copy of the Tabula Peutingeriana, that preserved, showing east-west routes at greater scale than north-south in dimensions of a marble frieze, more than a sheet of paper; its collapsing of a collection of routes inscribed into a peninsula as a seat of empire, placing the enthroned figure of Rome holding a globe at the head of a cursus publicus–as if to demonstrate how all roads lead Rome-ward or, more accurately, from Rome, emphasizing its legibility by replicating the left-to-right reading of space.

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–as if in a comprehensive representation the cursus, where continuity is less present than the network, but the network visualized by making present criteria of measurement embedded in the map itself.

Rather than orienting readers by showing Rome as the center of a web of transit, that has its own life and coherence, the map’s oddly compressed format seems to have the imprint of the material place that it held, fittingly, as a record of the cursus publicus, on a frieze, if so probably etched in marble, showing the prominence of Rome and its port of Ostia not at the center of the peninsula, but in the enthroned figure.  Rome occupies a place at the start and head of its cursus publicus, perhaps as a remnant of a global map prepared in Augustan Rome, which in the surviving thirteenth century copy digests data that may derive from the Agrippa map, but embodies it in the form of a marble frieze.

Transferred and kept on a sheet of paper since when the humanist Conrad Celtis discovered in in France, and presented humanist Konrad Peutinger with the treasured cartographic image in a surviving copy, the map was thought to be a fragment of a global map organized by Roman roads.  It has been attempted to be returned to its material context in many alternative historical settings–hypotheses including Carolingian origins or, a marble frieze, to historicize the audiences it addressed–but in ways that preserve the centrality of its physical medium.  

The problem of seeing the along map of the world, and the curiously elongated image of Italy, have only recently been revised, as ways that re-examine the humanist status of the map as an argument about space.  But if the material form of the map has provoked repeated reflection, as much as the transparent reflection of spatial data by which our own data-driven world is increasingly obsessed, it reminds us of the material basis of the maxim of all roads leading to Rome, which the depiction of the cursus publicus so clearly embodied.

Roma

But the image of all roads leading to–or from–Rome is not, perhaps, the map that best expresses the place that the city has held in the humanist imagination.  If the Tabula Peutingeriana offers an interrupted record of all roads leading to Rome continues to captivate, the presence of the ancient in Rome suggested a deeper problem of temporal mapping that data cannot capture, in part because it so relentlessly adopts and employs a present-day form of mapping to chart an elusive past.  

The history with which the presence of maps that continued to process the antique in Rome certainly led to the fascination of uncovering the road network of the city.  The presence of the elusive but ever-present antique in the city laid a basis for curiosity of times of travel in mapping the Empire, the maps of travel times on its system of roads is only one level of the building of Rome.  Although the city’s status at the center of the empire provided a source of fascination, and a promise of classical recovery, to the humanist collector, the presence of ancient roadworks in the Tabula mirror the continued fascination with mapping presence of the antique in Rome, that have been a longstanding subject of fascination.  While Rome remained the center of the Tabula, on the far left of the three strip maps of the peninsula compressed to a single sheet, the rendering of the peninsula’s network of roads omits the deep presence of the city’s ruins–the “city within the city”–in Rome, and the extent to which the mapping of that presence contributed to how Rome was seen.

Is deeper excavation of the spatial perception of those roads, and indeed of the inhabitation of the twelve via that radiate from Rome’s walls in such a symmetrical manner–the via Salaria, via Nomentana, via Tyburtina, via Latina, via Appia–even an adequate record of one’s attachment to its pasts?

Roma.png

Rather than viewing Rome as a center of transit, a humanist mapping of the city might entail map the sense of presence of the antique by which the city has long been appreciated and understood.  The mapping of the presence of the past in Rome runs against the grain of data-driven visualizations, but might bring us to define the compelling presence of the antique in the city, challenging the notion of its primacy in a network of communication, to trace the place of the antique in the imagination of the city, as much as treating its sense of its place being impermanent.  

Indeed, the presence of the city on any map must begin from the presence of the antique in the city, and the manner that maps of Rome shape our experience of the city–and serve to shape our sense of the distinction of Rome as a site within our imagination, and our sense of space. If the conceit that all roads lead to Rome has long and continues to occupy a significant space in our mental imaginary, as well as the European highway system–

roads-to-rome

Roads to Rome

–traveling or journeying to Rome offers a limited orientation to the rich humanist history of the mapping of its space, or even of the space of the Roman Empire, if the mapping of Rome omits any traces of its historical inhabitation, or the palpable presence of its ruins.  These ruins, and their surviving remnants, drew many to Rome since the Renaissance, and has provided one of the most basic–if primal–forms of mapping the historical past, and of seeing evidence of the living presence of the concrete.  Attracted by the multiple presences that seem to coexist within Rome’s space, in ways an archeological map cannot do complete justice, as knows any visitor challenged to grasp and orient themselves to the abundance of its underlying pasts present in its ruins.  

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