Culture

Cultural Appropriation and the West

Not four months back our ears were still ringing with the shrill accusations of “cultural appropriation” leveled against those Whites who, for the duration of a mere Halloween eve, had dared costume themselves in the garb and aspect of peoples alien to them—Geishas or Indians or African tribesmen or what have you. Now, we find glowing announcement of a new television portrayal of the Iliad, which will boast a few curiosities: most important of which, for our purposes here, is the presence in the cast of Black actors, who will assume the roles of Achilles, Zeus, Athena, and the mythological founder of Rome himself, Aeneas.

Athena—the new and the old. The face of Progress itself, no doubt.

It is interesting to review the articles that have been published so far on this series; most maintain an almost pious silence regarding the racial question, and do not so much as mention the fact that the casting here is, to put it mildly, unorthodox. Merely reading these articles, without glancing at the accompanying photographs or videos, one would conclude that the only “innovation” of this series is in its taking the perspective of the Trojans rather than the Greeks, and its treatment of Helen as an oppressed housewife who finally gets fed up and runs away with the pool boy. These producers and article-writers alike would evidently like us to watch without noticing—which is, sadly, all too common in our days. Naturally, we neglect this invitation to blindness.

Nor will we belabor the more obvious double-standard, which is really too blatant to merit comment. (Imagine how these same pundits would react if someone were to suggest, say, a remake of Roots or Malcolm X featuring Whites in a number of key roles, blackfaced, to be sure, to keep historical accuracy—which, however, certainly does not seem to have much troubled the producers of this latest farce!) We ask rather: can this production be considered an act of cultural appropriation in the truest sense of the term? Which in turn begs the deeper question—what is cultural appropriation?

We might approach this question through the statements of one commentator, who greets this new series with open arms, going so far as to declare, “It’s what Homer would have wanted.” Leaving aside the question of how a second-rate scribbler might be on such intimate terms with the Bard’s intentions, his article goes on to argue that it is silly to take offense at a Black Achilles but not at an Australian Paris. This point, at least, is a good one: for does the Iliad, strictly speaking, not belong to the Greeks—and to be precise, the Ancient Ionians? And if that is so, then is it not equally the case that practically all use that is made of it is susceptible to the same charge of “cultural appropriation”?

Ingres’ Zeus. Evidently the poor devil of a Frenchman didn’t even know “what Homer would have wanted.”

Yet no one can deny that the Iliad has transcended the narrow borders of its birth altogether, and has become, as is commonplace to say nowadays, a part of our “Western heritage,” one of the “founding texts” of the Western canon. This book, which made its mark on the wider Greek culture, and thence on the Roman—this poet, against whom Virgil strove in vain, who arose to inspire the Italian versewrights of the Renaissance, whose figure and work are echoed in Cervantes and Shakespeare and Melville, whose example is graced by Dante’s favor, and Goethe’s, and Thoreau’s—this poesy, which was translated into English by men of the rank of Hobbes, Dryden, Alexander Pope and T. E. Lawrence—this Homeric tradition, I say, is an integral piece of the West. The Iliad belongs, by right of heritance, to every man who by his flesh and spirit can call himself a son of the West.

Let us be clear: we are not speaking of a work of “world literature,” which is one of these uncharacterizable and nebulous concepts like “humanity” and “equality” that everyone knows how to mouth, and no one to define. It is obvious that the works of Homer might be admired by non-Westerners, might with profit be studied by them, and might even in exceptional cases be lived by them, but these works do not belong in spirit to the “world”; they belong in spirit to the West alone, in precisely the same way that other parts of the globe have a right to Confucius, to the Buddha, to the Upanishads. We of the West have spiritual access to the Iliad, at least potentially, in a way that other peoples do not and cannot. It does not matter if we are born in Athens, in Berlin, in San Francisco, in London or Paris or Rome; this work is a work of our blood, of our Western Culture.

The existence of such a thing, of a Western Culture, is often taken for granted. Yet, as we shall find, it is the key to the entire problem of “cultural appropriation.” It is really remarkable that such a Western Culture should exist at all. We are speaking here of a culture which transcends all mere political and sociological boundaries within the West, all boundaries between the sub-ethnicities and sub-sub-ethnicities of the West, and even to some extent geographical boundaries as well, insofar as it has overleapt whole oceans and continents, to plant itself in the hearts of our colonized kith abroad. It indicates the existence of an occult kinship between all the divers parts of the West, in the form of a Western spirit. That, in our present moment of need, should be most invigorating for what it suggests about the possibilities for our future.

Now, a wakeful critic will make an easy retort to everything that has just been stated: Homer therefore belongs as much to Blacks born in the West as to Whites. For they, too, are “Westerners,” and have as much a right to this Western Culture as anyone else. It is thus only just that Blacks be accepted for roles in the representations of what is a part of their culture as much as ours.

But is this finally and unambiguously true? Will a Black man born to a Western society understand Homer? Will he understand Homer, that is to say, exclusively in a Homeric and Western spirit? Or will he “understand” him, at least in part, in an African spirit? Will he not change him to suit his particular needs and inborn tendencies, his particular and radically different heritage? Or if he leaves Homer unaltered, will that not be a sign that this Black individual himself has been in some way “appropriated,” that he has been robbed of any residual traces of his own heritage, his African heritage? Is he not compelled, by his very pride in his own traditions and birthright, to stamp their sign onto the work he now undertakes? And is this not the real meaning of “cultural appropriation”—imposing one’s own forms on another’s ethos?

The problem we have outlined here is nothing more nor less than the problem of the multi-cultural society itself. We are tempted to say that, insofar as this new “Iliad” remains loyal to the original (supposing this is even possible when golden-maned Achilleus and Athena of the sea-blue eyes are represented by Blacks), it will be but hollow; insofar as it departs from the original, it will represent rather an instance precisely of “cultural appropriation.”

The Athena of Botticelli—behind the times as usual.

Now, these ideas will be strongly resisted in the present atmosphere, because they attempt to ascribe “cultural appropriation” to some group other than Whites, whereas it is tacitly understood by all contemporary commentators that “cultural appropriation” can be committed only by Whites. It is almost even obligatory sooner or later to put a Black actor into the role of Zeus; it is not acceptable in the least to put a White actor into the role of Rumi. And this is so, quite despite the question of historical accuracy or inaccuracy, which obviously has nothing whatever to do at bottom with the question of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is that specific sin which Whites perform against the “cultures” of non-Whites; it is the latest and most subversive element of their long history of violent colonialism, imperialism, and foreign domination.

We of the Right often like to point out the hypocrisy of such positions, and more often then not we leave the matter there—as if by merely noticing the contradictory nature of these ideas we had already taken a great step toward overthrowing them. Yet there is an evident problem with this tack: it is utterly ineffectual. It does not seem at all to bother those who hold these “contradictory” beliefs. Their holders do not seem minimally troubled to hide their “inconsistency.” But this would suggest that there has been no contradiction at all—that these men actually consider themselves in some deep sense coherent. How is this possible?

We have tentatively defined “cultural appropriation” as the imposition of one’s own forms on another’s custom or ethos, an imposition which must result in a spiritual transformation of the custom or ethos in question. It is evident that to truly appropriate a culture in this sense, the appropriating culture itself must be powerful. Weak “cultures” do not have the luxury of such appropriation; they must resort, as all weaker parties, to infiltration. And indeed, this term would be much fitter description for this new “Iliad series, and like minstrelry: not cultural appropriation, but cultural infiltration, a slow invasion which can come only from within. Cultural appropriation indicates conquest by means of supple and form-giving powers; it indicates the work of a culture potent enough to subsume other ways of life into its own and to reinterpret them by its own standards and in the light of its own ideals. Appropriation is the right of the strong.

Lawrence of Arabia, reading Homer and ready to lead the Arab Revolt. Cultural appropriation, friends?

Understood in this way, a number of mysteries unravel before us: in the first place, why the charge of “hypocrisy” carries us nowhere in these arguments. For in point of fact, there has been no hypocrisy on the part of these critics. They are at bottom right: cultural appropriation really is almost the exclusive preserve of Western Culture, precisely for the unique excellence of that culture in its artistic and philosophical heritage. This Western heritage has not so much as an analogue in most parts of the world, and has shown, until its recent wane, a nigh inexhaustible abundance of vital and cultural form-giving powers. It has been able in consequence to appropriate countless aspects of the non-Western world with an astounding ease; innumerable peoples and customs have fallen beneath its thrall, as if helpless in the face of this onslaught.

This dynamic can be seen nowhere so clearly as in another recent “cinematic experience”—namely, Black Panther. This project was a conscious attempt to portray a “Black Culture” uncontaminated by non-Black interference. Yet the results leave something to be desired. For the portrayal of this “Black Culture” exists wholly within the cultural sphere crafted by non-Blacks, and principally by Whites alone. Black Panther was originally a character invented by two Jews in a principally Jewish art form (comic books), in a genre invented largely by Whites (science fiction), in a medium which owes its existence to the same (cinema). It portrays a technology which is the somewhat imaginative extension of that produced almost single-handedly by the West. It speaks an eminently Western language (English) and moves in Western artistic tropes and Western intellectual structures and Western morals, if oftentimes corrupted ones. Even the very term “Afrofuturism,” which this film has proudly adopted as its own, was first coined by a non-Black. Whatever its intent might be (going “beyond the limitations of the white imagination,” for instance), it is clear that what has happened here is really the opposite of that which was intended.

The President of a majority Black country, wearing White garb. What man among us would say he has succeeded in appropriating anything?

This pattern can be seen across the globe, time and time again. Very few peoples have had the inner strength and resiliency to resist the cultural hegemony of the West. The West imposes form; it does not receive it. It is no wonder then that those who suffer this imposition, in a ressentiment as predictable as it is natural, should seek to demonize the West in any way they can. The very concept of cultural appropriation is a slander cast against the strong by the weak. We have every right, then, to take it as a compliment.

We should waste little wrath against a Black Achilles. Our energy would be far better spent in rekindling our ancient pride in the enduring caliber of our West, and re-appropriating our own culture, that glory of the West, which will permit us to look down on all such “remakes” as this “Iliad as the sideshows they are. More importantly yet, moments like these provide us occasion to realize what is ours, what belongs to us exclusively as Westerners, and what no other peoples in all the world, save in exceptional cases, can touch in any essential way. There is something invigorating about this realization, and something to give roots and cohesion to our increasingly rootless and scattered people. If we are but wakeful in our defense of what is ours, we might find a unified Occident arising visibly before our startled eyes: for all of what we have said is subtle but sure proof, hidden as it were in plain sight, that the Occident, as a spiritual and cultural unity, exists already—

John Bruce Leonard
John Bruce Leonard, Editor-in-Chief of Arktos, studied philosophy, letters, and languages in a university curriculum based exclusively on the great books of the Western Tradition. After taking his degree in Liberal Arts he moved permanently to Italy, where he nourishes his ever-living preoccupation with the heritage and the future of Europe.

31 Comments

  • How telling that the BBC, dissembling that it only selected the best actors for the parts, should deliberately set out pollute with its ‘colourblind casting’ the very fons et origo of our culture, Homer.

    Be assured this was a calculated spiteful assault on the purity and genius of Ancient Greece. How else to explain the portrayal by an coarsly spoken ugly black woman of the very goddess whose still standing rebuilt shrine commemorates the great victory of free Athens over an eastern tyranny, whose surname and raiment epitomise spotless virginity, and whose aegis and raised spear repels the invading barbarian hordes and transfixes the impious traitor?

    Shame on the BBC! Never again should any person of our movement render this venomous nest of cultural vandals its ‘License Fee’ blood money. Throw out your TV and cancel your Netflix — enjoy the Classics undefiled, in book form, as their divine creators intended.

  • Talk of cultures as separate entities sealed in a vacuum is nonsensical. People have been communicating across “civilizations” for centuries. I take the Hegelian approach that these interactions influence and create change in both parties. The interaction of Africans and white Europeans in North America created the United States which borrows its culture from both Europe and Africa. Your lack of scholarship on this subject is no different than the Afro-Centrists that I find equally without scholarly merit. Oh, it’s TV, bro, which is about attracting an audience and making money, not furthering civilization. I guess you were upset about Idris Elba playing Heimdall as well.

    • I am confident I never made the mistake of taking “cultures as separate entities sealed in a vacuum”; indeed, my entire article is dedicated to showing precisely the opposite—namely, that in any confrontation between different human traditions, certain power relations must adhere, and the traditions in question will be modified accordingly.

      Be that as it may, it is not as if the single possible alternative to the sterile idea of mutually exclusive and radically separated “cultures,” is the multicultural idea of a free-for-all intermixing. One must discriminate here as everywhere; that is our prerogative, and our obligation, as intelligent beings. Some mixing of this kind is fertile—as I indicate by the example of Homer in the present article, and the brief description of his effect on the West. Other mixing is deleterious, and leads to nothing but confusion and decadence, or even to outright degeneracy. As an example, I might take the same American “culture” you mention. If that “culture” is taken to include contemporary music and film in the United States, or television shows, or sport, or literature (and I do not know what it could possibly mean if it does not include these things), I can only comment that all of this appears to me a visible and appalling decline with respect to the past culture of the United States, say, that of the nineteenth century, which was the heir primarily, if not exclusively, of European culture alone.

      You accuse me of lack of scholarship. Well enough; I might be ignorant in these matters, and am willing to be enlightened. Yet it seems your critique misses the point: I am not denying the effects of the intermixing of human ways; I am denying, in certain determinate cases, its desirability.

  • So how do we view the taking on of hip hop culture by whites? Are whites appropriating this culture? What can we do to circumvent it’s influence?

    • hip hop and culture are not synonymous, and hence should not be placed in the same sentence, so as to avoid syntax errors.

  • While it´s interesting to see the appropriation of White culture by non-Whites as sign that “The West imposes form; it does not receive it”… I want to point out this:
    it is BLATANT FALSIFICATION OF HISTORY !
    One of the biggest problems of the anti-White haters is history as it so clearly shows White countries without niggers -> and THAT IS WHY history needs to be falsified ! Like Stalin retouched undesired people out of historic fotos: THE JEW RETOUCHES WHITES OUT OF HISTORY ! Comment unnecessary. Écrasez l’infâme ! (and with l’infâmeI mean the jews… to prevent misunderstandings…) .

  • No one involved in this “Illiad” is culturally appropriating anything.
    Everyone involved in this production is a White or a Jew. The Blacks or other non-Whites are just actors put into roles and collecting paychecks.
    So at most this is a case of RACE TREASON, CUCKOLDRY, and or VIRTUE SIGNALING.

    Remember, we Whites really have nothing to fear from the dark peoples of the world. Our real enemies are Jews and race-traitor Whites

  • I of course admire the scholastic excellence of this article but the idea that a negro would read Homer is laughable to me ….. me who lives with negroes, shops with negroes, eats with negroes in restaurants …. me who lives 5 minutes from negro ghettoes. To suggest such a thing is as absurd as asserting that an aardvark is capable of composing a piano sonata. Trust me negroes are not reading AT ALL let alone reading HOMER !!! And THAT is what makes this casting of negroes in classical greek literature roles such an offensive affront to the senses. Might as well cast barnyard animals in those roles.

    • The thing which impresses me most about this girl above is that ..she is from the Ucraine.
      The enthusiasm with which she is also somehow ” an Italian Fascist ” is uncommon.

      But maybe it’s better if done by an Italian herself .
      But my favorite from this Italian fascist musical group , ” Viking “, is “The Hymn of X Mas” , a sort of Italian Marines in WWII , the most heroic and the most fascinating of all Italian military corps of the last Fascist resistance , headed by the Black Prince Valerio Borghese , who ,after the war became the true mind (and arm ) behind the New Right in Europe :

      This is also a message to those hopeless, white MGTOW’s …. yes ,there is such thing as a White Woman out there ..stop the whining.

  • Time for the black ethno-state , where the first , original men can live freely from the enslaving , oppressive influence of the albino devils .
    A concentr…huummm.. I mean a free camp where they can concentrate on themselves and their superior , more peaceful culture .
    Call it Negrovada , Negraska , Negrojersey , Negrohampshire or Negromexico , but BUILD THAT WALL !

    • Amen to that! It is really time that the Originating Race shows us how to produce technologically, intellectually, and morally superior societies. I, for one, look hopefully forward to the day that that the darker regions of the world will learn us paler folk a few key lessons in pacifism, order, and hygiene—and above all, in art, philosophy, and culture. No doubt that day is fast dawning.

      • Not that it even matters , but on the “Origin of Man” …I personally don’t believe in ANY modern paleontology .
        I don’t trust a single word that comes out of a modern paleontologist mouth anymore.
        I don’t believe paleontology is even vaguely an attempt to a science anymore , and it hasn’t been one for a long time.’
        Paleontology is now nothing but blind , political-philosophical faith.
        The Gauls ,the Spartans and the Celts derived from the Bantu ?
        Yeah.
        Right.

          • Totally off topic , completely unrelated but this is one thing that has been in my mind for quite a while now and it seems to be missing regards to this site, its content and the Alt Right cultural discussion s in general , and I don’t know where else to put out this thought :
            What about an article or a section on Ezra Pound ?
            Fascinating man, fascinating and educational story ..

          • Ezra Pound ” Greatest Hits ” , from his pro-Mussolini radio broadcasts from Italy , in English ,directed to the British and American people.

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