Making history

In Che’s Afterlife, Casey does a good job of showing the process through which history is made. First, I liked his analysis of how Che’s writings are his attempts to control what others think of him: “Indeed, in stripping out facts, sanitizing, embellishing, or otherwise altering details for the official record, Che played a hands-on role in the construction of an apocryphal Cuban history. The book shows Che as both censor and poet, the Homer of Cuban mythology” (53). It’s interesting that one of the first people to manipulate Che’s image is Che himself. Not only did this writing influence what others thought of him, but it actually influenced how Che himself acted. As Casey points out, his actions almost seem determined by what he has already written, by his expressed beliefs: “In writing down his ideas he pushed himself to do as he preached, lest he be found guilty of the same apathy and fear of which he accused Communist Party leaders, whom he blamed for neglecting the rights of the poor to a liberation struggle” (55). As Casey would have it, Che influences Che’s actions through his writing.

This same historical “creation” plays out later in Casey’s analysis of a famous photo Alberto Korda cropped (but did not actually take) that, through the cropping, does not show Huber Matos, who Castro killed later because of his questioning of Castro’s regime. Here, Casey quotes Korda explaining why he kept certain images from being published: “Why? Because in fifty or a hundred years, there will be people writing about the Cuban revolution and this [archive] is a historical fact” (82). Korda recognizes that each image, as it is interpreted, becomes a historical fact—the reproduction of the print can give voice either to the unity or the disrepair of a regime. Interestingly, Korda expresses the same thing Casey reads into Che—that history is a process of negotiating meaning through reproductions of things that can be read (images, texts, etc). It brings to mind Raymond Williams’s discussion of the “selective tradition”, whereby certain meanings are selected out of the vast array that are possible in order to maintain control over a population.

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