Author Archives: calvin

Che photo as art

From an aesthetic perspective, I found the choices which the photographer, Alberto Korda made in his production/distribution of the image to be interesting. First, the fact that he chose to crop the image, taking it completely out of context and immortalizing El Che as some sort of statue bust floating in a gray haze. I think that this is the major aspect which affected the popularity of the image as an icon rather than a photograph (to be honest I really sort of forgot, as I’m sure many people do that the image itself actually came from an original photograph and thought that it was drawn or produced in some other way). Second, I find it interesting that the image did not make it out until 1967, after Che’s untimely death. In a sense, the fact that both the image of his dead body and the Korda image came out at the same time crystallized his portrayal as a martyr and an icon of revolution. On one hand, as Casey puts it, the death picture exudes some sense of serenity in a Christlike way (not a weakness which his killers had hoped to portray), while the Korda image takes care of the powerful, moral figure side of his culturally constructed self. I think in a sense the images work together to piece Che into the icon we see in the Korda image. I really liked the first chapter because it deals with the aesthetics integral in the creation of the icon as well as breaks down the creation of the image, and it’s significance at the time it was shot. Really it helps to put the photo, not the icon into context for me.

contextual poachers

This phenomenon of reading deeply into what would have previously been perceived as “low culture” (reading the romance as well as this essay) in order to extract elements of academic merit is at times baffling to me. I had to step back from the reading and remind myself exactly what we were talking about (how easy it is to get swept up in the prose). It is very hard for me to see these star trek fans as creating/having any kind of agency due to the fact that at the end of the day they are merely over consuming mass media to the point of it’s logical end. Having said this, I have to add that I did really enjoy The Velveteen Rabbit connection at the beggining of chapter two, I think it really helped me to put the whole thing into a larger perspective rather than focusing my efforts on trying to accept star trek as valid (truthfully my opinions here will always show through, I hate Star Trek). The idea that something becomes “real” or validated through the “loving” of that thing is such a simple yet beautiful understanding of culture (I’m a die hard velveteen rabbit fan, or I used to be…). I think I will make this my credo from now on. Can something be canonized within culture through the hating of it? Could the author have just as easily dissected the culture of furbies or something to that effect?

Sooo… I changed my mind

After our little talk about postmodern art sensibilities and how I thought they were straying from the “right or wrong” of modernism, and becoming more accesible to “low” culture, I came across this…

Patrons decide what is good. Saatchi etc. And people like Koons and Hirst ride thier coatails. Nothing has changed.

Bordieu vs. Contemporary Art

I found most of the first part of this essay interesting in specific regards to Bourdieu’s readings of tastes in art and music in relation to class and status. As mentioned in previous posts, Bourdieu points out specific aspects of art that people of lower, bourgeois classes prefer in comparison to the arguably more complicated aspects of artwork that the upper classes prefer. I did disagree, or felt that some of these distinctions between artistic aspects were a little outdated, and making connections with art that aligns itself with modernism. Today I feel like art comments more broadly and has a harder time being divided into groups of high brow and low brow. Take someone like Damien Hirst for example, an artist who deals with extremely lofty themes, yet presents them in a visceral form, appealing to anyone who likes a great white shark in a tank of formaldahyde. In this sense, I don’t think that art today holds the answers as clearly for creating distinction among class as much as it used to.

I found it interesting also the ambiguity which Bourdieu describes the impact of musical taste. On page nineteen, he states that music is the most “spiritual” of the arts, and having an interest in music makes one “spiritual”. He goes on to discuss the re-readings of religious/spiritual music by the secularized, what he argues is a valuable aspect of culture today. Bourdieu aslo claims that music is the “purest” of art forms because “it says nothing and has nothing to say”. Again, here I feel that his interpretations are slightly outdated, coming at a time (late 60s was his research for this book) when jazz was still on the brink of being canonized in the academic world. Not to say that jazz is loaded with overt meaning, or strays from Bourdieu’s reading of musical spirituality, but in many ways, jazz is itself a rereading of religious music by the secularized.

I found Bourdieu’s readings into taste interesting, yet a bit dry and dare I say outdated? I felt that Hebdige had a better grasp on what taste meant to people today (although, as Hebdige argues, by the time we figure out about it, it’s gone), a view that was a little more accesible for me.

Anotated Bibliography: The Commons

Hardin, G. (1968). Tragedy of the Commons. Science, 162, 1243-1248.

This is the seminal essay on the topic I strive to discuss in my essay. Hardin is the first to address many of these issues, and although there are a handful of criticisms of this essay, it remains one of the most important in the field. Hardin outlines the social/economical/ecological issues that bring about the over exploitation of common land. His major point throughout the essay is that common land, for example a field used by multiple cow herders, can be ruined by the lack of communal thinking and slight “selfishness” of a few individuals.

Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action Ostrom, Elinor, Cambridge University Press, 1990

Elinor Ostrom is a legendary political economist with a major focus on management of common land. She actually just won the Nobel Prize in Economic Studies in 2009 and was the first woman to do so.  In this piece Ostrom coins the term “common pool resources” to describe resources shared by different groups which are generally over exploited in the self interest of each single group. The two major solutions here are privatization or control by central government. Ostrom proposes an alternative method of control by cooperative institutions run by the user groups themselves.

Ostrom, Elinor, Gardner, Roy and James Walker, ed. Rules, Games, and Common Pool Resources. Ann Arbour: University of Michigan Press, 1993.

In this book, Ostrom and friends expand upon the previously proposed ideas behind Ostrom’s common pool resources. The authors here utilize game theory in order to make predictions about the user groups of common pool resources. In this sense the book has more of a scientific angle to it than any of the other books in my bibliography, which I think will add a nice alternative aspect to my evidence throughout the paper.

Benton, Ted, ed. The Greening of Marxism. New York: Guilford, 1996

This book is a compilation of essays, many of which are possibilities for my paper, but the specific one I’m thinking of using is Marxism and the Environmental Question from the Critical Theory of Production to an Environmental Rationality for Sustainable Development by Enrique Leff. I will use this essay, along with a few of the other prospective pieces in this book to bring in Marxist ideas to my essay.  Leff proposes that, ” Marxism in fact offers the theoretical basis needed to demystify the dominant neoliberal discourse and to clarify the current conflict between the conditions of sustainable capitalism (based on the expansion of investment, production, markets, and profits) and those of ecological and environmental sustainability.”

Lessig, Lawrence. The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World. New York: Vintage Books, 2001.

This book provides a different angle from which to discuss ideas of the commons. Rather than a physical thing, Lessig uses the internet as a model for the commons, and shared  knowledge as a metaphor for environmental resources. I don’t plan on discussing the internet directly in my paper, rather, I will use Lessig’s theoretical ideas on common resources and connect them with the above authors’ ideas on environmental resources.

Marx, Karl and Engels, Frederick. The German Ideology. (1845-46) Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976.

In this piece, Marx and Engels touch on a multitude of important aspects regarding everything from conservationism to the privatization of land. As the earliest piece I will use out of my sources, this seminal essay set the standard for what would later come. The aspect of this essay I find most important to my piece is the break down of the effects, and the history of privatization of property.

Latour, Bruno and Weibel, Peter ed. Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy. Boston: MIT press, 2005.

This book is a collection of meditations on democracy by a group of different writers from different back grounds. This book will serve to beef up my abstract ideas about commons as well as ideas of privatization as well as making resources public. Although not aligning itself directly with many Marxist ideals, the book proposes radically new ways of looking at democracy, and at the role of politics in a republic. These ideas will add a fresh perspective to some of the dryer methods of Marxism.

Said’s Subtlety

The more diverse our readings in this class get, the more I realize that I appreciate the calculated subtlety and nuance of Said and Williams over the radicalism of Fanon or Althusser. For me, there is something to be said about acknowledging the intricacy of an issue, as Said seems to do in his discussions on imperialism and colonialism.

The specific example I’m thinking of is his acknowledgment on page1 19 of Fanon’s theory of “national bourgeoisie”, and their ideological domination of the colonized, post colonization. Now having acknowledged this as a legitimate issue, Said brings up the converse side of this relationship in a discussion on immigrants of colonized countries to the cities of their colonizers (Algerians in Paris, Indians in London etc.) and the enormous impact they have made on the western cultures of these major European cities. To me, this is an extremely important aspect of imperialism which is generally overlooked in other accounts such as Fanon’s. Not to say that I find it a positive aspect of imperialism, it is merely an aspect, not to be overlooked.

Playing into this more over-arching idea of imperialism presented by Said, is his warning against “compartmentalizing” histories of imperialism. He addresses the issue on page 28 as such, “…it is one of the virtues of such conjunctures of politics with culture and aesthetics that they permit the disclosure of a common ground obscured by the controversy itself. Perhaps it is especially hard for the combatants directly involved to see this common ground when they are fighting back more than reflecting.”

Said’s dissection of culture and imperialism offers something more accessible for me than the moments of rage, and promotion of violence. Maybe this comes from a colonial education, such as that of Said’s (and to a certain extent, mine), but I find his points to be more useful and grounded than Fanon’s.

Paper Proposal Round 2: Public Land

So after a bit of research for my bibliography I decided that it would be a tough task (that there really isn’t enough solid, specific literature) to write on the single subject of the national parks system in the united states. Due to this, I would like to broaden my paper to focus on the much wider topic of public land throughout international history, framing it of course in both the broad arena of cultural studies as well as contemporary conservation theories (specifically the aforementioned article which ties together these two fields of study).

I would like to begin the essay by talking about the idea of the “town common”, a method of public land allotment used by new englanders beginning pretty much as soon as townships were formed in the late 17th and early 18th century. I want to focus on how this use of land strengthened community and developed alongside methods such as town meetings and other community oriented activities. I want to touch upon the eventual shift away from this model as well.

Other examples I would like to cite as interesting, community focused land use are those of the Scandinavians, specifically the national parks systems in both Sweden and Norway, comparing them with that of the United States. Both these countries favor a much more open use of land for their citizens in terms of national parks (Professor Zuckerman at Pitzer has provided me with some readings of interest in this area during his Scandinavian Culture and Society class). I will look into the pros and cons of this more community oriented system of land conservation and how it has effected the national opinion as well as the state of the land itself.

Finally, and this may be a little cliche but I feel that it fits the model of this paper, I would like to discuss current theories on community farming in the united states and abroad. I see many of Marx’s theories emerging in today’s small farms and produce production (ughhh, had to use it), especially the ideas presented by Marx in German Ideology regarding the unavoidable exhaustion of resources which capitalism threatens.

Although this paper topic has more opportunity to remain slightly more disparate than the previous pitch I made, I feel that I will be able to create a strong vein of Marxist theory throughout all it’s parts. Suggestions on more specific directions and readings are always appreciated.

Emphasis on Violence in Wretched of the earth

This book, along with the piercing preface by Jean-Paul Sartre is up there as one of the most outright critical pieces of literature I have ever read. The two hold no bars in singling out all of the major issues with the colonialism of the world. Fanon does so to the extent of offering violence as the one option for decolonization. This is an idea we see emphasized by many of the worlds most well known and “successful” revolutionaries and critics of colonialism (che, castro, Subcomandante Marcos, Zapata etc. etc.). When reading on violence all I could think of relating it to was Malcom X and his famous line “by any means necessary”, in reference to the methods he believed in using to decolonize America’s relationship with it’s black population.

Whatever justification Fanon or any of the aforementioned revolutionaries use for the use of violence as an act of decolonization, it is still something that I struggle with personally, and that I believe anyone attempting to make a revolutionary act feels similarly towards. The example which I reference in my thought process is again that of the different ideological systems of Malcom X and Martin Luther King jr. Today we recognize both men as incredible important in the fight for black rights in the united states, yet each believing in a very different methodology. I don’t know that Fanon or Sartre would even place King’s work in the category of decolonizing.

I can’t say if I believe outright in the use of violence either way, it is something that I have always wrestled with in discussing these theories, yet I know that it creates an enormous gap between two groups who seek similar ends.


“Marxism and the environmental question: From the critical theory of production to an environmental rationality for sustainable development” from the journal, Capitalism, Nature, Socialism

Making Things Public: atmospheres of democracy edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel

The National Park Service- By William C Everhart

Conservation: Linking Ecology, Economics and Culture- by Monique Borgerhoff and Peter Copolillo

Conservation Laws and Symmetry: applications to economics and finance- edited by Ryuzo Sato and Rama V. Ramachandran

This is it so far, after a bit of research, along with A lot of the readings we’ve used in class of course. If anyone knows of some more applicable titles I would reallllly appreciate some help.

Williams: clear and concise

In reading Raymond Williams Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory, I found many of Marx’s major topics illuminated in a way that most of the other authors we have read truly could not do. Williams’ writing is direct and concise, making it very possible to follow in terms of genealogy of thought. I also enjoyed the way in which is essay was structured, beginning with an exploration of the nuanced meanings and relationships of base and superstructure to contemporary society, and ending with what I felt to be a brilliant definition of art and art analysis in it’s relation to cultural studies.

Williams simple yet perfect examples also, for me helped to clarify some of the cloudy systems of Marxist thought. For example, in defining one idea for representations of base and superstructure, Williams uses the example of the piano maker, the piano seller and the piano player. Maker and seller both falling into the economic category of base, and the piano player, falling into the category of superstructure. The division here being one of economy and production and more of a leisure activity defined by said base, yet equally important in the definition of culture. This example for me also explains the complicated and not completely determined relationship between the two which Williams’ essay seeks to prove.

Williams’ continues to show the delicate relationship of base and superstructure in their creation of culture by addressing ideas of alternative and oppositional aspects of culture, or cultures themselves. He says on page 43, “…in certain areas, there will be in certain periods practices and meanings which are not reached for. There will be areas of practice and meaning which, almost by definition from its own limited character, or in its profound deformation, the dominant culture is unable in any real terms to recognize.” This is an important aspect of dominant culture that Marx fails to recognize or address, but that I feel adds a degree of complexity to his articulations of culture.

Finally, and most importantly, Williams ends on the ideas of art and literature, some of the most complicated in terms of the definition of culture. Williams again illuminates and interesting contradiction, that of the work of art seen as both an object and the “alternative view of art as practice” (47). His  quote at the bottom of page 47 rings true for me in the analysis of art in terms of cultural studies: “What this can show us here about the practice of analysis is that we have to break from the common procedure of isolating the object and then discovering its components. On the contrary we have to discover the nature of a practice and then its conditions.” This quote shows the importance of the artist within society,whose job today is to push boundaries of the definition of culture, and eventually, moving from oppositional theories into a more commonly accepted “truths” through ideas of “practice” and its “conditions”.

Williams theories here hit home for me in terms of trying to define art, the most complicated and nuanced asprect of culture, through a clear exploration of relations between base and superstructure and how they relate to a broader sense of art in culture. For these reasons I really enjoy a lot of Williams writings as well as those of other English scholars of Marx like Stuart Hall and Perry Anderson in that they tend to present clear and concise understandings of contemporary cultural studies.