Author Archives: Rose

Che’s Beauty/the Pretty factor

I was interested in the repeated references to the “prettiness” of the Korda Che as the root of its appeal.  Of course, Casey starts out by saying that the sexiness of the image is not nearly enough to explain its widespread and long-living popularity.  This seems like a substantial claim; Casey justifies it by saying that although

“linking rebellion and sex has always sold well…Elvis, the Beatles,…James Dean…but…if it had been nothing more than the superficial packaging of chic rebellion, the mass marketing of the image would have milked it dry years ago, killing its appeal…the resilience of the Che…icon…lies in the political reality…, not in the stylistic interpretations advertisers later gave to it” (32-33).

Yet although the book is supposed to be about all the things that go into the Che image that are not based on its sexiness, the pretty factor returns again as the most basic reason why all of the other appealing aspects of the photo can exist at all.  Alberto Korda is described as discovering his interest in photography when he was a young boy fascinated by “’the immense attraction of the image itself,’” and he kept a scrapbook of “’things he found pretty;’” when he did start taking pictures it was to “capture that image,’” rather than to be published (73).  Korda’s world is described as “a veritable parade of beautiful women” (74). Che is described as “a striking-looking human being, supremely photogenic:” the perfect subject for a fashion photographer who is interested in images above all else (89).

The book concludes with a crew of journalists interviewing a 14-year-old girl called “Chica del Che” because she always wore a Che T-shirt.  The interview was mostly intimidating to the girl, who “seemed to assume she was being subjected to a history exam” (345).  Mostly, she was unable to say anything articulate, and most of what she did say were erroneous tidbits about Che’s life.  However, Casey points out that the few genuine explanations she did offer were along the lines of, “’Because he is beautiful,’” and “’I always sleep with him;’” Casey’s point is that her version of Che “was bound up in ideas of beauty, love, and dreams…what she sought in his image was beauty” (346).

I thought that where Casey went with this point was really interesting.  He considers the girl, Jaquelin, to have a future that “is fairly bleak” (346).  Realistically, he considers that “her escape from this depressing situation [lies] not in political mobilization but in the refuge of beauty” (347).  In this case, beauty refers not only to the glamour or “prettiness,” but also to the way in which “making the …Korda Che a part of herself …allows [her] to dream, to imagine, to believe in magic, to do all those things that make her human and give her life purpose” (347).  This seems like the most interesting of all the contradictory uses of the Che image.  He is used by communist and capitalist camps alike, but the tenacity of his expression and the ideas he represents (even where they are debated) seem to at least all amount to a call to action.  Here the image is being used as a way to make peace with an underprivileged existence.

Form + Function

Bourdieu talks about a demarcation between “high” and “barbarian” tastes being about the functionality of the art-object.  The line between art and not is determined the “intention of the producer,…[which] is itself the product of the social norms and conventions” (29).  Bourdieu then makes the point that the work also depends on the beholder’s intention when viewing an artwork.  The reading makes the case that this intention will differ significantly depending on the beholder’s background.

In effect, Bourdieu has added the element of class to the discussion of how art is perceived.  He has broken up Kant’s various layers of interpretation (from the basic sensory delight to the more nuanced, layered cognitive process that must go into a real aesthetic judgment), and applied different aspects of these to different people.  Kant, on the other hand, had assumed that all people perceive things in basically the same way.

Two phenomenon are interesting in illuminating this idea.  First, that legitimate works tend to lose their legitimacy once they become popularized (14).  Second, that “a relatively large proportion of the highest-qualified subjects assert their aesthetic disposition by declaring that any object can be perceived aesthetically” (36).  These two seem contradictory: if a work is popularized, it should appeal to the less educated strata as well as the very highest.  This would mean its legitimacy would only be lost for the middle group, but the same quote suggested that the popularization of good work lent it a “middle-brow” sensibility.

The second quote suggests that the highest educated/class of people will appreciate work that is both functional/narrative/representational as well as formalistic.  In Kantian terms, this should be a coincidence between the sensory “delight” and the cognitive understanding.  It seems inevitable that the collision of these two will lead to a better artistic experience.

This merging of form and function seems to mirror Benedict Anderson’s recurring argument of threes.  With regard to decolonization, he suggests three types of nature: the original, “pristine,” pre-colonized nature, then the rebuilt nature of the colonizers, and finally the third nature in which the decolonized people must take both their original land and the reality of colonization into account to make a third, relevant nature.  In the same way, maybe the best way to experience art is to combine a popular aesthetic with a formalist framework, then find a “third” way.


just spent forever trying to make my bibliography narrower and it’s still too wide.  Any tips?  What’s going on?  Why can’t I just copy and paste my word document?

Annotated Bibliography: Kill Bill as Parable

Annotated Bibliography

Bronner, Simon.  American Folkore Studies: An Intellectual History.  Kansas: University
     Press of Kansas, 1986.
The final chapter is called “Folklore in an Era of Communication.”  Bronner discusses
the ways in which our current technology affects which folktales survive and how these
have changed.  His focus is on how the approaches to scholarship of folklore changed,
which is useful to me because I gain scope in terms of how stories have been interpreted.
  This will provide context for the Marxist reading in which stories reflect the dominant
ideas of the ruling class.  This chapter will also be particularly useful in that it is
taking the institutions that result from capitalism (progress in communication) and looking
 at how this institution affects our storytelling.  This is relevant to my attempt to study
 a cinematic story.

Ellwood, Robert.  “A Japanese Mythic Trickster Figure: Susa-no-o.”  Mythical Trickster
     Figures: Contours, Contexts, and Criticisms.  Eds. William Hynes and William
     Doty.  Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1997.  141-158.
Ellwood discusses the two chracterizations of the Japanese trickster figure, Susa-no-o. 
On the one hand, the character is a disruptive outsider, but on the other hand, he is
“a benefactor of humankind” and as such represents a “fertility figure, slayer of monsters,
thief of light…the archaic sacred king” (142).  The tension between these two is the basis
of the essay, which is relevant to Beatrix Kiddo’s character in Kill Bill.  She is painted
as an outsider, and her trickster status is open for discussion, but she is certainly a
“fertility figure” and a “slayer of monsters.”

Greverus, Ina-Maria.  “Clothing: Necessity, Prinzip Hoffnung, or Trojan Horse?”
     Folklore on Two Continents.  Eds. Nikolai Burlakoff and Carl Lindahl.
      Bloomington, IN: Trickster Press, 1980.  250-259.
Greverus discusses the implications of clothing, originally placing clothes as the
 indicator of Adam and Eve’s “Fall.”  She notes that fashion is seen as an aspect of
 capitalist society, and that the implications of clothing go beyond the needs they
 meet and instead acts as a symbol.  This can be a subversive symbol or one of status.
 In Kill Bill, over-the-top costumes (such as the heroine’s yellow jumpsuit) play an
important role in the aesthetic of the film, and this essay will be useful in considering
 the possible readings of this costume.

Hyde, Lewis.  Trickster Makes This World.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.
Hyde analyzes the many uses of the “trickster” figure in mythology and folklore. 
He considers how the stories told highlight certain essential qualities of this figure,
namely, its ability to exist outside of the normal society, to confound polarity, to “lie,”
to overcome appetite, and to “poach” the habits of other creatures.  This text is useful as
a model of analysis in terms of uncovering how a story reflects what is important to a culture
and a people.  The trickster figure is also present in certain ways in the characters in Kill
Bill, many of whom are existing on the periphery of the dominant culture and surviving by
their wits.

Krappe, Alexander.  The Science of Folklore.  New York: Norton & Co., 1930, 1964.
Krappe considers folklore as an attempt “to reconstruct a spiritual history of Man,
not as exemplified by the outstanding work of poets and thinkers, but as represented by
 the more or less inarticulate voices of the ‘folk’” (xv).  This work includes a chapter
on each of various types of stories: the fairy tale, merry tale, animal tale, local legend,
 migratory legend, prose sage, proverb, folk-song, popular ballad, charms/rhymes/riddles,
superstition, plant lore, animal lore, custom/ritual, magic, and folk-lore/myth/religion. 
Problematic in this text is the assumption of a Darwinian (or at least very hierarchical)
development of societies.  Also considers that “in the city proper…the typical proletarian
is the most traditionless creature imaginable” (xviii).

Kvideland, Reimund.  “Stories about Death as a Part of Children’s Socialization.”
     Folklore on Two Continents.  Eds. Nikolai Burlakoff and Carl Lindahl.
      Bloomington, IN: Trickster Press, 1980.  59-65.
Kvideland’s essay discusses the ways children see death: before age five, it is a
separation, from age five to age nine it is personified, and after age ten it is definite
 and unavoidable.  Next, the essay addresses how death is manifested in various children’s
stories, and how these presentations affect the way a child might interpret death.  This issue
 is relevant both internally to the Kill Bill story—there are various children characters who
experience death of a loved one or cause death of another creature—and also to the film as a
story itself, which children and young people will consume.

Luthi, Max.  “Imitation and Anticipation in Folktales.”  Folklore on Two Continents.
      Eds. Nikolai Burlakoff and Carl Lindahl.  Bloomington, IN: Trickster Press, 1980.
Luthi discusses the use of imitation and anticipation: the repetition of similar events,
 the generally unsuccessful imitation of other characters which generally ends in disaster.
  He discusses these devices in their effect on the teller and the listener and also their
 implications for how life is lived and how children develop.  This is relevant to Kill Bill
 because of the recurring theme of learning from and imitating the various “master” characters.

Ozaki, Yukio.  Warriors of Old Japan and Other Stories.  Boston and New York:
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1909.    
A retelling of various Japanese folktales.  I will analyze these since part of Kill Bill takes
place in Japan, and I suspect that many of the characters are influenced by Japanese figures.

Snyder, Blake.  Save the Cat: the Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need.  Studio
     City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions, 2005.
Snyder considers cinematic stories as falling into certain categories, including the
“golden fleece” story in which a character is in search of something, and the “dude with
 a problem” story in which a character must solve something.  The relationship between these
“genres” (really story-types rather than genres in the traditional sense) bear an interesting
relationship to types of parables and folktales, and this theory of cinema can act as a bridge
between Kill Bill and folklore theory.

Stone, Kay.  “Fairy Tales for Adults: Walt Disney’s Americanization of the Marchen.”
     Folklore on Two Continents.  Eds. Nikolai Burlakoff and Carl Lindahl.
      Bloomington: Trickster Press, 1980.  40-47.
Stone emphasizes the fact that though Disney cartoons are considered to be for children, in
fact, they are designed to appeal to a wide audience.  Furthermore, the characters are
changed in fairly drastic ways from the original tales (for example, Snow White is a teenager
 rather than a 7-year-old, and she is not afraid of the dwarves (42)).

Virtanen, Leea.  “Contemporary Responses to Legends and Memorates.” Folklore on
     Two Continents.  Eds. Nikolai Burlakoff and Carl Lindahl.  Bloomington, IN:
     Trickster Press, 1980.  65-70.
Virtanen examines how people respond to stories about supernatural or fantastical events.
 Her conclusions are that there are a particular set of psychological responses, ranging from
 a trivialization in the form of an explanation, to a recognition of possible credibility,
which was found to depend on the person’s experience with the phenomenon in question.  This
essay can shed light on how audiences interpret and classify the supernatural aspects of Kill Bill.

von Franz, Marie-Louise.  The Interpretation of Fairy Tales.  Revised Edition.  Boston:
     Shambhala Publications, 1970, 1996.
von Franz analyzes fairy tales within a Jungian framework, basing her readings off of the
assumption that the characters represent archetypes rather than normal human egos.  von Franz
believes that all fairy tales “endeavor to describe one…psychic fact…what Jung calls the Self,
which is the psychic totality of an individual and also, paradoxically, the regulating center of
the collective unconscious” (7).  She takes fairy tales as indicators of the psyche.  Furthermore,
 the assumption of archetypical characters is an expression of the idea that humans are born with
 certain qualities.  Her method consists of examining the time/place, characters, problem, and
conclusion of the stories (39-40).

von Franz, Marie-Louise.  The Feminine in Fairy Tales.  Revised Eddition.  Boston:
     Shambhala Publications, 1972, 1993Discusses the ways in which women are presented in fairy
tales.  Fairy tales are taken as stories about ordinary people (as opposed to myths, which are
about gods).  She discusses “the anima—that is, man’s femininity,” which is relevant given that
 the heroine of Kill Bill was created by Tarantino, a male.  Fairy tales are generally both about
 the anima and the real woman, depending on the telling.

Reclaiming Geography

I found Said’s discussion of the “geographical element” of decolonization to be particularly interesting.  First of all, geographical occupation by an outsider is the most obvious aspect of colonialism.  The psychological effects of this occupation therefore seem worthy of attention.  Said says the “geographical identity must thereafter be searched for and somehow restored…the land is recoverable at first only through the imagination” (225).  Yet in many cases, the actual geography has been changed by the colonizer in order to “transform territories into images of what they had left behind” (225).  The original, natural landscape is also transformed in order to optimize industry.  Said refers to this transformation as “second nature” because the landscape is evolving according to the rules of production.  Thus he claims that the colonized people must discover a “third” nature that is based on the real “deprivations of the present” (226).

First I want to unpack the idea of “second nature.”  Capitalist societies in general produce “a particular kind of nature and space, an unequally developed landscape that integrates poverty with wealth, industrial urbanization with agricultural diminishment” (225).  This is an interesting idea.  In a place where the state controls all property, space will develop differently.  In a capitalist economy, there will be slums as well as wealthy neighborhoods.  But how would communist be defined geographically?  In capitalism, there is an emphasis on private property, so the geography mirrors the classes: a few wealthy individuals own a lot of “nice” space, whereas many proletariats own practically no space, and the space they do have is not considered valuable.  In a communist society, there are no classes so space would theoretically also be more equalized.  Yet the analogy doesn’t quite work, because in capitalism people own land so it makes sense to make people analogous to their property.  In communism, the state owns the land so it is feasible that the connection between people and geography is not as strong.

Imperialism is presented as the extreme form of a capitalist geography.  The colonized people must invent a way to reclaim “their” land.  Yet isn’t this putting things in capitalistic, land-ownership terms?  In some ways imperialism is not only an example of capitalism, but also an example of communism-gone-wrong, where the state owns all the land and is seen as an alienated, external force from the people.

Early in this chapter, Said mentions in passing “a standard imperialist misrepresentation…that exclusively Western ideas of freedom led the fight against colonial rule…and claims the fight against imperialism as one of imperialism’s major triumphs” (199).  This idea seems incredibly telling of the ways in which decolonization analysis often functions.  In this case, the misrepresentation fails to take into account “the reserves in Indian and Arab culture that always resisted imperialism” (199).  This is relevant to Said’s case about geography.  Colonized people must reclaim their land by doing so in their imaginations and creating a “third nature.”  In other words, decolonization must be more than just claiming  ownership in the same way the colonizers did; the reclamation must be within the culture of the colonized.

“Kill Bill” as Parable

I have completely changed my paper topic.  Instead of looking at glamour, I am going to look at how certain stories shape our consciousness, “false” and otherwise.  In particular, I will use the “Kill Bill” movies as an example of present-day story that has taken hold on popular culture and public imagination.  This choice is also relevant as a type of cinematic indicator, since Tarantino uses so many references to other films and other styles/genres of filmmaking.

So far, much of my reading has been about the “trickster” figure in mythology.  For example, the protagonist of much Native American lore is a coyote or raven.  Hermes is also an example in Greek mythology.  “Tricksters” share characteristics such as an ability to wriggle their way out of traps, to exist on the edges, to adopt other animals’ ways of survival, to confound polarity (ie trick others into thinking down is up or visa-versa) and to deny their apetite in favor of some other goal.

I am interested in what this figure means about the cultures that tell stories about it.  Stories seem like powerful ways of reading a society because so many values are embedded in them.  This is particularly true for parables, or stories where “good” and “bad” are painted clearly.  The valuative aspect becomes all the more clear in children’s stories, which have a “good” protagonist and a “bad” antagonist who tempts the protagonist to break the rules.  Yet so often the protagonist is a transgressor, and almost always falls for the temptation. Thus it seems clear that the trickster figure still exists in our culture and, despite being a rule-breaker and a boundary-crosser, nevertheless has a great hold on popular imagination.

My argument is that Beatrix Kiddo, the protagonist of “Kill Bill,” is a type of protagonist similar to the trickster in that she can cross boundaries between regular society and the underworld.  Furthermore, a huge part of her character has to do with learning how to discipline herself (ie denying her momentary “apetite” or fatigue in favor of a future conquest).  The entire premise of the film is related to revenge and a search for justice, which is a justification for enormous brutality.  This brutality, in turn, is also culturally indicative.  The movies are told in chapters, which can be treated as distinct episodes dealing with archetypical characters.  The stories have to do with discipline, determination, the Wild West, and the struggle between master and student, to name a few.

My main question, then, is as follows: when analyzed as a sort of parable or legend, what can the themes and characters in the “Kill Bill” films tells us about our culture and consciousness?  How are these (culture and consciousness) related to our economic means of production?

This second question is obviously the link the Marxism, and will have to be expanded upon quite a bit.  There are two approaches to this question.  First of all, how do the figures and concerns raised in the film relate to consumerism, capitalism, and the ways in which Americans exist economically?  Second, how do the behind-the-scenes aspects of the film relate to consumerism, capitalism, etc.?  These questions may turn out to be circular.  In other words, I’m asking how the film’s subject reflects our economy.  I’m also asking how/why the economic realities of Hollywood made this film come about.

Brenda Hillman, “The Eighties”

This “essay” or poem is just a list of a bunch of things.  I thought it was interesting as a possibility for summing something up, ie “culture.”

Marx: Also Stuck in a Bourgeois Culture + Determination

Back when we were reading Marx, we brought up the irony of the whole enterprise, and particularly of “false consciousness.”  That is, Marx is claiming that the dominant class controls the means of production and also the dominant ideology.  Thus consciousness is a product of the means of production.  This is elaborated in The German Ideology, I believe.  My group pointed out the irony of Marx claiming both that people are stuck in their placement under the dominant class/production, and also claiming to be able to see past his own placement in order to come up with his whole idea of a teleological progression of history.

Williams acknowledges this irony, which was a great relief!  He says that one of the reasons that certain of Marx’s terms are narrowly understood (in this case, “productive forces”) is because,

“if you live in a capitalist society, it is capitalist forms that you must analyze.  Marx lived…in a society in which indeed ‘the productive forces appear to…constitute a self-subsistent world.’  Thus in analysing the operation of productive forces…it is easy….to slip into describing them as if they were universal and general.  …Marxism thus often took the colouring of a specifically bourgeois and capitalist kind of materialism” (92).

This is just one reason that Williams points to for a common interpretative error regarding Marxism.  This error basically consists of an exaggerated separation between components and results.  Alternatively, there is too much of a uniform, static understanding of the “base.”  In general, Williams seems to make the case that Marxism often distills concepts to such an extent that they are over-simplified and cause a gap that in fact the very thing that communism is seeking to unify.

This error can be illustrated with regard to the concept of determination.  Williams cites several definitions of this term: “setting bounds,” “setting limits,” or “to put pressure on.” (84).  The first two definitions imply “something beyond and even external to the specific action which nevertheless decides or settles it” (84).  This impulse to externalize the determinant is basically boils down to the belief by people that “the control of the process was beyond them, that it was at least in practice external to their wills and desires, and that it had therefore to be seen as governed by its own ‘laws'” (86).  Williams then points out that this attitude was essentially the very thing that Marx set out to overturn.

Williams encourages a reading of Marx in which there is not such a separation.  Rather than setting an “objectified” society against “individual wills,” he claims that society “is always…a constitutive process with very powerful pressures which are both expressed in political, economic, and cultural formation and, to take the full weight of ‘constitutive’, are internalized and become ‘individual wills.’  Determination of this kind…is in the whole social process itself and nowhere else” (87).


Preliminary Bibliography:  The Glamour-Gaze

Andy Warhol.  Ed. Annette Michelson.  Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, c2001.

Barnard, Malcolm.  Fashion Theory: a Reader.  London; New York: Routledge, 2007.

Berger, John.  About Looking. New York: Vintage International, 1991.

Berger, John.  The Sense of Sight. New York: Pantheon, c1985.

Berger, John.  Ways of Seeing. London: British Broadcasting Corporation; New York:  Penguin Books, 1997, c1972.

Brown, Judith.  Glamour in Six Dimensions: Modernism and the Radiance of Form.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009.

Clark, Kenneth.  Feminine Beauty. New York: Rizzoli, 1980.

Cresap, Kelly.  Pop Trickster Fool: Warhol Performs Naivete. Urbana: University of  Illinois Press, c2004.

Critical Response to Andy Warhol, The. Ed. Alan Pratt.  Westport, Conn.: Greenwood  Press, 1997.

DeJean, Joan.  The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion.  New  York: Free Press, c2005.

Francis, Mark and Margery King.  The Warhol Look: Glamour, Style, Fashion. Boston:    Little, Brown, 1997.

Gundle, Stephen.  Glamour: a History.  Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Howe, James.  I Create Glamour.  Mount Morris, IL: P. & S. Pub., 1941.

Hughes, Robert.  Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists.  New York: A.A. Knopf: Distributed by Random House, 1991, c1990.

Ideals of Feminine Beauty: Philosophical, Social, and Cultural Dimensions.  Ed. Karen A. Callaghan.  Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Illouz, Eva.  Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery: an Essay on Popular Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, c2003.

Roberts, John.  Philosophizing the Everyday: Revolutionary Praxis and the Fate of Cultural Theory.  London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, 2006.

Unseen Warhol.  [Interviews by] John O’Connor and Benjamin Liu.  New York: Rizzoli, 1996.

Wilk, Richard.  Economies and cultures: Foundations of Economic Anthropology. Boulder: CO: Westview Press, c2007.

Terms from Contradiction & Overdetermination

(I actually wrote this before the lecture, I just didn’t get to type it up b/c I was out of town and computerless!)

Detangling of some terms:

“Contradiction” in the Hegelian dialectic is “simple” (103).  Based on passed reading of Hegel, I would describe this contradiction as between the internal consciousness, “Spirit,” and the external lived reality.  Althusser echoes this and points out the implications:  “…the reduction…to one principle of internal untiy,…possible on the absolute condition of taking the concrete life of a people for the externalization-alienation” (103).

This Hegelian contradition is related to the “superstructure,” which is basically the State.  Hegel describes the mission of this apparatus as being: “to consummate itself in art, religion, and philosophy,” to be “the ‘truth of’ civil society” (110).  In other words, the state externalizes the internal experience of civil society; it is an expression of the Spirit.

For Marx, “contradiction” is historical and is described as the basis of revolution.   As series of historical contradictions; their “accumulation and exacerbation” caused “the weakness of Tsarist Russia” (95).  For Engles, “superstructure” is composed of “various elements” of “the political forms of the class struggle and its results [such as] constitutions,…, juridical forms…, regligious views and their further development into systems of dogmas..”(112).  This seems to encompass the State, which is placed as one of many elements of civil society (rather than the superstructure, as in the case of Hegel).

Yet for Marx/Engles, the state is very different: it is “an instrument of coercion in the service of the ruling exploiting class” (110).  It is just one of many superstructures through which “History ‘asserts itself’,” or really, through which the economy, or mode of production asserts itself.