Category Archives: reading responses

Just a last minute addition.

Debate between Lawrence Lessig and Andrew Keen, as promised.

As well as,

Quick note on Jenkins…

I found Henry Jenkins’ Textual Poachers to be very relevant and a unique application of the Marxist thought and critiques that we have read this semester. Jenkins’ text brings up many interesting questions about the influence of fan culture, especially on the original work. I always found it somewhat puzzling that the creators of the work would be opposed to fan-created materials because I didn’t think it would have a significant impact on the original work, but Textual Poachers led me to understand that this type of interpretation can actually change its meaning. By reinterpreting the original text, fans influence future interpretations, and the original work will become conflated with the fan text. Jenkins bring up the notion that reading is no longer a passive activity and fans now have the ability to actually change the original meaning. On the other hand, I do believe that many of these fan cultures truly bring value to the original work because we make the meaning. While I am not very familiar with the fan culture surrounding Star Trek, it seems like the show would be nothing without the fans. I also found Jenkins’ thoughts of female social predispositions toward fandom particularly interesting, especially his observation that females are more inclined to interpret the story whereas men tend to stick to the original story.

Korda vs. Fairey

After reading the introduction the first week of class, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the rest of Che’s Afterlife. On account of my research paper topic, the Shephard Fairey image of Barack Obama was at the forefront of my mind while reading Casey. Korda’s image of Che resembles the Fairey image of Barack Obama and both men have essentially become brands that can be bought and sold in a public marketplace. However, Che’s consumer appeal was established primarily after his death, whereas Obama is in the midst of making his own brand and legacy. It is problematic that in both cases, the images of these two extremely influential men do not necessarily stand for their beliefs or causes but have come to represent more of their commercial appeal. Ironically, Che once said, “man really attains the state of complete humanity when he produces, without being forced by physical need to sell himself as a commodity”. While the image of Che is meant to be a symbol of his anti-capitalist beliefs and still partially holds this meaning, the Fairey image serves no other purpose than to market Obama. This explicit difference between two ostensibly comparable images illustrates how celebrity and branding has made its way into politics.

A Twist on Marxism by Casey

Throughout the semester we have been exposed to various texts by Marx and his followers, such as Gramsci, Althusser, Fanon, and Said which heavily criticize or at least question the effects of capitalism and colonization. Yet, now we move a bit away from the criticism of capitalism to an understanding of its relevance in marketing iconic images of subversion, such as “El Che.” In his analysis of Che Guevara Casey reflects on the irony of what Che stood, which was an opposition to the predatory spread of capitalism, and the way that his image has now become part of its consumerist system.

The strength of Casey’s book centers on the symbolism and re-appropriation of the image of Che. Why do people use this icon or symbol by wearing the logos? I would argue that many people who consume Che do not really know who he is. I personally have experienced this when I asked people who wear this logo if they know who he is and most do not, nor what he stood for. I think what is important is to explore the appeal to Che. Casey does this by discussing the sexy image of a young virile Latino revolutionary man. This also reminded me of the way that Marcos (Zapatista subcommander) has become an icon through the media. Could it be for the same reasons?

I also thought it was interesting the way that Casey included alternative versions of Che’s image from the voice of the son of a man who was assassinated by Che. I thought this was interesting because I have actually read about Che and watched the various films about his life, and this idea of his murderous side has not been something I reflected on.

I think Casey’s book is very interesting and a nice conclusion to our analysis of Marxism and Cultural Studies in the sense that it makes the theory relevant to our (U.S.) society today. I found myself really enjoying this book. I think that what makes his book interesting is really the appeal that figures like Che have for us.

Judith Butler’s Lecture info.

As part of the upcoming conference “Becomings, Misplacements, Departures: Butler and Whitehead as Catalysts for Contemporary Thought,” organized by the Whitehead Reseach Project (see their website ), and partly supported by a grant from the Bradshaw fund of the Humanities Center of the School of Arts and Humanities, world-renowned philosopher and critic Judith Butler will hold a special session for SAH students.

This seminar will take place 2:00-4:30pm in Albrecht Auditorium on Thursday, December 3. Professor Butler will read some pages from her book Giving an Account of Oneself (Fordham, 2005), and then answer questions and engage in dialogue about the book and the issues it engages.

All currently enrolled students in Arts and Humanities are welcome to attend this seminar (and the conference, which begins after the seminar).

Capitalist Casey?

Casey’s analysis of the Che image is unique among our readings in that it does not derive from a complete critique of capitalism.  Though Casey is quick to point out the contradictory and ironic ways people have used the Che image, turning it into a Che himself into a commodity, he is not illuminating these instances to show how capitalism is evil and awful and must be overcome but is impossible to overcome, as many of our other readings have.  Instead, Casey, particularly in his descriptions of Cuba’s current political and economic situation, is quick to criticize anti-communist ideals.  On page 284, he calls Che “hyperidealistic” and shows the ways his ideas decreased productivity.  Casey goes on to cite economists who claim that “society pays a high cost for suppressing the individual’s drive for material betterment,” a mainstay of capitalist dogma.

He goes on to describe those who “agitate for social change” as “idealists” and asks “Why can’t we believe that human beings can change?” (284-285).  Casey does not seem concerned with finding real, material ways to promote societal change, instead (in a rather Hegel-like move) taking the discussion back to grand questions of human beings and the human spirit.

This was confusing and rather unsatisfying to me.  I have, because of the way we have discussed the evolution of cultural studies, assumed that cultural studies must be based in a critique of capitalism and the desire for material change.  But is this really the case?  Can a work like Casey’s instead make capitalism seem inevitable and – gasp – beneficial?

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.

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.

Che, Remixed

Thanks to the cultural entrenchment of the image on a global scale, Korda’s Che graphic has become iconic; that is to say, it carries a multiplicity of meanings and interpretations, and has come to not only represent a vague spirit of revolution but the process of globalization itself. As Casey says on p. 260, the sort of specialized co-opting of Korda’s image that occurs differently in each country is a method of “legitimizing [that country’s] place in a supposedly unbroken global narrative of revolution and rebellion.” Since the image has indeed grown to encompass more than Che’s legacy and ideals, how does one dismantle the many narratives (some of them ideologically opposite of one another) that all lead to an exaltation of Che as a representation?

Starting on page 267, Casey examines several instances of what I would call image remixing. From parodies to deliberate political subversions, the Che image has been reworked and combined with other “socially installed” images in order to capitalize on the instinctive public reaction to the image and other visual stimuli (i.e. the skull Che on 270). Artist Sergio Langer says he reinterprets the graphic and other cultural markers “without devotion or respect.” This rejection of boundaries of taste and of historically ingrained significance hearkens back to the postmodern notion of pastiche and constant deconstruction/distrust of ideology and its visual hallmarks. By pitting two cultural forces against each other within a symbol (such as “El Reagan” on p. 268) a cultural critic draws attention to the images as empty vessels waiting to be imbued with meaning – and also contributes to a global cultural which recognizes itself as a giant remix.

Author Dominick Strinati helps to elucidate this in An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture, which delves deeply into postmodern phenomena. In his discussion of the remix, he mentions  “the quoting and ‘tasting’ of distinct [elements] in order to create new sub- and pan-cultural identities.” This helped me to get more of a grip on Casey’s stance, which does not seem to be that recreating the Che image weakens it ideologically, but subsumes it into a rapidly congealing global narrative. The remixing of the image contributes to that “pan-cultural identity” in that completely disparate populations are equally capable of recognizing the significance of the image; it is available for global consumption. It has completely eclipsed its original historical context.

Immoral Appropriation of Images?

Angela McRobbie’s notion that “representations are interpretations” which Radway mentions in the introduction of Reading the Romance seems pertinent to Casey’s discussion of the image of Che. Michael Casey, rather frustratingly, seems to flip back and forth between describing the meanings associated with Che as a social construction: “We are not passive viewers of Korda’s frozen moment, which for all its beauty is really just a static template. No, quite the opposite we have collectively filled the image with meaning” (5) and, describing it as an image with an innate importance. For example he argues that Korda “had captured the unspoken essence of Che” (45). Though perhaps the latter example just demonstrates that Casey too gets caught up in the glorified and romantic notion of Che as a handsome, powerful, alpha-male, revolutionary.
Casey notes that it is this sensation of seeing the true “essensce of Che” which gives not only the image, of the texts written by Che their great appeal: “The appeal of reading Che’s words….comes from the sensation that they are hearing the pure, unfiltered, voice of an icon” (56). Which leads me to the questions that Che’s Afterlife really raised for me (I haven’t read the whole thing so this may just sound silly.) Dick Hebdige describes bricolage as the practice by which subcultures reassign meaning to various mainstream culture symbols or artifacts. The Che image has come to symbolism many things, yet it is grounded in the notion of resistance to capitalism. I wonder then, to what extent you can appropriate a symbol without knowing the history behind the image. Clearly, this can happen, but to what extent is it more or less powerful to appropriate an image while being aware of its historical meaning. Perhaps powerful is the wrong word. It seems as though it is almost theft or at the very least simply a disrespectful gesture to make use of a symbol which you do not know much about. Particularly in situations such as Che’s image which is grounded in a story which involved a great deal of death.