Posted by: Dan | August 16, 2012

On Che

Lately I’ve found myself thinking a fair bit about Che Guevara and, for the first time in years, went back and revisited some of his writings (there were a few quotes that had come to my mind and I was thinking about them a lot, so I wanted to read them in context).

He is a pretty fascinating character…. yet I’ve noticed that many of those currently involved in “activism” or “counter-cultural activities” desire to avoid any mention of Che. This isn’t simply because Che espoused violence, whereas all the poseur radicals are some of the most morally righteous and thoughtful pacifists you’ll ever meet.  No, this is because of the way in which the image and memory of Che has been successfully branded and marketed so that, while Che came to be a symbol of genuine revolution back in the day, the image of Che today represents those who pretend to be revolutionary but, in fact, are nothing more than poseurs whose pseudo-activism actually contributes to the smooth functioning and expansion of global capitalism (the sort of thing explored in Heath and Potter’s great little book, The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t be Jammed — appropriately, the cover of that back, in the edition I have, features a picture of a mug bearing the image of Che).

So, in a way I suppose that it’s appropriate that most of the “activists” avoid Che’s image.  They don’t want to appear to be poseurs and so, instead of acting in genuinely revolutionary ways (as Che did), they simply pose like non-poseurs by avoiding the images associated with poseurs.  This is as it should be — such people should not be associated with Che (and maybe they know that, and hate being confronted with their own hypocrisy, so that may be another reason why they avoid the t-shirts… altogether too uncomfortable).

The solution, however, is not to allow those who brand and market the image of Che to control his legacy.  The solution is not to bear the image of Che but to act like Che (and thereby end up bearing the brandmarks of Che upon one’s body, as Paul says about another state-executed terrorist in Galatians 6:17).  Here are the two quotes I have been meditating upon.  Both are from his message to the tricontinental:

[Solidarity] is not a matter of wishing success to the victim of aggression, but of sharing his fate; one must accompany him to his death or to victory.

And this:

Hatred as an element of the struggle; a relentless hatred of the enemy, impelling us over and beyond the natural limitations that man is heir to and transforming him into an effective, violent, selective and cold killing machine.  Our soldiers must be thus; a people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy.

Che, again like Paul, was an apostle of love (remember the motorcycle diaries?).  This hatred is a symptom of his love and his solidarity with “the victim of aggression.”  Let us meditate upon these things.

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Responses

  1. You are probably already familiar with (fellow traveler with Che’) Brazilian activist/playwright Augusto Boal and his “Theater of the Oppressed,” (based on his good friend, Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”) but something in your phrasing–”They don’t want to appear to be poseurs and so, instead of acting in genuinely revolutionary ways (as Che’ did), they simply pose like non-poseurs by avoiding the images associated with poseurs”–reminded me of an interview Boal gave just before he died. Although he was born Brazilian, Boal wrestled with his “whiteness” and his position of relative affluence throughout his life. Below, Boal describes how he came to revolutionary theater and describes a particular incident that I think resonates with your questions:

    “In Rio de Janeiro, in the working quarters of Rio. And then, every morning that I went to work with my father, when I was twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old, and then I saw all those workers, and I saw how they were oppressed. And always, I was preoccupied with them. I was fascinated by how could they not rebel if they were so oppressed. 

And then, my beginning, it was at fifteen years old; I started writing plays about them. And I was in a moment in which I thought that as I was not oppressed as their oppression, I was not in the same circumstance, and I was pretending to be an artist, I was superior in some way. And then I said, “I’m going to teach them what they have to do to fight.” So I entered in the line of the political theater of the ’50s, of the ’60s, in which they had messages to give. 

And one day I learned that I did not know more than they did, unless in the theater. In the theater, yes, I knew more. But their lives, they knew more than I. And it happened on a day when I was working for peasants in the northeast of Brazil, and I was doing a play in which the protagonist said, at the end said, “We have to spill our blood to save our land.” And then we were all singing, dressed like peasants. We were not peasants; looking like peasants, but we were not peasants, and saying, “You have to spill your blood, our blood, to save our lands, to reconquer.” 

And then a peasant came to us and says, “Well, you think exactly like we do. So why don’t you take your rifles,” because we had rifles on stage, very beautiful, colorful rifles, and he said, “Why don’t you come with your rifles, and let’s go to fight against some landowners that occupied our land. We have to spill our blood.” And then we said, “Forgive us, but our rifles, they are not true. They are fake. They are setting rifles.” And he said, “OK, the rifles are not true. They are not real rifles. But you are sincere, so you come, because we have rifles for everybody. Let’s fight against them.” And then we said, “No, we are truly artists, not truly peasants.” And he said, “When truly artists say, ‘Let’s spill our blood,’ you are talking about our true blood of truly peasants and not about yours.” 


    Now I never really thought about it that way DanO, that is, that by NOT wearing my Che‘ T-shirt I am actually a bigger hypocrite than when I do wear it; because when I wear it, at least then everybody recognizes what a hypocritical poseur I am! Well, Che’ is still staying in my closet, and I kinda figure that the crucifix I wear around my neck is symbol enough of my hypocrisy. Like the prop in Boal’s play, the cross I carry is like that fake rifle, and continuously someone or something calls on me to face up to what that cross means, to actually live it out in some way, and then I am shown up for the poseur I am. This happens many times every day, meal to meal, privilege to privilege, pleasure to pleasure; and every cross I paint is another testimony of my faithlessness. But I am not any more ready for a real rifle than I am ready for a real cross. And although I don’t have enough love in me to carry a cross, I can still work up plenty of hate for my enemies, but just not enough to kill them, because I keep seeing my own face in them.

    Thanks for the thoughts, Obliged.

    Oh, here is link to something on the “Theater of the Oppressed.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9ssVq1HM78

    here is a link to the Boal interview: http://www.democracynow.org/2009/5/6/augusto_boal_founder_of_the_theater

    again, obliged.

    • Hi Daniel,

      Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I did enjoy your comment and I appreciated it (as per usual). I am somewhat familiar with Boal but never looked into him in detail because I’ve always felt that it was the arts — especially the “revolutionary” arts that so often was on the forefront of corrupting, watering down, and taking the edge off of revolutionary movements, symbols, language, and so on. (Sorry! I know that art can also serve other functions, even within the revolution and all that… it’s just more often I think it does more harm than good. Shoot… sorry again!)

      That said, I agree that I see my own face in the face of my “enemies” (or, rather, those who act as though they are the enemies of my friends)… but that’s partly why I have no problem if any member of an oppressed population were to take violent action against my person. Fair enough, right?

      Yours.

  2. At the grand old age of 33, I am starting to believe that the only genuine course of action is “suicide in solidarity”. This is something I am not capable of, and my life trajectory so far seems to stand in the way (as a wife and mother to a young child). Also I’m not sure it would achieve all that much. So I’m aiming for a second best type of trajectory, because second best is better than nothing at all.

    • There’s a saying that second place is simply the first loser… that said, I agree and identify with pretty much everything you said in your comment, Dany. I’m working on a post that details my thoughts on that in more detail — kinda feel like, after twelve or so year, I’ve sorted how how I think change is likely to be accomplished (of course, thinking I’ve “finally” sorted that out probably makes me an arrogant prick but whatevs). Two options — one that I think is the best option (the suicidal solidarity that I’m not practicing) and one that I will be exploring for awhile in my life (a form of non-suicidal solidarity).

      Much love to you and yours.

  3. Your recent comments on this idea of suicide in solidarity (although I assume the suicide isn’t compulsory, just a by-product), which I have also been struggling with, made me wonder. Is this grief partly related to new parenthood? Dan and Dany, I’m of a similar age/stage to you both, with a three year old, and I think that becoming a parent is what has brought me up hard against what is possible, what is desirable, what is reasonable, what is pragmatic, and what actually happens, and especially to the fact that in my experience these are often all different.

    Solidarity-type things that I used to think I made a reasonable stab at pre-child are now mostly either incredibly difficult or inapplicable. Secondly, I want the ‘best’ for my child and this often doesn’t line up with my ideas of solidarity – for example, he’s had chronic ear infections and we’ve been able to see the doctor as often as ‘necessary’.

    [Conclusion: includes a lot of assumptions. No offence meant.] So I wonder if, having lived idealistic lives pre-child, part of what is similar for us in this grief about how we aren’t living in suicidal solidarity is trying to figure out what it does mean to live ethical and just lives in the context of family responsibilities.

    My experience may not resonate with you at all. Even if it does, I don’t think there’s an answer that I’m willing to choose at this stage (not even really second best). Although I’ll read your coming post with interest, Dan :)

  4. “If we want a love which will protect the soul from wounds we must love something other than God….”
    Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace p. 62

    I reckon y’all are already quite familiar with Simone Weil, still, it seems that Weil is present in so many discussions here with DanO (along with Edith Stein, Hannah Arendt, and Rosa Luxembourg. Btw, there is a great book of just such intercourse. I personally find the most affinity with Stein and Weil). Now I don’t like prescribing books and quotes like medicine or vitamins, but sometimes a brother or a sister can share a passage or two and it can bring back to our mind something we already know and have forgotten, or even give us just one more angle of reflection on our situation even while confessing that it is never enough, certainly not enough when engaging subjects like “suicide in solidarity.” Like this from Weil, “On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God”:

    “…It is not for man to seek, or even to believe in God. He has only to refuse to believe in everything that is not God. This refusal does not presuppose belief. It is enough to recognize, what is obvious to any mind, that all the goods of this world, past, present, or future, real or imaginary, are finite and limited and radically incapable of satisfying the desire which burns perpetually with in us for an infinite and perfect good… It is not a matter of self-questioning or searching. A man has only to persist in his refusal, and one day or another God will come to him.”

    It is the context, the imprimatur, of Weil’s whole life and death (and that of so many other “saints” like Edith Stein) that makes these verses important to me, and that help me survive and hope day to day, thus far. Obliged.

    Oh, and since I am always trying to foster some appreciation of poetry in DanO; and since when one thinks of any of the kinds of possible suicides, certain people always come quickly to mind, so here is a poem by one of my favorite (suicide) poets, Paul Celan:

    The trace Of A Bite in Nowhere

    It too
    you must combat
    from here out.

    Illegible this
    world. everything doubled

    Staunch clocks
    confirm the split hour,
    hourly

    You, clamped in your depths
    climb out of yourself
    for ever.

    I Hear, The Axe has Flowered,
    I hear the place is not nameable

    I hear, the bread that looks at him
    heals the hanged man
    the bread his wife baked him

    I hear, they call life
    our only refuge.

    Pour The Wasteland into you eye sacks,
    the call to sacrifice, the salt flood,

    come with me to breath
    and beyond.

    Don’t Write Yourself
    in between worlds,

    rise up against
    multiple meanings

    trust the trail of tears
    and learn to live.

    again, obliged.

  5. Don’t think DanO has read much Weil yet (or I guess we would have heard more about it here), but keep pushing it! Thing is I’m more interested in people’s actual lives than what they write about. So it is true that Simone Weil took some serious steps into solidarity solidarity with the oppressed, first as a student when she joined the workers at a factory (for a set ammount of time), and then by joining the fighters of the spanish civil war. She eventually died back in the UK after being repatriated after a serious injury. She refused to eat more than the rations that were available to her comrades back in the war, even though she needed more nutrients to have a chance at recovery. The doctors saw this as suicide.

    This is not the suicidal solidarity I’m talking about. If we look at the movie Motrocycle Diaries which you might have seen, to me suicidal solidarity would have meant joining the destitute mine workers and not keeping a safety exit route. Alternatively, you can keep an initital exit stash fund and find that after a while it dwindles and you could never use it to “exit” anyway (I wrote about his here: http://donotfreeze.blogspot.com.au/2008/08/in-praise-of-situated-non-decision.html .

    Before I got married I thought about this for a while. I thought that I should ditch it all, drop my studies, and book a flight to India and see what happens. I didn’t have set of massively useful skills or any money in the bank at all, so I wondered whether it really was such a good idea. I could have picked up the language fairly quickly. But then I was also aware of my needs. I had been very lonely and desperately wanted to be loved forever by someone. I was afraid to become a burden to others because of an ill-prepared and ill thought-through brand of crazy idealism that wouldn’t last two years. I hadn’t counted the cost. Then when I got married I realised I was turning away from the suicidal solidarity option.

    I see what Jesus did as suicidal solidarity, though I sometimes wonder what the thinking behind it was, and that his solidarity was meant to achieve something other than just suicide. Not incidentally, the penal substitutionary forgiveness of sin. But the faithfulness to a truth that could not be denied no matter what the cost (i.e. that he was God and that God is Jesus-like), the certainty for the oppressed of knowing that God was with them no matter what they went through, and the realisation for the oppressors that they’s better not go about crucifying people if they fear God at all.

    I very often wonder whether the apostles were married and had kids. Leaving them behind to go get martyred somewhere distant seems so cruel. Maybe there are ssituations in time and space that call for just that, and maybe this was one and maybe there are some situations like that in our own time. I don’t know. I take some comfort in knowing that Jesus loved the homey women at Bethany, atlhough we know little about them, so a lot of what I take comfort in are my own projections.

    My second-best option is to run a Bethany of sorts, be the most Christian household we can be, orienting our love and resources outwards, and using the love of God to turn strangers (even gritty ones) into friends who are in loving relationships with God and with their neighbours.

    Even that is easier said than bloody done though…

    • Thanks for the link to your blog, I don’t know why I’m just finding it, I don’t think you ever offered a link before. Like you, I’m also more interested in peoples actual lives and struggles and less and less interested in theories or theology (one gets a nice potpourri of all here with DanO). As for ‘suicidal solidarity’ well, whatever y’all are up for is fine with me, or I can wring hankies and wallow in self-indignation with the bet of em. There is that old saying though by (was it Kierkegaard or Robert Duvall in “The Apostle”?) who made the point that if we were drowning we wouldn’t refuse to be helped and would just criticize someone trying to save us because they still had one foot on the shore. True, that analogy offers pretty big escape clause for we privileged folk, and for most of us it’s more like we’re partying in our extravagant beach house and our Guatemalan maid interrupts our discussion comparing the luxury features and abundant cup holders of the brand new Audi 9000LXE to last years model in order to tell us that she thinks she sees someone drowning out in the surf. Irritated at the intrusion we snarkely tell her “well, just call 9-11 or something and then bring us some more shrimp puffs.” Still, ‘…as much as you have done it to the least of these….even a cup of water in my name’….whatever….obliged.

  6. I’m also real wary of the Tolstoy derive (in later life, he spent all of his waking hours blaminig himself in fantabulous details on pages and pages and pages for not being able to live the Christian life). It wasn’t entirely vain though… He still managed to be Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite author with that kind of stuff. But I just don’t do the Tolstoy bit anymore. Been there, done that. Leads me nowhere.


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