Thursday, April 04, 2013

"Che": A Movie Review.

I. "Che was the most complete human being of our age." (Jean-Paul Sartre)

I planned to see a new film based on the life of "Che" Guevara. Unfortunately, I may not be able to see the movie at this time. I expect that the film -- or an edited version of it -- will receive a wider circulation sometime in the Spring of 2009. I hope to see it then -- if not in a theater, then certainly in a DVD version, eventually.

Being unable to see this movie has fostered an interest in the life and writings of Che Guevara.

I have decided to read Guevara's essays along with some biographical material. I will then write a commentary examining Guevara's mind and achievements. I have studied Guevara's work over the years. I plan to do so more seriously in the future.

After writing the foregoing paragraph, I did see the movie starring Benicio del Torro. I think it is a good movie with an epic quality, a film worthy of David Lean, which should have received greater recognition in the U.S. The cameos in Che are worth the cost of the DVD. An especially unexpected surprise was (I believe) Franka Potente (?) as "Tanya." Matt Damon speaking flawless Spanish is not to be missed.

I thought it was the best cinematic treatment of Guevara's life and the events of the Cuban Revolution. Benicio del Toro was compelling and effective in the title role whatever one may think of the person and events that inspired the film.

This is a movie about political romanticism and ideals, struggle and tragedy. The film suggests that meaning is essential to any life-project requiring each person to define the commitments for which he or she will make the ultimate sacrifice.

Che's final "victory" may have been the orchestration of his own death in such a manner as to advance his cause through the transformation of his life into a symbol for the world.

For me, aside from family loyalties and loves, there is the principle of human dignity and rights, including rights of expression, that are worth dying for because -- without those rights -- we become something less than human.

I will continue to write despite anticipated efforts to destroy these writings.

Fascism is always offended by intelligence and artistic beauty, even more by the independence of any individual's conscience in the continuing global struggle for social justice. I can respect a person's courage and sincerity without necessarily agreeing with his politics or opinions. ("Fidel Castro's 'History Will Absolve Me.'")

Why not offer me -- and all others -- the same respect? ("Time to End the Embargo Against Cuba.")

I will make it a point to seek out materials pertaining to the life and work of this man whose ambiguous legacy inspires such continuous hostility from the same people, I believe, who are censoring and threatening me.

I never met Guevara. I am not a Communist. However, I have "experienced" (there is no other word for it) harassment from the sort of persons who routinely demonize Guevara. At his worst, there is no way that "Che" could be as stupid (or evil) as these Cubanazos whether Miami-based or Jersey tomatos.

I am a democratic socialist. Accordingly, this commentary is from the Left of the political spectrum. I prefer the company of any opponent of the fascist "normality" that a strand of mainstream American culture crams down the throats of so-called "weirdos." I shudder to think of the progroms and concentration camps that would immediately emerge if these rabid and anti-intellectual Cubanoids were ever given political power anywhere. I am mortified at the thought that they have, in fact, been given (or stolen) political power in parts of the United States of America, like New Jersey or Florida. ("Marco Rubio Lies About His Past" and "Menendez Charged With Selling His Office.")

My problem with many Cuban-Americans, whose politics happens to be different from mine, is that they seem not to understand the idea of toleration and rights to disagree on the part of dissidents from their views.

I am just as insistent on their freedom of expression to disagree with me, publicly, as I am to express my opinions. The essence of democracy is the right of anyone and everyone to disagree with the powerful few.

My feeling in reading about and studying the life of "Che" Guevara is that, as a devoted revolutionary who sought to change the world -- more than most, Guevara succeeded in the effort to do just that -- "Che" also felt the pull of ideas and was drawn to philosophy as an essential component of his revolutionary efforts.

Guevara read Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and many other philosophers, engaging in dialogues with Sartre and many leading intellectuals of the twentieth century.

I place the word "Che" in quotation marks because it is a nickname, a "Cubanism," based on affection for an Argentinian hero in the Cuban national pantheon.

"Che" (the word means "what?" in Argentinian Spanish) is also used as a trivializing diminutive by the same bourgeois elements that seek to denigrate all progressive movements as childish or unrealistic, "unmanly" and "naive" -- these terms are applied to Guevara -- who would have laughed at them. (Compare "Fidel Castro's 'History Will Absolve Me'" with "Roberto Unger's Revolutionary Legal Theory.")

"Che" is transformed into a patronizing epithet in some quarters. Hobbesian fascists are always suspicious of ideals or values that seek to elevate humanity.

Right-wingers see human beings as beyond redemption, fallen, so that social-meliorism is a waste of time.

I believe (along with Secretary Clinton and President Obama) that "we can always make things better."

A British concern with decorum, for instance, is seen in this summary:

" ... properly [emphasis added] Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (1928-1967). Argentinian Communist revolutionary leader. He graduated in medicine at the university of Buenos Aires (1953), then joined Fidel Castro's revolutionary movement in Mexico (1955), then played an important part in the Cuban revolution (1956-1959)" -- and beyond, as a symbol? -- "and afterwards held government posts under Castro."

Chambers Dictionary of Philosophy (Edinburgh: Chambers-Harrap, 1990), p. 637.

A t-shirt with the image of Guevara morphed into a "Planet of the Apes" creature is worn by some Cuban-Americans. "Che" as a term of affection is great; "Che" as an insult for a fallen fighter is unnecessary whatever one may think of Guevara's politics and life. Save the insults for the living. Have the decency to deliver them face-to-face.

After twenty years of behind-the-back attacks against me, I am beginning to understand what Guevara must have felt. As I write these words noise fills the room where I find myself struggling to speak freely in a nation that guarantees "freedom of speech" to all.

It is a strange experience being ignored by police, prosecutors and elected officials -- after bringing objective evidence of censorship and serious crimes to their attention -- then being assured by our leaders that laws are applied equally to every citizen in America.

"The philosophers have only understood the world," Marx sighed, "the point however is to change it."

"Che" is among the first generation of revolutionary philosophers who appreciated that understandings of the world are also transformations of reality for billions of powerless people. This is especially true in a symbolic order and system of meanings that has become dynamic and fluid in ways unsuspected, even in "Che's" lifetime, that are reflective of new technologies and images in a media age.

Malcolm X came to the same realization of his own global responsibility for persons of color in a world that deprives billions of people -- people, like me, who are silenced -- of meaningful self-images or opportunities for self-expression.

To be a "revolutionary" is a calling and responsibility that some persons cannot avoid even if they would like to avoid that fate. Angela Davis and Assata Shakur fall into this category of persons called by history to play a role in political events. ("What is it like to be tortured?" and "Aaron Schwartz, Freedom, and American Law.")

There is no question that Guevara was at least twenty years ahead of everybody, except for a handful of thinkers during the fifties and sixties -- including Castro and Malcolm, Dr. King and Robert Kennedy -- in appreciating media not only as a weapon in political revolutions, but as the locus of political struggle and "meaning" for the future.

Our battle today for freedom must take place in a realm of images and meanings. Hence, Fidel's latest comments concerning the importance of ideas to the future of revolutionary struggle and prescient warnings about a possible nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and North Korea.

What real artists must do in postmodernist cultures is to bring about "revolutions in consciousness." This will remain true whatever you think of Fidel Castro. ("The 'Matrix': A Movie Review" and see Picasso's "Guernica.")

"Subjects of knowledge are embodied and practically engaged with the world, and the products of their thought bear ineradicable traces of their purposes and projects, passions and interests. In short, the epistemological and moral subject has been definitively decentered and the conception of reason linked to it irrevocably desublimated. Subjectivity and intentionality are not prior to, but a function of, forms of life and systems of language; they do not 'constitute' the world but are themselves elements of a linguistically disclosed world. [cinema?] ..."

Jurgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, p. ix (Thomas McCarthy's "Introduction.")

May we refer to the dance of image and reality, Being and ideas as a "dialectic"? I believe that the term "dialectic" describes many realities today, including my writings at these blogs.

Guevara once said to Fidel that their friendship and discussion was a "dialectic."

There are many kinds of dialectic, including the "discussions" in which we find ourselves placed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The persons inserting "errors" in these writings have made it very clear that the language of civilized discourse is not one that they speak. These N.J. goons are "suicide bombers" and "terrorists" of the Internet. ("What is it like to be tortured?" and "What is it like to be censored in America?")

I welcome a "dialectic" with my Cuban counterparts that is respectful of equality and human dignity. If only New Jersey were capable of such a respectful dialectic so much human suffering could be avoided: Claire Heinrich & Lisa Fleischer, "$29.4 BILLION Budget Deal is Reached: Lawmakers Ease Blow to Poor and Disabled," in The Record, June 22, 2010, at p. A-1. (As a result of decades of massive theft of public money and other corruptions, poor and disabled residents of New Jersey will suffer more than all other sectors of society from essential budget cuts. This claim is more true today than ever before.)

Today's guerrilla fighter lives in the underbrush of televisual imagery and cinematic forms, Internet discussions and imagery. Movies become a common discourse or a language of politics and law, justice and interpersonal relations for the people who then become what Mao called: "the ocean in which revolutionary fish must swim":

"We have predicted that the war will be continental." Guevara writes: "This means that it will be protracted; it will have many fronts. ... It does not matter, so far as the final result is concerned, whether one or another movement is temporarily defeated. What is certain is the determination to struggle which ripens day by day, the consciousness of the necessity for revolutionary change, the certainty that it is possible."

"Che" concludes:

"This is a prediction. We make it with the conviction that history will prove us right. An analysis of the subjective and objective factors in America and in the imperialist world points to us the accuracy of these assertions based on the Second Declaration of Havana."

Guerilla Warfare: A Manual, pp. 90-91. ("The Arab Spring?")

Again:

"We socialists are freer because we are more complete; we are more complete because we are freer."

"Che" laughingly says, again, "this is called dialectics." Then,

"We will forge ourselves in daily action, [including aesthetic and political creativity,] creating a new man [and woman] with new technology."

Man and Socialism, p. 138.

It is because ideas, images, poetry and politics are properly feared that persons (like me) must be silenced or destroyed.

This concern with culture and humanistic Marxism, the power of ideas to shape and reflect material economic conditions -- which Guevara already perceived as increasingly fluid -- also expressed itself in his concern with the early idealistic Marx's logic in "The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844." (See Guevara's Biographical Introduction to Marx and Engels, p. 24.)

II. "Our freedom and its daily maintenance are paid for in blood and sacrifice." ("Che")

Guevara's response to the "Cubanazos" is found in a quotation from Marx reacting to the criticisms of his alleged lack of concern with money.

In an interview with Richard Goodwin, the U.S. special envoy for Latin America who finagled a box of excellent Cuban cigars from "Che" (at a time when they were prohibited under the embargo!), Guevara laughed, again, as he took the initiative by sitting on the floor, smoking "Romeo y Julietas" and "Montecristos" at the Plaza Hotel, I believe.

Mr. Goodwin found it difficult to do the same in his expensive business suit from Brooks Brothers.

"Revolutionaries are more comfortable than imperialists."

Che should have said this to Goodwin -- who kept the box of cigars (mysteriously emptied) in his living room in New York -- while refusing to think of himself as an "imperialist."

"If one chose to be an ox, one could of course turn one's back on the sufferings of mankind and look after one's own skin." Karl Marx said: "But I should really have regarded myself as 'impractical' if I had pegged out without completely finishing my book, at least in manuscript."

A Biographical Introduction to Marx and Engels, p. 46.

Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were always in debt up to their eyeballs. They were uninterested and oblivious as to how the next set of bills would be paid. Jefferson was unable to free his slaves not for lack of will, but because they provided the only security for creditors always threatening to take everything Jefferson owned, including Monticello.

Jefferson's "slaves" may have been among his creditors and were certainly among his family members.

"Che's" struggle was to establish a new intellectual and political identity for Latin America, walking a high wire between U.S. power and the Communist block. It is the same struggle faced today by African intellectuals and Asians caught between China's new superpower status, India, and the West.

The goal was (and is) always social justice, self-determination, socialism, and assertions of dignity for peasant populations and disenfranchised workers.

The U.S. decision to oppose this people's struggle, the Cuban Revolution -- while understandable as a reaction to nationalization of assets of U.S. nationals and corporations as well as human rights abuses following the revolution for which "Che" personally bears some blame -- was a great mistake in later decades and is simply absurd today.

The issues dividing Cuba and the U.S. were and ARE resolvable. Soviet influence could have been kept out of the new world with creative diplomacy and mutual understanding. We missed an opportunity. Let us not repeat the mistake today. ("Time to End the Embargo Against Cuba.")

As a Palestinian in exile, Edward Said comments upon the revolutionary intellectual's challenge:

" ... the meaning of an effective intervention [in the public realm] has to rest on the intellectual's unbudgeable conviction in a concept of justice and fairness that allows for differences between nations and individuals, without at the same time assigning them to hidden hierarchies, preferences, evaluations. Everyone today professes a liberal language of equality and harmony for all. The problem for the intellectual is to bring these notions to bear on the actual situations where the gap between the profession of equality and justice, on the one hand, and the rather less edifying reality, on the other, is very great."

"Speaking Truth to Power," in Representations of the Intellectual, p. 94.

Fidel Castro's final assessment of "Che" Guevara -- Castro is rumored by "Cubanoids" to have betrayed "Che" to the CIA -- is filled with what, clearly, is genuine respect and affection:

"It is not easy to find a person with all the virtues that were combined in him. It is not easy for a person, spontaneously, to develop a personality like his. I would say that he is one of those men who are difficult to match and virtually impossible to surpass. But I would say that the example of men like him contributes to the appearance of men [and women] of the same caliber."

Castro, in "Che," p. 5. (See below.)

At the intersection of aesthetics, politics and religion is where Guevara found his interpretation of Marxism, as Critical Theory, providing a foundation for the romantic reinventing of the world by young revolutionaries everywhere. Many are taking up this challenge today in India:

"With this aesthetic utopia, which remained a point of orientation for Hegel and Marx, as well as for the Hegelian Marxist tradition down to Lukacs and Marcuse, Schiller conceived of art as the genuine embodiment of communicative reason. ["'The Reader': A Movie Review."] Of course, Kant's Critique of Judgment also provided an entry for a speculative Idealism that could not rest content with the Kantian differentiations between understanding and sense, freedom and necessity, mind and nature, because it perceived in precisely these distinctions the expression of dichotomies inherent in modern life-conditions. [Schiller] held on to the restricted significance of aesthetic judgment in order to make use of it for a philosophy of history. He thereby tacitly mixed the Kantian with the traditional concept of judgment, which in the Aristotelean [Thomistic] tradition (down to Hannah Arendt) never completely lost its connection with the political concept of common sense. So [Schiller] could conceive of art as primarily a form of communication and assign to it the task of bringing about harmony in society. ..."

Jurgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, p. 48. (Schiller influenced Marx in his humanistic-aesthetic-idealistic stage.)

The sense of a "beautiful" quality in a life lived for others, for future generations enjoying greater freedom and peace, is "Che's" life-long motivation. Like Dr. King, "Che" arrived at a sense of transcendence -- achievement of what Hegel called, "a beautiful soul" -- that allowed him to see beyond his own death:

"Wherever death may surprise us, let it be welcome if our battle cry has reached even one receptive ear, and another hand reaches out to take our arms, and other men come forward to join in our funeral dirge with the chattering of machine guns and new calls for battle and for victory."

Che Guevara Speaks, p. 159. ("Would Jesus be a Christian?")

I am deeply saddened to discover new vandalisms of this essay and others as men and women in uniform continue to sacrifice their lives to protect our increasingly non-existent Constitutional freedoms.

I will do my best to make all necessary corrections quickly after each deformation of the text. Spacing of the works listed below has also been affected. The names of some scholars have been altered as insults or threats.

Primary Sources: Writings by Guevara.

Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Marx & Engels: A Biographical Introduction (New York: London Press, 2008), entirety. http://www.oceanbooks.com.au/

Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Our America and Theirs: Kennedy and The Alliance For Progress -- The Debate at Punta De Este (New York: Ocean Press, 2006), especially "Economics Cannot be Separated From Politics." http://www.oceanbooks.com.au/ ("Democracy is not compatible with financial oligarchy.")

Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Che Guevara Speaks (London & New York: Pathfinder, 1967), entirety. Ernesto "Che" Guevara, El Socialismo y el Hombre Nuevo (Madrid: Siglo Veintiuno, 1977), pp. 3-27.

Anthony Lane, "Che's Way," The New Yorker, January 19, 2009, p. 72. (The actual subheading of this "review" is "Scenes From a Revolution.") No fashion tips for well-dressed revolutionaries?

Fidel Castro, "Che Guevara," John Miller & Aaron Kennedi, eds., Revolution: Faces of Change (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2000), pp. 3-7.

Supplemental Sources: Scholarship and Commentary.

Edward Said, Representations of the Intellectual (New York: Vintage, 1996), entirety.

Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Random House, 1994), pp. 62-97 ("Narrative and Social Space" and "Jane Austen and Empire.")

Angela Davis, Autobiography (New York: International Publishers, 1974), entirety.

Angela Davis, Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons and Torture (New York: Seven Stories, 2005), entirety. (The name of "Angela Davis" has been altered in a number of essays.)

Jurgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991), entirety, esp. pp. 45-50 ("Excursus on Schiller's 'Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man.'")

Rick Roderick, Habermas and the Foundations of Critical Theory (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986), pp. 73-87.

Magnus Magnusson, ed., Chambers Biographical Dictionary (Edinburgh: Chambers-Harrap, 1990), p. 637.

Periodicals:

William Neuman, "Chavez Dies at 58 With Venezuela in Deep Turmoil," in The New York Times, March 6, 2013, at p. A1. (U.S. caught off guard in terms of the reaction to the death of President Chavez.)

William Neuman & Ginger Thompson, "A Leader's Cry In Venezuela: 'I am Chavez' -- U.S. Looking for Clues on Policy Position," in The New York Times, March 7, 2013, at p. A1. ("Aaron Schwartz, Freedom, and American Law." "Ginger Thompson" is a name used by the same persons using the byline "Manohla Dargis." "Menendez Consorts With Underage Prostitutes" and "Does Senator Menendez have mafia friends?")

Luiz Lula da Silva, "Latin America After Chavez," (Op-Ed) in The New York Times, March 7, 2013, at p. A27. (Op-Ed piece -- partly written by Fidel Castro, I believe -- expressing world opinion concerning Mr. Chavez. Are the allegations against Mr. Lula da Silva and President Roussef a palace coup staged by the C.I.A.?)

"Hugo Chavez," (Editorial) in The New York Times, March 7, 2013, at p. A26. ("Cubanazo" opinion concerning Chavez, probably written by Menendez and Rubio.)

Scott Shane, "C.I.A.'s History Poses a Hurdle for a Nominee," in The New York Times, March 7, 2013, at p. A1. (Torture, drone killings, targeted assassination without due process, illegal spying on Americans, and worse policies may result in criticisms -- or praise? -- of the new C.I.A. chief.)

Choe San-Hun & David E. Sanger, "U.S. Speeds Missile Defense to Guam After North Korea Bars South's Workers," in The New York Times, April 4, 2013, at p. A10. (Was Castro's prediction concerning the tensions and possible war on the Korean peninsula accurate?)

Claire Heininger & Lisa Fleischer, "$29.4 BILLION Budget Deal is Reached," in The Record, June 22, 2010, at p. A-1. (Years of mafia theft, corruption, protected child-porn and -prostitution will be paid for by the poor and disabled in New Jersey, who suffer most from lost public services in America's "Soprano State." Is this New Jersey's legal "ethics"?)

Matt Friedman & Ben Horowitz, "Secret Sex-Emails Revealed in Stalker Case: Steammy Exchanges Between Assemblyman, Ex-Lobbyist Turn Up in Driveway," in The Star Ledger, March 26, 2013, at p. 1. (Joe Cryan, Democrat boss, becomes the subject of new "investigations." There is more to come in this matter.)

Azad Ahmed, "Taliban Attack In Afghanistan City, Killing Dozens," in The New York Times, April 4, 2013, at p. A1. (Iraq continues to implode and new hostilities arise in Pakistan.)

David Johnson, "Security Net Wraps Capital For Inaugural," The New York Times, January 15, 2009, p. A1.

William Glaberson, "Torture Acknowledgment Highlights Detainee Issue," The New York Times, January 15, 2009, p. A21. (A letter was deleted from this title by "Cubanoids." I have now corrected the inserted "error.")

Laurie Goodstein, "Religious Groups Seek Swift Ban From Obama on Torture," The New York Times, January 15, 2009, at p. A21. (We still cannot close Guantanamo. Human rights, Mr. Obama?)

John Leland, "Swindlers Find Growing Market in Foreclosures," The New York Times, January 15, 2009, p. A1. (Will these tactics be exported to Cuba?)

David Segal & Alison Leigh Cowan, "Madoffs Shared Much; Question is How Much," The New York Times, January 15, 2009, A1. (No question mark in original headline -- irony?)

Relevant Posts:

Havana Nights and C.I.A. Tapes.

Fidel Castro's "History Will Absolve Me."

Cubanazos Pose a Threat to National Security!

Is Senator Bob "For" Human Rights?

Senator Bob Struggles To Find His Conscience.

Is Senator Menendez a Suspect in Mafia-Political M...

Senator Bob Loves Xanadu!

Senator Bob Says: "Xanadu and You Are Perfect Toge...

Senator Bob, the Babe, and the Big Bucks!

Does Senator Menendez Have Mafia Friends?





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