Wednesday, July 8, 2009
The ghost of Ch€ keeps haunting us. Not Ernesto Guevara, the asthmatic idealistic Argentinean doctor, biking through South America, nor the idiosyncratic Cuban Comandante, later Minister of the National Bank and Industries during the early years of the Cuban Revolution. Ch€, the symbol of the world’s anti-imperialist struggle, post-modern mythogramme, the best hagiographic emblem of the Cold War.1
A shadow follows closely: “Fidel.” Not the man, but the first televised revolutionary of the Western hemisphere: A young Greek-profiled bearded Comandante en Jefe, who, at 33, with a white dove on his shoulder steers up the masses against his Capitalist enemies across the Florida Straights. Rewind this Black-&-White snippet two years, to Fidel, the guerrilla fighter during his media/launching for the New York Times by journalist Herbert Matthews (Sierra Maestra, 1957) and then fast-forward to October 1967, when Fidel breaks the news of Ch€’s death in the jungles of Bolivia to the Cuban people, (just a year before the invasion Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union). What Fidel doesn’t know is that his symbolic unction of CH€ signals the end of “Fidel” and the beginning of CДξτЯθ: dictator, bureaucrat-in-chief, future President of the Council of State and Ministers and President of State and Government and First Secretary of the PCC.2
Whereas Ch€ gives up his comfortable life in Cuba for the jungles of Bolivia, CДξτЯθ will enjoy power for decades to come. This asymmetry in symbolic destination determines two different outcomes: Ch€ and CДξτЯθ’s popularity become inversely proportional. Symbolically speaking, as Ch€ gains, CДξτЯθ looses. These days we see less of the hirsute, gray-bearded, tragic-comic, feeble retired octogenarian. Late-CДξτЯθ wearing Adidas jumpsuit and tennis shoes, taking little walks outside his compound. Late-CДξτЯθ trembling and rambling about the past, even on the verge of tears! Who would’ve imagined?
History works in mysterious ways. In September 1968 (right about the time early-CДξτЯθ sides with the Soviet Union on the invasion of Czechoslovakia) one could not yet explain the ch€miotic transformation of Ch€: from political→ ideological→ aesthetic→ mythological→ virtual.
What will be the definitive portrait of CДξτЯθ? Difficult to say.
Meanwhile, Korda’s photo of Ch€ that afternoon of 1961 embodies the Byronean myth,3 frozen in our collective memory. The Heroic Guerrilla Fighter, his eyes sternly fixed at the horizon of immortality, dreaming a still unfolding -uncertain- future. Ch€: liminal, hybrid and interactive. The Camilo of the people,4 defender of the exploited of the world undergoing countless transformations: from adventurous biker and Comandante of the revolution, to ruthless executioner, Communist martyr, pin-up, logo, film celebrity, revolutionary saint.
1 Mithography: image/symbol. Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity (Harvard University Press, 1980). 2 The length of these official party government titles is baffling. German critic Ernst Bloch, perhaps the first to observe title rank in bureaucratic structures says: “Rank is to Bureaucracy as medals are to the military.” 3For Barthes, myth is constituted as a depoliticized message. In Mythologies Barthes explains that there is a first order of denotation of the sign which then becomes connotation. So Ernesto Guevara → CH€ through what Barthes calls “theft of language, namely, a myth becoming an empirical, irrefutable fact”. 4Not Camilo, the Cuban revolutionary, but Torres-Restrepo, the Colombian Catholic. “Among the chief factors contributing to a Latin American Christianity revitalized by Guevarist precepts were Camilo Torres’ decision to join the Colombian ELN and the emergence of a Camilist Movement in response to his martyrdom.”- Donald C. Hodges The Legacy of Che Guevara: A Documentary Study, (Thames and Hudson, 1977).