Monthly Archives: August 2018

The Semiotics of Che Guevara: Affective Gateways. Book Review by Jeongwon Gim

Cambre, Maria-Carolina (2015). The Semiotics of Che Guevara: affective gateways. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

In The Semiotics of Che Guevara: Affective Gateways (2015), Maria-Carolina Cambre focuses on the semiotic significance of images of Che Guevara and its impact on their viral distribution around the globe. Cambre investigates the multiple renderings of the Che Guevara image—appropriations of Alberto Korda’s famous photograph titled Guerrillero Heroico. She considers this image an affective gateway mediating people with different political ideologies in various contexts. In this way, Cambre does not presume the global reach of the image as the inevitable result of a human-led economic and cultural globalization process. Rather, Cambre bridges the gap between a micro perspective on materialities of the “affect” in visual image and a macroscopic view of their impact as a visual phenomenon. Doing so, the author provides us with a more holistic, concrete understanding of the obscured materiality of the abstract, intangible transmission of visual images.

(Cambre, 2015)

The book comprises eight chapters, ranging from a brief introduction to the historical and socio-political salience and branding discourse of the Korda image, to much more complex layers and stages of its actualization of virtual qualities and the discussion of related issues, such as its queer tendency. Chapter two begins with Cambre’s investigation of current controversies surrounding the use of the Guerrillero Heroico image. In this chapter, she delineates its dislocation as a brand, a commercial product, an art-work, and a cultural artifact within and outside of the Cuban context. Building upon theoretical frames from phenomenologists such as Gabriel Marcel, Emmanuel Levinas and Roland Barthes, in chapter three, Cambre discusses people’s encounters with the image, which often tend to be connected with the idea of “hope.” This idea of hope as an animating motif contributes to the virtual recreation and resurrection of the Guerrillero Heroico. Following Hannah Arendt’s (1959) theory of action, the author introduces ethnographic case studies in chapter four to illustrate actioning and the performative aspects of the image; it has an effect on society by allowing multiple interpretations and being politically used by individuals with different ideologies. In relation to the image’s performativity and openness, in chapter five, the author further situates her discussion in semiotics to explain what she is doing differently. She overcomes the limitations of the reductionism of traditional semiotics, which understands the complexity and simultaneity of visual and social realities through signs operating on a plane that is simplified, rigid, and concrete. Throughout chapter five and seven, Cambre explores Donald Preziosi’s (2003) elaboration of Roman Jakobson’s addition of a fourth sign type: artifice. She connects artifice with the anthropological concept of art and agency suggested by Alfred Gell (1998) to illuminate the role of the image’s virtuality as a drive for social and political changes in the world. By doing so, the author maintains a multi-dimensional perspective on the semiotics of images. Particularly in chapter seven, Cambre emphasizes that Guerrillero Heroico itself is an agency that has generative power—the power of affect—to pull its alternative forms into different places to serve different political ideologies and authorize our “actions” in the future. In the final chapter, the author opens a discussion of the queer tendencies of the image as other possible forms of appropriations and mutation.

In the simplest terms, Cambre’s research begins with the question of “how and why does the image of the Guerrillero Heroico go viral to different places?” The author then connects this question of the reception, adaptation, and circulation of the image with the discussion of “face” in chapter seven. She maintains that Korda’s image of Che Guevara’s face bears witness to certain experiences, such as anti-imperialist and revolutionary activities. However, Cambre does not discuss the significance of “face” or explain how the material properties of “face” specifically help incubate immaterial forces—internal movements, energy, and virtual qualities emergent and realized in our encounters with “face”—to actualize as particular forms of experiences and “actions.” More specifically, Cambre does not indicate her understanding of the concept of “face” in visual images. For example, “face” can be read figuratively and metaphorically as a frontal/critical “aspect” and “appearance” or is understood in “literal” terms—literally the face of humans or objects (Adams, 2000). Although it seems appropriate to say that the author takes the definition of “face” in literal terms in her analysis of the Guerrillero Heroico, it is still important to clearly identify the concept of “face,” to illuminate its materiality and the abstract mechanism that exceeds the totality of certain features and experience.

According to the concept of “face” suggested by Deleuze and Guattari (1987), the facial image of Che Guevara can be understood as a landscape, map, or topology, which is abstracted as dominating qualities and norms at a distance and produced as an overcoding of subjects. At the same time, it is deterritorilized at a close-up scale by affording different affective energies such as a fear and hope of subjects (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987). Thus, the ‘face’ of Che Guevara itself is decontextualized from the body and interior forces and functions as an autonomous entity (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987). This understanding may lead us to more concrete questions about the material properties of face, such as: 1) How does Korda image of Che Guevara impose onto us to assume its face? 2) What are these dominant material qualities of ‘face’ of Che Guevara? 3) More specifically, how does this ‘face’ selectively assemble its fragmented and varying movements and illustrations of different elements such as eyes, eyebrows, mouth, and cheeks and still link them with the elements and experience of the original and other appropriations of Korda image?

Although Cambre discusses artworks or images of the human figure and their global transmission, she seems opposed to an anthropocentric belief in the sociology, geography, or anthropology of art, that institutional gestures and human creativity are what suddenly transform an ordinary image into “art” imbued with cultural and political resonances. As such, in scholarly discussion of the global circulation of visual images, existing literature on globalization has focused on analyzing the role of images as carriers of certain socio-political and cultural needs in the context of evolutionary globalization. As a result, this perspective based on evolutionary functionalism has produced a simplified interpretation of the global distribution of images as an inevitable, unidirectional movement. To overcome the limited interpretations of the phenomenon, the author pays more attention to the properties and potentials of images that assemble people to distribute and connect mobile images to future actions (Miller, 2010).

Cambre also explores the potential of democratic performance in representation and reproduction of Guerrillero Heroico through a multi-dimensional semiotics. This alternative approach to semiotics allows her to consider representation as something that not only stands for other things, but also produces, acts, and is. Building upon this perspective, the author considers ambiguous and disobedient properties of the image as significant elements that reproduce different alternatives of the image and bring possibilities for democratic change. Here her affirmation of the democratic potential of the image is not simply to suggest that images can abruptly and literally make “democratic changes” in the world; rather, it addresses the latent “virtual” power of the image that forms our collective imagining for the future change. The constant reproduction and collective consumption of the image, at a grass-roots level, allows people to collectively engage with certain imaginations of the future and reshape the way we understand politics—which may in turn bring bottom-up changes to the world.

I recommend this book for the following reasons. First, the book promotes a transdisciplinary perspective that interacts with art, sociology, material culture studies, and anthropology. Methodologically, it incorporates phenomenology, semiotics, and arts-based research. The book will also inspire a broad range of students and scholars whose research is concerned with transferable lessons of applications and methods. Second, the book achieves a balance between subjectivity— such as the author’s personal engagement with the research subject—and objectivity drawn from theoretical discussions. The book provides a critical examination of the author’s own subjectivity, recognizing what frames our seeing to better understand the complexity of our reception of visual images. Third, along with the author’s own enthusiasm for the research subject, the case studies and empirical examples from various cultural contexts provided in the book make it easier for the reader to understand the semiotics of images. I recommend this book to students and scholars interested in topics ranging from the semiotics of visual images to reproduction and distribution of images and objects, politics of visual branding, art as revolution, and the ideological and political transmission of arts.

 Jeongwon Gim (University of Alberta)

 

References

Adams, T. (2000). White Walls, Black Holes: The Molecular Face of Contemporary Architecture. Interstices 5: 26-35.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. B. Massumi. London: Continuum.

Miller, D. (2010). Stuff. Cambridge: Polity.

 

The time-space economics of renting location assets

“The location of individuals determines their job opportunities, living amenities, and housing costs.”

According to Esteban Rossi-Hansberg and Adrien Bilal, an economics professor at Princeton University and PhD student, rather than buying accommodation, possibly to sell at a profit in a few years,  tenants can be thought of as investing in a location asset.  And like any asset, you need to ask “what are you getting out of it?”  According to Lifehacker,

Many people rent in places with a high cost of living for the job opportunities, good schools, cultural offerings, etc. (On a personal note… living in New York not only puts me at the epicenter of the media world, but in close proximity to any number of classes and workshops hosted by experts in every profession imaginable.)

“Buying more of the asset involves moving to better locations that cost more today but give better returns tomorrow, while selling the asset implies moving to cheaper locations with little opportunities,” the authors write.

CityLab breaks down the paper’s argument:

[W]hen you choose to move to a pricier and amenity-laden city, you’re transferring resources into the future—i.e., saving!—by establishing yourself near opportunities for higher pay and human capital, Rossi-Hansberg and Bilal argue. On the flipside, when you relocate to a community with a lower cost of living but fewer economic advantages, you’re pulling resources into the present that you might have gained in the future—i.e., borrowing.

I am an unusual case: I rent an apartment and I own a house so I see both sides of this equation.  Our critique of this comfortable view from the American Ivy League, parroted not too critically by a planning website, is that that not everyone can afford to “save” in this sense.  Also being forced to rent rather than buy is reflection of reduced choice and means in general.  It is more likely, in most North American cities, that renting places one amongst other disadvantaged people.  They may be artists on the cusp of a great break, or you might be a founding member of an activist group of the economically excluded, but they are unlikely to be successful entrepreneurs who are looking for workers. (Anecdotally, it is harder to create social bonds amongst residents in large rental apartment buildings, and easier to interact with neighbours on the street, possibly because children and pets add to the density of the web of social interactions and act as social lubricants between households).

Statistically it is much  more likely that tenants have less quality living environments, particularly in relation to childrens’ amenities, are more stressed by conflicts with landlords and unpredictable rent increases, and do not have a major asset that they can borrow against or lever as a means of responding to unexpected expenses and emergencies, opportunity costs such as tuition or even entrepreneurial initiatives.

The strategic question remains unanswered: how to make the situation work for rather than against you.  And, how would this argument fair in the case of suburban locations with long commutes, rural dwellers or urban squatters?  Turning this into an economic geography argument distracts us from other non-market decision factors such as quality of life, the ethnic makeup of the community or aesthetic factors that affect ones’ everyday sense of wellbeing.

This is a practical example of a debate that is both temporal and spatial.  It involves not only the geography of where one lives but of land speculation and rent trends into the future.  We call this elastic 4D field of rental rates, time, location and land price a topology because it combines space and time in more than 3D (non-Euclidean geometry) fluid space where these trends may move against each other to affect an outcome .

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

 

 

Extended deadline Sept 30: Periphery and Center: Mapping Minor/Small and World Literatures

Call for Abstracts: Extended to September 30 2018.

Special Issue of Space and Culture.

HE Yanli (Sichuan University), Robert T. Tally, Jr. (Texas State University)

The relationship of literature, place and space is a hot topic in the recent decades, as evidenced by the rise of such practices as literary cartography literary geography geocriticism, and spatial literary studies more generally Among those studies, the main debates could be generalized as five perspectives: 1) literary space theories, especially on world, international and national literary Spaces; 2) literary historical maps, atlas, graphs and trees; 3) writers’ mapping texts about real & imaginative Spaces and places; 4) literary maps of writer’s birth, death, and production; 5) theoretical history of spatial turn and the relationship of literature, cartography, geography, geocriticism, ecocriticism.

These debates offer new insights about internationalism, globalization of world literature, and comparative literature studies. For example, Pascale Casanova has discussed the literary space of world literature and national literature, specifically concentrated on shifts in European literary space in the twentieth Century. Franco Moretti has focused on atlas of ninetieth Century European novels and maps of European literary history. Rob Shields draws on Wallerstein’s theory differentiating between center and periphery, the North and South, through spatial and literary history perspectives. Valdes and Kadir’s books includes enormous number of maps devised as tools for locating languages, population density, urban centers and so forth, which give new ways to map comparative literary history. Among their three volumes, Herve Thery’s appendix “The Main Locations of Latin American Literature”, uses five maps to substantiate the concept of “cultural center”. Some maps show the birthplaces of writers who died in the relevant “cultural centers”. Castro focused on the colonial literary space, and the space of Latin American literatures. Robert Tally has built a platform to understand Spaces of American literature, literary cartographies & geographies, spatial/spatiality literary studies, ecocriticism, geocriticism of real and fictional Spaces, geocritical explorations, and space/place/mapping in literary and cultural studies. These are just a few of the critics whose works have spoken to matters of space in relation to world literature in recent years.

Based on these academic achievements, this special issue is aiming at combining spatial studies and literature studies, in order to create the capacity to: a) understand the shifts between literary centers and peripheries from 1827 to 1975, with the flows of minor, small and world literatures; b) clarify the relationship between the conflicts of literary Spaces, spatiality and its related concepts of literatures. Questions to consider include the following:

  1. What kind of literary spaces (center, periphery) nurtured or forced the new terms and concepts of literatures, specifically of Goethe’s “World Literature” (Weltliteratur, 1827), Kafka’s “Small Literature” (kleine Literaturen, 1911) , Michel Ragon’s “Secondary Zone Literature” (Seconde Zone Littérature, 1974), Deleuze & Guattari’s “Minor Literature” (littérature mineure, 1975), and Casanova’s “Small Literature” (petite littérature, 1999)?
  2. Does world literature space = center, minor/small literature’s space =
    periphery, semi-center/periphery = national literature, emigrating literature? То
    what extent did literary Spaces changed with the shifts of Literary Capitals from
    1827 to 1975 (e.g. London, Paris, Berlin, New York, Moscow)?
  3. How to map literary Spaces of peripheries & centers, margins & cores, national & international, dominated & dominating, East & West, North & South through the changing items, histories, anthologies, canons and studies of world & minor/small literatures?
  4. How have political spaces and related geographical places shaped literature productions, distributions, translations, institutions from 1827 to 1975, especially in line with colonialism, World War I & II, Cold War, and Berlin Wall?
  5. How to map a writer’s literary space, with birth & death place? With
    narratives’ place? With nationalities and life traces? With Publishing houses?
  6. How to map national literary space, with writers’ birthplaces, nationalities, or geographic narratives?
  7. How to map Spaces of minor, small literatures, with changing items and concepts in world space? With writer’s marginal identities? With marginal political power and its related cultural capitals? With national geographical territories? With international and national literary awards (e.g. Nobel Prize, Booker Prize, Pulitzer Prize)?

If we could draw a round map of “Literary Spaces from 1827 to 1975: Center-Semi—Periphery”, and a flat map of a “Literary Atlas from 1827 to 1975: Mapping Minor/Small and World Literatures”, which language (Germany French, English, Chinese), what color (blue, pink, red), and what marks (flag, boat, canvas, gun) would we use ?

All submissions will be peer reviewed by Space and Culture (For more information, see Journal tab).

For more information about this special issue, contact: yanlihe@scu.edu.cn and yanheli1111@163.com

Abstract Submissions to: yanlihe@scu.edu.cn and copy to yanheli1111@163.com and to spaceandculture.ku@gmail.com

Full Papers will be submitted via https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/sac