Monday, March 27, 2006

Further Adventures of the Che Trippers

I have a new favorite leftist. "Oso Raro" can lecture me all day about the evils of capitalism and the criminality of Bush, if she wishes, because she leavens her thinking with enough of common sense to also be able to write like this:

I am reminded of a colleague in graduate school, a Puerto Rican activist, who would constantly chirp, “The problem is we need to teach the working class about transnational capitalism.” While this indeed may be a laudable goal, the working class, at least in the West, would want to figure out just how to get its share of that transnational pie, not to overturn the system. Isn’t that the history of the American working class, after all?

That aside comes from her column lamenting the Western Left's hero-worship of Hugo Chavez, which she connects to its eternal torch-carrying for Che Guevara. In her book, the "Che Complex" is the new "Orientalism."

The Che Complex refers to the dismaying habit of the Western Left to aggrandize symbols of Latin American resistance with little or no understanding (or care) for the histories or tangible effects of these politics on the people living under these revolutionary regimes. Some good political examples of the Che Complex would be, aside from Che (natch): Fidel Castro, Salvador Allende, (at one time) The Sandinistas, (at election time) Lula, and most recently Bolivia’s Evo Morales. Some good cultural examples would be Frida Kahlo, Gabriel García Marquez and the literary genre of magical realism, and the Buena Vista Social Club. I include the cultural along with the political because the Che Complex is a holistic approach to Latin American authenticity: radical, fecund, disordered, natural, native, real, as opposed to our synthetic, processed, unnatural lives in the developed West. What differentiates the Che Complex from old-fashioned exoticism is its explicitly leftist political orientation, its romanticisation of Latin American socio-political upheavals, and an interest in revolutionary transformation that for many in the West seems impossible in their own national milieu. The Che Complex is at heart transference, a displacement of one’s own desires for political transformation onto others, and as such, also reveals the psychosocial dimensions of this transference for the Western mind.

This gesture is also one that is incredibly problematic, for it reproduces the historic and unequal colonial dynamic of centre and margin, just with a progressive political face. As the West has used the developing world “other” for centuries to define itself, as what it is not, so again this system exists in the Che Complex: while we, for whatever reasons, cannot effectively battle the forces of capitalism and corruption in the metropole, our brown brothers and sisters in the outré-mer can.

[Hat tip: Marc Cooper]