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Home arrow Language & Literature arrow Minima Cuba: Heretical Poetics and Power in Post-Soviet Cuba


In this chapter I have looked at sixties revolutionary imaginary, specifically as it pertains to the subjectivity of war and intellectual heroes (Guevara’s New Man). This trope functions as a signifier at three different levels that determine each other: as national subjectivity of Cubanness (heroism and violence), as a rhetorical ethos (socialist realism and melodrama), and as a form of affect (melancholy). Far from setting the conditions of possibility for the development of citizenship, the rhetoric of violence and heroism imposes a revolutionary subjectivity grounded on an onto-theological metaphysics. That is, it replicates a Christian model of subjectivity. As a divine force, the revolution creates the word and the man, he who is predetermined to follow a path of salvation to regain the fatherland. Fanon’s model of self-recognition supports this idea because the colonized subject never becomes really free. He is destined to always depend on the recognition that comes from the other. This dependence on the other is partly what determines the melancholic condition of the Guevarian New Man. Intellectuals must negate their own egos to be independent and become the New Men. Their ego simultaneously becomes an object of desire they will be unable to reach and the hated object they want to negate. The tropology of the New Man haunts all future cultural production, especially for intellectuals who, as Guevara observes, were born and formed within the revolution.

From a rhetorical point of view, this dilemma resurfaces again as the debate between idealism (bourgeois culture) and materialism (socialist culture). What is ultimately at stake in this dispute between idealism and materialism, however, is actually the question of nationalism. It is Marti’s problem that resurfaces anew. Is it possible to create a Latin American (Cuban) identity while acknowledging the European heritage? Marti yearned for a model of identity that could combine the European, African, and indigenous influences on the Cuban heritage: “El genio hubiera estado en hermanar con la claridad del corazon y con el atrevimiento de los fundadores, la vincha y la toga [True genius would have laid in pairing (hermanar), with clarity of heart and the daring of our founders, the headband and the toga]” (Marti 1997, 41). Socialist realism, on the contrary, is a philosophy that rejects the European heritage on the grounds of its capitalist origins. The stereotyped hero becomes the model of Cubanness, for reasons that are clear. To avoid cultural or psychological complexity, Cuban socialist realism reverted to the typology of heroes from classical literature. These intellectuals wanted to create particularism (revolutionary Cubanness), yet they actually reverted to the universalism of Western heroic literature. Like the Western literature they rejected, their types were grounded in idealism.

As Guevara saw it, intellectuals who have a bourgeois literary background are sinners and must atone by negating their egos. This lack of life or subjectivity is precisely what we see in the cultural production of the time. That is, the characters portrayed in the works that we have studied are Manichean representations of good and evil and incarnations of moral vices or virtues rather than complex subjectivities. Their melodramatic representation is an attempt to attract a popular readership or audience. Most important, however, it marks the end of the sacred symbolized by the values of the Church and the old regime. Drawing a parallel with the French Revolution, we can argue with Peter Brooks that the traditional truth values and ethics get thrown into question. This “dissolution of a hierarchically cohesive society” brings with it “the invalidation of literary forms” (Brooks 1976, 60). The old values have lost their validity, and the new regime is eager to establish the new set of truths and ethics. These two factors explain the use of melodrama, a style that can both articulate clear and simple truth values and speak to larger audiences. The consequence of this, however, was an aesthetization of politics. Armed struggle was both aestheticized and styl?ized. As a result, the political was “culturized.” In other words, it was not that culture became political, as one would expect, but that politics became cultural. The theoretical foundations of revolutionary epic poetry are also a product of the aesthetization of poetry. They are perfunctory litanies to the soldiers that do not articulate a Lukacsian conception of art. In other words, these poems do not convey any ideas for a utopian configuration of society. In this regard, their scope is idealist in nature since the political and the aesthetic are one and the same.

In his short poem “Arte poetica 1974,” Roque Dalton defines the aesthetics of the revolutionary poet: “Poesia / Perdoname por haberte ayudado a comprender / que no estas hecha solo de palabras”37 (Dalton 1978, 34). The poem begins as a contradiction. That is, the poetic voice apologizes (to a personalized poetics) for having helped to unveil a truth. By thematizing praxis and art, the poem alludes to the main paradox of social poetry. Namely, how can social poetry create praxis as a real political transformation? For Dalton there is only one possible answer to this conundrum: the creation of a poetics that can sustain such contradiction. That is, a poetry that can represent reality and show the limits of language to apprehend reality. This could seem like an essentialist gesture because Dalton is indicating that poetry has a residue that resists language. In other words, one could think that he is defining poetry as a genre with a unique ineffable core. Yet, this is not the case, because of the contradictory gesture that the poem performs. On the one hand, the poem is mourning the death of a belief, and on the other hand, it is celebrating it. What exactly is the poem mourning? The poetic voice is mourning the end of realist poetry. That is, a poetry able to apprehend objective reality and the truth. The poem mourns because the consequences of this disappearance could also lead to the end of poetry. If poetry cannot represent reality in its entirety, what purpose does it serve? Yet, at the same time, the poem offers a gift: some unsolicited help. This gift appears in the form of an opening, which is represented by a grammatically negative affirmation: “que no estas hecha solo de palabras.” In other words, negativity (the possibility of death) is also an affirmation of life, one indicated by the last word of the poem: “palabras.” That is, the negation of a realist poetics does not result in the end of poetry. On the contrary, it reaffirms poetry’s potentiality as the words (palabras) that are yet to come. This word is not pointing to the limits of language to apprehend reality. It is, rather, opening up to the possibility of an aesthetics that can combine the sublime (revolutionary zeal) with the profane (critical thought about the real conditions). This “word” to come did not have to negate its own recurrent trajectory. Instead, it had to resist the impending force of dogma.

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