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State Biopolitics and Representations of the Body in Lezama’s Criticism

The nineties’ biopolitics manifested itself in cultural politics as the revival of intellectual figures (rather than their life per se). The cultural measures intended to remedy the political mistakes of the seventies were exerted only as the negation of the latter, and not as meaningful changes of the ideological parameters of revolutionary practices. In other words, the disciplinary power of the seventies that regimented society had now become a biopolitical power. Whereas during the seventies the government was more interested in the metaphorical death of a cultural production that did not fulfill the government’s ideological mandates, during the eighties and the nineties, the government sought to revive cultural production it had previously prohibited. During the seventies, which were defined by the political and intellectual dogmatism of the “five gray years” (Quinquenio gris) (1971-76), authors considered apolitical or counterrevolutionary were removed from state positions and their works were deemed unacceptable for publication. During the late eighties and nineties, however, the same authors were canonized, their works reprinted by publishers and reconsidered by scholars.3 Several of these authors who returned to favor belonged to the Grupo Origenes, a circle of poets that included Jose Lezama Lima and Virgilio Pinera.4 The group, a major influence on Diaspora(s), took its name from a high modernist literary and cultural journal that Lezama and Jose Rodriguez Feo edited from 1944 to 1956. Discredited by the revolution’s cultural apparatus during the seventies as hermetic and aesthetically ineffective (Salgado 2002, 201), the works of the Grupo Origenes were republished during the eighties and nineties as part of a series of cultural measures aimed at rectifying the seventies’ political errors.5

It is crucial that we analyze state power and look at the differences between its application as sovereign power or biopower. In order to understand the ideological complexities embedded in the critical configuration of official discourses and independent voices, we should now briefly describe the different approaches to Lezama’s theories. We must begin by reviewing the first scholarly pieces written in the forties and fifties. If we did not, we would miss one of the most important aspects of this evolution: the fact that the same scholars who praised Lezama’s poetics for their transcendentalism and for creating a national culture in the fifties, a decade later interpreted his work as an allegory of the revolution’s teleological narration. In the seventies, the revolutionary reading no longer persuaded cultural authorities, who used Lezama’s transcendentalism and his so-called idealism and antimaterialism to discredit his work. After his death, his work was institutionally restituted and his thought rearticulated in revolutionary terms. Some scholars have already noted the instrumentalization of Lezama’s work for ideological purposes. For example, Enrico Santi writes that “the Revolution invented . . . Jose Lezama Lima, since it was during [the Revolution] that his work took on unprecedented projection. . . . I refer not only to the diffusion of this work . . . but to the creation of Lezama as an institution” (Santi 2002, 195-96).

In this chapter, I suggest that the different interpretations of Lezama during the past five decades have been instrumentalized for various political purposes. The changes result from the different modes of instrumentaliza- tion and their relation to different modes of governance. As is well known, there was an upsurge of Lezama studies in the eighties and the nineties, and official interpretations coming from the island widely discussed the role of sexuality in his work, especially his novels. In this chapter we will see that the understanding of sexuality has not changed that much. What have evolved instead are new discursive strategies, procedures, and mechanisms of power. The population is controlled more surreptitiously, through biopolitics, a power of subjection articulated through ideas affirming life instead of death. In the nineties, only the young writers of Diaspora(s) called into question the official revival of Lezama, but they also rejected his baroque style. What type of literature is left after the denial of the baroque body, and after the official discourse of life? We are left with a body without subjectivity, a hardly human one that Agamben refers to as bare life. The homo sacer, the “sacred” or excluded man, stripped of subjectivity is a product of biopolitical governance and also present in Diaspora(s) aesthetics. Bare life, as incarnated by homo sacer, is an emotionless body, apolitical and outside of history, yet in Diaspora(s) aesthetics it also functions as a political force because it represents what Deleuze and Guattari understand as a body without organs.

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