Desktop version

Home arrow Language & Literature

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>


This book has examined the different discursive formations of revolutionary utopia and its withering. The premise of this book is that we live in postideological societies that can no longer be analyzed through a Marxian understanding of social or economic structures. As I argued in the introduction, the concept of ideology no longer holds true. Other post-Marxist theorizations of the same concept, such as Louis Althusser’s notion of ideology as the “real conditions of existence,” also share a similar mecanicist understanding of the “real.” Given the relativity of reality as a notion, as well as the need to take race, sexuality, or gender as mediating factors shaping ideology, the “real” is not a useful category. Above all, however, we are in need of a notion that can account for a fragmented (or nones- sentialist) view of identity, especially taking into account the unconscious, and the impossibility of knowing which is the object of our desire. In this regard, since we can never really grasp the object of our desire, the notion of utopia is a clear substitute for what remains unknown and inaccessible. In addition, as Slavoj Zizek points out, we are no longer duped by the difference between exchange value and use value. The consequence, then, is that asking what is the goal of literature (political or otherwise) is pointless. It is more revealing, instead, to look at the fantasies that make up for that unknown, and this is why literature is so essential. It is not about having access to that desire; rather, it is about understanding fantasy as a narrative construction that conceals our desire, as an object that belongs to the Real, and that therefore resists symbolization. The book has analyzed these fantasies and narrative constructions, both at political and cultural levels, in an effort to explain the diversity of social discourses and political rhetoric, as well as cultural expressions in the form of literature and film. By analyzing such a large variety of modes of expression, I have sought to show that social reality can be studied as more than a textual symptom. In this regard, the book has shown the various fantasies that have populated revolutionary and utopian discourses.

Beginning with the discursive formation of revolutionary ideology through political discourses and cultural production, I have shown that revolutionary rhetoric has always represented utopia as an emotional ethos based on violence and sacrifice, thereby constantly deferring the enunciation of utopia as a programmatic political discourse. Cuba’s political ideology used to be predicated on a stark bipolar division of forces that clearly distinguished friends from enemies, a conception of the political that to all appearances was shattered by the end of the Cold War. Revolutionary discourse, deeply influenced by the melancholic tropology of the New Man and the search for the lost object of desire, formed intellectuals for whom the loss of the object became the loss of self. The influence of this rhetoric, and not so much the fall of the Berlin Wall, was what produced the melancholic ethos among the children of the revolution. The members of this generation had not fought for the revolution; they did not share the initial revolutionary utopian impulse. Yet they had been formed by the double ideological matrix: the discourse of violence and sacrifice. The poets from the two preceding decades were not intellectual referents for them. The children of the revolution were eager to expand their knowledge beyond the talleres literarios’ nationalist understanding of literature. They had also been assigned the difficult task of creating the truly revolutionary poetry of the New Man, with whom they never identified, especially because this model demanded the elimination of the self for a greater cause. Their initial poetic production resulted from the melancholic understanding of art that demanded an identification with a lost, inexistent self. My analysis has shown the melancholic nature of these literary “fantasies,” but I have not been concerned with the political (or ideological) goals of these works.

Unlike their elders, whose war was always against “the imperialist and bourgeois intellectual,” the members of Diaspora(s) constituted one of the first intellectual groups to defy the dominant ideology of the revolutionary intellectual community by criticizing the canonical intellectuals who defined the fatherland. The rhetorics of violence and melancholia that they inherited were the roots of their aesthetics, as we observed in the poetry of the eighties. Violence was of particular interest for the vanguardist group of poets who formed Diaspora(s). In what I have called their poetics of defacement, violence became the symbol of a negative dialectics of sorts articulated by a passion of negation that took pleasure in unsettling the baroque and realism.

These poetics opened up an epistemological aporia that demanded thought but disparaged language. It was, in other words, what I explained as a poetics that originated from an experience of dread and a “defacement” of language. That is, the disappearance of language that left behind thinking as a trace.

From the analysis of this initial decade, I have turned to the period encompassing the two decades of the regime’s transition to a post-Cold War period. The shattering of utopia’s initial meaning explains this chronological leap. The political crisis resulting from the partial capitalization of the economy brought forth a political rhetoric with an apparent desire to insulate life into a dying ideology. Utopia had to redefine itself, but no discourse could be instantiated. The rhetorical strategy was to turn on its head the discourse of the “fatherland or death” proclamation and put the emphasis on ways to keep socialism alive. The emphasis on death and violence that inaugurated the revolution transformed into a biopolitical emphasis on life after the symbolic end of socialism. This new rhetoric, however, did not transform the regime’s ideology. It was, rather, a new strategy of political subjection and a new form of administering political control that proved to be no less efficacious than the repressive policies of the past, as well as the present ones. I am saying this because in Cuba sovereign power coexists with a biopolitical regime. Repressive and arbitrary political measures taken against the circulation and publication of a so-called dissident intellectual discourse are the best proof. As the book has discussed, the intellectual persecution of Diaspora(s) and Antonio Jose Ponte are the most representative examples of this type of censorship.

If one had to die for the revolution in the sixties, one had to live for it in the eighties and nineties. Culturally, this rhetorical turn resulted in the revival of Jose Lezama Lima, who was consecrated as one of Cuba’s national intellectuals and ideologues. Before he had been appropriated by the dominant ideological formation, Lezama had become the children of the revolution’s intellectual referent, and many young poets embraced baroque esthetics. For Diaspora(s) this appropriation usurped the younger generation’s poetic voice. As Rolando Sanchez Mejias’s essay “Olvidar a Origenes” reflected, Diaspora(s) was the most radical rebuttal of these cultural policies. As in the fifties, Lezama was interpreted anew as a transcendentalist writer, and the sexuality of his works was deemed acceptable as long as it was considered to be of a reproductive nature. The physical jouissance of Lezama’s baroque appears in Diaspora(s) as its negative image, represented by docile bodies with no subjectivity. In chapter 3 we investigated whether this image represents bare life or rather a simultaneously conquering and ready to be conquered flow of desire. Diaspora(s) rejected Lezama’s baroque period for concealing the concept of the lack, which was actually key to Lezama’s understanding of negativity, which Diaspora(s) sought to emphasize.

Lack and negation played indeed a very important role in the political unconscious of the nineties. Without nowhere else to turn, the state suffered a deep political crisis that resulted in the metaphorical disappearance of the law of the father. Because of this political crisis and the lack of a strong ideological referent, the cultural production of those years suffered a schizophrenic split of sorts. Humanist projects such as Paideia sought to reform cultural politics in a way that rearticulated the revolutionary utopian imaginary and the law of the father. Diaspora(s), in contrast, reacted to that emptiness with an ironic poetics. The regime’s delirious belief in the power of words was reflected in Juan Carlos Flores’s writing as a type of expenditure producing a consumption that does not transform. Together with a discourse of economic liberalization, this produces a life without value and perpetuates the absence of the primordial signifier.

With the end of utopia, or the end of history as it was understood in Marxian discourse, Cuban literature of the nineties reached an aesthetic impasse. The poetics of both Diaspora(s) and Flores testify to this standstill, and Paideia represents the last attempt to reform the revolutionary humanist project. The aesthetic response to this impasse was articulated in Flores by the rejection of representation and in Diaspora(s) by irony. Both poetics show the lack of the law of the father and result from a schizophrenic split, yet there is no political skepticism. Unlike the nineties prose fiction—which, according to Jorge Fornet, came out of disenchantment—these two aesthetics did not engage politics. On the one hand, irony implies the acknowledgment of the lack of the law of the father. On the other hand, it alludes to the revolution’s fallen ego-ideal as the disruption of an illusion, the foregrounding of buffo, and what Sanchez Mejias understands as the production of pathos.

At a conference, “Cuba-USSR and the Post-Soviet Experience,” held at the University of Connecticut in 2007, Sanchez Mejias caustically denied that Diaspora(s) had any political intention.1 Instead of ideology, he argued, Diaspora(s) was about pathos. Sanchez Mejias was probably referring to pathos as a communication technique of persuasion. For Aristotle, for example, pathos was the awakening emotion that induced the desired response in the audience. Although in previous centuries, the ethical or epistemic values of this concept had been variously interpreted, in romanticism it was clearly used to refer to violent passions not responding to reason. Pathos thus conceived is a purely vanguardist gesture rejecting, deriding, and mocking conformity to the norm. Pathos in Diaspora(s) lacks any ethical value, but it definitely carries the vanguardist desire to shock captured in the French expression epater le bourgeois. Following Aristotle’s definition, however, pathos could articulate an ethical value. Is not the desire to shock or move an audience a thought-provoking action leading to a pause, reflec?tion, or different consideration of an issue? As a project, Diaspora(s) is not a response to the ethical possibility of art. It is, rather, the disruption of a tropological system, that is, the disruption of the ideological fantasy that conceals the Real of utopian desire. Like a mirror, however, Diaspora(s) both shows the existence of that social fantasy and simultaneously creates its own. The fantasy displayed by Diaspora(s) poetry is the vanguardist fantasy par excellence, consisting in the creation of a poetics that thinks itself as existing outside of ideology, that is, outside of fantasy. This is why Lorenzo Garcia Vega, in his introduction to Memorias de clase muerta, defines the anthology as one where writing is constantly being erased: “Because in the world of droplets of dreams, in the world of splinters . . . there is no valid explanation. So, . . . what has just been said is immediately erased” (Aguilera 2002, 15). Garcia Vega describes writing as an impermanent and ethereal gesture that leaves no trace. Where does such poetics take us? Does it not take us to the end of aesthetics and consequently to the end of literature? This question can only be answered by interrogating the type of poetics that Diaspora(s)’s writing proposes.

The ideological ambiguities of the work of the Diaspora(s)’s members point to the limits imposed by their vanguardist gesture and its aporias. On the one hand, this is an aesthetics that suggests its own desire to disappear; on the other hand, through its constant disruption, it performs a desire to shock (affectivity) and to reflection (thought). This tension breaks the fantasy that the writing of Diaspora(s)’s members articulates, that is, the belief that their aesthetics exists outside ideology. It proves that their aesthetics is bare life and that they exist in that liminal space between literature’s end and its new beginning.

After all these years, what is the inheritance of the mighty eighties and nineties? Whither Paideia, Diaspora(s), and Reina’s azotea? Were all these aesthetic movements circumstantial to their own times? In his introduction to Memorias de la clase muerta, Garcia Vega states that the authors featured in the anthology are not united by circumstances (such as location or age). Rather, Garcia Vega says that these authors share an existential experience, and thus their writing is out of context, hors texte: “No context, then, enables us to approach the poets of the dead class. No context or history” (Aguilera 2002, 14). The writers of Diaspora(s), as well as others from the same generation including Ponte and Flores, have made a point of bringing forward negativity and lack, an aspect of Cuban culture that dominant interpretations of the latter have dismissed. As I have argued, scholars have interpreted this gesture as the simple antithesis of revolutionary poetics, of a group that has been unable to move outside of the revolutionary/counterrevolutionary dialectic. And yet Diaspora(s) never engaged in a political or programmatic war against culture, and their work never fell into a facile political critique of the regime. Instead, their work has always been concerned with language. Like all the other authors I have studied in this book, their work bears an intellectual relationship with language as the only possibility for articulating thought. Theirs is not a nihilistic approach to literature, which places politics before poetics, protest before intellectual thought.

This book has shown that revolutionary discourse is articulated through two main libidinal forces: the pleasure principle and the death drive. These two forces have been at the root of ideological and aesthetic discourse since the beginning of the revolution. These two principles will be in constant opposition, battling each other throughout the entire revolutionary process. In the sixties, the death drive manifests itself as an apology of violence, which takes the form of melodrama in its cultural rendering. It is a defense of violence, and at the same time an incantation of life. This contradiction resulted in the discourse of the New Man in 1965, which reintroduced the clash between utopia and violence, resulting in the melancholic nature of the New Man, as well as the gray man of the seventies. With the eighties came the withering of real socialism, an era of uncertainty that brought back the melancholic New Man. The pleasure principle has regained force through a different aegis. Instead of crafting apologies for violence, the state promises utopia through the protection and preservation of life. The discourse of violence no longer represents utopia, which instead becomes the subjection of life. Biopolitics is the return of a repressed utopia, and it produces the Proyecto Diaspora(s) imaginary and its representation of subjectivity as a space between death and life. The revolution’s offspring, like their primogenitors, reproduced the clash between violence and humanism with two different voices: humanism with Proyecto Paideia, and violence with Proyecto Diaspora(s). But the discourse of utopia slowly withers, because it no longer demands the sacrifice of life. The discourse of violence has no utopian dimension, because it has been transformed into an ironic discourse, where the two registers (life and death) become interchangeable. The frustrated desire for utopia, forever repressed, is no longer on the horizon. The same is true in state discourse, with its parallel disavowal of capitalism and its desire. Utopia is capitalism, but it is also violence, and socialism can no longer produce apologies for violence (the market). It can only offer a utopia devoid of an object of desire. An empty signifier, political discourse is absent. This is when the repressed returns, as a sign that points to the end of literature.

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics