1. Fiction as an irruption of the present time
Nothing happens unless first we dreamed.
This text is not mine. Just as it is not mine a country that does not exist and that we dream up as fiction, which is the best way to create a country and to create literature.
Reality abhors the present because it is the present time that proves it incomplete. It betrays us all the time because it flees from itself by slipping into the past or the future. Only sometimes, as if compelled by the centripetal force of a storm —yes, just that: a literal storm— the past and the future converge in the same space. Then and only then can we say that we are living in the present time.
For the first time in a long time, Cuba is living in the present. And when a country lives in the present, fiction can —and should— become reality.
The past, finite time in the end, is dead: it is deceased time. It is that cold shroud we keep vigil over at the funeral home: a posthumous society surviving in an artificial comatose state. Once the primary organic functions are suspended (economy, free will, capacity to dream), the Cuban State tries to maintain that posthumous society on which it feeds, like a scavenging bird, through survival mechanisms that are also dead.
The Cuban State feeds on “necropolitics”. It feeds on a relationship of enmity that does not exist; it revives over and over again the stiff corpse of the Cold War and the imminent aggression that does not arrive. It invokes in a ridiculous death rattle an extinct system. It shouts slogans in the name of socialism and the Revolution, while it goes deeper and deeper into State capitalism. Unable to sustain itself, it resorts to the parasites it excommunicated from its bosom, and claims from the people the loyalty of fanatical parishioners. It feeds on media lynching. It relies on the precariousness of violence as a way of silencing its citizens and, of course, being a corpse, it supplants life with death and subsists, phantasmagoric, in the realm of terror.
So much for the past. A hard, monolithic, binary, classist, segregationist past. A society in rigor mortis, encysted, that survives in a solid state, while the world around it, being alive, moves, flows, adapts, becomes complex, learns from the other. Sometimes, hysterical stains of a purplish red tone appear on the corpse, confirming that the dead person is really dead. Of course, just as in the funeral home, one of the main agents in a posthumous society is the guard, in charge of looking after the shroud.
The future in Cuba burst through fiction. The fiction of a possible country. In the face of violence, poetry. In the face of the repression generated by a monolithic, immovable body, the open, heterodox signifier. In the face of the imposition of an inert, preconceived system, the imagination. While the forces of terror were hammering down doors, inside they were imagining new doors in their drawings. While the police cordon imposed a physical confinement, fiction opened up to the world through the Internet. While they were denied nature, whimsical trees grew among the industrious hands. While they were deprived of access to sustenance, by intercepting food and poisoning the water, they embraced the renunciation of the physical body and then dreamed even more. And when the dream became unbearable for the power (a posthumous society is not given the ability to dream), then the prison guards entered to stop the dream.
Here is an interesting paradox. A dead person clings to the body because it is the only thing he has left: everything else has fled from him. The living, on the other hand, know that the body has meaning as a container of the miracle that is, let’s say, that which we have been calling the capacity to dream.
I’ve always thought that Carlos Manuel Álvarez’s return to Havana was mediated by that other dream of Roberto Bolaño: “I dreamt that nobody dies the day before.”
2. Affective memory as reconstruction of the present time
History is the reconstruction, always problematic and
incomplete, of what is no longer.
The smell of saltpeter, the walls where humidity makes fungus grow like frost; the awkward sensation of walking through laughter on faltering heels along a cobbled street at midnight; the sudden downpour under a blazing sun; the roots of the trees tearing up the sidewalks on G Street; the waves skipping rope with the wall of the Malecón; the smell of a sip of coffee when the day begins. My grandmother on the roof of Campanario throwing fish heads as if they were streamers to cats at dawn. My mother reading Dulce María in El Jardín after fetching the only bread of the day. Me ripping out skeletons of cicadas on that pine barrier in Santa María del Mar and hanging them up like precious gems on my thin towel. The Modern Poetry, Lezama’s house, El Trotcha that no longer exists and for me is still so alive. The Campoamor. The friends. The tenement on O’Reilly where we read poetry amidst jets of urine in a nineteenth-century potty that looked like Mambrino’s helmet from Don Quixote. My father, one day, sitting on the sofa to tell us that they, my mother and father, both of them, had thrown away their life project, but that we haven’t done that yet, we didn’t have to inherit that. And the sea, the sea coming in suddenly over and over again inside the tired city, as if to wipe out everything, as if to clean up everything, as if to start from scratch.
This is, more or less, my emotional memory. It doesn’t need monuments or pre-established celebrations because it is alive and spontaneous. It invades me and breathes life into me every day. It relates me like magic sap to people I don’t even know personally, but to whom I am united by the same emotional corollary. That is the only generational concept I understand. Other stuff is not memory but history, and all history is the result of a selective process imposed in pursuit of a telos —also imposed— that needs iteration again and again because otherwise it would disappear from our collective imagination.
A posthumous society cannot afford the slightest attack against that forced, frozen imaginary, jealously constructed over time to hijack the future and which barely subsists as a reminiscence. That is why the Castro State clings to calendars, medals, commemorative acts, scheduled meetings, slogans, heroes, flags, monuments, acts of repudiation.
When Castro’s totalitarian power persecutes Luis Manuel Otero for sleeping with the flag, for bathing with the flag, for tucking himself in with the flag, it is not because of that pretended and pathetic altruism towards the national symbol, but because it knows the danger that embodies stripping the symbol of that stiff historical value and giving it back its emotional value.
When the Castro totalitarian power imprisons Denis Solís under the pretext of “contempt”, it does not do it for the vulgarity of his language, which is almost a Cuban identity sign, but for the daring of that same language, which is a dagger or a bell waking up the whole sleeping neighborhood. It does it because of the demand for change tattooed on his skin, because of his sewn mouth which is hunger and is an impossibility of the word, because he is poor and black and dares to leave the corner assigned to him by the classist power and dares to sing.
For Luis Manuel Otero and Denis Solís, the Castro State has its prison guards at hand: the institutions in charge of making history last and disarticulating memory. This is why the Ministry Culture has its Creators Registry. That’s what the Rap Agency is for. That’s why there is all the framework that, as we know, is disintegrating us as a living collective, assigning us artificial roles of belonging. That’s what the decrees amending the Constitution are for. And that is exactly what is unacceptable of those who are planted at the Ministry of Culture: to challenge power through its own framework, using the institution and the Constitution itself, which is dead letter, to claim the personal right to the present time, which means a direct blow to power.
Gargarella and Courtis refer to this type of Constitution that abounds in the contemporary Latin American scene as poetic, insofar as they exist as mere empty rhetoric. “Constitutions that do not speak of reality, but include expressions of desires, dreams, aspirations, without any contact with the reality of the countries where they are applied.”
Both the San Isidro Movement (SIM) and those planted at the Ministry of Culture (N27) act within the framework of the legality of a Constitution that, in Articles 41, 51 and 54, recognizes “the inalienable, imprescriptible, indivisible, universal and interdependent enjoyment and exercise of human rights, in accordance with the principles of progressiveness, equality and non-discrimination”; that “persons may not be subjected to forced disappearance, torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, and that “The State recognizes, respects, and guarantees people’s freedom of thought, conscience, and expression.”
This is what Abu Duyanah refers to as “the ghost of bad poetry” that invades our existence from the legal apparatus to the lines to buy chicken, and against which Amauri Pacheco reacts when he speaks of the need for “civic poetry”: “in a direct give-and-take with the community”. This is the only way to understand the wave of arbitrary arrests, the surveillance, the de facto house arrest and the outrages that a “poetic whisper” provokes. This is the only way to understand the persecution of artists who meet in front of the Ministry that represents them to demand a dialogue.
In one of his live interventions, Carlos Manuel Álvarez appealed to the imagination as the only way to act against a preconceived script; the only model to reconstruct affections. And then he said: “A country is always a fiction”.
This is something filmmaker Fernando Pérez also insisted on when he appealed to the need for “a new language” in the sit-in at the Ministry of Culture. Later on, in an interview for El Estornudo and recalling that night, he would say: “It was like a trip to the future, and that is what for me marks November 27th as an important moment in our reality.”
As the Castro necrolanguage itself feeds on “sleeping clauses” in that legal apparatus to claim a humanist vocation that it does not practice, it makes use of what Yoandy Cabrera has defined as the “domestication of printed literature” in Cuba. The same could be said of the visual arts. Castro’s totalitarian power creates necrotic spaces where “freedom” exists as a mirage. Those necrotic spaces are the publishing houses, the galleries, the museums, but there, as in the Constitution itself, we see a dead language. San Isidro then meant the awakening of that sleeping language through its orality, its reconnection at ground level with the other, with the community. And this is what is dangerous for power.
The N27 also broke with that tradition of Cuban art as dead letter, claiming for the first time and at the group level the use of the symbolic status of art as a civic voice in a powerful J’accuse. Aware of the need to begin by dismantling the history constructed by the government as the only way of reconstructing emotions, they have given themselves over as a collective to the dismantling of the Castro necrolanguage. The N27 is superimposed on the J26; to the attacks of being subsidized by the CIA, they resignify the acronym as Cuban Independent Art; to the campaigns to damage their reputions by the government, they respond with saving slogans like #YoApagoYoAhorro, inviting people to turn off the television during the hour of civic assassination that is the national news.
Instead of locking herself up in the house during one of the acts of repudiation, Iliana Hernández confronted the frenetic mob by throwing their slogans back to their faces: Long live free Cuba, Cuba for the Cubans, thus dismantling the empty discourse of Castro’s power, resignifying it. Before the coagulated cry of Long live Fidel, she responded with a reality call: Fidel is dead.
Iliana was accompanied by her mother. Later, another mother, whose son had attended the programmed act of repudiation, apologized to Iliana and told the government not to use her son for these purposes anymore. Other parents joined in. Julio Llópiz-Casal’s mother wrote an open letter to Vice Minister Fernando Rojas; Carlos Manuel’s parents confronted the paramilitary forces that were preventing their son from moving around. Despite of the smear campaign, each of the protagonists of this open exploit receives, when they take to the streets, the support of ordinary people.
Victor Hugo said, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” The Cuban society is beginning to awaken from its lethargy and has done so in the only way possible, through fiction. By dint of fictionalizing a country that reconstructs its emotional memory and removes, once and for all, the necrotic history that sustains a posthumous society. Through that storm that is the irruption of the future where the contingency restores the emotions.
For Bédarida, the present time is that which is identified with the “experience lived in the process of becoming past”. A past that resists the irruption of a collective mnemonic being that has recovered hope and the desire to dream.
There is something essential that Anamely Ramos has pointed out on several occasions. She says that “in Damas 955 a country was rehearsed”. A country where university professors, housewives, poets, artists, musicians, teachers, vegans, Christians, Muslims, Catholics, practitioners of Afro-Cuban religions, agnostics, atheists, journalists, writers, whites, blacks, mulattos, men, women, different generations, gays, bisexuals, etc. converged in the same horizontal character. In other words, a magnificent sample of the Cuban nation and what an inclusive Cuba could look like.
Cuba is not alone. Despite the fact that Castro’s necrolanguage insists on the discourse of Cuban exceptionality in order to erect itself everlastingly through that dead historical memory, the whole world lives similar eclosions that seek the restoration of spontaneous memory, of otherness, of the marginal as the only effective way to dismantle that State-society that strangles the individual.
Luis Manuel Otero said that through San Isidro “Cuba would enter the 21st century”. We are finally doing it.
The dialogue at the Ministry of Culture, which some classified as a failure, is a success as a symbolic action that proves the impossibility of dialogue with a sclerotic and solid power. Once the dissonance of the interlocutors has been demonstrated, the dialogue of the protesters has been redirected, as Carlos Pintado points out, towards their real interlocutor who is not the power but the common citizen. I would like to quote Nora again. This time it is short, and by way of a closing it summarizes that open exploit that from fiction recovers today in Cuba the emotions and makes us finally live in the present time: “The less collectively memory is lived, the more it needs particular men who become men-memory themselves”.