Drawing New Lines

By Fusco, Coco | The Nation, October 24, 1988 | Go to article overview

Drawing New Lines


Fusco, Coco, The Nation


We are tired of repeating (to the point of singing it) that we don't live in a perfect

society."

The quotation comes from an article on the current state of Cuban cinema published in a recent issue of El Caiman Barbudo ("The Bearded Alligator"), the monthly journal of the Cuban Communist Youth. Its author alludes to lines in a popular ballad by Nueva Trova star Pablo Milanes, whose concerts often tum into sing-alongs, and whose lyrics have for years been touted as examples of social criticism, Cuban style. The article picks up on a refrain often heard these days in public debate on Cuban culture. The gist of the message is that simply admitting that ideals have not yet been reached is not enough anymore. And not only is it not enough, but it must now be revealed as a symptom of all the impediments to serious public discussion of culture.

The force behind these calls for a thorough evaluation of Cuban culture is a growing number of very vocal young artists and writers. They are members of the much talked-about "young generation" who have come to maturity after the golden age of the 1960s and the lean years of the 1970s. The spirit of artistic innovation that overturned the sleepy visual arts scene of the 1970s has spread to small-scale experimental theater and dance and is now confronting the more overtly politicized arenas of ideological debate and narrative, especially mass cultural forms like cinema. Steering clear of extremism, they are taking the terms of Marxist debate out of the hands of their elders and using them to rectify" the dogmatism they identify with intellectual timidity and bad bureaucracy, Politically astute, rigorously analytic and aesthetically pluralist, they have emerged in the 1980s as a powerful cultural force.

The very fact that these young people can raise both their issues and their voices is due to other and larger forces at work in Cuban society. In contrast to periods when almost any dissent might have been perceived as sectarianism or worse, recently Fidel Castro has asserted that differences of opinion can and do exist within the party. To expedite "rectification" in a society in which few risk public debate on ideological issues, open-minded elder statesmen such as Carlos Rafael Rodriguez and Armando Hart have taken to explaining that "dialogue" between opposing parties or generations does not signal the loss of party unity, but rather the realization of the dialectic in everyday life.

That artists are now the subjects of much more favorable attention was evident in Castro's appearance at the fourth UNEAC (artists and writers union) Congress last January-his first address to artists since the 1961 "Words to the Intellectuals" speech. A sector that was (and occasionally still is) suspected of individualistic excesses has now been declared the source of the revolution's spiritual wealth. Clarifying the infamous dictum, "Within the revolution, everything; outside the revolution, nothing," with which he concluded his reflections on artistic freedom in 1961, Castro declared that artists can now explore all the possibilities of both form and content -within the revolution.

The fourth congress closed with resolutions to restructure the union so as to give the artists a more active role in the administration of culture. Also, twelve years after the establishment of the Ministry of Culture, the process of "professionalizing" the arts has reached the point of granting legitimate status to the "independent" artist, an extremely significant departure from times when those without traditional employment or an international reputation risked the derogatory appellation of "marginal."

Official speeches at the UNEAC Congress and elsewhere this year have singled out the "young generation." Recognized as the creative energy behind the 1980s renaissance in the Cuban visual arts, their efforts attract serious discussion as more and more of their work contains pointed social critique.

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