C. Wright Mills and the Cuban Revolution: An Exercise in the Art of Sociological Imagination

C. Wright Mills and the Cuban Revolution: An Exercise in the Art of Sociological Imagination

C. Wright Mills and the Cuban Revolution: An Exercise in the Art of Sociological Imagination

C. Wright Mills and the Cuban Revolution: An Exercise in the Art of Sociological Imagination

Synopsis

In C. Wright Mills and the Cuban Revolution, A. Javier Trevino reconsiders the opinions, perspectives, and insights of the Cubans that Mills interviewed during his visit to the island in 1960. On returning to the United States, the esteemed and controversial sociologist wrote a small paperback on much of what he had heard and seen, which he published as Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba. Those interviews--now transcribed and translated--are interwoven here with extensive annotations to explain and contextualize their content. Readers will be able to "hear" Mills as an expert interviewer and ascertain how he used what he learned from his informants. Trevino also recounts the experiences of four central figures whose lives became inextricably intertwined during that fateful summer of 1960: C. Wright Mills, Fidel Castro, Juan Arcocha, and Jean-Paul Sartre. The singular event that compelled their biographies to intersect at a decisive moment in the history of Cold War geopolitics--with its attendant animosities and intrigues-- was the Cuban Revolution.

Excerpt

The North American sociologist C. Wright Mills traveled to Cuba, once, to experience firsthand that island’s transition to a new sovereign state, some eighteen months after the triumph of its Revolution. Upon returning to the United States, Mills wrote a small paperback on much of what he had heard and seen, which he titled Listen, Yankee: the Revolution in Cuba. As he explains in the opening sentence, “This book reflects the mood as well as the contents of discussions and interviews with rebel soldiers and intellectuals, officials, journalists and professors in Cuba, during August, 1960.”

On first reading Listen, Yankee as a graduate student and shortly before undertaking my first trip to Cuba in 1987 I wondered if I would be seeing some of the same places that Mills had visited on his trek through the island over a quarter century before. There were those out-of-the-way cities like Manzanillo and Santiago de Cuba, but also the more well-known locations of Havana and the Sierra Maestra, and the exotically named Isle of Pines. I knew from the book’s foreword—the “Note to the Reader, I”— that Mills had spoken with many “Cubans close to events.” This included discussions with most of the leaders of the Revolutionary government like Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Ché” Guevara. I later learned that he had gone there with a wire recorder in hand and speculated on what those interviews had revealed to him. Who exactly were the Cubans “close to events” with whom he spoke, other than disembodied names that he lists in the note thanking them for their generosity, patience, and time? What in particular did they tell him about their lives—their moods and wishes, their aspirations and discontents? and what about the Revolution—an event that was still very much in the making during Mills’s sojourn to the Caribbean island?

Then there was the enigmatic best-selling paperback itself—presented from the perspective of the Cuban revolutionary—that Mills wrote within a matter of weeks. Was Listen, Yankee a work in sociology? It certainly didn’t read like his previous analytical studies, White Collar and The Power Elite. Was it a polemical academic treatise like his famous volume The Sociologi cal Imagination? Perhaps it was a manifesto of sorts, or a piece of journalism (in the pejorative sense of the term), or a political “pamphlet” as he liked . . .

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