Academic journal article Cuban Studies

Irreverent Humor in Postrevolutionary Cuban Fiction: The Case of Mirta Yanez

Academic journal article Cuban Studies

Irreverent Humor in Postrevolutionary Cuban Fiction: The Case of Mirta Yanez

Article excerpt

Historically, the Cuban response to difficulty has been to joke, poke fun, and in general to not take things seriously - a response that may be linked with the traditional gracia criolla or with the more pointed and superficial choteo. Jorge Mañach's seminal work elucidates both terms, contrasting the more benign and thoughtful character of gracia criolla with the irresponsible and reactive nature Ofthe choteo. He further explains that "el choteo mantiene sistemáticamente su actitud hacia todas las cosas tenidas por serias mientras no lleguen a afectarle de un modo tal que haga psicológicamente imposible 'chotearlas ' " (Indagación 18). Maflach suggests that in one manifestation or the other, humor forms a fundamental part of the Cuban national character, a jocosity that is reflected in the tradition of Cuban literature. For example, Guillermo Cabrera Infante's international fame is inextricably connected to his unique mixture of humorous bawdy excess and postmodernist word play.

In postrevolutionary Cuba, however, where the literary aesthetic during the 1960s and 1970s demanded a socially and politically committed prose, gravity was the order of the day. For this reason among many, Cabrera Infante's Tres tristes tigres ( 1967) - written in exile - was rejected as frivolous, decadent, and irreverent.1 Officially sanctioned writers attempted to move away from thenlegacy of lightheartedness and depict the decadence of the former dictatorships and the glory of the revolution in a style that has been called Cuban neorealism or socialist realism. Inevitably, in this period some literary voices emerged that challenged the necessary division between serious "revolutionary" literature and humor, bringing the Cuban genius for hilarity back to the island. Exemplary of such a trend, Mirta Yáñez imbues even the most serious and compelling literary moments with irreverent humor, recuperating her national heritage of gracia cubana and choteo. Yáñez's ability to laugh at herself and at the inconsistencies of Cuban life has made her one of the most important living writers of the revolution and makes her style more universally appealing. Staunchly independent and full of ideals, she tempers the social criticism in her fiction with unrepentant cubanismo, without ever reverting to dogma or didacticism. Rather, she subtly destabilizes the rigid solemnity of the status quo, withholding a blanket respect for the authorities and even suggesting that the powers that be might not benefit from taking themselves so seriously. In this Yáñez exemplifies some of Dianna C. Niebylski's theories expounded in Humoring Resistance: Laughter and the Excessive Body in Contemporary Latin American Women's Fiction.2 Niebylski insists that humor, being "a social as well as a discursive phenomenon," is understood best within a distinct cultural context; she suggests, for example, that the resistant and humorous excess typical of Caribbean writers be studied along with the choteo (Humoring Resistance 8). And indeed Yáñez utilizes the choteo as well as the less corrosive gracia criolla to relate her bodily and spiritual resistance to certain aspects of contemporary Cuban culture. This paper will discuss how Yáñez's use of irreverent humor uncovers the absurd and the ironic in contemporary Cuba from a woman's perspective, placing her short fiction in the vanguard of Cuban "revolutionary" literature.3

Contextual Clues, or, How Does Yáñez Fit within the Cuban Canon?

A prominent figure in her native country and to a lesser extent in the rest of Latin America, Yáñez is now becoming known in the United States and Europe.4 Rising interest in her work demonstrates a scholarly determination to circumvent "one ofthe unstated aims ofthe [economic] embargo:... to make it difficult for U.S. citizens to have access to what Cubans are thinking, writing, creating, and arguing in Cuba today" (Beverly 2). To read the collected works of Mirta Yáñez is to shatter the illusion that Cuban writers on the island adhere to a singular style or defend the system at the expense of finding a unique and honed literary expression. …

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