Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Cecilia Valdés: The Search for a Cuban Discursive Control

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Cecilia Valdés: The Search for a Cuban Discursive Control

Article excerpt

As he published the definitive version of his masterpiece Cecilia Valdés o La loma del Ángel in 1882, Cirilo Villaverde faced a radically different social situation in Cuba than that of 1839, the year of this novel's first appearance as a short story. To wit, the issue of slavery had witnessed a serious reevaluation in both Cuban and Latin American circles. Once-extraordinary sugar profits no longer justified the investments necessary to maintain Cuba's enslaved work force since mechanical innovations represented an ever more inviting option for Cuba's latifundios. In Cuba, the continued importation of African slaves created a demographic time bomb: the black population finally had come to represent the majority of the country's population. The explosion of violence among slaves in the Samt-Domingue revolution of 1791 and its famous adoption of a only organic government served as a possible foreshadowing for Cuba's immediate future.1 Although Villaverde would finish his novel in forced exile in the United States, the aforementioned social factors and their political impact continued to capture his literary imagination. Cuban independence remained a central preoccupation of Villaverde's writing, and this creole goal necessarily allied itself with a strong condemnation of the institution of slavery on the island.2 Nevertheless, the power vacuum experienced by Cuba's peninsulares, that revealed itself on a political level due to abolition, invited an extended discursive meditation on the part of Villaverde.3 This study explores the utilization of the narrative of Cecilia Valdés and its depicted institutions to serve as a sort of creole discursive "motor," replacing the system of slavery that previously powered the "machine" of Cuba's plantation economy.

From a geographic perspective, Cuba finds itself in a position that resists certainty and solidity. Not only do the islands of the Caribbean reject North American critical efforts to classify them beneath a coherent theoretical framework, they also oppose similar Latin American proposals as well. Instead, Cuba and the Caribbean region occupy a veritable "no man's land" that demands its own critical approaches. According to Antonio Benítez Rojo, this lack of a recognized nucleus in the Caribbean underlines the diffused, infinite character of this area: "¿cómo dejar establecido que el Caribe es un mar histórico-económico principal y, además, un meta-archipiélago cultural sin centro y límites, un caos dentro del cual hay una isla que se repite incesantemente?" (xiii). Moreover, its commercial appearances around the globe are intimately linked to the institution of the plantation and the products that the latter continues to produce today; globalization only accentuates this infinite mercantile circulation.

It is clearly not a coincidence that Benítez Rojo chooses the figure of the machine to serve as an efficient metaphor in the discursive construction of this economic and cultural connection that links the Caribbean with the world: "Puede hablarse, sin embargo, de una máquina caribeña de tanta o más importancia que la máquina flota. Esa máquina, esa extraordinaria máquina, existe todavía; esto es, 'se repite' sin cesar. Se llama: la plantación" (xi). The abrupt end of the movement of ships carrying Latin America's mineral riches to be melted down and subsequently cover the cathedrals and palaces of Europe did not constitute the elimination of the machine's metaphorical validity. On the contrary, the current incarnation of the plantation provides agricultural goods (sugar and tobacco above all) that extend this image of the Caribbean machine to the most distant of lands. In addition, the associations promoted by this regional metaphor go beyond its economic consequences to more artistic considerations: "La máquina caribeña, sin embargo, es algo más: es una máquina de flujo y de interrupción a la vez; es una máquina tecnológico -poética, o si se quiere, una meta-máquina de diferencias cuyo mecanismo poético no puede ser diagramado en las dimensiones convencionales" (xxiv). …

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