Academic journal article Hispanic Review

The Spirit of Martí in the Land of Coaybay

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

The Spirit of Martí in the Land of Coaybay

Article excerpt

[U]no de los dilemas irresolubles del futuro de Cuba es, pressamente, la extranjería de su pasado.

- Rafael Rojas, Tumbas sin sosiego

José Martí's ubiquity in Cuban literature, culture, and the entire spectrum of politics challenges us to parse and contextualize his myriad appropriations, when it doesn't thwart productive engagement with his thought altogether.' Recently scholarship on Marti has even specialized to include studies devoted to the various political ends to which he has been marshaled.2 But how do these recuperations of Marti dialogue with Marti's literary and philosophical preoccupations, such as nation, temporality, poetics? This essay tracks how Republican era (1902-1958) afterlives of Marti - repeated literary references to both his bones and spirit - serve as a barometer for shifting concerns. Early in the century, the spirit or remains of Marti crowd a stage on which authors reproduce a quite Martian messianic discourse of jeopardized sovereignty. But these themes morph, during what is sometimes called the "pseudo-Republic," into depictions of economic dependence and consumption as the Spanish colony becomes a US neocolony.

Common to both phases is an engagement with Marti's philosophy, particularly of time and of nation. Specifically, post-1902 literature continues Marti's attempt to imagine a temporality outside of the transfer of empire, implied in both Spanish and US imperial teleologies, and highlighted in the moment of transition between the two. Ultimately, however, Marti's ecstatic utopia - ecstatic in the etymological sense Heidegger recuperated of "outside place and time" - freezes into an obsessive, vicious circling around his ruins.

The ruminative tone of Republican literature has deep roots. Rafael Rojas's magisterial study of intellectuals' engagement with the Cuban Revolution, Tumbas sin sosiego: revolución, disidencia y exilio del intelectual cubano, makes a convincing case for the importance of nineteenth-century myths and aborted emancipatory projects to the course that the 1959 Revolution would take. Rojas claims nineteenth-century frustrations of the Republic paved the way for two foundational myths of Cuban political culture: that of the "Revolución Inconclusa" and that of the "Regreso del Mesías" (52). The two concepts mystify history, Rojas contends, insofar as they dissolve the distinct aims of at least four different struggles - 1868, 1895, 1933, 1959 - into a single one with its own teleology (66-67). In fact, one could extend the "sensación de cementerio" traced so exhaustively by Rojas well beyond the twentieth century on which he focuses and deep into the nineteenth. The sense of foreclosed possibilities which characterize a significant portion of twentiethcentury Cuban letters and political thought might, then, be seen as a repetition, albeit with a difference, of a nineteenth-century melancholic nationalism partially produced by the ideological double-bind of a slave-holding elite unable to press for national independence so long as it was linked to the abolition of slavery.

But such a genealogy is the subject for a longer study. In what follows I examine a more delimited prevalence of ghosts and relics in Republican letters. Analyzing works by authors Bonifacio Byrne and José Antonio Ramos in which Marti appears as a specter, an immaterial being rebuking the neocolonial state, I argue that Marti haunts Republican literature for discrete but interrelated and cumulative reasons: (1) Marti's prophetic measures have been stymied in neocolonial Cuba; (2) despite Marti's efforts to write into existence a new kind of nation and temporality, the nation as such is necessarily haunted by what it excludes; and (3) Marti's status as specter - a material form of the immaterial - inversely mirrors a widespread, cultural nationalism that, as critic Emma Alvarez-Tabio Albo has suggested, compensates a Cuba whose sovereignty and territory were "dematerializing" before foreign capital (146). …

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