The Cubalogues: Beat Writers in Revolutionary Havana

By Dickinson, Phil | Journal of Beat Studies, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Cubalogues: Beat Writers in Revolutionary Havana


Dickinson, Phil, Journal of Beat Studies


The Cubalogues: Beat Writers in Revolutionary Havana. Todd F. Tietchen (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2010)

"... Now if in Korea we hear there is continual killing, now if we rightly have no longer faith in our nations, now if we tire of futile decisions, we are at home among stranger relations."

- Robert Duncan, "Writing at home in history"

For a brief two-year period following the 1959 revolution, the arts in Cuba were opened to new and daring currents that offered alternative ways of imagining the long and vexed relationship between that tiny Caribbean island and its northern neighbor. Likened by one of its participants to the Weimar era in Germany, this vibrant artistic renaissance coalesced around the Guillermo Cabrera Infante-edited literary journal Lunes de Revolución and was decidedly different in its revolutionary outlook than the "authorized" version of the Cuban Revolution its detractors sold to the American public. "We are not part of a group, neither literary nor artistic. . . " announced Lunes de Revolution's editors. "We do not have a definite political philosophy, although we do not reject certain systems which approach reality - and when we speak of systems, we are referring, for example, to dialectical materialism or psychoanalysis, or existentialism" (41-42). At the peak of its popularity, Lunes de Revolution had a circulation of 250,000 and championed the work of a new generation of revolutionary Cuban artists, writers, and film-makers, some of whom produced works - like P.M., the 1960 Albert Maysles-influenced "free cinema" exploration of Havana nightlife directed by Infante's brother Saba and Orlando Jiménez Leal - that soon ran afoul of the authorities.

But just as quickly as it had begun, this era of improvisation, experimentation and openness ended. On June 30, 1961, Fidel Castro announced in his address "A True Social Revolution Produces a Cultural Revolution (Words To The Intellectuals)" that henceforth "the most revolutionary artist will be that one who is prepared to sacrifice even his own artistic vocation for the Revolution" (LANIC). Cuban artistic and cultural life would from now on be subordinated to the ideological demands of national revolutionary policy. Shortly thereafter, Lunes de Revolution was shut down, its editor exiled, and by 1965 those engaged in the artistic underground had become "los infermos" - "the sick" - a dismissive term that reveals what little use the new revolutionary leadership had for art and literature that fell far outside the purview of orthodox revolutionary cultural praxis.

Todd Tietchen's The Cubalogues: Beat Writers in Revolutionary Havana is a densely argued study of those first-person narratives he terms "Cubalogues," a group of texts that constitute an "explicitly political subgenre of Beat travel narrative" (2). At the heart of the book are broadly contextualized readings of eyewitness Cubalogue accounts from the period 1960-61 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti ("Poet's Notes on Cuba"), Amiri Baraka ("Cuba Libre"), journalist Marc Schleifer ("Cuban Notebook"), and Harold Cruse ("A Negro Looks At Cuba"), along with a later Cubalogue-related prose piece by Allen Ginsberg ("Prose Contribution to Cuban Revolution"). Collectively, these narratives function for Tietchen as "acts of counter imagination" that challenge the parallels between the normative rhetoric of United States military and foreign policy and a public discursive sphere firmly under the sway of "long entrenched imperial tropes and the bifurcating rhetoric of Cold War politics" (155). Tietchen argues that these narratives imagine the relations between peoples, histories, politics, and art in ways that prefigure the culture and ethos of the New Left and its associated liberation movements.

If the Cubalogue is a form of "gone South" Beat travel narrative, it is one that unfolds within a decidedly more progressive political context than that traditionally afforded Latin American spaces in the U. …

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