Monday, July 27, 2009

Reading Cuba

It has been said that a good way to get to know a foreign culture is by immersing yourself in its art. While I don’t discount this, a trip to the foreign location is pretty important as well. That being the case, I can only go so far in my acquaintance with Cuba, as the dumb ass embargo won’t permit me to set foot on the little island. Sure, I could enter via Mexico or Canada, and I just might one of these days (especially is Obama doesn’t lift the restriction soon), but the circuitous route is pretty offensive when you get right down to it. Who the fuck do we think we are?

Anyway, arguments once abounded for and against the embargo, but the goddamn thing is looking pretty silly and antiquated after all these years, well after the end of the so-called Cold War. There are plenty of pieces arguing against to be found here:

So there’s a place to read some things, assuming you agree with the point of view. Hold back on the accusations of imbalanced reporting: it’s a blog and it makes its bias known. At least they’re upfront about their position, as opposed to, say, Fox News.

As for touring a culture via its art:

I have read a lot of Cuban literature and listened to a good share of its music, though my research into both is hardly exhaustive. I will say that a good testament to a well-rounded immersion is to be found in the book I am currently tolerating.

Pedro Juan’s tour-de-fuck, Tropical Animal (previously discussed here) is becoming tiresome. Cassandra was right (claro): it is not nearly as interesting as Dirty Havana Trilogy, which I still maintain is damn fine book. By the way, my earlier assessment that its overarching political position is somewhat discounted by the author’s claim that politics should have no place in art. Ludicrous! Nothing is apolitical. It’s just not possible.

Anyway… were I to have only read Pedro Juan’s books, I might think that all Cubans are sex-obsessed, filthy, poor, drinkers, whores, pimps, thieves, and so on. Were I only to have read Reinaldo Arenas, I might think Cubans were gay, fiercely anti-Castro and suicidal. Were I to have only read Guillermo Rosales, I would think Cubans are mildly insane suicides. Were I only to have read José Lezama Lima, I might think Cubans were baroque, avant-garde, ivory tower types. And where to place the great G. Cabrera Infante? If he’s a typical Cuban, than Cubans are the funniest people in the world. What about the sublime work of Virgilio Piñera?

You see, it’s absurd to stop at one book, but it’s even more absurd to think that reading all of these authors (and I still have to read José Martí, among many others) gives me a true idea of Cuba and its culture. Maybe my obsession stems from my inability to travel there (legally). Maybe if I could simply board a plane in Chicago and fly to this small country 90 miles from Florida, I might be less interested and could move on. Maybe in my lifetime I will be able to find out for myself. Mr. President, hurry up, please.