One of the major roots of Cuban culture is Spanish, the other African--and the third, as I've learned, is Chinese. (The Native American contribution, as both Cubans themselves and some studies suggest, is less significant than in many other American cultures.) All come together in the person and work of Severo Sarduy (1937-1993), who was a highly original poet, novelist and critic. Sarduy, who's previously made an appearance in the Theater, when I translated one of his poems, is perhaps less well known than several other writers of his generation, like Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990) or Roberto Fernández Retamar (1930-), but his works, beginning with the novel De donde son los cantantes (From Cuba With a Song, 1967), engraved his centrality to contemporary Cuban and global literature. In terms of his relation to Cuban tradition, he frequently explored the African and Chinese lines within Cuban culture, and was an exemplar of what he called and described critically, with panache, as the "neo-baroque," distinguishing it both from his predecessor José Lezama Lima's own 20th century baroque and from the earlier Spanish (and pan-European) Baroque style and mode. As my earlier post on him noted, he went to study in Paris in 1960, right after the Cuban Revolution had begun, became a member of the Tel Quel group and so was deeply immersed in the development of mid-century French critical theory (post-structuralism, specifically) as it was happening. Lacan in particular influences one theoretical strand in his work, though many different theoretical ideas and models (from Barthes to Derrida) deeply mark all his works from the earliest texts. Along with Arenas, Lezama Lima, and Virgilio Piñera (1912-1979), he is also one of the major queer Cuban writers of the 20th century, and his idiosyncratic explorations of homosexuality and transgenderism were decades ahead of their time. We are still catching up.
Here's a brief poem by Sarduy that I found online. When I have some time, I'll try to translate it, but reading it aloud will give you a sense of its compressed intricacies, intimacies, metrics, strangeness. "The wall is bleeding." He's marvelous. Enjoy.
El sueño no:
El blanco roedor,
Pierdo pie. Todo es compuerta.
el muro sangra.
Copyright © 2008, the estate of Severo Sarduy. All rights reserved.
And, as an extra delight, a fragment of an interview with Sarduy, discussing his book Cobra (1972), in Spanish: