Monday, August 02, 2010

August + French Essay Update + Race/Cuba/Dissidence

I can hardly believe August is already here. Just two weeks ago I realized graduation was only a month ago, though it's sometimes felt like I've been home three months and at others like no more than, well, a couple of weeks. July is a hot blur; one minute a cool spring and moderate June were winding down and then the outdoors, at least out here, turned into the inside of a kiln.  I have been writing steadily and drawing (and animating, gardening, baking, etc.), but whenever I've tried to complete entries here, lassitude overwhelms me.  So I still have a number of posts from July to complete; many of them have made it only to the draft stage, but I do want to post them before we get too far into August, and find myself trying to keep up with this month....


Some news about projects and so forth: a while back I mentioned the French essay on Abdellah Taïa's novel Une mélancolie arabe that I toiled over last year, for the Montreal-based journal Spirale. It is now published, as part of the "théâtres de la cruauté: du jamais vu" dossier edited by Nathalie Stephens, whom I want to thank once again for all of her excellent guidance, edits, suggestions, patience, and support. (Many thanks also to Catherine Mavrakakis, whose editorial help was also crucial.) If you read French, you can download Nathalie's introductory essay ("Présentation"), which engagingly explores the dossier's key themes and constellation of ideas and provides an overview of the contributions, which includes essays exploring texts that range from Diamanda Galas's Guilty guilty guilty and David Wojnarowicz's Close the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration and In the Shadow of the American Dream: The Diaries of David Wojnarowicz, to Maryse Condé's Comme deux frères, to assorted works by Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst. Unfortunately these essays are not accessible by download, but if you're really interested in them and read French, you can order a copy via the link above.

Also, improved versions of my translations of Dominican poet Mateo Morrison's poems, and my translation of one of Congolese-Francophone writer Alain Mabanckou's poems have been accepted and will appear, I believe, later this year in different journals. I haven't done too many translations this summer, but I will eventually post several of the ones I did complete, nearly all by Brazilian writers: poets Ana Cristina Cesar and Paulo Leminski, two major figures in Brazil's late 20th century literary avant-garde, and fiction writer João Gilberto Noll, whom I learned about from colleagues both at and outside the university.  Between this blog and unpublished translations, I think I've translated close to 20 writers thus far, and one hope for the future is that I can get more of these into print and, if possible, be able to translate more complete books (or book-length collections of different writers' works).


The recently ran several pieces on race and Cuba that I recommend.  A good deal of what writer Achy Obejas relates in her article, "Race in Cuba: Yes Virginia, there is racism on the island," comports with my pre-travel discussions about race, racism and Cuba, and my experience while there last year. One of the things I noted in the pieces I wrote on here last year about Cuba was the gap between the Revolution's idealism and sometimes impressive social and political vision and the laws resulting from it, and the actual conditions people were living, which must always be qualified by the ongoing US embargo and its negative economic and political effects. (I also noted the strong influence, throughout different aspects of Cuban society and its cultures, of the country's African heritage. And, I should also note, because I didn't in my earlier pieces, that a great many--the majority?--of the officials we met with in Havana, at least, possessed evident African ancestry, however they might describe themselves racially and ethnically.)

In the case of race and inequality, the Revolution did attempt, as Obejas notes and as I've read and seen, to wipe out racism and white supremacy through law and proclamation, but what was also evident, and what some of the Black Cubans I met conveyed to me directly, was that racism and racial and color hierarchies, sometimes very overt, persisted, and several urged me specifically to look at the leadership of the country. As one person put it in so many words, despite America's history and ongoing issues you elected Obama, yet Black people are a majority in Cuba, and who's at the upper reaches of our government?  Another expressed to one of the educators that I traveled with he regularly encountered overt racism and he was fed up.  In her piece, Obejas, who was born in Cuba but grew up in the US and travels regularly to the island, discusses some of the realities on the ground.

In a second piece, Obejas briefly interviews ethnologist and political scientist Carlos Moore, one of Cuba's better-known contemporary exiles. Last year, with David Colvin and Iva Carruthers, he drafted and disseminated a declaration entitled "''Acting on Our Conscience,'' that attacked racism in Cuba and which received the support of more than 5 dozen notable Black Americans, including Molefi K. Asante, Katherine Neal Cleaver, Winston James, Marta Moreno Vega, Melvin Van Peebles, Randy Weston, and Cornel West. Obejas asks him about this and racism in particular, and what provoked the declaration. For Moore, it was the Cuban government's imprisonment of Darsi Ferrer, an Afro-Cuban dissident.  As for his take on race:
My perspective on race relations is perhaps quite different from that of most people in that I do not see race as being primarily a question of interpersonal relations. I see it as being, fundamentally, a question of relations of power over the distribution of resources along racial lines. And by race, I mean phenotype, not biology. Consequently, I do not analyze racial matters in terms of ''betterment,'' ''achievement,'' ''advancement'' or ''representation.'' I view maters of race in terms of the power to distribute or deny resources.

To a huge degree this is, I think, the crux of the matter there, here, and in many other parts of the globe: where race, racism, power, politics, economics, and capital intersect.  Do read the rest of the piece to see what else he has to say.

Continuing with the Cuban theme, the new issue of The New York Review of Books features a short piece, with an unfortunately tendentious title, by Daniel Wilkinson on blogging, the Net, dissidence and the Cuban state. Wilkinson focuses on the Generation Y blog, but goes on to discuss the larger issue of how Cuban dissidents, despite technical, political and economic challenges, are using the Net not only to challenge the regime, but to convey to those outside many of the challenges of daily life.  Among them:

The biggest challenge for Cuban bloggers isn’t outright censorship. It’s simply finding a way to get online. To set up a private connection requires permission from the government, which is rarely granted. Public access is available only in a few government-run cybercafés and tourist hotels, where it costs approximately five US dollars an hour, or one third of the monthly wage of an average Cuban. As a result, bloggers often write their posts on home computers, save them on memory sticks, and pass them to friends who have Internet access and can upload them—for example workers in hotels and government offices. Others dictate their posts by phone to friends abroad, who then upload them through servers off the island. 

I found this too matched my experiences and difficulties, as a visitor in accessing the extra-Cuban Net while in Havana.  Computer access was relatively expensive (and slow, I might add), and thus prohibitive, I imagine, for the majority of Cubans, though I did note groups of young people at the computer stations in the hotel I visited to get the "better" and "faster" service.  In Pinar del Río, if I recall correctly, I didn't even try. (In fact, I did have to walk all the way to the center of town one night, to reach a hotel with a good and very expensive international phone connection, to call home.) I also imagined that everything I typed was being scrutinized by authorities in Cuba as well as the US, and typed accordingly. Nevertheless, as Wilkinson says, the Net is offering these bloggers a means to open yet another window onto what's going on in Cuba, which is affecting not only the government there but, as some of the dissidents he writes about also hope, the US government as well.

("Cuba--A Way Forward," Wilkinson's prior NYRB piece, with Nik Steinberg, is also worth reading.)

A final note: Raúl Castro, the current president of Cuba, has just announced a relaxing of government control of the economy. While Cuba, for obvious reasons, was nowhere near as exposed to the global financial meltdown led by Wall Street, it has, like almost every other country, especially the poor ones, across the globe, suffered from the worldwide economic slowdown, and this shift is, I think, an immediate and important response. Interestingly enough, I didn't hear a single mention of it on any of the newcasts I watched tonight.

No comments:

Post a Comment