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 Table of Contents
 Introduction
 Poetry
 Interview
 Essays
 Reviews
 List of contributors
 Back Matter
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Sargasso
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 Material Information
Title: Sargasso
Uniform Title: Sargasso (Río Piedras, San Juan, P.R.)
Alternate title: Sargazo
Sargasse
Abbreviated Title: Sargasso (Río Piedras San Juan P. R.)
Physical Description: v. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: University of Puerto Rico (Ri´o Piedras Campus) -- Dept. of English
University of Puerto Rico (Río Piedras Campus) -- Dept. of English
Publisher: s.n.
Place of Publication: Ri´o Piedras P.R
Río Piedras P.R
Publication Date: 1984-
Copyright Date: 1986
Frequency: twice a year[2002-]
two no. a year[ former 1984]
irregular[ former <1987>-2001]
semiannual
regular
 Subjects
Subjects / Keywords: Caribbean literature -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Caribbean literature -- History and criticism -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Puerto Rican literature -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Puerto Rican literature -- History and criticism -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Genre: serial   ( sobekcm )
review   ( marcgt )
periodical   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Puerto Rico
 Notes
Additional Physical Form: Also issued online.
Language: Chiefly English, with some French and Spanish.
Dates or Sequential Designation: Vol. 1, no. 1-no. 10 (2000) ; 2001-
Numbering Peculiarities: Volume designation dropped with no. 3; issue for 2001 lacks numbering; issues for 2002- called 2002, 1-
Issuing Body: Edited by the faculty and graduate students of the English Dept., University of Puerto Rico.
General Note: Title from cover.
General Note: Some issues have also distinctive titles.
General Note: Latest issue consulted: 2004-05,2.
General Note: Has occasional special issues.
 Record Information
Source Institution: University of Puerto Rico
Holding Location: University of Puerto Rico
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 12797847
lccn - 85643628
issn - 1060-5533
alephbibnum - 002422411
Classification:
System ID: UF00096005:00021

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Page i
    Half Title
        Page ii
    Title Page
        Page iii
        Page iv
    Table of Contents
        Page v
        Page vi
    Introduction
        Page vii
        Page viii
        Page ix
    Poetry
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
    Interview
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
    Essays
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
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        Page 55
        Page 56
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        Page 124
        Page 125
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        Page 127
        Page 128
        Page 129
        Page 130
    Reviews
        Page 131
        Page 132
        Page 133
        Page 134
        Page 135
        Page 136
        Page 137
        Page 138
        Page 139
        Page 140
        Page 141
        Page 142
        Page 143
        Page 144
        Page 145
        Page 146
    List of contributors
        Page 147
        Page 148
        Page 149
    Back Matter
        Page 150
        Page 151
        Page 152
    Back Cover
        Page 153
Full Text


















44I









































3MLiK.
........ ....... ....... ..........










SARGASSO
M2007-08, I













SARGASSO
12007-08, I
ALTERNATIVE IDENTITIES:
BELONGING AND RESISTANCE











SARGASSO 2007-08, I1
Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance

Sargasso, a peer-reviewed journal of literature, language, and culture edited at the University of
Puerto Rico, publishes critical essays, interviews, book reviews, and some creative works. Sargasso
particularly welcomes material written by/about the people of the Caribbean region and its dias-
pora. Unless otherwise specified, essays and critical studies should conform to the style of the MLA
Handbook. Book reviews should be kept to no more than 1,500 words in length. All correspon-
dence must include one S.A.S.E. For electronic submission, write to: sargasso@uprrp.edu.

Postal Address:
SARGASSO
P.O. Box 22831, UPR Station
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00931-2831


Lowell Fiet, Founding Editor
Don E. Walicek, Editor
Sally Everson, Contributing Editor
Maria Cristina Rodriguez, Book Review Editor
Carmen Haydde Rivera, Book Reviews
Margarita CastromAn Soto, Editorial and Administrative Assistant

Editorial Board
Jessica Adams, University of California, Berkeley
Mary Ann Gosser-Esquilin, Florida Atlantic University
Peter Roberts, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill
Ivette Romero, Marist College
Felipe Smith, Tulane University

Antonio Garcia Padilla, President of the University of Puerto Rico
Gladys Escalona de Motta, Chancellor, Rio Piedras Campus
Jose L. Ramos Escobar, Dean of Humanities


Layout:
Marcos Pastrana

Visit: http://humanidades.uprrp.edu/ingles/pubs/sargasso.htm

Front cover art: Jesus Rivera Arguinzoni. The main image features a warrior, an early twentieth
century funerary sculpture from Madagascar's Sakalava or Bara peoples.
Back cover art: The photo, taken by Don E. Walicek, features street graffiti from Calle San Jos6 in
San Juan, PR.

Opinions and views expressed in Sargasso are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily
shared by Sargasso editors and Editorial Board members. All rights return to authors. This journal is
indexed by HAPI, Latindex, MLA, and the Periodicals Contents Index. Copies of Sargasso
2007-08, I, as well as previous issues, are on deposit in the Library of Congress. Filed September
2008. ISSN 1060-5533.








Table of Contents






INTRODUCTION vii

POETRY
Juana Rosa Pita 1
"Poem 55" translated by Lisa Fiorindi

Adriana Garriga L6pez 3
"The Day the Busses Couldn't Get By On Lexington Ave."

America Cruz 7
"Cosas flciles"

INTERVIEW
Warrior of the Imaginary: A Conversation with 9
Patrick Chamoiseau (interview by Juan Carlos Canals)....

ESSAYS
Roberto Strongman 23
On the Question of Caribbean National Allegories....

Aaron Eastley
Contemporizing Black Athena: Walcott's Odyssey and the 39
Articulation of Classical-Postcolonial Alliances....

Maria Celina Bortolotto 57
Sharing the Shame: Secrets, Confessions, and Identity in
Rivera-Vald6s' Las histories prohibidas de Marta Veneranda/
The Forbidden Stories of Marta Veneranda ....


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






TABLE OF CONTENTS


Javier Laureano 71
Intersexiones apalabradas: lo queer en el g6nero testimonial....

Hilda Llorens 93
HackingAway@Convention: Calle 13 as Culture Hackers,
Sinner as Alternative Identity....

Jocelyn A. Geliga Vargas, Irmaris Rosas Nazario, 115
and Tania Delgado Hernandez
Testimonios Afropuertorriquenos: Using Oral Testimonies to
(Re)Write Race in Contemporary Puerto Rico....

REVIEWS
Mervyn C. Alleyne 131
Medical Revolutionaries: The Enslaved Healers of
Eighteenth-Century Saint Domingue by Karol K. Weaver

Suzanna Engman 134
The Ghost of Memory by Wilson Harris....

Adriana Garriga L6pez 137
Centro: Puerto Rican Queer Sexualities edited by
Luis Aponte-Pares, et al ..

Susanne Miihleisen 142
Deconstructing Creole edited by Umberto Ansaldo,
Stephen Matthew, and Lisa Lim ....

LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS 147


SARGASSO 2007-08,1








Introduction






al-ter -na-tive /61 tor' na tiv, al-; ol' ter ne tiv, al-/ adj. (1540) 1:
alternate 2: offering or expressing a choice 3: dif-
ferent from the usual or conventional: as a: existing or functioning
outside of the established cultural, social, or economic system < ~
newspaper> < ~ lifestyles> <~ identities> b: of, relating to, or being
rock music that is regarded as an alternative to conventional rock, hip
hop, or folk music. 4: affording a choice among previously unfore-
seen possibilities < we should seek an ~ neutrality instead of war.>



This issue of Sargasso addresses ways in which specific literary and artistic
texts and oral testimonies from various places in the Caribbean can be
related to alternative identities. The authors that have contributed to this
volume comment on the processes through which knowledge about belong-
ing and resistance is formulated. They discuss topics such as colonialism,
region, shame, sexuality, class, style, music, memory, and race.
The study of alternative identities contributes to the discussion of ideas
and themes that writers and researchers in Caribbean Studies and other fields
of scholarly inquiry have frequently marginalized and sometimes altogether
overlooked. Alternatives are understood here as signaling departure from
established conventions, as the poems by Juana Rosa Pita, Adriana Garriga
L6pez, and America Cruz remind us, alternative identities also stretch out
toward the strikingly familiar. Like poetic knowledge, alternative identities
reflect and participate in redefining the contexts from which they emerge.
In the interview included in this volume Juan Carlos Canals and the ac-
claimed Martinican writer and theorist Patrick Chamoiseau discuss cr6olite
as a cultural project. In this conversation Chamoiseau addresses how his
work has been shaped by the ubiquitous diversity of the Caribbean and ex-
plains how and why he positions himself as a "warrior of the imaginary."
In the essay that follows, Roberto Strongman argues for allegory's function


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






DON E. WALICEK


as a powerful anti-colonial discursive mechanism, contextualizing his main
ideas in terms of a debate between Aijaz Ahmad and FredricJameson. In the
second essay, Aaron Eastley describes classical-postcolonial alliances, focus-
ing on Derek Walcott's play The Odyssey: A Stage Version and Martin Bernal's
study Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization.
The issue's four remaining essays deal with Cuba and Puerto Rico. First,
Maria Celina Bortolotto discusses shame and confession as they relate to So-
nia Rivera Vald6s' Las historiasprohibidas de Marta Veneranda, a text in which
members of a Cuban community in New York share their most intimate se-
crets. Next, Javier Laureano examines sexuality and queer epistemologies in
three historical texts: Miguel Barnet's Biograffa de un Cimarron, C6sar An-
dreu Iglesias' Memorias de Bernardo Vega, and Carmen Luisa Justiniano's Con
valor y a como de lugar: memories de unajibara puertorriquena. The following
piece offers an analysis of the Puerto Rican reggaeton duo Calle 13's "Tango
del Pecado." Written by Hilda Llorens, it frames the hit song in the context
of performances of class, race, and gender. The final article of this issue re-
considers widespread assumptions about race and national identity in Puerto
Rico. Jocelyn A. Geliga Vargas, Irmaris Rosas Nazario, and Tania Delgado
Hernindez introduce a collaborative research project that aims to document
the experiences of Afro-Puerto Ricans. Their work includes English transla-
tions of three oral histories recorded on the island's west coast.
This volume poses questions about modes and models of thinking that
gloss over the fullness and complexity of human experience at the same time
that they purport to account for and better understand the significance of
heterogeneity, alterity, and difference. As the contributors to repeatedly
demonstrate, existences past and present can also be appreciated and studied
as phenomena that are deeply implicated in the exigencies and wider pos-
sibilities of things transformative, humane, and new.
I would like to close this introduction by recognizing a number of
people. This publication would have been impossible without the help of:
Lowell Fiet, who envisioned the theme that brings this issue together and
supported its production in countless other ways; Maria Cristina Rodriguez,
Sally Everson, and members of our Editorial Board, who together read the
twenty-five papers that were submitted for this issue and offered valuable
suggestions and comments for the authors; Margarita CastromAn Soto, who
oversaw the collection of submissions and assisted in the close editing of all
the pages that follow; and Sandra Echevarria, who graciously tackled the


SARGASSO 2007-08,1


viii
VIII






INTRODUCTION


numerous administrative tasks that brought this issue to press. I thank these
individuals and all of the authors, poets, translators, and reviewers who have
contributed their time and energy. I also thank Maritza Stanchich and Ali-
cia Pousada for the multiple ways in which they show ongoing enthusiasm
and support for this journal.

Don E. Walicek
Alternative Identities Issue Editor


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance








Poetry







Viajes de Pendelope


RAZON DE TEJER

quedando a luz mds cierta
el mundo illuminado ...
Sor uana Ines


55

Suien canta y con que voz
Q me suefia aquel color en la mirada?
Tejiendo la area entire las islas
qu6 voces silenci6 el fragor del tiempo?

Salvo la soledad que vuela dentro
tal parece que nadie vive:
pero vibra la estela adamantina
de la tela que vol6 sobre el mar


Este quefuera cuento es vida en mi
y de una cierta isla hard la historic.

Juana Rosa Pita
Miami: Solar, 1980


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






JUANA ROSA PITA


English Translation by Lisa Fiorindi


Penelope's Journeys



REASON TO WEAVE

the enlightened move toward
a more certain light ...
Sister Juana Ines


55

Who sings and with what voice
does the colour in the gaze dream of me?
Weaving the tide between the islands
what voices did the thundering of time silence?

Apart from the loneliness that flies inside
such that it seems no one is alive:
but the slipstream quivers, diamond-like
of the tapestry blown over the sea






This that was story, is life in me
and ofa certain island, will make history.


SARGASSO 2007-08, I1





POETRY


The Day the Busses Couldn't Get By on Lexington Ave.

Dedicated to Pedro Pietri (1944 2004)


Dressed in constructive machismo
and newly liberated afros
they came.

And they burned the trash in the streets.
The people's trash
the people's streets
the people's trashy streets
the people's trashy streets
that hadn't been cleaned for weeks
the dirty Barrio streets
left dirty because they figured
we'd never notice.

But they came
and the trash piled up high
on Lexington Ave.
and from 161 all the way down to 125
the sweet smell of burning trash
the smoke so thick
that it covered the sky
and even the all powerful busses
of Manhattan and New York Port Authority
couldn't pass,
and didn't pass
until the piles of trash
had finished their ardent soliloquy.

They came,
and they took over churches
installed the socialist nation
for eleven days


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






ADRIANA GARRIGA L6PEZ


in the six days a week empty station
of fake preachers
preaching nothing but the one day a week testimonies...

They came,
and they too, gave their testimony.
Took over the Lincoln Hospital
collected their alimony
finally settling the divorce suit
filed years ago
(and neglected since years ago)
by emotionally scarred nuyorricans
claiming the city of hope and of work
and hope to work
had cheated on them with
several trashy tramps
and had not even provided them
the brooms with which to clean up
their heartbroken streets.
Their trashy heartbroken streets
their trashy streets
left uncleaned for weeks
because they figured
we'd never notice.

So they came
and they took over the brooms
the people's brooms
and the people made the brooms dance
until they'd swept the Barrio schools
the way the papi conquers a mami
in a trashy dime-store romance.

They came,
and the third Saturday
the people came too
when the people got tired of looking at their trash
in the streets from their small tenement windows.


SARGASSO 2007-08, I1






POETRY


The people were tired of staring at their trash
still in the streets
at their trash in their trashy streets
that hadn't been cleaned for weeks
because they figured we'd never notice.

They came and burned the trash in the streets
and they called themselves
The Young Lords.
The Young Lords of these trashy streets,
of these six day a week empty churches,
of these travelling TB clinics
parked in hidden alleys by government cynics
who thought that what we had
couldn't be x-rayed,
couldn't be bandaged,
couldn't be cured.
And they were right.
Because as much as they've looked, they still
haven't found a pill
to work against la mancha'e plitano,
and they never will.
And still,
the Young Lords came
and took over the TB clinics
and drove them straight into the
trashy streets of El Barrio.
The trashy streets
that hadn't been cleaned up for weeks
because they figured
we'd never notice.

Those trashy streets where
the sweet smell of burning trash
still lingered
and the smoke whirled
in the swooshing of the dancing brooms.


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






ADRIANA GARRIGA L6PEZ


They came.
And again the streets were clean
and alive,
and the socialist nation
of big pelo malo Puerto Ricans
took over churches
to serve cornflakes to hungry kids
and got arrested for it.

They came,
and since they came
many more have come
and continue to arrive
in these beautiful streets.

These beautiful streets
that the Young Lords
cleaned for weeks
because they knew,
they knew,
they knew that we noticed.


Adriana Maria Garriga L6pez
New York City, 1996


SARGASSO 2007-08,1





POETRY


Cosas ficiles


Odio las cosas ficiles porque se acaban.
Por eso odio a los hombres y casi casi a las mujeres
Aunque yo a veces preferia a las mujeres, por aquello de quererme
Pese a todos los espejos de mi madre que me han salido al paso.

Siempre lo he dicho
No quiero ser hombre pero tampoco quiero ser mujer
Quizds 6sta que describe
Pero jams esta que soy
Gordisima ojerosa
Llena de juegos de mufieca inacabada
Esta que se consuela con tocarle la pasi6n a sus tres gatos
Nunca pens6 estar podrida antes que muerta
Con este pecho a medias que me mira
Estar asi de hueca me condena
Estoy rancia y casi huelo a pena.

Estoy sola y creo en la palabra por salvarme.

Estoy viejisima y no puedo llorar.

Es demasiado haber vivido desde el vientre a la merced de un hombre
Vivir toda la vida sin mirarme desde afuera
Golpeada
Pendeja
Malsoplada
Envase de la misma leche fria treinta y cuatro afios
Fria
Actriz dramitica y calva cancerosa.

Voy a escribir para salvarme esto es lo ultimo

No quiero ser mujer
Si serlo es repetir la colecci6n de todas las mujeres de mi vida


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






AMIRICA CRUZ


Rosin Aide Tamara
Titi Chavela
Titi Olguita
Abuela Paula
Eleonor
Mami Elvira
America.
No voy a ser mujer para los hombres
Tampoco voy a ser ya mis para las cosas de la casa.
No mis para esta vulva afiosa
No mas para esta sequedad entire los labios
No mas para las ufias
Para mi frente
No mas para mis nalgas
No mas para mi dinica teta ansiosa de carifio y hambre.

Quizis todo tiene que ver con esta teta
Quizis es todo sobre ella y nada sobre mi
Voy a cortArmela aunque nadie quiera
Lavarla un poco
Envolverla en celofin
Armar una cajita para enviarla a la que describe

Esta que describe no soy yo sino una mano sola
Igual que hay una teta sola en este instant tratando de Ilegar

No quiero ser mujer porque odio las cosas faciles
Odio las cosas ficiles porque se acaban
Ahora estoy a punto de acabarme
Esto me acaba

No es ficil que me salve la palabra
Pero salva.


America Cruz


SARGASSO 2007-08, I








Interview


Warrior of the Imaginary:
A Conversation with Patrick Chamoiseau

Interview by Juan Carlos Canals,
University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras
Recorded in Fort-de-France, Martinique
March 9, 2005

J CC: Do you think that creolite, as a cultural project and imaginary, opens
up a path towards the Caribbeanization of culture in the Antilles?

PC: Yes, that is, the concept of creolit allows us to understand the Caribbean,
its heterogeneous nature, its diversity and multiplicity, something which has
quite baffled the region's scholars. They ask where the logic or the coherence
within such an overwhelming, ubiquitous diversity is. From the paradigm
of crdolit we may better understand the profound unity hidden beneath the
Caribbean's apparent diversity. And not only the Caribbean, but the for-
mation of all the Americas depends on a process of creolization, which is
the massive and accelerated convergence of the world's vast anthropological
diversity: languages, races, cultures, etc. First and foremost, we should un-
derstand that the notions of cr6olite and creolization allow us to apprehend a
unity concealed under the region's diversity, and that both notions are con-
nected within the generalized process of creolization that constituted the
Americas. What happened when Columbus arrived here? This is the mo-
ment when the world effectively becomes interrelated, triggering a process
of interaction and retroaction among different peoples, races, etc., a process
which constituted the Americas. This general process of creolization resulted
in the emergence of various cr&olitis -Puerto Rican, Cuban or Martinican
creolitm- born out of the same process but at the same time different, due to


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






JUAN CARLOS CANALS


their specific anthropological components, their history, and other contin-
gencies.
What we now need is, therefore, an anthropology of creolization. Faced
with such a massive amalgam of cultural codes, peoples, ethnicities, and lan-
guages, we need to know how they combine themselves. What has remained?
Why do certain cultural traits survive while others don't? We still don't re-
ally know the answer to these questions. Anthropological research during the
1950s insistently explored African cultural retentions, but we still can't tell why
certain African elements survived in some particular places and not in others.
Furthermore, this anthropology of creolization would allow us to understand
what is going on in the world today. The whole world has become part of a
creolization process, one which will be best understood through the conscien-
tious study of the various cretolites in the Caribbean and Creole America.
Personally, I create an interactive loophole between Creoleness and
creolization: the various creolites allow me to understand creolization, and
creolization allows me to better understand the creolitms. When we become
aware of this loophole, and when we embrace an imaginary which, for the
moment, we may call an imaginary of creolization, we may best explore the
reality of the Caribbean and the Americas; we are more adept at config-
uring the immense amalgam which constitutes the Caribbean and Creole
America. Thus, as a starting point, these two terms, Creoleness/creolization,
are fundamental to the study of the Americas.
There is a third essential term, and it is Glissant who best explains it,
which is the notion of "Relation," with a capital "r." He speaks of entering
into Relation with others. A sufficient understanding of the dynamics be-
tween Creoleness and creolization, an inexhaustible subject, opens our minds
to the concept of Relation. This concept allows us to understand that our
space of creation, reflection, participation, and contact is no longer restricted
to an insular or regional scale but takes place on a global level instead. We
need to identify ways in which we may exist in a whole-world scale and
scenario. This is what Glissant refers to by "Relation." We are now at this
fundamental stage.
In their reciprocally illuminating dynamics, Creoleness and creolization
offer the keys to penetrate the paradigm of Relation, to embrace it as a privi-
leged vision of ourselves and our world. For today, even if we try to picture a
collective Caribbean organization, or even a pan-American organization, it
cannot be conceived beyond mechanisms of interaction and solidarity with


SARGASSO 2007-08, I1





WARRIOR OF THE IMAGINARY


the rest of the world. From now on, this is the scale at which we must con-
struct ourselves and our communities.
Moreover, the intrinsic diversity of the Caribbean is of particular interest
when we make the necessary comparison between the Caribbean Sea and
the Mediterranean. Glissant states that the Mediterranean was character-
ized by its ability to condense, thus producing the world's largest monothe-
ist religions, while the Caribbean is characterized by its ability to diffract.
The Caribbean embraces diversity, but this doesn't necessarily place us in a
privileged position to understand Relation because, when we live surrounded
by relativism, diversity, and conflict, we feel the need to anchor ourselves in
atavism and ancestry. This desire gave birth to the grand postulates of Negri-
tude which simplified racism, the racism of a white caste, for example. These
forms of racism still endure, and they prevent us from being fully conscious
of our diversity. Even when we consciously recognize this diversity, we fail
to perceive the dialectic relation between a diversity which unifies and that
unity which cannot be understood except in the awareness of diversity. These
notions are fundamental.

JCC: In that respect, Trinidadians of Indian descent become Creole subjects
even if they only marry among themselves or are brought up within a rela-
tively enclosed "East Indian" community.

PC: Yes, given the fact that there is no culture which is not hybrid or mixed.
That is, every culture must be considered as survival software. A human
community constructs, on a limited scale, epistemic and survival software
in order to live and get by within its particular environment. This survival
software is passed on to later generations through gods, rituals, traditions,
and other practices. Thus, cultures are like tools for knowing the world one
lives in, but they are tools which exclude and isolate as well, because cultures
construct their own absolutes and values. Within a culture, I have my god.
If another god wants to cross into my delimited space, I could not accept it
because I have my own god. So, it is in the very nature of culture to simulta-
neously enable and impede my knowledge of the world.
But all cultures fundamentally use what they find in their surroundings
to shape themselves. Therefore, when two tribes or societies confront each
other, even if they fight they will likely borrow from each other. Thus, there
has always been cultural hybridization. In all great ancient civilizations, there


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JUAN CARLOS CANALS


were always channels for social and commercial interchange. The difference
between these interaction processes and creolization is that the first took
place throughout a period of thousands of years, making their evolution and
results almost imperceptible. Whereas colonization is a comparatively sud-
den shock, an explosion: in a brutal manner, Europeans, Amerindians, and
Africans find themselves entangled in the plantations [...]. When we consid-
er the massive and accelerated nature of this interaction of diversity within
the colonial plantation, we see that it is not that different from what is taking
place in the world today.
In the contemporary world, the processes of contact among diverse pop-
ulations, of hybridization and interaction, unfold in brutal and violent ways.
We don't have the time to stand back and take it all in; everything gets to us
so fast through the television . and that makes the whole difference. In
the past, societies in contact have also produced mestizaje, but creolization
goes beyond mere hybridization (although it is part of it). Creolization is
chaotic, a disorder with unforeseen consequences. Hybridization is predict-
able, due to the fact that it involves what could be considered two absolutes:
an absolute A mixes with an absolute B with more or less expected results.
Whereas we can't tell beforehand what will be the result of creolization; it
could be all sorts of things. For example, Cesaire is a product of creolization.
He presents a black, African phenotype, but he is a Western humanist. In a
similar manner, we see that the best scholars of the Hindu world in Marti-
nique are cabins, and the best specialists on Africa are often mulattoes. The
consequences of creolization are impossible to ascertain.
Therefore, the sphere of creolization is equally a space of hybridization,
crossbreeding, rupture, racism, and of complex anthropological components.
For example, here in Martinique the bekes remain together; they don't want
to mix themselves, or form part of a larger synthesis. Thus, you become aware
that creolization is not an ideal, harmonious process. It is rather chaos and
disorder, a disorder we may also see today at a global level.
On a global scale, Relation will also produce chaos. There will always
be manifestations of ethnic or racial fundamentalists, religious fundamen-
talisms, or sectarian nationalisms because every time we are plunged into a
whirlpool of diversity and alterity, we feel the need to seek shelter within
ancient atavistic structures. Therefore, we should expect numerous conflicts
to continue arising from the current unfolding of creolization and Relation
at a global scale; it seems inevitable.


SARGASSO 2007-08, I






WARRIOR OF THE IMAGINARY


This is why I often say that I am a warrior of the imaginary, for such a
warrior is the one who may remain alert in the face of such chaotic circum-
stances. This figure does not imply any aggressive or dominant agenda; this
is a very pacific warrior. What defines this warrior is his or her constant alert-
ness and vigilance, his or her will to remain always on guard, according to
the unfolding events. Within the space of Relation and creolization, we must
embrace a warrior imaginary. This entails giving the utmost importance to
the fact that today we must try to preserve all cultures, that all that diver-
sity is the true wealth of the world. This diversity will, however, continue
to provoke conflicting processes of solidarity and antagonism, of synthesis,
hybridization, and rupture. It will be hard to live in these conflictive spaces,
unless one possesses an imaginary of Relation, and towards this end I've
made myself a warrior of the imaginary.

JCC: Your most ambitious novel, Biblique des derniers gestes, tellingly opposes
"the buried country" with "the official country." Could you explain the spe-
cific way in which you are using these terms?

PC: The buried country is everything which plantation society produced in
terms of traditional popular culture; thus it stands for all Creole culture.

JCC: Like medical practices?

PC: Medical practices and also, in a way, music. Thus, every element of
popular culture produced under the system of slavery was gradually rejected
in favor of French culture. Obviously, you must have noticed how, everything
here is mostly French on the surface, like when you turn on the radio or
the TV. There is a general regard of French culture, which responds mostly
to French-Occidental values, and everything that comes from the deepest
recesses of our country is buried, just as the memory of slavery is buried. In
general, people here don't want to hear about slavery. They would say, yes, we
know all that. So even that is buried within ourselves. You see, there is a part
of us which is generally underestimated, and so it is not appreciated or cel-
ebrated but buried within ourselves. It is here, in my opinion, where the true
emancipation must start. We must begin by exhuming those cultural values;
and not in order to find refuge there, or to find solace in a belated tradition-
alism, but exhuming them in order to better position ourselves vis-a-vis the
whole world. I try to make that distinction very clear.


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JCC: And the official country?

PC: The official country is, then, all that official French culture; and it is also
a kind of illusion which aims to make us believe that only since becoming a
department we have gained access to progress and reached self-fulfillment,
that existence as a department is our best option. The official country is made
of all the beliefs and illusions which constitute our system of dependency, the
welfare state, and collective irresponsibility. Those politicians in the Conseille
Generalor the Conseille Regional have the impression that they control every-
thing in Martinique, even our destinies, while in fact they control very little.
And most people still believe that the only way we can exist in the world is
under the present conditions: dependent on France, under French protection
and assistantship. This creates something like an official second skin, the of-
ficial country with its subordinated imaginary, the imaginary of dependency
and welfare that create something like a second skin covering the deeper
realities of our country.

JCC: It seems obvious to me that the capitalist modernization of our islands
has, among other things, produced the cultural burials and dislocations you
have just described.

PC: Yes, that is It's true that colonization here meant genocide and
"ethnocide;" it's also true that today the world is threatened by the forc-
es of standardization and homogenization; that seems obvious. On the
other hand, the contemporary world presents two contradictory trends.
Glissant distinguishes between globalization (mondialisation) and global-
ness (mondialitM).
Globalization corresponds to a neo-liberal vision of a uniform and ho-
mogeneous world that threatens traditional human progress. We must take
into account this neo-liberal discourse, this finance capitalism intent on ac-
quiring a global space and market for its operations, which together produce
the concept of globalization. At the same time, though, people throughout
the world become increasingly aware of their distinct existence and of their
diversity. In this respect, Glissant speaks of a globalness movement (mon-
dialitM) as corresponding to the consciousness that we all live in a global
space, and that this world contains a multiplicity of languages, cultures, and
peoples. When we witness the anti-globalization movement, we see that it


SARGASSO 2007-08,1






WARRIOR OF THE IMAGINARY


consists of people coming from everywhere in the world, conscious of their
existence and above all conscious that theirs is a common struggle.
So there are two opposing movements: one towards homogenization
and the contestation of diversity, the other towards the celebration and af-
firmation of diversity. We have no choice but to balance ourselves between
those two poles; this does not mean that the struggle is futile. We must fight,
but let us take note of Heraclitus who long ago observed that contraries can't
be separated. Therefore, every time that the forces of homogenization and
standardization advance, the consciousness and the need for diversity will
grow accordingly. All our existence within Relation will show this interac-
tion between uniformity and diversity.

JCC: Do you think that cultural transformation, while inevitable, could sig-
nify a process of accretion and continuity, rather than a process of erasure
and substitution?

PC: Glissant has an insightful saying that goes: "I may change when I open
myself to interaction with others, without losing myself or distorting myself
in the process." (Je peux changer en echangeant sans me perdre ou me denatu-
rer.) That is, we may safely experience the world's diversity. I believe that
while defending my culture, my Creole language, and my self-inscription in
Martinique, I am also the beneficiary of all other cultures and languages, of
everything that human beings have ever produced. What is, in fact, all of
the world's diversity? It comes from a small group of Homo sapiens that, at
a given moment, dared to create the first expressions of globalization. That
is, they burst through the world's ensemble, and suddenly found themselves
isolated, each group enclosed within its own logic, each group creating its
culture, its language, its gods, its absolutes.
Today, such absolutes are in crisis. The doors have been opened, so that
absolutes meet each other and clash. The problem lies in understanding that
those creations are our treasure, because all those cultural and anthropologi-
cal absolutes have, nevertheless, produced wonders: linguistic, artistic, spiri-
tual wonders, which belong to all of us because they have all been produced
by us, by Homo sapiens.
The difference today is that many among those who resent Western
domination and standardization will tend to confine themselves within their
particular wonders, and reject [any external influence or presence]. But this


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






JUAN CARLOS CANALS


involves becoming entangled in a process of asphyxia. Our solution cannot
be rejecting the wonders of others. Even if the West is the greatest predator
on Earth, there are magnificent wonders to be gained from our Occidental
dimension, and it would be a pity to deprive ourselves of them. The diffi-
culty lies in opening ourselves to the world without losing that which defines
us and, at the same time, enriching ourselves with all the wonders that the
world offers.
If I defend my Creole tongue, I do it in the name of all languages. I
defend my culture in the name of all cultures because I need them as well.
Ultimately, I personalize the Amerindian saying -I can't remember if it was
the Apaches or the Sioux-"I am the guardian of the Creole tongue; I am the
guardian of Creole culture." Like you, you are the guardian of Puerto Rican
culture, etc., because we are the repositories of a treasure that we must place
within our common lot. We are each responsible for our treasure. This is
important.
The other fundamental consideration is that we cannot exist on a global
plane but from a particular space; we cannot live in an abstract "never land."
This place [a particular place] usually corresponds to your native land. In my
case, it is Martinique, but I believe that from now on people will be able to
choose their native land. I mean that, under the influence of Relation, some-
one born in Puerto Rico could come to Martinique and feel so at home that
they would say: "this is where I belong" and so Martinique would become
their native land. Your place represents the space from which you organize
your existence and your struggles in the world. It could be your native land
or any other country in the world.
Thus, we may choose our native land; and in the following years we
will see that, although emigrants at this moment seem to be all converging
towards the most developed countries, migration waves will become more
determined by the spreading of the imaginary of Relation than by economic
motivations. That is, some people will leave the United States to live in the
Marquise Islands, and those from the Marquise Islands may move to Japan.
Everybody around the world will be searching for their native land, the place
where they feel more at ease and most fulfilled; where they will be in a better
position to experience the world. By doing so, we will free ourselves from
those territorial, ontological, or racial absolutes and adopt a new perspective.
The fact that my skin is black doesn't mean that I feel closer to African writ-
ers, for example. I am closer to any white writer from the Caribbean, due to


SARGASSO 2007-08, I






WARRIOR OF THE IMAGINARY


our similar imaginaries, than to an African writer, despite my sense of soli-
darity and my ties to Africa. I am closer to any hispanophone or anglophone
writer from the Caribbean than to any French writer. The mere act of writ-
ing in French does not determine my belonging to French literature. I belong
to the literature of Creole America. This is a fundamental principle.
We must understand that the great communities of writers and artists
will be determined, not by the traditional signs of identity --skin color, lan-
guage, gods, and place of birth-- but by the structure of our imaginary. If
someone is a writer from Martinique, it doesn't necessarily follow that he
will be my brother in letters. My brother in literature may be born in Japan,
Puerto Rico, France, or Germany. Now, it is a particular rapport with the
world, and with the world's diversity, which ultimately determines our loy-
alties and our sense of belonging to a human community. The rest of it, all
those ancient signs of identity -race, language, history, territory- all that is
going to break into pieces.

JCC: In Biblique des derniers gestes, Balthazar Bodule-Jules laments how
Martinique has been trapped under neocolonial conditions: "encaye sous un
ne'colonialisme." Does that imply that Antillean culture cannot follow the
path of a Caribbeanist or a Creoliste without political independence?

PC: No. I think that Balthazar Bodule-Jules is the ancient rebel, and I make
a precise distinction between the rebel and the warrior. The rebel depends
on that which he is fighting against. That is, we witnessed this at the time of
the African independence during the sixties, when the leaders and national-
ists inverted the terms of subjection. They replaced one dominant class with
another. We see how independent African states like the Congo remain sub-
jected. Seventy-five per cent of all the Congo's wealth is still being absorbed
by well-established French companies.
Thus, we notice how the rebel does not frontally engage the dynamics of
domination and just inverts the dynamics of power. So in a way he depends
on that which he fights against. At the opening of Biblique des derniers gestes,
Balthazar Bodule-Jules is a rebel. He lives in subordination, and he wants
to invert the terms of that subjection. The warrior is a different story. As a
rebel, Bodule-Jules will try to liberate his country. In the process, he becomes
aware of the fact that he is failing. Why have liberation movements failed in
our countries?


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JUAN CARLOS CANALS


Those countries who freed themselves from colonialism, such as Viet-
nam, Algeria, and those countries in Africa, possessed an absolute with which
they opposed the conqueror's absolute because these are atavistic countries
with very ancient traditions. In their situation, the colonialist had said, "My
language, my skin, my god is the most beautiful;" and they just answered
back, "No, it is my language, my skin . ." One absolute was trying to dispel
another absolute.
Our situation in the Caribbean is more complicated because we were
born under colonial conditions. Those who were here before us, the Amerin-
dians, were mostly the victims of genocide. This means that when today we
want to occupy our sovereign place in the world, the colonizer lives within
us, the French live within us; Africa is within us, the West is within us. We
cannot claim a cultural hinterland, an atavism which we may throw at the
face of our masters ...

JCC: A foundational myth?

PC: We don't have a foundational myth, and that made it difficult. And this
is what leads us back to the figure of the warrior. Balthazar Bodule-Jules
notices that all his efforts as a rebel have failed, that such rebellion is not
working. Even those who free themselves from colonial subjection fail to
emancipate their spirit, their imaginary. At the moment of his death, he be-
comes a warrior. In effect, he is going to understand that the paths towards
liberation have changed. The issue is not inverting the terms of domination,
but changing the nature of the battleground.

JCC: The rules of the game.

PC: The rules of the game. For example, here we have a Creole language
dominated by the French language. The rebel is going to say, "I now place
Creole at the top and discard French." He inverts the terms of domination.
On the other hand, the warrior says, "No language shall dominate over an-
other. I'm going to try to construct a multi-linguistic imaginary for my chil-
dren, so that from an early age on they develop a taste for all languages. This
new imaginary will allow them to feel comfortable with many languages and
to imaginatively experience a desire, a respect, a taste for all languages in
the world." If we achieve this, we will have saved all languages. If my child


SARGASSO 2007-08, I1






WARRIOR OF THE IMAGINARY


listens to many languages and lives in a multilingual space since early child-
hood, he is going to defend Creole, but he is also going to defend other lan-
guages because he will know that no language can save itself in isolation. The
English language which is now the hegemonic language in the world is not
Shakespeare's language. It dominates to such a degree that it is in the process
of degenerating into a technico-commercial code very distant from the rich-
ness, beauty, and depth of Shakespeare's language. Then, we become aware
that in cultural processes and in processes of self-discovery and affirmation,
absolute hegemony and vertical domination produce disintegration. What
must be celebrated instead is cross-cultural enrichment. No language or cul-
ture can be saved in isolation. We all need one another; no individual person
today may reach fulfillment without entering in Relation with others.
I firmly believe that here, we stand for an anthropological, collective,
and historical entity which needs its sovereignty. We cannot renounce our
sovereignty. On the other hand, this does not mean that we should therefore
build a nation-state. I cannot guarantee what shape this sovereignty will take,
or what possible forms the newly constructed could take. It might not follow
the model of a Nation-State. Nevertheless, we cannot renounce our right to
a full autonomy, to a full responsibility, a full sovereignty within the world.
We can't renounce that.

JCC: Could you predict an ideal scenario for these cultural processes to un-
fold?

PC: What I am after, and this is probably what's behind all my work and be-
hind Glissant's work, is the project of inserting the Relational imaginary in
people's consciousness; making them understand as clearly as possible that,
if such an imaginary becomes widespread, it will produce the new politicians,
and generate the new administrative and political structures. I am, like you,
troubled by the thought of what the State will be like in the XXII century. I
certainly don't want to see the consolidation and triumph of the neo-liberal
system. So we must fight to prevent that system from imposing its views.
Certainly, no people or community should renounce the right to a sover-
eign existence in the world, but we must still identify its specific configura-
tions. If we try to find ready-made remedies too quickly, before first letting
the poetic of Relation pervade us, we could make many mistakes. At the mo-
ment, we must try to impregnate ourselves with the imaginary of Relation,


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






JUAN CARLOS CANALS


which is capable of producing new solutions and new models for our political
and administrative needs.

JCC: Without forcing the events ..

PC: Well, yes, there are obvious accelerations. Here, the status quo appears
to be solid. People have found their comfort zone in dependency and in the
welfare state, but maybe in a few years we will see an explosion. Besides,
the potential of art as an instrument of change is incredible. C6saire's Ca-
hier d'un retour au pays natal, published during the 1930s altered everything:
our rapport with Africa, our rapport with our skin .. While no one really
read the Cahier, it was nevertheless part of all decolonization movements
of the 1960s. The Cahier is such a difficult text that even when we read it
we can hardly understand it. Thus, you can see how the power of art, or
how aesthetic and artistic knowledge can modify people's psyches and minds,
and produce unexpected events, volcanic eruptions. I have great faith in the
powers of aesthetic and artistic consummation.


SARGASSO 2007-08, I1










ESSAYS








On the Question of Caribbean National Allegories
Roberto Strongman
University of California, Santa Barbara



Why would the most important recent text bridging the gap between Post-
colonial and Caribbean Studies, Shalini Puri's The Postcolonial Caribbean
(2004), relegate to the margins the central debate around which both fields
collided and were transformed two decades ago? Puri's text, an otherwise
excellent book on the role of hybridity in Anglophone Caribbean cultural
production, coyly avoids tackling the debate between Fredric Jameson and
Aijaz Ahmad in Social Text. This debate was spurred by Jameson's statement
that "all Third World texts are necessarily [. .] allegorical [. .]. They are
to be read as what I will call national allegories (69)." Given Puri's reliance
on Jameson's Postmodernism and The Political Unconscious, the halfway hid-
den nod to Jameson's troubling statement in the endnotes (250) is puzzling.
Puri's skirting around the controversy becomes more apparent in her only
other reference to it, where she seeks to redeem Jameson's comment by high-
lighting a less problematic concept:

Without making claims for the general applicability of Fredric Jameson's
controversial account of First and Third World allegories in "Third World
Literature," in the specific cases I address in this chapter, I have found very
suggestive his observation that national allegorical structures are not so
much "absent from first-world cultural texts as they are unconscious." (27)

In order to understand the alternative identity and space of the Jameson/
Ahmad debate in The Postcolonial Caribbean, I believe that it is important to
revisit this important controversy, to trace the various global and Caribbean
responses to the accusation of "allegory," and to end by considering Jameson's
latest commentary on his provocative statement.
This central assertion of Jameson in the essay "Third World Literature
in the Era of Multi-National Capitalism" is based on his belief that the re-
lationship between the personal and the political in the First World is orga-
nized in a very different way than in the Third World. Jameson says: "One
of the determinants of capitalist culture, that is, the culture of the western


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






ROBERTO STRONGMAN


realist and modernist novel, is a radical split between the private and the
public (69)." Jameson sees this division as being non-existent -or as he
puts it, "inverted"- in the Third World, where "psychology, or more spe-
cifically, libidinal investment, is to be read in primarily political and social
terms (72)." For Jameson, the personal is, by definition, political in the Third
World, whereas, in the First World, the personal and the political cannot
meet due to an epistemic split between the two.
As could be expected, the reception of Jameson's broad and essentialist
claims were, overall, perceived as being very presumptuous:

Jameson is manifestly a systematizing thinker, if scarcely a systematic one.
But so reckless and so grandiose were his claims on this particular occasion
that they seemed positively to beg to be criticized. And criticized they
have been: the "Third World Literature" essay has been very widely read
by scholars in the field of colonial discourse; few if any of them have had a
good word to say about it. (Lazarus 374)

One of the many who criticized Jameson's essay was Aijaz Ahmad. In
his article, "Jameson's Rhetoric of Otherness and the 'National Allegory,'"
Ahmad's single most important challenge to Jameson's sweeping claim lies
in his calling into question the monolithic notion of the "Third World."
Though valid, Ahmad's claim ignores Jameson's awareness of the problemat-
ic nature of the term "Third World" and his rational, even laudable, attempt
at working with a very tangible, even if loosely defined, historical division of
resources and power in the globe:

A final observation on my use of the term "Third World." I take the point
of criticisms of this expression, particularly those which stress the way in
which it obliterates profound differences between a whole range of non-
western countries and situations [...] I don't, however, see any comparable
expression that articulates, as this one does, the fundamental breaks be-
tween the capitalist First World, the socialist bloc of the second World, and
a range of other countries which have suffered the experience of colonial-
ism and imperialism. (67)

Moreover, Ahmad's effort suffers with respect to two other important
points. First, an engagement with the theoretical notion of allegory is com-
pletely absent from his text. Many of his few references to the notion of
allegory aim to explain its non-existent status in texts of Urdu literature that


SARGASSO 2007-08,1






ON THE QUESTION OF CARIBBEAN NATIONAL ALLEGORIES


he chooses to outline in the essay. Second, when he mentions the allegorical
nature of feminist and "black American" [sic] literature in order to prove al-
legory's presence in First World literature, he unwittingly and unconsciously
lends credence to Jameson's thesis. By recognizing the predominance of al-
legory in minority literatures within the First World, Ahmad actually un-
derscores Jameson's connection between allegory and his notion of "Third
World." As Jameson points out in his counter-response to Ahmad: "U.S.
literature also includes its own Third World cultures" (26).
Jameson's bold claim that "all Third World texts are [...] what I will call
national allegories" demanded the type of challenge that it received from
Ahmad and others who took issue with its essentialism. Attacking Jameson's
response sounds like the necessary, if not the right thing to do, considering
the long-standing colonial tradition of mis-representation of cultural prod-
ucts from poorer nations in the wealthy metropolitan centers of the world.
Jameson utilizes examples from African and Chinese literature to illustrate
his point. Ahmad then uses examples of Urdu literature to prove Jameson
wrong. What should the Caribbean response be? To what do we owe Puri's
silence on the matter? Can the Caribbean really follow the instinctual im-
pulse to resist Jameson's statement when, upon closer inspection, it appears
that the most important literary texts of the region, in fact, establish an al-
legorical connection between the subject and the nation?
Unlike Shalini Puri, Allison Donnell and Sarah Lawson Welsh, the edi-
tors of The Routledge Reader in Caribbean Literature, voice this natural, vis-
ceral response in their interpretive choice of Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John:

The standard critical response to this text and others which cover child-
hood narratives in the Caribbean is to equate the growth of the individual
with that of the island and to draw out examples of colonial oppression
in the processes of schooling and socialization [... .]. However, we wish to
foreground instead the ways in which Kincaid resists narratives which can
be reduced to national allegories. (372)

The great effort required to locate these sites of resistance in the Carib-
bean novel is a very commendable enterprise, but the amount of ammuni-
tion provided by the Caribbean novel might not be sufficient to completely
invalidate and "resist" Jameson's claim. It can be difficult to accept the inter-
pretation that a significant portion of a literature subscribes to a formulaic
pattern, but do such formulaic patterns transcend counter-readings?


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






ROBERTO STRONGMAN


Donnell's and Lawson's counter-readings and Puri's silences are not the
only option. A more enabling response is to acknowledge the strong alle-
gorical strain in the Caribbean novel in order to re-appraise its complexity
and also to expose how the former colonial centers continue to control the
representation of what once constituted their peripheral regions. It is impor-
tant to highlight the dialectical relation between the metropole and the Ca-
ribbean in this situation because Caribbean literature is largely a literature of
exportation to the large European and North American reading audiences,
as in the Caribbean itself "we are occupied by foreign fiction" (Hodge 496).
If Third World literature is largely allegorical, as Jameson surmises, is it
not reasonable to think that this is so largely due to the First World's control
of the publication industry which makes Caribbean literature available to
the reading public? In The Politics of Home Rosemary George notes the re-
lationship between the publishing industry and Third World allegory when
she sets out to analyze "fiction from the 'Third World' that cannot be read as
national allegory and that is therefore in danger of not being read and some-
times in danger of not being published at all" (108). Ahmad comes closest
to seeing this relationship between allegory and the publishing industry in
his comments on translation of Third World texts:

[...] the enormous industry of translation which circulates texts among the
advanced capitalist countries comes to the most erratic and slowest pos-
sible grind when it comes to translation from Asian or African languages.
The upshot is that major literary traditions. . remain, beyond a few texts
here and there, virtually unknown to the American literary theorist. Con-
sequently, the few writers who happen to write in English are valorized
beyond measure.. [and are] immediately elevated to the lonely splendour
of a "representative"-of a race, a continent, a civilization, even the "Third
World." (5)

Ahmad is right when he says that the translation industry impedes the
accessibility of "Third World" texts. What Ahmad's analysis misses, how-
ever, is an acknowledgement of the ways in which the translation industry
operates as a mechanism of First World control over the representation of
the Third World through its careful selection of texts to be translated and,
therefore, made available to the rest of the world. Moreover, restrictions on
the texts available in English are not only dependent on "the few writers who
happen to write in English," as Ahmad says, but on the ways in which these


SARGASSO 2007-08,1






ON THE QUESTION OF CARIBBEAN NATIONAL ALLEGORIES


writers from poorer Anglophone countries -who are, in fact, quite numer-
ous-- are socialized through education, disciplined through the publishing
industry, and rewarded by their audience for allegorizing their experience. In
this sense, it becomes necessary to be mindful of poststructuralist theoriza-
tion on the location of allegory -particularly in the work of Stanley Fish
and Paul de Man. For these critics, allegory does not so much reside within
the text but exists as part of the interpretive apparatus of the reader. For the
Caribbean writer, this implies that he or she produce texts that while not
overtly allegorical, at least provide the constitutive elements that can elicit
such an interpretation, especially among First World readers. In short, the
First World ensures that the literary representation of the Third World be al-
legorical through choices in interpretation, translation, limitations on acces-
sibility and availability of texts, as well as through the hegemonic regulation
of the types of narratives which are elicited from its writers, who are expected
to write as l'ecrivain engage. Often such writers are strongly discouraged
from writing in less overtly political-allegorical genres like detective fiction,
romance novels, and science fiction, for example.
In order to illustrate the natural and unconscious way in which these
allegorical expectations are enacted, it becomes interesting to note how Ah-
mad's piece is itself a fine example of Third World allegorical writing:

But, then, when I was on the fifth page of this text (specifically the sentence
starting with "All Third World text are necessarily [.. .]." etc.), I realized
that what was being theorized was, among many other things, myself(3-4).
[emphasis mine]

How can Ahmad contend with Jameson's statement and at the same
time establish an allegorical relation between the Third World and himself
in such a direct way? Ahmad's assuming that statements about the Third
World are ultimately about himself lends support to Jameson's belief in "the
primacy of national allegory in Third World culture" (84) and its corollary:
"in the Third World situation the intellectual is always in one way or another
a political intellectual" (74). As such, Ahmad's allegorization of his own ex-
perience works alongside his comments on black and feminist writing to
undermine his own argument in favor ofJameson's.
Ahmad's rejection of the allegorical nature of Third World writing ex-
presses a deep anxiety, also present in the statement by Alison Donnell and
Sarah Lawson Welsh, in which allegory is disavowed, through their refusal


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






ROBERTO STRONGMAN


to consider it a mode of Third World writing, and simultaneously avowed,
through their perceived need for counter-readings and their own replication
of allegorical rhetorical tropes. Also evident in Puri's sidestepping of the
controversy, this anxiety stems from the association of allegory with the idea
of "simplicity," in its worst connotations. Jameson writes:

This new mapping process brings me to the cautionary remark I wanted
to make about allegory itself-a form long discredited in the west and the
specific target of the Romantic revolution of Wordsworth and Coleridge,
yet a linguistic structure which also seems to be experiencing a remarkable
reawakening of interest in contemporary literary theory. (73)

Apart from being helpful in explaining deeply-felt anxieties over implied
charges of "simplicity," Jameson's statement also allows an understanding of
how the channeling and containment of Third World narratives in the realm
of allegory is linked to the genre's depreciated status and the First World's
investment in maintaining the representation of the Third World as under-
valued and inferior. Jameson continues:

We [in the First World] have been trained in a deep cultural conviction that
the lived experience of our private existence is somehow incommensurable
with the abstractions of economic science and political dynamics. (69)

The differences which Jameson outlines for the First World as private
vs. public and the Third World as allegorical only serve to re-articulate a
developmental discourse that plots the Third World within a backward stage
of barbarism in which the basic structures of human societal organization
have not yet been sufficiently established as to allow for the free and disen-
cumbered creative spirit of the subject to narrate its "inner truths" without
recourse or parallel to the public, the communal, or the national. In short,
the First World possesses an investment in maintaining the Third World's
association with allegory in order to assure its own First World representa-
tional superiority.
The charge of essentialism against Jameson's claim that "the story of the
private individual destiny is always an allegory of the embattled situation of
the public Third World culture and society" (69) is perfectly legitimate: the
division he makes between the First and Third World is questionable and
so is the flat, reductionist, one-to-one correspondence he sometimes makes
between the subject and the nation. In short, it appears like a revived form of


SARGASSO 2007-08,1






ON THE QUESTION OF CARIBBEAN NATIONAL ALLEGORIES


cultural colonization in which the cultural production of the Third World is
defined as "immature," to use developmental language, by the First World.
However, the emergence of allegory in the Third World need not neces-
sarily imply a belated recapitulation of First World literary forms, for Latin
American and Caribbean histories utilize non-linear historical strategies.
Glissant's "Retour/D6tour" and Garcia Canclini's "entrances and exits to
Modernity" can thus be used to understand this allegory as part of the cycli-
cal and meandering genealogies that characterize the Third World. Rather
than rejecting or ignoring allegory, I find it more useful to extend Jameson's
argument through an examination of literature from a particular location
within the Third World-the Caribbean-in order to investigate the valid-
ity of the national allegory claim and to understand the nature of national
allegories themselves, their political implications, and their social functions.
As such, this essay is founded on the idea that the experience of slavery and
indentureship under the plantation system is responsible for the literary re-
assertion of the self in the cultural production of the Caribbean. Through-
out the area the political drive for independence and redefinition of colonial
status during the 1950s deployed the re-assertion of this denied subjectivity
in the political realm. Responding to the Jameson/Ahmad debate from a
Caribbean perspective, I sketch a theoretical genealogy of the self and its
collusion with the idea of the nation in order to argue that this re-analysis
concerning the denial of subjectivity found voice in the form of allegorical
autobiography throughout the Caribbean in the 1950s and has continued to
dominate its literature and criticism since.
Across languages, Caribbean literature deals largely with the plantation
system and its effects. While not all Caribbean territories were settled for
agricultural purposes-there was mining, salt extraction, raising of livestock,
storing and transportation of goods-the defining representation of the re-
gion has remained that of the plantation because it was the most dominant
economic system in the region as a whole during the early colonial period.
Whether it was sugarcane, bananas, cotton, pineapples, or rubber, the planta-
tion produced a reign of inequality that exploited large numbers of workers
for the profit of a numerical minority of European descent. The massive
re-location of peoples to run this economic system, the new identities arising
from these re-locations and ethnic mixtures, the social inequity inherent in
Caribbean plantocracies and its legacy in present systems of government, the
idea of liberation, colonialism and de-colonization, are important themes in


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






ROBERTO STRONGMAN


Caribbean literature arising from common Caribbean histories as plantation
societies. In the words of Antonio Benitez-Rojo:

[ believe that beyond their nature -sugar, coffee, etc.-, beyond the colo-
nizing power that set them up, beyond the epoch in which the dominant
economy in one or another colony was founded, the plantation turns out to
be one of the principal instruments for studying the area, if not indeed the
most important. (39)

For Benitez-Rojo, the plantation's centrality for the Caribbean accounts
not only for the cultural similarities between the different territories; it also
accounts for the particularities that make each island distinct: "The differ-
ences that existed among the Caribbean colonies, and even the differences
that we now perceive, were created in large part by the epoch in which the
plantation took over within each" (63).
Perhaps the most profound mark of the plantation system in Caribbean
culture and one of the most salient themes in its literature involve the denial
of subjectivity of the enslaved and indentured masses. According to Le Code
Noir (1685), for example, the slave was technically a non-being, a piece of
merchandise to be transported, sold, bought and utilized as if s/he were an
inanimate object. Orlando Patterson furthers this understanding of the slave
as property by elaborating the concept of slavery as a form social death:

My objection to these definitions is not that I do not consider slaves to be
property objects. The problem, rather, is that to define slavery only as the
treatment of human beings as property fails as a definition, since it does not
really specify any distinct category of persons. (21)

Citing the institution of marriage as an example, Patterson argues that pro-
prietary claims are made in a variety of human relations that are different from
slavery. Instead of the property model, Patterson advances the idea that, across
cultures, slaves are constructed as socially dead through a process that he calls
"natal alienation." According to Patterson "natal alienation" produced "the loss of
ties of birth in both ascending and descending generations [...] the loss of native
status, of deracination" (7). As a result of this alienation from familial lin-
eage, Patterson believes that "the slave had no socially recognized existence
outside of his master" and "became a social nonperson" (5).
Turning now to the literary re-assertion of this denied subjectivity, the pub-
lication of Joseph Zobel's La Rue Cases-Negres (1950) is the first of a series of


SARGASSO 2007-08, I






ON THE QUESTION OF CARIBBEAN NATIONAL ALLEGORIES


autobiographical novels published in the decade that defined the genre for sub-
sequent writers. Closely followed by George Lamming's In the Castle ofMy Skin
(1953), Rend Marques' La Vfspera delHombre (1957), and by close to two dozen
noteworthy novels since, Zobel's La Rue Cases-Negres is an integral part of the
foundation of a large corpus of Caribbean texts in which a child-protagonist's
maturation and growth becomes a discursive mechanism for the articulation of
ideas concerning the construction of the self and the connection and reliance of
this self with communal compositions such as the nation.
The insufficiencies of the term Bildungsroman for Caribbean coming-of-
age narratives and the need for a more appropriate appellation for this genre
has been noted by Caribbeanists, particularly feminist Caribbeanists. Doro-
thy Denniston argues that the term applies to Goethian texts in which the
individual fights to break free from his society and that this is not the case
in Paule Marshall's Brown Girl, Browstones, "a text about individual develop-
ment that is inseparable from the development of the collective body" (7).
Geta Leseur also observes the limitations of the term Bildungsroman in her
reading of Brown Girl, Brownstones when she notes that "Selina's quest for
identity is distinct in its complex focus from the conventional western male-
oriented Bildungsroman theme" (123). Writing on Kincaid's Annie John, Ad-
lai Murdoch also notices how "the concatenation of sex and race, geography
and culture, tends to cause the novel to diverge somewhat from the white,
male, European tradition of the Bildungsroman (326).
Lucy Wilson sees the inapplicability of the term to the coming of age
narratives of Caribbean women, which she examines as existing in tension
with the Bildungsroman's historical and geographical origins:

[.. .] the historical and cultural roots of the Bildungsroman and the court-
ship novel in nineteenth century bourgeois European society are philo-
sophically incompatible with the depiction of characters whose existence
is premised on hundreds of years of oppression and exploitation by those
same European societies." ("Relational Autonomy" 283)

Like Denniston, Wilson notices how the Bildungsroman is predicated
on Enlightenment ideas of the self's autonomy, notions uncharacteristic of
Caribbean coming of age narratives in which there is an integration between
the self and the community.
While the Bildungsroman's hero saw his surrounding society as alien-
ating and his maturation process as one of breaking free from constraints,


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






ROBERTO STRONGMAN


the Caribbean coming of age heroine sees herself as a representative of and
spokesperson for her society. This literary re-assertion of the self enacts
a discursive emancipation from the denial of subjectivity imposed by slav-
ery and indentureship. The communal quality of this subjectivity identifies
it allegorically with the idea of the nation, addressing the key issue of the
Jameson/Ahmad debate.
The Postcolonial context of Ahmad's critique and the extension of this
critique to elucidate problematic in Caribbean cultural production fore-
ground the uneasy tension between the fields of Postcolonial and Caribbean
Studies. As Puri notes throughout The Postcolonial Caribbean there has been
reticence towards Postcoloniality among some Caribbeanists, who have per-
ceived it as a totalizing construction with the ability to erase the specificity of
Caribbean culture and history. Alison Donnell foreshadows Puri's argument
when she speculates on the future of Caribbean literature in the Academy:

There appears to be a serious question mark over the survival of Caribbean
literature given the generalizing and homogenizing tendencies of "Post-
Colonial Studies." The Caribbean, like all other post-colonial cultures, has
several unique features which can be erased in this larger conceptual frame-
work; these include the absence of alternative languages, and of a common
pre-colonial culture, as well as the extraordinary cultural admixture. There
is also an immense diversity within the Caribbean region which necessi-
tates detailed analysis that is often difficult to achieve within an over-arch-
ing theoretical model. Indeed, although the post-colonial umbrella has
enabled the academic recognition and widespread teaching of many for-
merly marginal literatures and writers, it can function according to a rather
reductive agenda of resistance, rewriting and revisionism which irons out
the cultural specificity of the different regional writings. (Donnell 438-9)

Donnell's critique is not unfounded. The presence of Caribbean texts
discussed in Postcolonial Studies is negligible and there is an evident era-
sure of the geographical context of the few Caribbean texts which are in
fact utilized by prominent Postcolonial theorists. For instance, one of the
pillars of Postcolonial theory, Edward Said's Culture and Imperialism, relies
heavily on The Black Jacobins--a work by Trinidadian cultural critic C.L.R.
James on the Haitian revolution. Despite its dependence on James' book,
Culture and Imperialism avoids any commentary on Trinidad, Haiti, or other
places in the Caribbean region for that matter. Gayatri Spivak's A Critique
ofPostcolonial Reason contains a chapter entitled "Literature" that includes a


SARGASSO 2007-08, I





ON THE QUESTION OF CARIBBEAN NATIONAL ALLEGORIES


reading of Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea-one of the most widely recognized
Caribbean texts-without mentioning anything about Jamaica or Dominica
which would frame the work within its regional context. These readings ex-
pose a Postcolonial tendency to invoke Caribbean texts without framing and
contextualizing them geographically and socially. Spivak rejects Caribbean
scholarship outright in her appraisal of Retamar's "Calibin" when she notes:
"I will refer to a passage from Roberto Fernandez Retamar's "Caliban," al-
though as I hope will be clear by the end of this book, I myself do not think
that the postcolonial should take Calibin as an inescapable model" (117).
Spivak's rejection of Retamar's analysis and, most importantly, her exclusion
of Shakespeare's Caribbean native from Postcolonial Studies mark an impor-
tant divide between Caribbean and Postcolonial Studies.
In short, the absence of the Caribbean in Postcolonial theoretical dis-
course and the de-contextualized readings of the Caribbean texts they pur-
port to discuss betray the representation and expectation of Postcolonial
theory addressing the cultural and political concerns of the de-colonized
and de-colonizing world in an egalitarian manner. Spivak and Said's works
demonstrate that there is ample evidence to support the claim that the "prac-
tice of regulating the postcolonial proper has led not only to a narrow con-
struction of Caribbean writers and texts, but also to the exclusion of certain
works" (Donnell 440).
At the underlying level, however, perhaps the fundamental issue divid-
ing Caribbean Studies and Postcolonial Studies can be traced to the geo-
graphical orientation of the originary work of Postcolonialism: Said's Ori-
entalism. Said spells out the project of Orientalism when he states that "this
books tries to demonstrate.. that European culture gained in strength and
identity by setting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even
underground self" (3). Said's vision of "The Orient" as the singular locus of
alterity for Europe ignores the Caribbean's important role in the formation
of European subjectivity from the early Renaissance and onwards. Further
ignoring the duration and profitability of European slavery for sugar produc-
tion in the Caribbean, Said's project is most questionable to Caribbeanists
when he declares: "The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the
place of Europe's greatest and richest and oldest colonies" (1).
In synthesis, the Caribbean dissatisfaction with the Postcolonial stems
from the fact that, in the spirit of Said's Orientalism, Postcolonial Studies'
geographical orientation has been towards the East Indies rather than to-


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






ROBERTO STRONGMAN


wards the West Indies. As a result the few Caribbean writers who are invoked
in Postcolonial discussions, such as Fanon and C.L.R.James and C6saire, are
not read within their Caribbean context but are utilized by theorists such as
Bhabha and Spivak to theorize about the Middle East or South Asia. More-
over, with the Caribbean constituting a pre-Enlightenment colonization and
the "Orient" being a post-Enlightenment colonization, the temporal differ-
ences between the two colonization projects make the subsumption of the
Caribbean and the "Orient" under a single organizing label problematic. As
the cuvre of Sylvia Wynter reiterates, the Enlightenment concept of "Man"
enacts an epistemic split between pre-Enlightenment and post-Enlighten-
ment colonization. Furthermore, tension between ethnic South Asians and
people of African descent -particularly considering the history of East In-
dian indentured servitude and migration to the Caribbean during and after
Emancipation- have often prevented greater dialogue between Postcolonial
and Caribbean Studies.
While the relevance of Postcolonial Studies to an understanding of the
Caribbean is undeniable, one must be suspicious of the field's current total-
izing tendencies. This Caribbean response to the Jameson/Ahmad debate
on national allegory attempts a re-inscription of the Caribbean with the
Postcolonial and in so doing seeks a re/Orient/ation of the field towards the
colonized lands of the Western Hemisphere and their cultural production.
Jameson's thinking has evolved since the publication of the Social Text
articles and has refined the limiting notions of nation and "Third World"
in "Literary Import-Substitution," a more recent article that once again re-
visits the issue of autobiographical narratives. Here, Jameson theorizes that
the commonality and point of confluence between contemporary First and
Third World literary subjectivities can be found in the shared feature of "an-
onymity," which "here means not the loss of personal identity, of the proper
name, but the multiplication of those things" (185-6). ForJameson this ano-
nymity implies "the passing of the older psychic subject" (189), which in the
Third World is exemplified by a multiplication of selves through collectively
authored testimonies, communal stories and in the First World through the
questioning of authorship evidenced by the disappearance of the notion of
personal style and the pervasiveness of the collage. For readers of Puri's The
Postcolonial Caribbean, this "anonymity" functions as an updated version of
Jameson's "unconscious" role of allegory in the First World. While maintain-
ing a distinction between First and Third Worlds, the theorizing of them


SARGASSO 2007-08, I1






ON THE QUESTION OF CARIBBEAN NATIONAL ALLEGORIES


jointly responds to the emergence of diasporic novels that cannot be easily
classified as belonging to only one of these categories. The preference this
time for a vocabulary of "community" and "collectivities" rather than "na-
tion" appears to signal the re-evaluation of questions about belonging that
diasporic texts generate.
The opposition of prominent Postcolonial critics such as Ahmad to
Jameson's claim was grounded in the association of allegory with narrative
simplicity. By avoiding a confrontation with the specter of allegory, Shalini
Puri's The Postcolonial Caribbean misses an important opportunity to re-eval-
uate the potentially rebellious and resistant possibilities of the genre. I have
proposed a re-consideration of the notion of allegory as a complex literary
form grounded in a history of Modernity which considers seriously the im-
plications of Africans, Asians, Amerindians, and Europeans meeting under
the highly asymmetrical power dynamics of the colonial project. The denied
subjectivity of the enslaved emerges unfettered in the decolonization mo-
ment of the mid-twentieth century, forging a link between the maturing self
and the independent nation through allegory-thus becoming an impor-
tant constitutive element of Caribbean literary production. Far from being a
simplistic genre pronouncing literature from the area as elementary, allegory
functions as a powerful anti-colonial discursive mechanism producing alter-
native identities throughout the Caribbean and its multiple diasporas.


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






ROBERTO STRONGMAN


Works Cited

Ahmad, Aijaz. "Jameson's Rhetoric of Otherness and the 'National Alle-
gory.'" Social Text 17 (Fall 1987): 3-25.
Benitez-Rojo, Antonio. The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Post-
modern Perspective. Durham: Duke UP, 1996.
Denniston, Dorothy Hamer. The Fiction ofPaule Marshall: Reconstructions of
History, Culture and Gender. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1983.
Donnell, Alison and Sarah Lawson Welsh. "1980-89 Introduction." The
Routledge Reader in Caribbean Literature. NY: Routledge, 1996. 361-
373.
Fernindez Retamar, Roberto. Todo Calibdn. Buenos Aires: CLASCO, 2005.
Fish, Stanley. "Why No One's Afraid of Wolfgang Iser." Doing What Comes
Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and
Legal Studies. Durham: Duke UP, 1989.
Garcia Canclini, N6stor. Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving
Modernity. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1995.
George, Rosemary. "But That Was in Another Country." The Girl: Con-
structions of the Girl in Contemporary Fiction by Women. Ed. Ruth 0
Saxton. New York: St. Martins, 1998.
Glissant, Edouard. Le discours antillais. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1981.
Hodge, Merle. "Challenges of the Struggle for Sovereignty: Changing the
World versus Writing Stories." The Routledge Reader in Caribbean Lit-
erature. NY: Routledge, 1996. 494 497.
James, C.L.R. The Black Jacobins. New York: Vintage, 1989.
Jameson, Fredric. "A Brief Response." Social Text 17 (Fall 1987): 26-28.
--- "On Literary and Cultural Import-Substitution in the Third World:
The Case of the Testimonio." The Real Thing: Testimonial Discourse
and Latin America. Ed. Georg, Gugelberger. Duke U P: Durham,
1996. 172-191.
-- Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham:
Duke UP, 1999.
- "Third World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism." Social
Text 15 (Fall 1986): 65-88.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Annie John. New York: Noonday, 1997.
Lamming, George. In the Castle of My Skin. Ann Arbor: U Michigan Press,
1991.


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ON THE QUESTION OF CARIBBEAN NATIONAL ALLEGORIES


Lazarus, Neil. "Postcolonialism and the Dilemma of Nationalism: Aijaz
Ahmad's Critique of Third Worldism." Diaspora 2.3, (1993): 373-
400.
Leseur, Geta. "Brown Girl, Brownstones as a Novel of Development." Ob-
sidian II. 1.3 (1986): 119-129.
de Man, Paul. Allegories of Reading:. Figural Language in Rosseau, Nietzsche,
Rilke, and Proust. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979.
Marqu6s, Ren6. La Vispera delHombre. Rio Piedras, PR: Editorial Cultural,
1996.
Murdoch, H. Adlai. "Severing the (M)other Connection: The Represen-
tation of Cultural Identity in Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John." Callaloo.
13.2 (1990): 325-340.
Patterson, Orlando. Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study. Cam-
bridge: Harvard UP, 1982.
Puri, Shalini. The Caribbean Postcolonial: Social Equality, Post-Nationalism,
and Cultural Hybridity. New York: Palgrave, 2004.
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: Penguin, 1968.
Sala-Molins, Louis. Le Code Noir: ou le calvaire de Canaan. Paris: PUF,
1987.
Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Knopf, 1994.
---. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1979.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. A Critique ofPostcolonial Reason: Toward a His-
tory of the Vanishing Present. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1999.
Wilson, Lucy. "The Novel of Relational Autonomy: West Indian Women
Writers and the Evolution of a Genre." Orality, Literacy and the Fictive
Imagination:African and Diasporan Literatures. Ed. Tom Spencer-Wal-
ters. Troy, MI: Bedford, 1998.
Wynter, Sylvia. "Beyond the Word of Man: Glissant and the New Discourse
of the Antilles." World Literature Today. 63 (Autumn 1989): 637-647.
Zobel, Joseph. La Rue Cases-Negres. Paris: Presence Africaine, 1974.


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance








(ontemporizing Black Athena: Walcott's Odyssey

and the Articulation of lassical-Postcolonial Alliances
Aaron Eastley
Brigham Young University



In Derek Walcott's play The Odyssey: A Stage Version, first performed in 1992,
the Caribbean singer "Blind" Billy Blue has a message for the returning
Odysseus: "Ain't your house no more," he chants, "your dog, your old lady,
your cat, / Your son, your chair, your old coffee-cup, you're a bum" (120). The
house was his-once. He built it and he still knows its secrets, but his wife's
suitors have taken possession of all, and they are not about to leave without
a fight. Though he was the originator of the house's unique and ingenious
design, not to mention the creator of the wealth that enabled its construc-
tion, Odysseus now crosses the threshold unrecognized. He is treated little
better than his old dog, Argus, to whom he is often compared by the suitors.
In their eyes he is nothing more than a "KING O' BEGGARS": a presump-
tuous interloper looking for a handout for which, when he receives it, he is
not even properly grateful (141).
This image of the dispossessed and misapprehended Odysseus resonates
in a number of ways with the often rancorous debate inspired by Martin Ber-
nal's 1987 study Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization.
Central to Bernal's thesis is, of course, the notion that classical Greek cul-
ture flourished based on knowledge derived from black Africans in ancient
Egypt. Like the fabled return of Odysseus to Ithaca, this notion of classical
Afrocentrism violently disturbs a state of affairs that over time has come to
seem normative. Metaphorically speaking, Bernal expels the strangers from
the house by contravening traditional Eurocentric assumptions concerning
the origins and rightful ownership of cultural and intellectual capital in the
modern Western world. Black Athena seems to hold the promise of a radical
shift in contemporary racial power relations enabled by the revelation of an
ancestral identity that gives a decided ideological advantage to black people
worldwide. But was the Mediterranean coast of Africa truly the cradle of
knowledge for the modern Western world? And were black Egyptians in


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






AARON EASTLEY


antiquity really the font of genius from which classical Greece sprang? Most
importantly, what, finally, is really at stake if this thesis can be proven in the
main either false or true?
Although now fully two decades old, the Black Athena debate still readily
raises hackles at academic conferences and in other professional and popu-
lar forums. In 1996 classicist Mary Lefkowitz published a forceful counter-
study: Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as
History, and as recently as 2001 Duke University Press published a rejoinder:
Black Athena Writes Back: Martin Bernal Responds to His Critics. In the wake
of these opposing studies many have concluded reluctantly-and a few glee-
fully-that while cultural influence in general is significant and indisputable,
several of Bernal's particular key claims are insufficiently supported and his-
torically improbable. Yet the core idea remains compelling because of what
it seems to represent: a prior claim on original genius, an argument for the
misapprehension of African intelligence by modern eurocentric cultures.
The attraction of this idea, and the extraordinary fervor surrounding
the debate as a whole, is clearly a product of the general turbulence sur-
rounding race relations in the West since significant contact first occurred
in medieval and Early Modern times. As medievalist Robert Bartlett has
attested, "while the language of race in the Middle Ages may often seem
primarily concerned with descent groups, a closer look shows that this ge-
netic component was often overshadowed by considerations of a different
order," specifically by "geographical determinism," the notion that particular
climates or environments produce people of differing appearance, tempera-
ment, and abilities (45-6). "Human beings vary in appearance and colour,
in size of body and quality of mind, according to the skies above them,"
Bartlett quotes seventh-century encyclopedist Isidore of Seville (46). This
notion, applied to artistic and intellectual endeavors especially, prejudicially
aligned the "whiteness" and "paleness" of peoples from colder regions with
superior qualities relative to the lesser qualities of peoples whose "blackness"
or "redness" betrayed their origins in more torrid zones (46). Tellingly, the
same sort of biased rhetoric levied against Europe's racial Others in far-off
lands was employed internally to describe peasants who were, as Yale Distin-
guished Historian David Brion Davis aptly notes, "often described as being
'black' as a result of their constant exposure to the sun, soil, and manure" (13).
As Davis avers, "medieval writers used every imaginable figure and device
to prove that the subservience of farm laborers was rooted in nature and


SARGASSO 2007-08, 1






CONTEMPORIZING BLACKATHENA


therefore just" (13). This rhetoric of the natural became ever more appeal-
ing in subsequent centuries, as slavery and colonial domination engendered
greater psychological need for elitist European societies to see their racial
and occupational Others not only as originally inferior, but as essentially or
irredeemably so (Davis 15-18). Thus, as Gauri Viswanathan details in Masks
of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India, numerous devious
machinations were employed over the course of centuries, especially in
the educational or scholarly sphere, to maintain social control over colo-
nized peoples through discourses of inferiority (10). Such machinations, in
concert with the echoes of the original idea of environmental determinism,
have necessarily created a potent chorus of suspicion among those excluded
so tenaciously from the circles of the elite.
In short, whether or not the response to Black Athena constitutes a cov-
er-up or a bogusly "disinterested" refutation, historical precedents for such
maneuvering are legion. If distrust and tension exist, it is not for nothing.
And as Walcott's Billy Blue goes on to sing, following his bit about Odys-
seus being wrongly reduced to the status of a "bum," "a tramp, outside [his]
own door": "Now, if you were that cat, tell me, brother, wouldn't you be sore?
/ Wouldn't you be sore? Come on now, brother, I would" (121). Given the
historical precedents noted above, what is most attractive, perhaps, about the
Black Athena argument is that it absorbs the traditional European notion of
cultural essentialism or determined identities, but redirects the exclusivist
energy of that discourse against Eurocentrism itself. The logic of such sym-
bolic inversions is tantalizingly symmetrical; one is apparently enabled, in the
words of Foucault, to "overcome the rulers through their own rules" (86).
The emotional and political energy of this logic appears to have inspired
Bernal and his editor in the carefully chosen title of their rejoinder Black
Athena Writes Back, a phrasing that cannot fail to call to mind a well-known
early treatise of postcolonial theory: Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin's The Em-
pire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Postcolonial Literatures. By echoing
this title Bernal not only defines a scholarly position, but aligns his thesis
of classical Afrocentrism with the long and troubled history of postcolonial
writers working in English and other European languages who have strug-
gled to be recognized in the face of racial and ethnic prejudices. It is perhaps
particularly fitting that Bernal should attempt to so align himself, since such
prejudices are often most evident in the quizzical critical responses to the
now numerous postcolonial works in which writers such as Derek Walcott


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have had the audacity (as a recalcitrant Eurocentric literary establishment
would perceive it) not merely to write in so-called "borrowed" languages and
genres, but to directly appropriate or "re-write" literary masterpieces of the
European literary tradition.
This tacit claim has a long and persistent history. The classical bent
of English education at home beginning in the nineteenth century is well
known. That this strain of education was even more influential in Britain's
colonies is amply attested by Viswanathan, who demonstrates that Greek
history and literary texts were prominently taught alongside English his-
tory and literature in colonial government school curriculums, suggesting to
colonial students a line of influence connecting classical Greece and Rome
to modern England (54, 141-2). The classics were part of a system of "liter-
ary education" that became "a major institutional support system of colonial
administration" (4). Through this system, as Dipesh Chakrabarty has em-
phasized, the colonized "were given the cross of 'inadequacy' to bear, for
according to this vision, it was they who needed to be educated out of their
ignorance, parochialism or, depending on your preference, false conscious-
ness" (32-3). That this sort of educational rigidity was common also to the
British Caribbean is evidenced in the observations of John J. Figueroa in
Society, Schools, and Progress in the West Indies. Speaking of the educational
environment under colonial rule and even after the nations of the Carib-
bean emerged into independence in the 1960s and 1970s, Figueroa notes
"the unconscious rigidity and authoritarian approach to education[,] both of
which exist so widely in the Caribbean" (79). "The stranger to the West In-
dies must be very careful to realize," Figueroa concludes in the final sentence
of his 1971 study, "that 'education' here signifies more a code of activities
conferring status than it does a creative release through self-study and self-
discipline" (108). That the Greek classics were an integral part of the body of
knowledge to be so ingested is reflected in a passage from one of Walcott's
early poems, "Origins," in which he records: "I learnt your annals of ocean, /
Of Hector, bridler of horses, / Achilles, Aeneas, Ulysses" (11).
IfBernal's thesis can be validated, it might suggest that black postcolonial
writers are the true and rightful heirs of the Greek classics. But what if the
best evidence of the historical narrative is detailed with apparent objectivity
by Lefkowitz in Not Out ofAfrica, and concisely summed up in online outlines
such as Lefkowitz's article for The History Place: "Was Greek Culture Stolen
From Africa: Modern Myth vs. Ancient History"? If the evidence seems rather


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CONTEMPORIZING BLACKATHENA


to discredit than to validate Bernal's arguments, does this render such writers
once again mere cultural interlopers, rudely snatching artistic heirlooms out
of European hands? The spurious simplicity of point and counter-point
which may be perceived in the wake of the Black Athena debate tends to
encourage such an either/or perspective of postcolonial appropriation. Either
the classics are the legacy of Europe, duly incorporated by centuries of use, or
they are the property of Africa and other postcolonial or Third World places
and peoples, coming at last full circle and gravitating to the genius of those
who gave them life. Either this "house" is Odysseus's in truth, or he is really
just a bum, after all.
Yet fundamental to virtually all postcolonial theory, as also to poststruc-
turalist discourse, is a profound distrust of arguments and ideologies that are
functionally essentialist-and surely the racial overtones of the Black Athena
debate are that. What is, in fact, most clearly illuminated by the ongoing
debate is a persistent need for both general readers and scholarly critics alike
to recognize what is not at stake-in this case the intellectual and creative
abilities of people based on skin color or other biological markers, and the
right of all artists to borrow from the past regardless of their personal ances-
try or climatic ancestral origins. Postcolonial appropriation of the classics,
like postcolonial writing itself, should cease to be viewed as an unusual or
unnatural event.
Achieving such an end is, however, somewhat idealistic. For as Stuart
Hall, perhaps one of our clearest thinkers on issues of racial identity today,
remarks in his essay "Cultural Identity and Diaspora," "the dialogue of power
and resistance, of refusal and recognition, . is nowhere to be found in its
pure, pristine state. It is always-already fused, syncretised, with other cultural
elements" (118). The lingering influence of old European ideologies of ra-
cial essentialism is still felt. This "Presence Europeenne," as Hall terms it, is a
force against which all postcolonial people and especially postcolonial artists
have striven, leading such visionaries as "the poets of'Negritude,' like Aim6
Cesaire and Leopold Senghor" to imagine an "essence" of "black experience"
that could be held up against the white essentialist onslaught (111). And
while theorists like Hall (and writers like Walcott) recognize the dangerous
discursive compromise involved in articulating identity strictly as a matter of
"being" rather than as a dynamic hybrid of "being" and "becoming" (112), so
long as Presence Europienne lingers, so the postcolonial will likely never fully
abandon the fight on the essentialist front.


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This leads to what may be seen as the curious twin functionality and
significance of a work such as Walcott's Odyssey: an artistic representation
which overtly sympathizes with the motif of cultural influence inherent in
Black Athena, but ultimately legitimizes the claims of contemporary postco-
lonial peoples to the Greek classics not through essentialist arguments of ori-
gins but through the very act of artistic creation, by showing a commonality
of lived experience between ancient Greek and modern postcolonial peoples
expressed in the play's themes. The balance of this essay, then, will consider
Walcott's distinctive re-presentation of Homeric narrative in The Odyssey: A
Stage Version, as well as ways in which his strategic positioning of the ancient
text harmonizes with the ideas and textual practices of other key postcolonial
writers. In this vein I will specifically invoke the parallel example of James
Joyce, an author whose perspectives on ancient-modern connections and the
influence of scientific theory on literary representation prefigure Walcott's
own, and also Wole Soyinka, a contemporary whose play The Bacchae of Eu-
ripides: A Communion Rite parallels Walcott's Odyssey in its focused deploy-
ment of re-visionary anti-colonial themes.
Turning to Walcott's play, the Black Athena strain is immediately vis-
ible in Walcott's depiction of Odysseus's household. Walcott casts Odysseus's
and Telemachus's maid Eurycleia as a woman "whose speech has a distinctly
Afro-Caribbean lilt and whose manner might seem to play off the familiar
stereotype of the black mammy" (Burian 72). Significantly, the black Eury-
cleia is designated as Egyptian, and Telemachus recalls her teaching him as a
boy that "Athena, the sea-eyed, is Egyptian" (8). Just five years after Bernal's
first volume came out, this is Black Athena, clearly. Yet it is not history so
much as myth: the goddess herself is black. Walcott is not forcing a histori-
cal or scientific issue-Eurycleia downplays Telemachus's notion by calling
such tales just "Nancy stories me tell you and Hodysseus," and responds to
Telemachus's affirmation of his belief with the dismissive: "launching your
lickle cradles into dreaming seas" (8). But symbolically his dialogue makes
the point. "To me and my father you have been slave and nurse," he states.
"Yes," she replies, with a resonant double entendre, "Is Egypt who cradle
Greece till Greece mature" (9). Eurycleia, an Egyptian, has cared for Greek
father and son, and the actual ancient Egyptians, a great civilization, doubt-
less influenced their Greek neighbors.
Like the Anancy trickster tales so well known in African and Afro-Ca-
ribbean communities, these mischievous invocations of the Black Athena


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CONTEMPORIZING BLACK ATHENA


idea are playful but pregnant with meaning. As Peter Burian rightly points
out, it is simplistic to read these passages merely as "Walcott's salvo in the
battle surrounding Bernal's Black Athena." Yet Burian may himself be a bit
too quick in vouching that Walcott's "point is surely not to endorse Afrocen-
trism'" (72). After all, in "Reflections on Omeros" Walcott has clearly argued
that "in talking of Egyptian culture we are talking about a culture older than
that of ancient Greece, a culture to which Greece owes a great deal of its
mythology, among other things" (234). However, Burian's point is well taken
that the real impetus of Walcott's dialogue is toward recognition of "the lay-
ered complexities that negotiate difference not only in terms of opposition
but also of inclusion" (72). If we look at this situation through the lens of
Hall's metaphoric categories, it becomes clear that Walcott is simultaneously
articulating identity in two ways: both as an "essence" to be excavated or dis-
covered, and more especially as "production," something "always in process,
and always constituted within, not outside, representation" (111, 110). Wal-
cott is fashioning identity by transforming history into myth, which for all
its imaginative dimension is still representationally powerful for those who
perceive, with Hall, that identities are nothing more or less than "the names
we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves
within, the narratives of the past" (112). It might be said, then, that Walcott
expresses an affinity for the Black Athena worldview as a narrative which
expresses an ideologically salutary articulation of the past, if not necessarily
a historical "reality."
In this strategic positioning Walcott may be seen to follow the lead of
Joyce in imagining Ulysses. Some have seen in Ulysses the influence of a work
which in its day functioned in a similar way to Bernal's Black Athena, seeking
to establish a new genealogy for Greek culture: Victor B6rard's Les Pheniciens
et l'Odyssee. The argument for Joyce's reliance on B6rard is made by no less
a Joyce scholar than Richard Ellmann in The Consciousness offoyce. Ellmann
points to the presence in Joyce's personal library of Berard's "huge work in
two volumes, Les Phbniciens et l'Odyssee, . published in 1902 and 1903,"
and gives a brief synopsis of Berard's argument (26-7). As Ellmann explains,
Bdrard saw Homer as "a cosmopolitan man, a Greek working with foreign
materials." B6rard's specific argument was that Homer was "a landlubber"
who "knew nothing of the western Mediterranean, where most of the ac-
tion of his poem occurred; he therefore relied on the sailing manuals of the
Mediterranean's best sailors, who were Phoenicians, a Semitic people." "In


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AARON EASTLEY


B6rard's view," Ellmann concludes, "Homer was a Hellene, Ulysses a Phoe-
nician rover" (27). Berard's view of the Odyssey as a text in which "the whole
Middle East played its part" was attractive to Joyce, Vincent Cheng has fur-
ther argued, because "the very conception of Ulysses is based on an implied
equation of otherness with the self, of Oriental/Jew with West/Greek, deny-
ing the comfort and clarity of binary distinctions based on an essentialized
(and fetishized) notion of inherent difference" (48-9).
Despite the fact that Joyce would later use Berard's ideas in a lecture as
proof of a supposed "Phoenician-Semitic and Egyptian-African" connec-
tion, the important thing to him, as Elizabeth Cullingford has surmised, was
not the veracity of the theory per se, but the symbolic function of the argu-
ment (231). As one of his instructors at University College in Dublin, Father
Henry Browne, described it in his 1905 Handbook of Homeric Study, a book
which took Berard's work into account: "The Phoenicians were the Semites
of the West, and ... to discuss the history and the importance of Phoenician
activity in early times is to enter upon the question as to the debt we Aryans
owe to a people whom we are naturally inclined to hate" (qtd. in Cullingford
232). As Marilyn Reizbaum affirms, the true attraction of"B6rard's idea of
the Odyssey [was that it] supported Joyce's vision of his 'favorite,' 'most hu-
man' of heroes as a powerful alien" (27). This is not to say, however, that Be-
rard provided the inspiration for Joyce's text, or that Joyce's representations
lose their force without the backing of B6rard's unfortunately soft "hard"
science. For as both Ellmann (grudgingly) and Reizbaum (adamantly) re-
cord, Joyce did not encounter B6rard's work until he was well on his way to
completing Ulysses (Ellmann 26, Reizbaum 27). Joyce was pleased with the
historical/scientific notion because it mirrored his social/political themes.
This is likewise emphatically the case with Walcott's Odyssey, which as
Burian notes is "an integral part of Walcott's ongoing poetic project" specifi-
cally because Walcott takes this chance to translate or create a version of a
Greek classic as an opportunity "to explore the affinities of Mediterranean
and Caribbean, of ancient and modern," which are so much a focus of his
entire canon (71). Specifically, while "in Omeros and many earlier poems,
the ancient Aegean and its myths provide an artistic and historical mirror;
in [this] play, the Caribbean and the contemporary world form a shifting
and allusive 'background'" (72). The densely woven tapestry of the drama
features particularly the trope of resistance to tyrannical rule or colonial ex-
ploitation.


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CONTEMPORIZING BI.ACKATHENA


This trope, present throughout the play, is brought out most forcefully
in Odysseus's encounter with the Cyclops, an encounter which Walcott casts
in quite modern terms, constructing a connection between the epic past and
the postcolonial present. Odysseus, having come to the island of the Cy-
clops in the play, is told by a "Philosopher" that he has entered "the era of
grey colonels," a time/place where "The future happens. No matter how
much we scream" (Odyssey 62). Immediately following, the "sound of boots
over cobbles" is heard and "two Patrolmen in sheepskin coats enter, carrying
chains." Odysseus has come to a land where reigns, as the First Patrolman
announces, "The Great Shepherd" (rather than the Good) (62-3). This is the
Cyclops, also known as "The Eye": a dictatorial figure and a "killer," whose
avowal "I love Nobody" rings with a telling double entendre (66, 68). The
Cyclops, defined by the symbolism of his single eye-his singular vision of
all in his kingdom serving him-is the equivalent of contemporary leaders
who care only for the maintenance of self-serving orders. As C. B. Davis
notes, "Like Euripides' Polyphemus, Walcott's Cyclops has many of the trap-
pings of civilized behavior, but is capable of the kind of barbarism associ-
ated with twentieth century 'monsters' such as Hitler or Stalin" (32). This
portrayal is given a distinctly Caribbean flavor in the play in that, as Robert
Hamner insightfully points out, Walcott's wording also "plays with the I/eye
combination familiar within the coded language of Rastafarian culture to
portray the social dialectic of an oppressive government" (104).
The casting of Odysseus as a common man who confronts this
tyrant is accomplished by having Odysseus use the local vernacular in
addressing The Eye, only to reveal himself and revile his oppressor in
the end. Specifically Walcott has Odysseus speak in a "Black accent,"
telling the Cyclops: "I'm nobody, dude. You're ugly, I believe it," to which
the Cyclops responds: "God, what accent is that? I'm going to die." To
this Odysseus cleverly responds and affirms: "Oh, you will, you will,
boss" (Odyssey 65-6). The defiance of the common man, Odysseus, is
marvelously crystallized in his final denunciation of the blinded Cyclops:
"SON OF POSEIDON! YOU OBSCENE OCTOPUS! YOU TON
OF SQUID-SHIT, WITH YOUR EYE POURING BLACK INK!
MY NAME IS NOT NOBODY! IT'S ODYSSEUS! AND LEARN,
YOU BLOODY TYRANTS, THAT MEN CAN STILL THINK!"
The black common man, Odysseus, is emphatic: he is not "nobody." He
has wounded the monster and escaped. And the plural tyrants is telling:


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AARON EASTLEY


Walcott makes this scene have broad implications, sweeping across space
and time to include all such corrupt and oppressive officials.
This articulation of an ancient-modern alliance of resistance culminates
in the play's conclusion. The final confrontation is the traditional one be-
tween Odysseus and the suitors who, like modern colonial interlopers, have
entered his house and glutted themselves on the labor of his hands. Adding a
further layer of alliance, the returning Odysseus, who ought to be welcomed
by his fellows, is ironically castigated by words with obvious Christian over-
tones: "Let's see if he's a god," one of the suitors suggests: "Slip a spear in his
side!" (141). "Spike his brow with pine needles," another follows, and "Make
thorns his crown!" "Just nail KING O' BEGGARS over his bleeding head!"
a third concludes. As in Joyce's Ulysses, Walcott's hero becomes a Greek-Jew
with modern postcolonial relevance. He is, in short, a name which travels
in itself. "You can build a heavy-beamed poem out of this," one of Walcott's
characters comments with reference to the enduring significance of the core
myth, "It will ride time to unknown archipelagoes" (59). And indeed, in and
through his "Stage Version" of the Odyssey, Walcott himself, like his char-
acter 'Blind' Billy Blue, "pick[s] up various stories and . stitches] them,"
averring in the process that in ways unbounded "the sea speaks the same
language around the world's shores" (Odyssey 122).
The relevance of this statement with reference to contemporary post-
colonial literature more generally, may be seen in the clear thematic parallel
that emerges through a comparative analysis of Walcott's Odyssey and Nige-
rian playwright Wole Soyinka's play The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion
Rite. Both plays find in their ancient Greek precedents a commonality of
experience centering especially on themes of oppression and resistance.
Moving directly to the thematic center of things, at a key moment in
Soyinka's Bacchae the dictatorial Pentheus, King of Thebes, responds to an
"Old Slave" humbly questioning his orders by "fetch[ing] him a slap that
knocks him flat" (36). In the play this act provokes horror and indignation
from "Various" onlookers who cry out in unison:

Keep away!
This is filth, stain
Smear, decay.
Abomination (36)

These protesters are joined in the play by a Slave Leader who enjoins
those present to leave the old man lying on the ground as a living testimony


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CONTEMPORIZING BLACKA4THNAM


of Pentheus's tyranny. "Back. Leave him there," the Slave Leader shouts,
"Let him lie there and accuse him!" An incensed Pentheus in response puts
"his hand on his sword" and speaks to his subjects in threatening tones: "Do
you slaves defy me?" To which the "Various" voices reply:

We are strangers but we know the meaning of madness
-To hit an old servant
With frost on his head (37)

This image of foreign subjects ("strangers" who are not unlike modern
colonized peoples) united in opposing a haughty king is one which Soyinka
found so pertinent that he placed it in the foreground of his version of The
Bacchae.
As Soyinka explains in some detail in his preface, the themes growing
out of the particular historical moment of Euripides's play are in many
ways timeless. "The Bacchae," he suggests, "belongs to that sparse body of
plays which evoke awareness of a particular moment in a people's history,
yet imbue that moment with a hovering, eternal presence" (Bacchae vii). As
Norma Bishop rightly suggests, Soyinka "has translated Euripides' temporal
setting, after the Peloponnesian Wars, to the period of the post-colonial
African Wars" (116). The Old Slave struck down for questioning his master's
will is in Soyinka's play at once a classical Greek dramatic persona and a
modern African Everyman, oppressed under either a colonial or even a neo-
colonial political regime. Clearly Pentheus sees himself as naturally superior
to the Old Slave, both by birth or lineage and by occupation. This natural
order of things, what modern theory would term an ideological identity
construct, renders even the most benign presumption on the part of the
Old Slave a punishable offense, and Pentheus's much more egregious action
justifiable-or at least negligible. To contemporary readers this perception
is likely to seem highly ironic, as it is Pentheus himself who is erroneously
presumptuous.
This motif of presumed privilege by corrupt elites as a constant across
the ages meshes well with Soyinka's careful construction of solidarity among
marginalized and dispossessed people in his play. In the opening sequence, for
example, long before Pentheus strikes the Old Slave, a group of commoners
comes together, sharing a jug and listening as the "revels" of their masters
begin (Bacchae 2). "Which of us is the victim this year?" the Herdsman
asks. "That old man of the king's household. The one who looks after the


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AARON EASTLEY


dogs," the Slave Leader replies (3). The "us" suggests a basic perception of
unity among those who serve. And although the Herdsman initially seems
ambivalent (upon hearing the news he simply "shrugs" and muses: "He's old
enough to die"), his friend the Slave Leader is more strident: "He had better
survive!" he yells, to which the Herdsman "fearfully responds: 'Sh-sh!'"
In this scene two key symbolic Others are introduced, each with his own
preferred means of resistance. Here and throughout the play the Slave Leader,
a servant himself but nevertheless a force to be reckoned with, steps forward
as a spokesman for justice. "I have said it before," he reminds his friends, "If
another of us dies under the lash . .!" (3). That the Herdsman is perhaps
no less interested in freedom, but simply more cunning in pursuing it, is
evidenced in his subsequent comment to his outspoken friend: "Dissimulation
is an art you will never master," he whispers, "You need the sly humility, the
downcast eye. Yes Sire, King Pentheus, no sir, Honourable Eunuch of the
Queen's Bedchamber." The two are perhaps more closely aligned than it
seems, and their unity of purpose is hinted at significantly as the scene comes
to a close and the Slave Leader in parting says to his friend: "Look, tell them
on the hills, tell your fellows up there"-to which the Herdsman, "instantly
rigid," replies, "What?"-"Tell them," the Slave Leader finally says, "we are
also waiting." Country and city alike are shown to be ready, poised for decisive
action.
The modern implications of this ancient solidarity come out in Soyinka's
careful articulation of the mixed backgrounds of those thus united in op-
posing Pentheus. Specifically, the peoples of the hills who will become the
primary Bacchantes late in the play are not Greeks at all, but Asians who
have come to work in the mines. As these immigrants themselves ironically
protest: "Yet we are the barbarians / And Greece the boast of civilisation. We
are slaves and have no souls" (Bacchae 37). These are the people represented
by the Shepherd, and as Bishop rightly avers, "the slaves [in the city] join
the Asian Bacchantes . because both are minorities" (123). As Isidore
Okpewho has similarly suggested, "there emerged a much stronger commu-
nitarian sense among peoples who, although they came from a wide variety
of more or less 'tribal' origins in their Asian homelands, were nevertheless
united in being marginal elements (bonded and liberated slaves, resident
aliens, and the like)" (35).
The connection between these peoples becomes even clearer in the mo-
ment of their deliverance. That deliverance, as in Euripides's version of the


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CONTEMPORIZING BL,,ACATHENA


tale, comes in the form of Dionysus, a god of the people whose advent is
heralded by Soyinka's Slave Leader with these words to his fellows:

Welcome the new god! Thrice welcome the new order!
.. You hesitant fools! Don't you understand?
Don't you know? We are no longer alone -
Slaves, helots, the near and distant dispossessed!
This master race, this much vaunted dragon spawn
Have met their match. Nature has joined forces with us. (Bacchae 8)

"Fellow strangers" and "fellow aliens," the Slave Leader calls his friends
from the hills (15). These evocations of boundary-crossing solidarity over-
flow with the genius of Soyinka's appropriative vision, a drama in which "the
near and distant dispossessed"-including the modern African counterparts
of Euripides's diverse characters-are united against arrogant oppressors.
This symbolism is further enhanced by Soyinka's strategic representation
of Pentheus, a king whom Dionysus significantly calls "a man of chains" (65).
"You love chains," the god tells Pentheus, "You breathe chains, talk chains,
eat chains, dream chains, think chains. Your world is bound in manacles."
Not unlike many a colonial administrator, Pentheus is obsessed with what he
euphemistically calls order. "I shall have order!" he cries early on in the ac-
tion of the play (27). That this trait is elevated to the level of an obsession by
Soyinka is revealed in K. Sanatham's observation that "whereas Pentheus of
Euripides does not once use the word 'order' in his opening speech, Soyinka's
Pentheus uses that word repeatedly, thereby showing his desire to control
and dominate at all costs" (43). As Danielle Bonneau has insightfully sur-
mised, while "already a tyrant in the Greek play," Pentheus is rendered by
Soyinka as "a militarist who knows very little about his country, a guardian of
public and moral order .... In short, Pentheus belongs to that type of military
dictator-sometimes crowned-which is only too familiar in Africa" (1194).
"Tumoured and hard," Pentheus stands at the head of a colonizing system
which the united commoners of both Thebes and modern Africa must resist
(Bacchae 80). As a common "Slave" chants in the play: "Break interminable
shackles / Break bonds of oppressors."
Taken together Soyinka's and Walcott's plays reveal the flawed logic of
seeing rewriting the classics as an act of symbolic defiance directed at Europe
and its history of racial prejudice. Considering the interest Bernal's arguments
especially have generated, it might seem, in fact, as if some scholars really


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AARON EASTLEY


believe that the capacity of African peoples for rational thought actually
hangs in the balance-as if everything somehow depends on validating
the reality of a significant connection between the ancient Egyptians and
Phoenicians and the ancient Greeks. Yet this is obviously and emphatically
not the case. Even as so much attention has been turned toward the distant
past with an eye toward establishing some sort of cultural-genealogical
"truth" (as if modern cultures were like monolithic dominoes fallen in a
line stretching back to ancient Greece), several prominent contemporary
postcolonial writers, including those considered here, have rightly re-focused
attention back on the present. They have done so by contemporizing classical
Greek texts in ways which suggest that literary discourses are universally
subject to appropriation, and are most truly the property of those whose
lived experiences resonate with them-in this case the peoples of various
contemporary postcolonial societies. Postcolonial writers, in their myriad
allusive texts and translations have, in fact, done precisely what Harold
Scheub has suggested African storytellers have done for millennia: they have
taken "ancient images, or motifs, that contain the essential experiences of a
people, and [placed] these within contemporary contexts" (2).
Writers such as Walcott, Joyce, and Soyinka have taken a positive
step forward without waiting to see whether evidence or public sentiment
eventually comes down in support of Bernal's and Berard's arguments. They
and others like them throughout the literary subfield of writers with ties to
formerly colonized nations have rightly refused to be drawn into the divisive
symbolism of the debate. Their appropriative works themselves, which are
of unimpeachably excellent quality, testify to the artistic genius of Africans
more powerfully than any scientific theory of cultural origins. Rather than
staking the authenticity of their endeavors on theories which they tend to
favor but which are not vital to their work, they counter colonial discourses
of racial and cultural essentialism with texts that illuminate the essential hu-
manity of peoples in all areas and all ages of the world, and more particularly
the experiential solidarity of the marginalized.
The importance of such a representational gesture is highlighted by Soy-
inka, who in his 1999 volume The Burden of Memory, The Muse of Forgiveness
suggests that "the condition-slave," is fundamentally about "denial" (70).
The slave "whose status was no less than mistress of the house" may ostensi-
bly have shared little with those "others dangling on the gibbet, [or] rotting
on the magnolia tree." However, what all enslaved people have in common


SARGASSO 2007-08, I1






CONTEMPORIZING BLACKATHENA


throughout history is that "they have never been masters of their own exis-
tence, nor have they plotted their own destiny." And "to expel this incubus,"
Soyinka concludes, "they must first seize and alter that destiny" (71-2).
Appropriation as a means of articulating alliances between oppressed
peoples is one way in which postcolonial writers have done this. Rather than
acquiescing to the false colonial logic that positioned classical Greek texts as
Europe's special property, numerous postcolonial writers, including those stud-
ied here, have claimed the classics by using them, and in using them have dem-
onstrated their rights of ownership. They have, in other words, shown their
equality by both finding and imaginatively fashioning multiple echoes, ana-
logues, parallels, and connections between classical representations and post-
colonial experiences. In so doing, significantly, they have made an equal but
not an exclusive claim on the classics, a key distinction in view of the stingier
and more antagonistic cultural property politics often displayed by literary tra-
ditionalists intent on preserving the spuriously exclusive prestige of Europe.
In sum, these authors have made connective claims from which their
characters (and by extension themselves and their societies) have turned the
condition of marginality and the experience of oppression into a positive
force in terms of establishing a powerful sense of individual and cultural
identity. Such constructions of positive identity on negative experience may
at first seem contradictory, but in fact it is a typical and necessary way station
on the road toward true equality. As Terry Eagleton has suggested,

What any oppressed group has most vitally in common is just the shared
fact of their oppression. Their collective identity is in this sense importantly
negative, defined less by shared positive characteristics than by a common
antagonism to some political order. That negative collective identity, how-
ever, is bound over a period of time to generate a positive particular culture,
without which political emancipation is probably impossible. (37)

This is true, I would suggest, among the ranks of oppressed groups in
various localities and epochs. For as Eagleton goes on to argue, "Nobody
can live in perpetual deferment of their sense of selfhood, or free themselves
from bondage without a strongly affirmative sense of who they are. [. .] In
this sense, the 'negativity' of an oppressed people-its sense of itself as dislo-
cated and depleted-already implies a more positive style of being."
Certainly a strong sense of identity rings out in the defiant cries of char-
acters like Joyce's Leopold Bloom, Soyinka's Slave Leader, and Walcott's


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






AARON EASTLEY


Odysseus. "Your god was a jew," Bloom emphasizes to the brutish citizen in
Ulysses, "Christ was a jew like me" (12: 1808-9). And "Slaves, helots, the near
and distant dispossessed!" Soyinka's Slave Leader proclaims, "This master
race, this much vaunted dragon spawn / Have met their match. Nature has
joined forces with us" (Bacchae 8). And finally, Walcott's Odysseus shouts,
"LEARN, YOU BLOODY TYRANTS, THAT MEN CAN STILL
THINK!" (Odyssey 66). Such "common antagonism" toward oppressive dis-
courses and socio-political systems indeed germinates into "a positive par-
ticular culture" in the works of Joyce, Soyinka, Walcott and many others.
Their characters are oppressed, but not alone in their oppression, and sensing
that those who stand with them are more numerous and ultimately more
powerful than those who threaten, they gain greater resolve to stand and act
for themselves.
All this rearranging, it may well be argued, occurs only on paper or on
a stage, in fictional and performative mediums. Yet it is profoundly the case
that such symbolic alliances can have pragmatic repercussions as real and
powerful as the profound and ubiquitous influences of racial essentialism
propounded though hegemonic discourses of colonial literary education.
And at the most fundamental level in the finding and forging of alliances in
and through literary texts, this means of textually re-articulating the mean-
ing of past and present signals the ability of postcolonial authors to represent
their own lives, and so to alter them.


SARGASSO 2007-08, 1






CONTEMPORIZING BiACKAJ'HL.VA1


Works Cited

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Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 31.1 (2001): 39-56.
Bernal, Martin. Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization.
London: Free Association Books, 1987.
--- Black Athena Writes Back: Martin Bernal Responds to His Critics. Ed. Da-
vid Chioni Moore. Durham: Duke UP, 2001.
Bishop, Norma. "A Nigerian Version of a Greek Classic: Soyinka's Transfor-
mation of The Bacchae." Research on Wole Soyinka. Eds. James Gibbs and
Bernth Lindfors. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1992.
Bonneau, Danielle. "Africa and Ancient Greece: Euripides, Soyinka and
Their Bacchants." European-Language Writing in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Ed. Albert S. Gerard. Budapest: Akad6miai Kiad6, 1986.
Burian, Peter. "'You Can Build a Heavy-Beamed Poem Out of This': Derek
Walcott's Odyssey," Classical World 93.1 (1999): 71-81.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and His-
torical Difference. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000.
Cheng, Vincent.Joyce, Race and Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995.
Cullingford, Elizabeth Butler. "Phoenician Genealogies and Oriental Ge-
ographies: Joyce, Language and Race." Semicolonial Joyce. Eds. Derek
Attridge and Marjorie Howes. New York: Cambridge UP, 2000.
Davis, C. B. "There Is No T After the Eye: The Cyclops as Dramatized
by Euripides and Derek Walcott." Text and Presentation: Journal of the
Comparative Drama Conference 16 (1995): 32-8.
Davis, David Brion. "Constructing Race: A Reflection." William and Mary
Quarterly 54.1 (1997): 7-18.
Eagleton, Terry. "Nationalism: Irony and Commitment." Nationalism, Co-
lonialism, and Literature. Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota
Press, 1990. 23-39.
Ellmann, Richard. The Consciousness ofJoyce. London: Faber & Faber, 1977.
Figueroa, John J. Society, Schools, and Progress in the West Indies. Oxford: Per-
gamon Press, 1971.
Foucault, Michel. "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History." The Foucault Reader. Ed.
Paul Rabinow New York: Pantheon, 1984.
Hall, Stuart. "Cultural Identity and Diaspora." Contemporary Postcolonial
Theory: A Reader. Ed. Padmini Mongia. New York: Oxford UP, 1997.


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AARON EASTLEY


Hamner, Robert. "'The Odyssey': Derek Walcott's Dramatization of Hom-
er's 'Odyssey.'" ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature
24.4 (1993): 101-08.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. Ed. Hans Walter Gabler. New York: Vintage Books,
1986.
Lefkowitz, Mary. Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to
Teach Myth as History. New York: Basic Books, 1996.
--. "Was Greek Culture Stolen From Africa? Modern Myth vs. Ancient
History." The History Place 17 Nov 2007 com/pointsofview/not-out.htm>.
Morrison, James V. "Shipwreck Encounters: Odyssean Wanderings, The
Tempest, and the Post-Colonial World." Classical and Modern Literature
20.4 (2000): 59-90.
Okpewho, Isidore. "Soyinka, Euripides, and the Anxiety of Empire." Drama
and Performance. Ed. John Conteh-Morgan and Tejumola Olaniyan.
Spec. issue of Research in African Literatures 30.4 (1999): 32-55.
Reizbaum, Marilyn. James Joyce'sJudaic Other. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1999.
Santhanam, K. "The Use of Cross-Cultural Myth in Soyinka's The Bacchae
of Euripides." Indian Response to African Writing. Eds. A. Ramakrishna
Rao and C. R. Visweswara Rao. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1993.
Scheub, Harold. The African Storyteller. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Pub-
lishing Co., 1999.
Soyinka, Wole. The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite. London: Eyre
Methuen Ltd, 1973.
"Reparations, Truth, and Reconciliation." The Burden of Memory, the
Muse of Forgiveness. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.
Viswanathan, Gauri. Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in
India. New York: Columbia UP, 1989.
Walcott, Derek. Collected Poems: 1948-1984. New York: Farrar, Straus and
Giroux, 1986.
---. The Odyssey: A Stage Version. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
1993.
"Reflections on Omeros." South Atlantic Quarterly 96.2 (1997): 229-46.


SARGASSO 2007-08, 1








Sharing the Shame: Secrets, Confessions, and Identity

in Rivera-Valdes' Las histories prohibidas de Marta

Veneranda/The Forbidden Stories of Marta Veneranda

Maria Celina Bortolotto
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


Shame is heightened attentiveness.
-Steve Connor "The Shame of Being a Man"

Las historians prohibidas de Marta Veneranda (1997) presents a community
f Cubans living in New York who take advantage of the possibility of
sharing their secrets with a woman who awakens "complete trust in [her]
discretion" (32).' Secrets that are not so secret are retold in intense sessions
where Marta Veneranda, a graduate student in Literature, records stories
to rewrite them later. Cuban author Rivera-Valdds begins her collection of
stories with a pseudo-explanation of how Marta Veneranda's initial psycho-
logical study developed into a literary enterprise that, in her opinion, allowed
her to enter "more passionately into the labyrinths of these souls who told me
their troubles and torments," making her, in turn, "remember events in my
own life that I had stubbornly tried to forget" (8). This article will explore
how the interconnected mechanisms of shame and secrecy are exposed in
Rivera-Vald6s' collection, revealing tactics of identity reformulation through
the manipulation of personal narratives.
By making Marta Veneranda choose to shift her area of study from the
"more scientific" discipline of psychology to the "more flexible" one of literature
in order to continue with her prolific explorations of secrets and shame, Ri-
vera-Vald6s echoes shame therapists like Andrew Morrison and Susan Miller.

' The original collection of stories was published in Spanish in 1997 with joint funds
from the Colombia Ministry of Culture and Cuba's Casa de las Americas. To this origi-
nal text a story -"El quinto rio"- was added in the US Spanish 2000 edition by Seven
Stories Press. Here I use the English translation by Cluster, Harss, Schafer, and West-
Durin published in 2001 by Seven Stories Press, New York.


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MARIA CELINA BORTOLOTTO


These psychologists sustain that fiction is a very fertile ground for expressing
shameful secrets. According to Morrison, since shame implies an attack on the
self, the subject reacts defensively to it by masking this emotion under the guise
of others, like anger, contempt, depression, denial, and superiority (10). That
is why, according to him, the freedom allowed in fiction "can present a unique
opportunity for us to examine this emotion," since "shame on the page is easier
to encounter than shame in real life" (10). On the validity of observing or
studying fiction to analyze and ultimately help people deal with emotional life,
Miller, for her part, believes that "All case studies are to a great extent fiction,
even if not intentionally so. They are constructed in the mind of the therapist/
reporter according to his or her wishes to communicate a point."2 Veneranda
exemplifies this clearly by refusing to comply with her advisor's strict need
for "scientific rigor," and, instead, submits to the "new story too fascinating to
resist" that each session offers her (8).
The Cuban group of friends and acquaintances who so eagerly come to
Marta to recount their stories share an understanding of what makes these
"forbidden," and therefore, secret. Anita Kelly, in her psychological study on
secrets, lists the three most common reasons for secrecy, all of them motivat-
ed by shame: a sense of personal flaw or inadequacy, the perceived incapacity
for love, and some type of sexual transgression of taboo areas. The three rea-
sons described by Kelly are highly subjective, a characteristic of secrecy that
Marta Veneranda herself notes in the "Explanatory Note" placed as prologue
to the collection: "an individual more often hides a chapter of his or her past
because of the way he or she has perceived and experienced it than because of
the greater or lesser weight of criminality or social disapproval of the episode
itself" (7). Regardless of the apparent relevance of an experience for a subject,
to become a "forbidden secret," it has to be infused with shame.
Mayte, the protagonist of "Five Windows on the Same Side" tells Marta:
"Any event that is embarrassing enough for someone to keep it secret is that
person's forbidden story" (9). The triggers of embarrassment or shame are
highly personal, although they are also inescapably cultural. Susan Miller
explains, "as we mature, our shame responses become more dependent on a





2 Personal communication (e-mail), Oct 27, 2006.


SARGASSO 2007-08, 1






SHARING THE SHAME


stable set of inner standards and less dependent on the moment's stimulus"
(Shame in Context 31). The three most common reasons for secrecy listed by
Kelly relate to Miller's assumption about shame responses, since self-image,
social skills, and sexual desire(s) are all embedded in a subject's sense of self,
but, as subjectivity formation always involves (social) standards and values,
they are also intrinsically cultural. As the subject negotiates his/her inclusion
in a particular narrative or discourse, shame calls attention to the boundaries
of those subjectivities that cannot fit seamlessly into prescribed social catego-
ries and molds. In The Social Politics ofEmotion (2004), Sara Ahmed affirms
that alternative subjectivities suffer discomfort in dominant narratives, since
non-normative behaviors and attitudes provoke an "acute awareness of the
surface of one's body, which appears as surface, when one cannot inhabit the
social skin, which is shaped by some bodies and not others" (148). Thus, the
subject in shame becomes ostensibly visible to the witness of his/her shame,
who, in turn, also becomes shamed in the process. The question, then, re-
mains, as to the reasons why this Cuban community in New York decides to
reactivate shame's powerful dominion -dark secrets- and converge, in spiral
sequence, in Marta's Cuban eyes, eager ears, and active pen.
Marta feels excited to act as listener, witness, and recorder of these peo-
ple's "most forbidden stories," but they are also very willing to share them
with her. The characters' justification for their unloading is mostly related
to a subsequent sense of well-being. Mayt6, for example, pushes her friend
Rodolfo to go speak with Marta because telling her own story to Marta
"relieved her like magic" (25). Elena, Iris's secretary, feels "an urge to tell
my story" when she learns from Iris "how good her friend Mayt6 felt after
coming to see you" (32). Rodolfo's gay friend decides to come and speak to
Marta after Rodolfo tells him about his own confessions to Marta "over some
beers" (54). The voice in "The Most Forbidden of All" admits to Marta that
part of her motivation for speaking to Marta is professional, and part is just
"the pleasure of finding an intelligent listener" (93). None of the characters
in Rivera-Valdes' collection repents his/her confessions, and there seem to be
psychological reasons for their post-disclosure sense of relief.
As suggested above, people in the group learn about Marta because, in
their closely-knit circle of affection and gossip their secrets are not secret and
their stories are not so hidden after all. An important point can be made here,
one that underscores the importance of gossip for the individuals to whom
Marta has access. Within this community of Cubans immigrants in New


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MARIA CELINA BORTOLOTTO

York, gossip has a powerful value; it cements their relationships and offers
opportunities for learning. The first of these two social functions of gossip
has been discussed by British anthropologist R.I.M. Dunbar, who in his
study on the evolutionary aspect of gossip affirms that gossip serves to bond
people together within a community. He proposes, furthermore, that gossip
replaces grooming as a way for people to maintain social relationships. Other
researchers have recently expanded his ideas about gossip by presenting this
social practice as a uniquely effective strategy for cultural learning. In their
article on gossip, Baumester, Zhang, and Vohs reinforce the value of gossip
as "observational learning of a cultural kind" (112). The particular efficacy
of gossip, according to them, lies in the fact that "people can learn about the
complexities of social and cultural life by hearing about the successes and
especially the misadventures of others" (120). This group of Cubans in New
York gossip about the balsamic effects of their confessions to Marta, in hopes
of helping one another cope with their secrets.
In her treatise on secrets, Kelly elaborates five reasons that other re-
searchers offer to explain why people decide to reveal personal secrets, even
if these may "make people look bad." The reasons are: "self-clarification, so-
cial validation, relationship development, social control, and expression" (17).
She calls attention to the fact that expression is the motive for revelation that
has awakened the most interest on the part of researchers. Apparently, sev-
eral studies show that as long as strong emotional images are stored without
words, that is, at the level of sensation (a churning stomach, or a racing heart,
for example), they continue to be the "focus of attention" of the subject, until
these experiences can finally be "assimilated and put into words" (18). An-
other possible explanation of why sharing secrets can appear so compelling
is that, as people tend to experience emotion "when their anticipations of
how the world should operate are disrupted," there is a strong motivation to
"interact with others" when such disruption is intense enough. Thus, people
decide to express their secrets verbally to "confirm or disconfirm beliefs about
the self and reconstructing assumptions about the world" when these have
been seriously challenged (19).
This need to express one's self for the sake of making sense of unexpected
or appalling circumstances is present in several characters in Marta's stories.
Mayt6, the narrator and protagonist of "Five Windows on the Same Side,"
is a middle-aged Cuban journalist who is very shaken by her torrid lesbian
affair with her Cuban cousin Laura. Mayt6's lesbian attachment to Laura


SARGASSO 2007-08, I1





SHARING THE SHAME


is not only her first sexual encounter with someone of the same gender, but
also a deep experience that "changed my life" (9). Maytd feels comfortable
enough with her Cuban interlocutor to admit her own prejudices, distancing
herself from the United States (more specifically, urban New York) soci-
ety: "no matter how much one has adapted to this society -let's not mince
words- among us, homosexuality is not normal" (9).3 The "us," which refers
to the fact that both are Cuban, reinforces the need for an empathic ear,
someone who can not only listen to her story but also offer an informed
-Cuban- female perspective on an issue that, as Mayt6 wants to reinforce, is
not at all "normal" among Cubans, since "homosexuality becomes the limit
of Cubanness, that which is not" (Bejel xv).
The contrast Mayte establishes between "this society" -the apparently
more tolerant US- and the more overtly homophobic "us" (Cuba) becomes
problematic, however, when she tells Marta about the different reactions
that she and Laura had towards their affair. Mayte considers this difference
"the most astonishing part of the experience" (21). While Maytd is ready to
tell everything to her husband, because "otherwise, I couldn't live in peace
with myself"(20), Laura seems to have no conflict about keeping her lesbian
affairs a secret from her husband, since, as she pragmatically states "what
you don't know won't hurt you" (21). Conscious of her husband's infideli-
ties, which appear to be sanctioned by a chauvinistic culture, Laura enjoys
her bisexuality because, as she admits: "I'm not going to pass up a good time
myself when it appears" (21). Mayt6's urgent need for disclosure impacts
Laura as "a sign of immaturity" (21), and their different views on how to read
and narrate their love story remains so until the end: "We parted without me
understanding her need to live a secret life nor her understanding my need
to lead an open one" (21).
Through Mayt6's candid confession of mutual incomprehension, Rivera-
Vald6s clearly exemplifies the complexity of alternative sexual/gender/family
practices and identities and their inescapably cultural nuances. As Bergmann
and Smith explain, there are certain "emphases of English-language discus-
sion of homosexuality (such as the continuing stress on the closet) [that]
seem inappropriate to some Spanish speakers" (2). The authors underline the

3 The reference Mayt6 makes here seems to point to the apparent tolerance in the US
of alternative sexuality/affection configurations. As the story progresses, readers see how
Rivera-Valdez complicates Maytd's assumption of a homophobic Cuba vs. a tolerant US
in the figure of her bisexual Cuban cousin, Laura.


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






MARIA CELINA BORTOLOTTO


fact that different cultural contexts will many times question "the dubious
benefits of visibility" (2). Similarly, when trying to offer a different analytical
framework for alternative sexual/gender identities outside the United States,
Jose Quiroga reflects that in most Spanish-speaking Caribbean societies
"homosexual praxis is effective in these contexts in ways in which homo-
sexual identity is not"(4). Laura's negotiation of pleasure with secrecy al-
lows her to have experiences that she is not going to renounce just because
they need to be kept silent. Her attitude resounds in Roberto Strongman's
assertion that Latin American alternative genders and sexualities do not
rely on the same notion of disclosure to exist, since the performance of
desire is a much more defining moment than its declaration (Queer Glo-
balizations 181).
Laura and Mayt6's different attitudes toward their affair evidence the
influence of two distinct cultural contexts, each with its own codes, nar-
ratives, and strategies for action. Despite their dissimilar views on how to
process their affair, Mayte's confusion at the end of her interview has less to
do with Laura and more to do with her own motivations. As she tells Marta,
"...what still disturbs me... is not knowing.. .whether I didn't go to Chicago
because of the problem with Laura, or whether the problem with Laura was
caused by my desire to find a reason not to go to Chicago" (23). Maytd has
"clarified several things to myself" (23) in her interview with Marta, but the
word "problem" when referring to her lesbian affair, as well as her puzzlement
as to why she has let go of her husband so easily, show that it is in this act of
secular confession that she has just begun to unravel the full significance of
her affair.
Maytd's attempt at making sense of what she has recently discovered
about herself is paralleled by her friend Rodolfo's surprising story, "The
Scent of Wild Desire." He is seriously troubled by an experience that has
completely challenged his self-image. Rodolfo comes to talk to Marta be-
cause, as he puts it, "if I don't tell somebody, I'll end up truly beyond the
beyond" (24). The secret he feels so ashamed of is his wild desire for a smelly
overweight neighbor for whom he repeatedly falls. Rodolfo needs to put
this perplexing attachment into words to gain perspective, since it clashes
with the idea he has formed of himself: "I'm so committed to cleanliness that
I'll take a bath even if I'm running a fever of a hundred and four" (24). This
unexpected and uncontrollable attraction has blocked his creativity and his
ease with language. His journalistic talent has suffered and he finds himself


SARGASSO 2007-08, I






SHARING THE SHAME


"waiting till the last minute to crank out my articles, and writing them badly
too" (25). The inability to process his affair in words is his main motivation
to share a secret which he has not even dared tell his therapist: "I'd die first,
from the shame of him knowing about this" (25).
Rodolfo's shame about his attraction should not be confused with a sense
of guilt of infidelity towards his wife, Iris. Rather, his sense of shame can be
traced to a profound disillusionment with his own self-ideal. Several shame
theorists agree with Susan Miller's assertion that "the sole essential element
of the category I have designated 'shame' would appear to be displeasure
about the status of the self" (167). In the case of Rodolfo, he has tremendous
difficulty coming to terms with the fact that the woman who awakens his
wildest sexual desires "weighs about four hundred pounds" (28). Rodolfo's
resistance to his attraction evidences the persistent stigma in patriarchal so-
cieties towards big people in general -considered unhealthy, ugly, and lazy-
and more particularly towards women who do not conform to the objecti-
fied ideal of beauty and its implied body of perfect "feminine" proportions.4
Besides her enormous body, Rodolfo's neighbor has another characteristic
considered a stigma in both Hispanic and Puritan traditions alike, with their
shared emphasis on personal hygiene and care. She emanates "a horrible,
fetid odor" (28), a "little sour and kind of salty" scent, "like shellfish rotting
along the edge of a beach after they've been in the sun for several days"(28).
Rivera-Valdes questions the imposition on women of physical perfection
and impeccable body care as prerequisites of attractiveness by presenting an
instance of sexual abandon that resides precisely in the lack of these two at-
tributes of female desirability. Rodolfo makes love to his neighbor with an
impetus he didn't even know he had, and this puzzles him terribly, pushing
him to trust Marta with his secret and demand, after his detailed account of
the experience: "Tell me, ma'am, how would you explain the fact that some-
body like me, who's never been able to stand the smell of sweat, should enjoy
one that's so much worse?"(31).
Yet another character, Rodolfo's unnamed gay friend, comes to Marta.
Like Mayt6 and Rodolfo, he is in search of an understanding ear that will
allow him to put odd emotions into comprehensible words. This meticulous
young man is shocked by the discovery of the "dark side of [his] eroticism":

4 Although the ideal of female beauty varies across cultures and contexts, neither Cuban
nor US societies celebrate obese women as models of contemporary desirability.


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






MARIA CELINA BORTOLOTTO


the only way for him to have a satisfying sexual life with his partner Michael
is to watch heterosexual porn, or to imagine having sex with women (54).
Prompted by his worried lover, a man who brings home gay porn to spice up
their sexual life, Rodolfo's friend finds himself lying to Michael and secretly
buying and watching heterosexual porn movies that "throb in my memory
while we're in bed and give me strength" (55). He depends on them for
sexual pleasure with his partner, since, as he claims, "over the past three years,
I have arrived at the climactic moment of lovemaking with my partner by
imagining myself penetrating one of those women" (56). Rodolfo's friend is
aware of his partner's misunderstanding of his sexual abandon. While Mi-
chael interprets his "hunger" as passion for him, Marta's confessor admits
that this powerful emotion is directed to "a vagina that lives in my head"
(56). The initial amusement created by such an odd turn in his sexual and
emotional energies has become a burden, given that now "the fantasies have
begun to spring up anytime and anywhere, sometimes in the middle of solv-
ing a problem in math" (56). He is confused and afraid to fulfill his fantasies
with women in person. This homosexual man ends his interview with Marta
by telling her:

I've been gay all my life and wouldn't even know what to do if I found
myself in a real situation like that. It's lunacy, I know, but I desire these
women like I've never desired anyone in my life. Doesn't that sound strange
to you? (56)

It is evident that these three characters go to see Marta in search of an
informed -external- point of view that offers insight into what they consider
their outrageous and appalling behavior and desires. These and other
interviews in the collection, however, can be read as much more than intimate
healing conferences. In them, as has been shown above, Rivera-Vald6s debunks
patterns of normalcy and acceptability in dominant narratives by presenting,
successively, a happily married woman who falls passionately into a lesbian
affair, an obsessively meticulous man sexually aroused by a fat smelly woman,
and a gay man in a committed relationship haunted by erotic heterosexual
fantasies. The author's efficacy in questioning models of behavior imposed
by society is reinforced when the reader sees these interviews not simply as
necessary confessions, but rather as affirmative expressions of the self.
Kelly offers a very compelling explanation for the disclosure of secrets,


SARGASSO 2007-08,1






SHARING THE SHAME


one not yet recognized as such; it draws attention to "the extent to which the
secret keeper feels that the secret is central to his or her identity" (20). The
characters in Rivera-Vald6s' fictions are looking for an opportunity to revisit
experiences or sensations that -even though they are unexpected- reveal a
side of the self in which they find affirmation through pleasure and/or the
possibility of increased agency. In the dialectical and sensual experience of
confession they make these more visible to others, as well as to themselves.
As many of the "forbidden stories" in this collection are related to sexual or
sensual experiences, it is appropriate to discuss Foucault's description of the
intrinsic connection between sex and confession in Western5 societies. He
contends that "it is in the confession that truth and sex are joined, through
the obligatory and exhaustive expression of an individual secret" (61). The
people who come and talk to Marta do so willingly, they speak profusely and
with exasperating detail. The combination of truth and pleasure vis-a-vis
confession in the Foucaldian sense rings true through the accounts these
characters share with Marta. The sense of religious obligation to confess,
though omnipresent, is not the main force driving these people to speak out.
Although their voluntary accounts may signal that they are looking for abso-
lution, these characters are in fact refusing to condemn forbidden pleasures
and behaviors to invisibility or oblivion. They choose, instead, to reaffirm
themselves in their confessions and dare to see their new selves in another
person's eyes.
Thus, in her narration of the first time she and Laura made love, Mayt6
delights in claiming boldness and erotic initiative: "I took her hand and
led her to my bed. I took her" (19). She dwells in the details of that first
time, recreating them for Marta so as to savor the moment again, as well
as to offer Marta an account of an experience treasured in shame but now
revealed in pride: "I caressed and kissed every piece and fold of that body
with an intensity and passion I had never put into my lovemaking before,
and she reciprocated with furious splendor" (19). Likewise, Rodolfo does
not withhold any minutia about his unexpected sexual drive and fervor: "I

' Would these Cubans living in New York qualify as "Westeners" in Foucault's view?
I contend they would, because of the society they live in, their -mostly- Catholic up-
bringing and their strong sense of shame/guilt with respect to sex and alternative sexual
experiences. Future analysis might reveal whether the two characters who are still living
in Cuba, Laura and Rocio, with their less inhibited attitudes towards sexual pleasure,
qualify as "non-Western" under Foucault's standards.


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






MARIA CELINA BORTOLOTTO


went to her with my pants down, before I could finish taking them off. I
climbed on top of her and penetrated her -slowly at first, but then strong
and savage" (30). The enthusiasm with which he relates his encounter
with the supposedly disgusting neighbor reaffirms that he, perhaps out
of chauvinism, is in fact quite proud of his frantic "macho" sexual energy.
Martirio, the voice in "The Most Forbidden of All," relates to Marta the
beautiful surprise of having found love at fifty-four. Her initial prejudices
regarding the young age of her new lover, Rocio, are swept away by Mar-
tirio's certainty that she is the one for her. After a long list of heterosexual
and homosexual loves, Martirio tells Marta of her failed search for the
lover who would follow the intricate erotic scripts she so enjoyed while
being a young shameless lover to married men. Martirio takes her time
in recreating for Marta her amazement at having found the person who
knows exactly how to follow her intimate script for love-making. She
repeats Rocio's words of enticement with surprise and delight:

Take a good look, my queen, I'm just the way you want me. Just for you
alone, just for you to enjoy. Now you are going to offer me the same. Leave
your fingers where they are and open up your legs. Let me take a good look
at you now. You see how good I am to you, mami. That's how good you're
going to be for me. Give it to me, mami. The same as I'm giving it to you.
(131)

The erotic investment and enjoyment of sharing hidden pleasures, as
well as the affirmation of the self this provides is by no means strange or
unusual, since, as Foucault explains:

We have at least invented a different kind of pleasure: pleasure in the truth
of pleasure, the pleasure of knowing that truth, of discovering and exposing
it, the fascination of seeing it and telling it, of captivating and capturing
others by it, of confiding it in secret, of luring it out in the open the spe-
cific pleasure of the true discourse on pleasure. (71)

The testimonies of Mayt6, Rodolfo, and Martirio seek to expose a hid-
den side of the self, a side that they decide to underscore and affirm through
the practice and discourse of pleasure.
Pleasure, however, is not the only self-validating force driving these in-
terviews. Also present in other characters -particularly among the women- is
the will to present to a witness the self empowered with agency, an act which


SARGASSO 2007-08, I1






SHARING THE SHAME


is often denied by the prevailing discourse. In her reading of The Forbidden
Stories as feminist writing, Jacqueline Herranz Brooks points out precisely
how "Rivera-Vald6s is against, in particular, the most traditional and yet
dominant forms of representing the female subjectivity within the patriar-
chal culture and [that] she articulates this battle throughout her characters"
(13). The protagonists of both "Adela's Lovely Eyes" and "Between Friends"
react with efficacy against situations that do not offer them much possibility
for action. The first story provides a crude account of Latina factory work-
ers in the mid-sixties, with their long hours, scanty pay, and horrible work
conditions: "As soon as the machinery got going, the ear-splitting noise and
chemical smells were unbearable" (71). The protagonist of the story is de-
termined to drive not only herself, but also her dear friend Adela, towards
achieving as much independence as they can: "We're going to pass the high
school equivalency test, get into a special program for women I've found out
about, and take ourselves to college" (81). She is not even deterred by the
fact that her friend Adela has lost most of her vision because of her factory
work; and when Adela finds herself about to get fired because of her reduced
productivity, her friend is not shy about coming to her rescue, using her body
to bargain with their boss: "He narrowed his blue eyes and said we could dis-
cuss her case, but in a more comfortable atmosphere" (79). In a satirical turn
of events, Rivera-Valdes writes the boss as impotent: "but he tried and tried
and couldn't after all" (80). Adela's friend has another tool for leverage, her
"discretion" about the affair, and she uses it. It contributes to her being able
to stay in the factory until she decides to leave, together with her friend. In
the end, both "graduated with completely different majors ... I graduated as
a nutritionist while she majored in literature," and the pride in such accom-
plishment becomes patent when the protagonist boasts to Marta: "What do
you think of that?" (82). According to Herranz Brooks, "It is precisely these
character-narrators' agency and capacity to transform their own lives that
defines the exceptionality of Rivera-Valdes' female characters in Las histories
prohibidas/The Forbidden Stories" (13). Adela's friend does not resign herself
to financial dependency or to mechanical work and low wages. Instead, she
makes use of her brains and her beauty to aim for more.
The main character of "Between Friends," Elena, shows this capacity
for transformation in her reaction to an abusive husband. She tells Marta
her story of long years of physical and economical subjugation: "I suffered
and suffered, and didn't have a thing, not even residency in this country. I


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






MARIA CELINA BORTOLOTTO


can't find the words to tell you how I felt. More lowly than a cockroach and
completely helpless" (41). Although she starts to work to gain autonomy and
to get out of the house, most of her wages "went into his pocket for him to
spend" (40). She does not feel attached to his violent ways, but she "didn't
know how [she] could leave" (41).
Finally, when her husband has become very ill with tuberculosis and
is bedridden at a hospital, Elena is getting ready to go to lunch with two
friends and she remembers,

I bent over the valve of the oxygen tank to open it a bit, but instead of turn-
ing it to the left, I turned it to the right, toward the closed position. I felt
it reach the point where it wouldn't turn anymore. I tightened it a little bit,
then more firmly, all without interrupting my conversation with Monica
and Yokasta (46).

When she finishes her voluntary confession of murder to Marta, Elena
seems bewildered and skeptical: "do you believe I could have been capable of
disconnecting the machine [... .]?" (47). By describing to Marta how she had
to apply some precision and strength to cut the oxygen flow to her agonizing
husband, Elena claims some responsibility for the outcome of her action. She
is left a widow who can now have a cup of coffee with her friends "without
my worrying that somebody would come and interrupt us" (47).
As Herranz Brooks reflects when commenting on this story: "Behind the
layer of black humor, a traditionally ignored and censored social situation like
the pact of silence established among abusers, victims, the police, and the judges
is denounced" (14). Elena finally and definitely takes justice in her own hands,
freeing herself of more than fifteen years of violence and dejection, and by telling
Marta of her crime, she is refusing to let that final act of reaction go unnoticed.
Kelly affirms that when people decide what secrets to reveal, they do not choose
to share events that are not representative of who they feel they are, and, instead,
they prefer to uncover those secrets that do "capture who they really are" (22).
Even though the stories in Rivera-Vald6s' collection have been categorized as
"forbidden" by those who come to offer them to Marta, the shame that has kept
the stories partially hidden has also awakened a new sense of self in the narrators,
and these secrets "that they reveal are likely to be ones that still allow them to see
themselves in a favorable light" (Kelly 22).
Author Rivera-Vald6s complicates many assumptions, including some
about what is considered shameful in prevailing narratives in the context of


SARGASSO 2007-08, 1






SHARING THE SHAME


U.S. society. Examples of this are those situations, for example, where she
-with a touch of humor- depicts desire that is not compliant with taboos
or preconceived standards of what is attractive or expected, experiences "to
which the fixed forms do not speak at all, which indeed they do not recog-
nize" (Williams 130). Neat Rodolfo craves sex with an overweight and smelly
woman, and his gay friend finds himself consumed by erotic fantasies with
women. The female narrators/protagonists in these stories dare explore their
lesbian desires (Mayt6), engage in effective retaliations to violence (Elena),
and negotiate more agency by using their assets (Adela's friend). These "im-
portant mixed experiences," as critic Raymond Williams names them, are
those that cannot fit in the mold of the normative, but that insist on being
"actually lived" and finding themselves inscribed in language. Even though
in dominant discourse the behaviors, affects, and desires of Rivera-Vald6s'
characters could be labeled as shameful, they trigger an "intensification of
the subject's relation to itself, or its sense of itself as self" (Ahmed 104). The
narrators in Rivera-Vald6s' stories refuse to keep these new aspects of their
subjectivities invisible and tell them aloud for Marta and themselves to wit-
ness. As Arnaldo Cruz-Malav6 affirms when discussing the problematic role
of those community figures who dare bear witness and interpret the lives of
their communities with their testimonies, "...shame is the price exacted by
[their] community for moving forward, for fulfilling the command on which
its very survival rests" (Queer Latino Testimonio 98). Perhaps the "forbidden"
narratives that are told to Marta Veneranda act as implied vindication of
bodies and what bodies do, a strong force towards a change in our "structures
of feeling," a clear indication that "a new structure is forming" (Williams
132-3) where resistance to minoritizing discourses, identity politics, mate-
rialistic values, and rigid conceptions of gender, is enforced by the beautiful
power of the (said/written) word.


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






MARIA CELINA BORTOLOTTO


Works Cited

Ahmed, Sara. The Cultural Politics ofEmotion. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Baumester, Roy F., Living Zhang, and Kathleen D. Vhos. "Gossip as Cul-
tural Learning." Review of General Psychology 8 (2004): 111-121.
Bejel, Emilio. Gay Cuban Nation. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 2001.
Bergmann, Emilie L. and Paul Julian Smith, eds. Entiendes?: Queer Readings,
Hispanic Writings. Durham: Duke UP, 1995.
Connor, Steve. "The Shame of Being a Man." Textual Practice. (2001): 211-
230.
Cruz-Malav6, Arnaldo and Martin F. Manalansan IV., eds. Queer Global-
izations: Citizenship and the Afterlife of Colonialism. New York: NYUP,
2002.
-. Queer Latino Testimonio, Keith Haring, andjuanito Xtravaganza. New
York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
Dunbar, R.I.M. Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language. Harvard
UP, 1996.
Herranz-Brooks, Jacqueline. "Reading the Forbidden Stories as Feminist
Writing." The York Scholar 2 (2005): 10-23.
Kelly, Anita. The Psychology of Secrets. New York: Plenum Publishers, 2002.
Miller, Susan Beth. The Shame Experience. Bergenfield, NJ: Analytic Press,
1985.
-. Shame in Context. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press, 1996.
Morrison, Andrew. The Culture of Shame. New York: Ballantine Books,
1996.
Quiroga, Jose. Tropics ofDesire: Interventions from Queer Latino America. New
York: NYUP, 2000.
Rivera-Vald6s, Sonia. Las histories prohibidas de Marta Veneranda. La Ha-
bana: Fondo Editorial Casa de las Am6ricas, 1997.
-. The Forbidden Stories of Marta Veneranda. Trans. Dick Cluster, Marina
Harss, Mark Schafer, and Alan West-Duran. New York: Seven Stories
Press, 2001.
Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1977.


SARGASSO 2007-08,1








Intersexiones apalabradas:

lo queer en el genero testimonial
Javier E. Laureano
Universidad de Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras




Primera intersexi6n: cuestionamiento de la heteronormatividad

&C6mo el historiador puede manejar los vocablos destinados a identificar
las personas consideradas obscenas, torcidas y marginales por sus prac-
ticas sexuales? El ensayo parte de esta pregunta para abordar el problema
de las narraciones y los silencios sobre pricticas sexuales no reproductivas o
que escapan la moral traditional, en este sentido queer, en dos testimonios
masculinos y una autobiografia femenina. Los trabajos, seleccionados por el
lugar prominent que han obtenido en el microcanon del g6nero testimonial,
son los de Miguel Barnet en Cuba, Biografia de un Cimarrdn (1968) y en la
diaspora de puertorriquefios en Nueva York Cesar Andreu Iglesias con la
Memoria de Bernardo Vega (1977). El tercero es una autobiografia femenina,
la de Carmen Luisa Justiniano, Con valor y a como de lugar. memories de una
jibara puertorriquena (1994).
La mayor parte del genero de histories de vida y testimonios, incluyendo
los tres mencionados, registra la sexualidad como heteronormativa. El con-
cepto de heteronormatividad se refiere al resultado de las acciones discursivas
de un conglomerado de instituciones cientificas, educativas, religiosas,juridi-
cas, medicas, sociales (como la familiar traditional), y estatales para convertir
la heterosexualidad en la norma y unica opci6n possible. Como resultado,
queda la heterosexualidad entronada en el mundo de la naturalidad, mis alli
de todo cuestionamiento possible, al margen de los process sociales y los
contextos hist6ricos, habitat en el mundo del 'sentido comun.'
Ante el mapa encontrado decidi, en primer lugar, enfocar mi atenci6n en
los accidents cartogrificos, en las fractures del mapa dibujado por la hetero-
normatividad. Esto es en las distintas manifestaciones, coladeros, y fractures
por donde la sexualidad queer entra en el genero de histories de vida, por


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






JAVIER E. LAUREANO


medio de an6cdotas, frases, adjetivos, o epitetos. El trabajo va entonces, en
segundo lugar, a identificar instancias que forman parte de los moments
como se ha articulado la heterosexualidad en el supuesto rector del deseo en
las cultures representadas por los textos trabajados.
El punto de partida para explorer lo queer en los textos es indicar que
las palabras, en el campo semintico de la no reproduccio6n y/o lo 'obsceno,' o
mis especificamente, los nombres, son siempre resbaladizos, inexactos, de-
batibles, pero imprescindibles para narrar la historic de las minorias sexuales.
Sobre lo queer, por mencionar factors que den ancla y permitan desarrollar
el concept en el ensayo, me aproximo al termino como la producci6n de es-
crituras y conocimientos relacionados a pricticas, personas o grupos de per-
sonas que cruzan fronteras dirigidas a contenernos dentro de un imaginario
heteronormativo. El imaginario queer cuestiona los siguientes paradigmas de
la socializaci6n heterosexual: uso de los 6rganos sexuales estrictamente para
la reproducci6n, vestimenta aceptada por la convenci6n social del moment
para los dos g6neros, resistencia a las modificaciones visible del cuerpo y de-
monizaci6n de lo considerado 'obsceno,' entire otros. Lo queer tiene un com-
ponente important homoer6tico, pero incluye otras formas de vivir, circular
en distintos circuitos y formas alternatives de cartografiar el deseo, como es
el caso de los juegos falicos entire hombres en el Cimarrdn.
Al enunciar la existencia de sujetos silenciados e invisibilizados es impo-
sible acudir a una semantica serena. Tanto el termino 'gay' como el 'queer'
son escabrosos. Estos, al igual que 'maric6n' en distintos moments, han sido
insultos de los que se han apoderado los grupos de lucha political desde dis-
tintos frentes para subvertir la ofensa de la que hemos sido victim muchos
y muchas, por demasiado tiempo, y convertirla en herramienta de trabajo,
tanto analitica como de labor por los derechos civiles.

Segunda intersexi6n: Esteban Montejo, juegos, sodomia, prostituci6n y
las fronteras de la homo/socializaci6n en la Cuba del ultimo cuarto del
siglo diecinueve

La primera pregunta esti dirigida a explorer c6mo el testimonio de Esteban
Montejo que nos llega por medio de Barnet desarrolla una narrative sobre
aspects sexuales en Cuba que podrian considerarse queer, por un lado y, en
segundo lugar, la forma como la sexualidad en el texto se puede interpreter
como parte de un process hist6rico. Hay pocos pasajes en el g6nero testi-


SARGASSO 2007-08,1






INTERSEXIONES APALABRADAS: LO QUEER EN EL GENERO TESTIMONIAL


monial del Caribe hispano que describe este ultimo aspect como Biografla
de un Cimarron, texto publicado en 1966 por el antrop6logo Miguel Barnet
y que sent un precendente important en la forma de hacer historic oral en
el Caribe:

Los granaderos eran privilegiados. Los amos los buscaban para juntarlos
con negras grandes y saludables. Despu6s de juntos en un cuarto aparte del
barrac6n, los obligaban a gustarse y la negra tenia que parir buena cria todos
los anios. Yo digo que era como tener animals. Pues bueno, si la negra no
paria como a ellos se les antojaba, la separaban y la ponian a trabajar en el
campo otra vez. (36)

La sexualidad aqui es una herramienta de reproducci6n de la mano de
obra en el context de la esclavitud y del mundo de la cafia en la Cuba del
ultimo cuarto del siglo diecinueve. El espacio y el tiempo que quedan para
el acto sexual en el mundo de la esclavitud y de la cafia en el ingenio cubano
son, con pocas excepciones, como es el par6ntesis de la hora del bafio, casi
exclusivamente para el fin de reproduccio6n. La imagen de la negra grande y
saludable, dedicada a la concepci6n y al parto en cadena y que el amo separa
para que tenga sexo con los hombres granaderos, negros "forzudos," sobresale
en el texto del Cimarrdn como la coyuntura perfect donde se conjugan sexo
y poder, la reproducci6n al servicio exclusive del bien econ6mico de los amos
y hacendados, si la negra no tiene hijos con frecuencia, tiene que regresar a
la faena regular.
Lo queer en el texto forma parte de un mundo que Montejo ve y describe
desde afuera. Roberto Gonzilez Echevarria lo compare con un etn6grafo, un
viajero que continuamente se mueve y describe las cultures con las que tiene
cierta intimidad (168-169). Uno de los puntos de partida de la mirada queer
en el texto esti localizado en la creaci6n de un espacio y dinamica homoso-
cial con los juegos de la botija y la galleta que ocurren exclusivamente entire
hombres. Aunque a primera vista los juegos escapan la miquina de repro-
ducci6n en el mundo del ingenio, funcionan, al examinarlos de cerca, como
un dispositivo de reafirmaci6n de la heterosexualidad necesario para que la
miquina humana del ingenio siga circulando, produciendo sin mayores com-
plicaciones. El lugar de los juegos en la taberna tiene un papel medular en el
process de construcci6n de la masculinidad heterosexual en las comunidades
de trabajo-vivienda por medio de la homosocialidad:


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






JAVIER E. LAUREANO


Las tabernas eran apestosas. Sacaban un olor fuerte por las colgaderas que
hacian en el techo, de salchichones, jamones para curar y mortadella roja.
Pero con todo y eso ahi se jugaba de relajo. Se pasaban la vida en esa bo-
beria. Los negros tenian afanes de buenos competidores en los juegos. Yo
me acuerdo de uno que se llamaba 'la galleta.' La operaci6n para ese juego
era de poner en un mostrador de madera o en un tabl6n cualquiera, cuatro o
cinco galletas duras de sal y con el miembro masculino golpear fuerte sobre
las galletas para ver quien las partia. El que las partia ganaba. Eso trafa
apuestas de dinero y trago. Lo jugaban igual negros que blancos.
Otro juego de relajo era el de la botija. Cogian una botija grande
con un agujero y metian el miembro por 61. El que llegara al fondo era
el ganador. El fondo estaba cubierto por una capital de ceniza para que
cuando el hombre sacara el miembro se viera bien si habia llegado o no.
(Barnet 26-27)

Un fen6meno que atraviesa varias cultures para entroncar la heteronoer-
matividad es que el var6n, como discute Anne Fausto-Sterling en "How to
Build a Man," cuando es nifio, demuestra a sus familiares y amigos que tiene
el tamafio suficiente para orinar parado (131). Mas tarde, de forma que
pueda socializarse como hombre, demuestra que posee la capacidad para sos-
tener una relacio6n sexual donde logre penetrar y llegar al coito. Fausto-Ster-
ling incluso enfatiza la importancia que tiene el que esta informaci6n quede
inscrita en las mentes de sus compafieros varones.
En los juegos entire varones, en los process de homosocializaci6n, la
homosexualidad y lo queer quedan como el fantasma que no se menciona,
aquello que esta al otro lado de la frontera. Aqui es razonable argumentar
que los varones, tanto blancos como negros, debian tener una erecci6n para
jugar al menos el juego de 'la galleta,' sin 6sta seria fisiol6gicamente imposi-
ble siquiera intentar romper las "tres o cuatro galletas duras de sal" que seguin
la narraci6n de Montejo los varones colocaban encima del mostrador o de
un pedazo de madera para romperlas con el pene. En el segundo juego, el
de 'la botija' tambien es imaginable y deseable una erecci6n para mostrar el
tamafio adecuado del pene y que 6ste logre tocar las cenizas del fondo con
mayor facilidad. Se trata entonces de juegos entire varones, potencialmente
o deseablemente con erecciones, que, segiin Montejo describe "Se pasaban
la vida en esa boberfa." Al haber erecciones en un ambiente completamente
masculino, es possible concluir que este espacio masculino estaba impregnado
de matices homoer6ticos, donde reside el comentario queer, una sexualidad o
deseo no reproductive entire varones.


SARGASSO 2007-08, I






INTERSEXIONES APALABRADAS: LO QUEkR EN EL GENERO TESTIMONIAL


Montejo registra en la cita mencionada que estos juegos en la taberna
"Lo jugaban igual negros que blancos." En la sociedad cubana esclavista del
siglo diecinueve a la que se refiere Esteban Montejo result poco probable
que los varones blancos compartieran este nivel de intimidad en la taberna
con los negros. La sexualidad estaba altamente racializada y se usaba como
metodo de dominaci6n, subyugaci6n, y reproduccio6n de la mano de obra
esclava. Una interpretaci6n possible es que ante la sospecha de una conduct
desviada o ambigua, el acto se valida o neutralize mediante su equiparaci6n
con los blancos, el mundo de una sexualidad que podria parecer turbulenta
se ancla en la justificaci6n o mirada horizontal hacia la otra raza. El aca-
demico queer David C6rdoba ilustra la relaci6n entire homosocializaci6n y
homosexualidad con la figure del homosexual como un sujeto abyecto que no
se menciona. Segun C6rdoba el homosexual marca una frontera que no se
debe cruzar, reside en el afuera de la homosocializaci6n y a su vez marca una
ansiedad caracteristica del process homosocial (49).
Una forma en que Montejo trabaja con esta ansiedad y cautela con la fi-
gura del homosexual abyecto que no se menciona es colocindose en el afuera
de la homosocializaci6n. Jossiana Arroyo, quien ha estudiado el tema queer
en el genero testimonial, observa de forma aguda el afuera desde el que Este-
ban Montejo relata las experiencias que ve. Si bien, como describe Gonzalez
Echevarria, Montejo es una especie de etn6grafo, un viajero, una persona que
observa distintas cultures y las relata, en el caso de la sexualidad este ojo que
se mueve adquiere nuevas resonancias y matices:

N6tese, que aunque Montejo describe en detalle estos juegos, nunca admite
haber participado en ellos, ya que se ve a si mismo como un hombre 'serio' al
que no le gusta el 'relajo.' Montejo, mas que participe, se califica a si mismo
como 'observador a distancia'[...] por eso da la impresi6n de que el cimar-
r6n es cuasi celibe, aunque se present la variedad de encuentros sexuales
que tiene con las mujeres o 'gallinas.' (208)

En el context de la discusi6n queer lo medular es que al establecer un
afuera para la homosexualidad, fuera de la taberna, de las conversaciones, de
las palabras donde se hace la heterosexualidad masculina, permit que 6sta
exista, que est6 present. Al marcar la homosexualidad como el limited de lo
prohibido, comenta David C6rdoba, se crea un espacio possible de homo-
socializaci6n, pero a la vez reconoce y marca como alternative la practice
homosexual (10). La postura de 'mero' observador que asume Montejo al


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






JAVIER E. LAUREANO


moment de describir los juegos de la 'botija' y la 'galleta' viene a recalcar la
tension de una homosexualidad que, aunque no se menciona en el texto, estdi
siempre present en el juego fillico e intimo entire varones.
Aparte de la taberna, otro espacio important de homosocializaci6n es el
de la conversaci6n masculina. En la taberna la sexualidad se hace entire varo-
nes, por medio del lenguaje, en la reuni6n de las fantasias de unos con otros
en conversaciones de sexo. Esteban Montejo comenta:

Volviendo al tema de las mujeres; es cierto que ese era el tema principal...Uno
iba a hablar con los amigos, o con los conocidos, mejor, y ellos le contaban a
uno todo lo que hacian con las mujeres. Yo nunca fui participe de contar mis
cosas ... Y si era conmigo, yo me hacia el que no ofa nada, para conservar la
distancia. A mi esos chismes nunca me han gustado [...]. (114)

Al igual que hace al describir los juegos con el pene, Montejo, como
indica Arroyo, se aleja y funciona como observador. Sin embargo, hay un
breve desliz, confiesa que escuchaba lo que le contaban, dice Montejo: "ellos
le contaban a uno todo lo que hacian con las mujeres." Aparece brevemente
un narrador participe de las experiencias homosociales. Las fantasias sexua-
les en Biografia de un Cimarr6n se hacen entire varones, con el lenguaje y la
narrative er6tica en un espacio homosocial. El distanciamiento que asume
Esteban Montejo para narrar temas de sexualidad o intimidad permit al
narrador la alternative de no autoincriminarse o ser sefialado o castigado por
sus relatos.
Aparte de estas escenas de homosocializaci6n, el libro tambien registra
un pasaje queer de vida homosexual. Montejo usa directamente la palabra
"sodomia:"

Muchos hombres no sufrian, porque estaban acostumbrados a esa vida.
Otros hacian el sexo entire ellos y no querian saber nada de las mujeres. Esa
era su vida: la sodomia. Lavaban la ropa y si tenian algun marido, le coci-
naban. Eran buenos trabajadores y se ocupaban de sembrar conucos. Les
daban frutos a sus maridos para que los vendieran a los guajiros. Despues
de la esclavitud fue que vino esa palabra de afeminado, porque ese asunto
sigui6. Para mi que no vino de Africa; a los viejos no les gustaba nada. Se
llevaban de fuera a fuera con ellos. A mi, para ser sincero, no me import
nunca. Yo tengo la consideraci6n de que cada uno hace de su barriga un
tambor. (114)


SARGASSO 2007-08, 1






INTERSEXIONES APALABRADAS: LO QUE.I-'R EN EL GENERO TESTIMONIAL

La "sodomia" narrada en este pasaje de Cimarrdn coloca a los varones
homosexuals viviendo semi-separados del resto de la comunidad. Desarro-
llan unos lazos de socializaci6n particulares e independientes, que los Ileva
incluso a hacer tratos comerciales con products particulares con los guaji-
ros. Segdn la narrative, se heteronormativiza la relaci6n al asignarle el papel
de mujer a uno de los dos, el que lava ropa y cocina, el 'marido' es el que se
encarga de hacer negocio, sin embargo ambos constituyen una unidad. Al
presentar la homosexualidad como una relaci6n mim6tica de la heterosexual,
pero defectuosa, el narrator logra de alguna forma conciliarse con la idea de
su existencia. Su postura es modernna' de un lado estan los viejos, que no
la aceptan, como dice Montejo, "Se llevaban de fuera a fuera con ellos," del
otro lado esta el, segun dice: "Yo tengo la consideraci6n de que cada uno hace
de su barriga un tambor." Es interesante tambidn en el pasaje de sexualidad
sodomita el lugar que juega Africa. La sexualidad entendida como una fuer-
za natural, esencial, lleva siempre un vinculo con lo originario. En este caso,
al no seguir los estindares heteronormativos, Montejo los interpreta como
alejados del origen, de Africa. Por 1ultimo, la homosexualidad tambien fun-
ciona en el texto, como discute Jossiana Arroyo, para diferenciarse de estas
practices y elaborar su adjetivaci6n de 'hombre complete:'

Ya en su relato de la Guerra de Independencia, Montejo define los usos de
la palabra 'maric6n,' entendida como 'cobarde,' un aspect que lo diferencia
a su vez de los 'cobardes' y de los 'afeminados' convirti6ndolo en lo que el
mismo llama 'un hombre complete.' (207-208)

Montejo tambien coloca de forma cronol6gica, como una construcci6n
social, la palabra 'afeminado,' segun Montejo: "Despues de la esclavitud fue
que vino esa palabra de afeminado, porque ese asunto sigui6."
Otro rengl6n de sexualidad no reproductive y en este caso innombrable,
abyecto para la heteronormatividad urbana es el bestialismo, que se registra
de distintas formas en el texto. Un pasaje que se ha interpretado de forma
muy literal y que leo de manera mis torcida, ambigua, es el comentario de
Esteban Montejo cuando se escapa al monte, moment cuando se supone se
hace c6libe:

La pura verdad es que a mi nunca me falt6 nada en el monte. La dinica cosa
que no podia hacer era el sexo. Como no habia mujeres, tenia que que-
darme con el gusto recogido. Ni con lasyeguas se podia pisar porque relincha-


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






JAVIER E. LAUREANO


ban que parecian demonios. Y cuando los guajiros oian ese alboroto venian
enseguida y a mi nadie me iba a poner los grillos por una yegua. [Enfasis
suplido] (14)

Ante lo abyecto Montejo suele ocupar el lugar del etn6grafo, observador
a distancia. Sin embargo, ,de qud forma conoce lo que describe, como el
juego entire varones para demostrar su potencia y capacidad genital, o en este
caso el sexo de los varones con yeguas en el monte? Es possible que, ante lo
generalizado de la practice rural del sexo con animals, Montejo hava deci-
dido apartarse de lo innombrable acudiendo en la narraci6n al celibato. Sin
embargo, la forma en que narra la experiencia, al igual que la de los juegos
de 'la galleta' y 'la botija' dibujan un conocimiento intimo, a la vez ansioso,
que puede muy bien interpretarse como personal. Lo cotidiano del sexo entire
varones con animals se muestra tambien con los epitetos en que Monte-
jo convierte, de forma violent, a las mujeres en diferentes animals, como
muestran las siguientes citas:

"aparte de los gallos [de pelea] y la borrachera...era mejor irse con una gal-
lina al monte" (67-68).
"en cuanto a los casinos . "las gallinas salian y ahi era donde habia que
atraparlas" (69-70).
"yo tenia una negra de canchanchana...que era como los gatos para el agua"
(74).
"Al llegar a La Habana... me cogi mis de cincuenta negras en una semana"
Luego de la Independencia . "cada vez que veia una sardina, la atrapaba"
(188-189).

Estos niveles de violencia forman parte tambien de entender la sexuali-
dad y la violencia como un fen6meno naturalizado, biol6gico, aquf el var6n,
en un imaginario sexual guiado por 'las fuerzas de la naturaleza' aparece como
un cazador que atrapa su presa, la mujer.
La pregunta queer, obscena, va dirigida a cuestionar este tan asumido
celibato de Esteban Montejo, un dispositivo que se active cada vez que se
acerca a algun tipo de manifestaci6n sexual no normativa y se desactiva al
describir sus relaciones heterosexuals convencionales. Este ultimo es el caso
de las cincuenta negras con las que tiene sexo en una semana en La Habana.
Del celibato pasa a una hipdrbole de su masculinidad entronizada en su he-
terosexualidad.


SARGASSO 2007-08, I






INTERSEXIONES APALABRADAS: LO QUEER EN EL GENERO TESTIMONIAL


Una lectura queer obliga a dudar tanto del celibato absolute de Montejo
alejado en los montes, cerca de la naturaleza, como se ha descrito tan roman-
ticamente, como de su hipermasculinidad heterosexual que lo lleva caricatu-
rescamente a sostener relaciones sexuales con cincuenta mujeres o 'sardinas,'
como las llama, en una semana. Al cartografiar la secuencia otorgada por
Barnet al testimonio, el tipo de masculinidad de Montejo debe seguir es una
ejemplar e hipermasculina, el tipo de var6n que hace la Guerra de Indepen-
dencia, como el mismo Montejo declara en la siguiente cita: "Tambien era
verdad que la muerte era necesaria. Nadie puede ir a la guerra y cruzarse de
brazos, porque hace el papel de maric6n" (160). Al otro lado de los marico-
nes estan "Nosotros los libertadores," (191) una de las pocas instancias donde
Montejo usa la primera persona en plural. Segfin apunta Emilio Bejel en Gay
Cuban Nation, ya desde 1889 el Diccionario razonado de legislacidn de lapolicia
en Cuba revela la siguiente definici6n de la palabra 'maric6n:'

El hombre afeminado y cobarde -El que se ocupa de las faenas propias
de las mujeres- Ciertos hombres que afectan imitar a las mujeres en sus
manera, insinuaciones, y a veces hasta en el vestir, sustituyendolas en los
actos mas impudicos. (7)

Contrario a las interpretaciones del termino 'maric6n' como 'cobarde' en la
cita, entiendo que Esteban Montejo estaba al tanto de los concepts 'sodomia,'
'afeminado,' y 'maric6n.' Hace uso de los tres concepts en su relato y todos
estan relacionados a varones homosexuals. Al otro lado del hombre liberta-
dor/heterosexual, esti el maric6n, lo opuesto al ideal de la lucha national.1
En el context del hombre como cazador de mujeres, pocas personas
en la narraci6n estan sujetas a la violencia extrema como de la que son vic-
timas las prostitutes, series marginales, y queer ("maricones"). Montejo narra
que "en la ciudad [La Habana] los chulos tenian la mano abierta [. .] a las

' Esta postura se llevari a un extremo en la historic cubana con las Unidades Militares
de Apoyo a la Producci6n de la Revolucio6n, donde intentardin 'reeducar' en campos de
trabajo forzado a varones homosexuals y otros sujetos que por distintas razones escapan
el ideal del 'hombre nuevo' y de la lucha national. Los UMAPs se registran en distintos
textos, como la autobiografia de Reinaldo Arenas (2001). Desde el punto de vista acad6-
mico, Emilio Bejel trabaja el tema en la tercera parte de su libro "Revolutionary Normati-
vities and their Effects," lo cual tambien se trata en el trabajo de Ian Lumsden. Ver Epps
1995 y sobre la homofobia de Ernesto Guevara o el "Che" dirigida contra Virgilio Pifiera,
ver Jos6 Quiroga, "Fleshing Out Virgilio Pifiera from the Cuban Closet."


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






JAVIER E. LAUREANO


putas las freian a palos. Les daban golpes por dondequiera" (190-191). Otra
escena de gran violencia contra las mujeres ocurre en el texto cuando narra el
destino de las amantes de los curas en el ingenio de Airosa, donde com-
para las sacristias con prostibulos. El pasaje, aunque ciertamente forma
parte de la imaginaci6n de Montejo, ya que al moment no hay evidencia
historiogrifica alguna para sustentarlo, si forma parte de la manera en que
se imagine el seno de los conventos desde los relatos mAs populares, como
el de Montejo, hasta textos del canon de la literature europea, como La
Religiosa de Diderot; El Monje de C.S. Lewis y Nuestra Seiora de Paris de
Victor Hugo. En el caso de Montejo, describe el seno de los monasterios
de la siguiente forma:

...los curas apoyaban ciertas y determinadas cosas...Con las mujeres ellos
eran diablos. Convertian la sacristia en un prostibulo...Los curas metian a
las mujeres en subterraneos, en huecos donde tenian verdugos preparados
para asesinarlas. Otros subterraneos estaban lenos de agua y las pobres se
ahogaban [...].(78-79)

Las prostitutes, contrario a los sodomitas en la narraci6n, estin conde-
nadas a la muerte.
El libro terminal con la metifora sexual entroncada en el poder politico
expresada de forma direct en el texto de Cimarrdn en las 6ltimas piginas de
la narraci6n, cuando Montejo declara que "[los americanos] querian cogerse
a todas las criollas como si fueran care de mercado...Los americanos se co-
gieron a Cuba con engatusamientos" (196-197).

Tercera intersexi6n: Bernardo Vega y Carmen LuisaJustiniano

De la Cuba de finales del diecinueve, los textos testimonials en este ensayo
nos llevan a Puerto Rico de principios del siglo veinte y a un testimonio pos-
terior sobre los process migratorios hacia Nueva York. Aunque en distintos
ejes historiogrificos y temporalidades, es possible capturar en los textos, por
medio de una lectura queer, tanto la existencia de minorias homosexuals,
como la entronizaci6n de la heteronormatividad.
Rosa Guzman Merced, en Las narraciones autobiograficas puertorriquednas
hace una comparaci6n 6til para este ensayo entire los relatos de Bernardo
Vega y de Carmen Luisa Justiniano. Guzmin Merced compare los dos tes-
timonios desde la perspective de su posicionamiento ante la sexualidad. Por


SARGASSO 2007-08, I1






INTERSEXIONES APALABRADAS: LO QUEER EN EL GENERO TESTIMONIAL

un lado, Vega intent alejarse en todo moment de lo que llama historiess
sentimentales," que incluye el aspect sexual, por el otro Carmen Luisa Jus-
tiniano comienza su narraci6n con la metafora de su desnudez en la plaza
piiblica e ilustrari numerosas coyunturas donde expresa su maravilla ante
descubrimientos y experiencias intimas y sexuales (183).
Aunque en las memories de Carmen Luisa Justiniano si hay una mayor
elaboraci6n en distintos aspects de su sexualidad, en Bernardo Vega se re-
gistran pasajes relacionados directamente al tema queer. Vega es hijo de una
de las primeras oleadas migratorias de puertorriquefios a Nueva York, uno de
los primeros en cruzar esa frontera problemrtica, angustiosa, del trabajo rural
al industrial en una gran urbe. La complejidad de esa frontera en su caso
incluy6 como parte de sus primeras experiencias, la necesidad de apartarse
del sujeto queer urbano neoyorquino, como narra Bernardo Vega al describir
su llegada a la ciudad en el 1916:

Debi haber llegado con un flamante reloj de pulsera, pero un compafiero
de viaje me asegur6 que esa prenda la usaban s6lo los afeminados en Nueva
York. Ya a la vista de la ciudad, cuando el barco penetraba en la bahia, ar-
roj6 el reloj al mar ... iY pensar que poco mis tarde esos relojes-pulsera se
hicieron moda y acabaron por imponerse! Llegue, pues, a Nueva York sin
reloj. (Andreu Iglesias 23)

Segun el trabajo del historiador George Chauncey sobre la vida homo-
sexual en el comienzo del siglo veinte en Nueva York, el compafiero de viaje
de Bernardo Vega pudo haber tenido raz6n. Los varones "afeminados" en
Nueva York a principios del siglo 20 usaba prendas distintivas para indicar
que formaban parte de este circuit urbano de la ciudad (3). Segtin el mundo
que descubre Chauncey, Vega llega a una ciudad donde la vida homosexual se
movia en una subculture reconocible por los demis. Chauncey matiza en su
texto esta situaci6n social e indica que el binarismo tan s61lido que tenemos
hoy hetero-homosexual no era tal al principios del siglo veinte.
Vega siente rechazo hacia "los amanerados" porque habla desde una he-
terosexualidad que esti ligada a su identidad como puertorriquefio. El ama-
nerado en el relato forma parte de ese otro estadounidense del que parte Vega
para construirse y diferenciarse. Un pasaje donde se revela esta dicotomia,
esta frontera entire el puertorriquefio de un lado y el que tiene el poder poli-
tico-amanerado del otro es el que sigue:


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






JAVIER E. LAUREANO


Bajo la presio6n de ese ambiente viviamos los puertorriquefios en Nueva
York, siguiendo con ansiedad las noticias de Puerto Rico, ya sea en la
prensa, en la radio o de boca en boca. Puede imaginarse mi estado de
animo el dia que fui entrevistado, por primera vez, en la Oficina de
Censura Postal. Me hall frente a un individuo corpulento, de tez mate,
acicaladamente vestido y de gestos amanerados. Pregunt6 sobre mi pre-
paraci6n acad6mica y paso luego a hacer preguntas sobre mis habitos de
vida. (Andreu Iglesias 250)

El amanerado, el acicalado, el corpulento, el bien vestido es el que esta
al otro lado del escritorio, en otra clase social, en otra raza, al otro lado de la
frontera. Rub6n Rios Avila trabaja el texto partiendo de la constituci6n de
sujeto de Vega:

The memoir assigned itself the task of recognizing, of witnessing a new
subjectivity: the Puerto Rican in New York, a new Puerto Rican that would
not only become a contributing element within the rich ethnic hybrid-
ization of New York, but as well promote and configure the cultural and
national hybridization of the island. A task of such magnitude needed a
worthy antagonist. And the homosexual subject will play that role. The
effeminate becomes a perfect other for this subject proposal. Subject
formation is not only the birthing of a new, improbable creature; it is
also war. (315)

Si en Biograffa de un Cimarrdn el homosexual es el fantasma que
ronda las fronteras de la homosocializaci6n, opuesto al hombre libertador,
en las Memorias de Bernardo Vega el queer ocupa un lugar antag6nico al
ideal masculine del puertorriquefio de Nueva York. Esta postura tendri
posteriormente consecuencias nefastas para los puertorriquefios homosexuals
en la ciudad. Un ejemplo son los hallazgos de la tesis doctoral de Lawrence
La Fountain Stokes, que revela que de 1970 a 1979 los grupos de personas
que se consideraban puertorriquefios y puertorriquefias gay que marchaban
junto a contingentes socialists, comunistas, e independentistas muchas veces
no podfan terminar su march debido a la violencia del public, que escalaba
hasta el extreme de tirarles con botellas e incluso el abuso fisico. No es hasta
tan reciente como 1989 que los grupos gay y ldsbicos vuelven a marchar
en la Parada puertorriquefia, acto que algunos activists denominaron 'su
Stonewall' (182-183).
La autobiografia de Carmen Luisa Justiniano, una de las pocas autobio-
graflas femeninas puertorriquefias, al igual que el testimonio de Bernardo


SARGASSO 2007-08, I1






INTERSEXIONES APALABRADAS: LO QUEER EN EL GENERO TESTIMONIAL


Vega, comienza en una coyuntura queer. En el caso de Justiniano, sin embar-
go, no tiene que ver con una prenda de la que se pueda deshacer. Desde su
nacimiento su padre decide apodarla con un nombre de var6n:

Al nacer me pusieron por nombre Carmen Luisa, aunque seguin la abuela
Josefa, el nombre que traje fie Marina ... Papa, por su parte, me bautiz6
con el apodo Lucho, alias que se le da en mi pais a los de nombre Luis,
como si en su mente ardiera el deseo que yo fuera var6n. (3)

Justiniano nace en la encrucijada de tener dos nombres propios y un
apodo de var6n que a su vez se refiere a un nombre propio masculine. Esta
dislocaci6n queer que hace el padre, se intent enmendar ripidamente por parte
de la madre al encausar a la autora en tareas atribuidas tradicionalmente a la
mujer: "La costura, el cuidado de la ropa, el bordado, el tejido, el arte culinario
y el de la botanica o medicine y cuidado de los beb6s eran cosas muy im-
portantes en nuestro linaje. Eran ciencias que iban pasando de madres a
hijas" (281). Estos saberes femeninos no deben entenderse en el context
de la cultural burguesa en Puerto Rico, se trata de una familiar que vive
constantemente al borde de la miseria y el hambre en los campos de la zona
centro y sur oeste del pais. Las tareas femeninas asignadas a Justiniano se
convierten en trabajo forzado que la llevan desde muy nifia a laborar desde
la madrugada hasta el anochecer sin descanso e incluye la crianza de su
hermana desde el moment mismo del alumbramiento. Negada a tener
acceso al espacio public, vive casi recluida en su casa, incluso ir a la escuela
se convierte en un proyecto impossible.
Carmen LuisaJustiniano hace al lector una invitaci6n a entrar en el mun-
do de su mis profunda intimidad de nifia y adolescent, lo que dota el texto,
seguin observa Fernando Pic6 en el Pr6logo, de una importancia fundamental
en la historiografia de la nifiez y de la mujer (i-ii). Diferente a Bernardo Vega,
que es muy parco en las narraciones de su intimidad o a Esteban Montejo,
que se present casi como un viajero-etn6grafo que s6lo observa y describe,
Justiniano usa la primera persona constantemente y es muy explicit en sus
comentarios sexuales. Sin embargo, en la autora el sexo esti anclado en un
continue reclamo de 'normalidad' y naturalidad, se trata de una verdad cerca
de la vida natural y biol6gica. Este anclaje le sirve como un dispositivo para
adentrarse en las fronteras de la heteronormatividad y encontrar una explica-
ci6n a sus inquietudes, silenciadas en el seno de su hogar materno.


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






JAVIER E. LAUREANO


Cuando Justiniano descubre sus genitales, los empolva, acostada en el
piso, con ceniza de fog6n. Todo parece indicar que se trata de la primera vez
que encuentra satisfacci6n onirica:

Aquel fue el dia que descubri mi sexo. iQue emocionada me senti con el
nuevo descubrimiento! Recuerdo que fui a la cocina y tome ceniza del
fog6n y me empolve bien, acostada en el piso. Para qud decir, el ardor que
senti fue terrible ... Por qu6 empolve mis genitales con ceniza realmente no
me lo explico ... Pero asi crecia yo: normal, despierta y feliz. (21)

Aqui el ardor que metaf6ricamente sentia su padre de tener un var6n,
por lo que la apod6 Lucho, se convierte en ardor sexual, localizado en su
genitales femeninos. La dislocaci6n originaria del nombre se relocaliza en la
care, en la vulva, en la mano que la toca, en la aporia de la ceniza, element
inexplicable que la guia en su descubrimiento. Una segunda instancia donde
Justiniano se ancla en el dispositivo de la normalidad para validar sus pro-
cesos fisiol6gicos es cuando descubre sus vellos pdbicos, segun indica el si-
guiente pasaje: "[...] fue para mi de grande asombro cuando descubri que en
mis genitales habian comenzado a crecer vellos negros, largos y duros [....]
llegue a pensar que algo normal me estaba sucediendo" (159).
Seguin indica la cita,Justiniano contin6a validando y buscando un centro
de gravedad a sus primeras experiencias sexuales usando el ancla de lo que
ella consider normal y natural, lo heteronormativo. Incluso la critical del
libro hasta el moment reproduce el tema de la sexualidad como un fen6-
meno biol6gico, pre-discursivo, entendido como algo natural, y lo aplican
a Justiniano como una de sus cualidades, un ejemplo es Rosa Merced, en
la siguiente cita: "La naturalidad caracteriza la narraci6n de Carmen Luisa
Justiniano. Es precisamente esa cualidad la que le permit adentrarse al tema
de la sexualidad que otros evaden" (170).
En su pr6xima experiencia sexual la heteronormatividad esta cada vez
mais anclada en su discurso de la maravilla y la naturalidad. La escena descri-
be cuando un vecino baja sus pantalones para mostrarle su pene y le reclama
ver su vulva:

Entonces retrocedi6, se adelant6 frente a mi y con la misma se desabroch6
el pantal6n y sac6 a relucir al descubierto su sexo, el cual aguantaba sobre su
mano con much orgullo y propensi6n [...] pero yo lo deje plantado y me
march y mientras caminaba recorded aquel dia en la casita de Finca Abajo
cuando por primera vez habia descubierto mi sexo y me habia maravil-


SARGASSO 2007-08, I






INTERSEXIONES APALABRADAS: LO QUEER EN EL GENERO TESTIMONIAL

lado tanto. Y ahora descubria el sexo masculino y tambi6n me maravillaba.
(Justiniano 35)

La heterosexualidad en este context esta ligada a su memorial, recuerdos
buc61licos, todos ligados a la vida en el campo, a la naturaleza. La sexualidad
de Justiniano esta dotada de palabras como 'asombro,' 'descubrimiento,' 'nor-
malidad,' 'felicidad,' y sobre todo, 'maravilla.'
La homosexualidad, por otro lado, y contrario a los relatos masculinos de
Esteban Montejo y Bernando Vega, aparece en el texto de una forma muy sutil,
no se nombra. Sin embargo ese silencio es important porque lo innombrable
esta present en todo moment en el process de crianza de los hijos:

En cuanto a la crianza de los hijos, se velaba celosamente que el var6n
creciera con conciencia de hombria y sentimientos de var6n, cuidando de
que no creciera bajo much o constant tutela o dominio de mujeres, para
evitarle equivocos o desvios mentales que pudieran en alguna forma afectar
su identidad varonil [...]. Igual cuidado habia con la nifia para que se de-
sarrollara en todo el sentido una dama [...]. (390)

Mientras la exploraci6n heterosexual esta anclada en el nudo de la nor-
malidad, descrita a viva voz y con lujo de detalles, la homosexualidad aparece
silenciada en el texto, caracterizada como un 'equivoco' o un 'desvio mental,'
una 'identidad varonil' afectada. Los textos testimonials de varones reve-
lan la forma como se fabric socialmente la heterosexualidad masculina, esta
'conciencia de hombria' de la que habla Justiniano se hace desde la homoso-
cializaci6n, que tiene dimensions de homoerotismo. Ella misma lo constata
al discutir la necesidad de criar al nifio lejos del 'dominio de mujeres,' esto
es entire hombres.
En el caso de Justiniano, como en los textos anteriores, la homosexuali-
dad es lo que demarca la frontera de la heteronormatividad, fen6meno silen-
ciado del que deben mantenerse alejados los varones y mujeres en su crianza.
Sin embargo es un silencio constitutivo de la heterosexualidad, que necesita
de esta amenaza continuamente para evitarla. Sin equfvoco no hay correc-
ci6n, sin desvio no hay rectitud. S61o ante el acecho de la dama defectuosa
es possible la que se cria a la luz del concept que la vislumbra "en todo el
sentido una dama," natural, sin equivocos, complete, uno de los ejes que le da
sentido a la vida de Carmen Luisa Justiniano, una heteronormatividad que
no vacila.


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






JAVIER E. LAUREANO


Qud hace una persona que tiene como uno de los ejes de su vida la confian-
za siempre validada de una heterosexualidad normativa cuando se enfrenta a uno
de los casos queer mas importantes de la historic del pais, el de 'Emelina'Troche?
Justiniano conoce el caso en su preadolescencia mientras vivia en Hormigueros.
Se trata de un acontecimiento que se convierte en la figure principal de uno de
los debates publicos sobre sexualidad mas intensos del periodismo de Puerto
Rico, segiin descubre Maria del Carmen Baerga (63-71). La controversial Uega al
foro public cuando 'Emelino' Troche decide pasar por el process institutional
para desposar a su compafiera, Luz Selenia. Para esto en primera instancia debe
Ilegar al Juez de Paz, quien lo remite al m6dico Nelson Perea, el cual emite a su
vez un certificado medico que valida a Troche como var6n, lo que le permit ca-
sarse con Selenia (50-57). Asi se evidencia c6mo son dos instituciones, la medica
y lajuridica, las que decide, pronuncian, produce, fijan y dictan una sexualidad
especifica. Curiosamente Justiniano registra en su autobiografia la 'sospecha' que
Troche era un var6n, seguin lo decidi6 posteriormente la ciencia y el derecho, por
su homosocializaci6n:

Su madre tenia raz6n porque aun vestida de nifia y educada para ama de
casa, Emelina gustaba de la compafiia de los varones, de sus tareas y de sus
diversiones. Con el correr de los afios supe que se habia convertido en un
flamante var6n por quien las feminas se disputaban su amor y hubo una
6poca en que la prensa hizo historic del fen6meno, y toda su vida fue dada
a la publicidad. (144-145)

La historiadora Maria del Carmen Baerga ha estudiado a fondo el caso
de Troche, especificamente desde el punto de vista que interest a este ensayo,
el de la sexualidad como parte de un process social en lugar de un fen6meno
biol6gico:

La rareza y extravagancia del caso de 'Emelina' nos abre una ventana singu-
lar para introducir sospechas al mundo del sentido comtin que reina en la
esfera de la categorizaci6n sexual e interrogar aquellas presuposiciones que
generalmente dejamos inexploradas. La anatomia rebelde de Troche pone a
prueba concepciones del cuerpo como un entire pre-discursivo porque ilus-
tra c6mo la norma sexual, la cual esti atravesada y articulada por el g6nero,
no s6lo esboza una relaci6n heterosexual entire 'Emelino'y Luz Selenia, sino
que esculpe el cuerpo de 'Emelino' como uno masculino. (57)

S61o existe enJustiniano una posibilidad: la heterosexualidad. Incluso en
el caso de Troche, aunque su familiar hizo lo possible por criarla como nifia, la


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INTERSEXIONES APALABRADAS: LO QUEER EN EL GENERO TESTIMONIAL


sexualidad siempre regresa a una naturalidad biol6gica, en este caso demos-
trada por su interns en jugar con otros varones, gustaba de 'sus tareas y sus
diversiones.' Cuando se casa con Selenia es porque 'se convierte' en var6n, la
homosexualidad es innombrable.
Otra manifestaci6n queer en Carmen Luisa Justiniano, en este caso cru-
zada con el problema de clase social, ocurre cuando una anciana de ochenta
afios, dofia Niko, se casa con un joven que trabajaba para ella, Juan Agosto.
Como la mujer es de una clase poderosa, Justiniano normaliza la relaci6n
al describir a la anciana como 'hermosa mujer', de 'bello porte,' elegante y
lozana' (154-155). El obrero Juan Agosto tambien pasa de inmediato por el
process de normalizaci6n al caracterizarlo como 'de buena reputaci6n.' Al
haber un cambio de clase, el comentario de las relaciones intergeneracionales
drasticas cambia de tono, segun ilustra cuando menciona: "Tampoco era cosa
rara ver a una nifia de doce o trece afios tomar marido y en ocasiones, un
hombre maduro o un viejo" (216).
Por ultimo, la prostituci6n tambien se registra en la autobiografia, pero
por primera vez no desde el que potencialmente puede entrar en el pacto
commercial como el consumidor, sino desde el interior mismo de una casa de
prostituci6n en Mayaguez:

Asi que rapidamente fui a despertar a la chica y ambas nos fuimos al cuarto
de bafio, nos aseamos y acicalamos y luego de ordenar la camas, nos dirigi-
mos a una salita que habia, donde unas cuantas mujeres, todas en bellos
ropones de casa y de noche, algunas afin conservando sus rostros maquil-
lados, platicaban, fumaban y se relajaban ... Yo por mi parte muy tranquila,
ajena a que habia pasado la noche en una de las casas de prostituci6n mas
notorias de la ciudad. (335)

El pasaje ofrece el privilegio al lector de entrar desde un ojo critic fe-
menino, en el interior de una casa de prostituci6n del primer cuarto del siglo
veinte en el pais. La perspective cambia del ojo masculino y la mirada se va
al tipo de ropa, el maquillaje y la convenci6n social dentro de la casa.
Al final del texto Justiniano entra en una relaci6n puiblica con Julio, un
hombre negro, en medio de un Puerto Rico rural altamente violent y racist
en la primera mitad del siglo veinte. Aunque una relaci6n sexual interracial
en el mundo rural pre-moderno puertorriquefio era considerada torcida e
invalida, segin el texto de Carmen Luisa Justiniano, la autora la naturaliza
por medio de la heteronormatividad. La relaci6n interracial, que despierta


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






JAVIER E. LAUREANO


la ira de su padre y vecinos, se valida en el texto cuando la autora hace uso de
la heterosexualidad para naturalizar y anclar su vinculo. Justiniano parte de
un problema sexual que estan enfrentando, el de la eyaculaci6n premature de
Julio, para llegar ilustrar lo 'sano' de su relaci6n: "Nuestras relaciones intimas
no tenian ninguna clase de placer, pues Julio al menor roce con mi cuerpo
ya estaba listo para el climax." Justiniano recurre a los saberes de una vecina,
quien le ilustra c6mo mejorar sus relaciones, le explica a Julio las nuevas
t6cnicas" (466). La autora borra la desviaci6n de la relaci6n interracial por
medio del dispositivo de la normalidad present en todo el texto y lleva el
p6ndulo hacia el lado de lo 'sano,' lo 'normal.'

Conclusion

Uno de los prop6sitos del ensayo ha sido rescatar fragments y pedazos de
instancias donde se manifiesta una sexualidad queer con el motivo de des-
naturalizar tanto la sexualidad como la heteronormatividad. En los textos
trabajados la hetero/sexualidad se naturaliza usando distintos m6todos y por
distintas razones para convertirla en un dispositivo suprahist6rico donde la
homosexualidad queda como un residuo abyecto. Sin embargo, como dice
David C6rdoba:

Todo ejercicio de poder, toda constituci6n de una norma produce un exceso,
un resto que impide su totalizaci6n, su determinaci6n complete del objeto
que produce y sobre el cual se ejerce. Al establecer y prohibir un afuera, al
delimitarlo y darle existencia, la heterosexualidad subvierte en este mismo
mecanismo sus propias pretensiones de ser natural y necesaria, ya que lo
que esta prohibido no es impossible y precisamente por eso es necesario
prohibirlo. (50)

Por esto el hombre queer de gestos amanerados que registra Bernardo
Vega siempre quedari en su texto, al igual que los sodomitas de las viviendas
vecinos de Esteban Montejo y aquellos hombres a los que no se les pudo
'evitar equivocos' en Justiniano y las nifias que no se desarrollaron 'en todo el
sentido una dama' (Justiniano 390). Los rastros, los residues del moment
de articular la heterosexualidad son los que la hacen possible, pero siempre en
medio de una encrucijada, de una intersecci6n que se mantiene en silencio,
una paradoja que nunca llega a mencionarse.
Los textos muestran c6mo la sexualidad esta situada siempre en con-
textos hist6ricos, desde Esteban Montejo, que evita la tentaci6n de tener


SARGASSO 2007-08, 1






INTERSEXIONES APALABRADAS: LO QUEER EN EL GENERO TESTIMONIAL

sexo con las yeguas para que no lo capture y lo regresen a la esclavitud o
Bernardo Vega que arroja su flamante reloj de pulsera al llegar a Nueva York
para que no lo confundan con un homosexual. Todos los textos muestran lo
defectuoso de la idea de una sexualidad pura, que se hace desde la objetividad
biol6gica y nos lleva a enfrentar la complejidad de la sexualidad que toma en
cuenta y que se hace desde la historic. Una ruta possible para continuar explo-
rando la sexualidad y lo queer como process social es examiner la heteronor-
matividad que genera el discurso y el imaginario de lo national en los textos
testimonials. Todavia queda por explorer la relaci6n entire la sexualidad de
Justiniano y su apego absolute a la tierra.2
La 6ptica queer, sumada a una vision critical y analitica de la historic,
ofrece un nuevo campo y reto de studio comparado a la historiografia local.
Sus rutas inexploradas tienen un potential enriquecedor para dar a conocer
la vida de minorias suprimidas y segments completes que quedaron en el
mutismo.

























2 Un texto para continuar leyendo a Carmen LuisaJustiniano es el de Aileen Schmidt.


Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance






JAVIER E. LAUREANO


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Alternative Identities: Belonging and Resistance