When I was a little boy my mom spoke to me of Ray Bradbury. We lived in the Soviet Union, and Bradbury was one of the most popular US authors back then. I remember how I searched in that dark Muscovite library for Fahrenheit 451º, the depressing novel about a mechanical hound and firemen who burn books.
It was written when the author was 33, and for the Soviet ‘60s generation the work constituted a symbol of the cultural resistance against all banality and totalitarianism.
My mom and our mentors didn’t see that book as an attack against the system, but as a sort of a cruel parable about possible future civilizations that it was necessary to prevent. Those of the ‘60s generation assumed the world to have a great capacity for civic commitment, independently of their countries of origin.
Cubans my age are also familiar with Bradbury. In high school I read “Martian Chronicles,” whose philosophical insight surprised me and prepared me for other spiritual experiences that were equal or “harder.” Perhaps it was luck to be baptized in the possibility of other views of the world; or, better said, of various views endowed with the power to create other distinct worlds.
We were faced with a reality that became increasingly technological, more technocratic, more “mature.” While we were gradually learning to enter it, the more the future was becoming out of control. But by the end of the ‘80s we realized that we were still dreaming.
Then came the shocks of the ‘90s, as well as the long awaited new millennium. For most young Cubans today, reading books has become an experience as exotic as for that of the residents of Fahrenheit 451º. Probably few of them know who Ray Bradbury is.
However, at least two students in my history of philosophy course were in fact familiar with him. I remember how they came up to me after class talking about how delighted they had been reading the great US author.
Since many of the technological prophecies of the ‘50s and ‘60s have now turned out to be off base, for those students this writer meant something else: another reference point more for learning about the roads to civic freedom; roads that inevitably include the free exercise of thought. Let’s wish them luck in their adventures.
Recently I leaned of the spiritual quests of Bradbury himself, of his discreet entry into the communion of believers. When sharing his experiences, he gives us the opportunity to find a faith that is more human as well as more distant from the ridged fundamentalisms that do so much damage to the very notion of religion.
Ray Douglas Bradbury has just reached 90. In the middle of the era of reggaeton, he’s one of the few living bridges between today’s life and those beloved childish frays that we refuse to allow be merely possible futures buried under the rubble of history.