Post-revolutionary Boredom

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

Cuban young people. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, March 31 — The post societies (post-industrial, post-communist, post-liberal, etc.) are always quite confused culturally because they tend to be defined more for negating than affirming.  Or, better said, they affirm by denying.

That confusion is shaking Cuban society today, a society eminently post-revolutionary whose cultural and ideological coordinates do not withstand the binary register of the political polarization to which we have gotten so accustomed.

I would say that one of the most outstanding features of contemporary Cuban society — consisting basically of people who were born and grew up (like a young friend of mine said) with the “revolutionary” table already set — is its preference for the daily experience, its immanent perception of the world.

This can be viewed in comparison to all the deep-reaching discourse that inspired the political process that began in 1959 and that still today (in its agony) wants to survive with the idea that humanity is being saved through Cuba.

It is one way that the true “new person” of the revolution (agnostic, well-educated, hedonist) can get away from his/her disguise as a plebeian Guevarist stoic.

This situation is perceptible in what is being produced generally by young Cubans (and some not so young) who are using cyberspace as an means of expression.  This, excluding, of course, the youngsters on either side of the street who — writing under orders — make accusations about anything and in every way try to defame those who think differently.

But if we throw out that scum we would see, surprisingly, that while substantial differences exist (for example the degree of distance from or proximity to the Cuban political regime) there are also crucial similarities.  Moreover, these latter are perhaps more important.

Photo: Caridad

An interesting example can be found in what is published by nearly a dozen young people on a website called Havana Times, an indispensable and commendable web page that enjoys the pluralistic faith and professionalism of its editor, Circles Robinson.

Although the majority of them identify themselves as left — in terms of their positions on politics, environmentalism, gender rights, etc., and the fact that several of them are members of the Critical Observatory — all of them approach day-to-day life with a critical and unprejudiced sharpness that I’ve only found before in a few opposition blogs, such as the very well-known cases of Generation Y, Octavo Cerco and Sin Evasion (fortunately all led by women), among other noteworthy sites.

Usually these people don’t speak of high-level politics, and when they do they approach it from below, citing daily issues.  One could almost say they’re “intimate.”  They will approach anything from a missing light bulb, to the need for a pet cemetery, to homophobic chat in the line at a bank, or life at a garbage dump in the capital, in addition to the dejection of an unemployed nuclear engineer or the invisibility of a Cuban customer in a restaurant.

One impartial HT columnist fired back in defense of an “opposition” blogger, but not for some reason related to the universal right to free expression, but with the same mundane logic he would use to stand up for any neighbor in the 10 de Octubre municipality of the capital. In the same way, this same blogger introduced us to an accusation of arbitrary detention based on her memories of having to live in the barracks of a countryside school, the flakes of bagazo fiber board that came off in her bunk bed, and the mud in her boots.

These are what basically distinguish them from the preceding generation (the one in which I place myself), whose members tend to be more big-picture, explaining the island from above, from the vantage of high-level politics.

Undoubtedly this is because we socialized ourselves in an epoch in which the “mega” and binary opposition (and here I recall my esteemed professor Javier Figueroa) seemed to justify themselves in reality itself.

Photo: Caridad

Perhaps our perspective was also due to the fact that though my generation was not the one that set the table (recalling my friend’s expression), we were indeed there when dinner was served, as credulous spectators.  In any case, one feels more obliged to explain the rupture of a commitment that was very strong, as was everything in those early days of the now defunct Cuban revolution.

One tends to see these youths as hurdles to be overcome by “history,” or — thinking back to a very sad phrase from a pro-government intellectual acquaintance — “cyber-slummers.”

It’s possible that the factor unifying the “loyalists” and the “opponents” is generational boredom.  It is boredom in the face of what Kierkegaard called something like empty eternity, without content.  It is a boredom in the face of the long torture of several decades, understanding this (following Foucault) as a painful technique of normalization, a resonant ritual that displays the cost of dissidence and the utility of equalization.  It is a genuine post-revolutionary boredom.

If it were like this, we would be in the presence of something more than of an opposition of something (within or outside the system).  It would be something much more important: a critique of a way of living and thinking about the world and ourselves…a critique of a more contemporary concept of the good life.  And that of course carries with it an authoritarian regime that has established its own dictatorship over common people’s needs and has dictated the indispensability of their unique recipe for solving their problems.

Beyond the political sign of the republic of the future, one cannot do without this absolutely revolutionary proposition.

Hopefully this will continue.  Hopefully in a Cuba of the future the social norms will be so open and convincing that people will ridicule those who speak disparagingly of homosexuals, that a pet cemetery will exist, that no one will have to poke around in the trash to earn a living and that waiters will ask Cuban customers if they liked the service.

That is very important, just as much as which macroeconomic policies work and whether a parliament is representative.

Finally, recalling the warning of one lucid blogger, there exists no better system than that where individual commitments go beyond all appeals.


2 thoughts on “Post-revolutionary Boredom

  • March 31, 2011 at 5:36 pm
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    very niceley put. It occurs to me( a 74 yr old US citizen) that the long, philosophical view and the short personal view are two poles of and ongoing dialogue. Everything you write is equally applicable to my own country and probably to many or all others.

  • March 31, 2011 at 1:00 pm
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    A superb article, Haroldo. You write very, very well.

    I wonder if you could put yourself for a brief moment in the shoes of your counterpart in the capitalist United States? If so, you might see that Cuban intellectuals and critics only think in terms of what’s happening in Cuba, and that the rest of the countries are out there somewhere in a mystical, immutable, taken-for-granted Universe. In other words, you might see that your perspective is ingrown and nationally-obsessed, and probably misses the big picture.

    This is not to say that we socialists in the US are not ingrown and nationally-obsessed . . . We are. We have our own transformational table to set. But it is to say that all of us, at some point, must begin to think in terms of similar “reform” of “transformation” in every country, not only in Cuba but also in the US, China, Europe and everywhere.

    This sort of universal thinking has a direct bearing on your home country and its struggle for meaningful change. We all have to reformulate what workable socialism truly is for every country. If it will work in Cuba, it will work in the US, and vice versa.

    The reform program therefore that would make things right in the land of Marti would also make them right in the land of Jefferson.

    In our humble view what is needed in every country is a socialism that respects and makes use of private productive property rights and the free, cooperatively-conditioned trading market. Full state ownership doesn’t work. Cooperative worker/state co-ownership might.

    Bottom line: The problems in your country are not specific only to your country. They exist in every land. The discussion therefore needs to be internationalized, and the basic understanding of, and program for workable socialist construction needs to be hammered out by the sincere transformational thinkers of the world. Best wishes.

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