Cuba and the Fall

Cuba and the Fall: Christian Text and Queer Narrative in the Fiction of José Lezama Lima and Reinaldo Arenas

Eduardo González
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Cuba and the Fall
    Book Description:

    The literature of Cuba, argues Eduardo González in this new book, takes on quite different features depending on whether one is looking at it from "the inside" or from "the outside," a view that in turn is shaped by official political culture and the authors it sanctions or by those authors and artists who exist outside state policies and cultural politics. González approaches this issue by way of two twentieth-century writers who are central to the canon of gay homoerotic expression and sensibility in Cuban culture: José Lezama Lima (1910-1976) and Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990). Drawing on the plots and characters in their works, González develops both a story line and a moral tale, revolving around the Christian belief in the fall from grace and the possibility of redemption, that bring the writers into a unique and revealing interaction with one another.

    The work of Lezama Lima and Arenas is compared with that of fellow Cuban author Virgilio Piñera (1912-1979) and, in a wider context, with the non-Cuban writers John Milton, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Faulkner, John Ruskin, and James Joyce to show how their themes get replicated in González's selected Cuban fiction. Also woven into this interaction are two contemporary films-The Devil's Backbone (2004) and Pan's Labyrinth (2007)-whose moral and political themes enhance the ethical values and conflicts of the literary texts. Referring to this eclectic gathering of texts, González charts a cultural course in which Cuba moves beyond the Caribbean and into a latitude uncharted by common words, beyond the tyranny of place.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2987-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. Introduction: Personal Character, Authorship, and the Incidental Caribbean
    (pp. 1-20)

    Although it may cause quite a different impression in the reader’s mind, this book is intended as an old-fashioned study of literary character in the mold of the British Victorian invention of an impossible craft: to bridge the gap between character upon the page and on stage and the evanescent ghost of authorship that placed it there. For the moment, let us note the issue of character explicit and implicit in the two epigraphs. In the one by the English historian James Anthony Froude, character gives no purpose to West Indian lives, whose lack of aim and grace seems exhausted...

  7. Part One: Castle Dismal: Reinaldo Arenas as Boy and Girl
    • 1 A House in the Woods
      (pp. 23-47)

      Sophia Peabody wrote of Castle Dismal, the domestic dark cell in which her mother-in-law dwelled, being herself a former addict to the cloistered bedroom. Sophia had suffered from invalidism more than a decade earlier as a result of severe migraines and had found occasional solace in opium while bedridden. Seeking a cure, she was sent to Cuba in late 1833 to undergo treatment at the coffee plantation La Recompensa, west of Havana, where she stayed until returning to Boston in May of 1835. Besides sketching and drawing in precise detail plants and trees and wildflowers, she wrote letters in the...

    • 2 Pan’s Labyrinth
      (pp. 48-70)

      Both Hawthorne and Ruskin see two children where there is only one. In the first case, the girl Pearl sees her reflection in the water, and the adult writer who tells her story sees her twice: as one child other than just either as herself or as her figure in the water. There are two Pearls in the adult’s sight besides the girl who bears her name and the reflection she casts in the brook. That Pearl sees herself in the same manner is highly probable, as is the chance that she might have encountered in the forest, in a...

    • 3 Lady in the Hot Seat
      (pp. 71-92)

      The most scrutinized passage in Milton’s masque brings us back to it for a last glance, now in perspective from our examination of some central themes in del Toro’s sibling films. We will look next at the ordeal of chastity in the Lady, who in the epigraph just quoted sits paralyzed before Comus’s magical wand at the moment when the river goddess and virgin, Sabrina, releases her from bondage. The goddess restores the rule of chastity in a Lady figure who is being played by a thirteen-year-old girl named Alice, daughter of John, Earl of Bridgewater, President of the Council...

    • 4 A House of Sand
      (pp. 93-113)

      This chapter and the next rehearse the posthumous and otherworldly authorship connection between Reinaldo Arenas and Nathaniel Hawthorne with some help from William Faulkner, St. Augustine, and Milton. The Hawthorne authorship nexus begins with the words just quoted in the epigraph taken from theEtheregepart of the most important among Hawthorne’s unfinished romances. The bulky manuscript has been christenedThe American Claimantand its constituent parts are known asThe Ancestral Footstep,Etherege, andGrimshawe. During his tenure as U.S. consul in Liverpool, Hawthorne envisioned and set to work on a romance or historical novel about the legal claims...

    • 5 The A-Frame Agony
      (pp. 114-136)

      The Big Thing that Grandma Jacinta in her blasphemous cursing callsGod!—and that both she and Old Rosa fear and in Rosa’s case is actually hated in her desperate actions, though not in her expletives—a righteous killer named Mink Snopes calls “Old Moster” in Faulkner’sThe Mansion:“He simply had to trustthem—theThemof whom it was promised that not even a sparrow should fall unmarked. By them he didn’t mean that whatever-it-was that folks referred to as Old Moster. He didn’t believe in any Old Moster. He had seen too much in his time that,...

  8. Part Two: The Lord’s Envy: Lezama Lima as Satan Knows Best
    • 6 Son of Gorgo
      (pp. 139-164)

      Like death herself, Gorgo is a thing past and present that won’t go away. A parasite, Gorgo had and continues to have no children of her own except with men driven to make her their macho mother; luckily, this happens only one child at a time. Evidently, a horde or host of grown-up Gorgo babies born from one stroke of her parasite glance is too much to bear. Let us then for the time being set aside the nightmare of multiple Gorgo births gathered into virile armies and gangs and look at a miraculous only-child birth face to face with...

    • 7 Mother Nero, Uncle Orpheus, and the Unborn
      (pp. 165-186)

      Thepoisoned-father-by-his-wife’s-mother-rule(“matria”) passage in the epigraph is taken from Lezama’s thoughts on Aeschylus’sOresteiaand Euripides’Ephigenia in Tauris, in which the murder of Orestes’ father, Agamemnon, by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus is not, however, caused by her poisoning him as head of the Atreidai family dynasty. Likewise, theElectra-dragon-birth-breast-feedingin the following passage comes from Foción’s mouth as he names Orestes’ sister, instead of his mother Clytemnestra, as the one who gives birth and nurses the matricidal son:

      When Electra [sic] thought she’d given birth to a dragon, she saw that the monster was crying...

    • 8 Paradiso as a Five-Star Inferno
      (pp. 187-210)

      Soon after its publicationParadisowas labeled aBildungs-romanand even before that—during its first season in hell under the eye of some in power upset with the sexual shenanigans in chapter 8—it was rumored to have been called by Raul Castro “un monumento al maricón” (a fag monument). High and low, whether at the prestige level of literary name-branding or down in the gutter of urban talk, the novel right from the start inspired architectural and sculptural associations among the happy few who had read it at least in part and the legions who would not—and...

  9. Part Three: Planet Cuba up in the Clouds
    • 9 Gargling the Tribe
      (pp. 213-225)

      The tribe paradigm in Lezama’s writing involves fluctuations and clashes between terms of identity stasis and breakup, between ingrainedhomelinessandunhomeliness, between a pillared or foundational sense of singular national identity and its fall into alienation and dispersal. This latter radical shift in identity fate will involve the prime contrarian vision of tribal Cuba uttered in Virgilio Piñera’s poemLa isla en peso(The island’s burden). The poem is a savage mural where the vagabond and wandering sense encased in the etymology of planet (from Greek “I wander about”—as opposed to the belief in the fixed nature of...

    • 10 Babel Hustle and Flow
      (pp. 226-243)

      In his essay “Our Homeland, the Text” George Steiner identifies the “Adamic circumstance” with “a state of linguistic tautology” deployed over “a lasting present.” So, on such strangely pleasured bynomosor law-grounded homeland, “things were as Adam named and said them to be. Word and world were one”—and upon such grounds for stasis a peace of “perfect contentment” locks in: “there is no summons to remembrance” as time flattens out with no wrinkles and “the present tense of the verb is also that of the perfect tomorrow.” But then comes “the Fall of Man” and human speech gains...

    • 11 Discordance
      (pp. 244-266)

      Proof of discordance or something far worse is business as usual in Joyce’s monster dream-book. In this passage (moving past historians and burned heretics and the universal language of sex and artificial instruments of lingual contact) we come to Cuba, or traces thereof, inserted in a French word for the occasionally intimate or privative human female part paired down to three letters from its English four, and from its masthead verb forto have knowledge of—so timely employed in the Bible whenever shameful parts mate for purposes at times risky if not downright fatal. As usual, Ronald McHugh’s annotations...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 267-276)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-286)
  12. Index
    (pp. 287-296)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 297-298)