Gustavo PÉrez Firmat


My focus on Cuban literature is partly the result of limitations of space and competence; but it also stems from non-professional (if such there be) considerations. As a “native” Cuban who has spent all of his adult life away from the island, the notion of a “Cuban” voice is for me as alluring as it is problematic. A Cuban voice is what I wish I had, and what I may never have. In the essay that I quoted earlier, Jorge Mañach makes the striking observation that, in Cuba, the nativist project is beset by anxiety -- “las angustias a que todo nativismo se había de sentir vocado en nuestra isla” (p. 116). Mañach’s words, in which the vexing questions of voice and vocation converge, apply to my own situation. The constituent anxiety of Cuban criollism is all the more pronounced when, as in my case, the writer’s own standing as a criollo is uncertain. Contemplating Cuban culture at a distance -- geographically and linguistically -- I am myself an “impassioned spectator,” and thus an instance of Marinello’s notion of interested contemplation. One way in which I have tried to come to terms with this crux is by concluding my examination of critical criollism with a reading of Alejo Carpentier’s Los pasos perdidos (1953), a novel whose protagonist and narrator is a Cuban expatriate who lives in North America. Carpentier’s novel, an autobiographical memoir written in a language that cannot be Spanish but refuses to be English, summarizes the Cuban criollist enterprise as well as my own stake in the subject matter of this study.

While I was writing this book, it often occurred to me that its underlying theme was scriptive survival. My discussions of Fernando Ortiz or Nicolás Guillén or Eugenio Florit or Carlos Loveira are, in a deep sense, inquiries into how these authors survived as writers. For the criollist writer, this survival entailed a merging of his personal voice with the vox patriae; this kind of writer typically looked upon himself as a sort of bard, a translator of the nation’s muffled or inarticulate voice. He was -- or presumed to be -- a spokesman, a vocero. For me, this solution to the problem of scriptive survival clearly will not do; nonetheless, my desire to demonstrate the centrality of translation in Cuban criollist literature cannot but reflect an attempt to legitimize and place my own work. By trying to define the tone and timbre of a certain Cuban voice, I am trying also to define my own voice, to explore my own means and possibilities of survival as a writer, and even as a Cuban writer. It is not only the criollist author who, as Marinello puts it, exists through a language that is not his own. The fate of the Cuban writer, the feat of the Cuban writer, has always been to find himself in others’ words. Cuban voces: other voices. In translation, the Cuban writer finds, and keeps, his word.