History and Literature

Above all, language is matter; it is also what engenders discourse, and what concerns this book. Words, the building blocks of discourse, are held together by rhetorical figures, producing edifices that, in turn, create discursive imaginaries. Discourses do not stand alone, however, since they are deeply ingrained in historical facts that they in turn inform. Historical events and historical discourses are thus inextricably linked, though they are not deter?mined by each other. Instead, they are produced through uneven, loose, and unstable relationships. To say that history is a discourse, however, is not to claim that everything is fiction. Certainly, historical events and material conditions also exist that are bound together in complex webs of mutual determination and indetermination.

The historical referent, however, is not simply another text that can be subjected to hermeneutic scrutiny. It is, instead, history materialized as what Louis Althusser termed the “absent cause.” That is, grounding ourselves in a materialist conception of history, we postulate a system not as one in which the economic levels determine the composition of the different ideological structures but rather as one whose units are semiautonomous, not determined from the outside but with a causality that is both inherent and, nonetheless, absent (Althusser 1971, 186-89). History as absent cause, according to Althusser, is not teleological and has no concrete subject. Therefore, if history can only be considered as absent cause, it cannot be inscribed within the symbolic order and must belong to the order of the Real. History is thus configured as a process that resists symbolization, one we can only access through its textualization, in order to unravel its narrativ- ization through what Fredric Jameson has called the “political unconscious” (Jameson 1981, 35).

This book examines the political unconscious through a main focus on literature. I have just argued that literature, and art in general, are deeply ingrained in a temporal and political context, and this book does not ignore that fact. How then should we understand the complex relationship between literature and history? Is literature one more discourse, one more way of fictionalizing the world? Is it part of the world, or does it stand by itself, petrified in its own materiality? Literature has no goal other than itself, but it does not exist as an autonomous phenomenon. Literature is the creation of a phenomenological and intrinsically aesthetic rapport with the world, and as such it materializes as a mode of representation. Yet literature is not only an aesthetics, nor is it an anti-aesthetics. It is not a symptom of history, nor is it directly determined by it. As I have already argued, literature, or aesthetics, and history are necessary linked in complex and uneven relations that produce and inform each other. Perhaps then, one should ask not “what is literature?” but rather “why literature?” The book focuses on literature and art because, like trauma and utopia, they also approach the world with a language that defies a rational explanation. Literature is also key to understanding trauma and utopia because these two phenomena materialize in the world as artistic representations. That is, in Lacanian terms, trauma and utopia cannot be symbolized, but they come to pass as literary imaginaries masking the Real of our desire. In sum and above all, what matters is language.

Historical representations are part of the discursive strategies producing the context for literature’s very complex production. This book seeks therefore to understand contemporary Cuba by analyzing various representations of the world, among them literature and history. In the case of Cuba, in particular, official historical accounts have often been instrumental to politics. Historiography has ceased to be an inquiry into reality and has become instead an ideological discourse. These are the historical discourses that this book discusses, and revolutionary rhetoric is one of them. In this regard, this book argues that revolutionary rhetoric has always represented utopia as an emotional ethos more than as a clear political goal.

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