Periodization

The book looks at the political rhetoric that constituted revolutionary power, and the ideological evolution that formed its hegemony from the sixties until the present. It does not cover all these decades, however, because the question that interests me involves the early revolutionary years and the decade that preceded socialism’s symbolic death. In that context, I am interested in looking at the first and last generation of revolutionary intellectuals, that is, the heroes who won the revolution, and the antiheroes who witnessed its withering. The first generation of intellectuals created the revolution’s utopian imaginary, and the last generation (the first intellectuals born within the revolution) questioned that utopia’s teleological aspect. Socialism’s withering symbolically begins in 1989 with the period of political and economic crisis resulting from the fall of the Soviet bloc, and the end of the economic ties between Cuba and the Soviet Union. The year 1989 marks the beginning of the so-called Periodo especial en tiempos de paz (Special Period in Times of Peace), an official euphemism pointing to the end of the Cold War, and to the beginning of a new stage in the teleological history of the Cuban Revolution. This new stage was perhaps considered as a hiatus in the construction of socialism, but it was never seen as socialism’s end. It was a period of profound economic crisis resulting in the partial and very slow economic reform of the last two decades. It is clear that both the symbolic death of socialism and the economic hardship initiated a new period of ideological and emotional convulsion, which is why most scholars rightly consider 1989 as the beginning of a new era deserving to be studied as a cohesive historical period.4 The fact that my study of the post-Soviet era begins in 1986 instead does not override or question the former periodization, because the notion of “periodization” itself is one that my book questions.

Too often, history has been analyzed in ways that seek only to rigidly periodize the past in support of an ideological agenda. Such studies have often limited themselves to debating and delineating the period itself. This is why I do not want to start a debate about whether the so-called post-Soviet era began in 1989 or in 1986, when Gorbachev announced the reforms of perestroika and glasnost, inaugurating the island’s partial capitalization.

Each “new” period has produced a discourse treating the past as “dead” while simultaneously dealing with a “past” already characterized by previous breaks. The break is thus the postulate of the interpretation. The problem with such method, as Michel de Certeau points out, is that the work determined by such a break is voluntaristic. This break selects between what can be “understood” and what can be forgotten to achieve the representation of a present intelligibility (de Certeau 1975, 10). In Cuba, state political rhetoric and its historical renderings provide a very good example of the type of historiography that I have just described. In other words, scholars have analyzed the Special Period as a historical event that created an epistemological break with the past, instead of taking into account that history is also a representation of a selective memorialization of the past that represses and silences social practices and ideas. The willingness to trace the symbolic nature of utopia throughout the years is what explains the leaps of time from the sixties to the nineties and the lack of chronological sequencing in the book’s structure.

 
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