Memory and the Fantasy of Its Loss

In the poems of this generation, we find a great anxiety to decipher memory, simultaneously accompanied by the impossibility of approaching the past. In Marques de Armas’s “Leda,” the wife of Tyndareus and lover of Zeus also represents the mysterious and desired city of Havana before which others must metamorphose themselves, but which does not allow itself to be mastered. Like Leda, the city has been taken: “Rompo el aliento de los caballos briosos. / Rompo el pan, el ombligo.”18 And yet the poet finds himself before the inhabitants of a city that, like Leda, will not accept madness: “Temen las turbias galenas. / Temen mi alma que anilla los fulgores.”19 The poet thus withdraws, changing himself in turn into the island of forgetting: “Soy el ojo. / Acaso esta isla que piso sin memoria.”20 Cuba is an island whose memory does not exist for the youngest generations. In “Las palomas de mi madre” (“My Mother’s Doves”), the poet is also a being without memory: “Entonces soy un nino y lo confundo todo / o soy un rey que olvida”21 (1993, 15). The poet struggles between ignorance and conscious forgetting, a struggle associated with a profound sense of guilt for not having paid the debts of past mistakes. And there is no possibility of building a future because the past is an opaque zone. Marques de Armas’s work encloses itself circularly in “El avestruz y yo” (“The Ostrich and I”), a poem that reflects on the creation of historic memory. To this end, the poem deploys the tropology of the sacrifice of divine progeny. As in “Monologo de Augusto,” “El avestruz y yo” refers to the desire to flee the island and especially the desire to escape a history based on sacrifice: “Yo te lo pido, padre. / Vamos a la terraza a ver los barcos.”22 The hope remains that if flight from the island is possible, one will be able to create a different memory: “Dime si lo eterno no es un sueno—Dime si la memoria no es un dios, / el frio banco de remero, el remo roto.”23 Memory has been made into an elemental sacrifice as weighty as the Cross of Christ, which is why the historical being wonders, “/Por que ahora peso como la cruz que alguien puso en el poniente?”24 The historical being cannot conceive that a new history might emerge that would make us remember everything with nostalgia: “No vuelve la cancion. / No vuelve el pajaro de ozono. / Mi realidad no vuelve”25 (ibid., 23). As in Jorge Luis Borges’s El hacedor (The Maker, available in English as The Dreamtigers), in this poem, the poet realizes that there is no distinction between his own, subjective memory and the memory objectified by official history: “Ahora me cuesta ser el inventor de esta memoria.”26 And yet he continues to suffer at the thought that he cannot remember everything: “Como fugaron las primeras cosas al conocimiento”27 (ibid., 24). This is the reason for the poem’s ironic ending, in which the Maker wonders about the validity of his dream. Thus becomes obvious the confusion in Cuban historiography between utopia and the historical record, the narration of history and its possibilities. The narration of history is impossible because there is a void that cannot be filled.

This is also expressed in several poems by Antonio Jose Ponte, including “Antes de releer la Iliada” (“Before Rereading the Iliad”), in which, through another allegory from Greek mythico-literary history, we read of the unease caused by the inability to understand the tragedy that created the need to conquer Troy: “Dientes, huesos, cenizas, sal antigua: / yo busco un signo que aclare aquella historia”28 (1997, 39). If there is no memory, this is because a part of history has been forgotten or ignored. The poetry of this period by Marques de Armas and Flores, together with some of the poems and essays by Ponte and Jose Manuel Prieto, displays this restlessness with their alienation from the past. In some cases, such as that of Ponte, the writer chooses to rewrite “another” history, as happens for example with the other history of the Grupo Origenes, the history established in opposition to the myth of Origenes and published under the title El libro perdido de los origenistas (The Lost Book of the Origenistas). Marques de Armas also rewrote some important essays in which he revised the official reading of Pinera and Lezama, but it is poetry that best resists the assimilation of history. In the case of Los altos manicomios, this alienation prevents a relationship with the past, and thus also renders impossible a relationship with the present. The past constitutes itself as an object of desire, whose inaccessibility simultaneously limits access to the present. This creates a purely immanent situation in which what is most unreachable is also what one most longs for, and therefore in addition to being unable to attain what one desires, one also cannot distance oneself from it.29 For Marques de Armas, the present cannot emerge because, for this to be possible, the new historical era would have to emerge out of the spectralization of a preceding knowledge. As in the Lezamian gnoseological tradition, in Marques de Armas’s poetry it becomes obvious that new historical eras cannot be consolidated without the knowledge of preceding eras. If it could be named, this previous knowledge would remain as a site of mourning that could be resisted. If, however, the past cannot be named, the operation of mourning must be suspended. All that remains is an interminable agony caused by the open wound produced by the originary lack. Given this unnamed suffering, the fantasy of the impossibility of naming the past is created.

“La cancion de Visotski” (“Vysotsky’s Song”), is a poem where Emilio Garcia Montiel, who like many of his peers studied in the USSR in the mid- to late 1980s pays homage to “Fastidious Horses,” the song by Russian songwriter and poet Vladimir Vysotsky. In spite of his popularity, Vysotsky was critical of the Soviet regime, and “Fastidious Horses” is a clamor to freedom on which Garcia Montiel’s poem elaborates. In Vysotsky’s poem, the horses represent a life out of control that carries the subject, and for Garcia Montiel, the movement that impulses comes from a utopian dream that cannot be halted: “lo arrastran sus caballos/. . . . / solo al sueno obedecen [His horses drag him/. . . . / only to dreams do they obey]” (Ponte and Fowler 56-57). To the horses led by the utopian dream, Garcia Montiel opposes a horseman whose dream is a prosaic enjoyment of the passing moment: “su sueno/ es una hoguera al tanto de la noche [His dream/ is a bonfire up-to- date with the night]” (ibid., 57). The pace of history leads subjects through a life devoid of individual memory: “donde esta la memoria / donde esta el que va a ser y es inocente / del olvido que tramas al que fuiste / ^sera otra guerra y tu el que ya estas muerto?”30 (ibid.).

Juan Carlos Flores’s Los pajaros escritos is a collection of poems that also speaks out of a radical suffering that seems to be caused by the impossibility of reconciling oneself with the past. The line that gives the book its title refers to the Lezamian paradox defining writing as a force at once liberating and oppressive. A direct consequence of this idea is the creation of a means of escape that does not necessarily entail flight from the island. In “Dios y el paraiso” (“God and Paradise”), for example, we read of a world without hope because it has been abandoned by God. This world, whose inhabitants await the Apocalypse, can no longer recover the past. “Descendi a los helados tuneles de la memoria / solo una arana tejia y destejia un pano gris”31 (Flores 1994, 52). “El ojo de la aguja” (“The Eye of the Needle”) is a poem about travel, or rather about the impossibility of going through the eye of the needle—or the past—to get to a present. As in Marques de Armas’s “Monologo de Augusto,” the journey is the desired and the impossible, but also the unnecessary. In both poems history reveals itself to be implacable, as something against which it useless to struggle: “El tiempo es una larga cetreria / que hasta en la armadura del mejor caballero / deja grietas”32 (ibid., 52). The angel in Flores’s poem symbolizes the rejection and the impossibility of transmitting the legacy of the past: “El angel era tirando para el fondo, / extrana heredad la que me dieron.”33 The poem displays an absolute disdain for those who chose to have faith in the present’s course of history: “A los beatos cedo el sitio.”34 Nevertheless, Flores concludes with a hopeful force lacking in the poems of Marques de Armas: “Yo vine para sembrar tomillos en las frentes,”35 expressing a utopian personal mission (70). An angel also appears in “El guardian del trigal” (“The Guardian of the Cornfield”). This time the guardian angel is a mistreated being unable to fulfill his mission as messenger. The disruption between past and present makes the existence of bridges impossible: “En cada serenidad / hay un golpe anunciando la penultima calle / Si los puentes fueran / hoy no veriamos el rostro del angel maltratado.”36 Like “El ojo de la aguja,” this poem refers to a history that becomes misery: “quienes iban a incendiar las altas torres / siguen subiendo al pedestal minucias,”37 and the poem concludes with the same disdain for “beatos”: “Yo escupo el rostro de todas las comparsas”38 ( 37). In the “Apocalipsis segun San Juan” (“Apocalypse of John”), in contrast, the angel is the herald who comes to bring the utopian good news (82).

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