Humanism and Paideia

The Origins of Paideia

Proyecto Paideia, which I briefly described in chapter 2, was one of the eighties cultural projects that showed how the children of the revolution turned against their revolutionary progenitors. This period was defined by a shift in the cultural dynamics between intellectuals and the state. For the first time, the older generations were no longer interpellated by cultural processes. Younger generations took up the baton and became the crusaders of cultural opposition. The belief that processes similar to perestroika and glasnost could occur on the island led intellectuals to hope for changes in the cultural arena. Inspired by this sense of hope, a large group of intellectuals created Paideia, a project for cultural reform that, while remaining loyal to the revolution’s emancipatory project, asked for more intellectual independence. Inspired by the Gramscian vision of the intellectual’s active political role, these intellectuals proposed more involvement in cultural decision making and more ideological independence. How did Paideia come together as a group?2 It is important to note that information about this group is scarce, and the activities of its members are mostly undocumented. The main source of information comes from a special issue about Paideia edited by Los Angeles-based Cuban poet Nestor Diaz de Villegas for Cubista online magazine. The issue includes critical accounts by the authors themselves, as well as scanned copies of some of the group’s documents and letters. In his book Proyectos poeticos en Cuba 1959-2000. Algunos cambios formales y tematicos (Cuban Poetic Projects 1959-2000: Some Formal and Thematic Changes), Spanish scholar Jorge Cabezas Miranda has done a thorough and systematic work by processing all these documents, and including some additional interviews with the writers. In what follows, I have tried to reconstruct the evanescent history of a group whose intellectual and political aspirations, partly censored, partly unrecorded, were disavowed by some of its members. This disavowal, more than any other active form of historical erasure, is the main reason for the group’s having fallen into undeserved oblivion.3

The project, first called Grupo Espirajira, was first conceived in 1986, when it was immediately opposed by cultural officials in charge of neutralizing intellectual autonomy. The earliest document of the group is “Paideia: Proyecto General de Action Cultural,” a December 1988 unsigned manifesto expressing the desire to create an interdisciplinary cultural program with two different lines of inquiry: artistic creation and theoretical investigation.

Paideia se define como Proyecto General de Accion Cultural dirigido al uso de las Instituciones sobre la base de un programa unico e integrado. Dicho programa establece dos direcciones basicas de trabajo, orientadas a la creation artistica (literaria, plastica, cinematografica) y a la investigation teorica (estetica, semiotica, cientificoliteraria y cinematografica) y organizadas, respectivamente en dos Talleres: Poesis y Logos.

[Paideia is defined as a General Project of Cultural Action and is based on a unique and integrated program for the Institutions.

The program establishes two basic working areas, organized in two separate workshops: one directed toward the artistic creation (literary, artistic, cinematographic), the other toward theoretical research (aesthetic, semiotic, scientific and literary, and cinematographic). Each workshop is to be respectively called Poesis and Logos.] (Proyecto Paideia 1988)

Paideia’s goal was to obtain an institutional space to organize debates, workshops, and a series of lectures, which would end up being the Centro Cultural Alejo Carpentier.4 According to Fowler, it all began at Reina Maria Rodrigueze’s house with an informal meeting of young writers including Rolando Prats Paez, Ernesto Hernandez Busto, Radames Molina, Fowler himself, and Rodriguez (Fowler 2008). Before this, Rodriguez and Prats had organized a project with the same name, Paideia, but a very different focus, a creative and literary emphasis rather than the later project’s stress on political and cultural reform (Real Arcia 2011). The idea for the first project was to create a television series about the lives and works of young Cuban artists. The purpose was to desacralize the intellectual ivy tower, to which end the group filmed television documentaries that were subsequently lost.

The definitive Paideia project began its cultural activities on February 16, 1989, at the Centro Cultural Alejo Carpentier. Nine days later, Rodriguez and Prats wrote “iQue es el Proyecto Paideia?” (“What Is the Paideia Project?”), a mission statement of their activities at the Carpentier.5 There is actually an original formulation of the project dating from the month of December 1988, and the aforementioned version from 1989, goes through several revisions until the fifth version of October 19, 1989, entitled “Paideia V. Proyecto de promotion, critica e investigation de la cultura” (“Paideia V. Critical, Promotional and Research Projects of Culture”) (Proyecto Paideia 1989a).6 It is important to note that Paideia’s cultural project always defined itself as a socialist program. As we will see, however, Paideia’s socialism veered away from the Cuban hegemonic ideology. From February through July 1989, Paideia organized multiple conferences at the Carpentier, where its members discovered European post-Marxism. For example, they were introduced to the work of Louis Althusser, and several philosophers and historians, including Rafael Rojas and Emilio Ichikawa Morin, lectured about structuralism and Marxism. According to Pedro Marques de Armas, the meetings were infiltrated early on by members of the Union de Jovenes Comunistas (UJC) as well as by hardliners from Asociacion Hermanos Saiz (AHS). The tension rose even more when Paideia members found out that the center had closed its doors to them. In July 1989 Paideia held its last “taller” at the Carpentier. The closure of the center to Paideia’s activities prompted the August 4 meeting at the Carpentier, where the organizers read a version of the Paideia project. A few months later, on October 19, and as a result of the outcome of that meeting, they would draft “Paideia V” (Proyecto Paideia 1989c). It is important to note that the document created a big controversy among the artists present at the meeting, especially due to the introduction’s provocative tone. As a result, the document was approved by consensus without the introduction, which was, among other things, a denunciation of cultural censorship. This was not the only case of censorship, as the state at that time was also silencing visual artists with art exhibit closures, including that of the September 1988 Castillo de la Fuerza exhibition. The introduction establishes the ideological position of the signatories of Paideia in nine different points. It first calls for an analysis of the revolutionary cultural policies with an understanding that the revolution should be taken as a process in constant evolution. The second point demands that the state recognize the organic role of intellectuals, and the third and fourth points disagree with the identification between political power and intellectuals, and the latter with the people. In the following point, the introduction calls for a notion of culture understood in its multiplicity. The final points criticize the reductive use of the popular, the ideological fiction of the New Man, and the teleological understanding of history. Finally, the document also asks for a dialectical understanding of the relationship between art and ideology. With the help of Fowler, by then vice president of the AHS, the Paideia leaders were able to discuss their project again with cultural officials, including Hart.

These discussions, unfortunately, became acrimonious, and the effort failed to win the support of many members of the AHS. Cultural officials regretted their initial approval of the project, and Paideia did not even win the support of the UJC, whose leaders did not agree with the letter. Unable to do anything to convince either of the sides to change its views, Fowler left the AHS and Paideia. He also disagreed with the group’s treatment of members with different opinions. Antonio Jose Ponte, for instance, was ostracized for not agreeing with Paideia’s cultural tenets (Fowler 2008). Following Raul Castro’s “Llamamiento al IV Congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba,” the group wrote the “Tesis de Mayo,” an undated document that Jorge Cabezas sees as a response to that political event, and which was drafted between March and May (Cabezas 2012, 236).7 According to Cabezas, in the “Tesis” members of the group “invoke the distinctive signs of their generation, to which different young artists of the period subscribe, including humanism, the ethics of dialogue, pluralism, the democratization of society, and the revitalization of culture” (ibid.). Paideia became increasingly political until in 1991 it renamed itself Tercera Option (Third Option), led by Prats, Cesar Mora, and Omar Perez. In a new declaration in 1992, Prats insisted that this group had never been a political party but was rather “an independent movement of opinion with socialist roots”8 (Prats 1992).

The rest of the group dissolved in 1992 as pressures against it increased. The government was not intent on giving intellectuals any autonomy. After Paideia’s disintegration, former members decided to move the debates from the public arena into their private homes, where participants mostly studied and discussed philosophy. Rodriguez recounts how the group began meeting regularly in the Almendares Park offices of the magazine El Caiman Barbudo (The Bearded Alligator) until it closed in the late eighties (Real Arcia 2011).9 They also gathered at the house of Ernesto Hernandez Busto to discuss critical theory and philosophy and organize workshops that ranged from pre-Socratic philosophy to poststructuralism. Some examples were Marques de Armas’s lecture on the Generation of 1927 and Rojas’s talk on Jose Ortega y Gasset. Hernandez Busto, de la Nuez, Rojas, and many others left the country, leaving only a few members on the island (among them Atilio Caballero, Abelardo Mena, Ponte, Fowler, and Rodriguez).

 
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