Paideia: A Program for Cultural Politics.
Although Paideia did not identify with Guevara’s “New Man,” they fought to advance a revolutionary cultural program. Yet at the same time, and probably influenced by the market reforms of the early eighties, postmodernism found its way onto the island. During the second half of the eighties, Alberto Garrandes recalls, European works made their way into these writers’ hands one way or the other. They read and discussed works ranging on poststructuralism and post-Marxism, as well as by European authors who had barely circulated on the island (such as Paul Valery, Jean Genet, Franz Kafka, and Fernando Pessoa).
Disappointed by the literary and ideological narrowness of the state cultural institutions that had formed them, the members of Paideia wanted to create their own cultural space, semiautonomous from the state, for intellectual exchange and creation. Their program, however, also shared some characteristics with Guevarian precepts, especially the common goal to unite intellectual praxis and theory. Like the New Man, Paideia intellectuals were “art soldiers.” The revolution had taught them to consider culture as a key element for the ideological formation of citizens, and they used the same principle to propose a reform of the system that would open the public sphere: “Paideia es un proyecto abierto a la colaboracion y participacion activa de todas aquellas personas e instituciones de la cultura que hagan suyos su programa y sus propositos [Paideia is a project open to the collaboration and active participation of all people and cultural institutions that subscribe to its program and proposals] (Proyecto Paideia 1989a.) Although they questioned the Guevarian understanding of the New Man, their premises were as melancholic as Guevara’s had been. They no longer believed in the sixties differentiation between “bourgeois” culture and a materialist understanding of culture. But for them culture remained organically bound to the idea of civi- tas: “Conviccion de que nuestro sistema educacional se engana a si mismo si sustituye al hombre real por la ficcion ideologica del “hombre nuevo,” . . . se impone progresivamente otro metodo de creacion intelectual, ontologico, el cual basa su criterio dominante en el ser de la cultura, en contradiccion con el deber ser. . . . La epoca demostrativa de la cultura cubana ha caducado. Y de la caducidad al caracter conservador solo media la conciencia de un fin inminente [The conviction that our educational system is fooling itself if it replaces the real man [hombre real] with the ideological fiction of the ‘New Man,’ . . . another method of intellectual creation is progressively establishing itself, an ontological one that bases its dominant criterion in what culturally is, instead of what it should be. . . . The demonstrative era of Cuban culture is passed. And between its passing and conservatism the only mediator is the awareness of an imminent end]” (Proyecto Paideia 1989b).10 Culture was still understood as a political and transformative praxis: “Contribuir a superar el concepto de la cultura y, en particular, de la actividad estetica, como ‘actividad de tiempo libre’ . . . su penetracion mas organica en la actividad practico-transformadora, como componente esencial de la practica y no como dimension lud[i]c[r]a de la misma [To contribute to the concept of culture and, in particular, of aesthetic activity, as a ‘free-time activity’ . . . its more organic penetration into pratico-transformative activity, as an essential component of practice and not as a ludicrous dimension of the latter]” (Proyecto Paideia 1989b).
Official cultural policies were still based on Fidel Castro’s understanding of revolutionary art that he had discussed in his 1961 “Address to Intellectuals.” Indeed, culture minister Armando Hart had just defended Castro’s ideas during the UNEAC congress of 1988, the same year that Paideia emerged as a group:
Primero: hemos venido aplicando, de una manera consecuente, los principios enunciados en “Palabras a los intelectuales.” Desde luego, no nos debemos llamar a engano, hay que continuar pro- fundizando en ello. Segundo: el metodo de masas, presente en la sustancia del pensamiento de Fidel, se promovio ampliamente, lo cual facilito la accion cultural de las provincias y municipios de una forma y magnitud tales que, de hecho, se convirtio en un elemento innovador de enorme repercusion para el presente y el futuro.
[First, we have been applying, in a consistent manner, the principles articulated in “Address to Intellectuals.” Of course, we should not deceive ourselves, we must continue developing this. Second, the method of the masses, substantially present in Fidel’s thought, was widely promoted, thus facilitating the cultural action of the provinces and cities in such a way and to such a degree that, in fact, it has become an innovating element with enormous repercussions for the present and the future.] (Hart Davalos 1988, 1-2)11
Paideia was the first intellectual group to openly question the cultural politics in place since the early years of the revolution: “Inconformidad con el margen real de accion politica permitido a artistas e intelectuales dentro de los limites de lo que se considera ‘revolucionario’ [Disagreement with the real room for political action granted to artists and intellectuals within the scope of what is considered ‘revolutionary’]” (Proyecto Paideia 1989b). The group also rejected the socialist understanding of “art for the masses”: “Rechazo al uso reduccionista, paternalista y demagogico del concepto y de la imagen del ‘pueblo’ y sus aplicaciones al campo de la cultura (‘arte para el pueblo,’ ‘arte elitista,’ ‘gusto popular,’ ‘sensibilidad popular,’ etc.) [Rejection of the reductionist, paternalist, and demagogic use of the concept and image of the ‘people’ and its applications in the field of culture (‘art for the people,’ ‘elite art,’ ‘popular taste,’ ‘popular sensibility,’ etc.)]” (ibid.). For these intellectuals, culture was a praxis of emancipation. In other words, the project’s Gramscian mission was to redefine the ties between intellectuals and the state in a way that restored intellectuals’ autonomy. Given the important mediation between the state and cultural institutions in Cuba, this became a fundamental goal of the group. The project clearly sought to reform institutional cultural spaces from within.