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Home arrow Language & Literature arrow Minima Cuba: Heretical Poetics and Power in Post-Soviet Cuba

The Law and the Absence of the Primordial Signifier

This unproductive economy is also a source of violence generated by the governmental rationality’s latest mechanisms of control. In Cuba we are witnessing simultaneous and apparently contradictory political and economic phenomena. If the arrival of the global market has put the island on the path toward economic liberalization, in the political arena the authoritarian model continues to reign. The great paradox is that the model of a society of control, generally associated with neoliberal economies and the utopian doctrine of laissez-faire, has been fundamental to the development of the regime’s authoritarianism, such that the new implementation of mechanisms of control has been gradually displacing the functional mechanisms of the disciplinary society. While the disciplinary society model exercises its authority over the body based on the sovereign’s prerogative over the right to life, the society of control exercises power based on a rationality that takes into account the population in its multiplicity, its opinions, its modes of behavior, its fears, and so on—all the factors, in other words, that can be controlled through education, political campaigns, or any other kind of state ideological apparatus (Deleuze 1992, 3-4). In the case that concerns us here, the model of sovereignty exercised as power of capture and subjection of life to political control is channeled through the social project of Alamar. In this sense, we can say that for the social unconscious Alamar is one of the utopian projects of the building of the revolutionary nation, when in reality the effect it produces is precisely the opposite: the subjection to political control through a model that seems to leave human consciousness no kind of autonomy whatsoever.

This type of political rationality creates dehumanized, Kafkaesque subjectivity represented as the animalized and monstrous infrahumanity we see in the poem “La mofeta” (“The Skunk”): “Roedor de pequeno volumen, para protegerse de las agresiones de los diversos animales, de miembros y dientes mas poderosos que ella, despide un olor nauseabundo, debido a un curioso mecanismo glandular que se articula, en cuanto ella siente la proximidad de un asalto. / En el parque zoologico, carcel o manicomio donde los animales internados pugnan por un poco de espacio, sobre el cual depositar comidas y heces, aun por entre las areas destinadas a los mamiferos fuertes veo cru- zar a la mofeta, y siento envidia, yo, que con indiferencia he visto cruzar a esos autos que aqui llaman de lujo”38 (Flores 2003, 64). In this apocalyptic poem creatures are represented as numb and powerless beings. We are faced with what Agamben called bare life, that is, life that can be annihilated with impunity, because it is a life without value (Agamben 1998, 138). The poem ends by posing a false disjunction in a clearly ironic tone, proposing a choice between bare life and nothingness. Why do I refer to the other possibility as nothingness? Because the other possible form of life is that of the consumer, perhaps the communist of the future. And yet the poem clearly makes us understand that the freedom to consume either does not exist or simply does not matter. Apart from this life that does not exist, all that remains is bare life, which therefore is not a choice but an imponderable (since by definition bare life cannot be chosen).

I would like to follow this analysis of Flores’s work by returning to the question with which I began: Is the violence of this work a force immanent to the system that generates it and to the poetic representation of this system, or is there any possibility that its aesthetic and marginal representation might produce “an escape valve,” as “Visto desde el suelo” puts it: “ex-civilistas, lastre abajo, atraviesan la ley, buscando algun tubo de escape” (Flores 2009, 26).39 Can this law of subjection to political power be crossed through? The regime’s political crisis that resulted from the collapse of the socialist bloc in 1989 is characterized by not only economic debacle but also by the absolute loss of ideological referents. The government’s decision not to abandon the revolution’s socialist doctrine quickly comes into contradiction with Cuba’s penetration by global capitalism and with the regime’s gradual disideologization, as reflected in the constitutional changes of 1992. As I have argued, all this means is that at a certain point, socialism becomes an empty signifier that points to the lack of primordial signifier and thus to the existence of a law void of content. To understand this better, we could draw a parallel with psychotic pathology, since in both cases what in Lacanian terms we call the primordial signifier—that is, the law of the Father—is rejected, and as a result this law constitutes itself in turn as the sign of an absence. For the state, this absence is that of a distinct socialist ideology that could have adapted itself to the new economic situation that came into force at the beginning of the nineties, as had happened in the former Soviet Union, but that would not have entailed the loss of the nation. If there is no law, this means that there is no frame of reference enabling a hermeneutic operation of the situation of power. In other words, if there is no law, everything is subject to the most absolute arbitrariness. It is impossible to know when and where the violence of power begins or ends. It is impossible to know the limits of violence with respect to the text, as we see in “Totem,” the poem that opens Distintos modos de cavar un tunel:

B-U-E-Y/ En el centro del poema / comidos los bordes del poema / con ojos de buey mira a la realidad / desde el centro del poema. / “—Doctor, las huellas de sus patas por los surcos eran el poema, donde caia el agua de su nariz abrian sus dedos, sus cabezas las flores quemantes del poema—“ / B-U-E-Y / Su cansancio es pobtico / ya no se quiere levantar / no se quiere desposar / comidos los bordes del poema / con ojos de buey mira a la realidad / desde el centro del poema.40 (Flores 2003, 19)

The totem functions in this poem as the sacred law that in this case is the poem itself, writing itself. The ox is also the totem and writing is represented as bare life, as that which can be annihilated with impunity, because it is a life without value. Although Flores’s work takes the historical catastrophe as a point of departure, it lacks an ethical dimension. It is an aesthetics that thematizes the nonrepresentability of violence, as well as its own. Unlike Diaspora(s), Flores’s aesthetics does not seek to move us, and in this regard it has surpassed the vanguardist gesture of the former. Flores’s poetics point to a different understanding of the political, understood in its revolutionary rendition as the classical Schmittian antagonism between friends and enemies. This is precisely where the power of this literature resides.

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