Johannessen, Lene. “The Lonely Figure: Memory and Exile in Ana Menendez’s “In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 41.1 (2005): 54-68. Routledge, 15 Aug. 2006. Web. 5 Nov. 2013.


Johannessen covers the discussion of exile and figuration. She examines how the exile attempts to re-map his/her new place in order to orient him/herself, in order to understand a new place meaningfully. Johannessen expresses that writin gin exile is writing in extreme. Her essay explores two levels: figuration- metaphor and analogy, which are the master tropes; and the manner in which the exile attempts to understand and familiarize him/herself in a new land. The exile uses old knowledge and applies it to new, unknown world in order to place him/herself. Migration is never merely happy or not—literature, like actual experience, has a growing number of displacement stories. Migration follows a wide range of motivations. The difference between groups depends on motivation. Exile, for instance, is marked by forced banishment; emigration is a choice for a better life.

Ana Menendez’s stories speak in memory, which remembers what has been left behind. The essay states, “The title story “In Cuba I was a German Shepherd” allows a reading that lends ear to the voice of memory as it obsesses with the past” (Johannessen 55). This essay wants to look at how “this voice” [memory] configures the narrative and how memory shapes desire. Johannessen says she will use tropology (the figurative use of language), Bakhtinian architectuonics (triad of model of human psyche; I-for-myself; I-for-other; and I-for-me), and cognitive linguistics. All these fields deal with memory, orientation, and relationships.

Memory unites the dissimilar, while similarity unites what is not continuous in memory. Borrowing the idea from Dianne Thompson’s The Brothers Karamazov and the Poetics of Memory, this essay quotes: “the continuity of memory makes us unite what dissimilarity (spatio-temporal) might otherwise separate; similarity makes us unite what discontinuity in the memory might hold apart” (Thompson (3) qtd. in Johannessen 55). The essay goes on to say that writing in exile intensifies this “sensitivity to temporal and spatial complexities and contradictions embodied in all attempts at representation” (55). Writing magnifies the disjunction between “home” and “place”—writing turns to home in order to restore familiarity in memory (55). Writing in exile highlights what was and what is, and attempts to recover home through narrative, “in order to recreate and restore familiarity, if only its memory” (55). Therefore, exile writers attempt to hold on to memories and to write in order to familiarize themselves with the world.

This familiarization attempts to “orient” self in the world. Writing attempts to restore the old world from nostalgic memory: the writer’s attempt to understand a new place through familiarization happens through the use of metaphor and analogy, “ ‘the master tropes’of migration” (55). Since the exiled lives in a new, unknown world, the exile uses analogy and metaphor to familiarize him/herself—to map his/her new world, a way of understanding. One comes to know the world through language—figuration or mapping—the exile takes what he/she knows and connects that knowledge to things he/she does not know. This “figuration” results in mixing of culture and language. Memory recalls what has been left behind. This idea leads to the essay’s contention that “The title story “In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd” resonates powerfully with such compulsive retrospection, and allows a reading that lends ear to the voice of memory as it obsesses with the past” (55). This memory leads to exile’s desire.

Emigration leads to the need of making the unfamiliar and new into the familiar and understandable. The essay draws on cognitive linguistics to explain the idea of metaphorical mapping—the mapping of “source domains” that diverge from the “target domain.” The idea—from Heyden White and Antonio Barcelona—is that the exile projects old concepts on to new ones: “Language, custom, religion, and tradition undergo a certain degree of ‘figuration’ as they travel from one domain o another”—the two domains tend to blend (56). Migration parallels the idea of the “figuration process.”

The essay looks at Menendez’s stories, and it claims that the characters “and their relationship to the world display…a sensitivity to temporal disjunction and dislocation that challenges the coherence of the narrative’s inner space” (56). –plot summary   –focus on Maximo’s “nervous breakdown” (bottom 56-57).Looks at the park: essay claims that Domino Park becomes a separate entity of “American Miami” and acts as a “synecdoche of Cuba” (58). The park only matters to the Cuban immigrants who determined the “place” of the park, giving it meaning as they recreate a Cuban ritual. The Park, now—when Maximo visits it—has become gentrified and a tourist attraction. With the gentrification and touristification of the Park, the Park loses its synecdoche for the Cuabns (why? I don’t understand this logic?) The process works by taking something old but subordinate (Cuban Domino) and re-figuring it to match the new “thing” (America Miami). [An example is brujeira—where Cubans take an old, “pagan” religion and map it on to the new Catholic religion). The Park, however, has not followed these examples: “The park takes its cue, as it were, exclusively from what lies outside it” (58). The tour guide’s discourse objectifies Maximo and the Park, taking away the old Cubans agency in creating their own culture. [Again, I don’t agree—the Park, gentrified or not—arises out of Cuban culture, of bringing and introducing a Cuban ritual in to this space where only (mostly) Cubans over the age of 55 are allowed to participate. Objectification for tourist does not lead to inauthenticity of the ritual performed by the Domino players).

Maximo feels someone else’s will determining him “So even if the function of the park (as a site for playing domino) may not be basically altered from the point of view of the guide, the metaphorization it has been subjected to transforms it into a relic, an object for musuems, something that is lifeless” (59) – [Cubans who fled from Castro’s communism have always-already felt “someone else’s” will determining them].   The park attempts a one-to-one replacement that attempts to limit distance and past. [[I would argue no—that the Cubans who go play there KNOW that this park is a constructed space; however, as Raul says, they do not care. He embraces the spectacle. The Cubans know that this Park, in the middle of Miami, pales in comparison to what they had in Cuba—like most everything in Miami/America, none of it is as good as it was in Cuba.—‘eso no pasabar en Cuba]

Troping is a desire for replication not transformation; the exile space becomes itself the substitute for home. Johannssen claims that “Domino Park represented home with little regard for the new cultural domain in which it resided” (59) and that currently, the Park represents home as a constructed place, thus a caged zoo. Using cognitive linguistics, metaphor and metonymy, used to map knowledge to the unknown for understanding. Both, however, are different “Metonymy is [a] conceptual projection whereby one experiential domain (the target) is partially understood in terms of another experiential domain (source) included in the same common experiential domain” (Barcelona 4 qt. in Johannssen 60).

The essay relates memory to metonymy—metonymic memory selects what it remembers along continuous lines. For the exile, the idea of orientation does not involve making a ‘new home’—home is lost forever, and only lingers, frozen, in memory (60). Metaphor is not good for constituting the exile’s discourse “both because of its retrospective orientation, but also, and just as crucially, because the exile’s obsession is not only with memory but also oblivion” (60). Metonym is better since it “prefigures the exile’s mode of ordering” (60). The essay then looks at “In Cuba…”—stories about Cuba and past and follows two figurations: 1-similie—figure of despair of departure “roots dug in like fingernails in a good-bye” (Menedez 7). The 2nd– likens narrative to movement, where memory uses image of journey and space: “figuration is, however, inherently unstable, inaccurate, if for nothing else than the fact that the absence of figure does not exist” (61)—language opens up a gap between what is meant and what can be meant—this analysis sounds much like Derrida’s trace. The gap is itself a form, a “thing.” The figure that Maximo opens up is called “suspension” (61). Maximo’s memory illustrates memory and oblivion: memory connects him and separates him from his old home.

Maximo’s memories –his daydreams—become present in the figure of his wife. His memories, his daydreams, are a “synecdochical representation”, where parts (memory) stand in for the whole (Cuba). His memories stand in for that location, his home in Cuba. His memories represent how the exile occupies a certain place while remembering another place. This double creates a “discursive tension” that cause Maximo to “conflate and confuse” Cuban with Miami (62). Maximo thinks of his “other life” but that phrase is ambiguous—which is his other life? Johannssen wants to look at this tension—this suspension—and states that exile’s “double orientation” struggle for dominance; however, for Maximo, this “suspension” is neither Miami nor Cuba. Maximo is left without a place because he has no way to orient himself. He has no place from which to speak since he cannot reconcile his current place and his past; he is caught between place and time. (63).

Essay turns to joke, which functions along metonymic memory. The laughter directed at Anglo-American superiority and arrogance also pokes fun at Cuban “and his innocent provincialism in the face of the cosmopolitan new world he encounters” (65). He invests his naivety in the dignity. Essay says that he gets the laugh and “allows Maximo to escape his enclosure in a life lived elsewhere” (65). [I think this reading of the joke misses some nuances. I think that Maximo, a professor and well-read man in Cuba, knows that he is thought to be the provincial, poor man, and possibly uneducated man in the eyes of American society, and the joke is quite “literal”—in that new way literal means—in pointing out that Maximo was a German Shepherd in Cuba (a well respected professor), so the joke serves as a tragic reminder of his new place in America, in Miami, where he can no longer come off as a great and “pure breed”]