Perera, Jennifer Allantine. ““Only In Miami Is Cuba So Far Away”: The Politics Of Exile In Ana Menendez’s In Cuba I Was A German Shepherd.” Journal Of Postcolonial Writing 39.2 (2002): 8. Supplemental Index. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

This essay starts with the observation that Miami is close to Cuba and acts as a border town (that is also far away). Immigrants cross borders as do cultures (similar to Andeluza’s idea of border-crossing). Perera begins by relating an anecdote about touring Miami and Domino Park, the “quintessentially” Cuban Culture; she feels that the park and the Cuban domino players attempting to recreate their culture in Miami are contrived (which means forced, unnatural, artificial, etc). The men playing are just men playing—why does one assume the players are Cuban enacting their Cuban culture? She feels the players “perform” their culture. She returns with a camera and becomes more a part of the performance.

The park, on the corner of 8th street and 15th Ave., would be missed until 1976 when Miami’s government set aside money to revamp the park (in 1986, merchants complained about drug deals and crime in the area and commissioned to shut the park down; then in 1987, the park was redone—the park was closed for over a year from 1987 until 1988 when renovations finished and the park reopened).

The essay claims that the park’s name brings to mind layers of meaning: a space where Cubans play and provide tourist with cultural spectacle. This playing and providing spectacle raises questions, and the park’s name brings to mind questions of translation of experience.

The essay goes into Ana Menendez’s biography as a 1.5er (Gustavo Perez-Firmat’s term). The 1.5 gen’s relationship to Cuban culture gets mediated by familial memory: “with every retelling [memory/stories] create a greater distance” so that stories become more “imaginary than real” (10). Menendez tells stories of exiles who are trying to figure out, through memory and re-definition, the meaning of exiled Cubans (11). The stories represent fractured exiles relying on memory; the stories have themes of displacement, loneliness, and alienation: “An overriding theme is that of return, and the belief, at least for first generation exiles, that their stay in Miami is on transitional” (11). –A note on some of these claims—while there were some exiles who thought they would return, by the time of this story, I doubt very much that anyone still lingered to the idea of return. The essay also claims a tension between conservative Cubans and “disillusioned Castro Supporters”—which is just wrong. I don’t know if she means the Cubans—many of them—who initially supported Castro, who swore he would kick imperial forces out of Cuba (read: America) and bring back the constitution that Batista had left behind. Immediately after taking power, many people realized how Castro was communist and began to flee. And any Castro supports are still in Cuba fighting the “revolution” –the wording (of the essay) is sloppy and inaccurate.

Culture is based on the past in relation to a future yet to come; Cuban exiles feel as if they are in transition (with eye on going back to Cuba) so that their cultural investment is fragile. Cubans at the park know the original (cultural practices) that the park is based on, but they perform a “cultural translation” for those (tourist) who don’t know the original.

–The essay then quotes and summarizes the story extensively— Maximo thinks of return but only returns in his memories. Domino Park becomes a no man’s land so that Maximo’s identity “is constructed, (re)constructed, and lost in memory” (12). His memories are an act of “cultural recovery” and while this recovery happens in his (internalized) memories, the recovery “plays out”—happens through play and jokes both of which require an audience. The characters are aware of being watched; Maximo’s jokes about Cuba, his articulations of Cuban culture, experience, and his connection to the past becomes a double performance for his friends at the Domino table and for the tourist listening.

The joke represents a present and a constructed past. Jaunito (the mutt) reinvents his past and reimagines his identity (14). The joke undermines itself, however, because Jaunito is not a german shepherd, so the joke recalls Maximo’s “harsher reality” as a professor turned a server. The joke reveals the friends as (ARE) Cuban culture by allowing a performance for the tourist.

The essay then looks at the last story of the collection—but I am not writing on that, so I don’t “care.”

Maximo’s joke “demonstrates how painful the process of transplanting and translating oneself into another society and asserting a cultural identity can be” (16).

On a more specific literary interpretation:

Production and materialism:

For Marx, what sets humans apart from animals is history. We are real individuals, living with real material reality (which reflects the 18th primer). Furthermore, men are distinguished from animals in consciousness—when they begin to produce substances to live for themselves. We, humans, are distinguished because we produce ourselves: 1- in way we keep ourselves alive; 2-through sex, literally reproducing ourselves.

[side note: in terms of animal studies, these views are questionable. Animals have consciousness, produce means to live for themselves, keep themselves alive, and have sex to reproduce themselves. The argument might be made that Marxism can be applied to animals by analyzing animal’s base and superstructures since animals have rituals and “ideology” in a way, especially the more sophisticated primates and mammals]

Marx starts from material history—not ideas. [For example, texts, like everything else, are produced and determined by history and context, not freely shaped by ideas of an author. Those ideas an author has are shaped by his/her material reality and history]. Even the materiality of body affects the manner in which you think. If your body is being tortured, that will shape the way you think. If you are wearing certain clothing—fashionable clothing, tight clothing, comfortable clothing—will shape the way you think].

In terms of literary criticism: Some critics will look at author as if he/she didn’t exist in a certain historical moment. The critic examines the text in an idealist manner or non-materialist manner. Idealism—a way of thinking that divorces consciousness from history; 1-in the realm of which you fall down, scrape your knee, eat dinner, all of material history; 2- in the realm in which you think about this things (in 1) or imagine these things. Idealism believes these two points are separate.

Marxist critic believes, however, that an author is a product of his time and produced in a certain historical moment. The author, furthermore, is a producer of his time. An author takes raw materials (language, old texts, form, style, etc.) and will produce a story by transforming those material, creating a text. As in any production, a surplus remains that in Marxism is Signification: the text says more than the author meant to say because the text uses all these other voices, raw materials in its creation. Also, the text carries a tension between the author’s intention/meaning and the linguistic capacity of these other voices of the text.

A bourgeois critic thinks the author is to be found in the raw materials (the cotton) of the text, but a Marxist critic would say that the tension needs examination. The text becomes fissured, decentered. The text’s historical time dictates what the text can say so that there are certain things the text cannot say or even think. For a Marxist literary critic, the questions to explore are what is impossible for the text to say? What couldn’t the author say because of ideology? How does the text perform society?

Richard Rodriguez deftly captures the experience of growing up between cultures. Reading about his childhood, I felt a great affinity with many of the struggles he went through, while also realizing the stark differences, which reflects what this book manages well: tension.

Rodriguez establishes a tension between his private and public life and the manner in which his education blurred that line, separating him from his family and his past. He realizes that his ability to write an autobiography in this essay format for the “gringos,” he reveals his rupture from his past: “In singing the praise of my lower-class past, I remind myself of my separation from that past, bring memory to silence” (6). Rodriguez explores his education in order to discern his alienation from his family, a result of mixing private and public selves, represented in language.

As a child growing up, he spoke a private language with his family, Spanish; opposed to his public language, the language, English, he learned in school. This tension runs throughout the book, even when he explores the tension in the old, Latin Catholic mass–a private experience between the individual and God– and the new liturgy in English with the hand shaking and the congregation pronouncing the prayers with the priest– a communal experience.

Ultimately, though, the desire for authority, represented in the old mass, and his views on affirmative action, while thought provoking, slow down the narrative essays and present a Rodriguez cut off from his past (something he readily admits), ultra conservative, and at times, pedantically pretentious.

Rather than feel too privileged and over-educated to relate to the less privileged, Rodriguez might find that empathy and imagination, two essentials for any writer, might take him a long way. While I respect his acknowledgment of never being able to relate to poor migrant workers, he might empathize more and find ways to relate and help the less fortunate. At the same time, I can also respect how he doesn’t offer any concrete solutions to complicated problems.

The following are some ideas I typed up while trying to study for a mid-term exam, but I ran out of ideas. However, I think this is a good start for a loner paper:

In the 16th century, Copernicus decentered the earth. However, that was just the beginning of taking man’s narcissistic attitude away. Darwin discovered that human were not the divine creations of God but rather evolved through natural selection, and if that were not unsettling enough, Freud discovers that Humans do not have control over their own minds. With these discoveries, civilization was beginning to question the concept of an all caring God watching over humanity, and this was only excaberated when the first World War broke out. Civilization began to have fears that the sun would burn out and that the world was coing to an end, and they were beginning to think that there was no God to care.

This pessimism was seen before 1914, though, when Nietzsche declared the death of God in 1883. Nietzsche’s criticism extends beyond that of Christian morality and includes passionless atheism as well. Nietzsche was trying to convey that Christian morality no longer had a hold on Western culture; this attitude towards Christian values appears throughout modernist writing in Christian writers, such as Eliot (“The Waste Land”); in atheist writer’s, such as Conrad; and in agnostic writers, such as Yeats (“the Second Coming”). Modernist writers were dealing with this death of God (of Christain morality guiding Western attitudes about good and evil in their writings. I would argue that all the writers we have read are writing about this loss of spirituality and God in some way; furthermore, these writers are conveying how it is the spiritual Christians, imposing their morality, who have killed God, colonized people, and engaged in senseless war.

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness has a subtle critique of Western Christian values inferred behind the critique of imperialism. If God is supposed to be “the light,” then one can read Conrad’s darkness as the light of God that has gone out. In an inversion of Western values, darkness comes to native people when colonizers bring their light. The frame narrator of the story describes the explorers as, “bearers of a spark from the sacred fire” (67). As the story will show, most of these bearers of the sacred fire will use the fire to burn down the native civilization that is colonized.

There is a sense of Marlowe being equated to an inverse fallen Adam. Marlowe begins his story by stating how his experience can be seen as “…throw[ing] a kind of light on everything about [him]” (70). Knowledge is usually equated with light, but it is with knowledge that Adam is divorced from the light of God; in Marlowe’s case, this knowledge (that takes him out of Eden), actually makes him more ethical because he is now outside of the constrains, that is the demands, of bringing the scared fire to the “savages” who don’t know better. Marlowe’s light is the knowledge of the horrors of imperialism. To further extend this Adam/Marlowe metaphor, Marlowe is tempted by the river that looks like a snake that charms him. Marlowe’s “fall,” like Adams, is dependent on a charming snake. Tempted by the snake he goes to find knowledge, but Marlowe’s knowledge will be that the scared fire makes “civilized” men savages. In fact, Marlowe is equated with a Buddha, an eastern symbol of values. Furthermore, when Marlowe is at his aunt’s before leaving, he says that he was supposed to be an “emissary of light;” but then as he leaves his aunt’s with this knowledge, he says he feels himself an imposter (77). Marlowe feels like an imposter because he does not want to civilize “savages” by bringing them the light of God, but rather, he wants to, like a belated Adam, explore the darkness.

Marlowe foreshadows Kurtz at the beginning of his story when he describes the inland post of the jungle as “utter savagery.” But is it the jungle that is savage, or is it these inland posts, specifically, that are savage? That is to say, when man has to confront the rules of God without society to restrain him, man’s savagery is unleashed. In this case, it is not that “without God, all is permissible” but rather that “with God, all is permissible.” With God, man has rules he knows he is breaking, with God, man knows that all he has to do is ask for forgiveness, with God, man has a ready excuse for savagery: his savagery is a result of being away from God. This seems to be Kurtz’s excuse. This seems to be the excuse of England who sets up post in order to fulfill God’s plan “for humanizing, improving, [and] instructing” (104).

However, looking at the way the “civilized” act in comparison with the “savage,” one can infer that Conrad is commenting on the savagery of colonization, which in turn, is a critique of Christian morality. It is the European Christians who chain the savage people in a line by the neck, and which leads Marlowe to call the imperialist devils (82). Marlowe sees the horror of this treatment, and one gets a sense of Marlowe descending into a hell: “Instead of going up, I turned and descended to the left” (82), which appears to be a reference to Dante’s descent into hell (usually turning to the left), but this is a hell that has been created by the civilized Christians. This contrast is further seen in Conrad’s treatment of the cannibals. Unlike the Christians who treat the savages like animals, the cannibals (without God to tell them) know not to eat the crew of Marlowe’s ship, even though they are starving (115-116)).

Conrad uses Kurtz to epitomize European Christian values that lead to the death of God. Before Marlowe meets Kurtz, Kurtz is described as a special being. Furthermore, Marlowe describes Kurtz in language that sounds like someone trying to explain the story of God: Kurtz was “just a word,” Marlowe does not see the man in the name, Marlowe describes how it is impossible to convey the idea of Kurtz. Marlowe goes on to describe how Kurtz is present in his words, a gift only a God can have because words never have fully present meaning. For Kurtz, though, his ability to talk carried a real presence. Furthermore, in describing Kurtz, Marlowe says “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz” (127). Although the office for the suppression of savage customs entrusted Kurtz to write a report on the savages, it is Kurtz, and his European-ness, that becomes a savage while the savages, without God, know right from wrong. The savages only become evil and begin to rob and kill each other when Kurtz takes over and sets himself up as a god.

It is in this inversion in which Marlowe, without God, and the savages, also without God, are the moral ones of the story. This is Conrad’s critique of Europe’s idea of God and Christian morality. It is this morality that leads to imperialism and treating “savages” like animals and leads to the First World War.

I don’t have much to say other than I loved reading this selection from the new Norton Anthology. G and G perform what they preach in “Introduction: Rhizome” from A Thousand Plateaus, a book I feel I must read now.

The challenge the conventional ideas of ideas, of thinking, of books and philosophy: “We will never ask what a book means, as signified and signifier; we will not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it functions with…” (1455). This is the direction I see myself going towards more and more; that is, not looking for meanins but rather trying to understand how things mean. How does a book create meaning? How does society impose its meanings?

G and G challenge the notion of the book in the Western tradition. The book is like a root (the image of logos as a root)– and to go off on an aside here for a minute– I wonder (and I’m sure this is out there somewhere) what G and G would think of Heidegger’s conception of philosophy since he wanted to rethink philosophy not from the tree of logos or the roots but from the very ground from which the logos tree springs. In that sense, I’m sure the would like how Heidegger was challenging accepted modes of thought in philosophy; although, I’m sure they would have qualms with how he reordered philosophy and still found a center from which to spring. However, Heidegger is concerned with Be-coming– Dasien is, after all, the movement of Be-ing. In that sense, I believe that Heidegger can be seen as rhizomic writing. Yet again, though, G and G don’t want a beginning; they want “…neither beginning nor end, but always a middle…” (1458).

Mostly, I like their prose; the way they play with language and with the structure of logical thought: “We are writing this book as a rhizome. It is composed of plateaus. We have given it a circular form, but only for laughs” (1459).

This “logic” outlined in G and G, I believe can be seen in the works of early Palahiuk, in Joyce, in Danielewski, and with philosophers that perform in their text, such as Derrida or Ciouxous.

On Zizek’s “Courtly Love, or, Woman as Thing”

Zizek sets out to explore the notion of “courtly love” and claims that it is only in the last century, with the emergence of masochism and the masochistic couples that we can begin to “grasp the libidinal economy of courtly love” (2407).

Zizek outlines the first problem of looking at courtly love, which is that the Lady is idealized; the woman is rasied to a sublime, radical Otherness, which makes her Freud’s uncanny ‘Das Ding’ (the Thing) and which he suggest is an example of Lacan’s Real—that is a thing which resist articulation and being placed in the symbolic order (it is unknowable). Furthermore, the Lady-Thing is just a mirror reflecting the narcissistic ideal projection of the subject.

The second problem with looking at courtly love is that courtly love has nothing to do with passion; it is just a “fictional formula” where the man pretends “as if” the Lady is inaccessible (2409). Zizek links this idea with a masochistic relationship, where the couple where the couple pretends “as if” the masochist has no power; although, it is the masochist who dictates the contract of the relationship. This relationship is a busness exchange (not psychological).

The principle mistake to avoid, Zizek posits, is reducing this inaccessibility to a mere “dialectic of desire and prohibition” (2412). Zizek describes how in courtly love the man creates obstacles and barriers around the Lady; as the Real, the only way to approach the Lady is at an angle, indirectly. This is Lacanian sublimation, where an everyday object is raised to impossible Thing. To reduce the rest of the argument into a concise summary: the subject claims to want to sleep with the womean, but in reality, he is scared and so creates barriers of postponement. The Lady, like the phallus, becomes a symbol for both enjoyment and for castration (2415).

Then by looking at a number of examples (most prominently The Crying Game), Zizek elucidates how true love is ‘the stretching out of the hand, “towards the loving one and to ‘return love’” (2421).

Zizek uses these examples to make his argument: that courtly love (and any conception of “love”) only reinforces this imbalance in the sexes, and it is only in the masochist relationship that a true symmetry in a relationship can be achieved.

Reading Gilbert and Gubar this week, I see ways to inform a reading of Invisible Monsters that I want to attempt as soon as I get more time. G & G wonder how a woman can write in a patriarchal world, which can be mirrored in Palahniuk’s novel where characters seek a way to undermine (“write”) in a world that defines them.

G and G reevaluate Bloom’s “anxiety of influence” and question the woman’s role in this theory. The influence appears to always be a male poet’s anxiety over his male predecessor, so then, what happens to woman writers? For G and F the situation, “cannot be simply reversed or inverted in order to account for the situation of a woman writer” (1929). Rather the woman writer must fight how other writers (male) have “read” women.

It is not a fight with the female precursor that G and G posit, but rather that women writers can look at predecessors to see that it (writing) can be done, even in a male dominated world. The go on to explain how women were always looking for ways to break into a male dominated profession, and that if women today can feel freer about writing, it is only because their mother figures struggled to change the system.

What interest me, though, is the second half of the essay where G and G posit that women faced actual pyshical manifestation of illnesses because of the constraints of a patraicharial soceity imposing oder on them: “It is debilitating to be any woman in a society where women are warned that if they do not behave like angels they must be monsters” (1932). It is socialization in a male-centric world that cause women to become ill.

I believe this is what is playing out in Invisible Monsters where Shannon, conditioned to be just a pretty face, a model, in order to radically break from the constructs of society (and possibly manifesting the disease that G and G discuss), decides to destroy her own face. Shannon says she felt like she was trapped in a beauty ghetto, unable to expand and grow but rather pigeon holed; can it be that this feeling arose because, as G and G point out, “Learning to become a beautiful object, the girl learns anxiety about–perhaps even loathing of–her own flesh. Peering obsessively into the real as well as metaphoric looking glasses that surround her, she desires literally to “reduce” her own body” (1933). Shannon, indeed, “reduces” her own body because of the anxiety she feels of the looking glass, and she does so radically.

By mutilating her face, Shannon nullifies the power given to her by patriarchal society. But what does this say about Brandy? I wonder if Brandy, then, doesn’t becomes a model for reversing the order, challenging the assumed patriarchal hierarchy in place? Brandy is a problamatic character here because he still has a penis, and as the one with the penis (and a voice), he is the one who gives the other characters a story to live by. Brandy is the manifestation of the Lacanian subject supposed to know. With his penis (his symbolic phallus of power), he wields his power but under the guise of a female (soon to become an actual male). Or can it be said that Brandy has a transgender/transexual is purposely complicated any easy definable category, as Brandy says she/he wants out of the labels.

Ugh–freaking grad school! Rather than explore this by reading Lacan and other femminist, I have to do homework and grade papers and quizes. But I will get back to this soon. I might use this line of reasoning when I present my paper in Illinois in April.