Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Kingdom of That World, Carpentier, and the Haitian Problem in Cuban Culture

Literature does not determine the cosmology —as a hermeneutic— of a culture, but projects it into its specialization; because its intermediate status, in the economic structure of society, provides it with the resources to do so. It doesn’t make this determination precisely because this specialization, in which it distances itself from the existential priorities of culture; which, stablished by the primary needs of the people, are not politically specialized, but basic and proper to their popular base.

This determination is the made by the religious practices, because it is this what organizes this relationship with the reality; and just to the extent that it specializes politically, as an intellectual class, it would also lose this capacity. That popular base is ultimately what creates capital, as the set of resources with which that culture develops; and this is why, as it specialized as a political state, it loses this immediate relation to reality; and with it, its ability to reflect it above his political projections, as his own existential necessity.

That is why literature can explain, as anthropology, the understanding of special phenomena by culture; and in the case of Cuba, both the complexity of its racism and —for example— its perception of the Haitian problem. In this sense, racial prejudice is given by the omnipresence of the Negro as a passive object of the interest of the white; who acting as an active subject will have the perception of it, on his enlightened and modern parameters of rationality.

That is logical, if American societies in general are modern, and achieve maturity at the height of the Enlightenment; making the critical artificiality of rationalism and its romantic contradiction its very nature, as the culture. This allows the perverse comprehension of the Haitian question in Cuba, even as an anthropological value; as shown by Alejo Carpentier with his crude reductions —also for example— in The Kingdom of This World.

Obviously, as art, Carpentier only reflects the perception of the problem by Cuban culture, it does not determine it; but with a distancing that is not found in The Age of Enlightenment, but relatively in The Resource of Method; as in The Lost Steps, with its reduction of the indigenous to a savage goodness, from his hyper-rationality. The good savage is a recurring theme in modern aesthetics and obeys an intuition about transcendentalism; but only as a dialectical —not trialectic— contradiction of rationalist insufficiency, since Romanticism.

This does not allow an effective understanding of reality, no matter that transcendentalism, which is so Kantian; because it is actually an immanentist reduction, based on the conceptual nature of thought as an absolute value. Carpentier also has that romantic intuition, rescued by the Surrealist revolution —from Romanticism— as a new convention on art; which, by emphasizing its reflexive capacity, always ends up subordinating it to a discursive function, because of that conventionality.

That is why, more than conventional as enlightened, Carpentier is contradictory, as well as Cuban; and that is why he explores in this same sense the transcendent exceptionality of marginality, as an incomprehensible (savage) power. Hence the certainly recurring figure of the old black man in Journey to the Seed, which explains the existential dilemma of The Lost Steps; but Carpentier – like Sartre – is a communist, and yields to the conventionalism of his enlightenment, disbelieving in the magical in The Kingdom of This World.

Remember how Carpentier ignores the complex process of Haiti, reducing it to the reign of Henry Christophe; treating him as buffoonery, after excluding the apotheosis of Loverture, the black Napoleon that Napoleon feared; and moving from MacKandal's failure as a leader, to the superficiality of the wife of the general delegated by France. The Kingdom of This World is a literary fiction, but it projects a special understanding of the conflict by the Cuban elite; which is important, because it refers to the perception of it by the Cuban culture in this intellectual elite that represents it.

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