Revolution in the Revolution

May 6, 2015

Revolution in the Revolution (on the Havana Biennial in view of the persecutions unleased against artistic dissidence)

I'm not sure that the word "boycott" is the word that best describes my particular position on the Havana Biennial. I haven't asked anything of anyone in relation to this subject—except the Biennial itself, of course, with the naive assumption that it would take on an elemental defense of liberties both artistic and civil. To ask the impossible (May 68) is once again an act of political—and poetic—realism. 

That's my conviction, but not a decree that I feel the need to impose on others, who will have different ideas about how to best advance the noble cause. I simply assumed a personal stance, seeking ethical coherence with some essential principles that I believe should also take root in aesthetic praxis.  

In short, it infuriates me to receive an invitation to the Havana Biennial's theoretical forum at the precise moment when the entities responsible for that gathering are participating in the general repression of dissident thought and praxis in Cuba. The idea of a space with utopian inclinations in an institution that is tied to—and dependent on—a totalitarian State doesn't seem sustainable to me. If some promise of autonomy was maintained during its first iterations, this has been disappearing on every front—including the gradual marginalization of those who conceived of the Biennial in the first place.

But all of this was foreseeable: under the rubric of the struggle against capital, the capitalism of the State (otherwise known as "communism") is really trying to legitimize its fight to the death against any glimmer of a civil society that is the primary foundation of the democratic project.

Examples of the repressive, counterrevolutionary core of the so-called "Cuban revolution" abound everywhere. But as I pointed out in my letter to Dannys Montes de Oca, one of its paradigmatic manifestations can be found in the persecution waged against creator Tania Bruguera, imprisoned three times in little more than 24 hours and subjected to a Kafkaesque process in which even obtaining legal counsel becomes an ordeal. ("Kafka was a realist then," Lukacs supposedly said, invoking the Jewish writer after suffering first-hand the absurdities of the Stalinism that the theorist himself had put to use in literary criticism.) We're observing a spectacle indicative of a giant apparatus of paranoid oppression, activated by nothing but the intent to grant a minute—sixty seconds—of freedom of expression to those people who aspire to be citizens. As an artistic action, precisely. 

It's a paradox that spokespeople for the powers that be and for Power attempt to denounce such a slight undertaking, categorizing it as too political or too artistic (in the sense of its promoting a career on the international scene). A few decades ago the Castro regime generated manifestos in which the "Cuban revolution" was declared to be the primary cultural achievement of that ill-fated nation (which is also ours). In those terms, Bruguera—and she's not alone—finds herself in radical consonance with the ideals that so deeply inspired us. 

First person plural: for years we have tried to contribute to the critical reconstruction of the left, liberating it from the cursed inheritance of demagogic caudillismos that diminish everything, particularly language itself. Symbolic misappropriation is one of the most ominous signs of these times, and we should fight it until the end. Even if it turns out, perhaps, that the battle has already been lost.

Themes too difficult to elaborate here: I refer to the extensive portfolio on these matters compiled by Ticio Escobar, Gabriel Peluffo and myself in issue nine of the magazine Errata#.  Given the logic of those reflections it is important to me to support, by any means possible, the admirable act of civic and artistic courage undertaken by Tania. A mere triggering, but one with vast consequences: including making the Cuban State her accomplice as co-author of the work, while forcing it to reveal its fascist nature.

And degrading: the continual effort to distort a reclamation of basic liberties by defaming Bruguera personally is both disgraceful and humiliating—as well as outrageous. A slanderous campaign was undertaken, generated by the same authorities that organize the Havana Biennial and who fail to realize their basic contradiction. Tania could be a demon or a saint, and that wouldn't take away one bit from the success and integrity of her public, political, and poetic call for a minute of non-silence. 

Sorrow, finally, that of our generation, forced by history to expend its youth in arduous resistance against the dictatorships of the right. And now, approaching old age, called by conscience to resist, with full militancy, the dictatorships of the left: those who have appropriated our highest ideals in order to keep themselves in power and impose upon us the most shameful systems.

The current revolutionary task is to redeem the word "revolutionary" from any oppressive and totalitarian connotation whatsoever. There's a romantic deed. And a leftist one.     

And one of grave consequence: I see no possible ethical horizon for the Latin American left in the absence of a profound break with the tyrannies of Cuba and Venezuela.

There is no liberation without liberty.

Revolution in the revolution.  (pace Régis Debray).


The author did not translate this text.