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  • Otra vez Caliban/Encore Caliban:Adaptation, Translation, Americas Studies
  • Susan Gillman (bio)

It's thanks largely to Cuban critic Roberto Fernández Retamar, working in the 1970s under the auspices of the Casa de las Américas, that José Martí has taken his place at the headwaters of a still uncompleted revolutionary literary history of the Americas. On two occasions, one memorable, the other more or less forgotten, Fernández Retamar credited Martí, artist-activist and father of Cuban independence, with founding a dual hemispheric tradition of anticolonial and feminist activism that would not be recognized until much later. First is the well-known tradition of Caribbean adaptations of Shakespeare's The Tempest (1611) (a.k.a "the school of Caliban" or "the Age of Caliban"), identified with Aimé Césaire, George Lamming, and others writing in the 1960s, traced by Fernández Retamar to the year 1898, and heralded as originating with Martí. "What is our history, what is our culture, if not the history and culture of Caliban?" asks Fernández Retamar in his classic essay, "Caliban: Notes Toward a Discussion of Culture in Our America" (14).1 This is Martí's famous "Calibanesque vision of the culture we call 'Our America'" (Fernández Retamar, Caliban 20) [su vision calibanesca de la cultura de lo que llamó 'nuestra América' (Fernández Retamar, Todo 56)]. Second, the equally sweeping but less familiar Americas tradition originated with Fernández Retamar when he welcomed the arrival in 1973 of a new Cuban edition of [End Page 187] Martí's 1887 translation of Helen Hunt Jackson's popular novel of Indian reform, Ramona (1884). Marking the occasion with his own essay suggestively titled "On Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson and José Martí," Fernández Retamar celebrates the translation as the moment of emergence of a feminist literature of sentimental reform, inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Helen Hunt Jackson but extending to other foundational fictions of Latin America. It is a largely unrecognized tradition that demonstrates how "the struggle against the enslavement of blacks and against the brutal treatment of indigenous Americans . . . would be embodied, in our continent, in four estimable novels" by "four singular American women from the past century, [who] in differing ways, would denounce the most terrible aspects of the society in which they lived": "Sab (1841) by the Cuban Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda (1814–73) and Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) by the North American Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–96), . . . Ramona (1884) by the North American Helen Hunt Jackson (1830–85), and Birds Without a Nest [Aves sin nido] (1889) by the Peruvian Clorinda Matto de Turner (1854–1909)" (700).2 Fernández Retamar's Martí thus inaugurates a pair of transcultural—and transculturated—hemispheric traditions (traced to 1898 and centered around two founding texts, Fernández Retamar's "Caliban" and Martí's Ramona), neither of which would come into critical being until long after Martí's death.

Why was Martí necessary to Fernández Retamar's "invention of tradition"? Equally important, what kind of comparative literary history is produced by inventing a dual set of traditions that are neither equal nor equivalent?3 Looking back to 1898 marks a moment of transnational origin for the school of Caliban.4 This is the year of the Spanish-Cuban-American War and more broadly, according to Fernández Retamar, "it is 'ninety-eight'—the visible presence of North American imperialism in Latin America—already foretold by Martí, which informs the later work of someone like Darió or Rodó" (10). Both writers, known for influential Latin-American readings of The Tempest ( particularly Rodó, to whose 1900 Ariel I will return shortly), are "generally known by the vague name of modernistas," but they would be better named "ninety-eight": "not only a Spanish date that gives its name to a complex group of writers and thinkers of that country, but it is also, and perhaps most importantly, a Latin-American date that should serve to designate a no less complex group of writers and thinkers on this side of the Atlantic" (10). Thus is a date at once a name and a place (Spain, Latin America) that travels in multiple...


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