- José Martí and the Future of Cuban Nationalisms
In a book that analyzes competing interpretations of the writings and historical footprint of José Martí, Alfred López offers his own postmodern reading, which adds quotation marks around the revolutionary figure “Martí.” López emphasizes “ambivalence” and “instability” in the legacy to argue “that there is no central ‘Martí’ or Martían image that we can privilege above all others” (p. 32). In other words, we scholars do not have access to an original or definitive “Martí” and thus we are left with only a fleeting glimpse of what Martí might have been. The point here is to challenge authoritative interpretations, particularly those that invoke Martí to develop nationalist, governmental, and academic projects that may be at odds with the threads and contradictions revealed in Martí’s own body of writing.
Chapter 1 reviews how Martí has been appropriated for various versions of Cuban nationalism, on the island and in Miami. López contrasts Marxist interpretations with [End Page 140] what he sees as Martí’s “indeterminacy” and “lack of prescription.” For example, López reads a series of columns from 1886 to depict “Martí’s indecisiveness concerning the question of class struggle in the United States” (p. 15). Chapter 2 focuses on the iconography of Martí as deployed in various contexts: monuments throughout Cuba, including statues across the island; photos of Fidel Castro; the films of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea; and fiction by Oscar Hijuelos and Daína Chaviano. The third and final chapter skewers critics who have deployed Martí for critical approaches that are not particularly tied to Cuba or nationalism. Here the first academic target is hemispheric American studies, a comparative study that has drawn on Martí to illuminate U.S.-Latin American power relations and U.S. imperialism. Curiously, López focuses on Donald Pease, a critic not particularly active in hemispheric Americanist ranks, who has written about Martí from the vantage point of U.S. literary studies. The second target, global studies, represented in this case by the postcolonial critic Gayatri Spivak, also comes under attack for what López refers to as “interdisciplinary cross-dressing.”
The book’s conclusion, however, nods toward a view of reconciliation in Cuba, one that bypasses the ideological purity of exclusive nationalism in favor of bringing together diverse ideas and approaches. The olive branch in these final pages is jarring, given that López is less than generous to many of the interpreters whose work he discusses. López strives to overcome a tendency among others to impose a “correct” or otherwise exhaustive reading of Martí, but at the same time he challenges critics for supposedly getting Martí wrong. At one point, for example, López writes, “I could devote an entire book to explaining all that is wrong (and wrongheaded) about Pease’s misreading of Martí” (p. 95). In other words, Pease is not only wrong for de-emphasizing Martí’s nationalism but also misguided in trying to move into a critical terrain usually controlled by those who devote themselves to estudios Martíanos and Cuban/Cuban-American Studies. The warning about hasty interdisciplinary moves is well taken, and certainly the Cuban nation is an important part of Martí’s body of work, but López also chides Pease for being out of touch with Miami’s Cuban-American community. “Trafficking between academic disciplines is not all that different, in the end, from moving between cultures or countries . . . the first step toward any successful colonization or immigration is dressing the part,” López writes (p. 114–115). At issue is that Pease does not take into account contemporary Cuban Americans (and a former Miami mayor’s maudlin reading of Alexis de Toqueville) in drawing an opposition between Martí and De Toqueville.
The terrain López covers is broad, and this book is a contribution to recent work on the uses and abuses of Martí, including Lillian Guerra’s historically nuanced The Myth of José Martí (2005). Particularly helpful...