- “Un palmeral es su yo”:Six postcards for María Rosa Menocal
Un palmeral es su yoy otra vez la eternidad José Lezama Lima
In My Age of Babble
María Rosa Menocal
Standing where a hallway meets a staircase in an MLA convention hotel, you are there to greet and embrace, a “strategic location” if there ever was one, for collegial affection and earnest criticality.
In the opening chapter of Shards of Love, María Rosa Menocal assumes a resolutely Caribbean vantage point from which to critique with historical rigor some of the “old chestnuts” that abound in conventional [End Page 171] understandings of literary periodization. Under scrutiny is the normative historicity enshrined in such terms as Medieval and Renaissance, which often mute the cacophony of languages and voices that freely rang out before the onset of rigidly hegemonic cultural formations. Never one to mince words, she praises “bastardy” as a way to recuperate cultural hybridity (27). The task of historicizing these other voices is no less compelling in our post 9-11 predicament of heightened xenophobia.1 As a critic who consistently maintained a balance between the metropole and the periphery, Menocal would no doubt have appreciated the audacious paradox that was Francisco Delicado, a current scholarly concern of mine.2 In the comments that follow I adopt Delicado’s dialogic spirit and foreground a quality he offers in common with Menocal’s vindication of the exilic condition. The sixteenth century expatriate Andalusian writer, editor, and priest conceived an eponymous protagonist and alter ego, “mi señora Lozana”, who speaks across the centuries with uncanny relevance. Most exemplary is Lozana’s ability to recognize frontiers the better to transgress them.
Menocal performs her own brand of cubanía or Cubanness, one tinged with a lyricism evoked through the figure of James Joyce. From the unassailable atalaya of a global Caribbean consciousness she shares an important lesson in Latin American literature imparted by her distinguished colleague at Yale, Roberto González Echevarría. “Our shared exile”, she writes, provided her with the necessary affective and intellectual toolkit to appreciate most fully his study of Nicolás Guillén. “Such is the stature of Guillén as tribal poet, and this too is shared with Martí, that I did, in fact read [González Echevarría’s article] because I had a distinctly Joycean singsong memory of some fragments of his verses, sung to me, no doubt, in my age of babble” (Shards 28). [End Page 172]
A Land of Perpetual Leave-Taking
Do you remember that MLA in San Francisco? After the swings of tedium and excitement peculiar to large academic conferences, we repaired to a very dark and inviting bar for a nightcap “entre cubanos”–you, José Piedra, and I. At one point our conversation went down memory lane, not surprising given our origins, diverse as they are. I was age twelve when we boarded a non-stop flight from Havana to New York, the son of parents who had experienced prior displacements from Poland and Lithuania, fleeing from a series of twentieth century catastrophes, such as the collapse of multi-ethnic empires, rise of cruel nationalisms, and the Soviet and Nazi occupations. With the passage of time, screen memories –in my case, those mediated by childhood photos taken in Santiago and Havana by my mother with her Leica– assimilate the recollected fragments of lived experience. As I look back to that laughter-filled night in a bar in San Francisco your Cuban memories strike me as more distinctly familial and oral, part of a rich tradition that encompasses histories that also record your family’s sagas. You and José both relayed funny episodes recounted by “señoras” in the family, embroidering and gossiping, swaying back and forth perched on their rocking chairs in the Havana Yacht Club, and later recounted “en el exilio”. Chance, history, and family ties had uniquely placed you where you could capture the swings not just of those iconic “caoba” and “mimbre” loungers. Possessed of a Cuban or Caribbean double consciousness, you read generously and profusely, in the manner of a hybrid subject, equal parts metropolitan...