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Carmen Canete Quesada. El exilio espanol ante los programas de identidad cultural en el Caribe insular (1934-1956).

Carmen Canete Quesada. El exilio espanol ante los programas de identidad cultural en el Caribe insular (1934-1956). Madrid: Iberoamericana, 2011. 267 pp.

"Exile is aboutnames: lists without order or categorical distinction of people who left a certain place against their will. Exile is the unknown quantity of X." I asserted this in my book about Spanish Civil War exile (Shifting Ground, 1997) as I referred to the difficulty of dealing with the issue in a systematic fashion given the arbitrariness of the concerns, styles, and obsessions of the human beings who go into exile. Indeed, academics in literature or history who begin to make sense out of the phenomenon according to historical or geographical specificities have their work cut out for them. One such academic--there have been lots of them--is Carmen Canete. Hers is a fascinating study of three specific Spanish Civil War exile writers who at one point in their exilic journeys lived in one or two of the following Caribbean islands: Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic. These three figures are canonical in the corpus of Hispanic literature--Juan Ramon Jimenez, Maria Zambrano, and Eugenio Granell--and one of these (Jimenez) is canonical in world literature.

At the same time, we need more of a justification for the choice of the figures to study among a plethora of poets, novelists, essayists, and dramatists who went into exile as a result of the Spanish Civil War than simply that their writings were extremely influential and lasting. But, as Canete declares in the introduction of her well structured work, all three (a perfect number--three writers, three islands) of these figures manifest the specific subthemes of exile she wants to explore: cultural insularity, race, nationality, the politics of the islands in conjunction with the fraught politics of Spain in the aftermath of a devastating war, geography (a lost geography and a found one) as a motivation for writing. Still, as one who has dealt with the lists of Spaniards who left Spain during or immediately after the war--I note, for example, Jose Luis Abellan's by no means exhaustive five volume study (or catalogue) of Spanish Civil War exile, (El exilio espanol de 1939, 1976-78)--one comes away from a book such as Canete's wondering if we understand exile any better than we did before we read it. And my answer is perhaps not, but I want to emphasize something else: readers have certainly gained an appreciation of those subthemes which, within the specificity of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, surround exile as a result of the Spanish conflict.

While it seems that this study's chapters might have been logically organized around the triumvirate of Spanish exile writers who lived in the Caribbean, Canete smartly chooses themes as her connective tissue rather than names of writers. Following a well-outlined introduction, not without penetrating comments about the nature of her study, as in "Aunque todos proyectamos en nuestro discurso un programa de autodefinicion, la manera en que nos percibimos y la que nos perciben no siempre coinciden con nuestra historia, nuestras raices, nuestras culturas" (13), Canete initiates the body of her text with an exploration of Juan Ramon Jimenez's and Maria Zambrano's lives, writings, and impressions of Puerto Rico in the former's Isla de simpatia and the latter's Isla de Puerto Rico. One of the major concerns in this chapter, as in others, is the notion of insularity: the tensions between the geographical isolation and distance that can accrue in island cultures and the desire for universality; in this case that universality is incarnated in Europe, particularly Spain, and the United States. In both cases, it seems, the loss of Spain is replaced by the gain of an island, in Zambrano's case something of a mythical island. Indeed both writers are constantly comparing a lost land to a new one in a way reminiscent of all exiles, no matter the circumstance, and in the case of Zambrano, philosopher that she was, her writing of Isla de Puerto Rico is penned from exile but with a thought process firmly anchored in Europe.

Chapter Two deals with Cuba, again an island on which both Juan Ramon Jimenez and Zambrano resided and on which both offered numerous impressions both in writing and in public. I found the part of this chapter dealing with the polemic/dialogue between Jimenez and Jose Lezama Lima (Coloquio con Juan Ramon Jimenez) fascinating and, like so many public disagreements between two renowned cultural figures, absolutely inconclusive. Simplifying the theoretical complexity of the debate, Lezama engaged Juan Ramon on an issue about which he (Lezama) had very definite opinions: to what extent should Cuban letters look to the outside of the island for inspiration, again the issue of insularity versus the world outside the island. Ironically, it was the former, the exile Spaniard who argued for a search for the local (which for him meant the center), that which makes the culture different; Lezama claimed a need to look outside and find the ways in which the outside could be harnessed into an insular self: "la autenticidad consiste en evitar que sus formas degeneren en manias, que la creacion basada en la 'tradicion fraccionada' no se convierta en ley" (105-06). It is for this reason, perhaps, that Lezama seemed to avoid one of the issues that, in my opinion (as well as, I think, that of Canete), should have been the crux of this issue: race. Canete eloquently points out the absence in both perspectives of a poet whose works seem so glaringly pertinent: those of Nicolas Guillen. Afro-Cuban writing and culture seemed to Lezama as folkloric, local, and unrelated to the larger project of poetic "creation." In turn, while Juan Ramon paid a certain lip service to the African roots of the island, he did not think or write about them in a meaningful way. Africa always was (and unfortunately remains) the "invisible" continent.

In the second part of this chapter, Canete goes on to explore how Zambrano views Cuba in her essay, "La Cuba secreta," as a continuation of the dialogue between Lezama and Jimenez in the Coloquio. Of interest here is the way in which Zambrano, typical of exile writers, searches for a primordial quasi-unconscious past ("una patria pre-natal'" [139]) in which the pleasures and innocence of the island remind her of her childhood Malaga. Yet the most interesting part of this subchapter is Canete's concentration on Zambrano's reading and perception of the African influences in the island, especially in terms of oral culture and poetry. Here again, in accordance with virtually all fellow intellectuals and writers of her time assessing the racial dimensions of Cuban creation, she did not penetrate this issue with a great deal of profundity. Instead she insisted on the necessity of incorporating "la cultura occidental" in keeping with Lezama's view of the issue (164). Indeed, she went even further by affirming that a focus on the "tema negro" in an attempt to rescue the lost black voices of Cuban culture would lead to a loss of "equilibrio" (164). These statements and attitudes underscore what many cultural critics of Cuba criticize today about the myth of race as a non-existent reality for Cubans as if there were never any constructed racial categories that determined all kinds of social stratification--including the choice of poets to be included in an anthology. Canete ends this chapter with a question, one that she has asked before as it relates to her other objects of study: Where is Guillen in Zambrano's analysis?

While the subject of the last chapter of El exilio espanol is somewhat of an anomaly in relation to the other chapters given Eugenio Granell's self determination to be different in all kinds of ways, Canete does well to draw certain thematic relations between this Surrealist writer living in the Dominican Republic with the other islands and the other writers that comprise the objects of her study. Strangely, as Canete explains, Granell ended up in the Caribbean due to a mishap. The ship he was on, carrying Spanish refugees of the war, was bound for Chile, but because the Chilean government could no longer accept any more Spanish refugees, the San Juan Bautista de La Salle went to Santo Domingo. Committed Surrealist that he was, Granell used this serendipitous circumstance to write his impressions of the island in an essay, something like prose-poetry, Isla cofre mitico. But this work is unlike Jimenez's Isla de la simpatia and Zambrano's "La Cuba secreta" due to a variety of circumstances, not only the chance nature of his presence on the island, but also his commitment to Surrealism and his friendship and collaboration with Andre Breton. Indeed, as Canete explains, Granell is taken by the mythical aspects of the island, in fact, if I might add, his absorption of the island has to do with his own Surrealist determination to deconstruct reality through language. Also interesting in this chapter are the political aspects of the Dominican Republic in view of Rafael Trujillo's dictatorship and persecution of dissenters, including Spanish Civil War exiles.

The final subchapter of Canete's El exilio espanol is an extension of her analysis of Granell's exilic life and work in the Dominican Republic through an account of his collaboration and leadership (if a Surrealist would allow that term) in a poetic group knows an "La Poesia Sorprendida." Virtually all of the engaging themes the author deals with in her study are included: insularity, the encounter between Spanish exiles and local poets and creators, race and ethnicity, politics and the difficulties of responding to both European fascism and an indigenous fascism, in this case, that of Rafael Trujillo ("El Benefactor"). What makes the discussion of all these themes particularly revealing, in my opinion, is that they are framed in the discussion of a poetic school or movement intent on the creation of a new perception of reality, the typically Surrealist need to "surprise," to assault our sensibilities, to go beyond what is conventionally seen as "real." Perhaps the most persistent theme here is again insularity: universalism versus the specific place in which this movement developed: "Estamos por una poesia nacional nutrida en la universal" (221). Canete does wellto considerat once the political underpinnings of the movement, it's having to cope with the threats of the regime and the dangers of criticizing it as well as the presence-absence of the construction of race or, in her estimation, the importance of the ancestral (read African) roots of a "local" poetry that seeks to be universal. Indeed that Manuel del Cabral's Tropico negro was "ninguneado" (235) by the Poesia Sorprendida group is further evidence for Canete's recurring argument that there was no acknowledgment of race as a category worthy of special consideration.

While Canete's "Conclusiones" (241-44) comprise some four short pages of her study, she synthesizes her intentions and her findings well. Canete ends her study not without pointed criticism of the Spanish exiles own insularity while paying lip service to universality: the false belief in Europe/Spain as the proper models for the islands to follow--Canete calls it "Spain conceived as white" (241)--, and the need to save their own Spanish republican tradition. Certainly, these conclusions are not unlike those of other critics, such as Sebastian Faber when he discusses the Spanish republican exiles in Mexico (Exile and Cultural Hegemony): that the Spaniards were at once cursed and blessed with the condition of being and thinking in two geographies at once. The final discussion of this book in my opinion is a powerful one. Given the silencing "silenciamientos" (242) of indigenous and African voices, "Me pregunto cuando llegara el dia en que estos margenes sean representados tambien por miembros de su propia raza ... y la pureza racial no consist[a] en un solo color" (244).

Virtually all of these issues have to do with a notion that Canete discusses in her introduction but unfortunately does not develop enough in the body of her text: nationalisms, stateless nations (Puerto Rico for example), and the construction of community or belonging (i.e., Benedict Anderson's "imagined communities"). While this issue is certainly suggested throughout Canete's study, there is not enough fleshing out of the ways in which exile itself, regardless of history or geography, lays bare the constructed nature of nations or the blurring of national boundaries --whether it takes the form of a poetic rendering, a retrospective written from a new place, political activity unrelated to the politics that caused a departure, or a feeling of statelessness, timelessness, placelessness.

Taken as a whole, however, El exilio espanol ante los programas de identidad cultural en el Caribe insular (1934-1956) is a challenging and engaging work that adds new complexity to an already vexingly complex issue.

Michael Ugarte

University of Missouri
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Author:Ugarte, Michael
Publication:Afro-Hispanic Review
Date:Mar 22, 2011
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