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Utopian possibilities and the play drive in Viaje a la semilla.

Much work remains to be done in clarifying Alejo Carpentier's relationship to two seminal cultural movements of the 20th century: Modernism and Postmodernism. Carpentier's career, stretching from the 1920s to the 1970s, was long enough to enable him to playa role in both of these. Although Carpentier spent much of his life in Cuba, he had a first hand knowledge of European culture, having lived in France from 1912 to 1921 and 1928 to 1939. The works Carpentier published in the 1940s are some of his best known, among them El reino de este mundo and five short stories that include Viaje a la semilla, El camino de Santiago and Los fugitivos. This essay will present a reading of Viaje a la semilla (1944) as a modernist work, which is to say a work whose form and content exemplify certain features of an international style.

Modernism as an international cultural movement reached its high point between 1910 and 1945. (1) Modernization occurred more slowly in Latin America than in the developed world, and is still incomplete there. Nevertheless in Latin America the experiences of modernity and modernization--such as war, revolution, secularization, labor organization, neocolonialism, the modernization of technology, industry and political structures--shaped literary Modernism in the first half of the 20th century. In the modernist avant-garde it was believed that art and literature are capable of exerting a radicalizing force on the social order. The transformation of reality through radically subversive works of art was a modernist project. "Vanguardismo probably comes closest to translating the English term [Modernism]" (Larsen 67). (2) Vanguardista novelists such as Carpentier and Miguel Angel Asturias rejected the notion of "art for art's sake" and wrote novels that are anchored in the socio-cultural reality of Latin America, even as they are innovative in their literary techniques. These writers exemplify two characteristics also present in less representational modernist texts: technical innovation (the stylistic correlative of modernization) and the deployment of artistic content and form in opposition to dominant systems of power.

Intellectuals in the modernist period believed reality could be understood in terms of "foundational philosophies and related totalizing beliefs, such as those embodied" in Marxista, Humanista and Fascista (Jrade 7). In the years between the world wars Oswald Spengler was a well-known thinker whose influence, though mostly unacknowledged, is evident today in the "clash of civilizations" school of political studies. He believed that a linear view of history should be rejected in favor of a cyclical view. The participants in these cycles are "high cultures" which as they evolve, solidify into civilizations that eventually decay. As Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria has observed, there is an affinity "particularly in the pattern of rail and resurrection, apocalypse and new beginning, that articulates" Spengler's and Marx's conception of history (42). However, this resemblance is superficial. For Marx, history is cyclical, but it is also linear. During the apocalyptic (revolutionary) phase and new beginning, the contending classes that form capitalist society reverse positions with the proletariat assuming a leading role and the bourgeoisie a subordinate one. There are modifications in the society and culture of a revolutionary society, but no total break with the past. For example, after the Cuban revolution, Santeria coexists with socialized medicine and education, and the oppression of homosexuals coexists with advancements in the civil rights of blacks and women.

In Spengler's system there is a disjunction between "apocalypse and new beginning" in the sense that they correspond to different cultures, say the Arabian and Western cultures, which in essential respects, according to Spengler, have little to do with each other: "Each Culture has it own new possibilities of self-expression which arise, ripen, decay, and never return. There is not one sculpture, one painting, one mathematics, one physics, but many, each in its deepest essence different from the others, each limited in duration and self contained" (Decline 1:21). I think these assertions are obviously false. A good case in point is the influence of Arab culture in Spain in decorative and architectural styles, or the syncretism of pre-Columbian religion and Catholicism in parts of Latin America.

Spengler's analysis extends beyond culture to incorporate geographical and economic factors summarized by Donald Stockton: "To Spengler, each culture in the world's history had its own unique 'soil' in which to develop and grow. The physical terrain, proximity of neighbors, natural resources, and other factors influence the manner in which the 'seed' of the inhabiting people unfolds not only geographically but also socially and economically" (5). Among the most significant of the "other factors" referred to by Stockton is "the blood" of each individual race, which in the opinion of Spengler, correlates with what he considered to be racial attributes, such as the way Jews speak European languages: "What in the speech of East-European Jews is a race-trait of the land, and present therefore in Russian also, and what is a race-trait of the blood common to all Jews, independent of their habitat and their hosts, in their speaking of any of the European 'mother'-tongues?" (Decline 2: 125). Spengler considered some races to be superior to others:
   The Celtic-German "race" has the strongest will-power that the
   world has ever seen. (Jahre, qtd. in Griffin: 113)


   It is high time that the "white" world, and first and foremost
   Germany, became mindful of such facts [the "racial superiority
   of the Celtic-German race"]. For behind the world wars and the
   as yet incomplete proletarian world revolution there looms the
   greatest of all dangers, the black danger, and everything the
   white peoples still have to offer worthy of the name "race" will
   be necessary to combat it. (Jahre, qtd. in Griffin: 113)

The racist aspects of Spengler's thought have much in common with Nazism, as has often been noted. This racism is what makes Spengler's cultural relativism sinister. Given that he considered racial characteristics to be one among several components that forma culture, and whites to be racially superior, this suggests that Spengler's concept of an irreducible difference between cultures is a semi-conscious defense mechanism against acknowledging the possibility of "contamination" of "white European culture" by racial minorities.

The modernist period is characterized by uneven development, described by Fredric Jameson as "the coexistence of realities from radically different moments of history--handicrafts alongside the great cartels, peasant fields with the Krupp factories or the Ford plant in the distance." (Postmodernism 307). This coexistence suggests a problem inherent in a concept of history based--as Spengler's is--on cyclical repetition. In historical periods characterized by contradictory realities exerting contradictory forces, there are no preordained outcomes; civilization can relapse into barbarism (as in Nazi Germany) or become genuinely revolutionary (as in Russia in 1917). The preceding observations will facilitate a reading of Viaje a la semilla within the context of two political and intellectual tendencies that were influential during the modernist era: Marxism and Spengler's historiography.

Viaje a la semilla takes "place in the Cuba of the early 19th century sugar boom and nouveau riche aristocracy it created" (Gonzalez Echevarria 129). According to Manuel Duran, this text is a nostalgic reconstruction of old Havana written in a style that incorporates magical and mythical elements ("Marvelous American Reality"), which Carpentier considered to be characteristic of Latin America. Other critics (Antonio Benitez Rojo and William Luis) have drawn attention to the Afro-Cuban content of the text. In terms of critical theory, Poststructuralism has been influential in the interpretation of Viaje a la semilla. Donald Shaw's reading is representative in this respect. Essentially he describes Viaje a la semilla as the narrative of a regression to an absent origin ("a return to nothingness") represented in nonhuman terms by el yermo ("a piece of barren ground") just before the final chapter: "There is no primeval element, no 'source,' no innocent edenic existence, no 'Nature' in a positive sense" (24). An absent origin problematizes any attempt to interpret Viaje a la semilla as a text that represents historical development as having a real origin in time and space. In the Marxist conception of history, the reality of the origin of a historical period is the concrete materiality of the continuity between the end of a previous period and the beginning of another one. Spengler's conception of history can dispense with real origins, as there is no unity between disconnected and mechanical repetitions of historical cycles (Lukacs 16). Gonzalez Echevarria reaches a conclusion similar to Shaw's: "The action of 'Journey Back to the Source' is framed by two voids, the prenatal and the postmortal, with the Carnival at the center" (150). A basic problem with Shaw's interpretation is that el yermo--an uninhabited expanse of mud--is a poor representation of an absent origin. It is a much more convincing representation of a real origin, as anyone who has seen a muddy field and returned to see it covered by vegetation can confirm. There will be more to say about this when the conclusion of Carpentier's text is discussed. In The Logic of Fetishism (2004), James Pancrazio includes a Lacanian interpretation of Viaje a la semilla which has several valid insights, such as the observation that "the subject's birth and his mother's subsequent death [function] as the imposition of the Name-of-the-Father, an original alienation" (200). This reading is too narrowly confined to an analysis of the protagonist's family life and what takes place within the mansion where much of the action unfolds. Pancrazio has little to say about the wider social context of Carpentier's text, the most glaring omission being the failure to account for the first and last chapters, which can only be understood by going beyond the private form of the social being of the subject to include the collective role of social class.

One of the most notable influences on Carpentier's writing shortly before he wrote Viaje a la semilla was his trip to Haiti in 1943, "donde [after seeing the ruins of Sans-Souci and other remnants of the French colonial period] presencia lo real maravilloso, la union de Africa y Europa, lo que para el caracterizaria el Caribe y America" (Luis 151). In his polemic with surrealism, which is the subject of much of the famous prologue to El reino de este mundo (1949), Carpentier leaves no doubt that for him what is "marvelous" is inscribed in reality and is the result of a modification of this reality by a "miracle" that is itself based on a historical of cultural reality that becomes miraculous by virtue of its perception by a believing subject (Acevedo xxii). A good example is the execution of Mackandal in El reino de este mundo. After Mackandal escapes from his restraints, the French colonists who witness his execution see him forcibly returned to the fire that consumes him. In contrast, their African slaves, under the influence of their religious beliefs, see him transform himself into a bird and fly away from the fire. The conception of marvelous reality that encompasses these contrasting perceptions is essentially a reformulation of the prototypical modernist situation of the coexistence and interaction of different historical and cultural realities, a reformulation that will facilitate a reading of Viaje a la semilla within a context more extensive than that implied by the term "Marvelous American Reality."

In The Pilgrim at Home (1977), the best-known book length study on Carpentier, Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria analyzes the influence of Marxism and Spengler on Carpentier. The Marxist influence is dealt with primarily by minimizing its importance (41, 93). Gonzalez Echevarria is more preoccupied with Spengler than Marx, which in itselfis not objectionable. What is debatable is that he describes Spengler's influence, until late in Carpentier's career, almost entirely in terms of uncritical reception (259). Like Gonzalez Echevarria's poststructuralist approach, Spengler's conception of history is fundamentally ahistorical. Thus the affinity of Gonzalez Echevarria for Spengler should be no surprise. (3) The basic problem is that Carpentier--who was essentially a rationalist--is saddled with an "idea that does not fit": an irrational philosophy of history at odds with Carpentier's conception of the human condition as expressed by the narrator of El reino de este mundo:
   Pero la grandeza del hombre esta precisamente en querer mejorar lo
   que es. En imponerese Tareas. En el Reino de los Cielos no hay
   grandeza que conquistar, puesto que alla todo es jerarquia
   establecida, incognita despejada, existir sin termino,
   imposibilidad de sacrificio, reposo y deleite. Por ello,
   agobiado de penas y de Tareas, hermoso dentro de su miseria, capaz
   de amar en medio de las plagas, el hombre solo puede hallar su
   grandeza, su maxima medida en El reino de este mundo. (135)

Notwithstanding the impact of the past and what cannot be changed, "Men make their own history ..." (Marx 287). At this time in his career (the 1940s) Carpentier expresses a faith in the capacity of the subject to change reality in accordance with his of her needs. The connection between Spengler and Viaje a la semilla can be established, but I will make a case that his conception of history is subverted by the content of the text and its form. Viaje a la semilla is best understood as an expression of the impending transformation of the self and reality that corresponds to the hopes created by Marxism in the first half of the 20th century.

The protagonist of Viaje a la semilla is Marcial, a landowner who shortly before his death is forced to sell his estate due to economic losses. As the story begins, workers are demolishing his house shortly after (before) his death. The temporal indecisiveness is due to the fact that in Carpentier's text (with the exception of the first and last chapters), time is represented, to a large extent, as regressing. Thus the aforementioned demolition is followed by Marcial's death in chapter II. This temporally regressive narrative--similar to a film played backwards--alternates with vignettes from different periods of Marcial's life that unfold primarily in conventional time. The following passages exemplify, respectively, progressive and regressive narrative sequences in Viaje a la semilla:
   Luego de achisparse con vinos generosos, los jovenes descolgaron
   de la pared una guitarra incrustada de nacar, un salterio y un
   serpenton. Alguien dio cuerda al reloj que tocaba la Tirolesa de
   las Vacas y la Balada de los Lagos de Escocia. Otro emboco un
   cuerno de caza que dormia, enroscado en su cobre, sobre los
   fieltros encarnados de la vitrina, al lado de la flauta
   traversera traida de Aranjuez. (75-76)


   Las piedras, con saltos certeros, fueron a cerrar los boquetes de
   las murallas.... La casa crecio, traida nuevamente a sus
   proporciones habituales, pudorosa y vestida. La Ceres fue menos
   gris. Hubo mas peces en la fuente. Y el murmullo del agua llamo
   begonias olvidadas. (67).

In an article on Viaje a la semilla, Antonio Benitez Rojo affirms that Carpentier's text is representative of an aesthetic of performance, which this critic considers to be typical of Caribbean literature. Benitez Rojo compares the structure of Viaje a la semilla to a canon cancrizans, a musical form typical of the Baroque. In this type of canon, a primary theme is complemented by a secondary theme that is the same as the primary theme, but in reverse order:
   De este manera se escucha la primera nota del tema junto con la
   ultima, la segunda junto con la penultima, etc. Las dos secciones
   de su figura pueden representarse conforme al siguiente ejemplo:

   Tema: fa la do mi sol si re

   Copia: re si sol mi do la fa. (56-57)

For Benitez Rojo, the progressive narrative in Viaje a la semilla is comparable to the principal theme of the canon, and the regressive narrative is comparable to the secondary theme. How are the combinatorial possibilities (first note-last note, second note, penultimate note, etc.) represented in literary terms? Clearly music has the advantage in terms of being able to consistently represent the simultaneity of these relationships. For example, in the second paragraph of chapter II, which describes the recomposition of Marcial's house, the narrative is evidently regressing in time, but there is nothing going on in the text that suggests a simultaneous temporal progression. In an attempt to identify a passage of Viaje a la semilla that conforms to the structure of a canon cancrizans, Benitez Rojo chooses what he considers to be the middle of Carpentier's text as manifesting "la extrana virtud de la estructura del canon" (71):
   Si de los trece capitulos del relato tomamos aquellos once que
   responden a la estructura canonica, y si disponemos estos once
   capitulos conforme ordenan las dinamicas R y P [discurso regresivo
   y discurso progresivo], tendremos el siguiente esquema:

   P:   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11

   R:   11   10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1

   A simple vista se ve que ambas series se cruzan en la mediana 6.
   Pues bien, si vamos al inicio del capitulo VI del relato,
   encontraremos: (70-71)

He continues by quoting a passage from chapter VI from which I quote the opening sentences: "Una noche, despues de mucho beber y marearse con tufos de tabaco frio, dejados por sus amigos, Marcial tuvo la sensacion extrana de que los relojes de la casa daban las cinco, luego las cuatro y media.... Era como la percepcion remota de otras posibilidades" (75). The essence of Benitez Rojo's argument is that this passage establishes an identity between the progressive and regressive narratives midway through Viaje a la semilla corresponding to that which exists between the notes of the melodies of a canon cancrizans midway through its performance, assuming there is an odd number of notes and they are of equal length. However, chapter VI is not the midpoint of the 11 chapters between the first and last chapter of Carpentier's text. That is actually chapter VII, which is preceded and followed by an equal number of chapters:
   (1) 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 (13)

In fact, there is no part of Viaje a la semilla that conforms, symbolically or otherwise, to the strict formal requirements of a canon cancrizans. This is not to deny that some kind of comparison can be made between Carpentier's text and musical forms (which is not surprising, given Carpentier's interest in music and his musicological investigations). For one thing, as Bakhtin discerned, literary discourse is dialogic in nature. It has the attribute ofsemantic polyphony, the capacity to signify different meanings simultaneously. Musical effects can also be suggested by means of contrasting narrative patterns within a discourse that is predominantly linear in form, as in the following passage: "Marcial, que estaba requebrando atrevidamente a la de Campoflorido, se sumo al guirigay, buscando en el teclado, sobre bajos falsos, la melodia del Tripili-Trapala. Y subieron todos al desvan, de pronto, recordando que alla, bajo vigas que iban recobrando el repello, se guardaban los trajes y libreas de la Casa de Capellanias" (76). Most of the passage consists of progressive narrative, as it moves forward in time, with the exception of the words I italicized, which are regressive narrative. The passage describes the performance of a melody and its accompaniment, designated as "bajos falsos." A meaning of bajo is the base part in a musical score. This passage is self-referential with respect to form, as the regressive narrative--in terms of representing an underlying reality--mimics the function of a base part, which can be mentally prolonged by the reader to accompany the "melody" represented by the progressive narrative. The passage is noteworthy because the text refers to itself as a musical form that exists in the context of a performance involving an audience of more than one person, thus lending support to Benitez Rojo's thesis. In order to ascertain the significance of this "performance" and of the underlying reality represented by the reversal of time in Viaje a la semilla, it is necessary to describe the content of the text in greater detail.

The demolition of Marcial's house in chapter I takes place in the presence of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. The symbolism is clear. The proletariat is dismantling the old order--symbolized by the house--in coordination with the agricultural sector, a combination represented by the hammer and sickle in the red flag. Considering when the events of the story take place this may seem to be anachronistic, but the reference to modernity is unequivocal: in the last chapter, as the workers find the demolished remnants of Marcial's house, they decide to complain to their union, as they have been relieved of their job. There were no unions in Cuba in the early 19th century. The old black man who casts a spell that causes time to go backwards is Carpentier's addition to this combination. For William Luis, the black man is a priest of an African religion. As an agent of revolutionary transformation who is juxtaposed with the proletariat, he is also a reminder that in Cuba the proletariat is to a large extent composed of blacks and mulattoes. According to Luis, Viaje a la semilla negates historical time by juxtaposing it with a reversal of time controlled by African gods (153). The result is a utopian text with a revolutionary message.

The reversal of time in Viaje a la semilla represents a subversive inversion of Spengler's conception of history, which depends on cycles of birth--development--death within the progressive unfolding of time. In Carpentier's text the organizational schema is death--regression--birth--prenatal existence within the regressive unfolding of time, followed by rebirth. In this process, repressive cultural formations are eliminated in a movement towards self-liberation. The message symbolized by the reversal of time is that for a given culture, by means of radical transformation, it is possible to turn night into day: history is not a one-way journey towards death.

As time goes backwards, instead of seeing Marcial's return to the womb as a punishment befitting an upper class representative of a decadent social order (Duran 204), it is possible to conclude that life improves for him in a process that, like time, can be reversed and conceptualized as an allegorical representation of the result of the subtraction of undesirable features of western culture, where the remainder, the new man in embryonic form, is greater than the original subject produced by the sum of these features. In this reading, the return to the womb is the prelude to a possible rebirth into a different world, whose outlines become only somewhat clearer as the subject escapes from repressive features of the social order, such as social relations revolving around money, property, slavery, education, religion, and the legal system.

Marcial becomes conscious of this world as the possibility of an alternative reality:
   Una noche, despues de mucho beber y marearse con tufos de tabaco
   frio, dejados por sus amigos, Marcial tuvo la sensacion extrana
   de que los relojes de la casa daban las cinco, luego las cuatro
   y media, luego las cuatro, luego las tres y media ... Era como la
   percepcion remota de otras posibilidades. Como cuando se piensa,
   en enervamiento de vigilia, que puede andarse sobre el cielo
   raso con el piso por cielo raso, entre muebles firmemente
   asentados entre las vigas del techo. (75)

The discontinuity of the space-time continuum is a magically real phenomenon that regressively causes the subject to have a series of formative experiences. The specific content of these experiences is revealed in vignettes that, unfolding primarily in progressive time, punctuate and result in the subject's approach to an alternative way of being. Among the first of these experiences results in Marcial's insight into the nature of writing, after having signed legal documents that transfer the ownership of his house: "Pensaba en los misterios de la letra escrita ... marana de hilos, sacada del tintero, en que se enredaban las piernas del hombre, vedandole caminos desestimados por la Ley; cordon al cuello, que apretaban su sordina al percibir el sonido temible de las palabras en libertad" (70). Writing represents a demand for conformity to the symbolic order--the structure of repressive sexual and social relations that comprise the family and society. Progressive time underlies the heuristic function of memory as a learning device that makes Marcial's insight into the nature of writing possible. This perception (along with memory itself) would be impossible for the subject in a condition of pure spatial-temporal regression.

According to Freud, the unconscious is ruled by the pleasure principle and strives for nothing but for "gaining pleasure; from any operation which might arouse unpleasantness ('pain') mental activity draws back" (4: 14). In the course of the individual's development, "the unrestrained pleasure principle" comes into conflict with the reality of human society and nature (Marcuse 13). (4) He concludes that the "full and painless gratification of his needs is impossible" (13). As a result of this unpleasant learning experience, "a new principle of mental functioning gains ascendancy. The reality principle supersedes the pleasure principle: man learns to give up momentary, uncertain, and destructive pleasure for delayed, restrained, but 'assured' pleasure" (13). For Freud, the reality principle "modifies" rather than "denies" the pleasure principle, as lasting pleasure is the result of renunciation and restraint (13).

In Freudian terms, the trajectory of Marcial's development--as is evident in the following summary--can be described as a movement away from the domination of the reality principle towards pleasure that becomes play under the influence of the pleasure principle: Marcial's wife, the Marquise of Capellanias drowns under suspicious circumstances in the river Almendares. Whether this was the result of suicide of foul play (due to Marcial's extramarital affairs of her own) is not clarified in the text. What is clear, in terms of an allegorical reading, is that her death casts the institution of marriage in an unfavorable light. Marcial goes to church with his wife to "recover their liberty." After they leave unmarried, a statue of Venus, the goddess of love, is substituted for the statue of Ceres (74). After becoming a minor, he is happy to know that his signature is no longer legally binding (75). Marcial's departure from sex as he becomes a child results from being threatened by his confessor and is described in the following way: "Cayo por ultima vez en las sabanas del infierno." (80). There is no contradiction between existence becoming more pleasurable and leaving sex behind. For a young child, within the repressive context of human culture, sex is another source of pain to be abandoned as existence becomes more playful. Marcial's father is the most oppressive representative of the old order in Viaje a la semilla. At one point it is implied that he rapes a slave girl (86). Marcial avoids him as much as possible. As a child Marcial spends most of the day playing. Shortly before he enters his mother's womb he departs from the symbolic order--and the self that was imposed on him by society--as he forgets his name. The final step in this process is an exposure of his sense organs to existence, a total coverage of sensation: "Sus manos rozaban formas placenteras. Era un ser totalmente sensible y tactil. El universo le entraba por todos los poros" (91). "Totalmente sensible," as well as meaning totally receptive to physical sensation, can also mean totally intelligent, suggesting a being more highly developed than an infant. The allegorical content is produced by an excess of meaning attributable to the suggestive language used to describe the subject. This passage looks forward to a time when it will be possible to leave individuality behind and satisfy desire on a communal basis. Man, as matter in motion, would merge with the universe (with other forms of matter in motion). Herbert Marcuse has well described the type of sensuality that would correspond to this stage in man's development:
   The body in its entirety would become an object of cathexis, a
   thing to be enjoyed--an instrument of pleasure. This change in
   the value and scope of libidinal relations would lead to a
   disintegration of the institutions in which the private
   interpersonal relations have been organized, particularly the
   monogamic and patriarchal family. (184)

Although written not long after Freud's death, in theoretical terms it is more productive to read Viaje a la semilla in relation to Friedrich Schiller's work on the connection between play and a new civilization in his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795). This text is representative of the late 18thcentury Western European culture of the Enlightenment that functions in Carpentier's writing as a version--at once removed in time and reminiscent--of 20thcentury modernity. In his essay Schiller affirms that human existence is characterized by a conflict between rationality and sensuousness in which the subjugation of sensuousness to reason has had destructive consequences (Marcuse 170). In order to resolve this conflict, Schiller proposed a third impulse, the play drive, which mediates between the two with the objective of "beauty" and the goal of "freedom" (170). Marcuse has clarified the political content of Schiller's thought:
   The quest is for the solution of a "political" problem: the
   liberation of man from inhuman existential conditions. Schiller
   states that in order to solve the political problem, "one must
   pass through the aesthetic, since it is beauty that leads to
   freedom." The play impulse is the vehicle of this liberation.
   The impulse does not aim at playing "with" something; rather
   it is the play of life itself, beyond want and external
   compulsion--the manifestation of an existence without fear and
   anxiety, and thus the manifestation of freedom itself. (170-71)

In classical idealistic aesthetics, the connection between art and freedom has to do with art as the unity of sensuousness and reason (168). The unsublimated content of art is committed to the pleasure principle and connected with instinctual gratification (168). This content is sublimated by means of reason, and aesthetic pleasure is derived from the "pure form" of the artistic object (169). Nevertheless, the connection with freedom (instinctual gratification and pleasure) is retained (168-69). Schiller's goal was to undo the sublimation of the aesthetic function by means of combining the sublimation of sensuousness with the desublimation of reason. By making "sensuousness rational and reason sensuous," sensuousness would no longer be subjugated to reason and reason would no longer be annulled by sensuousness (170). "Freedom is thus ... freedom from the established reality" (171): man is free when "reality loses its earnestness" and when its necessity "becomes light" (Schiller 105). This reality "is the inhumane reality of want and need, and it loses its seriousness when wants and needs can be satisfied without alienated labor. Then, man is free to 'play' with his faculties and potentialities and with those of nature, and only by 'playing' with them is he free. His world is then display (Schein), and its order is that of beauty" (171-72). This freedom and modification of the reality principle can only exist in a general sense after the revolutionary transformation of reality.

An affinity with Schiller's ideas is evident in parts of Viaje a la semilla that have to do with the use of clothing and disguise for recreational purposes. The association with freedom is established by informing the reader that Marcial has reached an age where his signature is no longer legally binding due to his status as a minor (75). This is followed by a description of musical instruments and disguises that Marcial and his companions play and dress themselves with before attending an evening party (75-76). Rather than using commodities to compensate for the negation of individuality by means of the structures of capitalist domination, material goods are used to enhance individuality and to celebrate freedom from care and want, which is in accordance with Schiller's concept of Schein of display, i.e., "delight in semblance, and a propensity to ornamentation and play" as markers for emergence into a higher level of humanity (Schiller 193).

The following passage dealing with Marcial's education can be interpreted in terms of Schiller's analysis of the subjugation of sensuousness to reason:
   Marcial se contentaba ahora con una exposicion escolastica de los
   sistemas, aceptando por bueno lo que se dijera en cualquier texto.
   "Leon," "Avestruz," "Ballena," "Jaguar," leiase sobre los grabados
   en cobre de la Historia Natural. Del mismo modo, "Aristoteles,"
   "Santo Tomas," "Bacon," "Descartes," encabezaban paginas negras,
   en que se catalogaban aburridamente las interpretaciones del
   universo, al margen de una capitular espesa. Poco a poco, Marcial
   dejo de estudiadas, encontrandose librado de un gran peso. Su
   mente se hizo alegre y ligera, admitiendo tan solo un concepto
   instintivo de las cosas. ?Para que pensar en el prisma, cuando la
   luz clara del invierno daba mayores detalles a las fortalezas del
   puerto? Una manzana que cae del arbol solo es incitacion para los
   dientes. Un pie en una banadera no deja de ser un pie en una
   banadera. El dia que abandono el Seminario, olvido los libros.

In this passage there is a movement away from the primacy of reason as a means of interpretation to the use of the senses to comprehend the world, in combination with an "instinctive concept of things." One definition of instinct is "filled or infused with some animating principle" (Webster's Dictionary). To animate is to give life, thus an "instinctive concept" can be interpreted to be a desublimated form of reason infused with life by means of the senses. Justas Carpentier's text seems to be heading in the direction of developing a theory of experiential learning, there is a regression to pure sense impression devoid of intellectual content; "Una manzana que cae del arbol solo es incitacion para los dientes. Un pie en una banadera no pasa de ser un pie en una banadera." Characteristically, the text plays with the reader's expectations by hinting that there is more going on than meets the eye. By not letting the pedagogical component of the allegory of selfliberation become too explicit, the reader is put in the same position as the protagonist, that is to say, aware of "the remote perception of other possibilities."

The description of Marcial's loss of interest in his studies can also be read as a regressive narrative of this loss. In this reading, the sentence "El dia en que abandono el Seminario, olvido los libros" marks the transition between his formal education and what precedes this in time. If the passage is read as progressive narrative, Marcial forgets about books because he is bored with formal education. If it is read as regressive narrative, this boredom can only be the cause of this forgetting if an event that occurred in the past (forgetting about books) is the product of something (boredom with formal education) that occurred after that event. As Luis points out, this reversal of cause and effect is characteristic of memory and historical interpretation, in which "el origen o el principio es mas bien producto, no de un comienzo, sino de un presente o un futuro" (157). The interpretation of past events is influenced by the needs of the present. In the case of Carpentier's text, those needs are produced by the necessity to represent Marcial's life in allegorical terms. Thus, ordinary behavior, like not reading due to not having entered the educational system, is frequently represented as the result of chronologically succeeding events that in turn are subordinated to the allegorical message of the text. Another example of chronological ambiguity is the following description of Marcial's confession before (after) his death: "De franca, detallada, poblada de pecados, la confesion se hizo reticente, penosa, llena de escondrijos. ?Y que derecho tenia, en el fondo, aquel carmelita a entrometerse en su vida?" (69). If this is read as progressive narrative, the cause for Marcial's increasing reticence is his annoyance with having to divulge personal information to a priest, which signifies a rejection of institutionalized religion. If the passage is read as regressive narrative, Marcial eagerly confesses because he realizes he is about to die and wants his sins to be forgiven. His reluctance to confess precedes this in time and is predicated not as much on a rejection of religion as on a lack of fear of death. The first reading is allegorical. The second one is not.

The influence of African culture is most notable in those sections of the text dealing with Melchor, a carriage driver, born in Africa, and the grandson of princes who lived in a world in harmony with nature. African culture is recollected as something that is in the past, but that at the same time interpenetrates the narrative present and the subject. In the following passage, there is a continuous transition between what took place in Africa and the adventures of Melchor in the present:
   Melchor venia de muy lejos. Era nieto de principes vencidos. En su
   reino habia elefantes, hipopotamos, tigres y jirafas. Ahi los
   hombres no trabajaban, como Don Abundio, en habitaciones obscuras,
   llenas de legajos. Vivian de ser mas astutos que los animales. Uno
   de ellos saco el gran cocodrilo del lago azul, ensartandolo con una
   pica oculta en los cuerpos apretados de doce ocas asadas. Melchor
   sabia canciones faciles de aprender, porque las palabras no tenian
   significado y se repetian mucho. Robaba dulces en las cocinas; se
   escapaba, de noche, por la puerta de los cuadrerizos, y, cierta vez,
   habia apedreado a los de la guardia civil, desapareciendo luego en
   las sombras de la calle de la Amargura. (87)

Forms of African culture, including a mode of production partially based on hunting, could be found in the Maroon communities of the Caribbean up to and including the 19th century. Part of the history of these communities, and of slavery in a more general sense, is that slaves rebelled against, escaped from, and stole food from their owners. These behaviors are represented in the passage in terms of play, in accordance with Schiller's conception of play as an escape from inhuman existential conditions. These conditions ate not limited to slavery. Having to spend one's working life in a dusty office separated from nature can be perceived as a form of alienated labor (albeit a lesser evil than slavery) characteristic of modernity. The utopian force of the passage is amplified by the inability of the modern to efface the recollection of an idealized African past and its effects on the narrative present. Among these is the inclusion of Marcial in the adventures of Melchor, so that he too becomes a participant in the intermingling of African culture with the dominant culture in the narrative present: "Marcial y Melchor tenian en comun un deposito secreto de grageas y almendras, que llamaban el 'Uri, uri, ura', con entendidas carcajadas. Ambos habian explorado la casa de arriba abajo, siendo los unicos en saber que existia un pequeno sotano lleno de frascos holandeses, debajo de las cuadras ..." (88). We are told that such experience--"the lived coexistence between several modes of production, the existential experience, within a single life and a single individual, of multiple 'alternate' historical worlds ... is utterly alien and inaccessible to us today, who inhabit the same 'one-dimensional' landscape of a completed modernization that has abolished Nature and the past" (Jameson, Postmodernism and Utopia 14). That is true enough for the developed world, although Latin America, along with the rest of the developing world, is still incompletely modernized. Nothing could be more un-Spenglarian than the representation of this contamination across space and time of one culture by another.

At the end of the reversal of time everything in the house and its immediate vicinity returns to its origin and becomes undifferentiated, signifying the overthrow of the old social order: "Los armarios, los varguenos, las camas, los crucifijos, las mesas, las persianas, salieron volando en la noche, buscando sus antiguas raices al pie de las selvas. Todo lo que tuviera clavos se desmoronaba.... Todo se metamorforseaba, regresando a la condicion primera. El barro, volvio al barro, dejando un yermo en lugar de la casa" (92). Regression to "the primary condition" implies identity with the temporal and spatial attributes of that condition, setting the stage (symbolically) for the continued unfolding of history incorporating the advances achieved during the revolutionary transformation. In this sense Viaje a la semilla does not represent a return to an absent origin, as in the opinion of Donald Shaw and others. It is significant that in the last sentence quoted above Carpentier does not write "en lugar del mundo" (signifying the elimination of humanity) instead of "en lugar de la casa": history does not end. Inside or outside of the text, as with any "spectacle" (this is where Benitez Rojo's conception of an aesthetic of performance is suggestive), there is room for an audience. Within the totality of Viaje a la semilla as a performance, readers correspond to this audience. Reader response to this text depends on "believing subjects" influenced by contradictory ideological tendencies and historical realities. For some readers (such as Luis) the magically real spectacle of Viaje a la semilla signifies radical social change with the potential to positively influence the unfolding of history after the final cataclysm: "El viaje hacia el principio es una manera de comenzar otra vez, de permitir que los errores del pasado se eviten y proponer una historia de armonia entre el hombre y las cosas" (159). These readers take the place of the proletariat, which exits after the first chapter, and through their interpretation participate (even if only imaginarily) in the process of revolutionary transformation suggested by Carpentier's text. For others of a more conservative disposition (let us say Gonzalez Echevarria and Shaw), the liberatory gestures of Viaje a la semilla signify the futility of radical social change, as--in their opinion--they lead to the return of nothingness. These readers represent the bourgeoisie. Reader response embodies the class struggle. In the context of the passage quoted above, these responses represent the impact of the past on the development of the present at the origin of a historical period, i.e., they symbolize the concrete materiality of the origin of a historical period.

Viaje a la semilla begins and ends with workers. These descriptions of workers frame a narrative that represents allegorically a vision of life as it might exist as a result of the revolutionary transformation of reality by the working class, whose destiny, according to Marxist ideology, it is to be the principal agent of such a transformation. The last chapter is the most realistic section of the text. The missing statue of Ceres ("Alguien se habia llevado la estatua de Ceres, vendida la vispera a un anticuario") signifies a reduction in the symbolic value of the textual components (93). The implication is that in this chapter the workers do not so much represent the revolutionary role of the proletariat as they do a specific set of individuals facing the reality of actually existing conditions in their society. After they notice the house they were to demolish is already in ruins, one of the workers recollects a story about the death of Marcial's wife. None of them pay much attention to what he is saying: "porque el sol viajaba de oriente a occidente, y las horas que crecen a la derecha de los relojes deben alargarse por la pereza, ya que son las que mas seguramente llevan a la muerte" (93). In Viaje a la semilla conventional time lea& to death by increasing subjugation to oppressive existential conditions. As an alternative, the text represents a reversal of time that leads to an affirmation of life identified with change leading away from the reality principle. The time of revolution will break with conventional time and be open to a consciousness based on the reterritorialization of the subject within a space and time that negates the control of capital.

A benefit of reading Carpentier as a modernist is that it provides for a greater understanding of his work in a global literary context. While some might object that this approach is too Eurocentric, it is precisely the application of a theoretical concept that originates in Europe--play as a liberation from inhuman existential conditions--that mediates productively between idealized childlike representations of Afro-Cuban culture in Viaje a la semilla, and the reality of life for blacks as it was in Cuba early in the 19th century. To quote William Slaymaker (who has written brilliantly about the interaction between national and global cultures in the context of ecological criticism), artists and intellectuals can participate in global culture "and maintain local and regional identities as well as playfully develop individual interests and aesthetic abilities" (140).

Works Cited

Acevedo, Federico. Introduccion. El reino de este mundo. By Alejo Carpentier. Rio Piedras: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1994. ix-xlviii.

Benitez Rojo, Antonio. "Viaje a la semilla, o el texto como espectaculo." Discurso Literario 3 (1985): 53-74. Carpentier, Alejo. "Viaje a la semilla." Cuentos completos. 5th ed. Barcelona: Editorial Bruguera, 1983. 65-93.

--. El reino de este mundo. Rio Piedras: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1994.

Duran, Manuel. "Viaje a la semilla: el como y el porque de una pequena obra maestra." El realismo magico y el cuento hispanoamericano. Ed. Angel Flores. Tlahuapan, Mexico: Premia, 1985. 190-207.

Freud, Sigmund. "Formulations Regarding the Two Principles in Mental Functioning." Collected Papers. 5 vols. London: Hogarth Press, 1950.

Frisch, Mark. "Teaching One Hundred Years of Solitude with The Sound and the Fury." Teaching Faulkner Archives. 16 May 2005 <>

Gonzalez Echevarria, Roberto. Alejo Carpentier: The Pilgrim at Home. London: Cornell University Press, 1977.

Jameson, Fredric. "Postmodernism and Utopia." Utopia Post Utopia: Configurations of Nature and Culture in Recent Sculpture and Photography. Ed. David Ross. Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1988.11-32.

--. Postmodernism on The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991.

Jrade, Cathy. Modernismo, Modernity, and the Development of Spanish American Literature. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.

Larsen, Neil. Reading North by South: On Latin American Literature, Culture, and Polities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

Luis, William. "Historia, naturaleza y memoria en Viaje a la semilla." Revista Iberoamericana 57 (1991): 151-60.

Lukacs, Georg. The Theory of the Novel Trans. Anna Bostock. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1971.

Marcuse, Herbert. Eros and Civilization. New York: Random House, 1955.

Marx, Karl. "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte." The Portable Karl Marx. Ed. Eugene Kamenka. New York: Penguin, 1983. 287-323.

Pancrazio, James J. The Logic of Fetishism: Alejo Carpentier and the Cuban Tradition. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2004.

Schiller, Friedrich. On the Aesthetic Education of Man: in a Series of Letters. Trans. Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L. A. Willoughby. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967.

Shaw, Donald L. Alejo Carpentier. Boston: Twayne, 1985.

Slaymaker, William. "Ecoing the Other(s): The Call of Global Green and Black African Responses." PMLA 116 (2001): 129-44.

Spengler, Oswald. The Decline of the West. Trans. Charles Francis Atkinson. 2 vols. New York: Knopf, 1932.

--. Jahre der Entscheidung. Berlin: Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1933. 142-45; qtd. in Griffin, Roger, ed. Fascism. New York: Oxford Press, 1995.

Stockton, Donald L. "Oswald Spengler's Uneven Legacy." The Oswald Spengler Collection. 16 May 2005 <>

Adolfo Cacheiro

Wayne State College


(1) Neil Larsen has argued that in Latin America the modernist period extends to the "boom" of the Latin American novel. He affirms that the "modernist" focus of the boom novelists on language and literary form at the expense of political engagement with the left revolutionary project is a response to cold war anticommunist political pressure (76-77). The principal flaw in this thesis is that it reduces the reality of the origin of the boom to an opportunistic desire to imitate the "politically apolitical" Anglo-American modernist canon. The focus of boom novelists such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes on language and form is not in question. What is essential is how Garcia Marquez and other boom novelists use language and form to emphasize "the fictional nature of reality in which myth and legend and fact and history weigh in with equal importance" in this way underscoring "the movement from the monist attitudes of Modernism to the pluralist perspectives of Postmodernism" (Frisch 7). This movement ipso facto disqualifies the boom novelists as modernists.

(2) Within Latin American literature the term modernismo is more appropriately used to designate "a literary movement appearing in Spanish America at roughly the turn of the century, mainly in poetry, and with affinities for French symbolism and Parnassianism" (Larsen 67). Although formal innovation and a desire to shock middle class society are more pronounced in the case of the vanguardistas and their European counterparts, there ate several links between the modernistas--"the first writers to experience and appreciate the ... alteration in the fabric of life in Spanish America brought by modernity'--and the artistic movements that followed (Jrade 5). Like the vanguardistas, the modernistas challenged the dominant attributes of modern life. As Cathy Jrade has observe& "modernismo protested the technological, materialistic, and ideological impact of positivism that swept Spanish America as it entered the world economy during the 19th century" (3-4). "The modernistas were the first to live the perhaps irreconcilable tension between the search for a spiritual community and a sense of national identity, on the one hand, and a longing to participate in the world arena, on the other" (5).

(3) Gonzalez Echevarria has described his book as taking shape in the Department of Romance Studies at Cornell University, which in the 1970s was a center for Poststructuralist studies (9).

(4) In the following paragraphs I paraphrase Herbert Marcuse's description of Freud's psychological theory and Friedrich Schiller's aesthetic theory.
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Title Annotation:short story by author Alejo Carpentier
Author:Cacheiro, Adolfo
Publication:Confluencia: Revista Hispanica de Cultura y Literatura
Article Type:Ensayo critico
Date:Sep 22, 2005
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