While the October Revolution of 1917 eventually developed into a highly patriarchal, bureaucratic state, the Cuban version was dominated from the start by a decidedly Latin machismo. This has led to a historical irony rarely treated seriously: the very machismo that facilitated the revolution prevented its social development along (what Castro described) as egalitarian-Marxist lines. At this juncture one might reasonably question the difference between patriarchy and machismo. Indeed, both promote hierarchical, vertical societies dominated by men. However, machismo is more complex, more romantic. Undoubtedly it argues the primacy of the masculine, but machismo also claims simultaneously to adore the feminine, to wish to nurture and protect the female. This is bound with another feature of machismo absent from patriarchy, the profound sense of honour that comes from a man protecting his family. This last facet essentially renders machismo inflexible and this lack of malleability caused the people of Cuban to fight relentlessly against the Batista regime and, after 1959, to resist with equal verve any fundamental changes in the nature of what it was to be Cuban and to be a man.
Hegemonic machismo was prevalent through Latin America, especially during the 19th century through literary depictions of the caballero. Its origins have often been attributed to the epic poem Martin Fierror, written by Jose Hernandez in 1872 but it became crystalised in the revolutionary tradition of Cuba. Simon Bolivar’s wars of liberation throughout South America were a significant influence on Castro and the image of Bolivar upon his horse, galloping in the sun, sword blazing with reflected light became the undying romantic image defining what should be the actions of a glorious revolutionary. Indeed, as far afield as Paris and Brussels, statues of Bolivar heroically depict him astride his horse. More pertinently still, the Cuban patriot, Jose Marti represented the exemplar model of a free Cuban. Marti was a poet and a revolutionary, personally leading his men into battle against Spanish imperial rule, eventually dying in conflict in 1895. The myth of Jose Marti as both a man of arms and a sensitive, artistic soul, both masculine and feminine, formed the Cuban ideal of manliness. His bust is near omnipresent on the streets of Havana often mounted underneath the Cuban flag. This revolutionary tradition inspired Castro and attracted individuals of a similar persuasion to Cuba, most notably perhaps the writer Ernest Hemingway. The novel The Old Man and the Sea serves as a paean to Cuban machismo. “You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him”, Hemingway wrote, “for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?” In these few lines one can find the supposed dignity of masculinity and its promotion of a struggle against dominance that powered the Cuban people’s desire for liberty during the Batista days. One can also detect the sentiments of love that Che was to repeat to engender commitment to the revolutionary cause.
Photograph by Dario Endara
The Gulf War did not take place.
— Jean Baudrillard
“Would I have carried myself with the same swagger, or faced adversity with such feminine resolve, without Albertine as my guide?…I was drawn to a striking, remote face—rendered violet on black—on a dust jacket proclaiming its author ‘a female Genet.’” Patti Smith’s favorite little-known book.
There are persons who maintain, that there is no legitimate criticism, except the reproductive; that we have only to say what the work is or is to us, never what it is not. But the moment we look for a principle, we feel the need of a criterion, of a standard; and then we say what the work is not, as well as what it is; and this is as healthy though not as grateful and gracious an operation of the mind as the other. We do not seek to degrade but to classify an object, by stating what it is not. We detach the part from the whole, lest it stand between us and the whole. When we have ascertained in what degree it manifests the whole, we may safely restore it to its place, and love or admire it there ever after.
The use of criticism, in periodical writing, is to sift, not to stamp a work. Yet should they not be “sieves and drainers for the use of luxurious readers,” but for the use of earnest inquirers, giving voice and being to their objections, as well as stimulus to their sympathies. But the critic must not be an infallible adviser to his reader. He must not tell him what books are not worth reading, or what must be thought of them when read, but what he read in them. Woe to that coterie where some critic sits despotic, entrenched behind the infallible “We.” Woe to that oracle who has infused such soft sleepiness, such a gentle dulness into his atmosphere, that -when he opes his lips no dog will bark. It is this attempt at dictatorship in the reviewers, and the indolent acquiescence of their readers, that has brought them into disrepute. With such fairness did they make out their statements, with such dignity did they utter their verdicts, that the poor reader grew all too submissive. He learned his lesson with such docility, that the greater part of what will be said at any public or private meeting can be foretold by any one who has read the leading periodical works for twenty years back. Scholars sneer at and would fain dispense with them altogether; and the public, grown lazy and helpless by this constant use of props and stays, can now scarce brace itself even to get through a magazine article, but reads in the daily paper laid beside the breakfast-plate a short notice of the last number of the long-established and popular review, and there upon passes its judgment and is content.
Then the partisan spirit of many of these journals has made it unsafe to rely upon them as guide-books and expurgatory indexes. They could not be content merely to stimulate and suggest thought, they have at last become powerless to supersede it.
Nothing is so firmly believed as that which least is known.
— Michel de Montaigne