The Poetics of Exile
1 in Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban
- Author: Park Geum Hee
- Publish: The Journal of English Language and Literature Volume 58, Issue6, p1119~1142, Dec 2012
This article examines how Cuban-American writer Cristina García interweaves all possible experiences of Cubans through
Dreaming in Cubanin terms of Bakhtin’s concepts of heteroglosssia, hybridization, and the chronotope. In so doing, it reaffirms the applicability of these concepts as tools for interpreting speech genres while reevaluating and reexamining the novel in terms of Bakhtinian narratology. García identifies a sociopolitical cacophony in both America and Cuba from an open-minded perspective, striving to maintain a balance between them despite undesirable experiences with her patriotic mother and individuals in the Miami community where she worked as a journalist. In practice, she projects sociopolitical ideas onto her heroines’ depictions, representing their consciousnesses in a process of interaction with others. In particular, García allows her three generations of heroines, Celia del Pino, her daughters Lourdes and Felicia, and her granddaughter Pilar Puente to live as staunchly political figures. In this way, García creates a unique novelistic situation by opposing or juxtaposing all aspects of her heroines and pitting them in a dynamic interaction with their environments. As they repeatedly tease, contradict, refute, and do battle with each other, her heroines expose various problems with the sociopolitical ideologies in both the Cuban and American contexts. García succeeds in her attempt by introducing Bakhtin’s model of the “becoming” hero and depicting her heroines in dynamic interaction without her own interference. In particular, the devouring inner monologues of Pilar and her Cuban aunt Felicia are presented as the products of their extraordinarily developed self-consciousnesses, through which García attempts a multilateral approach of showing, rather than telling, her heroines’ interactive inner worlds as well as introducing sociopolitical contexts. Generic factors such as epistles, diary entries, and ads copy are hybridized into Celia’s and Lourdes’ stories, serving the heroines’ interactive contexts while filling in the many narrative gaps that result from the approach to Cuban and American history. The Bakhtinian perspective permits the interpretation that this generic hybridization enables García to cover narrative gaps resulting from the expansion of chronotopes.
Cristina Garcia , Dreaming in Cuban , Bakhtinian hero model , heteroglossia , hybridization , chronotope
In an interview with Scott Shibuya Brown, Cristina García articulated her feelings after visiting Cuba: “[T]he sense of not fitting in either in Havana, or in Miami, the heart of the Cuban exile community, made me start questioning my own identity” (“A Conversation” 249). Watching her compatriots in Miami and Havana, she seems to have pondered what meta-discourses such as nation, country, politics, and history mean to the individual. On the basis of her own painful experiences, García observed that such experiences, especially for younger exiles, can cause more serious and complex problems of identity formation. Expanding her perspective, she appears to have isolated a spirit of the times and considered how she might convey it. García’s position as a Cuban-American forced her to be open-minded, thereby achieving a profound recognition of America as being purely a country of immigrants. The end result of her troublesome lived experience was her identification and explicit demonstration of the things that have plagued all Cubans.
This open-mindedness has enabled García to positively identify all the discordances that result from the hidden racial, ethnic, cultural, economic and political differences in Cuban and American societies. As an intellectual, García has pondered the merits and demerits of the exile experience, concluding that even expatriates are by no means obligated to cling to their homelands, confining themselves in communities such as the one in Miami, and taking a big step toward the world. First of all, she cannot avoid addressing the issue of politics, which is a very sensitive topic to Cubans. Her status as a 1.5 generation Cuban-American may have also contributed to a certain distance from and objective point of view on America as well as Cuba and the Cuban community.2 It is this status that has enabled García to adopt a balanced perspective in addressing many problems of the political, socioeconomic, and mass culture systems of these two countries in her first and best novel,
Dreaming in Cuban.
The gist of García’s theory is that “there is no Cuban exile” (Kevane and Heredia 75). In considering the fact that all expatriates are forced to live as cosmopolitans in a globalized world, she has achieved insights into her own familial and national status. In a 2007 interview with Chris Abani, she suggested that the dual position occupied by Cuban-Americans can enable them to broaden their perspective on the world, saying that she “wanted to break free of seeing the world largely through the eyes of Cubans or Cuban immigrants” (
Bomb 99). This accords with the theory that the individual must take priority over political or socioeconomic discourses and systems. Given the coexistence of a great many heterogeneous elements in a country characterized by the diversity and unity of the United States, an individual is able to make the best choice for himself or herself when adopting an open-minded approach. Additionally, multifarious efforts to unveil the unreality of the nation or nationalism3 as a lived environment have been a very important force in liberating individuals.
Consequently, the aim of García’s novelistic work is to show how social and political contexts have changed the personal lives of Cubans. In particular, she situates the lives of Cuban women within their historical and political context, showing a close connectivity between individual life and political history. In this sense, she works under the well-known Kristevan feminist premise that women’s time differs from “what might be called a
Symbolic denominator‘designed by the cultural and religious memory forged by the interweaving of history and geography’” (Kristeva 13). As Kristeva argues, in a situation where all nations are influencing and being influenced by each other, García appears to have been compelled to consider “the cultural, artistic, philosophical, and religious constructions belonging to other supranational sociocultural ensembles” (4).
The question confronting García is how she can express what she has excavated in her Cuban and American contexts. Her form of poetics, as displayed in
Dreaming in Cuban, consists of selecting Cuban or Cuban- American women as her heroines,4 infusing a wide range of ideas on politico- economic systems into their depictions, and showing how profoundly they are influenced and what decisions they make in their external contexts. To this end, she opposes or juxtaposes her heroines’ lives, creating teasing novelistic situations that play off each other and reveal important facts from their lives while arguing, disputing, and contradicting each other,5 thus creating a great work of fiction in which multi-voices are given resonance6 by being permitted to make independent decisions on all matters in their lives.
In other words, the architectonics7 of
Dreaming in Cubancan be described in terms of Bakhtin’s key elements of a polyphonic novel ( Dostoevsky’s Poetics4, 5): “the plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousnesses,” the hero’s “exceptional independence,” and “the unusual plot pragmatics.” In this novel, the members of the Cuban/Cuban-American del Pino family continue to rebel against, betray, conflict with, and battle each other over their vastly different worldviews, sexual politics, and psychic and psychological wounds, elements that consequently make the work multi-voiced. Some critics8 have tried without great success to approach this novel in terms of certain dichotomies, ignoring the fact that for all its heterogeneous elements, the text is ultimately an organic whole.
In this paper, we consider this multi-voiced novel to be polyphonic and attempt to read it in Bakhtinian conceptual terms. First, confident that the various heterogeneous factors converge into heteroglossia,9 we analyze the inevitable dialogic coexistence of the heroines as a result of serious differences of nation, class, race, generation, region, and gender (living as expatriates in Cuba and America, they differ from each other politically, historically, socially and culturally), connecting this coexistence to the multi-layered and multi-phased characteristics of heteroglossia or polyglossia. Second, the novel is discussed in terms of Bakhtin’s generic hybridization.10 Third, through Bakhtin’s concept of “becoming,” we examine the heroines’ highly developed self-consciousness, which allows them to devour and digest all the ideological debris and brings them into the novel. Finally, by applying another Bakhtinian concept, that of the chronotope,11 we examine the meaning that historic spaces— sometimes described in detailed brushstrokes, sometimes panoramically —hold in the heroines’ lives. On this basis, we apply the Bakhtinian perspective to discuss the elements from previous generations that reconverge in the world of the young and creative artist Pilar Puente. Through this analysis, it may be possible to offer a different explanation for many factors that have come to be regarded as psychic and psychological.12
1Homi K.Bhabha used these words in his famous book The Location of Culture while highlighting the problems of the “epistemological” limitedness of the “ethnocentric idea” (7). This article will show that Cristina García overcomes these problems by adopting an open-minded approach to them in spite of her own limited social and political status as an exile. In terms of narratology, we hypothesize that her heroines’ lived experiences —formed on the basis of the author’s own—have had a significant effect on both the entire architectonics of the novel as well as the heroines’ identity-forming, and we will make clear the characteristics of García’s poetics as an exile. 2García recognized this in an interview, referring to authors whose work she likes (Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, and Maxine Hong Kingston) and saying that “their relative ‘outsider’ positions help make them exceedingly powerful observers” (Latina Self-Portraits 74). 3In the introduction to his well-known book Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson declares that his “point of departure” is that “nationality, or, as one might prefer to put it in view of that word’s multiple significations, nation-ness, as well as nationalism, are cultural artifacts of a particular kind” (4). Bhabha also tries to unveil the nature of nationalism as an imperial and colonial ideology (see his book Location of Culture). 4In explaining the reason that she has chosen women, García has said, “I try to inhabit each of the women as much as I could and let them do the work, and lead the way” (“And There Is” 609). 5Lopéz points to “separation, antagonism, misunderstanding, betrayal, lack of communication, intolerance, [and] obsession” as pathological elements in Dreaming in Cuban. However, given their obvious contribution to García’s novelistic situation, such characteristics should by no means be interpreted solely in psychical and psychological terms. 6Payant characterized this novel as multi-voiced, referring to “her [García’s] metafictional use of multiple narrators and perspectives” as an important characteristic (“From Alienation to Reconciliation in the Novels of Cristina García” 165), but did not elaborate. 7In his explanation on the poetics of the novel, Bakhtin used this term for the relationship of author, hero, and reader to distinguish it from “structure,” for which the “external” sense can be emphasized. Essentially, he states its importance in dealing with whatever converges on a hero: “[A]rchitectonics—as the intuitionally necessary, nonfortuitous disposition and integration of concrete, unique parts and moments into a consummated whole—can exist only around a given human being as a hero” (Art and Answerability 209). 8Mitchell (1996) approaches this novel in terms of the national/familial dichotomy, Payant (2001) in terms of communism/anticommunism, and Machado Sáez (2005) in terms of the commercial/non-commercial. 9Raznorečie/raznorečivost’ in Russian. Bakhtin explains that these control “the operation of meaning,” which “insures the primacy of context over the text” in the case of this novel. He also suggests that the term can be extended to a wide range of contexts, contending that the novel has come to possess a “heteroglot ‘language’” owing to its “appropriating and organizing heteroglossia” through its long history (The Dialogic Imagination 301, 428). 10Gibridizacija in Russian. This term refers to “the mixing . . . of two or more different linguistic consciousnesses, often widely separated in time and social space.” It also refers to generic mixing within texts. See the glossary in The Dialogic Imagination (429). 11Xronotop in Russian. Literally meaning “time-space,” this term is used as “a unit of analysis for studying texts” and “as x-rays of the forces at work in the culture system from which they sprang . . . finished, closed-off, finalized.” Bakhtin describes this as “the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature.” See the glossary in The Dialogic Imagination (425–26), as well as “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel” (84). 12From the Bakhtinian perspective, it is possible to interpret all psychic and psychological phenomena verbally: “[T]he subjective psyche is an object for ideological understanding and sociological interpretation via understanding” (Marxism 25).
In an in-depth discussion of the hero, author, and reader in
Art and Answerability, Bakhtin explains the architectonics of novel as follows:
What is meant here is that the aesthetic purpose of the novel is teleological by nature, such that content becomes imbedded from the outset. Although the ideas are the author’s, each hero approaches his or her idea reflectively while interacting with the others, occupying an equal position to the author as well as the other characters. Stressing that “the whole of hero and the whole of author belong to different planes,” Bakhtin claims that the author simply “orients the hero” in order to be “consummated” (9, 12). Thus, he states that an author participates in the aesthetic work “outside the hero with respect to space, time, value and meaning,” whereas his or her hero participates “from within” them (14).
As a result, the novelistic work leads to the formation of “a new human being” in “a new axiological context” (
Art and Answerability191). From Bakhtin’s perspective, the hero’s identity-definition is a kind of “selfobjectification”; thus, he says that “I-for-myself shall continue to be in the act of this self-objectification” (38). A hero objectifies “I-for-myself”(his solipsistic self), proceeding towards “I-for-other” in the process of interacting with others. In this interaction, the hero possesses an essential autonomy from other characters as well as the author, a characteristic through which, Bakhtin believes, the narration acquires authentic persuasiveness. This also requires a range of external contexts for better selfobjectification. Bakhtin believes that the novel is the only genre that can provide such a variety of social, historical, political, and cultural contexts. Of particular importance is the fact that this diversity of contexts depends crucially on the openness of the author’s perspective.
In an interview, García described the process of characterization for
Dreaming in Cubanby stating that she “tried to inhabit each of the women as much as I could and let them do the work, lead the way” (“And There Is” 609). This statement provides some indication of the position from which she wrote the novel. It may be interpreted to mean that she affords maximal freedom to her heroines with we-feeling, allowing them to narrate their lives freely, to act and decide all matters. In this case, we can interpret her authorship in Bakhtinian terms as following a “formula to affirm the other’s ‘I’ not as object, but as another subject, ‘Thou art’” ( Dostoevsky’s Poetics10). García kept in mind that her heroines were living, independent human beings, not objects for her own representation, and took pains to express them as a whole. As was commonly seen with Dostoevsky’s heroes, García’s heroines have highly developed self-consciousness and independence, which, as in Dostoevsky’s novels, guarantees them full autonomy.
As Lépez notes,
Dreaming in Cubancan be characterized in terms of antagonism, misunderstanding, lack of communication, betrayal, and separation. This intrinsic abnormality emerges from the characters’ differing belief systems, or from the members’ alliance with historically competing politico-economic ideologies in both the Cuban and American contexts. Indeed, García acknowledges this, stating that “politics really lies at home.” She has also said that she believes that her task is to get her readers “to excavate new turf, to look at the costs to individuals, families, and relationships among women of public events such as a revolution” (“And There Is” 610). García incorporates major problematic ideas from the Cuban and American contexts into the images of her heroines, the product of a sort of an “archeological dig”—and thereby creates a kind of dialogic novelistic situation in which her heroines are continuouslyx contradicting others to defend their own beliefs. The author has affirmed this fact herself, stating that the characters “are diametrically opposed politically” (“And There Is” 609, 611). This is why she presents her heroines as staunchly political, regardless of whether they are conformists or nonconformists politically. Of note here is the fact that they are intolerant, rebellious, and easily overwhelmed by or obsessed with success, freedom, and sexuality, with the result that they cannot be merged with other characters. The resulting intransigence in García’s heroines allows her to create a unique novelistic situation in which her heroines tease, stimulate, refute, and contradict each other. García has indicates that her effort focuses completely on women, confessing to Chris Abani in 2007 that she “very much wanted, too, to explore the entrapments and trappings of gender in my novel” ( Bomb 99).
Celia de Pino, an adherent of communism, provides an important example as an uneducated woman living in thrall to a dominant sociopolitical ideology. As her story reveals, she continues to present herself as a die-hard communist despite being very sympathetic to her family members. This results in major dysfunctions, including a lack of communication, misunderstandings, antagonism, betrayal, rebellion, and separation, and it has the ultimate effect of bringing misery on all the del Pinos. In literal terms, Celia’s stubborn loyalties to communism highlight the intractability of family problems, showing that the pathological relationships that result from sociopolitical ideologies are only aggravated when one clings to such ideologies. García succeeds with her primary intention of showing the absurdity and irrationality of sociopolitical ideology. Indeed, she expressed her disgust in an interview, saying that “when politics trumps the personal, bitter schisms are the result.” She also notes that while Celia is portrayed “much more sympathetically,” her first daughter Lourdes and she are “two peas in a pod” (“A Conversation” 251–52).
The plot opposes Celia to her husband, Jorge del Pino, an American electric sweeper salesman, as well as to her two daughters, Lourdes in America and Felicia in Cuba. This opposition plays an important role in that it results in her family’s division into two extreme camps. Her first daughter is extremely hostile toward their country or homeland, whereas her second daughter becomes an anti-communist. Making matters worse is the fact that to Lourdes, who becomes a die-hard Democrat after coming to America, communism is synonymous with “homeland” and “mother.” Even in America, she continues cursing communists, which represents the only way for her to overcome her nostalgia and reaffirm her determination to succeed in America. She works hard solely to avenge herself against communists, recalling her mother in Cuba whenever she wavers. Second daughter Felicia hides herself in the world of Santería (Cuban shamanism) and dies in misery, unable to communicate with or understand the mother who forces her to also be a die-hard communist, despite the fact that she is in crisis and cannot overcome her serious physical and psychological problems by her own free will. If her sister Lourdes is a die-hard Democrat, then she is a resolute liberalist who views freedom in life as the supreme value. As a result, Celia is a heroine who unwittingly causes her family members to tease, contradict, harass, rebel against, betray, and do battle with each other.
Biographically, there are strong reasons for Celia to become such a staunch communist. American (and pro-American) electronic sweeper salesman Jorge del Pino and his family are shown to have been obvious sources of profound trauma to her. She feels alienated from them, unable to communicate effectively with her husband and persecuted by his family members, who, overwhelmed by Cuban superstitions and class conflict, have come to regard her as a nuisance. Philosophically, Celia’s life is supportable. As an idealist as well as humanist and philanthropist, she dreams of building a Cuban utopia based in social justice and equality. She articulates her basic ideas about humans and society in her letter, saying that “I think of everyone who might be awake with me—insomniacs, thieves, anarchists, women with children who drowned in their baths. They’re my companions” (52). Indeed, Celia is also a victim of sociopolitical ideologies such as patriarchalism, imperialism, and racism. Tia Alicia raised her when she was essentially an orphan. Her lover, the Spanish Gustavo Sierra de Armas, discriminated against and abandoned her, stigmatizing her as “a creole woman” (44). Her in-laws subjected her to continued harassment for being a poor orphan and looking too sexy. These traumatic experiences are what led her to become a staunch communist.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that Celia’s dedication to communism is drastic enough not only to choke others, but to deplete her as well. She shows naïve and pathological aspects of this belief with the mistake that she makes when she succumbs to the illusion of “El Líder,” embodying Fidel Castro as a lover to replace husband Jorge in absentia. She also becomes convinced that her labor at a communist work camp will enrich her country, and that her social activities “as a civilian judge” will create a just and equal society (111). In short, Celia is a woman who internalizes communism to her marrow. By depicting her in this way, García presents her heroine as one of the “die-hard believers.” García has indicated that she assumes an authentic dialogic position in relation to her heroines: “For me, she was the guiding spirit of the book, and though I don’t agree with everything she says and does, she seems to always act with a sense of passion and honesty” (“A Conversation” 251–52).
To apply a pedagogical, historical approach to Celia’s life, she is a character who was born and educated in the historical context of a Cuba deluged by a historical tsunami. It is apparent that Celia, like other lower class women, has been critically influenced by the social changes that she has experienced. It is most likely the case that the only way for a woman like her to survive amid such radical transformation is by accepting all things. As Julia Kristeva states, Celia has no choice but to conform to the dominant sociopolitical ideology (14). Tragically, women of her socioeconomic status are unable to resist being educated into and influenced by their society’s hegemonic belief system. In this sense, García’s panoramic sketch of Havana may be said to offer an apologia of sorts for Celia’s life as a political zealot:
This narrative both provides a general overview of important chapters in Cuban history and demonstrates the inevitability of Celia’s life story. Here, García expands the chronotope to the dawn of the imperialist era in temporal terms, and to the West of the pioneer period in spatial terms, thus guiding her readers to ponder what options were available to Celia as a matriarch in communist Cuba without her husband present. In short, she convinces the reader that Celia could only have become a communist. In this way, García expands the context with which Celia is able to interact, while generating an active response to her discussion from the reader by providing a wide range of historical contexts.
Indeed, in spite of this extension, the linear chronotope of Celia’s story does not show her inner life, including how and why she came to be a fervent believer in communism. In Bakhtinian terms, this is not a desirable chronotope for a polyphonic novel. Bakhtin argues that in a polyphonic chronotope, time “thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history” (
Dialogic Imagination84). This particular chronotope cannot be described as polyphonic, as Celia’s inner world is not described in detail. García has admitted her inclusion of other generic elements, including letters and poems, to show Celia’s romanticized worldview of progressive historicity. But in her practical solution to the emptiness and dryness of Celia’s story, it would be more sensible to say that she avoids the narrative cul-de-sacthat would result from this linear movement. García has acknowledged this point, stating that “the epistolary form would provide a greater insight into her nature and sensibility, while also providing textural variety to the narrative” (“A Conversation” 252). From a Bakhtinian perspective, the generic debris that is thus hybridized can become the heroine’s interactive context, exposing the multifarious absurdities of such meta-discourses as imperialism and communism. As a result, Celia’s stories reveal that the progressive historicity so loftily propagandized by communists is a fiction. In this regard, the use of genre is both parodic and satiric. Through these generic elements, García achieves a certain narrative economy, exposing the incompatibility between Celia’s life and communist politics at the same time as she fills the narrative gaps.
As an anticommunist, Lourdes is diametrically opposed to her mother Celia. Unlike Celia, she is a radical. She was raped by communist soldiers and suffered a miscarriage with her son, as well as persecution under Cuban communism because of bourgeois casino operator in-laws. Like her mother, she is oppressed by a matriarchal familial system, as is seen with the Puentes in Miami and the description of “Doña Zaida, once a formidable matriarch who ruled her eight sons by a resolute jealousy” (130). Moreover, her mother’s denial of her in infancy has been a constant hindrance to her. These traumas combine to make her a staunch capitalist with an Electra complex:
Lourdes’s conflicted inner life is presented more deeply and in greater detail than is Celia’s, thus showing the roots of her hatred of and political opposition to her mother.
In this way, García adopts a differentiated narrative strategy for the second generation. In particular, she describes heroines Lourdes and Felicia as protagonists in a Bildungsroman, women who are “in the process of becoming in the novel” (
Speech Genres19). From this point of departure, García begins to offer more reasons, describing the inner worlds of her heroines in their interactions with others. As Bakhtin argues, their “self-awareness” should not be explained simply in psychological or temperamental terms, as the novel is a narrative genre. As the “becoming” technique is introduced, he explains, “not only the reality of the hero himself, but also the external world and way of life surrounding the hero are drawn into the process of self-awareness and are transferred from the author’s field of vision to that of the hero” ( Dostoevsky’s Poetics40). Here, this technique enables García to show the entire process of her heroines’ interacting and decision-making, allowing the reader to see Lourdes’s deeply conflicted inner life without interference from the author.
In “Enough Attitude,” Lourdes’ inner life is introduced through a meditation on her painful memories after her thirteen-year-old daughter Pilar runs away. The entire chapter focuses on Lourdes’s complicated inner world; through her inner conflict—sometimes persuading and protecting, other times contradicting and arguing against herself—the reader comes to understand that she too had no choice. Recalling Cuba’s forced communization, she says, “Now her mother guards their beach with binoculars and a pistol against Yankees” (128). This shows that Lourdes’s “becoming” extends beyond the personal level: “She’s convinced she can fight Communism from behind her bakery counter” (136). She also believes that she can drive the communists from her community of Brooklyn if she sells “three-color cupcakes and Uncle Sam marzipan” and succeeds in her bakery business (136). Her naïveté here is comical.
García said of the comic narration that the character is “also unintentionally funny” (“A Conversation” 251). However, the humor can also be described as deliberate, in that the laughter of her unconvincing argument stems from the obvious fact that her success in America does not solve her own familial and national problems. In that respect, the laughter may be characterized as discordance comedy. Realistically, Lourdes’s case shows how, like the American national symbol of the Statue of Liberty, the Mother of Exile,13 the “utopian discourses specifically refracted the theory and experience of ‘America’ for the citizen who is theorized/brought into being” (Berlant 32). Lourdes displays American commercialist characteristics based on her acceptance of the theorized utopian discourses that she has read. She advertises her second shop in exaggerated manner, taking out a “full-page ad” in the Brooklyn Express that reads “. . . and the UNVEILING/of a/MAJOR NEW WORK OF ART/for the/200TH BIRTHDAY OF AMERICA . . .” (142). Given that these exaggerated, ridiculous gestures both foreclose sentimentalism from the reader and expose the falsity of American utopianism, this comic heroine recalls Nothrop Frye’s proverb: “The comic hero will get his triumph whether what he has done is sensible or silly, honest or rascally” (43). In this way, García succeeds in both comic narrative and social criticism.
The story of Lourdes’s younger sister, the liberalist Felicia, is narrated in the opposite mood, an approach that bears some connection to García’s attempt here to touch on subconscious cultural and religious domains. The author has stated that these are her principal interests: “What’s most interesting to me are the slow, internal, often largely unconscious processes that move people in unexpected directions, that reframe and refine their own notions of who they are, sexually and otherwise” (Abani, 2007). García appears to have had some difficulty addressing subconscious and religious concerns even as she recognized how, in their close relation to sociopolitical ideology, they have come to interfere with and influence Cuban life. Nevertheless, believing strongly that such factors can be represented verbally, García projects them onto her heroines’ images, presenting consciousnesses in dire conflict.
The following passage provides a representative example, presenting a sort of stream-of-consciousness narrative that positions her psychological and physical wounds in the context of Cuban patriarchal history:
Here, Felicia’s inner dialogue, in which she identifies herself with Indian prostitutes and the Cuban women who suffered rape throughout history, implies a certain connectivity between her own pain14 and imperialist, colonialist, communist politics. Unlike her mother, Felicia hopes to liberate herself from her sociopolitical environment, but social and familial oppression end up causing her extreme suffering.
García’s theory is that because of their lower socioeconomic status in colonized nations, proletarian women have no choice but to accept and internalize colonial, patriarchal discourses, internalized and hidden in social, familial environments. If not, then they must be silent in their pain. Felicia’s amnesia results from her inability to express or articulate her pain. Spivak says that “the colonized subaltern subject is irretrievably heterogeneous,” since “the denial and withholding of consumerism and the structure of exploitation is compounded by patriarchal social relations” (84). Through Felicia’s story, García highlights the unavoidability of disease in subaltern subjects as the result of the oppression of sociopolitical ideologies.
García counterposes and juxtaposes the totality of Felicia’s lived experiences with her external circumstances, as well as Celia’s and Lourdes’s, and describes her devouring consciousness in terms of a dynamic interaction with them. In this interactive process, important problems of sociopolitical ideology are exposed. These oppressive ideologies are pitted against Felicia, who is anxious to achieve freedom and vitality despite living in the midst of Cuban communist revolution. Her objection stems from a profound recognition that a world overwhelmed by sociopolitical ideologies is a false one, one that is easily manipulated by inessential things: “Imagination, like memory, can transform lies to truths” (88). Her first daughter, Luz, “says that families are essentially political and that he’ll [Ivanito’ll] choose sides” (86).
Felicia’s consciousness takes the form of a palimpsest repeatedly overwritten by sociopolitical discourses:
This passage details Felicia’s painful experience at a forced labor camp, where she was imprisoned after a suicide attempt with her oedipally intertwined son Ivanito. In it, Felicia assaults the reader with the brutal reality of her situation, comparing the exhaustion of her own body with the stiffening of animals just before they are slaughtered. With her similes, García draws a simple parallel between Felicia’s memories of a butcher’s shop and the agonizing experience of forced labor; through herheroine’s interactive consciousness, the author demonstrates the impact of the torturous labor forced by communists upon weak women. Specifically, she argues that the life of the urban proletarian women is an exhausting and devastating one, albeit one that has been consistently concealed throughout history.
Felicia’s story also provides García with an outlet for expressing the sadistic masculinity of sociopolitical ideology. When she visits an agency after graduation, a recruiter tells her, “Your buttocks are too large for Europe” (79), in a demonstration of how profoundly the Cuban job market was distorted by imperialism and colonialism. She proceeds into an arduous routine of working as an employee at a butcher’s shop, a hairdresser, and a saleswoman. Her experiences provide a vivid picture of how profoundly common Cuban female workers were exploited during the imperialist and colonial periods. Familial violence and the torment of divorce or widowing in three marriages ultimately leave her insane. Her conflict with her first husband, the black Hugo Villaverde, is particularly instructive; stemming from her pro-US father Jorge’s rejection of his black son-in-law, it clearly establishes that her life story bears some connection to the racism of American society.
In the process of this interaction, various factors linked to sociopolitical ideology—heteroglossia, in Bakhtinian terms—are incorporated into the novel and hybridized into its narrative. Consequently, the narrative tends to appear interwoven with this heteroglossia. As her liberalist ideas are reflected in heteroglossia, Felicia’s discourse reveals the problems of sociopolitical ideologies. Furthermore, her story repeatedly reminds the reader of the possibility of illicit alliances among sociopolitical ideologies. One strength of a Bakhtinian interpretation of Felicia’s story is that it enables a reconfiguration of its Freudian interpretation.15 In basic terms, heteroglossia is represented in the verbal arts; in the novel, it is narrated. Thus, all of Felicia’s mental problems can be interpreted verbally. With Felicia’s story, García shows a profound understanding of novelistic characteristics in general, which enables her to import a diverse heteroglossia from sociopolitical contexts into her novel through the model of the Bakhtinian hero’s “becoming,” using this heteroglossia to narrate Felicia’s story.
The characteristics of speech genres lend weight to Bakhtinian school member Volosˇinov’s argument that “from the standpoint of content, there is no basic division between the psyche and ideology” (
Marxism33). Stressing the importance of verbal interaction in exteriorizing ideas in the inner world, Volosˇinov states that “the ideologeme is a vague entity at that stage of its inner development when it is not yet embodied in outer ideological material; it can acquire definition, differentiation, fixity only in the process of ideological embodiment” (33). According to his theory, a hero can embody himself through conflicting interaction with other characters and the environment surrounding him in the novel; otherwise, his idea remains only an ideologeme. Jameson argues that the ideologeme is the “antagonistic” property as a “collective” class discourse (115), which suggests that by its nature it can exist in opposition to the dominant discourses of a society.
From these perspectives, it is possible to interpret as heteroglossia all of the Cuban folkloric factors that García presents, including the ceiba (reflecting pantheism), the seashell that is thought to bring good luck, and the traditional cultism of Changó and Santería, in that they are used as touchstones in the process of embodying Felicia’s ideas about, for example, a free and vital life (90, 120). What Felicia really wants is to escape the oppression of sociopolitical ideology; she depends upon primitive, shamanist Cuban folklore because they allow her to feel much freer in the world, even though she knows that this dependence will never offer a positive solution to her familial and social problems. Conversely, this can be viewed as evidence that common people are oppressed and exploited under Cuban communist government. Felicia’s ultimate decision, in her state of profound mental crisis, to become an adherent of Santería offers proof of the impossibility of any breakthrough in the communist Cuban society—in her historical context, at least.
The lived experiences of these ancestors are counterposed and juxtaposed through the story of García’s double,16 third-generation family member Pilar. Cuban folkloric and cultist factors play an obviously important role as outlets that Pilar discovers under her oppressive conditions. García resets these elements against Pilar, her main heroine, and allows her to reexamine and reevaluate them from her own perspective. In Bakhtinian terms, the author portrays Pilar, a creative, sensitive, and rebellious painter, as the model of a “becoming” heroine. The adolescent Pilar expects the all-evaporating emptiness that she experiences in her American life to be filled with something “Cuban.” She criticizes mother Lourdes for her blind adherence to Catholicism and consumerism. However, in another sense Pilar’s criticism shows that “[t]he narcissistic satisfaction provided by the cultural ideal is also annoying the forces which are successful in combating the hostility to culture within the cultural unit” (Gray 691).
In contending that “Pilar stands somewhere in between these two extremes of Lourdes’s celebration of capitalism and Celia’s rejection of commodification” (136), Machado Sáez commits the serious error that so often plagues those who seek to find only content in the novel. Pilar is presented as an independent heroine who is capable of defining herself and deciding all things in her life, assured of a kind of self-autonomy by her author. Thus, her process of identity-definition can never converge on simple eclecticism. In practice, Pilar’s identity-definition occurs within a dynamic relationship with all of her external circumstances. This dichotomous aspect of her Pilar’s story can only lead the reader into a logical
cul-de-sacbecause it excludes other factors that are not included in these two categories. Pilar is not simply “in-between,” but in a process of defining a new self that transcends those of the previous generations. Alvarez-Borland’s contention that Pilar’s discourse embodies “the dislocation of exile” (43) likewise fails to correspond with Pilar’s new identity in a new world.
In Dreaming in Cuban, García’s intention is first and foremost to to identify all the possible elements that hinder a free and vital life for Cubans and Cuban-Americans. She attempts to do so through Pilar’s self-definition in interaction with a host of historical, political, cultural, and gender-related factors characteristic of the two countries. García’s message here is that Pilar can be not simply Cuban or American, but cosmopolitan. As an intellectual, she attempted to explore all the troublesome concerns confronting Cubans prior to writing the book, hoping to discuss these matters in an open-minded way. As a novelist, she pondered how to address them both persuasively and aesthetically. Her solution consists of addressing them as Pilar’s lived experiences. To add a note of persuasiveness to her novelistic discussion, she extends Pilar’s quest into the remote past of Afro-Cuban history in temporal terms, and to her Cuban homeland in spatial ones. Through this work, she excavates the Cuban feminine history that is concealed and effaced in an oppressive male-dominated society—shown as a subaltern by Felicia’s painful life experience—and thereby broadens Pilar’s dynamic interactive context.
Pilar starts her quest with thoroughgoing skepticism and negation. At first, she disbelieves memory, as her aunt Felicia does, and daringly declares that she will rely solely on her own record:
Prior to this declaration, Pilar’s exploration starts with a critique of Catholicism, which is presented as a force along the lines of Nazism that mechanizes and blinds people; she is seen hearing Lourdes say of her Jewish neighbors that “[t]hey killed Christ!” (58). Pilar also senses her confinement when she sees that her mother “has redefined” herself as a simple exile or immigrant and is aggressively adjusting herself to American commercial society (73).
Fundamentally, Pilar objects to blind self-adjustment, whether it is in the American or Cuban context: “I used to like the Fourth of July okay because of the fireworks” (136). She harbors antipathy toward the communist system because of her nightmares and her mother’s constant criticisms of the Cuban community in Miami. This rebellious and assertive personality allows Pilar to counterpose herself against all things, maintaining a proper distance and ensuring objectivity in her discussions. Her narration emphasizes that she is initially unable to avoid separating herself from Cuban society:
As seen here, the history and politics recorded on previous generations, though a great influence even on present-day Cubans, are merely relics of the past to Pilar. The Cuban folkloric and traditional elements that she witnesses in a
botánicaon Park Avenue are likewise old stories to her. As she demonstrates the Santería ritual “as a daughter of Changó,” she feels that it is a kind of superstition, finally concluding that “it makes more sense than the more abstract forms of worship” as she recalls bad memories with nannies in her Cuban infancy (199, 201). In this way, all traditional Cuban cultural and cultist factors are revaluated and reexamined through Pilar’s perspective to identify whether they fit with her new self. Berlant maintains that a national Symbolic is formed by “its traditional icons, its metaphors, its heroes, its rituals, and its narratives”(20).17 In this sense, Pilar can be described as rejecting the Cuban national Symbolic for her new self.
García uses an I-narrative to depict Pilar’s process of rejecting whatever restricts herself. Pilar rejects America because of its discriminating aspects for women. As a creative artist, her self-definition is a process of revealing similar absurdities in American society. American pop culture—particularly the punk culture that she discovers through her pop star boyfriend Max — leads her to extend herself into Manichaean and hedonist worlds, ushering her to the profound realization of her desire for a new life: “I feel like a new me sprouts and dies every day” (135). Through this experience, Pilar comes to realize where she exists as both an artist and a woman in America:
In this way, she rejects the commercialism, capitalism, androcentrism, and racism that have come to dominate all fields in the American context, including art. This is why she parodically and satirically18 paints a mural of the Statue of Liberty for Lourdes’s new bakery. For the sake of her new self, Pilar rejects all of America’s “juridically contested racial, gendered, and class identities” (Berlant 9).
Thus, Pilar rejects whatever exists in opposition to her new self, while accepting what supports it. Her self-definition may be seen as a dynamical, ceaseless interaction with the external. In that sense, her self-definition is similar to that of the hero in a polyphonic novel. Bakhtin says of the polyphonic novel that the hero’s full-fledged “self-awareness draws the other features into itself, taking them as its material and depriving them of any power to define and finalize” him (
Dostoevsky’s Poetics40). Analogously, Pilar, in her maximal autonomy and freedom, is free to criticize, resist, and reject all the hidden elements of both Cuban and American society, the factors that inhibit her freedom and vitality as a creative artist, and thus to decide her own destiny. She ultimately chooses America not because America is not a flawless society, but because Cuba is comparatively confusing to her: “We can reach it by a thirty minute charter flight from Miami, yet never reach it all” (219).
13This is a well-known phrase from Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus,” which is displayed on the Statue of Liberty. 14For an argument that sociopolitical conditions cause pain to women, and particularly women of lower socioeconomic status, see Elaine Scarry’s discussion on the relationship between pain and politics. In explaining “how intricately the problem of pain is bound up with the problem of power,” she contends that “pain enters into our midst as at once something that cannot be denied and something that cannot be confirmed,” and that “it comes to be cited in philosophic discourse as an example of conviction or alternatively as an example of skepticism” (11, 13). 15Here, we should recall Hannah Arendt’s profound understanding of the human condition: that “action and speech go on between men” and are “concerned with this in-between” and “about some worldly objective reality,” exposing the subject as “the acting and speaking agent” and “an integral part of all,” such that “the speaking and acting subject is located in the ‘web’ of human relationship” (182). Her point is that all verbal actions cannot be approached in their entirety, either from a psychological angle or from a Marxist one. She stresses the possibility for serious error when sociopolitical contexts alone are emphasized in approaching to human condition. By way of example, she says that Marxism lends itself to “the basic error of all materialism in politics,” which is to “overlook” the fact that “men disclose themselves as subjects” (183). Bakhtin overcomes this limitation of Marxism by establishing his concept of “becoming” through characteristics of the heroes of the Bildungsroman. 16In this context, the “double” can also be taken to refer to a psychological double of García herself, in that it embodies her own unacceptable or repressed side; although she describes herself as living “more on the hyphen than on either side of it” as a Cuban-American, she also recalls that she was “very much a dutiful daughter.” See “A Conversation” (251) and “And There Is” (610). 17Berlant contends that this can “provide an alphabet for a collective consciousness or national subjectivity” and that it “not only affects profoundly the citizens’ subjective experience of her/his political rights, but also of civil life, private life, the life of the body itself” (20). This argument can be extended to the globalized world and its advanced technology. 18Mitchell argues that although Pilar paints what Lourdes wants, she also incorporates her own negative opinion about the national Symbolic by presenting the Statue of Liberty satirically. See “National Families and Familial Nations” (56).
On the basis of her own experiences as an expatriate, Cristina García explores all of the cultural, socioeconomic, and political factors that she can find in the two countries, counterposing and juxtaposing them with her heroines and their lived experiences and allowing them decide all matters in their lives through interaction with each other and their environments. She succeeds in this by portraying her heroines’ consciousnesses conflicting with each other while fighting with their external environments. From a Bakhtinian perspective, García solves the dilemma of “form and content.”19
First, in presenting first-generation family member Celia as a staunch communist, García extends the chronotope to ancient times, but does not describe the historical elements excavated through this time travel as Celia’s. She overcomes this narrative constraint by using generic factors such as letters and poems to express her heroine’s inner life. Second, García describes the expanding inner worlds of her second-generation heroines as they interact with each other and external elements by using the Bakhtinian model of the “becoming” hero and supplementing their interactive contexts with other generic factors. Third, García conterposes and juxtaposes all the concealed cultural, political, historical, and gender- related factors that have tormented women in the Cuban and American contexts with the lived experiences of her main heroine, the third-generation Pilar, and narrates the process of her self-definition in a conflicting relationship with her external world. Hence, Pilar’s inner world shows a tendency to grow wider and wider. We could see it is possible to explain other generic factors and a variety of sociopolitical ideas combined in this novel with hybridization and heteroglossia concepts and to cover the novelistic space and time widening unlimitedly with the chronotope concept in Bakhtin’s perspective. García adds to the persuasiveness of her heroines’ self-definitions by introducing a model of the “becoming” hero and offering the heteroglossia interwoven in the novel while through their interactions as their interactive contexts.
García is the rare writer who can make the most of the possibilities of the novel genre while incorporating the troublesome aspects of her reality as an exile. It cannot be said that she resists “a final ‘arrival’ at the essentialist core of identity and knowledge” and tries to “unify . . . disparate tendencies” alike (Mitch 58). García fulfills her responsibility as a writer with her persuasive description of a new world vision as a cosmopolitan as well as an artist. Thus, her poetics, which in
Dreaming in Cubandraw upon her lived experiences in an open-minded way, are by no means vulnerable even to the Jamesonian prejudice that “the story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of the embattled situation” (69). Mitchell and Jameson made big mistakes by forgetting novel is an artistic work and narrative genre which can devour and digest all kinds of the other generic elements. Here, we could solve this problem in large part through Bakhtin’s narratology. This approach is also expected to enable us to quiet prejudices about writers from the Third World as well as to avoid fragmentation in literary criticism
19In the first page of his well-known essay “Discourse in the Novel,” Bakhtin clarifies that it was written in a critical effort to “overcome the divorce between an abstract ‘formal’ approach and an equally abstract ‘ideological’ approach” under the premise that “form and content in discourse are one.” See Dialogic Imagination (259).