Severo Sarduy’s “Cuba”: Invented, simulated and cross-dressed


Rolando Pérez

Hunter College—CUNY


Not nation, that is, no national state, has an ethnic basis, which means that nationalism cannot be defined as an ethnocentrism except precisely in the sense of the product of a fictive ethnicity.


Étienne Balibar, “Racism and Nationalism”


The Invention

In La invención de América, Edmundo O’Gorman, convincingly argues that “America” was not discovered but rather invented, since no such entity existed at the time that Columbus encountered the lands and the continent which he mistook for Asia. O’Gorman writes: “[Cu]ando se afirma que Colón descubrió el continente americano por casualidad por haber topado con algunas tierras que creyó eran asiáticas, es decir, cuando se nos pide que aceptemos que Colón reveló el ser de unas tierras distinto del ser que él les  atribuyó, lo que en realidad se nos está pidiendo es que aceptemos que esas tierras revelaron su secreto y escondido ser cuando Colón topó con ellas…”(57, my emphasis).(1) The tacit implication here is that we accept something akin to Heidegger’s notion of the concealing and revealing of the truth of Being. In other words, that Columbus in godly fashioned just by perceiving and then naming the “new” lands somehow brought them forth into the world. This notion, which O’Gorman often calls “apriorismo” is at the heart of “Western philosophical thought” (59, my translation). “Aludimos, ya se habrá adivinado, a la viejísima y venerable idea de que las cosas son, ellas, algo en sí mismas, algo per se,” writes O’Gorman. In other words “que las cosas están ya hechas de acuerdo con un único tipo  posible o, para decirlo más técnicamente: que las cosas están dotadas desde siempre, para cualquier sujeto y en cualquier lugar, de un ser fijo, predeterminado e inalterable” (59, my emphasis). (2) It was this metaphysical dogmatic view of History that made it possible to postulate something as absurd as Columbus’ “discovery” of America. In fact, as O’Gorman points out, in Columbus’s proposal to the Spanish crown there was obviously no mention of America (101). “Los viajes de Colón no fueron, no podían ser ‘viajes a América’, porque la interpretación del pasado no tiene, no puede tener, como las leyes justas, efectos retroactivos” (101-102).(3) In diametrical opposition to the view that America was always already there awaiting the revealing of its being by some Hegelian World Historical Individual, America must be seen as a yet-non-existent America, as what Sarduy has often viewed as the potential of 0, the empty center of signification, or what I prefer to call 0p. As such, then, “America” was first a mistake and then an invention. And we should add a mistake which quite a number of people of the time recognized as such. According to O’Gorman, even Miguel de Cuneo, a personal friend and voyage companion of Columbus, reports that in one of the voyages the admiral spent quite a bit of time trying to convince an unbelieving Abbott aboard the ship that Cuba was part of Asia (126). But “América, en efecto, fue inventada bajo la especie física de ‘continente’ y bajo la especie histórica de un ‘nuevo mundo’” (193). (4)

And here I think a little philology perhaps may shed some light on O’Gorman’s use of the word invention, even if he was not thinking of it in these terms. For originally invention, or invetione was also the term used to refer to the art of rhetoric, “el arte del arreglo,” of which Sarduy wrote so much, especially in his writings about the connection between literature and the tropes of science. From Cicero’s De inventione to Rodolphus Agricola’s De inventione dialectica, regardless of whether the object was the orator, as in the case of Cicero, or the writer, as in the case of Agricola, the aim was the same: the construction of an argument. And that is where the art of invention or construction comes in. “America” was invented as a continent that awaited the moment of its discovery; it was constructed through language, through institutional discourses that made the invention of certain places like “Cuba” possible. And no writer has been more aware of this than Severo Sarduy. We can see this, for instance, in Sarduy’s textually playful citations of Columbus’ Diary (yet another re-construction or invention by Las Casas) to de-construct, as it were, that which was for certain writers of his generation like Cintio Vitier, the essence of Cubanity, or “lo cubano.” I give you Columbus via Sarduy:

Todos mancebos, como dicho tengo, y todos de muy buena estatura, gente muy fermosa: los cabellos no crespos, salvo corredíos y gruesos, como sedas de caballo, y todos de la frente y cabeza muy ancha, más que otra generación que fasta aquí haya visto, y los ojos muy fermosos y no pequeños, y ellos ninguno prieto, salvo de la color de los canarios.

Gente farto mansa.  (OC- I Cobra 570)

[All young, as I have said, and all of a good height, a very fine people: their hair is not curly, but straight, and all have very broad brows and heads, broader than those of any people I have seen before, and their eyes are very and not small, and they are not all black, but the color of Canary Islanders. A most tame people]. (Sarduy 1995 Cobra 134)


Here Sarduy has cited an entire passage from Columbus’ Diary in a section “Las indias” in his novel Cobra. And why not? Cobra is no more an invention, a fiction than that of ColumbusDiary. The admiral invents the fauna, the flora, and the people of “las Indias”—an invention in itself; and whenever he can’t make sense of something he has seen he immediately resorts to Pliny’s Natural History, and comes up with wonderful monsters, angels, and sirens. In “Fragmentos del Diario de bitácora de Auxilio y Socorro”/ “Fragments from Help and Mercy’s Log Book,” Sarduy once again quotes from Columbus’ Diary, but this time “el Diario de Colón” becomes the diary of the transvestite showgirls, Auxilio and Socorro in De donde son los cantantes/From Cuba with a Song:


Ayer el mar estaba anaranjado y en calma. Vimos atravesar junto a la nave un banco de sirenas, algunas de la cuales se prendieron a la proa y nos acompañaron durante muchas leguas. Los marinos les echaron nueces y avellanas, que a ellas tanto les gustan. Daba gloria verlas juguetear en el agua. (OC-I 293-394)


[Yesterday the sea was orange-hued and calm. We saw a school of sirens come near the ship, some of them caught on the prow and kept us company during many leagues. The sailors threw them walnuts and hazelnuts, which they like so much. It was joyous to see them frolic in the water]. (Sarduy 1994 110)


This is quite comical, especially when one considers that Sarduy quotes from Columbus’ Diary in both De donde son los cantes and Cobra, without ever attributing these passages to Columbus. And in Cobra, the Columbus passage is followed by a section that bears the title “Las indias galantes”/”The Galant Indies” where a theater doorman announces: “Esta noche…en escena, un dios real” (OC-I 570)/”Tonight on this stage, a real God” (1995 Cobra 134). History and religion belong to the realm of performance and representation “Un dios real, or a real god, is “real” only insofar as it is immanently and textually real. Since Cuba for Columbus was supposed to be Cipango or Japan, and the continent he discovered Asia, or particularly India, Sarduy writes:

Con un círculo rojo entre las cejas, cuatro espesas sonríen—dentaduras de d oro—bailando en el proscenio un Auspicio a la Aurora; por el fondo, sobre una carroza lumínica que asciende entre nubes de celuloide, con bigoticos engominados y círculos de oro en los pómulos,  aparece el Dios-Sol: a sus pies, foquitos intermitentes de todos los colores, el trono del marajá, su favorito. (OC-I Cobra 570)


[With a red circle between their eyes, four thick girls are smiling—golden dentures—dancing a Beckoning to Dawn, on the proscenium; in the background, on a luminous float which climbs among celluloid clouds, the Sun God appears with a slick moustache and golden circles on his cheekbones; at his feet, blinking spotlights of all colors, the throne of the maharajah, his favorite]. (Sarduy 1995 Cobra 134)     


The voyage or voyages were never anything other than an enterprise driven by desire, like Auxilio and Socorro’s hunger for the transcendental image of Mortal, the white Spaniard. Nothing could quench their desire except “noticia de un gallego de piel como trigo espigado, de lengua casta y ojos de venablo” (OC-I  389). And so they venture out from Cádiz to arrive at Santiago de Cuba, where they have come to witness the entrance of a Mortal become-Christ into Havana—a Christ made of wood that is slowly consumed to disintegration or death. “¡Lo retratan más que una botella de Coca-Cola!”/”They take more pictures of Him than of the Coca Cola bottle!”cries out a certain Bruno in De donde/From Cuba (415/ 142). And thus “la entrada de Cristo en La Habana”/”the entry of Christ in Havana” (Ibid) culminates in “la entrada de Cristo en la muerte,”/”the entry of Christ into Death” (420/151) during a snowfall in Havana—a fiction in itself that gives way to the whiteness of a page where anything can be inscribed, and especially the dream of ontological origins.

Ontological Origins

¡Metafísicas estamos y es que no comemos! ¡Vámonos al Self-Service! /”My, we are metaphysical, we must be hungry! Let’s go to the Self-Service!” cry out the transvestites, Auxilio and Socorro, in De donde/From Cuba (332/15), and off they go to the Self-Service restaurant where they will have to negotiate their identities without the help of fixed metaphysical categories of Being. Here, unlike with Kundera, what is unbearable is the heaviness of Being. And so begins De donde son los cantantes with an affirmation of lightness, of “pájaros” (the Cuban slang for gays) dressed in feathers. Sarduy writes:

Plumas, sí, deliciosas plumas de azufre, río de plumas, arrastrando cabezas de mármol, plumas en la cabeza, sombrero de plumas, colibríes y frambuesas: desde él caen hasta el suelo los cabellos anaranjados de Auxilio, lisos de nylon, enlazados con cintas rosadas y campanitas, desde él a los lados de la cara, de las caderas, de las botas de piel de cebra, hasta el asfalto la cascada albina. Y Auxilio ayada, pájaro indio detrás de la lluvia. (OC-I 329)


[Feathers, yes, lovely brimstone feathers, heads of marble carried down a river of feathers, feathers on her head, a feather, hummingbird, and raspberry hat in fact, from which Help’s smooth orange nylon hair stretches to the ground, braided with pink ribbons and little bells; from her hat the albino locks cascade down the sides of her face, then hips, down her zebra-skin boots to the pavement. And Help, in stripes, as Indian bird behind falling rain]. (1994 From Cuba 11)


The humor of this passage in a novel about Cuba’s multicultural history is unique in the history of literature. Nervous and hysterical Auxilio and Socorro venture out amidst a number of literary citations that recall in the most irreverent way Sarduy’s own literary origins in the Spanish baroque. “Auxilio aparta las mechas. Se asoma quevediana,” writes Sarduy, and says “Polvo seré, mas polvo enamorado”/”I will be dust, but dust in love” (Ibid). The “curriculum cubense,” as Sarduy calls it is about Cuba’s three existing cultures. Tres culturas se han superpuesto para constituir la cubana—española, africana y china—tres ficciones que aluden a ellas constituyen este libro”/”Three cultures, at least, have been superimposed to constitue the Cuban—Spanish, African, and Chinese--; three fictions alluding to them constitute this book” says Sarduy in a ironical note at the end of the novel (Ibid. 422/154). These three cultures that make up Cuban identity, says Sarudy, constitute “Cuba”….as a fiction. And he adds to the mix--since missing from Cuba’s cube are the Tainos that were wiped out of existence—the indeterminate (fiction) of the transvestite, who is in fact a fiction of a fiction (i.e., the category of “woman”). The sixty-four thousand dollar question, says Socorro as she puts on her makeup, “[es] la definición del ser”/ “the question of being” (Ibid. 330/12). But just as she says this, she immediately negates the possibility of such a definition.

Se acabó lo que se daba...Ésta es la situación: nos hemos quedado y los dioses se fueron, cogieron el barco, se fueron en camiones, atravesaron la frontera…Se fueron todos. (Ibid)


[Our cupboard is empty. This is how it stands: we stayed behind and the gods went away, they took the boat, they left in trucks, they crossed the border…They’ve all gone.] (Ibid 12)


The gods have all left, declares Socorro in echo of Heidegger’s conclusion that the gods had departed which is why we have forgotten to consider the question of Being and the Being of Being or the ontic-ontological difference, to which Auxilio responds: “Calla. Eso querías…Que te trague el Ser…Que a tu alrededor se abra un hueco. Que te chupe la falla lacaniana”/“Shut up. That’s what you wanted…May the Being swallow you…May a hole open all around you. May the Lacanian fault suck you under” (Ibid). Auxilio wishes Socorro “que seas absorbidapor inadvertida…” in a statement that reminds us of Tirso de Molina’s “condenado por desconfiado,” which in this case, can either mean that she deserves to be swallowed up by Being, or that she deserves to be punished for no longer believing in the gods. In the Dolores Rondón’s monologue in which she confronts her imminent death, the cabaret singer regrets not having believed in the gods: “No , no creí. No abrí la puerta,”/”I didn’t hear. I didn’t believe” but now she claims, everything has returned to its origin: “Vuelve el río a la fuente….Cada uno en su agua, cada. Cada pájaro en su aire. Vuelvo al fondo del mar, con la bata blanca de Obatalá, en la noche, bandera de los muertos”/”The river returns to the source…Each one in his water. Each one in his air. Each bird in his air. I return to the bottom of the sea, in the god Obatala’s dressing gown, in the night, flag of the dead” (OC-II De donde 363/ From Cuba 62,63). Cuban orishas or the Greek gods of Heidegger’s mytho-philosophy is what is needed for an ontology of nationhood. But this is the problem for Sarduy; nationalism is the attempt to fill an ontological hole, the “la falla lacaniana” which is what Auxilio and Socorro mean when they say “¡Metafísicas estamos y es que no comemos!” And that ontological hunger, which Auxilio and Socorro call “metaphysical” is also what led Heidegger to support the Nazi party: believing that only through the logo-metaphysical mission of the German people could the [Greek] gods be ushered back in. “…Western grammar from the reflections of the Greeks on the Greek language. For along with German the Greek language is (in regard to its possibility of thought), at once the most powerful and most spiritual of all languages,” declared Heidegger even as late as 1953 (1961 47). And in the same text he once again unabashedly so reaffirms the same brand of nationalism he had invoked in his rectoral address at the University of Freiberg twenty years earlier (1985 476) . In An Introduction to Metaphysics, he writes:

[Germany] is the most metaphysical of nations. We are certain of this vocation, but our people [my emphasis] will only be able to wrest a destiny from it if within itself it creates a resonance, a possibility of resonance for this vocation, and takes a creative view of its tradition [my emphasis]. All this implies that this nation, as a historical nation, must move itself and thereby the history of the West [my emphasis]… into the primordial realm of the powers of being. (1961 32)


These digressions are important because they point to the philosophical/political import of Sarduy’s deconstruction of the ontology of origins and his textual parody of “cubanidad”. For the German philosopher the trans-national destiny of the Fatherland, as the leader of and savior of Western culture was inextricably connected to its close kinship with the Greek language. Heidegger, the philosopher of the poem, of the saying of poetry viewed Hölderlin as the intermediary of the Greco-Germanic of the forgotten tradition of Being. “[W]hen Hölderlin composes ‘Homecoming’ he is concerned that his ‘countrymen’ find their essence,” writes Heidegger in his “Letter on Humanism,” (1977 218) which reminds us of Sarduy’s opposite project, i.e. his questioning and parodying of essentialism through transvestism—something which would have been inconceivable to Heidegger as a category of Kultur. But Heidegger continues: “‘German’ is not spoken to the world so that the world might be reformed through the German essence; rather, it is spoken to the Germans so that from a fateful belongingness to the nations they might become world-historical along with them. The homeland of this historical dwelling is nearness to Being” (Ibid 218). Taken in its totality, the argument goes something like this: the language of Being is German (with its roots in the Greek language), and

Hölderlin is the santero of Western culture whose poetry will make manifest “the history of Being”—poetry here understood, as Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe has pointed out as myth. “Myth [Heidegger’s die Sage] is the originary Poem (Urgedicht) of every people. For all Romantic politics, this means that a people originates [my emphasis], exists as such, or identifies and appropriates itself –that is, it is properly itself, only on the basis of myth,” says Lacoue-Labarthe  (2007 88-89) calling our attention to the fact that when Heidegger says “poem” what he means is myth. There is no History without myth, poiesis, the creation of a culture. “For if...the knowledge of originary History, of  Ur-Geschicte, belongs entirely to mythology, then it comes quite clear that art, precisely as the power of re(beginning), is essentially myth” (Ibid. 9). It is with myth—nacional-esteticisimo--that one forges nationalism and the kind of messianic State politics romantically endorsed by Heidegger—or what Lacoue-Labarthe calls Heidegger’s “archi-fascism” (Ibid. 66) And therein resides the danger that Sarduy came to express when he was writing De donde son los cantantes, under the influence of Heidegger’s famous 1966 Spiegel interview. Two things stand in direct contrast with Sarduy’s anti-ontological stance, and they are Heidegger’s belief in cultural and racial purity—even in 1966—and in his belief in the exceptionality of national identity. Here is “el lechosito de la Selva Negra”/ “the wise stud of the Black Forrest” (OC-I 336)”: in the Der Spiegel interview: “[Great change] cannot come about by the adoption of Zen Buddhism or other Eastern experience of the world. The help of the European tradition and a new appropriation of that tradition are needed for a change in thinking. Thinking will only be transformed by a thinking that has the same origin and destiny” (1990 64). This appeal to purity and sameness, this unwavering faith in the historical destiny of Germans (Ibid) and denial of the difference and the Other, is precisely what Sarduy deconstructs vis-à-vis his choteo and intertextuality (non-originary becoming)--the cultural-literary ajiaco he calls “curriculum cubense.” Cuba is Romeo y Julieta cigars, Cuba is the son of the Matamoros trio, Cuba is a colibrí, Cuba is African, Cuba is Spanish, Cuba is Chinese, Cuba is transvestism, most of all Cuba is a canvas like the colors of Portugal’s flag (without it mythic symbolism) of Sarduy’s Los matadores de hormigas/The Ant-Killers.

Cuba”: simulated and cross-dressed

Ellos andan todos desnudos como su madre los parió,”/”They all go around naked as the day they were born” writes Columbus in the Diary entry of October 12, 1492, and he will continue to comment on the nakedness of the “Indians,” throughout the Diary, always in admiration of the beautiful bodies. But of course, aesthetics soon gives way to more practical matters, and the Indians’ nakedness ultimately becomes, in the eyes of the admiral, a surface awaiting European inscription. By December 18th, Columbus had already decided to bring back to Spain some of these docile subjects: “disposed to being led, to work hard, and do everything necessary,” and “be taught to build cities and wear clothes, according to our customs.”  In short, from the very beginning there was not so much as Enrique Dussel has so well put it, a “discovery” or “uncovering” but an attempt cover over, an “encubrimiento” of the Other with the vestments of Western civilization. Or as Dussel writes:


The birthdate of modernity is 1492, even though its gestation, like that of the fetus, required a period of intrauterine growth. Whereas modernity gestated in the free, creative medieval European cities, it came to birth in Europe's confrontation with the Other. By controlling, conquering, and violating the Other, Europe defined itself as discoverer, conquistador, and colonizer of an alterity like-wise constitutive of modernity. Europe never discovered (des-cubierto) this Other as Other but covered over (encubierto) the Other as part of the Same: i.e., Europe. (12)


Interestingly, Dussel’s notion of encubrimiento and O’Gorman’s idea of the invención of America align perfectly well with Sarduy’s own view of culture and History. For according to Sarduy culture is a disguise, a fiction which often times pretends to be otherwise.  Cuba” is the product of figural and literary cross-dressing, in other words of rhetoric. One may recall the very last paragraph of De donde son los cantantes/From Cuba with a Song where Sarduy reminds us of the power of rhetoric while at the same time rhetorically poking fun at it:

Entre sus figuras constantes, a lo largo de los siglos, la Retórica ha catalogado la excusatio propter infirmitatem, esa confesión de modestia, de incapacidad ante el tema a tratar, que debe preceder todo discurso. No la utilizo aquí (aunque esta denegación sea una de sus formas: la impertinencia de las paginas que preceden la declaran por mí, de sobra. (OC-I 422)


[Rhetoric has catalogued the excusatio propter infirmitatem, that confession of modesty, of incapacity before the theme to be developed, that must proceed all discourse. I don’t use it here  (although denial is one of its forms): the impertinence of  the preceding pages declares it for me, more than enough]. (156)


This comes after a well-rehearsed explanatory, academic conclusion to a novel about “Cuba’s” “tres ficciones”—the Spanish, the African, and the Chinese. As Guillermo Sucre has succinctly put it, in Sarduy “rhetoric goes from the decorative to the essential, or dialectically plays between these two poles; it is a mask (makeup) and a face at the same time” (OC-II 1730). And because this is so, it liberates the object of language (the signified) from the essentialism of Being; which incidentally, it is the reason why it snows in Sarduy’s Havana. Lezama, argues Sarduy representslo cubano como superposición”/”cuban reality as superposition” (OC-I Escrito sobre un cuerpo 1166; Written on a Body 56). “Cuba no es una síntesis, una cultura sincrética, sino una superposición…” (Ibid)-- a collage, says Sarduy, like Lezama’s Paradiso made up of disparate cultural elements: from Greco-Roman to Creole. Hence, enter Auxilio and Socorro, literally representatives of “Cuba”; and with Max-Factor makeup in hand, off they go, dressed in feathers, to the Self-Service, the one place where they can become whatever they want. And it is indeed a question of becoming--as in the becoming-woman, becoming-animal, becoming-man of Deleuze and Guattari—and escape the fixity (la fijeza) of Being or the Same.(5)  That is why, argues Sarduy, the violence of the repressed (or oppressed) is expressed through the body:

No es asombroso que el cuerpo, el sacrificado de nuestra cultura, regrese, con la violencia de lo reprimido, a la escena de su exclusión; son notables los subterfugios que hoy le dan acceso a la representación  y que a través de los libros, exposiciones y espectáculos podemos repertoriar con cierta complacencia de etnólogos: tatuaje, maquillaje mimikry, body art. (OC-II La simulación 1301)


 [It is not surprising that the body, the entity sacrificed by our culture, returns with the violence of the repressed to the scene of its exclusion; and it is noteworthy that its strategies today are found in representation: that trough books, exhibitions, and shows, we can observe with a certain ethnological distance, the body’s representational repertoire, which include: tattooing, makeup, mimicry, and body art]. (my translation)


In a way, the transvestite Other refuses to be covered over, clothed, made to dress “as part of the Same” (Dussel 12). In other words, he/she refuses to be colonized. What does the transvestite know? asks Sarduy. Quite simply that woman as a totality, as a transcendental category of Being or some sort of Platonic Form, does not exist. “Lacan would say [that transvestism] is all about a fantasy if it means being the total woman, since for him (the transvestite) Woman does not exist, precisely because she can’t possibly be that totality,” writes Sarduy in Simulación (OC-II 1298, my translation). “El travesti no imita a la mujer. Para él, à la limite no hay mujer—y quizás, paradójicamente sea el único en saberlo--, que ella es una apariencia…”/“The transvestite does not imitate woman. For him à la limite, there is no woman; he knows—and paradoxically he may be the only who knows this—that she is just appearance” (Ibid. 1267/1989 Simulation 93). This is only but a step removed, and perhaps not even that, from Judith Butler’s critique of “the metaphysics of substance” in relation to gender identity. Butler writes: “There is a subversive laughter in the pastiche-effect of parodic practices [for instance, Sarduyan transvestism with its connection to choteo] in which the original, the authentic, and the real are themselves constituted as effect,” says Butler in Gender Trouble. She continues: “The loss of gender norms would have the effect of proliferating gender configurations, destabilizing substantive identity, and depriving the naturalizing narratives of compulsory heterosexuality of their central protagonists” ‘man’ and ‘woman.’ The parodic repetition of gender [as in the case of the transvestite] exposes…the illusion of gender identity as an intractable depth and inner substance. As the effects of a subtle and politically enforced performativity, gender is an act…” (200), And this quite clearly brings us to the inextricable connection between the personal and the political. For essentialist or substantive conceptions of identity have unfortunate political repercussions that transcend the individual. The transvestite, says Sarduy in that inimitable style of his, suffers a sort of “cosmetic passion”; i.e. a passion for dressing up the world in his/her fashion, and as such of bringing some non-teleological order, or chaosmos (6) to it. Such passion is derived, he states, from the Greek notion of cosmos (OC-II 1299). Therefore, seen this way, the transvestite is a microcosm of the nation, and a nation like “Cuba” is a cross-dressing of signs for consumption. Nowhere is this idea of nationhood qua surface, expressed more clearly than in Sarduy’s radio-play, Los matadores de hormigas/The Ant-Killers. Here the “action” takes place in Portugal, or as Sarduy parodically writes: “Sucede en Portugal” (OC-II 1079) to which one of the actants adds:

Sucede, decía, en Portugal, sobre un fondo azul unido, muy fuerte, acrílico. Y superpuesta, pegada, recortada, excesivamente nítida, una tela con listas de colores desplegándose lentamente, abriéndose, como un flor en cámara lenta. Geometrías simples, rojo sangre brillante, verde clorofila. Simples: como papeles recortados por los niños… (Ibid)


[So this takes place in Portugal, on a solid blue background, bright acrylic. Overexposed, pasted, cut up, with a close-up’s clarity, a striped, colored fabric is unfolding slowly, opening like a flower, in slow motion. Plain geometries, blood red, chlorophyll green. Plain: like paper cut by children]. (Sarduy 1985 116)     


But “Portugal,” the locus of “action” of this play, is in effect an acrylic painting. And just as there is no Cuba in De donde son los cantantes/From Cuba with a Song, but a “Cuba” of writing and pictorial images, the Portugal of Los matadores de hormigas/The Ant-Killers is a “Portugal of flat surfaces, of canvasses, of overexposed photographs, of cut-ups, of souvenir T-shirts, of plane geometries of red and green stripes. And because it is the Portugal of representation, it is the Portugal of colonization—the country to the west of Spain that had control over Guinea, Mozambique and Angola until 1974: colonies deprived of their national and cultural identities, colonies represented by the Portuguese flag” (Pérez 2004 122). And “Cuba” for Sarduy is no different; it is not the locus of myth, or of originary depths, but rather of surface inscriptions and disguises—often for consumption by an Other for whom Cuba does not exist except as a product.

Does this mean that Cuba does not, or did not exist for Sarduy? That Cuba was somehow a receptacle of some kind of postmodern nihilism? I don’t think so. Once when asked by Gustavo Guerrero how important el “país natal,” his birth place was for him, Sarduy answered this way: “Nada me preocupa más ni me aflige más que Cuba. Nada está más presente”/ “Nothing preoccupies nor afflicts me more than Cuba. Nothing is on my mind more than Cuba” (OC-II 1837, my translation), and I believe him, I take him at his word. For I myself, unlike others who have made entire careers creating all kinds of politicized mythologies of Cuba (left and right), have not ever had any interest in writing or talking about Cuba. Cuba is one of the countless places where I am not at this moment, but it is real; it is a place where people live, and where its inhabitants have to negotiate a very difficult life on a quotidian basis. Jean Baudrillard incensed a lot of people when in 1995 he published a book entitled The Gulf Ward Did Not Take Place. But he was right. For most people of the world, the exception being those who lived it, the Gulf War did not take place, except as a television show made possible by CNN. And In Los matadores de hormigas/The Ant-Killers “A German tourist (in the Spanish version) and French intellectual (in the English translation) enthusiastically remarks that the news of the April Revolution made many Germans change their vacation plans”:

M1: Como todos los alemanes, según se anunció la revolución de abril, en Portugal, cambiamos nuestros planes y decidimos ir a de vacaciones a ver el nuevo régimen, como un hotel de tres estrellas o un exotismo más. (OC-II 1079-1080)


 [Just like all the French leftists, we changed our vacation plans when we heard the first reports on the April Revolution in Portugal, and decided to go and see the new regime, as if it were a matter of a three-star hotel, or something really quaint]. (1985/The Ant-Killers 117)      


The “Cuba” of tourists (intellectuals among them) is just like that, a vacation destination that even includes tours of Cuba’s architectural ruins. The other Cuba, however, is the one Sarduy tells Guerrero, is always on his mind—the one that afflicts him.


(1). “When it is affirmed that Columbus discovered the American continent by chance, just because he happened to come across some lands which he believed to be Asia; that is, when we are asked to accept that Columbus discovered the being of these lands which he in fact mistook them for something else, what we are actually being asked is that we accept that these lands revealed their secret and hidden being when Columbus encountered them…”  (57, my emphasis). All translations of O’Gorman are mine.


(2).  “We are here alluding, as you may have guessed, to the very ancient and venerable idea of things-in-themselves; that things are already constituted according to one unique reality, or to put it in more technical terms, that things are fixed in their being, predetermined, and unalterable, for all subjects everywhere, from all eternity” (59, my emphasis).


(3). “Columbus’s voyages  were not, nor could they possibly be ‘voyages to America,’ because no interpretation of the past can or could have, as would be the case with just laws, retroactive effects” (101-102).


(4). “America, in effect, was invented vis-à-vis the physical subspecies of ‘continent’ and through the historical subspecies of ‘new world’” (193).


(5). “Each of these becomings brings about the deterritorialization of one term and the retorritorialization of the other; the two becomings interlink and form relays in a circulation of intensities pushing the deterritorialization further. There is neither imitation nor semblance…” (Deleuze 10), only the breaking apart of ontologically arborescent identities.


(6). This is Félix Guattari’s term. See his Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Easthetic Paradigm (1995).


Works Cited

Balibar, Étienne and Immanuel Wallerstein. “Racism and Nationalism.” Race, Nation, Class Ambiguous Identities. London: Verso, 1991: 37-67. PRINT.


Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. NY: Routledge, 2006. PRINT.


Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987. PRINT.


Dussel, Enrique. The Invention of the Americas: Eclipse of the “Other” and the Myth of Modernity. Trans. Michael D. Barber. NY: Continuum, 1995. PRINT.


Guattari, Félix. Chaosmossi: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm. Trans.  P. Bains and J. Pefanis. Bloomington:  Indiana U P, 1995. PRINT.


Heidegger, Martin. An Introduction to Metaphysics. Trans. Ralph Manheim. Garden City: Anchor Books, 1961.PRINT.


----.“Der Spiegel Interview With Martin Heidegger (1966).” Martin Heidegger and National Socialism. Eds. Gunther Neske and Emil Kettering. New York: Paragon House, 1990. 41- 66. PRINT.


----. “Letter on Humanism.” Basic Writings. Trans. Ed. David Farrel Krell. New York: Harper & Row, 1977. 189-242. PRINT.


----. “The Self-Assertion of the German University: Address, Delivered on the

Solemn Assumption of the Rectorare 1933/34: Facts and Thoughts.” Trans. Intro. Karsten Harries. Review of Metaphysics 38. March 1985: 467-502.             PRINT.

Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe. Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry. Trans. Intro. Jeff Fort. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007. PRINT.


O’Gorman, Edmundo. La invención de América. México, D.F: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2006. PRINT.


Pérez, Rolando. “Severo Sarduy.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 24 (2004): 94-138. PRINT.


----. Severo Sarduy and the Neo-Baroque Image of Thought in the Visual Arts. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2012. PRINT.


Sarduy, Severo.”The Ant-Killers.” For Voice. Trans. Philip Bernard. Pittsburg: Latin American Review Press, 1985.: 111-136. PRINT.


----. Written on a Body. Simulation (excerpts). Trans. Carol Maier. NY: Lumen Books, 1989. PRINT.


----. From Cuba with a Song. Trans. Suzanne Jill Levine. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon P, 1994. PRINT.


----. Cobra and Maitreya. Trans. Suzanne Jill Levine. Normal: Dalkey Archive P, 1995. PRINT.


----. Obra Completa. Vol. 1. Eds. Introduction. Note on the Text. Self-Portraits. Poetry. Novels. Critical Edition. Gustavo Guerrero and François Wahl. Paris: Unesco, 1999. PRINT.

----. Obra Completa. Vol 2. Theatre. Essays. History of the Text (François Wahl). Critical Writings on the Text. Dossier (Critical Reception) Interview.

        Bibliography. Critical Edition. Gustavo Guerrero and François Wahl. Paris: Unesco, 1999. PRINT.