Caliban: Notes Toward a Discussion of Culture in Our America

from Caliban and Other Essays
Roberto Fernandez Retamar

Translated by Edward Baker
Foreword by Fredric Jameson

This article appeared for the first time in Casa de Las Americas (Havana), 68 (September-October 1971). It is that journal, and that issue specifically, to which the author refers in the text.

A Question

A European journalist, and moreover a leftist, asked me a few days ago, "Does a Latin-American culture exist?" We were discussing, naturally enough, the recent polemic regarding Cuba that ended by confronting, on the one hand, certain bourgeois European intellectuals (or aspirants to that state) with a visible colonialist nostalgia; and on the other, that body of Latin-American writers and artists who reject open or veiled forms of cultural and political colonialism. The question seemed to me to reveal one of the roots of the polemic and, hence, could also be expressed another way: "Do you exist?" For to question our culture is to question our very existence, our human reality itself, and thus to be willing to take a stand in favor of our irremediable colonial condition, since it suggests that we would be but a distorted echo of what occurs elsewhere. This elsewhere is of course the metropolis, the colonizing centers, whose "right wings" have exploited us and whose supposed "left wings" have pretended and continue to pretend to guide us with pious solicitude--in both cases with the assistance of local intermediaries of varying persuasions.

While this fate is to some extent suffered by all countries emerging from colonialism--those countries of ours that enterprising metropolitan intellectuals have ineptly and successively termed barbarians, peoples of color, underdeveloped countries, Third World--I think the phenomenon achieves a singular crudeness with respect to what Marti called "our mestizo America." Although the thesis that every man and even every culture is mestizo could easily be defended and although this seems especially valid in the case of colonies, it is nevertheless apparent that in both their ethnic and their cultural aspects capitalist countries long ago achieved a relative homogeneity. Almost before our eyes certain readjustments have been made. The white population of the United States (diverse, but of common European origin) exterminated the aboriginal population and thrust the black population aside, thereby affording itself homogeneity in spite of diversity and offering a coherent model that its Nazi disciples attempted to apply even to other European conglomerates--an unforgivable sin that led some members of the bourgeoisie to stigmatize in Hitler what they applauded as a healthy Sunday diversion in westerns and Tarzan films. Those movies proposed to the world--and even to those of us who are kin to the communities under attack and who rejoiced in the evocation of our own extermination--the monstrous racial criteria that have accompanied the United Sates from its beginnings to the genocide in Indochina. Less apparent (and in some cases perhaps less cruel) is the process by which other capitalist countries have also achieved relative racial and cultural homogeneity at the expense of internal diversity.

Nor can any necessary relationship be established between mestizaje ["racial intermingling, racial mixture"--ed. note] and the colonial world. The latter is highly complex despite basic structural affinities of its parts. It has included countries with well-defined millennial cultures, some of which have suffered (or are presently suffering) direct occupation (India, Vietnam), and others of which have suffered indirect occupation (China). It also comprehends countries with rich cultures but less political homogeneity, which have been subjected to extremely diverse forms of colonialism (the Arab world). There are other peoples, finally, whose fundamental structures were savagely dislocated by the dire activity of the European despite which they continue to preserve a certain ethnic and cultural homogeneity (black Africa). (Indeed, the latter has occurred despite the colonialists' criminal and unsuccessful attempts to prohibit it.) In these countries mestizaje naturally exists to a greater or lesser degree, but it is always accidental and always on the fringe of the central line of development.

But within the colonial world there exists a case unique to the entire planet: a vast zone for which mestizaje is not an accident but rather the essence, the central line: ourselves, "our mestizo America." Marti, with his excellent knowledge of the language, employed this specific adjective as the distinctive sign of our culture--a culture of descendants, both ethnically and culturally speaking, of aborigines, Africans, and Europeans. In his "Letter from Jamaica" (1815), the Liberator, Simon Bolivar, had proclaimed, "We are a small human species: we possess a world encircled by vast seas, new in almost all its arts and sciences." In his message to the Congress of Angostura (1819), he added:

Let us bear in mind that our people is neither European nor North American, but a composite of Africa and America rather than an emanation of Europe; for even Spain fails as a European people because of her African blood, her institutions, and her character. It is impossible to assign us with any exactitude to a specific human family. The greater part of the native peoples has been annihilated; the European has mingled with the American and with the African, and the African has mingled with the Indian and with the European. Born from the womb of a common mother, our fathers, different in origin and blood, are foreigners; all differ visibly in the epidermis, and this dissimilarity leaves marks of the greatest transcendence.

Even in this century, in a book as confused as the author himself but full of intuitions (La raza cosmica, 1925), the Mexican Jose Vasconcelos pointed out that in Latin America a new race was being forged, "made with the treasure of all previous ones, the final race, the cosmic race."

This singular fact lies at the root of countless misunderstandings. Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Arab, or African cultures may leave the Euro-North American enthusiastic, indifferent, or even depressed. But it would never occur to him to confuse a Chinese with a Norwegian, or a Bantu with an Italian; nor would it occur to him to ask whether they exist. Yet, on the other hand, some Latin Americans are taken at times for apprentices, for rough drafts or dull copies of Europeans, including among these latter whites who constitute what Marti called "European America." In the same way, our entire culture is taken as an apprenticeship, a rough draft or a copy of European bourgeois culture ("an emanation of Europe," as Bolivar said). This last error is more frequent than the first, since confusion of a Cuban with an Englishman, or a Guatemalan with a German, tends to be impeded by a certain ethnic tenacity. Here the rioplatenses appear to be less ethnically, although not culturally, differentiated. The confusion lies in the root itself, because as descendants of numerous Indian, African, and European communities, we have only a few languages with which to understand one another: those of the colonizers. While other colonials or ex-colonials in metropolitan centers speak among themselves in their own language, we Latin Americans continue to use the languages of our colonizers. These are the linguas francas capable of going beyond the frontiers that neither the aboriginal nor Creole languages succeed in crossing. Right now as we are discussing, as I am discussing with those colonizers, how else can I do it except in one of their languages, which is now also our language, and with so many of their conceptual tools, which are now also our conceptual tools? This is precisely the extraordinary outcry that we read in a work by perhaps the most extraordinary writer of fiction who ever existed. In The Tempest, William Shakespeare's last play, the deformed Caliban--enslaved, robbed of his island, and trained to speak by Prospero--rebukes Prospero thus: "You taught me language, and my profit on't / Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you / For learning me your language!" (1. 2.362-64).

Toward the History of Caliban

Caliban is Shakespeare's anagram for "cannibal," an expression that he had already used to mean "anthropophagus," in the third part of Henry IV and in Othello and that comes in turn from the word carib. Before the arrival of the Europeans, whom they resisted heroically, the Carib Indians were the most valiant and warlike inhabitants of the very lands that we occupy today. Their name lives on in the name Caribbean Sea (referred to genially by some as the American Mediterranean, just as if we were to call the Mediterranean the Caribbean of Europe). But the name carib in itself--as well as in its deformation, cannibal--has been perpetuated in the eyes of Europeans above all as a defamation. It is the term in this sense that Shakespeare takes up and elaborates into a complex symbol. Because of its exceptional importance to us, it will be useful to trace its history in some detail.

In the Diario de Navegacion [Navigation logbooks] of Columbus there appear the first European accounts of the men who were to occasion the symbol in question. On Sunday, 4 November 1492, less than a month after Columbus arrived on the continent that was to be called America, the following entry was inscribed: "He learned also that far from the place there were men with one eye and others with dogs' muzzles, who ate human beings.'' On 23 November. this entry: "[the island of Haiti], which they said was very large and that on it lived people who had only one eye and others called cannibals, of whom they seemed to be very afraid." On 11 December it is noted " . . . that caniba refers in fact to the people of E1 Gran Can," which explains the deformation undergone by the name carib--also used by Columbus: In the very letter of 15 February 1493, "dated on the caravelle off the island of Canaria" in which Columbus announces to the world his "discovery," he writes: "I have found, then, neither monsters nor news of any, save for one island [Quarives], the second upon entering the Indies, which is populated with people held by everyone on the islands to be very ferocious, and who eat human flesh.''

This carib/cannibal image contrasts with another one of the American man presented in the writings of Columbus: that of the Arauaco of the Greater Antilles--our Taino Indian primarily--whom he describes as peaceful, meek, and even timorous and cowardly. Both visions of the American aborigine will circulate vertiginously throughout Europe, each coming to know its own particular development: The Taino will be transformed into the paradisical inhabitant of a utopic world; by 1516 Thomas More will publish his Utopia, the similarities of which to the island of Cuba have been indicated, almost to the point of rapture, by Ezequiel Martinez Estrada. The Carib, on the other hand, will become a cannibal--an anthropophagus, a bestial man situated on the margins of civilization, who must be opposed to the very death. But there is less of a contradiction than might appear at first glance between the two visions; they constitute, simply, options in the ideological arsenal of a vigorous emerging bourgeoisie. Francisco de Quevedo translated "utopia" as "there is no such place." With respect to these two visions, one might add, "There is no such man." The notion of an Edenic creature comprehends, in more contemporary terms, a working hypothesis for the bourgeois left, and, as such, offers an ideal model of the perfect society free from the constrictions of that feudal world against which the bourgeoisie is in fact struggling. Generally speaking, the utopic vision throws upon these lands projects for political reforms unrealized in the countries of origin. In this sense its line of development is far from extinguished, Indeed, it meets with certain perpetuators--apart from its radical perpetuators, who are the consequential revolutionaries--in the numerous advisers who unflaggingly propose to countries emerging from colonialism magic formulas from the metropolis to solve the grave problems colonialism has left us and which, of course, they have not yet resolved in their own countries. It goes without saying that these proponents of "There is no such place" are irritated by the insolent fact that the place does exist and, quite naturally, has all the virtues and defects not of a project but of genuine reality.

As for the vision of the cannibal, it corresponds--also in more contemporary terms--to the right wing of that same bourgeoisie. It belongs to the ideological arsenal of politicians of action, those who perform the dirty work in whose fruits the charming dreamers of utopias will equally share. That the Caribs were as Columbus (and, after him, an unending throng of followers) depicted them is about as probably as the existence of one-eyed men, men with dog muzzles or tails, or even the Amazons mentioned by the explorer in pages where Greco-Roman mythology, the medieval bestiary, and the novel of chivalry all play their part. It is a question of the typically degraded vision offered by the colonizer of the man he is colonizing, That we ourselves may have at one time believed in this version only proves to what extent we are infected with the ideology of the enemy. It is typical that we have applied the term cannibal not to the extinct aborigine of our isles but, above all, to the African black who appeared in those shameful Tarzan films. For it is the colonizer who brings us together, who reveals the profound similarities existing above and beyond our secondary differences. The colonizer's version explains to us that owing to the Caribs' irremediable bestiality, there was no alternative to their extermination. What it does not explain is why even before the Caribs, the peaceful and kindly Arauacos were also exterminated. Simply speaking, the two groups suffered jointly one of the greatest ethnocides recorded in history. (Needless to say, this line of action is still more alive than the earlier one.) In relation to this fact, it will always be necessary to point out the case of those men who, being on the fringe both of utopianism (which has nothing to do with the actual America) and of the shameless ideology of plunder, stood in their midst opposed to the conduct of the colonialists and passionately, lucidly, and valiantly defended the flesh-and-blood aborigine. In the forefront of such men stands the magnificent figure of Father Bartolome de las Casas, whom Bolivar called "the apostle of America!" and whom Marti extolled unreservedly. Unfortunately, such men were exceptions.

One of the most widely disseminated European utopian works is Montaigne's essay "De los canibales" [On Cannibals], which appeared in 1580. There we find a presentation of those creatures who "retain alive and vigorous their genuine, their most useful and natural, virtues and properties."

Giovanni Floro's English translation of the Essays was published in 1603. Not only was Floro a personal friend of Shakespeare, but the copy of the translation that Shakespeare owned and annotated is still extant. This piece of information would be of no further importance but for the fact that it proves beyond a shadow of doubt that the Essays was one of the direct sources of Shakespeare's last great work, The Tempest (1612). Even one of the characters of the play, Gonzalo, who incarnates the Renaissance humanist, at one point closely glosses entire lines from Floro's Montaigne, originating precisely in the essay on cannibals. This fact makes the form in which Shakespeare presents his character Caliban/cannibal even stranger. Because if in Montaigne--in this case, as unquestionable literary source for Shakespeare--"there is nothing barbarous and savage in that nation .... except that each man calls barbarism whatever is not his own practice," in Shakespeare, on the other hand, Caliban/cannibal is a savage and deformed slave who cannot be degraded enough. What has happened is simply that in depicting Caliban, Shakespeare, an implacable realist, here takes the other option of the emerging bourgeois world. Regarding the utopian vision, it does indeed exist in the work but is unrelated to Caliban; as was said before, it is expressed by the harmonious humanist Gonzalo. Shakespeare thus confirms that both ways of considering the American, far from being in opposition, were perfectly reconcilable. As for the concrete man, present him in the guise of an animal, rob him of his land, enslave him so as to live from his toil, and at the right moment exterminate him; this latter, of course, only if there were someone who could be depended on to perform the arduous tasks in his stead. In one revealing passage, Prospero warns his daughter that they could not do without Caliban: "We cannot miss him: he does make our fire, / Fetch in our wood, and serves in offices / that profit us"(1.2.311-13). The utopian vision can and must do without men of flesh and blood. After all, there is no such place.

There is no doubt at this point that The Tempest alludes to America, that its island is the mythification of one of our islands. Astrana Maron, who mentions the "clearly Indian (American) ambience of the island," recalls some of the actual voyages along this continent that inspired Shakespeare and even furnished him, with slight variations, with the names of not a few of his characters: Miranda, Fernando, Sebastian, Alonso, Gonzalo, Setebos. More important than this is the knowledge that Caliban is our Carib.

We are not interested in following all the possible readings that have been made of this notable work since its appearance, and shall merely point out some interpretations. The first of these comes from Ernest Renan, who published his drama Caliban: Suite de "La Tempete" in 1878. In this work, Caliban is the incarnation of the people presented in their worst light, except that this time his conspiracy against Prospero is successful and he achieves power--which ineptitude and corruption will surely prevent him from retaining. Prospero lurks in the darkness awaiting his revenge, and Ariel disappears. This reading owes less to Shakespeare than to the Paris Commune, which had taken place only seven years before. Naturally, Renan was among the writers of the French bourgeoisie who savagely took part against the prodigious "assault of heaven." Beginning with this event, his antidemocratic feeling stiffened even further. "In his Philosophical Dialogues," Lidsky tells us, "he believes that the solution would lie in the creation of an elite of intelligent beings who alone would govern and posses the secrets of science." Characteristically, Renan's aristocratic and prefascist elitism and his hatred of the common people of his country are united with an even greater hatred for the inhabitants of the colonies. It is instructive to hear him express himself along these lines.

We aspire [he says] not only to equality but to domination. The country of a foreign race must again be a country of serfs, of agricultural laborers or industrial workers. It is not a question of eliminating the inequalities among men but of broadening them and making them law.

And on another occasion:

The regeneration of the inferior or bastard races by the superior races is within the providential human order. With us, the common man is nearly always a declasse nobleman, his heavy hand is better suited to handling the sword than the menial tool. Rather than work he chooses to fight, that is, he returns to his first state. Regere imperio populos--that is our vocation. Pour forth this all-consuming activity onto countries which, like China, are crying aloud for foreign conquest .... Nature has made a race of workers, the Chinese race, with its marvelous manual dexterity and almost no sense of honor; govern them with justice, levying from them, in return for the blessing of such a government, an ample allowance for the conquering race, and they will be satisfied; a race of tillers of the soil, the black--a race of masters and soldiers, the European race... Let each do that which he is made for, and all will be well.

It is unnecessary to gloss these lines, which, as Cesaire rightly says, came from the pen not of Hitler but of the French humanist Ernest Renan.

The initial destiny of the Caliban myth on our own American soil is a surprising one. Twenty years after Renan had published his Caliban--in other words, in 1898--the United States intervened in the Cuban war of independence against Spain and subjected Cuba to its tutelage, converting her in 1902 into her first neocolony (and holding her until 1959), while Puerto Rico and the Philippines became colonies of a traditional nature. The fact--which had been anticipated by Marti years before--moved the Latin-American intelligentsia. Elsewhere I have recalled that "ninety-eight" is not only a Spanish date that gives its name to a complex group of writers and thinkers of that country, but it is also, and perhaps most importantly, a Latin-American date that should serve to designate a no less complex group of writers and thinkers on this side of the Atlantic, generally known by the vague name of modernistas. It is "ninety-eight"--the visible presence of North American imperialism in Latin America--already foretold by Marti, which informs the later work of someone like Dario or Rodo.

In a speech given by Paul Groussac in Buenos Aires on 2 May 1898, we have an early example of how Latin-American writers of the time would react to this situation:

Since the Civil War and the brutal Invasion of the West [he says], the Yankee spirit had rid itself completely of its formless and "Calibanesque" body, and the Old World has contemplated with disquiet and terror the newest civilization that intends to supplant Our own, declared to be in decay.

The Franco-Argentine writer Groussac feels that "our" civilization (obviously understanding by that term the civilization of the "Old World," of which we Latin Americans would, curiously enough, be a part) is menaced by the Calibanesque Yankee. It seems highly improbable that the Algerian or Vietnamese writer of the time, trampled underfoot by French colonialism, would have been ready to subscribe to the first part of such a criterion. It is also frankly strange to see the Caliban symbol, ... in which Renan could with exactitude see, if only to abuse, the people ... being applied to the United States. But nevertheless, despite this blurred focus--characteristic, on the other hand, of Latin America's unique situation--Groussac's reaction implies a clear rejection of the Yankee danger by Latin-American writers. This is not, however, the first time that such a rejection was expressed on our continent. Apart from cases of Hispanic writers such as Bolivar and Marti, among others, Brazilian literature presents the example of Joaquin de Sousa Andrade, or Sousandrade, in whose strange poem, O Guesa Errante, stanza 10 is dedicated to "'O inferno Wall Street," "a Walpurgisnacht of corrupt stockbrokers, petty politicians, and businessmen." There is besides Jose Verissimo, who in an 1890 treatise on national education impugned the United States with his "I admire them, but I don't esteem them."

We do not know whether the Uraguayan Jose Enrique Rodo--whose famous phrase on the United States, "I admire them, but I don't love them," coincides literally with Verissimo's observation--knew the work of that Brazilian thinker but it is certain that he was familiar with Groussac's speech, essential portions of which were reproduced in La Razon of Montevideo on 6 May 1898. Developing and embellishing the idea outlined in it, Rodo published in 1900, at the age of twenty-nine, one of the most famous works of Latin-American literature: Ariel. North American civilization is implicitly presented there as Caliban (scarcely mentioned in the work), while Ariel would come to incarnate--or should incarnate--the best of what Rodo did not hesitate to call more than once "our civilization" (223, 226). In his words, just as in those of Groussac, this civilization was identified not only with "our Latin America" (239) but with ancient Romania, if not with the Old World as a whole. The identification of Caliban with the United States, proposed by Groussac and popularized by Rodo, was certainly a mistake. Attacking this error from one angle, Jose Vasconcelos commented that "if the Yankees were only Caliban, they would not represent any great danger." But this is doubtless of little importance next to the relevant fact that the danger in question had clearly been pointed out. As Benedetti rightly observed, "Perhaps Rodo erred in naming the danger, but he did not err in his recognition of where it lay.''

Sometime afterward, the French writer Jean Guehenno--who, although surely aware of the work by the colonial Rodo, knew of course Renan's work from memory--restated the latter's Caliban thesis in his own Caliban parle [Caliban speaks], published in Paris in 1929. This time, however, the Renan identification of Caliban with the people is accompanied by a positive evaluation of Caliban. One must be grateful to Guehenno's book--and it is about the only thing for which gratitude is due--for having offered for the first time an appealing version of the character. But the theme would have required the hand or the rage of a Paul Nizan to be effectively realized.

Much sharper are the observations of the Argentine Anibal Ponce, in his 1935 work Humanismo burgues y humanismo proletario. The book--which a student of Che's thinking conjectures must have exercised influence on the latter--devotes the third chapter to "Ariel; or, The Agony of an Obstinate Illusion." In commenting on The Tempest, Ponce says that "those four beings embody an entire era: Prospero is the enlightened despot who loves the Renaissance; Miranda, his progeny; Caliban, the suffering masses [Ponce will then quote Renan, but not Guehenno]; and Ariel, the genius of the air without any ties to life.'' Ponce points up the equivocal nature of Caliban's presentation, one that reveals "an enormous injustice on the part of a master." In Ariel he sees the intellectual, fled to Prospero in "less burdensome and crude a way than Caliban, but also in his service." His analysis of the conception of the intellectual ("mixture of slave and mercenary") coined by Renaissance humanism, a concept that "'taught as nothing else could an indifference to action and an acceptance of the established order" and that even today is for the intellectual in the bourgeois world "the educational ideal of the governing classes," constitutes one of the most penetrating essays written on the theme in our America.

But this examination, although made by a Latin American, still took only the European world into account. For a new reading of The Tempest--for a new consideration of the problem--it was necessary to await the emergence of the colonial countries, which begins around the time of the Second World War. That abrupt presence led the busy technicians of the United Nations to invent, between 1944 and 1945, the term economically underdeveloped area in order to dress in attractive (and profoundly confusing) verbal garb what had until then been called colonial area, or backward areas.

Concurrently with this emergence there appeared in Paris in 1950 O. Mannoni's book Psychologie de la colonisation. Significantly, the English edition of this book (New York, 1956) was to be called Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization. To approach his subject, Mannoni has created, no less, what he calls the "Prospero complex," defined as "the sum of those unconscious neurotic tendencies that delineate at the same time the 'picture' of the paternalist colonial and the portrait of the racist whose daughter has been the object of an [imaginary] attempted rape at the hands of an inferior being." In this book, probably for the first time, Caliban is identified with the colonial. But the odd theory that the latter suffers from a "Prospero complex" that leads him neurotically to require, even to anticipate, and naturally to accept the presence of Prospero/colonizer is roundly rejected by Frantz Fanon in the fourth chapter ("The So-Called Dependence Complex of Colonized Peoples") of his 1952 book Black Skin, White Masks.

Although he is (apparently) the first writer in our world to assume our identification with Caliban, the Barbadian writer George Lamming is unable to break the circle traced by Mannoni: Prospero [says Lamming] has given Caliban language; and with it an unstated history of consequences, an unknown history of future intentions. This gift of language meant not English, in particular, but speech and concept as a way, a method, a necessary avenue towards areas of the self which could not be reached in any other way. It is this way, entirely Prospero's enterprise, which makes Caliban aware of possibilities. Therefore, all of Caliban's future--for future is the very name of possibilities--must derive from Prospero's experiment, which is also his risk. Provided there is no extraordinary departure which explodes all of Prospero's premises, then Caliban and his future now belong to Prospero... Prospero lives in the absolute certainty that Language, which is his gift to Caliban, is the very prison in which Caliban's achievements will be realized and restricted.

In the decade of the 1960s, the new reading of The Tempest ultimately established its hegemony. In The Living World of Shakespeare (1964), the Englishman John Wain will tell us that Caliban has the pathos of the exploited peoples everywhere, poignantly expressed at the beginning of a three-hundred-year wave of European colonization; even the lowest savage wishes to be left alone rather than be "educated" and made to work for someone else, and there is an undeniable justice in his complaint: "For I am all the subjects that you have, / Which once was mine own king." Prospero retorts with the inevitable answer of the colonist: Caliban has gained in knowledge and skill (though we recall that he already knew how to build dams to catch fish, and also to dig pig-nuts from the soil, as if this were the English countryside). Before being employed by Prospero, Caliban had no language: " . . . thou didst not, savage, / Know thy own meaning, but wouldst gabble like /A thing most brutish." However, this kindness has been rewarded with ingratitude. Caliban, allowed to live in Prospero's cell, has made an artempt to ravish Miranda. When sternly reminded of this, he impertinently says, with a kind of slavering guffaw, "Oh ho! Oh ho! ... would it have been done! / Thou didst prevent me; I had peopled else / This isle with Calibans." Our own age [Wain concludes], which is much given to using the horrible word "miscegenation," ought to have no difficulty in understanding this passage.

At the end of that same decade, in 1969, and in a highly significant manner, Caliban would be taken up with pride as our symbol by three Antillian writers--each of whom expresses himself in one of the three great colonial languages of the Caribbean. In that year, independently of one another, the Martinican writer Aime Cesaire published his dramatic work in French Une tempete: Adaptation de "La Tempete" de Shakespeare pour un theatre negre; the Barbadian Edward Brathwaite, his book of poems Islands, in English, among which there is one dedicated to "Caliban" and the author of these lines, an essay in Spanish, "Cuba hasta Fidel," which discusses our, identification with Caliban. In Cesaire's work the characters are the same as those of Shakespeare. Ariel, however, is a mulatto slave, and Caliban is a black slave; in addition, Eshze, "a black god-devil" appears. Prospero's remark when Ariel returns, full of scruples, after having unleashed--following Prospero's orders but against his won conscience--the tempest with which the work begins is curious indeed: "'Come now!" Prospero says to him, "Your crisis! It's always the same with intellectuals!" Brathwaite's poem called "Caliban" is dedicated, signficantly, to Cuba: "In Havana that morning... " writes Brathwaite, "It was December second, nineteen fifty-six. / It was the first of August eighteen thirty-eight. / It was the twelfth October fourteen ninety-two. / How many bangs how many revolutions?"

Our Symbol

Our symbol then is not Ariel, as Rodo thought, but rather Caliban. This is something that we, the mestizo inhabitants of these same isles where Caliban lived, see with particular clarity: Prospero invaded the islands, killed our ancestors, enslaved Caliban, and taught him his language to make himself understood. What else can Caliban do but use that same language--today he has no other--to curse him, to wish that the "red plague" would fall on him? I know no other metaphor more expressive of our cultural situation, of our reality. From Tupac Amaru, Tiradentes, Toussaint-Louverture, Simon Bolivar, Father Hidalgo, Jose Artigas, Bernardo O'Higgins, Benito Juarez, Antonio Maceo, and Jose Marti, to Emiliano Zapata, Augusto Cesar Sandino, Julio Antonio Mella, Pedro Albizu Campos, Lazaro Cardenas, Fidel Castro, and Ernesto Che Guevara, from the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, the Aleijadinho, the popular music of the Antilles, Jose Hernandez, Eugenio Maria de Hostos, Manuel Gonzalez Prada, Ruben Dario (yes, when all is said and done), Baldomero Lillo, and Horacio Quiroga, to Mexican muralism, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Cesar Vallejo, Jose Carlos Mariategui, Ezequiel Martinez Estrada, Carlos Gardel, Pablo Neruda, Alejo Carpentier, Nicolas Guillen, Aime Cesaire, Jose Maria Arguedas, Violeta Parra, and Frantz Fanon--what is our history, what is our culture, if not the history and culture of Caliban?

As regards Rodo, if it is indeed true that he erred in his symbols, as has already been said, it is no less true that he was able to point with clarity to the greatest enemy of our culture in his time--and in ours--and that is enormously important. Rodo's limitations (and this is not the moment to elucidate them) are responsible for what he saw unclearly or failed to see at all. But what is worthy of note in his case is what he did indeed see and what continued to retain a certain amount of validity and even virulence.

Despite his failings, omissions, and ingenuousness [Benedetti has also said], Rodo's vision of the Yankee phenomenon, rigorously situated in its historical context, was in its time the first launching pad for other less ingenuous, better informed and more foresighted formulations to come .... the almost prophetic substance of Rodo's Arielism still retains today a certain amount of validity.

These observations are supported by indisputable realities. We Cubans become well aware that Rodo's vision fostered later, less ingenuous, and more radical formulations when we simply consider the work of our own Julio Antonio Mella, on whose development the influence of Rodo was decisive. In "Intelectuales y tartufos" [Intellectuals and Tartuffes] (1924), a vehement work written at the age of twenty-one, Mella violently attacks the false intellectual values of the time... opposing them with such names as Unamuno, Jose Vasconcelos, Ingenieros, and Varona. He writes, "The intellectual is the worker of the mind. The worker! That is, the only man who in Rodo's judgment is worthy of life .... he who takes up his pen against iniquity just as others take up the plow to fecundate the earth, or the sword to liberate peoples, or a dagger to execute tyrants."

Mella would again quote Rodo with devotion during that year and in the following year he was to help found the Ariel Polytechnic Institute in Havana. It is opportune to recall that in this same year, 1925, Mella was also among the founders of Cuba's first Communist party. Without a doubt, Rodo's Ariel served as a "launching pad" for the meteoric revolutionary career of this first organic Marxist-Leninist in Cuba (who was also one of the first on the continent.)

As further examples of the relative validity that Rodo's anti-Yankee argument retains even in our own day, we can point to enemy attempts to disarm such an argument. A strange case is that of Emir Rodriguez Monegal, for whom Ariel, in addition to "material for philosophic or sociological meditation, also contains pages of a polemic nature on political problems of the moment. And it was precisely this secondary but undeniable condition that determined its immediate popularity and dissemination." Rodo's essential position against North American penetration would thus appear to be an afterthought, a secondary fact in the work. It is known, however, that Rodo conceived it immediately after American intervention in Cuba in 1898, as a response to the deed. Rodriguez Monegal says:

The work thus projected was Ariel. In the final version only two direct allusions are found to the historical fact that was its primary motive force; . . . both allusions enable us to appreciate how Rodo has transcended the initial historical circumstance to arrive fully at the essential problem: the proclaimed decadence of the Latin race.

The fact that a servant of imperialism such as Rodriguez Monegal, afflicted with the same "Nordo-mania" that Rodo denounced in 1900, tries so coarsely to emasculate Rodo's work, only proves that it does indeed retain a certain virulence in its formulation--something that we would approach today from other perspectives and with other means. An analysis of Ariel--and this is absolutely not the occasion to make one... would lead us also to stress how, despite his background and his antiJacobianism, Rodo combats in it the antidemocratic spirit of Renan and Nietzsche (in whom he finds "an abominable, reactionary spirit" [224]) and exalts democracy, moral values, and emulation. But undoubtedly the rest of the work has lost the immediacy that its gallant confrontation of the United States and the defense of our values still retains.

 Put into perspective, it is almost certain that these lines would not bear the name they have were it not for Rodo's book, and I prefer to consider them also as a homage to the great Uruguayan, whose centenary is being celebrated this year. That the homage contradicts him on not a few points is not strange. Medardo Vitier has already observed that "if there should be a return to Rodo, I do not believe that it would be to adopt the solution he offered concerning the interests of the life of the spirit, but rather to reconsider the problem."

In proposing Caliban as our symbol, I am aware that it is not entirely ours, that it is also an alien elaboration, although in this case based on our concrete realities. But how can this alien quality be entirely avoided? The most venerated word in Cuba--mambi--was disparagingly imposed on us by our enemies at the time of the war for independence, and we still have not totally deciphered its meaning. It seems to have an African root, and in the mouth of the Spanish colonists implied the idea that. all independentistas were so many black slaves--emancipated by that very war for independence--who of course constituted the bulk of the liberation army. The independentistas, white and black, adopted with honor something that colonialism meant as an insult. This is the dialectic of Caliban. To offend us they call us mambi, they call us black; but we reclaim as a mark of glory the honor of considering ourselves descendants of the mambi, descendants of the rebel, runaway, independentista black--never descendants of the slave holder. Nevertheless, Prospero, as we well know, taught his language to Caliban and, consequently, gave him a name. But is this his true name? Let us listen to this speech made in 1971:

To be completely precise, we still do not even have a name; we still have no name: we are practically unbaptized--whether as Latin Americans, Ibero-Americans, Indo-Americans. For the imperialists, we are nothing more than despised and despicable peoples. At least that was what we were. Since Giron they have begun to change their thinking. Racial contempt--to be a Creole, to be a mestizo, to be black, to be simply, a Latin American, is for them contemptible.

This, naturally, is Fidel Castro on the tenth anniversary of the victory at Playa Giron.

To assume our condition as Caliban implies rethinking our history from the other side, from the viewpoint of the other protagonist. The other protagonist of The Tempest (or, as we might have said ourselves, The Hurricane) is not of course Ariel but, rather, Prospero. There is no real Ariel-Caliban polarity: both are slaves in the hands of Prospero, the foreign magician. But Caliban is the rude and unconquerable master of the island, while Ariel, a creature of the air, although also a child of the isle, is the intellectual--as both Ponce and Cesaire have seen.