FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Art in Cuba, and a Call to Debunk Liberalism

The relationship between culture and politics is one of Cuba’s “grandes riquezas ideológicas”.[i] Victor Hugo agreed with Cuban independence leader, José Martí, about the radical significance of art. Hugo’s agreement conflicts with liberalism: It contradicts its idea of freedom. Liberalism threatens truth. It should be opposed by anyone who cares about global justice in the 21st century.

Liberalism is supposedly about freedom but it is a certain sort of freedom: from the “inside”.

I am free, roughly, if I follow my “inner voice”, which is the voice of  my self (sometimes called “practical identity”). I act reasonably when I choose the option most likely to realize that self.  Liberalism holds (1) that I live best when I live “from the inside” and (2) that I act rationally, in an individual (non-moral) sense, when I advance my own ends (within specified limits, of course).

Both Martí and Hugo said art is essential to politics.

They didn’t look to art for entertainment, tranquility or escape. They looked to art for realism.  Realism is the view that beliefs are true or false, and we can discover truth to some extent: How the world seems is not necessarily how it is, including how people seem, and what it means to be human. Realism about human and moral truths is not popular in the rich North, culturally or academically.

The value of art is intrinsic, not instrumental.

Art is hard to define but one point is accepted. The value of art is independent of use. Art may have a use but its value as art is usually independent of use. This means it should be experienced without expectations.

Martí and Hugo both included people in art.

In his poem “Thirst for beauty”, Martí mentions “humanidad sangrienta” (bleeding humanity) as a candidate for beauty. Hugo refers to human behaviour as “social beauty”. [ii]

If human beings and human action are experienced as art, that is, without expectations, it can disrupt expectations which, in unjust societies, are often false.

Consider Les Misérables: Inspector Javert relentlessly pursues ex-convict Jean Valjean. Eventually, Valjean has a chance for revenge but, rather than kill Javert, Valjean frees him. Javert wants Valjean to kill him. Why? Hugo writes that Javert “felt emptied, useless, cut off from his past life, demoted, dissolved…” Javert wants Valjean to kill him because that is what every part of his being tells him to expect. And when that doesn’t happen he feels “cut off from his past life”. Javert’s expectations are broken. Hugo writes, Javert saw what was “terrible… He was moved”: by social beauty.

This sort of pain moves us toward truth about human beings and human capacities, and it may be the only way to get such truth in dehumanizing societies.

Martí compares beauty to a sword (370 times) [iii] and Hugo sees happiness and truth as opposed. Martí uses stormy, crushing images of nature as similes for what happens inside when we know beauty: brokenness, not fullness. Beauty is a sword because it breaks us. Hugo agrees: Happiness deflects the sword of beauty: “There are those who ask for nothing more, living beings who, having bright blue skies above, say: This is enough …  people who … are determined to be happy until the stars stop shining and the birds stop singling. These are the darkly radiant. They have no idea they are to be pitied. … Whoever does not weep does not see”.

For Hugo, like Martí, individual freedom is not defined “from the inside”.

Hugo sees those pursuing their own happiness as “darkly radiant”. He agrees with Martí that human freedom is a “Herculean struggle against our own nature”: the self. “Happiness” is incompatible with (moral or human) truth for a simple reason: We are happy when expectations are realized, when we get what we want. But expectations are socially derived. Truth – e.g. about dehumanization – shows desires and dreams as we might not want to know them. [iv] Truth is an “implacable foe” of the sort of happiness expected in liberal societies: fulfillment of dreams. Living “from the inside”, we are the darkly radiant.

Conclusion: Liberalism undermines truths about human capacities because in dehumanizing societies, knowing such capacities as they are breaks the self that, for liberalism, defines freedom.

Martí saw it that way. He was the hemisphere’s first anti-imperialist (before Lenin). And Hugo apparently agreed.  Javert is an example. He is not a bad person. But for him, as for his society, Valjean is not human. Javert experiences Valjean’s humanity when Valjean frees Javert rather than killing him. Javert is broken by Valjean’s action, and because Javert saw it for what it was: art.

Liberalism understands freedom as following the “inner voice”, your self, but truth in systemically unjust societies breaks that self, and must.

Why it matters

It is true that 20% of the world’s population uses most of the resources. It is also true that the 20% “lives well” because the 80% doesn’t. We kill and rob them (for their oil, for example) because they don’t count as people like us. Moreover, we think we live well because we don’t think about these truths. Finally, the darkly radiant don’t actually live well. We are mostly depressed and anxious, and increasingly unable to respond to human beings as human beings.

In short, we should abandon sunny liberalism and know beauty that hurts.

Ana Belén Montes is not among the darkly radiant. [v] Please sign petition here.

Notes.

[i] “greatest ideological riches”: Armando Hart Dávalos

[ii] I am grateful to Dr. Robert Rennebohm for this point.

[iii] Berta Elena Romero Molina “Sobre la sed de belleza martiana” ACEM 36 (2013) 236-250

[iv] This was recognized by student activists in the 70s in the US. They proclaimed “there are no innocents” meaning that a comfortable white life is collusion in the slaughter in Viet Nam.

[v] http://www.prolibertad.org/ana-belen-montes. For more information, write to the cnc@canadiannetworkoncuba.ca or cincoheroes@listas.cujae.edu.cu

 

More articles by:

Susan Babbitt is author of Humanism and Embodiment (Bloomsbury 2014).

July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science – Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
Patrick Cockburn
Is ISIS About to Lose Its Last Stronghold in Syria?
Joseph Grosso
The Invisible Class: Workers in America
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail