History does not forgive the audacity that goes fruitful of ignorance. Being aware of the waiting is the basis of the supreme law of causality, awaiting the right time to manifest its power. It is true that it may be risky and imaginative to give autonomy and power of decision making to an abstract taxonomy built by human knowledge, but it is imminent its natural and insidious character. After more than fifty years of sonatas to equality, sovereignty, and the power of the people and democracy, the fashion parade of the second most prestigious house worldwide shows the emptiness of so many speeches given by the Government of the Cuban Republic for more than fifty years to maintain of the status quo, the collective debasement that expresses in its attitudes the society that holds –similar to Stockholm’s Syndrome, a disease in which the victim shows a deep love for the aggressor– and vulnerability of the building of its symbolic system, so far sturdy. For many, the presence of Chanel in Cuba may have proved a spectacular success, with extraordinary features, but its real significance has been the liquidation of the modern speech on the foundation of Cuban society, demonstration of each and every one of its fallacies and the most resounding gesture of welcome that the globalized world offers this little island after so many decades, out of date and in isolation.
Hastily and at first sight to the visual display of this show, the evidence skips that our sociocultural colonialism condition has not been eradicated from the own imagination nor from others’. We could even say that this parade largely constituted the revival of this condition for Cuban culture and society. Nevertheless, these reflections indeed only demonstrate our lack of vision to a process that has just begun on this island and our little preparation for possible obstacles. Even, it would be confirmation of our attachment to notions as late as the post-colonialism to understand our immediate reality just in the middle of a context of thought in which power relations are thought on the plane of a global world system condensed by the use of information, technology and people’s culture. The show of Chanel in Paseo del Prado, from the presentation of the wardrobe to the location, even music, was a conscious process of rereading and historical recreation in which the exogenous look built the possible appearance of the new local person, ready to be subsumed by the universe that spreads beyond the borders of his isolation and logic that stimulates him.
Exoticism strumming only the surface of the sociocultural reality of Cubans, facilitator of the marginalization of all areas that are unattractive to the ultramodern logic of capitalism and narrative diegesis of this show, might be the most pressing notes when analyzing the ordering dimension of cultural gesture that has had Chanel in the Island. Even, this act of synthesis of Cuban social reality could be understood as an attempt of cultural subjugation of a community and its values, the efficient working of a group of favourable stereotypes for the development of “good image” of Cuba, similar to a situation which, without any doubt, they should have raised to the native Americans after the arrival of Europeans to these lands in the late 15th Century. But, assuming the existence of a new phase of colonialism in Cuban history, a result of pathological traumas for culture related to dependence, would cut our own heads. It is necessary to extend the look beyond the horizon and evade the revival of the myth of possession, a huge sign of underdevelopment. It is clear that in the immediate present we take the risk of depending on outside forces to our own potential and build our image not from our own perception, but that of others’. But it is necessary to find another enclave for the most urgent cartographic signs of our historical time. Let’s think well, not like an island anymore stringing radical notions of isolation which has justified the building of one of the most pro-nationalist systems of the human history, but which concomitant fragment in the whole phenomenological of the “global village” that is today’s world.
The performance that Chanel carried out in Havana within Cuban culture has been a sort of historical visit, according not to the usual incredibly and terrifying speech of coercion, respect and mourning imposed by Western modernity with rational logic. Actually, it is more familiar with a decidedly postmodern attitude towards the past, described as a historicist zeal that feeds on an overcoming nostalgia and works from the reduction of historical memory and the past in a bunch of texts, from its recycling and activation of residual and imaginary constructions that from the past stay wandering in the present. This particular way of remembering generates a doubtful past image of each past episode, fruit of human inability to directly experience the historical future with the current post-structuralist thought that since the middle of 20th Century orders human reason.
The golden years of contemporaneity for Americans remain the fifties of the last century, known as the Eisenhower Era. Americans have been an important issuer of behaviors, practices and cultural icons worldwide, it is not difficult to assume that the rest of the world got caught in a nostalgic passion for that moment of splendor from the historical past, especially when most of Europe did not experience fully the obvious sign of those years. Paradoxically, for Cuban culture that decade also has a particular dimension, due to during those years our image of Republic just finished to edify, associated with values such as economic and financial progress, leisure, showmanship and modernity. In addition, the city space acquired its exact dimension and both the rhythms of life and cultural behaviors settled in the local body. Those years are the most emphatic evidence that the condition of colonialism, solidified for more than four centuries in the Island could be exceeded. Those years are also the most accurate memory of splendor and glory still active in the collective imagination, perhaps for the survival in the present of some of its strongest signs –taking into consideration the fact that about eighty percent of the Cuban capital existing today was built in those years– maybe because of the inability to exceed the expectations which that decade imposed to our future. The truth is that for Cuban culture, the sleek fifties are the symbolic moment of the foundation of Havana and its identity. It has been active since, for more than five decades in the collective imagination, the fabulous city of those years with its radiant cars which last redoubt, high towers of apartments, large urban axes, cinemas and a bunch of traditions. But, in the immediate present Cuba is to the world the last chance to recreate in the present the most seductive signs of that time in the past, idealized as the golden age for quite few sensitivities. Cuba is now the Eisenhower Era to the world: a late universe to the rays of the Caribbean sun, personification of privileged object of desire.
On this symbolic construction, both from outside and from within, the performance of Chanel settles in Havana, assisted by a very particular way to build the historical memory. Fredrick Jameson, one of the most thoughtful theorists of postmodern thought has called it “an aesthetic colonization of the past from its stylistic recovery.” In order to clarify his manifestations, he says that by this elemental way of speech tries to reposition both the present and the immediate past compensating them everything that has escaped both individual and collective existential memory. Jameson warns this nostalgic gesture will never be an old fashion representation of a historical content, but it will be addressed at the past through its stylistic connotation, building up an ever-bright image, tending to the spectacular.
This type of historicist speech is familiar with the use of intertextuality according to tactics, which operator of a new connotation of “the past” and a pseudo historical depth at which the history of styles removes the “true story.” The world acquired by these means an incalculable textual dimension. On the other hand, the concept of pastiche also plays a remarkable role: this, “(…) as parody is the imitation of a peculiar mask, a speech in a dead language; but it is a neutral practice of such imitation, lacking of ulterior motives of the parody, stripped of its satiric impulse, devoid of laughter and the conviction that aside the abnormal tongue which at the moment has been used still exists a healthy linguistic normality. (…) It is an empty parody, a statue of blind basins (…).”
Thus historical time on the operation of a simulacrum in which the final product is an identical copy of an original one that has never been existed. “(…) The past as a referent is gradually encircled and completely erased in a slow way, after which we only have texts.”
The approach to the present through the artistic language of the simulacrum or pastiche of stereotypical past come from the current reality and the extent of present history, of the spell and distance of a glossy mirage. But this peculiar aesthetic way with its hypnotic power emerged as a symptom developed of the wane of our historicity, of our vital chance to experience history actively: therefore, it can not be claimed that it produces this strange concealment of present by its own formal power, but that it only does it in order to demonstrate through these internal contradictions, the enormity of a situation in which we seem to be increasingly incapable of creating representations of our own current experience nowadays. (…) And it can not be proposed to represent the historical past, it can only “represent” our ideas and stereotypes about that past (which becomes therefore immediately, “pop history”). This way, the cultural production is locked in a mental space (…) and it can not refer to a real putative world, a reconstruction of past history that was in certain way a present (…).
Regarding Jameson’s reflections, and these are conclusive and avoid catastrophic assumptions according to our symbolic-cultural safety. Beyond all those conspiring visions in the world that identify the threat to our sovereignty and cultural integrity, the image that Chanel has built on the Island is not the result of a seditious breath, nor bad intentions or imperialist fabrications. It is an effective exercise of a very particular historicity resulting from a particular relation to memory.
However, in the immediate present, during this boastful show in Havana, there is a discursive crash between the version of the history that has been framed from outside and it works from inside. In the first case we find that after this spectacular and melancholic version of the past, torn out of stigmatizing, satiric or doctrinaire intentions associated to a global behavior of narrating with startled tones each event that is beyond ordinary experience and a sincere global inability hides to rightly represent the past. But, in the second case the speech about history, enclosed in thresholds of glory and fallacy, versed in a single voice, encouraged to ignore all those areas that are alien to the command intentions of power, it constitutes support and noble proof of the doctrinaire company for all modern Nation-State. Both the first, rickety in a seductive spectacle, like the second one, constantly activated in individual and collective consciousness, vile coercive method worn in an abusive process of self-representation, have agreed on a bestial struggle over the gleaming floors of Havana’s Paseo del Prado. What is relevant is that this crash has emerged, no longer from an image of the past, but one from the future. All utopian energies, anchored to the effective possibilities of reactivating the past have been summoned in emergency of the present, in simple flash, generating among all Cubans even more confusion about the contingency of a different future, possible continuation of that lustrous past of the fifties.
In the shadow of this image that falls on the atmosphere of expectation and hope grow copious doubts: Has been a foolish gesture affirming for more than five decades that the unshakeable character of our politics, of our course, and our crusade against logic that moves everyone? Has been our law a vile lie? Perhaps Goliath, after the strike of David’s sling, did not die. Maybe, David only dreamed of the possibility of victory in folly sweats.
At this exact time, it’s fair to say that its presence in Havana and the display of its collection that Chanel has battered the last posts of utopia of socialism in Cuba, sticking on its way a dystopian image of glamor that may seem a seditious appeal and even apocalyptic. But, seeing this fictional universe recreated in our public space, proclaiming selectivity, segregation, luxury and ostentation, and the gesture of complicity in the power structure of unshakable Cuban state generates more than wonder. It is finally a twisted image.
In short, for the first time in the history of Cuban culture since the revolutionary triumph of January 1959 is assumed subliminally the existence of a social elite class, clearly invited to witness in the company of well-known artists from the world of cinema, fashion, business and the arts, the wonderful display of Chanel. For the first time, also the official speech seemed wisest the silence than the decision about the use of its loftiest symbols of power and coercion and even their emblems which pretext for making luxury items, clothing, empty masks that they will now lie on the young face of our culture. Neither it seemed annoyed the use of relative images on the imagination of a bourgeois Havana of Lasas and Baros wooing the world from the malls of Paseo del Prado, or it was reactivated cultural and symbolically the neuralgic space of the extramural city with its circuit between the Capitolio Nacional, the Galician Center of Havana and new hotels, which nostalgic memory of the early years of the Republic, of the pre-revolutionary Cuba. It did not even bother to prevent the crudest realities of the Island was suppressed before the splendid display of Chanel. We must not forget that on both sides of the avenue, while drums, piano and violins sounded, and steps compensate on the pavement of our history, many Cuban “lower class” live in the most derisory life conditions. Perhaps, power and authority have been eclipsed, sedated and definitely canceled.
In the official speech, the irreversible adjective has been weighted during a long time. Perhaps in the way of handling its position in front of a universe whose working logic has repealed the power of its usual platforms has been the confident of permissibility. Maybe, it has decided to take its countenance of large fossilized dinosaur or renew its operations in order to avoid its imminent collapse. Perhaps, it has not warned the power in this universe, nothing is immutable and that is just the cause of its own death.
About four years ago, in the same stretch on Paseo del Prado, Los Carpinteros orchestrated one of the most memorable performances of Cuban contemporary art. At that time, another was its significance, today its simple occurrence is more disturbing, given the evidence that gives us the present about our future. A group of drummers and dancers, bedecked with the traditional wardrobe of Cuban guaracheros, archetypal image of the Island tastiness, got to dance to the music of drums, inviting a multiple and enthusiastic public to back up them. The stereotypical image now as a subject had been built since the estrangement: their clothes were not the usual signs and picturesqueness, but in their black tones, they proclaimed severity and mourning rather than rumba. That structure within the play was a call to overthrow the stereotypes that go through us and to protect the universe of the symbolic that shelters us. At the same time, that severity augured the mourning of a truth assumed as such, lends itself to succumb in the hands of many masks that besiege it.
Rumberos’s dancing steps were like the crab such as popular proverb which says “going back, back, without looking behind.” The myth of the unity of the people acquired in stage a dimension beyond the group strategy. Each of these elements, simple shifts of meaning that move these typical operations of Cuban culture away from its ordinary character, and transfer the impetus of an artistic-cultural text, seasoning a tasty reversible Conga.
That artistic gesture jumps, with no little irony accompanying it, to the memory when the show of Chanel ends with a glorious conga of new people. Surely, Los Carpinteros now say it was unthinkable that this happened, in the current situation referring to their artistic gesture, but it was a possibility that could not be less: Cuba can be neither today, nor tomorrow a spectacular setting for the display of its own history. Cuba or its history are not reversible, even compensable. Instead, its foolishness does have a way to go and it is better that evil deeds lack of the despotic worthy of the static and unbreakable.
That way blindly, with the taste of the real wonderful Carpenteriano in the flow of the most impure percussion of the earth marked the route of a journey full of mistakes, and death. That improbable path on the pavement of Paseo del Prado once blurred, proclaims in its own body, the possibility of being walked again.
As it is easy to understand that the presence of Chanel in Cuba has been a shock therapy to show each of the sensitivities that are part of the Cuban sociocultural building, that are part of the globalized world and at some point, if it is not already, it will be precise to abandon ourselves to the irresistible forces. It has come the time in this country when words do nothing but overflowing the already overflowing cup of cynicism. The wiles of the official speech have become finally its own trap, and eventually it will be the slab of the ossuary. So, no more words that in the bed time precipitates. And on the night table, hidden in the innocence of a music box, rest weakened, the chants to the irreversible utopia of the Cuban Revolution.
–Luis Enrique Padrón