Messages from José Rojas Bez / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

Dear Desideri,

Receive once more a warm embrace from this friend “beyond the capital.”

I welcome your fair challenge to the title of “GROUP” being applied to the large and diverse number of participants in the current debate, and the last paragraphs, about our “culture of spectacle” (and their “controls”), motivate me even more.

But I wanted to make an observation. Knowing you for years (you and your work), I know that this is a lapse in the editing when you talk about “the important ones.” It’s worth clarifying that we are all equally important as human beings and potential “contributors” although not equally “known”or “influential.” Let’s avoid falling into the trap that we criticize; thanks to the mass media and other “promotions” we don’t always properly know the best, and very often – this is the more serious! – the worst are too highly “ranked.”

You confirm my reasons, already stated, that the problem is not a “Pavón” nor a “Five-year gray period,” simplifications that, although well-observed, can serve as “symptoms” (“indices,” “icons” and “symbols”) in order to know and reject so many, innumerable “Pavóns” and “Pavonas” and “problems” from yesterday, today and tomorrow (since I don’t think they can be solved from one moment to another – I wish!), but that – poorly brandished – they can serve to focus excessively on the problems over two or three peculiarities and circumstances. Let’s prevent this error!

In my previous email I pointed out three or four among the possibly infinite number, including those of education and, of course, the media, with their manipulations, open doors to mediocrity and opportunism, and the mistrust of the depth, sincerity and culture that is not the “aesthetic of superficiality.” Although it’s a universal problem – and apart from the fact that another’s wrong act doesn’t justify your own – the “Pavóns,” structures, conditions and uses – especially the “uses “- have worsened it among us. I’m glad you insist on that. What a great topic for a broad debate “shirtless”! (Would it solve anything, I wonder?) I am sending you here an article where not long ago I suggested reflections from the universal to the personal about that. ).

Since it’s very brief, I’m attaching it, so you can take a look when you finish your “current emergency reading.”

Sincerely, Rojas Bez

Another message from José Rojas Bez to Juan Antonio García Borrero

Your email worries me doubly.

I am struck, first, by the double or repeated mistake of seeing only the critic Colina as “sensitized.” I’m glad that Gustavo has now clarified for you that there were others who were “sensitized” even long before Colina, from the very beginning, like Luciano and Frank. I say “before” because of a simple chronological order and not to highlight differences in sensitivity nor anything else, but to point out that, having followed the debate, you should already have “noticed” others.

But you fall back into the mistake, since it’s not “also” Luciano, Frank and Gustavo, but also Rojas, from the very beginning of the debate, along with others (Marrón, Manuel García,…) that I suppose you don’t know as well, but I think you do, because they’re not members of the Association (not everyone is, nor are all not). I hope you haven’t forgotten that I am also critical (and an old acquaintance of yours as the founder of our Association and from even earlier). Or that our youngest friend Gustavo has misinformed you without wanting to. Well, this is teasing.

What happens is that many “film critics” are interested not only in movies, but also even more in Culture and Society. Above all in Culture, Spirituality and Society, and we don’t focus on our “sensitivity” nor on our participation in film (in parentheses, neither does Colina), nor on our being in essence “film critics.” Perhaps because of that you didn’t notice it well.

The second concern: Will you be imbued with excessive relativism? Won’t you have a little more definition? The ending of your letter leaves me with that worry.

Don’t you know that there is critical thinking within the island, which doesn’t need “to be brought into the light” to make itself real for you (and others) because it DOES exist, though it’s not the most widespread officially, and though it can always, and SHOULD BE, enriched by you, and many, many more … even off the island … Is it contempt, folly or another mistake about the above? Remember that you criticized the critics who believe themselves to be “the navel of the world.” You amaze me when you say, for example:

“I know you’ve written all this with the pressure of the ‘hot debate’ and that you’re sharper than what you show in this specific email. I invite you therefore to think more calmly and, of course, to remain critical, inside and out, up and down, in the capital or the province, when it’s with honesty and love for Cuba and Culture.”

Finally, I am not opposed to any meeting of critics, as someone has suggested. Why not, except for the practical problems of cost and schedule? No discussion or reflection is bad. Now is fine, always when it’s not converted into an “elite” or special group, but always merged into the COLLECTIVE DEBATE, of all and for the good of ALL, though, as the Film Critics Association, we should accentuate, emphasize the problems of film.

Sincerely, your old friend, the equally old friend, old critic and film researcher and old exerciser of opinions, not just about film.

Rojas Bez

Message from José Rojas Bez to Desiderio Navarro

I just got your message of righteous disapproval, along with that of other friends and colleagues who, logically, seem to be multiplying.

First of all, I have established that I’m joining a protest that is so just.

However (and here come the “buts”), I regret that such energy is deployed only now and that we have not shown it before (myself included, of course, in the criticism) on countless occasions.

Is the “Pavón” case a symptom, or rather a syndrome?

It’s a syndrome that has never been absent although sometimes it’s more hidden than at others.

I speak to you from a province (typically conservative and exclusionary), and I want to remind you that, if Havana has always been, by obligation and not by mere desire, more permissive and pseudo-liberal than the rest of the country… then imagine the rest that are removed from the best ministers and the best intentions, and in the hands of the local “fates.”

Many Pavóns (even female ones, of course, not to be sexist and also to recognize that some females have the ability to take advantage of the rostrum and others get close to power to “make themselves felt,” to impose themselves like Pavón) have never ceased to exist. Nor have their associations, like opportunism, suspicion and laudatory phraseology beyond work and serious achievements.

Either way, I insist on my criticism (and self-criticism) that we have never made protests nor proposals that are as energetic and collective on numerous issues involving the nation and culture, including the causes (first and second), and not simply the third with the most visible and skin-deep effects.

There is, among countless possible examples, to not get further away in time, that larger problem of the implications of the dismantling of our historic sugar industry, not only for the economy, but also for the life of the villages, communities and other spiritual areas related to that industry.

What about everything that has generated tourism and its managers, the new “status” and “culture” well above being a worker in other areas, which reproduces bourgeois behavior … in this case with State budgets and risks?

But let’s refer to the strictly “cultural.”

How many times do we use that “anti-Pavón” energy to suggest lower expenses and damages in everlasting manipulations to absorb information, and demand more criticism and analysis or, same thing, less triumphalism? Or when Customs seizes political books sent from outside by colleagues for our information, denying us the right to read and judge them on our own?

And what about the opportunistic, distorted views of our history and our heroes, like that pitiable image of Martí (actually anti-Martí), increasingly official and enthroned, of a democratic Marti – popular, “pre-Marxist”? Or the poor little guy, the immature Martí, who had not yet seen the light of Marxism, remaining in the “pre”! What reader of Martí could ignore that he not only knew about Marxism and socialism, but he also did not approve, in the most truly Cuban tradition, that of Father Félix Varela, Agramonte, et al, and he was not a simple pre-university student!?

Brave, the editor (not the writer) who published essays about Martí’s idealism or the fruitful influence of idealism on Martí!

And neither did we protest so much when the mentioned Father Varela was left offensively without the “Father” because, they said, he was a patriot and great “in spite of” being religious.

Brave, the editor (not the writer) who published some essay claiming that the patriot and the man of faith were inseparable, and the more faith the bigger he was!

And how difficult it was to publish essays related to biblical books (of course, when it was to praise them or give them merit) even if on a strictly literary level!

Let’s not forget, by the way, how only an atheist education (not secular, which would have been okay, but aggressively atheistic) was maintained for decades.

When, among thousands of possible examples, we so angrily demanded for years that they publish Dulce Maria Loynaz, and that such an illustrious creator, like many others, let’s say Lezama Lima himself, were “non-existent” in our programs and textbooks on Cuban literature?

Okay, esteemed (and also admired Desiderio, since we owe a lot to your informative work and diffusion of high culture), let’s cry out against Pavón and all the Pavóns, male and female, but the two or three examples given among a possibly infinite number remind us that it’s not a question only of a Pavón or some other individual and circumstance, from that time and before, up to the present year.

Receive, as always, my warmest hugs.

Rojas Bez

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 2007