The Frozen Revolution. Ruins, Aura and Melancholy in Post-Communist Cuba by Duanel Díaz

Thursday, November 1, 2018
83 Dwinelle Hall

Description of the lecture: Wim Wenders, the renowned German filmmaker, visited Cuba in the nineties.He was instantly fascinated by the strangeness of a socialist country full of vintage American cars and dilapidated buildings carrying signs of bygone times.Cuba, he later wrote, “is different from any other place / that you ever experienced / an amalgamation of the most unlikely components”. Wenders was not alone in his celebration of the melancholic appeal of contemporary Havana.Among others, North American photographers such as Robert Polidori, Andrew Moore and Michael Eastman captured the picturesque quality of Havana’s ruins, the strange beauty stemming from the decay of once handsome buildings, but also the Baroque or surreal aesthetic effect produced by the unusual junction of the antique and the modern, the prerevolutionary and the revolutionary, the capitalist and the socialist.

In his lecture, Duanel Díazargues that what is unique to the Cuban case, what really distinguishes contemporary Havana from other decayed places such as Detroit and New Orleans is precisely the striking coexistence, even causality, between the revolution and the ruin. Ruins not only document the “negative work” of the revolution, its destructive side, but also its conservative consequences.His contention is that what fascinates these artists is a certain restoration of aura, in Walter Benjamin’s terms, brought about by the radical attempt to abolish the capitalist market in the sixties; any effort to understand Cuba’s post-communist present takes us back to the heyday of the revolution, to that utopian endeavor that intended to transform the whole country into a communist society of free producers.Whereas in capitalist countries consumer goods tend to be disposable, for they quickly get obsolete and need to be replaced by identical items, in Cuba they retain some of the “personality,” as it were, that consumer society has taken from them. They are mirabilia, things to look at, and that to a certain extent look back at us in turn.


Bio: Duanel Díaz Infante is anassistant professor of Spanish at VCU. Born and raised in Cuba, he obtained his B.A. in Spanish from the University of Havana in 2002, and his Ph.D in Spanish from Princeton University. His research focuses on culture and politics in Cuba, and theoretical and historical issues of Marxism and Communism. Among other books, he has published La revolución congelada(The Frozen Revolution, Verbum, 2013), Días de fuego, años de humo, (Days of Fire, Years of Smoke, Almenara, 2016), andMalos tiempos para la lírica, (Bad Times for Poetry, Casa Vacía, 2018).