Monday, November 1, 2010

Roberto González Echevarría's "Cuban Fiestas"

Roberto González Echevarría is Sterling Professor of Hispanic and Comparative Literature at Yale. He is author of The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball, as well as major studies of Cervantes, Carpentier, García Márquez, and Sarduy.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Cuban Fiestas, and reported the following:
I always tell my colleagues and dissertation students that a manuscript is not going to be a book or a thesis until the 100 page corner is turned. Once you have a hundred pages a manuscript has a density of its own and a momentum that will carry you to the end, however near or far that happens to be. So I am amused with Ford Madox Ford’s statement about page 99 in a book, though ninety-nine printed pages mean over one hundred and fifty of manuscript. On page 99 of Cuban Fiestas there is a transition, from the discussion of two paintings of the “Fiesta del Día de Reyes” by conventional artists to consideration of an image on a cigarette wrapper that is part of popular culture. I also explain the ascendancy of the tobacco industry in nineteenth-century Cuba and explain Fernando Ortiz’s theory about Cuban culture being a “counterpoint of tobacco and sugar.” The cigarette wrapper is a cultural artifact quite different from the paintings. Its depiction of the ritual is particularly poignant and revealing because it is intended for a male public and its humble nature allows the artist to be explicit about the sexual nature of the celebration, and the role of the white elite in the organization of the ritual. The wrapper leads me to interpret the Fiesta as an atonement ritual in which the whites punish themselves symbolically. It could be argued that in this playing off popular culture against high art and their providing a synthesis about Cuban fiestas, this page contains the gist of my entire book.
Learn more about Cuban Fiestas at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue