Grasses, your last big lesson

By: Daniel Céspedes

Los silencios quebrados de San Lorenzo

beaten in the most intimate,
to which only
extraordinary solidity
of his character
and moral fortitude
with which he assumed
his political life kept him
like the strong man,
lucid and at the same time sensitive,
to his nearly fifty
and five years old.
Rafael Acosta de Arriba

For many reasons, after José Martí is Carlos Manuel de Céspedes the most helped figure in our history/homeland/culture. We see it very early, on the path of personal growth of each one: from primary school to the becoming of other training stages, be professional and even individual. It comes to us repeated and monotonous as the initiator of the wars of independence and therefore of the mambisado; comes to us as the slave liberator and the first president of the Republic of Cuba in Arms; comes to us by the solemnity of the sacrificial phrase and act, when an attempt was made to trouble him at the sad news of a detained son who would be shot later; comes to us because of the conflict he had with the representatives of the House and later by a dismissal not always well understood and stays, the Man Grasses, reduced for many, let us admit, in the political figure that, without discussion, it was.
Now, we overlook that projects and confluent facts: the co-authorship of La bayamesa, the polyglot ease and its oratory, the charisma of leader, the practice of sports, its development for business and its training as a lawyer, its insistent readings… they did so in the past – in the eyes of both those who admired him and those who denigrated him – and for the present, an energetic human being who needed to be offered through the cultural. Symbiotic by devotee of the Virgin of Charity of Copper and Freemaon, moreover, not for taste was a man of constant foundations: from the Father of Civility in Cuba, as Victor Fowler once recorded to the ancestor of political prisoners of the national context.
It is no surprise that, of so many germination matters, Céspedes, except for very few of his biographers, was better apprehended by poets: Martí, Lezama, Fina García Marruz, Cintio Vitier and Fowler. And while Rafael Acosta de Arriba holds the bard status, we are listed as a pre-search for a historical essay on behalf of those who would no longer seem to fit him after being admitted as the Father of the Fatherland.
One might suspect De Arriba’s interest in Grass in a historiography that in many ways (for better and worse) has “considered”: articles, poems and essays, history manuals, biographies and narrative. When considering an influential hero, won’t it be the doctor’s chance in Historical Sciences to endorse himself? If I did, it wouldn’t stop being a credit. Considering, in rigor, involves going through what has been written about something or someone. Acosta de Arriba has had the joy of facing with patience and rigor the admitted passive bibliography on Céspedes and the very texts of the founder of founders long shared by other scholars.
With The Broken Silences of San Lorenzo (Ediciones Abril, 2018) in a third edition, De Arriba does not come to endorse – he does not need it – because his thing with the remarkable Cuban is of an honest and intellectual affection that takes him away from the panegyric or fanatical courtship. More than an enthusiasm, three books on the great Bayamese denote reasonable passion for one of the most controversial Cuban figures of all time, that of the one who gradually stripped himself of everything he had – which was not a little – because he could not tell how much he defended. With what we might know of Céspedes, we are still outlined besathed by symbolically ephemeral but necessary omissions, such as the terrible moment of taking off by a ravine that February 27, 1874, almost blind, already wounded with death and before, perhaps, aware of the near betrayal.

Texts such as “The Lordship of the Image”, “The Biography, Search for the Absentee”, “Between Man, His Image and History” would suffice, or the one that gives title to this book to confirm Rafael Acosta de Arriba as one of the indispensable assignees of yesterday and today. But he gives us a choral book that recognizes him unfinished, because he knows that other editions will come as more historical documents appear and decide to bring new edges of Céspedes. Let us also wait for a film that, based on the earthly nature of the human figure, from the pages of Evelio Traba’s novel (The Way of Disobedience), from the letters or diaries of Man of ’68 or from the caution of a risky screenwriter who, avoiding official commitments, crosses information to give us the authentic proximity of man and not the impassable solemnity of sculpture.
The broken silences of San Lorenzo is not a biography of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. By weaving his (in)reflective dependencies more than twenty years ago on the man behind the qualifier Padre de la Patria, Rafael Acosta de Arriba gives us an outstanding essay in writing and arguments, close for a while to the monumental thematic and stylistic ensemble represented by the Quevedo de Fina García Marruz. With The Broken Silences…, De Arriba surpasses even some of his outstanding texts on art, which proves that the complacency of a content is often guaranteed for the reader, because the author sympathized in advance with a theme already familiar by conquest. Hence the freshness of intervening the historical as a researcher who instantly metaphoricizes the essayistic narrative. Beyond respect for dates and events, history is reinterpreted and critical judgments are required. It is considered by the biographer and in the same way Raphael who, although he opts for essay, focuses on the advantages of biography as an instrument because “it is the most accurate thing that literary creation, whether historiographic or not, provides for a thorough examination of a historical personality. We have already seen that works of this genre on Grass are scarce, and I could add that of poor rigor as to the pretensions of each text”.1 The book has the additional merit of recommending – repairs without intermission through – the tiny and greater written about man and the hero.
The volume can be read by opting for the preferred location. You don’t have to follow a fixed path. In fact, not only “The Broken Silences of St. Lawrence” and “The Keys Are in San Lorenzo” allow the reader a kind of retrospective to events concerning the most benevolent days of the imperfect and complex hero, but each chapter falls to the fall of the chief general of the Liberator Army, of the old president. And yet to be a text on the stance on defeat and disturbing death, the pages of The Broken Silences of St. Lawrence transcend – like the written voice of Céspedes – in that caress the person who, despite the worst existential situations, also offered us the first great lesson of how vitality, immolating, can be even generous to the destinies of a nation. Ω

1 Rafael Acosta de Arriba: The broken silences of San Lorenzo, Havana, Ediciones Abril, 3era. edition corrected and augmented by the author, 2018, p. 70.

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