Radical History Review, Issue 89, Spring 2004, pp. 185-190 (Article)
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The Parallel Worlds of José MartíPaul Giles
mythological status by his ﬁnal, self-immolating dash against Spanish troops in the Cuban rebellion of 1895. Certainly the sense of him as a martyr for Cuban independence, what Fidel Castro in 1959 called an “Apostle” of revolutionary freedom, still haunts our view of his achievements today.1 Philip S. Foner’s editions of Martí’s works emphasize his increasing disillusionment towardthe end of his life with relationships of “capital and labor in the United States,” with Foner’s selections being arranged to make Martí appear a forerunner of twentieth-century socialism.2 Enrico Mario Santí has also written recently of how Martí “has been co-opted by the ideology of Latinamericanism” in its effort to disseminate a politics of anti-imperialism, while George Lipsitz has commentedmore speciﬁcally on the relevance of Martí for offering “radical alternatives . . . to the terms of hemispheric unity preﬁgured by the North American Free-Trade Agreement,” dominated as it is by the economic interests of the United States.3 While such readings do usefully highlight particular aspects of Martí’s life and work, they tend also to ﬂatten out his view of the United States, toward whichhis writings maintain a more complicated sense of ambivalence. After his arrival in New York in January 1880, Martí’s ﬁrst reactions, as documented in the essay “Impressions of America,” are generally positive. He welcomes the fact that he is “at last, in a country where everyone looks like his own master,” and he applauds the openness of the United States to enterprise and innovation: “A good ideaﬁnds always here a suitable, soft, grateful ground.” He writes: “You must be intelligent, that is all.”4 At the same time, he accuses Americans of lacking “intellectual height, and moral deepness,” of being a
Radical History Review Issue 89 (Spring 2004): 185–90 Copyright 2004 by MARHO: The Radical Historians’ Organization, Inc.
It might be argued that José Martí sought deliberately totranspose himself into
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“splendid sick people” who are “wonderfully extended” in some ways, but “childish and poor” in others (35). This duality betokens not mere undecidability but a dynamic structural contradiction that runs all the way though Martí’s representations of the United States. In a newspaper letter of 1889, for example, he talks of how Cubanexiles “admire this nation, the greatest ever built by liberty, but they dislike the evil conditions that, like worms in the heart, have begun in this mighty republic their work of destruction” (263–64). He consistently reveres “the Washington of legend” and the “Lincoln, for whom we Cubans wore mourning” (322); he writes in 1886 of the “redeeming” nature of the Statue of Liberty, hailing it as an“altar” to freedom; and he declares that he “would sculpt in porphyry the statues of the extraordinary men who forged the Constitution of the United States of America.”5 For Martí, such mythologies of freedom exist concurrently with, rather than being simply undermined by, the class wars and corporate ﬁnancial interests of the 1880s that he also describes in these essays. Martí’s strategy is to workwith double perspectives, to extract a quality “that ﬁlls the spirit with rejoicing,” as he puts it in his 1883 essay on the Brooklyn Bridge (143), and to run this alongside evidence of material corruption, with the result that his picture of the United States is trickier, more complex, than it ﬁrst appears. This is why some of Martí’s most stirring accounts of life in the United States are...