Exposing the specter of universality in early Afro-Hispanic poetry and in the poetics of its major "white" practitioners
Batista, Jos? Manuel
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Underpinned by post-colonial theory, the study traces the specter of universalism as it is articulated in the Afro-Hispanic cultural production of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean from the colonial period up until the 1950s. Since the negristas perceived Afro-Caribbean particularity as deviation, universalism amounts to the inherited colonial discourse sustained by an elitist literary establishment and related cultural institution. The central twentieth-century poets under study are the white-identified Creole poets Emilio Ballagas, Luis Palés Matos, and Manuel Del Cabral, respectively, from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. The representation of another poet, the nineteenth-century Cuban bard Plácido, provides the ground work for analyzing the colonialist discourse that informs the neocolonialist discourse in which negrista practice flourished. In the first chapter, the criterion for Plácido’s initial canonization is shown to be contingent upon a Eurocentric perspective imbued with white supremacy, which encouraged the erasure of Plácido’s blackness. In the second chapter, two negrista poetry anthologies, one by Emilio Ballagas and the other by Ramón Guirao, are revisited and deconstructed in order to examine the lack of a decolonizing thrust. In the third chapter, cover illustrations and prints related to the negrista poetry collections of the aforementioned twentieth-century poets are analyzed to derive a grammar that is then applied to the canonized negrista poetry of the white-identified Creole poets. The binary comes across as an effective rhetorical device for neocolonialist discourse. In the last chapter, the Universal Ideal of Man is shown to emerge as the central concern in the latter poetry of Ballagas, Palés Matos, and Del Cabral. In fact, the legacy of white supremacy from the racially-stratified, Spanish-speaking Caribbean of the colonial era informs the trajectory and poetics of these negristas. Throughout the study, specific texts of the 1930s and 40s provide evidence that José Martí’s image reigned as the "official" representative of the Universal Ideal of Man in Cuba.