Monday, April 16, 2012

Review of "Translating Empire" Part 3 (and Last)

As I acknowledged at the beginning of this review, it was not an easy task to read Laura Lomas' Translating Empire from cover to cover, and I suspect I am the only one who actually did. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that not even the proofreaders at Duke University Press did more than skim through it. Lomas, an associate professor of English at Rutgers University, doesn't know the difference between "principal" and "principle" and uses the two interchangeably throughout her book. Either the Duke proofreaders don't know the difference themselves (which is as unlikely as a car mechanic not knowing how to change the oil) or they were dulled into inattention by Lomas' ponderous style and thin sense, and decided, in the end, that nothing would be gained by making nonsense grammatical (which was a mistake, because much was gained by making Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear's nonsense grammatical).

A game that I played to keep me alert through this mind-numbing ordeal — one, no doubt, more constructive than identifying misused homonyms — was picking off the book's numerous historical gaffes, which demonstrate that this is in nowise a biography of Martí or even a critical evaluation of his writings with biographical underpinnings. What it is I still don't know for sure. Of Lomas' agenda, I have (and she leaves) no doubt: to re-interpret Martí through the bifocal lenses of historical revisionism and political correctness, which alternately exaggerates his accomplishments and diminishes them. Her assertion that she will not use Martí to criticize Cuba's "current government" (as "current" as 1959) is not matched by a reciprocal commitment to avoid portraying him as an apologist for the Castro regime. Her factual errors and errors of interpretation are useful in exposing her bias and undermining her arguments, and may be said to be an unintentional self-debunking of her scholarship, and, as such, the most relevant and "valuable" part of her book.

The field had already been weeded before I got there — not by the Duke proofreaders, but by her "colleagues" at the Centro de Estudios Martianos and a distinguished U.S. expert on Martí. The latter informed me that wagons full of miscellaneous errata were carted away. What was left hints at the magnitude of the original reclamation project. The remaining weeds, which might be called "structural" because their removal would have collapsed what was essentially swampland, I have uprooted myself with that purpose in mind. The gaffes I have already pointed out in the first two parts of this review are not repeated here. The rest are stacked, sorted and weighed for your consideration:

p. 4 "Martí observed the imperial project in the guise of a democratic republic from the perspective of the streetcar passenger, a participant in a demonstration for an eight-hour workday, or a person amid the throngs watching a burning building from the street."

We do not doubt that Martí rode on streetcars as a passenger, though we do not see what especial insight it would have given him on the "imperial project." We will even concede that he may have watched a burning building from the street, which, again, would have told him nothing about the "imperial project." But there is no record or testimony that Martí was ever a "participant in a demonstration for an eight-hour workday," which, if true, would have been one labor demonstration more than Marx ever attended. Even Martí's sympathy for an eight-hour workday, which we grant, has nothing to do with "combating the imperial project," since even when it was adopted the eight-hour workday did not preempt or defeat any "imperial project."

5. "The cultural processes of imperial expansion [what does this mean?] laid the groundwork for the annexation of the still colonized islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, among others."

None of these islands were annexed by the United States. Hawaii, Guam and the Virgin Islands, which were, are not even cited by name. The "among others" should be the centerpiece of Lomas' argument, not the "what ifs." Except that the "among others" do not advance Lomas' theory of an "imperial project" which encompassed Cuba, and which Martí supposedly fought by riding in streetcars, watching buildings burning and agitating for an eight-hour workday.

17. ...Martí's successor as spokesman for the Partido, Tomás Estrada Palma..."

The Delegado was much more than a spokesman (or "vocal") according to the precedent set by Martí and followed by Estrada Palma.

34. I would not define Martí as a North American or even as a U.S. Hispanic author."

I would and did in my "Introduction" to "Versos sencillos/Simple Verses: "Of Martí as a poet only one thing needs still to be said: From the death of Whitman in 1892 to his own death in 1895, Martí was the greatest poet, Anglo or Hispanic, in the United States at that time, a fact not known by many then or now. But since he wrote and published almost all his books in this country, in concert with, and often ahead of, the progress of American culture and literature, it is impossible not to consider him also a part of the U.S. literary heritage and certainly the greatest Hispanic contributor to it." In any case, it is surprising to see Lomas deny that Martí was a North American author if only because Cuba is in North America. Of course, she could argue that she is speaking politically, not geographically, her literary criticism of Martí being exclusively political.

35. "[Martí] the admirer of Abraham Lincoln."
38. "[Martí] the exile who loved Lincoln.

As a boy, Martí greatly admired Lincoln and even wore a black ribbon as a sign of mourning when the "Great Emancipator" was assassinated. His admiration was subsequently tempered by something he read in the memoirs of General Ben Butler, who claimed that Lincoln had confided to him his intention to negotiate for the expatriation of former slaves to the "basurero de Cuba."

35. [Martí] was the first translator of U.S. literature for Latin American readers."

There is no need to exalt Martí's reputation at the expense of the truth, especially when in doing so Lomas ignores or denies the considerable contributions of other translators of U.S. literature who preceded Martí by decades, most of them, incidentally, fellow Cubans, such as Varela, de Armas, Teurbe Tolón, etc.

36. Martí's interactions in English with neighbors and hotel employees who ridiculed his accent impressed upon him the stigma of being racialized in a xenophobic society."

Nowhere in Martí's writings do we find any mention of his being "ridiculed" because of his accent by neighbors, hotel employees or anybody else, let alone that such ridicule "impressed upon him [a] stigma" of any kind. On the contrary, Martí proudly recounts in his Notebooks an incident which occurred at a Catskills hotel when he alone was able to spell a certain English word that had stumped Anthony Comstock (the Victorian anti-profanity czar) and the other guests.

37. "[Angel] Ramos claims that Martí was 'one of the first intellectuals of the Latino community in New York.'"

Since Lomas cites but does not challenge Ramos' claim, we can presume that she also subscribes to it. It would be more accurate to say, however, that Martí was among the last — not one of the first — 19th century Hispanic intellectuals to reside in New York. Heredia and Varela preceded Martí in New York by more than 50 years, and Eugenio María de Hostos and Enrique Piñeyro were both prominent members of New York's Hispanic community before Martí's arrival in 1880. The names cited here would be on everybody's list of Latin American intellectuals; but if we define "intellectual" as a bachiller or university graduate — rare enough in the 19th century — there were certainly dozens and perhaps hundreds of Hispanic intellectual residing in New York before Martí and in Martí's day.

40. "Contemporary criticism that has begun to address Whitman and Emerson's condoning of manifest destiny retains an unacknowledged debt to Martí."

Who never addressed that issue directly or indirectly except in Lomas' imagination (see Part II of this review).

42. "[Martí was] a postcolonial migrant living amongst the fruit sellers, the newspaper urchins, and the boarding-house renters of Gilded Age New York."

Living and working, also, amongst millionaires, newspaper magnates, and the landlords of Gilded Age New York."

43. "Martí disidentifies with his Spanish and Canary Islander parents [and] traces his skin color to Moorish or North African origins..."

Since Canary Islanders are also Spaniards, we presume that she means Asturian and Canary Islander parents. In any case, Martí never disowned his Spanish heritage or "disidentified" with his parents. He proclaimed repeatedly his love of Spain and his admiration for its people. "Only those of us who have felt her lash across our backs," wrote Martí, "know what it is to truly love Spain." Nor does Martí anywhere in his writings "trace his skin color to Moorish and North African origins:" first, because his skin color was white (we know already Lomas' aversion to that color); and, secondly, because his origins were neither Moorish nor North African.

43. "The Cuban exile community, from Martí's time to the present, has included individuals or groups ranging from José Ignacio Rodríguez in the late nineteenth century to Luis Posada Carriles in the late twentieth century, who have worked covertly or overtly in the service of the U.S. government to promote annexation or undermine the island's self-government."

A false analogy intended to portray exiled opponents of Castro's dictatorship as American stooges or terrorists. The logical analogy, of course, is that over the last 200 years the Cuban exile community has included individuals ranging from José Martí to José Ignacio Rodríguez; and from Armando Valladares to Luis Posada Carriles. All of them, incidentally, wanted (or want) the defeat of despotism in Cuba, represented by Spain in the 19th century and the Castro Brothers in the 20th and 21st. Their means may have varied — from waiting for peaceful political evolution (Rodríguez) to precipitating an armed uprising (Martí), and from non-violent resistance (Valladares) to violent resistance (Posada) — but none ever equated dictatorship with self-government, as Lomas does when she asserts that opposing the current regime "undermines the island's self-government." Lomas herself, we are sure, would not have equated opposing Somoza to undermining Nicaragua's self-government (even if his Sandinista successors did transform Nicaragua into a satellite of a satellite).

45. "Julio Burrel — a young Spanish journalist who met Martí briefly in Cuba while the latter awaited his possible deportation to Spain's African colony, Ceuta — recollects Martí's explanation of his radical politics: "I, who am among you an equal, a peer and a friend, am to be [in Cuba] nothing but a foreigner. I am to live in tutelage, subordinate, under suspicion. All doors are closed to my rights, were I to seek justice, and to my ambitions, were I to legitimately pursue my ambitions."

Julio Burrel was not "a young Spanish journalist" when he met Martí, nor did they meet in Cuba. As related by Burrel, their one and only conversation, where Martí explains his reasons for being a separatist (not a "radical"), took place in the Madrid Atheneum when both were university students. It was recalled by Burrel in a newspaper article published after Martí's death and Spain's defeat.

47. "[Martí] recounts in his prison diary how his father visited him and was moved to tears by a suppurating wound in his son's leg..."

Martí never kept a "prison diary." The scene that Lomas describes appears in Martí's pamphlet El presidio político en Cuba (1871).

50. "...Martí crossed the Atlantic en route to America twice, and arrived at the port of Ellis Island several other times during his inter-American journeys."

Ellis Island was not opened as a port of entry for immigrants until 1892. Therefore, neither in 1875 nor 1880, the two occasions on which "Martí crossed the Atlantic en route to America," did he arrive at the port of Ellis Island. Nor did he disembark at Ellis Island during his later inter-American journeys. For these, Martí crossed the continental United States by train and entered Mexico by way of Texas, and then reversed the journey on his return. Lomas could have made much of this "migrant journey" and how it would be re-created (albeit on foot) by tens of millions in the 20th century; but, apparently, the false connection with Ellis Island proved a far more tempting motif.

50. "Martí's false testimony to the ship's captain [to whom the fugitive identified himself as an 'Italian musician' to avoid detection by Spanish spies] reveals how easily Martí could pass as a European. It suggests the route of settlement into European-American identity, an option that Martí vociferously opposed but nevertheless most likely benefited from in racially segregated United States."

So Martí, the son of Europeans, was not ethnically European? He only "passed" as European in order to benefit from the advantages that whites enjoyed in a racially segregated United States, an option which, according to Lomas, he "vociferously opposed" when exercised by others, making him, therefore, both an opportunist and a hypocrite. The reason for Martí identifying himself as an "Italian musician" has nothing to do with the doubtful privileges which Italian immigrants (the despised "dagoes") enjoyed in 19th century America. Lomas ignores the fact that Martí was a fugitive when he arrived in New York aboard the Celtic in 1875. Martí claimed to be an "Italian musician" on the ship's manifest to avoid detection by Pinkerton agents employed by the Spanish Consulate to track the movements of exiled revolutionaries in New York. In fact, Martí was not always able to escape detection; on his next trip to New York, in 1880, he was trailed for nearly a year by several agents assigned specifically to him.

54-55 "[Martí's 'Letter to The New York Herald' was] most likely dictated by Martí from his hammock in the Cuban army's camp to Eugene Bryson, a correspondent of the New York Herald... Perhaps in keeping with a final request from Martí, Bryson delivered the original Spanish-language transcription to the editors of Patria..."

How does Lomas know or infer that Martí dictated his manifesto "from his hammock?" Because it would have been nearly impossible to balance an inkwell on a hammock? Or, more importantly, how does she surmise that it was "most likely" dictated by Martí to Bryson, who did not speak much less write Spanish? The original of Martí's "Letter to The New York Herald" was in fact written in Spanish, as Lomas knows. Bryson conveyed Martí's letter to his editors in New York, who published a partial translation in The Herald. The Spanish original was printed in its entirety by Patria, which had requested it from The Herald. There was no "final request" from Martí to Bryson to deliver the original text to Patria.

55. "Martí's contemporary Cuban biographer and critic, Luis Toledo Sande."

Toledo Sande has not authored a biography of Martí, but a novel based on his life entitled Cesto de llamas ("Basket of Flames," in the English-language edition). No great harm would have come of Lomas treating Toledo's novel as a "biography," however, since even with its fictional episodes and invented conversations it is still truer to Martí's life than her own "factual" account. Still, it is disconcerting — to the reader if not to her — that Lomas would treat a novel as a biography, and it is hard to decide which would be worse — that she was knowingly fooled or that she knowingly fooled others.

64. "To study North American influences on Martí tends to cast the Cuban migrant in the condition of cultural indigence."

Why? Aren't all writers influenced by other writers? Why should Martí be the exception? Why does citing his influences reduce Martí (and only Martí) to "the condition of cultural indigence?" Is Lomas suggesting that such is the intention of those who point out these affinities? Then she has maligned every critic who ever wrote about Martí before her.

66. "In Martí's case, literary and political pressures have produced a writer who — rather perversely — has become the mouthpiece and eponym of ideas and institutions that are the strict reverse of those that he supported."

What "literary and political pressures?" Are these pressures on Martí himself, or on those who write about Martí? If the latter, the sentence should have read: "In the case of Martí's critics," not "in Martí's case." Grammatically, at least, it is Martí who is blamed for "perversely" succumbing to "literary and political pressures" which have made him "a mouthpiece and eponym of ideas and institutions that are the strict reverse of those that he supported." Can this really be what Lomas means? I suspect not. Parsing Lomas' convoluted sentences will not always yield her meaning, and sometimes, as in this case, she will end up saying something other than what she means to say (even the direct opposite of what she actually means). What she means to say, I think, is that other critics have "perversely" (that is, intentionally) misrepresented Martí's ideas and made him "the mouthpiece and eponym" for the opposite of what he actually believed. If this is her point, then Lomas is right. In fact, Translating Empire typifies what she decries. Her willful perversion of Martí's thought, evident throughout her book, does indeed misrepresent Martí as an apologist for "Cuba's current government," which is to say (though she never says it), tyranny.

67. "...Martí's less visible work — largely unexplored in the United States because of his status as a foreigner from Latin America — nevertheless makes possible a new turn in U.S. literary history."

Please re-read what Lomas writes on page 34 (above): "I would not define Martí as a North American or even as a U.S. Hispanic author." How to reconcile this past assertion with her contention now that Martí's work — and "his less visible work," at that — "makes possible a new turn in U.S. literary history?" Either, as I have argued, Martí is "also a part of the U.S. literary heritage and certainly the greatest Hispanic contributor to it," or he is not. Lomas cannot have it both ways.

82. "Martí's translated obituaries of North Americans, ranging from Thomas Alva Edison to Wendall Phillips — to which I now turn — teach us to read across languages and through the eyes and ears of the Latino migrant."

How exactly one reads through one's ears is a metaphorical (and metaphysical) question which we will leave unexplored. We will, however, observe that Martí did not write Edison's obituary. Edison died in 1931, thirty-six years after Martí.

90. Francisco Gonzaló [sic] Marín, eloquent Puerto Rican bohemian and Sotero Figueroa's adopted son..."

Marín was not Sotero Figueroa's "adopted son," and much more may be said of the Puerto Rican poet and martyr than that he was a "bohemian."

95. "Whether Martí joined the publication apparatus of La América out of stealth, naiveté, or necessity, he subverted the original publisher's promises to North American manufacturers while maintaining the English editorial template ['La América is a monthly review devoted exclusively to the development of the Export Trade of the United States with all Spanish-speaking countries", etc.] as a protective cover."

For Lomas, Martí is always acting "out of stealth, naiveté, or necessity," or, in other words, betraying his duplicity, betraying his stupidity, or betraying his principles for money. He did none of this when he joined the staff of La América, which he would eventually edit. Of course, his presence in the magazine changed and improved its quality and content. What else would one expect? Martí did not, however, change the mission statement or subvert the purpose of La América. Why would he do so when promoting trade and investment in Latin America was not something that was objectionable to him? In fact, promoting trade and investment in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, in particular, was also one of his chief functions as consul-general in New York for all three countries. In that capacity he answered the inquiries of merchants and potential investors regarding tariffs and resources and gave interviews in the English-language press publicizing the benefits (to Americans) of trading with South America. He also wrote dozens of ads in La América itself for U.S. products whose importation to Latin America would favor its development. How, then, can Lomas conclude that Martí was inimical to trade between the U.S. and Latin America or regarded it as harmful or exploitative while he was doing everything in his power to advance it, openly and without apologies? Because she doesn't base her arguments on the facts. Rather, it is her own "stealth, naiveté and necessity" which drives her to form conclusions (really speculations) which are not supported by the facts and which the facts refute. Her only recourse for disposing of these inconvenient facts is to challenge Martí's sincerity by claiming that he acted against his conscience, that his words and deeds do not define him, and that the transparency which was the hallmark of his public life was an imposture. It is easy then to attribute to Martí any position which Lomas thinks he should have held whether or not he did hold it. In her politically-correct imagination, she conjures Martí as an agent provocateur sabotaging from his modest editorial post U.S. commercial interests in Latin America and even undermining capitalism itself, perhaps by intentionally inserting typos or misplacing commas in the articles and advertisements which he wrote supporting the extension of inter-hemispheric commerce.

99. "Written by someone [Martí] who frequently walked through the city and belonged to the influx of furious or yearning migrants to New York's Ellis Island..."

Martí did not belong to "the influx of furious or yearning migrants to New York's Ellis Island." Martí arrived in New York from Europe in 1875 and then again in 1880. Ellis Island opened as a port of entry for immigrants in 1892.

100. "In the first five years of residence in New York, Martí was developing a critique of mistaken assumptions about the United States that had also been his. By 1889, Martí makes fun of the naive first impressions of a fresh migrant: 'Neither the gossip column, nor grumbling envy, nor rickety antipathy, nor the admiration of the recently arrived is an appropriate measure of a nation such as this."

Lomas does not appear to notice, though she quotes Martí in full, that among these "mistaken assumptions about the United States," and far more serious and misleading than "the admiration of the recently arrived," are the "grumbling envy" and "rickety antipathy" which she attempts to ascribe to Martí and which Martí himself rejects as "appropriate measure[s] of a country such as this." First impressions are tentative and can always be corrected; but there is something solid and intractable about "grumbling envy" and "rickety antipathy" which no amount of future experience is likely to reform. These distortions do not concern her, however, since they would tend to cast the United States in a less than flattering light. It is those awful first impressions — which in Martí's case were entirely favorable to the U.S. — which offend her and she wants Martí to disavow.

103. "[Martí] questions the reduction of humans to animals through this application of modern technology to childbirth [i.e. the introduction of an incubator in a Paris maternity hospital]."

Martí questions nothing of the sort. Lomas is implying that Martí objects to the use of incubators in hospitals to save babies' lives because that technology is also used to hatch chicks in the barn. On the contrary, Martí would be pleased at the decrease in infant mortality and would not object to the increase of chickens, either. This strange dichotomy which Lomas posits between technology used on humans and technology used on animals finds no parallel in Martí's writings. Nor does medical science, which conducts research on both humans and animals, make such a spurious (and, indeed, wacky) distinction. We can only suppose that Lomas has a personal animus toward animal experimentation which causes her to disallow any benefits to humans that might be obtained thereby, which animus she is trying to transpose on Martí even at the cost of making him seem ridiculous.

104. "Although Martí marvels at the fantastic magic of Edison's electrical light laboratory, he describes the rapid penetration of this technology throughout the world, like an 'electric fever that has spontaneously invaded all the countries of the civilized world (Obras, 28:181).'" Concludes Lomas: "The southward movement of 'northern technology' does not flow gently, or seek permission to enter. It invades, contaminates, and threatens to addict."

So now there is a "northern technology" and, presumably, a "southern technology" as incompatible as, say, AC and DC currents. To bring "northern technology" southward is to "invade, contaminate, and threaten" Latin America, which, nonetheless, Lomas suspects may become "addicted" to this alleged imposition, and, consequently, spurn the tallow candle, the kerosene lamp and other "southern technologies." Institutionalized backwardness (such as can be observed in Communist Cuba today) may be Lomas' highest aspiration for Latin Americans, but it was never Martí's. For Martí, there are no mutually exclusive "northern" and "southern" technologies, just as there is no distinction between technology used on humans and technology used on animals.

104. "The fantastic, imaginative elements of Poe and Baudelaire represent a limit to Edison's rational, modernizing genius."

Martí took the contrary position to the one assigned him by Lomas. He believed that poets anticipated all inventions.

105. "Modernist self-critique and this quality of dehiscence — the splitting apart of the sovereign subject along structural lines — distinguish Martí's modernism from a dominant model of North American individual genius."

Even though she defines "dehiscence" within the sentence, her meaning, if there is one, is elusive; in fact, her definition of "dehiscence" only adds to the confusion, besides being incredibly condescending and characteristically obtuse. Of course, she uses the word again. It haunts her perhaps because of her own inability to take her subject apart along natural lines.

107. "Martí suggests that consumer culture and party sectarianism had circumscribed political discussion to the extent that the voting process barely engaged with issues beyond the frame of two-party conflict."

So should the voting process and the two-party system be abolished in favor of one-party "elections," as in Communist Cuba? Do consumerism and sectarianism circumscribe political discussion more than does a one-party dictatorship that persecutes all dissent? This is the Castro regime's position. It is Lomas' position. It is not Martí's position.

107. "[T]he Latino migrant [i.e. Martí] senses his illegitimacy or invisibility as compared to well-established, admirable, or notorious U.S. contemporaries."

Throughout her book, Lomas seeks to burden Martí with an inferiority complex with which he was never burdened. Her effrontery in presuming to know what Martí "senses"and not just what he says or what he does leaves no doubt that she herself is not suffering from an inferiority complex.

111. "Martí is disturbed by Bancroft's serenity and prodigious writing because as a soldier Bancroft had used his intellectual talents to dispossess Mexico of California during the United States-Mexico War."

Historian George Bancroft was never a "soldier." He was Polk's Secretary of the Navy.

111. "While serving as the acting secretary of war under President Polk, Bancroft ordered the seizure of California posts upon the declaration of war on Mexico, and gave the order to General Zachary Taylor to invade Mexico."

Bancroft was never "acting secretary of war," nor would he have had in that position (or the one he actually held, secretary of the navy) the authority under the Constitution to order the invasion of Mexico.

111. "Scarcely dissimulated envy and frustration also informed Martí's depiction of the celebrated, multilingual William Cullen Bryant... Unlike Bryant[,] Martí seemed at risk of never figuring in his country's still half-formed literary tradition."

More of Martí's alleged inferiority complex, which we now learn was triggered by "scarcely dissimulated envy and frustration." This is indeed an original discovery of Lomas', as is the inherent revelation that "the sincere man" was not sincere with himself or others. Moreover, Martí, according to Lomas, had no confidence in himself or in his abilities and "felt overwhelmed" (of course, she also knows what Martí "feels") by "unrealized projects and goals." Specifically, Marti feared that he would never "figure in his country's still half-formed literary tradition." What "Martí" is this? Certainly not the Martí who wrote: "My poetry will grow, and I too will grow under the grass." That Martí, the historical Martí, realized his goals and projects. Envy, dissimulation, self-doubt and frustration with himself were not motifs of his life or work, and are not present in his writings. To judge him through such a prism not only distorts Martí but reality itself.

As for Cuba's "half-formed literary tradition," isn't every country's literature "half-formed," that is, constantly evolving, gaining mass and even losing mass? Wasn't the U.S. literary tradition, in the time of William Cullen Bryant, also just "half-formed?" Surely "Thanatopsis" was not its capstone?

112. "Like a slightly deranged, modern Quixote..."

Well, at least Martí is only "slightly deranged."

115. "This insistence on margins prefigures revolutionary Cuba's position on the margins of imperial modernity and in the world's crossroads."

You will never guess that Lomas is extrapolating here on Martí's preference for wide margins in books.

118. Words put into Martí's mouth that are not Martí's: "Just as each American culture views the world differently, each produces its own government and leadership. No single 'origin' or model is applicable to all distinct American cultures."

Martí respected the validity of all cultures, but he did not respect the validity of all forms of government, as Lomas implies. Even if "no single ... model is applicable to all distinct American cultures," there is one model that is never applicable to any — dictatorial rule. This Martí always rejected in any and all circumstances. Yet it is this unacceptable model which Lomas advocates when she equates all models, and makes the culture of the volk, not the democratic process, the sole determining factor in choosing a country's government and leadership. Needless to say, the only American "government" which claims to represent the will of the people without ever having consulted it is the Castro regime. Its tyrannical model Lomas considers as legitimate as any other, and what is worse, she implies that Martí would also.

118. More words put into Martí's mouth that he never said: "The United States, which misrepresents itself and its government as native, autochthonous, and original, when in fact it violently 'takes' previously occupied land or ideas."

Is there any land or are there any ideas which have not been "previously occupied?" Whether "native" or not, "autochthonous" or not, "original" or not, does the U.S. "misrepresent" itself as the first democratic republic of modern times? Certainly, Martí did not share Lomas' view of its supposed illegitimacy.

119. "Martí's best-known prologue, to Juan Antonio Pérez's El Poema de Niágara (1882)."

Martí's best-known prologue is the one he wrote for his own Versos sencillos (1891).

120. "...Each story [in Castro-Palominos's Cuentos] reproduces debates concerning the problems of the inequitable distribution of wealth and the effects of panoptic or secret state-sponsored surveillance, where citizens spy on each other at the behest of their government."

Lomas' "colleagues" at the Centro de Estudios Martianos, who proofread and otherwise assisted in the preparation of her book, must have chuckled uncomfortably when they came to this sentence. Only Lomas could have written it without self-consciousness. No CEM "colleague would have dared, for obvious reasons.

128. "Popular education creates a national culture that refuses to abide enslavement of some citizens by others."

Except where "popular education" means indoctrination. Such as in Communist Cuba.

129. "Martí aligns his modernist form with an ethical commitment to redistribution of wealth and culture."

Nowhere in Martí's writings does he advocate the "redistribution of wealth" which is quite another thing than the "redistribution of culture." Culture may be redistributed without impoverishing those who already possess it. Wealth, on the other hand, is always "redistributed" at somebody's expense. When "redistributed" by Communists wealth does not benefit the poor but is transferred to a new oligarchy. That wealth never circulates, never creates jobs, and is never taxed, let alone acknowledged. It benefits no one but those who accumulate it by theft and hold it through violence.

131. "[S]tudies of Martí and Emerson draw on celebratory cold-war interpretations of Emerson to establish some of the qualities to which Martí may in have have been initially attracted [...] including the fantasy of exclusively male, metaphysical regeneration."

Neither Martí nor Emerson posited "an exclusively male, metaphysical regeneration." But it is not surprising that the only common ground Lomas could find for them, after having dispensed with so-called "cold war interpretations," is a mutually-shared misogyny.

132. "To read Martí as extending Emerson's legacy grafts Latin American letters onto a 'universal' or 'classical' North American, Emersonian trunk. Let's look at a sentence from [Martí's essay on] Emerson and see how Martí paraphrases or loosely translates it, without citing the original. Leaving aside the question of plagiarism, we can see how Martí's version sifts through and reworks the original."

When Martí paraphrases Emerson a bit too "loosely" (that is, after all, what a paraphrase is, a loose translation), Lomas analyzes the differences between the original and the paraphrase "leaving aside the question of plagiarism." That's big of her. Her point is that Emerson did not influence Martí's thinking as much as everybody else believes. And she makes her point by suggesting what nobody else ever suggested: that Martí plagiarized Emerson, which is surely the closest kind of influence that one author exerts over another.

159. "Notwithstanding Emerson's public opposition to the extension of slavery into new territory and to the invasion of Mexico, his thought fails to raise an effective obstacle to the notion of an Anglo-Saxon manifest destiny."

It wasn't enough to oppose slavery (not just its extension) and the invasion of Mexico; Emerson, according to Lomas, also had to "raise an effective obstacle to an Anglo-Saxon manifest destiny." She does not say how he could have done that, which does not stop her from faulting him for failing to do so. For Martí, however, Emerson's opposition to slavery and the Mexican-American War sufficed to prove that he was not a racist or jingoist. Lomas does not quote Emerson on the subject of manifest destiny, not because he does not address the subject, but because she could find no quote to suit her purposes. Here's one that decidedly does not: "America should affirm and establish that in no instance should the guns go in advance of the perfect right. You shall not make coups d'état, and afterwards explain and pay, but shall proceed like William Penn, or whatever other Christian or humane person who treats with the Indian or foreigner on principles of honest trade and mutual advantage. Let us wait a thousand years for the Sandwich Islands before we seize them by violence." Let the reader substitute "Cuba" for "Sandwich Islands."

173. "Martí's divergence from what I shall call a "United Statesian" way of seeing things belongs to a process whereby Martí accepts that as part of his creative chiseling of another America..."

The "other America" existed long before Martí "chiseled it." Is Martí's "other America," as defined by Lomas, just an antithetical "way of seeing things," a weather vane that always points away from whatever the U.S. position may be? Is that Martí's contribution to "Our America?" If it were he would be the most influential figure in Latin America history — and the most noxious. He is not. Martí's lesson to the "Our America" was to look to its interests, whether they coincide or not with those of the United States: to define itself on its own terms, and not in imitation of, or in opposition to, any other people.

"United Statesian" is an attempt to translate estadounidense, which is so unsatisfactory that even Lomas puts it in quotation marks. She will be surprised to learn that she did not coin this monstrous adjective. I found it first used in Harry Franck's Roaming Through the West Indies (1920): "If our Southern neighbors have their way I suppose we shall soon be calling ourselves "Unitedstatians." or as a fellow-countryman who has lived so long among them as to admit their contention [i.e. that they are "Americans" too] always writes it, 'Usians.'"

179. "In all likelihood, Martí could not have afforded the price of the ticket [to attend Whitman's Lincoln lecture] that William Dean Howells was collecting at the door of the Madison Square Theatre, which netted Whitman some $600 in one night (over half the proceeds came from Andrew Carnegie)"

Lomas is convinced that the "migrant Martí" was a pauper and could not afford the price of admittance to the Whitman lecture, which was all of $1. He could not afford it as well as Andrew Carnegie, but he could afford it. As a foreign correspondent to several newspapers and the consul in New York of three South American republics, his income at the time was not less than $3000 a year, which put him solidly in the middle class. Still, I do not believe he was in attendance at the Whitman lecture. There is more evidence that he attended a lecture given by James Russell Lowell.

179. "In describing Whitman's over-the-top performance, Martí positions himself as a silent dissenter in a crowd of acolytes.

More mind-reading on Lomas' part. Martí's Whitman essay, really an epic poem honoring the poet, does not support her contention that Martí was a "dissenter in a crowd of acolytes."

206. "Martí followed several Afro-Cuban leaders, including Juan Gualberto Gómez, Rafael Sierra, and Antonio Maceo, in making emancipation and Afro-Cuban and national liberation inextricable."

From the start of Cuba's struggle for independence national liberation and Afro-Cuban emancipation were indeed inextricable. The first act of the Ten Years' War (1868-1878), led by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, was to free Cuba's slaves, with Céspedes himself setting the example. The one concession which the rebels demanded and received from Spain at the conclusion of that war was recognition of the manumission of all slaves that had fought for Cuba's independence. By 1892, when Martí founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party, all of Cuba's slaves had already been emancipated. Martí did not "follow" Maceo, Juan Gualberto Gómez or Rafael Sierra in advocating the "emancipation" of the emancipated. The national liberation of all Cubans — regardless of color — was the objective of Martí's Revolution.

211. "Rodríguez Otero's Martí seems to have a penchant for saying or representing the direct opposite of what [Martí] in fact means."

Something that "Rodríguez Otero's Martí" has in common with Lomas' Martí.

211. "This appropriation of Martí's voice belongs to a long tradition of attempting to attribute to the influential Cuban migrant leader views diametrically opposed to his own."

She is herself the latest adherent to this long and contemptible tradition.

213. "Martí in his war diaries defines an authoritarian society as 'one based on the concept, feigned or sincere, of human inequality, in which persons to whom all rights are denied are forced to carry out social duties to serve the power and pleasure of those who deny them those rights.'"

Can there be a better definition or more prescient foreboding of the Castro dictatorship than this? Of course, Lomas does not use it to condemn Castro, but the United States.

213. "Such [an authoritarian] society functions by convincing its members of the divine, natural, or scientific fact of inequality.

Or, we may add, in the case of the Castro regime and all Communist societies, by claiming that inequality is equality.

220. "While it is not irrelevant that Martí personally knew the experience of having a small stature..."

What? This is "not irrelevant? Then what is it? Is Lomas suggesting that the Cuban suffered from a Napoleonic complex in addition to his oft-attributed (by her) "inferiority complex?" (Napoleon and Martí, coincidentally, were the same height — 5'6". There are, of course, no coincidences for Lomas that are not redolent with meaning). No, it is much worse. According to Lomas, Martí's "small stature" explains why he sided with "the small David" against "the giant Goliath."

226. "Complicating the 'hurtful stereotype of the islander as a brainwashed cog for a Marxist state and the immigrant as a soulless worm lacking any concern for social justice,' Ruth Behar's anthology of contemporary Cuban writing on and off the island (Bridges to Cuba) adopts the metaphor of a body-bridge that hears the weight of Cuba's history of anguished separations."

Hurtful as it may be (and the fact that it is hurtful does not make it any less true), the Cuban people have been victimized for 53 years by a dictatorship whose highest aspiration has been to turn them into "brainwashed cogs of a Marxist state." Denied access to an independent media and now the internet, and with no civic or human rights that the state can be compelled to respect, if Cuban workers have found ways to elude the "stereotype" and are not "brainwashed cogs," it is no thanks to their oppressors or their oppressors' apologists (and, yes, that includes both Lomas and Behar). As for Cuban exiles, "the soulless worms[s] lacking any concern for social justice," it is their cash remittances ("taxed" at a rate of 20% by Castro) which feed the people and sustain, unintentionally but unavoidably, the Marxist state. If there is a "body-bridge" between islanders and exiles (other than the corpses strewn along the Florida Straits), the Brothers Castro have erected a wall in the middle and a toll-booth.

227. "[I]n the final years of preparing the revolution of 1895, while subject to surveillance by the Pinkerton Agency (which had confiscated the Cubans' three shipments of weapons), Martí nearly fell apart: 'he sometimes looked a crazy victim of delirious feelings of persecution, which led him to see spies and detectives everywhere.'"

The Pinkerton Agency did not "confiscate the Cubans' three shiploads of weapons:" the U.S. government did. Pinkerton agents, under contract to the Spanish Consulate in New York, did trail Martí's movements since his arrival in New York in 1880. At one time, several of them lodged in the boarding house where Martí lived. "Delirious feelings of persecution" did not cause him to "see spies and detectives everywhere." He saw "spies and detectives everywhere" because they were in fact everywhere."

242. "[There was] an effort within the proindependence movement to discredit Martí by insinuating that his criticism of the movement's leadership reflected his own treacherous effeminacy." // "Only a few years earlier, his 'effeminate' (in some militant's eyes) interest in poetry and art, his work as a writer (rather than as a soldier), and his willingness to criticize the political movement to which he belonged became the subject of other party members' comments." // "Martí might easily have diverted attention away from attacks on his own person by performing an aggressive heterosexism."

Lomas conflates Martí's rupture with Gómez in 1884 with his epistolary "duel" with Collazo in 1891-1892. Neither Gómez nor Collazo, however, ever accused Martí of "treacherous effeminacy" on the basis of his "interest in poetry and art" (which Gómez and Collazo shared) or "his work as a writer" (which both also were). Given the long list of Cuban revolutionary leaders who were also poets and writers, it would have been ridiculous to assert that the profession of arms was incompatible with that of letters. [Note to my readers: I may publish some of Máximo Gómez's poetry in a future post. If Martí can be a major general, why can't Gómez be a major poet?]

As for Martí "performing an aggressive heterosexism" to counter the charge of "effeminacy," Martí was quite content to "let his life speak for him," filled as it was from beginning to end with acts of courage, abnegation and sacrifice, which define manhood better than does "aggressive heterosexism" except in minds like Lomas' that seem to be invested in some arcane conception of "machismo."

246. "The former ["Amistad Funesta"], which [Martí] published in book form with the title Lucía Jerez..."

Martí did not publish the serialized "Amistad Funesta" in book form with the title Lucía Jerez. That had been his intention, and he even wrote an "Introduction" for the new edition, but it was not published in book form until after his death in the Obras del Maestro edited by Quesada.

247. "This chronicle ["La Mujer Norteamericana"], in particular, conveys Martí's response to the unconventional modern woman of whom, for whom he [sic] and in whose name he wrote."

Lomas must mean "of whom, for whom and in whose name he wrote" in this period. But Martí never edited a ladies' magazine during this or any period. He certainly wrote of women and as much for women as for men. But he never "wrote in the name of women," as Lomas asserts. Nor would modern women necessarily choose him as their spokesman, for though Martí was an advocate of female education, he still preferred, as Lomas notes, "the enchanting dependence of our women" to "the disfiguring freedom of North American women."

248. "New scholarship has broken decades of silence about Martí's ambivalence on issues of gender and sexuality, including his repressive responses to queer sexuality."

The "decades of silence" indicate a lack of interest in these issues, not any willful concealment on the part of old scholarship which "new scholarship has broken." Martí was never "ambivalent on issues of gender and sexuality." He believed what he believed. It is critics, like Lomas, who are ambivalent about his positions, which do not fit into any feminist or "queer" construct. As for Martí's "repressive responses to queer sexuality," he did not set up concentration camps to teach gays "how to be men," as Castro did in Cuba. Nowhere in his writings does Martí advocate the "repression" of homosexuals.

263. "According to Horatio S. Rubens, the young lawyer who represented the jailed Cubans and became the nation's legal representative in the United States up until the Armistace of 1902..."

Rubens was chosen by Martí as legal counsel of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano, in which capacity he served from 1893 to 1899, when the PRC was officially disbanded by Estrada Palma, the objective of Cuban independence having been achieved. We do not know what Lomas means by the "Armistice of 1902." The notable event of 1902 was the establishment of the Republic of Cuba.

281. "[M]artí's indefatigable Venezuelan partner who provided the material basis for much of his eating and living in New York, Carmen Miyares."

Carmen Miyares y Peoli was born in Santiago de Cuba, on October 7, 1848. Her father was Puerto Rican and her mother a native of Havana. Her parents emigrated to Venezuela shortly after her birth but returned to Cuba when she was 12. She was a Cuban not only by birth but sentiment and the ideal helpmate for Martí because she shared his love of Cuba and commitment to its freedom. Carmen Miyares and her family provided Martí with the loving home that he always craved and found nowhere else, and by this fact alone contributed more to the realization of his apostolic mission than did anybody else. But Miyares did not "keep" Martí, as Lomas seems to be slyly implying. During his residence in New York, he was a paying boarder at Carmen Miyares' rooming house for nearly 15 years, during which time he worked continuously, first as a clerk in commercial firms and house translator for Appleton's, and then as a foreign correspondent for several Latin American newspapers and consul for three South American republics. He supported his wife and son in Cuba as well as his mother, and contributed also to the support of the Mantilla household.

283. "We have seen that Martí depicted the vulnerability of the Cuban migrant to cracker racism in Florida."

Is this any way for an enlightened Latina to refer to poor and underprivileged whites? And to use such a term in a book about Martí, or in any book, cannot be politically correct. Or is it?

283. "...Martí becomes a forerunner of this new America [with an Hispanic majority by 2050], and of twelve million undocumented immigrants, over half of whom have come from Mexico."

Martí as a "forerunner" (is a pun intended?) of illegal immigrants? There was nothing "illegal" about Martí's entry into the U.S., nor did he ever consider himself an "immigrant."

Intro. footnote 81. "Martí's classmate José Ignacio Rodríguez..."

José Ignacio Rodríguez, who was more than 20 years older than Martí, was not his classmate but his teacher at the Colegio San Pablo, established by Rafael M. de Mendive.

Intro. f. 83 "According to Ivan Schulman's research, [Martí] produced under the pseudonym "M. de S." some 300 articles in Charles Dana's The Sun between 1882 and 1895.

Carlos Ripoll and I disproved Schulman's identification of "M. de S." with Martí and his attribution of those 300 articles to him [see Cuban Studies 29 (University of Pittsburgh, 1999)]. The Critical Edition of Martí's Obras Completas, currently being published in Havana, included six other articles from The Sun that Ripoll and me attributed to Martí in Cuban Studies, but excluded the 300 odd "M. de S." articles misattributed to Martí 50 years ago by Ivan Schulman and Manuel Pedro González.

Intro. f. 89. "In a letter to Valdés Domínguez, Martí sends his friend an article Martí published in New York concerning the Spanish government's apology for having killed by firing squad eight innocent Cuban medical students in 1871."

V, f. 93"Martí's 'Blood of Innocents" (New York Herald, April 9, 1887), which announces the Spanish apology and vindication of the innocence of eight Cuban medical students who were charged with defiling the grave of the loyalist Spanish newspaper editor Gonzalo Casteñon..."

The article reports no such apology, nor was any apology ever made by the Spanish government.

Intro. f. 98 "While I hope my readings contribute to desacralizing of the Martisian text, I also realize that any interpretation I make of Martí here in the United States must respond forthrightly to its nearly two centuries of struggle for control of the island's destiny."

That sentence alone shows that Lomas can contribute nothing but hubris to Martí studies. If she is afraid that her interpretations of Martí will be colored by her physical presence in the United States, then she can formulate them in Castro's Cuba, which surely is the perfect place to write about Martí and the negation of his ideas. In the more immediate "struggle for control of the island's destiny" between the Castro dynasty and the Cuban people, her sympathies are not with the oppressed and her pen is at the service of the oppressors. Not very "Martisian" of her.

I, f. 70 Juan Gualberto Gómez, the Paris-born Afro-Cuban carriage-maker who conspired on the island in coordination with Martí...

Juan Gualberto Gómez was not born in Paris, but at Sabanilla del Comendador, Matanzas Province, on July 12, 1854. His parents, both slaves, purchased his freedom before his birth and then theirs, and managed with the aid of a former mistress to send him to study in Paris at age 15. Called the "black Martí" by Carlos Ripoll, Gómez was not a carriage maker when he was chosen by Martí to organize the revolutionary uprising in Cuba but a well-known and respected journalist (a profession he had exercised for nearly 30 years). No Marxist revolution was ever as proletarian as Martí's. No need to gild the lily.

III, f. 70 "...Martí only rarely writes in English and rarely writes in creolized patois..."

Far more commonly in English than in "creolized patois," because in "creolized patois" not at all. Does Lomas believe that there is a native "Cuban patois" distinct from Spanish (as Haiti's patois is distinct from French)? It sure seems that way.


I have alluded already to the silent reception of Lomas' book among Martí specialists, which allowed those who are not experts but conscious of Martí's importance, if unacquainted with his life and works, to accord Translating Empire the distinction which the first scholarly work on Martí in English deserved if Lomas' book had indeed been that work, which it was not. There are studies which preceded it that have not received the hype but better deserved the accolades. To a large extent it was simply a matter of timing. Never has Martí enjoyed a greater vogue among U.S. academics, at least as a name, than he does now. He is honored because of his reputation, but his reputation has made the study of his life and works unnecessary at least for those (a majority) who prefer to honor the bust rather than the man. This uninformed (and therefore unarmed) hagiography, more than anything, threatens Martí's legacy and exposes him to the undigested readings of a Lomas, who after all is only following in the steps of her "colleagues" at the Centro de Estudios Martianos. The current situation will persist until Cuba is free and Martí released from his forced indenture to a foreign ideology. And then Cubans — and, yes, even dissidents from the CEM — will repudiate the defective and tendentious scholarship of Laura Lomas' Translating Empire.

Click here for Part 1 of this Review.

Click here for Part 2.


Vana said...


Had to read and re-read your extensive post, as I've found myself lately with limited time, but I shall always make the time to read you, you make it worth my time.

Iam sickend and appalled how a book such as Lomas' got through the censors and was published! Let us hope not many people will read this distortion of our apostle's thoughts and deeds, this book of hers resides only in her mind and from your critique I gather is all hearsay. Shame on her!

I imagine your blood pressure rising as you read her book, thanks for taking the time to read it and making us aware of it, as I told you before I will not read it, have been reading and watching too many vomit inducing things lately, would not even pay a penny for this book, hope it rots in the bookshelves.

Having said that, I think I will pick a subject I know nothing about and write a book, why not? if she was published why not I?

PS Hope you send this review to her.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


I had to immerse myself forcibly in Lomas's book, as in a sewer, endeavoring each time to stay just a bit longer, and in a thousand such forced marches, over two years, finally made it to the end. Needless to say, there was no light at the end of the tunnel, and, also predictably, it led nowhere.

My chief concern while reading it was that it might corrupt my own style. After any exposure to it, I would pick up a favorite author to cleanse my palate. Now that I have put it aside forever, however, I no longer feel noxious; and, yes, my blood pressure is back to normal.

I have not sent Lomas the review because I do not think that she would benefit by it. As for the mortification it would afford her, she has sought that herself and found it.

Ms. Lomas visits JMB frequently to read and re-read my review of her work. I know so because the web logs show a persistent visitor from Rutgers (where she works) who always uses the search term "Laura Lomas."

If she did not find the review herself, I am sure that her friends kindly pointed the way for her.

Vana said...


Two years of your life was too long to dedicate to such filth, hope you tossed it in the fire, the trash is too good for it, lest someone eslse find it, and heaven forbid read it!!

Well, well seems from what you say she indeed has read your review, imagine her shock.

Glad your blood pressure is back to normal.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


Oh, did I forget to mention that The National Endowment for the Humanities (that is, the U.S. taxpayer) paid Lomas to write Translating Empire?"

Vana said...


ROFL!! wasting taxpayer money, no wonder we're broke, and no you did not tell me, you just gave me a good laugh.