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Racial Experiments in Cuban Literature and Ethnography$
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Emily A. Maguire

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780813037479

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813037479.001.0001

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Beyond bongos in montmartre:

Beyond bongos in montmartre:

Lydia Cabrera and Alejo Carpentier Imagine Blackness

(p.63) 2 Beyond bongos in montmartre:
Racial Experiments in Cuban Literature and Ethnography

Emily A. Maguire

University Press of Florida

This chapter explores the symbolic function of blackness in the work of Alejo Carpentier and Lydia Cabrera. In Carpentier's first novel, Ecué-Yamba-O, blackness stands in as symbolic of both exotic otherness and a rejection of western social norms, even as it is also portrayed as an authentically Cuban element that counters foreign threats to the national space. A similar (racialized) national anxiety is present but displaced in his later novel El reino de este mundo (The Kingdom of This World). In contrast, Cabrera's short stories Cuentos negros de Cuba (Afro-Cuban Tales) create a textual world in which race does not function allegorically by practicing a strategy of containment, turning the reader into a participant-observer of an environment in which blackness is not exceptional. Cabrera's emphasis on social boundaries ensures that this racialized strata of the popular is never confused with Cuban society as a whole.

Keywords:   Alejo Carpentier, Lydia Cabrera, Ecué-Yamba-O, Cuentos negros, Cuba, blackness, symbolic function, race, allegory

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