January 06, 2004

Is It Just Me?

Is it just me, or is there something very, very wrong about Arthur Miller going to Cuba without having bothered to think about what he would want to say to Cuba's writers? What he did seems a profound and deep betrayal of intellectual solidarity:

Arthur Miller: A meeting had been arranged the previous afternoon, no doubt through the writers union, with some fifty or so Cuban writers. Initially the organizers had expected only a few dozen on such short notice, but they had had to find a larger space when this crowd showed up. We encountered a rather barren auditorium, a speaker's platform and an odd quietness for so large a crowd. What to make of their silence? I couldn't help being reminded of the fifties, when the question hanging over any such gathering was whether it was being observed and recorded by the FBI.

It was hard to tell whether [William] Styron's or my work was known to this audience, almost all of them men. In any case, with the introductions finished, Styron briefly described his novels as I did my plays, and questions were invited. One man stood and asked, "Why have you come here?"

Put so candidly, the question threw my mind back to Eastern Europe decades ago; there too it was inconceivable that such a meeting could have no political purpose. Styron and I were both rather stumped. I finally said that we were simply curious about Cuba and were opposed to her isolation and thought a short visit might teach us something. "But what is your message?" the man persisted. We had none, we were now embarrassed to admit. Still, as we broke up a number of them came up to shake hands and wordlessly express a sort of solidarity with us, or so I supposed. But in some of them there was also suspicion, I thought, if not outright, if suppressed, hostility to us for failing to bring a message that would offer some hope against their isolation. But back to the dinner with Fidel... [ellipsis in original]

There were fantastic shrimp and spectacular pork, dream pork, Cubans being famous for their pork. (Castro, however, ate greens, intending to live forever.) Our group sat intermixed with Cubans, government ministers and associates, several of them women. Styron sat alongside Castro and his fabulous instantaneous interpreter, a woman who had been in this work the past quarter-century. Surrounding the table was a plastic tropical garden beautifully lit, possibly to suggest the sort of jungle from which the Revolution had sprung.

It quickly became clear that instead of a conversation, we were to have what seemed a rather formalized set of approaches to various ideas springing from the Leader's mind...

Of course, intellectual solidarity has always been a myth. On the one side are those who believe that their words should somehow, somewhy be able to change the world for the better. On the other side--well, the pork is truly excellent! And the shrimp too!

Posted by DeLong at January 6, 2004 02:59 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Beer and peanuts too, uhm, whatever...

Posted by: bulent on January 6, 2004 03:57 PM

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Maybe that's why you're never supposed to eat with your enemies, it makes you write stupid.

I was more offended by the lack of any discussion of good-looking men.

And he didn't mention if they had pickles, either.

Posted by: northernLights on January 6, 2004 04:54 PM

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The obvious answer to "why are you here? what is your message?" is "Because I want to learn. I'm here to hear your message, not give mine."

You're a bit hard on Miller - its not as though he swallowed the official line, and he did have a jaundiced (hepatitis from the pork?) view of Castro's verbosity.

And he is almost certainly correct that Cuba's isolation keeps Castro in power.

Posted by: derrida derider on January 6, 2004 06:11 PM

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Gosh, you sure are tough on Castro, Professor DeLong! Congratulations!

Posted by: david on January 6, 2004 08:46 PM

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As it looks to me, Miller was just playing to American audience -- the intellectual who defies the American isolation of Cuba image stuff.

For the Cubans (Fidel), this was a small easy to win skirmish in psychological warfare, which obviously they won. They fired the first shot: "Why have you come here? (We really don't need you. Is there something we can do for you?)"

Etc...

Posted by: bulent on January 6, 2004 11:01 PM

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How dare you so flagrantly breach liberal-leftist-bolshevik solidarity like this? Poor Glenn Reynolds will be flummoxed.

Posted by: Mrs Tilton (not anti-Castro, just on the other side) on January 7, 2004 03:15 AM

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It's just you. Or at least, it isn't me.

"Intellectual solidarity"? You say it yourself. It doesn't exist. You have, I'm sure, read Gallileo's letter to the Grand Duchess. Those people trying to destroy him are the other "intellectuals" of his age.

Miller showed up packing a US sensibility. His crowd had a different one. If he did, in fact, go to Cuba because he was curious, then his trip was a success. That episode he describes with his audience should teach him a great deal.

Posted by: K Harris on January 7, 2004 06:42 AM

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