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Culture and the Cuban State: StFX political science professor’s latest book examines politics of culture

January 12th, 2018
Political science professor Dr. Yvon Grenier

StFX political science professor Dr. Yvon Grenier has a new book out that offers an insightful analysis of Cuba’s cultural policy since the Cuban revolution.

Culture and the Cuban State: Participation, Recognition, and Dissonance under Communism, published by Lexington Books in November 2017, examines the politics of culture in communist Cuba. It focuses on cultural policy, censorship, and the political participation of artists, writers and academics such as Tania Bruguera, Jesús Díaz, Rafael Hernández, Kcho, Reynier Leyva Novo, Leonardo Padura, and José Toirac.

“My research area is Latin American politics, especially ideologies, culture, and comparative public policy. My goal in this project was to show how cultural actors, artists, writers, and academics, manage to do their work in Cuba, a country where there is no freedom of expression, but where cultural production is very much encouraged and indeed sponsored by the government. I wanted to find out how they square that circle,” Dr. Grenier says.

He says that while Cuban artists and writers are not free, indeed no Cubans are except the "royal family" (the Castro's), they enjoy more autonomy and privileges than most Cubans.

“I found them to be very smart about the political rules of the game, the "who gets what, when, and how." They are also very well trained, and for this the regime born of the 1959 revolution can take some credit,” he says. 

“Some say that things are changing in Cuba. The time when everything was mandatory or forbidden seems to be over. And yet, right now the space for public expression seems to be closing again, as if a certain pendulum between opening and closing is how this kind of political regime operates. I make that case in the book. I hope I succeeded in showing that one can learn a lot about a country by examining how it treats its artists and cultural actors more generally.”

Although the book has just recently come out, it has already received good reviews.

“Yvon Grenier, a sharp-eyed observer of culture and politics in Latin America, provides an illuminating analysis of the complex relations between Cuba’s intellectuals and the Castro regime,” writes Michael Keren of the University of Calgary, who in his review calls Culture and the Cuban State a “must-read for anyone concerned with the fate of creative imagination and critical thinking in authoritarian states.”

“Exceeding the revolutionary rhetoric which has impressed much of the research on Cuba in the past, Grenier looks seriously and rigorously into the state’s cultural policy over time, showing how changes in that policy from repression to liberalization and back have not altered the fundamental position of Cuba’s artists, writers and political scientists, a position marked by fear, censorship, self-censorship, and the need to perform intellectual acrobatics.”

Other reviewers had equally positive comments.

“This book is a path-breaking work that convincingly turns the conventional wisdom about the ‘cultural policy’ of the Cuban Revolution on its head,” writes Ted A. Henken of Baruch College.

“Most compelling and original is the author’s nimble analysis that distinguishes between a set of unwritten but untouchable “primary parameters” and another set of “secondary” and contextually permeable parameters that such cultural actors must constantly negotiate in order to avoid being dealt “out of the game” of Cuban culture as played on the island under the revolution.”

“For everyone who cares about the quality of intellectual life in Cuba and elsewhere, this is a book not to be missed,” says Silvia Pedraza of the University of Michigan.

Culture and the Cuban State is Dr. Grenier’s sixth book. Other publications include:

2009 Gunshots at the Fiesta: Politics and Literature in Latin America, with UCLA colleague Maarten Van Delden (Vanderbilt University Press). Paperback 2012.

2001 From Art to Politics: Octavio Paz and the Pursut of Freedom (Rowman and Littlefield, Culture and Politics series, Henry Giroux ed.); Spanish translation in 2004

2001 (Editor, Foreword) Octavio Paz, Sueño en libertad, escritos políticos (Mexico City: Seix Barral). (Dr. Grenier sometimes says this is his best written book as it was written by a Nobel Prize in Literature! Dr. Grenier selected the text and wrote the introduction.)

1999 The Emergence of Insurgency in El Salvador: Ideology and Political Will, Foreword by Mitchell A. Seligson (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, Pitt Latin American Series).

1994 Guerre et pouvoir au Salvador: idéologies du changement et changements idéologiques (Ste-Foy, Québec: Les Presses de l'Université Laval, coll. Sociétés et Mutations), xv + 350p.


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