Cuban literature and culture are focus of Planet/Cuba

RACHEL PRICE, an associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese who also is affiliated with the Program in Media and Modernity, joined Princeton in 2009. Her scholarship focuses on culture, media, poetics, empire and ecocriticism in Latin American, Caribbean and, particularly, Cuban literature.  In her book Planet/Cuba (2015, Verso Books), Price addresses contemporary literature as well as conceptual, digital and visual art from Cuba that engages questions of environmental crisis, new media, and new forms of labor and leisure.

What inspired you to write this book?

I wanted to think about the many positions Cuba has occupied in its own imagination and for the rest of the world. Cuban history has always been inescapably global — it was shaped by empires, by massive slave trade, and by sitting at the junction of international trade routes. Both because of and despite this, Cuba is often discussed as singular: sometimes as a theme park, or as a world apart, as a kind of “Planet Cuba.” By introducing the slash [in the title], I also wanted to call attention to the indissociable relation between Cuba and the planet.

The book has a strong emphasis on ecology. How are artists addressing issues of climate change and issues such as the impact of deforestation in Cuba?

So much of life in Cuba, like anywhere on the planet, is deeply marked by an engagement with the environment. In cities, where food security is an issue; in the countryside, where drought is an increasing problem and where invasive species restore nitrates to land worn out by sugar but also thwart agriculture; and in the water, where fishing is diminished.

Artists and writers engage ecological questions both on the local and global scales. To give just a few examples, they may make humorous video art about the failures of agricultural reform in Cuba, create installations (“environments”) that involve living trees, or write speculative fiction — another term for science fiction — that imagines mass migrations caused by ever increasing hurricanes in the Caribbean.

How does art-making in Cuba reflect issues of surveillance and state security?

Artists use a variety of approaches: hacking into systems of transmission and rebroadcasting information; creating exhibits that force viewers to participate unwittingly in being surveilled; producing video-game art that simulates a famous Panopticon prison [such as Cuba’s Presidio Modelo]; and so on.

What interested me in particular was the way that art references the particularities of Cuba’s network of vigilance, but goes beyond it to comment on — or intervene into — the more pervasive global systems of surveillance, both state and corporate, in which we all participate. –By Jamie Saxon