Liz Medina on Wed, 15 Jul 1998 17:45:57 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Essay on Jose Marti

>From "Aportes a la cultura humanista," Anuario 1995, Centro Mundial de
Estudios Humanistas

Essay on Illustrious Humanists
by Boris Koval
Moscow, December 1995

3.  Jose Marti:  "No se teme a la muerte.  Horrible es vivir muerto."
(Death is not to be feared.  What is  horrible is to live and be dead.)

A hundred years ago, on May 11, 1895, Jose Marti -- poet and revolutionary,
Cuba's apostle of freedom -- marched to battle on a white horse to his
final dwelling.

His gifts as a poet and his revolutionary force engendered, in one unity, a
special kind of hero, impregnating with the spirit that fired his destiny
and thought, the entire period of the Cuban Revolution.

As a teenager of 16, on October 1869, a military court, imputing to him
suspicious political thinking expressed in his patriotic poem "Abdala" and
his manifest sympathy with the anti-Spanish insurrection led by C=E9spedes,
condemned him to six years in prison.  In an archive photograph we see
prisoner number 113, a thin youth, shackled and in prison garb.  But his
spirit does not seem broken, he feels internally proud of his patriotism.
His face reflects the beauty and courage inherent in a good and intelligent
person, whose life and death were at the service of the people, of his
nation and, more than anything else, of freedom.

He understood from a very young age how difficult it was for peoples and
entire nations to "cross the frontier from the human-beast to the
human-human....  To confront that beast and seat above it an angel, is
human victory," wrote Jose Marti in his article, "The Greatest Struggle" in
the year 1882.   Only freedom allows one to make this crossing.  The
15-year-old poet exclaims, describing the heroic aspect of Abdala:

"And honor commands us, and God commands us
to die for our country, before seeing her
the slave of the barbaric oppressor!
The lives of the noble, my mother,
are for fighting and dying to fulfill the command..."

This patriotic leitmotif had sounded reiteratively in universal poetry, but
Marti made it his destiny.

Let's leave aside the luminous path/political lightning of Marti the
revolutionary, and let us gaze at the spiritual emplacement of the great

=46irst of all, we marvel at the humanistic and existential focus of Marti i=
relation to everything that moves him and that he hastens to share with the
people.  He venerates life to the very letter -- he considers it nature's
superior gift -- and man as man.  He is convinced that there is only one
God:  man; and one sole divine spirit:  nature.  In effect, it is thus,
despite all the efforts of contemporary civilization to exacerbate the
conflict between man and nature, as well as within man himself.  Values
change, gods change.  Moreover, terrible, soulless idols are engendered,
regarding which Marti warned us.

=46or him the Universe is something that is integrated, that follows unique
laws, whether of the movement of the planets or of the progress of thought,
whether of physical or spiritual processes.  The physiological and social
life of man is conceptualized by Marti as pieces of tragic elements that
engender sufferings and clashes, sometimes birthing and rebirthing beasts,
since, according to him,  "each and every human carries within them the
entire animal world, they can roar like a lion, coo like a dove, grunt like
a pig; virtue consists of the dove triumphing over the pig and the lion."

In this way, Marti moves from the integral apperception of the cosmos to
the integral apperception of man's microcosmos.  In fact, with full reason
it is possible to distinguish in man what is elevated and what is vile,
what is weak and what is strong, the beast and the creator; but thanks to
the spirit he can transform himself, becoming the "human-human."  The road
to the heights is not easy and passes through sufferings; nevertheless,
only in this way can an integrated personality be forged.  In contrast to
the individual as a biological organism, as a physical part of a generation
and of society, the personality is not a fragment of something integral --
it is integrity itself, a specific microcosmos.  Its foundation is not
physiology but spirituality.   This is precisely how we perceive in
particular Marti's conception of the triumph of the "human-human" over the
beast, making the dove take precedence over the lion and the swine; not the
sentimental and apathetic dove, neither a white-winged angel of divine
providence, but invigorated by its own spirit, by its immoveable will.
Mahatma Gandhi, Andrei Sakharov, Albert Schweitzer and others embody this
type of hero.  His vigor consists not of force, but of spirit; Jose Marti
is privileged with this same quality.

According to Marti, what forms the scaffolding of the truly free
personality of the "human-human" is not garbage, nor ignominy, nor brute
violence; rather it is knowing how to love, to be compassionate, and to
fight.  Jos=E9 Marti does not take his concept as far as the image of a
"Man-God," as do Vladimir Soloviev or Nikolai Berdiaev; neither does he
sustain the idea of a "superman" proclaimed by Friedrich Nietzsche.  He is
unmoved by divine projectomania, nor by a societal utopia built over the
artificial creation of a "new man."  He supports himself on grounded
humanist positions, trying to facilitate and spiritually enrich the
existence of the "human-human."

It is not accidental that Marti, like Cesar Vallejo, analyzes suffering
from the typically existentialist point of view, considering it an
important factor of poetry, religion and of the solidarity between people.

In the essay "The Political Prisoner in Cuba" (1871), the 17-year-old youth
expounds for the first time on pain as a factor of existence.  He does not
fear death because he believes in the immortality of heroes:  "die
honorable and you will rise among the dead; but don't seek death, long to
live life, which can only be justified by a great meaning -- that is,
through goodness for the sake of others."  "Honor can be besmirched.
Justice can be sold.  Everything can be torn apart.  But the notion of good
floats above all things and never sinks."

Marti understands that "goodness" does not come by itself, it is not a
gift, rather it is achieved by working and fighting against "evil,"
suffering innumerable pains in the process.

Marti confesses, "Prison, God:  ideas that are as close to me as immense
suffering and eternal good.  To suffer is perhaps to enjoy.  To suffer is
to die to the clumsy life created by us, and to be born to the life of
goodness, which is the only true life."  This proud and perhaps romantic
concept, perhaps the product of self-suggestion, is suggested by [Marti's]
Christian treatment of suffering not just as redemption and expiation, but
as an essence of existence, the law of life.

But there are two types of suffering:  light or dark, purifying or
destructive, heroic or absurd.  Marti accepts precisely the first kind of
suffering as his cross; he drags it voluntarily as a personal duty to his
own freedom and to that of his people.  It can be said that his is the
suffering to live and liberate oneself, to live the free life.  Precisely
this is the foundation of his concept of the world, of his destiny as a
poet and a citizen.  In our opinion, this is the only way that his words
can be understood:  "To suffer is more than to enjoy -- it is to truly
live."  And he continues, "Others suffer much more than I.  When others
weep blood, what right have I to weep tears?"  The infinite martyrdom of
imprisonment is a meaningless suffering that kills the intellect,
desiccates the soul, but Marti does not want to hate or imprecate, nor does
he despise his jailers.  "If I were to hate anyone, I would hate myself for

In this confession one hears the Christian motif of mercy towards those who
oppress and do harm, who are also human beings.  God takes "bad people"  as
much into account as "good people," above all if it is considered that such
division is false.  There are not two factions of expiation and blessing,
just as there are no "pure people."  Christianity includes the presence of
God in all beings, no matter if all of them are sinners; all are marked by
original sin; this is why one must not judge, but show compassion.  Marti
understands this idea.  The young prisoner's emphasis is directed against
evil, against the mute suffering of people, against the violence of
jailers,  against "horrible, terrible and wrenching nothingness!"  though
Marti has "not yet learned to hate neither the whiplash, the voice of
insult, nor the clanging of his chains."  He always placed love for people
and for life above all else.

A few years later, he would say that he was in pain, "not because I exist,
but because I live without doing good."  That pain in his soul led him
first of all to feel compassion for his people, oppressed by the Spanish
yoke, and later to act as a revolutionary.

His words commemorating Longfellow can be referred to Marti himself:  "He
had the healthy color of the chaste, the magnificent arrogance of the
virtuous, the kindness of the great, the sadness of the living, and that
longing for death that gives beauty to life."  How many -- how many simple,
pure and so rare and necessary qualities are lacking in the contemporary
generations.  Our entire existence became cruel and diseased.

The theme of life, love, sufferings and death, that of struggle and
freedom, make up the existential knot of the authentically humanistic
poetry of Jose Marti, which calls man to harmony and the world's beauty.
"Life is a hymn; death is a hidden form of life; holy is sweat and holy the
shroud, suffering is lessened for souls possessed by love; life has no
pains for he who understands his meaning in time..."

Unfortunately, Marti was mistaken.  It is precisely the understanding of
the meaning of life that which multiplies bitterness and pain, increases
but does not alleviate suffering.  But only in this way is the insuperable
aspiration for freedom and self-realization of the "human-human" born.

In this sense, the main thing is that "freedom must be, outside of other
reasons, blessed, because its enjoyment inspires modern man..."  The
conscious aspiration toward the ideal is taken by Marti through the axis of
a legitimate personality which takes into consideration spiritual integrity
and values.  This last, we suppose, is determined on one hand by a bond
with God, and on the other by a connection to the suprapersonal interests
of his people and his destiny.  The ideal of freedom, like faith,
constitutes the personality and stimulates the striving for self
perfection.  A self-absorbed personality disintegrates, opening itself to
love and abnegation vis a vis others, surpassing itself, affirming itself
and acquiring a new ethical life.  Freedom and inner clarity, according to
Marti, turn out to be the original source of all artistic energy:  work,
poetry, political struggle, all that man creates, constructing before
anything else his own life.

Nonetheless there is a conflict, enigmatic and invincible, between freedom
and happiness.  Berdiaev wrote in his time that "freedom and dignity impede
man from adopting the objective of the greatest good in life:  happiness
and satisfaction.  Man is capable of sacrificing, not just his happiness,
but life itself, to gain freedom."

Nevertheless it is very difficult for one to give it to oneself, to surpass
slavish and cowardly resignation; to break (according to Marti's words)
"...great and powerful fetters prepared in one's hands, the philosophies,
the religions, the passions of one's parents, the political systems.  And
they bind and package one, and man is already, for all his life on Earth, a
crazy horse.... To assure human free will; to leave untouched a spirit's
innate beguiling form, not to dull virgin natures with the imposition of
prejudices foreign to them; to place them in a condition of aptness for
adopting for themselves what is useful without obfuscating them nor pushing
them along an already marked path.  This is the only way to populate the
Earth with the creative generation that she lacks! Man's first job is to
reconquer himself."  For this, freedom is needed, since it is the only
thing that opens the path=20to the perfecting of the self.

Marti leads the issue of freedom to its logical end, freedom not just of
life but also of death.  According to Juan Marinello (one cannot but agree
with him), "...for Marti life is an anxious passage that is resolved in an
ennobling death."  The careful attitude toward living that existed, as
Marti created it, "in previous lands" and that would pass on to "the coming
lands" provoked his admiration "...for that greater silence where all are
equal."  In his "deathbed" poetry Marti struggles, not against death, but
(as Juan Marinello notes with exquisite discrimination) " die well."

Many creative personalities -- before and after Marti -- put forth the
problem of death as the crowning point of life.  According to S. Freud, the
struggle between two principles -- the life instinct (Eros) and the death
instinct (Thanatos) -- characterizes the human being.  Thanatos engenders a
presentiment of the dramatism of his personal destiny and the
predestination of his end, a certain indomitable force of sacrifice in
search of its final dwelling place.  The topic of weakness, of cadaverous,
machine-like existence, and the desire for death resound in many of the
poet's verses, who nevertheless fulfills with all courage his duty and
predestined mission:  "...I who for many years have gathered together from
the ground the pieces of myself each morning, in order to go on living...."

Another poem of his says:

"What happens,
What is indeed a great truth,
is that here
There is naught but one dead man, and it is I.
=46rom so much waiting
-- and it's true
that I await it each day! --
That the agony might end
In the repose of death...."

=46or Marti, death does not mean the end of existence on earth but "a
renewal, a new objective," metamorphosis in the spirit of the Buddhist
concept of karmic rebirth.  The passing from life to nonexistence or a new
existence is an act of freedom, just as the act of freedom is manifested
upon being born, that is, upon appearing out of nonexistence.  The
cosmogonic unity between man and nature lead to his consideration of death
as not tragic, but heroic.  Marti romantically perceives death as a step
toward immortality.  He denies the destiny of death through and in Christ;
rather he dies because of his stoicism and confidence that his existence
will be remembered as an act of heroism.  The meaning of life for Marti is
linked to its end, to an exit from a malignant time into eternity.

To maintain this emotional state, one must have a special spiritual
tension, a certain emotional and philosophical serenity, a particular
ethical experience.  Our entire life is crowned by death, agony, the
elimination of life, and this is why life must be venerated, life's
creating energy must be irradiated without fear of death, because this is
precisely the phenomenon of life, its final instant, predecessor of
eternity.  Marti sincerely believed:  "Death is a triumph, and when one has
lived well, the coffin is a triumphant chariot...."

The fact that Marti hurled himself at death, almost voluntarily, thrown
from his white horse toward his final battle, is symbolic.

"...It is not life
The magician's cup that caprice
turns into gall for the miserable, and into fervid
Tokay1 for the happy.  Life is
...Portion of the Universe, a phrase united
To colossal phrase, servant linked
To a chariot of gold, that to the very eyes
Of those it drags along in rapid race
Hides itself in the golden dust, servant
with ponderous hidden reins
To indefatigable eternity bound!"

The great Jose Marti was elevated in the wink of an eye, from that
warrior's horse to the Triumphant Chariot of immortality.

Our modest essay serves as a living testimony to the foregoing.  Many of
Jose Marti's ideas and aspirations are not at variance with the concerns
and sufferings of contemporary generations.  For us, the Russians, Marti's
personality is charged with allure and special esteem, as a standard bearer
of Humanism, a fighter for dignity and freedom.  The experience of the
entirety of Russia's history, above all in recent=20decades, shows how
difficult it is for people to undertake "the passage from the human-beast
to the human-human", or the overcoming of aggression and violence.

Civilization in general is living through a profound crisis.  It is not
easy to rise above conflicts.  Humanity faces new sufferings and tests in
the future.  However, life continues its symphony.  All of life and all of
Jose Marti's work, the great wise man of Cuba, justify his words:  "Death
is not to be feared.   What is  horrible is to live and be dead.

1  A sweet, usu. dark gold dessert wine made near Tokaj, Hungary.
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