From Cuba with a Song Essay - Critical Essays

Severo Sarduy

Critical Context

From Cuba with a Song, Sarduy’s second work of fiction after Gestos (1963), marked a turning point in his development as a writer, for soon after the novel Sarduy also proved his talents as an essayist and literary critic. The essays collected in Escrito sobre un cuerpo (1969) expound the theory of literature that makes From Cuba with a Song the “novel” novel that it is. Here are Sarduy’s views on the equivalence between sex-uality and text-uality, transvestism and literature, text and body, which surfaces in the fictions of From Cuba with a Song.

Sarduy’s theory of literature as wordplay and erotic inscription reflects the influence of French structuralist and poststructuralist thought. Critics such as Roland Barthes in Le Degré zéro de la écriture (1953; Writing Degree Zero, 1968) shaped Sarduy’s insistence on the autonomy of language and of the literary artifact. Barthes’s Le Plaisir du texte (1973; The Pleasure of the Text, 1975), like Sarduy’s own Escrito sobre un cuerpo, conceives the writing/reading process as an erotic exchange between author and reader. One outcome of these theories is the body/text of From Cuba with a Song, a work that unsettles the conventions of the novel genre by its self-referentiality and parodic inversion.

The parodic thrust of the novel is responsible for its impact in the context of Latin American literature. From Cuba with a Song represents one of the most radical rewritings of the Latin American myth of origin. The “novelty” of From Cuba with a Song is that it carries the demystifying tendency in the Latin American novelistic tradition to the point of showing that the only origin of self is the secondary condition of language.