Roberto Fernández Retamar--poet, essayist, and professor of philology at the University of Havana--has long served as the Cuban Revolution’s primary cultural and literary voice. An erudite and widely respected hispanist, Retamar is known for his meticulous efforts to dismantle Eurocentric colonial and neocolonial thought. Since its publication in Cuba in 1971, “Caliban"--the first and longest of the five essays in this book--has become a kind of manifesto for Latin American and Caribbean writers; its central figure, the rude savage of Shakespeare’s Tempest, becomes in Retamar’s hands a powerful metaphor of their cultural situation--both its marginality and its revolutionary potential.
Retamar finds the literary and historic origins of Caliban in Columbus’s Navigation Log Books, where the Carib Indian becomes a cannibal, a bestial human being situated on the margins of civilization. The concept traveled from Montaigne to Shakespeare, on down to Ernest Renan and, in the twentieth century, to Aimé Césaire and other writers who consciously worked with or against the vivid symbolic figures of Prospero, Calivan, and Ariel. Retamar draws especially upon the life and work of José Marti, who died in 1895 in Cuba’s revolutionary struggle against Spain; Marti’s Calibanesque vision of “our America” and its distinctive mestizo culture-Indian, African, and European-is an animating force in this essay and throughout the book.