The Initials of the Earth
Jesús Díaz Duke University Press, 2006 Library of Congress PQ7390.D57I5513 2006 | Dewey Decimal 863.64
Many critics consider The Initials of the Earth to be the quintessential novel of the Cuban Revolution and the finest work by the Cuban writer and filmmaker Jesús Díaz. Born in Havana in 1941, Díaz was a witness to the Revolution and ardent supporter of it until the last decade of his life. In 1992 he took up residence as an exile in Berlin and later in Madrid, where he died in 2002. This is the first of his books to be translated into English.
Originally written in the 1970s, then rewritten and published simultaneously in Havana and Madrid in 1987, The Initials of the Earth spans the tumultuous years from the 1950s until the 1970s, encompassing the Revolution and its immediate aftermath. The novel opens as the protagonist, Carlos Pérez Cifredo, sits down to fill out a questionnaire for readmission to the Cuban Communist Party. It closes with Carlos standing before a panel of Party members charged with assessing his merit as an “exemplary worker.” The chapters between relate Carlos’s experiences of the pre- and postrevolutionary era. His family is torn apart as some members reject the Revolution and flee the country while others, including Carlos, choose to stay. He witnesses key events including the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban missile crisis, and the economically disastrous sugar harvest of 1970. Throughout the novel, Díaz vividly renders Cuban culture through humor, slogans, and slang; Afro-Cuban religion; and references to popular music, movies, and comics.
This edition of The Initials of the Earth includes a bibliography and filmography of Diaz’s works and a timeline of the major events of the Cuban revolutionary period. In his epilogue, the Cuban writer Ambrosio Fornet reflects on Díaz’s surprising 1992 renunciation of the Revolution, their decades-long friendship, and the novel’s reception, structure, and place within Cuban literary history.
The search for an ethics rooted in human experience is the crux of this deeply compassionate work, here translated from the 1983 German edition. Distinguished philosopher Werner Marx provides a close reading, critique, and Weiterdenken, or "further thinking," of Martin Heidegger's later work on death, language, and poetry, which has often been dismissed as both obscure and obscurantist. In it Marx seeks, and perhaps finds, both a measure for distinguishing between good and evil and a motive for preferring the former.
The poet Hölderlin posed the question, "Is there a measure on earth?" His own answer was emphatic, "There is none," for he was convinced that the measure for man was to be found only in the domain of the heavenly beings. Such metaphysical assumptions, as well as the attempt to found ethical conduct in the nature of man as a rational being, have been rejected by many contemporary thinkers, particularly Heidegger. Yet these thinkers have not been able to provide a satisfactory alternative to metaphysical foundations of the standards for responsible human conduct.
Marx, therefore, goes beyond Heidegger in demonstrating how several of his most basic notions could be relevant to a secular morality in our age. It is death, Marx claims, that unsettles man and transforms his conduct toward his fellow man. the common experience of mortality nourishes ethical life—and leads to the measures of compassion, love, and recognition of one's fellow human beings.
"It is only on the basis of these 'traditional virtues,'" Marx writes, "that we can find a motive for averting the impending dangers which have often enough been described so vividly and convincingly."