The Hegemonic and Cultural Implications of a Guayaquilean Romance
Perdona que no tenga palabras con que pueda
decirte la inefable pasión que me devora
para expresar mi amor solamente me queda
rasgarme el pecho, Amada, y en tu mano de
seda; ¡dejar mi palpitante corazón que te
—Medardo Ángel Silva, "El alma en los labios"
These last lines of Medardo Ángel Silva's influential poem, "El alma en los labios," have provided Guayaquileans a productive tool for self- and communal identification over the last century. (See Vallejo's novel about Silva .) The poem, sung by legendary Guayaquilean artists such as Julio Jaramillo and Olimpo Cárdenas, has become an emotional outlet not only for love-torn individuals but also for those who, at different times, have faced the tragedy of not obtaining the ultimate object of their desire, whatever that desire might be. In this manner, Silva's life and work have provided a succinct form of national identification within the prohibitive nature of desire in the postcolonial setting of the city of Guayaquil. A century after his death Silva's poetry is sung, memorized, and studied with a keenness that betrays the central place it holds in the development of the city's national identity ("El arte se junta con la medicina" 2001). This is a phenomenon of remembrance that was already evolving only twenty-six years after his death ("Página literaria de 'El Telégrafo'" 1945).
The fact that Silva's production (in which category I include his life as well as his literary work) has assumed such a hegemonic stance in contemporary discourse is surprising precisely because he lived only twenty-one years, and his existence was fraught with unbearable emotional and social contradictions. Yet it is these same contradictions that, although directly contributing to Silva's death, also enabled him to become the dominant and iconic figure that he is today.
The importance of sentiment in the production of a national Guayaquilean identity was made explicit to me at a small gathering of friends as we listened to Silva's poem transformed into pasillo (a traditional Ecuadorian musical genre). As we shared drinks and nostalgic memories of our lives and the city, it became painfully obvious that these "individual memories" and "sentiments" were neither merely individual nor devoid of larger social significance. Rather, they were the most social of our effects and provided for our singular identification as Guayaquileans, marking us, naturally, as lifelong friends. In this manner, our feelings' explicitly individual markers—far from denying their social importance—allowed our nostalgia- and desire-driven sentiments to fulfill their nationalizing and political goal of fusing and providing for our geographical and cultural identification. It was this normalizing feature of sentiment that was most salient, due to its provocative silence.
This drinking episode (chupa in Guayaquilean parlance) fueled my research and made me decide to interview Guayaquileans, in both Guayaquil and the United States, regarding the national elements of the production of sentiment. Raymond Williams' (1977) work on the consolidation of hegemony through the structures of feeling was particularly helpful in organizing the research project. I carried out in-depth interviews and collected life histories of Guayaquileans. I asked them questions about national and regional identification, nostalgia for the city, pasillos, alcohol, motherly love, and other effusive sentiments. My research was supported by my own Guayaquilean identity and by my having lived in the city throughout my adolescence and early adulthood.
Almost at the outset, I was extremely intrigued by the ambiguous iconization of the Afro-Ecuadorian poet Medardo Ángel Silva. Everybody I spoke with knew who he was; many of them shared tears, alcohol, and memories with me as we listened to Silva's poetry and music as performed by Julio Jaramillo. However, what people said about Silva seemed always to be contradictory: they heralded him as representative of Guayaquilean pride but glossed over the more transgressive details of his character, such as his being expelled from high school (for refusing to cut his hair, melena) and, of course, his un-Catholic decision to commit suicide (if he in fact did). At the same time, most people's comments only vaguely related to the official version of Silva's life as expressed in the compulsory teaching of his work and in all the city's high school textbooks.
Therefore, even though he was almost exclusively the only Ecuadorian or Guayaquilean poet anybody could name, only a couple knew Silva was black, and even fewer had any inkling of the disturbing social (and sexual) contradictions that might have led to his early death. For example, everybody I interviewed was willing to emphasize his longing for his pubescent girlfriend but not his acknowledged despair over the death of his closest male friend just a couple of months before his probable suicide. Perhaps even more telling was that few if any of my informants wondered why or, even better, how a poor young black man who lived over a hundred years ago could provide such a significant means of identification and reaffirm our national Guayaquilean identity in such contemporary terms.
Tellingly and in this same vein, none of my informants were able to place Silva and his work within the politically troubled turn of the twentieth century. During Silva's life (1898-1919), Guayaquil lived through what is arguably its most violent period and the consolidation of Ecuador's Liberal Revolution (1895-1912). The Liberal Revolution would catapult Gen. Eloy Alfaro to power and allow the coastal bourgeoisie to challenge the highland hacendado elites' claim to national government while producing an enormous impact in terms of national restructuring of economic and race relations. Silva's lifetime would also include the vast mobilization of workers, many of whom would perish in the massacre of November 15, 1922, which ultimately resulted in the founding of socialist and leftist political parties. However, these two processes, Silva's intense poetic images, and his troubled social surroundings are never integrated but, rather, function as two totally different sources of effusively sentimental identification. On the one hand, one has a nostalgic image of a representational Guayaquil Antiguo (Old Guayaquil) as a paradisiacal and ephemeral tropical fantasy city at the turn of the century; on the other hand, we have a troubled Silva feeling love-torn emotions that led to his early death. These are the similar individual emotions that Guayaquileans share in their continual engagement with their past while drinking and listening to pasillos with enormous feelings of sadness and nostalgia.
This book focuses on these two seemingly contradictory, if romantic, images and assesses how is it that they not only coexist but also are actively invested in the production of a Guayaquilean identity and the image of the city as we know it today. In this book I question, using Williams' structures of feeling, the cultural amnesia essential for the nostalgic production of the past that enables the city's contemporary political structure of domination and oppression. In this manner, I am investing Silva's memory with the romantic memorialization of a Guayaquil Antiguo and the troubled historical period that this metonymic image so effectively and ambiguously represents and conceals (see Chapters 1 and 2). At the same time, I use Silva's memory, life, and work as a hermeneutical tool for assessing the cultural, gender, and racial problematics that a Guayaquilean identity necessarily affords (see Chapters 3, 4, and 5). Ultimately, I use Silva and Guayaquil Antiguo as cultural forms that engage Guayaquilean modernity and assess how they came to serve the present political project while necessarily providing an effusive form of social agency for Guayaquileans. It is this same social agency that continues to attract most of the national migrants from throughout the country to Guayaquil. This is why I have interviewed Guayaquileans living in the United States, specifically, New York City. These diasporic interviews provide a way of assessing the migration of Guayaquilean modernity as well as the reoccurring disruption of Guayaquilean identity as an essential constitution of its dynamic, modern rearticulation.
The Soul on Medardo Ángel's Lips
Silva's early death is described with unbearable horror in the newspaper reports of the period ("Medardo Ángel Silva" 1919; see also Gómez Iturralde 1998), and even a century later it is shocking to his fellow Guayaquileans ("El arte se junta con la medicina" 2001; "Medardo A. Silva: Le fueron duros sus años" 1999). As I argue throughout the book, however, the emotions, ideas, and intimate pain reflected in his writing and in his tragic life are not shocking to the same Guayaquilean population that seems unwilling to legitimate his suicide as a valid cultural act. Silva's poetry is an integral part of the cultural composition of Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest urban center and port. Silva is unarguably the most influential poet in the city's modern history. His relevance is expressed in the monuments erected to his memory, his poems' transformation into popular pasillos, and the requirement that his poetry be read in all of the city's high schools.
The Liberal Revolution and the workers' (i.e., the socialist) movement (1910-1930) were central formative experiences for the still-emerging Ecuadorian nation, and therefore were vital to Silva's preoccupation with race, sexuality, and class. This preoccupation could not but problematize the European (i.e., white) and elite modernist ideal that pervaded the young Ecuadorian republic and its intellectuals during Silva's lifetime. His oeuvre thus came to ambiguously represent the popular strands of daily sentiment inherent in the city's vibrant street life as well as the refined tastes of the city's elite and most powerful cultural circles. It is this hegemonic ambiguity that makes Silva's life a useful source for assessing the dynamics of cultural power and the production of popular culture.
I question how sentiments both determine and are determined by the social milieu that they embody and explore how feelings are intimately woven into and produced within the social tapestry of racial, ethnic, class, gender, sexual, and age differentiation. Thus, rather than assessing them as independent subjective elements, I judge emotions as essential in the production and maintenance of social hierarchies (see Davis 1998; McCarthy and Franks 1989; Shank 2000; Wexler 2000).
There is little doubt that Silva's use of romantic distance and a pseudoautobiographical approach afforded him poetic license. It would seem that these literary concealments were warranted by the hostile social environment in which he lived. There is also little doubt that this harsh social environment was central in providing him the (painful) inspiration and motivation for the ambiguous emotions and feelings that are traditionally kept in check by the normative Guayaquilean cultural order. In this respect, Silva's writing is very much in keeping with a postcolonial legacy harbored between ingrained and internalized forms of domination and less-explicit mechanisms of external oppression (Fanon 1970; Kincaid 1997; Memmi 1991).
As Williams (1977) and other scholars (Butler 1997b; Foucault 1980; Taussig 1992), note, cultural hegemony works in subtle yet powerful ways. Feelings, emotions, and sentiments as powerful cultural markers are interwoven into more structural constraints that define one's way of acting and, most important, of being. Silva, almost alone, carved out a particular semantic structure that expressed the different class, racial, and sexual inhibitions that he experienced in the early part of the twentieth century in Guayaquil. It has been argued that Silva's early suicide symbolizes the failure of his life, yet his iconic popularity and semantic power would seem to denote the contrary. Silva's inability to connect to his surroundings, his family, and, ultimately, himself has struck a "popular" chord in generations of Guayaquileans who have faced similar postcolonial forms of social restraint and repressive environment (see Kincaid  and Fanon  for similar discussions). Therefore, far from making him a failure, Silva's poetic license may have cost him dearly but still enabled him to enunciate the stark social identities that Guayaquileans have struggled with and against in the dynamic self-definition of their modern cultural identity.
It is not a coincidence that Silva's ambiguity and personal anguish, more so than that of any other cultural icon, marks the most realistic form of social identification for the country's largest metropolis. Through his life's work Silva crystallized structures of feeling that slowly became hegemonic and defined a dominant social formation which was only just beginning to emerge during his lifetime. As Williams (1977) claims, it is only now that this hegemonic social formation is locked into place, which is demonstrated by Guayaquileans being able to publicly weep for their love, their lost youth, or, ultimately, for all that these translate into: an identity of loss, in other words, an identity based on the rejection of oneself and constituted of what one does not have or is not. In essence, Silva's structures of feeling comprise a way of being constituted by the anguish and pain that come from not belonging, of not fitting in.
Today these sentiments are no longer preemergent, as they were in Silva's time, but are a way of being for most Guayaquileans, that is, of being Guayaquilean, which has been seductively hegemonized into position. It is this identity of postcolonial rejection, I argue, that makes Guayaquileans identify with Silva and that, at the same time, allows us, through Silva's writing, to start assessing the socially constitutive nature of these sentiments more fully.
This colonial-identity mode of rejection, translated into a postcolonial setting, is marked by its no longer exclusively, or even mostly, being sustained by official empirical constraints, since those have been triumphantly internalized into the subject's constitution. It is because of this postcolonial turn of events, in which the dominated dominate themselves, that Silva's writing and life are useful tools for assessing cultural hegemonic articulation. In a broad sense, understanding how the postcolonial subject is constituted as such and formulates its future as a free agent in which it subjects itself without a colonial empire to blame is also the essence of the postcolonial debate (see Butler 1997a, 1997b; McClintock, Mufti, and Shohat 1997).
Analyzing Silva as an Ecuadorian cultural icon enriches our understanding of hegemony and how it works at a much more daily, local level (see Martillo Monserrate 1999) without allowing us to lose sight of its influence on the larger, national scene. Hegemony's power lies not only in its grand ideological manipulation but also in its subtle forms of articulation in the daily sentiments of a community's history. Hegemony works not because it is monolithically sustained and advocated but, rather, because it relies on people's living contradictory lives, or what they on some conscious level know to be an outright denial of reality (Sayer 1994), what Taussig (1997: 114) refers to as "the duper being duped" (see also Nelson 2001; Zizek 1989). Hegemony, therefore, is articulated through the subtle classification of the chaos that is life into artificial categories and concepts (Foucault 1993; see also Baldwin 1984; Duras 1986; Lessing 1987). In similar fashion, Silva's ambivalent articulation of structures of feeling expresses how essentializing sentiments are formulated and classified into normative behavior. Ultimately, analysis of Silva's life and work contributes to the understanding of the hegemonic relationship between the development of popular icons/semantic figures, the officialization of memory, and the daily construction of people's livelihood.
The fact that a century after his death, Silva's writing is still a powerful cultural marker of Guayaquilean identity testifies to the underlining hegemonic agents with which he wrestled. Even though his poetry has been consistently portrayed as individualistic, melancholic, nostalgic, and sentimental (Cueva 1986), it has greatly echoed among the city's passing generations. It is Silva's popularity that makes one question an individualistic interpretation of his work; instead, it reflects the communal ramifications of these "individualistic" feelings, since they are shared by the majority of Guayaquileans. However, even though most Guayaquileans feel and understand what Silva is talking about, that is, an intimate anguish in the face of social upheaval and hierarchical constraints, these sentiments are still defined as individual feelings (which all know to be a lie) rather than as structures of feeling that are intimately tied to a normative and exploitative social hegemonic structure. This denial betrays the fact that an assessment of these particular structures of feeling, which began to emerge almost a century ago, would question not only the reigning moral order and the oligarchic stronghold of Guayaquil's wealthiest families but also the official representation of the city's past and reconstructed cultural identity (Benavides 2002; see also Kraniauskas in Monsiváis 1997).
In the remaining sections of this introductory chapter, I focus on both the theoretical framework of the book and the complex and subtle autobiographical approaches Silva used. I argue that Silva's life was afforded such a degree of hegemonic positionality that a century later his approaches are part of the main tenets of Guayaquil's and Ecuador's national cultural vitality, precisely because they reflect the physical and emotional impossibility of his life. To this end, I use Silva's writing to assess the consolidation of sentiments as "pure" feelings and culturally neutral acts at the turn of the twentieth century in Ecuador.
There is no question that Silva's life and sentiments have achieved a hegemonic position in the city's reified historical imagery. It is a remarkable form of revenge that it was Silva, one of the city's most economically oppressed, racially discriminated against, and sexually ambivalent inhabitants, who expressed what feeling and being from Guayaquil is all about. When Silva says (N.d.: 88),
Madre: la vida enferma y triste que me has dado
no vale los dolores que ha costado;
no vale tu sufrir intenso, madre mía,
ese brote de llanto y de melancolía,
Guayaquileans know exactly what he is talking about, and cultural hegemony is seductively locked into position.
Structures of Feeling and Cultural Hegemony
Since the 1980s, hegemony, and particularly cultural hegemony, has become a focus of scholarly concern (Joseph and Nugent 1994; Mallon 1995; Popular Memory Group 1982; Scott 1985; Sider and Smith 1997; Silverblatt 1988). Gramsci's (1971) original proposal, written, significantly, from a prison cell to explain communities' self-imposed domination has been continually revisited by Marxist thinkers wishing to analyze the articulation of political domination and power (see Crehan 2002). Two of the most original contributions to the reassessment of Gramsci's concept of hegemony have been offered by Louis Althusser (1971) and Michel Foucault (1988, 1990, 1994, 1995). Althusser's widely influential analysis of political domination freed the discussion of power from both the economic and the dialectical determination of traditional Marxist class analyses. He placed the formative elements of ideological power in the cultural production of material processes that constrain and define political domination. His examples of state education and religious indoctrination furthered the exploration of ideology not as a mere epiphenomenon of economic production but as a quasi-independent element of cultural interaction. Despite struggling to maintain a more orthodox Marxist perspective, and significantly distancing himself from his own problematic conclusions, Althusser opened the way for assessing the independent productive power of domination instead of assessing it only in negative and repressive terms (see also Merleau-Ponty 1963).
This is precisely where Michel Foucault's work is most enlightening. Some of his main contributions are located within his studies of social institutions—prisons, asylums, hospitals—as normalizing agents as well as the elaboration of social discourse as a useful analytical tool. For Foucault, hegemony works not because it is actively operationalized from the outside but, quite the opposite, because domination is actually connected to our own center, making us the most active imposers of our own constraints:
What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn't only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse. It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body, much more than as a negative instance whose function is repression. (Foucault 1980: 119)
In thinking of the mechanism of power, I am thinking rather of its capillary form of existence, the point where power reaches into the very grain of individuals, touches their bodies and inserts itself into their actions and attitudes, their discourses, learning processes and everyday lives. (Foucault 1980:39)
In a similar vein, Raymond Williams was also actively concerned with the articulation of hegemony and cultural production. In his influential Marxism and Literature (1977), Williams develops elements that, according to him, serve to assess hegemony and offer a better understanding of how it is deployed. "Structures of feeling" are such an element and, according to Williams, help bridge the gap between a static understanding of class formation lodged in its own formative institutions and corresponding ideology and the daily life of individuals and the production of popular culture. Williams proposes his structures of feeling as a "cultural hypothesis" for understanding the relationship between structural constraints and the dynamic elements of everyday life (1977: 132): "[Structures of feeling are] concerned with meanings and values as they are actively lived and felt, and the relations between these and formal or systematic beliefs. A social experience which is still in process, often indeed not yet recognized as social but taken to be private, idiosyncratic and even isolating but which in analysis (though rarely otherwise) has its emergent, connecting and dominant characteristics, indeed its specific hierarchies."
Far from abandoning a formal class analysis, Williams is interested in thinking through the problem of class formation. He is aware that social analysis is incredibly adept at defining class formation in static periodizations of historical production but has a much harder time assessing societies' dynamic and constant class reproduction. In other words, social analysis is equipped to assess society in descriptive historical terms but is almost incapable of addressing historical life in its daily possibilities and impossibilities.
A similar theoretical constraint has become central in the debates of contemporary historiography, particularly in postcolonial contexts (see McClintock, Mufti, and Shohat 1997; Mignolo 2000; Spivak 1999). These postcolonial texts critique social analyses that are content to describe discrete periods of cultural and social reproduction but seem unable to describe societies' dynamic cultural life. It would seem that these moments of social analysis always translate into the death of the social subject, and that the subject's death is essential to making the subject known, or "real," and vice versa (see Butler 1997a, 1997b; McClintock, Mufti, and Shohat 1997; Murray 1997; Salecl and Zizek 1996).
A varied number of writers, from Herman Hesse (1994) to Marcela Serrano (1997), have expressed the personal and political depth of this problematic: that the written representation implies the subject's death; and that only a dynamic nonrepresentational approach could actually provide a way of assessing life in its multiple incongruencies. This humanistic debate, unfortunately trivialized by many social scientists, not only is essential to our understanding of cultural behavior but also has slowly become an intricate part of the debates over human rights and native communities' struggle. For example, it is precisely this point that is at the heart of 1992 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú's final account of her struggle for indigenous rights in Guatemala (1985: 247): "Nevertheless, I'm still keeping my Indian identity a secret. I'm still keeping secret what I think no-one should know. Not even anthropologists or intellectuals, no matter how many books they have, can find out all our secrets." This "secret" (and the ravaging controversy over Menchú's historical accuracy—see Arias 2001; Nelson 2001; and Stoll 1999) is what seems to be at the heart of all these scholars' and writers' concern. Ana Castillo has captured this historical disjuncture, complete with the engendered problematic also critically articulated in Gayatri Spivak's (1999) writing (1996: 119; my emphasis): "One had to be convinced that there was merit in recording history since that was the purpose of writing, after all. It might be history that everyone agreed with or history that got you hanged for writing it but for which your name was revered in the future and then read to revise history. But it was all history and it was all myth, since history is myth. Starting with one's own story. More specifically, her story, which was a myth which she resisted to make into history."
In this problematic context, Williams' structures of feeling provide a sophisticated manner in which, if not to solve, then at least to broach the specific disjuncture between historical and cultural representation. This is evident in the fact that he refers to "thought as felt and feeling as thought (1977: 132): practical consciousness of a present kind, in a living and interrelating community." As Williams states, he is interested in the actual, lived-in relationship of people in their daily life and not simply in a model or abstraction of their social processes (1977: 130): "in relationships that are more than systematic exchanges between fixed units." For Williams (1977: 131), "it [structure of feeling] is a kind of feeling and thinking which is indeed social and material, but each in an embryonic phase before it can become fully articulate and defined exchange."
Williams also distances himself from orthodox Marxist thought and explicitly states that "structures of feeling" are not mere "epiphenomena of changed institutions, formations and beliefs, or merely secondary evidence of changed social and economic relations between and within classes." However, in this same regard, he is quite careful to not equate all artistic expressions with "structures of feeling" (1977: 131). He believes that there always will be, and that even the majority of artistic ventures are, a direct manifestation of dominant or residual social formations. Meanwhile, structures of feeling do not respond to either kind of social formation but, rather, represent and express an emerging social formation still unidentifiable in an explicit manner (1977: 134):
It is a structured formation which, because it is at the very edge of semantic availability, has many of the characteristics of a pre-formation, until specific articulations—new semantic figures—are discovered in material practice: often, as it happens, in relatively isolated ways, which are only later seen to compose a significant (often in fact minority) generation; this often, in turn, the generation that substantially connects to its successors. It is thus a specific structure of particular linkages, particular emphases and suppressions, and, in what are often its most recognizable forms, particular deep starting-point and conclusions.
Because of their unique internal dynamic, structures of feeling are very much a "cultural hypothesis" that always needs to be reassessed. Strongly within a Marxist tradition, Williams proposes structures of feeling as both an empirical historical and cultural question of "detailed substantiation" (1977: 135). Because of the nature of social life in general, it is impossible (beyond a mere informed guessing game) to define structures of feeling in the present. Rather, all we are capable of doing is concretely informed historiographical work to understand how particular structures of feeling, undetectable at their time of origin, managed to contribute to the solidification of a contemporary dominant social formation. Far from falling into the trap of present-day cultural representations (see Rosaldo 1989, for a similar critique), Williams is acutely aware of the need for a critical historiography. Unlike many social scientists, he is not interested in describing or analyzing contemporary social life as much as in assessing how contemporary social life came into existence and achieved its hegemonic stance (1977: 132): "These [structures of feeling] are often more recognizable at a later stage, once they have been formalized, classified, built into institutions and formations. By that time the case is different; a new structure of feeling will usually already have begun to form, in the true social present."
Taking into account Williams' contribution, I question the representation of sentiments as neutral, personal, and individual elements precisely because they are so closely tied to the social milieu in which they are produced. By questioning their neutral representation, I also see the articulation of sentiments as a cultural manifestation of power dynamics, since it is exactly this assumed neutrality that makes sentiments essential in the enabling of any reformulation of power (see Butler 1997a; Foucault 1993; Stoler 1996; Taussig 1992).
Silva's literary and historical figure within the mythical representation of Guayaquil Antiguo (see next section) clearly provides a valuable opportunity for assessing Williams' structures of feeling as a cultural hypothesis and their relationship to the normalizing of social life and the enabling of hegemonic articulation. Silva expresses an effusive level of sentiment (structures of feeling) that resonated within a wider cultural context of social power and normative agents throughout the twentieth century. Not surprisingly, his work traditionally has been seen as private, subjective, and individualistic (Cueva 1981, 1986) instead of as offering an opportunity to assess social experience in the making, within its specific formulations of power and set hierarchies. My main objective is understanding the particular process by which his poetry and life, and their sentiments, achieved a hegemonic stance (Alonso 1995).Ultimately, Silva allows us to assess the formative hegemonic construction of sentiments that were normalized racially, sexually, and in terms of class initially almost a century ago in Guayaquil. Today these define what being from Guayaquil is all about. It is also at this crossroads that the use of structures of feeling proves quite advantageous in defining the contours of the production of a vibrant Guayaquilean past (Guayaquil Antiguo) and popular national cultural heritage.