More College Insanity

The best performance of The Good Man from Szechwan I have seen was in Havana. The actors, the director, and everybody in the audience of the small experimental theater that staged the play except me were Afro-Cuban. And the play wasn’t censored. Even in the Communist Cuba it was allowed to run for months! Cuba is very proud of its Chinese-Cuban legacy, by the way. Maybe not the official Cuba but the Cuba of regular folks. 

But for the students at Knox College this play by an anti-fascist – a real anti-fascist – playwright was so intolerable that they insisted on it being cancelled.

It saddens me to say that there is more artistic freedom in goshdarn Cuba of Fidel Castro (this was back in 1999.)


The current sex abuse scandals are bringing out the weird side of many people. I’m seeing on social media several former grad school colleagues (all male) who are publishing passionate screeds against patriarchy (which would make you howl with laughter if you knew these particular people) and hinting at some Gothic tales of sexual assault taking place at the department while I was there.

I’m all like, hey, bud, the only person back there who made me feel uncomfortable with talk of all the rape scenes you loved in movies and books and needed to describe to me in great detail was you. The only person who constantly referred to women as bitches and worse because they had boyfriends and didn’t want to date you was, again, you. The only male person who crushed an all-female party to tell us about the strippers you visited and mock their physical assets in excruciating detail was you. I’m glad you’ve experienced this huge feminist awakening since then but maybe you should go check the dictionary definition of the word “hypocrisy.”

Book Notes: Eliseo Alberto’s Informe contra mí mismo

This is a book by a writer exiled from Cuba. I only bought it because I was so super excited to see an airport newsstand sell books in Spanish, but it turned out to be an amazing find. This guy is an immensely gifted writer, folks. I am mesmerized by the way he writes. 

The book is autobiographical but it’s hard to define the genre because the structure is complex and beautiful. You need to read this book to understand why Cuban immigrants are so pissed off. The Cuban culture that Eliseo Alonso describes is a shockingly great and rich one, and losing something like this must be very painful. I didn’t lose much when I emigrated, so I can’t relate. But I do feel quite a bit envious of Alonso’s love for his birthplace.

Alonso’s  Informe is a memory of a Cuba that no longer exists and of the slow and painful process of its destruction. But this is not a tragic book. Alonso writes with love, humor and nostalgia of the country that defines him even in exile. For someone even marginally interested in Cuba, this is a must-read. There are, for instance, several pages of Cuban Communist slogans, and following their evolution over several decades tells you more than many textbooks about the country’s recent history. 

This is a book that is perfect for teaching to undergraduates. And it’s a great way to teach them about the beauty of literature.

Everything Is Corruption

“Is there a lot of corruption?” I asked the cab driver who was sharing insights about life in the DR. 

“No, there isn’t a lot of corruption,” he said. “Everything is corruption.” 

People here definitely deserve something better. The organizer of the conference, Ylonka, is so intense that I look soporifically Scandinavian next to her and so hard-working that I look like the deadbeat of the century. This was the best conference I’ve been to in terms of the complexity of the program, the organization and the comfort.