A Revolt Against Plenty article on the Dominican Republic, Latin America, depression and friendship.
The Dominican Republic: a brief overview
The Republic occupies two thirds of the island of Hispaniola. The boundary line that separates from Haiti is 193 miles long. The population numbered 4 million in 1966 and is now in excess of 12 million, an increase of 200% in just 40 years. The capital Santo Domingo was the first permanent European settlement in the western hemisphere. With just over 2.1 million inhabitants, it is the most populous of all the cities of the Caribbean mini-states. In 1993 the population had been just over three quarters of a million, a truly enormous increase. During the 1970s there was an extensive rural to urban migration and 55% of the population is now estimated to live in urban sites, the country having experienced one of the highest urbanization rates in the world since the late 1950s. The Republic is marked by extremes of wealth and poverty and in the mid 1990s one quarter of the adult population was unemployed and infant mortality amongst the highest in the hemisphere. In 2004 a newspaper editor was moved to say: 'We are divided and anything could bring this division to civil war'.
In 1821 the original colonists had declared their independence from Spain and joined Bolivar's Great Columbia only to be immediately conquered by neighbouring Haiti. In 1844 the Domenicans again achieved independence proclaiming the Domenican Republic. From then on the country was ruled, except for brief intervals, by a succession of military dictators until the 1990s. Dogged from the late 19th century by an inability to pay its debts, the 20th century was to be the century of growing American hegemony. Direct North American intervention began in 1916 because the country had defaulted on loans from American banks. In fact America was invited in and then went on to seize total control of the economy to ensure interest payments to American banks were kept up. It was an early form of a structural adjustment program before the IMF and SAPS had been heard of and before American banks and their European cohorts had learnt military intervention was not always the best way to settle accounts.
America left in 1922 but not before building up a national guard, which eventually was to seize power in 1930 under their notorious commander, Rafael Trujillo. His administration has with some justice been described, 'as one of the most frightful tyrannies in the history of the Americas or of the world'. Hoover openly welcomed 'the dusky despot' but Roosevelt was more guarded in his praise. But come 1960 the days of 'the big Negrocrat, the Caesar of the Caribbean' were numbered and America colluded in his assassination fearing another Cuban inspired anti-Batista type uprising. Following Trujillo's assassination Juan Bosch had assumed power and immediately instituted a popular program of agrarian reform, confiscating and redistributing Trujillo's estates. But events were to spiral out of control and in 1963 a military coup deposed Juan Bosch, the caudillo's life long adversary. However the army was split and this led to a civil war. Guns were handed out to thousands of civilians mainly students and workers. Estimates range from 2,500 to 10,000. In April of 1963, President Johnson sent in an astonishing 20,000 American troops, 'solely for humanitarian purposes for the protection of the lives not only of US citizens but the lives of other citizens'. Up to that point no one had died but in the war that followed 3,000 Domenicans were killed. The same argument was to be used by Reagan to justify the invasion of Grenada 25 years later.
Trujillo's puppet and strong man, Balaguer eventually took control and between then and now a slow process of demilitarisation has unfolded. Balaguer was forced to concede elections and his opponent Guzman won the elections of 1978 and Blanco the 1982 election. But in 1986 and in 1990 Balaguer was elected to power and then again in 1994 at the age of 87! However in the last 10 years a degree of bourgeois constitutionalism has prevailed and the military kept out of politics. The elections of 2000 led to the victory of Hipolito Mejia a former agrarian engineer who presided over the collapse of one of the country's largest banks, a scandal that discredited most of the political class. In May 2004 he lost by a wide margin to Louis Regna. Though hard for us to credit, Guzman's 1982-1986 term in office was the longest term of constitutional rule in the country's history. However all was not sweetness and light down below and there have been in the meantime massive demonstrations and riots involving serious quasi-military repression. In 1986 Balaguer decided he would rebuild Santo Domingo in preparation for the quincentenary of Columbus's discovery of the new world. Mammoth projects on a scale previously unknown in the Republic were undertaken but Balaguer's principal aim was to clear the capital and get rid of troublesome elements in the working class barrios by shunting them off to the outskirts. Massive protests by the barrio rights coordinadora prevented this from taking place in the suburbs to the north west but elsewhere 40 barrios were bulldozed and 180,000 residents evicted. Houses were sometimes demolished while the inhabitants were still inside and para-military forces were used to intimidate people. Though still fresh in poor peoples' minds, the new republic kids itself these events belong to the disgraced military past and we won't see their like again in quite such a crude form. But as in the rest of Latin America we shall have to wait and see. Given its past history it is unlikely the island will long remain impervious to the currents sweeping much of Latin America.
In the past twenty years the economy has undergone major structural change and tourism now ranks with sugar as the most important source of foreign exchange. House price inflation has also begun to be a major factor in the economy as the tourists and the new property conscious neo conquistadors have poured in. The Caribbean is so often atypical of the political patterns in the rest of Latin America (military dictatorships are a rarity in the Caribbean) and the same must be said of the real estate sector. The incoming, high rolling, speculators just adore their elegant, rapidly appreciating, Spanish colonial homes (or, better, assets) and remain oblivious to the scratch dwellings of cardboard, packed earth floor, discarded inner tubes and other scrounged material the island's rapidly growing number of urban poor make do with. In the countryside the picture is much the same, luxurious villas contrasting with lean-to's of palm trees and bamboo and makeshift housing of double reed walls filled with rubble and plastered with mud. These also possess an elegance though a very different kind of improvised, do-it-yourself, elegance. Despite the intolerable poverty, disease, malnutrition, lack of sanitation and now endemic violence, especially in the towns, they also possess a warmth and humanity the villas and Spanish colonial facades lack and have always lacked. And something of this lack is obvious in the sad little tale that follows ----------------------------.
A few weeks ago the phone rang. I did not recognize the voice at the other end but when it said; 'I'm Lisa, Marianela's daughter' I knew instantly Marianela had died. My voice trembling and close to tears I was scarcely able to believe what I was hearing. When had I last seen Marianela? 'About three months ago' I lied, which her daughter knew to be untrue as her Mother would then be in a coma having suffered a massive stroke.
My last phone call to Marianela must have been in February 2006. During the course of our conversation she had described Hugo Chavez as 'a bastard' and I had been on the brink of slamming the phone down. Over the following months her comments had festered and I became increasingly determined to let her know what I thought of her. Had her silly remark arisen from a far left perspective I could have well understood. But it did not and during those few months I was frequently on the point of picking up the phone and yelling down it, 'why don't you revise your fucking will and leave everything you posses to Colonel Pinochet.' It would have been received as yet further evidence I was in dire need of anger management therapy. Then one day I came home and set pen to paper. Enough of politeness: with the end of human time rapidly approaching, time to say what I really thought. I signed off, as I do in these instances, 'pure scum', as if I half believed it because people like myself are continually made to feel that way despite putting in immense efforts to convince ourselves otherwise. It was then the phone rang to say Marianela had died perhaps an hour and a quarter after I had finished writing the letter.
In 1994 Marianela had welcomed the Zapatista uprising in Mexico. I had sent her postcard on which I'd simply written 'Viva Zapata' as did thousands of others people around the world. Though never brimming with enthusiasm for the Zapatista rebellion in the subtropical region of Chiapas, or able to analyse it with anything like the subtlety it required, at least Marianela did not condemn it as she increasingly found herself doing when confronted latterly with comparable revolts throughout Latin America. I say, 'found herself' but this is to ascribe a preponderant role to consciousness whereas Marianela's opinions were being forged behind her back, a fact she was entirely unaware of. For in the meantime she had become a very wealthy lady as a result of the combined property booms in London and the Caribbean which had swept the Spanish speaking islands of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic though obviously not Cuba where it is an event waiting to happen, and probably will, once Castro dies.
This served to offset Marianela from her counterparts in the rest of Latin America where property has played a far less decisive role in comparison to, say, offshore bank accounts converted into stable currencies. However even so its importance generally in Latin America cannot be doubted particularly as regards land titling and the commoditisation of aspects of barrio housing which has had a divisive effect on barrio communities.
She had a married sister, Margo, a little older than herself who now lived in Canada. Hanging on to each other for dear life they had left the Dominican Republic to attend a private school in Canada. They were just to say in their teens. I knew they were very close almost like twins and though I was conscious I would be able to relate to Margo even less than I could to Marianela I immediately wrote Margo a letter, for her pain at the loss of her sister would be very great. I never received a reply and I have reason to believe Marianela's family hold me, desperado that I was, at least partially responsible for her death. This is no idle boast for the 1968 generation are with predictable regularity blamed for all that is wrong nowadays and which adds up to an awful lot of wrong.
Marianela was the unhappiest woman I ever knew. In fact the common bond that drew us together in the first place was a shared experience of depression. When I met her back in the early 1990s there was no mistaking she knew what depression was. It is a qualitatively different state from feeling down in the dumps and when she described sitting down at the kitchen table in her dressing gown staring at the wall day after day unable to move it was obvious she had plunged into that pit of darkness no one who has been there will ever forget.
Looking back it is now plain as day to me that my depression at the beginning of the 1990s, whatever the immediate personal factors that precipitated it, was a reaction to the growing hopelessness beginning to engulf the world and from which collectively there may now be no exit. For all I know the door to liberation has slammed shut never to be re-opened.
But it was this recognition rooted in an understanding of the end-game that capitalism had become that would divide me permanently from Marianela, a divide that grew the wider as the 20th century turned into the 21st century of what is promising to be a century of unmatched horrors beside which Il Purgatorio is play group fun.
It was obvious Marianela was 'middle class'. I was also aware that had she been English the chances of us, even remotely, getting along together was zero. She had arrived in this country in 1969 with £4000 to her name that enabled her to buy 'a barn' (her words) of a place in Streatham in London. Actually it was a 5-story terrace house with a medium sized garden backing onto the railway line from Victoria to Sutton. She was married to a two-bit English actor (though all actors are now that) and they had rented out a number of rooms in the house to compensate for the periods of unemployment actors are prone to. I never met the husband and was relieved at being spared that ordeal not because he was Marianela's ex-husband but because he was an actor.
We rarely talked about her job ' that of psychiatric social worker ' for I had no time for social workers, psychiatric or otherwise. She had come late to her chosen profession waiting until the children had left school, for she took her role as a mother very seriously. As a consequence the job was never able to completely colonise her and political correctness was never her forte. We never talked much about acting or music either which she listened to incessantly on the radio - classical music that is - evincing no understanding or appreciation of jazz, pop music or the avant-garde (Satie etc). There was not a chink in her armour through which light could penetrate and in many ways this reflected the situation in Latin America baring Mexico until quite recently.
What fascinated me most were the tales from her childhood in the Dominican Republic and right to the very end I would regress her, though not deliberately, into reminiscing about her family and memories from the past would pour out. I was all ears. Indeed I was probably the only one who ever truly listened and she loved me for it. Almost in a trancelike state and brooking no interruption rolling one cigarette after another she would talk herself into a state of emotional exhaustion and then go to bed rising at around 5.30 am having slept only fitfully. (She slept little in any case and looked permanently haggard). All in all it was a world totally remote to that of post war Europe and one would have to go back to the 1750s to find anything remotely similar in England.
The circumstances of her upbringing were contradictory to say the least. Her father was a carpenter (no less) and her mother (a severe woman by all accounts) the daughter of an Argentinean diplomat. In fact there was a charming little photograph of Marianela as a chubby seven years old dressed as 'Miss Argentina' though Marianela was never to visit any other country in Latin America not even crossing the border to visit neighbouring Haiti, which she regarded with dread. Last year I had phoned her to ask if she had any inside information as to what was happening in Haiti, particularly Port au Prince. There had been the usual superficial coverage on TV that gave the impression the capital had been taken over by gun happy warring gangs. I suspected there was a lot more to it: there is and the violence, I was later to find out, was largely in response to an American led effort to impose the free market on Haiti, first deposing President Aristide then allowing him to return provided he ditched his social programs. But Marianela simply put it down to the voodoo legacy. Though she never admitted it Marianela was wary of Haitians, her latent hostility becoming ever more pronounced when she read of the high percentage who were HIV positive. In fact hostility to Haiti goes a long way back in the country: to the founding of the Dominican Republic in 1824 to be exact when shortly afterwards the fledgling republic was invaded by the Haitian army until ousted in 1844. During the 1930s Trujillo had massacred with machetes some 40,000 Haitian day labourers then pretended, in order to shift the blame, it was the work of Dominican peasant farmers.
Marianela's grandmother on her father's side had been born in Spain. When her husband died in the early 30s (that is just before the civil war) rather than submit to the charity of the Catholic Church, she had, with great courage, taken her five children off to Cuba. There the church had treated her with far greater kindness and Marianela never tired of saying Catholicism in Latin America was not the beast it was in Europe (more of which later). She expressed a great affection for her grandmother and thought there was much to be said for her no nonsense approach to life, for her grandmother was too weighed down by care and the daily grind of survival to have any time left over for the kind of psychological indulgence that is today so prevalent. At such time Marianela was bringing into question her own profession only to then, with remarkable adroitness, flip into an excess of psychologising which only made matters ten times worse. I could almost hear the sort of folk homilies that would trip off Marianela's grandmother's tongue like the Spanish equivalent of 'spare the rod spoil the child'. Marianela would have liked to possess the naive strength enabling her to say that and envied those who still could. But there was not the least danger she ever would and instead over compensated in the other direction claiming that all she had ever done was 'damage' her children.
Enraptured Marianela and Margo would listen to their grandmother's evocations of old Spain. To the two young sisters a fairy world arose over the ocean. And when they visited Spain as children going to live in a remote farm house in Castille belonging to a relative, that fairy world promised by their grandmother came to life. Everything they saw was magic to their eyes. The farmhouse was a split level affair and the two girls slept above the stables with the farm animals just below them - an unforgettable experience - like the farmyard of children's books had literally leapt out of the pages and come to life. I would have liked to have heard Margo's account of this haunting childhood holiday but I got the impression these experiences never meant as much to her as they did to Marianela. In fact they shaped Marianela into becoming the misfit, even reluctant new oligarch, she later was and towards the end her obsessions grew, reminiscence and money matters jostling confusedly together in her mind. I rather think that by this time Marianela was taking advice from Margo's husband, a stock broker originally from Spain. Now brought in from the cold, he had long been an object of some contempt to both sisters primarily because he was an alcoholic and an affair seeker. Earlier on Marianela had expressed impatience at her sister's repeated attempts to reform her husband saying she would be far happier if she just left off and accepted him for what he was, a liar, a cheat, but also a funny man. As she grew richer Marianela quickly forgot her original precept of 'leave well alone' and, even though obviously all was not well, the lingering influence of her grandmother's wisdom was progressively replaced by provocation almost for provocation's sake. And so personal relationships became a war zone not just with me but with everybody else and I am continually struck by how common this interpersonal psychological warfare is today, a war which shows no sign of abating. But I am in no doubt this war without end is also a reflection of how capitalism has become a way of life not just an economy. But accumulating wealth had crept up on Marianela and had struck her down, never suspecting for one moment this was the real cause of her growing dissatisfaction with everybody.
Marianela's father after learning carpentry in Cuba had gone off to New York to seek his fortune. There was a photograph of him in front of the Brooklyn bridge wearing a straw boater which then was all the fashion. Possibly he was not able to adjust to New York (he had a lifelong dislike of America and England warning Marianela to keep clear of both) for he shortly made his way to the Dominican Republic where he met his future wife.
He was a very capable carpenter and I had much admired a rocking chair he had made for Marianela out of mahogany. It was a consummate piece of joinery and Marianela would sit on it as a young girl of an evening listening to a Mexican radio channel and sing along with the 'canciones populares' in the company of her sister. But even so he was only a carpenter and how could the daughter of an Argentinean diplomat have ever been attracted to him in the first place for it would never happen in England and any exception would only prove the rule? I never found out. But Marianela's mother, an astute business women, was able, probably through her social connexions, to secure for her husband the contract for hospital beds throughout the Dominican Republic. In a short space of time Marianela's father had, at least in Dominican Republic terms, become a rich man. I'm convinced this must have happened as a result of the Caudillo's patronage because Trujillo controlled the economic life of the country, amassing a vast fortune. And like any autocrat he dispensed favours.
Possibly Marianela's mother had been attracted to her father because he had republican and left wing sympathies. In any case, once well off, he put up republican refugees fleeing Franco's Spain. However this did not necessarily meet with the regimes displeasure because Trujillo had welcomed refugees from Franco's Spain as well as Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. (Latin American dictators can be very quirky and unpredictable especially around this time as Peron in Argentina was to prove). Marianela's father even converted the cellar into a library for the use of the Spanish exiles. One day the young Marianela after overhearing a discussion on Freud had crept down stairs and gone through the shelves looking for a book by him hoping the filth would blow her mind. She never got over the disappointment.
It was tales like these that drew us together if only tangently. For I can remember in our dining room at home in Co.Durham hearing mention as a child of the Spanish civil war amongst gatherings of railwaymen and their wives. But otherwise it was very different.
When a young girl Marianela ran around barefoot but in post was Britain it was unthinkable any child went bare foot though I had been told that only recently it was common (i.e. before the war) for the poorest children to go bare foot. For sure, post war, the same, slightly updated children wore stitched-in clothes and smelt though they were in a minority in the sink schools we attended and had a tendency to ask us for physical help when bullied by more prosperous children. (Not to boast, it was a help we gave unstintingly simply mostly by threatening bullies and only rarely did we have to resort to violence). Marianela was also allowed to take a goat to school which she would tether outside though she would unhesitatingly if permitted have brought the smelly animal into the classroom and done her lessons with the goat alongside her. As infants we had been terrified of goats and on weekdays we had to pass a couple on the way to school. Coming back from school one day one of the goats had slipped its plug chain and head down had chased us all the way to the railway station. Such was Marianela's bond with nature and the importance of animals in her childhood to her that she fought for the right of 'mental patients' in her care to be allowed to bring dogs into psychiatric hospitals. (In England she had a dog called 'Frolic' whom she would take for walks. When depressed she hoped the dog, once taken of the leash, would scamper off and never return. In a like manner she also hoped her children would leave her, for her entire life had been expropriated by motherhood and that resentment had been communicated to her kids, as is often the case. Her daughter was never able to forgive her mother, torturing her to the end with barbed comments as only daughters are allowed to. If there ever was an argument for not becoming a parent it was Marianela.) In the kitchen gardens 'back home' there was a flock of parrots and these Marianela taught to say 'merde, merde' just to annoy her mother. They would harass the poor woman with their constant taunting and exasperated she would fly out of the kitchen (where she was supervising the cooks but doing little cooking herself though she excelled at Creole cooking leaving Marianela a huge Creole cookbook I glanced through) with a stick in her hand to beat the parrots. But the parrots were too agile for her, hopping up the trees well out of reach of her flailing stick. In Marianela's opinion had she caught one she would have unhesitatingly killed it savouring the pain it would have caused her daughter. As it was Margo got many a beating from her mother which rightfully should have been Marianela's, for she was easily the more rebellious of the two sisters. Yes, I can well understand how Marianela constantly used the term encarnizado (a kind of 'bloody' bullying) to describe the tensions in Spanish families. In her opinion it was the playwright Garcia Lorca's chief merit.
Their father never raised a finger to either of his children. Revenging himself on his wife he took a mistress. When Marianela was old enough to understand that her father had a mistress, she sought her out to thank her for making her beloved father's life more tolerable. For to be sure there was not much love lost between Marianela and her mother and she never spoke of her with any affection. All she did say was that after her father's death her mother became deeply religious attending church everyday. Though knowing her husband had a mistress when Marianela's father fell terminally ill her mother devotedly looked after him but only out of a sense of wifely duty not love. Even so her newfound religiosity suggests she was seeking atonement for her inability to offer genuine love to either her husband or two daughters. Marianela was able to offer a kind of loving to her children and then atoned for its incompleteness in a totally changed world by tendering money and choosing over religion the sanctimony of therapy instead. But more about that later.
Priests however were regular visitors to the house and they were responsible for Marianela's sexual awakenings. She recalled as a very young girl meeting a priest (a friend of the family) on a dirt road and wondering why he had a stick projecting from under his cassock around the midriff. That, Margo informed Marianela, 'was an erection'. Margo however was ignorant of other facts of life and no one told her that on reaching puberty she would start to menstruate. And so it was one day with blood streaming from her thighs she came running up to Marianela to say goodbye before she died. It is a deeply touching incident.
And so it was a priest that inducted Marianela into sex. But it was incense, Bach played on the church organ and the overall aesthetic experience of the mass that also seduced Marianela, the two becoming inseparable. Henceforth sex would become for her more of an artistic experience than a religious duty with a promise to honour art an undeclared part of the marriage vows the same as happens with millions of other professional middle class couples. But childbirth ended her artistic pretensions and there can be no doubting that Marianela deeply resented this. (She often used to speak about Marge, a lifelong friend who had remained childless in order to spend her entire life studying Bach. Marianela was thrilled that in her eighties Marge had finally had her book on Bach accepted and rued she had been so sacrificial herself when she could have so easily devoted her life to the arts had she been as clear headed as Marge. To me it was merely another form of futile sacrifice that had nothing to say about the present and was therefore a pointless distraction.). But how she managed to escape from her home and spend so many dirty weekends in New York in the company of a priest seems a logistical impossibility. Perhaps her parents knew but did not care to admit it publicly. In any event I have been frequently struck by the coincidence of an extraordinary degree of sexual permissiveness and a brutal authoritarianism. Maybe this comes about because if authoritarian regimes were ever to admit that sexual license was commonplace it would expose the ineffectiveness of its repressive apparatus. The Trujillo regime had imposed 'conformity laws' and also dominated the church hierarchy. His dictatorship has been reckoned 'the most absolute of modern times'. In 1940 an American observed, 'the civil rights of civilians are approximately those enjoyed by inmates of a penitentiary under a particularly headstrong and unscrupulous warden'. And yet for some there was a degree of sexual permissiveness that at the time would scarce be tolerated anywhere else certainly not in Britain or America.
Did the priest feel guilty at having betrayed his vows of celibacy? Apparently not in the least because Latin American Catholicism is much more flexible than it is in Europe and far more humane and erring. And so it is not surprising there is such a thing as 'liberation theology' in Latin America (and different from the worker priests in Europe whose time has come and gone) and which also has had an influence on the developing autonomous movement in Latin America though only, it must be stressed, in its earlier stages.
Marianela also developed a crush on Eduardo, a much older man and her father's business partner, having an affair with him in her early teens.The family could not fail to be aware of this but never spoke to Marianela directly about it. Instead they arranged for Marianela and her sister to attend a private school abroad fearing that Marianela would eventually be swept away by the tide of sexual 'lawlessness' (hardly liberation and largely favouring men anyway) sweeping the Dominican Republic and which the Trujillo dictatorship was readily exploiting and turning a blind eye to. On one occasion Marianela had chanced upon a half open door in a reputable quarter of Santa Domingo and ventured inside. There she found herself in the midst of an orgy. Sensing danger she immediately legged it back to the safe hypocrisy of her home.
When I first knew Marianela she would frequently and quite shamelessly refer to 'the maids' as if every household had them or ought to have them. Such was her naivete in these matters that she never for one moment thought this might cause people to bristle up in a country like Britain which is very conscious of the master servant relationship even clothing industrial class struggle in the upstairs downstairs nexus of the country manor and town house. I never knew how many maids there were in the household in the Dominican Republic but there were many cooks, scullery maids, linen maids etc, etc. Had I ever asked it could have extinguished the free flow of confessional semi-feudalism and revealing detail, which I could only marvel at. The maids were assaulted by the men as a matter of course, not beaten so much as sexually molested. Oddly I never heard mention of one man servant. One sclerotic family member had to be forcibly restrained in his eighties from mauling 'the maids'. Obviously he must have been long accustomed to behaving with impunity like this. The man just referred to, Eduardo, moved back to Spain in the 1990s having inherited an olive grove in Galicia. One night Marianela was rung up by one of the 'home helps' to say that Eduardo, now well into his eighties, had got hold of her and tried to lift up her skirt and could Marianela try and talk to Eduardo. Despite everything the hapless servant desperately needed the work as her husband, a fisherman, barely earned enough money for them to live on. Marianela did phone Eduardo pleased to be of use to 'the family' but not to admonish him rather to remind him Spain was not the Dominican Republic and so he had better watch his step. Marianela visited her former lover in Galicia and when she came back just happened to mention in passing how ingenious the Galicians were at mending things. Little facts like these fascinated me though I did note that she didn't have a great deal to say about Latin American peoples in this regard.
As time passed Marianela began to freeze up in my presence suspecting I was taking objection to one too many 'maids'. In fact she even became apologetic insisting the maids were well looked after and that really they were members of the family in all but name. They were given beds, fed, their medical bills paid for and their children's education taken in hand. There may be some truth in this yet I rather suspect 'the maids' received no pay at all and that a situation of near feudalism rather than neo-feudalism prevailed in the household. It came to a head one night - interestingly after the turn of the millennia when events had already started to take shape in Latin America and the division between the have and the have-nots in Britain was becoming ever more naked and openly acknowledged as such, signalling the end of the social democratic consensus we had uncritically taken for granted as with us until the definitive overthrow of capitalism. For some time Marianela had become increasingly abusive toward people, almost as if she had some god-given licence to insult anybody that came within range. There were reasons for this behaviour I shall go into later. Suffice to say that on this night she suddenly began to rail against the price of domestic labour in this country, or 'your ' country, as she was wont to say, She was never able to get beyond the cramped horizons of bourgeois nationalism and even the weather became 'your' weather. I remained silent which was taken as proof that such pointed criticism had really gone in. But I was unable to contain my anger and so I let her have it both barrels. I told her that during the nineteen thirties I had an aunt in the north who to escape the depression had gone into domestic service in London. She would write home fairly regularly but suddenly her letters ceased. Eventually after some months my uncle, a baker, made the trip to London to find his sister was a virtual slave denied food and pay and regularly beaten. My aunt was unable ever to speak of her ordeal and one wonders if it did not also involve sexual abuse. I began to holler there must be many a Filipina forced to endure similar conditions and at the hands of women by no means only men and with no where to run to just like my aunt only worse. My anger rising, I asked to imagine what it was like for a domestic servant particularly a woman in the 1930s. What if she had managed to escape and gone up to the nearest bobby and said: 'I'm being tortured, can you help me. I work for Sir Arse and Lady Arsehole'. Would she have been listened to? Like shite she would.
My outburst had Marianela trembling. She 'had never been spoken to like that before'. Though I had become heated in the defence of the poorest women in no time at all she was able to turn it into an anti-woman outburst and symptomatic of untreated male aggression. Shortly afterwards she wrote to ask me 'if I hated everyone'? I calmly replied her question was utter nonsense but that I hated the middle class which included that part of my family that was now very middle class including my nephews and nieces, in particular a know-nothing actor (though by definition actors know nothing for if they did know anything they would not today be actors) who married a famous film star to stay in media heaven.
Over the years that I knew Marianela she not only aged but aged like a female Dorian Grey. I have no problem with wrinkles but I do with a wrinkled soul. From the outset I was well aware that she had come from a comfortable background but one that certainly was not well-off by European and American standards. Especially earlier on there was at times an engaging madness about her, a lack of adjustment which couldn't just be put down to her inability to fit into a society that was more egalitarian than the Dominican Republic's. When she broke up her with her husband she had let her normally well-attended garden grow wild and would sleep in the long grass that once was a lawn. She would also take a pile of crockery up to the first landing and hurl it downstairs, the plates and cups smashing to pieces on the tiled floor of the lobby below. These were easily the most creative things she ever did. But there were less savoury sides when stressed and suffering from depression she would steal from the corner shop not because she believed in the abolition of price and commodities but because deep down she wanted to be caught and punished, thus drawing attention to her misery. Whenever she ripped-off the shop she would return home and cry. Marianela always had an ear for languages and accents and had befriended the Geordie shop assistant drawn to her Geordie twang and even more winning ways. Marianela felt she was taking advantage of her, which in a way she was. However I could not use this incident as a springboard from which to expound my views on consumer capitalism where everything is put on display just for the taking. Oh no! And so it should come as no surprise that in the next breath she would condemn dole scroungers and upbraid me for not having private health insurance. How very latifundista, for by this time her liberalism was showing distinct signs of fraying at the edges.
She fancied she was strong whereas I had no hesitation in describing myself as weak. Once said she took it as gospel that words mean what they say. She had no concept of langue and parole and would hoard my letters going through them over and over again forever reaping up the past as it had been written down. For without the written word the bourgeois order would be in danger of immanent collapse. That poetry was dead would never cross her mind for she had not even the beginnings of a critique of language. I could go back a hundred years and point out that everything I was saying was already there in Mallarme but it made no lasting impression. She was also surprisingly easily led as if she sensed there was no real centre to her life. But the drift would go in every direction except the right one. One incident in particular comes to mind. Though Marianela had been affected by late 60s early 70s feminism it did not stop her responding in kind to a number of obscene phone calls. Eventually she agreed to meet the man, first kitting herself out in sexy underwear she had bought especially for the occasion. She was hardly through the door before they began to have sex later watching a porno movie together. I asked her if she had enjoyed it. 'Oh yes' she replied 'but when I got home I had to immediately take a shower to wash away the stain'. I rated her honesty but had it been yours truly instead of her, a feminist witch-hunt would have been unleashed against me. Personally I thought she could well have benefited from more such escapades. It could have made her less judgemental but as it was it made her even more so because she had triumphed over her lechery. And yet, like so many other middle class housewives who genuflected before feminism, she was a sexual obsessive and Artaud's characterisation of such people as 'Miss Bourgeois erotic orgasm' seemed more pertinent than ever.
Though she had experienced the hell of depression and was unable ever to put it behind her, the alienated hell of capitalism forever remained an abstraction to her. With such people I am at a loss to understand why and have been forced to conclude it is because they have too much of a stake in it. It was bad enough she was a petty landlord. I hated having to give her the benefit of my building knowledge when asked to check on damp in the rooms she was renting out: I was reminded cruelly of my experiences in the private rented sector in London until well past forty. But what really changed her for the worse was the enormous increase in land values and property in the Caribbean, which behind her back was making Marianela into a rich woman. For sometime I had been in the habit of calling Marianela out of earshot a 'liberal latifundista' which was somewhat cavalier and inaccurate. She had little connection with the land in the sense of traditional Latin American oligarchs and especially not with the military regimes, which she abominated but only I suspect because she had never been put to the test. As time passed this conviction grew stronger in tandem with the increase in her assets. I had cause to wonder if she had lived in Chile she might not have welcomed Pinochet's coup as the lesser evil and then spent a lifetime wringing hands and sending imploring letters to the Coronel asking him why did he have to murder and torture thousands when he could have shown himself to be more humane by just murdering one and, as a further stern warning, pulling the finger nails off another eight.
I don't know if it is true of other families similar to Marianela's throughout Latin America but whenever her family had any cash to spare they bought land first of all and property second. Quite early on I was apprised of the fact (and this without the hint of a boast) that Marianela owned a private beach that her father, the carpenter turned capitalist, had bought for her. But she also possessed other parcels of land and properties in Santa Domingo. One of these a lawyer uncle had seized even though the deeds were in her name. She made several futile attempts to take the property back but as a woman she stood little chance in the Dominican Republic's courts. Ironically she always claimed that what the Republic lacked was a professional middle class though she was a victim of that very professionalism. She even suggested that since I was a six-footer and able to look beefy (though jelly within), go out there and personally square up to the guy with my fists! This was one Wild West show in which I could end up dead because wherever he went in Santa Domingo he always packed a gun. Holy Sunday? - Holy Mackerel!
Meanwhile throughout the 1990s a London/New York type property boom was sweeping through the Caribbean. Percentage-wise it was in excess of these two capital cities of speculative frenzy because in the Caribbean it was starting from a virtually non-existent base. In addition Marianela's house in Streatham began to go up by leaps and bounds and on paper she was beginning to be one very wealthy lady.
She always prided herself on not being a liar. In fact she despised liars as only the self-righteous, higher echelons of the middle class can. The richer Marianela became the more she referred to herself as 'only a poor pensioner'. I am not well off but I would never have the gall to describe myself as poor. The rich have no such scruples. And the richer she became the more determined she was to exert control over everything going on around her, disturbed if even a fly entered her house without her express permission. Increasingly housebound, in one of her rare moments of lucidity she described herself as suffering from 'cabin fever'. For outside of her door a threatening chaos reigned and if, by the by, I told her about some fairly nondescript day to day event, often enough her questioning voice would quaver in response, 'whaaat, whaaat, whaaat' as if I was telling an intolerable untruth. And in some measure it was intolerable to her because it was outside her control. Though easily crushed (and more through some well chosen words than by violence) a degree of megalomania is a fact of life with such people who in the absence of guns resort to psychological weapons in order to impose an order more to their liking. Not that they won't ever resort to physical violence - they will - but this time will opt for a more psychologically attuned Pinochet who could also conceptualise executions as works of art. (Hardly was the ink dry on this comment when it was reported that US General William Caudwell on November 3rd 2006 had declared the vicious chaos in Iraq created by the Anglo/America military occupation, 'a work of art in progress' like 'blobs of paint become paintings which inspire'. Is this the maimed 'realisation' of art under capitalism where real life action painting or risque event involves thousands brutally killed? Yet was this also a form of media induced monetarised 'objective chance" because on the same day a Jackson Pollock, Jack-the-dripper event wallpaper canvas sold for $140 million, the highest price ever for 'a work of art'!)
It was then that it really came home to me how alike the upper middle classes are irrespective of where they come from. I have said it before and will say it again: had Marianela been English I would have instantly turned and walked away from her. But because she was 'foreign' and especially because she was from Latin America and having come from a manual working (rather than working class) background, the situation was sufficiently different for me to think it was worth my while to stick around. And yet at the back of my mind I recalled reading a pamphlet that came out sometime after the Chilean coup put out I believe by COBI, (Communist Organisation of the British Isles) a loose organisation whose main platform was the need for general rather than craft unions. Despite the overall weakness I wished I still had it for it went into the conflict evident even in Pinochet's stadia and internment camps between those who supported the cordones industriales and enlaces and those who would usurp these coordinations in the name of some vanguard party. Looking back I believe this irreconcilable difference that continued to express itself amidst death and torture, marked an historic turning point in Latin America that is only now bearing fruit. But in addition the author lashed out against the anti-Americanism and boundless hypocrisy and specious populism of Latin America's liberal elite. This observation stayed with me and during the course of my relationship with Marianela, its truth became yearly more evident to me. When flying to the Dominican Republic Marianela would rather go without sleep and spend an uncomfortable 24 hours in Madrid airport rather than board a connection at Kennedy or Miami airport. She would refer to Americans as 'children' meaning they were not yet mature adults for she feared the child in herself, taking pride in not being immature and adolescent like I was. But to me she resembled a typical upper middle class American housewife more than she did a typical English housewife - angst ridden, into all manner of issue politics and foibles, nominally politically correct in words if certainly not in deeds and spending her retirement day-trading on the internet. And in between there were visits to her broker, actually her only ongoing contact with the outside world, that also transformed in her mind into a model of a successful therapy situation and a shining example of relatedness, Ugh, ugh and ugh, ugh, ugh. But it did have the merit of bringing together capital and therapy that the latter profoundly fancies it is so very separate from. Once having tied the knot, the marriage was a profoundly unhappy one like Marianela's other two marriages.
Toward the end the accusation of being a liar was never far from her lips because she had so much to conceal. I found I was forced to lie to her not because I was guilty but because I was innocent. I knew she was covering up how much she was worth but even so I believed her, fool that I was, when she said she had sold her house in a leafy part of Streatham for something like '160,000. In fact it would have been closer to half a million if not more.
I helped her move house from Streatham to Carshalton in Surrey, birthplace of John Ruskin before he moved in later life to Coniston in the Lake District. The detached house in Ruskin Rd had been especially built for her. She claimed to like the builder's style and I had expected at least a whiff of eccentricity whatever the constraints of planning law. But what greeted my eyes was the usual suburban banality with not a trace of originality for she desired nothing else despite having the cash to build a bit differently.
The move was a nightmare not least because she was so disorganised. I even felt obliged to secretly apologise to the removal men who were on the verge of leaving. Marianela had kept them waiting for well over an hour and a half before opening the door to her house. I had said to the removal men 'she's OK really' - which I no longer believed - 'but you have to understand she was brought up surrounded by servants attentive to her every need and she has never got over it'. I'm certain they thought I was only going out with her because of her money. In their opinion she was about the worst client they had ever dealt with and I can well believe it. Marianela justified her behaviour as down to her 'Spanishness'. All I saw was a demonstration of class arrogance, a view that would be echoed by countless millions of Spanish speaking peoples throughout the world.
The removal brought out the put down cultural snob in Marianela. One of the removal men asked if it was all right to remove a picture from the wall. 'Which one' she replied 'the Goya or the Velasquez'? I could have curled up and died. But worse was to come. After the men had unloaded the furniture at the other end (without so much as being offered one cup of tea) I did expect that Marianela would give then a £10 tip at least. I felt so embarrassed just at knowing her that I was on the verge of giving them a tip myself even though it was not my place to do so. For that would have confirmed their opinion of me as a shyster having married into money. This way it was obvious we did not share a joint bank account. Marianela did not even excuse herself saying: 'They have been well enough paid already'. It was a waste of time protesting that it was the firm that was well paid not the workers for such objections had never gone in. For she was absolutely unable to grasp there was a major income gap between a worker and a capitalist never mind endeavouring to lay bare the finer points of this exploitative relationship which tedious economic Marxists spend a life time doing.
During the removal Marianela's son turned up, but not, as I initially thought, to help. Once again, more fool me. As he lived in London and not that far away I was frankly shocked by his behaviour. I would no more have left my mother to move house by herself than fly. And yet his abandonment of his mother in her hour of need was considered entirely acceptable and even praiseworthy by his mother, unlike the 'outrageous' behaviour of the removal men who only wanted an early start. He had after all put in an appearance even though a very brief one.
However with each passing year Marianela was becoming more estranged from her children. Her solution was to buy her children back, which was no solution at all though more and more typical of middle class families where the ties that bind are increasingly money and property, not affection. In this era of the sequencing of the human genome there is an ever-present fear that genes will become the property of large bio-engineering firms and anti-slavery legislation has been invoked to set a limit to this attempted re-appropriation of what is after all an aspect of the human body. But in fact the bourgeoisie, increasingly accustomed to putting a price tag on their children's affections and subjecting them to ever-greater degrees of commoditisation, are half way there already. Thus Marianela underwent the natural process of childbirth and the biologically dependency that goes with it only to replace that initial dependency with an economic one by valorising her role as a mother and provider and commoditizing the bond between herself and her children. I find it revolting but to an increasing number of people it is becoming a 'natural' one. And the chief agency of this change is rising property values.
I don't know exactly where Marianela got her money from to gamble like she did on the stock exchange or in new fangled financial instruments. But it would not surprise me if she used her property in the Dominican Republic as collateral. In any case her children were forever receiving gifts of several thousands pounds courtesy of their mum. It was pathetic and maddening especially as I was expected to show sympathy when rebuffed once more by her children, especially her daughter. That I was unable to show any sympathy was further proof of my callousness and unfeeling maleness. How different it was with me. I can honestly say I respected and loved my mother and father even though they did not have a bean and never owned anything in their lives other than a few sticks of furniture. I could under no circumstances go along with their commitment to the Labour party, though some of their best friends were in the ILP (Independent Labour Party), but I now realise they possessed a wisdom and insight which in the first flush of revolutionary enthusiasm I was too quick to damn. I doubt if Marianela's children will be able to look back with the same pride and affection. Not that they will miss the tranches of cash for both of them will now be very well off and won't hesitate to sell off the property and estates in the Dominican Republic, a country which they feel no attachment to whatsoever other than as a post-modern gold mine.
Sometime after the 2nd World War when anti-colonial movements were sweeping Africa a novel appeared written by a liberal Boer called; 'Cry the Beloved Country'. Unable to read novels after the age of 20, a fact actually of great significance, there is no way I could plough my way through this one on South Africa. Yet I was vividly reminded of the title when Marianela told me that every time she left the Dominican Republic she would look down on 'her island' from out of the aeroplane window and cry and cry. For she was leaving it as she had found it, a wretched, terrible place she could no longer regard as home. Yet these tears would turn into lagrimas de crocodillo and rather than the state of the country sharpening her sense of injustice all it did was hone her business acumen. As property prices soared skyward in the Caribbean Marianela began to sink beneath contempt in my eyes until I could hardly abide to be in her presence. She talked of little else but money and investments only ever reading the business section of 'The Guardian': the rest she would throw away but unfortunately not for the right reasons. Even her growing meanness was beginning to cost her. Once she spent two hours taking a milk carton back to a supermarket because it was sour. The cost of petrol there and back, never mind the time it took up, must have outweighed that of the milk carton. On one occasion in Madrid airport she had got talking to a poor woman from the Dominican Republic who had spent her last cent buying an air ticket to Europe. From the look in her eyes it was clear she was begging Marianela to take her under her wing but sensing this Marianela had instantly ceased to have anything further to do with her. She justified her abruptness on the grounds 'the poor always have too many problems'. This characteristic action also made me wonder if Marianela's defence of the paternalist neo-slavery that prevailed in her childhood home was not another justification after the fact. Even so this incident in Madrid airport pained her.
Latterly when talking to me she would go out of her way to point out how much money she was giving to charity. She probably was but it also cost her nothing and doubtless was only following the advice of her broker or accountant on how best to evade paying taxes. It was then up to her to choose what charities to give to out of the goodness of her heart. But paying her way to a clear conscience also increased her aggression toward the poor and more that ever today the accumulation of guilt aids the accumulation of capital. This in most cases is what the 'new philanthropy' is ironically all about.
In the Victorian era ladies were presumed to have concealed their blushes behind fans whenever the conversation turned ripe. Not any more. And Marianela was no exception to this growing tendency that has little to do with the actual undoing of repression; in fact it could be said to increase it. Marianela made a very big thing out of not being repressed and nowhere was this more obvious than her obsession with shitting. It grew in size with her bank balance and whatever doubts I now have about Freud's methodology, I'm convinced he was onto to something when he pointed to a profound connection between anality and money. Though never prurient Marianela made little mention of it as far as I recall when I first knew her. But latterly, metaphorically speaking, she was forever throwing her turds at me. Jokingly I would say to friends she should have kept a daily record of their size and weight or had them pickled and put on display as an installation. But that to her would not have been art.
And since I have brought the subject up, toward the end I allowed myself to be provoked into providing a more intelligible resume as to why I thought art was dead, tailored especially to Marianela's case. For by now I was sick to the back teeth of forever being accused of insensitivity toward the arts. And since music was her forte it began with music.
What follows is a digest of all the letters/emails I sent to Marianela just as they mark the definitive end of the relationship, which from then on became a ghastly experiment. I wanted to see if abstract theory in itself was capable of corroding the entrenched outlook and time-honoured prejudices of the bourgeoisie. It remains my only concession to a thesis I generally find abhorrent, that of a classless capitalism. And if I continue to rehearse and refine the ideas set out below it is only because I am daily made more aware of the mounting existential, though not economic, distress of large swathes of the middle class who need little convincing, short of major change, the end is nigh. I say change rather than anti-capitalist revolution, because the latter term is unacceptable to them. Though it has a tendency to grate on my nerves if repeated too often, to the bourgeoisie it is still an utterly abhorrent one, despite the fact increasing numbers of them need little persuading homo erectus is facing the gravest crises in the species entire 3 million year history. But what they are generally unable to do is link that crises with the capitalist crises and as always with the 'middle classes' one is continually being made aware they are still capable of mounting, even in the direst of circumstances, the direst of counter-revolutions even though this time it will also mean their end too. I still have hopes reason will prevail with them. But in Marianela's case it proved hopeless and my 'intellectual' onslaught only caused her to retreat further into her cocoon, more than ever convinced I was a 'suitable case for treatment'.
Whenever I stayed overnight I would be awakened very early the next day by the loud sound of classical music coming from the kitchen downstairs. I would endeavour to shut my ears against it for I found it depressing precisely because of the role it played in the modern day society of alienation. It did cause me to wonder would I ever be able to listen to music again, like today I can only enjoy church architecture provided the building is a genuine ruin akin to an abandoned factory prior to being reclaimed by the industrial heritage movement. Marianela even kept the radio turned up when I came down to breakfast and I would ask her if she minded if I turned it down or better switched it off. 'Don't you like music ' she would ask and I would nimbly evade the question because confrontation seemed pointless given the gulf that existed between us. However I did not want her to think I was a complete ignoramus and in a moment of weakness I surrendered, unable to endure a moment longer the constant stream of put down which has been my lot for most of my life. It all began when she said she found Beethoven strained in comparison to Mozart. I couldn't resist replying, 'surely that is the whole point' and that Beethoven was the first to begin stretching and parodying musical form until it was close to completely breaking down. I then told her how much I loved the Grosse Fugue in my late teens because it was so out of tune. By now the red mist had come up and I was off, rattling away about Wagner and how Nietzsche had ended one of his magnificent diatribes against Wagner with the words, 'from now on no God can save music'. Added to which Rimbaud had concluded one of his Illuminations (a loaded term meaning they already heralded the formal end of poetry and poems): 'Great music falls short of our desire' which I still think should be translated 'knowing music' for I'm convinced it was Wagner he had in mind. Marianela was by now horror struck at the 'knowing' anti-art demon eating his breakfast opposite her, only capable now of feebly observing 'and Wagner ruins the voice'. Yes indeed, 'for what music communicates today - like a spontaneous scream of pain can - Wagner's operas point to that.'
Why I took up the cudgels I shall never know. But over the next three years or so I would fire off emails and letters expounding my views. She was entranced - and appalled. For me it became an exercise that probed the limits and effectiveness of coherent explanations for I was now treating her as an object and gauging her responses, a test case if you like of just how far one could push the bourgeoisie before they reacted with real venom. And I was certainly not to be cheated out of this, her attitude toward me in the final days oscillating between hate and pitying condescension.
I tried telling her about Satie's Furniture Music, Russolo's 'Sound Machines', the 'Concert of Factory Sirens and Steam Whistles' in 'post- revolutionary' Russia but there was no opening to be had here. It was a century too far in the future as it still is to loads more like her. So I went back over two hundred years to the period whose music she listened to morning, noon and night for it was only in the wee small hours, to paraphrase Andre Breton, 'night fell over the orchestra'.
I began by mentioning Kant who even two years prior to the French Revolution was coming out with the kind of 'strange' ideas I was entertaining because in truth I was now getting so little feedback from other people it was a form of internal chat show for the brain. As is well known Schiller was profoundly influenced by Kant's 'Critique of Judgement' ' Schiller ,the poet, who wrote the words to 'Ode to Joy' incorporated into the choral epilogue to Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Here then was a point of reference that may ' just may ' cause Marianela to question the received wisdom. For it was Schiller more than anyone else then who glimpsed a world beyond the traditional confines of art, even though the English Romantics were more formally innovative and their visceral rejection of 'artifice' less intellectual but more direct, democratic and open to the taking because it simply demanded immersion in nature. The overall influence of the 'Critique of Judgment' was very deep indeed and almost caused Goethe to pronounce poetry and drama redundant and declare in favour of a new science illuminated by the insights he found in the 'Critique of Judgement'. Historically the latter has proved to be the most consequential work ever written on aesthetics giving the subject an ambivalent primacy it had never previously had ' ambivalent because it anticipates the creeping aestheticism of bourgeois society just as there are hints in, that would be taken up by others, that eventually lead beyond art. These 'others' include Fichte, Schelling and Hegel (and later on Schopenhauer and Nietzche) and reads like a roll-call of German philosophical idealism.
But it took a Hegel to bring history into the frame by historicizing form (to Kant, who cared little for history, form was an innate, supra-historical apriori) and prematurely announces the death of art. I know, Marianela, you thought me emptily negative. But would you have dared say the same about Hegel, had you known, who wrote that 'art is and will remain a thing of the past'? And what an irony to think it is Hegel who is ultimately responsible for all those specialized art history books that weigh down the mind and bookshelves of the world and prevent art from ever becoming history.
My depression and meeting Marianela also coincided with my renewed interest in nature, particularly butterflies. Marianela regarded it as a delightful hobby but I knew it was far more than that. In fact I was projecting onto nature a totality that had been lost with the defeat of the miners and class struggle here in the UK in general. I tried but finally gave up getting her to appreciate this, just as I have likewise despaired of explaining it to conservation groups, though still hoping for a more open-ended debate eventually.
For reasons very different to those of Kant's I was finding an echo in Kant's conception of 'nature as art' in the 'Critique of Judgment'. But Kant believed we could only ever achieve totality in the here and now through art, a concept I'd spent much of my life strenuously disputing. Clearly Kant's catchy phrase was at odds with my interpretation of it. In any case, on reflection, I was uncomfortable with the art bit and secondly I was not a teleologist. In the post Darwinian age how could I be? For by 'nature as art' Kant also meant nature had been made by the great artificer in the sky though scientific rigour required we regard it as a regulative not a constitutive hypothesis. Thus Kant was still paying homage to Hume's definitive dismissal of the idea there is such a thing as intelligent design in nature whilst struggling to rescue this overthrown idea from oblivion by giving it a novel inflexion. However because it anticipates in a roundabout way the question of robotics and dialectics it may give the lie, if thoroughly reworked in a contemporary fashion, to any hope of being able to create artificial intelligence other than as a horrible deformation of the living person. This does not mean we have to fold dialectics back into its mystical envelope but it does require we humbly acknowledge nature's complexity and one we cannot expect to reproduce except at our peril.
Still Kant's section on 'nature as art' takes up far more space than his discussion of the fine arts (almost as if it was an afterthought in comparison), a disproportion that greatly impressed me as though he had already recognised at the end of arts' history the practical question of nature would loom all the larger. And this was precisely where I was at, and still am!
I wanted to take Marianela on field trips because her interest in nature was genuine and besides I was desperate for company on those lonely days out in the wild with only a few sandwiches and a bottle of water. But she was usually too occupied with meaningless housework, washing, cleaning, ironing and so forth. Not because she needed to do it but because it was as though her husband and children were still there in a house that now only echoed to the sound of silence. But eventually she did agree to come and I shall always remember her turning up in the car park beside the busy road that skirted Banstead Down and taking out several tins of sandwiches and cakes to have a picnic right there and then amidst the choking traffic fumes. So hopelessly impractical and yet somehow touching. On that day she returned to something like her former self as if this briefest of contacts with nature was already starting to destabilize the businesswoman.
I also recall how she once mentioned she had been seized, when she broke up with her husband, by the desire to take her children off to the Andes to live out some primitive idyll. How very naive was my unspoken response, as though a hut in the Andes would be the same as a chalet in the Alps or Pyrenees. She was also not beyond feigning she was an indigeno once letting slip the remark 'before Columbus discovered us' which I immediately picked up on. However with her red hair, pale skin and blue eyes she could never pass muster. But it did give me some insight into just how badly some Spanish settlers feel about the conquistador legacy, prepared to go to any length to distance themselves from it even to pretending a new identity. (In any case the Amerindian population in the Dominican Republic is long gone decimated by disease and forced labour not long after the arrival of the original Spanish colonists). And she hated queuing in the Dominican Republic because invariably she would be invited by a darker skinned person to take her place at the head of the queue. The racial composition of the Republic is largely mulatto by the way and Marianela was very visible wherever she went. She also couldn't take off in a car for a drive by herself without being followed by single men looking for a pickup.
Latterly she really began to pile on the insults and I was flashing like I would in the presence of an English equivalent just as though a lightning bolt had passed through me. It was all I could do just stifling the thunderclap inside me. She began to make my skin creep not because she was old but because her attitudes had made her ugly. Whatever physically was wrong with her it was the ebola of capitalism that was really killing her and against which there is no remedy. I tried to find in her favour but to no avail: at least she was not spending the money on herself for she did not consume, content for example with a modest car that had seen better days. And to the end her attraction to working class people remained strong whilst at the same time denying their reality. But unable to find a level, she swung to and fro endlessly, ditching a director of Laing's, a major UK building firm, for a humble Spanish hospital porter, Ramon. She eventually got rid of him because of his narrow minded attitudes toward the mentally ill and also because, unable to believe his luck this well off Spanish lady was interested in him, he pushed his advantage too far, ill concealing his interest in her gold. I'm not blaming Ramon for that - as Marianela did but what attracted the impoverished Ramon with alimony to pay repelled me. I never touched a penny of her money despite her offering to pay for a life-saving heart operation and for that she almost loved me to distraction. The year before she died she watched every episode of Mrs Gaskell's 'North and South' that had been serialised for television. I was actually amazed at how relevant much of it still was and I was struck by the modernity of Mrs Gaskell's insight into the clash between industrial and finance capital i.e. the City of London and its hinterland - the rest of UK plc. I was less enamoured of her treatment of a strike except to note nothing remotely comparable could be found in the Bronte sisters whose reputation Mrs Gaskell did much to establish. Marianela however loved the portrayal of the done down working class militant who fomented strikes, was sacked and black listed, whose children starved and even died, but who eventually found enough forgiveness in his heart to make common cause with the mill owners once a number of concessions had been granted. To me it was utterly excruciating but to Marianela it enabled her to renew her love for a working class that knew its place and was ignorant of having a world to win.
Eschewing consumerism, her very abstinence allowed her to maintain the illusion of radicalism. But by now I had become unswervingly convinced that this time Marianela would shoot to kill and that she was fast becoming one of the new Latin American oligarchs. But with one essential difference: the new oligarchs are less trigger happy than the old because they have more decisive weaponry to hand in the arsenal of culture and psychology the unspeakably crude dictators of old recoiled from as commie inspired. Future coups (though this may not be the right word) will be nothing if not cultured. Marianela always insisted she became a psychiatric social worker because she felt she inhabited the twilight world of the mentally ill and could therefore represent them as few could. However in the actual world of capital things are never that simple and representation has long been an empty word. Marianela for the life of her could never understand that. But there was no doubting this given'half-a'chance-would-be free market radical and anti psychiatrist had insight. Even toward the end she could weigh her words sufficient for me to sit up and take notice like when she discussed Asbergers syndrome and manic depression. However her insight rapidly gave way to the cure all panaceas of anger management therapy ' with me as the prime target. Because she had no concept of capital she had none of righteous anger. And yet she was consumed with rage herself not only against her former husband but also increasingly against the poor in toto. To her, they had become completely corrupted by violence and drugs and though she rarely ventured out, she did see the Brazilian film, 'The City of God' which only confirmed her prejudiced over-reaction. Her conception of Latin American peoples as basically gentle souls, though it made her feel safe and her possessions there even more so, may well not be entirely mythical. For Latin America has been far less invaded by consumer capitalism and traditions of friendliness, hospitality and solidarity have not been destroyed to quite the same extent they have in Europe and America.
Sinking back into the womb of reminiscence she was able to shut out the present-day revolt in Latin America simplistically interpreting it as drug-fuelled and a continent wide extension of 'The City of God'. And so she was well set up to defend whatever measures might be necessary - say an anti drug coup or at least a coup that stressed the drug issue - in the name of proper parenting and counselling but in fact opening the way to yet another version of the free market erected on the failure of the old and whatever minimal social programs had grown up during the interim. And I never did get to take up the issue of the missiones in Venezuela with her. And I was so looking forward to inflicting the maximum damage possible on her because my words hurt, just as I intended they should.
But after trading insults, it was no longer possible even to begin discussing such 'niceties'. Prior to calling Chavez "a bastard" she had asked me to wish her luck on the following day when she was due to sign her last will and testament. Without going into details she had the effrontery to say she had found out how to evade death duties. But she never did know whom she was talking to and these were the last words I ever had with her. In the background I could hear her particular 'wall of sound' that prevented her from hearing and thinking - classical music played on the radio. Named after a Verdi opera there will be no requiem for Marianela though I really do believe I was the only person ever to grasp her in the round.
So farewell Marianela. Keith's mum across the road thought you were 'stuck-up'.(This actually is true there was a Keith and his mum - and not just a parody of Private Eye). However your beloved Latin America is not going to rest in peace. Your face is staring down at me from a photo pinned to a shelf. You are smiling in the wintry sun, the trees bare of leaves behind you.Your humanity diminished in inverse proportion to the increase in your money and assets. That was your tragedy. And, like everyone in your position, had you lost nearly everything you owned, I'm convinced you would have found some kind of friendship and meaning, no matter how paltry, and still be alive today.
E. Jarvis Chorizo (Aged:133) aka: Stu' W. (2006)
A postscript to a minor tragedy: 'The desert grows; woe to him who bears the desert within himself' (Nietzche)
When Revolt Against Plenty was first mooted someone suggested we all write something on the failure of personal relationships, particularly between men and women, as it applied to our own lives. That I was able to do so without much fear of being called an exhibitionist or betraying confidences, gives the measure of the distance that now separates the sexes and not only the sexes. The subversive power of love today seems an ever more distant dream. In fact we all make do with very little, even none at all, and just a smidgeon of affection and genuine communication comes as a blessed relief from otherwise unrelieved isolation and loneliness. This is not the enlightened dispensation of separates' living but separation pure and simple. Yet in the late 1960s it all promised to be so different and love was on the verge of being invented afresh. But between then and now the worst reaction in history was to take place and love would perish in the process. The absence of history spells the absence of love and ideologies of the end of history the beginning of ideologies of love. What has come to replace genuine love is the hollow nothingness of commoditised love as practised by celebrities and feted in the media. Meanwhile we are all, and especially celebrities, to borrow a phrase from Benjamin, 'spared fulfilment' to such a pitch as to make love a meaningless word. Paradoxically it is its very absence that makes the otherwise unendurable just to say endurable, for the pangs of real love would awaken us to our total pain. Written in the 1930s with a single individual, Baudelaire, in mind, Benjamin's phrase forecast our sad world in which no love is possible and deserts grow.
Text from https://web.archive.org/web/20220517085126/http://revoltagainstplenty.com/index.php/archive-global/91-marianela-a-latin-american-misfit-turned-new-oligarch.html