A few weeks ago, I was very glad to receive a copy of Jorge Mañach’s An Inquiry into Choteo (2018)—translated (from the original essay, “Indagación del choteo”) and introduced by Jacqueline Loss (University of Connecticut). My only complaint: in this text, the “Translator’s Introduction” is not accurately labeled; it is so much more. Loss’s introduction is a solidly researched and essential critical essay for understanding the Inquiry’s social and historical framework through the decades, the breadth of its linguistic and societal exploration, and the particular challenges to be resolved when translating a text like this one. The introductory essay and the translation itself tease out and highlight the complexities and contradictions of identity-construction and the author’s assessment of self in different spheres, from the most specific to the broadest context. I agree completely with Alexandra Vázquez (author of Listening in Detail: Performances of Cuban Music) in her appraisal of the book:
“This is more than a translation of a foundational work, it is a reckoning. No longer can English-speaking audiences hide from Mañach’s great call to disorder. Through Loss’s deft and erudite translation, this elusive gem of new world performance theory retains its attitude for critical play. This work offers embers, ever ready to set aflame what we thought we knew about humor, the colonial, and the deliberate activities behind national meaning and the strange, systematic practices it can’t quite contain. Loss’s accomplishment is a gift to interamerican thought, an alternate starting point in the repertoire of speech acts, especially rich for the study of race and gender and all creative negotiations with place and scale.”
Description: In the 1920s, many of Cuba’s intellectuals, like Jorge Mañach, were confronted with how to deal with a new postcolonial universe whose neocolonial leanings were undeniable. A palpable unease runs throughout An Inquiry into Choteo (first delivered as a lecture in 1928), as Mañach anxiously attempts to explain this idiosyncratic Cuban attitude or humor that he deems prevalent in the first few turbulent decades of the 20th century. Esteemed in the Spanish-speaking world, only two of Mañach’s writings, Martí: Apostle of Freedom, 1950 and Frontiers in the Americas: A Global Perspective (1970), have been published in English—a language which, as an adolescent in Massachusetts, Mañach inhabited, and from which he translated throughout his life.
The fact that Mañach is a difficult figure to pin down, textually and ideologically across his life, is part of Jacqueline Loss’s motivation to carry out this translation of An Inquiry into Choteo, one of the most authoritative essays in Spanish, comparable to other classic meditations on Latin American and national identity such as José Enrique Rodó’s Ariel (1900, English 1988), Antonio S. Pedreira’s Insularismo: An Insight into the Puerto Rican Character (1934, English 2007), and Octavio Paz’s The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950, English 1962).
While Mañach suggested that the pervasiveness of choteo, with its positive and pernicious dimensions, waned by the time of his revision in 1955, An Inquiry into Choteo is all the more relevant in the 21st century, especially within a comparative context, wherein banners of ideology and egalitarianism sometimes obscure the racial and class tensions that reside right below the surface. Analysis of geopolitical maneuverings alone are insufficient to elucidate the intricacies of relationships that emerge, in such texts as Mañach’s An Inquiry into Choteo.