Displacing Magic: Afro-Cuban Studies and the Production of Santería, 1933-1956 Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Shefferman, David
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
  • This study tracks magic as a recurring and ambivalent figure in early-twentieth-century Cuban intellectual discourse. In the wake of Cuba's formal political independence in 1902, magic surfaced as a major practical concern. Public debates swirled around questions about the place of 'primitive' magical practices in Cuban society. In these collective discussions, African-inflected traditions in Cuba commonly stood as the embodiment of the primitive propensity to magic. The notion of "Afro-Cuban culture" emerged during the first years of independence and, in turn, the notion of "Afro-Cuban studies" as a field of social science also took shape. Thus, the title of the dissertation refers most immediately to the widespread call for the elimination, or displacement, of magic in general and of Afro-Cuban "witchcraft" [brujería] in particular as means to Cuba's realization as a truly independent and modern society. At the same time, magic also appeared in other ways in the public discussions on Cuba's future. To many Cubans, modernity seemed to depend upon its own form of magic, namely, a process of commodification that transformed everything and everyone into inanimate entities for capitalist exchange. Cuban intellectuals responded by searching for critical strategies that would displace not only the magical endeavors of primitives but also what one critic identified as "the magic power of money" in modern life. The intellectuals typically framed the critical effort to displace different forms of magic as magical in its own right. In examining this repeated ironic gesture, the dissertation focuses especially on intellectual activity in the years after the 1933 fall of Gerardo Machado's regime, a period of profound socio-political transition for Cubans. The study considers the intellectual production of the Afro-Cuban tradition "Santería" as an enduring and emblematic development of the times, when the island's most prominent public figures formally inaugurated Afro-Cuban studies as field of inquiry and as an alternate forum for political action. Fernando Ortiz stands at the center of these events. The dissertation closely considers his efforts to pioneer Afro-Cuban studies as well as engagements with Ortiz's work-both direct and indirect-by Alejo Carpentier, Nicolás Guillén, and Rómulo Lachatañeré.
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  • In Copyright
  • Tyson, Ruel W.
  • Open access

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