Arthur Miller On Cuba, Castro And The Embargo
January 5, 2004 9:33 PM   Subscribe

A View From The Bridge: Or Death Of A Salesman, perhaps? Hey, even The Crucible, at a stretch! Arthur Miller on Cuba, Castro and the U.S. embargo. Honesty and clarity refreshingly transcend the usual socialist/liberal/conservative divide. Or, at the very least, a damn good read from one of our (i.e. the world's) greatest dramatists. [Via Arts & Letters Daily. Click here for the text-only version. ]
posted by MiguelCardoso (25 comments total)
Thanks for the link. Miller can write.
posted by inksyndicate at 9:50 PM on January 5, 2004

Yes, a good read. It intrigues me why someone ostensibly so dedicated to 'the people', like Fidel, can justify letting them languish in poverty for so long. Incidentally, the article reminded me of Martin Cruz Smith's novel Havana Bay, which beautifully depicts the decay of a country and an ideology amidst the tropics, from a Russian's perspective no less...
posted by Onanist at 10:29 PM on January 5, 2004

This is a great article, thanks Miguel.
posted by plep at 11:23 PM on January 5, 2004

Jesus, he's still alive!?!

This reminds me of a few years ago, when Balthus died. I thought he'd been gone a quarter century at least. It's strange; I suppose that in my mind these great artists are part of another epoch, and cannot possibly be living at the same time as myself.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:13 AM on January 6, 2004

To Onanist; Fidel has been helped along quite a bit by the US embargo in keeping his people poor. The real question for me is how the Miami Cubanos can keep up their farce of caring about their fellow countrymen while their Washington lobbyist refuse any deal with Castro that doesn't include compensation for their claims to the land, the buildings, the homes and the money they left behind when they fled. It is a voting block of nearly half a million that can deliver, and recently we saw how very important the state of Florida can be come election time. It is time our country puts aside this groups special interest and at the very least allows for travel for Americans to go an see for themselves how truly special the average "Cuban" Cubano is. It is a joke that we trade with China and wont with Cuba based on the human rights records.
posted by Hopoch at 2:11 AM on January 6, 2004

Amen to that last sentence. Thanks for the article, Miguel.
posted by y2karl at 2:43 AM on January 6, 2004

It is a joke that we trade with China and wont with Cuba based on the human rights records.

How so?

The U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, business funded group, estimates the legislation will result in $28 million to $45 million in sales the first year.

Human Rights violations where only part of the reason.

Here's trade for you, what about Fidel wanting to sell the old Soviet listening post, in Cuba, to China.
(Fidel took all the good stuff first as the The russians seemed to not have paid all there bills)

(I did enjoy a fine Cohiba last night)

Whatever else he is, Castro is an exciting person and could probably have had a career on the screen.

Right Artie.
posted by clavdivs at 8:10 AM on January 6, 2004

I have to disagree with the consensus here, and Miguel, I'm truly surprised that you, a professed conservative, would have fallen for these incoherent ramblings. On the one hand, Cubans are miserable, repressed, desperately poor... on the other hand, men help attractive women with their groceries, and Castro had me to dinner!

It's not just Miller, of course; writers have been falling for charismatic dictators ever since Plato went to Syracuse. But I find it truly hard to comprehend. How could Ezra Pound, an intelligent if screwed-up man, have believed that Mussolini appreciated his poetry and valued his counsel? How could all those foreigners have come away from meetings with Stalin charmed out of their socks and convinced that good old Uncle Joe meant nothing but good for the world and for his people? Obviously Miller is not as bamboozled as that—he writes eloquently about the misery Castro's regime causes—but he's still caught up in the glamor of it all. "Expecting to simply wander in the city and perhaps meet a few writers, we were surprised our second day by the invitation from Castro to join him for dinner." Surprised? That Castro should want to make a personal impression on influential visitors from abroad? I can't make out if this is disingenuous or simply stupid. And Jesus:
Despite the suit, my quick impression was that had he not been a revolutionary politician he might well have been a movie star... Whatever else he is, Castro is an exciting person and could probably have had a career on the screen.
How can anyone write such drivel without blushing? And write with a straight face about Castro's "friendship with Styron"? Does he imagine that a man like Castro has any real friends, let alone some foreign writer he banters with over dinner every few years? And this:
It quickly became clear that instead of a conversation, we were to have what seemed a rather formalized set of approaches to various ideas springing from the Leader's mind.
Has he never read anything about the man? I'm hardly a Castro maven, but I've known for decades about his legendary endurance and hours-long speeches. Did he really suppose he was going to have a little chat? And those flattering questions about American literature—can anyone past college age possibly be so naive as to think Castro genuinely wanted to expand his mind? But then I remind myself that Pound took the Duce's polite remark about how much he'd enjoyed the book Pound had given him (doubtless handed straight to a flunky and never looked at again) as a sign that he'd plumbed the depths of Pound's theories and truly understood them, and I realize all over again how vain people are, especially writers.

Well, I don't want to go on as long as Fidel. But I'm surprised there's so little critical scrutiny here on this notoriously critical site. Famous Author Succumbs to Flattery from Dictator: film at 11! Come on, people, where's the snark when you need it?
posted by languagehat at 8:22 AM on January 6, 2004

Fair enough, languagehat. I think the ambiguities and sincerities in Miller's account are what make it a convincing and honest account . I find your own prejudices manichean - why shouldn't Castro have any real friends? - and far less interesting. As for writers, you know as well as I do that for every writer who falls for a dictator, there are ten or a hundred others who fight him. Do you, for example, think that Miller's account will be well received by Castro? Presenting it as propaganda is a bit much.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:09 AM on January 6, 2004

Poundish snark

"The political position of Marilyn was to the left of the Kennedys. In the years of the macartismo it had defended his previous husband, the dramatist Arthur Miller, deplored his paper of sex symbol, admired to Nehru, third-world Indian leader and next to Shirley McLaine, Marlon Brando and Gene Kelly, it sponsored ' more sensible "a nuclear policy '.

1951 - Fidel Castro was ejected from a Winter League baseball game after hitting a batter. He later gave up baseball for politics.

1953 - The Arthur Miller drama "The Crucible" opened on Broadway.

The January Conspiracy
posted by clavdivs at 11:11 AM on January 6, 2004

Presenting it as propaganda is a bit much.

Please. I wasn't doing anything of the sort; I know what propaganda looks like, thank you very much. Of course it's "a convincing and honest account"; I believe Miller is accurately reporting what he saw and felt. I simply find it hard to understand how such an intelligent and cultured man could allow himself to be used in such a way without showing the slightest awareness of what is going on. And what do you mean by my "prejudices"—surely you are not criticizing me for being nasty to Fidel? (If so, what on earth do you mean by calling yourself a conservative?) Yes, I am prejudiced against dictators, and proud to admit it; calling that "manichean" does justice neither to the word nor to me. I am one of the least manichean people you'll meet (as I think I have demonstrated repeatedly on this site), but I believe in freedom and am repelled by those who ruthlessly limit it, no matter how charming they are to visiting cultural poohbahs.

And I didn't say all or most writers fall for dictators; I expressed my surprise that so many writers do. Writers, of all people, should be able to see through charming bullshit artists. Or don't you agree?
posted by languagehat at 1:46 PM on January 6, 2004

Despite the suit, my quick impression was that had he not been a revolutionary politician he might well have been a movie star... Whatever else he is, Castro is an exciting person and could probably have had a career on the screen.
How can anyone write such drivel without blushing?

You know, when I read that, I thought of Colin Wilson's dominant five percent--Man writ large in society:

Most of the dominant five percent need other people to express their dominance.

Wilson speculated that some people were drawn to crime because they were high dominance types who found no room in the political inn and all the ruling seats taken in organized society. There was no other venue for them to express their dominance before an audience. In his scheme, politicians, movie stars and crime bosses are of a type, highly charismatic, more alive than the average bear, born to boss alphas who attracted and fed off fawning sycophants who like moths to a candle are drawn to such natural born leaders. Which explains how people said the same things about Stalin. I've seen people describe Bill Clinton in similar terms. All these men have been described as electric in person.

And don't forget Algis Budry's description of seeing Hitler as a child in Lithuania:

Adolf Hitler drove by our house a couple of times, and they went insane. Hordes of German housewives and househusbands, people that I knew, who were all living in the same apartment complex together, were tearing themselves psychically to pieces all over the sidewalk, just watching the man go by. They weren't simply shouting or clapping their hands or going 'hooray', they were going through an animal frenzy to the point where some of them were having what I guess were epileptic seizures. Others were defecating in our bushes, couldn't control their bowels. I was four years old. I remember a guy hopping across our lawn with his pants around his knees, tugging desperately at his underpants, trying to get to a bush. And men and women rolling on the ground, writhing, clutching at each other. A hell of a thing to see. I'm four years old and I suddenly realize that I know absolutely nothing about the world except that it is populated entirely by monsters---werewolves.

How do you think Arnold got to be govenator? The sheep look up to the larger than life. It's a time worn tale.

I didn't see Miller as entirely mesmerized--He was remorselessly on, obviously anxious to occupy as vast a space around him as he possibly could. --but rather describing an aging alpha's alpha with an enormous appetite for attention.
posted by y2karl at 3:01 PM on January 6, 2004

Very interesting, and a great Budrys quote (he's a wonderful writer who doesn't get mentioned nearly enough). I agree that Miller wasn't entirely mesmerized, but the absence of any awareness that of course Fidel is charismatic, that's part of the alpha-dictator game, is astonishing to me. It's as if he visited a basketball player and kept remarking on how tall he was. The whole thing reads as if Miller had never heard or read anything about Fidel (or his fellow alphas) before, and I find that very strange indeed.
posted by languagehat at 3:38 PM on January 6, 2004

And I didn't say all or most writers fall for dictators.

That is wrong.
posted by clavdivs at 4:31 PM on January 6, 2004

re: correction: previous statement. {"technical error}

Despite the stucco pattern....
I expressed my surprise that so many writers do.

are you two talking fall like love or admiration or like Bob "Cal" (after Gaius little boots) Lowell taking Jackie out for a date or mailing letters for McGovern or unexplained things like Lorca or Archie working for FDR or...what.

The examples are clear enough, Plato a.k.a. "get those poets outta town". Pound and his coin shaving ancestry
speaking of who....

Diogenes fell for no Dictator, looked Alexander in the eye and said "your interfering with my tan man".

but he was no poet or writer. To clarify, say, to humor me, to Fall is it that writers favor, support, and or fight for a certain dictator?

Finding it hard to find Khadafy's word pimp.
(Think Billy Carter)
seeing through the bullshit I believe is what
many of them sought.
Albert Speer once said that it is hard to recognize the devil when he has his hand upon your shoulder.

a crock i know but a crock that mimics at worst redemption.

I think thats what Miller meant when he saw the lonely distant wander in Fidels eye. But that is the price for the dictators power, even Fidels type, loneliness. i mean, what is there to talk about other then chit-chat. If one where to talk to fidel about Plato and make a comparison to Khadafy well the example is soon going to get around to Fidel. Or Mao and his poetry.

i'm sure fidel has "real freinds" (I imagine joey as Che)
Arthur Miller is not one of them
posted by clavdivs at 5:51 PM on January 6, 2004

i'm sure fidel has "real freinds"

Real friends can speak their minds without fear of being thrown into prison or worse. Dictators have no real friends. They do, of course, have flatterers and helpers of long standing whom the more sentimental may mistake for friends.

Albert Speer once said that it is hard to recognize the devil when he has his hand upon your shoulder.

That's why I.F. Stone always refused to dine with politicians.
posted by languagehat at 6:04 PM on January 6, 2004

A possibly relevant comment (well, the end of a much longer comment) I just happened on at Electrolite:
From Mitch Wagner,
posted on December 30, 2003 05:19 AM:

...Heinlein is often criticized for being unable to write realistic villains -- I find the opposite, that it's most other genre writers who can't write villains. Most genre writers write villains as monsters; the real-world villains I've encountered have always been people who were just doing what they thought they had to do. I'm sure if I'd had a chance to meet Saddam Hussein, I would have found him to be a perfectly charming fellow; what with all that art they found in his palace, I bet he was a big sf fan and we could have had a jolly conversation about the genre. Hitler was a vegetarian who loved dogs, was (by all reports) extremely kind to his employees and apparently a gifted interior designer and entertainer.

Now, if I ever run for office, I'm sure the preceding passage will be quoted out of context to make it look like I was endorsing Saddam Hussein and Hitler, when of course that was not my point at all.
posted by languagehat at 7:55 PM on January 6, 2004

Well said and argued, languagehat.

I too have always refused to meet, eat or drink with politicians. Not because I despise them - quite the contrary. It's just when you meet someone powerful they'all always tell you about their crippled daughter; their secret cancer; their humiliations; ordinary passions and limitations. You easily become sympathetic and lose your hard edge - which plays hell with the raw independence that, less than a moral imperative, is precisely your particular line of business, as groceries are to the grocer, so independence is to writers.

I agree with you that a hell of a lot of journalists and writers love power and being intimate with powerful people - it's a terrible promiscuity, akin to social climbing. When I was editor of "O Independente", the newspaper I co-founded in 1988 with Paulo Portas (Minister of Defense right now!), I forbade all "off the record" or "background" communications with politicians. Not very good for news-gathering (in fact disastrous) but good for the soul.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:11 PM on January 6, 2004

L'hat: And write with a straight face about Castro's "friendship with Styron"?

The "friendship with Styron" is Styron's friendship with García Márquez, as mentioned in the start of the piece: "Later, it would come clear that "Gabo" (Gabriel García Márquez), Castro's friend and supporter as well as a friend of Bill Styron, had most probably been the author of this hospitality."

Languagehat, you have revealed your own deeply synthetic view of the events, echoing Miller's last paragraph:
What, one wonders, is keeping it all alive? Is it the patriotic love of Cubans, conformist or dissident, for their country, or is it the stuck-in-cement manic hatred of US politicians, whose embargo quite simply gives Castro an insurance policy against needed change, injecting the energy of rightful defiance into the people? For it is the embargo that automatically explains each and every failure of the regime to provide for the Cuban people.
Miller does fault US policy but it is not removed from a clear critique of Castro as well.
posted by Dick Paris at 5:43 AM on January 7, 2004

Sorry, you're right about the friendship—my mistake. But I have zero idea what might be meant by "deeply synthetic view of the events." In your admirable zeal for accurate detail you seem to have missed my main point. I do not support the embargo and I do not ignore his critique of Castro (though we may differ as to its clarity); I do find disconcerting 1) his surprise at receiving an invitation to dine with Castro, 2) his willingness to do so, and 3) his groupie-like celebration of Castro's charisma. To my mind, an intelligent and honorable man would do none of these things. Reasonable people may, of course, disagree about this. But if this be synthesis, call me synthetic.

Miguel: I applaud your rules on communications with politicians, and I would suggest it may not have been so bad for news-gathering: it may have discouraged politicians from telling your reporters things, but most of those things would have been self-serving evasions anyway, and if you can't simply soak up your "news" from gabby politicos you're forced to actually do legwork and root through the public record, which is how I.F. Stone came up with so many genuine news stories. I'm sorry your paper failed. It's a tough business.
posted by languagehat at 7:11 AM on January 7, 2004

LHAT, I may not be a reasonable person but I do believe that be it a dictator, an associate, a spouse, a stranger or a child, to refuse to be in the presence of someone whom I disagree with, to listen with curiosity to their view, and to expand my understanding of anothers motives and thoughts makes the resolution of differences very difficult.

I also echo Miller's sentiment about the embargo's effect. To focus on one man - Castro - and ignore the plight of the 12 million Cubans is the greatest harm in the US continuing with the embargo.
posted by Hopoch at 7:29 AM on January 7, 2004

be it a dictator, an associate, a spouse, a stranger or a child

One of these items is not like the others. Dictators love it when people think as you do, but don't worry, you're in good company; people seem to find it almost impossible to realize that you can't understand "motives and thoughts" and achieve "the resolution of differences" simply by being in the presence of someone who's had a lifetime's experience at fooling and/or intimidating people. If you sit down to dinner with a Stalin, a Saddam, a Castro, I guarantee you they will understand you perfectly well (in all senses that matter to them) and you will finish the dessert course none the wiser about them (though you will think you've had all sorts of insights). But none of us like to see ourselves as dupes or innocents, so we go on earnestly trying to confront them, engage them, understand where they're coming from, get them to see the light. And somewhere, Machiavelli laughs.

Also, nobody here is defending the embargo; why do you keep bringing it up?
posted by languagehat at 7:57 AM on January 7, 2004

For me the embargo is the issue with Cuba . When Fidel finally dies his brother with assume supreme power and we will have a new boogie-man for finger pointing and academic discussion. The fact a writer had dinner with a dictator or what his impression of him was, doesn't compare to the millions who live there and have before them each day a question about whether they will have dinner. By ending the embargo we can affect a true change for these people.
posted by Hopoch at 10:29 AM on January 7, 2004

L'hat, I guess what I was tuning into was your first comment to Miguel: "I'm truly surprised that you, a professed conservative, would have fallen for these incoherent ramblings.". I found it difficult to separate your commentary from the immediate connection to Miguel's politics (of which I know nothing about). Nevertheless, those items you list as disconcerting are not to me and I did not find in my reading of Miller's piece any "groupie-like" celebration of Castor's charisma. The charisma is mentioned, yes, but I saw it as no mroe than a (not very surprising) assessment of Castor's character. I find this issue to be less what the article is about than Castor's obvious lack of true touch with the people of Cuba.

Regarding dinner with Castro (a movie title?), your values clearly require the invitation be questioned -- which I wholeheartedly applaud -- but I know little of Dining with Dictators™.
posted by Dick Paris at 12:02 PM on January 7, 2004

Perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned Migs's politics—I can see how it could have been distracting—but it truly did surprise me; I would have expected one of the MeFi Lefties™ to post it. At any rate, obviously we have different expectations of a writer confronted with a dictator, so let's shake hands and agree to differ. (As for the Dining, I haven't done it and wouldn't care to, but I've read scads of accounts, and I'm pretty sure of my ground.)
posted by languagehat at 12:28 PM on January 7, 2004

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