jueves, 5 de junio de 2008
La lección de Moreno Fraginals
A name from the past recently sighted twice: Moreno Fraginals. Within a couple of weeks, I flipped through the pages of both Rafael Rojas’s Tumbas sin sosiego and Daina Chaviano’s El hombre, la hembra y el hambre. Pure coincidence. In the acknowledgements page of her novel, Chaviano writes: “… a Manuel Moreno Fraginals, porque sus conferencias—escuchadas cuando aún vivía en las isla—me impulsaron a explorar la historia oculta de Cuba, esa que nunca nos enseñaron en la escuela…” Rojas dedicates an elegiac essay to the eminent historian in his book. When I attended Moreno Fraginals’ seminar in the mid-90s, he was already suffering from acute respiratory disorders. He had trouble speaking more than a sentence at the time. Although the pace of the seminar was established by the choppy rhythm of his labored breathing/talking, the excitement in the room was always palpable. Something unexpected was afoot. Moreno Fraginals refused to give us a reading list. (A shock to any student in an American institution.) Instead, during our first meeting he handed out a stack of photocopies: the ledger of a Cuban plantation. A careful reading of those documents, he told us, will reveal more about family structures, plantation life and property relations in the Caribbean of the XVI century (the subject of our seminar) than any book. For an entire semester we combed those pages and others like them—always from original sources. We read them over and over, drew connections and conclusions, debated endlessly. We worked. What Moreno Fraginals taught was rigor, methodology, and this lesson: that the concrete things that a historical period leaves behind tell its story—and this story often doesn’t coincide with the accepted traditional narratives in our textbooks or with the graphs and statistics that dogmatic positivists stuff their lifeless studies with. This is why it isn’t at all surprising that one of the things that Rojas singles out and celebrates in Moreno Fraginals’ last book, Cuba/España España/Cuba, is that: “The references and documents that organize the interpretations of the text are of admirable diversity: along with statistics, there were coplas, verses, newspaper articles, reports, memorials and prints.” Rather than keeping a notebook, Moreno Fraginals always encouraged us to collect note-cards, to jot down and archive anything we came across from the period under study, insignificant or disconnected, as it may seem at first glance. The note-cards were each like a molecule—a physical unit of information—that we could move around, literally and figuratively, until a just semblance of the historical moment that we sought to find the shape of would coalesce from small, heterogeneous bits.