Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar

Fernando Ortiz

Extended early twentieth century analysis of the titular themes, tracking the comparative impact of Tobacco and Sugar on Cuba. Starts with the premise of a very dry subject matter, but quickly makes it fascinating, rolling off fascinating insights, neat connections, stunning juxtapositions and effective systemic analysis. The look into the philosophy and aesthetic behind each plant is entertaining, the argument for how each substance is gendered intriguing, but it’s in the overview of how the economics functioned that really make the book take of is the insight into economics. Ortiz argues persuasively that while it’s the most pleasant crop, sugar has also directly accompanied a process of standardization, mass production, mechanization and foreign exploitation of Cuba that connects a very destructive long term legacy. In contrast, he explores venues by which Tobacco has had the potential for autonomy and overall financial advantage.

The first half is a surprisingly engaging and fast moving chain of analysis that offers much of worth in asssessing colonial and postcolonial conditions generally. After that, the second half is far less satisfying, as it goes into listing and specifics to substantiate the main thesis, slowing the main pace down to a crawl and rendering large setions frankly boring. Still, taken as a whole this is an exciting and virtal work.

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