Mapping Lost Imaginaries: Telex From Cuba

We've written here before how underwhelmed we can by sparky new technologies in the service of literature, more often than not they hide in their pyrotechnics a lack of content. The explosions masks a story as thoughtful as George W. Bush and as emotional as the clip on tie of a salesman selling Florida time shares.

Technology hasn't often worked in the service of literature, weak attempts at hypertext bore us and Google has become the place people look for answers not Shakespeare. So it goes. We're no luddites, perhaps this blog is a testament to that.

Two recent websites have sparked interest outside the author and their publicist, the first was indie darling Miranda July's simple site devoted to her book No One Belongs Here More than You, which had July writing out her messages in dry-erase marker with the same kind of self-conscious, awkward cuteness that characterizes her book. Self-conscious awkward cuteness sounds pejorative (and maybe it is a little), but really, sometimes and in some ways, it's our bag; We always make passes at girls (or boys) who wear glasses and dig the naive simplicity of the Beat Happening as much as the next gang of cardigan-sporting, twee-loving twenty-somethings.

This a long way to get getting to the second site, built for Rachel Kushner's Telex from Cuba, released this month. None of the awkward cuteness of July is found here, in fact it's better than most web-art projects we've seen trying to pull off the same thing. The book, we've only read the reviews and the first chapter accessible at the NY Times, but the site built for the book opens up to a map of Cuba with a simple haunting piano music like the last song at the last bar at the end of the road, where Borscht Belt comedians and Cuban strippers come to die.

The site displays a map of Cuba with different locations lined up. Each site, when accessed, gives a brief slide show, like some Gerhard Richter paintings or even some Sebald stories the text/image (and here music) is a little haunting. Snaps of French Nazi Christian de la Maziere mix in with weighted family snaps and glamor shots of some Castro's black bereted female revolutionaries. And the ghostly presence of the images, with Kushner's robust and sometimes sexy prose, brings bout an epiphany. One that maybe attracted Kushner to this space as well. There's a lost world in Cuba.

There was place called Cuba, filled with gambling halls packed with government spies and leftist prostitutes, a Cuba of shitty tenements and fields owned by the United Fruit Co., and lorded over by bully Fulgencio Batista (our man in Havana, another painful CIA blunder), with the rebels in the mountains who can never win, or says the American expatriate sipping rum punch at the country club, knowing little that his waiter works for Castro. It's like all these strange in between places that are now gone forever that play on the American imagination, Casablance when the neon lights of Ric's cafe americain blinked into the desert, or the weathered maps and moving red lines Spielberg plays on in the Indiana Jones films. Some exotic place, filled with excess and troubles, where no one is in the right, but the glamor and the danger mingle together in an intoxicating cocktail. Though this kind of lost imaginary is always tinged with romanticism, we expect Kushner's novel punctures it as much as it explores it.

The first chapter of Kushner's novel (mentioned earlier on the NY Times website)
relates the memories of a man who spent his boyhood as the princely scion of a United Fruit executive, who years later, his exile complete, relates the tales of his lost world. For all its inequity and inequalities that put Castro on the right side of history, is still gone, and the ritual, glamor, and elusive imaginary went with it.

A curious piece of the internets in the service of literature, or more likely something separate from the book, a project born from the same imaginary, producing a strange result of its own.

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