The Classroom

Dr. Gustavo Pita Céspedes. Barcelona, Spain


The eyes observed me, large, inquisitive, beautiful, with a familiarity which first attracted and later scared me. I was just a boy, around ten years old. I felt as if they looked at me the way the friends of my older brothers did. They were young and in their stares I saw a sudden glow, as if moonlight shining through clouds. Then I realised that no, these were dead stares. It was as if their light had been precociously switched off thousands of years ago, yet a nocturnal spark still flickered in these young eyes, only now with a yearning as if sun beams seeping through cracks in a coffin…

It was a slow day in autumn and the city along with the river seemed to have been suddenly flooded with litter. Sat on the bus with his arms crossed over his belly, a bearded old man with a beret gazed out of the window. I thought I had seen him around before, in a similar pose. Perhaps as a distraction from the weight of my books I began to observe him, so much so that I missed my stop. I got off close to the square and just before crossing the drawbridge I turned back to see the building, its huge bluish green facade seemed to anticipate the air of the summer with wintery nostalgia. I then remembered that it was there where days before I had seen that old man, sat in front of me with his beret and his arms crossed over his belly; for such a time that while walking across the second floor of the museum I could feel the weight of his old age in my legs, making creaks step by step along the wooden floorboards…

The ruins of the old temple could have easily been returned to sand with a single explosion, yet even after many centuries the desert could not reclaim them. They were thirsty men, desolation over 1983 years had left them parched. In 2015 I marked my fiftieth birthday, 1983 the year of my graduation, 1983 years snatched by entropy and attempts to crystallise the world in which I had been able to graduate from university. Now and again it suits to look at the umbilical scar, at the soul, to remember that we are all children of history. On the internet I found a digital copy of an old book, where in the mid eighteenth century an Italian arquitect, at thirty seven years old, traveled to the desert with three young Englishmen, to posterise ruins in meticulous drawings; later to be converted into records…

Be it the youthful face, the salvage from a shipwrecked oblivion, the surface of a once buried casket, the fresh experience etched from the eye and hand of a genius in each groove of the tired leather, or the geometric perdurability of lines drawn those which survive the shredding of volumes, weights, harshness and physical densities; which always pulsates underneath is the eternal youth-hood of art, of which maturity and vision cannot be comprehended in terms of time nor understood by ages.

All of these reflexions come to mind today from Europe, when I think of my ex philosophy students at The University of Arts Habana.

I started going back to the ISA at the end of the nineteen eighties. It was not long after graduating from a Soviet University, while working as an aspiring philosophy researcher for the Academy of Sciences, that I first encountered students from ISA. The fine art students in particular made an impression on me, the love which they had in respect to their work as much as their kindness. When later I changed position and began working as a teacher at the institution, it was the maturity of their visions in regard to the realities of society which made an impact on me; a maturity which has firm roots in the feeling of responsibility which since the early ages begins to cultivate through young people’s own artistic education but above all a great human empathy. It is precisely that empathy, which confronts reality face to face, that I couldn’t ignore, as I noted from my first class the artifice of read truths and the slogans accepted by the academics. Not in vain –only that I was reminded that it was– the first vocation of the young Marx was that which made him a poet. That in the crucial moments in the history of a poor country like Cuba, artistic sensitivity was proven to be one of its invaluable riches, having always been one of the principal premises and propelling strengths of great changes. Art and not philosophy is the self-awareness of a culture, this is emphisized in the writings of my mentor Moisei Samóilovich Kagán (1921-2006). Sometimes I’ve questioned if the recent history of Cuba could not have been very different if at times there had been comprehension in regard to the grains of truth contained in an affirmation, questionable as it is. The questioning of itself would have been illicit; it had been the art and not philosophy which recognized specific conditions in Cuba, which assumed on occasion the subconscious philosophy of the culture. Whatever the case, be it wrong or presumptuous, I personally feel that it was my classes at ISA which were crucial regarding my philosophical formation. It is thanks to conversations had with my plastic art students, that for the first time I understood what was meant by philosophical thought. Each weekly discovery in the classroom on the Habana periphery represented for me at first a clash and later an intense search for a harmonic dialog between the intuitions of my creative self and the concepts which before my students had sustained my thinking.

As the years pass I find it increasingly more painful to witness the monumental barriers which face people, concepts strangled by slogans and creativity crippled by any given theory.

When today in a Europe shaken by waves of immigrants I listen to scientists encourage future refugees of the world with the news that water could be have been discovered on another planet, I can’t help but think of Tales and ask myself if man is not only sustained by water and if the human universe is not composed above all of the beauty in images, sounds and colours. Then I dream an imaginary class in which I ask my students at ISA; if there is life on Mars, how would they perceive colours, textures, forms. How would music sound from another place in the cosmos? Irrevocably far in time and space from the Earth.

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