synecdoche

Russell Evatt: On "Fidel in Ohio"

Martìn Espada’s Fidel in Ohio portrays a bus driver politically minded enough to gesture to a complete stranger over something in a “tabloid.”  Perhaps ‘politically minded’ is too strong a characterization for the bus driver, as the driver is merely making a comment.  But the driver is attempting some comment of a political nature it’s just that he has some bad information, is taking the article out of context of the paper in which it is printed.  In so doing, the response is comedic and the poem offers a small specific look at a large overarching wave of problematic thought and transference.   

The poem focuses on a particular state, Ohio, with a particular (though unnamed) bus driver, in order to suggest a representation of the whole.  A bus drivers in Ohio talks, discusses a current event with a random passenger; “The bus driver tore my ticket / and gestured at the tabloid.”  This doesn’t mean all bus drivers talk to patrons though it suggests the casualness by which thought, and for the poem, political thought, is transferred.  The poem operates on this level of inference; showing something about an entire region or state or country’s attitude through one encounter, one person, a bus driver, a stand in for the average citizen, or an entity with which to measure the rest of the citizens.  I am somewhat skeptical of this approach, as it’s akin to the tourist who “loves <insert country>,” a judgment based on the few days they vacationed there.  To this end, my question is whether or not the Midwest via Ohio has been unfairly represented.  For now, I will say the poem has to be located somewhere that is often conceptualized as slower, more spacious, a place where bus drivers might be free to read the tabloids on the steering wheel and make comments to boarding passengers.  But why Ohio?  If we are to read the poem as a synecdoche for the transference of ignorant thought does it matter that this ignorance is grounded in Ohio?  To this end, I see the poem making a sacrifice.  In order to show (as the footnote notes) the “widespread U.S. ignorance about Latin America” it (the poem) must display some of this same type of ignorance by using a common trope of the slow Midwesterner.  The bus driver serves as an entry point into the discussion regarding ignorance but not without revealing some of its own overgeneralizations.

Nothing is added to the conversation by the response of the speaker to the bus driver.  If the speaker gets the joke, they do not attempt to provide the bus driver with the information necessary or instruct the driver in any way.  The speaker’s casual agreement with the statement operates to keep things moving, not cause trouble.  This indifferent response can be seen as a generalized look at attitudes in the U.S. that center around what’s at hand during the moment, i.e. getting on the bus, having the ticket torn, moving down the aisle of the bus—not attempting to correct the confusion or actually come to any realization concerning the original topic.  This portrait provides a framework for discussion of thought which pervades the U.S.  The bus driver’s comment is left uncorrected and shows the passiveness with which incorrect thought is accepted, tolerated, and casually ignored.  The statement reads as comedic, causing the reader to laugh at the exchange.  In this way the poem delivers a kind of misinformation itself to the reader, mirroring the misinformation received by the bus driver.  The comedy in the poem disguises the implications of the larger transference of thought while at the same time providing an entryway into a discussion of that transference.   

Copyright 2007 by Russell Evatt.