Paz, Octavio (31 March 1914 - 19 April 1998)
Octavio Paz (31 March 1914 - 19 April 1998)
Jorge Aguilar Mora
University of Maryland at College Park
This entry was revised from Aguilar Mora’s Paz entry in DLB 290: Modern Spanish American Poets, Second Series. See also the Paz entries in DLB Yearbook: 1990 and DLB Yearbook: 1998.
BOOKS: Luna silvestre (Mexico City: Fábula, 1933);
No pasarán (Mexico City: Simbad, 1936);
Raíz del hombre (Mexico City: Simbad, 1937);
Bajo tu clara sombra y otros poemas sobre España (Valencia: Ediciones Españolas, 1937);
Entre la piedra y la flor (Mexico City: Nueva Voz, 1941);
A la orilla del mundo y Primer día, Bajo tu clara sombra, Raíz del hombre, Noche de resurrecciones (Mexico City: ARS, 1942);
Libertad bajo palabra (Mexico City: Tezontle, 1949); revised and enlarged as Libertad bajo palabra: Obra poética, 1935–1957 (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1960; revised and enlarged again, 1968);
El laberinto de la soledad (Mexico City: Cuadernos Americanos, 1950; revised and enlarged edition, Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1959); translated by Lysander Kemp as The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in Mexico (New York: Grove, 1961; London: Evergreen, 1961); enlarged as El laberinto de la soledad: Posdata Vuelta a el laberinto de la soledad (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1981);
¿Aguila o sol? (Mexico City: Tezontle, 1951); translated by Eliot Weinberger as Eagle or Sun? (New York: October House, 1970; New York: New Horizons, 1976; London: Owen, 1990);
Semillas para un himno (Mexico City: Tezontle, 1954);
La hija de Rappaccini (Mexico City: Revista Mexicana de Literatura, 1956);
El arco y la lira: El poema, la revelación poética, poesía e historia (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1956); translated by Ruth L. C. Simms as The Bow and the Lyre: The Poem, the Poetic Revelation, Poetry and History (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973);
Las peras del olmo (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1957);
Piedra de sol (Mexico City: Tezontle, 1957); translated by Peter Miller as Sun Stone (Toronto: Contact, 1963);
La estación violenta (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1958);
Tamayo en la pintura mexicana (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1959);
Salamandra, 1958–1961 (Mexico City: Mortiz, 1962);
Viento entero (Delhi: Caxton, 1965);
Cuadrivio: Darío, López Velarde, Pessoa, Cernuda (Mexico City: Mortiz, 1965);
Los signos en rotación (Buenos Aires: SUR, 1965);
Puertas al campo (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1966);
Claude Lévi-Strauss o El nuevo festín de Esopo (Mexico City: Mortiz, 1967); translated by J. S. Bernstein and Maxine Bernstein as Claude Lévi-Strauss: An Introduction (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1970);
Corriente alterna (Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 1967); translated by Helen R. Lane as Alternating Current (New York: Viking, 1973);
Blanco (Mexico City: Mortiz, 1967);
Discos visuales (Mexico City: Era, 1968);
Marcel Duchamp o El castillo de la pureza (Mexico City: Era, 1968); translated by Donald Gardner as Marcel Duchamp; or, The Castle of Purity (London: Cape Goliard, 1970); revised and enlarged as Apariencia desnuda: La obra de Marcel Duchamp (Mexico City: Era, 1973); revised edition translated by Rachel Phillips in Marcel Duchamp: Appearance Stripped Bare (New York: Viking, 1976);
Conjunciones y disyunciones (Mexico City: Mortiz, 1969); translated by Lane as Conjunctions and Disjunctions (New York: Viking, 1974);
Ladera este (1962–1968): Ladera este; Hacia el comienzo; Blanco (Mexico City: Mortiz, 1969);
Posdata (Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 1970); translated by Kemp as The Other Mexico: Critique of the Pyramid (New York: Grove, 1972);
Las cosas en su sitio: Sobre la literatura española del siglo XX, by Paz and Juan Marichal (Mexico City: Finisterre, 1971);
Topoemas (Mexico City: Era, 1971);
Renga, by Paz, Jacques Roubaud, Edoardo Sanguinetti, and Charles Tomlinson (Paris: Gallimard, 1971); translated by Tomlinson as Renga: A Chain of Poems (Harmondsworth, U.K. & New York: Penguin, 1979);
Traducción: Literatura y literalidad (Barcelona: Tusquets, 1971);
El signo y el garabato (Mexico City: Mortiz, 1973);
Solo a dos voces, by Paz and Julián Ríos (Barcelona: Lumen, 1973);
Children of the Mire: Modern Poetry from Romanticism to the Avant-Garde, translated by Phillips (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974); original Spanish version published as Los hijos del limo: Del romanticismo a la vanguardia (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1974);
La busqueda del comienzo (Madrid: Editorial Fundamentos, 1974);
El mono gramático (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1974); translated by Lane as The Monkey Grammarian (New York: Seaver, 1981);
Pasado en claro (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1975; revised, 1978);
Vuelta (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1976);
Xavier Villaurrutia en persona y en obra (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1978);
Air Born / Hijos del aire: Poemas, by Paz and Charles Tomlinson (Mexico City: Taller Martín Pescador, 1979);
El ogro filantrópico: Historia and política, 1971–1978 (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1979); translated in The Labyrinth of Solitude; and, rile Other Mexico; Return to the Labyrinth of Solitude; Mexico and the United States; The Philanthropic Ogre (New York: Grove, 1985);
In/Mediaciones (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1979);
Poemas (1935–1975) (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1979);
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, o, Las trampas de la fe (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1982); translated by Margaret Sayers Peden as Sor Juana, or, The Traps of Faith (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988);
Sombras de obras: Arte y literatura (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1983);
Tiempo nublado (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1983); translated as One Earth, Four or Five Worlds: Reflections on Contemporary History (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985);
Hombres en su siglo y otros ensayos (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1984);
Pasión crítica (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1985);
Árbol adentro (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1987); translated by Weinberger as A Tree Within (New York: New Directions, 1988);
México en la obra de Octavio Paz, 3 volumes, edited by Paz and Luis Mario Schneider (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1987);
Convergences: Essays on Art and Literature, translated by Lane (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987); Spanish-language version published as Convergencias (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1991);
Primeras letras (1931–1943), selected by Enrico Mario Santí (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1988);
Poesía, mito, revolución: Premio Alexis de Tocqueville (Mexico City: Vuelta, 1989);
La otra voz: Poesía y fin de siglo (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1990); translated by Lane as The Other Voice: Essays on Modern Poetry (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991);
Pequeña crónica de grandes días (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1990);
In Search of the Present: Nobel Lecture, 1990, bilingual edition, translated by Anthony Stanton (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990);
Al paso (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1992);
El laberinto de la soledad; Postdata; Vuelta a El laberinto de la soledad (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1992);
Itinerario (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1993); translated by Jason Wilson as Itinerary: An Intellectual Journey (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1999);
La llama doble: Amor y erotismo (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1993); translated by Lane as The Double Flame: Love and Eroticism (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1995);
Un más allá erótico: Sade (Mexico City: Vuelta/Heliópolis, 1993); translated by Weinberger as An Erotic Beyond: Sade (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1998);
Vislumbres de la India (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1995); translated by Weinberger as In Light of India (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1997);
Reflejos, réplicas: Diálogos con Francisco de Quevedo (Madrid: La Palma, 1996);
Delta de cincos brazos (Barcelona: Galaxia Gutenberg, 1998);
Figuras y figuraciones, by Paz and Marie José Paz (Barcelona: Galaxia Gutenberg, 1999); translated by Weinberger as Figures and Figurations (New York: New Directions, 2002);
El camino de la pasión, López Velarde (Mexico City: Seix Barral, 2001).
Editions and Collections: Obra poética (1935–1988) (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1990);
Obras completas de Octavio Paz, 15 volumes (Barcelona: Círculo de Lectores / Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1994–2004);
Sueño en libertad: Escritos políticos, selected by Yvón Grenier (Mexico City: Planeta, 2001).
Editions in English: Selected Poems, translated by Muriel Rukeyser (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963);
Configurations, translated by G. Aroul and others (New York: New Directions, 1971; London: Cape, 1971);
Early Poems, 1935–1955, translated by Rukeyser and others (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973);
The Siren and the Seashell, and Other Essays on Poets and Poetry, translated by Lysander Kemp and Margaret Sayers Peden (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976);
The Labyrinth of Solitude; and, The Other Mexico; Return to the Labyrinth of Solitude; Mexico and the United States; The Philanthropic Ogre, translated by Kemp, Yara Milos, and Rachel Phillips Belash (New York: Grove, 1985);
On Poets and Others, translated by Michael Schmidt (New York: Seaver, 1986);
The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz, 1957–1987, edited by Weinberger, translated by Weinberger and others (New York: New Directions, 1987);
Essays on Mexican Art, translated by Helen R. Lane (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993);
A Tale of Two Gardens: Poems from India, 1952–1995, edited by Weinberger, translated by Weinberger and others (New York: New Directions Bibelot, 1997).
OTHER: Paul Claudel, ed., Anthologie de la poésie mexicaine, translated by Guy Lévis Mano, introduction and commentaries by Paz (Paris: Nagel, 1952);
Anthology of Mexican Poetry, edited by Paz, translated by Samuel Beckett (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1958);
Poesía en movimiento, México, 1915–1966, compiled by Paz (Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 1966); revised and translated as New Poetry of Mexico, edited by Mark Strand (New York: Dutton, 1970; London: Secker & Warburg, 1972);
In Praise of Hands: Contemporary Crafts of the World, includes essay by Paz (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1974);
Versiones y diversiones, compiled by Paz (Mexico City: Mortiz, 1974).
The intellectual work of Octavio Paz is one of the most extensive and important contributions in the history of Latin America. He wrote more than twenty books of poetry (more than thirty if all versions of the different editions that exist for many of the books are considered) and as many book-length essays about such topics as literature, eroticism, politics, anthropology, and painting. Until his death he fueled an intellectual passion that–through his essays and the magazines that he headed–turned him into an indispensable guide in the Spanish language for several generations. Not only with his poetry but also with his prose, Paz renovated Spanish, thanks to his mastery of nuance, the communication between words, and the architecture of syntax.
In Poesía, mito, revolución: Premio Alexis de Tocqueville (1989, Poetry, Myth, Revolution: Alexis de Tocqueville Prize), his acceptance speech upon receiving that award, Paz stated:
Desde mi adolescencia he escrito poemas y no he cesado de escribirlos. Quise ser poeta y nada más. En mis libros de prosa me propuse servir a la poesía, justificarla y defenderla, explicarla ante los otros y ante mí mismo. Pronto descubrí que la defensa de la poesía, menospreciada en nuestro siglo, era inseperable de la defensa de la libertad. De ahí mi interés apasionado por los asuntos politicos y sociales que han agitado a nuestro tiempo.
(From adolescence I have written poems and I have not stopped writing them. I wanted to be a poet and nothing more. In my books of prose I made up my mind to serve poetry, to justify and defend it, and to explain it to others and to myself. I soon discovered that the defense of poetry, despised in our century, was inseparable from the defense of liberty. From there my passionate interest in the political and social issues that have agitated our times.)
This declaration clearly shows how he conceived the intimate relationship between his different intellectual enterprises: his poems, his essays on poetry, and his historical, political, and social reflections.
Paz’s work was recognized worldwide through translations of his books and many awards: the Festival of the Poetry of Flanders Prize in 1972, the Jerusalem Literature Prize in 1977, and the Grand Aigle d’Or in Nice in 1979. In addition, in 1982 he received the Cervantes Prize, given for literature. In 1989 he received the Premio Alexis de Tocqueville in France; and, finally, in 1990 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Paz was born on 31 March 1914 in Mexico City to Octavio Paz Solórzano and Josefina Lozano. The dictator Victoriano Huerta governed Mexico City, while in the north various army regiments, principally those of Pancho Villa, were advancing toward the city. Emiliano Zapata and his allies dominated the territories to the south of Mexico City. Paz’s father, a lawyer, had joined Zapata’s army, leaving Paz’s paternal grandfather as the strongest influence on the boy during the early years of his life. The grandfather, Ireneo Paz, was a well-known figure from the regime of Porfirio Díaz; he had fought against the French in the 1860s, founded newspapers, published novels, and served as a national representative and senator of the republic.
With the exception of a few months spent in the United States with his exiled father at the end of 1920, Paz lived all of his childhood in his grandfather’s home in Mixcoac, a village southeast of Mexico City. He read his first important books in his grandfather’s library, and on the patio he encountered fig trees, flowers, and church bells, all of which were fundamental images in his memory and in his poetry: “En Mixcoac, pueblo de labios quemados, sólo, la higuera señalaba los cambios del año” (In Mixcoac, village of burned lips, alone, the fig tree signaled the change of season), he recalled in ¿Aguila o sol? (1951; translated as Eagle or Sun?, 1970).
Paz received his first formal education in a Catholic school of the Marian order where, perhaps, he acquired his lifelong repugnance for the Jesuits, whom he later called “los bolsheviques de la iglesia católica” (the Bolsheviks of the Catholic Church) in México en la obra de Octavio Paz (1987, Mexico in the Works of Octavio Paz). In 1929, at fifteen years of age, Paz participated in his first political activity: a student strike in support of José Vasconcelos, whom many were sure had been fraudulently stripped of the presidency in the elections carried out that year. Although Paz occasionally disagreed with his ideas, he always considered Vasconcelos to be one of the most lively and authentic intellectual figures of Mexico and Latin America, referring to him in a 1941 book review as “el gran creador o recreador de la naturaleza y los hombres de América” (the great creator or re-creator of nature and of the men of America).
At seventeen Paz published his first poem, founded his first literary magazine, Barandal (Handrail), and met other writers who influenced him, including Xavier Villaurrutia, a Mexican writer from the previous generation. That generation had been named for the magazine Contemporáneos (Contemporaries). In 1978 Paz published one of his best books of personal reflection and literary criticism about Villaurrutia, Xavier Villaurrutia en persona y en obra (Xavier Villaurrutia, the Man and His Work). There he describes, with subtle observations and illuminating insights, his personal relationship not only with Villaurrutia but also with many Contemporáneos and with the larger literary world of his youth. (In 1935 he met Jorge Cuesta, another member of this same group who had a great influence on his life.) In addition, Paz introduces perceptive judgments about Mexican character, the identity of Mexican literature, and himself that do not appear in any other of his books with such immediate spontaneity.
In 1933 Paz published his first book of poems, Luna silvestre (Wild Moon). Although in 1988 he helped put together an edition of prose texts from early in his career that had remained dispersed in magazines and newspapers, he never desired to reedit his first book of poems—a small book totally indebted to what was the sunset of Latin American Modernism in poets such as Enrique González Martinez of Mexico and Alberto Ureta of Peru. The year that Luna silvestre appeared, Paz had finished his preparatory studies and had begun his university studies in law. Although he never finished his law degree, he had the opportunity to attend classes at a location that provides the theme of one of his most accomplished poems: San Ildefonso, well known in Mexico for housing a Jesuit school for more than one hundred years prior to being the seat of a well-known modern-day preparatory school. In two of his classes he had notable intellectuals as professors: Carlos Pellicer for literature and Antonio Diaz Soto y Gama—companion and friend of his father during the revolution—for Mexican history.
Paz later remembered with great intensity and affection that in those years, prior to the death of his father in 1936, his house was visited by many of his father’s friends from his time of zapatista militancy and by many peasants who solicited the services of a lawyer in land disputes. Ultimately, however, Paz’s father was a broken man whose alcoholism put great strain on his family. His father’s political beliefs, together with those visits of former comrades from the revolution, laid the groundwork for one of Paz’s deepest-rooted political ideas: “Zapata está ms allá de la controversia entre los liberales y los conservadores, los marxistas y los neo-capitalistas: Zapata está antes—y tal vez, si México no se extingue, estará después” (Zapata is beyond the controversy between the Liberals and the Conservatives, the Marxists and the Neocapitalists: Zapata is before—and maybe, if Mexico does not extinguish itself, it will be after). This declaration, made in a 1975 interview collected in The Labyrinth of Solitude; and, The Other Mexico; Return to the Labyrinth of Solitude; Mexico and the United States; The Philanthropic Ogre (1985), was surprising. Rarely did Paz speak with such forceful emphasis of a political movement in Mexico or in any part of the world. Ten years later, in another interview—this one collected in México en la obra de Octavio Paz—he returned to the same theme:
Yo viví todo eso y en mi adolescencia conocí a algunos veteranos del zapatismo. Más tarde reflexioné mucho acerca de esa semilla verdad que encerraba la revuelta campesina. Advertí en ella una faceta milenarista que no sé si llamar utópica, una voluntad de regresar a una sociedad precapitalista y premoderna, el sueño de una tierra poseída en común. Quizá sea imposible fundar este tipo de comunidad pero es un sueño que da profundidad a la vida.
(I lived all that and in my adolescence I met some of the veterans of Zapata’s movement. Later, I reflected a lot about that seed of truth within the peasant uprising. I recognized it as a millennial facet, perhaps utopian, of a will to return to a pre-capitalist, pre-modern society, the dream of communally owned land. Although it may be impossible to found this type of community, it is a dream that gives profundity to life.)
By 1934, with the beginning of the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas, great impetus was given to public education in Mexico. Paz participated in that drive, and in 1936, after dropping out of the university, he joined two friends in founding a secondary school for the children of workers in Yucatán, one of the poorest regions of the country. Another result of his stay and experience in that region was the book Entre la piedra y la flor (1941, Between the Stone and the Flower). By then Paz had been officially “received” by the group of Contemporáneos, even though they were, in fact, from the generation prior to his own. Around that time he married Elena Garro, who was also a writer in early bloom. While she distinguished herself through her novels, short stories, and plays, Paz made his mark in poetry and essays. In 1937 they traveled to Europe.
Through the intercessions of Arturo Serrano Plaja, of Pablo Neruda, and probably of Rafael Alberti, whom Paz had met in 1934 in Mexico, Paz had received an invitation to participate in the Second International Congress of Antifascist Writers, which took place in Madrid and Valencia in support of the Spanish Republic. During a one-year stay in Europe, Paz lived through the first battles of the Spanish Civil War, meeting in Spain and Paris writers and artists such as César Abraham Vallejo, Miguel Hernández, Luis Buñuel, and Robert Desnos. Before traveling or during his stay in Europe, Paz published Raíz del hombre (1937, Man’s Roots), a long love poem divided into fifteen parts, in which the poet looks for an amorous experience to be authentic, personal, and unique, and beyond the two realities of love, the one “nude and clear” and the other “black... quiet and tense.” In Spain that same year, Paz published Bajo to clara sombra y otros poemas sobre Espana (Under Your Light Shadow and Other Poems about Spain), a book that he reedited in Mexico four years later, omitting the poems about Spain.
On returning to Mexico, Paz participated in the founding of another magazine, Taller (Workshop), the name of which was attached to the writers of his generation, a group that includes authors such as Efrain Huerta, José Revueltas, and Rafael Solana. During the three years of the life of the magazine, events occurred that influenced Paz’s subsequent thought and work. The nonaggression pact of 1939 between Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler was, for many leftist militants, “un hecho que nos sacudió, nos dividió y que a algunos, nos abrió los ojos” (a fact that shook us up, divided us and that for some, opened our eyes), Paz recalls in Sombras de obras: Arte y literatura (1983, Shadows of Works: Art and Literature). He was among those driven to support Leon Trotsky, whose arrival in Mexico in flight from the persecution of Stalin permitted the understanding of many of his political positions in a direct manner, not distorted by the propaganda of his capitalist and Stalinist enemies.
As a result of the triumph of fascism in Spain, another important fact from those years was the arrival of thousands of Republican refugees, among whom were many artists, philosophers, intellectuals, and historians who lent an invaluable presence and liveliness to Mexican culture throughout the rest of the twentieth century. Their arrival is immediately perceptible in the composition of the editorial committee of Taller, which, beginning with the fifth issue, brought in such writers as Juan Gil-Albert, Antonio Sánchez-Barbudo, and Ramón Gaya. Furthermore, the teachings of the philosopher José Gaos, who was also a Spanish refugee, familiarized Paz with the work of Martin Heidegger and of Edmund Husserl.
Between 1939 and 1941 Paz read two other works essential to his intellectual formation: Introduction à la poesie française (1939, French Poetry: An Overview) by Thierry Maulnier and Histoire de la littérature française de 1789 à nos jours (1936, History of French Literature from 1789 to the Present) by Albert Thibaudet, a work explicitly praised by Paz himself. Both books definitively established a canon of French literature that identified Gérard de Nerval, Charles Baudelaire, Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud, and Stéphane Mallarmé rather than Victor Hugo, Alphonse de Lamartine, or Alfred de Musset as the true founders of twentieth-century literature. This interest in the symbolists was apparent in the contents of Taller: in the sixth issue Villaurrutia reviewed Maulnier’s book, clearly signaling the novelty of its vision. Also, in the first issue there had appeared a translation of Une Saison en enfer (1873, A Season in Hell) by Rimbaud, presented with a foreword by Luis Cardoza y Aragón, the Guatemalan writer who had recently arrived from Europe and whose presence in those years served as a bridge between the generation of Paz and the European and Latin American avant-garde. This reappraisal of another line of literary modernity decisively changed the way in which Paz confronted the political and literary alternatives of his times, particularly in Los hijos del limo: Del romanticismo a la vanguardia (1974; originally published as Children of the Mire: Modern Poetry from Romanticism to the Avant-Garde).
In “Poesia e historia: Laurel y nosotros” (Poetry and History: Laurel and Us), an essay collected in Sombras de obras, Paz sums up the conflict of his generation:
En México los que teníamos veinticinco años en 1940 oponíamos mentalmente las figuras de nuestros poetas a las de los tiranos: Darío, Machado y Juan Ramón nos consolaban de los Franco, los Somoza y los Trujillo. Pero la poesía no era, para nosotros, ni un refugio ni una fuga: era una conciencia y una fidelidad. Aquello que la historia había separado, ella lo unía. Frente a las ruinas y los proyectos desmoronados, veíamos elevarse sus edificios diáfanos: la poesía era la continuidad.
(In Mexico those of us who were twenty-five years old in 1940 imagined the figures of our poets in opposition to the tyrants: Darío, Machado, and Juan Ramón Jiménez consoled us in the face of the Francos, the Somozas, and the Trujillos. But poetry was, for us, nei- ther a refuge nor an escape: it was a consciousness and a loyalty. That which history had separated, poetry joined together. Facing the ruins and the crumbling projects, we used to see the ethereal edifices rise up: poetry was continuity.)
In “Antevíspera: Taller (1938–1941)” (Day before Yesterday: Taller [1938–1941]), another essay collected in the same anthology, he assesses his own generation: “Nuestros afanes y preocupaciones eran confusos pero en su confusión misma...se dibujaba ya nuestro tema: poesía e historia” (Our labors and preoccupations were confused, but in the same confusion...our theme was taking form: poetry and history).
According to Paz, beginning with German Romanticism at the end of the eighteenth century a radical separation had been produced between poetry and history that, in some cases, had led to mutual ignorance, and in some cases violent opposition, between practitioners of the two arts. This idea was profoundly central to Paz’s poetic work. Many of his essays are concerned with elaborating and defining this theme, permitting him, over time, to work his way to a single clear conclusion, on which he based Los hijos del limo, one of his most interesting literary essays.
Upon his return from Europe, Paz collaborated in the founding of a leftist periodical, El Popular (The Popular), although he quickly became disillusioned with this undertaking when faced with the unwillingness of many leftists to criticize the Soviet Union in spite of knowing about the repressive and antirevolutionary character of the Stalinist regime. In the next decade Paz looked for alternatives to those who equated being against the Soviet Union with being in favor of the fascism of Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Francisco Franco or with the capitalist axis headed by the United States.
Paz found himself, in the 1940s, among such thinkers as Victor Serge, Benjamin Peret, and Jean Malaquais, all of whom maintained independent political positions, and his stay in Paris from 1945 to 1951 put him in direct personal contact with the Surrealists; nevertheless, the actual influence of Trotsky and Surrealism does not appear in his work until sometime later. In the first edition of El laberinto de la soledad (1950; translated as The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Tought in Mexico, 1961) the critical reflections indebted to Trotsky about the Cold War are not present, nor is the passionate exaltation of eroticism-indebted to Surrealism-as a way of overcoming “el laberinto de la soledad.” Paz added those elements to the second edition of that key book in 1959.
Latin American avant-garde poetry, which had arisen in the first decade of the century, had produced by the beginning of the 1940s its masterpieces: Trilce (1922), Poemas humanos (1939, Human Poems), and España, aparta de mí este cáliz (1940, Spain, Take This Cup from Me) by Vallejo; Altazor (1931) by Vicente Huidobro; Residencia en la tierra (1933, Residence on Earth) by Neruda; and Muerte sin fin (1939, Death without End) by José Gorostiza. For many the avant-garde was subsequently reduced to a militant attitude that advocated the subjugation of literature to the defense of political ideas. The next generation found itself confronting the choice of either continuing the work of the avant-garde or going down a path in apparent opposition to that seemingly exhausted movement, the road of the so-called pure poetry. The approaches were not completely separate, however. For example, in Muerte sin fin Gorostiza can be said to have participated in the avant-garde movement with his materialistic reflections of life while also belonging to Gongorismo, the stylistic renovation of Luis de Góngora’s poetry-at the same time that he proposes metaphoric visions close to the phenomenology of pure poetry. The presence of Gorostiza is noticeable in many of Paz’s own poems from that period-for example, the 1941 version of Bajo to clara sombra and “Noche de resurrecciones” (Night of Resurrections) from A la orilla del mundo y Primer día, Bajo to clara sombra, Raíz del hombre, Noche de resurrecciones (1942, At the Edge of the World and First Day, Under Your Light Shadow, Man’s Roots, Night of Resurrections). In effect, the poetic work of Paz from those years demonstrates a search in all currents, including the one inspired by the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, that had begun with Trilce and Altazor. Therefore, it is not unusual to find in Paz’s works of that period various dualities that remained unresolved until many years later.
The oscillating duality of Raíz del hombre, between a reality of terrible, gut-wrenching “roots” and an ideal of “unmovable, eternal, and uncorruptible” forms, reappears, amplified to cosmic dimensions in Bajo to clara sombra and then simplified in Entre la piedra y la flor through an opposition expressed by the title of the poem, “between the stone and the flower.” This poem, the product of Paz’s stay in Yucatán, offers a desolate vision of subterranean rivers and their “cenotes”-underground water trapped in caves-as “El agua ahorcada” (hung water); the power of money “Sobre los huesos de los hombres se levanta” (is raised over the bones of men) and “crea desiertos infinitos” (createsinfinite deserts). Mankind passes “como una flor por este infierno estéril” (like a flower through this sterile hell), bound for another destination, toward redemption. Before redeeming himself, however, the poet must finish with everything in this “mundo seco... mundo desangrado” (dry world... blood-drained world). Thus, the poem concludes: “Para acabar com todo, / oh mundo seco, / para acabar con todo” (To finish with everything, / oh dry world, / to finish with everything).
In 1942 Paz published A la orilla del mundo, a book that collects poetry written and published since 1935, including two poems that had already appeared as books: Bajo to clara sombra and Raíz del hombre. Although the former was reproduced in this new edition with only one change, the latter was corrected so extensively that it is difficult to say that the 1937 poem and the 1942 poem are one and the same.
From that moment on, Paz did not stop correcting his poems and essays. His will to correct is an important trait to consider in any analysis of his work as a whole. For example, Raíz del hombre was changed significantly on at least three occasions: in A la orilla del mundo and in the 1960 and 1968 editions of Libertad bajo palabra (1949, Free by the Word). Which one should be considered the final version? The answer is more difficult than it seems, because in all the corrected versions the author never stopped indicating that the true version of the poem was the one written in 1935 and 1936 and first published in 1937. Moreover, Paz’s opinions on the subject of correcting poems are contradictory. In El arco y la lira: El poema, la revelación poética, poesía e historic (1956; translated as The Bow and the Lyre: The Poem, the Poetic Revelation, Poetry and History, 1973) he says, “El poema está hecho de palabras necesarias y insustituibles. Por eso es tan difícil corregir una obra ya hecha. Toda corrección implica una re-creación, un volver sobre nuestros pasos, hacia dentro de nosotros... imposible cambiar una coma sin trastornar todo el edifi- cio” (The poem is made up of necessary and unsubsti- tutable words. For that reason, it is very difficult to correct a completed work. Every correction implies a recreation, a return to our footsteps, inward... impossible to change a comma without shaking up the whole building). Returning to the subject in 1979, however, he said in the presentation of Poemas (1935–1975) (Poems 1935–1975]): “Los poemas son objectos verbales inacabados e inacabables. No existe lo que se llama ’versión definitiva’: cada poema es el borrador de otro, que nunca escribiremos” (Poems are verbal objects, unfinished and unending. The so-called definitive version does not exist: each poem erases another that we will never write). In spite of this declaration, some years later, in 1995, he changed his mind again in the introduction to the last edition of Libertad bajo palabra: “This edition... includes corrections made by the author, and as such, can be considered a definitive version.”
Every reader of Paz should keep in mind this particular quality about his work, if he or she is not reading a critical edition of the respective book. All the editions of Libertad bajo palabra were revised, corrected, enlarged, or cut. Although the second edition of El laberinto de la soledad incorporated important changes, they were not the last. Similarly, there were changes made in the second editions of Posdata (1970; translated as The Other Mexico: Critique of the Pyramid, 1972), Los hijos del limo, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, o, Las trampas de lafe (1982; translated as Sor Juana, or, The Traps of Faith, 1988).
In 1943 Paz collaborated in the founding of another magazine, El hijo pródigo (The Prodigal Son), a short time before leaving for the United States on a Guggenheim Fellowship. This time his absence from Mexico lasted ten years. In that period he published Libertad bajo palabra, El laberinto de la soledad, and ¿Aguila o sol?, a collection of prose poems heavily influenced by Surrealism.
Paz joined the diplomatic corps of the Mexican government in 1945 and served in Paris, New York, New Delhi, Tokyo, and Geneva. His and Garro’s daughter, Helena, was born in 1948 in Paris, where Paz was stationed from 1945 to 1951. His time in Paris was of lifelong importance, because he came to see Surrealism not just as a literary style or subgroup of the avant-garde but rather as a renewing of the most radical of the Romantic principles: the vital importance of eroticism, the power of literature, and the unrenounceable aspira- tion for freedom. Surrealism, at first, had only influenced him stylistically, as evidenced in ¿Aguila o sol? a book composed of Surrealist texts that lack the ideas about eroticism and liberty that appear first in the second edition of El laberinto de la soledad.
In preparing El laberinto de la soledad, key to the biography of Paz and of modern Mexico itself, the original contact that he had had in Mexico with Heidegger and with phenomenology through the Spanish refugees such as Gaos was of critical importance. In Paris, Paz gained a knowledge of agnostic and Catholic existentialism that added fundamentally to his interpretation of what it means to be Mexican. Also, thinkers and writers such as Albert Camus, Cornelius Castoriadis, and Kostas Papaioannou (with whom he remained friends until death) reinforced in Paz the possibility of affirming a “third way” in the face of an already clear consolidation of the two blocs during the Cold War. This third way was expressed in Paz’s works through thinking that oscillated between the Trotskyist socialist alternative to Stalinism and the vision of rebellion offered by Camus in a book that strongly influenced Paz, L’homme revolté (1951, The Rebel). This oscillation was dependent, perhaps, on the theme at hand for Paz in any given moment. Therefore, when he expanded his chapter “Nuestros Dias” (The Present Day) in the second edition of El laberinto de la soledad to include comments about the state of world politics, the Trotskyist perspective was more suitable to an analysis of that situation. When Paz analyzed in a general way such issues as the conflict of poetry with history, the problem of failed revolutions, and the imperative of the struggle for freedom, Camus’s perspective managed to be less indebted to any specific point of view while at the same time categorically rejecting all dictatorships without regard to ideology. The common element in Paz’s view of both Trotsky and Camus is the notion of permanent revolution. During those same years in Paris, Paz found that this notion fulfilled the axioms of Surrealism, both intellectually and personally.
El laberinto de la soledad made its mark in a time of reflection about Mexico that resulted from the Mexican Revolution of 1910 to 1920. Although the search for the characteristics that define a nation did not occur exclusively in Mexico–between 1930 and 1950 Argentina, Peru, and Cuba were also engaged in the same activity–the greatest number of works on the topic was produced there. Although El laberinto de la soledad was not the last of these works, it was the most influential. With a masterful style and a notable capacity for synthesis, Paz offered, on the one hand, lasting images of the timeless character of the Mexican people and, on the other, images of the historical singularity of Mexico. The masks, the mark left by the Spanish Conquest in the “sons of the chingada,” the duality between silence and violence witnessed in Mexican fiestas, and indifference in the face of death all exemplify the Mexican character. Images that argue for the historical singularity of Mexico are found in his portrayal of the traumatic passage through the different historical periods of the country–a process ending in the encounter between Mexico and itself, that is to say, with its own identity, during the Revolution. The book ends with a largely philosophical reflection (the first version exclusively existentialist and the second with Surrealist elements) about the solitary state of Mexicans and of all human beings in general. In this manner Paz expressed in his own way the axiom, dominant in the Mexican culture of that time, that Mexico had become part of universal history: “Somos, por primera vez en nuestra historia, contemporáneos de todos los hombres” (We are, for the first time in our history, the contemporaries of all men).
Paz returned to Mexico in 1953, and within six years he became one of the country’s most important cultural figures–but also the most controversial–not only for his publications but also for his defense of Surrealism and for his artistic activities. His participation in the theater group Poesía en voz alta (Poetry Aloud) was one of the most original enterprises of the second half of the twentieth century in Mexico. Because of this project a new generation of artists was formed, and Paz’s only play, La hija de Rappaccini (1956), based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1844 short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” was staged.
In those years, before his departure again for Paris in 1959, Paz finished writing El arco y la lira, an essay that he had spent years thinking about and outlining. Two books of poetry also appeared: Piedra de sol (1957; translated as Sun Stone, 1963) and La estación violenta (1958, The Violent Season). Although they complement one another, the book of prose and the books of poetry also represent two opposite moments in the development of Paz’s work. While the first book inaugurates Paz’s definitive thinking on the nature of poetry, the other two books end a stage in his poetic writing, and with such finality as to affect from that point on the meaning and direction of Paz’s corrections of all his previous work. Nevertheless, the three works share a fundamental vision of poetry as the only available resource for overcoming the failures of history; of poetic exercise (reading and writing) as the only activity that allows human beings to leave the ideological, economic, social, and symbolic prison that modernity has imposed on them in the previous two centuries; and of poetry as the genre of language that reaffirms the essential inclination of mankind toward freedom, true eroticism, and true union.
El arco y la lira puts forth the vision of a poet in the middle of the twentieth century who, through certain theosophical precepts taken from Baudelaire and from André Breton, looks to renovate the symbolist enterprise from the time of the German Romantics. Poetry is seen as a means of returning to the original unity where the word neither gave meaning nor had meaning because the word was an act, as expressed in the last line of “Himno entre ruinas” (Hymn among Ruins) from La estación violenta: “palabras que son flores que son frutas que son actos” (words that are flowers that are fruit that are acts). This vuelta, or return to an original identity where poetry, myth, religion, and philosophy are blended together, has modern sources in Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Johann Gottfried Herder, although Paz expounds upon the idea in terms befitting the theory of “correspondences” of Baudelaire and of the “communicating vessels” of Breton, a great admirer of Antoine Fabre d’Olivet, an important theosophist from the beginning of the nineteenth century.
With innovative prose Paz covers themes that are the cornerstones of his thinking. Above all, he ponders the nature of the poetic image, which for him—in direct accordance with Surrealist pronouncements—was irreducible “to whatever explication or interpretation.” Also important were the decisive function of rhythm and the transcendental nature of the poetic experience, in which his theory of returning to Unity by way of the Other is laid out in great detail: “La experiencia del Otro culmina en la experiencia de la Unidad” (The experience of the Other culminates in the experience of Unity).
A few years later Paz incorporated into his intellectual genealogy an important link in the sequence between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries: Mallarmé. Los signos en rotación (Signs in Movement), an essay published for the first time by the Argentine magazine Sur in 1965, was already publicized as a new chapter of El arco y la lira. In effect, it was added as an appendix to the second edition of that book. Mallarmé represented another phase in the continuity of the avant-garde, while simultaneously breaking with that continuity by, according to Paz, carrying the identity of the world within the word to extremes. In that sense Mallarmé belongs to the modern tradition not so much because he affirmed it but rather because he denied it. From there arose a concept that Paz characterized as the “historical” nature of modern poetry: the tradition of rupture. In the analysis of Mallarmé’s best-known poem, “Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard” (A Dice Throw Will Never Abolish Chance), indications of what later appears in Paz’s Blanco (1967, White) clearly can be perceived. Those characteristics include not only the typographical layout and the kind of simultaneity that springs up with symbolist free verse but also, most significantly, the concept of a productive or creative space: “El legado a que expresamente se refiere Un coup de dés.. es una forma; y más, es la forma misma de la posibilidad: un poema cerrado al mundo, pero abierto al espacio sin nombre” (The legacy to which Un coup de dés expressly refers...is a shape; and even more, it is the shape of possibility: a poem closed to the world but open to a nameless space). The concept becomes more evident when he writes of art (including his own) after Mallarmé: “El espacio se vuelve escritura: los espacios en b anco representan al silencio (y tal vez por eso mismo) dicen algo que no dicen los signos” (Space becomes writing: blankness represents silence [and perhaps for this very reason] it says something not expressed by signs). At a more theoretical level this essay announces the rupture of Paz with the first avant-garde movement (especially with Huidobro) as he paradoxically proposes to continue with the same tradition: “Hoy la poesía no puede ser destrucción sino búsqueda del sentido. Nada sabemos de ese sentido porque la significación no está en lo que ahora se dice sino más allá, en un horizonte que apenas se aclara” (Today poetry cannot be the destruction of meaning but rather the search for meaning. We know nothing of that meaning because now the significance is not in what is said but beyond, in a barely visible horizon).
Nevertheless, El arco y la lira, including its appendix, is an ahistorical book. With Los hijos del limo in 1974 and La otra voz: Poesía y fin de siglo in 1990 (translated as The Other Voice: Essays on Modern Poetry, 1991) Paz added an historical dimension to his inquiry. These two books are exceptional for their literary and cultural thinking about Latin America, since no one before or after Paz has considered these themes with such breadth, familiarity, and intuition or with so many important and controversial observations.
The vuelta, or return to origins, was basic to Paz’s thinking beginning at the end of the 1950s. His reflections on the concept of revolution in the West–reflections that are the key to his theory about the relationship between history and poetry–are summed up in his address on the occasion of receiving the Premio Alexis de Tocqueville:
la novedad de la Revolución parece absoluta; rompe con el pasado e instaura un régimen racional, justo y radicalmente distinto al antiguo. Sin embargo, esta novedad absoluta fue vista y vivida como un refresco al principio del principio. La Revolución es la vuelta al tiempo del origen, antes de la injusticia, antes de ese momento en que, dice Rousseau, al marcar los límites de un pedazo de tierra, un hombre dijo: Esto es mío. Ese dia comenzó la desigualdad y, con ella, la discordia y la opresión: la historia.
(the novelty of revolution seems absolute; it breaks with the past and installs a regime that is rational, just, and radically different from the former regime. Nevertheless, this absolute novelty was seen and lived as a return to the beginning of the beginning. Revolution is the return to the time of origin, before injustice, before that moment in which, according to Rousseau, to mark the limits of a piece of land, a man said: This is mine. On that day, inequality began, and with it, discord and oppression: history.)
Vuelta is a term that appears in many of his essays; it also gives its name to a book of poems published in 1976; to an appendix in the 1981 edition of El laberinto de la soledad titled “Vuelta a El laberinto” (Return to the Labyrinth); to one of the most influential magazines throughout the Hispanic world, which he directed from 1976 until his death; and to a publishing house spun off from the magazine.
On another front, the poetic search initiated by Paz in the 1930s culminated in La estación violenta and in Piedra de sol, when he found himself at a crossroads between political poetry and pure poetry. An almost unanimous consensus exists that Piedra de sol is Paz’s masterpiece. Comprising 584 hendecasyllables (the first five and a half of which are repeated at the end), this poem is effectively a central point of his creative life in that he revised earlier poems in light of it and based his subsequent poetry on it. Thirty years later, in “Ejercicio preparatorio” (Preparatory Exercise) from Árbol adentro (1987; translated as A Tree Within, 1988), when he writes of how he wishes to die, Paz continues in an explicit and contradictory manner one of the main ideas postulated in Piedra de sol:
Sin nombre, sin cara:
la muerta que yo quiero lleva mi nombre,
tiene mi cara
(Without a name, without a face: The death I wish for
Has my name,
Has my face).
The 584 lines represent the 584 days of the Venusian cycle, whose symbolic representation appears in the Aztec calendar in the form of two serpents of fire seen in profile, such that the two faces blend to create a single face. The fusion of the duality–of the I with the Other, of life with death, of eternity with the instant, of the lived experience with the memory–runs through the entire poem like a spiritual, experiential, and memory-laden journey through both the personal life of the poet and the history of humanity. Within that fusion, at the same time, history tenaciously struggles with its unending series of horrors, crimes, and banalities and also with the means of corruption such as money, social conventions, and repressive laws.
The poem oscillates between forms of union (love in its purest sense, eroticism in its highest form) and the means of rupture; and while the forms overcome the means, the means undermine the forms in an unending circular movement. Indeed, the poem itself is circular; it ends with the same lines with which it began, and its lines are plainly indicative of perpetual movement:
un sauce de cristal, un chopo de agua,
un alto surtidor que el viento arquea,
un árbol bien plantado mas danzante,
un caminar de río que se curva,
avanza, retrocede, da un rodeo
y llega siempre
(a crystal willow, a poplar of water,
a tall spout the wind arches over,
a tree well-planted yet still dancing,
a course of river that curves,
advances, recedes, makes a detour
and always arrives).
This poem is the most structurally accomplished of Paz’s works. It is a continuous movement of syntax, experience, and metaphorical references to “un caminar tranquilo” (a tranquil walk) and “un caminar entre las espuras” (a walk between the thickets); a ceaseless traversal of the lover’s body (“voy por tu cuerpo como por el mundo” [I travel your body as I travel the world]) and of the past (“y prosigo sin cuerpo, busco a tientas, / corredores sin fin de la memoria” [and I continue on without a body, searching blindly, / endless corridors of memory]); and the emphatic expression of hope and the aspiration for original unity and innocence:
porque las desnudeces enlazadas
saltan el tiempo y son invulnerables,
nada las toca, vuelven al principio,
no hay tú ni yo, mañana, ayer ni nombres,
verdad de dos en sólo un cuerpo y alma,
oh ser total...
(because the entwined lovers
leap over time and are invulnerable,
nothing touches them, they return to the beginning,
there is no you or I, tomorrow, yesterday, or names,
truth from two in only one body and soul,
oh total being...).
Paz never again sought a formal symmetry as coherent as the one found in this poem. With regular accentuation of hendecasyllables, a symbolic number of verses, and a perfect representation of the circularity of the Aztec calendar–the apparent inspiration for the work– Piedra de sol ends all editions of Libertad bajo palabra from 1960 on, thereby effectively concluding a stage of Paz’s poetic development.
In 1956 Paz was named director of international affairs for the Mexican diplomatic corps, and in 1962 he left Mexico to serve as ambassador to India, where he met and married Marie José Tramini in 1964. Paz had initiated a divorce from Garro in 1959, but the divorce was not acknowledged by the Mexican government for several years. In addition to his previous stay in India, this new contact with Eastern culture was critical to broadening and substantiating many of Paz’s intuitions and anxieties. Paz’s new avant-garde stage began in 1958 with the poems that formed the book Salamandra, 1958–1961 (1962, Salamander, 1958–1961) and culminated in two clearly “oriental” books: Blanco and Ladera este (1962–1968): Ladera este; Hacia el comienzo; Blanco (1969, Eastern Rampart [1962–1968]: Eastern Rampart; Toward the Beginning; White).
From the first poem of Salamandra, signs of a new poetic are perceptible in the predominance of the free, independent imagery (an explicit feature of the return to symbolism); the irresolute use of opposites (for example, “Demasiado tarde” [Too late] and “Demasiado temprano” [Too early]); and play on words such as “Un reloj da la hora / Ya es hora / No es hora / Ahora es ahora / Ya es hora de acabar con las horas” (A clock gives the hour / It is already the hour / It is not the hour / Now is now / Now is the hour to put an end to the hours). In “El puente” (The Bridge) another essential characteristic is found: the crossing of the real world (representative) with language and the creation of “ilusiónes de realidad” (illusions of reality) as if they were trompe l’oeil depictions of knowledge or of the perception of reality:
Entre ahora y ahora,
entre yo soy y tú eres,
la palabra puente
(Between now and now,
Between I am and you are,
The word bridge).
In Blanco, one of the most avant-garde of Paz’s poems and of all of Latin American poetry, the initial impulse is found precisely in the play on words: “el comienzo / el cimiento / la simiente” (the beginning / the foundation / the seed). From that point on, the poem continues developing organically on many levels. Only the first edition of Blanco reproduces the original intention of the poet. Its incorporation into the second edition of Ladera este renders impossible the original reproduction. Paz describes the original edition in his introduction to the poem in its new presentation:
Como no ha sido posible reproducir aquí todas la características de la edición de Blanco (México, 1967), señalo que este poema debería leerse como una sucesión de signos sobre una página única; a medida que avanza la lectura, la página se desdobla: un espacio que en su movimiento deja aparecer el texto y que, en cierto modo, lo produce. Algo así como el viaje inmóvil al que nos invita un rollo de pinturas y emblemas tántricos: si lo desenrollamos, se despliega ante nuestros ojos en ritual, una suerte de procesión o peregrinación hacia ¿dónde? El expacio fluye, engendra un texto, lo disipa–transcurre como si fuese tiempo.
(Since it has not been possible to reproduce here all the characteristics of the original edition of Blanco [Mexico City, 1967], I will point out that this poem should be read as a succession of signs on one single page; in such a way that as the reading progresses, the page unfolds: a space that through movement allows the text to appear and which, in a sense, produces the same text. Similar to the stationary journey to which a roll of pictures and tantric emblems invite us: if we unroll it, before our eyes a ritual unfolds, a chance for procession or peregrination toward, where? The space flows, generates a text, and then dissipates it–elapsing as if it were time.)
There is even more formal experimentation in the original version of Blanco: the text is divided into three columns, each with distinct typography and different colored ink. Furthermore, as Paz himself had already indicated in his description of the original poem, there exist multiple possible readings. It can be read as one text or as three, following the columns, while the middle column can also be read as six separate poems, and the other two columns are each composed of four parts. Finally, the different sections and units can be combined in so many ways as to multiply the possibilities enormously.
Contemporaneous with the appearance of that poem, a like-minded novel, Rayuela (Hopscotch), was published by Julio Cortázar in 1963. In the genre of poetry, however, such formal and typographic boldness had not been seen in Latin America since the Creacionismo of Huidobro during the 1910s and books such as Descripción del cielo (1928, Description of the Sky) by the Peruvian Alberto Hidalgo, whose poems were also presented on single pages that unfolded in order to simulate cosmic spaces where the poems were printed. Both Creacionismo and the Simultaneísmo of Hidalgo have many points in common with this new exercise of the avant-garde that Paz created during the 1960s.
Not coincidentally, a return to the movements of the early twentieth century provoked in Paz the desire to reflect on one of the most radical and influential artists of that time: Marcel Duchamp. In 1968 Paz published Marcel Duchamp o El castillo de la pureza (translated as Marcel Duchamp; or, The Castle of Purity, 1970), which five years later was republished in a corrected and expanded edition under the title Apariencia desnuda: La obra de Marcel Duchamp (translated as Marcel Duchamp: Appearance Stripped Bare, 1976).
In Paz’s description of Blanco perhaps the key word is produce, as the new poetic of Paz was centered on the idea of how a poem is born, develops, and ends. Thus, many of the avant-garde resources were techniques to lay bare the creative process, as if Paz were searching for a way, in “Intermitencias del Oeste (3)” (Interruptions from the West ), for example, to show how the singular object called a poem is created:
(quizá valga la pena
escribirlo sobre la limpieza
de esta hoja)
no es límpida.
[perhaps it is worthwhile
to write it on the purity
of this sheet]
is not limpid.)
From this new manner of perceiving the act of writing and the production of texts, Paz concluded that history is without meaning and that the present will return to the privileged time of its own reflection (and not only the historical present)–topics about which he dedicated books such as El ogro filantrópico: Historia and política,1971–1978 (1979, The Philanthropic Ogre: History and Politics, 1971–1978), Tiempo nublado (1983; translated as One Earth, Four or Five Worlds: Reflections on Contemporary History, 1985), and Pequeña crónica de grandes días (1990, Short Chronicle of Historical Days). Paz also developed the concept of an instantaneous present (or eternal present, which is the same in this case) as a regulator of a new valuation of life: “The present is perpetual,” he writes in Viento entero (1965, Wind from All Compass Points), a poem later incorporated into Ladera este. From that eternal or instantaneous present Paz returned to his own past in order to follow the footsteps of memory in what is perhaps the last of his great books of poetry, Pasado en claro (1975):
Oídos com el alma,
pasos mentales más que sombras,
sombras del pensamiento ms que pasos,
por el camino de ecos
que la memoria inventa y borra:
sin caminar caminan
sobre este ahora, puente
tendido entre una letra y otra.
(Heard with the soul,
mental footsteps more than shadows,
shadows of thought more than footsteps,
on the road of echoes
that memory invents and erases:
without walking they walk
on this now, bridge
extended between one letter and another.)
In these first lines of Pasado en claro the fundamental features of the neo–avant–garde poetic of Paz have not disappeared: the bare synesthesia; the “ilusiónes de realidad” with their intersections between the textual and the representative (“puente / tendido entre una letra y otra”); and the alternation of opposites (“pasos mentales” and “sombras,” then “sombras del pensamiento” and “pasos”). In this case, however, the techniques of the avant-garde are assimilated by a classical rhythm of Spanish–the capricious but harmonious combination of heptasyllables and hendecasyllables. In effect, this verse of remembrance refers again to the classical perfection of Piedra de sol and even echoes it with its circular structure. Thus, the poem ends where it began:
Estoy en donde estuve:
voy detrás del murmullo,
pasos dentro de mí, oídos con los ojos,
el murmullo es mental, yo soy mis pasos,
oigo las voces que yo pienso,
las voces que me piensan al pensarlas.
Soy la sombra que arrojan mis palabras.
(I am where I was:
I go behind the murmur,
Footsteps within myself, heard with the eyes,
The murmur is mental, I am my footsteps,
I hear the voices that I imagine,
The voices that imagine me as I imagine them.
I am the shadow cast by my words.)
In 1968, because of the 2 October massacre in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, Paz renounced his ambassadorship to India, a gesture that gained him enormous prestige among those who struggled for democracy in Mexico. In 1970 Paz returned to Mexico definitively. Although he took many trips and lived many seasons abroad by invitation of universities such as Harvard and Cambridge, he resided principally in his native country and city, Mexico City, about which he wrote a memorable poem, “Hablo de la ciudad” (I Speak of the City). That epoch also coincided with his tendency to oppose whatever movement proclaimed socialist aspirations and to support the foreign policy of the United States, particularly concerning Latin America.
Paz undertook the task of directing the literary magazine Plural from 1971 until 1976, which contributed to his decision to resettle permanently in Mexico. He resigned as director of that magazine when the Mexican government violently expelled the managing editors of the newspaper Excelsior, which had distinguished itself for its critical position vis-à-vis the authoritarianism of the sitting president, Luis Echeverria. Because Plural had been financed by Excelsior, Paz never again had anything to do with the newspaper after 1976, although Plural continued to appear. In that same year he founded the magazine Vuelta, which lasted until his death.
If the whole of Paz’s work from the 1970s until his death is examined, several tendencies are visible. The most obvious was the fact that he reduced his poetic production (though not the work of correction) while consistently maintaining his essay writing. The diversity of themes, objects, and reflections in his writing broadened. Also critical to those years was the fact that Paz undertook one of the most serious and rigorous historical investigations of his career: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, o, Las trampas de la fe, a polemical book of both great inquiry and great limitations. One of several points of dispute among critics was his vision of the poetic work of Sor Juana, especially in regard to “Primero sueño” (1692, First Dream), about which Paz may have overly emphasized the unproven hermetic sources of the poem and, furthermore, overlooked the fact that this work belongs to a precise rhetorical moment, for the purpose of transforming it into an almost contemporary poem consistent with his own critical perspective. Paz never consented to discuss the counterarguments proposed to him by various well-grounded and wellintentioned critics. In any case, the portrait of Sor Juana forms one part of what can be called an indispensable triptych of Paz’s literary descriptions of Mexican authors, along with the portrayal of Ramón López Velarde in Cuadrivio: Dario, López Velarde, Pessoa, Cernuda (1965, Quadrivium: Darío, López Velarde, Pessoa, Cernuda) and that of Villaurrutia in Xavier Villaurrutia en persona y en obra. In addition, the book about Sor Juana constitutes a continuation of Paz’s reflections on the history of Mexico, leading to the extension of one of the chapters of El laberinto de la soledad, which culminates in a global vision of national history. The totalizing projection of his thoughts on Mexico was recast in three volumes that appeared in 1987 under the all-encompassing title of México en la obra de Octavio Paz, in fact a kind of anthology.
Another clear tendency of Paz’s last two decades as a writer was a natural and understandable return to several themes and characters that moved him personally and disquieted him on a literary plane. Paz wrote biographical sketches in prose verse about his friends that are convincing in their emotion, freshness, and spontaneity. His last book of poetry, Arbol adentro, includes several poems in this vein. Perhaps the most notable aspect of this book, however, is the fact that at seventy-three years of age Paz once again demonstrated his capacity to give new direction to his poetic work. While many of the avant-garde traits endure in this collection, another element becomes apparent, although it is not completely successful. This new idea concerned a concept of reality as no longer being in the present–and much less in that ensemble of time made up of the past and the future. Reality, Paz suggests in a few poems in Árbol adentro, exists in the interstice of those two forms of time, without metaphor, elaboration, thought, or decision. The poem “Decir: Hacer” (To Say: To Do) begins:
Entre lo que veo y digo,
entre lo que digo y callo,
entre lo que callo y sueño,
entre lo que sueño y olvido,
entre el sí y el no.
(Between what I see and say,
between what I say and silence,
between what I silence and dream,
between what I dream and forget,
between yes and no.)
The poem “Insomne” (Insomnia) ends on a similar note: “No estoy vivo ni muerto: / despierto estoy, despierto / en un ojo desierto” (I am neither alive nor dead: / awake I am, awake / in a desert eye).
Paz did not develop this new poetic vision, however; he realized that he lacked the time for the endeavor, as seen in the beginning of the last poem of the book, “Carta de creencia” (Letter of Testimony):
Entre la noche y el día
hay un territorio indeciso.
No es luz ni sombra:
(Between night and day
there is an undecided territory.
It is neither light nor shadow:
it is time.)
In Paz’s last years the cancer that ultimately proved fatal to him did not completely suppress his creative capacity. Gathering dispersed essays, he gave final touches to his ideas in all the areas that had troubled him. Some of his most important works from those years are Sombras de obras; Convergencias (1991; originally published as Convergences: Essays on Art and Literature, 1987); Itinerario (1993; translated as Itinerary: An Intellec- tual Journey, 1999), which includes a short but moving autobiography; and the trilogy of works on world politics-El ogro filantrópico, Tiempo nublado, and Pequeña crónica de grandes días.
For Paz three fundamental moments stood out in the history of Mexico: the Conquest, which marked the break with indigenous culture; Independence, which marked a break with Spanish culture; and the Revolution of 1910–1920, through which Mexico had encountered (at least momentarily) a form of recuperative unity. According to him, the defeat of the indigenous civilization by the Spanish owed more to its “historical solitude” and its ignorance of other forms of civilization than to its technical inferiority. At the other extreme Paz criticized the single-party system imposed after the revolution while simultaneously being unable to conceive of Mexican national unity except through the prism of western European tradition and, more specifically, through the dynamics of Mexican Creoles. As he declared in the first edition of El laberinto de la soledad: “No toda la población que habita nuestro país es objeto de mis reflexiones, sino un grupo concreto, constituido por esos que, por razones diversas, tienan coniencia de su ser en tanto que mexicanos” (Not all the population that inhabit our country are the objects of my reflections, but rather one group in particular, made up of those who, for diverse reasons, are conscious of being Mexicans). A few lines later he vaguely identifies this “minoría” (minority) more by negation than by definition: “La minoría... No solamente es la única activafrente a la inercia indoespañola del resto–sino que cada día modela más el país a su imagen” (This minority... is not only the sole active one–in the face of the preColumbian/Spanish inertia of the rest–but even models the country in its own image more each day). That is to say, the Indians and mestizos were considered outside of this idea of nation, although, paradoxically, they were (and continue to be) the majority of the population of the country.
In literature, Mexico (and in part, Latin America as well) had three great stages: the pre-Columbian, the seventeenth-century baroque, and the modern–beginning with Latin American Modernism. The absence of a critical century (the eighteenth century in Europe) had impeded, according to Paz, a true Romanticism in Mexico, Latin America, and the larger Hispanic world, since Romanticism was fundamentally a reaction to the rationalism of the Enlightenment. For him this reaction characterized literature, especially modern poetry, as a survivor of a vision–communal, original, humanist, and mythical in nature–in the midst of the disasters of history and the failure of revolutions (beginning with the French Revolution). In spite of this opposition, poetry and literature were inconceivable without the critical spirit that was, and still is, simultaneously both an inheritance from and a surpassing of Enlightenment rationalism. Criticism allows poetry to confront history, as well as to provoke its own natural inclination toward radical change and continual renovation of “originality,” elements critical to the construction of that new temporality–exclusive to modern art-that Paz named the “tradición de la ruptura” (tradition of rupture).
After Paz’s disillusionment with Stalinist communism in the late 1930s, with all radical revolutions, and with what he saw as totalitarianism, he followed the example of the Camus of L’homme revolté, becoming an incessant critic. At the end of his life, perhaps convinced of the gravity of his illness, Paz was able to write two books that are surprisingly youthful, fresh, and alive with his thoughts: La llama doble: Amor y erotismo (1993; translated as The Double Flame: Love and Eroticism, 1995) and Un más allá erótico: Sade (1993; translated as An Erotic Beyond: Sade, 1998). These two works both continue and end his exploration of two of the themes that most attracted and obsessed him: love and eroticism. The idea of the liberating and authentically vital nature of erotic love, already present in the appendix to the second edition of El laberinto de la soledad and fully developed in one of his best books, Conjunciones y disyunciones (1969; translated as Conjunctions and Disjunction, 1974), reappears in La llama doble and in Un más allá erótico. Although he may have changed his opinion on various themes and had many intellectual trajectories that defied easy coherence, Paz never retreated from one of the basic axioms of the Surrealism that he rediscovered during his stay in Paris during the 1940s: the conjugation of eroticism, liberty, and poetry. In 1995 he still found the time to publish and present his last book: Vislumbres de la India (translated as In Light of India, 1997). From that point on, Paz was extremely ill and perhaps worn down from the delay and inevitability of his approaching death.
On 17 December 1997, from the garden of his home, and in the presence of the president of the Republic, other well-known officials from both the government and financial circles of Mexico, and his friends, Octavio Paz inaugurated the foundation that bears his name. With that ceremony Paz contradicted himself in one of his most dearly held ideas about the role of intellectuals: “Intellectuals can be useful working for the State, on the condition that they know how to keep their distance from Power.” According to Christopher Dominguez, that same afternoon, after learning of the death of a close colleague of many years, Paz spoke of his own approaching demise: “When I learned of the seriousness of my illness, I realized I would not be able to follow the sublime path of Christianity. I do not believe in transcendence. The idea of extinction calms me. I will become this glass of water that I am drinking. I will be matter.” Until the end Paz remained a poet, true to his decision from adolescence. The metaphor for his own death echoes an image from one of the poems of his youth, “En Uxmal” (In Uxmal): “el hombre bebe sol, es agua, es tierra” (Man drinks sun, is water, is dust). Paz died in Mexico City on 19 April 1998.
Transblanco: Em torno a Blanco de Octavio Paz, by Paz and Haroldo de Campos (Rio de Janeiro: Guanabara, 1986);
Memorias y palabras: Cartas a Pere Gimferrer, 1966–1997, edited by Pere Gimferrer (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1999);
Cartas cruzadas, by Paz and Arnaldo Orfila Reynal (Mexico City: Siglo XXI, 2005).
Braulio Peralta, El poeta en su tierra: Diálogos con Octavio Paz (Mexico City: Grij albo, 1996);
Elena Poniatowska, Octavio Paz: Las palabras del árbol (Barcelona: Plaza Janés,1998).
Hugo Verani, Octavio Paz: Bibliografía crítica (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1983);
Verani, Bibliograjía crítica de Octavio Paz, 1931–1996 (Mexico City: Colegio Nacional, 1997).
Fernando Vizcaíno, Biografía política de Octavio Paz, o, La razón ardiente (Malaga: Algazara, 1993);
Guillermo Sheridan, Poeta con paisaje: Ensayos sobre la vida de Octavio Paz (Mexico City: Era, 2004).
Harold Bloom, ed., Octavio Paz (Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002);
Frances Chiles, Octavio Paz, the Mythic Dimension (New York: Peter Lang, 1987);
Christopher Domínguez, La sabiduría sin promesa: Vidas y letras del Siglo XX (Mexico City: Mortiz, 2001);
John M. Fein, Toward Octavio Paz: A Reading of His Major Poems, 1957–1976 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986);
Angel Flores, ed., Aproximaciones a Octavio Paz (Mexico City: Mortiz, 1974);
Pere Gimferrer, Lecturas de Octavio Paz (Barcelona: Anagrama, 1980);
Roberto Hozven, Octavio Paz: Viajero del presente (Mexico City: Colegio Nacional, 1994);
Ivar Ivask, ed., The Perpetual Present: The Poetry and Prose of Octavio Paz (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1973);
Rubén Medina, Autor, autoridad y autorización: Escritura y poética en Octavio Paz (Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 1999);
Víctor Manuel Mendiola, ed., Festejo: 80 años de Octavio Paz (Mexico City: El tucán de Virginia, 1994);
Rachel Phillips, The Poetic Modes of Octavio Paz (London & New York: Oxford University Press, 1972);
Jose Quiroga, Understanding Octavio Paz (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999);
Alberto Ruy Sánchez, Una introducción a Octavio Paz (Mexico City: Joaquin Mortiz, 1990);
Enrico Mario Santí, El acto de las palabras: Estudios y diáogos con Octavio Paz (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1997);
Santí, “Octavio Paz: Otherness and the Search for the Present,” Georgia Review, 49 (Spring 1995): 265–271;
Maya Schärer-Nussberger, Octavio Paz: Trayectorias y visiones (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1989);
Leticia Iliana Underwood, Octavio Paz and the Language of Poetry: A Psycholinguistic Approach (New York: Peter Lang, 1992);
Salvador Vázquez Vallejo, El pensamiento international de Octavio Paz (Mexico City: Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla/M. A. Porrúa, 2006);
Rodney Williamson, The Writing in the Stars: A Jungian Reading of the Poetry of Octavio Paz (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006);
Jason Wilson, Octavio Paz: A Study of His Poetics (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979).