Lezama Lima, José (1910–1976)

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Lezama Lima, José (1910–1976)

José Lezama Lima (b. 19 December 1910; d. 9 August 1976), Cuban poet and novelist. Possibly the greatest Cuban novelist and one of the greatest Cuban poets of all time, Lezama Lima was born in Havana. He graduated from the law school of the University of Havana in 1929 and worked as a lawyer until 1941, when he received a post at the cultural office of the Ministry of Education. Aside from his own arduous literary creations, he promoted literature in Cuba by founding and directing four literary publications that were pivotal to the development of Cuban literature: Verbum, while he was a law student; Espuela de Plata, with Guy Pérez Cisneros and Mariano Rodríguez (1939–1941); Nadie Parecía, with Ángel Gaztelu (1942–1944); and Orígenes, with José Rodríguez Feo (1944–1956). This last publication became the center of Cuban literary and artistic life. It published only previously unpublished material and provided a forum for the work of Cuban writers of merit, both known and unknown, including Alejo Carpentier, Virgilio Piñera, Lydia Cabrera, Eliseo Diego, and Eugenio Florit. It also published the graphic work of great Cuban artists, among them Wilfredo Lam and Amelia Peláez, as well as a section of reviews. Aside from attracting the best talent in Cuba, Orígenes also published the work of varied figures of international renown, such as Albert Camus, Gabriela Mistral, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Octavio Paz, Paul Valéry, giving Cuban cultural activity an unprecedented entry into the international scene.

Lezama Lima's official standing after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 was initially good. He was almost enthusiastic about the new regime, and he occupied several key posts in the Cuban cultural establishment: he was one of the vice presidents of the National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC), director of the Department of Literature and Publications of the National Council of Culture, and researcher and consultant at the Institute of Literature and Linguistics at the National Academy of Sciences. Although he never publicly dissented from the government, in his later years he was harassed and marginated because he failed to be actively supportive of official aims and policy.

Lezama Lima's best-known work, the novel Paradiso, was published in Cuba in 1966 to immediate acclaim there and abroad. Yet its distribution in Cuba was extremely limited, and shortly after its publication it mysteriously disappeared from bookstores and became very difficult to obtain. He became an internationally known and revered author, receiving many invitations to cultural events abroad, but the Cuban government repeatedly denied him permission to travel. He lived in Cuba until his death.

Lezama Lima is one of the most complex, baroque authors in the history of the Spanish language. An unabashed proponent of "art for art's sake" in a milieu that favored art as an instrument for social change, he spurned references to reality and sought to create a hermetic and self-referent world through language. His best-known works include Oppiano Licario (1977), the sequel to Paradiso; the essay Las eras imaginarias (1971); and a volume of his poetic work, Poesía completa, published in 1975. His novels and poetry have been translated into many languages.

See alsoCuba: Cuba since 1959; Literature: Spanish America.


Emilio Bejel, José Lezama Lima: Poet of the Image (1990).

Gustavo Pellón, José Lezama Lima's Joyful Vision: A Study of "Paradiso" and Other Prose Works (1989).

Raymond Souza, The Poetic Fiction of José Lezama Lima (1983).

Additional Bibliography

Arcos, Jorge Luis. Los poetas de "Orígenes." Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2002.

Cella, Susana. El saber poético: La poesía de José Lezama Lima. Buenos Aires: Nueva Generación: Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad de Buenos Aires, 2003.

Salgado, César Augusto. From Modernism to Neobaroque: Joyce and Lezama Lima. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press; London: Associated University Presses, 2001.

Varela Jácome, Benito. Asedios a la literatura cubana: Textos y contextos. Santiago de Compostela: Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Servicio de Publicaciones e Intercambio Científico, 2002.

Vilahomat, José R. Ficción de racionalidad: La memoria como operador mítico en las estéticas polares de Jorge Luis Borges y José Lezama Lima. Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta, 2004.

                                 Roberto Valero