Lezama Lima, José (Vol. 10)
Lezama Lima, José 1910–1976
Lezama Lima was a Cuban poet, essayist, and novelist. A disciple of the baroque poet Góngora, Lezama Lima is best known for Paradiso, a complex, experimental novel about a Cuban family. His work is out of favor with the Castro regime for its rejection of revolutionary themes. (See also CLC, Vol. 4; and Contemporary Authors, obituary, Vols. 69-72.)
Claudia Joan Waller
An exotic narration of family history, the theme of adolescent friendship, homosexualism, mythology, and world scriptures, Paradiso embraces what may well be Latin America's greatest literary testimony to universal man's intellectual and spiritual evolution.
Within a complex narrative of Gongoristic imagery, disguised allusions, and vague limits of external reality, the enigmatic significance and symbolic themes of Paradiso represent the work's greatest difficulty. A careful examination of the novel's highly philosophical content, revealing a concentrated focus on religious systems of the orient and the various symbols associated with them, led to my investigation of the eastern philosophies. An analysis of the concluding chapter of Paradiso, the culmination of Lezama's symbolism, revealed that many images logically corresponded to the metaphorical code and emblems of the Atma-Buddhic system. Based on the symbols of this philosophy, it is possible to recreate a symbolic spiritual journey of the protagonist, José Cemi, in his rise from the level of Natural Man to the Archetypal Man or World-soul and higher realms of Wisdom, Truth, and Love of the Atma-Buddhi (designated as "Paradise").
An examination of the rest of the novel affords the possibility of a further application of the Buddhic symbols, particularly with regard to the characters' association with and search for light and clarity, the...
(The entire section is 1558 words.)
[The] real subject of Paradiso is style. The grouping of hautes bourgeoises Cuban families, their illnesses, deaths, petty preoccupations, are pegs on which to hang a series of elaborations. The triad of young sons growing to manhood, José Cemí, Fronesis, Foción, and their discovery of the subterfuges of Eros, achieves some reality, though less in their human dimensions than as a sort of chess problem. Sensuality and intellectual puzzles, character and incident, the real and the imagined whirl away in the rush of a verbal storm that wishes to concentrate on itself. The lack of stylistic demarcation between the various speakers and the narration is an indication that the aim of Paradiso is exaggerated artifice, not verisimilitude. Words are not transparent tools for the creation of the work, but the work itself. This poses the problem of a novel not concerned with its presumed subject, but with sustaining a lyricism of intertwining allegories, none of which is fully decipherable. One remains suspended above the story, viewing it through a prism, a bank of clouds.
With José Lezama Lima's Paradiso the battle will be waged between those who feel that elaboration has deracinated and dispersed the characters, the action, the static, tableau-like story, and those who feel the elaboration and story are here one and the same. But the issues will be obscure to the reader of this translation.
(The entire section is 870 words.)
Gustavo PéRez Firmat
GUSTAVO PÉREZ FIRMAT
[While] there exist significant parallels between elements in [Paradiso] and certain symbols of Eastern philosophy, the preponderant correlative is the Divina Commedia, after which Lezama has patterned not only the structure of the novel but also the climactic last scene….
[Cemí's] attainment of paradise entails a concomitant affirmation of his homosexuality; within the novel's symbolic corpus, this affirmation constitutes a descent to the Underworld. Unlike Dante the Pilgrim, Cemí simultaneously ascends and descends, entering Paradiso as he enters Inferno. His enigmatic polar movement can be understood as the ritual component of a process of androgynization….
[Like] Dante in the Divina Commedia, [Cemí] is continuously a wayfarer, un caminante…. As in the Divina Commedia, the act of walking (Dante opens his poem with the line "Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita") becomes a metaphor for the spiritual journey of the soul. In the course of the journey, Cemí, like Dante, will undergo revelatory experiences which will result in a final epiphany. Like Dante, he will not be alone, but accompanied and guided by two mentors: Rialta, his mother, the "centro, justificación y fertilidad" of his existence …, and Oppiano Licario, the sapient and mysterious man … he meets in a bus.
While a comparison of Rialta and Beatrice...
(The entire section is 2088 words.)
Robert Martin Adams
[The] polyphlusboious richness of Paradiso is to be sensed on every page; it may be chiefly a verbal phenomenon, but that's far from implying a sense of impoverishment. Like Joyce, Lezama has a gift for mingling the obscene with the erudite, for phantasmagorizing gobbets of realistic detail, for deep-plowing the subconscious. The various miscellaneous ingredients of the fiction are never held under such strict control that one can't envision them exploding or spiraling off into separate nebulae. From the beginning, it's an anxious, a high-tension performance; and after the disappearance from the book of Fronesis and Foción (abrupt and inconclusive, hardly mitigated at all), the orbits widen still further, the narrative chunks whirl through vaster and more evident distances of empty space. Characters become detached from their surroundings, their names, the laws of nature, even from a consistent set of pronominal references (he and we are particularly apt to get interchanged), and the prose becomes even more remotely metaphorical, more fragmented syntactically, than before…. Actually, the final pages come close to being disembodied writing—image generating image, as in a poem by Yeats, without explicit reference to a hypothetical speaker or even an ostensible subject.
In this liberation of language to its own inner energies, Lezama surely represents the fulfillment of a major Joycean potential, one that we're...
(The entire section is 336 words.)