Essays and Criticism
Octavio Paz's Concept of Love
In ‘‘My Life with the Wave,’’ Octavio Paz describes a brief and turbulent but, at the same time, sensual and erotic love affair. The male participant of the love affair appears to enter into it with great reluctance and to leave it with a sigh of relief. These are not the kind of ingredients that many people want to read about in relationship to the workings of a love affair; but these are the ingredients that Paz wants to describe. Paz may be very erotic in his writing about these two lovers, but he is no romantic. His concepts of love can be as harsh as the ‘‘repulsive and ferocious’’ fish (with their ‘‘jagged and bloodthirsty mouths’’) that the narrator of ‘‘My Life with the Wave’’ brings to his lover to keep her company. But no matter how deeply the narrator falls into the ecstasy of erotic lovemaking, Paz does not allow him to forget that love is a two-faced entity. As the narrator states in The Double Flame, ‘‘love is twofold: it is the supreme happiness and the supreme misfortune.’’ And ‘‘My Life with the Wave’’ is a metaphor for both of love’s faces.
In the first paragraph of his story, Paz’s narrator describes his initial introduction to his wave with words like: shame, furious, paralyzed, impossible, gravely, harshness, and irony. So even at the preliminary hint of what kind of story this is, Paz declares that it definitely is not going to be a story about a normal love affair. But then, how could a love affair with a wave be normal? However, even as a metaphor, Paz indicates immediately that his concepts of love are in no way seen with a quixotic, or unrealistic, vision. For in his The Double Flame, Paz says that love is time, and as time, love is ‘‘doomed to die or be transformed into another feeling.’’ Love, as Paz would tell it, sounds like trouble. As the story proceeds, readers become aware that this narrator is well aware of Paz’s wisdom, for no later than the second paragraph, the narrator confesses that as soon as the second day of his friendship with the wave, his troubles had already begun.
The narrator, from the very beginning, tries to rid himself of the wave. He does not want to become involved. Maybe he’s experienced this before, and doesn’t want to again. Or maybe the freakish nature of this mysterious thing frightens him; maybe he doesn’t even like this wave that forces him to do things like break rules that have not even been written, as when he tries to take her on the train. It is on the train that he realizes that there are no rules written about taking a wave on a train. This alone proves the ill-fated nature of the affair, or as the narrator puts it, this proves ‘‘the severity with which our act would be judged.’’ And the narrator’s fears are justified, as he soon finds out. Society is suspicious about things that deviate from the normal— and most people would agree that having a wave as a friend is a bit bizarre. So the narrator does his time in jail for having tried to poison innocent children with thoughts that run counter to their innocence. Or more specifically, he goes to jail for poisoning the water. After all, a drinking water fountain should produce a drinkable liquid, not one tainted with salt. Who wants to drink water that tastes like tears?
The narrator goes to jail for befriending a wave. And when his jail sentence comes to an end, he returns to his home and discovers a strange thing: the exotic, as well as erotic pleasures of his new friend, the wave. After having spent a year in jail, the narrator’s wave is looking a lot different to him, now. Maybe she is not as frightening as he once thought. As a matter of fact, the narrator makes the bold statement that ‘‘her presence changed my life.’’ He has, it is easily noted, completed a most dramatic transformation.
‘‘Lovers pass constantly from rapture to despair, from sadness to joy, from wrath to tenderness, from desperation to sensuality,’’ writes Paz in The Double Flame, as the ‘‘lover is perpetually driven by contradictory emotions.’’ And so from fear of breaking unwritten laws, from shame and harshness, the narrator moves to a place that is filled with ‘‘air, with sun, with green and blue reflection.’’ Everything in his life is filled with the colors and sensuality of the wave, the ocean. ‘‘Everything began to laugh.’’ The narrator has committed himself to playing the game of love. He has shed his grave thoughts and has found himself on the upswing of the wave, the upswing of emotions as he and the wave kiss and caress, as he ‘‘plunges into her waters.’’
It is not only the narrator who has gone through a transformation, for the reader is told that the wave, too, has changed. She is now ‘‘humble and transparent . . . calm water . . . so clear I could read all of her thoughts.’’ Paz then shows glimpses of the erotic as the lovers lose themselves in the rapture of lovemaking with the swells and the falls of the tides. They have enclosed themselves in a world that allows only the two of them to enter. This is the time that Paz describes as the point where lovers lose themselves as persons and recover themselves as sensations. ‘‘As the sensation becomes more intense,’’ he writes in The Double Flame, the lovers reach ‘‘a sensation of infinity,’’ which he likens to ‘‘a fall into an ocean’’ that enfolds the lovers ‘‘in primordial waters.’’
But Paz knows this will not last. He does not allow his story to progress very much beyond the description of the first orgasm, before his narrator declares that...
(The entire section is 2307 words.)