Octavio Paz Essay - Paz, Octavio (Vol. 119)

Paz, Octavio (Vol. 119)

Introduction

Octavio Paz 1914–1998

Mexican poet, essayist, critic, nonfiction writer, editor, and translator.

The following entry provides an overview of Paz's career through 1998. See also, Octavio Paz Criticism and volumes 4, 6, 10 and 19.

An internationally acclaimed poet and essayist, Paz became the first Mexican to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Recognized by the Swedish Academy in 1990 "for impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity," Paz sought to reconcile contradictory and divergent forces of modern life, wrestling throughout his literary career with such antithetical constructs as art and nature, mind and body, and linear and cyclical time. Above all, Paz stressed that both communal harmony and psychic wholeness can be achieved through language and love. His writings reflect his knowledge of Mexican history, myth, and landscapes as well as his interest in surrealism, existentialism, oriental mysticism, and leftist politics. In his poems Paz experimented with prosodic form and aimed for lucid, direct expression and syntactic vigor, and in his essays he combined epigrammatic wit and a lyrical prose style with thoughtful insights on art, literature, language, culture, and political ideologies. An adept translator fluent in several languages, Paz also founded and edited many literary periodicals that introduced Latin American readers to writers and movements from around the world. Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes once described Paz as the "greatest living Mexican writer, great renovator of the Spanish language, great universal poet and essayist."

The son of a diplomat who had represented Mexican revolutionaries during the 1910s, Paz wrote poetry as a teenager and founded an avant-garde literary review while studying at the National Autonomous University in Mexico City. His first poetry collection, Luna silvestre, appeared in 1933. In 1937, he went to Spain to support the antifascists during the Spanish civil war, and he briefly visited France, where he met several proponents of surrealism and existentialism. Upon returning to Mexico in 1938, Paz founded and edited two literary journals and wrote newspaper columns on international affairs. At the onset of World War II he entered the Mexican Foreign Service which sent him to posts on both coasts of the United States, where he acquainted himself with the formal techniques of modernist poets. In 1945, Paz began a twenty-three-year career with the Mexican diplomatic corps, as was customary among intellectuals. While abroad, he filled his spare time by writing essays and poetry, notably his most famous prose work, El laberinto de la soledad (1950; The Labyrinth of Solitude), which contains an influential series of critical essays addressing unique sociocultural forces that shaped the modern Mexican national identity, and Piedra de sol (1957; Sun Stone), which comprises 584 eleven-syllable lines of poetry patterned on the format of the Aztec calendar and is generally considered his finest achievement in verse. Initially assigned to the embassy in Paris, Paz served in Tokyo during the early 1950s and then in New Delhi from 1959 until 1962, when he became the ambassador to India. In Asia, he availed himself of Eastern literature and art as well as Taosit and Buddhist philosophies—acquiring themes he later explored in such poetry collections as Salamandra (1962), Blanco (1967), and Ladera este (1969). In 1968, Paz resigned his Indian ambassadorship in protest against the massacre of student demonstrators in Mexico City by government troops, detailing his reasons and the communication breakdown between officials and students in Posdata (1970; The Other Mexico). Afterwards, Paz held a number of visiting professorships in the United States and England until 1972. By then he was editing the literary journal Plural in Mexico City, and in 1976 he founded what has since become one of Latin America's leading literary periodicals, Vuelta. Although Paz continued to publish poetry until the year before his death, most critics have agreed that his best verse antecedes Configurations (1971), an omnibus of Paz's most significant poetry. "He is one of the greatest poets that the Spanish-language world has produced," remarked Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. However, most commentators have recognized that Paz's prose writings attracted a larger audience. His numerous essay collections of the last quarter century address such diverse matters as linguistics (El mono gramático [1974; The Monkey Grammarian]), literary theory (Los hijos del limo [1974; Children of the Mire], literary history (Sor Juana [1982]), political history (Tiempo nublado [1984; On Earth, Four or Five Worlds], art (Essays on Mexican Art [1993]), the nature of human love (The Double Flame [1995]), and the relationship between eroticism and literature (An Erotic Beyond: Sade [1998]). Roberto González Echevarría has observed: "As an essayist Paz has taken the role [turn-of-the-century Spanish philosopher] José Ortega y Gasset played earlier; he has been a translator in the broadest and profoundest sense. He has made the leading artistic and ideological trends in the world intelligible and relevant to Hispanic culture. And he has fashioned a Spanish capable of speaking the discourse of modernity; even when those of us who write in Spanish disagree with Paz, we must do so in the language he has given us." According to Fuentes, Paz "forever changed the face of Mexican literature."

Principal Works

Luna silvestre (poetry) 1933
Raíz del hombre (poetry) 1937
Entre la piedra y la flor (poetry) 1938
El laberinto de la soledad [The Labyrinth of Solitude] (essays) 1950
¿Aguila o sol? [Eagle or Sun?] (poetry) 1951
El arco y la lira: El poema; La revelción poética; Poesía, e historia [The Bow and the Lyre: The Poem, the Poetic Revelation, Poetry and History] (essays) 1956
Piedra de sol [Sun Stone] (poetry) 1957
Salamandra, 1958–1961 (poetry) 1962
Selected Poems of Octavio Paz (poetry) 1963
Blanco (poetry) 1967
Corriente alterna [Alternating Current] (essays) 1967
La centana: Poemas, 1935–1968 (poetry) 1969
Conjunciones y disyunciones [Conjunctions and Disjunctions] (essays) 1969
Ladera este, 1962–1968 (poetry) 1969
Posdata [The Other Mexico: Critique of the Pyramid] (essays) 1970
Configurations (poetry) 1971
Early Poems, 1935–1955 (poetry) 1973
Los hijos del limo: Del romanticismo a la vanguardia [Children of the Mire: Modern Poetry from Romanticism to the Avant-Garde] (essays) 1974
El mono gramático [The Monkey Grammarian] (essays) 1974
Pasado en claro [A Draft of Shadows] (poetry) 1975
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz; o, Las trampas de la fe [Sor Juana; or, The Traps of Faith] (essays) 1982
Selected Poems (poetry) 1984
Tiempo nublado [On Earth, Four or Five Worlds: Reflections on Contemporary History] (essays) 1984
On Poets and Others (essays) 1986
Arbol adentro [A Tree Within] (poetry) 1987
Convergences: Essays on Art and Literature (essays) 1987
The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz, 1957–1987 (poetry) 1988
Al paso (essays) 1992
Essays on Mexican Art (essays) 1993
La llama doble [The Double Flame] (essays) 1994
Vislumbres de la India [In Light of India] (essays) 1996
A Tale of Two Gardens (poetry) 1997
An Erotic Beyond: Sade (essays) 1998

∗This bilingual collection contains Piedra del sol, Blanco, and selections from Salamandra and Ladera este.

Obituaries

Los Angeles Times (obituary date 20 April 1998)

SOURCE: "Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz Dies at 84," in Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1998, p. A18.

[In the following obituary, the commentator reviews the highlights of Paz's life and career.]

Octavio Paz, one of Mexico's greatest poets and writers and a Nobel prize winner, died Sunday, the official news agency Notimex said early today. He was 84. Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo announced Paz's death early today as Zedillo was returning from the Summit of the Americas in Chile, Mexican news media reported. The president did not give a cause of death or say when the author died.

A prolific writer whose literary career began at 17, Paz's distinctive surrealistic verse had broad appeal and was well-received by critics internationally. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1990.

Like most Mexican writers, Paz was preoccupied with his country's many paradoxes and contradictions, the contrasts between its ancient Indian past and a more recent Spanish heritage. That combination has given rise to a culture often baffling even to Mexicans.

Even Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes—a rival who was one of Paz's sharpest critics—conceded that Paz has "forever changed the face of Mexican literature."

Paz still is best known for two of his earlier works: the book-length essay The Labyrinth of Solitude and the poem Sun Stone.

Born in Mexico City on March 31, 1914, Paz attended the National University of Mexico before going abroad to pursue a career as a diplomat. He wrote poetry and essays in his spare time.

In 1968, however, Paz resigned as ambassador following the Oct. 2 "Tlatelolco massacre," when the Mexican army fired at youths protesting against a wide range of issues including government repression of student activists.

Paz's views angered both the Mexican left and right. His independence generated controversy throughout much of his career, especially by critics who perceived him as having broken with leftist ideas by criticizing Latin America's left-leaning governments.

Paz began writing for literary magazines when he was a teenager. The son of a lawyer who was a Zapatista—one of Mexico's most radical, peasant-based political factions—he was an active supporter of the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, helping many migrate to Mexico when Franco's Fascists triumphed.

After his return to Mexico in 1938, Paz was one of the founders of the journal Taller (Workshop).

"As one of its contributors, he exerted strong influence on contemporary literature," the Swedish Academy said after awarding him the Nobel Prize. "This he has retained with great open-mindedness, through other journals he has founded and edited."

Paz's 1950 book The Labyrinth of Solitude, a classic analysis of the Mexican psyche, is considered his masterpiece. Paz describes a visit to Los Angeles:

When I arrived in the United States, I lived for a while in Los Angeles, a city inhabited by over a million persons of Mexican origin. At first sight, the visitor is surprised not only by the purity of the sky and the ugliness of the dispersed and ostentatious buildings, but also by the city's vaguely Mexican atmosphere, which cannot be captured in words or concepts. This Mexicanism—delight in decoration, carelessness and pomp, negligence, passion and reserve—floats in the air. I say 'floats' because it never mixes or unites with the other world, the North American world based on precision and efficiency. It floats, without offering any opposition; it hovers, blown here and there by the wind, sometimes breaking up like a cloud, sometimes standing erect like a rising skyrocket. It creeps, it wrinkles, expands and contracts; it sleeps or dreams; it is ragged or beautiful. It floats, never quite existing, never quite vanishing.

Bart Barnes (obituary date 21 April 1998)

SOURCE: "Mexican Poet, Essayist Octavio Paz Dies at 84; Won Nobel Prize," in Washington Post, April 21, 1998, p. B6.

[In the following obituary, Barnes describes the literary and cultural significance of Paz's writings as well as the milestones of his life.]

Octavio Paz, 84, the Mexican writer and Nobel laureate whose haunting metaphors and graphic images evoked echoes of Aztecs and conquistadors while simultaneously charting the folkways and mindsets of modern mestizos and criollos, died of cancer April 19 at his home in the Mexico City neighborhood of Coyoacan.

Mr. Paz, a poet, essayist, thinker, social critic, political commentator, translator and man of letters, was among the preeminent literary figures of the 20th century, and he helped define the Mexican culture and identity to the world community. Novelist Carlos Fuentes, his countryman, once called him the "greatest living Mexican writer, great renovator of the Spanish language, great universal poet and essayist."

In 1990, the Swedish Academy of Letters awarded him a Nobel Prize for literature, citing him for his "impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity."

Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo announced the death early April 20 as he was returning from the Summit of the Americas in Chile.

"This is an irreplaceable loss for contemporary thought and culture—not just for Latin America but for the entire world," Zedillo was quoted as saying by the government news agency Notimex.

Thousands of Mexicans, many carrying copies of Paz's books, filed solemnly past his body as it lay in state for three hours in the ornate, art deco lobby of the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Fines Arts Palace)—one of Mexico City's most celebrated buildings.

The mourners included numerous cabinet secretaries and dozens of Mexico's top intellectuals, writers and politicians, many of whom placed flowers alongside the closed, wooden coffin, which was draped with a Mexican flag and flanked by dozens of flower arrangements and candles. Zedillo accompanied Mr. Paz's widow past the coffin.

Mr. Paz was best known for his classic study of the Mexican soul and psyche, The Labyrinth of Solitude, a book-length essay that was published in 1950, and the 1957 poem Sunstone, a lyrical metaphor based on the circular Aztec calendar and written in 584 11-syllabic lines. Like much of Mr. Paz's poetry, it embraced such themes as myth and mysticism, time and memory, love and art.

A teacher and diplomat, Mr. Paz served 24 years in the Mexican foreign service, resigning in 1968 from his post as ambassador to India in protest against his government's suppression and killing of student demonstrators at the National University of Mexico.

He spoke several languages, including English and Hindi, and he had taught at the University of Texas and at Harvard and Cambridge universities. He founded several literary and political journals, most recently Vuelta, which first appeared in 1976. It was intended to introduce the thoughts and writings of European intellectuals to their counterparts in Latin America.

In an interview with the Washington Post on learning of his Nobel award, Mr. Paz said, "As a poet, my only job was to write the best I could…. But also being a modern writer in the society we live in, a writer is not only a fashioner of fiction but a critic of society. I want to be, after the Nobel Prize, a poet and a critic."

As a writer and intellectual, Mr. Paz was the unchallenged patriarch in his homeland, and he had a unique celebrity status in his native Mexico City, where strangers routinely hailed him on the streets. An audience of millions followed his cultural and political commentary in newspapers and magazines and on television. In its Nobel citation, the Swedish Academy called him a "lodestar in the tide of opinion."

At age 17, Mr. Paz began his writing career in Mexico City in the first of the literary reviews he founded. His father was a lawyer and Zapatista—a member of one of Mexico's most radical, peasant-supported political factions—who shared his political convictions with his son, the young Octavio Paz.

Like his father, Mr. Paz studied law at the National University of Mexico, but he left without taking a degree and subsequently traveled to Europe, where he spent a year in Spain, supporting the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. When the forces allied with Gen. Francisco Franco triumphed, he helped many Republican supporters migrate to Mexico.

In 1938, he returned to Mexico, where he worked on the editorial board of a union newspaper, founded another literary magazine and participated in political and literary endeavors with Spanish Republican exiles who fled Spain after Franco's victory.

In 1941 he published a book of poetry, Between Stone and Flower, and in 1944 came to the United States on a Guggenheim Fellowship for his first extended visit. In this period, he read and studied such poets as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens and e. e. cummings.

In 1945 he joined the Mexican diplomatic service and was posted to Paris, where he met such literary figures as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. He would later serve as a Mexican diplomat in Switzerland, the United States and Japan.

It was during his years in Paris that Mr. Paz wrote The Labyrinth of Solitude, which since its 1950 publication has become required reading in academic courses on Mexican history and political science.

The Mexican, he wrote, "seems to me to be a person who shuts himself away to protect himself: His face is a mask and so is his smile. In his harsh solitude, which is both barbed and courteous, everything serves him as a defense: silence and words, politeness and disdain, irony and resignation…. The feeling and knowledge that one is alone, alienated from the world and from oneself … is not exclusively a Mexican characteristic. All men, at some moment of their lives, feel themselves to be alone."

Mr. Paz's 1957 poem, Sunstone, was described in the Nobel Prize citation as a work that "seems to incorporate, interpret and reconstruct major existential questions … death, time, love and reality."

In 1981 he won the Spanish-speaking world's most prestigious literary award, the Cervantes Prize, and in 1982 was awarded the American Neustadt Prize. Also in 1982, he wrote Traps of Faith, a depiction of Juana Ines de la Cruz, a 17th century lady-in-waiting who later became a nun. This work was praised by the Nobel Committee as an example of literary history and the history of ideas.

Over the years, poetry and essays of Mr. Paz were published in various anthologies in the United States, the most recent of which was Collected Poems of Octavio Paz, in 1987. He was among the first to adapt Spanish poetry to Japanese forms, such as the haiku. In his later years, he had become increasingly interested in erotica. In 1993, he wrote a book, The Double Flame, that explored the relationship among sex, eroticism and love in thinkers and writers throughout history.

Survivors include his wife, Marie-Jose Tramini, a Frenchwoman whom he met and married in India in 1964, and a daughter, novelist Helena Paz, whom he had with first wife, Elena Garro.

Jonathan Kandell (obituary date 21 April 1998)

SOURCE: "Octavio Paz, Mexico's Literary Giant, Dead at 84," in New York Times, April 21, 1998.

[In the following obituary, Kandell concentrates on diverse literary and cultural influences that shaped Paz's writings, detailing various controversies prompted by his views.]

Octavio Paz, Mexico's premier poet and essayist and one of the towering men of letters in the second half of this century, died on Sunday at a temporary residence in Mexico City. He was 84.

Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo announced the death on Monday as he was returning from the Summit of the Americas in Chile. "This is an irreplaceable loss for contemporary thought and culture—not just for Latin America but for the entire world," Zedillo was quoted as saying by the government news agency Notimex.

Zedillo did not give a cause of death or say when Paz died. Last year, Paz said that he was suffering from a disease that was "long and wretched," but did not elaborate.

Paz's writings ranged far beyond his native land in their subject matter and reflected the cultural influences of his many years abroad. His output was prolific—more than 40 volumes of poetry and essays, many translated into dozens of languages.

In awarding him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990, the Swedish Academy of Letters hailed Paz for "impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity." The academy also quoted one of Paz's poems as his literary credo:

     Between what I see and what I say
     Between what I say and what I keep silent
     Between what I keep silent and what I dream
     Between what I dream and what I forget:
     Poetry.

"He is one of the greatest poets that the Spanish-language world has produced," said the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, himself a perennial Nobel candidate. Helen Vendler, professor of English at Harvard, said Paz's "ecstatic and fluid Spanish gave Hispanic poetry a new and transfigured dimension."

Yet Paz was probably even more widely read as an essayist. The Labyrinth of Solitude, his classic 1950 exploration of the formative influences on Mexican character, became a rite of passage into the world of intellect for his compatriots and required reading for anybody interested in Mexico.

The author and scholar Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, observed: "As an essayist Paz has taken the role Jose Ortega y Gasset played earlier; he has been a translator in the broadest and profoundest sense. He has made the leading artistic and ideological trends in the world intelligible and relevant to Hispanic culture. And he has fashioned a Spanish capable of speaking the discourse of modernity; even when those of us who write in Spanish disagree with Paz, we must do so in the language he has given us."

In Latin America, artists, writers and intellectuals are often called on to act as political arbiters, lending legitimacy to governments or credibility to their opponents. Paz willingly entered the fray. A short, handsome man with piercing eyes and a thick mane of hair, he gained renown and disapproval for his centrist, sometimes conservative political views, which often sailed against the left-wing tide of his fellow Latin American intellectuals.

Octavio Paz was born in Mexico City on March 31, 1914, the son of a lawyer whose ancestors were partly Indian and a mother whose parents had emigrated from Spain. His paternal grandfather was a journalist and novelist who fought with the patriot Benito Juarez against the French occupation of Mexico in the 1860s. His...

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Criticism

George R. McMurray (review date Spring 1993)

SOURCE: A review of Al paso, in World Literature Today, Vol. 67, No. 2, Spring, 1993, p. 340.

[In the following review, McMurray surveys the content of Al paso, noting its thematic range and style.]

In his prologue Octavio Paz refers to Al paso as periodismo literario, which aptly describes this collection of short articles, written over the past ten years, on a wide variety of topics. The book is divided into four parts. "Letras" contains commentaries on both Mexican and foreign writers, most of whom are well known. "Teatro de miradas" is devoted to painting and architecture. The third section, "Al paso," presents a wider range of subjects,...

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Hayden Herrera (review date 30 May 1993)

SOURCE: "Surrounding Art with Language," in New York Times Book Review, May 30, 1993.

[In the following review, Herrera outlines the substance and style of Essays on Mexican Art, focusing on the poetic instinct that seems to inform Paz's aesthetic taste.]

Though arranged chronologically, Octavio Paz's collection of essays on Mexican art from the pre-Columbian period to the mid-20th century does not, as the author acknowledges, constitute a history of art. [Essays on Mexican Art] moves like a traveler's journal, sweeping over a vast cultural terrain, circling, stopping here and there for a closer look, retracing its steps, then setting off again in some...

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Richard H. Lawson (review date 1993)

SOURCE: "Recent Books on (or by) Nobel Laureates," in Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, Vol. 47, Nos. 1-2, 1993, pp. 121-27.

[In the following excerpt, Lawson detects revisionist tendencies in the thesis of Sor Juana or, The Traps of Faith.]

Octavio Paz, the Nobel laureate of 1990, declares that he chose "The Traps of Faith" as the subtitle to his extensive reinterpretation of the life and work of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz [Sor Juana or, The Traps of Faith] because of the similarity between her ultimate abjuration of her work as artist and intellectual and the abjurations of twentieth-century writers and ideologues who turned into their...

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Ilan Stavans (review date 23 July 1995)

SOURCE: "What Makes the World Go Round," in Washington Post Book World, Vol. 25, July 23, 1995, p. 11.

[Stavans is a novelist and critic. In the following review, he examines Paz's treatment of love in The Double Flame, admiring its thematic breadth and depth.)

At 81, Octavio Paz is incredibly active. He delivers speeches around the globe, edits a monthly literary magazine, and manages to publish a book every eight months or so. He keeps up with technological and scientific developments and regularly comments on current events from the war in Bosnia to the peasant uprising in Chiapas. Happily, this stamina and youthful spirit also permeate his work. The central...

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Rafael H. Mojica (review date Winter 1995)

SOURCE: A review of Nostalgia for Death and Hieroglyphs of Desire: A Critical Study of Villaurrutia, in World Literature Today, Vol. 69, No. 1, Winter, 1995, p. 111.

[In the following review, Mojica addresses the significance of Paz's association with the poet Xavier Villaurrutia, whose works, particularly Nostalgia for Death, prompted notable exegeses by Paz.]

Nostalgia de la muerte (1946) is the masterpiece of Xavier Villaurrutia (1903–50), a major figure in Mexico's modern literature. That such a remarkable moment in the history of Mexican poetry would find its way into an English translation is due in no small measure to Villaurrutia's...

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Amanda Hopkinson (review date 26 July 1996)

SOURCE: "The Earth Moves," in New Statesman, July 26, 1996, p. 48.

[In the following review, Hopkinson traces the thematic origins of The Double Flame.]

It is tempting, hut incorrectly dismissive, to bunch this book [The Double Flame] with Carlos Fuentes' recent Diana. Both authors could be categorised as post-menopausal Mexican machos, attempting to make sense of all that youthful fervour and intensity. That one book is written as a novel and the other as essays detracts neither from the literary nor the emotional roots of each. Paz (who bears Fuentes' homage to "the greatest living Mexican writer" on his cover) queries in his preface when a book "begin[s] to...

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Raleigh Trevelyan (review date 30 March 1997)

SOURCE: "One Nation Under Many Gods," in New York Times Book Review, March 30, 1997, p. 25.

[Trevelyan is writer of history and travel guides. In the following review, he surveys the historical and cultural contexts of Indian civilization that inform the essays of In Light of India and the poems of A Tale of Two Gardens.]

Octavio Paz modestly describes In Light of India—and indeed all his prose work on India—as a footnote to his poetry. Several beautiful and evocative poems included in A Tale of Two Gardens are from his East Slope, already well known to his admirers. For six years (1962–68) Mr. Paz, now in his 80's, was the Mexican...

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John Kenneth Galbraith (review date 20 April 1997)

SOURCE: "Envoy of Mexico and the Muse," in Washington Post Book World, Vol. 27, April 20, 1997, p. 3.

[Galhraith is an author and professor of economics emeritus at Harvard University. In the following review, Galbraith reveals the thematic arrangement of In Light of India.]

Some 30-odd years ago, while serving as ambassador in India, I discovered that if I did no work my staff could do as well or better, I could finish everything in not over three hours a day, the occasional crisis excepted. The rest of the time I would be reduced to reading State Department telegrams on matters I already knew, didn't quite believe or that said nothing in particular. So with a...

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Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 April 1998)

SOURCE: A review of An Erotic Beyond: Sade, in Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1998, p. 478.

[In the following review, the critic summarizes the contents of An Erotic Beyond: Sade, noting the "uncommon intelligence and intellectual maturity" of Paz's approach to Sade.]

[In An Erotic Beyond: Sade] Mexico's Nobel Prize-winning poet and essayist meditates on the Marquis de Sade and his writings.

Paz (Sor Juana, 1988; The Light of India, 1997; etc.) discovered Sade when he went to Paris in 1946. Simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by the eponymous father of sadism, the poet found in him a figure crucial for the modern world....

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Laura Jamison (review date 19 April 1998)

SOURCE: A review of An Erotic Beyond: Sade, in New York Times, April 19, 1998.

[In the following review, Jamison comments on the changes in Paz's responses to Sade's literary legacy in An Erotic Beyond.]

The works of the Marquis de Sade arouse strong passions—readers tend to find his ideas either exhilarating or repugnant, and rarely anything in between. In this thin, dense volume [An Erotic Beyond: Sade], the Mexican poet and essayist Octavio Paz offers a glimpse at the way his own responses to Sade have evolved over the course of his lifetime. Upon first discovering Sade as a young man, Paz wrote an "enthusiastic poem." but by the time he wrote the...

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Edward Hirsch (essay date 7 June 1998)

SOURCE: "Octavio Paz: In Defense of Poetry," in New York Times, June 7, 1998.

[Hirsch is a poet. In the following essay, he contemplates characteristics of Paz's poetry.]

Octavio Paz practiced poetry like a secret religion. He dwelt in its mysteries, he invoked its sacraments, he read its entrails, he inscribed its revelations. Writing was for him a primordial act, and he stared down at the blank page like an abyss until it sent him reeling over the brink of language. The poems he brought back are filled with ancient wonder and strangeness, hermetic wisdom, a dizzying sense of the sacred. They are magically uprooted from silence. Here is his eerie little poem...

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