Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The principal theme of Paradiso is the power of poetic language to transform life. For Cemí, the quest for poetic images is also the road to spiritual salvation. For him, as for Lezama, the poetic image is a vehicle to reach truth and in particular divine truth. Although extremely unorthodox in his views, Lezama always maintained his adherence to Catholicism. Paradiso (and all of Lezama’s work) must be understood in the context of the author’s mystical concept of artistic creation. The artist must always attempt the impossible, for it is only by working at the limits of his capacity that he can hope to catch a glimmer of truth. The writing of poetry is therefore dependent on mystic revelations that often occur unannounced and that make use of the prosaic material of everyday life. Paradiso is a stylized autobiography in which Lezama utilizes the structures of the family novel and the Bildungsroman in order to expound his system of poetic mysticism.

Lezama’s concept of illumination through difficult poetic images owes much to the practice of Zen Buddhism, in which, under the guidance of a Roshi (Zen master), the disciple meditates on paradoxes (kfan) that lead to flashes of insight. Similarly, the stages that Cemí must pass before he reaches the state of mind where artistic creation is possible recall the purification that a Buddhist must undergo through successive lifetimes before he can reach Nirvana....

(The entire section is 453 words.)