José Lezama Lima Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

José Lezama Lima (lay-ZAH-mah LEE-mah) is generally considered one of the most influential Cuban poets, novelists, and essayists of the twentieth century. He was born to a well-to-do military family, where old patrician and immigrant traditions blended into a true creole spirit. His father was a colonel in the Cuban army, and the family moved frequently with him. During the time they lived in the old damp fortress of Havana, Lezama Lima developed asthma, a condition from which he suffered for the rest of his life and which marked the rhythm of his poetry and prose. During World War I Lezama Lima’s father volunteered for war service on the Allied side, but he died in training in the United States during the influenza epidemic when Lezama Lima was only eight years old. Until her death in 1964, Lezama Lima’s mother was the biggest influence on his life. It was she who urged her son, when he was already a successful young poet, to take up the family history in a novel. The suggestion eventually led to the novel Paradiso, on which Lezama Lima worked for almost twenty years. His mother’s death threw him into a deep depression, which he overcame by completing the novel.

As a student of law, Lezama Lima participated in the protest against the dictatorship of General Machado that led to the university’s being shut down for years. Lezama Lima spent that time reading, accumulating the often quite arcane erudition that underlies his poetry. In his personal response to the crises of literary modernism, his poetic work followed the transformation of Symbolism into “pure poetry.” The encounter with the Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez after his arrival in Cuba in 1936 from war-torn Spain was of lasting influence on Lezama Lima. He became interested in the mystical line of “pure poetry” and pushed it in the direction both of hermetic, heterodox philosophy and of orthodox Catholic theology. When his exuberant baroque images overflowed the marked intellectualism and exquisiteness of postsymbolist poetry, he developed in his Muerte de Narciso (death of Narcissus) the drama of the Fall of man that can only be overcome by artistic creation....

(The entire section is 885 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bejel, Emilio. Lezama Lima: Poet of the Image. Gainesville: University of Florida, 1990. Focuses on criticism and interpretation of Lezama Lima’s works. Includes bibliography and index.

Heller, Ben A. Assimilation/Generation/Resurrection: Contrapuntal Readings in the Poetry of José Lezama Lima. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1997. A specialized and scholarly study of Lezama Lima’s poetry. Bibliography and index.

Levinson, Brett. Secondary Moderns: Mimesis, History, and Revolution in Lezama Lima’s “American Expression.” Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1996. Examines Lezama Lima’s notion of “American express” in detail. Bibliography and index.

Pellón, Gustavo. José Lezama Lima’s Joyful Vision: A Study of “Paradiso” and Other Prose Works. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989. A study of Lezama Lima’s prose works and Paradiso in particular. Index.

Salgado, César Augusto. From Modernism to Neobaroque: Joyce and Lezama Lima. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 2001. A comprative study that provides criticism and interpretation. It also addresses the influence of these two authors on literary history. Bibliography and index.

Souza, Raymond D. The Poetic Fiction of José Lezama Lima. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1983. Lezama Lima’s writing is analyzed. Bibliography and index.

Ulloa, J. C. “José Lezama Lima.” In Modern Latin-American Fiction Writers, First Series, edited by William Luis. Vol. 113 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Group, 1992. A good basic introduction to Lezama Lima’s life and work.