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Lezama Lima, José 1910–1976

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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

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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 Buddhic essential for all knowledge. If one accepts the Buddhic idea, this theme of light provides a major element of thematic unity in the novel and logically prefaces the spiritual resurrection of the protagonist to the state of higher consciousness or Paradise.

Paradiso's apparent symbolic portrayal of man's inner nature incorporates an emblematic language based on a universal code underlining the multiple systems of world scriptures. (pp. 275-76)

In Paradiso four metaphorical concepts emerge from the overall structure of the illumination motif, establishing thematic prefigurations of the protagonist's spiritual resurrection to the higher Self of the Atma-Buddhic planes: (1) an attempt to attain the most difficult, (2) the search for the hidden and secret, (3) the idea of completeness and unity, and (4) the concepts of a higher consciousness: happiness, Truth and Wisdom. (pp. 276-77)

Factors of symbolic illumination, represented most frequently by elements of "estrellas," "claridad," "luz," and "iluminación," are made manifest in an occult descent through three major character divisions: (1) the Cemí and Olaya families, (2) Ricardo Fronesis and Eugenio Foción, who form a triad of adolescent friendship with the protagonist, and (3) Oppiano Licario, José Cemí's mysterious spiritual guide and protector, charged to him by the Coronel.

Doña Mela, Cemí's great-grandmother, initiates a possible association of the illumination motif with the Buddhic function in a cosmic dream, the significance of which emerges from a series of symbolic elements…. (p. 277)

Within the Atma-Buddhic system stars are metaphorical representations of the Divine Sparks or Monads of Life (the planes of atma-buddhi-manas or Archetypal Man) which descend to the Monads of Form (the planes of manas-kama-sthula or Natural Man) to be linked with them, thus preparing to manifest their forms and qualities in the souls of humanity…. In Doña Mela's dream, the "estrella," an illuminating element of happiness ("para alegrar") and possible buddhic symbol of the ideal qualities, descends from the higher planes to the realm of Natural Man. The image of the star as a "balón plateado" restates its symbolization of the buddhic cosmos ("balón" [sphere] = cosmos; "plateado" = buddhic …). The emblematic significance of the dream (if one accepts the application of the buddhic theory) emerges as one of the novel's striking displays of the buddhic function as a thematic preface to José Cemí's final resurrection to the higher Self of the Atma-Buddhi.

Upon hearing Mela's description of the symbolic vision, Cemí's father, El Coronel, continues a possible reference to the buddhic theme in a search for light and Truth where the element of "claridad" brings forth the concept of a higher consciousness and correlates with the idea of completeness…. (pp. 277-78)

The Coronel's [comment] … attains significance within a symbolization termed the "mysteries of light," referring to the raising of the consciousness to a higher level and designating the higher nature suffused in the light of Truth, which is a mystery to the lower mind…. The figure of the Coronel … appears drawn from an exotic region of myth and ceremony ruled by light, a buddhic symbol of the essential condition of all knowledge….

[The Coronel's reference to] (1) dancing in the (2) light ray represents: (1) a symbol of mental and buddhic activities exercised harmoniously and in accordance with (2) a Divine mode of functioning bringing illumination from the Spirit to the aspiring soul…. The Coronel thus aspires to attain the Truth and Wisdom of a higher consciousness evidenced in an apparent desire to incorporate: (1) the "mysteries of light," (2) elements of "claridad" (Wisdom) and "fuerza secreta," and (3) the exercise of mental qualities ("diálogo") in order to perfect the soul.

The premature death of the Coronel transports the theme of light to the destiny of his wife, Rialta….

Rialta imparts the concepts of the higher Self to her son, José Cemí…. The ascent to light and Truth radiates from a superior destiny of the Cemí and Olaya families…. (p. 278)

The descent through the Cemí and Olaya families of a thematic search for light and clarity, conceivably representing the Atma-Buddhic concept of the higher consciousness of Truth and Wisdom, now centers primarily in the destiny of José Cemí.

The triad of adolescent friendship formed by Cemí, Ricardo Fronesis, and Eugenio Foción marks a second major division of the light motif and its direction toward the protagonist…. The attraction of José toward Fronesis as an ideal of light and higher qualities (Lezama states that "Fronesis" among the Egyptians signifies wisdom …), finds reinforcement in Cemí's relative disassociation with Foción, whose homosexual instincts place him within the depths of Hades, symbolic of the lower nature and darkness…. Foción's self-destructive love for Fronesis converts the latter into a symbol of darkness…. The contradictory characterization of Fronesis as a symbolization of both light and darkness … effectively enhances Cemí's direction toward the higher qualities of the light motif. (pp. 278-79)

[Light] is most effective only when it illuminates the darkness. Cemí's "claridad" of instincts, emerging from a "confusión" of ideas characterizing the realm of Natural Man, thematically foreshadows his instinctive motivation to reach the higher planes of the Archetypes.

Cemí's last years of adolescence witness a sudden disappearance of Fronesis and Foción,… who are replaced mysteriously by the magical figure of Oppiano Licario…. Licario emerges again in the last two chapters of the novel, incarnating a key symbol within the illumination motif and Cemí's spiritual resurrection….

[Licario] represents for Cemí a spiritual guide or protector in the struggle of the mental qualities to attain Wisdom and the higher consciousness. In the final chapter of Paradiso, seemingly impelled by the spirit of Licario, Cemí appears to undertake a symbolic journey through a surrealistic realm of light and darkness, destined to draw him to the death bed of his protector. Representing the commencement of Cemí's spiritual resurrection to the Atma-Buddhic planes, it is here that Lezama Lima reaches the epitome of symbolic expression. The prelude to Cemí's journey of light conducts him through a twilight zone of darkness…. (p. 279)

[In that] passage, the description of two nights, that of the stellar night, indicating a divine realm which remains to be clarified …, and the subterranean night, representing Hades or the Lower Nature, situates Cemí between the regions of the lower consciousness and the higher planes of the unknown. The total image evokes a symbolic presentation of the struggle of the lower emotions to attain the higher mental qualities….

The appearance of the lighted house describes a possible symbolic prefiguration of the arrival of the soul on the Buddhic plane of consciousness….

Cemí finally enters the house, and [is] greeted by the sister of Oppiano Licario…. The interassociation of Licario and the theme of light, symbolic of the Buddhic concept, culminates in its direction of José Cemí toward the attainment of what appears to be his spiritual resurrection to the higher consciousness of the Atma-Buddhi, symbolically structured in the closing passage of the novel…. (p. 280)

The closing image of the "Onesppiegel sonriente," a German compound meaning "without" ("one" = German "ohne"), "mirror" ("sppiegel" = German "spiegel"), or without reflection (without ego), symbolizes the realization of Cemí's spiritual resurrection: freedom from the egoism and desires of the lower nature (Natural Man) and attainment of the Archetypal Man and blissful state of consciousness on the Atma-Buddhic plane designated as "Paradise" …, in which the soul is suffused in Wisdom, Truth and Love.

Paradiso's narrative framework of a possible spiritual evolution based on the Atma-Buddhic system incorporates the motif of light, the Buddhic symbol of knowledge, as a major element of thematic development and coherence….

The novel extends a vision far beyond the author's own troubled Cuban society. Unlike the majority of new Latin American novels today where the idea of "esperanza" remains obscured by themes of existentialism and despair, the quest of Paradiso's main characters for clarity and light, and the spiritual resurrection of José Cemí to the higher consciousness of the Archetypal Man, appear to indicate a hope for the future. (p. 281)

Claudia Joan Waller, "José Lezama Lima's 'Paradiso': The Theme of Light and the Resurrection," in Hispania (© 1973 The American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, Inc.), April, 1973, pp. 275-82.

Peter Moscoso-Gongora

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 870

[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.

Lezama Lima is one of Cuba's leading poets and, one assumes, is attempting here to create a unified vision that would shatter if individual voices, characters, scenes were given a momentum of their own. The characters explain one another in lyrical accounts that establish no identity other than the fantasy of Paradiso. Scene flows into scene, apparently for considerations of style only. Cemí, Fronesis, Foción, conversing philosophically on the university steps, are interrupted by a bloody clash between police and students, and the narration rushes on without taking notice, without change in mood. The several deaths in the book are equally rushed through, beneath an elaboration that will not halt its pace.

"A Proust of the Caribbean," Lezama Lima has aptly been called. His erudition, the novel's breathless coda echoing The Past Recaptured, the recurrence of temporal images—peeling white-washed walls, white ants, empty patios, the moon, swaying lanterns, silent houses—symbols of death and resurgence, evoke Proust directly. Proust, in the opaqueness of language; in the asthma of the main character, José Cemí, and its visionary consequences; in Boldavina, the housekeeper, a chthonic Françoise, immersed in timeless archetype. In Marcel's asparagus become Cemí's "sweet yolks." In Foción, an adolescent Charlus, and his inversion, accounted for in a manner reminiscent of the "botanical" lesson which begins Sodome et Gomorrhe (Foción, unlike Charlus, heading for insanity rather than longevity). In Lima's fascination with homosexuality, precisely his fascination with artifice, the self-created act, out of whimsy, petulance, simple negativity, which flies in the face of the obvious and can blatantly threaten it. Without this suspension of the laws of actuality, Lezama Lima says, art is impossible.

The animism of Proust's harmonious French countryside and the childhood room by the sea becomes a sinister animal in Paradiso. One feels in José Lezama Lima … the dichotomy between a stylized life of French cultivation, and an island teeming with the gods of the Congo, where venomous lianas creep toward the Flemish tapestries. This contradiction between the chthonic ("A Caribbean Zend-Avesta," as one of the novel's characters puts it), and a cultural refinement achieving the effete is the source of a brilliant Cuban literary renaissance.

The repeated references to Velásquez in Paradiso inspire the question of whether Lezama Lima might not be a painter of profound superficiality. The answer is found in the discussions of Góngora in the novel; it is on Góngora's ground that Paradiso ultimately succeeds. As in the case of that great poet, the obscurity vanishes when one grasps the essential intention—that the action is occurring through a shadow, in a reflection, on a tapestry.

Gongorisms abound: the verbal density and the literary conceits are Góngora through and through, as is the pretext of a story, and the erotic passages. These last have achieved a deserved renown; they sustain an astonishing balance between elaboration and subject.

Paradiso must be read as a fable. Judged as a story, it cannot be deemed a success. But even on the novel's own terms, the task of deciphering the final coda may be too much to ask of most readers. A pity. The wonder of Paradiso is the rediscovery of the world of words, not as a tool but as an art form in its own right. The rediscovery of an ancient and profound need, the solace of language. The novel's characters remain indistinct, philosophical arguments at loose ends. One has no idea what is occurring contemporaneously in the world outside these pages. Yet Paradiso triumphs as a work of pure aestheticism, of absolute digression and linguistic tour de force, in which, as with Góngora, everything is subsumed—sometimes soundly abused—in favor of the word. (pp. 600-01)

Peter Moscoso-Gongora, "A Proust of the Caribbean," in The Nation (copyright 1974 by the Nation Associates, Inc.), May 11, 1974, pp. 600-01.

Gustavo PéRez Firmat

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2088


[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 on any except the most general grounds might, at first sight, seem anomalous, it is entirely in order. The problem posed by Rialta and Cemí's consanguinity is easily overcome if one considers that their relationship has a definite Oedipal coloring…. Furthermore, Dante's behavior throughout the Divina Commedia is that of a timid child who, at every turn, must seek his mother's advice and care. (p. 247)

With considerable simplification, Beatrice's role in the Divina Commedia may be described as follows: like Rialta, she is the center and justification of her protégé's existence….

Rialta is also Cemí's comforter and guide and, as with Beatrice, these qualities, which are transmitted sub specie lucis, reside in her eyes and in her smile. (p. 248)

Like Beatrice, Rialta is depicted as an incorporeal being who obeys a higher calling…. Similar to Beatrice's constant encouragement of Dante is Rialta's advice to Cemí that he should attempt the most difficult…. In each case, the ultimate goal is a vision of eternity.

Similar parallels can be established between Virgil and Oppiano Licario. Dante is entrusted into Virgil's care by Beatrice…. Cemí's father, El Coronel, recommends his son to Licario in like manner…. Subsequently, Dante meets Virgil at nightfall when, in the middle of his journey through life, Dante has strayed from the true path…. Cemí also meets Licario at nightfall…. Both Virgil and Licario are poets and, within each work, they symbolize knowledge and reason. (pp. 248-49)

When the [last scene of Paradiso] opens, Cemí is walking in a "noche verdosa sombría," burdened with "un temor incipiente."… He sees an illuminated house which lures him, but, before reaching it, he crosses an amusement park and a forest. As the Divina Commedia begins, Dante is wandering inside a dark wood when he sees a "pleasant mountain."… [The] house in Lezama's novel is a symbol of Paradise, and the amusement park and the forest, of Hell and Purgatory respectively. Cemí, like Dante, must first pass through Inferno and Purgatorio before he can climb to Paradiso. (p. 249)

Like Charon, [the old man who guards the amusement park] is white-haired …, dresses sloppily and possesses a repugnant appearance…. Just as Charon will receive into his boat only those who have the passage money, the old man will admit into the park only those who have paid for the rides…. The machines inside the amusement park are also depicted as Hellish contraptions…. (pp. 249-50)

Having crossed the amusement park, Cemí's advance becomes increasingly difficult…. He is now passing through Purgatory. Like Dante's, his toilsome progress is hampered by the fog which, in the Purgatorio, is so thick that it prevents one's eyes from opening…. While Dante is on the Fifth Terrace of Purgatory he feels a tremor that shakes the entire mountain…. The [trembling] that Cemí feels, then, is an indication that he is ready to ascend to the Earthly Paradise and, from there, to the Heavens….

Once he has progressed through Hell and Purgatory, Cemí enters Paradise, represented in the novel by the house…. Like Dante's Paradise, its outstanding characteristic is its luminescence…. Even the conceptualization of paradise as a house may be said to be Dantean, since the Paradiso is modeled on the theological concept of the Mansions of Beatitude. (p. 250)

Inside the house, Cemí gradually ascends by a stairway. The mention of an "escalera" … is once again reminiscent of Dante's poem, where the ladder of Jacob appears leading from the Seventh Sphere to the Empyrean…. On the topmost floor he notices a room which emits an inordinate amount of light…. Cemí has achieved the beatific vision. The image which Lezama employs is identical to that which appears in the Divina Commedia: the whirling motion of luminous circles around an invisible point which is God…. Like Dante, Cemí has progressed from the darkness to the light, from the "noche sombría" to the "fiesta de luz."… (pp. 250-51)

But Lezama's cosmology is not as homogenously structured as Dante's. There are no visible boundaries dividing the realms of the Other World…. This ambiguity points to an essential structuring principle of Paradiso: the intricate web of heliotropic imagery is counterpoised by an equally intricate network of geotropic images. His Dantean ascent notwithstanding, Cemí is the focal point of this network of geotropic imagery, by means of which his homosexuality becomes evident….

[One] of the principal themes of Paradiso, the definition of Cemí's sexuality, unfolds on a mental and figurative level. The novel, as it follows Cemí from childhood through adolescence and into young adulthood, documents and delineates his sexual crisis, one which will be resolved symbolically in the last scene.

The attitude of José Cemí toward homosexuality is equivocal. (p. 251)

The psychoanalytic background of Cemí's sexual ambivalence is well-defined…. Cemí, a frail and asthmatic child, is resented by his father, a colonel in the artillery corps who considers his son's ailment a mark of shame…. [On one occasion] the Coronel, exasperated by his son's asthma, tries to effect a cure by immersing him in a tub of icy water. When Cemí begins to turn blue, his mother, Rialta, revives him with "fricciones de alcohol." Typically, in this situation it is the father who inflicts the pain and the mother who soothes.

Cemí's family constellation is illustrated by a dream he experiences the night following the bath…. This dream enacts the ultimate consequences of Cemí's Oedipal fixation: the desire to copulate with his mother…. The dream ends with the transfiguration of Rialta, which serves a double purpose: it shows Cemí's quasi-religious adoration for his mother and it allows him to avoid guilt-feelings by removing his affections to a neutral object.

As the novel progresses, Cemí becomes conscious of his homosexual tendencies…. [Throughout] the novel homosexuality is equated with descent. In order to describe the sodomitic union of Baena Albornoz and Leregas, Lezama—borrowing a motif from one of Verne's novels—compares their copulation to a voyage to the center of the earth…. Anal intercourse, then, consists of the union of the shadow and the crater and the subsequent descent. This imagery occurs repeatedly…. [The] network of geotropic images is also linked with Rialta. In the aforementioned dream Cemí sees in the floor of the ocean "un boquete infernal … que parecía buscar el centro de la tierra" (italics added …). When he nears the "boquete" he discovers the smiling face of his mother…. Expression and etiology coalesce; appropriately, the symbol of homosexuality is associated with its principal cause.

With this imagery in mind, the significance of Cemí's encounter with Foción becomes evident. The latter's avernal feast … represents the homosexual alternative which Cemí must accept …; otherwise, his sexual deviance will still surface, but on "tierra apesadumbrada."

The conclusive auto da fé takes place in the last scene of the novel. Cemí, accosted by several doubts, is walking uncertainly in the night…. As he walks along he feels two different nights: one, a phallic subterranean night …; the other, an astral night…. These two nights represent the contending forces in Cemí's personality. The "noche subterránea," which descends as it spins a web around Cemí's genitalia, embodies his homosexual urges; the "noche estelar," his tendency to repress these urges. The struggle between these two forces constitutes the leitmotif for this scene and is sustained throughout.

While still under the influence of the two nights, Cemí sees the house which stands out in the dark like "un bloque de luz" [a block of light]…. The house, which in the previous section was seen as a figuration of paradise, may also be interpreted as a hypostasis of Cemí's turbulent sexual consciousness: it is both luminous and geotropic…. (pp. 251-54)

In the last paragraph of the novel, after Cemí has left the house, the narrator comments (italics added): "Lo acompañaba la sensación fría de la madrugada al descender a las profundidades, al centro de la tierra donde se encontraría con Onesppiegel sonriente" [The cold sensation of the dawn accompanied him in the descent into the depths, to the center of the earth where he would meet with the smiling Onesppiegel]…. Cemí's development culminates with this statement, which places him definitely within the novel's network of homosexual behavior, at the same time recalling his fixation on Rialta, who in the dream was seen smiling from the center of the earth. Cemí's realization is substantiated by the fact that as he enters a cafeteria he hears a tinkling which brings to his mind the "ritmo hesicástico." As Oppiano Licario explains, hesicastic rhythm denotes "equilibrio anímico" [psychic equilibrium]….

Foción, during his discussions with Fronesis and Cemí, contends that primeval man was an androgyne and that the differentiation of the sexes did not occur until later, being reinforced through "un posible error por la costumbre" [a possible error on the part of custom]…. (p. 254)

Interpreted in this light, Cemí's homosexuality can be considered a conscious regression to an androgynous past (or a projection into a postulated androgynous future) directed toward recovering (or attaining) paradise. His descent to the center of the world becomes his ascent to Paradise. This interpretation is supported by the fact that throughout the novel homosexuality and androgyny are identified…. It is further supported by the erotic suggestiveness of the house which assumes both heliotropic and geotropic qualities, that is to say, which embodies both Paradiso and Inferno. (pp. 254-55)

[Myths] of androgyny reflect man's need to see the cosmos as a totality, a Grand Unity, a sphere, a cosmic egg, a One. On a human level, the primal man is envisaged as possessing both sexes, as being, like the cosmos, undifferentiated and self-sustaining. Cemí's twin trajectory is an attempt to regain this primordial totality by, once again, co-joining heaven and earth, ascent and descent, light and darkness. This juncture of opposites effectively accomplishes Cemí's transfiguration into an androgyne….

Both of these interpretations, which share as an axis the concept of androgyny, are upheld by a reading of the final paragraphs of the last scene. Having ended his journey through the night, Cemí [has a vision]….

[This] vision comes together as an exteriorization of the process of androgynization which Cemí is undergoing. The tiger revolving around the fire represents the fusion of the female and male principles, of the vagina and the phallus. Indeed, the image suggested is that of a phallus projecting out of a vagina. The flames and the tiger are, in turn, each aspiring toward the One: the flames reach toward the celestial embryo; the tiger licks the medulla. Once the fusion has been achieved, Cemí's mind becomes the mirror of the Taoists in which the distinction male-female is obliterated: the fire has been quenched by the fountain; the white tiger continues its revolutions, but choked by its own tail. Licario's words … provide the cipher with which to unravel the complicated structure of Paradiso: Cemí does rise and descend, and in so doing comes to know the celestial egg, Taoist conception of the primordial unity of the universe. (p. 255)

Gustavo Pérez Firmat, "Descent into 'Paradiso': A Study of Heaven and Homosexuality," in Hispania (© 1976 The American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, Inc.), May, 1976, pp. 247-57.

Robert Martin Adams

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 336

[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 more likely to associate with the Wake than with the Portrait; one, too, that transcends all questions of influence and even inspiration, but can only be intimated under the loose formula of affinity. One doesn't pass very confident judgment on a novel such large parts of which are, and are likely to remain permanently, indigestible; but there's enough fascination in Paradiso, even for a relatively uninformed reader, to give it a major place among the books that have fulfilled and extended lines that Joyce first began to trace. (pp. 183-84)

Robert Martin Adams, in his AfterJoyce: Studies in Fiction After "Ulysses" (copyright © 1977 by Robert Martin Adams; reprinted by permission of Oxford University Press, Inc.), Oxford University Press, 1977.

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Lezama Lima, José (Vol. 4)