Octavio Paz  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Octavio Paz Lozano (March 31, 1914April 19, 1998) was a Mexican writer, poet, and diplomat, and the winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Literature.


A prolific author and poet, Paz published scores of works during his lifetime, many of which are translated into other languages. His poetry, for example, has been translated into English by Samuel Beckett, Charles Tomlinson, Elizabeth Bishop and Mark Strand. His early poetry was influenced by Marxism, surrealism, existentialism, as well as religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. His poem, Piedra de Sol ("Sunstone") written in 1957, was praised as a "magnificent" example of surrealist poetry in the presentation speech of his Nobel Prize. His later poetry dealt with love and eroticism, the nature of time, and buddhism. He also wrote poetry about his other passion, modern painting, dedicating poems to the work of Balthus, Joan Miró, Marcel Duchamp, Antoni Tapies, Robert Rauschenberg, and Roberto Matta. Several of his poems have also been adapted into choral music by composer Eric Whitacre, including Water Night, Cloudburst, and A Boy and a Girl.

As an essayist Paz wrote on topics like Mexican politics and economics, Aztec art, anthropology, and sexuality. His book-length essay, The Labyrinth of Solitude (Spanish: El laberinto de la soledad), delves into the minds of his countrymen, describing them as hidden behind masks of solitude. Due to their history, their identity is lost between a precolombian and a spanish culture, negating either. A key work in understanding Mexican culture, it greatly influenced other Mexican writers, such as Carlos Fuentes.

After a tale by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Paz wrote the play, La hija de Rappaccini (1956), a lyrical tale of love, death and the loss of innocence. The plot centers around a young Italian student who wonders about the beautiful gardens and even more beautiful daughter (Beatrice) of the mysterious Professor Rappaccini. He is horrified when he discovers the poisonous nature of their beauty. Paz adapted the play from the eponymous 1844 short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, combining it with sources from the Indian poet [Vishakadatta]. Paz also cited influences from Japanese Noh theatre, the Spanish auto sacramental and the poetry of William Butler Yeats. Its opening performance was designed by the Mexican painter Andrea J. First performed in English in 1996 at the Gate Theatre in London, the play was translated and directed by Sebastian Doggart and starred Sarah Alexander as Beatrice. In 1972, Surrealist author André Pieyre de Mandiargues translated the play into French as La fille de Rappaccini (Editions Mercure de France). Mexican composer Daniel Catán turned the play into an opera in 1992.

Paz's other works translated into English include volumes of essays, some of the more prominent of which are: Alternating Current (tr. 1973), Configurations (tr. 1971), The Labyrinth of Solitude (tr. 1963), The Other Mexico (tr. 1972); and El Arco y la Lira (1956; tr. The Bow and the Lyre, 1973). Along with these are volumes of critical studies and biographies, including Claude Lévi-Strauss and Marcel Duchamp (both, tr. 1970) and The Traps of Faith, an analytical biography of the Mexican 16th century nun, poet and thinker Sor Juana de la Cruz.

His works include the poetry collections La Estación Violenta, (1956), Piedra de Sol (1957), and in English translation the most prominent include two volumes which include most of Paz in English: Early Poems: 1935–1955 (tr. 1974), and Collected Poems, 1957–1987 (1987). Many of these volumes have been edited and translated by Eliot Weinberger, who is Paz's principal translator into American English.

Disillusioned with communism

Originally Paz showed his solidarity with the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, but after learning of the murder of one of his comrades by the Republicans themselves he became gradually disillusioned. While in Paris in the early fifties, influenced by David Rousset, André Breton and Albert Camus, he started publishing his critical views on totalitarianism in general, and against Stalin in particular.

Later, in both Plural and Vuelta, Paz exposed the violations of human rights in the Stalinist regimes. This brought him much animosity from the Latin American left and some university students. In the Prologue of the IX volume of his completed works, Paz stated that from the time when he abandoned communist dogma, the mistrust of many in the Mexican intelligentsia started to transform into an intense and open enmity; he did not suspect that the vituperation would follow him for decades.

There can be no society without poetry, but society can never be realized as poetry, it is never poetic. Sometimes the two terms seek to break apart. They cannot. --Octavio Paz

In 1990, during the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin wall, Paz and his Vuelta colleagues invited several of the world’s writers and intellectuals to Mexico City to discuss the collapse of communism, including Czeslaw Milosz, Hugh Thomas, Daniel Bell, Ágnes Heller, Cornelius Castoriadis, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Jean-Francois Revel, Michael Ignatieff, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jorge Edwards and Carlos Franqui. The Vuelta encounter was broadcast on Mexican television from 27 August to 2 September.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Octavio Paz" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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