Academic journal article Romance Notes

Inescapable Present: Trauma and Memory in Octavio Paz's Poetry

Academic journal article Romance Notes

Inescapable Present: Trauma and Memory in Octavio Paz's Poetry

Article excerpt

IT is widely acknowledged that both Hindu and Buddhist philosophies influenced Octavio Paz's literary works. Paz uses these philosophical "resources" as a means to displace linear time and emphasize the possibility of a circular or "alinear" time. The poet has stated that "all civilizations and cultures possess an idea of time and express a vision of time" from "primitive" civilizations to those of Antiquity. Furthermore, Paz insists that: "Time is an illusion, but there is a time outside of time in which temporal contradictions disappear [...] time [i]s an illusion, and therefore ignores history" (Quoted by Guibert; 29).

In the following pages, I will explore Paz's lyrical work from a different perspective.While I recognize the "Orientalist" gaze in his work, I intend to move away from the "Orientalism" that the writer claimed for his oeuvre in order to focus on Paz's interests in time's discontinuities. As stated above, Paz expressed that there is a "time outside of time" where "time is an illusion." This vision of time approaches the processes of traumatic memory. He points out in The Bow and the Lyre, that time is not something external, but on the contrary, the internalization of time helps build and declare our own individual identities: "we are time and it is not the years that pass but we ourselves" (46). If we ourselves are the measure of time and time leads to death memory becomes an inescapable "now", a present that is ineludible. In Paz's poetry, the illusion of time dissipates and only the instant remains.

I will analyze two representative poems:"?No hay salida?" ("Is there no way out?") and "Piedra de sol" (Sunstone). Both poems present aspects that can be associated with traumatic memory. Throughout his literary trajectory, Paz used elements taken from Surrealism to describe his poetic's voice perception of the destruction of time.

Dominick LaCapra explains that, "at times art departs from ordinary reality to produce surrealistic situations [...] that seem to be sublimely irrelevant to ordinary reality but may uncannily provide indirect commentary or insight into that reality" (186). Some of these surreal elements are comparable and almost equivalent to symptoms of trauma. Traumatic events are experienced by way of representations. Susan Brison argues that these representations are sensorial, somatic and linguistic (Aftermath 31). In Paz's poetry, the representation of the traumatic event is shown through detemporalization. At the same time, the poetic voice fragments itself to emphasize the rupture of the psyche and the irruption of trauma.

The poetic voice describes physical and psychic sensations through techniques inherited from Surrealism. These descriptions seesaw from sublime lyricism to personal and historical horrors, to give the readers, its only possible response to the paralyzing situation: the creative act, the amatory experience. Any type of erotic encounter, Paz argues, redeems us from trauma and the horrors of History. The surreal scene gives way to what Brison calls the "linguistic classification" (Aftermath 31). The poetic speaker enunciates and classifies that horrific "something" through words. Paz reiterates the transformation of memory as a "surreal scene" into something approachable through poetic language:

Included in the horror is terror ... and the fascination that makes us want to fuse with the presence. The horror paralyzes us ... Horror interdicts existence ... The universe becomes an abyss and there is nothing before us but the motionless Presence, which does not talk, or move, or affirm this or that, but is only present. And that just being present engenders the horror. (Bow 113)

Paz moves in the direction of trauma as he describes the "Presence" of horror. The impossibility to erase the horrific event makes it fuse with the subject. This description follows the language of traumatic experiences. For example, Mieke Bal equates traumatic events to a "persistence presence. …

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