Octavio Paz En Su Siglo

By Corral, Will H. | World Literature Today, January/February 2016 | Go to article overview

Octavio Paz En Su Siglo


Corral, Will H., World Literature Today


Christopher Domínguez Michael. Octavio Paz en su siglo. Mexico City. Aguilar. 2014. 651 pages.

This magisterial biography-already published in an abridged French version with an English one forthcoming-is the painstaking work of an eminent critic of Mexican literature and culture and has engendered an extensive, admiring reception. Domínguez Michael knew Paz better than any of Paz's contemporaries and close circle (of which he was a member) and, by acknowledging the resultant complexities, produces an interpretation, not an accumulation of facts. This is a challenge, since as a poet Paz pursued experience where it was most intense and, as an influential public intellectual, broke the monotony of an indecorous age.

Domínguez Michael eradicates irreversibly the colonized view that there are no Spanish-language literary biographies akin to English-language ones, a view he corrected with Vida de Fray Servando (2004). This is obvious in terms of psychological appraisals, as in the arc from the third to the twelfth chapter regarding Paz's problematic relationship with his first wife, Elena Garro, and their daughter. If Paz is feasibly more revered as an essayist and "conservative" intellectual, the fourth and fifth chapters convincingly analyze his progressive commitment and eventual disappointment. Is there a problem with recounting how and why he wrote The Labyrinth of Solitude, founded Vuelta, etc.? None. And asking biographers not to do their homework and be "original" with facts and biographemes is disingenuous.

Domínguez Michael also solves a frequent complaint about Paz's complete works by referring to his correspondence and objectively evaluates the role of poetry for a fuller understanding of Paz, masterfully correcting the abundant but poorly informed criticism. …

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