Latin American Studies Octavio Paz
by
Clara Román-Odio, J. Sebastián Chavez Erazo
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0211

Introduction

Octavio Paz (b. 1914–d. 1998) ranks among the most influential Latin American poets and intellectuals of the 20th century. Fully engaged in the artistic experimentation and critical spirit of modernity, he wrote more than twenty books of poetry and as many book-length essays on such topics as eroticism, poetry, politics, history, anthropology, and visual arts. Paz examined world cultures from multiple frames of reference, including the movements of modernity and postmodernity, the tensions between poetry and history, the state of world politics, Eastern and Western thought, and Latin American struggles for independence and self-determination. The broad sweep of his worldview was shaped in part by experiences gained during decades of service with the Mexican diplomatic corps in Paris, New York, New Delhi, Tokyo, and Geneva. Recognized worldwide thanks to translations and awards, including the 1990 Nobel Prize in Literature, Paz’s intellectual work engenders rich, sometimes controversial scholarship. Praised by many for his remarkable contributions, others accuse him of creating an elitist, ahistorical concept of poetry as the singular resource to overcome the failures of history. The vast scholarship examining Paz’s work focuses on his poetics and critical thought, and addresses recurring themes: biography, political controversies, and the intellectual movements of the 20th century that influenced or were influenced by him. The scope and impact of Paz’s oeuvre present a substantial challenge for this concise bibliography. The comprehensive bibliography by Hugo J. Verani, covering the period 1931–2013, provided a seminal starting point for our work (see Verani 2014, cited under Bibliographies). While that collection sought to encompass any and all works alluding to Paz, our focus here is on sources of substantive merit that advance our understanding of the author. We have sought to capture major threads of research, emphasizing works published in 2014 in honor of Paz’s centenary and those that follow to the present day. Source format was taken into account, resulting in a selection that includes mostly books (in print and online), book chapters, anthologies, biographies, and peer-reviewed journals. The core of the scholarship on Paz includes analyses of poetry and poetics, comparative studies on world cultures, critiques of modernity and postmodernity, scholarship on the visual arts, Asia and orientalism, history, and politics. By selecting these topics as the organizing concepts of the bibliography, we hope to highlight crucial background materials to explore Paz’s contributions to the landscape of literature, culture, and politics in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

General Overviews

While scholarly commentary on Paz abounds, the field has produced only a handful of full-length comprehensive studies. Ivask 1973 offers one such critical overview, and is ideal for readers relatively unfamiliar with Paz’s works. Flores 1974 and Roggiano 1979 are also comprehensive, though the former delves into expressive and thematic features in Paz’s poetry, while the latter surveys major trends in his intellectual production, from visual poetry to orientalism. Cantú 2014 offers a recent and comprehensive perspective of Paz’s engagement with art and modernity, history and cultural criticism, myth and world civilizations. Wilson 1986 provides a concise introduction to Paz’s oeuvre in an accessible style, touching on its major themes and placing particular emphasis on that of intellectual and existential freedom. Also accessible and undergraduate-friendly, Bradu 2014 (cited under World Cultures) provides a short and personal overview of Paz almost twenty years after his death, while Fein 1986 focuses exclusively on his poetry. Santí 2016 and Román-Odio 2006 engage both Paz’s works and legacy. However, while Santí 2016 offers scholarly introductions to Paz’s most important poetry collections and essays, Román-Odio 2006 is rich in scholarly detail and analysis of Paz’s long poems, though not a general introduction to the poet. Of the most recent collections, Cansino, et al. 2016 explores Paz’s impact on the 21st century, while González Ormerod 2015 highlights the influence of English literary traditions on Paz’s intellectual work.

  • Cansino, César, Omar M. Gallardo, and Germán Molina Carillo. Octavio Paz sin concesiones: Quince miradas críticas. Puebla, Mexico: Grupo Editorial Mariel, 2016.

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    This is an excellent critical collection by top scholars focusing on Paz’s poetics, history, politics, essay writing, and worldview. It explores the impact of Paz’s intellectual work on 21st-century culture and political discourse. Innovative in its approach, the book seeks to put Paz in dialogue with diverse imaginary interlocutors in order to highlight aporias in Paz’s critical and poetic thought unresolved.

  • Cantú, Roberto, ed. The Willow and the Spiral: Essays on Octavio Paz and the Poetic Imagination. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2014.

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    Published as an homage marking the centenary of Paz’s birth, this collection of critical essays offers a critical perspective of Paz’s engagement with art and modernity, history and cultural criticism, myth and world civilizations. The fourteen essays contribute important discussions amassing a broad view of Paz’s incisive contributions to poetry, criticism, and political thought.

  • Fein, John M. Toward Octavio Paz: A Reading of His Major Poems, 1957–1976. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986.

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    This book examines Paz’s culminating poems, from Piedra de sol to Vuelta, tracing recurring themes such as paradox, solitude, and communion. Offers useful information about the context and rhetorical devices of poems; ideal for readers relatively unfamiliar with Paz’s works.

  • Flores, Ángel, ed. Aproximaciones a Octavio Paz. Mexico City: Joaquín Mortiz, 1974.

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    Perhaps the most renowned collection of critical essays published during the height of criticism on the poet. The essays contribute groundbreaking discussions on the distinctive expressive and thematic traits in Paz’s work, including symbols and imagery, space and time, freedom and eroticism, and poetry and poetic thought. Contains useful analyses of Paz’s major poetry collections.

  • González Ormerod, Alejandro, ed. Octavio Paz y el Reino Unido. Mexico City: CONACULTA, 2015.

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    This volume documents British and Mexican specialists’ approach to a seldom studied period in the life of the poet and his connections to the literature and academia of the United Kingdom. Offers a history of Paz’s time at Cambridge University, focusing on the influence of English writers and friendships on Paz’s work during his stay. Useful for understanding The Monkey Grammarian, conceived in New Delhi but written in Churchill College.

  • Ivask, Ivar, ed. The Perpetual Present: The Poetry and Prose of Octavio Paz. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1973.

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    A prime collection of scholarship during the seventies, this source approaches Paz holistically, as poet, critic, and global citizen, amassing a panoramic view of Paz’s broad intellectual contributions. Contains useful analyses of Paz’s poetry and poetics, focusing on imagery, irony, circularity, the notion of vivacity, and selections from an interview with Paz.

  • Roggiano, Alfredo, ed. Octavio Paz. Madrid: Fundamentos, 1979.

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    Written during the peak period of critical production on Paz, the twenty-one critical essays in this collection survey major trends in Paz’s poetry, from visual poetry to Asia and orientalism. Provides a blueprint of critical thought on Paz, including the process and meaning of revision in his works. Useful for undergraduate and advanced scholars; contains a useful bibliography of works by and about Paz.

  • Román-Odio, Clara. Octavio Paz en los debates críticos y estéticos del siglo XX. La Coruña, Spain: TresCTres Editores, 2006.

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    A seminal work that puts Paz in conversation with the main critical and artistic debates of the 20th century through an in-depth analysis of the poet’s long poems. Challenges the myth that Paz created an elitist, ahistorical concept of poetry as the only available resource for overcoming the failures of history. Contains useful analyses to navigate the aesthetic complexities of Paz’s poetry and poetics.

  • Santí, Enrico M. El acto de las palabras. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2016.

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    Originally published in 1997, this study provides insightful introductions to the early writing of the poet and other works such as Libertad bajo palabra, El laberinto de la soledad, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz o las trampas de la fe, and Blanco, as well as interviews with the poet. The revised edition refines and updates analyses, including additional essays and notes. An indispensable reading to grasp Paz’s poetic and intellectual contributions.

  • Wilson, Jason. Octavio Paz. Boston: Twayne, 1986.

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    An accessible and succinct introduction to the study of Paz, this volume ties together Paz’s works by arguing that his intellectual journey develops as a pursuit of freedom through poetic consciousness. Surveys major themes in Paz’s work, including surrealism, myth, the poetics of hope, and the East. Good resource for undergraduate students.

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