Octavio Paz - Biography
Octavio Paz Lozano (1914 – 1998) was a Mexican diplomat, poet and writer. Octavio Paz wrote prolifically during his lifetime, publishing frequently. He was so well respected that the finest writers in the world translated Paz into their home languages. For instance, Samuel Beckett, Elizabeth Bishop, Muriel Rukeyser, Mark Strand and Charles Tomlinson all translated Paz into English. Buddhism, existentialism, Hinduism, Marxism, and surrealism profoundly influenced Paz’s creative writing. The mature poetry of Paz examined time and eroticism. He also wrote many works about the visual works of Balthus, Marcel Duchamp, Roberto Matta, Joan Miro, Robert Rauscheberg and Anoni Tapies. When Paz wrote essays, he chose to discuss topics as diverse as sexuality, economics, politics, anthropology and art. Famously, Paz discussed the Mexican national identity in his treatise The Labyrinth of Solitude. This work is a corner stone in the academic discussion of the Mexican people and has influence writers including Carlos Fuentes. Paz wrote biographies and critical examinations of the works of many influential artists and thinkers including texts on Claude Lévi-Strauss and Marcel Duchamp.
Over the course of his long career, Paz was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, Cervantes Prize, Mexican National Literature Prize, Premio Mondello, Alfonso Reyes Prize,Neustadt International Prize for Literature, Jerusalem Prize, Menendez y Pelayo Prize, and Alexis de Tocqueville Prize, Xavier Villaurrutia Award.. Paz was also awarded an honorary doctorate from Harvard University, and an honorary doctorate from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. His international recognition culminated when Octavio Paz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990.
In the 1950s, Octavio Paz had become ingrained in the Parisian writers scene. During this period, Octavio Paz came under the influence of André Breton, Albert Camus and David Rousset. They convinced Octavio Paz to write in protest of Joseph Stalin’s totalitarian extremism. His exposés on the abuses of power in communist controlled countries were published in Plural and Vuelta. Paz wrote in particular of the extreme measures conducted by Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba. These writings provoked hostility from across the various social classes in Latin American. More specifically in abandoning unthinking Communist dogma, Octavia drove a wedge between himself and many members of the Mexican intelligentsia. They viewed Octavio Paz as betraying the goals of the Left.
Despite this antagonism, Octavio Paz viewed himself as a supporter of the true Left. To pursue a wider concern for liberalism, Octavio Paz invited many scholars, intellectuals and writers to discuss the fall of the Berlin wall. The guest list included Carlos Franqui, Jorge Edwards, Michael Ignatieff, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jean-Francois Revel, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Agnes Heller, Daniel Bell, Hugh Thomas, Cornelius Castoriadis, and Czesław Milosz. Mexican television broadcast this symposium for many days.
In 1956, Octavio Paz drafted La hija de Rappaccini. This play was based on the story “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by the American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. Octavio Paz also drew from Noh theater, Indian poetry, and the works of William Butler Yeats. The Surrealist painter Leonora Carrington designed the first set for the play. This play has been translated and performed in many languages.
On March 31, 1914, Octavio Paz was born in Mexico. His parents Octavio Paz Solórzano and Joseﬁna Lozano raised their son in Mixcoac. When Paz was a child, Mixcoac was an independent village. This community was later incorporated into Mexico City. His maternal grandparents had immigrated to Mexico from Spain. His paternal grandfather, Ireneo Paz, was a novelist and Left-wing intellectual. Octavio Paz Solórzano supported the Revolutionary movement that had risen up against the Diaz regime. The family was avid supporters of Emiliano Zapata. Their public support for the Zapata caused them to flee to the United States after Zapata’s assassination.
Octavio Paz’s education began early. His grandfather’s library offered Octavio Paz an early introduction to the great works of European and Mexican literature. For formal education, Octavio Paz studied at Colegio Williams. Octavio Paz began to study the law, but in 1935 he left school to teach at a school in Merida in the Yucatan. Paz’s reading expanded to the Spanish writers Antonio Machado, Gerardo Diego and Juan Ramon Jimenez in the 1920s. The writings of D. H. Lawrence had a tremendous affect on the teenaged Octavio Paz. His first published poems were influenced by the famous English author. Octavio Paz and his friends formed a literary journal called Barandal in 1932. In 1933, Octavio Paz published his first collection of poems Luna Silvestre. During this time, Octavio Paz considered himself a poet, While working in the Yucatan, Paz composed Entre la piedra y la flor. This ambitious epic poem related the story of a landlord’s oppression of his tenants. Octavio Paz wrote this poem in the style of the American poet T. S. Eliot.
The Second International Writers Congress in Defense of Culture in Spain invited Octavio Paz to attend in 1937. This congress occurred during the Spanish Civil War. Paz was politically active throughout his life. Like many international intellectuals, Octavio Paz showed his political engagement early on by declaring his support for the Republican faction of the Spanish Civil War. However, his support wavered when the Republicans murdered one of his friends.
After Octavio Paz returned to Mexico in 1938, he helped found a second literary magazine called Taller. Octavio Paz wrote frequently for this magazine until 1941. The same year he helped found this magazine he mat Elena Garro. Garro has obtained her own literary reputation. Paz and Garro married later that year. Garro would give birth to Paz’s daughter; however, the marriage did not survive. The couple obtained a divorce in 1959.
The Guggenheim foundation gave Octavio Paz a fellowship in 1943. The same year he traveled to Berkeley, California to study at the University of California. In 1945, he was inducted into the Mexican diplomatic corps. He worked briefly in New York City before being sent to Paris. In Paris, Octavio Paz composed The Labyrinth of Solitude.
Octavio Paz traveled to Asia in 1952. He visited India before traveling to Tokyo to work as chargé d'affaires. Later that year, he was sent to Geneva, Switzerland. In 1954, Octavio Paz traveled back to Mexico City. He continued writing poetry once he had returned home. In 1959, Paz once again returned to Paris. During this year, Octavio Paz pursued his lover Bona Tibertelli de Pisis, an Italian painter. Three years later, the Mexican government made Octavio Paz the ambassador to India. While working in this capacity, Paz continued to compose literature. The Monkey Grammarian and Eastern Slope were two works that Paz completed while he held this post. During this period, Octavio Paz also met the Hungry Generation, an association of writers. This group was profoundly influential in Octavio Paz’s development as a writer.
In 1963, Octavio Paz ended his relationship with Bona. He, then, married a French woman called Marie-José Tramini. This marriage lasted until his death. In 1968, the Mexican government slaughtered student protestors. Octavio Paz resigned his position in the Mexican Foreign Service. He remained in Paris before finally returning to Mexico. Once he had returned to Mexico, he started another literary magazine Plural.
Octavio Paz received the Charles Eliot Norton professorship at Harvard University in 1970. He held this position for four years. The Mexican authorities forced Plural to close in 1975. Octavio Paz founded yet another magazine in the aftermath of this closure. This last magazine Vuelta dealt with the same subject as Plural. Two years later he was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for literature that focused on individual freedom. His success culminated in 1990 when he was given the Nobel Prize for literature.
In 1998, Octavio Paz died from cancer.