On Poets and Others
The Nobel Prize–winning poet and man of letters Octavio Paz was also a brilliant reader of other writers, and this book selects his best critical essays from over three decades. In the sixteen pieces collected here, Paz discusses a wide range of poets and writers, both American and international, from Robert Frost and Walt Whitman to William Carlos Williams; from Fyodor Dostoevsky to Luis Buñuel to Alexander Solzhenitsyn; and from Charles Baudelaire to Jean-Paul Sartre, André Breton, and Henri Michaux.
Paz writes, “I believe that a writer’s attitude to language should be that of a lover: fidelity and, at the same time, a lack of respect for the beloved object. Veneration and transgression.” When this original thinker meets these writers, each essay is an adventure of the mind.
In these short, polemical, engaged essays, the noted Mexican critic and poet locks horns with writers, past and present. He calls Dostoyevski "our great contemporary,'' a novelist who forces us to see our divided selves, our nihilism. Whitman, the sincere dreamer of utopian democracy, is contrasted with Poe, Melville and Dickinson, whose writings are ``more like attempts to escape from the American nightmare.'' Paz is disappointed in Sartre, a thinker who ``always preferred shadows to realities.'' While defending Solzhenitsyn's Christian humanism, he feels the novelist's ignorance of modern history amounts to arrogance``a very Russian trait.'' Paz investigates the act of seeing in Bunuel's cinema of disillusion, William Carlos Williams's search for American roots, Michaux's mescaline visions and Breton's magic surrealism.