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Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950) by Octavio Paz

A young Octavio Paz

Book Review
The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950)
 by Octavio Paz

   It is unclear why the 1001 Books project would entirely omit ALL non-fiction titles between the dawn of time and 1950 and then choose to include The Labyrinth of Solitude as the only work of non-fiction up to this point.  It's even more puzzling when you consider that Paz was primarily a poet and that there are no poems included in the 1001 Books project.  So here we have a book length essay about Mexican/Latin American identity, written by a poet, which is the only non-fiction title up to this point in the entire 1001 Books project.

  At the same time, it's easy to tie The Labyinth of Solitude into the emergence of Latin American literature in the mid 20th century.  Paz is a harbinger of an independent Latin American identity for writers and intellectuals.  Whatever ones perspective on the events of Mexican/Latin American history between independence and World War II, it was a tough time to be a scholar, thinker or intellectual.  The history favored men of action, landowners and activists working on behalf of the poor. Intellectuals and their natural audience of the middle class were in short supply across Latin America.

  In The Labyrinth of Solitude Paz takes a stab at defining Mexican and Latin American identity as being situated between the Spanish Empire of the Old World and the American Empire of the New.   The combination of disdain both for old and new, a defining characteristic of Latin American intelllectual culture is already present, fully formed, in the The Labyrinth of Solitude.  Paz spent time in America- he writes about his time in Berkeley, CA. and the opening chapter of Labyrinth concerns Pachuco youth culture, which is present both in  Mexico and the United States.

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