"My Life With the Wave (6 pages, 1968) and "The Blue Bouquet" (3 pages, 1965) both by Octavio Paz (translated by Eliot Weinberger)
Octavio Paz (1914 to 1998-Mexico City) is one of Mexico's most highly regarded writers. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990. For many years he was a career diplomat for Mexico. His highest and last appointment was as Mexico's ambassador to India. He was a very prolific writer. He wrote many novels, poems and short stories. I think his most read work outside of Mexico is his non-fiction work The Labyrinth of Solitude, which attempts to explain the basic nature of Mexican culture. Paz was very into the reading life.
In 2009 I read Roberto Bolano's great novel, Savage Detectives. The novel is partially set in Mexico city and many of the characters are poets of varying degrees of success. They all seem to have one thing in common, a dislike boarding on hatred for Octavio Paz. In the mind of the poets, Paz stood for the literary establishment. His acceptance of awards from the Mexican government and his work at places like Harvard University marked him, in their minds, as a supporter of the very repressive Mexican government and the USA. Bolano himself expressed his personal contempt and near hatred for Paz and gave his status as a Mexican national icon as showing his support for fascism. This is in spite of Paz's very well known record as a strong supporter of human rights causes world wide. Bolano also expressed a very similar attitude toward Gabriel Marquez. One has to wonder if some of this was not jealousy or a revolt against very dominating literary influences. I have noticed writers often tend to have a low regard for the generation of writers who are dominant in their youth.
Both "My Life With the Waves" and "The Blue Bouquet" are about the violence of the big city, the capricious ways in which life happens and can be lost, and are tales of the near absurd. Both look at a very dangerous world.
"The Blue Bouquet" (it can be read HERE) is a very frightening story. It is about an insane act of violence that almost took place. A woman had asked her lover to collect for a her a basket of blue eyes. What is so powerful in this story to me is what is left out. We never learn why the woman wants this and we are given no insight into why the man feels obligated to attempt to honor her request. You can read it in just a few minutes.
"My Life With the Wave" is a very interesting story. (It can be read HERE). It is about a man who ends up in jail for a year because someone sees him put salt in his water while on a train and jumps from this to the conclusion he is trying to poison others on the train. The water is never tested. He is never given any kind of real trial. He is simply accused of being a potential poisoner and placed in prison. He gets out in a year and is advised not to do it again. It is also a story of a complicated and passionate love affair.
I liked both stories. Of the two I preferred "The Blue Bouquet". In truth, it would not be out of place as an episode in 2666.
A basket of blue eyes? That sounds like a ghoulish fairy tale. Thanks for this fascinating post.
bibliphiliac-yes I was shocked by how violent these stories were
It's funny I've been a fan of Paz for years now, our cat is called Paz(14 yrs old) yet it's based solely on his poetry, I keep meaning to read his other stuff, yet have not yet managed it. As for the Bolano thing I think that's just giant slaying by a younger generation at their fathers expense.
If it is real the white
Light from this lamp, real
The writing hand, are they
Real, the eyes looking at what I write?
From one word to the other
What I say vanishes.
I know that I am alive
Between two parentheses
another note on Bolano, knowing how much emphasisis he placed on the art of writing, is it coincidence or was it anothers choice that his book of essays etc, happens to be the last lines of this poem by Paz.
I think Bolano is misunderstood. Paz is his rival. A towering figure who needs to be vilified, one of the outrageous methods that Bolano is so fond of. Paz was what Bolano always wanted to be.
The short story "My Life With the Wave" has some resonance with the short story "A Piece of String" by Guy de Maupassant.
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