Labyrinth of Solitude – 50 Years Latter

As Scott at Conversational Reading noted, there is a long review of the 50th anniversary of the Labyrinth of Solitude in Letras Libres for those of you who can read it, it is worth the time. If you only read English, I’ll give a quick summary. I haven’t read the book since I was in college at The Evergreen State College in Olympia where I took a class on e quarter (at Evergreen this means my only class of 16 credits for ) called Mexico Since the Revolution. Labyrinth, along with classics of Mexican fiction by Rulfo, Fuentes, Azuella and Yañez, and more anthropological titles like the outdated Profile of Man and Culture in Mexico were on the reading list. In this context Paz, though unique in his approach, did fit within a tradition, which the article makes clear.

Alejandro Rossi, the author, first talks about the publishing history of the book. In its first run it only did 3000 copies and it took another ten years for a reprint to appear, not unlike Rulfo’s Pedro Parama. It wasn’t until the masquers of the students in 1968 did the book gain a wider readership outside of writers. The book first written at the end of the forties, was written in a period of great activity and followed Eagle or Sun, a book of poems which also explores, in part, Mexicanness. (It also includes the wonderful My Life With The Wave)

Rossi goes on to talk about the how Paz used Plato’s conception of the cave to frame his argument. Men crave societal relations which they find in the cave, but to gain insight one must leave the cave, which, of course, breaks the relationship. When the man comes back to the cave he is now an outsider, but through the outsider status they can help lead the group, since they now have special knowledge. Using this metaphor, Paz saw Labyrinth as a way to examine, or leave the cave, of society. What makes this approach unique, is that Paz writes a book that is not academic.

Rossi covers several salient points, but most important for Paz’s relation to Mexican intellectual history of that time, is how Paz sees Mexican History and its relation to the mythic solidarity of the past. (This article was difficult to translate so my apologies if it seems a little choppy.)

La nostalgia de la comunidad no es el anhelo sentimental por una comunidad cualquiera, no, tampoco es la nostalgia de Platón frente a la polis de su época, no, se trata de la nostalgia de la Edad de Oro, que sería precisamente la edad sin máscaras, el sitio, entre otras cosas, donde se da el verdadero amor, el amor sin velos, el amor que es lo contrario del amor rodeado de convenciones, se trata del amor revolucionario, una idea que le viene del surrealismo. […] Pero siempre que habla de autenticidad, piensa en la Edad de Oro. Y la Revolución Mexicana es para Octavio el momento de la sinceridad histórica, sería el momento de la recuperación de este ser original que él intenta descubrir en El laberinto de la soledad. Y dentro de la Revolución Mexicana será el zapatismo el que más se acerque a la autenticidad anhelada. La Revolución restablece el tiempo original, la Revolución busca la fundación de un tiempo mítico anterior.

The community’s nostalgia is not a sentimental longing for whatever community, neither is it the nostalgia of Plato facing the polis of his era, no, it is about the nostalgia of the Golden Age which would be the age without masks, the place, among other things, where they give each other the true love, the love without veils, the love that is the the opposite of the love that is surrounded by conventions; it is about the revolutionary love, an idea that comes from surrealism. […] But always talking about authenticity, you think about the Golden Age. And the Mexican Revolution is, for Octavio, the moment of historical sincerity. It would be the moment of regaining the original being that he wanted discover in the Labyrinth of Solitude. And within the Mexican Revolution perhaps is Zapatismo, the thing closest to the longed for authenticity. The revolution reestablished the original time; the revolution searched for the foundation from a previous, mythic time.

Although Paz does not idealize the Revolution, he does see in it a mythic narrative for Mexico, much as he sees forging of relationships between the Indians and the Spanish through the Catholic church. It is a search for something within the history of Mexico, not something to bring from the outside. These ideas are not unique among those of his generation and there is a desire to fashion something new and unique from the recent past, a breaking of the pre-revolutionary, more Eurpoean, with the more Mexican. Paz, himself, does not see Zapata as the ideal, it is the communal ideals tied up in Zapata that create a national myth and joins the Mexicans in Plato’s cave together.

I’m not sure what Paz thought of the national myths himself, but he does write about them in Eagle or Sun (the title refers to the Aztecs, and by extension, Mexico itself). Taken together, they form a mythic ideal of Mexico, which was also being written by Rulfo in a darker manner.

I don’t know if I’ll read Labyrinth of Solitude again, but the article made me think it was time to look at it again.