Cultural Revolutions

Octavio Paz, R.I.P.

Octavio Paz, who died m April, was one of the greatest poets of the second half of the 20th century. On the left for most of his life, Paz held convictions that were often more compatible with conservative thought. Paz was not a "progressive." In fact, he complained that the ethos of progress had no appreciation of irony, melancholy, despair, nostalgia, pleasure, and doubt. "Progress," he wrote in One Earth, Four or Five Worlds: Reflections on Contemporary History (1985), "is brutal and insensitive." He regarded the Soviet leviathan and its satellites as the main contemporary enemies of human freedom, and he relentlessly criticized the fellow travelers and deluded pacifists of the Western intelligentsia who impeded the necessary struggle against the Evil Empire. He had the courage to condemn Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Garcia Marquez for their shameless complicity with the bloodiest system of thought in the modern world.

Among the Latin American intelligentsia, the price for adopting such views is high. I remember a Latin American professor advising me never to suggest Paz's name as a possible recipient of an honorary doctorate. Fortunately, by that time Paz was above such yappings and such honors. His reputation was already immense, in spite of the opposition of the same sectors of the professoriate who had stopped Jorge Luis Borges from getting the Nobel Prize. Of course, as a confirmation...

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