Octavio Paz – Talking about meaning

Octavio Paz (1914-1998) is a Mexican poet who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1990. Not only considered one of the most outstanding faces of world poetry of the twentieth century, Octavio Paz is also recognized as a Post-modern and post-colonial thinkers with many profound and original perspectives. Approaching the literary heritage of Octavio Paz, it can be seen that what makes the stature of a great poet is an erudite knowledge of language, poetry, art, history. The following series of short essays are translated from the book “Alternating Current”, Translated from Spanish to English by Helen Lane, Arcade Publishing, New York, 1990 edition.


Form and meaning

The real ideas about a poem are not those that arise in the poet before he writes poems that are rather what appears in his work afterward, whether the poem was written on purpose or just by accident. Content comes from form, not vice versa. Every form creates its own idea, its own vision of the world. Meaningful form; Moreover, in the realm of art, only form possesses meaning. The meaning of the poem lies not in what the poet wants to say but in what the poem actually says. What we think we are saying and what we are actually saying are two very different things.

In memory of Aesop

Everything we name enters the orbit of language, and thus, at the same time, also enters the orbit of meaning. This world is a universe of meaning, a language. But each word has a specific meaning, different from and opposite to the meaning of all the other words. Within language, meanings clash with each other, neutralizing each other, nullifying each other. The statement: “Everything makes sense because it is part of language” can be reversed: “Nothing makes sense because everything is language”. This world is a universe, etc…

Nature, Abstraction, Time

“From imitation to destruction of nature”: this could well be the title of a Western art history. One of the most important, and perhaps the wisest modern artists, Picasso, has said: if we cannot escape nature, as some of his predecessors and contemporaries are trying to in vain, then at least we can distort it, destroy it. It is essentially a new form of natural devotion. Nothing pleases nature more, Sade said, than the sins we seek to commit to offend her. In her eyes, creation and destruction were one. Rage, pleasure, sickness, or hatred change people no less (or comically) than the mutilation, distortion, or angry stylized style that Picasso loved.

Nature has no history but its forms are the living embodiment of all styles past, present and future. I have seen the birth, bloom, and decline of the Gothic style in the rocks of the Kabul valley. In a pond covered with green scum—full of small rocks, aquatic plants, frogs, tiny monsters—I saw images of the sculptures of the Bayon temple as well. both in Angkor and in the one-stage style of Max Ernst. The form and diagram of the works in the Teotihuacán archaeological site are copies of the Valley of Mexico, but this landscape also predicts the style of Song painting. The microscope shows the formula of embroidered silk paintings tanka of the Tibetans were hidden in certain cells.. The microscope made me realize that Tamayo was not only a poet but also an astronomer. The white clouds are rhombic shards of Greek and Arab glass. I am amazed by plata encantada, an obsidian coated with a milky vitreous substance from which I recognize the style of Monet and his followers. There is no denying the fact that nature excels in abstract art more than figurative art.

Modern abstract painting has chosen one of two forms: a search for essences (Kandinsky, Mondrian) or following the naturalism of the Anglo-American abstract expressionist painters.[1]. The founders of this school wanted to get away from nature, to create a world of pure forms and to reduce all forms to their essence. In this sense, the first abstract painters can be called the idealist (idealists). Americans do not seek their inspiration from nature but they decide to work in a similar way to nature. Their action or painting is more or less a ritual duplication of natural phenomena. Drawing is like the action of the sun, water, salt, fire or time acting on things. To some extent, abstract painting and natural phenomena are a coincidence: they are all unexpected, unforeseen intersections of two or more sequences of events. Many times the result of this intersection is dramatic: these pictures are fragments of living matter, fragments cut out from the universe or boiled to a boil. It is, however, an art that is not holistic, as can be seen in Pollock, one of the most powerful painters of this trend. His monumental oil paintings have no beginning or end; Despite the huge size and intense energy poured into the paintings, they still seem to be giant fragments rather than complete worlds. This type of painting does not satisfy our longing for the whole. Fragments and stammers: a stronger urge for expression than for full expression.

Whether in an idealistic or naturalistic way, abstract painting is a timeless art. Nature and nature lie beyond the flow of human time: the elements of nature and the Idea have no date. I prefer another trend in modern art: the tendency to try to grasp the meaning of transformation. Formation, deconstruction, distortion, an art of time: Picasso at one end of the scale, Klee at the other, brilliant surrealist painters in the middle. We are grateful to idealist abstract painting as it delivered some of the purest and most perfect forms of the first half of this century. The natural tendency to expression has left us with great and powerful works, a tragic and, at times, hybrid art. It is a consequence of the contradiction between natural phenomena (the purely objective) and human activities (the subjective, the intentional). A mixture, conflict or a mixture of two different orders of reality: the living material of painting (energy and inertia) and the promotion of the subjectivity in the romanticist spirit of painting. doctor. A heroic picture, but also a theatrical picture: both a daring feat and a theatrical move. The art of time, for its part, is the image of a sealed moment existing in its flames and consuming it: it is the art of being even as it shreds existence into pieces. little pieces like in the works of Picasso. Being is not just what we see: André Breton refers to the “inner model”, referring to the ghost that haunts us in the night, this secret existence. proof of the existence of this other world. Giacometti once said the one thing he wanted to do was one day be able to really draw or carve a face. Braque does not seek the nature of the object: he spreads it out over the transcendental river of time. Chirico’s empty hours with no one in sight. Klee’s lines, colors, arrows, circles: a poem of movement and distortion. Existence is the code of the world, the code of being. It is also a scar, a trace of the wound of time: it is moments, moments. It is the meaning of aiming for the designated object, an object that is desired and can never be fully attained.

The search for meaning or its destruction (the two are not different, it shows no way out of meaning) are at the heart of both trends. The only meaningless art of our time is realism: and not only because its production is so trivial, but also because it insists on recreating a lost natural and social reality. meaning. The art of time resolutely confronts this loss of meaning and is therefore an art of the transcendent imagination. In this respect, the Dada movement is an example (and one that cannot be imitated, despite recent imitations of the movement in New York). Dada not only sees the absence of meaning and absurdity as its domain, but makes the absence of meaning its most effective means of destroying knowledge. Surrealism seeks meaning in the alluring euphoria of the moment: love, inspiration. The keyword here is clash (encounter). What does all of this end up leaving? Some pictures, some poems: a branch of living time. That was enough. The meaning lies somewhere: it’s always just a few steps further.

sea ​​Pearl Translate.

[1] I don’t like the term expressionism used for abstract painting: there is a contradiction here between expressionism and abstraction. The term “abstract painting” is equally misleading. As Benjamin Péret said, art is always concrete.

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