The Labyrinth of Solitude
The Labyrinth of Solitude (Spanish: El laberinto de la soledad), one of Octavio Paz’s most famous works, is a collection of nine essays: ‘The Pachuco and other extremes’, ‘Mexican Mask’, ‘The Day of the Dead’, ‘The Sons of La Malinche’, ‘The Conquest and Colonialism’, ‘From Independence to the Revolution’, ‘The Mexican Intelligence’, ‘The Present Day’ and ‘The Dialectic of Solitude’. The book’s first publication was in 1950 but after 1975 some editions included the essay ‘Post data’ which discusses the massacre of hundreds of Mexican students in 1968. As a reaction to this event, Paz abandoned his position as ambassador in India. The essays are predominantly concerned with the theme of Mexican identity and demonstrate how at the end of the existential labyrinth there is a profound feeling of solitude. As Paz argues:
'Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone, and the only one who seeks out another. His nature -if that word can be used in reference to man, who has ‘invented’ himself by saying ‘no’ to nature- consists in his longing to realize himself in another. Man is nostalgia and a search for communion. Therefore, when he is aware of himself he is aware of his lack of another, that is, of his solitude.'
Paz observes that solitude is responsible for the Mexican’s perspective on death, ‘fiesta’, and identity. Death is seen as an event that is celebrated but at the same time repelled because of the uncertainty behind it. As for the fiestas, they express a sense of communality, crucially emphasizing the idea of not being alone and in so doing help to bring out the true Mexican that is usually hidden behind a mask of self-denial. This represents the way in which the Mexicans have inherited two distinct cultures, the indigenous and the Spanish, but by denying one part of their identity they become stuck in a world of solitude.
From the essay ‘The Conquest and Colonialism’ onwards, Paz makes a detailed analysis of Mexican history beginning with a look at their Pre-Columbian culture and in particular reflecting on the 1910 Revolt. In his analysis, he expresses how the humanists take a primary role as the intellectuals of the country. His major criticism is that to be an intellectual it is necessary to distance oneself from the subject that you are studying so that the argument remains critical yet rational and objective. As the intellectual gets more involved with the political environment, his arguments can often become influenced by other factors such as political motivation and pressure to conform.
- Bloom, H., ed. 'Introduction'. "Octavio Paz" Pennsylvania: Chelsea House, 2002.
- Paz,Octavio. 'The Labyrinth of Solitude'. N.Y.: Grove Press, 1961. p. 195.