Paradiso: An infinite novel?

The Thoughts in Havana: 50 years since Paradiso International Colloquium demonstrated the interest in this work among the participants from more than 10 countries.

Although it seems that there are increasingly less persons willing to overcome the difficulties presented by the reading of Paradiso for readers, an International Colloquium on that novel by Cuban José Lezama Lima demonstrates the contrary.
The event, under the title of “Thoughts in Havana: 50 Years since Paradiso,” brought together in the Cuban capital 25 foreign and 20 Cuban scholars who unveiled some of the mysteries of a work that for many is infinite.


What makes it remain in the Western canon is the mystery, the high poetry of its pages, affirmed Cuban professor, critic and essayist Emmanuel Tornés, who was one of the coordinators of that symposium held under the sponsorship of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) and the Cuban Book Institute, among other institutions in the country.


Though the meeting had a marked theoretical slant, the Federico García Lorca room of the Dulce María Loynaz Centre, where those who presented papers met for three days, was small for the attending public avid for knowledge, among them many interested young persons.


“Though it might seem incredible for us, the Cubans – those of us who increasingly seem less willing continue reading Paradiso, the poetry and essays of Lezama – this colloquium confirmed that on an international level, and despite the exponential advantage of information technology and the media that invade the world, a great many persons continue enthusiastically and profoundly reading the unforgettable neighbour of 162 Trocadero Street and especially his novel Paradiso,” said Tornés to IPS.


Everything seems to indicate that the novel and the initial stir it caused among its detractors when it saw the light in 1966 is now vindicated as a patriotic, Marti work, which goes to the less visible essences of a Cuban identity expressed in splendorous and surprising images that do not prevent classifying the book as a novel to learn.


The novel’s playing with the history of Cuba and the context of the War of Independence and life during the pseudo republic was brilliantly dissected by outstanding U.S. Hispanist of Czech origin Emil Volek in his paper titled “The garden of poetic delights 50 years after Paradiso.”


Cuban specialists opined that it should be one of the essential texts in national and foreign university programmes, at least from the West, because of its high aesthetic, cognitive and humane qualities and especially for its capacity to develop the intellect of students.


In an interview given to journalist Ciro Bianchi Ross and collected in his book Así hablaba Lezama (That’s How Lezama Spoke), the author of Paradiso said that he always knew that someday he would have to write the history of his family, “those conversations by my mother and my aunt with my uncles about the life in emigration during the War of Independence, the meetings with José Martí and the Christmas Eves faraway from Cuba.”


“I also had to write about the University, the student struggle against Machado, my friends, my conversations, my readings, my waits and silences,” he added.


In this way, the appreciations that reduced that monumental work to the supposed immorality of its chapter XVIII, for which he was passed over by some during the 1970s, a time of bitter cultural controversies in Cuba, is being erased little by little.


In this sense, Professor Tornés opined that though some attribute its attraction to the erotic part of the text – which it’s worthwhile noting that its ideoaesthetic treatment was before its time regarding the projections that the postmodernity in Latin America would later assume –, that is not enough. Such an issue has been seen by the majority of the readers, or heard by others, but there are many who speak of it without having read it.


For the scholar and National Prize for Literature of Cuba, Reynaldo González, the current interest in Paradiso is due to the fact that it is not a book of thesis nor does it present problems of the present but rather it is the seduction of the poetry and of an overflowing talent who wrote it knowing that he would not have control over that work.


“What I most admire about Lezama,” González affirmed, “is that feeling of being writing for the future, the possibility of transcending in literature, the feeling sure of his potentials as a writer.”


For Reynaldo González what’s most important about the colloquium held in Havana is the recognition that Lezama Lima allows for dialoguing with different cultures causing a series of intellectual games that frequently overshadow other visions.


“This time there were many speakers who avoided the philosophical characteristics attributed to Paradiso so that people from different parts of world can link it to their respective cultures,” he opined.


The truth is that this novel continues being rediscovered by scholars and its readers beyond what it was possible to think in 1966. More or less read, this canonic work of the Cuban 20th century seems to have the virtue of being eternal and infinite. (2016)



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