Do you agree with the view that, for Octavio Paz, Mexican history is irrevocably defined by its experience of Colonialism? El Laberinto de la Soledad by Octavio Paz, represents him as an intellectual engaged in the literary pursuit of the true identity o

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27/03/2010                23706

Do you agree with the view that, for Octavio Paz, Mexican history is irrevocably defined by its experience of Colonialism.

El Laberinto de la Soledad by Octavio Paz, represents him as an intellectual engaged in the literary pursuit of the true identity of Mexico. The importance of the work is confirmed by its position as a prescribed text in the Mexican secondary education system. It is comprised of eight essays with an accompanying appendix. The first four critically analyse the Mexican psyche, the second four are interpretations of vital periods of Mexican history, but “not as a historian”. As Paz’s first literary analysis, which concentrates on politics and nationalism, it represents an “other” Paz. This “other” Paz manifests in the dichotomy of the work, he is constantly struggling against the very Mexican identity he tries to define. This is represented in the duality of the titles and the internal structure of many of the essays. Paz enjoys opposing a thesis to its antithesis. He was also fascinated by the interplay between the individual and the collective life, leading him to discover another Mexico, one submerged in the history of all Mexicans.

The experience of colonialism for Mexico was the conquest of the Aztec empire by Hernán Cortés which begun when Cortés landed at what is now Veracruz on the 22nd of April, 1519. Cortés was able to take advantage of opponents of the Aztecs in order to bring down Tenochtitlán. The Spaniards’ influence tipped the political balance away from Tenochtitlán which finally fell by the 13th of August 1521, marking the commencement of almost 303 years of Spanish hegemony over the region. Colonisation is “the practice of acquiring control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically”. What must be considered is the impact of these processes on Mexican history. Paz, acutely defines his idea of history within Hijos de la Malinche. He explains that “el carácter de los mexicanos” is a product of “las circunstancias sociales” and history “es la historia de esas circunstancias”. Therefore for Paz, and for the purposes of this essay, the term “Mexican history” will be used synonymously with “Mexican psyche”, as Mexicans “actitud vital – también es historia”. Furthermore he shows an appreciation of the complexity of history, stating that in a sphere like history it is impossible to distinguish between “causas y efectos”. Therefore, to understand the impact of colonialism on Mexico’s history, the consciousness of the people it affected must be considered. Similarly, the causes and effects of each historical episode must be defined cautiously. In order to do so, I shall consider three of the essays in depth, concentrating on the effect colonialism had on the Mexican psyche, which they carry “en andrajos un pasado todavía vivo”.

Let us start by considering El Día de los Muertos. In this essay Paz examines Mexican behaviour in terms of the manner in which they celebrate and their unique view of death. For Paz, “la manera explosiva y dramática, a veces suicida” in which Mexicans celebrate reflects that something “nos impide ser”. This impediment makes fiestas their “único lujo” and the only time a Mexican feels “participación” in society. To consider the impact of colonialism we must enter the Mexican psyche, examining what inhibits their participation. Paz describes the fiesta as unleashing the Mexican from “nuestra carga de tiempo y razón”. Comparably, the Aztecs lived in a world governed by their own “complejo de espacio-tiempo”, which possessed “virtudes y poderes propios”. The importation of Western Catholicism lead to the redundancy of these collective Aztec principles. Consequently, what inhibits the Mexican is the confinements of this world, of the modern day, of westernised imposed views. To this extent, during fiestas “se ridiculiza al ejército, al clero, a la magistratura”, in order to reach a state of “la vida pura” . This antiestablishment view negates all militant, religious, social and political institutions established within the Mexican society; alien institutions imposed in the Colonial period. Analysing the manner of the Mexican fiesta, we can regard it as “a symptom of a deeper malaise”, one categorised by loss and by a need to free       themselves from modern institutions. Paz himself does not link this wound to the Colonial period, however, by looking at what the Mexican strives to be released from, it is a logical conclusion to associate these attitudes as being caused by the Colonial period. This problem of extrapolating Paz’s thoughts arises continuously in the search for the true Mexican psyche and is a problem I shall address later in the essay.

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Let us move on to Los Hijos de la Malinche where Paz scrutinizes the origins of the current Mexican character, defining it as solitude born out of denial. It is within this essay that the clearest connection between Mexican history and the Colonial period can be made. According to Paz, Mexicans today are categorised by their “moral de siervo”, which makes them “finge frente al señor”. A comparison can be made between the conquistadores and the indigenous people, master and slave. In this period a social hierarchy was imposed, the natives forced to the bottom strata. Subsequently, a mentality of “chingar o ...

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