No Comment, Quotation — December 15, 2007, 12:00 am

Paz: A Poet Lost in Time

Me sentí, literalmente, desalojado del presente. Desde entonces el tiempo comenzó a fracturarse más y más. Y el espacio, los espacios. La experiencia se repitió una y otra vez. Una noticia cualquiera, una frase anodina, el titular de un diario, una canción de moda: pruebas de la existencia del mundo de afuera y revelaciones de mi irrealidad. Sentí que el mundo se escindía: yo no estaba en el presente. Mi ahora se disgregó: el verdadero tiempo estaba en otra parte. Mi tiempo, el tiempo del jardín, la higuera, los juegos con los amigos, el sopor bajo el sol de las tres de la tarde entre las yerbas, el higo entreabierto – negro y rojizo como un ascua pero un ascua dulce y fresca – era un tiempo ficticio. A pesar del testimonio de mis sentidos, el tiempo de allá, el de los otros, era el verdadero, el tiempo del presente real. Acepté lo inaceptable: fui adulto. Así comenzó mi expulsión del presente.

Decir que hemos sido expulsados del presente puede parecer una paradoja. No: es una experiencia que todos hemos sentido alguna vez; algunos la hemos vivido primero como una condena y después transformada en conciencia y acción. La búsqueda del presente no es la búsqueda del edén terrestre ni de la eternidad sin fechas: es la búsqueda de la realidad real. Para nosotros, hispanoamericanos, ese presente real no estaba en nuestros países: era el tiempo que vivían los otros, los ingleses, los franceses, los alemanes. El tiempo de Nueva York, París, Londres. Había que salir en su busca y traerlo a nuestras tierras. Esos años fueron también los de mi descubrimiento de la literatura. Comencé a escribir poemas. No sabía qué me llevaba a escribirlos: estaba movido por una necesidad interior difícilmente definible. Apenas ahora he comprendido que entre lo que he llamado mi expulsión del presente y escribir poemas había una relación secreta. La poesía está enamorada del instante y quiere revivirlo en un poema; lo aparta de la sucesión y lo convierte en presente fijo. Pero en aquella época yo escribía sin preguntarme por qué lo hacía. Buscaba la puerta de entrada al presente: quería ser de mi tiempo y de mi siglo. Un poco después esta obsesión se volvió idea fija: quise ser un poeta moderno. Comenzó mi búsqueda de la modernidad.

I felt literally dislodged from the present. From that moment time began to fracture more and more. And there was a plurality of spaces. The experience repeated itself more and more frequently. Any piece of news, a harmless phrase, the headline in a newspaper: everything proved the outside world’s existence and my own unreality. I felt that the world was splitting and that I did not inhabit the present. My present was disintegrating: real time was somewhere else. My time, the time of the garden, the fig tree, the games with friends, the drowsiness among the plants at three in the afternoon under the sun, a fig torn open (black and red like a live coal but one that is sweet and fresh): this was a fictitious time. In spite of what my senses told me, the time from over there, belonging to the others, was the real one, the time of the real present. I accepted the inevitable: I became an adult. That was how my expulsion from the present began.

It may seem paradoxical to say that we have been expelled from the present, but it is a feeling we have all had at some moment. Some of us experienced it first as a condemnation, later transformed into consciousness and action. The search for the present is neither the pursuit of an earthly paradise nor that of a timeless eternity: it is the search for a real reality. For us, as Hispano-Americans, the real present was not in our own countries: it was the time lived by others, by the English, the French and the Germans. It was the time of New York, Paris, London. We had to go and look for it and bring it back home. These years were also the years of my discovery of literature. I began writing poems. I did not know what made me write them: I was moved by an inner need that is difficult to define. Only now have I understood that there was a secret relationship between what I have called my expulsion from the present and the writing of poetry. Poetry is in love with the instant and seeks to relive it in the poem, thus separating it from sequential time and turning it into a fixed present. But at that time I wrote without wondering why I was doing it. I was searching for the gateway to the present: I wanted to belong to my time and to my century. A little later this obsession became a fixed idea: I wanted to be a modern poet. My search for modernity had begun.

Octavio Paz Lozano, Nobel Lecture, December 8, 1990 (A. Stanton transl. with modifications by S.H.)

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2016

American Idle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

My Holy Land Vacation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The City That Bleeds

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

El Bloqueo

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Vladivostok Station

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Ideology of Isolation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
"We all know in France that as soon as a politician starts saying that some problem will be solved at the European level, that means no one is going to do anything."
Photograph (detail) by Stefan Boness
Post
Tom Bissell on touring Israel with Christian Zionists, Joy Gordon on the Cuban embargo, Lawrence Jackson on Freddie Gray and the makings of an American uprising, a story by Paul Yoon, and more

Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.

The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.

Artwork: Camels, Jerusalem (detail) copyright Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
[Report]
How to Make Your Own AR-15·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Even if federal gun-control advocates got everything they wanted, they couldn’t prevent America’s most popular rifle from being made, sold, and used. Understanding why this is true requires an examination of how the firearm is made.
Illustration by Jeremy Traum
Article
My Holy Land Vacation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"I wanted to more fully understand why conservative politics had become synonymous with no-questions-asked support of Israel."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson
Article
The City That Bleeds·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing."
Photograph (detail) © Wil Sands/Fractures Collective

Average speed of Heinz ketchup, from the mouth of an upended bottle, in miles per year:

25

After studying the fall of 64,000 individual raindrops, scientists found that some small raindrops fall faster than they ought to.

The Playboy mansion in California was bought by the heir to the Twinkie fortune, and a New Mexico man set fire to his apartment to protest his neighbors’ loud lovemaking.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today