865: In Search of the Present by Octavio Paz

by Gerard


865: Paz, Octavio. In Search of the Present: The 1990 Nobel Lecture. Translated by Anthony Stanton. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1990. 68 pp. ISBN 0-15-644556-5.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature
  • 860: Literatures of Spanish and Portuguese languages
  • 865: Spanish speeches

When the Nobel Committee announced Octavio Paz as the laureate in literature in 1990, it was the first time a Mexican writer had been elevated to the position. The committee cited his “impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity.” Every year, if the recipient can, each laureate is invited to Oslo to give a speech to both accept the award and share a little bit of their vision of the world. Paz’s speech, In Search of the Present, is a quiet reflection on his history as a writer, as a reader, and as a lifelong pursuer of the “modern.”

Paz’s talk centers on the rise of modernity in our culture. He reminisces about his boyhood and reading in a small home library, going on adventures with Cervantes and other great writers. He talks about the disconnect between the “present” of a story and our collective “present,” and how poetry (or at least poetic writing) intermingles the two. “Poetry,” he says, “in love with the instant, seeks to relive it in the poem, thus separating it from sequential time and turning it into a fixed present.” To Paz, the literatures of the world are seeking a new present in which to connect to the reader. Each literature seeks this present while continually hunting the “modern.” This is the inner turmoil of literature. Earlier in his career, he said that “there can be no society without poetry, but society can never be realized as poetry, it is never poetic. Sometimes the two terms seek to break apart. They cannot.” The speech is endearing, lofty, poetic, and insightful and definitely worth a read if you can spare a moment.