Character and symbol in José Lezama Lima's 'Paradiso'
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This thesis explores the possibility of some degree of unity in Paradiso, which appears initially to be a work of poetic self-indulgence, lacking a coherent plot, credible characters and causality, and possessing seemingly extraneous chapters. In particular, the characters, with their one shared voice (Lezama’s) and apparently arbitrary appearances in independent scenarios, demand scrutiny. Lezama Lima's earlier works are devoted to his sistema poético, a working method aimed at a material representation of the mystical world of the Spirit in the "incarnate Word". Since the writer himself has defined Paradiso as a novela-poema, the novel is here examined as a poem, with the characters (recurring images) fulfilling symbolic roles. Luis Fernández Sosa’s reading of some of Lezama’s poems "anagogically" (following the terminology of Northrop Frye) is equally applicable to Paradiso, with its multiple levels of meaning. In Paradiso each act or incident is ritualized, suggesting that the characters are indeed symbolic and may attain the stature of archetypes. Characters derived from members of Lezama’s family circle acquire symbolic names and layer upon layer of additional imagery until they are expanded into archetypes. The recurring image of the (family) tree linking heaven and earth, continual emphasis on the cycle of birth/death/renewal and the main configurations, such as hero/princess/dragon/treasure, assist in the identification of the principal symbolic characters: Great Mother Goddess, Son/Lover, Dionysiac sacrifice, the questing Orpheus and the magnificent doomed Icarus. Each concept or character is a stepping-stone for the central auto- biographical figure, inspired by personal tragedy to seek self-perfection and accept his vocation. The stages on the journey --family relationships, the discovery and mastery of sexuality and creativity, the pursuit of infinite knowledge-- are presided over by a variety of tutors, not least Rialta, Cemí’s anima, poetic Muse and spiritual guide. Within Cemí’s heroic conquest of the Unconscious, the imagery of the quest yields much when interpreted in terms of Jungian archetypes. With his eventual assimilation of opposites, Cemí becomes actively contemplative, attuned to ritmo hesicástico and obedient to his calling. 'The analysis of character is the key to Lezama’s fictionalized autobiography, which emerges as a finely structured novel given precise form by its symbolic characters.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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