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José Lezama Lima

José Lezama Lima José Lezama Lima[2†]

José María Andrés Fernando Lezama Lima (December 19, 1910 – August 9, 1976) was a Cuban writer, poet, and essayist[1†][2†]. Born near Havana, Cuba, Lezama Lima is considered one of the most influential figures in Cuban and Latin American literature[1†][2†]. His novel Paradiso is one of the most important works in Spanish and one of the best novels of the 20th Century according to the Spanish newspaper El Mundo[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

José María Andrés Fernando Lezama Lima was born on December 19, 1910, in the Columbia Military Encampment close to Havana in the city of Marianao[2†]. His father was a colonel[2†]. After his father’s death in 1919[2†][1†], Lezama’s mother played a significant role in his artistic and cultural growth[2†][1†]. As a sickly child, Lezama Lima passed the time reading[2†], which likely sparked his passion for literature.

Lezama Lima studied law at the University of Havana in the early 1930s[2†][4†]. He graduated from the law school of the University of Havana in 1929[2†][5†] and worked as a lawyer until 1941[2†][5†]. However, his true passion was literature[2†], and he chose to pursue this path instead of a legal career[2†].

At the age of 27, he published his first work, the poem “Death of Narcissus,” which brought him national acclaim[2†]. This early success marked the beginning of his literary career and set the stage for his future contributions to Cuban and Latin American literature[2†][1†].

Career Development and Achievements

José Lezama Lima’s career began in the late 1930s when he published his first work, the poem “Muerte de Narciso,” which brought him national acclaim at the age of twenty-seven[2†]. This early success marked the beginning of his literary career and set the stage for his future contributions to Cuban and Latin American literature[2†].

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Lezama Lima founded three short-lived literary journals[2†][4†]. He helped establish Verbum in 1937, Espuela de plata in 1939, and Nadie paracía in 1942[2†][1†]. When these publications ceased, Lezama joined with Cuban editor and literary critic José Rodríguez Feo and others to found the influential arts periodical Orígenes, which ran from 1944 to 1956[2†][1†]. In it, they published the work of a number of excellent young artists and musicians together with the work of several young poets whose contributions revolutionized Cuban and Latin American letters[2†][1†].

Lezama’s wide reading had given him a solid foundation in the Spanish classics of the Golden Age as well as the work of the French Symbolists, and both greatly influenced his early writing[2†][1†]. His prose style has been compared to that of the great 16th-century Spanish writer Luis de Góngora[2†][1†]. His novel Paradiso, published in 1966, is a coming-of-age story set in Cuba. It is a complex story told in often obscure language that reaffirms the narrator’s faith in his art and in himself[2†][1†].

Lezama Lima also edited several anthologies of Cuban poetry and presided as the patriarch of Cuban letters for most of his later years[2†]. Despite spending little time outside of his home country, making only brief trips to Mexico in 1949 and Jamaica the following year[2†][4†], Lezama’s poetry, essays, and two novels draw images and ideas from a vast array of world cultures and historical time periods[2†].

First Publication of His Main Works

José Lezama Lima’s literary output was extensive and varied, encompassing poetry, novels, and essays. His works are characterized by their lyricism, metaphors, allusions, and allegories[2†].

Here are some of his main works:

In addition to these, Lezama wrote many essays on figures of world literature such as Stéphane Mallarmé, Valéry, Góngora, and Rimbaud as well as on Latin American baroque aesthetics[2†]. Most notably the essays published as La Expresión Americana lay out his vision of the European baroque, its relation to the classical, and the American baroque[2†].

Analysis and Evaluation

José Lezama Lima’s work is characterized by its experimental nature, baroque writing style, and eclectic erudition[1†]. His wide reading had given him a solid foundation in the Spanish classics of the Golden Age as well as the work of the French Symbolists, both of which greatly influenced his early writing[1†]. His prose style has been compared to that of the great 16th-century Spanish writer Luis de Góngora[1†].

Lezama’s vision of America in a continental sense stands at the fertile confluence of indigenous, African, and European influences[1†][6†]. He is a crucial experimental writer, known chiefly for his novel Paradiso, while little of his poetry has been translated[1†][6†].

In his many essays on literary and cultural topics, Lezama develops a complex system of ideas about history and time[1†][7†]. He objects to simplistic ways of conceptualizing temporality and favors a flexible notion of time[1†][7†]. His way of thinking on the subject is bound up with his preference for literary or generally artistic expression as opposed to what he sees as the problematic ontological claims of historiography[1†][7†]. He privileges the artistic image as a force that can transcend linearities and determinisms[1†][7†].

Lezama’s search for equilibrium is evident in his writings, clarifying such oppositions as the mystical quest for illumination through obscurity, the calculated cultivation of naïveté, the Proust-like fascination with yet ultimate condemnation of homosexuality, and a modernist (even postmodernist) narrative style that conveys a mystical (essentially medieval) worldview[1†][8†].

His work, particularly his novel Paradiso, is a complex story told in often obscure language that reaffirms the narrator’s faith in his art and in himself[1†]. It is a coming-of-age story set in Cuba, reflecting Lezama’s own experiences and his mother’s powerful influence on his artistic and cultural growth after his father’s death[1†].

Personal Life

José Lezama Lima was often ill during his childhood, particularly from asthma, and took solace in reading[4†]. His mother strongly influenced his cultural development. The pair remained close throughout Lezama Lima’s life and lived together until her death in 1964[4†]. After his mother’s death, he married María Luisa Batista[4†][9†]. However, by several accounts, the marriage was never consummated[4†][9†]. Instead, he enjoyed a series of discreet relationships[4†][9†].

Lezama Lima was born on a Cuban military encampment to a father who was a colonel[4†][10†]. He grew up during the politically turbulent period of the Cuban Machado Dictatorship[4†][10†]. Despite these challenges, he found comfort and escape in the world of literature and arts[4†][2†].

His legacy was honored in the 1994 Cuban film, Strawberry and Chocolate[4†][10†]. Despite the political turbulence and personal challenges, Lezama Lima’s influence on Cuban and Latin American literature remains significant[4†][2†].

Conclusion and Legacy

José Lezama Lima passed away on August 9, 1976, at the age of 65[1†][9†]. His death marked the end of a significant era in Cuban and Latin American literature[1†][9†]. He was buried in the Colon Cemetery in Havana[1†][2†].

Lezama Lima’s influence extended beyond his lifetime, impacting both his contemporaries and subsequent generations of writers[1†][2†]. His work has been cited as a key influence by Cuban and Puerto Rican writers of his generation and the next, such as Virgilio Piñera, Reinaldo Arenas, Fernando Velázquez Medina, René Marqués, and Giannina Braschi[1†][2†].

At the time of his death, he had been working on a book that was the continuation of Paradiso[1†][9†]. The manuscript was published posthumously as Oppiano Licario in 1977[1†][9†]. His legacy continues to be celebrated today, and he is considered one of the key influences in subsequent generations of Latin American writers[1†][9†].

Lezama Lima’s life and works have been depicted in various forms of media, including the 1994 Cuban film, Strawberry and Chocolate[1†][11†]. Despite the political turbulence and personal challenges he faced, Lezama Lima’s influence on Cuban and Latin American literature remains significant[1†][11†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - José Lezama Lima: Cuban author [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - José Lezama Lima [website] - link
  3. The Modern Novel - José Lezama Lima [website] - link
  4. Academy of American Poets - About José Lezama Lima [website] - link
  5. Encyclopedia.com - Lezama Lima, José (1910–1976) [website] - link
  6. De Gruyter - Jose Lezama Lima [website] - link
  7. Academia - Writing of the Formless: José Lezama Lima and the End of Time [Abstracts]. New York: Fordham University Press, 2017. [website] - link
  8. The MIT Press Bookstore - José Lezama Lima's Joyful Vision: A Study of Paradiso and Other Prose Works (Texas Pan American Series) [website] - link
  9. Legacy Project Chicago - Jośe Lezama Lima [website] - link
  10. Famous Birthdays - José Lezama Lima - Trivia, Family, Bio [website] - link
  11. Making Queer History - José Lezama Lima [website] - link
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