Octavio Paz (1914-1998), the eminent Mexican poet and critic, attempted to evaluate the neglected role of poetry in the twentieth century in terms of a liberating, semi-religious vocation. Jason Wilson, in this study, approaches Paz's poetics through his close relationship with Andre Breton (1896-1966), the surrealist leader. Paz's contact with Breton clarified an enthusiastic vision - close to utopian thought - that sees art as the answer to twentieth-century man's spiritual aridity and envisages the end of a civilisation hostile to the liberating values of art. Paz's version of surrealism - incorporating other heretical strands like Tantra and Zen - offers a system of values grounded in a series of analogies linking together desire, erotic love, woman, the writing of a poem. It is Paz's thinking-about-poetry (poetics) that justifies his actual writing. His self-consciousness forces the reader to deal with his obra as a whole and it stands or falls according to its lucidity and ambitions. Theory and practice cannot be separated.
This is, then, a `spiritual biography' of a poet-thinker (Paz); a study of a fertile relationship (Paz and Breton); a re-evaluation of surrealism itself and, finally, a coping with those acute problems that all poets and readers of poetry must face in an age lacking an acceptable cultural tradition: why write? what is a poem? who are the genuine poets? who am I? Paz deals refreshingly with these related concerns in his examination of `the values of poetry' in terms of a liberating poetics.