Octavio Paz and Charles Tomlinson: literary friendship and translation

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Octavio Paz's letters to Charles Tomlinson, which are held in the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, reveal the progress of a friendship that was intimately bound to translation. Paz first made contact with Tomlinson in 1966 to praise the English poet’s translation of his poem, ‘Paisaje’ (Landscape). They continued to correspond through the 1960s and 70s as they translated each other and collaborated on two extended poems, Renga (1971) and Hijos del aire (Airborn) (1979). Literary friendships are a hybrid of public and private. They can be a defence against a hostile public world but they also act as a provisional or playful form of socialization for ideas and works that will eventually be left to fight for their existence in the public sphere proper. Paz’s relationship with Tomlinson provided an opportunity to reflect on his own social context and identity at a time when he was leading an active and embattled public life in Mexico. His letters express a variety of attitudes to his social situation. He portrays their friendship as a relief from adverse circumstance but also revisits hostile judgements that had been made on his own work, confiding doubts about the tendency of his writing towards eloquence and oratory. These reflections on his place in Mexican and Latin American literary traditions are played out at the level of verbal detail in the translations, leading to an expansion of his stylistic and thematic repertoire. This article draws on sociological perspectives on the dynamics of friendship (Greco et al. 2015) and artistic collaboration (Farrell 2001) to assess the ways that Paz’s relationship with Tomlinson allowed him to re-articulate his identity as a Mexican writer. His translations of, and correspondence with, Tomlinson establish norms of reciprocity and a strong affective bond, which permit a reflexive appraisal of self and circumstance (Holmes 2010). This process involves a narration of self (Ghisleni and Rebughini 2006) and social recognition (Honneth 1995) leading to a reformulation of his engagement with the public sphere. The article aims to account for Paz’s translations of Tomlinson as simultaneously an intimate transaction and a process of identity formation, which have consequences for his subsequent poetic activity. Bibliography: Farrell, M. O. (2001). Collaborative Circles: Friendship Dynamics and Creative Work. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Ghisleni, M., & and Rebughini, R. (2006). Dynamiche dell’amicizia. Riconoscimento e identità. Milano: FrancoAngeli. Greco et al. ‘Friendship and Happiness from a Sociological Perspective’. In M. Demir (Ed.) Friendship and Happiness across the Life-Span and Cultures (pp. 19-35). Heidelberg: Springer. Holmes, M. (2010). The Emotionalization of Reflexivity. Sociology, 44, 139-154. Honneth, A. (1995). The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSociologies of Poetry Translation: Emerging Perspectives
EditorsJacob Blakesley
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBloomsbury Academic
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781350043268, 9781350043275
ISBN (Print)9781350043251
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2018

Cite this