Cuban author Jose Lezama Lima (1910-76) produced some of the most enigmatic and important poetry in the Spanish language. He did this during a turbulent moment in Cuban history - a period of social unrest, radical change in political systems, and attempts at cultural self-definition. While some have argued that his poetry evades these circumstances, Assimilation/Generation/Resurrection adopts a contextual approach and reveals the extent of Lezama's engagement with the defining political and cultural issues of his day. It also lays bare the underlying connection of this poetry to a weave of intertexts - Lezama's productive interaction with several traditions.
Intimidating in its philosophical scope and linguistic complexity, Lezama's poetry has received far less critical attention than his prose. The present study rectifies this critical imbalance, foregrounding the poetry while discussing three issues that link disparate areas of Lezama's literary production. These issues - cultural assimilation, generation, and resurrection - are central elements in Lezama's poetics, yet are also pertinent to wide-ranging debates on Latin American cultural identity. This study reads key poems from each of his published books of poetry, using an interpretive approach forged from diverse yet cohering sources, including Lezama's own theories on reading and writing.
After a brief methodological excursus and a first contextualization of Lezama's poetics vis-a-vis a number of other Cuban writers, this study considers Lezama's early assimilation of a number of initiatory texts as well as his indirect but crucial response to the social concerns of the 1930s. Assimilation/Generation/Resurrection makes clear that Lezama's poetry owes its existence to an engagement with cultural artifacts and social circumstances more generally. Yet it is far more than a response. It constantly attempts to go beyond, generating the new at the intersection of the old and the as-yet uncreated. The result of this practice is a poetry that claims the power both to translate over distance and to resurrect by virtue of the image.