THE MONKEY GRAMMARIAN by Octavio Paz

THE MONKEY GRAMMARIAN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

At his best--which flares out here about half the time--Paz (Labyrinth of Solitude, A Draft of Shadows) writes a kind of philosophical/poetic essay which, seeking to recreate the dilemma of reality objectively, is most clearly associated with the work of such Frenchmen as Gaston Bachelard and Valery; this sort of long meditation is in-turning, self-circling, and paradoxical--as it delights in taking a thread and tracing it through the pattern until it arrives back at itself. This time, using the Hindu monkey-chief of the Ramayana (the ""Hanuman"") as his starting point, Paz imagines a journey to Galta, in India, home of the Hanuman's shrine. And since the Hanuman is also mythologically invested with the prowess of a great grammarian, this journey is ipso facto also one of language, seeking an ""ontological grammar"" in ""what language leaves unsaid"": all discrete real things can be given names, but Paz also insists upon their nameless uniqueness. He uses vivid atmosphere (the raucous goings-on around Indian shrines) and far-afield analyses (the English 19th-century painting, ""The Fairy-Fellers' Masterstroke,"" by madhouse-bound Richard Dadd). But Paz's thinking is always magnetized back to the center, to the conundrum of naming the unnameable, ""wisdom in the momentary."" True, as compelling (if not entirely original) as this set of ideas is, much of it seems slightly forced, caught up in a length midway between an essay and a true book: there's a hint of the whip hand here, the repetitious. But the light of this inquiry is basically pure where it might have been only precious--and the final effect is that of old yet ever-special territory handled with a sink-or-swim, push-on-no-matter-what commitment that is very impressive.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1981
ISBN: 1559701358
Publisher: Seaver--dist. by Random House