Monday, November 29, 2004

Mexico as an Earthly Purgatory

Nathan Gardels: Mexico seems like an earthly purgatory, permanently suspended in contradiction...

Octavio Paz: Purgatory is a very apt characterization. Purgatory is a transitional state, a compromise. Perhaps that has been Mexico's fate. We have always had these two poles, pre-Columbian civilization and Spanish Catholicism and monarchy; great art and historical setbacks; marvelous poets and weak criticism; beautiful churches and palaces side-by-side with huts and hovels.

We have made a mix of this and that is our purgatory. We live amid our contradictions - our saints and our Indian gods; our republic and our enduring centralization of power; our peasants adoring the Virgin with the same fervor which their ancestors praised the Earth Goddess alongside our young economists from Harvard and our professors of philosophy fresh from Paris.

We have not solved these contradictions, but with them and through them we have created a truly original culture. We are alive at the end of the 20th century.

This is from a 1987 interview of Octavio Paz in The New Perspectives Quarterly. This brew of the Pre-Columbian imagination and the rites of Old World Catholicism are responsible for the surreal images captured by Shadowplay in this photoset of Mexico.

Those images capture Semana Santa as a resurrection, a Biblical play, as it unfolds in the area of Patzcuaro in the Mexican state of Michoacan. The nearby island of Janitzio, as it turns out, is an epicenter for the more well-known Mexican Day of the Dead. And so, these two fantastic worlds, one full of dancing skeletons, the other with figures sprouting wings exist, literally, side by side, distinct, two expressions of an original culture.

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