Miguel de Unamuno and the otherness
Otherness or alterity ("the condition of being another", according to dictionaries) is one of the themes of interest of contemporary times in philosophy and literature. However, the concern for it can be traced back to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It can be identified in Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), a fundamental author of Spanish-language letters, but with universal resonance. He was a novelist, philosopher, essayist, poet, chronicler and university professor, a career that led him to become Rector of the University of Salamanca. He was a member of the group of writers that promoted the renewal of Spanish literature known as Generation of 98. His extensive work includes books such as Niebla, Del sentimiento trágico de la vida, La tía Tula, La agonía de Cristianismo, Cómo se hace una novela, or his renowned poem "El Cristo de Velásquez", among others. Very famous is his phrase "Venceréis, pero no convéis", said in his last speech as Rector of the University of Salamanca (because he was later dismissed) before the arrogance of the fascist general Millán-Astray, who had interrupted Unamuno's speech, with the cry: "The intellectuals die".
In the following essay I deal with the presence of this theme in Unamuno's work. I hope it may be of interest to you.
The enlightened French poet of A season in hell, Arthur Rimbaud, expressed in his Letter from the seer: "I am another"; a phrase that seems to signify his leap into the void and his poetic alienation. And Antonio Machado, the Spanish poet of time and existential reflection, in his metaphysical sense of life, has left us expressions like this: "Being is eagerness to be what he is not". Machado spoke of the "essential heterogeneity of being" and of "the incurable otherness that the one suffers".
Nietzsche, Rilke, Heidegger, Artaud, Bataille, Borges, Pessoa, Blanchot, Paz, Juarroz... Extensive is the list of thinkers and creators who have lived the inner experience of otherness or have reflected and written about it or from it. Octavio Paz wrote suggestive meditations on this subject. I pick up here one of the clearest: "Experience made from the fabric of our daily acts, otherness is first and foremost simultaneous perception that we are others without ceasing to be what we are.
A reading of a large part of Miguel de Unamuno's work can be assumed, trying to perceive this transcendent aspect. From such a perspective, otherness will acquire very particular nuances. It will cease to be presented simply as personal unfolding, to reach the persistent confusion - in the best sense of the word - of idea and life, reality and fiction, form and content, showing, in turn, a disturbing and playful conception in Unamuno. Throughout his work you will find traits that can be inscribed in that line of attention or can be linked to it in various ways. I will try to point out some of these features in the Basque writer's books.
In his book Del sentimiento trágico de la vida, Unamuno writes intense reflections on man and existence. In this book, published in 1912, we can begin to identify that sense, which will accompany him in several of his works. I will cite some revealing phrases of such restlessness:
(...) I want to be myself and, without ceasing to be so, also to be the others (...)
And if it is painful to have to stop being one day, it would perhaps be more painful to continue always being oneself, and not more than oneself, without being able to be at the same time another (...)
(...) in me live several selves, and even the selves of those with whom I live.
There is in these expressions a sense of need for the Other. The Other is lack and desire to be. And it is the yearning, the hunger to be, that will lead Unamuno to formulate his hunger for God. Here we find a capital aspect in Unamuno's work, one of the most attractive: the idea of God.
Within the reading or vision that I try to outline, God appears to Unamuno as "the great Other", as the desired, desired Being - and according to Lacanian theses, "the desire is the desire of the Other". God is the eternal, and therefore the eternalizing. Here is the question.
But this unfolding seems to have another fold, its double: man, humanity is the Other of God. God is eternalized by humanity. Let us see in a very light synthesis the approach -or the scream- of Unamuno, which has its resonances in later works.
In the first place, God creates the world, thinks about it, dreams about it. The world is God's dream. God is the Author of us. We are, therefore, his creatures, his dream beings, his characters.
Secondly, God is the Universal Consciousness, composed by us, who are his dream. And every dream is a struggle, it is sustained by the opposition between the dreamed and the dreamer - as Ferrater Mora points out. Without such opposition the dream of this one would vanish. Dreamer of the world, God is, in turn, dreamed by the world. In the words of Unamuno himself:
(...) Are we not ideas of that Great Total Consciousness which, when we think of ourselves as existing, gives us existence?
(...) to believe in God is, in a certain way, to create Him, even though He believes us before. It is He who continually creates Himself in us.
Otherness, as I have indicated before, does not only appear in Unamuno as a vital position. It is also form and content. This sense of otherness can be found, subtly or openly, in his novels, or in his dreams.
Unamuno expresses in its singular text How to write a novel (which could be addressed later, if there was interest in the readers of this post):
Every novel, every work of fiction (...), when it is alive is autobiographical. Every fictional being, every character [...] created by an author is part of the author himself.
(...) we authors create ourselves in all the characters (...) we create.
The characters, the fiction entities are constituted in the other of the author, and this one, in such a way, as God thought by Unamuno, creates himself; in that becoming, he becomes another. About this idea, the novelist Ernesto Sábato manifested in an opportunity:
(...) the life of a novelistic character (...) allows the author to mysteriously live other destinies, other lives and to realize anxieties infinitely restrained by his conscience or unconsciousness.
Indeed, the author unfolds into his own mystery, as in dreams, where, emerging from ourselves, beings give us back their difference, the unknown and ungraspable.
Ferrater Mora, José (1957). Unamuno. Outline of a philosophy. Argentina: Edit. Suramericana.
Paz, Octavio (1973). The bow and the lyre. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica.
Unamuno, Miguel de (1973). Of the tragic feeling of life. Argentina: Edit. Losada.
Unamuno, Miguel de (1978). How to make a novel. Spain: Edit. Alianza.
Authored by @josemalavem
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