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Lecture SeriesEMINENT SPANIARDS II (VII)Unamuno: ecce homo

  • Date: 15/04/2008
  • Presenter:
    • Juan Pablo Fusi

Miguel de Unamuno told himself "I preach for myself. Ecce homo". Was this rhetoric bluffing?, selfish arrogance?, an unchaste truth? I tend to think the latter. The sentence itself does not have a strict normative sense, but it is supposed to be descriptive. Unamuno was know for speaking from the heart, in a romantic way, being sincere to scandalous levels, or as he liked to say "stripping his soul" and being exposed to the public eye to provoke and stimulate the other to do the same, in a cult to truth and living in reciprocal confession. "Truth before peace" was his motto, "I would prefer truth in war than lies in peace" (III, 269). And because of the truth, this is, the possibility of discovering truth at the core of existence, he lived in permanent war with himself and others, in the hopes of being enlightened by the conflict, just as a star is born out of chaos. But the truth is that his Ecce homo also holds a normative meaning. His belief was that each man should be a "living idea" (I, 950), the incarnation of an archetype that only he could discover and produce, becoming a "unique species". "Each of us is unique and irreplaceable; in being so you should focus all of your efforts" (idem). Without doubt he himself devoted exclusively and exhaustively his entire life to this, until the archetype was forged with his own soul in the shape of El Quixote. Why this myth? What makes Unamuno characterize himself as Don Quixote to fight his battles? For me one thing is clear: Unamuno does not disguise himself of Don Quixote for notoriety, but due to converting to the lay and civil religion of quixotism in order to meet his vocation of reforming Spain's spirituality, as a sort of anti-Loyola in his quarrels with the Jesuit. This transformation was also meant to be a warm hug to Don Quixote himself. Just like Ortega, Unamuno had to decide one day if he wanted to be a German-like Gelehrte or a town-square intellectual, so decided to "quixotize" in order to save his conscience and his mission in Spain.

I would like to call your attention upon this metamorphose, because anybody could wonder: how is it possible that an intellectual characterizes as a madman? And here is the surprising part: Unamuno discovers in his spiritual maturity that his vocation, and even more, the internal build of his soul, is not that of an intelectual or "psychic" -analyst, critic and reasoner-, but that of a "spiritual" or "pneumatic", belonging to a breed of feelers, dreamers and meditators. Those, as he says, that "believe there is another world inside of ours, with potentials asleep and silent in the base of our spirit" (I, 1143). Freedom is more than a concept, it is an experience (pneuma), a creative wind that can blow everything away. Only the imaginative, the utopical dreamers, the passionate visionaries, can be witnesses. Intellectuals can provide us with a concept, or maybe a system. The "pneumatic" on the other hand can give us a feeling, an intuition, in summary a conviction with which we may live. According to this model, "quixotized" Unamuno feels not like a political revolutionary, but like something much more profound, a reshaper of existence compromised with destiny of his people; he feels, in summary, like a civil poet being part of the collective feelings and needs of his people, like a prophet shining his ideals over historic paths. This is the practical originality of Unamuno. Wether he knew it or not, he incarnated the romantic hero, lonely and prominent in his mission, and still supportive with his people. Before being a philosophy scholar, he his a civil poet, a political and religious leader prototype of the civic virtue. "I have always sought creating agitation, or at most, suggesting instead of teaching. If I sold bread, I would not sell bread, but the doe and yeast" (III, 263). And for this he can only count on the force of words, the real wind of the spirit that consoles and encourages, moves and transforms, excites and snatches, because words are the wind of freedom. The ethic ideal of vocation joins with the faith in semantics in the creative power of words.   

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