Sacred Evils: Envy

Por María Zambrano

“Envy is the first form of kinship.”


Sacred Evils


There are sacred evils, ancient evils that whip the mortal body of man. Leprosy, epilepsy and some others that scientific medicine has not yet managed to reduce to the concept of disease, hiding them from that territory in which the human soul feels the curse, the stigma. They are not simply diseases, but signs, marks of something that seems cannot be made visible but in this horrible way. But the stigma is often the imprint and effigy of a distant and beloved object that has descended to leave its impression as a certain pledge of likeness in the being in which it has fallen. Sacred evils are stigmas, because they point and keep apart by being hollowed out by them.

And this set aside from those who suffer from a sacred evil points him out as something or someone from another world. The barrier that separates him from others is not a quality, but the sign that something from another world possesses him and because he cannot entirely not be in this visible, it breaks down. As if in such evils the relentless struggle of ways of being in the same existence was shown, none able to overcome, beings taken from life in which they are for something or someone who cannot do it completely is content to mark them.

Such diseases seem to have their dissent in moral life, a mirror of true sacred evils, which are based on the souls of mortals. We can recognize them in various characters. The first seems to be that of respect they inspire, respect that draws a circle of silence around. This void is the first way of exasperating suffering for those who suffer from it.

Envy certainly corresponds to this kind of evil. Despite how much there has been talk of her, she always produces a circle of silence around her when she appears. It imposes respect and imprints character and like no other evil places away and apart those who suffer from it by imprinting a stigma on it. It is not exactly a passion and even the idea of sin seems to let some of its essence escape, for sin is also greed or anger and they have neither the character of stigmas nor any other of the many who point to sacred evils and that for the moment we lock ourselves in that void, in that tight silence that is made around him. They belong to the world of the sacred. And the first action of the sacred is to mute those who contemplate it.

Although this muteness and silence may not be the first reaction men have experienced, but only the defense against some of the sacred, something that makes contagion fear or expect, pollution. Contagion, pollution, which the sacred produces in the world. And in its virtue this is the first character that we would have to recognize to identify these sacred evils: contagious action, before which in certain situations human consciousness, knowledge or experience, raises that wall of silence and respect. Respect becomes nothing but defensive action in the face of the polluting capacity of the sacred. “Sacred respect”, that is, respect so that the sacred does not contaminate us, a wall that makes the difference of life, of vital planes; limit and frontier of our being and another tremendous reality infinitely active and repellent at a time.

Signs of the Sacred: Destruction

Relentless activity in its ultimate focus, contagious in its contact with us, seems to be the first manifestation of the sacred. Contagion not always of evils. Rather, sacred evil is like stigma, evil on whom it is printed, but not an announcement of a bad analogue of the focus from which it radiates. Strange ambivalence, essential hesitation, defining sacred evils that seem to be a much more terrible evil because the focus from which they come may very well not be; as if evil were only in having become infected, to have approached something that it should not have, to have been taken away and contaminated by that infinitely active thing. That’s why these stigmas are not portraits, footprints, but contagions, pollution.

And such contagions take the capricious and arbitrary form, the reporting form proper to what it is not and cannot perhaps “be”; the multiple, infinite forms of destruction. All sacred evils, physicist and moral, do not appear with form and figure of their own, but as something unapresifiable, runaway and undescribed. Perhaps this is one of the analogies of corporeal diseases because of their irreducible nature in form and endowed with surprising activity. It is destruction, the destruction underway that produces no form, which is not an image of one body in another body, nor has a figure; which is multiple, huidized and incapable action.

Destruction with an unlimited character, capable of feeding itself is an endless process from which the term is not glimpsed. Destruction that feeds on itself, as if it were the release of a hidden source of energy and thus ingests active and creative purity, its opposite. Such is the radical ambivalence of the sacred.

Let us therefore distinguish ourselves from the simple destruction, which has a limit set in advance – which is extremely reassuring – this other destruction properly sacred, endless and endless. Pure destruction that finds food in itself. The bodily diseases that appear in this way bear an endless promise of life as if evil in order to persist took care of the duration of its prey. Some of the commonly called passions, such as envy, destroy the suffering being and at the same time gains verve for herself. He consumed by envy finds in it his food. A self-feeding destruction; such seems to be the first, original, definition of envy.

And as the sacred lives and manifests itself outside man, he may oppose that wall of isolating respect. I respect that it is only defensive action that does not dissolve, nor transform the sacred into the only thing that definitely saves it: the divine. Respect such as resignation are defensive attitudes, modes of resistance and nothing more, never modes of creation, of true transformative activity. The sacredness of the physical world was transformed many centuries ago into the divine, by thought: the sacredness of the mountains, rivers and volcanoes, of the frightenable phenomena, in the divine fysis, to which corresponds the reassuring notion of “nature”. Here is an allusion, of course, to the thought of Aristotle.

But when the sacred lives within man, in his very life, when he settles in his intimate and vital center and conforms, destroys, his life, some action must be attempted to transform the uncontainable force into his opposite; his contrary which carries implicitly, according to the ambivalence of the sacred.

Ambivalence of the sacred; hence its manifestation in signs, in stigmas, its ability to contagion. Hence the destruction, too. And respect and resignation are not valid in the face of their advances, for such infinite growth asks to be saved. And saving onese is but discovering oneseed, on the contrary, that is, to become converted. Will the conversion of envy be possible?

In human life, conversion must always be transformation, metamorphosis, perhaps transfiguration. That is, ascension on the scale of forms, gaining higher ways of being.

Will conversion, the metamorphosis of envy, not be an absolutely necessary process in this continuous becoming that seems to constitute the being of man?

Greed of the other

Greed for “the other” might be the most benevolent way to point out envy. And before greed, which is the noun, the essence, the term “the other” catches the eye. It is the reference to “the other” that takes here special substantiveity, standing out.

In the Spanish world, so especially scoured by envy, someone extraordinary has searched its background. Don Miguel de Unamuno has approached her in two ways: in the novel Abel Sánchez, story of a passion and in a drama not much warned by critics and public attention, The other. The drama already says in its title with naked eloquence the substantiveity of that other, which is the term, the object of envy… The other, the other, substantive. And the genius of the poet goes so far as not to give names to the protagonists of the drama, of tragedy; it’s really the other one, the brother. The envious and the envied have no name: they are each other, perhaps only masks other than a single divided being.

Such seems to be the distinctive torment of this sacred evil. Torment for each other; torment of the other that would not have to be seen like this.

The greed of the other could also be the definition of love. Without it being distinctive note the torment produced by envy, because love according to the complaints of those who suffer it, is torment to a sumo degree and, like envy, torment that feeds on itself. Love and envy are processes of the human soul in which suffering produces no decline; suffering is your food.

The same definition seems to remind this couple of opposites who are envy and love, “greed of the other”. The ambivalence of the world of the sacred becomes manifest as always. And it is this ambivalence that needs to be interpreted.

Greed is typical of something that needs to grow, grow or transform, stop being what it is; something that is in a transient state, something that is conato of being. He has no greed that he can already remain in himself, which has entity and rest. Greed is the call in what has not yet come to its being, and tends to acquire it in some way.

And so Plato, through a sacred voice, that of the priestess of Mantinea, makes love the son of lack. It is what has an avid nature, of longing, of need made active. But in love the object to which he addresses is not felt like another. And surely this sense of the other or the other is where the abyss that separates love from envy must be found. What will this other mean in envy that so far takes her from her brother love? How is the other felt in envy?

Greed of “the other”; community of love and envy, at least in the first sense, for soon in love “the other” becomes one. Envy, on the other hand, stubbornly maintains the alterity of the other, without being allowed to touch the purity of one.

And by keeping the other like another, greed grows and reaches the frenzy. The possessed of envy cannot give up that. No doubt, in the most intimate part of his life, something happens that keeps him tied to that other, strange and more me than his own self. Isn’t it that the envious one sees himself live in it?

The world of Greek tragedy appears as the frustration of beings in whom the generic substance does not allow me to bite the figure itself. Drama between the father, that father who represents the parents all, and the son, the most terrible drama of antiquity. No hero of tragedy attains loneliness, that loneliness necessary to be oneself. For, in truth, personal identity is born of loneliness, of that loneliness which is as a necessary empty space that establishes discontinuity. It seems necessary to pass as an act in history that period of human helplessness, of the end of the ancient world, so that man can be born alone; the son of the real man.

The generic resistance in tragic incest seems to be closely related to envy, a form of tragic kinship in which one cannot part with the other, in which the call to be one, does not find its uniqueness and feels to live in the other.

But the difference between envy and love seems to be found in the vision: love sees the other as one; envy to which one might be like the other.

The vision of the fellow

To see one live in another, to feel the other of himself without being able to turn him away. The envious one who seems to live out of his own, is an enssimised; invites already says by its composition the inside that is in that look at another. To look and see another not outside, not where the other really is, but in an abysmal inside, in a hallucinatory inside where he does not find the secret that makes one feel oneself, in confuses loneliness.

To see yourself live in another selflessly. Seeing someone else live in outer space, on the outside, is not, nor does it bring envy. To see objectively, that is, to see every thing and every being in the space that is appropriate for him, is the same thing that he can no longer envy. Because you can only envy the fellow man.

Seeing things that don’t live and even those who live life different from our own doesn’t seem to be able to lead to envy. Non-human living creatures and things appear in a different space from that in which we see — after many efforts – others. Seeing a fellow man seems to be the key to envy and with it of one’s being. For in the vision of the like is involved the interiority, the within which is our space, to which we retreat and which confers upon us the supreme distinction. How we felt in this true living space is related to the vision of others, to the community; with the achievement of being an individual of the human species in solitude and communion.

To see a fellow man is to see someone who lives like me live, who is in life in my own way. Only he can be felt in this implication of envy, because only he can be involved in my life. And it is that when we see the fellow man we do not see him objectively in physical space, but I feel his life in my life. Seeing the like one properly is the supreme test of vision.

Modern individualism has made us accustomed to us creating ourselves living alone: others come to my loneliness, which is worth as much as my already complete existence; starting from her I know, see and feel my neighbor. Living space or interiority would be free of implications; the inside where man is ensimisma, as Ortega says in his Self-Absorption and Alteration, is it a free space, a place where we find nothing but ourselves? Is it an empty retreat? What is the structure of this place where we continually retire?

It has been interpreted in different ways throughout the history of thought. Interiority as such is discovered by Christianity which, through St Augustine, is incorporated into the thought and belief of the common man. Before Christianity, in Greece, it is soul; after the revelation of St Augustine, in another decisive trance, it will be conscience in Descartes. But the question, as we see it, does not exactly coincide, because it refers not to the inner place, psyche or consciousness where we live, move and are, where we perceive things all, but that specific human interiority where the life of the fellow man is involved.

The life of the fellow man is not perceived as that of the rest of things and creatures, it takes place on another plane, more interior. To see the like we go in. And there are different degrees in this indentation. If to perceive and know the not like we make an exit movement, as if we wanted to reach the borders of our being, to look at our own limits, to see and perceive our neighbour, contraryly, we sink into ourselves and from this within our lives we feel and perceive. Hence, that peculiar character of the perception of the outside self that always has a tone, causing a tension, because we feel affected much more. In the face of the outside world we believe we live within limits, we feel defended; in front of the like we feel exposed, as immersed in a homogeneous environment from where we emerge at the same time.

In reality, every perception of the like is secret, it takes place in something not manifestable, in a medium that does not coincide, in any way, with the means that we have given in physical calling and that corresponds to the senses. Not with conscience, either. It is another means, the medium of interiority where such perception takes place. And in it, we feel unitarily the person who is our neighbour, and his place in existence. And we feel it as it feels all reality, by the limits with ours, by its action on us. But what in us suffers from the reality of the like person is something much deeper than what is affected by uns alive things and by living creatures that are not our fellowmen; before him we feel engaged, and in danger; we feel increased or diminished.

To see someone else is to see someone else live. In human life you are not alone, but in moments when loneliness is done, it is created. Loneliness is a metaphysical conquest, difficult, because no one is alone, but must come to do loneliness within himself, at times when it is necessary for our growth. Mystics and poets speak of loneliness as something to go through, the starting point of the “asceticism”, that is, of death, of that death that must be died, according to them, before the other, to be seen, at last, in another mirror.

The vision of others is a mirror of one’s life; see you when I see you. And the vision of the like is necessary precisely because man needs to see himself. There doesn’t seem to be any animals that need to look at their figure in the mirror. The man seeks to see himself. And he lives in fullness when he looks, not in the dead mirror that gives him back his own image, but when he sees him live in the living mirror of the like.

Only when I see myself in another do I actually see myself, only in the mirror of another life similar to mine do I acquire the certainty of my reality. Believing in the reality of one’s own is nothing to be given, it seems that it is certainty received in a reflex way, because I believe in myself and I feel to live for real, if I see myself in another. My reality depends on someone else. And this tragic bondage engenders, at the same time, love and envy. From loneliness, from anguish, it does not come to existence in a solitary act, but conversely, from the community in which I am immersed, I go out into my reality through someone in whom I see myself, in whom I feel my being. Every existence is received. And already after this previous certainty, necessary, where envy lurks, can the conquest of loneliness come. Loneliness concerning others, detachment from them; going into search of other spaces where, far from men, I am not alone, but I am looking in a mirror beyond human time, of which some men have testified.

Envy, look through, is the vision in a mirror that does not give us back the image that our life needs. Hence the ambiguity of envy, and that kind of bond that is established between envy and envy. A link that haunts complicity, because it inevitably feels that, if the envied – mirror – sent to the possessed of envy the image he hopes and needs, it would rescue him from the hell in which he lies. And perhaps envy comes from the turbidity of the envied, which does not keep its interior transparent, but, tarnished by some indiscernible passion for him, does not reflect him as he should. Leibnitz says that “man is the conscious mirror of universal life.” To this conscious mirror it seems impossible that no one would envy him to find in him the clean and clear image that awaits his being. Becomes that conscious mirror is the perfection of the human, but not its common reality.

And so envy gets away with making the envy unequivocal. Game of looks, of stocks that look and watch each other live in each other, in the hope of finding the image they need of themselves; very random ambiguity of participation.

Participation and identity

Vision and life are no different; humanely, vision begets life. There are divisions that make us or help us be. Human life needs to see to be life. “Live to see” and see to live. Vision frees life, but the vision of itself brings the supreme degree of freedom.

But if the vision of oneself is not direct but reflects, through one such one, freedom is acquired through the other. We are, therefore, for someone else and with him.

Freedom is identity. It seems that the end to which life tends is the formation of what has been called in the language of modern philosophy, “subject”, the formation of a subject; and subject is identity.

It belongs to the tragic essence of life to need the other even for freedom. Other than that, tragedy would be a game or an erquivocal or, as many modern minds have believed, an aberration, something definable in pathology. But the logos of the pathos, of suffering tragic, is much different.

Tragedy is but the expression of community or participation prior to the definition of the individual. As larvae or conatos of being, the characters of tragedy identify with their passions, with what happens to them. They have nothing but: what happens to them and nothing else. And so, before the Historical Reason or any other theory about man and life, we will have to interrogate with the infinite fear that such questions envelop, about whether man will not go in search of his identity beyond his passions, beyond the events of his life; if you won’t go looking for that pure, free identity that gives you the character of being the subject of what’s wrong with you, but not just a patient of your passing.

And this pass moves in participation. Will envy be there? To be seen in the ever-wrong and unjust pass?

The envy of feeling life as an event and passion could not be born, because this is how others, “the others”, would also be seen. In passion everything is another and nothing is one, for nothing remains. But if we seek the identity of being someone above and beyond what happens to us and what we pass, then envy cannot arise. Because envy is the passion of the other, passion of the identity of another, passion of the freedom of another, in the hesitant unity and freedom of oneself.

Envy, the most self-enmities of passions, that takes place below passing and passions and takes into them its pretext. Envy is not, nor does it make sense, but cleft like a cold sword between that search for identity and freedom – beyond event and even passion – as before a supreme promise, though indiscernible.

Envy is on the path of loneliness, and if the one who is committed to it would achieve it, it would cease. There is no envy in solitude, because only loneliness acquires that in some way and in some sense has managed to approach the identity that is stillness and rest and certainty.

It crossed the path of loneliness, when the one who walks it needs to live in participation. Envy makes others “the other.” But what’s the point of this twisted conversion? Those who suffer from envy need to become one and cannot, because they are intricate, involved in the fellow man, without being able to detach himself. Envy becomes the shadow of a life outside of one’s life.

Shadow of the other, such feels the envy. Unamuno makes him look lucidly in his brilliant tale Abel Sánchez. “Shadow of a Dream,” according to Píndaro, who so repeats Unamuno, more vainly shadow of the other. How can the fellow be turned into “the other”?

The root of loneliness

Are we ever really alone? Isolation, incommunicadoness are not loneliness. Nor the common helplessness, the only thing felt in common of modern times. The many helpless seek to come together in one, perhaps waiting for the common Father to appear: “Proletarians of all countries, unies!”

In Unamuno, who therefore does not transcend the tragic conception of life, loneliness is never achieved. At the bottom of loneliness, man feels shadow, shadow of one dream, shadow of the other, which appears with greater religious depth in the drama The Other, than in the novelistic account. Being halfway, stumbles upon his half, with his alter, always in the ass; insurmountable obstacle of his supreme longing: oneness. Envy is born in the yearning to be an individual, to be unique, to the supreme promise of being truly an individual. The fellow is then the other, and his likeness becomes the ultimate demented of his claim.

St. Thomas says that angels constitute one species each. While, as we see it, man, aspireing to be unique, sees the like everywhere. And so it is explained both to suffer sought and the martyrdom of so many in pursuit of uniqueness, of un nameless loneliness, of finally seeing the face, of finding an image of himself, that has unmistakable reality.

In the Divine Passion there is a supreme moment when it seems that it stops to decide, suspended over the infinite abyss. Jesus is alone before His destiny; in complete solitude before him. An angel lengthens the chalice of his unsusable suffering. Mystery in which the human obtains its supreme deliverance from the tragedy of being shadow of the fellow man. The angel always appears to those who atern solitude; It’s the sacred image of loneliness! And the man who has felt it close, even without seeing him, will be free forever from the asecho of envy; of the twisted self-absorption where the gaze veered before the 8th mirror.

Incomplete passion that of man who has not lived his hour in the human way, far from everything and without shadow. Then you are born to loneliness, something already enduring. Well, you won’t look at it in the like, nor will you have anything from it.

But it can also be deceived in the Orchard of Olives, diverting fate, repenting of the Passion. On the foreheads of those who belong to people as whipped by the sacred evil of envy as Spanish, this vision should be raised from the instant in which loneliness gives rise to man in his mother’s womb. For only the healing loneliness of the interrupted passion, of the failed Eucharist.

Taken from Origins, Havana, t. 3, No. 9, 1946, pp. 11-20. Coteed with the version of Man and the Divine, Mexico, Economic Culture Fund, 1955, pp. 257-270. This has incorporated the spelling and writing corrections introduced by the author, as well as those variants of the text that clarify passages that seemed confusing or incomplete.

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