Quevedo and consciousness in Spain (Fragments)

By: María Zambrano

Francisco de Quevedo

The Universidad del Aire, the bold cultural proposal led by Jorge Mañach (1898-1961), would alternate with its publication Notebooks of the Universidad del Aire, later called Notebooks of the Air University of the CMQ Circuit. The broadcast began in 1932 from the CMBZ station – better known as Mil Diez – and then from the CMQ. It had an interruption in 1933 and would resume in 1949 until 1952. Cira Romero recalls that in Notebooks of the Universidad del Aire both Mañach “and his followers in this cultural company did not aspire to dictate detailed or profound knowledge, but to give listeners introductory and general notions that would allow them to approach the most varied knowledge” (in La Jiribilla, year XII, Havana, Cuba, No. 780, June 18 to June 24, 2016).
We consider the reader a fragment of “Quevedo and Consciousness in Spain” (No. 30, June 1951), third of the five lectures given by the philosopher María Zambrano (1904-1991) at the Universidad del Aire. The other four were named “The Crisis of Western Culture” (No. 1, December 1949), “From Unamuno to Ortega and Gasset” (No. 7, August 1949), “The Sower Rousseau” (No. 32, August 1951) and “The Birth of Historical Consciousness” (No. 36, January 1952). The lectures were subsequently published in the CMQ Circuit Air University Notebooks.

We therefore have, at the very dawn of the XVII and already since the end of the XVI these two aspects of consciousness that visibly shows that Spanish culture in its deepest originality discovered that attitude, but not exactly the same. And I think what set her apart from cartesian rationalist attitude was a very decisive thing: the method. Poetic doubt does not engender or support method. And as for the consciousness expressed day after day – hour after hour – in Quevedo, that cuita, that continuous sorrow, includes love and anguish; much closer to the attitude from which today’s existentialist philosophy was born than from Descartes. Quevedo has poetically anticipated the root, the very source in the human soul, of today’s existentialism.
But who was Quevedo? First and foremos say, he was “a son of the people of Madrid”. Madrid grew up with him and him with Madrid; was a chaste Madridian. And this is a very serious thing. His sayings, his style – cut, fast – is typical of the most “indigenous” Madrid; his very figure is present in the memory of the People of Madrid who refer to him as if he had not stopped walking in its streets and throwing its arrows into the ntideros; it has not disappeared, lives still and will live while Madrid encourages. And in this is Quevedo more mated with Seneca – so far removed in time and who did not even write, of course, in Spanish – than with Cervantes. For Cervantes is “the author”, which means that by keeping all the abysmal distance that separates the human from the divine, he bears a resemblance to that aspect of divinity that impassively looks at his creatures; has some of that divine indifference recognizable, otherwise, in all classics. It feels situated in some celestial region, above everyday life and its presence is somewhat distant. Meanwhile, Quevedo is there, nearby, he is heard even more than read to him; is the living consciousness of a “man of flesh and blood”, whose figure, while still belonging to life has become invulnerable. Together with Seneca he embodies the persistence of tradition in the lives of the most humble people, the two have realized the feat of reaching the “illiterate culture”.

And because he was a writer, so, without more, he wrote of everything; began with mockery, began, yes, mocking everything to make it “evidence” a form of evidence other than Cartesian evidence. And he laughed with a bitter laugh, born of despair that does not deny the hope of a truly exasperated craving who knows – by force of conscience – that the truth for certain things – the world and its traps – appears only wrapped in laughter. Passionate laughter that has later been called “black humor”, so Spanish!
He left a single novel, a jewel of that genre called the “picaresca” in which Spanish literature has reached moments of true genius. He also wrote moral treatises and that is his famous Politics of God and the government of Christ, passionate attempt to lead the “valid” and his Lord to the “Christian” conscience of his duties to the people, boldness rarely matched in history. Philosophical treatises such as From cradle to burial, where you could find much of original and current next to topics of your time. He wrote diatribes, “pamphlets” visions of the diplomatic and political world of his time as the Lince of Italy. He translated Anacreonte, Seneca and St Paul into his Book of Job, which gives us as much or more than his original work the journey of his soul. But his work, the intimate unity of his work is perceived from what some have considered the least important: poetry, especially the poetry of love and death, where no one has matched him in the Castilian language; and as another pole in The Dreams his work for some more representative. From it, we can highlight a phrase that can define you, at least envelop you, we point out the ultimate meaning of your relentless desire as a writer and even your life as a man. He says of “Dreams” that they are “dreamy skinned and dreamy truths.” And so it is.
“The sleepy skins” mean the whole critical aspect of his work: mockery, political criticism, even moralistic treatises. It is that aspect of a writer of conscience that defines him. But a consciousness mixed with sleep, hope and despair… The other, his poetic work, are “dream truths” that transcend all that. And in the root of everything, something very original, very current too: the feeling of time. The feeling of time that not his concept, that not the attempt to apprehend him in a philosophical idea. No; Quevedo was a man of very sharp sensibility, always awake. Watchful consciousness in which they had mingled to melt, wakefulness and sleep and thus awake dreamed and slept. but I couldn’t sleep. It does not take his beautiful “Ode to sleep” for us to dream of his long, perpetual insomnia, born of that his feeling of time; longing to keep an eye on him, to rush him instantly instantly. That value that acquires the instant in certain remembered beings, by their own passion, souls born or as made of fire. Pure flame; pure develo.
And this feeling of the time and the “disappointment” of the world, of itself and everything, led to the most “castiza” philosophy, we would say, of all those who have managed to penetrate Spanish life: stoicism. As a chaste Spaniard it was to be, it hardly escapes it and even more so if you are a man of action, in difficult trances; man of action depending on man of conscience. Philosophy, whose center is morality and of which the Spaniard has coined sentences like this: “One of lime and one of sand” expression of the perpetual relativism of human life and its business; but above all that “Knowing how to keep the type” “the line”, we would say in cultured language that fascinates Spanish and leads to heroism, therefore, this morality has a lot of aesthetics. Among the supreme “values” of this morality we would also have to place elegance, a sober, tight elegance… to the horns of the bull; time and death.
More, stoicism is pagan philosophy – which involves a serious question within the Spanish soul. He was born at a time of historical crisis, when philosophical thought became a matter of man himself; of the being of man or said on his own terms: “of human nature”. He was inspired by Heráclito, a Greek philosopher before Socrates, who believed that the ultimate reality is fire; a living fire “that is extinguished with measure and lighted with measure.” According to the Stoics this was so, and besides, man, “human nature” was analogous to fire, the most inasible, yes, the most dangerous, the most living, but that “lights up and is extinguished with measure”. And this “measure” was logos, reason harmony, order, rhythm. Hence perhaps comes the one that stoicism always inexorably demands an elegance in difficult times, which for him are not also so important: since man is simple quote of elements and his “nature” a loan that must be repayed with good face.
And how can you be stoic by being like Quevedo was a Christian? He became aware of it, since he called one of his poetic works “Christian Heráclito”. Perhaps he was not aware of the seriousness of the problem of being both at the same time because of the authenticity of his Christian faith and because like so many others, they have naturally incorporated into Christianity some ideas and even beliefs born from very diverse sources and that if they are going to analyze they are contradictory to the essentials of Christianity.
[…]. Ω

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