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CLASSIC

The philosophy of Mexicanness

Emilio Uranga

Emilio Uranga, 1951

With a new introduction and commentary by Carlos Alberto Sánchez & Robert Eli Sanchez, Jr 

All photos by Jorge Santiago

Introduction

To believe in the substantiality of human existence is not just false, it is inhuman

Carlos Alberto Sánchez & Robert Eli Sanchez, Jr

Today Mexican philosophy is enjoying something of a renaissance. Emerging from the Mexican Revolution of 1910, philosophers in Mexico grappled with questions concerning Mexican identity, including the identity of Mexican philosophy, and formed a distinct philosophical tradition known as la filosofía de lo mexicano, or the philosophy of Mexicanness. At its core, this golden age of Mexican philosophy (1910-60) aimed to uncover the essential characteristics of Mexican culture in order to reaffirm them in light of a history of conquest and colonialism. Thus, the philosophy of Mexicanness represents an effort to achieve liberation from the dominant paradigms of Western thought, as well as a genuine desire for self-knowledge – what the Mexican philosopher Emilio Uranga (1921-88) referred to as ‘autognosis’.

On a relatively standard account, the philosophy of Mexicanness begins with Profile of Man and Culture in Mexico (1934) by Samuel Ramos, so it is not surprising that Uranga begins his ‘Essay on the Ontology of the Mexican’ (1951) by quoting Ramos at length. Uranga highlights the central thesis of the text: that the defining characteristic of the Mexican mind is that the Mexican suffers from an ‘inferiority complex’. Like Ramos and other intellectuals of this period, Uranga sought to comprehend the characteristics that define the Mexican people. Mexicans are sentimental, Uranga claims, and full of melancholy. They have a peculiar fascination with death and dying. Readers today need think only of Coco (2017), Pixar’s portrait of Mexican culture: even though it is a children’s movie, it is fundamentally about loss and the threat of being forgotten. However, unlike Ramos, Uranga proposes an ontological account of Mexican sentimentality, melancholy and inferiority, concluding that these are but symptoms of an ‘ontological insufficiency’ – of the fact that to be Mexican is to fundamentally lack that which would otherwise make one sufficient.

Born in Mexico City in 1921, Uranga was a founding member of el grupo Hiperión, a group of young Mexican philosophers influenced by German and French existential phenomenology. Considered the most capable member of the group and referred to as primus inter pares (first among equals), Uranga presents a novel interpretation of Mexican life in his essay on the ontology of the Mexican. ‘Mexicans are creatures of melancholy,’ he writes, making clear that he is not referring to a psychological disposition toward sadness, but to an ontological condition of being groundless and, more to the point, of being conscious of one’s lack of permanent foundation. ‘Ontologically speaking’ – a phrase Uranga repeats – the Mexican is an ‘accidental’ being.

At the centre of Uranga’s ‘ontology’ is the scholastic distinction between substance and accident. A substance is that which endures and survives change. It is what remains the same despite change – the thing itself, which is characterised by permanence. By contrast, an accident depends on a substance for its existence – x must be an accident of something – and is by definition impermanent. Applied to the human being – something that the phenomenologist Martin Heidegger does not do – this ontological difference manifests itself in the feeling of power, a sense of self-sufficiency and permanence on the one hand, and a fundamental sense of insecurity and impermanence on the other hand. In historical terms, it is the difference between the modern European’s belief in her power over nature and inferior human beings, and the various forms of Mexican dependence and self-denigration.

Like Ramos’s unflattering portrait of the Mexican in the Profile, the purpose of Uranga’s analysis of Mexican sentimentality is not simply to put the Mexican on trial. Instead, there is an underlying lesson about the human condition that the Anglo-European can learn from Mexican self-examination. To be accidental is not the tragic fate of Mexicans – the peculiar source of their misery or fascination with death. Instead, it is an essential feature of being human. In other words, if Uranga is right, the belief in the self-sufficiency or substantiality of human existence that defines modern European history – a belief that provided Europeans with a justification for a history of conquest, colonialism, exclusion and exploitation – is not just mistaken or false, it is inhuman.

It is worth pointing out that Uranga’s use of ‘ontology’ is problematic, given that the object of his analysis is the specific being of the Mexican. As the philosopher Guillermo Hurtado of the National Autonomous University of Mexico pointed out in 2011, Uranga engages in a ‘micro-regional ontology’, not ontology proper. Hurtado asks: ‘How far can the regionalisation of an ontology be taken?’ However, the seeming regionalisation of ontology did not bother Uranga, as he believed that the results of the analytic would show that Mexican being, as insufficient and accidental, represents being in general. So, for Uranga and el grupo Hiperión, or los hiperiones, the existential analytic of Mexican existence (or Dasein, as Heidegger might have it) would open the path to a greater truth, ‘the Mexican is human and the human is Mexican’. Thus, while it might be problematic for a more traditional phenomenologist, we like to see Uranga’s appropriations of the phenomenological-existential method as creative, a refusal to employ an approach that already exists and a willingness to adjust the method to match the (historical) object of study.

Uranga’s ‘Essay on the Ontology of the Mexican’, as well as other influential texts in la filosofía de lo mexicano, can be found in Mexican Philosophy in the 20th Century (2017), the inaugural volume of Oxford University Press’s new series, Oxford New Histories of Philosophy. It is a shorter version of Uranga’s more robust Análisis del ser del mexicano (1949-52), or ‘The Analysis of Mexican Being’, soon to be translated into English. Uranga’s essay ‘The Mexican and Humanism’ has been translated into English in The Modern Mexican Essay (1965). Other noteworthy works include Literary Tricks (Austicias literarias, 1971), and Who Owns Philosophy? (¿De Quien es la filosofia? 1977), which both testify to a struggle for and against the traditional postulates of philosophy and the philosophical life.

Carlos Alberto Sánchez is professor of philosophy at San José State University. He is the author of several books, including ‘Contingency and Commitment: Mexican Existentialism and the Place of Philosophy’ (2016). He is also the co-editor of Mexican Philosophy in the 20th Century: Essential Readings’ (2017) which is a volume of the Oxford New Histories in Philosophy series and a project of the Center for New Narratives in Philosophy. He lives in San José, California.

Robert Eli Sanchez, Jr is an assistant professor of philosophy at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles. He is the co-editor of ‘Mexican Philosophy in the 20th Century: Essential Readings’ (2017) which is a volume of the Oxford New Histories in Philosophy series and a project of the Center for New Narratives in Philosophy. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

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Classic Text

Emilio Uranga

The philosophy of Mexicanness

From ‘Essay on the Ontology of the Mexican’, translated by Carlos Alberto Sánchez

With a new commentary by Carlos Alberto Sánchez & Robert Eli Sanchez, Jr

Samuel Ramos dedicates a section in his book Profile of Man and Culture in Mexico to a ‘psychoanalysis of the Mexican character’. In that essay, he writes:

Others have spoken about the sense of inferiority of our race, but no one, as far as we know, has systematically used the idea to explain our character. For the first time, in this essay, we make methodological use of these old observations, rigorously applying [Alfred] Adler’s psychological theories to the Mexican case. What must be presupposed is the existence of an inferiority complex in all those individuals who manifest an exaggerated preoccupation with affirming their personality; who take a strong interest in all things or situations that signify power, and who have an immoderate eagerness to dominate, to be the first in everything. Adler affirms that the sense of inferiority appears in the child in realising the insignificance of his strength in comparison with his parents. At its birth, Mexico found itself in the civilised world in the same way that a child finds itself with his elders. It appeared in history at a time when a mature civilisation already prevailed, something that an infantile spirit can barely understand. From this disadvantageous situation emerges the sense of inferiority that is aggravated by the conquest, mestizaje, and even by the disproportionate magnitude of nature.

In a session at the Center for Philosophical Studies [at the National University in Mexico City], held this previous year [1950], we proposed to Ramos to substitute the concept of inferiority, which he applies to the Mexican individual, with that of insufficiency. In the case of the Conquest, we argued, we could certainly be talking about a relation of inferiority, similar to the relation between a father and a son, as Ramos proposes; but, in the case of Independence, the relation with the European was no longer one of father and son but, rather, one of teacher and student. We had, then, two ‘illustrations’ that themselves expressed a difference between sufficiency and insufficiency, and no longer one between superiority and inferiority. We thus proposed a phenomenological analysis that would very precisely disentangle inferiority from insufficiency.

Inferiority is a modality of insufficiency, but it is not the only one. How does one go from a constitutional or ontological insufficiency to inferiority? Answering this question means giving an account of what Ramos has called the Mexican’s inferiority complex.

In the first place, in what sense should we understand, in an ontological manner, that the Mexican is insufficient? According to Ramos, the inferiority complex should serve to systematically explain ‘our character’. But, what is our character?

When one considers their character, Mexicans are sentimental. At the core of this very particular human being there is a strong emotive mixture, involving inactivity and the disposition to ruminate on each one of life’s events. Mexican life is impregnated with a sentimental character and it can be said that the tone of that life sets up the play of the emotions, of inactivity, and of a tireless internal rumination.

Emotionality is a species of internal fragility; the Mexican feels weak or fragile inside. He has learned from infancy that his interiority is vulnerable and brittle, which gives rise to all the techniques for preservation and protection that the Mexican constructs in order to impede external forces from penetrating and injuring him. This helps explain his frailty, the elegance of his dealings, his avoidance of surprises and his crude expressions. But it also explains that constant preoccupation with keeping a low profile, with being inconspicuous, and the impression he eventually gives of evading and hiding, of not allowing himself to get noticed. Finally, of that sensation, so uncomfortable at times, of hiding one’s person, of demureness, that almost borders on dissimulation and hypocrisy, and that is ultimately nothing more than the conviction of an incurable fragility.

Fragility is the quality of always being threatened by nothingness, by the threat of falling into non-being. The Mexican’s emotive life psychologically expresses or symbolises this ontological condition. Whoever lives always threatened by destruction feels fragile, destructible, and tends either toward self-protection, if he values life, or opens himself to annihilation if, for instance, in the hurriedness of a decision he chooses emptiness and nothingness. From there arises that characteristic contempt for human life attributed to the Mexican, as well as the familiar idea that the Mexican lives constantly ambushed by death. Mexican life is sensitive and delicate because the fundamental project of protecting a fragile being requires constructing the surrounding world as a practical system of resilient, elastic and ‘soft’ networks [canales amortiguadores, elásticos, ‘algodonosos’]. But together with these protective networks, there is also a vast zone of brutal edges lying there as threat. The contrast between brutality and fragility is as Mexican as the Mexican himself. Mexican life offers to emotive life complicated structures of preservation, species of Baroque altars in which thousands of twisted figures have been sculpted and from which one must skilfully pry oneself so as not to be assaulted by the brutal and the grotesque.

Inactivity is the mark of the sentimental character. The various obstacles that oppose themselves to the various activities of the Mexican do not motivate him to grow or overcome those obstacles, but, rather, fold him over and drive him into himself [lo repliegan y ensimisman]. This is unwillingness [desgana] in all of its forms; it is to disconnect oneself from all tasks, to leave everything for ‘tomorrow’. On the surface, to be unwilling is to be bored, since associations of unwillingness with boredom are always in abundance. When unwillingness dominates, human reality appears, from the outside, as if given over to an overbearing boredom; however, deeper inspection removes that appearance and we are confronted with aspects of human reality that are unrelated to boredom pure and simple.

In unwillingness, our spirit colours itself with a particular repulsion for things, with a quiet repulsion for everything that surrounds us. But, the unwilling man does not stop seeing a meaningful structure in the world (the world does not appear to him as it appears in [Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1938 novel] Nausea), as a copy of insignificant and gratuitous things. Rather he sees a meaningful process that beckons his collaboration, his decision, his action, and that demands to be fulfilled by a surplus of determination. Unwillingness appears when life, soft and elastic, nevertheless forces a decision. We are unwilling so as not to choose. In this sense unwillingness is indifference before things, an unwillingness that could pass as contemplation if not for the obscure feeling of overindulgent irresponsibility that accompanies it. Being thus shows itself as a repertoire of meanings that wrap and bind us, and simultaneously as a structure of ‘supplicants’ [suplicantes] whose lamentations have the precise sense of not being heard. Unwillingness is then indifference before a supplication; or, it is a resistance, if you prefer, toward the spontaneous and originary voice of things or of others. When we are unwilling, the world sends us messages that arrive at an inattentive destination. And it is not to consciously cause harm that the calls go neglected, but rather because we have no desire to lend them our attention, because we decide not to move, to remain in inactivity (for instance, when we decide to let the phone ring rather than unplugging it). The unwilling individual lacks precisely the will to bestow sense. While he may feel in possession of a mechanism for sense-bestowal, he will not act, and will keep to himself the centrifugal impulse to attribute meanings.

Unwillingness is found in the opposite extremes [antípodias] of generosity. Generosity is, in effect, a determined choice to collaborate, a will to sympathise, to enter into auxiliary contact with things, with history, with social movements, of adding or synthesising the capacity for teleological determination that emanates from freedom with the causality that weighs things down, with the dialectical course of the world that straightens itself toward a goal but which without that surplus of determination can degrade or minimise itself into inadequate compromises. If history entails an essential indeterminateness, and freedom can force it to pass to a lesser degree of indetermination and toward greater precision and unity, then to not graft that degree of probability, to refuse to make history into a making that concerns us, is a lack of generosity, a lack of joy for an abundance that overflows, and that is precisely unwillingness.

In unwillingness there is disgust [asco] for the meaning that things have, for the sense that they contain. When it is said of something that it provokes disgust we are not saying that we disapprove of the contingency of its being, of its stubborn lack of all sense or transcendence, but rather that as an indeterminate sense it calls on my collaboration while chaining me to a task that, as over-determined, can bring me only closer to abjection. Unwillingness is precisely the disgust that overtakes us when we foresee that our action might contribute to a consolidation of the abject sense of things. All action is therefore valued, in unwillingness, within the horizon of its contribution to depravity and corruption [podredumbre]. It is thus conceivable that unwillingness emerges by the simple fact that one is Mexican. It is an attempt to dislodge oneself from that contingency, to uproot oneself from that facticity; an attempt to be disgusted with contingency and facticity. Unwillingness not to be otherwise, for our history not to be otherwise, for our customs not to be otherwise; unwillingness that prepares the choice for another who will be our saviour or the choice for an inferiority complex. From there emerges that eagerness to see things as the outsider sees them, of allowing ourselves to be justified by others. From there emerges also ‘pochismo’, ‘malinchismo’, ‘Europeanism’, and ‘indigenism’. With unwillingness, one of the modes of insufficiency, the Mexican flees from himself by choosing inferiority. Here we bear witness to how insufficiency transforms itself into inferiority by means of unwillingness – an inferiority that predisposes the Mexican to his sentimental character.

But inactivity also gives rise to other feelings that we will qualify as dignity. The Mexican lives in a constant state of indignation. Noticing that things begin to go badly, he is always prepared with a principle in accordance with which to condemn those things; however, he is also not disturbed by them going badly, and so he does not throw himself into action; all he does is protest, allowing free reign to his indignation. The obstacle, that is, does not redouble his activity. A task saturated with difficulties will not be incentive enough for the Mexican to redouble his efforts. Dignity resides in the will to stay clean, in the will to flee from any association or involvement with whatever is base. Being dignified is to make oneself immune to the wiles of irregularity, to maintain oneself safe from suspect commitments. It corresponds very well to what [in 1781 Immanuel] Kant calls freedom in the negative sense, that is, the capacity for autonomy before inferior tendencies. A will to cleanliness, to rectitude and correctness, are aspects of the feeling of dignity. With a patience that ignores its origins, the dignified man surrenders to the decision to pass through life as cleanly as possible, to dedicate himself to causes that will not expose his vulnerabilities, and to avoid the paths that will make him a target.

What in the Spaniard shows itself as honour, in the Mexican appears as a proper sense of dignity. With this we touch upon the most profound layers of the different modes of being human. We touch upon the idea that freedom, which every human being represents, cannot be subjected to any law; it is unconditional. Because of freedom, the human being can be anything he wants in any given situation; he can be mean or noble, magnanimous or petty. In short, because of freedom the individual enlightens the world with values and anti-values without any sort of hindrance. This is what the Spanish drama of Don Juan very accurately represents. When the fair maiden has surrendered, when she has placed her life entirely in Don Juan’s hands, she can no longer ask him to do what is right, to put things aside for a better time, for instance, for a time after the epithalamium [a kind of poem, originally sung at the marital chamber to bless the newly weds on the night of their wedding] sanctioned by human and divine laws. What is to be done is within the purview of Don Juan’s unconditional freedom, and the only thing that matters is to appeal to his honour, to rest in his dignity which is a quality of freedom, a very peculiar colouring that always shows itself when one speaks of freedom. The French call this quality generosity, not honour or dignity. The free man is for the French the generous man, for the Spaniard the honourable man, and for the Mexican the dignified man. From a dignified man, likewise from an honourable or a generous man, we can expect anything, and can trust him with the most important and delicate situations, commitments, etc, and trust him also with what is most disturbing, for which he will always respond … with dignity.

Dignity as a qualification of freedom is indefinable. It is impossible to convince someone about the meaning of dignity who has not experienced it in the exercise of freedom. Here, as in every other case, understanding presupposes a previous grasping, a comprehension. Dignity is, as we said before, a will to distance oneself from suspect motivations having to do with our conduct. Every free act presupposes dignity, since the exercise of freedom is always preceded by an act through which the individual dislodges himself from a system of inferior motivations. But in the execution of the free act such distancing is not enough. Escaping from the sensible while not morally determining oneself is a state of indifference that mirrors unwillingness and indecision. This is why dignity, unwillingness and fragility are always tied together. Dignity needs the support of an active determination, or better yet, it is a virtue of inactivity and not of activity. As with honour, dignity has its advantages and its disadvantages.

A certain honesty bordering on arrogance comes with honour; a certain discretion bordering on immodesty accompanies dignity. The atmosphere that honour adds to our decision is one of clarity and warmth, while that which is added by dignity is nebulous and cold. The dignified man, through his decisions, allows a certain fragility to shine through, a certain incurable inconsistency. An internal rumination constitutes the third characteristic element of the sentimental man. Preserving our being means nothing else than allowing or bringing about an internal substitution of activity, allowing or bringing about a certain species of dreaming that involves re-living everything that has been lived, going to and fro in interior life. Behind every face that evades activity and nausea we find an interior life, what every person has lived, their memories, their worries, their joys, a repertoire of facts that every Mexican cares about and continuously retells. The Mexican individual always gives the impression of having already lived, of carrying deep within his soul a world that has already been, and that because of its emotive weight was indelibly recorded. On that is grounded our melancholy, and that appearance of a man of bitter experience.

There is an almost supernatural correspondence between dignity and abruptness [brusquedad], an insight that our interior pains respond unequivocally to external obstacles, and that our timidity and our modesty are not only sources of dreams and worlds that deplete themselves in our heads but forebodings with hard external edges. The Mexican suffers and unravels; outsiders recommend that he reverse his marasmus [emaciation], that he escape the asphyxiating ivy of his internal jungle, and do so with the sense of urgency that his surrounding world jealously awaits his awakening and his work. But as soon as that marasmus, those nightmares, are dissolved; as soon as the decision is made to consider the whole interior life as a macabre dance that will come to an end with the first ray of light; as soon as this is done and he throws himself courageously into the adventure, he is violently attacked, reviled and reproached, maltreated and humiliated. These are the oscillations, so familiar to Mexican existence, of a diligent enthusiasm, a hopeful deliverance to a movement that is followed almost immediately by a deep depression, by a falling once again in a hopeless dreaming.

In psychology it is said that the introvert, as a means of coping, very delicately lives the weight of the objects that she flees. In this sense, we must understand what we said before regarding dignity, namely, that it foresees obstacles that externally oppose themselves to its projects. Take the man who, from a sense of dignity, has retired from a corrupt business. This man later tries to convince himself that his scruples were based on unfounded apprehensions, and thus that he must return to the business. Very frequently, however, this man realises that his apprehensions were not unfounded, that the warnings given to him by his sense of dignity corresponded to real difficulties and that his tortured imaginings reflected, although in a twisted way, and obliquely, actual obstacles. This man soon realises that it was his own cowardly nature that did not dare to see those obstacles for what they were, nakedly, directly, rightly, but rather allowed them to be expressed in the painful manipulations of his frustrated consciousness. The dreams of the melancholic, the doctors of old used to say, loosely represent in their scenes of horror the frightening struggle of his unruly humours.

The Mexican is a creature of melancholy, a sickness that belongs more to the imagination than to the body, but that expresses the human condition most acutely. The Mexican is a being without ground [un ser de infundio], with all the nuances of dissimulation, concealment, falsehood, affectedness and duplicity that belong to that word, but mainly with that characteristic of unfoundedness or ungraspability toward which the etymology of that word takes us. To be groundless is to lack a foundation, and only the human being can be the ‘groundless ground of value’, which is ontological melancholy. Melancholy is the psychological reflection of our ontological constitution, of the precarious structure of our being, a being that is the ground of its own nothingness and not of its own being. Melancholy is more originary than anxiety, since, found in its ground, anxiety delivers us to the ecstasy of loss or care precisely because melancholy reveals us as groundless beings, as sick in our imagination. Melancholy also explains the motility of being, the transience of all things, the movement and becoming without hope of a future salvation in some foundational ground. With melancholy the incurable motility of an entity can be seen and foreseen from the side of the object. In regards to values, freedom is the foundation without foundation, the fundamental groundlessness that infects us with melancholy. And in the Mexican this melancholy constitutes the groundless ground of his being, the nothingness in which he dwells.

Melancholy as a psychological phenomenon is possible only if we posit the human being as the ground of his own nothingness but not the ground of his own being, in other words, if we perceive that the human being is a being who dreams and imagines. The melancholy individual is trapped in his interior abode whence he brings to the life of the imagination a thousand worlds to which he bestows value and sense, while never losing sight of the fact that those worlds are grounded on nothingness, that they are suspended over nothingness, and this knowledge about the deception regarding the groundlessness of the world is precisely what we are apt to call melancholy. Individuals who have projected a world, and who have realised it, eventually turn their gaze toward the foundations or grounds of those constructions, and upon finding them in the imagination are thrown into an incurable uneasiness, into an inevitable restlessness of finding the human edifice built on contemptible grounds. Individuals belonging to the greatest empires have thus been the most prone to melancholy. It is almost the national, imperial sentiment in the English; in the Roman, it is enough to refer to the writings of Lucretius. All that is human rests in ‘nothings’ [naderias], in cold or burning imaginings, and every image is a subtle secretion of that nothing that is the human being. The mystery of the imagination is contiguous with that of nothingness, and this with that of the human. Melancholy expresses the intimate connection [trabazón] between the human being, nothingness, and sleep.

There exists for the Mexican the possibility, which is always open, that the world gives itself as ‘friend’ or ‘enemy’, as a danger or salvation, as threat or ally. These categories are especially valued in what is known as the political attitude. For the politician, being appears above all with a profile of neither friend nor enemy. Thus, Ramos deduces an inferiority complex from the Mexican’s interest in power. And it should not be surprising that the Mexican should be interested in the constellations of power, since the world appears to him primarily in the background of the distinctions between friends and enemies, as with political Manichaeism.

That neutral state of being that does not show its destructible or resistant, fragile or vulnerable profile is only possible if the individual liberates herself from things in freedom and assumes the condition of ‘zozobra’. Zozobra is the state in which we find ourselves when the world hides its fragility or destructibility; zozobra is the state in which we aren’t sure if, at any moment, a catastrophe will overwhelm us or if we will be secured in the safety of asylum. In zozobra we remain in suspense, in oscillation, as its etymology clearly announces (sub-supra; the world assumes a lack of definition and we assume indetermination). We are at the mercy of whatever might come, we are constitutively fragile, we have made ourselves fragile in choosing the world as insinuation, as threat, or as siege. By its very essence, destruction includes within itself the possibility of resistance; likewise, protection, the possibility of fragility. Being will appear as fragile for whoever seeks to protect it at all costs; it will appear as resistant for whoever seeks to destroy it. We must always know what we can count on, but the belief that we can never know what we can count on constitutes restlessness, or zozobra. In destruction we approach being in order to reveal it as fragile or as resistant. But this fragility or resistance is forbidden to us. What is given appears to be first and foremost, and originally, in a state of expectant indifference. It is the state of the animal before jumping over a trench, the state of interest before situations of power, of interest before dominion. The Mexican is ‘introverted’ [huraño], ‘withdrawn’ [retraído], quick to jump or defend himself. Such an attitude is inexplicable if it is first not assumed that being appears as indifferent, and that only an unforeseen ‘accident’ will bring about peace and confidence, on the one hand, or destruction and death, on the other. Confronted with the world, the Mexican stands as ‘friend’ or ‘enemy’, and does so in an unpredictable manner, in zozobra.

Questioning presupposes the intuition of non-being. Before questioning any existent being there is always a prior familiarity with being and non-being. Simply put, being-in-the-world is to be thrown simultaneously toward being and non-being. We are open to the entire field of experience and in that field we find spaces of non-being. Experience appears to us as neutral before being and non-being. Only further experience will reveal it to us as being or as non-being. This oscillation between being and non-being is what goes by the name of ‘accident’. Being is always somewhat exposed, and so is nothingness. But the accident hides and flees. We don’t know what to depend on. This neutrality should not be threatening, but it is; this is because consciousness has previously been affected with fragility, has opened itself up to zozobra. Only when consciousness lives in zozobra can it fear that neutrality in such a way. In any other consciousness, one not qualified as fragile, neutrality is the condition of possibility for penetrating the real.

We have now arrived at an analysis of the characterological structure of the Mexican individual and her ontological constitution. Ontologically speaking, fragility and zozobra reveal us as accident. This is our inner constitution, and it emerges likewise in that radical feeling of insecurity and evasion that affects all of our activities. Accidentality is insufficient before substance; it is precariousness before the massive and compact being of what subsists. It is what [Ramón] López Velarde indicates when he speaks about our ‘living today’ – it is he who has placed zozobra and fragility at the centre of his poetry. Thus, the analysis of our character has made unequivocally clear certain deficiencies and insufficiencies. But, what about inferiority? Is the insufficiency of accidentality already inferiority in some way? Inferiority presupposes insufficiency, but not the other way around. On the basis of insufficiency, we can choose inferiority. Inferiority is one of the modalities of insufficiency – not the only one, and of course not the possibility that Heidegger would qualify as authentic.

Ontologically speaking, inferiority marks the project that involves being saved by others, of transferring onto others the task of justifying our existence, of unburdening us of zozobra, of allowing others to decide for us. So that such a project can be realised, it is necessary to have bestowed others with unlimited justification. And this is precisely what happens when we rely on the decisions of others. Allowing that our own life become a project for others is to place in their hands every possible authenticating justification, it is to imagine that others always do the right thing, that they are closed off to the possibilities of accident, that they always know what to do. It is the ‘normal’ situation of the child before his parents. This is why Ramos says that the inferiority complex that he attributes to the Mexican is acquired at the moment of the Conquest, since in the eyes of European culture we played the part of children. But that explanation does not satisfy us at all. There is a more profound dimension for the inferiority complex. Parents do not appear to their children as beings who are merely justified, but as beings who are absolutely justified. Sartre has seen this clearly. Being absolutely justified can be said only of God, and in the inferiority complex, in the project of being saved by others, there is transference of properties that belong only to being-for-itself, to anxiety, and to being-for-another.

Put in religious terms: in inferiority there is idolatry, a will to make the other an absolutely justified existence. According to Sartre, man fundamentally desires to be God. The transference of an intentional relation to the person of the other is precisely inferiority. One is inferior to the extent that one is idolatrous. The confusion between men and gods that we find at the origins of our Conquest already made it possible for us to easily accept an inferiority complex. If being itself is lacking, if it is unjustified, it becomes impossible that on its own it would generate or present justifications for itself, thus it would have to find in the other, or see the other, as a repository of being and, moreover, as its source. By definition, others have being. In analysing myself I can discover myself as accident, but I cannot speak of the other likewise as accident. No. The other is understood as massive consistency; the other is ripped away from zozobra and comfortably placed in subsistence. The individual who lacks the inferiority complex will not be able to say, as López Velarde writes, ‘Our lives are pendulums,’ which means that he will not be able to take part in a unified project of zozobra. His life does not oscillate, but is rather frozen in the absolute justification of self-sufficiency [aseidad]; it is not accident, it is substance.

From the choice to be saved by others, a complex series of practices will emerge aimed at promoting [propiciar] the giving away of the power of justification. Imitation, in particular, will be the ploy that will resemble original possession. A culture of imitation is a culture that rests in the fundamental project of being saved by others. Imitation is to appease [propiciar], to gain a favourable opinion. To the culture of imitation we oppose the culture of insufficiency, constitutive of those who have renounced the project of being saved by others and who risk the search for justification on their own terms.

If the Mexican as inferior is fundamentally an attempt to be saved by others, if he has chosen himself as accident, but one inevitably referred to a self-sufficient being, if he has chosen himself as a contingency thrown against a necessity; an unjustified reality against a reality that has justified itself with reasons, then such a being will exist in a dialect driven by the search for that substance to which he has attributed the self-sufficiency that will save him. In this way, the Mexican has, as of late, chosen himself as accident that refers itself to an indigenous substance. Indigenism is the latest of our projects involving an inferior mode of self-justification. When the European sees the mestizo, he stumbles over nothing, he crosses that space and stops only with the indigenous, which fascinates him. The mestizo who has taken account of this situation has already arranged his affairs: he will approach the European gaze presenting only his indigenous side so as to be saved as the accident of that substance. The mestizo is an accident of the Indian, a nothingness attached to the being-in-itself of the Indian, who upon being loved, justified, by the European and the North American, will likewise gain its own justification. The mestizo claims the indigenous, he places it ahead of himself and chastises others whose perspectives presuppose anything else but the indigenous: he has learned to break away with the substance to which he would bind his fate.

When indigenous relics seem to fascinate North Americans, the mestizo feels vindicated; it is then that he wishes that everything else could be transformed into an indigenous product, that life itself was transformed into an indigenous way of looking at the world. Every revolution carried out in the name of the Indian, artistic or political, has within it the unmentionable intention of saving the mestizo. In this way, the indigenous serves as a means, as a substance that will reflect, or radiate upon the mestizo its atmosphere of justification. Only the indigenous has been able to achieve universal worth; mestizo culture has not been able to go beyond its regional horizons. Thus we have the appeal to the indigenous as a reality that would come to save the mestizo; thus we have the perpetuation of the inferiority complex belonging to the mestizo when he becomes indigenist.

Just as frustrating as this project of salvation is the project of the ‘malinchista’. For the latter, the Spanish is the means to exclude accidentality. Recently, a friend proposed that an ‘accident’ that occurred during a bull run would not possibly happen in Spain. According to my friend, Spain represented the absolute exclusion of all accident; he felt with vigorous peculiarity that accidentality exists within us, and chose to transfer to Spain the absolute justification that excludes accident. Both the ‘indigenist’ and the ‘malinchista’ are mestizos who refuse to be alone; who throw upon the shoulders of another the task of justifying their own existence. But the mestizo must remain alone and, like López Velarde writes, open himself resolutely to the horizon of zozobra and accidentality.

Unwillingness, dignity, melancholy and zozobra expose us to the field or, better yet, the abyss [el pozo] of our existential possibilities; they unmask and reveal us to our fundamental project, to the unprejudiced unity that we must attribute to things in the world, but not so as to prematurely blind us to the abyss, but in order to remain there, to tirelessly nurture ourselves from the wellspring of originary possibilities. The danger lies precisely in closing off the road toward the originary, to allow a certain scarring to deceive us and conceal the living blood that runs beneath, that moistens the bandages. The secret to a fundamental project lies precisely in repetition. To repeat is to re-open, in the sense in which it is said that one must ‘scratch’ and re-open a scar that has inconveniently healed so as to allow the wound once again to exist in the play of its own possibilities. With this re-opening, we allow life itself, accidental and in zozobra, to remain immersed in its originary possibilities; we allow it to access its own sources and we keep it there, and there we nurture it. Inferiority is an insufficiency that has renounced its origins, that has lost itself and seeks to cover over the demands that its own decisions impose on us – rooted as they are in zozobra and accidentality. What will we do as beings in zozobra? How will we cover up our accidentality? How will we escape the proximity of death and zozobra? In maintaining oneself in the accidental, are we deprived of the possibilities for action? These questions no longer belong to ontology proper, but to morality. Now is not the time to answer them.

Emilio Uranga was born in Mexico City in 1921 and was a founding member of el grupo Hiperión, a group of young philosophers dedicated to la filosofía de lo mexicano, or the philosophy of Mexicanness. His works include Análisis del ser del mexicano (1949-52), Austicias literarias (1971) and ¿De Quien es la filosofia? (1977).

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