María Zambrano (1904-1991) today

The Malaga-born philosopher María Zambrano -who lived in exile most of her life- denounced an even more serious exile in modern culture: the flight of reason from its sacred origin.

Jaime Nubiola-June 12, 2017-Reading time: 4 minutes
María Zambrano.

Many have heard of María Zambrano: poet and writer, republican activist, woman committed to women, thinker in exile, brilliant disciple of Zubiri and Ortega. However, these labels are no more than clichés more or less distant from what was truly at the center of María Zambrano's experience and vital thought.

The center of his thinking

María Zambrano was born in Vélez-Málaga in 1904 and died in Madrid in 1991. She lived her beginnings and end in Spain; however, from 1939 to 1984, a long exile took her to sister countries in America and Europe. Rome will be fundamental, becoming the knot that binds one and the other, all of them well present in his work. The category exile is central to her thinking and helps to understand the epitaph she herself chose for her tombstone in the cemetery of the village in Malaga where she was born: Surge, amica mea, et veni ("Arise, my beloved, and come!"). This call of the Beloved to the beloved, coming from the Song of Songs, is surely the most accurate expression of his philosophical and vital enterprise.

For María Zambrano, exile, more than a political and social issue, is the consequence of a tearing, which entails a fall and demands redemption. As she shows in Philosophy and poetry (1939), it is about the tearing apart of the Logos divine and logos The human experience is already present in the origins of the personal experience of the human being -in the divine creation of beings- and is also reflected in the historical development of reason -in the human creation of knowledge-. Putting the logos in harmony with the Logos The divine is the founding concern of Zambrano's philosophical reflection, it is the expression of his mediating mission, of his poetic reason.

Fundamental rationalism

The first consequence of this tearing apart is the forgetfulness of the origin. Reason will forget that it is the fruit of a will and will be lost amidst delusions of sufficiency and autonomy. As he points out in Thought and poetry in Spanish life (1939), from Parmenides to Hegel, a rationalist horizon has been unfolding that infects everything and everyone: it is the passion to enclose everything in a definition or in an idea, leaving aside the sacred depth of reality that remains uncontrollable and that opposes this supposed self-sufficiency of the human being. It can be seen that even the attempt at amendment carried out by the vitalisms of the twentieth century, after the idealisms of the nineteenth, has the same deficiency: "Where it was said reasonis said later lifeand the situation remains substantially the same", writes Zambrano. 

Why does everything remain the same? Because of the reverie of believing to possess everything, while what one possesses is always a all cut out. It is not things that are being left out, but what is truly marginalized, thrown into the hell of irrationality, is reality itself, transcendence and the Transcendent itself. In this critique of modern discursive reason, Maria Zambrano will coincide with Benedict XVI to the point that it seems that words and thought are lent to each other: where Zambrano says that "reason affirmed itself by closing". (Philosophy and poetry1939), Benedict XVI will speak about "a kind of pride of reason [...] that considers itself sufficient and closes itself to contemplation and to the search for a Truth that surpasses it." (Speech to the Pontifical Council for Culture, 2008). In this same sense, María Zambrano shows the ineffectiveness of this cut-out reason. We need only refer to the prologue of the first edition of Man and the divine (1955), which is the work of his that best corresponds to his fundamental philosophical interest. There he writes that "Man does not free himself from certain things when they have disappeared, let alone when it is he himself who has succeeded in making them disappear. Thus, that which is hidden in the word, almost unpronounceable today, God".. God is a mysterious reality that, even if denied, will always be in absolute and intact relationship with human beings.

Put the logos in the Logos

The existence of the human being depends on his relationship with the sacred and absolutely transcendent reality; hence, in the midst of the nostalgia for the origin, the human being goes through the path of anguish or through the path of meaning. Maria Zambrano's philosophical mission consists entirely in giving back the logos at Logos. For this it is necessary that reason be true reason and not the substitutes derived from rationalism. Human reason, capable of rediscovering its origin, cannot be superficial, external, belligerent, acid, sad. On the contrary, it must be, "something that is reason, but wider".Zambrano will write to the poet Rafael Dieste (1944). Or as the invitation of Benedict XVI in the Regensburg speech (2006), "broaden our concept of reason and its use.".

At the core of this reason -which in Zambrano's terminology is "like a drop of oil" o "like a drop of happiness"- a new articulation of knowledge will have to take place. Of all knowledge and, in a very special way, of those that are considered as knowledge of meaning: philosophy, poetry, religion. All three are genuine expressions of the activity and passivity of human knowledge. All three are born of the same placenta which is the sacred and in the recognition of their mutual and many debts they will find -we will find- the clarity and the light of the original unity. For this reason also, twenty-five years after her death, the thought of María Zambrano is more current and necessary than ever.

Read more
La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.
Banner advertising
Banner advertising