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CLASSIC

Emilio Uranga

e philosophy of Mexicanness
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

T oday 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. us, 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. ey 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’. us,
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 ‘ e Analysis of Mexican
Being’, soon to be translated into English. Uranga’s essay ‘ e Mexican and
Humanism’ has been translated into English in e 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.

25 June, 2018

Classic Text

Emilio Uranga

e 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 1 Uranga begins by citing Samuel
Ramos’s Profile of Man and
Man and Culture in Mexico to a ‘psychoanalysis of the
Culture in Mexico, first
Mexican character’. In that essay, he writes:1 published in Mexico in 1934,
in part because it is arguably
Others have spoken about the sense of inferiority the first major text in la
filosofía de
Readlo mexicano, and
more
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 2 Following Alfred Adler, Ramos
locates the origin of an
National University in Mexico City], held this previous
inferiority complex in
year [1950], we proposed to Ramos to substitute the ‘childhood’ which, in the case
concept of inferiority, which he applies to the Mexican of the Mexican nation, he
individual, with that of insufficiency. In the case of the argues begins with the

Conquest, we argued, we could certainly be talking about Conquest ofRead
Mexico
more in 1521.

a relation of inferiority, similar to the relation between a
3 One way Uranga believed he was
father and a son, as Ramos proposes; but, in the case of
advancing the conversation is
Independence, the relation with the European was no methodological. Instead of
longer one of father and son but, rather, one of teacher and psychoanalysis and social
student.2 We had, then, two ‘illustrations’ that themselves psychology, Uranga favoured

expressed a difference between sufficiency and phenomenology and
existentialism, in part
Read more
insufficiency, and no longer one between superiority and
inferiority. We thus proposed a phenomenological analysis
that would very precisely disentangle inferiority from
insufficiency.3

Inferiority is a modality of insufficiency, but it is not the 4 Uranga’s use of the term
‘ontology’ merits deeper
only one. How does one go from a constitutional or
study. He uses the term to
ontological insufficiency to inferiority? Answering this refer to the phenomenological
question means giving an account of what Ramos has experience of being Mexican.
called the Mexican’s inferiority complex. However, one might argue that
Uranga is misusing
Read more the term as

In the first place, in what sense should we understand, in
an ontological manner,4 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 5 The notion that the Mexican is
‘sentimental’ was a common
sentimental.5 At the core of this very particular human
theme in the poetry,
being there is a strong emotive mixture, involving philosophy and literature that
inactivity and the disposition to ruminate on each one of emerged from the Mexican
life’s events. Mexican life is impregnated with a Revolution of 1910. In this

sentimental character and it can be said that the tone of essay, Uranga argues that
Read more

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 6 Fragility refers to the sense
of mortality and finitude in
feels weak or fragile inside. He has learned from infancy
the face of uncertainty. It is
that his interiority is vulnerable and brittle, which gives related to zozobra, which
rise to all the techniques for preservation and protection Uranga defines as a kind of
that the Mexican constructs in order to impede external restlessness of being caught

forces from penetrating and injuring him. is helps between being and non-being.
Read more

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.6

Fragility is the quality of always being threatened by
nothingness, by the threat of falling into non-being. e
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. e 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. e 7 Here Uranga briefly takes up
the theme of ‘boredom’, which
various obstacles that oppose themselves to the various
does not appear again in his
activities of the Mexican do not motivate him to grow or writings. However, this quick
overcome those obstacles, but, rather, fold him over and comment suggests a familiarity
drive him into himself [lo repliegan y ensimisman]. is is with Heidegger’s discussion of

unwillingness [desgana] in all of its forms; it is to boredom in Read Fundamental
themore

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.7

In unwillingness, our spirit colours itself with a particular 8 Ramón López Velarde (1888-
1921) was an anti-modernist
repulsion for things, with a quiet repulsion for everything
(not post-modernist) Mexican
that surrounds us.8 But, the unwilling man does not stop poet who exerted an indelible
seeing a meaningful structure in the world (the world does influence on Uranga’s work. In
not appear to him as it appears in [Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1938 his poem ‘La tejedora’ (‘The

novel] Nausea), as a copy of insignificant and gratuitous Weaver’) (1916),
Read more Velarde says

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). e 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 9 For a detailed interpretation
of Uranga’s theory of
[antípodias] of generosity.9 Generosity is, in effect, a
generosity, see Carlos Alberto
determined choice to collaborate, a will to sympathise, to Sánchez’s ‘The Gift of Mexican
enter into auxiliary contact with things, with history, with Historicism’ (2017),
social movements, of adding or synthesising the capacity Continental Philosophy Review,
published online.
Read more
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 10 One might question why Uranga
thinks that unwillingness is a
that things have, for the sense that they contain. When it is
fact of Mexican identity. Is
said of something that it provokes disgust we are not it an unfounded assumption
saying that we disapprove of the contingency of its being, about Mexican life? Or is
of its stubborn lack of all sense or transcendence, but Uranga’s observation justified
by the phenomenological
Read more
rather that as an indeterminate sense it calls on my
collaboration while chaining me to a task that, as over-
11 ‘When I told him that we were
determined, can bring me only closer to abjection.
foreigners [extranjeros], he
Unwillingness is precisely the disgust that overtakes us stopped smiling, and looked at
when we foresee that our action might contribute to a me with more respect. I had
consolidation of the abject sense of things. All action is pronounced, without knowing,

therefore valued, in unwillingness, within the horizon of its the sacred word: extranjero
[foreigner],
Readamore
word that in
contribution to depravity and corruption [podredumbre]. It
is thus conceivable that unwillingness emerges by the
12 ‘Pochismo’ refers to the act
simple fact that one is Mexican.10 It is an attempt to of appropriating English words
dislodge oneself from that contingency, to uproot oneself into Spanish, what we would
from that facticity; an attempt to be disgusted with today call ‘Spanglish’;
‘malinchismo’ refers to giving
contingency and facticity. Unwillingness not to be
preference to foreign ideas,
otherwise, for our history not to be otherwise, for our
tastes or attitudes;
Read more
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.11 From there
emerges also ‘pochismo’, ‘malinchismo’, ‘Europeanism’,
and ‘indigenism’.12 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 13 Uranga’s use of ‘dignity’ is
related to Sartre’s ‘bad
qualify as dignity.13 e Mexican lives in a constant state
faith’ in that it refers to a
of indignation. Noticing that things begin to go badly, he is way of not being oneself, of
always prepared with a principle in accordance with which hiding from one’s true self,
to condemn those things; however, he is also not disturbed or of pretending to be someone

by them going badly, and so he does not throw himself else. Read more

into action; all he does is protest, allowing free reign to his
indignation. e 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 14 A reference to José Zorrilla’s
Don Juan Tenorio: drama
Mexican appears as a proper sense of dignity. With this we
religioso-fantástico en dos
touch upon the most profound layers of the different partes (1844). It is
modes of being human. We touch upon the idea that considered one of the greatest
freedom, which every human being represents, cannot be Spanish plays ever written.

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. is is what the Spanish
drama of Don Juan very accurately represents.14 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. e French call this quality generosity, not
honour or dignity. e 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. is 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 15 The Mexican is ‘a man that
constantly relives past
honour; a certain discretion bordering on immodesty
adventures’. José Gómez
accompanies dignity. e atmosphere that honour adds to Robleda, Imagen del mexicano
our decision is one of clarity and warmth, while that which (1948).
is added by dignity is nebulous and cold. e 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.
e 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.15 On that is
grounded our melancholy, and that appearance of a man
of bitter experience.

ere is an almost supernatural correspondence between 16 ‘Abruptness’ (brusquedad)
refers to the state of being
dignity and abruptness [brusquedad], an insight that our
easily swayed into inaction,
interior pains respond unequivocally to external obstacles, or of being suddenly overtaken
and that our timidity and our modesty are not only by the realisation of one’s
sources of dreams and worlds that deplete themselves in powerlessness, the feeling

our heads but forebodings with hard external edges.16 e that one can
Readcome
more under attack

Mexican suffers and unravels; outsiders recommend that
17 ‘Every time that I take flight
he reverse his marasmus [emaciation], that he escape the
to a height over all things, a
asphyxiating ivy of his internal jungle, and do so with the sarcastic demon growls and
sense of urgency that his surrounding world jealously brings me back to the mud.’
awaits his awakening and his work. But as soon as that Ramón López Velarde, ‘Un

marasmus, those nightmares, are dissolved; as soon as the lacónico grito’ (‘A Laconic
Cry’) (1916).  
Read more
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. ese
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.17

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. is 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.
is 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. e 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.

e Mexican is a creature of melancholy, a sickness that 18 ‘Imagination is not a State:
it is the Human Existence
belongs more to the imagination than to the body, but that
itself.’ William Blake,
expresses the human condition most acutely.18 e Milton: A Poem in Two Books
Mexican is a being without ground [un ser de infundio], (1804-10).
with all the nuances of dissimulation, concealment,
falsehood, affectedness and duplicity that belong to that 19 Another common existentialist
word, but mainly with that characteristic of theme: ‘the groundless ground

unfoundedness or ungraspability toward which the of’ being or value. Uranga
connects this ontological
etymology of that word takes us. To be groundless is to
insight to another, the notion
lack a foundation, and only the human being can be the that the Mexican is
‘groundless ground of value’, which is ontological fundamentally ‘melancholic’.
Read more

melancholy.19 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 20 ‘The Mexican flees from
reality and shelters himself
only if we posit the human being as the ground of his own
in dreams and fantasy.’ José
nothingness but not the ground of his own being, in other Gómez Robleda, Imagen del
words, if we perceive that the human being is a being who mexicano (1948).
dreams and imagines. e 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.20 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. e 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.

ere exists for the Mexican the possibility, which is 21 The connection between the
ontological constitution of
always open, that the world gives itself as ‘friend’ or
Mexican being and Mexican
‘enemy’, as a danger or salvation, as threat or ally. ese politics is not surprising.
categories are especially valued in what is known as the Uranga relates the inability
political attitude. For the politician, being appears above of Mexicans to own their

all with a profile of neither friend nor enemy. us, Ramos existentialRead
contingency,
more

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.21

at 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. e
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. 22 Uranga appropriates the
distinction between ‘accident’
Before questioning any existent being there is always a
and ‘substance’, fundamental
prior familiarity with being and non-being. Simply put, to Scholasticism, to denote an
being-in-the-world is to be thrown simultaneously toward ontological difference between
being and non-being. We are open to the entire field of Mexican mestizos (ie, those of
European and
Readindigenous
more
experience and in that field we find spaces of non-being.
Experience appears to us as neutral before being and non-
23 This is an important but
being. Only further experience will reveal it to us as being
confusing paragraph that
or as non-being. is oscillation between being and non- requires interpretation.
being is what goes by the name of ‘accident’.22 Being is Simply, Uranga defines
always somewhat exposed, and so is nothingness. But the ‘accident’ as the back-and-
forth between being and non-
accident hides and flees. We don’t know what to depend
being that Read
is more
constitutive of
on. is 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.23

We have now arrived at an analysis of the characterological 24 Uranga’s treatment of zozobra
and death are profoundly
structure of the Mexican individual and her ontological
indebted to Velarde’s poetry.
constitution. Ontologically speaking, fragility and zozobra The Third Part of Uranga’s
reveal us as accident. is is our inner constitution, and it Analísis del ser del mexicano
emerges likewise in that radical feeling of insecurity and is largely a meditation on
Read more of ‘lo
Velarde’s poetry
evasion that affects all of our activities. Accidentality is
insufficient before substance; it is precariousness before
25 While Heidegger’s influence on
the massive and compact being of what subsists. It is what
Mexican philosophy was
[Ramón] López Velarde24 indicates when he speaks about significant in the early 1940s
our ‘living today’ – it is he who has placed zozobra and (thanks to the influence of
fragility at the centre of his poetry. us, the analysis of José Gaos, who was the first
to translate Being and Time
our character has made unequivocally clear certain
into any language),
Read more it waned
deficiencies and insufficiencies. But, what about
inferiority? Is the insufficiency of accidentality already
26 Heidegger would not qualify
inferiority in some way? Inferiority presupposes ‘inferiority’ as a measure of
insufficiency, but not the other way around. On the basis of authenticity because
insufficiency, we can choose inferiority. Inferiority is one of ‘inferiority’, as it is used
by Ramos, is an ‘ontical’
the modalities of insufficiency – not the only one, and of
characteristic of human
course not the possibility that Heidegger25 would qualify
psychology,Read
not an ontological
more
as authentic.26

Ontologically speaking, inferiority marks the project that 27 Readers will connect this
passage to contemporary
involves being saved by others, of transferring onto others
discussions on dependency
the task of justifying our existence, of unburdening us of theory.
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. is 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. ere 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.27

Put in religious terms: in inferiority there is idolatry, a will 28 See Jean-Paul Sartre’s
‘Existentialism is a Humanism’
to make the other an absolutely justified existence.
(1946).
According to Sartre,28 man fundamentally desires to be
God. e transference of an intentional relation to the
29 This line is also the title of
person of the other is precisely inferiority. One is inferior the poem, and it appears in
to the extent that one is idolatrous. e confusion between Ramón López Velarde, La sangre
men and gods that we find at the origins of our Conquest devota (Devout Blood, 1916). 

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. e other is understood as massive
consistency; the other is ripped away from zozobra and
comfortably placed in subsistence. e individual who
lacks the inferiority complex will not be able to say, as
López Velarde writes,29 ‘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 30 Here we begin to see the
relation between Ramos’s use
practices will emerge aimed at promoting [propiciar] the
of inferiority and Uranga’s
giving away of the power of justification.30 Imitation, in ontological category of
particular, will be the ploy that will resemble original insufficiency. Inferiority is
possession. A culture of imitation is a culture that rests in an attempt to flee from one’s
accidentality by imitating a
Read more
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 31 Uranga is suspicious of post-
Revolutionary indigenism in
be saved by others, if he has chosen himself as accident,
Mexico. Although the Mexican
but one inevitably referred to a self-sufficient being, if he mestizo has good reason not to
has chosen himself as a contingency thrown against a want to identify with her
necessity; an unjustified reality against a reality that has European heritage, as it
represents Read
a history
more of
justified itself with reasons, then such a being will exist in a
dialect driven by the search for that substance to which he
32 ‘Mexico becomes singular and
has attributed the self-sufficiency that will save him. In this
individualises itself
way, the Mexican has, as of late, chosen himself as exclusively for the Indian.’
accident that refers itself to an indigenous substance.31 José Gómez Robleda, Imagen del
Indigenism is the latest of our projects involving an mexicano (1948).

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.32 e 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. e 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. e 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. us 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 33 A ‘malinchista’ is someone who
is willing to betray Mexico
of the ‘malinchista’.33 For the latter, the Spanish is the
for the sake of foreign
means to exclude accidentality. Recently, a friend interests. In the context of
proposed that an ‘accident’ that occurred during a bull run Uranga’s analysis, a
would not possibly happen in Spain. According to my malinchista is someone who is
willing to Read
betray
more Mexico for
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 34 Uranga ends the essay with a
provocation, rhetorically
to the field or, better yet, the abyss [el pozo] of our
asking about the extent to
existential possibilities; they unmask and reveal us to our which Mexicans will now cover
fundamental project, to the unprejudiced unity that we up all that has been revealed.
must attribute to things in the world, but not so as to He also tells us that these
questions are not ontological,
Read more
prematurely blind us to the abyss, but in order to remain
there, to tirelessly nurture ourselves from the wellspring of
originary possibilities. e 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. e 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? ese questions no longer belong to ontology
proper, but to morality. Now is not the time to answer
them.34

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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