The growth of scholarly treatments of the different aspects of Latin American thought in the US academy (its history, themes, preoccupations) parallels the increasing acceptance of Latin American philosophy as a viable field of study in undergraduate and graduate philosophy programs throughout the country. Works dealing with Latin American philosophy, it seems, are in high demand. What follows deals with the emergence of existentialism in Mexico in the 1940s and the quest for a genuine Mexican philosophy that followed it (the quest for “lo mexi- cano”). Of course, such a project assumes that the question regarding the possibility or impossibility of Latin American philosophy, or, as our most cautious commentators prefer, “Latin American thought,” is settled: that factually, and historically, there is and there has been such a thing, and that one can now begin to differentiate it from within. I do not question this assumption in what follows. The purpose of this work is to contribute to the ever-growing literature on “nontraditional” philosophies and, in the process, normalize their study.
The chapters that follow focus on the pivotal moments and figures of the so-called Hyperion group (el Grupo Hiperion), arguably the most significant philosophical group in twentieth-century Mexico. The historical significance of Hyperion lies in the fact that its members embodied a new critical attitude toward self and circumstance brought about by the triumphs and failures of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. They questioned history, culture, and identity in an effort to usher Mexico itself into a modernity (or even past it) that, it was widely believed, had left it behind. The means to do this was philosophy, and particularly existential philosophy and phenomenology, which they appropriated not as followers of a fad (although that was a criticism leveled against them) but as responsible members of a struggling community of persons whose sense of self had been irreparably shaken by a history of violence, conquest, colonization, and revolution. While the moment of Hyperion only lasted four years, from 1948 to 1952, their legacy has remained in the philosophical consciousness of Mexico, as evidenced by a recent surge in publications, specifically south of the border, dealing with their methods, project, influence, and significance. The present text aims to join this conversation while simultaneously adding to the growing literature on Latin American philosophy in the United States.
My approach to the interpretation of the existential philosophy of Hyperion is one that assumes that reading is always purposeful and not “innocent.” Thus, Hyperion’s reading of the French existentialists, for example, is not a straightforward reading but one intended to teach something transformative—something vital depends on that reading. Members of Hyperion certainly did not mean their study of existentialism (or phenomenology or existential Marxism) to be strictly an academic exercise. Hence, each chapter attempts to showcase the ways in which philosophy is appropriated and the power that this appropriation can bestow not only on the particular reader but on an entire generation of thinkers. In order to bring Hyperion to bear on the twenty-first century, a running theme of the proposed manuscript is that there is something to be learned from Hyperion’s project—a lesson, or lessons, for Latino/a life in the United States, in particular, but also for the lives of those on the fringes of contemporary, postmodern or postcolonial, economic, political, cultural power.