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Home arrow Economics arrow Contingency and commitment : Mexican existentialism and the place of philosophy

The Situation

Despite its richness in detail, however, the lecture on Marcel gives little indication of an original reading. Villoro’s thoughts on the subject of existentialism would come a year later, in the fall 1949 issue of Filosofia y Letras with the article “Genesis y proyecto del existencialismo en Mexico.” The title, “Genesis and Project,” alludes to the origins and to the future of existentialism in Mexico, and it is to this that Villoro attends and to which I now turn.

In line with that enfoque proposed in Uranga’s lecture on Merleau- Ponty, Villoro stresses the situational character of philosophy in the 1949 article. According to Villoro, philosophy emerges, always, in a concrete situation; and it emerges as a response to that situation, to its crises and its needs. He writes:

No spiritual manifestation, as impoverished as it may be, appears as an isolated event, explicable from itself. It is always given in a concrete situation from whence it must be explained. The situation gives us the comprehensive horizon of a historical moment on which individual projects and endeavors can emerge. But, at the same time, a situation can only be understood in terms of a future that organizes it and a past that it overcomes. . . . The appearance and partial acceptance of existentialism in our midst responds to a concrete situation that we can only understand by taking into account [the situation’s] double temporal dimension: its projection toward a future and its positive negation of the past [negacion superadora delpasado]. (1949, 233, emphasis mine)

Here, again, existentialism is read as justificatory of the urge to return philosophy to the realm of the concrete. It vindicates a grand gesture for particular interests, and Villoro, in tune with the other lecturers, sees it as the only sort of gesture that his (and his community’s) interests deserve. This gesture, philosophy itself, is occasioned by his reading and executed on the basis of that “partial acceptance of existentialism” upon which los hiperiones have anchored their hopes. That it is a partial acceptance has to do with the nature of those readings as acts of appropriation, which a wholesale acceptance of doctrine would invalidate.

Returning to the passage cited: an interest in his own historical existence leads Villoro to focus on the philosophical description of “concrete situations,” the geopolitical, geographical, and historical realities in which people converge, live, die, and labor, and which are the sites of and for the varied manifestations of spirit. One such manifestation of spirit is, of course, philosophy. But philosophy’s appearance in Mexico should not be taken as an “isolated event,” or as something that appeared without reason or purpose and responsive only to itself. The situation itself demanded and required its appearance, as existentialism is, according to Villoro’s reading, a philosophy that can make sense of the temporal particularities of the situation. The situation, as a concrete human reality, is the accumulation of items that project toward a future. But, Villoro suggests, only existentialism equips one to look to the past in a positive way, negating that which is not vital and retaining that which is.

Existentialism, as a philosophy of human existence, thus appears to make sense of a concrete reality. Again, it is not adopted in a fanatical fashion, simply because it is the fashionable thing to do, but because of the manner in which it gives itself to a philosophical understanding, as simultaneously making sense of a situation through radical descriptions while gesturing toward effective action.

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