EMBRACING THE OSCILLATION: FROM ZEA TO DERRIDA
Beginning in the early 1940s, Leopoldo Zea embraces the notion that the origins of thinking (material and existential) accompany any philosophizing and, moreover, that one’s circumstance can not only be an object of philosophical study but also influence the manner of thinking, the enfoque of philosophy itself. Famously, Zea’s 1942 article, “jExiste una filosoffa en nuestra America?,” proclaims that Mexican or Latin American philosophy is not something other to Western philosophy or to philosophy broadly conceived. In an effort to call attention to a philosophical tradition in Latin America, that is, in a world that history testifies should not have the right to such a prestigious tradition (as it is defined and constructed out of violence, death, genocide, colonization, marginality, rape, exclusion, revolution, machismo, zozobra, and economic dependency), Zea insists that philosophy, in that complex set of circumstances, is simply that: philosophy, “pure and simple,” or, as he puts it elsewhere, “sin mas” (1969).
In that early essay, Zea warns against a restricted philosophizing that ends where it begins, namely, in the Latin American circumstance. While the Latin American circumstance is indeed the origin of philosophy (for Latin Americans), it should aspire to address broader human concerns, thereby contributing to universal philosophy as such (Zea 1942, 77). However, even by addressing itself in this way, it nonetheless retains its characteristic Latin Americanness: “We should not consider that which is American as an end in itself, but as a limit of a broader end. From here the reason why all attempts to do (Latin) American philosophy with the sole pretention that it be (Latin) American will have to fail; we have to intend to do philosophy pure and simple, and the (Latin) American will emerge as an additional element [hay que intentar hacer pura y simplemente filosofia, que lo americano se dara por anadidura]” (77). Of crucial importance in this passage is the notion that one ought to simply philosophize, and what is Latin American, or Mexican, will emerge organically in that process. This means that, in the case of a Mexican philosophy, what makes Mexican philosophy “Mexican” will be those aspects of the Mexican circumstance that are always already attached to Mexican thinking, as definitive features of a lived experience that is historically and culturally unique. And these “attachments” will not “arise by themselves,” as a famous translation of this passage has it,6 but will come with it. To say that they arise by themselves is to leave much to chance—they might not arise at all! But what Zea suggests is that they will arise whenever the Mexican philosopher philosophizes.7
However, in spite of Zea’s observation that “lo mexicano” would attach itself to philosophical thinking done in or from the Mexican circumstance, the call for philosophy “pure and simple,” or “sin mas,” has become a rallying cry for commentators who, like Villoro and Guerra in the late 1950s, or Villegas and Pereda later on, find “Mexican” or “Latin American” to be derogatory adjectives when paired with “philosophy.” The view, representing the latest pendulum swing in the passion dialectic of philosophy, insists that we should look no further than thought itself to judge its philosophical merits, that material conditions or existential crises do not matter to what is to count as philosophy.
The notion that philosophy, if it is to call itself philosophy, should deny motives, passions, and the contingency of existence, and dwell in the realm of the pure, the passionless, and the eternally stable, reflects, ironically, the passion of a Eurocentric thinking that desires to protect its copyright against the potential infringements of other thinkings and other thoughts that wish to commerce under philosophy’s pretentions. Zea’s thought, as well as the appropriations of the Hyperion group during the time of its emergence, represents such infringements.
In fact, Gaos, the existentialist Zea, and the philosophers of the IFAL conferences, in challenging Western logos in acts of reading and appropriation, most authentically represent philosophy. In the last decades of the twentieth century, Jacques Derrida defended such challenges to philosophy as traditionally conceived. “A philosopher,” he writes, “is always someone for whom philosophy is not given, someone who in essence must question the self about the essence and destination of philosophy. And who reinvents it” (2002, 4). This sentiment could be a direct critique of post-Hiperion Villoro and Guerra (as seen above), who dogmatically adhere to the view that philosophy is given, both as a gift from nowhere and as a gift with its own direction. On the other hand, Zea and Gaos question its destination and, simultaneously, its origins.
My reading into that moment in the history of philosophy when Mexican philosophers hesitated before the Eurocentric conception of philosophy and identified it with a quest for self-awareness also reveals it as a moment that precipitated the fracturing of philosophy’s Eurocentrism, of its stranglehold on its own mythology.8 Derrida says that bringing about a more democratic access to philosophy, without the fear of censure that comes with speaking against it, “is not a matter promoting an abstractly universal philosophical thought that does not inhere in the body of the idiom, but on the contrary of putting it into operation each time in an original way and in a nonfinite multiplicity of idioms, producing philosophical events that are neither particularistic and untranslatable nor transparently abstract and univocal in the element of abstract universality” (2002, 12). Indeed, in spite of, or rather, because of, the inner struggle that historically defines Mexican identity, philosophy was “put into operation each time and in an original way.” Zea, Gaos, and los hiperiones sought to produce “philosophical events,” whether for themselves or for all humankind, that were neither “untranslatable” to other contexts nor “abstract,” which would make them useless to the Mexican circumstance. They sought to produce events that mattered and were translatable, not to a universal and eternal interlocutor but to a concrete reader in a concrete circumstance and a determinate time (for instance, myself, as a reader situated in their future).