LO MEXICANO, LO LATINO: APPROPRIATING THE LESSONS

In the April 2, 2005, edition of the Mexican periodical El Proceso, Armando Ponce had this to say about el Grupo Hiperion: “The most important [el mas importante] philosophical group that has ever existed in Mexico in its long history is the so-called Hyperion group, which came to its own in the middle of the twentieth century.” Arguably an exaggeration, reading those lines when I did gave me pause. Had I missed something in my philosophical education? Being that my own history is intimately tied to Mexico and that which is Mexican, shouldn’t it be important to me that first, Mexico had other philosophically significant events besides the ones of which I knew only marginally, for example, the activities of the Ateneo de la Juventud or the philosophico-poetical contributions of Octavio Paz, and second, I had completely missed “el mas importante” of these? Indeed, my only exposure to the Mexican concern with identity came from reading Octavio Paz’s much-lauded The Labyrinth of Solitude (1961). It is in that work that most readers encounter the notion of “lo mexicano” that los hiperiones labored to clarify. While Paz was not a member of the group, he was certainly exposed to their efforts.5

It was in asking these questions that I became conscious of the radical absence of Mexican philosophy in a catalogue presented as complete throughout my years of study. And I took this absence as a personal slight, perhaps irrationally so, since no one had kept me from reaching out to Mexican philosophers themselves and asking them what else there was.

And so I encountered el Grupo Hiperion. Formed in 1947 under the watchful and critical eye of the transterrado Jose Gaos (1900-1969)—a disciple of Jose Ortega y Gasset, faithful reader of Martin Heidegger, and proponent of the contestable philosophy of “personalismo”—and the stewardship of Leopoldo Zea, el Grupo Hiperion organized a series of conferences that aimed to bring philosophy to bear on Mexican identity, history, and culture. A faith in philosophy, considered less a means for analysis and more a program of liberation from the various oppressions of history and psychology, ran through these conferences, the first of which was on French existentialism (see chapter 1) followed by others on the sense and meaning of what they call “lo mexicano”—in other words, what it means to be Mexican. In a gesture of solidarity and youthful exuberance the group baptized itself as “Hiperion,” after the mythical titan sun god Hyperion, the Greek god of illumination. They would aim to bring a redemptive light into Mexican culture.

Hiperion (whose members included Leopoldo Zea, Emilio Uranga, Jorge Portilla, Ricardo Guerra, Joaquin Sanchez Macgregor, Salvador Reyes Nevarez, Fausto Vega, and Luis Villoro) would face a difficult task, which would be compounded by a rampant skepticism pervading Mexican culture in the power of philosophy to bring about any meaningful social change. Nevertheless, these philosophers dove into their theme with the same confidence in which a twenty-five-year-old Karl Marx proclaimed (in 1843) that “[the] point of [criticism] is to allow the German people not even a moment of self-deception and resignation. . . . [The] people must be terrified of themselves [so as to] give them courage” (1994, 30). And their pronouncements did call for an end to self-deception, and in so doing could have been terrifying, but, as history has shown, the terror was not the productive terror for which Marx or los hiperiones hoped. Instead of social change, los hiperiones encountered resistance to their methods and approaches. The philosophical credentials of the most astute will from then on be scrutinized by those whose conception of philosophy is framed by the established authority of dogma and Eurocentrism (which is why, in my opinion, Jorge Portilla, for one, has not found the recognition he deserves), those who hold, that is, that philosophy cannot not be concerned with encouraging or terrifying or such seemingly nationalistic and provincial matters like Mexican identity or a concomitant Mexican sentimentality. However, it is the courage before such difficulties that, I want to suggest, points to the value of Mexican philosophy for Latino life. As Guillermo Hurtado tells us, Hiperion was not merely a group of youthful enthusiasts with similar interests but “an investigative team” intent on “bringing about profound transformations” in Mexico and Mexicans (2006, xi). Emilio Uranga himself writes: “what brings us to this study [of “lo mexicano”] is the project of bringing about moral, social, and religious transformation in our being” (1952, 10). I venture to add that theirs was a courageous project, motivated by an awareness that change in the way things stood was necessary; that repetitions and revolutions were circular and killed moral progress and cancelled the possibility for human flourishing; that, in spite of others comfortable in their marginal existence, something had to be done, or at least, something had to be written. Consequently, the North American intellectual historian Martin Stabb labels los hiperiones as “activists” (1967, 212), and rightly so.

But, how, precisely, do these cultural activists propose to bring about profound transformations in Mexican culture? How did they propose to address self-deception? Again, through an existential phenomenological, and thus revelatory, project rooted in the concrete situation of Mexicans. In order to highlight the nature of this project in a more focused way, and to showcase the value of this project for Latino/a life, in what follows I will limit my remarks to two by now familiar figures, Uranga and Portilla.

 
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