Humanism and Literature as Praxis in Proyecto Paideia

As I have noted, Paideia’s project was inspired by postructuralism, but, paradoxically, it was also a modernist project. For example, the concept of paideia (education of the ideal citizen) comes directly from Greco-Roman humanism, in which man’s virtue came from education. As in revolutionary rhetoric, man becomes ethical through education and culture. As Prats states in his “Palabras de inauguracion del Proyecto Paideia,” this subject stands in opposition to the uncivilized, who can only become citizens through education:

La raza de Socrates y de Protagoras, de Heraclito y de Parmenides, de Platon y [de] Plotino—sintesis inicial y no celula pura del cuerpo que anhelamos—nos ha legado[,] en ese nombre, a la vez un proyecto y una clave. Proyecto porque ninguna sociedad de clases ha trascendido la division de la cultura, ninguna sociedad ha superado el viejo desgarramiento entre el pulpito y la plaza.

Clave porque solo en la unidad de la cultura podra el hombre proyectar la figura y su imagen, la profecia y la pregunta sobre un plano indiviso, hecho de continuas comuniones.

[The race of Socrates and Protagoras, of Heraclitus and Parmenides, of Plato and Plotinus—an initial synthesis and not a pure cell of the body to which we aspire—has come down to us[,] with this name, as both a project and a key. A project because no society of classes has transcended the division of culture, no society has overcome the old conflict between the pulpit and the public square. A key because only through the unity of culture can man project the figure and its image, prophecy and the question of an indivisible plan, made up of continual communions.] (Prats n.d.)

Like revolutionary generations from the sixties and seventies, members of the Paideia also focused on the dialectics between culture and politics. They both asked how to create an intellectual project that could integrate culture and politics and sought a pedagogy. Unlike socialist realist critics from the sixties, they were no longer preoccupied by form. Yet, like those critics, they believed in the emancipatory role of culture. In addition, the three generations also followed the Marxian principle that understands work or culture (i.e., the transformation of nature) as an act unveiling the objective conditions of existence that eventually lead mankind to disalienation and freedom: “haciendo suya la definition marxista de la libertad como comprension de las necesidades objetivas [making their own the Marxist definition of freedom as the understanding of objective necessities]” (Proyec- to Paideia 1989a). Whereas socialist realism is more focused on economic conditions, the Paideia underscores in all its documents the humanist nature of its project. It also clarifies that its members do not have an anthropological idea of humanism. Indeed, in a recent essay about the group, Ernesto Hernandez Busto points out their affinity with Martin Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism.” Given the obvious Heideggerian criticism of Marxian humanism, and hence the possible contradictions in Paideia’s understanding of it, I find it necessary to offer further insight into this issue.

Heidegger argues that we need to liberate ourselves from the “technical” understanding of thinking. This epistemological model comes from Plato’s and Aristotle’s conception of thinking as a “process of deliberation in service to doing and making” (Heidegger 1988, 240). Since thinking is always a process in the service of praxis, this means that thinking is merely theoretical. For Heidegger this model is part of the “technical” interpretation of thinking. The implication is that thinking for itself is not “practical” but only “theoretical.” This is why thinking has always had to justify itself before the sciences. In this regard, Paideia’s understanding of culture is not based on the Platonic or Aristotelian understanding of thinking. That is, for Paideia members the sciences and poesis should not be antithetical, and, therefore, thinking is not a process in service of praxis: “Situemonos para ello en una perspectiva gnoseologica-discursiva que tienda a trascender las antinomias, tanto epistemologicas como narrativas . . . entre el llamado pensamiento cientifico, teoretico y sistematico, cerrado a su circunstancia formativa, por un lado, y el denominado pensamiento poetico, unitivo y abierto, por el otro [We thus situate ourselves in a gnoseological-discursive perspective that tends to transcend antinomies, whether epistemological or narrative . . . between so-called scientific thought (theoretical and systematic, locked in its formative circumstance), on the one hand, and what is termed poetic thought (unifying and open), on the other]” (Proyecto Paideia 1989b). In other words, they understand thinking as a process involving and accomplishing praxis and poesis simultaneously. But their theories differ from Heidegger’s concerning ethics. As we know, Heidegger’s ontological project consists of exposing the metaphysical nature of the question about being in the traditional philosophy originating from the Greco-Roman tradition. A non-metaphysical understanding of being is also non-teleological, and thus one that has no effect or result: “Thinking does not become action only because some effect issues from it or because it is applied. Thinking acts insofar as it thinks” (Heidegger 1988, 217). In other words, thinking about being should not be done with a goal in mind. This is why being cannot be considered from an ethical or ontological point of view: “The thinking that inquires into the truth of Being and so defines the human being’s essential abode from being and toward being is neither ethics nor ontology” (ibid., 271). Thinking about being does not produce anything and does not create any action. It only pauses to let being unfold. In this regard, it is not causally related to praxis:

But now in what relation does the thinking of being stand to theoretical and practical comportment? It exceeds all contemplation because it cares for the light in which a seeing, as theoria, can first live and move. Thinking attends to the clearing of being in that it puts its saying of being into language as the home of eksistence. Thus thinking is a deed. But a deed that also surpasses all praxis. Thinking permeates action and production, not through the grandeur of its achievement and not as a consequence of its effect, but through the humbleness of its inconsequential accomplishment. (Heidegger 1988,


In contrast, the members of the Paideia argue for an ethical humanism: “Un humanismo etico, aunque no antropologizante; polemico con respecto a su tradicion, pero vigilante de sus enlaces historicos y sus retos sociales ante la praxis que lo circunda y lo determina y sobre la cual se quiere proyectar; practico sin ser pragmatico; centrado en el hombre historico, pero gravitan- do desde su irreductible sustancia hacia la tenaz y renovable utopia de la integracion y la libertad necesaria [A humanizing but not anthropologizing ethics; polemical with respect to its tradition but vigilant in its historical connections and its social challenges before the praxis that surrounds and determines it and onto which it wishes to project itself; practical without being pragmatic; centered in historical man but gravitating from his irreducible substance toward the tenacious and renewable utopia of integration and necessary freedom]” (Proyecto Paideia 1989b). Although they reject the anthropological interpretation of ethics, they still have a metaphysical understanding of it. Like Heidegger, they favor displacing the idea of a foundational Cartesian subject. Against Heidegger, their understanding of thinking is still subordinated to a goal. Notwithstanding the metaphysical nature of their manifestoes, they established the conditions of possibility for an anti-metaphysical intellectual space, as I will show in the following paragraphs.

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