Zambrano Alarcón, María

María Zambrano 1

Philosopher, essayist and writer born in Velez-Málaga on April 22, 1904, although she was registered in the Civil Registry three days later due to her father’s doubts that she could survive because of her weak health (“I was born half dead, to the point of reaching the edge of death, shrouded even”, she wrote from her exile in Geneva in 1981). This fragile health always accompanied her, but did not prevent her from composing a vast and original work based on poetic thought and social and political commitment. Her work was mostly written outside Spain, from which she fled in 1939 after Franco’s triumph and which she did not set foot in again until November 20, 1984. She died in Madrid in 1991, after receiving numerous awards such as the Prince of Asturias Award for Communication in 1981 and seven years later the Cervantes Prize. In 1937, she published in Chile the first anthology of Federico García Lorca a year after his murder with the sober title of Anthology.

By date of birth she belonged to the Generation of ‘27 and, in fact, actively participated in the educational and cultural innovations brought by the Republic, such as the Pedagogical Missions, which took her to Cáceres, Huesca and Cuenca.

In 1924, her family moved from Málaga to Madrid, which made it possible for her, as a student at the Central University, to receive the teaching of the leading thinkers of the time such as Manuel García Morente, Julián Besteiro and Xavier Zubiri, in whose chair of History of Philosophy she worked as an assistant professor. She was one of the few women, if not the only one, to participate in the meetings of the Revista de Occidente. In an interview in the nineteen eighties, José Luis López Aranguren joked evoking those strictly male meetings: “We were going not to listen to Ortega but to admire his legs”.

Despite her sympathies for the Republican-Socialist coalition of 1932 and having been invited to join the PSOE candidacy, a suggestion she rejected, she made “the mistake” of signing the manifesto for the creation of the Spanish Front, under the influence of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, a platform that soon derived into a fascist-like movement.

In Chile she prepared and financed an anthology of Lorca’s work for the publishing house Panorama, which included an enlightening preliminary note in which she proclaimed him heir to Rubén Darío, Juan Ramón Jiménez and Antonio Machado.

The thinker, however, made clear her political affinities. On July 18, 1936, she joined the Alliance of Intellectuals for the Defense of Culture. In the years before the military uprising she met, through Maruja Mallo, intellectuals and creators such as Valle-Inclán, Rafael Dieste, Luis Cernuda or José Bergamín (with whom she collaborated in the magazine Cruz y Raya).

María Zambrano Alarcón

Her friendship with Federico García Lorca is linked to the intense and close sentimental relationship with her first cousin Miguel Pizarro Zambrano, a member of El Rinconcillo tertulia. Federico, Miguel and María met for the first time in 1921 in Segovia. It was the beginning of a mutual admiration that crystallized in 1937 with the publication in Chile by Zambrano of Anthology, one of the first collections of poems by Federico after his murder in August 1936 between Víznar and Alfacar. The Málaga thinker, who had ended the love affair with her cousin Miguel in 1934 after a decade of mutual devotion, married the historian Alfonso Rodríguez Aldave in September 1936, whom she accompanied to his destination as secretary of the Embassy of Spain in Santiago de Chile. There she learned of the murder of García Lorca and decided, despite limited means (she did not even have his complete works), to prepare and finance an anthology for the publishing house Panorama, which included an enlightening preliminary note in which she proclaims him heir to Rubén Darío, Juan Ramón Jiménez and Antonio Machado. Zambrano credits Lorca with having spearheaded a “Renaissance” in Spanish poetry that placed popular lyric poetry before literary elitism: “And Federico García Lorca was perhaps the first to give birth to this Renaissance. Poetry is not a matter of an elite class, but was becoming social: the romances of Gypsy Ballads all over Spain. It was too much. This was in truth -let’s admit it- more serious than founding a political party, than sustaining political ideas that García Lorca never claimed to have […]. But the social function of the writer, something more profound than a determined policy, was changing in Spain and in Lorca it was very evident”. Much of Zambrano’s thought is already substantiated in the synthetic and admirable prolog.

The Anthology was republished by the María Zambrano Foundation in 1987. In the introduction she proclaims; “How fortunate for Federico that the enormity committed with him, as with so many others, has come to be a symbol!”.

As a thinker, her most original contribution is the so-called “poetic reason” which she opposes to the “pure reason” of Kant and the vital and historical reason of her teacher Ortega.

Her life as an exiled teacher was very active. She lived in Cuba as a teacher at the University of Havana; in Mexico, at the University of Morelia, invited by the House of Spain; she was a professor at the University of Puerto Rico and, back in Europe, she lived in Paris, in Italy and finally in Geneva, where she died.

María Zambrano Alarcón

As a thinker, her most original contribution is the so-called “poetic reason” which she opposes to the “pure reason” of Kant and the vital and historical reason of her teacher Ortega. Zambrano’s poetic reason is a reason that tries to penetrate into the “depths” of the soul (the primary manifestations of the life of the psyche) to discover the sacred, which reveals itself poetically. Poetic reason is born as a new method suitable for attaining the proposed end: the creation of the individual person. The method of poetic reason pursues the unveiling of forms before the existence of language and even of concepts and judgments. The word “reality”, in the context of poetic knowledge, points to everything that the human being experiences poetically as fundamental (life, being), and hence Zambrano resorts to metaphors such as the root or the heart.

At the end of her long life dedicated to metaphysics she was presented with the Prince of Asturias Award (1981). Her life in exile ended, already in very poor health, on November 20, 1984, and four years later she received the Cervantes Prize. She died on February 6, 1991, and her remains were buried, together with those of her mother and sister, in the cemetery of Velez-Málaga, headquarters of the foundation that bears her name. Her epitaph is a verse from the Song of Songs: “Surge amica mea et veni” [Arise, friend, and come].

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