Back to the Translation Project

After having dinner y un mezcalito with Guillermo Hurtado last night, I am all the more convinced of the potential value of an anthology of Mexican philosophy in English, that now is the time to do it, and that it should really be a binational effort, hopefully with the involvement of the governments and/or academic institutions on both sides of the muro. So, as Carlos and I attempt to get this project off the ground in the next couple of weeks, we would like to invite readers to share any suggestions they have about the current direction of the book.

First, and most importantly, we have to decide what readings to include and why. In other words, we have to decide what version of “Mexican philosophy” we want to convey indirectly through the choice of readings. Originally, the idea was to offer a selection from the 20th century so that we could capture some version of “20th Century Mexican philosophy.” However, after talking to Guillermo about this, I realize that trying to represent the entire 20th century is too ambitious and would weaken the focus of the book that I think Carlos have in mind, both philosophical and pedagogical. For instance, I don’t think we want an anthology of philosophy in Mexico in the 20th century, but rather an anthology of Mexican philosophers concerned the idea of Mexico and “Mexican philosophy,” either directly or indirectly. With this focus, we might try to narrow our selections to philosophers from 1910-1960, from the Ataneo to los Hiperiones and their critics, in order to capture the spirit of revolutionary and post-revolutionary Mexican philosophy/culture.

And we might focus on this era of Mexican philosophy so that we can pre-emptively avoid the obvious criticism that we are misrepresenting “20th century” Mexican philosophy, which splinters after 1960, and more importantly, so that we can include larger excerpts of our representative philosophers. Again, pedagogically, part of the purpose of the anthology is to give professors and graduate students enough material to do their own philosophy about or in response to Mexican philosophers, not just some thought- or soul-provoking snippets. So, in the end, we probably want 30-40 pages sections/selections/essays that indirectly tell the story of the emergence of Mexican philosophy that ran parallel to the Mexican Revolution and post-Revolutionary nationalism in Mexico.

I should add that our friend Aurelia Valero Pie will tell us that even the neatly packaged story of Mexican philosophy that Ramos tells in his Historia and which Romanell develops–from the Ataneo, the French-inspired metaphysicians, to the German and Ortega-inspired anti-intellectualists, to the emergence of the philosophy of lo mexicano–is a misrepresentation of Mexican philosophy even in the years that we’re covering. But, after discussing it with Guillermo, several factors recommend continuing with this history. First of all, the history told by Ramos, Romanell, and Guillermo is, from what I can tell, still somewhat of the “official history,” even though it is dated and not adequately sensitive to internal and/or academic conflicts, political positioning, etc. And we are talking about the first anthology, a starting point, so we don’t want to paralyze ourselves by getting caught up in the details of the revisionary story that high-level historians are writing today in Mexico. The goal is to have enough material for teachers and students in the US to even take an interest in the kind of revisionary work being done by Aureila and her colleagues: what exactly is it that scholars in Mexico are revising? Besides, our goal is not just to represent a version of some history, but also to present philosophers whose work we find intrinsically valuable despite their position in this official or unofficial history. So, regardless of the correct history, there’s no doubt that we should include Caso’s La existencia como economía, como desinteres, y como caridad, for example, since it is both central to any version of the history of Mexican philosophy and philosophically provocative in itself.

But what else should we include? And here we meet our biggest challenge. We have to choose, for instance, from among Caso’s students: José Romano Muñoz [1890-1967], Samuel Ramos, Adalberto García de Mendoza [1900-1963], Oswaldo Robles [1905-1969], Edmundo O’Gorman [1906-1995], Adolfo Menéndez Samará [1906-1953], Eduardo García Máynez [1908-1993], Antonio Gómez Robledo [1908-1994], Francisco Larroyo [1908-1981]. From among the Spanish exiles: Joaquín Xirau [1895-1943], José Gallegos Rocafull [1895-1963], Wenceslao Roces [1897-1992], José Gaos [1900-1969], Luis Recasens Siches [1903-1977] y Eduardo Nicol [1907-1990], Juan David Garcia Bacca [1901-1992] y María Zambrano [1907-1991]. From among los hiperiones: Leopoldo Zea [1912-2006], Jorge Portilla [1918-1963], Emilio Uranga [1921-1988], Luis Villoro [1922], Salvador Reyes Nevares [1922-1993], Fausto Vega [1922], Joaquín Sánchez McGregor [1925-2008] y Ricardo Guerra [1927-2007]. And we have to choose from among the most obvious candidates. What version of Caso’s La existencia and why? What of Ramos? More of Gaos or Bacca?

So we’re calling in the recruits: Mexican philosophers who would like to suggest candidate selections to help us select an adequate, representative, and philosophically substantive survey of Mexican philosophy in the first half of the 20th century. We would also like to invite readers to share their views about the cultural value of introducing Mexican philosophy in the US? Carlos and I do not consider this anthology just as a purely academic, or for that matter, even a purely philosophical affair. Instead, we are going to make the case that introducing the philosophical side of this era of Mexican intellectual history in the US is an important stage in developing US-Mexico relations on both sides of the hyphen. I have my own ideas about how a book of this kind might do this, but I am hoping that others will be willing to share their views.

5 responses to “Back to the Translation Project

  1. What a wonderful, muchly needed, and long overdue Mexico-USA undertaking! I applaud you. Might I respectfully suggest that you consider including the work of non-academically trained contemporary indigenous thinkers/intellectuals/ philosophers/learned ones/sages such as Ildefonso Maya (Nahua) some of whose work – along with that of other indigenous sages (Zapotec, residing in Mexico – is reproduced in The Words of the True Peoples (Las Palabras de los Seres Verdaderos), Uni. Texas Press. And if you are also thinking of including post-contact indigenous thinkers, you might consider the likes of Faustino Galicia Chimalpopoca and Doña Luz Jiménez (whose work is been discussed in Kelly McDonough, The Learned Ones (U Ariz, 2014). Including such thinkers will require, of course, broadening our conceptions of philosophy and who is a philosopher. Good luck with making the many difficult decisions ahead. Please let me know if I can help in any way to make this book happen.

    • Maffie, this is a great idea and something we’re going to have to look into. What strikes me right away, at least, is trying to capture some part of the effort to understand indigenous thought in Mexico, going back to the 20s, and how that shaped (or didn’t shape) the rest of Mexican thought. Leon-Portilla’s book came out in 1956 (I believe) but it didn’t spring forth ex nihilo. For example, I have read that Jose Gaos pushed for the need to understand the “indigenous element” of Mexican thought in order to complete, round out, or just not be exclusive in the effort to define Mexican philosophy and tell its history. The first chapter in Samuel Ramos’s Historia de Filosofía en México (1940), to suggest another example, is titled something like, “Was there Aztec Thought?” Of course, he concludes that there wasn’t, but his account is problematic ways. So, in the very least, we can present something about (efforts to include) indigenous thought in the first 20th century, even if we have trouble identifying a central text of indigenous thought that doesn’t take the anthology too far off track. But then again, I have no problem taking it off track, it’s not like there some track anyway.

  2. For me, an obvious choice is something from Los Grandes Momentos del Indigenismo en Mexico. It was Villoro’s first work, plus Indigenismo is still ever so relevant as part of our Mexican culture and philosophical tradition.
    Also, I’ve always been partial to Samuel Ramos’ El Perfil del Hombre y la Cultura en Mexico.
    Do let me know how I can help.

    • Okay Kim, I think you’re absolutely right. Now, the next question. If we can’t include the whole book–we can’t–what sections MUST be included?

  3. From El Perfil, perhaps “Psychoanalysis of the Mexican” would both address Robert’s emphases and lay the groundwork for analysis of Paz later on, especially “El pachuco y otros extremos” in The Labyrinth. I have not thought about whether an excerpt from Peter G. Earle’s 1962 translation of El perfil could be used or whether it may be time to produce a new translation. Caso’s La existencia como economía, como desinterés, y como caridad has desperately needed translation for some time. At some point, something from his Mexico: Apuntamientos de cultura patria would be nice to have in English. Some other texts that could be considered are Ramos’ Hipótesis, Zea’s En torno a una filosofía americana, Esquema para una historia del pensamiento en México, La filosofía como compromiso, Conciencia y posibilidad del mexicano, La filosofía en México, and Uranga’s Análisis de ser mexicano. An outlier of interest might be Abelardo Villegas’ La filosofía de lo mexicano.
    While thinking carefully about the intention or focus of the book is crucial to its philosophical coherence, the reception of it is impossible to predict. Based on demographic changes on the U.S. side of el muro, the book is much needed and should have great impact. Readers will not need experience reading philosophy, but curiosity about Mexico, which argues for a broader audience.

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