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23 March 2015

Poetic Reason as the Creative Center in María Zambrano

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Throughout her intellectual career, María Zambrano was profoundly associated with her maestro, Ortega y Gasset. Ortega viewed human life as a radical reality, rejecting the deductive and inductive methodologies of analytic reason that employ a type of reasoning based on definitions and formalisms and that ultimately lead to limited wisdom.

The immediate vision of a fact or an object is reduced to mere evidence, but what is its scope? According to Ortega, if intuitive knowledge has “to be accompanied by a conceptual system (…) the metaphor is only a preliminary step in the creation of new concepts to explain life”.[i]

Recognizing that human language cannot attain the ultimate truth, Zambrano opted to cross the boundary between that which can be communicated in words and that which cannot be expressed in speech, using resources like silence, dreams and faith to find the meaning of life, garbed in the aura of mysticism. The cause of the malaise in European culture lies in “forgetting the basic aspects of human life that are steeped in tradition and whose demise will sweep away the word for its incapacity to make flesh and food of the soul”.[ii]

The reductionism of man to “the human” makes forging new bonds with myths and aesthetic universals a complex task because truth is sought “outside oneself, as opposed to the poet who finds that ecstatic truth within himself, with the result that the continuity with the immediate, which is what is offered to the human being, is not interrupted in the case of the poet”.[iii] The poetic is the dark background that gives rise to the divine, in which truth is viewed as a revelation. A clear example of this can be found “when the poet communicates his ‘discovery’ to his audience”, revealing “a symbolic ‘truth’ that is no longer a subjective experience but a universal truth”.[iv] In other words, there is a deep affiliation between literature and transcendence. Writing reveals “the wound between culture and nature, in order to establish on Earth the common place of the sacred, the advent of surprise and astonishment, the impossible access to the human being”.[v]

Narrative, as the heir of the myth, has maintained its affiliation with the sacred essence deposited in the major religions. Zambrano advocated retrieving tradition not through history (vital reason) or the logos (Cartesian positivism) but aided by an experiential wisdom that rationalist assumptions largely fail to define. That primeval feeling stems from the perception of things (intuition and sensation), which culminated in the birth of gods on whom a figure and name were conferred.[vi] In keeping with this premise, the appearance of consciousness and the union with the divine arose out of a revolutionary fact that defies all reasoning insofar as it is an unfathomable reality in which only art may play the role of mediator.

Poetic reason therefore strives to combine two phenomena: the revelation of the primeval, and poetic creation in which “beauty has to do with fidelity to the primeval” [vii], because all art is language, poetic word. And through this word, time – the root of the mystery of transcendence – stands still.

The Method of Poetic Reason: Slumbering Wisdom

From the methodological point of view, it is impossible to speak of “objective reason” or a philosophy with a “scientific” spirit, in the strictest sense. It is rather a question of opting for a type of single, synthetic understanding (verstehen) of reality that seeks an explanation (erklären), because that explanation will emerge through analogy.

It is “the poetic factor that procures the aperture; the rational factor permits the retrospective, prospective and, above all, physical expression of the inevitably elusive aspects of reality”.[viii] But it is analytic reason that deduces that neither the propositions nor the facts related to the realm of the subjective can provide valid universals, for they cannot be systematized and they do not follow a logical model. The path of “literary life” dissociated from reality or the object itself reduces them to “facts of the psyche or consciousness, products of the instinct.”[ix]

For Zambrano, philosophy is wisdom about the soul, not the naive dichotomy of reason versus passion. [x] The metaphor is the language of the soul. Although its first use by science was to “fill a lexical void”, it has become a vital tool for naming realities that are indescribable or difficult to define because they are metaphysical realities.[xi]

The human being is not a closed being because “consciousness, reacting to a reality, is above all the mind – in other words, will and freedom, which are the conditions of its reaction”.[xii] In this respect, writing fulfills a mediatory function, opening the possibility to experiencing the sacred through three channels: poetic intuition, dreams (as a resistance to time), and the construction/destruction of the divine [xiii]. Hence, reason as we know it is no longer unequivocal but a way of existing in and engaging with the world.

Arantxa Serantes

Researcher at the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela (Spain)


[i] ORTEGA Y GASSET, J., Obras completas, v.VIII, Revista de Occidente, Madrid, 1947, p. 292.

[ii] MAILLARD GARCÍA, M.L., “La literatura y el vivir literario en María Zambrano”, El Basilisco, No. 21, (1996), p. 79.

[iii] LARUBIA-PRADO, F., “Filosofía de la poesía: María Zambrano y la retórica de la reconciliación”, p. 206.

[iv] Ibid, p. 210.

[v] HERRERA GUIDO, R., “Poética de la cultura”, Paper presented at the International Congress on the Philosophy of Culture and Intercultural Philosophy, UMSNH, Morelia, Michigan, August 27-31, 2002, p. 3 of the original.

[vi] CLAVO SEBASTIÁN, M. J., “El tema del hombre en María Zambrano”, CIF, v.18, Inst. 1 and 2, (1992), p. 132.

[vii]  MICHERON, C., “Introducción al pensamiento estético de María Zambrano”, Logos, No. 36, (2003), p. 217.

[viii] MAILLARD, CH., La creación por la metáfora. Introducción a la razón poética, Anthropos, Barcelona, 1992, p. 171.

[ix] MAILLARD, M. L., “La literatura y el vivir literario”, p. 81 and ff.

[x] Cf. ZAVATTA, B., “La razón metafórica de María Zambrano”, Revista electrónica de estudios filológicos, No. 6, (2003), p. 1 of the original.

[xi] Ibid, p. 3 of the original.

[xii] MOREY, M., “Sobre María Zambrano: un pensamiento de la duermevela”, Revista de Occidente, No. 213, (1999), p. 82.

[xiii] BRAVO, V., “Del padecer y de la trascendencia. La filosofía poética de María Zambrano”, Revista de estudios literarios, No. 10, (1998), p. 4 of the original.


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