Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo (1864-1936)


Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo

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Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo (1864-1936)

Spanish author, philosopher, and educator, predecessor of Existentialist philosophy with Søren Kierkegaard. Unamuno was one of the foremost representatives of the movement Generation ’98 (see also: Ángel Ganivet). Main themes in Unamuno’s work are the conflict between life and thought, the tension between reason and Christian faith, and the tragedy of death in man’s life, in which reason offers no consolation. As a philosopher Unamuno did not create a systematic presentation of his thought. He objected strongly to academic philosophers and stressed that the deepest of all human desires is the hunger for personal immortality against all our rational knowledge of life. Unamuno wrote his works in Spanish, although his mother tongue was Basque. His essays had a great influence in early 20th-century Spain.

“The man of flesh and blood; the one who is born, suffers and dies – above all, who dies; the man who eats and drinks and plays and sleeps and thinks and wills; the man who is seen and is heard; the brother, the real brother.” (from The Tragic Sense of Life, 1913)

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo was born in Bilbao, the third of six children of Félix Unamuno, a proprietor of a bakery shop, and Salomé de Jugo, who was also his niece. When his father died, Unamuno was brought up by an uncle. In his childhood he witnessed the violence between traditionalist and progressive forces during the siege of Bilbao. This experience left deep traces in his political thinking. Unamuno studied in his native city at the Colegio de San Nicolás and the Instituto Vizacaíno. In 1880 he entered the University of Madrid, where he studied philosophy and letters, receiving his Ph.D. four years later. Unamuno’s dissertation dealt with the origin and prehistory of his Basque ancestors.

Unamuno’s early years were deeply religious, but in Madrid he started to visit the Ateneo, sometimes called the blasphemy center of the city. In its library he read works of liberal writers. After completing his doctorate, Unamuno worked as a private tutor in Bilbao, where he also founded with his friends the socialist journal La Lucha de Clases. From Bilbao he moved to Salamanca, to assume the chair of Greek at the University. In 1891 he married Concepción Lizárraga Ecénnarro; they had ten children. In 1896-97 he went through a religious crisis, which shattered his belief in finding a rational explanation of God and meaning in life. From universal philosophical constructions and outer reality, he turned his attention to the individual person, inner spiritual struggles in the face of questions of death and immortality. Unamuno once stated: “Wisdom is to science what death is to life or, if you will, wisdom is to death what science is to life.” Seeing that reason leads to despair, Unamuno concluded that one must abandon all pretence of rationalism and embrace faith.

In 1901 Unamuno became rector of the university; he held the post intermittently until his death. For the first time he was relieved of his duties in 1914 due to political reasons. In 1924 he was exiled to Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands for opposing the military dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera. After a few months, he escaped to Paris, where his friends helped him create attention internationally to his exile. He then settled in Hendaye, the French Basque town nearest to the Spanish frontier, where he spent five years. General Rivera died in 1930 and Unamuno returned to the University of Salamanca, and was reelected rector in 1931. He worked as professor of the history of the Spanish language, but in 1936 he was removed once again – this time denouncing Francisco Franco’s Falangists. Unamuno was placed under house arrest. He died in Salamanca on December 31, 1936, a few months after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

Unamuno mastered 14 languages. In order to read Kierkegaard in the original language he learned Danish. Among his major works are DEL SENTIMIENTO TRÁGICO DE LA VIDA EN LOS HOMBRES Y EN LOS PUEBLOS (1913), an example of his longing to find some assurance of immortality, ABEL SÁNCHEZ: UNA HISTORIA DE PASIÓN (1917), a modern exploration of the Cain-and-Abel theme and the effects of hatred, EL CHRISTO DE VELÁZQUEZ (1920), meditations on Velazquez’ painting in the Prado, the Crucifiction. Unamuno’s highly concentrated poems, written between 1928 and 1936, were published in CANCIENERO (1953).

The poetic novella Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr (1931) focuses on a country priest, Don Manuel Bueno, who doesn’t believe in afterlife. Don Manuel continues to take care of his parishioners, revealing his tragic secret only to a few people before his death. In NEBLA (1914, Mist) Unamuno presents the reader with a multitude of characters in an unnamed town. Unamuno himself takes the role of God – he has created his characters. One of them is Augusto Pérez, who decides to commit suicide. Before it he meets the author, his creator, and realizes that he is a fictive person, a shadow destined to vanish in the mist. Augusto rebels against Unamuno, and dies – perhaps by suicide or because of disappointment in love.

As an essayist Unamuno’s career began in the mid-1880s under the spell of German ideological romanticism and positivism. From this period dates EN TORNO AL CASTICISMO (1895), a series of essays, in which he attempted to define Spain’s character and its collective psychology. He was briefly interested in Marxism, but by 1917 he became openly anti-Marxist. A religious crisis in 1897 broke Unamuno’s trust in the power of science and progress. According to Unamuno, “It is not our ideas which make us optimists or pessimists, but our optimism and pessimism, derived as much from physiological or perhaps pathological origins, which makes our ideas” (from Del sentimiento trágico de la vida, 1913). Sentimiento (the tragic sense of life), arising from our desire for immortality and from the certainty of death, is no exception although it can be corroborated by rational beliefs. Unamuno’s most famous sonnet, ‘La oración del ateo’ (The Atheist’s Prayer), closes with the lines: “Sufro yo a tu costa, / Dios no existente, pues si Tú existieras / existiría yo también de veras.” (Because of You I suffer, Inexistent God, since if You existed I too would really exist.)

Unamuno’s articles written during the Spanish Republic (1931-36) reveal a liberal, who welcomed secular legislation but yet wished to preserve some traditional religious values. Unamuno caused a great stir with his attacks on casticismo, the dominance of the Castilian center over other regions, such as the Basque. He was against bullfights and was often horrified by the devastation he saw imposed by the modern age on the genuine Spanish peasant.

One of Unamuno’s most stimulating works is The Life of Don Quixote and Sancho (1905), in which the heroic and tragic knight assumes the virtues of Christ. Quixote is the crystallization of our wish to overcome our destiny. With his unyielding will to create new spiritual values in the world of materialism, Don Quixote finally solves his existentialist quest: “I know who I want to be.” In an introductory essay called ‘The Sepulchre of Don Quixote,’ the Spaniards are asked to find Don Quixote’s tomb, and after many wandering, they conclude that there is no tomb, that they must think Don Quixote only as the incarnation of the Spanish mind. Unamuno draws parallels between Don Quixote and the life of the founder of the Jesuit order, Ignatius of Loyola.

Unamuno’s thoughts influenced among others the Nobel writer Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881-1958) and Antonio Machado y Ruiz (1874-1947). The English writer Graham Greene said in his book of memoir, Ways of Escape (1980), that he had read Life and Death of Don Quixote and forgotten it, but after publishing the short story ‘A Visit to Morin’, and later the novel A Burnt-Out Case (1961), he noted that he shared the same distrust of theology. “Faith which does not doubt is dead faith,” was Unamuno’s argument. And in Ways of Escape Greene stated: “The Catholic solution of our problems, of our unique vital problem of the immortality and eternal salvation of the individual soul, satisfies the will, and therefore satisfies life; but the attempts to rationalize it by means of dogmatic theology fail to satisfy reason. And the reason has its exigencies as imperious as those of life.”

Generación del 98: cultural movement, born after the Spanish-American War (1898). In was an attempted to reestablish the lost values of Spanish life through education and through opposition to all forms of provincialism. At the same time the movement embraced Spanish people, medieval and Arab heritage, and sought to introduce modernist influences to literature. Most prominent members of the group were Antonio Machado, Ángel Ganivet y García, Ramon Pérez de Ayala, Jacinto Benavente, Ramon Valle-Inclán, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Pío Baroja, Miguel de Unamuno, and José Martínez Ruiz, who was the first to identify the Generation of ’98 as a group..

For further reading: Unamuno by A. Barea (1952); Unamuno, a Philosophy of Tragedy by José Ferrater Mora (1962); The Lone Heretic by M.T. Rudd (1964); En torno Unamuno by M. García Blanco (1965); Miguel de Unamuno by J. Marías (1966); Death in the Literature of Unamuno by M. Valdés (1966); Miguel de Unamuno: The Rhetoric of Existence by Allen Lacy (1967); Miguel de Unamuno by D. Basdekis (1969); Vida de don Miguel by E. Salcedo (1970); Miguel de Unamuno by Martin Nozick (1971); Unamuno Novelist by R.E. Batchelor (1972); Reason Aflame by V. Quimette (1974); Miguel de Unamuno: the Contrary Self by F. Wyers (1976); Miguel de Unamuno: The Agony of Belief by Martin Nozick (1982); The Word in the World by Thomas Franz (1987); The Elusive Self by Gayana Jurkevich (1991); Las máscaras de lo trágico by Pedro Cerezo-Galán (1996); One Hundred Twentieth-Century Philosophers, ed. by Stuart Brown, Diané Collinson, Robert Wilkinson (1998); The Great Chiasmus: Word And Flesh In The Novels Of Unamuno by Paul R. Olson (2003); Unamuno’s Paratexts: Twisted Guides to Contorted Narratives by Thomas, R. Franz (2006)

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo

Selected works:

* EN TORNO AL CASTICISMO, 1895
* PAZ EN LA GUERRA, 1897 – Peace in War (trans. by Allen Lacy and Martin Nozick with Anthony Kerrigan)
* TRES ENSAYOS, 1900
* AMOR Y PEDAGOGÍA, 1902 – Love and Pedagogy (translated by Michael Vande Berg)
* PAISAJES, 1902
* DE MI PAÍS, 1903
* LA VIDA DE DON QUIJOTE Y SANCHO, 1905 – The Life of Don Quixote and Sancho According to Miguel de Cervantes (trans. Homer P. Earle, 1927) / Our Lord Don Quixote: The Life of Don Quixote and Sancho with Related Essays (ed. and tr. A. Kerrigan, 1967)
* POESÍAS, 1907
* RECUERDOS DE NIÑEZ Y LA MOCEDAD, 1908
* LA ESFINGE, 1909
* MI RELIGIÓN, 1910 – Perplexities and Paradoxes (trans. Stuart Gross, 1945)
* Rosario de sonetos líricos, 1911
* SOLILOQUIOS Y CONVERSACIONES, 1911 – Essays and Soliloquies (trans. J.E. Crawford Flitch, 1925)
* POR TIERRAS DE PORTUGAL Y ESPAÑA, 1911 (ed. Manuel García Blanco)
* FEDRA, 1911
* CONTRA ESTO Y AQUELLO, 1912
* EL PORVENIR DE ESPAÑA, 1912 (with Angel Ganivet)
* EL ESPEJO DE LA MUERTE, 1913
* SENTIMIENTO TRÁGICO DE LA VIDA EN LOS HOMBRES Y EN LOS PUEBLOS, 1913 – The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and in Peoples (tr. J.E.C. Flitch, 1921) / The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Nations (translated by Anthony Kerrigan, with M. Nozick, 1972)
* NEIBLA, 1914 – Mist, a Tragicomic Novel (trans. Warner Fite, 1928) – Usva (suom. Sulamit Reenpää 1997)
* ENSAYOS, 1916-18 (7 vols., rev. ed. 2 vols., 1942)
* ABEL SÁNCHEZ: UNA HISTORIA DE PASIÓN, 1917 – Abel Sánchez and Other Stories (translated by Anthony Kerrigan, 1956)
* TRES NOVELAS EJEMPLARES Y UN PRÓLOGO, 1920 – Three Exemplary Novels and a Prologue (trans. Angel Flores, 1930)
* EL CHRISTO DE VELÁZQUEZ (1920) – The Christ of Velázquez (tr. by E.L. Turnbull, 1951)
* LA TÍA TULA, 1921 – Aunt Tula (tr. by Stanley Appelbaum)
* FEDRA, 1921
* LA VENDA 1921
* SOLEDAD Y RAGUEL, 1921
* RAQUEL, 1921
* ANDANZAS Y VISIONES ESPAÑOLAS, 1922
* RIMAS DE DENTRO, 1923
* TERESA, 1923
* DE FUERTEVENTURA E PARIS, 1925
* L’AGONIE DU CHRISTIANISME, 1925 (as LA AGONÍA DEL CRISTIANISMO, 1931) – The Agony of Christianity (trans. Pierre Loving, 1928; Kurt F. Reinhardt, 1960) / The Agony of Christianity and Essays on Faith (ed. and tr. A. Kerrigan, 1974)
* RAQUEL ENCADENADA, 1926
* CÓMO SE HACE UNA NOVELLA, 1927 (ed.Paul R. Olson)
* DOS ARTÍCULOS Y DOS DISCURSOS, 1928
* ROMANCERO DEL DESTIERRO, 1928
* LA NOVELA DE DON SANDALIO, JUGADOR DE AJEDREZ, 1930 – Don Sandalio, shakinpelaaja (suomentanut Anu Partanen, 2008)
* SOMBRAS DE SUEÑO, 1930
* ENSAYOS Y SENTENCIAS, 1932 (ed. Wilfred A. Beardsley)
* EL OTRO, 1932 – The Other (tr. 1947)
* SAN MANUEL BUENO, MÁRTIR, 1933 – Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr (tr. F. de Segovia and J. Pérez, 1954) – Pyhän miehen uhri (suom. Taina Hämäläinen, 1983)
* EL HERMANO JUAN O EL MUNDO ES TEATRO, 1934
* DISCURSO LEÍDO EN LA SOLEMNE APERTURA DEL CURSO ACADÉMICO 1934-35 EN LA UNIVERSIDAD DE SALAMANCA, 1934
* LA CIUDAD DE HENOC, 1941
* ENSAYOS, 1942 (2 vols.)
* EL PORVENIR DE ESPAÑA, 1942
* ANTOLOGÍA POÉTICA, 1942
* CUNCA IBÉRICA, 1943
* TEMAS ARGENTINOS, 1942
* LA ENORMIDAD DE ESPAÑA, 1944
* PAISAJES DE ALMA, 1944
* LA ENORMIDAD DE ESPA¨NA, 1945
* ALGUNAS CONSIDERACIONES SOBRE LA LITERATURA HISPANO-AMERICANA, 1947
* VISIONES Y COMENTARIOS, 1949
* MI SALAMANCA, 1950
* MI VIDA, 1950 (2 vols.)
* DE ESTO Y DE AQUELLO, 1950-54 (4 vols.)
* OBRAS COMPLETAS, 1951-58 (16 vols., ed. Manuel García Blanco)
* Poems, 1952 (translated by Eleanor L. Turnbull)
* CANCIONERO, 1953 – The Last Poems of Miguel de Unamuno, 1974 (tr. by Edita Mas-López, 1974)
* EN EL DESTIERRO, 1957
* INQUIETUDES Y MEDITACIONES, 1957
* CINCUENTA POESÍAS INÉDITAS, 1958
* ESPAÑA Y LOS ESPAÑOLES, 1959 (2 vols., ed. Manuel García Blanco)
* INQUIETUDES Y MEDITACIONES, 1957
* MI VIDA Y OTROS RECUERDOS PERSONALES, 1959 (2 vols.)
* AUTODIÁLOGOS, 1959
* PENSAMIENTE Y POLÍTICO, 1965 (ed. Elias Díaz)
* LA VIDA LITERARIA, 1967
* EL GAUCHO MARTÍN FIERRO, 1967
* Our Lord Don Quizote: The Life of Don Quixote and Sancho, with Related Essays, 1967 (translated by Anthony Kerrigan)
* LA AGONÍA DEL CRISTIANISMO, MI RELIGIÓN Y OTROS ENSAYOS, 1967
* DESDE EL MIRADOL DE LA GUERRA, 1970 (ed. Louis Urrutia)
* Ficciones: Four Stories and a Play, 1975 (translated by Anthony Kerrigan)
* ESCRITOS SOCIALISTAS, 1894-1922, 1976 (ed. Pedro Ribas)
* ARTÍCULOS OLVIDADOS SOBRE ESPAÑA Y LA PRIMERA GUERRA MUNDIAL, 1976
* EL TORNO A LAS ARTES, 1976
* CRÓNICA POLÍTICA ESPAÑOLA (1915-1923), 1977 (ed. Vicente Gonzáles Martín)
* REPÚBLICA ESPAÑOLA Y ESPAÑA REPUBLICANA (1931-1936), 1979 (ed. Vicente Gonzáles Martín)
* ARTICULOS Y DISCURSOS SOBRE CANARIAS, 1980 (ed. Francisco Navarro Artiles)
* ENSUEÑO DE UNA PATRIA, 1984 (ed. Victor Quimette)
* The Private World: Selections from the Diario Intimo and Selected Letters, 1890-1936, 1984 (translated by Anthony Kerrigan, Allen Lacy, and Martin Nozick)
* EL RESENTIMIENTO TRÁGICO DE LA VIDA, 1991
* ARTÍCULOS EN ‘LA NACIÓN’ DE BUENOS AIRES, 1919-1924, 1994 (ed. Luis Urrutia Salaverri)

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