María Zambrano wrote little other than essays, whether books or journalistic articles.
Despite the rarity of Spanish women essayists and philosophers, Zambrano decided early that her life’s role was as a thinker, and she chose as her vehicle the philosophical essay.
She left more than 200 articles and 28 books, especially impressive considering the gender and culture barriers she faced in pre-Civil War Spain and postwar exile in Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Republican affiliations and exile combined with gender and her essentially esoteric work to keep Zambrano relatively unknown during the Franco dictatorship; until the final years, exiles’ works and most critical studies on them were prohibited by Spanish censors. Nevertheless, when Zambrano finally returned to Spain in 1984, conditions had changed radically. In 1981 she received the Prince of Asturias national literary prize, and significant official and critical recognition continued throughout her remaining life; she became the first woman and first philosopher to receive the Cervantes Prize, ten million pesetas awarded by the Association of Spanish Language Academies, constituting the most significant recognition available to writers in the Spanish-speaking world. Honoring a lifetime’s intellectual accomplishments, the Cervantes Prize distinguishes “conspicuous contributions to enriching the Spanish cultural patrimony.”
Zambrano’s selection surprised many: she had written no bestsellers and was little known to general readers, having besides her essays only some poems and a rather essayistic text—memoir or novelized autobiography—Delirio y destino (wr. mid-1950s, pub. 1989; Delirium and destiny), set during 1929 and 1930, the intellectually stimulating days of Spanish vanguardism when Zambrano was deciding her own future. Despite Bildungsroman traits, reflecting Zambrano’s youthful philosophical training and her relationship with her teacher, leading Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, this lyric discourse combines history, memoir, philosophy, and literature. Delirio y destino, like Los intelectuales en el drama de España (1937; Intellectuals in Spain’s drama [i.e. the Civil War]), depicts the rich cultural ambience of the famed Generation of 1927— poets García Lorca, Vicente Aleixandre, Rafael Alberti—and Zambrano’s friendships with others: Luis Cernuda, Miguel Hernández, Rosa Chacel, and various disciples of Ortega.
Zambrano’s earliest essay volume, Nuevo liberalismo (1930; New liberalism), builds upon work by her father, the idealistic socialist pedagogue Blas Zambrano, an enduring influence, and figures among her most political writing. Simultaneously she worked on her doctoral dissertation treating individual salvation in Spinoza, and began publishing commentaries on Ortega’s works. Zambrano’s apprenticeship teaching of metaphysics prefigures another constant theme, differentiating her thought from Ortega’s. Zambrano’s incipient philosophy appears in “Hacia un saber del alma” (1937; Toward a knowledge of the soul), expanded and published separately in 1950. Her early connotations of soul approximate spirit or human subjectivity, and are without the mystical-religious aspects that later appeared. Early influences of Scheler give way to Heidegger. Bergson
influenced Zambrano’s concepts of time, the historical, intuition, and her essentially lyric, personal, philosophical style. Heidegger contributed to her rejection of philosophical rationalism and scientific reason, to her notions of being-in-the-world, “dwelling,” letting things speak, and her fusion of style and thinking as she diverged from Ortega. Philosopher-poet Antonio Machado anticipates her vision of poetry as philosophy or vice versa: Zambrano’s Filosofía y poesía (1939; Philosophy and poetry) and Pensamiento y poesía en la vida española (1939; Thought and poetry in Spanish life) explain the poetic initiation of the philosopher via an intuition of “poetic reason.”
Rhetoric aside, Zambrano’s “reason” resembles no prior rationalism but rather revelation connected to desire.
Zambrano’s youthful verse appeared in major periodicals and she wrote on contemporary poets, anticipating her theoretical explorations of poetry’s relation to epistemological epiphanies. This concept, plus her mystic metaphysics and pervasively lyric discourse, significantly influenced contemporary poets. Zambramo had a long academic career and was affiliated with major universities in South and Central America and Europe. Her philosophical/literary-critical exegeses included La España de Galdós (1959; Galdós’ Spain), El freudismo, testimonio del hombre actual (1940; Freudianism: testimony to contemporary man), and El pensamiento vivo de Séneca (1944; Seneca’s living thought). Her wartime works attest to her suffering over the war in Europe: Isla de Puerto Rico (Nostalgia y esperanza de un mundo mefor) (1940; Puerto Rico, nostalgia and hope of a better world) and La agonía de Europa (1945; Europe’s agony).
Among Zambrano’s longest works, El hombre y lo divino (1955; Man and divinity) uses poetic reason to elucidate religious experience, studying the meaning of gods, the sacred, sacrifice, and human attitudes toward the unknown future. Her concept of destiny, within contemporary existential parameters, resembles Ortega’s “plenitude,” later becoming nearly synonymous with vocation. Zambrano once commented that the title of El hombre y lo divino would aptly suit her complete work, a prescient observation vis-àvis later texts.
Dreams become prominent in Zambrano’s thought in the mid-1950s. “Los sueños y el tiempo” (1958; Dreams and time), further elaborated in El sueño creador (1965; Creative dreaming), and considers time’s role in human life, viewing dream-time and dreaming as near atemporal passivity, revelatory of time’s origination. Zambrano’s dream-theory synthesizes relationships between dreams and the creative word, tragedy, religion, poetry, philosophy, and the novel, appearing also in Los sueños y el tiempo (1992; Dreams and time) and España, sueño y verdad (1965; Spain, dream and truth), whose ostensible topics are predominantly literary, revealing intertextual debts to Calderón’s vision of life as a dream, waking as death. Claros del bosque (1977; Clearings in the forest), whose title alludes to the wood near Lake Leman where Zambrano once lived, treats being, presence and reality, concealment and revelation, all united by ontological concerns and the concept of passive epiphany. Other pivotal ideas involve the word (logos) and dawn.
De la aurora (1986; Concerning dawn) presents the logos as an inevitable point of departure. Zambrano concentrates on the subjective, within a mystical or Gnostic tradition, privileging intuition and advocating the reform of understanding via awareness of the irrational and intuitive, things neither objective nor intelligible in abstract reason.
Man constitutes an enigma, something to be deciphered or realized (vocation), resembling existential notions of man as project.
Zambrano’s career demonstrates the fallacy of considering woman and philosopher inherently contradictory, but her relative obscurity until the decade before her death did not encourage translations or critical works. Zambrano’s major prizes during the 1980s have spurred recent critical attention, mostly in Spanish, but translations have begun and she will be better known in the next century than in her own.
Born 25 April 1904 in Vélez-Málaga. Studied philosophy under Ortega y Gasset and Xavier Zubiri at the University of Madrid, 1914–28, Ph.D., 1928. Taught in Madrid, 1930–36; wrote for the Revista de Occidente, Cruz y Raya (Cross and line), and Hora de España (Hour of Spain). Married Aifonso Rodríguez Aldave, 1936 (separated, 1948): one daughter (died, 1972). Lived in Chile, 1936–37; on return to Spain worked actively on
behalf of the Republic. Exiled from Spain, 1939; taught at the Universities of Havana, 1940–43, and Puerto Rico, 1943–46; lived in Paris, 1946–49, Havana, 1949–53, Rome, 1953–64, France, 1964–80, and Geneva, 1980–84; returned to Spain, 1984.
Awards: Prince of Asturias Prize, 1981; Cervantes Prize, 1988; honorary degree from the University of Málaga.
Died in Madrid, 1991.
Essays and Related Prose
Nuevo liberalismo, 1930
Los intelectuales en el drama de España, 1937; enlarged edition, 1977
Filosofía y poesía, 1939
Pensamiento y poesía en la vida española, 1939
El freudismo, testimonio del hombre actual, 1940
Isla de Puerto Rico (Nostalgia y esperanza de un mundo mejor), 1940
El pensamiento vivo de Séneca, 1944
La agonía de Europa, 1945
Hacia un saber sobre el alma, 1950
El hombre y lo divino, 1955
Persona y democracia: La historia sacrificial, 1958
La España de Galdós, 1959; enlarged editions, 1982, 1989
El sueño creador: Los sueños, el soñar y la creación por la palabra, 1965
España, sueno y verdad, 1965; enlarged edition, 1982
La tumba de Antígona, 1967
Claros del bosque, 1977
El nacimiento: Dos escritos autobiográficos, 1981
Andaluía, sueño y realidad, 1984
De la aurora, 1986
Notas de un método, 1989
Algunos lugares de la pintura, edited by Amalia Iglesias, 1989
Antología temática y crítica, edited by Jesús Moreno Sanz, 1989
Los bienaventurados, 1990
Los sueños y el tiempo, 1992
La razón en la sombra, edited by Jesús Moreno Sanz, 1993
Other writings: poetry and the memoir Delirio y destino (1989).
“Bibliografía de y sobre María Zambrano,” Anthropos 70–71 (1987):82–93
Abellán, José Luis, “María Zambrano: La ‘razón poética’ en marcha,” in Filosofía española en América (1936–1966), Madrid: Guadarrama, 1967:169–89
Aranguren, J.L., “La palabra de María Zambrano,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 413 (1984):21–23
Azcoaga, Enrique, “María Zambrano y lo poético,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 413 (1984):159–72
Donahue, Darcy, “National History as Autobiography: María Zambrano’s Delirio y destino,” Monographic Review 9 (1993): 116–24
Janés, Clara, “La palabra poética de María Zambrano,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 413 (1984):183–87
Laffranque, Marie, “De la guerre à l’éxil: María Zambrano et le Sénéquisme des années 40,” in Femmes-philosophes en Espagne et en Amérique Latine, Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1989:27–55
López Castro, Armando, “El pensar poético de María Zambrano,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 413 (1984):75–79
Muñoz Victoria, Fernando, “Sueño y creación,” Anthropos 70–71 (1987):119
Muñoz Victoria, Fernando, editor, María Zambrano o la metafísica recuperada, Vélez-j álaga: Delegación de Cultura del Ayuntamiento, 1982
Ortega Muñoz, J.F., “La crisis de Europa en el pensamiento de María Zambrano,” Religión y Cultura 25, no. 108 (1979): 41–69
Pérez, Janet, “‘Circunstancia,’ Reason and Metaphysics: Context and Unity in the Thought of Maria Zambrano,” in Public Forums/Private Views: Spanish Women Writers and the Essay, edited by Kathleen M.Glenn and Mercedes Mazquiarán de Rodríguez, forthcoming
Rof Carballo, Juan, “María Zambrano,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 413 (1984):24– 31
Salinero Portero, José, “María Zambrano en algunas revistas hispanoamericanas entre 1938 y 1964,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 413 (1984):134–58
Savater, Fernando, “Angustia y secreto: El diálogo entre filosofía y poesía en la reflexión de María Zambrano,” Cuadernos del Norte 8 (1981):10–13
Subirats, Eduardo, “Intermedio sobre filosofía y poesía,” Anthropos 70–71 (1987):94–99
Valente, José Angel, “María Zambrano y ‘El sueño creador’,” Insula 238 (1966):1, 10
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