Academic journal article The Romanic Review

The Broken Mirror: Reflections of Nietzsche in Unamunian Views of Art and the Imagination

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

The Broken Mirror: Reflections of Nietzsche in Unamunian Views of Art and the Imagination

Article excerpt

A long with Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche has long been reckoned among the most predominant of philosophical influences on the Spanish "Generation of 1898." This view bas been supported by critics (Pedro Ribas, Gonzalo Sobejano, Iris Zavala) and generational members (Juan Martinez Ruiz, Ramiro de Maeztu) alike. As Miguel de Unamuno can reasonably be said to have formed part of this literary generation, one might expect to find huellas of the Nietzschean influence in his texts. Indeed, there is significant evidence of affinity between the two on matters such as, but not limited to, the rejection of systematic thought, the necessity of opposites, the concern for immortality, the value of the individual, and the existential importance of art.

It is when one begins to consider the author's comments regarding his estimation of and familiarity with Nietzschean philosophy, however, that troubling incongruities in the Unamuno-Nietzsche relationship arise. First, despite clear, early references to the latter in personal correspondence (1) and professional publications, (2) Unamuno repeatedly insists he only became aware of Nietzsche in 1898 and then only through Lichtenberger's exposition of his thought. But, as Ribas affirms in his "Unamuno y Nietzsche," such accounts simply cannot be sustained in the face of contrary evidence: "[Y]a que hemos visto referencias a Nietzsche antes de 1898, hay que concluir que, o bien lo conocfa muy indirectamente, o bien Unamuno lo habia leido en aleman [...]" (253-54).

Second, there is the baffling manner in which Unamuno attacks Nietzsche, many times with regard to a position that the two hold in common (e.g., the idea of eternal repetition). Iris Zavala writes of this sort of phenomenon in "Unamuno: palabra a dos voces": "Unamuno se complace en un juego de rechazo y aceptacion, o de asimilacion y de polemica, de dependencia e interdependencia--su dialogo con Nietzsche es buen ejemplo de independencia que resulta en las situaciones y entonaciones distintas" (46). And Sobejano echoes, in his Nietzsche en Espana: "Consiste el problema en que, frente a indicios evidentes de la influencia de Nietzsche en el escritor espanol, existen una serie de testimonios de este afirmando [...] su tardla y menguada ocupacion con las obras de aquel y su antipatia hacia Nietzsche" (276-77).

The purpose of this study, then, is to continue to question--much as Zavala, Sobejano, and others have already done--the validity and logic of Unamuno's expressions of antipathy toward his German contemporary. Our strategy for doing sois a detailed comparison of the thinkers' respective aesthetic theories. First among concerns is the like manner in which Unamuno and Nietzsche charge art with a task of existential importance: that of promoting the eternal affirmation of life. Other coincidences studied are the shared view of the individual as his or her own artistic creation, the mutual stressing of imagination over reason, and the role of both thinkers as artist-philosophers. We conclude by noting that--rather than being attributable to mere coincidence--the many similarities between Unamuno and Nietzsche on the subject of art reveal a much deeper relation: their common experience of and participation in the Weltanschauung of modernism.

While it is most certainly not our purpose to paint Unamuno and Nietzsche as holding identical views, we do endeavor to demonstrate by study's end: (1) the existence of important affinities that tend to get lost in the presence of our author's persistent criticism of Nietzsche; and (2) the greater historical and intellectual significance of these affinities.

Unamuno, Nietzsche, and Art's Affirmation of Eternal Existence

One of the more dramatic manners in which Nietzsche and Unamuno coincide is in their understanding of art's ultimate purpose. Above all, both view the creative and imaginative endeavor as a life-affirming enterprise. …

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