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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Don't Know Much About María Zambrano

Here's what I noticed from reading about 800 pages of scholarly writing about the philosopher María Zambrano. Some of it is readable and informative, and yet....

I have yet to see any writer taking issue with another, disagreeing with any previous scholar about any point large or small, even in a mild, respectful way. One writer referred to a particular concept as being controversial, but did not follow up on this point. The reader does not even find out who the players on either side of the controversy are!

None of the scholars takes issue with Zambrano herself, or sees any aspect of her work to be self-contradictory or problematic in any way. I was relieved when one writer confessed that a paragraph in Zambrano was confusing to him. Finallly!

Biographical and circumstantial research often takes the place of critical analysis. When these scholars analyze Zambrano's writing, they tend to quote and summarize what she says rather than truly scrutinizing it. When I read her work, certain ideas jump out of me as particularly worthy of remark, but these writers rarely get at the distinctiveness of her thought.

With a few exceptions, most scholars working in this area do not develop strong and distinctive (non-obvious) theses.

A complete absence of humor or wit!!

In more technical philosophical analysis, a pedantic dullness. In more poetic homages, an unbearable effusiveness.

The most useful article I've read is a straightforward compare-and-contrast between Zambrano, Ortega, Unamuno, and Zubiri. My colleague Roberta Johnson has interesting perspectives on Zambrano's relationship to feminism. Even though I don't agree with everything she says, her articles actually puts forward a distinctive perspective rather than simply redundantly reiterating a standard set of views. In fact, my disagreement was a sign that she was actually saying something.

I don't believe in controversy just for the sake of controversy, but the absence of critical debate is puzzling to me. I don't feel any productive tension in this body of critical literature, a sense that anything is at take in adopting one view (rather than another) of Zambrano. I don't even think Zambrano herself would have wanted to be treated with fawning, uncritical adulation. Resistance is the truer homage.

Am I being too harsh? I don't think so. I'm still learning a lot from my reading, and my frustrations are productive in leading me to my own views. The writers I am criticizing know more than me, so I have to still defer to their greater knowledge even if I think they should be doing a better job of it.

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