· Vatican City ·

Being born and unborn
(a reading about María Zambrano)

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03 April 2021

It is not an easy task to present this little book. It must be given as a present, and those who receive it as a gift will find themselves holding a necklace of pearls. Phrases and words by María Zambrano, one of the great figures of twentieth-century intellectual history, strung together by Nadia Terranova with the precious thread that only someone who knows that recounting a life means showing a precious jewel can use. This is made all the more fascinating by Pia Valentinis’ beautiful illustrations. For this Non sono mai stata via. Vita in esilio di María Zambrano [I Have Never Been Away. Life in Exile of María Zambrano] (rueBallu, Palermo 2020) is a book recommended for ages nine and up. It is only to be hoped that it will be read and reread in schools, for it would help change the profile of our country’s culture, which is something we badly need.

I taught philosophy for a few years. A long time ago, it’s true, but not so long ago. I picked up the third volume of the Manual used at school, a big book with 1,147 pages that could all be traced back to a single hashtag that has now gone viral: #tuttimaschi. There is not a single trace of Zambrano or any other philosopher, although throughout the history of human thought there are clear traces of the reflections of various philosophers. Minor figures, of course, given the bombastic narration that precedes and accompanies the voices of those philosophers of all times that we have all learned to know at school. Today, however, philosophers such as Zambrano can no longer be considered “daughters of a lesser god” simply because their thinking cannot be traced back to that monochromatic truth that confirmed the adage that only the male man is rational. María Zambrano has taught us that when a distance or even enmity is established between reason and life, access to truth is denied to contemporary men and women. And she invented the term “to be unborn”,  a strange verb that, in itself, calls for reasoning. Terranova (pictured on this Page) explains that “to be unborn means to rid oneself of the origin, of birth, of a fact that happened and that we can no longer change; to be unborn is to have access to the dream and to memory, to the most authentic part of us” (p. 26). In Spain, in 2006, the Malaga railway station in Andalusia was dedicated to Zambrano, and before that, in 1987, a library in Vélez-Málaga was named after her. Two symbolic places in the life of the Andalusian philosopher, marked by fifty years of exile from her country for political reasons, but who, as Terranova concludes, “in that eternal place that is memory [...] is born and unborn, writes and rewrites, leaves and leaves again, crosses Spain, Europe, Latin America and the whole world - every place belongs to her, and she belongs to every place forever” (p. 75).

by Marinella Perroni
Biblical scholar, Pontifical Athenaeum St  Anselm