Saturday, December 04, 2004

Wisdom in Feathers

Miguel de Unamuno

I don’t recall when or how I first made a connection between Miguel de Unamuno and the owl. I do recall that this connection was a childhood one; some book I saw around the house that had a picture of Unamuno that made me think he was an owl. It turns out that the owl is the symbol of wisdom in many cultures. Something to do with the owl’s stealth, its ability to see and survive in the dark. And ours are dark times aren’t they? Sometimes a child’s intuition travels in time.

My interest in Unamuno simply grew because my father liked his writings. Nothing like getting along with Dad on existential conundrums. In 1979 I began to read the Spanish philosopher in a beautiful hard-cover book—Obras Selectas de Don Miguel de Unamuno—which I bought myself in A Coruña during a summer vacation. At the stiff weight of 1,142 pages—not including red covers with golden trimming—I was afraid to even pick it up, let alone to scribble things in it. Nowadays I mark as I wish—something Dad would have despised—but which I think he would eventually understand considering the vastness of mystery to be unravelled. The book has survived remarkably well.

Understanding which Unamuno I'm reading is part of the pleasure and the mystery of reading him. He is unquestionably identified as a philosopher, the “Spanish philosopher of life”,[1] but then I find Unamuno the poet, the playwright, the novelist and, of course, the essayist. Yet, in the end, there is Unamuno the man, one of many men who tried to make sense of his existence: his coming to terms with life both intellectually and emotionally.

A wise man that man that looked like an owl. You didn’t think those were just feathers under his hat? Nowadays these wisdom things are rather simpler. You can go out and just get yourself some.

[1] Peter Koestenbaum, “Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo”, Encyclopedia of Philosophy, MacMillan © 1967, Vol. 7 at 182.


  • thanks for this, txaty, it's been a while since anyone has brought up UNAMUMO, or anyone from the generation of 1898. such an important year for Filipinos like me. you got me thinking about him, and juan ramon jimenez. i have 'platero y yo' by jimenez. when i read ur blog on UNAMUNO, i pulled out the book. keep writing.

    By Blogger bino, at 1:30 PM  

  • Thanks for reading, Bino. I think that Unamuno and his generation still have much to offer. I don’t think Unamuno made a lot of friends—I understand he was kind of crabby—but he tried to think like a demon. He is must reading. His poetry is interesting in the sense that he tried hardest to keep out of the voice of his generation. Ended up writing sonnets though he could never fully write with his heart. He new the struggle of emotion vs. reason (or faith vs. reason).

    “Platero y yo” needs no words.

    Una abrazo,

    By Blogger A.R.B., at 10:23 PM  

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