Mexico, refuge of translators

Making Words (2018), a splendid book by the scholar Nayelli Castro, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, explores the work of philosophical translation of four exiles in Mexico: José Gaos, Eugenio Imaz, Wenceslao Roces and Adolfo Sánchez

Image: Pixabay
Image: Pixabay

Because of its border condition, as a bridge between the Americas, and because of its northern geographical position, open on one side to the Gulf, the Caribbean and the Atlantic, and on the other to the Pacific, Mexico has always been a destination for travellers, exiles and translators. The weight of translation in Mexican culture is still to be measured, from the romantic years of José María Heredia, who made versions of Byron and Chateaubriand, to the avant-garde of León Felipe, who translated Whitman and Eliot.

Making Words (2018), a splendid book by the scholar Nayelli Castro, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, explores the work of philosophical translation of four exiles in Mexico: José Gaos, Eugenio Imaz, Wenceslao Roces and Adolfo Sánchez Vázquez. Before and after analyzing the theory and practice of those translators of Hegel, Kant, Heidegger, Marx and Dilthey, Castro explores the role of translation in the history of ideas in Mexico and Latin America, in decades, such as mid-year century, which placed the ideal of national philosophies at the center of intellectual policies.

"The translators studied by Nayelli Castro are only four and the four republicans, but with notable differences among them: two of them (Gaos and Roces) were Asturian, Imaz was Basque and Sánchez Vázquez, from Algeciras, Cádiz, Andalucía"

The author is aware of something that historiography has neglected, and that in the supposed clash between nationalism and cosmopolitanism, whether in the arts, literature or philosophy, translation plays in two bands. The well-known critique of Samuel Ramos to Antonio Caso, in the magazine Ulises, in 1927 - continued in the magazine Examen de Jorge Cuesta at the beginning of the 30s and in the classic profile of man and culture in Mexico (1934) - was based on in the exogenous character of the critique of positivism: according to Ramos, instead of producing a philosophy of its own, Case glossed anti-positivist philosophers, especially French. However, in his response to Ramos, Caso used a very similar argument: the young philosopher lacked his own production: just a few comments on Benedetto Croce and the rest, an adaptation of Alfred Adler's psychoanalysis to the mentality of the Mexican.

Both polemicists accused themselves of foreign thought but claimed for themselves the condition of authenticity. The translation of European philosophies was, at the same time, a constitutive element of the false and the true, of the artificial and the essential. Tension will be repeated in the 50s, when the group Hyperion, especially Emilio Uranga, Luis Villoro and Leopoldo Zea, encouraged by the teaching of Gaos, take distance from Ramos himself, through a more resolute approach to Heidegger, existentialism French and Western Marxism. The objective of those young people was more or less the same, to articulate a philosophy of the Mexican and the Mexican -in dialogue with the Latin Americanist ideologies of the first Cold War-, but their referential field and their repertoire of translations overflowed the readings of their teachers.

"The author realizes something that historiography has neglected, and that in the supposed clash between nationalism and cosmopolitanism, whether in the arts, literature or philosophy, translation plays in two bands"

The translators studied by Nayelli Castro are only four and the four Republicans, but with notable differences among them: two of them (Gaos and Roces) were Asturians, Imaz was Basque and Sánchez Vázquez, from Algeciras, Cádiz, Andalusia. Gaos played in the PSOE, Roces in the Spanish Communist Party and Sánchez Vázquez, the youngest, born in 1915, in the Socialist Youth. Philosophically they were also diverse: Gaos was Ortegan and, above all, Heideggerian, Neo-Kantian Imaz and Roces and Sánchez Vázquez Marxists.

This diversity was reflected in the offer of translation that those thinkers made to Mexico and Latin America between the 40s and 60s. That immense work of dissemination of Western thought, and specifically German, in Spanish, was not only theirs, it was also theirs. publishers such as the Fondo de Cultura Económica y Siglo XXI, especially in the period of Arnaldo Orfila, and institutions such as the UNAM and the Colegio de México. Serve this book to recapitulate, once again, that glorious moment of the humanities in Mexico.

The original text of this article was published by the La Razon (Rafael Rojas) at the following address:

https://www.razon.com.mx/opinion/mexico-refugio-de-traductores/