“Myself and my circumstance”

José Ortega y Gasset, from The New York Review of Books

My novel Immunity Index opens with a quote from the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset: “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia y si no la salvo a ella no me salvo yo.” I am myself and my circumstance, and if I do not save it, I do not save myself.

If you know nothing else about José Ortega y Gasset, remember that sentence, his most famous, written in 1914. The Spanish philosopher died in Madrid on October 18, 1955, at age 72. He was active in the Second Republic and went into self-exile at the outbreak of the Civil War, although after 1945 he returned frequently to Spain.

For him, “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia” expressed the constant conflict between every person and the time and place where they are born: the drama and tragedy between necessity and freedom, of living with a reality that “forms the other half of myself.”

For him, freedom meant “being free inside of a given fate,” with a necessity to act: “if I do not save it, I do not save myself.”

 “Life is what we do and what happens to us.” Within fate, we can choose our destiny and create “a project of life.”

Some may find their philosophy of life in religion, existentialism, or nihilism. He created a philosophy based on pragmatism:

“Living is a constant process of deciding what we are going to do.”

What are you going to do?

José Ortega y Gasset, from The New York Review of Books

4 thoughts on ““Myself and my circumstance”

  1. ¡I love “La deshumanizacón del arte” and have a copy on my bookshelf. But I have asked people I know in the art world here in the states about him (using the English title sonce most Americans, including “intellectuals” and “liberals” have no interest in learning foreign languages, and their answer is, Who?


  2. A 30-year-old resistence fighter from Algeria inside Nazi-occuped France , who lost his father to WWI when he was 1 year old, who was raised in poverty by a deaf-mute mother, wrote (my translation): “There is only one important question in all of philosophy. Suicide. I.e., is life or life not worth living?” Camus, Albert. “Le Mythe de Sysiphe”: Paris (1943): Gallimard.

    So far, I vote for life.


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