Today’s post is merely a pointer to a couple of lyrical passages from Miguel De Unamuno‘s The Tragic Sense of Life (Collins; The Fontana Library of Theology and Philosophy, 1962). These aren’t just lyrical, they ring true as well. Or perhaps that’s the same thing. Either way, here they are.
This violent struggle for the perpetuation of our name extends backwards into the past, just as it aspires to conquer the future; we contend with the dead because we, the living, are obscured beneath their shadow. We are jealous of the geniuses of former times, whose names, standing out like the landmarks of history, rescue the ages from oblivion. The heaven of fame is not very large, and the more there are who enter it the less is the share of each. The great names of the past rob us of our place in it; the space which they fill in the popular memory they usurp from us who aspire to occupy it. And so we rise up in revolt against them, and hence the bitterness with which all those who seek after fame in the world of letters judge those who have already attained it and are in enjoyment of it. If additions continue to be made to the wealth of literature, there will come a day of sifting, and each one fears lest he be caught in the meshes of the sieve. In attacking the master, irreverent youth is only defending itself. (pp. 68)
If the man who tells you that he writes, paints, sculptures, or sings for his own amusement, gives his work to the public, he lies; he lies if he puts his name to his writing, painting, statue or song. He wishes, at the least, to leave behind a shadow of his spirit, something that may survive him. If the Imitation of Christ is anonymous, it is because its author sought the eternity of the soul and did not trouble himself about that of the name. The man of letters who shall tell you that he despises fame is a lying rascal. Of Dante, the author of those three-and-thirty vigorous verses on the vanity of worldly glory, Boccacio says that he relished honours and pomp more perhaps than suited his conspicuous virtue. The keenest desire of condemned souls is that they may be remembered and talked of here on earth, and this is the chief solace that lightens the darkness of his Inferno. And he himself confessed that his aim in expounding the concept of Monarchy was not merely that he might be of service to others, but that he might win for his own glory the palm of so great a prize. What more? Even of that holy man, seemingly the most indifferent to worldly vanity, the Poor Little One of Assisi, it is related in the Legenda Trium Sociorum that he said: You will see how I shall yet be adored by all the world. And even of God Himself the theologians say that he created the world for the manifestation of His glory. (pp. 66)
Note: I hope to excerpt another passage from Unamuno (on Nietzsche) tomorrow.
6 thoughts on “Unamuno on Lasting Glory”
Bloom’s “Anxiety of Influence” covers this issue in great detail and more lyrically