Sep 23, 2012

half moon bay

For Jayne



If we are able to remain still for a time in passive contemplation of the simian scene, one of its characteristics will presently, and as if spontaneously, and as if spontaneously, become dominant and strike us like a flash of lightning. And this is that the infernal little beasts are constantly on the alert, perpetually uneasy, looking and listening for all the signals that reach them from their surroundings, intent upon their environment as if they fear some constant peril in it, to which they must automatically respond by flight or bite, the mechanical discharge of a muscular reflex. The creature, in short, lives in perpetual fear of the world, and at the same time in perpetual hunger for the things that are and appear in the world, in ungovernable hunger which also discharges itself without any possible restraint or inhibition, just as its fear does. In either case it is the objects and events in its surroundings which govern the animal's life, which pull it and push it like a marionette. It does note rule its own life, it does not live from itself, but is always alert to what is going on outside it to what is other than itself. Our Spanish word otro ( other ) is nothing but the Latin alter. To say, then, that the animal lives not from itself but from what is other than itself, pulled and pushed and tyrannized over by that other, is equivalent to saying that the animal always lives in estrangement, is beside itself, that its life is essential altercaci├│n.*

Ortega Y Gasset 

The Self and the Other

Buenos Aires, 1939

* ( tranlsator's note ) Literally, "otheration." The Spanish word has, in addition to the meaning of English "alteration," that of "state of tumult." Throughout this essay, Ortega plays on the root meanings of this and another equally untranslatable word, ensimismamiento, literally, "within-one-self-ness," by extension, "reflection," "contemplation." 

© PARTISAN REVIEW, July-August 1952