“Hope is the Engine of History”

There are no ruins without the triumph of vegetal life over that
which one day proudly rose over the earth. Clearly, everything that is
built on the earth in a certain way humiliates the earth. And so, it was
an ancient rite to make sacrifices to the gods of the place – each place
had an owner – in order to placate them so that they would permit the
rising of the fabric built by human hands. The act of setting up an
edifice shows the triumph of man over nature, as well as over history,
the historic work that would be so strange to a non-human beholder,
if there were one. And in the ruins, the human has been laid waste
but not erased. From that triumph – and all human triumph brings or
takes away pride–there remains something, which already entwines
with triumphant vegetal life, which freely runs, budding among the
broken columns and the torn-down walls. A fusion between nature
and history takes place; a pacification, a reconciliation that gives birth
to a special beauty that is dispensed by Greek Tragedy, brings with it
‘catharsis’. The contemplation of ruins cures, purifies, and expands
the spirit, making it approach the fluctuations of history, like an
immense tragedy without an author. Ruins are really a metaphor that
has reached the category of a Tragedy without an author. Its author is
simply time.
And tragedy springs from hope in an exaggerated fight with the
fatal limitations of destiny, of circumstances. Hope, the most human as
well as the most divine element in the life of man, remains free and
exposed, freed from its fights, in ruins. It is the pure transcendence of
To be sure, all ‘culture’ is the realisation of a dream–or rather
the attempt to realise it; one of those dreams that inexorably pursues
man and from which it is impossible to escape because it is born in the
indestructible depths of hope searching for its plot and at the same
time its realisation [la esperanza que busca su argumento, y al par su
realización]. Not all dreams ask to be realised, but there are some
that are so endowed with this request that they do not permit human
consciousness to rest, that they will throw man into any adventure.
Realisation is always a frustration. To that extent all history, even the
most splendid, is a failure. A failure that carries within also its triumph:
the incessant rebirth of human hope symbolised by ivy. Ivy is the
metaphor of a life that is born out of death, of the transcendence
that arrives each time something is finished [el trascender que sigue
a todo acabamiento]. It comes after the cessation of something that
went far on hope and into it [algo que fue lejos en la esperanza]. And if
Calderón exhorted us ‘to do good [obrar bien], because good is not lost
even in dreams’, it would be possible to understand this by thinking
that from all reality the only thing that may remain will be a dream.
To dream up the good [soñar bien] because good is not lost even in
María Zambrano, “Ruins: A Metaphor for Hope” [trans. José Mª Rodríguez García]
Originally published in 1951, written by the author while she was living in Havana in exile from Spain.

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