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Fundación Santillana Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes


Imitation and Experience

Javier Gomá Lanzón

Imitation is one of those fundamental ideas in Western culture; like the idea of the Being, it runs throughout European thought from one end to the other. From Ancient Classical times to the 17th century, imitation theory - in the form of imitation of Nature, of our forefathers, or of Platonic ideas - had been universally accepted in all arts and sciences. Suddenly, any trace of imitation theories disappeared in the 18th century; they continued to be absent in the 19th century, due to the hegemony of the emerging modernity, whose principle of autonomy did not accept the idea of imitating other. Nevertheless, at the end of the 19th century and throughout the 20th century, the theory found new and surprising incarnations at the very heart of philosophy and other disciplines. It is not by chance that this re-emergence coincided with the crisis of modernity and the radical criticism of traditional metaphysics.

Despite the indisputable historical importance of imitation and its role in contemporary thought, no thorough and complete history has been written on the idea of imitation. This is a void this book intends to fill, a book that the renowned Spanish philosopher Mugüerza praises for its erudition and for the brilliant academic savoir faire of the author. As the philosopher points out in the introduction, this "saves the book, and us from reading academic debris, testifying to its accessible reading." The comprehensive view of this history is a veritable novelty; it gives evidence of the great theoretical possibilities, still-unexplored, that are contained in a intellectual tradition of cultural ideas - such as imitation, models, example and prototype - which have been overlooked by a dominant metaphysical tradition. The aim of the present volume is to rectify this situation. Based on the conclusions of previous historical essays, the author proposes a completely new general theory on imitation, which, while respecting the tenets of modernity, demands at the same time a thorough revision.

Translated by Jennifer Brooke Hoge

Book Details

Imitación y experiencia (2003)
Javier Gomá Lanzón

Authors > Javier Gomá Lanzón

Javier Gomá Lanzón
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Javier Gomá Lanzón

(Bilbao, Spain, 1965). He holds degrees in Classical Philology and Law, as well as a Ph.D. in Philosophy and is a member of the Council of State (he was first of his year).

He has been the director of the Juan March Foundation since 2003. He received the prize Premio Nacional de Ensayo of 2004 for his debut work Imitación y experiencia [Imitation and experience] (in its third edition by Pre-Textos, 2003, 2005 and 2010; and one paperback edition: Crítica, 2005). This study is part of a trilogy about the concept of "life experience", followed by Aquiles en el gineceo [Achilles in the gynaeceum] (2 editions in Pre-Textos, 2007 and 2008) and completed with Ejemplaridad pública [Public exemplarity] (3 editions by Taurus, 2009-10). This last work has been also published in Latin America and translations of these works into English and Italian will be published shortly. Alongside this trilogy on ‘experience' there is a final monograph on ‘hope', which will be entitled Necesario pero imposible [Necessary but impossible], culmination of four volume plan labelled by the author ‘theorem of experience and hope'. Currently, Javier Gomá collaborates with the newspaper El País cultural supplement Babelia. He has also published, among others, in the following newspapers, journals and newspaper sections: El País, ABC, ABCD cultural, El Cultural, Claves de la Razón Práctica, Revista de Libros, La Razón, Revista de Occidente, Metrópolis, El Noticiero de la Ideas o Turia. His article "La majestad del símbolo" won the XIII FIES Journalism Prize. He has given conferences in many Spanish and Italian (Venice, Genoa and Catania) institutions. Between February and March 2009 he gave a tour of conferences in American universities as the first guest of the "Pensar en español" program.

In addition to these books, Gomá has also published two collections of essays - Ingenuidad aprendida [Learned naïveté] (Galaxia Gutenberg, 2011), a book of seven essays that promote the project of recovering a "worldly philosophy"  [filosofía mundana] which, while tied to the present, seeks to be universal; and Todo a mil [Everything a thousand] (Galaxia Gutenberg, 2012), a collection of 33 "micro-essays" of roughly a thousand words each previously published in the literary supplement Babelia.  He has called Todo a mil a book written in installments like many 19th century works.

Javier Gomá recently commissioned and coordinated a series of lectures at the Juan March Foundation that he collected and introduced in Ganarse la vida en el arte, la literatura y la música [Making a living in art, literature and music] (Galaxia Gutenberg, 2012).  The title for the book is taken from one of Gomá's essays in which he uses the phrase "earning a living" as a way of saying we must all earn our position in the world, that it is not given to us, and that a productive way to view cultural history would be to examine the ways in which artists have made their living (supported by benefactors, wealthy patrons, inheritance or wage labor - among others) and how their identification with or rejection of those means has influenced their work.6

Imitación y experiencia [Imitation and experience], Javier Gomá's first book, brought immediate recognition in the form of the Spanish National Literature Award for Non-fiction in 2004.  Prior to that, in 2001, he had received the Thirteenth Annual Award in Journalism of the Spanish Institutional Foundation (FIES) for his article La majestad del símbolo [The majesty of the symbol].  More recently, in 2011, he was honored with the award for outstanding work in cultural journalism, and award jointly sponsored by ABC Cultural (the cultural supplement to the newspaper ABC) and Ámbito Cultural (cultural activities sponsored El Corte Inglés).

Javier Gomá has lectured on subjects related to his works at a great many Spanish institutions, as well as at universities in the United States, Italy, Chile and Argentina.  He has also given lectures and written essays and articles on the foundation sector.


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