About idea of destiny. José Luis Pardo. (2012)

Begoña Egurbide talks to José Luis Pardo about the idea of destiny




The video installation Fragments in the Mirror, especially created for this exhibition, is

constructed on the basis of three voices in which the idea of destiny is implicit.

I would like to know what you think about Destiny: that is, how we might deal with the

phenomenon of Destiny and in what way you believe it may be related to free will

(understood as the power to choose and make one’s own decisions)? How at the present

time one might combine Destiny, on the one hand, which we are tempted to think of as

written, and, on the other hand, the freedom we have to make decisions and determine our

actions, which we also like to think is possible? (In fact we all admit that we are

responsible for what we do and we happens to us).



Freedom and destiny are irreconcilable, mutually antagonistic and implacable. The only kind of

freedom compatible with the idea of destiny (or of necessity and absolute determinism) is the

so-called ‘freedom to understand’ that is characteristic of the Stoic tradition (and therefore a

freedom of the mind, not of the will), but I doubt that this could seriously be called freedom in

any reasonable sense. Freedom means the power to start something, something that does not

necessarily follow from a previous cause and is in a line not of inevitability but of contingency.

In Ancient Greece, moira, usually translated as ‘fate’, had the sense of a moral and

cosmological structure of the universe, a contexture of things and of their connection and

relationship (that quality by which fire is fire and at the same time that by which water is water

and air is air), so that only if everything is in its contexture can the wet be wet and the dry dry

and the hot hot. In light of this, destiny would have to do with ‘nature’ — not the birds and

flowers, but the fact that things have a nature, a particular way of being, spontaneous and

irreducible, that is utterly indifferent to our expectations and desires. Out of this idea, by way of

poetry, came the notion of destiny as a ‘lot’ that is assigned to each of us whose path towards it

is woven by the Fates with dark threads, which in due course became the Latin fatum. Now, the

contrast between action (praxis) and destiny appears in Greek drama in its specifically tragic

dimension: action always follows from prior circumstances that we did not create and will have

consequences that we do not want. The astonishing observation of Heraclitus of Ephesus, ethos

anthropoi daimon, can be translated in two contradictory ways: ‘what we call character in man

is actually destiny’ and ‘what we call destiny in man is actually character’, and it is very likely

that the ancients had no way of choosing between these two meanings: in other words, that

Greek tragedy is itself a reflection on the fact that in every action there is an element of

character and an element of destiny, but we can never be sure of their relative proportions (JeanPierre Vernant explained this beautifully in Myth and Tragedy in Ancient Greece). In the

modern era, the reins of destiny are in the hands of an all-powerful, omniscient, prescient and

provident God, beside which the blind forces of Greek tragedy seem laughable, which is first

converted into nature (Deus siue Natura) and then into history, completely eradicating any

possibility for men to be good or happy. I have the impression that nowadays ‘destiny’ is

present in the lives of millions of people as the force that obliges them to change their country,

job, family, sex, friendsand even children, that has them on tenterhooks every morning as the

latest stock market prices come in and gradually reveals to them whether they are going to lose

their home or be able to hang onto it, and by the same token everything else.

Freedom, as I said, as the ability to start something new that cannot be deduced from what went

before comes off pretty badly, as always. I mean that the curse of destiny today lies in all of the

ways — and there are many — in which we try to justify what is going on, denying it the status

of contingency (and thus denying those involved the status of responsible agents) and presenting

it as endowed with necessity — historical, economic or of some other kind. If there is a notion

that has inherited all of the poison once possessed by ‘destiny’ it is that of identity, which is

equally antagonistic to and inconsistent with the notion of ‘freedom’.



There are two classic texts on the subject of destiny and character: ‘Fate and Character’, by

Walter Benjamin, and Carácter y destino, by Rafael Sanchez Ferlosio. I reflected on both of

these in Chapters 5-7 of Esto no es música (Barcelona, 2007).

There seems to be a self concealed in the present work, a self unknown to the voice, that

addresses the imageword relationship: would it be fair to say that the images here — any

of them, even the most realistic — seek to reflect the uncertainty and at the same time the

surprise, the astonishment of something that is not understood/ does not understood itself

and remains ignorant of/unknown to the Self? Could we say that the word is a primary

culture of thought in the same way that the image is a culture of the senses, of the sensory

world, and thus of lived life, so that what happens is that the two worlds mutually

contaminate one another and go hand in hand, or conversely that one precedes the other?


I’ve written about this in Sobre los espacios. Pintar, escribir, pensar,1

and in Las formas de la exterioridad.2 I would say the image is anterior to the word, but in a

way I would describe as subsequent anteriority: that is to say, only after there is the word, and

precisely because there is, can we capture the image as something anterior, a before that we only

become aware of after. However, there are many kinds of images (abstract, figurative, with or

without a storyline, etc, etc). I wouldn’t say that thought cultures the word while the senses

culture the image: there can be as much thought (or as little) in an image as in a word.

There are sound images and verbal images; there is an imagination that is specific to the word,

just as there is a specific discursivity of the image. What is interesting is that the

two do not overlap each other and cannot be reduced to one another.

As Blanchot said, speaking is not seeing, they are irreducible and at the same time inseparable,

just as the concept and the intuition are.



Do you think Nietzsche’s idea of Amor fati is the idea of an older man, an old man? I mean

that the younger Nietzsche would not have expounded it in such docile and submissive

terms looking for that pacific ideal…


Not at all. First, Nietzsche never reached old age as an individual (he lost his faculties at the age

of 44), and I would say that he never ceased to be young as a writer. The tremendous potency of

his writing, which always, in every line, maintains the highest tone, is of a kind of cheerfulness

that is rarely found in any writer (let alone a philosopher). And second, I think that precisely this

affirmative approach to the world, this ‘saying yes’ even to suffering and death, is typical of a

young spirit, not an old one. Among other things because that being in accordance with the

world is something it could be said that we are cured of with the years, when we reach the point

at which we cannot accept what happens to us because it is too terrible to say ‘yes’ to. The very

idea of eternal return, as the eternal return of suffering, requires a lot of cheerfulness even to be

thought of.

And even in Spinoza or Seneca we find some of that youthful spirit.



Jose Luis Pardo is a philosopher and essayist

Begoña Egurbide is an artist



1 Jose Luis Pardo, Sobre los espacios:

pintar, escribir, pensar. Barcelona: Edicionsdel Serbal, 1991.

2 Jose Luis Pardo, Las formas de la exterioridad. Valencia: Editorial Pre-Textos.




begoña egurbide


Translated by: Andrew Langdom Davies

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