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