Being human as the experience of radical insufficiency in the writings of R. de Castro and J. A. Silva

Date of Completion

January 1998


Literature, Comparative|Literature, Latin American|Literature, Romance




This study is the first comparison of the works of the Spaniard Rosalía de Castro (1837–1885) and the Colombian José Asunción Silva (1865–1896). These authors share remarkable likenesses in theme, tone, and style, yet critics have identified Castro and Silva with their native countries to such a degree that the many similarities between these postromantic writers have escaped notice. However, an examination of their works also reveals important differences, helping to delineate more precisely the individuality of each writer. ^ This dissertation contends that radical insufficiency lies at the heart of the worldviews of R. de Castro and J. A. Silva. The conception of human life as radical insufficiency is an original synthesis of José Ortega y Gasset, Xavier Zubiri, and Pedro Laín Entralgo. (1) They affirm that humans lack a determined being and fixed course or destiny for life. Eternal norms are unavailable to tell them how to act, guide their lives, explain their actions, and make the world intelligible. As a result, humans experience feelings of uncertainty and emptiness which inevitably lead to anxiety. Castro and Silva write of their own unsuccessful endeavors to find a solution to the radical insufficiency of life. (2) Confronted by the uncertainty of human existence, both describe futile attempts to overcome radical insufficiency through the creation and contemplation of art. Yet art does not provide solace precisely because of unpredictability with regard to artistic production, reception, and perdurability. (3) Castro and Silva also reveal that attempts to attain fulfillment and direction through love are as fraught with pitfalls as is art. They emphasize the inadequacy of human relationships as sources of stability and orientation as they systematically strip away idealizations about Romantic love. (4) Lastly, they acknowledge the failure of religion to supply guidance and reassurance. They view religion as problematic because of the inherent uncertainty surrounding the existence of God and an Afterlife. Castro and Silva portray the human being's vain struggle for meaning, self-fulfillment, and security. New perspectives emerge in a thematic and stylistic analysis of the privative sense of life found in their writings. ^