Surviving Social Disintegration: Jorge Portilla on the phenomenology of zozobra

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​In the wake of the extremely divisive 2016 presidential election, many US Americans are feeling deeply unsettled by the sense that the basic norms that govern life in our society are in a state of flux. How might we best describe and analyze the experience of living in a society that is so divided, a society whose very normative structure seems to be disintegrating? What problematic behaviors might arise in this situation? And how might we continue to work for positive social change without further disrupting the normative order of our society? In this paper, I explore some insights into these issues that can be found in the work of Mexican phenomenologist Jorge Portilla, whose fascinating essays on cultural politics are just beginning to be translated into English. Portilla lived at a time in which his society’s normative structure was also in a state of flux. He argues that this state of normative disintegration generates a widely shared sense of zozobra—a profound anxiety that is not a psychological state but a state of existence, and that tends to provoke a number of defensive reactions that may be familiar to us today. I argue that Portilla's analysis of zozobra is a valuable resource for navigating the contemporary world.​
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Archival date: 2020-10-04
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