Estanislao Zuleta, a Self-taught Psychoanalyst

The name of Estanislao Zuleta is not so well known outside of Colombia, despite the fact that this philosopher and psychoanalyst acted as advisor to the UN and had a considerable impact on culture.

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The name of Estanislao Zuleta is not so well known outside of Colombia, despite the fact that this philosopher and psychoanalyst acted as advisor to the UN and had a considerable impact on culture. He left, in any case, a set of writings and lectures that continue to be the object of study for the new generations.

One of the most interesting aspects of Estanislao Zuleta‘s career is that he was a self-taught person. He rejected formal education. He also made orality his main way of communicating knowledge. Therefore, more than written, the bulk of his work consists of lectures, many of which were transcribed.

“Poverty and the helplessness of the imagination never manifests in such a clear way as when it comes to imagining happiness. Then we began to invent paradises, fortunate islands, countries of cucaña. A life without risks, without struggle, without a quest for improvement and without death. And, therefore, also without deficiencies and without desire.”

-Estanislao Zuleta-

Estanislao Zuleta analyzed, primarily, politics, education and power relations in Latin America. His approach was fundamentally ethical. He was a follower of the theses of Freud and Lacan, but he gave his own interpretation to his postulates. This is a feature of psychoanalysis: it is said that there are as many psychoanalysts, as there are psychoanalysts.

The beginnings of Estanislao Zuleta

Estanislao Zuleta was born in Medellín (Colombia), in the year of 1935. His family had a clear orientation towards books and culture. The father died in a plane crash, when the boy was only 5 months old. This accident was very famous and left a very strong mark, because on the same plane was Carlos Gardel, the idol of tango.

During his youth, Estanislao Zuleta decided to leave school, because he considered it an instrument that stagnated the capacities, instead of potentializing them. Since then, he began a self-taught process that never ended. He was seduced by the postulates of the classical Greeks, Nietzsche, Marx and Freud. He combined these great aspects of thought in a very particular way.

However, his great mentor was Fernando González, the so-called “Philosopher of Otraparte”. This character was a Colombian thinker who was characterized by his sharp reflections and scandalized the conservative society of his time. Also to encourage free thought and free expression. Stanislaus Zuleta was, perhaps, his most notable disciple.

The fullness of the philosopher and psychoanalyst

Despite not having formal academic instruction, Estanislao Zuleta was a university professor almost all his life. In 1980 the Universidad del Valle awarded him an honorary doctorate in psychology. Upon receiving this award, Zuleta presented one of the most famous speeches of all those who have spoken. It was called The Praise of Difficulty and it became a celebrated text that has illuminated entire generations.

His personal life was not exactly a monument to order and moderation. Quite the opposite. His excesses with alcohol were famous. The afternoons and the gatherings with poets, writers and intellectuals until dawn.

In spite of everything, one of the great virtues that all highlighted him always was his rigor in reading. It gave this a preferential place in education, politics and thinking. One of his most well-known and appreciated works is precisely the essay On reading. It exalts not only the fact of reading, but the fundamental importance of digesting what is read.

Cotidianities of a vibrant work

Estanislao Zuleta frequented bars and cafes. There he sat and never rejected anyone who wanted to accompany him to talk. Another of his essays makes an apology for the conversation and he was an excellent representative of that art. He proposed that in the exchange of ideas with someone who thinks differently, the only ethical thing is to look for all the arguments that allow to give the reason to the interlocutor, instead of opposing it. If those arguments are not found, one can follow quietly with his way of thinking.

He believed that psychoanalysis could change the world and ventured several reflections of psychoanalytic type, applied to society. One of his most interesting works is On the idealization of individual and collective life. It shows that trying to build “social paradises” only leads to creating authoritarian societies, in the name of perfection.

Book about Stanislaus Zuleta

One of his great friends, Jorge Vallejo, made a biography of Estanislao Zuleta, some years laterof his death. It is entitled The rebellion of a bourgeois. In it you see a man full of contradictions, but with lucidity and generosity without limits. Currently there is a center of thought, dedicated exclusively to studying his work. He is one of those thinkers, not so famous, that, nevertheless, it is worth knowing and analyzing.