The Suspension of Seriousness

On the Phenomenology of Jorge Portilla, With a Translation of Fenomenología del relajo

By Carlos Alberto Sánchez

Subjects: Philosophy, Latin American Studies
Series: SUNY series in Latin American and Iberian Thought and Culture
Paperback : 9781438444680, 237 pages, July 2013
Hardcover : 9781438444673, 237 pages, December 2012

Table of contents

Chapter 1. Matters of Life and Death
Jorge Portilla— An Anonymous Life
A Crisis of Relajo
The Context of the Method
On Subjectivity
A Critic of Modernity
Chapter 2. Reading Fenomenologá;a del relajo: Part I
Situating Ourselves: El Grupo Hiperiòn
Approaching the Fenomenologá;a del relajo
The Descriptive Project
1.What is Relajo?
2. Four Examples of Relajo
3. Seriousness
4. A Theory of Value
5. Relajo is not mockery [“burla”], sarcasm, or “choteo
6. Laughter and Relajo
Chapter 3. Reading Fenomenologá;a del relajo: Part II
On Freedom
On Irony
On Humor
On Personality Types
The Fenomenologá;a as a Mirror of Society
Chapter 4. Phenomenology and Fenomenologá;a
Mexican Philosophy in Profile
The Descriptive Method
The Destructive Method
Normative Considerations
Concluding Remarks
Chapter 5. Metaphysics of the Subject
Leopoldo Zea and “lo mexicano
Portilla’s Confrontation with Oretga y Gasset
1. Oretga’s Views on Subjectivity
2. Portilla’s Ideal of Subjectivity
Beyond Oretga
Relajo and Subjectivity
Subjectivity and Modernity
Chapter 6. The Presuppositions of Modernity
Presupposition (i): Socratic Seriousness
Presupposition (ii): Fecundity and Relajo
A Crisis of Modernity
Concluding Remarks: Portilla and Mexican Philosophy

First in-depth analysis of this important Mexican philosopher’s work.


The Suspension of Seriousness engages the Mexican philosopher Jorge Portilla (1919–1963), taking note of Portilla's philosophical methodology, insights, and contributions to our understanding of value, being, and subjectivity. Portilla lived a short, troubled life and never held a teaching appointment, but his works, though few in number, were nevertheless philosophically penetrating. He is a legendary character in the Mexican popular imagination of the 1940s and '50s, but little has been written about him or his philosophy. His posthumously published Fenomenología del relajo is a phenomenological analysis of what Portilla calls "relajo" or the state we assume when we do not want to do what is seriously being asked of us—what is demanded of us. It is, Portilla says, "the suspension of seriousness." Carlos Alberto Sánchez uses Portilla's Fenomenología del relajo as a point of departure to consider the dangers both of our uncritical adherence to values as well as our urge to reject values altogether. He argues that Portilla provides a framework in which to situate the modern condition, ourselves, and our future. The first authorized English translation of Portilla's Fenomenología del relajo is included.

Carlos Alberto Sánchez is Associate Professor of Philosophy at San José State University.


"Carlos Sánchez does an excellent job of bringing [Portilla's] concepts and ideas to life in a way that can be understood by anyone. He explores the themes, contexts and times of Jorge Portilla and why he is an important figure. This is a major work in the field of Latin America philosophy." — Portland Book Review

"The Suspension of Seriousness is an in-depth scrutiny of a critical aspect of human consciousness and behavior, highly recommended for the philosophy shelves of college and graduate school libraries." — Midwest Book Review