«Last Socrates» makes final exit

An essayist, poet, playwright, translator and philosopher, Agustín García Calvo was also, and above all, a controversial thinker – so much so that the Franco regime took away his university chair at Madrid’s Complutense University for supporting the student protests. Years later, the same center of learning would name him professor emeritus in classic philology.

But García Calvo, who passed away at a Zamora hospital of heart failure, was a thinker who never stopped opposing the system. Ever since protesters from all walks of life coalesced into the 15-M, or the «indignants» movement last year, the elderly professor showed up at Puerta del Sol every Thursday to «talk to the young people,» recalls Isabel Escudero, his sentimental partner for the last 36 years. «My greatest consolation after his death is the amount of young people he left behind him and his thought. Living, breathing people, 15-M people, not people from the world of Culture with a capital C, who have always looked the other way.»

Until last week, García Calvo never missed the weekly chat he organized at Madrid’s Ateneo. At his last one, he spoke about physics and mathematics in a talk titled One Plus One Is Two. Escudero highlighted the «vigor and grace that he maintained right up until the last day, even when he was already ill.»

In July, the philosopher suffered a cardiac arrest that put him in a Madrid hospital. After that he moved back to his home town of Zamora, where he had a second cardiac arrest that caused his death.

He was always far removed from trends and on the fringe of official culture»

García Calvo was born in 1926 in Zamora and studied classical philology at Salamanca University, becoming a high school teacher in 1951. In 1965, deprived of his university chair in Madrid together with other supporters of the anti-fascist movement, he went into exile in France, where he continued to teach at Lille University and Collège de France. In Paris he founded and coordinated a regular political and literary discussion at the café La boule d’or in the Latin Quarter.

Back in Spain in 1988, he launched a school of linguistics, logic and language arts in order to bring together disciplines that teaching had gradually confined to separate compartments within philology, mathematics and theater. The initiative lasted until 1991. «That [project] failed, just like anything that may hurt you fails. Success only comes to that which hurts nobody, that which goes with the flow,» he said in a 2010 interview with EL PAÍS.

Among his most relevant work is the trilogy made up of Del lenguaje, De la construcción (Del lenguaje II) and Del aparato (Del lenguaje III), in which he developed his general theory on language. His Hablando de lo que habla. Estudios de lenguaje, a compilation of his articles, received the 1990 National Essay Award.

«Agustín was a very rigorous man, always very Socratic. I think he was the last Socrates,» says Escudero.

«He was an atypical man, unique and unmistakable, always far removed from all trends and on the fringe of official cultural life,» said Fernando Savater, another premier thinker who was a student of García-Calvo’s when he was teaching in Madrid.

«Last Socrates» makes final exit | In English | EL PAÍS.

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