From Rebelliousness to Ecstasy

An exhibition on the life and work of Fernando González

Hermanos González Ochoa (1907) by Archivo Corporación OtraparteCasa Museo Otraparte


Fernando González Ochoa was born on April 24, 1895 in Envigado, Antioquia. From early childhood, his original and rebellious spirit manifested itself with impetus, which led him to “live at the enemy” [a state of constant criticism]. Son of Daniel, a schoolteacher and retail merchant, and of Pastora, a housewife, he was the second of seven siblings. When speaking of his infancy, he tells us: “I was white, pale, wormy, silent, solitary. I often stood in the corners, suspenseful, still. I easily got angry, and I rolled in the spout every time I fought with those in my house.”

Fernando González, padre y hermanas (Alrededor de 1915) by Archivo Corporación OtraparteCasa Museo Otraparte

He coursed his primary education at La Presentación School in Envigado that was run by the Sisters of Charity, and he then studied up to fifth year of high school as an intern at the San Ignacio de Loyola School, which was run by the Jesuits. In 1911, he was expelled because his precocious and extensive reading translated into him sharing his philosophical concerns with his classmates and neglecting the strict religious practices. For example, he failed to attend the third day of spiritual retreats, or abstained from communion on the day of the Assumption, according to the report sent by the school principal to Daniel González, the boy’s father.

Fernando González Ochoa (Alrededor de 1915) by Archivo Corporación OtraparteCasa Museo Otraparte


In 1915, he joined the group Panidas —in homage to the Greek god Pan—, a cenacle of “madmen and artists” organized in Medellín the previous year by León de Greiff, Ricardo Rendón, Félix Mejía Arango, Libardo Parra Toro, José Manuel Mora Vásquez, Eduardo Vasco and other youthful peers. Fernando González published his first book, “Thoughts of an Old Man” (1916), with a prologue by the famous journalist Fidel Cano. Parables, monologues, aphorisms and occasional dialogues fill this premonitory work of the personality philosopher of the 1930s and the traveller of the spirit of the senile age. He is the embryonic thinker, who writes for those who only read in silence, but still with many “decires” and “quereres” [a romantic and old-fashioned way of writing]. More poet than philosopher, as befits a young man of twenty-one, prematurely aged and for whom “the movement of the spirit serves as a measure of time…”

Fernando González Ochoa (Alrededor de 1925) by Archivo Corporación OtraparteCasa Museo Otraparte


After three years of intense introspection, dedicated to reading, self-knowledge and the gestation of “Thoughts of an Old Man” (1916), he resumed his secondary studies. The title of “Bachelor of Philosophy and Letters” was conferred on him by the University of Antioquia on February 8, 1917, and two years later he graduated as a lawyer from the same institution a political and sociological piece titled, “The Right To Not Obey”. The title did not please the university authorities, which considered the essay to be subversive and unsuitable for a thesis. Put under pressure by the situation, he decided to introduce some modifications and call it, succinctly, “A Thesis” (1919). The dramatic events that occurred during the First World War and the rise of State socialism find in Fernando González’s degree thesis a reasoned, firm and upright response.

Fernando González y Margarita Restrepo (1922-04-23) by Melitón RodríguezCasa Museo Otraparte


In 1921 he was appointed judge of the Superior Court of Manizales, the city where his older brother, Alfonso, was domiciled, and the following year he married Margarita Restrepo Gaviria in Medellín. Often mentioned in his books as “Berenguela”, in his wife he found not only a great companion, but also a sensitive and intelligent reader. When the first edition of “Journey on Foot” came out (1929), he wrote a dedication in the copy he gifted her, “Sometimes I think you are not my spouse, but my wings”. Margarita was the daughter of Carlos E. Restrepo, former president of the Republic of Colombia, who would eventually become a good friend and confidant of Fernando González. They were married —according to him— to “philosophize and forever” and from this union there were five children: Álvaro, Ramiro, Pilar, Fernando, and Simón.

Fernando González durante el «Viaje a pie» (1929) by Benjamín CorreaCasa Museo Otraparte

Journey on Foot

In 1928, he was appointed Second Civil Judge of the Medellín Circuit. His secretary, Benjamín Correa, who was a former seminarian and philosophy aficionado, became a much admired friend. After a backpacking trip through the towns of Antioquia, Caldas, and Valle, he wrote “Journey on Foot” (1929), a book in which he began his fight against the “literature of words”. According to Gabriel Miró, “it is an extraordinary and unique work that reveals to the Spaniards of the peninsula how much the psychological genius of a South American creole is capable of”. Monsignor Manuel José Caycedo, Archbishop of Medellín, by decree of December 30, 1929, forbids under mortal sin the reading of the book.

Fernando González en Bogotá (1931) by Jorge MontoyaCasa Museo Otraparte


On the occasion of the first centenary of the Liberator’s death, Fernando González publishes “My Simón Bolívar” (1930), a beautiful and controversial book inspired, according to him, by his alter ego Lucas Ochoa. On September 1, he travels to Venezuela to meet general Juan Vicente Gómez, whom he calls the “Big Hat”. Three years later, he publishes his biography about Gómez under the title of “My Compadre” (1934), because the general was the baptismal godfather of Simón, his youngest son, who later in life stood out as the governor of the islands of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina. During the Gomez government, Fernando González thought he saw “the first essay of self-expression of the South American race”, and wrote to his father-in-law Carlos E. Restrepo, the Colombian ambassador in Italy at the time: “Yesterday I finished the book ‘Mi Compadre y Venezuela’, which I have been drafting for three years… There I say everything that my conscience dictated to me, without reservations, about the Great Colombia”. Months later, he added: “In Venezuela they got angry and did not even allow the entry of the copies I sent”.

Los hermanos Jorge y Fernando en Italia (1933) by Archivo Corporación OtraparteCasa Museo Otraparte


On August 20, 1931, by decree issued by president Enrique Olaya Herrera, Fernando González was appointed Consul General of Colombia in Genoa (Italy), a position he assumed at the beginning of 1932, accompanied by his family. In the same year the publishing house Le Livre Libre in Paris releases “Don Mirócletes”. In 1933, he became Consul of Colombia in Marseille (France). The President had transferred him after a request from the fascist government, since the Italian police found notebooks of González criticizing Mussolini and his regime, which inspired the creation of “The Sleeping Hermaphrodite” (1933).

Fernando González, abogado (1940) by Jorge Obando C.Casa Museo Otraparte

In June 1934, he returned to Colombia and lived in Envigado in a country house, which he called “Villa Bucharest”. In 1935, Editorial Arturo Zapata of Manizales publishes “The Remorse”, an “essay on moral theology” which was conceived in Marseille, and “Letters to Estanislao”, most of which were addressed to his friend Estanislao Zuleta, father of the famous intellectual from Antioquia. In May 1936, his book “The Negroids” circulated as a dedication to “those animals that inhabit the Great Colombia, similar to man…” At the same time, the first issue of magazine “Antioquia” appears, which he managed to publish 17 issues, the last one in 1945.

Fernando González y familia con Luis Enrique Osorio (1942) by Jorge Obando C.Casa Museo Otraparte

The desire to “have a an estate” became a reality in 1940, he moved with his family to “The German’s Orchard”, a beautiful country house that he built thanks to his savings, the inheritance of his father-in-law Carlos E. Restrepo and the support of three friends: the architect Carlos Obregón, the engineer Félix Mejía Arango (Pepe Mexía) and the artist, Pedro Nel Gómez. He would later on give it other names such as,“Ramiro's Beehive”, “Progredere” and “Otraparte” [Anotherplace, Somewherelse]. On the occasion of the first centenary of the death of general Francisco de Paula Santander, he published “Santander” (1940), a merciless historical and psychological analysis of the “Man of the Laws”, where he also analyzed the phenomenon of the national heroes.

Ramiro González Restrepo (Alrededor de 1934) by Archivo Corporación OtraparteCasa Museo Otraparte


In “The Schoolteacher” (1941) he analyses the complex of “the great misunderstood man” and ends up declaring the death of the schoolteacher Manjarrés. It is his most heartbreaking book, in which he lives his own agony and burial. The consequence is a long period of literary and philosophical silence that will last for eighteen years. On January 28, 1947, at the age of 22 and when he was about to obtain his medical degree, his son Ramiro died of leukemia. In 1953 he was appointed Consul of Colombia in Europe, a position he would hold for four years, first in Rotterdam (Holland) and then in Bilbao (Spain). This was an exceptional opportunity to abandon his already prolonged confinement in The German’s Orchard, where he had spent so many nights “charged with silence” during the last twelve years, after having made the decision to bury the school teacher who had so intensely vibrated in his inner world.

Fernando González Ochoa (Alrededor de 1959) by Archivo Corporación OtraparteCasa Museo Otraparte

In September 1957 he returned to Colombia and settled in his country house “The German’s Orchard”, which he would soon call “Otraparte” [Anotherplace, Somewherelse]. He dedicated himself to writing his definitive work, which was essentially mystical in content. It is a philosophy-wisdom or a journey into the interior life, which is in a dialectic and dramatic form. In it, he identifies three stages, the passionate world, the mental world, and the spiritual world. In the “Book of the Journeys or of the Presences” (1959), in the notebooks given by Lucas de Ochoa to the “pu-bli-sher” González, he teaches how to travel through marvelous interior worlds. He employs a new language of living knowledge in which the use of the gerund stands out, which “is already an expression of a flight plan outside the imaginative conceptual…” With this work, different from all the previous ones, the “naked philosopher” emerges.

Fernando González y Alberto Aguirre (1959) by Guillermo AnguloCasa Museo Otraparte


Otraparte became an almost mythical place in the last years of Fernando González’s life. The name became popular, and used to be pronounced with admiration and respect. The master began to be called “The Magician of Otraparte” or “The Wizard of Otraparte”. He was often visited by young people eager to meet him, by intellectuals (Félix Ángel Vallejo, Carlos Castro Saavedra, Manuel Mejía Vallejo, Carlos Jiménez Gómez, Alberto Aguirre, Óscar Hernández, Leonel Estrada, León Posada, Darío Ruiz, María Helena Uribe, Regina Mejía, Rocío Vélez, Olga Elena Mattei…) and by priests, the latter notably being father Andres Ripol, a Benedictine, with whom he had an intense and beautiful correspondence. Among the young people who approached the master at that time were many of the members of the group of the “Nadaístas”, and mainly Gonzalo Arango, to whom he dedicated the “first gifted notebook” of the fourth part of the “Book of the Journeys or of the Presences”.

Fernando González Ochoa (1960) by Jaime MorenoCasa Museo Otraparte


This brings us to 1964. An intense inner life guided his actions; he seemed to have achieved that state of bliss of Father Elías, his overcoming alter ego in “The Tragicomedy of Father Elías and Martina the Candlemaker” (1962), the incarnation of an ideal to which he aspired from his youth. On February 16, on a Sunday, at about 7:30 p.m., he suffered a heart attack that took him definitively to the real Otraparte, the kingdom of Silence. He was about to turn 69 years old. When the heart attack occurred, the coffee cup next to him spilled over the sheet of paper on which he was writing his most recent wishes and at the same time making an examination about his existence: “I will found the new seminary, the seminary where the texts are the same as the seminarians… The books are dead, while the seminarians are dying in God. […] What am I? Me? Nothing, creature. Whether accept it or not, I am nobody in God.

Credits: Story

Biographical notes based on the book “Fernando González, philosopher of authenticity” by Javier Henao Hidrón. Cover illustration by Daniel Gómez Henao. Curated by Gustavo Restrepo Villa, director of Otraparte House Museum.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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