I found that from the novel, One hundred years of solitude

Here is the text

Jose Arcadio Buendia made no attempt to console her, completely absorbed in his tactical experiments with the abnegation of a scientist...

I think the expression is a kind of metaphor but can't understand well. Would you explain in more detail?

  • 1
    Did you look up the meaning of "abnegation"? The expression is not a metaphor - it's literal. – Kristina Lopez Nov 17 '15 at 15:03

First of all, the title of the novel is actually Cien años de soledad, so we need to check the Spanish:

Buendía no trató siquiera de consolarla, entregado por entero a sus experimentos tácticos con la abnegación de un científico y aun a riesgo de su propia vida.

And we find that the translation is word for word. Next, we need to check the context fore and aft. "His tactical experiments" (sus experimentos tácticos) are Buendía's work to make a large magnifying glass into a weapon of war. To this end, he spends his wife's money (to her despair) and seriously burns himself. This is a completely self-indulgent project, since his efforts to interest the government in his plans come to nothing. Thus abnegation in the sense of self-denial is inapt. But abnegation also means simply rejection or refusal. And in the pursuit of his "scientific" project, Buendía has rejected his wife's pleas without providing her any consolation, and he has refused to take safety precautions for himself.


An interesting usage. Normally, "abnegation" would imply a sort of humility involved with self-denial, as in, e.g., an ascetic's abnegation of worldly pleasures. Here it seems as if the author is using it synonymously with the absorption mentioned earlier in the sentence. The scientist appears lost to the world around him, completely preoccupied by his experiment. I'd say it almost implies denial of the existence of the outside world or solipsism in this context.

  • ...or his complete absorption in his tactical experiments, characterized by the abnegation (self-denial, self-sacrifice) of a scientist, keeps him from consoling her. – Kristina Lopez Nov 17 '15 at 15:20
  • Not sure I see how self-denial would result in absorption in one's field of interest to the exclusion of others and their feelings, which appears to be the sense here. On the contrary, it is often characterized by "self-involvement" and sometimes even "self-obsession." There's a reason so many scientists, artists, and other thinkers, despite their brilliance, have been identified as narcissists throughout history. – Languagemaven Nov 17 '15 at 15:38
  • You're right about the self-absorption, etc., @Languagemaven, but I'm also looking at this 2nd definition that is all about the self-denial: google.com/search?q=abnegation+meaning&ie=&oe= – Kristina Lopez Nov 17 '15 at 15:43
  • Yes, but you appear to be missing my point, and the point of the question, which is asking what "abnegation" means in this particular context. Authors, of course, will often take the poetic license of using words in ways that slightly differ from their strict dictionary definitions. As I stated, while "abnegation" normally means self-denial, it doesn't appear to be the case here, self-denial indicating a kind of humility. It can't really be both self-denial and self-absorption at the same time, the two words being almost opposite in type of connotation, one positive and one negative. – Languagemaven Nov 17 '15 at 15:58
  • I got your point...I just don't agree with it. :-) I think it's the 2nd meaning that is intended in the excerpt - a case of self-denial - which in context, makes sense to me - that his abnegation of a scientist is the reason he didn't console her. – Kristina Lopez Nov 17 '15 at 18:43

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