Love, that most exquisite, dangerous, and mysterious modification of our being-with, both entices and repels us. It fascinates us, compels us, and pulls us in, but at the same time its power of appeal we so desperately try to resist. Love is that which brings us to the brink of unreality — to the outermost boundaries of our being-in-the-world…calling on us to sacrifice everything – our very Being if necessary– for the sake of the Other.
Love, the most authentic and yet most terrifying existentielle modification of Dasein’s being-with, appeals to us on account of Dasein’s very existential structure (being-with-others); yet, paradoxically, it yield a tremendous and horrifying power over our being that it we feel compelled to turn away from it and ignore it. We may feel its call, the call that eviscerates us; with its demanding the most complete and total submission; a surrendering, so to speak, of the solitariness of the Self to the affirmation of the Other’s power over us.
Love is, paradoxically, both creative and destructive; an affirmation and denial; a saying “yes to the Other” and “no” to ourselves.
To feel the power of love’s call, the call of the Other, one must first “see” the other in her other-ness. Her Dasein, through her ability-to-be-herself, is what is at stake in love’s appeal. It is the appeal of the other-as-a-self, in her concretized and individuated selfhood, that appeals/calls on me. What does it ask of me?
This is the basis upon which all authentic love comes into existence (becomes possible as a possibility for this Dasein-itself). The Being-of-Love is the horizon upon which my Dasein is called by, and ultimately towards, the Dasein of the other as the center of her self-hood; of her freedom in her ability-to-be. Love requires the concrete; for “one” does not love. The call of love can neither be felt nor heard by the one-self; but only by the my-self. The call of authentic love cuts through the clutter of the idle-chatter; of the confusion and disorientation of the inauthentic being-in of our average and everyday fallenness. It calls to me, in the my-own-ness of my Dasein, and asks of me to choose. One way or another, it is “I,” as a responsible (response-able) individual Dasein, that is called.
At this point authentic love must be isolated and distinguished from the disjointed muddle that nowadays passes for “love.” To be clear, it makes little sense to speak of an “inauthentic love,” for love exists only concretely, when the Dasein-of-the-other calls to my Dasein, and in response I choose resolutely to respond to the call with a “yes,” which at the same time is a “no.” But, before we get to that, it must absolutely be stressed that inauthentic love is a complete degeneration of love, and thus cannot meaningfully be considered “love” at all. For authentic love transcends the mired frenzy of modern technology, and is incomprehensible to the calculative thinking of disinterred subjects in their manipulation of objects. It defies all calculated and utilitarian thinking – and from this perspective, from that of the de-centered and uprooted “subject,” is useless. Nor can love be expressed as universal, which is only a distortion of other, more derivative and to an extent disengaged forms of affectedness for the Other. For example, one who says, “I love nature,” or “I love my neighbors,” speaks not of love, but rather, appreciation, preference, or enchantment. Without concretization, without all the inherent risks of infinite passion for the finitude of this or that Dasein, one is not truly “called upon” at all, and thus cannot authentically be referred to as love in itself. For “to love” an abstraction demands nothing of Dasein; it is, in its essence, a neutered and emasculated love – one without risk, without commitment, and without surrender. It demands nothing and so, it requires that we give nothing. One need only think about the way in which, someone who professes to love nature or a “cause” of some sort, is able to superficially engage in such a commitment by passively donating to the Sierra Club or sacrificing one weekend out of the year to collect signatures for this or that cause.
Authentic love, however, demands. It demands that we be response-able to its call. It demands because it is always a call “to me,” an invitation which presents itself both as a gift and command. It invites me to release my-self from the frenzy of modern technology; to release my-self from the will-to-power of our narrow epochal understanding of Being. It requires that I transcend the mere everydayness of my facticity, and see in the Other that she, too, in her Otherness, is at the same time more than her own factical existence. She is, in her Otherness, possibility-for-me, and at the same time, her ownmost possibility-to-be.
If one feels the call of love, one is then given over to choice. Because it is the “I” who receives this call, it is “I” who must choose. I may respond in any number of ways; but ultimately, love, dis-closes something about my Dasein, too: that I, as a being for whom its Being is at issue, must choose. In this capacity, I can remain un-touched by the call of the Other (ignore), I can reject it, or I can affirm it. Of course, between these possibility lies a plethora of distinct variations. But ultimately, one cannot escape the very necessity of choice itself. Authentic love then calls on me not only to respond, but awakens within me my response-ability; my own-most ability to be that transcends my facticity because I am always already an unfinished future; always ahead of myself in transcending the average everydayness of the present moment. I am called to no-longer view myself as a mere “ego” or “conscious subject” detached from the world of objects. In short, it provides this Dasein with the possibility, if taken up in all earnestness, to relinquish itself from the trappings of modern technology; to release itself from its (mis)conception of itself as a self-sufficient entity capable of securing its Being in the (mistaken) solid grounding of metaphysical pretenses. In short, love calls on us to step outside of our-self, dispossess the self, in order to find its authentic self.
But the “call” of love does not constitute the totality of the Being-of-love itself; for, in order for love to come into being, it must be met with a reciprocal response. It is the responsiveness of this Dasein for whom the call calls that completes love’s circuitry. In saying “yes” to the call of the Other, I relinquish all of the trappings of the metaphysics of technology, of the insatiable compulsion to dominate and impose; manipulate and control. Dasein, in releasing itself from the disenchanted egotism of the modern age, Dasein affirms the other in-itself, as a Dasein with a Self that has its own possibilities, its own fate. In saying “yes,” Dasein chooses to bound itself to the Other by way of letting-be; this is love’s creative freedom. For, in responding positively to the call of the Other, I am surrendering the impulse to dominate her, and instead, submit to her as a free and individualized Dasein who is equally concerned with her own Being-in-the-world. The “yes” of the call to love is a Surrender; a surrendering to the risk, for the potentiality that my responding to the call will itself be rejected, accepted, or ignored. A surrender to the possibility that the Other may not indeed reciprocate-in-kind. When Dasein says “yes” to the Other, it is, in a sense, at the same time a saying “no” to the comfortable certainties and securities of inauthentic mode of being-in-the-world.
In responding positively to the call, Dasein destines itself in the Other, but, at the same time, destines itself in itself. It does so paradoxically; not through violent self-assertion, domination, or imposing; but through releasement – a self-denial, so to speak, that steps outside the pettiness of our average everyday concernfulness, and remains open and, to a very significant extent, defenseless. Dasein gives itself over; in so doing, it proactively asserts itself by communicating: “I am at your disposal, do with me as you wish!” Dasein releases itself from the pretenses of technological control, the illusion of security and comfort upon which everyday existence becomes so banal and boring, and putting itself at the control of the other; allowing itself (willingnly) to fall into any depths for the Other – sinking far below the depths of the average-everyday so that it can let-the-other-Be; and thus, She becomes the one and only true reality that exists for this Dasein.
Authentic love is impossible without surrender; a surrendering to all that inauthentic Dasein of the one-self flees in the face of anxiety. There is a clear parallel to be drawn between Dasein’s own death and the surrendering that takes place in love. In authentically taking over its Being in recognition of its Being-towards-death, Dasein must respond resolutely and in anticipation of its own-most possibility of impossibility (death). In surrendering to the call of the Other in love, Dasein surrenders the sure-groundedness of all inauthentic being-in-the-world; like death, love dis-closes Dasein as the possibility of a nullity – recognizing its own Nothingness and groundlessness. In responding to the call of the Other, Dasein makes it-self nothing: a will-to-become-nothing and sink into nothing-ness…upon releasement, Dasein no longer understands itself as relating itself to the absolute ground; but rather, holds itself open to the groundless ground. In essence, the all-encompassing and systematic securities of onto-theology give way to the infinite insecurities of being-un-grounded. In effect, the Self willingly delivers itself over to the Other to do as she will – with full recognition (and affirmation) of the vulnerability and difficulty confronting its being. This surrendering of the Self opens up the possibility of the moment of vision; where one is capable of transcending the egoistic self-centeredness of everyday being-in-the-world and actively turns to becoming a We-self. In affirming the Other in the Other-ness of her Dasein, the Self fulfills itself in making its decision – in dis-closing a world heretofore hidden by conventionality and conformity of the “One-self.” As such, a new reality and a new understanding of its existence begins to unfold. The Self, undergoing this transformation, appropriates this moment and allowing it to unfold in an altogether transformed interpretation of its factical existence, and above all, its projected being-in-the-world and thus realizing its Being-in-the-world-together.
At this point the reader may suspect that I have confused love with a form of masochism. But indeed, the possibility of masochism itself is only a manifestation of love taken to its outermost limits. What the two phenomena have in common, and why masochism itself can be understood so clearly as a derivative of authentic love, is that they both envelope Dasein in a complete and enveloping vulnerability. But whereas the masochist actively pursues pain, humiliation, and subjugation for the purposes of realizing his own interest, and in essence, is subject to the same reification of other derivations of love. The masochist, in seeking a metaphorical annihilation of the Self, and wishing to become an object of his partner, in reality, is constrained within the Cartesian tradition – essentially relating to the Other as a means for his own desires. Moreover, whereas the masochist in a sado-masochistic relationship indeed involves many of the destructive characteristics of authentic love, it lacks the truly creative possibility of transcending the I-self and becoming a We-self. For its part, authentic love has no ulterior purpose, no “reason” for being. It is poetic, and absurd; incomprehensible and un-subjectable to the principle of reason. Dasein willingly subjects itself to humiliation, rejection, subjugation, betrayal with no other motivation than the letting-be of the Dasein of the Other herself in her-self, whatever the consequences may be. I pray that my love is met with a reciprocal affirmation; but I must dwell in the insecurity and sheer uncertainty that becomes manifest that, in delivering myself over, I am at her whim; in letting the beloved be-herself, Dasein hands itself over to the infinite risk of infinite passion, and, in a sense, resigns itself to whatever ontic-possibilites may take shape, no matter how painful, how humiliating, how disorienting and how insufferable they may be. Only by way of holding one’s self open into the groundless ground is love, authentic love, possible at all.
Human being is radically finite; for each and every one of us, death-as-possibility (the uttermost possibility) underlies the horizon of all other possibilities. As such, each and every instance of Dasein is directed towards its death – as the annihilation of its possibilities (death is, so to speak, the impossibility of all Dasein’s possibilities). One of Heidegger’s most important insights in Being and Time (though undoubtedly something appropriated from Kierkegaard), is the fundamental role death, as being-towards-death (Sein-zum-Tode), has for the type of Beings we are. Yet, while we all concede that all “mortals” are defined by their ability-to-die, death itself, as my death, is phenomenologically a first-person experience. Only the “I” of the Dasein has the ability to take up its own genuine anticipation of its death as “my death.” It is on account of this that the dis-closure of the mine-ness of my death makes possible individuation and the becoming itself, at all.
To be clear, “death” in this sense is not to be confused with the existentielle or ontic sense of “demise” – the point of departure whereby life ceases-to-be. But rather, in its existential-ontological context signifying the possibility of Dasein’s having no more possibilities (Dreyfus). What does death as existential-ontological possibility dis-close? Nothing! Or rather, it signifies Dasein’s being-in-the-world as delimited by its ownmost possibility of a nullity. This much is dis-closed in the mood of Anxiety, which reveals that the world of possibilities is, in short, not of my creation – that all possibilities are there for “anyone” and “everyone.” Anxiety is the “mood” that allows Dasein to un-cover (dis-close) its groundless-ness, which in turn isolates and cuts Dasein off from its “normal” un-reflective taking-up of the socially, historically, and culturally determined possibilities that presuppose the shared constellation of meaning of everyday life. The isolation of Dasein from its possibilities brings Dasein into direct confrontation with its un-homeliness (unheimlich); in other words –Dasein’s world and actions, and the possibility of their being intelligible in the shared world of Being-in, vanishes. Dasein thus finds itself paralyzed…incapable of projecting itself into any possibility at all. All possibility becomes equally irrelevant, and thus Dasein, though it still is, is unable to throw itself into any particular definite possibility.
Heidegger’s destruktion of Cartesian metaphysics stands as one of his most arguably revolutionary and monumental contributions to philosophical thinking in Being and Time. Not only did Heidegger’s critique of Descarte’s epistemology implicate the latter’s divorce of the subject from the world, but also its implications within which the Cartesian subject as self-enclosed and distinct from its world gave rise to generations of philosophical “pseudo-problems,” most notably the problem of the external world and the problem of other minds.
Accordingly, the very problems taken to be the central focus of modern philosophy (vis-a-vis epistemology) are derived on account of the fact that they have taken-for-granted certain assumptions, beginning with the mis-conception of the human-being as first existing and then finding its world. For Heidegger, human being is being-in-the-world and being-with-others; these are the very structures of human existence itself. The problem of Cartesianism is the problem of the positing of the human being as the ontological center, and thus leads invariably to subjectivism.
For Descrates, doubt pushes knowledge to its outermost limits, and thus is the means by which first principles are determined: whatever can survive Cartesian “methodological doubt” thus serves as the foundational principles of philosophical thinking. Thus, when Descartes applies his thoroughgoing doubt to all, he inevitably comes to the conclusion that he, the doubter, must in fact exist — and this is the unquestionable grounds upon which philosophy in the Cartesian (metaphysical) tradition takes as its starting point. Thus, the very act of doubting inevitably proves that the “I” for whom does the doubting — it follows that the “I” must exist (or at least think).
Thus, Cartesianism makes the move from “I think” to “I exist.” But this doesn’t really seem to accord with the phenomena (and Heidegger goes on to show that this is indeed the case) by which the individual “I” must exist in the first place in order to “think.” It is from here that Cartesian subjectivism mis-construes human being (the “thinking substance” as self-evident grounding.
At the same time, Heidegger’s existential analytic of Dasein’s radical finitude in its authentic being-towards-death does indeed seem to manifest a “destructive retrieval” and creative repetition of Cartesian doubt. But whereas Descarte’s “doubt” was a cognitive method by which all assumptions were put to the wall of doubt in order to see if they could measure up, Heidegger’s thinking as regards Dasein and its mortality. If we look closely, we can begin to see how Heidegger’s retrieval of Descarte’s epistemological doubt provides the basis for an existential-ontological doubt as understood in “death.”
In Being and Time, Heidegger employs an existential analysis of “death,” by which he takes to signify not merely Dasein’s “ontic” death – that is, the event by which life ceases; but rather, as the ultimate impossibility of all Dasein’s possibilities. Death, then, undercuts all Dasein’s inauthentic certitude with respect to its average-everyday existence. Death, and the accompanying mood of anxiety that precedes an authentic stance on one’s own mortality and radical finitude, dis-closes Dasein as not the ground of its existence, but rather the ground of the “not.” In coming to grips with its ownmost possibility of death, its only certainty, Dasein realizes its possibility of individuating itself by choosing among its possibilities; yet, such decisions always involve a nullification of all other possibilities, since Dasein is incapable of exercising such infinite possibility. Therefore, death opens up Dasein as the ground of a “nullity,” the “not” as possibility rooted in the existential structure of Dasein allowing its possibilities to show themselves as they are in themselves.
It is in the mood of anxiety (Angst) that Dasein is presented with the possibility of coming to terms with its own mortality and finitude. Anxiety, contra fear, is a feeling of free-floating uncanny-ness. It is not something that Dasein can overcome, for it is a part of Dasein’s structure. Heidegger describes the feeling of anxiety with the German word “unheimlich,” which translated means “un-home-like,” or a “not-being-at-home.” Authentic selfhood can only come about in Dasein’s confrontation and acceptance of its death as its “ownmost” possibility (that which can belong only to that individual Dasein) and as its “uttermost” possibility (the possibility that nothing succeeds death).
The relationship between “death” and “existential doubt” can be understood in two distinct manners.
First, the possibility of Dasein’s death as its ownmost possibility undercuts the myriad certainties and platitudes that make up its average-everyday being-in-the-world. When one experiences the grips of anxiety, one is confronted with the radical uncertainty of human existence. Existential doubt, as opposed to epistemological or cognitive doubt, permeates through existence itself: casting its shadow over all of Dasein’s existence and de-limiting its possibilities through its ownmost impossibilities. Secondly, just as Cartesian doubt is the means by which the modern philosopher is to determine the unshakable foundations of philosophical thought, so too does death/existential doubt provides Dasein with the possibility of giving meaning to its existence and its world by cutting-through the “idle talk” and “curiosity” of its inauthentic mode of being-in-the-world — opening up (dis-closing) the abyss (abgrund) of Dasein’s existence which lets meaning arise through its existence.
“To be be” is to be finite; and to be “finite” is to be cast in (existential) doubt. Only mortals are besieged by doubt; by the exhausting and inescapable uncertainties of the abyss of human existence.
As mentioned before, The Sickness unto Death is organized around the issue of the “sickness unto death,” which Anti-Climacus tells us is “despair.” We’ve already discussed how despair results in disequilibrium of the self’s relation – including the absence or minimal involvement of Spirit in which no synthesis takes place at all towards the development of the self. However, Anti-Climacus provides a detailed and thorough accounting for despair. To be clear, “despair” in this context must be differentiated from the common, everyday meaning of that word, which is often referred to as “psychological despair.” Phenomenologically speaking, the difference arises on account of the fact that psychological despair is derivative of our potentiality for being-in-despair (existentially). When we find ourselves in psychological despair, it is always on account of a definitive life-situation, where we find our specific horizons prematurely cut-off, arbitrarily delimited, or some other event that obstructs us. Moreover, we are able to relate to such feelings with respect to the specific phenomena under which they arise. For example, the root causes for our feelings of psychological despair are generally identifiable and readily articulated; we have a sense of the “why” we feel the hopeless shadow of despair. We can think psychological despair in purely ontic terminology, insofar as there are identifiable “causes” and “explanations” for our despair. Further, we are able to navigate such instances of psychological despair, either by re-orienting ourselves in regards to our situation, or accepting (that is, on rationalistic terms) whatever the circumstances which led to our despair. For example, when I was applying to graduate school, and was rejected by my top choice, I certainly felt the pangs of psychological despair – the hopelessness and sense of resignation and doom overtook me; but, it was only a matter of time before which I recognized that it was possible to accept the situation, and either accept an offer from another school or simply go back and work on my application materials and try again next time around.
Existential despair, is fundamentally different in almost every respect. To begin with, the type of despair for which Anti-Climacus speaks is something deeper; darker; and exists outside the confines of rational discourse. It refers to an interior darkness and futility within the structures of the self. But it is not a recognition of futility in the manner of arising out of specific conditions encountered in the world, but rather, is constituted in the dis-closure of the futility of existence as-such. In this manner, existential despair cannot be “overcome,” or “worked around” in the way as psychological despair because there is no specific cause. Causal language itself is inadequate, for existential despair affects not merely one dimension of our horizon, but rather the entirety of our whole horizontal understanding – once one becomes aware of one’s own despair, there is no way around our confrontations with the absurdity of the flux, of the inter-play of our ownmost becoming.
Similar to other moods, despair is never grounded in something outside ourselves; but rather, always emanates from within, and in turn may be projected from within to the outside. Thus, we may draw the inappropriate conclusion that what we despair over is something external to us, out there in the world, when in reality we despair over ourselves.
What is “essential” about existential despair is that there is no human being for whom his soul is not in some way, shape, or form confronted with despair – even if he is unaware of it. Anti-Climacus uses this as the starting point, beginning with the first phase of despair – to not be conscious of one’s own despair. This “lowest” form of despair is the most problematic, for one can only take the necessary steps to coming-to-terms with despair, and eventually superseding despair, by virtue of owning up to our despair, which paves the way for faith (which is itself the only solution, according to Anti-Climacus, to existential despair). What makes unconscious despair so problematic is that the individual may not be aware that he is in despair. On the contrary, for all intents and purposes, he may indeed feel as though life is “good.” This speaks to the “universality” of despair – which, for Anti-Climacus, goes to show that despair is a (for lack of a better word) default possibility by which human beings already find themselves regardless of their consciousness [of their despair].
In Chapter 3, Anti-Climacus tells us that the various forms of “this sickness” must be “discoverable abstractly by reflecting upon the factors which compose the self as a synthesis. He continues:
“The self is composed of infinity and finiteness. But the synthesis is a relationship, and it is a relationship which, though it is derived, relates itself to itself, which means freedom. But freedom is the dialectical element in the terms possibility and necessity.”
Anti-Climacus stipulates that “consciousness is the decisive criterion of the self,” and thus “despair must be viewed under the category of consciousness.”
Anti-Climacus identifies three distinct categories or ways in which despair can become manifest – which at the same time reflects the three aspects of the relation. Put another way, despair is a “break” in the relationship between the horizontal, reflective, and vertical transcendent which constitute the self. : (1) ignorance of having an eternal self; this form of despair applies to the aesthete, who is not reflective, and thus unaware of having a self; he therefore exists as mis-relation, but at the same time is unaware of it. (2) “in despair not to will to be oneself,” wishing to be another self (weakness); if understood in congruence with the stages on life’s way, this could be said to be the despair of the ethical individual. This is a person who suffers from despair, but is also conscious of his being in despair. The ethical individual relates, but when he relates to himself, he is in despair so long as he is not willing to be in such a relation to himself. If we recall that the ethical stands before the universal, his despair is constituted in his failing to ever live up to the universal or eternal law by which he stands before. Such an ethical individual then is always wanting to be better than who he is at the reminder of his ever-present shortcomings. Thus, insofar as he wills to be better than the self for which he already is, he is unwilling to be himself. Finally, (3) asserting the self without relation to God (defiance); this is the despair of the individual in religiousness A, who strives to become himself, wills to be himself, however, every effort to be a pure self is caught up in his despair over his finite, temporal being.
Despair, as an existential possibility, is both positive and negative. Insofar as it is positive (that is, with respect to its ability to enable the self to become itself), it is what teaches us to become ourselves – reminding us that we exist as possible on account of the recognition that for “God everything is possible.” But despair is also at the same time a sickness; albeit, a sickness that pushes us towards becoming our own self.
Yet when we despair – no matter what it is that we believe ourselves to despair over, it is always something beyond the merely immediate; but rather, something eternal. This applies even to the aesthetic individual. Despair propels us to movement – which itself is the very basis of becoming. Yet, the highest self for which we may become on our own is inherently limited; for, in order to make the move from infinite resignation (Religiousness A) to Faith (religiousness B), we need the help of God. Faith is not a one-way street. Despair cannot be overcome by living in merely the eternal or the temporal, nor the infinite nor the finite; but rather – all of the above simultaneously; a movement possible only by relation to God – for whom all is possible. This is the nature of the “paradox” – which, insofar as it applies to The Sickness Unto Death, represents the existentiell contradiction of stepping in both the eternal and temporal through Faith.
In the text itself, Anti-Climacus creates a detailed inventory of despair which encapsulates the above-referenced “polarities” of finitude/infinitude; necessity/possibility; and consciousness/unconsciousness. Structurally speaking, the analysis of the differing forms of despair looks like this:
- Despair Regarded in Such a Way That One Does Not Reflect Whether It is Conscious or Not, So That One Reflects Only upon the Factors of the Synthesis.
- Despair viewed under the aspects of Finitude/Infinitude
i. Despair of Infinitude is Due to Lack of Finitude
ii. Despair of Finitude is Due to Lack of Infinitude
- Despair Viewed Under the Aspects of Possibility/Necessity
i. Despair of Possibility is Due to Lack of Necessity
ii. Despair of Necessity is Due to Lack of Possibility
- Despair Viewed Under the Aspect of Consciousness
- Despair which is Unconscious that it is Despair, or the Despairing Unconsciousness of having a Self and an Eternal Self
- The Despair which is Conscious of being Despair, as also it is Conscious of being a Self wherein there is after all something Eternal, and then is either in despair at not willing to be itself (weakness), or in despair at willing to be itself.
i. Despair at not Willing to be Oneself, the Despair of Weakness
- (i)Despair Over the Earthly or Over Something Earthly
- (ii) Despair about the eternal or over oneself
ii. The despair of willing despairingly to be oneself — defiance
‘When tradition […] becomes master, it does so in such a way that what it “transmits” is made so inaccessible […] that it rather becomes concealed. Tradition takes what has come down to us and delivers it over to self-evidence; it blocks our access to those primordial “sources” from which the categories and concepts handed down to us have been in part quite genuinely drawn.’ (¶6)
‘If the question of being is to achieve clarity about its own history, then this hardened tradition must be loosened up and the concealments which it has brought about must be dissolved […] But this destruction is just as far from having the negative sense of shaking off the ontological tradition. We must, on the contrary, stake out the positive possibilities of that tradition […].’ (§6¶¶8-9)
What meaningful role is left for philosophy if not to concern itself first and foremost with existences? An elaborate inquiry into the conditions of existence seems to be the only meaningful engagement left open for genuine thinking. Yet, even this humblest of endeavors is tainted with a bleak awareness of its own inevitable uselessness. For where is the audience for whom the inquiry will have any meaning? If philosophical inquiring is an attempt at understanding, at seeing, and hearing, then it must also take on the task of communicating by way of “pointing out.”
But meaningfulness is always in relation to the individual; and the individual always already occupies some particular standpoint. The relative receptivity of any given individual will in turn depend on his or her related standpoint as regards this or that particular assertion. Meaning itself is meaningless, and knowledge of the problem offers little comfort given the gravity of our impotence to do anything about it. We are stuck; fallen by default and far too consumed by existential atrophy to even imagine a way out.
Authentic philosophy is never detached, nor is it, strictly speaking, a scientific endeavor (insofar as “scientific” refers wholly to the naturalistic view by which all phenomena is reduced to present-at-hand objects). Rather, authentic philosophy takes recognizes, first and foremost, that philosophizing is an event or experience – and thus aims to describe and recount the experience as a telling of personal experience. In this sense, authentic philosophizing is constituted in both a “seeing” and a “listening.” It draws out that which the philosopher, as living, existing discloser sees through experiencing the phenomena. Such seeing is only possible if taken from the perspective of an engaged and involved self in the world. At the same time, authentic philosophy must retain an essential openness — an openness that allows philosophy “to be,” approaching its essence and allowing it to openly speak.
Philosophy, thusly understood, is never confined to the mere learning of past systems and doctrines. On the contrary – when philosophy is reduced to a mere academic affair, genuine philosophy is impossible, and the so-called “philosopher” is seduced into inauthenticity, Inauthentic philosophy is incapable of speaking, and deprives philosophy of what is most essential to it, and thus de-valuing itself into intellectual Idle talk.
If authentic philosophy is allowed to speak, then how does it speak to us? To speak genuinely, that is, to escape the confines of the average everyday intelligibility of “public” language – with its tendency to flatten and level – authentic philosophy must allow the phenomena to speak for itself as itself. Where philosophy transcends the boundaries of average intelligibility, it encounters the lyrical. The lyrical expression of philosophy allows philosophy to speak with integrity. It neither reduces philosophy to a mere body of syllogisms, nor attempts to explain.
Lyrical philosophy finds its most natural expression in the aphorism. Above all, the aphoristic method of speaking philosophically entails dissolution of all pretenses to form, and thus allowing the lyrical to permeate through the clutter of public language and be heard to those attuned to its truths. Aphoristic writing also reflects the inner lyricism of the thinker himself – allowing personal subjective thought to emanate as such, without imposing the excessive formalism so evident in other styles of philosophizing (particularly the rigor mortis found in contemporary academic philosophizing).
Above all, the aphorism allows philosophy to speak authentically by its characteristic disdain for all system-building and totalizing worldviews; by allowing philosophy to get back to its originary rootedness in the asking of the question – a return to the “wonderment” where, according to Heidegger, philosophy encounters its first beginning. What renders the aphorism so particularly hostile to all grand and systematic constructions of thought is its uniquely destructive power ; that is, a power possessing the possibility for the deconstructive-leveling of both inauthentic philosophy as well as average everyday intelligibility, and thus paving the way for genuine thinking. In other words, the aphorism embodies that Nietzschean will towards creative-destruction. Such a will-towards destruction is the very heart and soul of indirect aphoristic communication.
Authentic lyrical philosophy takes as its audience the existing individual; for whom he is an audience unto himself, and for whom truth exists for him. Thus, the aphorism’s “truths,” like those of poetry, are thus never “objective” in the way that term is commonly understood; for such “objective” truth is incomprehensible if one assumes that such “truth” presumes a correspondence between the phenomena and the perceiver whom exists outside the individual’s being-in-the-world. In other words, aphoristic truth is subjective; yet, by this term we do not mean to imply a notion of egoistic-subjectivism or relativism. The truths of the aphorism are communicable beyond the given individual, and thus perceptible and coherent to a plurality of individual selves. Rather, the “truth” by which the aphorism speaks is inter-subjective – calling forth “truth” from concealment in accordance with that which it already is for the given individual as being-in-the-world.
Existence presents itself chiefly as a task – each individual human being tasked with its own project – namely, becoming a self. Insofar as each individual is concerned, his particular project is both determined and un-determined for him. It is determined insofar as the individual always finds itself situated in the world; and thus its project is a thrown project. It is at the same time un-determined insofar as the existing individual self is responsible for his choosing among the existent possibilities. But which meaningful possibilities present themselves to the individual self as real possibilities, is in large part determined by the vast network of meaning-given structures by which the individual understands itself, and its possibilities in the world, at all.
Thus, while I am free to choose for myself whether I take up my understanding of my being-in-the-world as a student, a doctor, a lawyer, a husband, or philosopher; I am not free to choose from among those possibilities for which, on account of my thrownness, do not present themselves to me as meaningful possibilities.
Thus, Sartre is wrong when he concludes that human being’s freedom (of action) is absolute. This presumes that one can get fully behind, or separate from, one’s facticity; but this only evidences Sartre’s latent Cartesianism – and indeed, contributing to his general misreading of Heidegger. In other words, Sartre is unable to move beyond his presupposition of a subject removed, or detached from his situated-ness in the world.
It still suffices to say that human being is doomed to his freedom. Even if our freedom isn’t the absolute freedom that Sartre believes it to be, we are still all alone, abandoned to ourselves, and faced with the same abysmal groundlessness of existence – with only the slight qualification as regards the otherwise tenuous security offered by our facticity.