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.
The most perverse Absurdity underlying all human existence is man’s ceaseless yearning for transcendence; an insatiable appetite to escape the uncertainty and contingencies of Being through transfiguration. Such yearning, so indicative of human being’s restless place in the world, transforms human being on its own accord — giving birth to metaphysical man, and the elevation of the eternal and infinite over the temporal and finite.
But such transcendence is possible only in non-being, where upon existence is delivered over into nothingness – and human being is reunited with the infinite void from which it came.
Because such transcendence takes place only beyond the horizon closed off by death, human being can never encounter its own transcendence; and accordingly, such encounters are only available as infinite possibility – but never fully belonging to existing human being. In other words, man’s existence is but a process by which he must come to terms with the impossibility of his experiencing his own transcendence.
The path towards the impossible is anticipatory preparation for our own inevitable fatality. By taking up its own concrete mortality, the self undergoes its own form of transfiguration by coming-to-terms with the absolute and total nothingness of Being generally. Such transfiguration, while falling short of human being’s relentless metaphysical aspirations, nevertheless discloses a glimmer of the infinite by unraveling its own individual existence.
Such transfiguration in existence is primarily revelatory; bringing out into the fore the forgotten knowledge of the tragic – to wit, existence is not the antithesis of death, but rather, is enveloped within, and even dependent upon it. Death, then, reveals itself as the temple of infinite nothingness, and accordingly, one is able only to comport oneself towards his own existence by re-appropriating his own individual nothingness. This is the closest the individual may come to transcendence — a mode of being that takes full account of its own mortality; essentially, becoming a corpse.
Why do we mourn death and celebrate life? Surely it should be the other way around…
What is life other than a never-ending series of disappointments culminating in the final regret of a life better off having never been before slipping away into the eternal nothingness?
Was Schopenhauer not essentially correct when he identified life as that unprofitable episode interrupting the infinite nothingness of non-existence?
If being itself were to be articulated in a musical score, it would be a cacophony.
It’s not death, but dying that terrifies us; and this is so only insofar as we perceive ourselves as individuals on the horizon of existence
Dying is angst-inducing because it necessarily entails an existing Self confronting his own nothingness; it is in this sense that, one who truly exists, is also already at the same time “dying.” For only “mortals die,” and we become mortal only when be become beings-toward-death. In this sense authentic dying is a catharsis; a purgation of the excessive taint of inauthentic “fear” of death.
Death of course always takes place after the fact, and thus is never experienced by a living Self. This affords death the highest tranquility known to man. We can only anticipate, but never perceive, what it means “to be” dead; but this has never stopped us from the anticipatory alleviation and wonder of becoming reunited with all that is concrete and universal; temporal and eternal; finite and infinite.
All attempts at rationalizing death are inevitably doomed from the start. This futile attempt to “abstract” death away from its organic relation to life is demonstrable of the sheer terror death inspires within us. Moreover, it demonstrates a stubborn unwillingness to confront death in its most bitter and concrete form.
The rationalization of death is nothing more than the objectification of death. As such, it is to treat death as if it is something transcendental and altogether separate or isolated from existence. For what is involved in rationalizing as such but anything other than the imposition of a generalized abstraction onto concrete existential phenomena?
The objectification of death into something “general,” (e.g., ‘one dies’), at the expense of coming to terms with death as our own concrete reality (e.g., I am dying), no matter how futile and vain, is nevertheless understandable in light of the sheer terror of confronting the nothingness underlying existence.
There is no other way around it: death is terrifying. The very fact that the intellect can provide no explanation, justification or reason for it strikes us at the very core of our being. It is a paralyzing terror — usually perceptible only in the agonies of near-death or the blackest depression. How does one take responsibility for the fact that he will die (in the most concrete and personal sense)? How does one come to terms that, without death, there could be no life?
For those obsessed with death (and especially their own), death is the ultimate paradox — the paradigmatic case of the absurdity of existence. For even when death becomes salvation from the endless sufferings of existence and the light at the end of the blackest melancholy — one will always be tempted to come to terms with death on intellectual, or rational grounds.
But the very fact that we are thrown into this world for a mere moment, under the most dreadful circumstances, only to be thrown again back into the darkness of non-existence, is the apotheosis of the irrationality of existence.
Existential angst occurs when the Self is brought face-to-face with itself as a finite and temporal self. In angst, the world in which the Self finds itself is revealed as groundless and meaningless. The Self becomes detached from its own projects and everything that has hitherto provided grounding; meaning; and structure. In short, the Self comes face-to-face with its own finiteness; and is forced to come to terms with the full meaning of its finite existence as temporal being.
In anxiety, the self is confronted with death. But death is not merely the cessation of biological processes; nor is it what we commonly associated with the notion of “perishing” or “expiring.” Nor is death an ‘event’ that is yet to take place in some distant future; a mere “not-yet.”
Rather, death is the possibility of impossibility — the vulnerability of total and complete world collapse; thus; the Self comes to grips with its possibility of having no more possibilities: ceasing to exist. As such, death (understood as the possibility of no more possibilities) is always already a part of the Self.
Thus, the self is revealed to itself to be groundless and futile; isolated in its own finitude and thrown into a distant and indifferent world. Angst that all possibilities of the Self are ephemeral and pointless. Not only does the Self surrender its sense of an intrinsic or universal meaning to its life — but abandons as hopeless the possibility of ever uncovering such a meaning. Existential angst is not the loss of meaning; but rather, its the coming to the realization that there never was any meaning to begin with.
When delivered over into existential angst, the Self is confronted with the “dizzying freedom” of choice:
Existnetial angst discloses the Self’s freedom. In the absence of any meaningful standards by which to ground itself in, the Self comes face to face its own freedom to determine itself. When the Self makes the choice to embrace its ownmost nothingness as finite and temporal — it exists authentically. This freedom is noxious; it discloses the existential solipsism of the Self. As such, anyone who finds himself in existential angst may equally choose to flee from death; back into the illusory security and structured “grounding” of the Crowd.
The freedom disclosed by angst is not the transcendental variety of the the metaphysical tradition. It is a freedom of action: the freedom to take an active stand on relating one’s Self to to itself through the world; by taking up its ownmost potential amidst the groundlessness and meaninglessness of existence.
There is no moral criteria attached to the choosing. And from the outside, “others” cannot tell if one Self is existing authentically or not. Rather, it is a highly personalized endeavor in which the Self affirms the process of becoming a Self in the face of the absolute emptiness of existence.
Nor is authentic existence to be understood as the path to the “good life.” This is emphatically not the case. In all actuality, inauthentic existence is likely far more comforting and pleasurable than existing authentically. It’s not hard to imagine why. Fleeing from one’s own recognition that one is going to die — and reverting back to the ready-made meaning provided by others or the Crowd is far more likely to produce a “happy,” or at the very least, a more agreeable life.