Tagged: existence

Existential Time

We are all familiar with objective, or “clock” time. But beneath this – in fact, what makes our perception of objective time possible in the first place, is our underlying reflectiveness of existential or “lived” time. Existential time is our self-awareness of relational time. It’s the feeling as though time is racing when we’re parting with a loved one at the airport; where every second seems as though it is only a fraction of itself, and we find our self “out of time;” or, on the other hand, it’s the sensation that time has come to a near-complete halt as we impatiently await our turn in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.

Existential time is primordial; it is our temporal way of being in the world. The three-fold structure of time itself (past, present, and future), is the horizon upon which the Self is able to become aware of itself as a self. Indeed, the entirety of the landscape of our being is so inter-connected that without it we could not even have the most basic or pre-ontological understanding of our own being.

Existential time is always experienced as relational. In this sense, we can think of our past as always changing. In one sense, we represent our past to ourselves in the form of memories… some may stick with us forever, while others are nearly forgotten and distant. Yet, my relation to these memories has a definite and direct impact on my mode of being in the world. How I interpret my past will play itself out in my comportment towards the world and the Others. Yet at the same time, I am constantly re-interpreting my past as a result of simply existing.

Kierkegaard makes reference to this phenomenon when he describes the experience of feeling “eternity in Time” in the “Instant.” This refers to the “Instant” (which should not be confused with any definitive measurement in objective/clock time) when an individual commits himself to his own defining commitment, which in turn gives his life meaning to him. From that point forward, the individual not only sees his present and future possibilities through his defining commitment – but he also reinterprets the collective moments of his past through the lens of his new-found defining commitment. To illustrate, when one falls in love with someone, and that other person becomes their defining commitment, they re-define themselves through their commitment, including their own past, which may now look as though it was all meaningless and pointless up to the point in time they fell in love.

As the Self experiences the new possibilities of being the world, it re-interprets itself, and is always already engaged in a continuous process of “becoming itself.” Accordingly, one’s own reflective awareness of existential time is constantly changing on account of the fact that the Self, which is always anticipating itself ahead of itself into the future, is living through the possibilities disclosed through attunement and expectation. In this way, we commit ourselves to having certain expectations and “hopes” with respect to the future on account of our mood or attunement towards the past which in turn shapes our perception of future possibility.

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The burden of “Others”

There is no task more demanding, more insufferable, and altogether more burdensome than that of being forced to live in a world with the “Other.”

A great philosopher once said that 5/6 of the population deserves nothing but contempt. Yet some days it feels  even this figure is a bit too optimistic.

How wonderful it would be if this were all an illusion…one that could  be changed with a sufficient expression of will in which one could destroy all that is in order to create anew.

This burden is so exhausting that it drains whatever life I have left right out of me. Everyday I wake up with the novel hope of wishing for nothing more than not being bothered by others.

This is why all true individuals of higher intellect or authentic creative tendency have resigned themselves to deep and contemplative solitude. How rapturous it would be to renounce this life and retreat into barren existential solipsism — to reflect upon myself and the nothingness that awaits me.

How dreadful it must be that one would rather face the angst-inducing nothingess of his own existence rather than partake in small talk with a passerby?

On the ‘public’ versus the ‘private’

As human beings reduced to “social animals,” our entire existence is divided between two disharmonious worlds: the public, and the private.

The public constitutes our shared or collective world of intelligibility. This is the structure of existence that enables us to be with others. The public gives each and every particular member his or her tradition, language, and structures the framework by which he or she participates in the whole of being with others. It establishes and gives content to the cultural paradigms that give meaning to what one is and what one ought to do. The public determines the values, beliefs, priorities, and make-up of all its constituent members (particulars). As such, the public is only understood through its generality, for the public is an abstraction — and thus never deals with the concrete, but only with the general. Though the public is not itself universal, for there are as many ‘publics’ as there are communities stretched across the planet, It nevertheless presents itself as the universal, a sort of perverted “universalized relativism.” 
Without the “public,” culture, civilization, and society could not be. Nothing would be intelligible beyond the purely subjective self insofar as nothing could be raised to the level of discourse or understanding between the Self and the other. 
The public operates through the Crowd. The Crowd itself is the public made manifest in the world. It is composed of “everyone and no-one,” and thus is never responsible, never accountable, and is omnipotent in its ability to defend and perpetuate the public. The public stands on the shoulders of the Crowd, the latter playing a critical role in preserving the former’s hegemony and safeguarding it against collapse. 
Yet despite its sheer breadth and pervasiveness, continuously shaping our average everyday experiences, the public itself is never fully in view; for it  withdraws itself into the background of such everyday experience. Therefore, the public only becomes distinct at the horizon — often times creating the barriers between that which is meaningful within the framework of the public, and that to which the public is hostile (the private, the idiosyncratic, or the exceptional). 
Yet despite this seeming withdrawal into average everyday experience, the public does, in special circumstances and situations, make itself felt. This always only occurs in moments of “break-down,” that is, when the public world is called into question or otherwise “challenged” by the individual (more on this below). Whenever the public is sufficiently challenged, it will respond accordingly through the Crowd. The Crowd, as the knight of the public, steps in to set matters straight by exercising its awesome power to induce even the most resilient or obstinate individual to resign himself and fall back. 
The public also brings itself into full view when it is forced to undergo some substantial change or adaptation — yet again an unconscious effort that takes place for the purpose of perpetuating the domination of the public. This is the process by which the public absorbs and gives new meaning to that which once challenged it; in other words, a process in which a practice or way of being-in-the-world is transformed via the Crowd from something viewed from the public perspective as unacceptable, into something acceptable (again, from the point of view of the public) This takes place at the level of the Crowd — in which particular practices, especially those which challenge or threaten the hegemony of the public, are subsumed, transformed, and often imbued with new “public” meaning — thus now becoming a part of, rather than set against, the public. 
Yet even before a breakdown can occur, the public perpetuates its dominance through the process of leveling. Leveling is the process by which all that is exceptional, different, unique, and individual is flattened. The leveling process is yet just one of the peremptory powers of the Crowd to eradicate threats to the public. It is the procedural expression of all things being reduced to the lowest common denominator. In the West, leveling has found its greatest expression through the transformation of cultural paradigms in the wake of the Age of Reason, with its most acute expression in the Enlightenment. This paradigmatic shift re-centered focus for cultural development to the mass man and population. As such. through the birth of mass-man, the public took on its greatest role ever — and finds greater expression in the spirit of the mass-man than any age before. 
The private, on the other hand, is the subjective reaction to the public. It exists only insofar as there is a real existing human self that defines itself (gives meaning to its own self) always in a way distinct from that of the public or the Crowd. The private is thus understood through individuation and self-determination. That being said, not every particular necessarily has a private world — for only an individual self is able to undergo the process by which it creates the private through existence. Whereas one may refer to a particular human being, a particular chair, or even a particular dog or pair of shoes — the word “individual” would be wholly inappropriate in the aforementioned context. Rather, and individual only exists through its own existence — as defined by taking a stand and defining itself through its own relation to itself. Hence, we can say that the world is composed of a people, and the ‘people’ is made up of particular persons — yet there are only a handful of individuals. In this sense, there is an undeniable distinction between a “human being” and an “individual.” This point can also be expressed in a simple syllogism:All individuals are humans, but not all humans are individuals; or, all x is y, but not all y is x.
Thus, the private world exists only insofar as there is an individual Self that may be said to exist within its existential structure of intelligibility. To simply have a private world is to always be at odds in some manner or form with the public. For the individual who has constructed for himself his own measure of intelligibility that defines his own relation to himself and the world must do so by doing violence (at least to some degree) to the domination and hegemony of the public. That an isolated and single individual Self can threaten the amorphous and anonymous “public” demonstrates the power of the individual Self to transcend the petty groundlessness of the Crowd. 
Nevertheless, the individual Self who defines himself through the private will always be in conflict with the Crowd (and correspondingly with the public). The Crowd will attempt to continuously bring pressure down upon the individual — a pressure so immense, and more often than not, so unbearable that few find themselves strong enough to resist. In light of this pressure, the Self must invariably lose — for the individual is incapable of successfully challenging the Crowd directly. Accordingly, the individual Self will be forced to choose either to (a) flee from the private; or (b) reinforce the private through resignation and solitude. Those endowed with a greater sense of resistance will be inclined towards the latter, whereas those who feel incapable of resisting the pressures of the Crowd will fall back into conformism.
This is why precisely why there is no necessary connection between becoming an individual self on the one hand, and happiness or a contended life on the other. In fact, the more one commits himself to becoming a self, the less and less likely he will find himself capable of feeling happiness. This is the cost of becoming more aware of oneself and exercising one’s freedom and responsibility to determine one’s own self at the expense of the naive stupidity of the interchangeable members of the Crowd. Only the latter are capable of knowing happiness, yet the true selves, though they will never be happy, will, for what it’s worth, find meaning and identity in their suffering — if only to ward off the temptations of self-annihilation. 
To be sure, a third alternative is also possible — the Crowd, in all its subterfuge and under the appropriate circumstances, will subsume the private into the public, and thus render the latter’s threat to the former null and void. Typically, this will have the effect of undermining whatever threat the private posed to the public by way of flattening whatever was original and unique and reducing it to the level of that vulgar baseness so synonymous with the public. 

On Boredom

“Life presents itself first and foremost as a task: the task of maintaining itself… If this task is accomplished, what has been gained is a burden, and there then appears a second task: that of doing something with it so as to ward of boredom, which hovers over every secure life like a bird of prey.” ~ A. Schopenhauer, On the Vanity of Existence.

Over the course of their lifetime, most human beings will spend a considerable amount of their time, energy, and resources engaged in a vain effort to stay the onset of boredom. Nowhere is this more true than here in the industrialized West, where modern technological conveniences and the vast processes of social leveling have left us with an overabundance of idle time. As a result, we rarely have to do anything for ourselves, and thus most of us are inadequately suited for even imagining what a worthwhile life would be… as such, boredom becomes seemingly ubiquitous.

What’s unique about boredom is the manner in which it reveals the “vanity” or emptiness of “naked existence” as such. That’s because most of the time we’re actively engaged in something and thus become distracted from our own inconsequential existence. When we’re simply going through the motions of being in the world, the hopeless vanity of it all is hidden from view. We become wholly preoccupied and engrossed with whatever it is we’re doing, or whomever is stealing our attention for the moment: whether it’s going to class, finding a career, caring for our children, pursuing sexual satisfaction, or any myriad other pursuits we may have in mind.

At some stage or another, we all become bored. The most widely experienced type of boredom is that of the everyday variety. This type of boredom is a feeling of growing weariness towards whatever it is that we’re focused on. Even if this or that situation or entity initially engaged or interested us, it now no longer does so. I become bored with it;  whereas the it may be comprised of any particular entity. The phenomena of everyday boredom is that of being left in a kind of limbo — where time itself seems suspended and we actively seek out new stimulation to relieve us from our becoming bored.

The second stage of boredom is more inward and thus centered on the Self’s relation to itself. Thus, the Self is not becoming bored with any particular entity, which may or may not retain its original interest to the Self; but rather, the Self is bored with itself. This is the experience of feeling as though one is weary of being oneself. It’s not my situation, or this or that particular entity that fails to capture my attention or spark my interest — but my Self. While at the same time this type of boredom is more depressing and can give rise to deep feelings of despair over one’s Self, it is also more revealing. It is the Self’s disclosure (to itself) that it is bored with being-in-the-world.

The third variety of boredom is the deepest, and thus may be called “profound boredom.”  This type of boredom represents a total breakdown of the Self’s being-in-the-world. Heidegger summarized this level of boredom as simply, “one is bored.” In this level of boredom, the Self becomes an “undifferentiated no one,” and all entities and relations are stripped of meaning. I become no-one; my self a non-self. My relation to the world is transformed into a negative relation relating to the utter meaningless totality of being-in-the-world. It is a relation to un-relatiedness in the world — and so my stance on my self and my world is one of pervasive indifference.

In profound boredom, the Self suffers a complete and total breakdown in its relation to the world: all meaning and intelligibility fall by the wayside, and all choice and decision rendered null. The world and the entities therein are re-cast in dreary shades of grey; and existence itself is drowned in an unyielding and monotonous void.

As its possibilities withdraw, the Self becomes resigned to the meaningless indifference in which it finds itself.  It is at this stage that the Self is afflicted with the meaninglessness of his existence. The projects and commitments which gave the Self its identity (its sense of self by way of relating to itself) are left unrelatable and devoid of meaning. This creates a crisis of the Self in the utter and total annihilation of its intelligible and meaningful relation to the world.

Profound boredom is also marked by its ability to give rise to suicidal ideation. Total annihilation becomes the only plausible solution to escape the miserable suspension of the Self in the world. Robbed of all intelligibility and grounding, but only to the extent that the Self previously upheld such illusions to begin with, boredom then transforms into abysmal despair or melancholy. The failure of the Self to find any grounding — and the hopelessness of ever attaining meaningful relations to the world and one’s place in it — quickly reveal the preference of non-existence over existence. Whereas Heidegger relates in What is Metaphysics that boredom reveals the “whole,” but not the nothingness (this is the exclusive province of angst) of Dasein, boredom, at least in its most extreme and profound manifestation, does have a way of breaking down “worlds” in a way that, in some respects, is similar to the role “death” plays in angst — revealing Dasein’s total vulnerability to world collapse.

The most meaningful difference, however, may be the way in which death discloses Dasein’s own freedom to choose to accept an authentic relationship with its own death and thus live a life of dying. Profound boredom does not disclose freedom, it breaks down the Self’s ability to relate at all. Whereas Heidegger wants to ascribe an activist response to the indifference of boredom (see What is Metaphysics, Basic Concepts), this seems highly questionable in light of the ‘total’ despair of sweeping indifference which overcomes in the third and highest stage of boredom.

Temporality and the Self

The difference between man and other entities is the former’s sense of temporality. In other words, man’s own self-awareness  of himself as existing — or, as Heidegger puts it: Dasein is the being for whom Being is an issue for it. Other entities, be it a dog, raccoon, elephant or a tea-pot, are incapable of projecting their being into the future; or recalling their own  past. Lower species live exclusively in the present; for the very moment in which being finds itself. Only man can experience himself in time, and thus never truly static; but rather in a  constant state of becoming himself through his finite possibility.

But possibility is understood in contrast to actuality. The traditional positing of the Self-as-substance (i.e., Descartes, Kant, substance ontology generally, etc.) places actuality over possibility; an emphasis of the present-now over the to be/becoming.  Substance ontology, in turn, reduces the individual into little more than universalized substance — an entity (albeit, a thinking entity), composed of the same indistinguishable “stuff” (spirit; mind;  soul; will to power; etc.). It was this aspect of traditional metaphysics that Soren Kierkegaard, and later Martin Heidegger, went to great lengths to overcome.

Above all, focusing on the present-substance completely misses what it means to be-in-the-world. This analysis simply ignores, or is incapable of taking account of the very fact that we are always in the world relating to it. Heidegger chooses to focus on our “average everydayness” because it is our situational mode of being in the world. In other words, the traditional metaphysical (substance-ontological) view reduces existence to presence; here-now. In the end, it attempts to ground essence without taking into account our existence is to completely disregarded the finiteness of being.

Thus, the temporal self is, in its existence, its own being-towards-possibility: actively involved and always ahead of itself for which its own being matters.  We are constantly relating ourselves to the world through ourselves (the self-referential self). Thus, our existence, the relation in which our being is an issue for us. As self-relating entities, we are always encountering the future of possibilities — and if our existence is authentic — then it is our ownmost possibilities.

Properly understood, the Self is neither substance nor statically present — but rather, exists through itself as the positive relation to the world as a projection of constant change always already emerging into possibility [not actuality]. Thus, actuality is becoming possibility — always in a state of constant projection in which each individual Self is always a step in front of itself. It is in this process that each Self comes to understand its own Being: the Being of the Self is the disclosure of the “ability-to-be.”  The ability-to-be one’s Self is thus the primordial task of any individual Self insofar as he is said to exists. Likewise, any “what” it means to be able to be must always already be preceded by the “who” that is answering it. To put it more succinctly, there can be no “what” I am without there first and foremost being a “who” I am.

But this is far from the end — for every Self, in its relation to itself through its possibilities, is always already undercut by an “ultimate” possibility — death. Death, understood not as mere cessation of biological life (what Heidegger called mere ‘demise’), but rather as world collapse. My death is my possibility of no more possibilities; my possibility of not being able-to-be. Coming to terms with one’s death as truly “my death” becomes possible when we experience certain existential orientations — fundamental moods that concern the “entirety of a person’s situated existence.”  These moods highlight a breakdown of average everyday “being-in-the-world,” and include anxiety/angst, boredom, and despair. Whenever the Self is delivered over to one of these moods, the Self is confronted with the terrifying possibilty that all of its possibilties are subject to a vast and omnipresent vulnerability to total destruction and collapse. This is the revelation of the nothingness of the Self; the abyss of meaninglessness that every Self finds itself situated in while being-in-the-world.