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.
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.
According to Heidegger, our ability to experience anything at all is made possible by the fact that things are capable of standing out for us as mattering in some way. In other words, we are the types of beings capable of having experience on account of the fact that we distinguish and differentiate the entities we encounter in the world – which, in turn, is only possible on account of the fact that we are the beings for whom our Being matters to us.
This is why Heidegger eschews the objective or scientific approach to philosophizing. For Heidegger, the moment we adopt a detached theoretical viewpoint, we replace the dynamic characteristics of being-in-the-world with a deformed reality consisting of perceivable present objects. Thus, the theoretical “de-vitalizes” the complexities of lived-experience, and thus only further conceals from view the “primordial truth” of Being. Furthermore, the theoretical conceals its own concealing, or rather, that it is wholly ignorant to the fact that it forces all of experience into categorical classifications through the creation of an impression that rigorous and detached observation of entities as present-to-hand is the only way to access truth. In effect, the objective approach not only gives us a distorted picture of reality, but also a distorted understanding of ourselves.
In contrast to objective methodology of the Western tradition, Heidegger set to work utilizing a radicalized version of phenomenology. Accordingly, Heidegger sees his own interpretation of the phenomenological method as the taking on the standpoint of the most basic way of being-in-the-world – which he takes as requiring that all philosophical starting points begin in that which is immediate and given to us. For Heidegger, this means that “primordial” insight into Being is available only by beginning with a committed involvement in the concrete situation by which the full complexities of lived-experiences can become understood as they are. Thus, unlike the scientific or naturalistic approach, Heidegger’s existential phenomenology avoids the pitfalls of a predetermined course of inquiry independent of its own findings; but rather, Heidegger tells us that the phenomenologist must be open to the findings, and thus continuously reflect on its position throughout its inquiry, rather than attempting to bring that which it finds into the fold of its predetermined foundation.
In many respects, Heidegger’s criticism of “objective truth” resembles Kierkegaard’s argument for “subjective truth” in Concluding Unscientific Postcript.” Kierkegaard noted that when we make objective observations, we take for granted that both the subject (observer) and his subjectivity (his consciousness of himself as an observer) are rendered functionally indifferent – and, as a corollary, truth itself becomes indifferent. None of this is meant to imply that neither Heidegger nor Kierkegaard saw any value to objective inquiry; rather, they were concerned with how such an approach is detrimental to philosophizing generally and specifically as it relates to Being/ontology (Heidegger) and existences (Kierkegaard).
Awareness is an organism’s attunement to external threats. Such awareness is generally observed in all varieties of life forms, demonstrated in varying degrees from single-celled organisms all the way to man. Consciousness is the uniquely human form of awareness. In human being, this consciousness is specifically manifested as self-consciousness. Consciousness of the self, understood through a phenomenological approach, refers to the existing individual’s capacity to transcend the immediate and concrete; to understand one’s self as one’s potentialities…in short, to understand my experience of myself as a being with a world.
It is by virtue of his consciousness of himself as a self in the world, existing through his openness to his potentiality, that human being comes to understand itself in a constant state of becoming. The constant flux of becoming is an essential part of human being’s existential structure. Only the historical tradition grounded in metaphysics has forced the distinction between being and becoming. In this sense, man is never closed off, as if pinned down to a particular “this” or “that.” Rather, he is his open to his world and the spectrum of possibility. It is through his consciousness of his becoming that makes possible the agonizing burden of freedom.
Yet this freedom is both qualified and contingent. It is qualified in that we exercise little to no control over much of material existence. To the extent that man is nothing more than pure biological animal, he is entirely the product of thousands of years of evolutionary development, subject to the same drives and impulses, genetic determination, and so on, of any and all other organisms. It is contingent on the fact that we are thrown into a world. We had no choice as to which culture, historical epoch, or generation we were born into; we just were. Heidegger tells us that we can never get “behind” our thrownness (Geworfenheit). It is the facticity of the existing individual self that informs and is taken up in existence.
The sensation of this narrow freedom is always rooted in agony. At its most fundamental level, freedom entails an interior confrontation within the self. Freedom t begins when the self is confronted with what Heidegger refers to as the “call of conscience;” this “calling” has no specific content or message; nevertheless, it is the call to the self to be its own self, to break free from Das man, and take up its being-in-the-world through concrete and active involvement. It is embodied in Nietzsche’s mandate “Become who you are.” For Heidegger, as in Nietzsche, the “call of conscience” is an appeal to choose to understand oneself in one’s ownmost potentiality for Being. In turn, answering the “call” involves accepting as one’s own the responsibility for one’s being-in-the-world. Confronting the choice to become an authentic self involves all the corresponding risk that comes with such responsibility, including the dreadful isolation disclosed in anxiety.
Yet this confrontation of choice within the structure of the self brings forth yet another possibility on account of the existing individual’s freedom to choose. This “darker side” of consciousness is the fact that consciousness itself implies always the possibility of turning against itself. Thus, tragedy of existence is not the undeniable ubiquity of suffering, nor the absence of universal meaning and man’s groundlessness; it is the structural possibility, inherent within every existing individual self, that the self must necessarily confront the possibility and temptation at every instant of killing itself.
The agonizing crossroad between affirmation and denial represents the penultimate burden of existential freedom. This freedom is raised to the level of the understanding precipitating the choice by way of a particular mood. Moods tell us about the state in which we find ourselves. Heidegger’’ word here is Befindlichkeit, which literally translates into “state-of-mind.” But this can be misleading…since moods really aren’t internal, nor external for that matter. One should be careful not to confuse “moods” for reflective conscious states.
“Having a mood is not related to the psychical in the first instance, and is not itself an inner condition which then reaches forth in an enigmatical way and puts its mark on things and persons.” (BT, 176).
Rather, moods arise solely on account of our already being-in-the-world. Hubert Dreyfus says that moods “assail us,” and disclose to us “how it’s going with being-in-the-world.”
“Moods are not side-effects, but are something which in advance determines our being with one another. It seems as though a mood is in each case already there, so to speak, like an atmosphere in which we first immerse ourselves in each case and which then attunes us through and through.”
The disclosiveness of moods is also evidenced in the way in which Dasein is “delivered over” to moods. Thus, “Dasein is its There in such a way that, whether explicitly or not, it is disposed in its thrownness. In disposedness Dasein is always brought before itself, and has always found itself, but in the sense of finding itself attuned.” (BT, 174).
The mood that discloses human being’s radical and terrifying freedom is anxiety. Heidegger and Kierkegaard both show us that, in anxiety, the self is directed to the uncertainty of its own finitude. Unlike fear, which always has some concrete object as its focal point (I am always afraid of something particular); anxiety is directed at the “unknown.” The corresponding phenomenon is that of a free-floating sense of the infinite possibility, both tempting and disquieting all at once. When I’m delivered over into anxiety, I feel the intent expression of the amorphous freedom for nothing; I see no meaning; no significance around me. I have transcended the boundaries of everyday intelligibility and come face to face with ecstatic possibility. In this sense, I experience myself for the first time as the possibility of becoming myself, and for once see my future as open, and not by the crowd or given to me as understood in the “they-self.” In fact, the future presents itself in no particular series or arrangements of possibilities at all. Instead, I am presented with the impossibility of all possibilities; there are no limits, but yet I am paralyzed to choose my possibility.
In short, anxiety is the confrontation within the self as undifferentiated possibility. This, in turn, has the feeling of becoming de-situated in the world, and a movement towards innocence in the complete shattering of the framework of meaningful involvement that originally gave rise to my inauthentic mode of being in the world. Only then am I able to redefine and essentially re-relate my being-in-the-world.
The above description corresponds to the choice of affirmation – in the self becoming its ownmost potentiality for Being. But as we noticed before, there is also always the possibility and temptation to go in an altogether different direction once delivered into anxiety. In this sense, we can find ourselves in an altogether different mood…depression.
Before we go any further, some clarity is needed with respect to the very term “depression.” Generally, depression can be understood in two distinctive ways. First, there is “depression” in its positivistic, pathological-clinical sense. This understanding of depression is a mental illness or disorder; reducible to a chemical imbalance in the patient’s brain, and something that can and should be treated through psycho-pharmaceutical solutions. This, in turn, has the potential to objectify depression. No longer does the existing individual’s experience of depression matter; instead, symptoms are measured against a standard set of criteria, upon which a positive or negative diagnosis may be made. In other words, the positivist pathologizes depression, and thus separates out and discards the subjective experience in favor of objective criteria.
On the other hand, a phenomenological approach to depression studies the experience of the existing individual from within, rather than imposing objective criteria from without.
The phenomenological method attempts to get at the core of experience by stripping away all external attributions and impositions of the observer. The focus of any phenomenological inquiry is to bring oneself into the actual lived-experience being studied (the phenomena itself). Examining depression through the phenomenological structures of spatiality and temporality offers an alternative route to understanding what one feels when one becomes depressed, in contrast to the positivistic account of depression as pathology to be treated through psychopharmacology. Rather than define through predetermined categories and qualities what depression is, a phenomenological understanding of depression aims to gather an understanding of what it is to live in depression, and thus derives at a more primordial understanding from the perspective of the depressed self.
A phenomenological account of becoming depressed starts with the concrete and given — an existing individual. From here, we can explore how the existing individual self perceives and relates to its world, particularly trough the structures of lived/existential space and time.
Whereas anxiety manifests itself as boundless openness to the impossibility of all possibility, depression is a closing off; a lurking sensation of sinking into darkness. Anxiety gives way to boundless projection of potentiality; depression is wholly inward, drawing away all meaning and significance – an emptying out; a living lifelessness. It is a sense of the loneliness of being cut-off or isolated from the world; whereas anxiety opens up boundless, limitless possibilities, depression sets apart and encloses in complete darkness. One is imprisoned in interior darkness – accompanied by an ever-increasing feeling that there’s no point or possibility of escape, and one senses an overwhelming and all-encompassing inability for action.
When one “falls” into a deep depression, one becomes aware of a perceptible change in one’s environment. Things begin to appear more distant; more remote. Spatial reality itself becomes detached, even hostile, and cloaked in a foreboding distance. In turn, this qualitative transition of one’s awareness of the external world brings forth a reinforcing state of the remoteness and isolation within. One finds oneself unable to reach out, as if every object has completely withdrawn, and one’s relation to the world comes to be understood as wholly separate. In this sense, the depressed individual is overtaken with the feeling of being separate from the world.
The phenomenon of becoming separate from the world is mirrored by a similar distancing of the self from its embodied engagement in the world. The DSM-IV states that individuals with depression often report a loss of interest or pleasure in activities they previously enjoyed. The language of this objective criteria conceals a subjective experience that takes the form of a complete breakdown in the subject’s ability to relate to its objects in the world. This finds its greatest expression in one’s inability to relate to the other. The inability to maintain and see oneself through the lived relations of being-in-the-world has the corresponding effect of cutting the self off completely, and thus further reinforcing the feeling of absolute isolation and loneliness commonly experienced during depression.
This loss of the ability to relate to one’s world signifies more than the mere loss of one’s fulfilling relationships with particular entities; but rather, a complete loss of the self. The slow erosion of the self is analogous to a slow descent into death: for nothing breaks through the solitude of depressed imprisonment, and so the experience takes shape in a completely non-relational form. The inability to relate to one’s world leaves one with a feeling of existential solipsism. The boundaries separating reality and unreality, life and death, being and not-being are no longer visible when one is encapsulated in the blackness of depression. Without the ability to relate, the self is rendered empty, unable to react to what is perceived in a “normal” functioning way. This in turn has the tendency once again to increase the inner remoteness and isolation, rendering the self not only incapable of relating to the other, but also to itself.
Depression also brings about a radical transformation in temporality. Time itself seems to slow to a grinding halt. Every minute seems like eternity. Each moment longer, more painful than the last; yet, at the same time each and every subsequent moment is accompanied by a greater anticipation for transfiguration and relief. One simply wants to escape the desolation of time, the excruciating loneliness of naked temporal existence. One’s being takes on a whole new character and dimension – that of a positive affliction. Death becomes the cure to the malady of life; offering tranquility and even levity in contrast to the insufferable ailment of life.
Depression is also constituted in a transformation of the self’s understanding of itself. As Heidegger tells us, Dasein understands itself in terms of possibilities. The possible constitutes an essential structure of Dasein’s Existenz. A fundamental feature of becoming depressed is a breakdown in confronting one’s own facticity through such understanding. In this sense, the self as understanding and relating to itself through possibility is answered with the hallow emptiness of the hopeless futility of all possibility.
By contrast with anxiety, which takes the form of the intentionality of no-thing, depression’s form is the unacceptability of self; manifested in the absence of grounding or center that otherwise provides us with the comforts of existing in the normal bounds of what it means to be anything (or anyone) at all. Just as anxiety individuates, so too does depression. As a boundary experience, depression has the capacity to deliver the self into the unknown of one’s own uniqueness – but nevertheless lacking the corresponding awareness of anxiety’s freedom of the capacity for choice. In depression then, the self experiences its individual uniqueness not as boundless possibility, but as terrifying isolation and remoteness.
Both anxiety and depression are primordial structures of human being, and in this sense they can never be “overcome,” but rather, projects by which the self is called to task to take up its own individuality through some form of concrete engagement with its own world, through the existentiell-ontic projection of the understanding of choice. In the midst of depression, the experience of one’s own Being is that of sheer pointlessness: nothing matters, a totalizing process of intentional leveling.
Accordingly, how one responds to depression can take the form of resignation (suicide) or Quixotic salvation. For the latter, it is the journey of making choices with response to one’s ownmost possibility of being-in-the-world, with the awareness that one’s choices are fundamentally worthless, that can have a therapeutic effect. The decision to make a choice, any choice, retains the possibility of embracing the uncertainty in order to become one’s own self. It is the task of choosing oneself that one can escape the paralyzing apathy of depression – even if the depression can be overcome only in the instant, and never for good.
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.