Being as it has Been: an introduction

Prologue:

Who am I’ is the most difficult question yet posed to any human being. Not ‘what am I’, which bears several immediate responses from biology to sociology; not ‘how am I’, which can be answered by evolution and psychology alike; not ‘where am I’, which is a geographical and astronomical query, and not even ‘why am I’, which cannot be responded to unless and until the identity of the being in question is established. This ‘who’ is a moving target, changing over the life-course or yet from weekday to weekend. It is intensely personal, confrontational, intimate, subjective and liable to libelous label. It is something that simply being human does not directly address. Humanity is a ‘what’, an objective facticality of history and evolution both. It is also a cosmic fact, though an insignificant one, so we are assured – and is this not the beginning of the avoidance of the other question? – and it is, in the end, an ‘essence’ that does not alter itself in any serious manner over the generations. The basic constitution of the human species bears little resemblance to its much vaunted ‘humanity’, relatively present or absent, leaning towards the humane inhumane, aping its apical ancestry too closely or shunning it altogether. No, this ‘who’ must needs remain uncategorized in that way. And yet the question remains.

            It is the kind of question that tests also the remains of human faith, for to ask a question one must make the leap of faith that there can in fact be at least a response, if not an outright answer. An explication, an interpretation, if not an explanation or a certainty. In short, that there is a way to understand the question, of whatever character, and that in turn this understanding will contribute to the Selbstverstandnis of selfhood. The specific question of the ‘who-ness’ of beings involves us in a lengthy journey through some of the shadows of modern thought. The stations of this unholy book follow below, but though its finite goals are charred with the flames of desire and the smoke of despair its absolute value is a new humaneness from which humanity can only benefit. I ask the reader to tread this fearsome sanctuary with me, to walk on the proverbial coals that linger like the spilled blood of a murder, spreading still.

            To do so, an examination of many of the key thoughts that animate, or reanimate, the thread of discourse known loosely as ‘anti-humanism’ must be accomplished. But such an analysis must differ from the liberal humanist stance that calls out anything that appears to deny the sovereign soul inherited from godhead, lately truncated. No, decapitation leaves the head intact. That it is parted from the body of works is not the final thing. It is not fatal to thought, for thought, in its freedom and its interiority, needs not the ability to speak its name. John the Baptist’s head spoke onward gifted with divine force. The solitary head of the old god still nods sagely at us in its afterlife. No, the mind of this our own artefact must be exhumed and vivisected while it is still within mortal memory, while it speaks in its own unhurried silence the language of the inexistent. It whispers without lips this message: that you as a human being are yet more than Being could ever be.

            This is the call of lived time. Being retreats, yes, but not merely in the presence of beings. More so than even the presence of others, it is the Das Man of the social world at its least social and most sociable that forces upon Being a self-recantation. But the response has ever been, ‘civilization is a thin veneer, it is Eros which is the more serious mode of beinghood, that and the thanatic.’ This is too simple, for the erotic life, as we shall see below, is not only not the fullest life – only love is real, as the artist tells us – it is also not a rehearsal for death. It is already death in life, for it wishes the timeless, the non-conscious. This is why it can easily be an addict. It commits life to live on in the penumbra of fuller being. We will examine this problem in some detail. Along with this, ‘anti-history’ accompanies the so-called ‘anti-humanism’ as its own shadow selfhood. What then, is it? There are various candidates: the unwritten, the prehistoric, the structural – deep or mythic or naked or what-have-you – the phenomenological. One thing is more certain; it is time bereft of time, which in turn will be examined to further the sense that a rejection of an historical consciousness that is effective in lived time poses the greatest ethical risk to a human future. That said, after the dark reaches of a cloying and clasping unadulterated Eros, we shall encounter a compendium of ethical implications to understanding that ‘anti-humanism’ in fact is our singularly best hope for that self-same future. Indeed, it may be the case that humanism anew, the topic of the conclusion to this book, must rest solely upon the series of drastic insights brought into the lighted space of beings now, and not Being, that resolves the challenge of all modern thought presents to its authors.

            Being as it has Been

            It must have been a primordial sensibility that gave up the first clue to consciousness. Now forever beyond the obscure, so much so that the prehistoric cannot include it in its wider ambit, that first moment wherein our ancestors recognized themselves for what they just as suddenly were, that moment alone stood to be repeated for a finite infinity of other moments. Not similar in depth, to be sure, but alike in astonishment. The death of another who was to that moment like oneself. That first internecine violence, wherein the surviving proto-hominid stared starkly down at the unmoving eyes of his would-be rival, all the way to Nuremberg and Hiroshima and beyond, repeats the penumbra of that moment. It is the naked sword of vision, with the blade bloodied by lived being, as if the numinosum of nakedness unveiled another layer of flesh. What lies beneath what is already naked? Why is there an unconscious when consciousness would seem more than enough? Why is there structure when there is already grammar? Why is there an unsaid lurking behind all that is spoken? Why the genotype, why the quanta? It is not so much the interior of truth that gives it its sometimes sullen and sudden depths, but rather its interiority.

            Recently Being is not what it was. Its history had not been questioned. If beings were historical, which had never been seriously disputed, why not Being ‘itself’? At one hand lay the newly quantum reality, a sub-structure so deep that the very term depth began to lose its meaning. It was uncertain, not quite measurable, seemingly random. It was not a structure so much as a void, full, not of things, but rather of itself. This must have been mindful of the person who is nothing but arrogance. And was it not arrogant to imagine that, for the first time, what underlay cosmos was its very opposite? The back side of a god was the truer face of Truth. Yet at the other hand lay infinity. Ordered, obeying the same laws no matter the billions of light years, showing itself only in a minority – today we understand that a full two thirds of the universe is made up of the furtive ‘dark energy’, for instance – and stretching back to the most recent beginning of all things, of all realities. If only we could see it! To glimpse creation is, at one level, to prove the existence of God itself.

            Though it may be ironic that beings seek to prove Being, to excuse themselves, perhaps, to give them a reason that they are mere beings and nothing more, or yet to give themselves a goal to which to aspire – all of these and maybe more together circulate as modernity’s lifeblood – we as quanta do live in a highly structured, fastidiously ordered social world that mimics the wider cosmos. This worldly microcosmos is not of course the World which worlds itself, as in Heidegger, but what it is defies the sense that at the deepest level yet known, randomness and chaos could generate anything meaningful at all. Yet it was up to ourselves not so much to discover this ‘relationship’, but in fact to give it meaning whatever might be the truth of things. This is so because “Dasein is an entity which does not just occur among other entities. Rather it is ontically distinguished by the fact that, in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it.” (Heidegger 1962:32 [1927], italics the text’s). Hence ‘Being ontological’, as he puts it, comes before ontology, which is, at the core, a study of itself as Being. Myself as a being must be counted amongst this study, which is at the essence of self-understanding. But the ‘as’ is here not a mere simile or even an analogy. It is as-ness because beings are historical, as is the study thereof and therein. Now, that said, does this imply that Being too is historical in its ultimate character? Modern thought answers a resounding ‘yes’ to this question.

            And this is where the trouble begins. Or rather, it is the end of the beginning of the troubling ‘issue’ that human being, Dasein, has for and in itself. It is both as this issue and it is also simply this issue; it is this issue and it remains so. In the lead-up text to Being and Time, Heidegger asserts that “It is the history of the incapacity to pose the question of being in a radically new way and to work out its first fundaments anew…” (1992:6 [1925]) that is ‘grounded’ in the very being of Dasein. Because I have an issue with my being, I cannot radically formulate it to myself. Instead, I take an interest in the time of beings, whether that time is the one in which I live my actual life, or perhaps it is a historical period deemed somehow ‘relevant’ to me personally or to the apparent Zeitgeist in which I am ensconced, etc. Thus the conception of time cannot only be an historical one and thence it is directly related to the conception of Being that cannot be parsed from beings, or can no longer be so parsed. And why is this, Heidegger asks us. Clearly, at this point and long after in Heidegger’s work, phenomenology is the only manner in which or by which to investigate such issues. It is radical where one needs radicality. It is of the essence where one needs the essential. It is focused on the ‘beforehand-ness’ of beings that does not necessarily result in the pat response ‘Being’ as such. Indeed, one might better use the term ‘beforehandedness’ to designate such territory as may be located in the depths of primordial existence.

            The first station along this way, whether we approach from our own condition or imagine that we are first descrying it from the far side to our own, the side of myth and magic, occurs with the earliest idealism to which we are historically privy. That is to say, the earliest that does not appear as mere myth itself: “Ever since Plato turned his back on the Athenian democracy and set out his scheme for an ideal city, political philosophers had been writing about politics in a way that systematically ignored the most salient political features of human beings – that they are plural, that each of them is capable of new perspectives and new actions, and that they will not fit a tidy, predictable model unless these political capacities are crushed.” (Canovan, in Arendt 1998:xii [1958]). This is the direct result of the ‘issue’ of Being amidst beings. Being is itself a perspective that, while apparently unchanging, allows for and indeed may be said to provide a rationale for, the mutability of beings as both culture and individual. One could extend the idea of organismic evolution into culture, the ‘superorganic’, as Kroeber called it in 1917, but it is not simply a matter of cultural ‘adaptation’ running by itself. How does humanity adapt? Through a conscious effort on the part of each of us. This consciousness is ‘effective’ in this sense long before it became historical per se. Still later, “Man became aware of consciousness itself; the fact of thought became itself an object of thought.” (Jaspers 1960:598 [1948]). Yet we may suggest that the ‘issue’ of Being as beings, that being a being prefaces all such thought ‘about’ being in the way that one is ontological before there is ontology and also is historical before there is history – in the sense that one is aware of the passage of the temporal and not necessarily that one has measured time in intervals or even seasons – means for us that we also have become our own objects. Certainly we ‘use’ others and are used by them in the way we might pick up an instrument. This may lead to a kind of aesthetics or make itself aware of the ethical, or it may simply be an instrumentality. However it may turn out for individuals in different periods of their singular lives, the consciousness that I am part of something greater than myself – and this awareness must have been primordial and presumably extends beyond and before the genus Homo – may have given rise to the incomparably more recent distinction between being and Beings. For in social contract societies we do not find the language for the one, only the all. Yet what we do discover is an acknowledgement of the smaller and the larger and it is to this that we must cleave our historical analysis of Being in the light of beings.

            If this is a perennial puzzle, it is partly due to a simple narcissism that refuses to undertake itself in that self-same light: “All in all, man has become a riddle for himself. The elements of this riddle are scattered in history, and in the present only those sovereign moments in a diffuse state, contribute to a possible solution. The contribution comes from within ourselves, but its objective existence is firmly established.” (Bataille 1991:232 [1976]). As in Durkheim, this induction could be reframed as an inductivity, something ‘electric’ and thus something of the body as well as of energy. Material and spirit, the answer to the riddle of ourselves is at once a little cliché and Whitmanesque, but as well reaches outward, perhaps in an equally stereotypical manner, into the atomic age. How could a series of related species known only for its flint-knapping skills for over two million years or more have ‘harnessed’, as the word is so used, the power of the atom? The obvious links – tool-making, action at a distance in terms of injuring or killing another whilst keeping oneself safe from harm (and how does nuclear war do that, one wonders), the projection of consciousness into what is non-conscious, the affirmation of cosmic evolution in that the same basic material is used to construct both our bombs and our brains – work round the riddle of the selfhood of humanity. ‘Harness’ is a term from the previous epoch, when not only weapons of such magnitude could not be imagined – or was Revelations that very imagination writ into the mythic bracket of divinity? – but the realm of the smallest, the quanta, was something that once again, only angels could achieve. How many muons fit on the head of a pin?

            However scholastic the genesis of the riddle, any response must take us out of the realm of the scholar and into that of thought and thought unthought. Perhaps the beginnings of our historical response occurred even before Plato: “According to Aristotle, Homer does not depict himself, as do many less talented authors, but ‘…introduces a man, a woman, or any other character, and no one is deprived of character, for everyone has one.’ (cited in Kristeva 1996:120 [1993]). Just below, it is ‘style that is the intermediary’ in the creation of character or a character, and we are told, famously, that the ‘poet makes himself into another god’ (ibid:122). Yes, because he is creating a new set of myths to supplant the old – Homeric literature makes the transition between the purely mythic murk of primordiality and introduces human action in the world, or informal history (we await the arrival of Herodotus and Thucydides to formalize this dynamic) – but more than this, the poet speaks for the rest of us who remain would-be gods. She is more than Sophia, who imparts wisdom to those in ignorance. Here, we are all possessed of the wisdom of the riddle. We are all as is the Sphinx.

            Yet ancient history is something we moderns have invented for ourselves. By definition, classical authors were writing about recent history, as we might write about modernity. For them, what is ancient for us was nothing more than contemporary. Indeed, Homer represented both the beginning and the end of another kind of time. Afterwards, the recent, before, the ancient. It was left to us to understand that history is more seamless than all of that, and this due to a new conception of experience: “One of the conceptual achievements of the philosophy of the Enlightenment was enhancing history into a general concept which became the condition of possible experience and possible expectation.” (Koselleck 1985:200 [1969]). We become historical beings as part of the riddle of pre-ontology, rather than beings before whom history is set, as in the fates of the Greeks. Now fate rests in the heart of myth, so ancient literature, especially drama but also narrative that is based upon presumed events such as the Trojan War, at once brings myth into the world as well as making myth more worldly. Though our recent conception of agency is, in that very world, likely as limited as was the Greek’s theoretical sense of existential action, we are much more concerned that we in fact possess this agency and imagine that we can alter our destinies inscribed in the arc of thrownness. This additional achievement of modern thought rests in the human heart and as such, cannot stand with any ultimate certainty vis-à-vis history as we can know it, let alone myth as we have forsaken it. Even so, “…the theory in question conveys the humanist conviction that man’s action on his environment and on himself can and must become completely one with his knowledge of the environment and man…” (Canguilhem 1989:104 [1966]). Such a unity is only possible because of ‘existential a prioris’, as Heidegger has investigated them. If for the enlightenment experience is itself as form of knowledge – it may be unsystematic, illogical, even irrational, but nevertheless it is known as is any memory or feeling – then the next sensibility that is brought to bear upon human experience is its obverse; that we cannot experience what we cannot know, even if this knowledge is post hoc. Just so, an hermeneutic experience is said to be one about which one had no prior knowledge, hence its ‘confrontation with the tradition’ in the objective sense of discourse and the history of thought, and its radicality to the subject who nonetheless experiences it. Perhaps ‘it’ may be loosened somewhat here to remind us that we, at first at least, do not know what ‘it’ actually is that we are experiencing. This comes later, even if this later is but momentary. Yet an hermeneutic experience, if it can exist as stated, is still not the same thing as an irruptive one. This later breaks into mundane experience and is radically alien to interpretation, forcing us to engage in none other than the non-rational analogical processes that animate myth and perhaps even fate.

            It is so that such irruptions may in time be assimilated, just as modern science claims that its territory can ever expand to take into account objects or experiences that for now perhaps remain beyond its current explanatory frameworks. But this is only the case because of the wider ambit of the existential a prioris, something that phenomenology has provided for us. These “…are the universals or forms that stand to the experience of each human being in the same manner that the Kantian categories of the Understanding stand to the objects that we know.” (Needleman 1963:27, italics the text’s). If the mind is not quite such an object – insofar as it is a reification on the one hand, and insofar as we have but partial knowledge of it itself, since indeed it is our own mind that must know itself – then existence takes from the object world its deliberate and self-conscious objection to it. It is through Dasein’s objection to the world into which it has been thrown unannounced and involuntarily that it itself knows itself as its own Being. It is not the Being of beings that partakes of the older metaphysics, but it cleaves to itself the Being of the Understanding. It is this Verstehen that at once is nothing other than Selbstverstandnis and being-in-the-world. It is formed in the world of forms but it is not a form. It is formal without necessarily becoming a formula. And more than this, it is always forming and never set. As much as social institutions attempt to instill, sometimes brutally, a set form, human beings overcome it. If they do not, and of course there are examples of this as well, they can no longer truly be referred to as being human: “…the word human never denotes, as simpleminded people imagine, a stabilized position, but rather an apparently precarious equilibrium that distinguishes the human quality. The word man is always connected with an impossible combination of movements that destroy one another.” (Bataille, op. cit:342, italics the text’s). The marriage of light and dark occurs only through the human presence.

            Yet we have persisted in mimicking the natural order in our human relations. Perhaps this is what all children of the cosmos must do, at least at first. It would be one of the many vital questions that would have to asked of any extraterrestrial species, for instance; did their self-understanding pass through this same childhood? Such questions are, for the time being, moot, but it is important that they remain so. Not for any objective purposes, of course, but solely so that we have enough time to ask them, most seriously, of ourselves. Indeed, this may be a prerequisite to contact, as many science fiction tales have implied.

            However that side of things may be or may yet be, it is more important to recognize the plural ‘nature’ of humanity to juxtapose it with the two forms within which this living plaster is supposed to set. We are not made of clay for nothing, to speak metaphorically, and a jar is meant to hold something or other. It is a vessel, not only of the spirit, but of knowledge and experience and finally, of existence. It can be shattered as can the clay jar, but even in its shards it is recognizable as something which was what we are. No archaeology, either of the ground we tread upon or of the phenomenological ground of beings, would be possible without this immediate resonance, as well as of course our sudden sense of loss at beholding what had been lost before us. This much is crucial, “…for the question as to who ‘we human beings‘ actually are has never received less of an answer than it has in our age, and today we stand again at the threshold of new queries with respect to this we.” (Binswanger 1963:226, italics the text’s). The ‘we-ness’ of humanity has also never been challenged more seriously. It was one thing to deny it and yet not have the power to destroy it, as almost the entirety of the historical epoch bears chief witness. This often witless adumbration of the sameness ‘in spite of’  – why act upon it when one can merely state it and appear noble? – carries us headlong into our own time wherein we now deny it at our peril, collective and complete.

            Such a ‘we’ as we are can be partly understood by noting that Dasein is ‘alongside’ other things instead of in fact being them: “Being-in-the-world has always expressed itself, and as being alongside entitiesencountered within-the-world, it constantly expresses itself in addressing to the very object of its concern and discussing it.” (Heidegger 1962:458 [1927]), italics the text’s). Even if this is ‘grounded’ in the sense of time, in temporality, as Heidegger puts it, the first thing one actually addresses is the being-otherness of the entity in question. We do not in fact immediately nor instantly know, even if we are ‘constantly’ expressing ourselves, if this otherness is an other to self, an object, a force of nature or culture or both, etc. So a ‘concernful reckoning up’ of these possibilities into relative plausibilities (op. cit.) – in no manner within-this-world do we attempt to assign numeric ‘odds’ to such encounters during this process – takes place. What can be said of this process is that it at once ‘expresses itself’, as Heidegger notes more than once in these passages, but that it also ‘reckons’, pronounces a kind of always penultimate judgment on these encounters, rather than upon them. The ‘upon’ is more final, perhaps even fatal, in such a context, and it closes Dasein off from the world within-which it must encounter itself and express itself. Such otherness as there may be – and it is constant in itself and it also expresses itself – begins amorphously. For instance, Arendt speaks of Marx’s ‘labor creating man and labor’, in other words, itself (op. cit:86), or that products, commodities or no, become independent of and alien to human life (ibid:89). So here we have two omnipresent examples of the encounter with otherness in modern society; the forces by which labor transforms humans and the force by which that same labor transforms the world. The results are, at best, mixed. How do we express the ‘itself ‘of Dasein under such conditions? How does the world now world itself under the grind of capital? What kind of character does the individual Dasein take on in order to avoid the distraction of objectified expression, which may still be self-expression if selfhood is itself a commodity, which it often appears to be or to have become? But it is self-expression without self-understanding: “Hypertrophied and giant consumers of their time and other people’s time, these characters are endowed with a symbolic value after they reach a temporality superior to that of the phenomena – and indistinguishable from the dynamic of Being.” (Kristeva, op. cit:323). Only after they have reached this ‘superior’ temporality – contrast this with the drive to attain merely a superior tempo in all things – then there is a sudden upshift of the dialectical variety. Something is conserved or bracketed without being bracketed out. But is it not this very leap that makes for a disconnect? We go from what is not even Dasein all the way to Being, as if we were subject to an objective enlightenment of a more Eastern sensibility. What is overleapt is ‘man’ itself.

            We know from Nietzsche’s famous caution that Man cannot be so overleapt, and one must rather become a bridge to the superior form. What life looks like from this side of the existential chasm is defined by not only distractions that are calculated to decoy, but also by the simple detail of living on. The casual expression that references the devil, who is to be found in such details, speaks to our sense that we can know an other’s scheme. Calculated distractions are just that, and betray themselves when we return to what passes for mundanity, as when we attend an evening entertainment event and then go back to work the next day. But the details of the quotidian seem to be part of the very fabric of what it means to live day to day. We are attentive to them because we think them necessary or at least, unavoidable. Even so, and however their numbers, we are enthralled to them, and sometimes by them as well: “In the view that defines us as modern, there are an infinite number of details. Photographs are details. Therefore, photographs seem like life. To be modern is to live, entranced, by the savage autonomy of detail.” (Sontag, op. cit:126). ‘Stills’, as they are sometimes still called, capture a reality that in fact was real for so momentary an instant that it tends toward the irreal, as if it called into being a Being, placed essence into existence, made the phenomenal noumenal. Such an image contradicts itself. It isn’t real, but it exposes a level of reality that cannot be noted in the flux of either tempo or temporality. Is it the ‘superior temporality’ we seek or is it only its ‘character’? No, it is neither, we contemporary skeptics state. It is only an image of what occurred and more than that, what partially occurred,. What actually occurred can only be captured in a film – ‘rolling stock’ – and never a still. This skeptical sensibility is also of our own time, very much guiding the tempo of our temporality or very much trying to do so. Nietzsche’s friend, the historian Jacob Burkhardt, “…places it at the origin of modernity, in that ‘ontological’ scepticism inherent in the incessant change of all human institutions.” (Moretti 1987:140). Why should change ‘itself’ not be responded to by an essential skepticism? Are we reacting then to this or that change or to the wider sense that change is what we are? At the same time, why should we react this way if it were not for a sense that we are both singular – how dare I change or be forced to change when I am one thing? – or at the very least, if not singular, are yet sovereign – I can command change, but only the changes I myself want and seek. Skepticism, that hallmark of modernity – though it emerges in Classical Greece and then flourishes in the Hellenistic period when the Alexandrian empire brought home to that small group of city-states the wider relativism and relevance of the known world – must ultimately be turned against the selfhood of the self. In fact I am not one thing, we drily note, in fact I cannot control much of what occurs. Much of what occurs, occurs to me, and not because of me.

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            If we make a preliminary response to the question ‘who am I?’ by simply saying ‘I am change’, then is it the case that this being-in-the-world is, by definition, change ‘embodied’ or am I the very body of change in an otherwise unchanging world? By this, of course, we do not mean the world of nature or the worlds nature has created by and for itself, but rather the world in which we find ourselves thrown. There would be no change in that world without us mutable beings making and remaking it, one might argue: “…if existence is definitive for Dasein’s Being and if its essence is constituted in part by potentiality-for-Being, then, as long as Dasein exists, it must in each case, as such a potentiality, not yet be something.” (Heidegger 1962:276 [1927], italics the text’s). This appears so simple that we want to simply nod our heads at it in fulsome agreement. But the implication of not yet being anything at any one moment only strikes us more deeply when we maintain the notion that we are this or that, even that we are change ‘itself’ or at least, embody it. Later on, Heidegger notes that anticipation must therefore take in the ‘whole of Dasein in advance’, the possibility of existing in this entire potentiality, even though we cannot exhaust possibility in the existential sense (op. cit:309). But why cannot we be something and still ‘not yet be’ something else? Why does the not-yetness of our Dasein, its forward-looking, anxiety and concernfulness as Sorgeheit exclude the being of something or other for the time being? Its seems, on the face of it, an overstatement to decline the being of A because we are not, or not yet, or never, the being of B. This appears reasonable, but we are also not yet grasping the fuller meaning of potentiality. Even in being A we are aware that A could be different, could be more than it in fact is for us. B is not of immediate interest unless we ourselves have given up any aspiration to be the more of what we already imagine we are. And it is this, more than the world, that disallows one to complete one’s being in the wider existential sense whilst existing, as Heidegger is often wont to point out, as well as in the more local sense of not ‘reaching one’s potential’ to use a casual phrase. We say more than we know in this case. It is an admonition often directed at children but also at those who have ‘given up’ before they had, in our eyes at least, fully tried to become this other, better, version of simply A.

            We have, in a word, taken over the divinely inspired goal-oriented and above all, finished state of being to which worldly and mortal life can aspire. We know we are unfinished beings, but instead of being finished by another force and in another space, we are simply completed by death. In modernity, completion is judged the only possible result of potentiality. One never finishes anything, let alone oneself: “A previously divine teleology thus encounters the ambiguity of human design, as can be shown in the ambivalence of the concept of progress, which must continually prove itself to be both finite and infinite if it is to escape the relapse into the naturalistic and spatial sense it earlier embodied.” (Koselleck 1985:104 [1969]). As in the more formal difference between a discrete and finite distribution such as the binomial curve under which one can make predictions based on series probability, and the infinite and continuous curve of actual data in the natural world, a completely human sense of history understands the finite as itself, yes, but also conceives the infinite as a God. It is this latter which needs to be brought into the human ambit. There is a role reversal, if you will, for the more recent historic period agrarian gods cleaved themselves to a human interest. They initiated history whilst we actuated it, and continue to do so. Now, humans must have an interest in Godhead, to fill both a power vacuum but also a symbolic space, as if the ‘horror vacui’ of the Greeks had shown up our finiteness for what it actually was.

            If a relapse was to be avoided one had to throw oneself into the mix, as it were. Dasein’s thrownness, its projection, always had a certain sense of regret about it. Yet philosophy became even more necessary to our sense of selfhood, as well as science. The first now represented the thought that emanated from the only form of consciousness now indeed understood as understandable. The second the fruits of that conscious, and often self-conscious, labor. Certainly, “…it was at least as decisive that man began to consider himself part and parcel of the two superhuman, all-encompassing processes of nature and history, both of which seemed to doomed to an infinite progress without ever reaching any inherent telos or approaching any preordained idea.” (Arendt, op. cit:307). Yet we have found, rather to our collective chagrin, that inserting ourselves into these processes – in the Victorian period, as their summa cum laude, in our own time, as their reticent and often incompetent stewards – that this not only vouchsafed nothing with regard to either a final destiny or an ultimate end but in fact guaranteed that Telos would forever be banished from both the historical and the cosmic mindset. Rather, we have witnessed a sense that time has been, as Koselleck puts it, ‘temporalized’. This Verzeitlichung, leads into a kind of flux, which exceeds the boundaries of the previous era’s sense of what constituted a ‘period’, as in that suggested by art history or archaeology, for instance, “…at the end of which there is the peculiar form of acceleration which characterizes modernity.” (Koselleck, op. cit:5). Even the use of the term ‘era’ should provide a caution. Indeed, we can periodize the pre-temporalized history in a manner which no longer cleaves to our own. Just as that era’s Gods possessed, and were possessed by, a human interest – this defines them in the same way that their predecessors were defined by their lack of interest or even their outright enmity towards humanity – the sign transcendent of time gave that era its very form. Without such a position, without a supra-Godelian viewpoint, history and time become the same thing.

            Yet reason remains. Used or no, the defining character of our own humanity must somehow assume, or at the very least, presume to assume, the position vacated by the sign of the transcendent. So “Only now have we established ourselves as ‘universal’ beings, as creatures who are terrestrial not by nature or essence but only by the condition of being alive, and who therefore by virtue of reasoning can overcome this condition not in mere speculation but in actual fact.” (Arendt, op. cit:263). Here we do not take Arendt as suggesting we overcome our lot as living beings per se – though of course much more recently this has been in fact the drive to construct artificial vehicles to house our intelligence, including our reason; what then would be the reason that is divorced from life, one might ask? – but rather those conditions peculiar to our own time. It is, subtly and almost silently, a revolutionary statement. Relative reference points, specific purposes, finite goal-oriented actions, and most indubitably characterizing our own era, the equally centerless value systems which conflict with one another all over the globe, all of this is the life-condition with which Dasein is faced. Though back-dropped by an older evolutionary process, the resonance of which might be seen in both dreams – falling or being chased motifs, for instance – or the semi-conscious awareness that gives us tingles when in the presence of either the profoundly sublime or the profoundly dangerous – the elevation experienced with great works of art or the unreasoning shudder in the face of what could still be called evil – our present-day life-condition is apparently more or less controlled only by ourselves. It is now old hat to recite the losses incurred from geocentrism to heliocentrism though in 1958 it was very much of the moment, given Arendt’s own early reference to Sputnik etc. This ‘drama’ of modernity is more than mere spectacle on the objective side, more than mere theater on that subjective. It is nothing less than the elevation of originally organismic evolution, in spite of it being also sometimes nothing more than the degradation of the same: “…we must envisage the transition from animal to man as a drama, which we can take as having lasted and as having had ups and downs, but whose unity we must grant.” (Bataille, op. cit:73). Yes, we can never know what actually occurred, there, on the ground, some seven or so millions of years ago. It has been said before now that palaeoarchaeology and cosmology are two arcs of the same circles, closing in upon one another and closing round the compass at which the center stands humanity. But no matter how detailed the fossil record and no matter how fine our optics, so far creation, that cosmic and anthropic both, has eluded us.

            How could it not have? The very concept hails from the previous metaphysics. To imagine we can arrest what is essentially a ‘divine’ moment through technological means alone marks us as just as essentially arrogant, if not worse. But there is another level of technocratic means and ends which affects us much more personally. The individual, politically and morally part of a group, yet ethically and existentially solo, at once human and a human being, the latter enveloped in the task of Dasein-as-it-is, is marked by our sense that creation and construction can be made into the same thing: “A paradox within a paradox is generated: the problem of uniqueness replaces the unique person, and the former is itself typified. The formula: ‘Treat each person as a unique individual’ contains its own refutation.” (Natanson 1974:258). This ‘obversion’, so to speak, forces each of us in daily life to self-typify. The common-place question ‘what do you do?’, which is meant to be read as concerning what one does for a living, tends to take the place of ‘who are you?’, which is our original question. Certainly the former is more easily answered. To be fair, it has taken on various guises, like ‘what’s your line’, or ‘where do you work’ etc, which are more honest and direct. Even so, its obverse is assumed to have something to do with our authenticity in that one’s identity, so wrapped up within one’s ‘day job’ to the point of predefining social role, is or can be holistically understood through it alone. And this is merely the most prevalent form of typification in mundane life. Yet we are aware, sometimes painfully, that not only are there numerous social roles occupied by a single individual – perhaps the rationale that our particular personal ‘recipe’ of them is what actually makes us an authentic individual – and that social roles overlap they also often conflict with one another. This is so basic, both to social discourse and the discourse of sociality alike, that in order for it to function as it does it must simply be overlooked. Akin to the disconnect between a culture’s ideals and its realities, the microcosmic version thereof that lies within ourselves cannot be too closely scrutinized. Koselleck notes this issue is reflected in the problem of there being a crisis that is unsaid but that critiquing this issue does not resolve the crisis. Quite the opposite: “…the critical process of enlightenment conjured up the crisis in the same measure in which the political significance of that crisis remained hidden from it.” (1988:9 [1959]). Just so, the casual expression ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ encapsulates the challenge facing any person or culture which attempts to excavate its basic assumptions regarding the interface between reality and ideal, self and world. Sovereignty is an ideal for a national entity and plays forcefully into one’s conception, as a citizen, of national identity, so-called. But in an interconnected world there are severe limits placed even upon governments and their ability to act for and by themselves. Writ small, these same limits occur in the daily life of individuals. Indeed, there is almost nothing that one can accomplish entirely by oneself. ‘Projects of action’ are an attempt by the individual to maintain her individuality in the face of the world, not of forms, but of others. They begin from a rarified height of phantasm, as Schutz has stated, and yet have an openness about them simply because they are future-directed. Since Schutz’s ‘because’ motives are a closed book – the action is in the past and thus can seem to be free of the same limits that are about to enthrall ‘in order to’ motives – even so, they still provide the model for courses of action to be taken (cf. Natanson, op. cit:42). It is a bit of a sleight of hand, and we feel slighted, even slightly awry, when we are forced to recognize both limit and ‘work around’, as the managerial phrase has it. There is a rustic dialectic to all personal ruminations of this sort; I am made aware of the locale of my ability, its relative paucity of power and its truncated reach. In this, the most important aspect of ‘enlightenment’ has to do with language itself and how it no longer cleaves to the model of behavioral schema: “Language is just as much infrastructure as superstructure. The schema of the infrastructure and the superstructure must be rejected resolutely, for here we encounter a strict circular phenomenon in which the two terms, in turn, implicate each other and transcend each other.” (Ricoeur 1965:202 [1955]). This circle is hermeneutic in character. The action of the other must be recognized – this is done mostly tacitly and based upon social conventions learned, for most of us, early on – but their motives must be interpreted. ‘Confessions’, whether on the stand, in the box, or in the bedroom, can be faked.

            This location, recently touted as only ‘social’ in its nature, is in fact also personal and historical, as well as perhaps structural. More than each of these in turn and all of these combined, it has a phenomenological location, or better, position, that doesn’t merely reflect a worldview but refracts it, Weltanschauung lensed through Wesenschau. It tempers the temporality of its time, and just as the Zeitgeist hovers above the agent, pushing us to separate ‘infra’ and ‘super’ if we heed its power alone, so we as actors have the ability to confront the day, as well as the tradition, through the use of language which can also conceal intent: “Action is subject-bound, it builds up in a temporal development, and its full significance is always on the far side of the actor’s intention. The act is a unitary phenomenon which is object-oriented and whose meaning is graspable.” (Natanson, op. cit:38). Meaning is not ‘attached’ to an act in the same way as history is not ‘added’ to being. This circle, unity, or is-ness of human action-in-the-world may remind one of an instinct of sorts, in the way that animal being is in its world. But there is a crucial difference: aside from the fact that it already and always has meaning and is thus meaningful in a manner that the behavior of animals does not – this is why it is behavior and not act to which we refer in this other realm – human beings live by virtue of their acts and how they are interpreted by others. In a word, our world is both intersubjectively meaningful and is something that stands over against us. Animals are part of the natural being of a world which worlds itself away from all meaning. Unlike the autographed hand of the divine in medieval understandings of nature, our contemporary view is that humans remake the world, for better or worse, solely in their own image.

            This new world, brave or no, is only fully realized in the eighteenth century. It becomes part of ‘public life’, as it were, just as meaning in general now seeks its autochthonous advent: “The movement which blithely called itself ‘the Enlightenment’ continued its triumphal march at the same pace at which its private interior expanded into the public domain, while the public, without surrendering its private nature, became the forum of society that permeated the entire State.” (Koselleck 1988:53 [1959]). This advance was mirrored in intellectual life. Ideally, the source of the state, its own people, were to remain within a freedom that disclosed itself through the division between private and public. This distinction appears to have gained yet further merit today, when privacy issues are both fashionable but also in some cases serious, as in the medical sphere. Publicly, we are but a citizen within the modern nation state, a resident of one of its geopolitical subsections, and so on. We are immigrants, emigrants, migrants, or even transients. The phrase ‘no fixed address’ has become the ultimate indictment against our would-be citizenship but also against our oft elusive freedom. It is true that some homeless persons choose to remain so in front of other possibilities, but these people are rare. The idea of home itself still carries an undeniable weight, and is the objectively identifiable converse to Dasein’s existential identity.

            Just as personhood became enveloped in the notion of citizenship during this period – it has been pointed out that for the final dozen years or so of Nietzsche’s life he was stateless, which is somehow fitting, or that Marx was ejected from no less than three states before rusticating in London; could there are also be infra-persons and super-persons? – ideas ‘themselves’ must also have an origin point, a home. Speaking of the enlightenment intellect, Heidegger suggests that “…what alone mattered, what was decisive for them, was concrete work, and that meant the propensity toward ‘facts’. Accordingly, the first task to be carried out in history was to disclose and to secure the sources.” (1992:14 [1925], italics the text’s). If the person has a birthplace and thence perhaps also a birthright, just so, ideas too have sources, origin points, places of birth and growth, ontogenesis and phylogenesis alike. Sources ‘positioned’ ideas in history and towards history. Philology, historical analysis and historiography were all of the moment. In this very same period, beginning with Chladenius’s ‘optical’ logic c. 1740, the historian could now assert a position of his own, take up an argument from a specific point of view or historical location. This was the modern beginning to our understanding of social location and epistemic privilege, among other recently fashionable sensibilities (cf. Koselleck 1985:140 [1969]).

            A century or more later, however, it had to be admitted that the source-based optical gaze, the reportage of historical witnesses, the tracing of genealogies in the traditional sense, was not going to be enough to fully understand existence not only as it had become by this time but also in its essence. Therefore, Dilthey took up the task by focusing upon the ‘object’ of history as a structure of ‘life’ (cf. Heidegger, op. cit:17). Dilthey’s version of psychology, also a new and burgeoning discourse, made singular the sense that history was akin to reality and that consciousness ‘itself’ was constructed through their mutual imbrication. The ‘sources’ of this sensibility are obvious enough; Marx and Engels stunning statement of 1846 that ‘consciousness is itself a social product’, an historical condition, Darwin’s 1859 exposition of nature as cleaving to a non-conscious non-teleological set of forces, and so on. Diltheyan psychology did not examine its case through the lens of either deviance or pathology, but rather took it to be not only the normative but necessary condition of human existence. The discursive step toward Dasein must assuredly follow. In between, as it were, it fell to Husserl to construct the analytic that moved the former into the latter. This was “…a special method for prising apart the merely taken-for-granted from the intuitively graspable, and for describing delicately and in detail the region of intuitive transparency that this distinction opens up.” (Wood 1989:39). What is this ‘intuitive region’? Heidegger states with emphasis how phenomenology simply is ‘scientific ontology’, and that there is ‘no ontology alongside a phenomenology’ (1992:72). Wood continues by reminding us that for Husserl, no ‘general cognitive framework of science’ could ever be the subject of an empirical study. One does not scientifically study the autochthonous region by which thought is possible. Science is secondary to phenomenology; all science (op. cit:40). Just as is our ‘natural attitude’ hallmarked by its lack of concern – in that concernful being does not manifest itself automatically within such a sphere and indeed cannot normally do so – phenomenology in its pre-objectivity is no less than a ‘title’ for being. (Heidegger, op. cit:74). Any previous take on what ‘comes before’ does not make a viable enough distinction between immanence and transcendence (ibid).

            But what, exactly, is this distinction that must be made? By the time we are able to read the fuller statement contained in Being and Time, two years later, we find that thinkers such as Schutz and much later, Natanson, have, perhaps ironically, practiced the ‘disappearance of praxis’: “So if one posits ‘practical’ concern as the primary and predominant kind of Being which factical Dasein possesses, the ontological possibility of ‘theory’ will be due to the absence of praxis – that is, to a privation.” (1962:409 [1927], italics the text’s). Of course, this does not imply that ‘tarrying’, ‘looking around’, ‘inspecting’ and so on constitute the beginning of a theoretical attitude. Not in the least. They are part of the detailed carrying on of a practice, almost like a diagnostic. They are neither pre-theoretical nor post-theoretical as they never attain the circle in which reflective thought is ensconced. Yes, one could certainly admit to the presence of interpretation during this carrying on which is also something that Heidegger relates as ‘being at a standstill’ in its relation to praxis. But lingering is not thinking. Simply put, it is a kind of manipulation, not in the ethical sense per se or immediately – though one may now wonder if tarrying in general is tantamount also to malingering and not merely lingering; is it not the case that when we do not know how to practice this or that we must either admit it through repetitive failure or try to cover over through deceit our incompetency? – but rather as within the context of the ready-to-hand (cf. ibid:410ff). Language is itself not exempt from this manipulation. Insofar as we communicate our intents through and by language, even if these be deceitful in that we communicate something other than our ‘authentic’ desires, the primordiality of concernful being ‘comes and goes’ as it were. It does not find a home within language as such. Wood notes that there are three ‘levels of concern’ regarding the metaphysical ‘adequacy’ of language in general: “…that of metaphysis, that of the permeation of ordinary language with metaphysical concepts, and the problem of the original lie of language as such.” (op. cit:296). Nietzsche’s famous early essay is a testament to this line of questioning. This is not only a question of style, as many commentators have noted Nietzsche is equally famous for. Certainly, style allows the artistry of creative thought to be communicated, without regard for authorial intent, on the one hand, and one’s own peccadilloes on the other. But serious art contains serious messages, and we cannot be distracted by style to the extent that a text becomes ‘only’ art, even if Nietzsche’s early work could be considered such by the usual standards. Even the variety of translations of the title of the 1871-2 essay that seems to disallow not only concernful being as an authenticity in the world but also language as ever an authentic expression or manifestation of Being transfiguring world should put us on guard. Each reader is looking to render this intriguing work – surely, along with the Communist Manifesto, the most important short piece of the nineteenth century – in her own way: sometimes it is ‘truth and lie’, others ‘truth and falsity’, in a sometimes ‘extramoral’, or ‘non-moral’, or even ‘ultra-moral’ sense and so on. Yet is it really such a scandal that words have different meanings pending context, that they can tell the truth or no depending intent, that they can dissemble and dissimulate and duplicitously duplicate? Hardly. It is not that Nietzsche simply overstates his case, but his youthful mind appears quite taken by what would become in Saussure, for instance, a model of precisely how communication does take place and how we are able to identify both truth and lie in the vast majority of contexts and cases. In a word, we know our own language as it is and we are not daunted by this knowledge, but are rather given an essential aspect of our human freedom.

            One must project a form of empathy to elevate one’s mundanity into the space of concernful beingness. Yes, language may well hinder such a venture, but so might reflection, if we are to take the radical idea of the neighbor seriously. No act, observed or perhaps more profoundly, witnessed, takes place beyond language just as it does not transcend the temporal. It is something that is done, after all. How it is acted makes all the difference and in this it is no different than how language is used. Praxis may vanish in order for the theoretical attitude to be attained, but thought as Being-there does not. Yet it is a specific aspect of thought which is of foremost concern: “The imagination has a metaphysical function which cannot be reduced to simple projection of vital, unconscious, or repressed desires. The imagination has a prospective and explorative function in regard to the inherent possibilities of man. It is, par excellence, the instituting and constituting of what is humanly possible.” (Ricoeur, op. cit:126-7). Herein, ‘myth’ does itself also refer to a phenomenology, that of consciousness and of humanity. It is, ironically perhaps, the pre-logocentric function of myth that animates the prose of not only storytelling in general but also life-narrative. Imagination is the harbinger of human mythos. And just as this mythic imagination ‘persists’ – a term of which Simmel, just after the following, is very critical – the human vehicle for myth, the soul, continues within human consciousness as a makeshift but also as an aspiration. This must be so, “…otherwise it would be inconceivable that tomorrow this soul calls exactly the opposite particular into the same psychic life.” (Simmel 2011:96 [1918]). Just as both the saint and the murderer sleep – perhaps their dreams do regularly differ? – I as a singular Dasein perform well or badly, harbor bitterness or happiness, regret or contentment, look to a future unlimited or dwell in reminiscence. What remains is not merely the remanant of all of the other unsaid or undone words and deeds that make up each life, but rather a thought-through existence which, from our phenomenological standpoint, is the same thing as essence.

            This ‘psychic unity’, however suppressed or conflicted, is challenged not along lines stemming from social role but rather along its stifling stenochoria, its narrow boundedness that has the effect of making it either less than it is or less than it could be. The most dangerous myth may indeed be the last one, the one of final, fatal ends, the one of the apocalypse. No noble god would frame a human end and call it its own, and one would hope that no higher being would welcome a human engineered mass suicide. There is merit to the stratigraphy of myth, even if we should not apply it to ourselves. ‘Higher’ really does confer responsibility upon the being deemed to be such. Whether or not we humans can aspire to such reaches is perhaps another matter. But in one sense, we have already attained this space, and that through the sense that the ‘psychic life’, the life of the human psyche, lives within us but is also greater than us. And we are aware of this larger sensibility even in the quotidian: “We do not see flesh and infer a human being inside it; we confront a psyche in seeing a man. The Other lives and is recognized at the focus of his glance, in the space he warms, and in the void his language fills. In this bodily presence the sociality of man achieves its primordial expression.” (Natanson, op. cit:109). Indeed, it is as well a primordial expression of our own humanity in recognizing the Other in this way. Not Otherness, of course, for it is the uncanny obverse to the neighbor figure, which is likely why some older authors have interpreted it as possibly evil if not in origin, at least in intent. But the Other, or others, or one another, this intersubjectivity is only possible because she recognizes me in the same manner. The ‘looking glass self’ has this other level to it: it is a mirrored selfhood, back-dropped by the tain of personhood and framed by culture. In this image, the unframed personhood cannot be said to be a person at all.

            This said, such a mutual recognizance embraces not the other per se, but the human relation writ into a microcosm of solidarity. Often passing, especially in large-scale anonymous societies shot through with the aptly labeled ‘loosely coupled networks’ and such things, and oft taken for granted in a way more extreme than is implied by the ‘natural attitude’, the ‘world-taken-for-granted’, is nevertheless a constant and consistent reminder of our own humanity. We only remain human with regard to the others, and these whether living or dead, and thus they may be said to be fully present in their immanence in the same way as a phenomenological a priori is claimed to be. More so, they too are objects in the phenomenological sense. If our subjectivity, however radical, however ‘glancing’, and however singular, makes an object out of what is at first a comprehending ‘ray’ purely subjective, then it suggests that otherness, though an abstraction, is a fundamental object of resistance at the macrocosmic level. Even so, this does not directly address the question: “The problematic of knowledge may be expressed thus: how can something be an object for a subject? In an idealistic context, the question is: what is that in the subject which renders possible the appearing of an object for him?” (Ricoeur, op. cit:156). It is sometimes glossed over that we too are objects, and that, first and foremost for others. This then is another, related, question: Why is consciousness so predominant that it brackets the objectitude of Dasein instantaneously? How is it that our object status in the wider world of forms of being – alongside the world of modes of being; action, intent, care, looking-ahead, and so on – can only be recognized through the back doors, as it were, of objection and objectivity? The former resides in our resistance to not only social norms but also to the presence of others. The latter rests in the aspiration that we can apprehend the truth of things through our being-there. If “…knowledge as such cannot even be grasped if we do not from the outset see the specific context of being in which knowing as such as possible.” (Heidegger 1992:165 [1925]), then this ‘inversion of its being’ that Heidegger immediately discusses cannot access more than an epistemological know-how regarding Being or Other or World. Next, the term ‘contextures’ appears, implying that Dasein’s worldly location is to be also thought of as textured in specific ways native to this or that context. This is ‘in-being’, kindred with the interiority of phenomenology, though such a term expresses the objective status of what for us must remain intimately subjective, though not essential. Since Dasein is a priori not an entity, the ontological ‘decipherment’ to which it is subject is clearly not the same kind of ontology as is to be found in metaphysics as we have known it (cf. ibid.). Here, an ancient rubric is given a new ‘contexture’, the ‘diminishing of the difference between logos and experience’ (cf. Koselleck 1985:172 [1969]). Both the inner life of reason and the worldly life of social forms and formations were guided by the same singular law. This idea resonates in both modern science and in science fiction alike, wherein consciousness and cosmos are somehow to be related, either through an anthropic principle or through evolution itself. But phenomenology excavates this structure more radically. It could only do so, perhaps ironically, by virtue of the just as radical break modern science undertook to make with the previous metaphysics: “It is this cultural event of the birth of experimental science which brought about the destruction of the philosophico-theological synthesis of the true, or at least made its dissolution visible, for [ ] this synthesis never existed but as an intention or a pretension.” (Ricoeur, op. cit:167). By the mid-17th century, the distinction between veracity and veridicity was also given a new sensibility. The first became something that had an eminent plausibility about it, an eye-witness kind of accounting, or self-accounting, but still very unlike say, a traveller’s tale or, with fitting irony, a ‘likely story’. The second was subject to a much more stringent definition, one that partook from that point on only in the context of the experiment. Indeed, to this day, experimental control attempts to remove context, let alone contexture, from the to-be-recorded. The idea of witness also drops away, rather precipitously, when we move from veracity to veridicity. Not only does it retain something of its visionary or religious baggage, the witness is yet called forth in the sphere of justice and the courts as if this person was also a kind of judge, or at least, his presence is to aid the construction of a final judgement. It is almost as if the witness is a premonition of the just, though after the fact. The witness is, in this sense, the ethico-subjective converse to the neighbor.

            For the scientific researcher, however, recording is objectively different from bearing witness. One, it is most often the case today that non-human ‘observers’ are doing the recording. The scientific sensate is as technical as are the questions it asks of the world. When asking the same order of questions of itself, science must at first pause. Diagnostics performed by or on machinery or technology, or the laboratory rubrics and processes, distillations of theoretical models aside, have limited scope and agenda. Are the machines functioning correctly? In the end, how would we know if they were or were not, if the question confronted by the research is indeed a new one? We project our sensibility into the machine and hope for the best. We hope, in a word, for enough veracity to preclude doubts about veridicity: “Only ‘in the light’ of a Nature which has been projected in this fashion can anything like a ‘fact’ be found and set up for an experiment regulated and delimited in terms of this projection.” (Heidegger 1962:4141 [1927]). There are no ‘bare facts’, he concludes, and even within the purely mathematical ‘disclosure’ of nature, the key idea is the a priori itself, discovered by the ‘prior projection of their state of being’ (ibid). This is crucial, for such a sensibility immanentially tells us that science even as practiced is part of phenomenology, rather than other way round or that they are somehow entirely divorced from one another. Can Being ‘itself’ be subject to the same kind of projection?

            This seems a long way from both mechanism and behaviorism, the two fundamental concepts animating the science of non-sentient nature and that of animal nature respectively. The singularity of the contemporary idea of will, however conscious or no, has granted us enormous subjective freedoms, including the ability to think more and more critically about our own condition, if we so choose. Even so, “The brilliance of the modern view is that human behavior is thus subject to mechanistic explanation because rational analysis can be made of the organization of means to achieve goals, and the goals themselves are set by vectors of inertial forces.” (Neville, in Cook 1993:150). We should at once remind ourselves that rationality is not rationalization nor is it to provide rationales for something, nor to merely construct ratios. Canguilhem notes that the measure of quantity does not annul quality but rather merely denies it (cf. 1991:110 [1966]) as well as that ‘scientific knowledge invalidates qualities’. Here too is a new term: validity. Resting uneasily between veracity and veridicity, and connoting a probabilistic version of them both at once, validity is often said to have at least seven statistical forms, including aspects which denote ‘face value’ and interpretive validity. But it is conceptual validity that is the aim, and to attain this, quality itself must be sacrificed. One cannot have a concept that carries any predictive or predicative power based on a single case alone. Just so, the singularity of the person in modernity guarantees her nothing in regard to any of the knowledge of modernity. How I ‘fit into’ the world as we now know it or have come to known it through science and its applications such as medicine and engineering is perhaps more of a mystery than ever before. Previous worlds worlded differently enough, and though with a great vanity hooked into that of the concept of the mascot and then general human interest godhead, human beings understood their relationship to those worlds more comprehensively than do we today. This is so because we at first do not understand the questioner herself: “World in its most proper sense is just that which is already on hand for any questioning. The questions persists only on the basis of a constant misunderstanding of the mode of being of the one who raises this question.” (Heidegger 1992:215 [1925]). Our being is both ‘constitutive’ of the world but at once is thrown into a world which has nothing to do with its constituting force. The world is ‘already discovered’ in constituting being and is thus thought of as an ‘entity’. The resistance one encounters in the world of forms and all the more so, that of norms, should be enough to convince us of the veracity of this world. It is less amorphous than we imagine, just as we ourselves are more so. Of late, of course, the world in its most natural form, its predetermined and already discoverable form, has felt the resistance of human presence, to its detriment. Even so, we are destroying our own world, and not the world in its most base sense. It may be possible in the future to do both, to leave this beautifully marbled blue ball in lifeless pieces kindred to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where another planet likely once existed before being torn apart by conflicting gravitational forces during some primordial epoch. But surely this is not only not a noble mission for Dasein it is also one that asserts quantity over quality. Heidegger notes informally how important Simmel’s 1918 work was to his own formulations of the next decade, including this sense of unity held within the thrownness of Dasein ‘into’ the world. Simmel’s own view “…sees the form of its unity immediately in the fact that it expresses itself in changing contents or, more correctly, that it consists in their being lived and done.” (op. cit:153). Each act holds the entirety of life responsible for it and likewise, and these contents are experienced as a continuity. Each act ‘works back upon the ground’ which cannot be given any further definition, such as that of either essence or transcendence. Simmel speaks with emphasis about the obligatory quality of each act, that our life becomes defined by our continuous action but also, and more tellingly, that each act, in its singularity, tells of the whole (ibid). This is first and foremost an ethics, but it is also an existentialism that verges upon phenomenology in the Heideggerean sense. This is different than its psychological offspring or cousins in terms of its understanding of rationality and typification. It is not ‘affective’, to use Minkowski’s description. The psychic unity of Dasein is, as we have seen, not part of something other than itself within the arc of its project. Modern knowledge, which is almost entirely epistemological in character, does not apprehend the psyche and can only reduce it to measurable components. But in doing so, the deeper question has to do with our motives, to render ourselves in this pixelated manner. Perhaps we are weary of psychology as it once was, and thus also wary of its return. But archaeological analytics of the self are still used to ironically reduce the existential continuity of life-acts to some prior trauma, performance, theater, or relationship. Bleuler’s original understanding of autism – it was he who also coined the term – is a prime example of this problem that has recently received a second childhood, as it were. Autism is synonymous with ‘interiorization’, the schizophrenic is merely a ‘wakeful dreamer’, and so on. But “This psychology, though born of a reaction against rationalism, has by no means rid itself of it. In replacing the rational with the affective, it subordinates (as rationalism did), the psychic life to one of its functions and thus remains faithful to the principle of cutting-out and breaking-up, which is so dear to discursive thought.” (Minkowski 1970:280 [1933]). Minkowski asks us whether or not the interior life could play such an essential role for the schizophrenic, especially given that most, if not all, of his delusions are drawn from popular culture, that is, the social world at large and not from some inner and private sanctum of the distorted imagination. ‘Empty talk’, is how Minkowski refers to what in earlier periods might have simply been put down to the Victorian ‘ravings’ of the ‘lunatic’ mind. There is a surfeit of theater in both daily life and the life that shuns it. Insanity per se, is at base a turning away from the norms; one is a ‘moron’, according to the Greeks, and indeed, if the fates still exist for some of us, to turn away from these as well makes one the fabled if astonishingly reckless ‘hyper-moron’.

            This ‘folding-back’ upon oneself that is the core of the first definition of autism, is nonetheless not the rule for schizophrenics in general. This selfhood has been distended, broken apart, and not by discourse but rather by the self! These public actions take place in the external world of fellow-humans and it is as if the Dasein has distorted itself not to fit some mysterious ‘inner’ life but to make the world into a dime novel in which they alone are the principle. It is, in a sense, a contemporary rendering of an anonymous world into the language of personal myth. Personal, yes, but not private, because, like any genius – the one who goes beyond her time, perhaps equally recklessly as does the schizophrenic who uses that same time to make a self-styled heroine of herself – the person ‘with autism’ craves disciples and attention. And yet, this is a challenge that all of us today must face: how to place oneself in the world as it is, as we noted above: “Modern man, however, must build his own personal world, after making himself lord and master of his own life and death; and the external world, ruled by material, economic, and technical powers, can no longer offer him a foothold.” (Binswanger 1962:235). We realize that it is not so much general myth that the schizophrenic or related person seeks to reinvent but rather mere theater, a theater which is intensely social without being responsible in any way to the world of sociality. It is, in a word, asocial theater, a presentation of self shorn of obligation and mutual aid, a story all too likely in the midst of the self-adoration of capital and the self-aggrandizement of individualism. The ‘lunatic’ today is thus merely an overheated version of ourselves.

            If the world as lensed only through such humanity is but a titanic ship of fools, there is yet a resistance associated with the objectivity or, to use Arendt’s term, the ’durability’ of the world: “From this viewpoint, the things of the world have the function of stabilizing human life…” and through these human beings can achieve a kind of sameness. This is not directly contrary to the Heraclitan chestnut about the ever-changing stream, and it was not so even in his own time. But what it does signal to us is that our subjectivity has nevertheless constructed something over against itself, and this quite apart from the “…sublime indifference of an untouched nature…” (op. cit:137). Even the problem of mortality can be solved, if not entirely resolved, along these lines. The world worlds on, but the social world also continues. History does not end, nor does it begin again. This is the sacrifice the modern person must render if his world is to continue at all. Once again, only in myth does time stop and the adunatic advent of an uncannily new adventure appear. We face the resonance of this apical ancestor of our conception of measured time but we must not mistake it for that precise primordiality. Our incomplete understanding of both ourselves and of history – and this quite objectively in both cases, between archaeology and the history of consciousness as lived – forces us to make a decision based upon what we can know at the time, which is a very different thing from saying that time stops for us in order that we make such a decision, whatever it may be: “…man, in order to be able to interact efficiently with other human beings, must, at intervals, make a total orientation out of a given stage of partial knowledge.” (Erikson, 1960:78 [1956], italics the text’s). Given that almost all of our decisions at the personal level have to do with this kind of intersubjective action, our understanding of ourselves – recall this is not yet the same thing as a phenomenological Selbstverstandnis – is both partial, in that it is incomplete, but also partial in that it is biased. I am partial to myself. If the spontaneity of the neighbor – another reckless figure who acts away from himself without a ‘because motive’ – can overcome this self-interest momentarily, it does so by way of an irruptive insertion of the mythic into sociality, the epic into history. Such an event is rare enough and does not constitute an adunatic force in any cosmogonical sense. Time does not stop and restart itself anew due to the acts of one heroic individual who seeks nothing other than to save the other. But in that moment, time has no meaning for either party, nor does partiality or incompleteness. The act is everything and it consumes us precisely because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the interior life of the individual, distorted, navel-gazing, irresponsible, and unresponsive as that life is.

            Thought has sought this freedom in both directions, as it were. On the one hand, the thinker posits himself as the considered and considerate neighbor of all. But on the other, he also turns away from the world and not only in order to interpret it. The world becomes for him a mere receptacle of his thought, which is the gift of both myth and epic combined. It is true that to free ourselves from praxis we must nurture “…the intellectual freedom that does not obey the dictates of specialized knowledge. At the same time, by abstaining from all definite content, whether as a formal logic and theory of science or as the legend of being beyond all beings, philosophy declared its bankruptcy regarding concrete social goals.” (Adorno 1991:6 [1964]). The authentic neighbor exists through and by her act alone, and not by any consideration that may come afterward. This act is to-be-shared as its mode of being, but it is not shared in the usual sense of intersubjectivity. It is a gift but without presentation or ritual. Its gift reaches back into a communal hearth of shared consciousness that is the stuff of the mythic life. Is there something within our long-evolving mind that could be said to remember such a reality, or is it merely and ethics of aspiration and hope, one that ‘saves’ us for another day?

            Either way, consciousness must at once shake off technique for its own sake and yet confront both the tradition and immerse itself in the world-as-it-is. The act of consciousness, thought ‘itself’, can only become an ‘event’ in this way. Generally, once again perhaps since Plato, thought has often failed to accomplish either of these joint tasks: “I’m not saying that thought, constituted as such, is unacquainted with that which it calls ‘inhuman’, or foul or shady, but it cannot really integrate it; it knows it from above, through condescension, from the outside: all that is strictly a subordinate object for it, which it considers arbitrarily, without recognizing its own involvement, in the way medicine regards the diseases.” (Bataille 1991:22 [1976], italics the text’s). The ‘spirit’ of consciousness is often lost to its letter. But thought is not law, and indeed, it is the very thing that keeps the legal order from becoming the natural one. That alone is worth the price of having to think as a selfhood and think the being-of self into being. In the end, we are only demeaning ourselves if we heed only the letter of thought, its technical virtuosity and its endless feats of linguistics and logic. Necessary as is the day’s repast, nevertheless, the letter of thought is something that, akin to the tradition that it gradually accumulates for itself, must be overcome. In our own time, this tradition is not religious in character or stature, but rather positively scientific and even technological. Science is perhaps the most objective tool humanity has yet constructed, but it too has a spirit that reminds us that it is the direct descendent of religious thought, despite its overthrow of religion as an explanatory framework: “The function of the concept of science has become inverted. The often invoked methodological neatness, universal confirmation of the consensus of the competent scholars, the verifiability of all assertions, even the logical rigor of the lines of reasoning, is not spirit: the criterion of watertight validity always also works against spirit.” (Adorno, op. cit:38). To remind ourselves that technique, let only its objectifying marque, technology, is only a means to an end becomes more difficult in a world so engrossed with the manipulative power of the machine, its res extensa, its aluminum angel. Upon these wings we can ride, bodily, into the void, but kindred to the denial of rationality to be found in affectivity, the denial of spirituality which is also a rational aspect of human consciousness – self-understanding consciousness cannot but run up against the problem of that self-same consciousness; how is it possible that a thinking being exists in an unthinking universe? – can only in time deny our very existence.

           This is the first section of my new book ‘The Penumbra of Personhood: anti-humanism reconsidered’ due out later this year.

The New Mythology is Demythology

The New Mythology is Demythology

     “Life as a whole appears as a fragment insofar as each particular piece of it is naturally only a splinter relative to its form as perfected in autonomous creativity. From this comes the further fact that we can speak of defective art in two entirely different senses. There is defective art, insofar as the work is indeed entirely formed for the sake of the artistic invention and remains within the strict bounds of autocratic artistic forms  – but does not satisfy that immanent demands of art, and is uninteresting, banal, and powerless. And there is defective art, when the work, though perhaps not showing the latter impairments, does not yet fully free its artistic forms from their existence as means to their existence as values in themselves has not yet taken place in absolute measure. This is the case where a tendential, anecdotal, sensually excitative interest resonates as one somehow decisive in the presentation. Here the work may be of great psychic and cultural significance, since for this it need not be bound to the conceptual purity of a particular category. However as art it remains imperfect as long as its formative elements still display something of that significance with which they fit in with the currents of life – however deeply and comprehensively they may have assimilated these currents.” (Simmel 2011:48 [1918] italics the text’s).

            Kristen-Seraphim is defective art. That is, the second of Simmel’s categories. It is so because it does not, and cannot, stand alone as a work of art or as an aesthetic object. Nor was this ever my intent. On the one hand, the conceptual impurity of the work – falling as it does across the fantasy, science fiction, adventure, quest saga, thriller and even romance genres – was only what was necessary, not for the sake of literature, certainly, but for the sake of what Simmel refers to as ‘psychic and cultural significance’, however great or nominal. And second, my sense has always been that adventure fiction can never be art. By definition, because even the idea of adventure itself is bound to content and does not elevate its form beyond itself. Long before I ever sought to become a writer I knew this given my own youthful reading, Enid Blyton, John Buchan, Robert Louis Stevenson, Conan-Doyle, C.S. Forester, Jean le Carré, Arthur Clarke, H.G. Wells, Kurt Vonnegut and others. Excellent writers all, but not artists. Then again, matriculating a little later later to Balzac, Dickens, Lawrence, Twain, Stendhal, Cervantes and de Sade et al, I didn’t really understand why these guys were somehow better than their middle-brow cousins.

            I do now. After having completed a work which ran through five thousand pages, none of them literary – there may have been a few good paragraphs here and there – it is precisely Simmel’s distinction that may be applied. If the agency in one’s work is to address the world, then once again by definition it cannot be art. Yet the older and seemingly very dated wisdom ‘art for art’s sake’ is not quite what Simmel is getting at: “Art is our thanks to the world and to life. After both have fashioned the sensory and spiritual forms of our comprehension, we thank them for it as we create a world and a life with their help.” (ibid:164 [1920]). This realization helps immensely with the at first puzzling issue that is contained in great literary works as the discourse defines them. For they too, including all of the authors mentioned in my second list above, sought to address, redress, expose, explain or even resolve worldly problems and contents. Dickens, for example, is famous for it, but so is Lawrence. And when I had the privilege as an illiterate human scientist to teach Cervantes, Shakespeare, De Sade and others in a Great Books Canon program in the USA, I haltingly gained the understanding that while at once did the work hail squarely from within its historical epoch it also overleapt the ‘bounds’ of its respective period, and in so doing, enacted the incipience of what was to come. No more so than Cervantes, whose ‘errant’ hero invented the picaresque, a genre type that lives on today in popular culture protagonists such as Don Draper of Madmen. It would be a stretch, for example, to call Oedipus ‘picaresque’.

            It’s stock to have stand-up characters juxtaposed with dubious ones, a greying of the simpler design of hero and villain. Even the most ruthless of the heroines of Kristen-Seraphim, Seraphim herself, is in love with more than one other person, balancing out her narcissistic love for herself. More current is the idea of having standpoints; asking the question, ‘who is standing for what, where and when and why?’, and so on. Can this character be relied upon in this situation, under these conditions, in the company of these others versus those? The answer must be given situationally, and in this the work is a refraction of the world at large. In adventure fiction, the heroes are inevitably larger than life, as they exist in their own world, the one we have created with the help of the factical life of the world as it is, as Simmel stated. But this alone does not make them party to the aesthetic object. Their fictional lives, in other words, are no closer to art than are our own.

            Critics speak of the ‘identification factor’, suggesting that a good read allows a reader to identify with the hero or someone important within the narrative, at least some of the time. The response to this for those like myself who do not and likely cannot write literary art is to have many characters, some forty plus in Kristen-Seraphim, so that one can cover the bases regarding the widest plausible readership. Even so, the principals in any narrative must be polymythic enough to appeal to anyone who has lived just enough to understand that, as Goethe noted, ‘the devil is quite old’. Another formulaic trick is to extend the narrative over a goodly portion of the life course in order to chart the career of the characters through different phases of their own created existence. In this, the work takes on a life of its own, but it still does not approach art. But unlike in Gogol or Faulkner, for instance, we do not need to repeat indefinitely generational conflicts and lineage bigotries, cultural customs and the unending circuit of the peasant. Could it be that what once was art descends, given historical prejudice, into mere story, mere image, mere content, ‘mere’ history? The general argument runs that ‘once art always art’ but this is clearly not necessarily so, given the discursive careers of figures such as Vermeer and much of contemporary art from the impressionists onwards. And though it is no doubt correct to levy against philosophy and related work that it so seldom ascends the other way, becomes art in itself, one must resist the inevitable resentment that, as a social philosopher myself, for instance, one feels against the defining character of great art. But if the novelist has the daunting task of facing up to Middlemarch or Don Quixote, then writers like myself have the equally intense gaze of Thus Spake Zarathustra or Being and Time eyeing us and finding us more than wanting.

            What can one do in the face of such works, the work itself, world, life, and an understanding that art is once from the world and yet overcomes that very world to herald the new and to grasp the as-yet-unknowable, just as science is charged with doing the same to the as-yet-unknown? Simmel again:

     “…that one seeks to give his own life a value such that this value may be something subjective, without any real or ideal connection back to the Ego. This is the practical application of the purely spiritual fact that man can make himself into his own object. When we first regard ourselves objectively, we reach the bridge by which to extinguish the Ego altogether and to exist only for the object. The highest intensification of this is creativity. Here, the Ego has not only repressed and forgotten itself in order to exist in and live from the object, but it is metamorphosed into an object. Its powers have themselves become the object – it is now no longer Ego and yet has left nothing of itself behind. In creative achievement, spiritual objectivity has overcome its opposition to the subject – it has absorbed the subject into itself.” (ibid:172-3).

            The idea of a ‘legacy’ is the lesser part of this process. Minkowski (1933) has reminded us that to dwell within the ambit of the creative work, once concluded, is to kill both it and ourselves. One cuts off the future and with it the next world, the one that must come, for the old world now contains that which was once new to itself. ‘Moving on’ is the casual if not causal casualty of loss. Indeed, there must be art ‘out there’ that has as yet gone unrecognized, originating in any time period, coming from any culture. New worlds, in other words, are already extant even if their existence in the old world is as yet part of the radically unknowable. So one cannot truly refer to this or that work as ‘radical’ as well as being ’defective’ as art. Such works that address the world and have the fate of the world as their chief content are rather revolutionary, and not radical. The revolution in Kristen-Seraphim consists of the new mythology being in fact a demythology, which in itself can be radical only in the worldly sense. Not only do we find that the definition of fantasy departs from utility into principal – until now ‘fantasy’ has described means and not ends, for instance (the modus operandi of such adventure fiction never attains its own metaphysics, let alone threatens it; phantasmagorical means and characters alike are there merely to either defend or attack the good-evil spectrum) – and thus the ontotheology of the fantasy genre, from Lewis to Pullman, is overcome, we also find that the social order defended therein is itself dismantled. If metaphysics require of us radicality, then it is the lesser, revolutionary mode that is needed in the face of cultural institutions. Ideas cannot be killed in the same way. Demythology is the halfway house of revolution. Kristen-Seraphim brings home a new world and makes one at home within it, but it cannot claim to have utterly understood ‘nature’ or to have overleapt it. What it has accomplished is to have understood – and vanquished – the nature of morality as one literary genre has supplied it.

            The heroines and heroes of the new mythology are hardly upstanding in the usual sense. Their nobility is restive, their rest unquiet, their deaths equivocal and their resurrections awkward. They eventually triumph, but what is the true nature of their collective victory? “Who claims to recognize surely where the truth of my nature lies?” Simmel asks us. “Perhaps it becomes visible only in one single hour of my existence.” He is here speaking against the usual differences that are connoted by good and evil, and as Nietzsche before him, senses that our new world, and thus our new myths, must leave them behind: “This whole distinction is most problematic. The person is at one time thus and another otherwise, and only optimism or pessimism about our own value moves us to conclude merely from the more frequent appearance of a specific quality that one resides in principal in a different characterological or metaphysical layer than the other. That this possibility of life, to be really entirely good or really entirely bad, exists; that we are not inwardly divided into layers of different ethical-metaphysical depths of being so that one act falls unalterably into the fundamental, the other into the superficial – this is human freedom.” (ibid:132-133 [1918], italics mine).

            The new demythology is dedicated to human freedom in all of its uncertainty and aspiration, its doubts and its hopes. In book seven, the second Kristen reflects: “For life was not meant to be lived as such. Life not only wasn’t art, as many an artist himself had discovered over time, it also wasn’t meant to continuously be larger than itself, as many a politician and the like had discovered. No, life was meant only to be lived, but in that word ‘only’ lay the secret of the good life. ‘The demands of the day’, she quoted again.” Simmel interprets this proverb of Goethe’s to mean much more than whatever the material day brings to us. It ‘proceeds from the deepest inner life’  which tells us of the next step, and then the next, without revealing what is to come before this point (ibid:109). It is the ‘life of the Ought’, and in this all of us live like heroes. For the Ought is larger than our own life and directs if not our actions per se, then the obligatory nature of the meaning we understand from taking them. Early on in book six we find the same character given pause by her community’s potential complacencies: “The heroes themselves turn into those they destroyed because of their self-centered adoration of the unthought freedom of the present.” Like ourselves, the fictional characters are not always prepared to meet the demands of the day, either on the surface of the world or in the depths of being. Their own beings. Even so, one of the hallmarks of heroism is that when the bell is rung, they do respond because they know, if not the full meaning of their actions to come, horrifying as some of them turn out to be, where meaningfulness must be found in life. In book seven the first Michelle intones: “I can tell you this: we are here in Paris by happenstance, mimicking the great chain of non-being that has brought every one of us to live a human life. Deny that, in any way, shape, or form, and you are denying the basis of life itself, the essence of all life.” Just so, our birthright and our demise is of the moment, a demand of this day like any other. We neither ask to be born nor ask to die, Gadamer reminds us, and it is this combination, to which philosophers refer as being part of the essence of human finitude, that impels the heroic figure to impale herself upon the day, so that what is at hand can be taken into one’s human hands and given both form and meaning.

            If not, if we do not act heroically in spite of the fact that life can never be by itself either art or myth, we are left with musings alone, realizations that limit not only action but living as well. Life remains merely a dream, and as we read in book eight: “Not many people yet realized that the self who dreams is not the same self who then wakes and lives out the day, day after day. And in such dreams from which we do awaken – and indeed, there are those additional to the unconscious from which we never again emerge – what, perchance, remains of the days within which all dreams come to grief?” The heroes are, of course, about to find out, but what certifies their heroism is that they bear up the fear associated with ‘being the new’. This is also what takes them ‘beyond good and evil’ and into the truer, if still human, nature of freedom itself.

G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty-five books in ethics, religion, education, and aesthetics. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades in both the USA and Canada.

Learning how to be Properly Anxious

Learning How to be Properly Anxious

Anxiety proper is part of our core being, just as is care, resoluteness, and the ‘being-ahead’ which orients us to the future and our own singular finitude. It must be separated from anxieties, plural, which have to do with the concerns of the day. It is an alert mechanism, can initiate the call of conscience, and mediates between the unconscious surreal language of dreams and the like and our conscious self-understanding. It is the personal ‘effectiveness’ of historical consciousness insofar as it can be relied upon to make us more aware of our present situation.

Just as an existential analysis prefers the present in understanding the state of being, the consciousness of ‘Dasein’ – being-there or being-in-the-world –  and its possible entanglements, so does any phenomenology of the altered perceptions anxieties, remorsefulness, and nostalgia brings about within Dasein. But what is the present, after all? It cannot be summed explicitly, for any attempt to do so, somewhat proverbially, takes us into the realm of reflection upon something that has already occurred. Danto suggests that we live in a ‘posthistorical’ period because we no longer possess a ‘narrative of the present’ (cf. 1993:138), but I think also in part this sensibility subsists because of a sensitivity we maintain regarding the ‘just before’ or the beforehand. Such a sensitivity is also ironically present and maintains its presence in part because of the prevalence of both anxieties and nostalgias in our social world. Not enough remorse, to be sure, but otherwise a fair display of remorsefulness, for the benefit of others and the looking-glass selfhood. If anxieties are distractions, they at least have the merit of drawing our attention to an ad hoc concernfulness which might lead to the more authentic variety. But nostalgia is just plain ugly. Even so, just as there may be no beauty to be discovered either by science or philosophy, (cf. Heidegger 1992:152 [1925]), we cannot simply rest with such a casual judgment upon what appears as its opposite. And if the social world is often ugly, the world itself is not. Nor is it, as the supposedly heroic thinker or scientist  might imagine, ‘apathetic’ (cf. Binswanger 1963:171). Though Lucas speaks here of the lost moments of ‘personalist idealism’, including most famously that of Lotze, it is in principle better to have one’s thought ‘examined and refuted’ rather than simply fading away to be mentioned only in arcane and advanced histories of one’s respective vocation (cf. 1993:112). This kind of apathy we can ill afford. Better to restate and defend the idea that “…all modes of human existence and experience believe they are apprehending, something of the reality of being, in the sense of truth, and do so, indeed, in accordance with their own proper ‘forms of reason’, which are not replaceable by or translatable into other forms.” (Binswanger, loc. cit:173, italics the text’s). Binswanger is lauded by Fromm-Reichmann, who states that the former applauds the ‘constructive aspect of anxiety’, and the ‘tension aroused’ in a person who is determined therefore and thereby to ‘face the task set by the universe’, the universal task and the ‘action’ that is called forth by it (1960:139 [1955]). This is itself resoluteness guided by care. It is not only authentic to the Dasein it is how Dasein must needs ‘apprehend’ the world. One must beware the ‘temporalization of counterconcepts’ so that one does not ‘abolish’ otherness (cf. Koselleck 1985:165 [1969]), and phenomenology is not immune to such ‘temporal loading’ in its exploration of the reciprocity of perspectives. It may also be the case that entropy itself, seemingly non-reciprocating and ‘one-way’ is neither isolated or of course, ‘perpetual’ (cf. Horwich 1988:65). Nostalgia attempts to arrest entropy inasmuch as it desires to do the same for history. Remorse does so in a more ’subjective’ manner, whilst everyday anxiety disregards the temporality of the act and thus hamstrings our own ability to both react and to take the kind of action resolute being must engage in.

But all of this is given the lie by an examination of our shared condition and the experience thereof and therein. Part of our existence is ‘strange’, is even strangeness itself, since we are the sole creature known to have lost our ‘nature’, in both the sense that we are no longer apart of the wider natural realm as well as seemingly having departed from any sense that we can come home to ourselves in a manner bereft of culture or cultures. As Puech suggests, the presence of this sense of Ungeheuer tells us that we have not always been what we are at present (cf. 1957:73 [1951]). But what is revealed by this disconnect is our ability to ‘have conscience’, to ‘choose the presupposition of being of itself’, or more simply, ‘choose itself’ (cf. Heidegger, loc. cit:319). Running along towards death, this ‘forerunning’ is in fact “…the choice of willing to have conscience.” (ibid). This is a momentous discovery. Not only does it allow human reason to engage in itself, it contravenes and stands against all forms of entanglement and regression. Its ‘care’ does not stand for it, and thus it becomes resolute. It may not be “…the final trace of the ontological proof of God…” (Adorno, op. cit:133), but it most certainly is the core of being human as well as the ethical essence of becoming humane. The call of conscience is a reveille that enacts Anxiety proper. We do not at once care, but we can do so given the Aufklärung that is at once an enlightenment. Just as all great art begins in scandal, so “The law of scandal answers the law of the ‘false consciousness’.” (Ricoeur, op. cit:281). The scandal of art, of thought, even its evil, according to convention at least, must be present as a manifestation of Anxiety proper and as a bulwark, chiding, mocking, satiring, but most of all, critiquing, anything that would backslide into a regressed state; nostalgia, remorsefulness or regretfulness, and the decoy of anxieties. It too does not rest with a pedigree that culminates in an origin myth. Archaeology exposes what is left of the truth of things, both psychoanalytically if taken within the fullest light of the recent, as well as more literally; the history of humanity as buried but still grounded nonetheless. These spaces, subterranean and occlusive, are indeed what contemporary art, in all of its scandal, represents: “If modern art is characterized by the disintegration of external reality and an activation of the transpersonal psychic world, it becomes understandable that the artist should feel a compulsion to depict the powers in their own realm…” (Neumann 1957:31 [1950]). This is a kind of externalized ‘disposition’, a finding of Dasein in its own being and in its ‘own there’ (cf. Heidegger, loc. cit:255). The psychic realm is often unobservable in any direct fashion. Aside from jokes and linguistic ‘slips’, dreams known only to the sleeper, and other faux pas, art is the most potent expression of a shared subjectivity which has overcome the bonds of an also shared subjection. In literature, the new mythos evolves in a similar manner: “Once the hero is no longer an innocent child, but a young adult fighting for values not yet socially accepted, the plot can finally dispense of its fairy-tale-judicial framework.” (Moretti 1987:215). Such values can of course ‘become nonsense and even outrage’, “…but it also forces us to seek a new meaning, to revive our scale of values.” (Dardel 1960:587 [1958]). This is, by definition, the necessary counterpunch to any form of regression: “…that the experience of loss of self and loss of the sense of subject-object relations is a loss of a certain kind of anxiety generated self-consciousness; it is a creative rather than a regressive movement.” (Fingarette 1960:576 [1958]). This is obviously more than the acceptance and even slight fatalism suggested by Shaw’s famous quip regarding ‘making the family skeletons dance’ (cf. Erikson, op. cit:41). In fact “It is not an anxious interrogation on our discouraging historicity, on our way of living and sliding along in time, but rather a reply to this ‘historical’ condition – a reply through the choice of history…” (Ricoeur, op. cit:25).

The outcome of this ‘choice’ is crucial, for we can choose an end due to the wrong means, or one can reverse the two of them, or yet engage in tasks that make them seem co-extant or even identical. Unethical means are said to ethically affect the end, as well as perhaps more logistically, effect it. But unethical ends that look like means are surely the more dangerous: “One wants to break free of the past: rightly, because nothing at all can live in its shadow, and because there will be no end to the terror as long as guilt and violence are repaid with guilt and violence; wrongly, because the past that one would like to evade is still very much alive.” (Adorno 1998:89 [1963]). So the hero, the being who is still young but may be socially considered an adult even so, must not only root out what is hidden in her inherited world, but must hide herself within that world as if it were both cloak and cape at once. The ‘when and how’ of means and ends within this quest may not even be visionary or epic, allegorical or mythic, or all of these at once. They may exact their truth of both departure and terminus in the smallest moments of self-realization, of a Dasein which cares with each step of its being. There will always be resistance, but most heroic quests do not involve the ‘Worldcraft’ of a total transfiguration. And if it is in the very ‘nature of crises’ to go unresolved, at least for an indeterminate amount of time, what cannot be predicted as a future outcome knows still that such a crisis will itself end, one way or another. (cf. Koselleck 1988:127 [1959]). And we also know that “In the form of memory and hope, for example, past and future consist in the fact that something other than natural change takes place in the now, namely, reflection.” (Lampert 2012:87). And finally, as Wood reminds us, though judgments may emanate out of both recollection and retrospection, the ‘horizon they celebrate is that of the future’ (1989:89). We have in fact overcome something, mostly ourselves, no doubt, but also a piece of the world of action and the world that has engaged us to ourselves engage in inertia-defying action. Our heroine may make a fool of herself during her quest, and this is indeed inevitable, but its necessity rests as well upon the perception of the others to whom she must communicate the new tables of value: “The spontaneous, unreflecting attitude of the young fool enables him to maintain himself in the heart (center) of time.” (Wilhelm 1957:222 [1950]). Certainly, one must ‘accept one’s life’ in order to exercise a ‘genuine freedom in the present’ (cf. Shabad, op. cit:124), but equally so, the ‘anxiety about remaining normal’ must be overcome, overleapt, even transcended (cf. Canguilhem, op. cit:286). Indeed, “The menace of disease is one of the components of health.” (ibid:287). For a society, the menace of insurrection, subversion, scandal and yes, even evil, are necessary features that youth, especially, bring to the historicity and facticity alike of both being and world. The ‘sociality’ of this mediative limen, that which must be crossed – in the sense of ‘no crossing at this point’ versus the heroine’s ‘don’t tread on me’ – is a fulfillment on the order of the momentous forerunning.

Dasein, before its own completion, has itself completed the death of an aspect of its world (cf. Heidegger 1962:288 [1927]). It is specifically through such heroic deeds that the Dasein becomes ‘ripe before its death’ (ibid). It is ontologically the case that ‘No one can take the Other’s dying from him’ (ibid:284). Why would we care to? The hero ‘dies’ before ‘his time’ in this way. He has taken his own death and run into it well before the horizon of the future has made its final approach. This is, subjectively, a scandal, but objectively, so to speak, an evil. It is the ‘art of dying’, the celebration of life at its most ripe. This fruit is sweet beyond words, and no aftertaste lingers to sully its sweetness. Since Dasein’s only ‘experience with death’ is as a ‘Being with Others’, (cf. ibid:281), this is ‘objectively’ the case for Dasein as well. But this is still not an experience of one’s ownmost death and can never be. To experience this one must become the hero first, to live as Anxiety and as the apprehending, while maintaining a disentangled being, for of course, the whole impetus to scandalous revolution and thence transfiguration is the realization that one is a prisoner, a slave, a servant, a maiden. It is a human realization because slavery is a human institution, a way of organizing our relationships and no one else’s. Just so, the ‘false consciousness’ that pervades species slavery is answered by ‘the law’ of a scandal that appears evil. But in fact it is beyond both good and evil at once, for it has acted consciously, perhaps for the first time: “Truth does not emanate from ‘the nature of things’; it requires a decree of the mind, a decision about life that runs a risk in order to partake of the truth.” (Dardel, op. cit:591). This risking is not only apparent in hermeneutically inclined dialogue, but in every ‘having of’ a new experience in an equally hermeneutic sense. The newness of this experience is a microcosm of revolution, just as every thought enacted and reflected outside the boundedness of the conventional and the slavish sensitivity to change is also radical to what has been. Anxiety proper overtakes anxieties plural, and the remorse momentarily present at the loss of the old life is itself overcome by resoluteness. There is no turning back, but there is also no need to do so. It is the very essence of the human adventure to leave all things behind it and to engage in all things that come to it, no matter their character. Only through this does the human character itself emerge and make the history which is its own. Here, the last word belongs appropriately to Kierkegaard (op. cit:255) himself: “I will say this is an adventure that every human being must go through – to learn to be anxious in order that he may not perish either by never having been in anxiety or by succumbing to anxiety. Whoever has learned to be anxious in the right way has learned the ultimate.”

G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty books in ethics, education, social philosophy and social psychology, religion and aesthetics.

Indwelling versus Entanglement: person or citizen, neighbor or censor?

Resoluteness, a concept at the heart of Heideggerean ethics, resolves to provide for itself no real resolution. It also solves nothing. What it does do is resolves to face down the nothingness by which Dasein imagines it is threatened, and in so doing, forgets itself. If this is bewildering for us, then it is due to the problem of life giving us the ability to live in the present. Too much history and we would not now how to think of even the day at hand. If on could not forget anything at all, one could never experience anything new or anew.

And yet because we have ourselves lived those past times and we were there, there is still a puzzle: “This bewilderment is based upon a forgetting.” (1962:392 [1927], italics mine). Yes, a specific kind of forgetting that in fact evades resoluteness, we are told. Dasein’s ‘potentiality’ is put on hold, and we ‘leap from the next to the next’ (ibid). This is how we leave what is still present; we are not ‘in’ the environment any more, we do not dwell within it, there is no such moment of indwelling that characterizes Dasein’s actual ownmost possibility and facticity. This is instead replaced by entanglement. In turn, this aids the very kind of forgetting that started the process: “The possibility of memory depends on the continued existence of the past; nothing in the actual present explains memory.” (Lampert 2012:142). It may not ‘explain’ it insofar as the present as it is never contains the source material for the memory content, but nevertheless allows it because having a memory is something that we have in the present. In this way one can agree with Husserl’s explicative statement regarding the character of memory in general where “…the antithesis of perception is primary remembrance, which appears here, and primary expectation (retention and protention [respectively]), whereby perception and non-perception continually pass over into one another.” (1964:62 [1905], italics the text’s). It is reasonable to state that neither memory nor anticipation are the same as perception per se, and yet both are still perceived in some manner, otherwise we would have no ability to recall anything at all nor would here be a sense of the future. Dasein would lose on of its ontological ‘faculties’, its being-able-to-be ‘ahead of itself’.

Indeed, we are told that Dasein does not possess this ability in the way we would something at hand or in hand, but rather simply is ahead of itself. So a memory must in some ways aid this being. It is self-evident that anticipation does, or at least, is its outcome, but memory? These may be relived as ‘peaks’ or linger as ‘sheets’ (cf. Lampert on Deleuze, op. cit:164), but whatever terminology we utilize, there must be a characteristic facility and indeed, faculty, that allows what we think of the as the past to not place us ‘behind ourselves’. Minkowski provides the first clue to this apparent puzzle, in which the lack of memory subverts and even outright sabotages the ability to think ahead: “…the form of mental life which we term memory deficiency is dominated, not by a momentary, instantaneous now, as one would expect, but on the contrary, in certain cases at least, by the principle of unfolding in time, functioning in a void.” (op. cit:381). What exactly is this ‘unfolding’, and what, in turn, is being unfolded? Clinging to something or other, clasping it to one’s anxious breast, clambering about, as we will see below, but not ascending, or yet climbing down with a view to lose the view one already had, folds us in on ourselves. This is uncomfortable no matter what kind of metaphor we employ, so one must back out. In doing so, in order to not regain either the perspective of the present or the ‘being-aheadedness’ of one’s ontological structure – though of course this doesn’t vanish just because we have vanished from whatever scene is at hand – we unfold ourselves only in time, but not in any kind of recognizable space. The void carries within it the simple and yet profound lack of perspective, by definition. At a personal level, unfolding in the manner about which Minkowski speaks is a debasement of Dasein, though it does follow a pattern: “This logical process of debasement and profanation is linked to another process that it must reinforce in order to eliminate it.” (Kristeva 1996:14 [1993]). Here the ‘sinner is turned into a saint’, even if Kristeva shortly thereafter describes this narrative trope as a mere cliché, which it is. Proust’s ‘woman-cake’ – such pastries are often called ‘madeleine’s in France, just so, the made-to-order ‘Marie-madeleine’ and thence the rest of its tired trope – is an example of the bracketing of actual ambiguity in order to objectify not the presence so much as a kind of presentation. This is theatre, surely, but it is also myth.

Whatever satisfaction we may have gotten from the mother, whatever threat we may have survived from the father or their surrogates, the church on the one hand, the state on the other perhaps, regression is itself based upon keeping close to us a certain flavor of both. But “Because these split-off aspects of the parent’s ego are governed by repetition compulsion, they are acted out repeatedly upon the child.” (Shabad 1989:106). In turn, we gradually construct a persona of personhood based upon these fragments that we have found to be ironically the most extreme, and therefore the most memorable, that later denudes the full Dasein of its potentiality-for-being’ in way different from that of the false forgetting. This is “…An identity perversely based on all those identifications and roles which, at critical stages of development, had been presented to the individual as most undesirable or dangerous, and yet, also the most real.” (Erikson 1960:61 [1956]). Here, memories such as these cannot be plainly and simply forgotten. They have to first be reinforced in order to be eliminated, in a manner uncannily like how they came to be present in the first place. Within this process lies the at-handedness of entanglement, for in reinforcing these memories, bringing them into a fuller presence, we risk becoming addicted to this stage alone, all the while rationalizing it as a first step ‘out’.

Regression is a too easy moment. Its moment is that of a momentum that appears to us as momentous. In a society wherein juvenile behavior and the viewpoint of adolescence is celebrated, is the main market target, and is lengthened perhaps decades after its primary purpose has been met, regression is, quite literally, everywhere: “But in any event, the permanent object concept is stabilized by the period of adolescence and therefore the inner concept of the actual parent is not given up.” (Pine 1989:162). We do not wish to give it up, because early on, the parent is perceived as being what we should be. Many parents, though fewer today than in the past, actively encourage their children to ape themselves, either in personality, vocation, or even ideologically. This only adds to the problem already present. It is debatable whether or not the analytic school has identified ‘deeper’ processes of such identifications in the sado-sexual or surrogate-sexual modes, but however that may be, it does not matter for a phenomenological argument. Ideology, for instance, can run quite deep in a person’s attitudinal matrix, and certainly the personality or ‘esteem’ by which we hold ourselves together on many fronts, public and private, is deeply held as well. Regression as a the chief perpetrator and phenomena of the externality of remorse desires this strangeness that has come over it. Unlike this or that stigmatized ethnic or linguistic group, we want to be a stranger to ourselves. We are patently evading the responsibility to confront our ownmost possibility, in death or some other major life-transfiguration, so we cannot in all conscience say that we are “… a stranger who does not wish to be a stranger.” (Antonovsky 1960:428). No, we are more akin to the ‘cat’ than the ‘Jew’: “Within in his own isolated social world, the cat attempts to give form and purpose to dispositions derived from but denied an outlet within the dominant social order.” (Finestone 1960:439 [1957]). This ‘denial’ in fact comes from within us. In the everyday realm of both the ontic and, perhaps over against Heidegger’s claims, the inauthentic as well, the spectrum between doing what one ‘has’ to do and one’s desires includes things like the ‘hobby’ and the perversion alike. ‘Cats’ in fact have day jobs, those who retire can do so with the calm assurance of being about to follow the call of a narrowed set of desires. The issue at hand is really more along the lines of youth having to confront the fullness of every human desire. Indeed, one could almost equally say that the innocent and the corrupt both are conjured by the dreamtime of youth alone.

Which is perhaps the more structural reason why sexual desire, for instance, often turns to regression and this regression needs not be kept secret at all. It is transparent that youth have these desires and are suppressed by the ‘dominant’ order generally due to our ressentiment regarding the loss of our own youth. Sexuality is repressed, yes, but not the regression by which it makes its self-remorse external. No, indeed, adults want to see the manifestation of this repression in young people. We celebrate it as our victory and ours alone: “This reveals nothing less than a desexualization of sex itself. Pleasure that is either kept cornered or accepted with smiling complaisance is no longer pleasure at all.” (Adorno, op. cit:73). We are now seeing the first foreshadowing of our third topic, that of nostalgia, for within all of this external suppression and thence internal repression, the process of remorseful regression takes refuge in fantasy. Sex is, after all, one thing. Any aspect of one’s youth – and recall just here how modernity is founded on both the advent of youth and its immediate alienation – including non-responsibility, some disposable income, and the much more serious experiences such as wonder and the newness of things, is lost along the way to adulthood. Adulthood too, it must also be recalled, is not at all the same thing as maturity. It is more or less a coincidence that maturity can only come within the period of life we call adulthood (or yet perhaps ‘old age’),  given our extended phases of life in contemporary technological society. But whenever ‘mature being’ provides for us authentic indwelling, it is also clear that we have lost a great deal both petty and profound, and this in turn provokes an unhealthy politics of ‘restoration’, not unlike the reaction that lashes back at any revolutionary period: “Mainly because man must surrender to the generalizing institution, he continually searches for his own individuality and the lost possibilities of childhood.” (Meerloo 1960:516 [1958]). It is somehow odd to speak of possibility being ‘lost’. Does not the very conception entail its indefinite open-endedness? What has been only possible surely remains possible no matter what. It retains, as against even the probable and self-evidently the certain, its choate temporal and existential structure. Yes, it too is part of the human imagination, so what is more likely actually being lost through the process of maturation – not maturity, mind you – is precisely imagination and all this implies. ‘Man’ too is already generalized, even institutional, but this is clearly not what Meerloo is getting at. One does after all not attempt to individualize ‘Man’ but rather oneself. So personhood must give way to persona.

Social role theory explicates this transition and dynamic so very well that we forget to examine or even take into account such losses. The presence of both role strain and role conflict obviates the need to do so, for we are assured by this analytic that the person is indeed a complex of roles and nothing more. But at the very least, the modern person, the ontic version of Dasein, adds to its role set not so much nothing more, but Nothing more. And it is this Nothing that is the source of both Anxiety and regret. Roles offer up the potential for regression, remorsefulness, and regretfulness, taking place, as we have seen, both internally and externally. There is a Nothing alongside the set of social roles. It is, on the lighter and more ethical side of things, also the source of the neighbor. The spontaneous and unthinking action of the non-role and even anti-socius neighbor figure  comes out of Nothing and retreats there once the deed is done. Whatever resonates is a function of memory and thus easily slides into nostalgia, as we will see in part three below. Unthinking, yes, but what about? About one’s set of roles. The neighbor in fact does think, but this is space of the uncooked thoughts of humankind and human kindred. It is an I who is suffering and not a you, or a we and not a them. The neighbor has allies in others’ ability to emerge from the Nothing that all of us share tacitly together.

So it is not society that Dasein shares but society that shares Dasein. It shares it with all of the others, rather against its will. But this will is itself transmogrified into desire and hope, fear and resentment because society as the ‘generalizing institution’ par excellence, does not cleave itself in the direction of the neighborly. Instead, as we mentioned at the very beginning of our dialogue, it is fences and neighbors that correspond to one another and indeed bring each other into ontical being. Since part of the unthinking of the neighbor which accesses the ontology of humanity and not its epistemology – role sets and their appurtenances tell us ‘how we know what we know’ – is the absence of a need for meaning in the moment – it does not ask ‘why am I doing this or for what purpose?’ – it can only be the ‘socius’ that engages itself in the work of interpretation. In extreme forms, this engagement, necessary to every human being to a point, becomes nothing other than entanglement: “…we can actually speak of a ‘compulsion to extract the meaning’. Things don’t function any longer according to their own ‘objective’ meaning, but exclusively to express a ‘higher’ meaning, one pregnant with fate.” (Binswanger 1963:329). Minkowska adds that such persons “…become emotionally attached to objects, which leads to a love of order.” (cf. in Minkowski, op. cit:208-9ff). Bleuler’s ‘syntony’, also used adeptly and often by Minkowski, and Minkowski’s own ‘synchronism’ represent the delusional presence fostered by a ‘lack of attunement’ with objective reality (cf. Binswanger op. cit:338). Certainly modernity’s apparent lack of immediate and singular meaningfulness presents to us an existential and ethical challenge at once. But it must not be lost sight of that our own regressive remorse coupled with our eroded imaginations thinks that in prior epochs such meaningfulness was readily available. This is simply not the case, as meaning was just as much derived from institutions representing that ‘higher’ as it is today. Perhaps what is more truly at stake is our inability to imagine anything ‘higher’ that what we objectively see. Perhaps the problem is, put simply, objectivity itself.

As we will explore later, it is only a regressive nostalgia that sees in the past a truth that is no longer present. We are still what we are, Dasein and humanity more widely. Finite objective beings and individually, finitudinal being. Regression has its radically exemplary physical illness in epileptic-like events, and such an individual’s ‘saccharin personality’  – though we may wonder at such a framing – suggest the viscousness that gave rise to Minkowska’s idea of ‘glischroidy’, a conception that allows us to examine the ‘mystical’ character of the epileptic fit (cf. Minkowski op. cit:201ff). Shamanism had already explored this in a primordial manner, though ironically, as one of the first social roles. Epileptoid disturbances bear a similar family resemblance to those of schizoidism (ibid:204), but precisely in the manner that the neighbor bears some relationship to the socius. The first would not be distinguishable unless the second were ‘dominant’. The neighbor and the epileptic are spontaneous, the socius and the schizoid calculated. Within these last two, “…affectivity becomes fixed in an almost mechanical way on that to which it most closely corresponds: objects, groups, general ideas, etc.” (ibid:211, italics the text’s). Such phenomena, Minkowski notes, seem to operate ‘outside of themselves’ (ibid:212). And it is not only objects that come under the intense if obsessional scrutiny of the pathological role-oriented persona. The schizophrenic or the schizo-affective is also a socially constructed role, whereas the epileptoid in its encounter with the mystical – at least, according to previous modes of production and their cosmology – cannot be fully comprehended, let alone understood, by the wider ambit of mundane social relations. It is as if the role-geared persona of the they breaks down, its mechanism falters. This occurs no more than in those whose plurivocity of anxieties have utterly overtaken the Nothing and its resource of Anxiety proper: “With so many practical anxieties dogging him [ ] it is not strange that young research scientists dream unattainable dreams, live unrealistic lives, overwork desperately, and develop a monastic absorption which strains every human tie.” (Kubie 1960:265 [1957]). What is shared by both kinds of entanglement is the focus on the picayune and even the picaresque. One the one hand, we observe that much research, unless funded specifically toward a goal, usually and sadly a military or commodity goal, is so abstruse and arcane, or yet so mundane and even trivial that it carries the Dasein away into the margins of existence. It is curiosity cornered, focus fettered. No one is fully exempt from such charges of irrelevancy as scholarship demands a certain level of detail that other pursuits might eschew. But the tree tends to overtake the forest. With the ‘mystic’, on the other hand, we as well see this entrenchment which in turn “…reveals the basic features of all superstition: fixation upon the most inconspicuous, unimportant, and innocent details, and their elevation into the sphere of the decisive majesty of fate.” (Binswanger, op. cit:293).

Given that a significant portion of the North American population attends to at least some of this enshrinement of the picayune, it is no wonder that the archetypical detective of Conan-Doyle retains his immense popularity as a salient character in entertainment fictions; he is the ultimate master of taking the insignificant and making it utterly crucial to his investigations. But Sherlock Holmes stops short of sacralizing any of these details, indeed, of anything at all, and so he cuts the perfect figure, appealing to both our modern sensibility that nothing is in fact sacred as well as the older custom and sensibility that there is more going on than meets the mere eye. The scientist calculates this into her own inductive investigations – making bricks from the clay available – and the mystic simply knows when to look and what to look of ‘ahead of time, as it were. This latter tends toward deduction, however unscientific it may be in the end. Anything that elevates mere detail or coincidence into the profound may be said to be a regression: conspiracy theories, remaining superstitions enacted out of custom or habit, unwarranted suspicions, cynicism, even stoicism as a manner of keeping oneself aloof to others, and the like combine to give us the impression that modern life is more than it is. It isn’t.

To be sure, power corrupts still, but it does so in ways that anyone with or without power can understand. Behind the Masonic masks and Machiavellian masquerades lie simple intents and means. These both can be comprehended comprehensively under the rubric of maintaining control, authority, and the wielding of power to do so in any manner necessary to accomplish finite goals. Absolute values are part of the charade, and nothing more. The epileptoidal personality does not understand this simple relationship, and so we see these people scurrying into cliques, sects, even cults, who pretend to have the means to expose the truth of things if they do not already possess it themselves. This process is not, as many social scientists who study religion and social movements have claimed, a desperate ‘search for meaning’ or a meaningful existence. It is rather an escape from the meaning that already and always presents itself to Dasein. It is not a quest for vision but rather an effort at entanglement. It is a drive to replace indwelling with a theyness that is not as anonymous as is the everyday. It seeks to combine the old and the new – and thus is also an effort in nostalgia – given that such groups and societies, organizations and institutions function as if they were like the rest of us – the creationist drives a vehicle, for instance – while at the same time cradling an inner knowing that speaks of secret truths unavailable to the wider they. ‘Man’s escape from meaning’ might have been a worthy sibling to one of our most famous post-war essays.

It is of the greatest importance to recognize that most things are not important. We do this in our mundane lives, unreflectively, but as Heidegger notes, “Even when I do nothing and merely doze and so tarry in the world, I have this specific being of concerned being-in-the-world – it includes every lingering with and letting oneself be affected.” (1992:159 [1925]). Much of our day is taken up with things that only require a modicum of focus and intellect. This is not the problem. Our problem is rather the amount of time that such activities take to accomplish. Given that Dasein is historical being, and that we are, more basically, temporal creatures and organisms, this factor is decisive in any undertaking that seeks to make meaningful existence out of everyday life. Billy Joel encapsulates this tension in the lyric ‘I start a revolution but I don’t have time’. Most of us have been there in some nominal way. It may have been an aspiring vocation, a budding relationship, even an adulterous affair. New friends for adults are rare because of lack of time, child raising is a tenuous business because of the same. It is a stock phrase, used to ‘get out’ of anything at all: ‘I don’t have time’. It is almost universally accepted, almost as if the very invocation of time’s absence has an odd kind of sacredness to it. To lose time is to regress, so we think. We are being irresponsible in taking time ‘for ourselves’, as if we ourselves are somehow also absent when we do not take that time referred to. Dasein is always already present, in the world, just as is the world. They are co-authors of existence and anything taken away from either lessens their force while not vanquishing them. Nevertheless the trend is to avoid this elemental constitution of Dasein’s isness as much as we can. Speaking of Mounier’s work, Ricoeur notes that this “…‘type’ would rather express the exterior outline of a limitation, the failure of the personality rather than the idea of an internal plastic force: ‘We are typical only in the measure that we fail to be fully personal’.” (1965:152 [1955]). Such an exteriority is, as we have seen, both the home and the goal of regression, since it desires to move remorse into the social world, to make of it a role or an aspect of the socius rather than an irruptive injunction of the neighbor. The  mundane epileptoid seeks an insularity wherein she cannot be confronted by her conscience. In this, she is moved in the same direction as is the schizoidal person, but is, perhaps ironically, less calculating about it. The social epileptoid thereby is accepted with much more willingness into a sectarian environment, for instance, because she has demonstrated that her ‘condition’ is a sign of mystical movement in the affairs of men. Kristeva notes how such intentions fill up a space with contrivances and an ‘external presence’: “Its sensations fill Being with subjective information, whereas the impact of Being depersonalizes and derealizes  everything in its path, including the dizziness of sensations that for a brief moment we mistakenly believe are ‘ours’.” (1996:257 [1993]). Contrary to the view that suggests we are seeking meaning in our flight from meaningfulness, it is more correct to say that organizations specifically geared to create instant community function as ‘ours’ in this manner, whether or not they enjoin some other imagined realm, mystical, spiritual, or yet conspiratorial. At the end of the day, however, it matters little whether or not these contents be separated, for all groups of persons who claim to ‘know’ better are engaging in conspiracy themselves.

This shared solipsism sheds the social without doing the same to sociality. Any human group must still interact, but just here, populated by ‘misfits’ and even some rogues who desire to take advantage – the evangelical father who assaults his children in the name of ‘godly correction’ falls squarely into this category, for instance – there is a concerted effort to retreat from any wider meaning, as well as a great deal of energy put into taking umbrage when such a person is accosted from without. Binswanger links this reactionary and regressive subjectivity – which nonetheless seeks to hang its hat up on an archaic hook that in actual human history either never existed or was the province of a few antique villains who happened to be highly literate – to despair and even the thanatic drive: “A complete despair about the meaning of life has the same significance as man’s losing himself in pure subjectivity;, indeed, the one is the reverse side of the other, for the meaning of life is ever something trans-subjective, something universal, ‘objective’ and impersonal.” (op. cit:234). At the same time, the roots of existential psychology have it that we only find ourselves within the ambit of this wider meaning by ‘fleeing’ from ourselves and not ‘directly seeking’ ourselves out (cf. Heidegger 1962:174 [1927]). This is our ‘state-of-mind’, and thus must be linked to a disclosure and an encounter rather than a ‘discovery’ per se, as if Dasein was all about the hunt from the start. It is the relative ‘chanciness’ of how one finds oneself, as in a ‘mood’, that lends an abbreviated argument to the sense that fleeing isn’t such a bad thing after all.

But like anything else, all is well as long as there is moderation. The headlong flight from meaningfulness into perverse privacy is immoderate. In literature, this trope begins with Stendhal, wherein the hero’s identity  “…has withdrawn to an area not only different from, but hostile to public behavior. It is the area of interiority…” (Moretti 1987:85, italics the text’s). This figure represents internally the ‘social contradictions’ and non-linear histories that dominate modernity (cf. Adorno, op. cit:212). Yet one has to regress externally well before one puts up the curtains that block any observation of this new privacy. Ironically, it is mass man, the theyness of that exact public that turns away in this manner, flees from itself but not with a view to stand before itself once again. Moretti tells us that ‘equality in culture’ might destroy the old dogmatic authorities – and how many believed in these authorities in the way they demanded prior to the eighteenth century is perennially debatable, once again, due to the tiny amount of literates during these epochs – but it did not give rise to new elites (op. cit:102). Quite the contrary, as many an intellectual has since bemoaned, including a number of our key sources in this text. Even those who do arise may cheapen their instrumentation, blunt their critiques, by engaging in popularity contests: “Ideology rules by the mere fact of its having been brought into existence. In Rousseau, moral censorship is nationalized; the public censor becomes the chief ideologue.” (Koselleck 1988:166 [1959]). Certainly we see this today and not only due to the advent of mass digital media wherein one can be instantly ‘shamed’ or subject to other grotesque judgments. Such things appear more objective, and they are surly more external. Fittingly, if also ironically, they are one of the major variables in explicating the flight into the ‘interior’ by way of external regression. Sincere remorse seeks internal solace for the shame of it all, for not being able to face what one in fact desires to face: that very public and the wider world. We wish to return to our social place, for it is only from this jumping off point that our own ‘neighborliness’ can appear. The recluse cannot become the Samaritan, good or no.

In headlong flight, the longing to be ahead of others replaces Dasein’s innate being-ahead-of-itself. We enjoin a race to the bottom, as it were, shunning not merely our social role duties but more profoundly, the others by and through which we live at all. The disjuncture between living and existence allows for this, for though we no longer have a life to live, yet we remain. Dasein as the existing being does not vanish just because we will it to be so. Or do we? Perhaps it is rather thus: that we would prefer to live a life that enacts itself from itself alone. Perhaps we would prefer the absolute congruence between Dasein and personhood, something which contradicts the entirety of being-in-the-world for it loses all existential perspective on what I myself am facing and facing down; mine ownmost finitude and all that this implies.

And we think this desire to be wholly rational. Once again, it is immoderate, kindred with the notion to exhibit remorse instead of confronting it in an internality which is not merely an interior to itself. Externalized remorse, regretfulness, is not only a regression it is also a vanity. It seeks to value one’s self-pity as a meritorious endeavor, and perhaps also to commoditize it; witness the plethora of self-help books based on the autobiographical mishaps of this or that addict, sex worker, even murderer. One might include any partial or momentary homiletic also to be found in less excessive tracts of this genre, something this author has also imposed upon the reading public. ‘I was once this but now I am otherwise’; an archetypically Augustinian parabola that is nevertheless implied in Marcus Aurelius and perhaps even earlier texts. It represents a personalization of the Pauline doctrine of worldly transfiguration. The City of God can be read as merely the objective side of the transfigurational coin with the Confessions being that subjective. One also could be forgiven, to use a word advisedly, if one also wonders if the problem of subject/object also begins with these texts, or begins anew.

Immoderation, something that Augustine’s classical sources warn against, includes not only the externalization of properly internal dialogues – why indeed would anyone else care about my self-inflicted wounds, unless it would be taken for a trip to the circus? – but as well the vainglory of stating one’s case before an audience which is itself addicted to rationalization, simply because every member therein has also performed this sleight of in-handedness at one time or another: “Convulsively, deliberately, one ignores the fact that the excess of rationality, abut which the educated class especially complains and which it registers in concepts like mechanization, atomization, indeed even de-individualization, is a lack of rationality” (Adorno, op. cit:138). Surely it would be better if we kept ourselves to ourselves in this way instead? Not becoming a complete recluse, but never letting on that one’s own irrationality has taken such a monstrously public form that only that same anonymous and anonymized public can once again allow it access to the world. As if we were the benign version of the masterful criminal whom no one suspects is such, the truly rational person maintains his sociality whilst engaging in a self reflection that takes place in an internal dialogue.

This is what the interiority of Dasein is suited for. Such a comportment is benign insofar as it registers the needs of the wider body not wholly as its own, but as an important factor. We can be, according to the existentialist ethic, both public and private without taking the latter for an ontology. Indeed, if we do not engage thusly, we are “…left with a dreamy nobility, the memory of an unattainable presence, familiar thought forbidden, familial though lofty.” (Kristeva, op. cit:11). If the dream is an insight about our inner character and its lensed Anxiety, dreaminess is cheaper than the phantasm. It may even be serially orgiastic, amphetaminic, manic or depressive, it does not matter. Imagine being touched and only feeling the memory of touch previous. Such a delay would be tantamount to psychosis and would rapidly become unbearable so that one would prefer, in the end, not to have been touched at all: “…his dream of omnipotence comes true in the form of perfect impotence.”(Adorno, op. cit:57). Here, the utopia, always in the end utterly private and thus also a privation, forces the other into a thralldom of ‘fatefulness’. Noble in fantasy only, such a ‘dreaminess’ never awakens to the fact that other’s beings are never fully present, if at all present. Familial because most of our fantasies have indeed to do with family relations. There are few among us who have not wished for a ‘happier’ or more compassionate family, even if many of us do eventually overcome these deficits without entirely smothering them in lugubriously affective families of our own. But if our family of birth cannot attain the utopian desire and if we cannot force our current family to do so – once again, those who claim religion as their mantra attempt this petty imperialism more often than any other and have been perversely successful at willing it across the generations mainly due to the chance of repetition in the children the authoritarian personality engenders; that is, nothing to do with religion per se – we can at least retreat into the ‘personal life’ of the singular but also the highly alienated ‘me’. Our consciousness has been desacralized from the only thing modernity has to offer it; a position of banal ‘being as part of the world’. So we tell ourselves. But this too is, in the end, a mere rationalization of a hyper-rationality that suffuses into our souls. We have internalized mass politics along with everything else. The much vaunted ‘interiority’ of the romantic period bears a disconcerting resemblance to the external world after all, and was this not Stendhal’s point? At a time when the new capital was ‘in the saddle’, with the birth of the bourgeois class, with the citizenry, the professional military, and the public service of the kind of government we today would recognize as our direct forebear, what then of the equally new person, the individual?

Speaking of a sleight of what is supposedly already and always in-hand. Dasein manifestly does not exist for the sake of the state or yet its place in statehood. Dasein faces a state only inasmuch that my death is mine ownmost possibility. The state as the successor to the church, the two ‘evils of evil’, does not face death. We have seen in our own time not only the afterlife of god, but also, in a rather more pedestrian manner, that of the church. This has appeared to answer the call of the alienated individual. But one cannot truly know a ghost: “Thus for the secularized consciousness the political myth has become one answer to the problem of our epoch’s relationship to death – an answer arising from the distorted relation to the meaning of life of a consciousness at one and the same time deprived of faith but intensified in its sense of individuality by its position with the atomized mass.” (Plessner 1957:244 [1950]). Given the apparatus of technologized media and communication, the awareness of – but not the knowledge about – diverse others and their assumed desires, and the opportunism of those whose own inner alienation drives the quest for public power, the myth of modernity is in reality far more dangerous than any myth the church ever was able to put forward. In addition, the residue of the state’s predecessor lingers in some regions, used now as a rationalization to bond disparate persons together as if one could still hear the calling to a divinely sanctioned crusade. As Goodman puts it, “It is the great power of history to keep alive lost causes, and even to revivify them.” (1960:360 1956]). In a Weberian note, Ricoeur adds, “…it is no longer the institution which justifies violence, it is violence which engenders the institution by redistributing power among States and classes.” (op. cit:241). And those who seek to possess and thence wield this new power are deluded on both fronts, even as they delude the rest of us. Power cannot truly be possessed; one cannot keep it to oneself, as if the dynamic of politics were like the engine of a high performance automobile that one foreswears engaging at the green light. As well, one does not in reality wield power as if it were an actual sword. One makes decisions in the light of other variables. One can possess authority, but not power. One can wield force, but not power. The modern nation-state, which seeks above all to provide a benign-looking cover for the continuation of public inequity without involving itself in private iniquity – and without losing its grip on the mindset that it is the most advanced human political organization known; sophisticated, yes, but advanced? – advances itself as the total institution that can ameliorate the ‘iron cage’ of contemporary life. Retirement pensions respond to wage-slavery. Health care responds to critical illness, counseling to sorrow, welfare to suffering, and as far as the enduring problem of spontaneous joy goes, well, that’s to each her own.

Beyond all of this, however, is the sense that the state can confer upon each individual a singular statehood in citizenship without making everyone into exactly the same thing. Thus “…total institutions do not look for cultural victory. They effectively create and sustain a particular kind of tension between the home world and the institutional world and use this persistent tension as strategic leverage in the management of men.” (Goffman 1960:454 [1959]). The paternalistic state, of late made more casual and distant as the ‘nanny state’ – a further decoy as to its actual character; as if one could hire and fire it at will and the most egregious thing of which it is guilty is some form of backseat driving – seeks another kind of victory; that of Dasein’s insistence on its flight from itself. This is not about culture per se, but it does involve the kind of existence that has been known to create culture over against institutions like the church and state. In its striving to make persons into citizens, the state exposes its true needs. At its authentically most egregious, the state attempts to regress mature being into an undeveloped form of itself. In doing so it uses “…the logic of sadomasochism. It is the love of hate, the hatred of love, persecution, humiliation, and delectable sorrow. There is no specific social means for escaping this logic, for the whole of social life is contained within it.” (Kristeva 1996:157 [1993]). The Reich is held up to account as the recent archetype of this extremity, but is it not telling that in every victorious post-war state, the ‘management skills’ of the Reich were adopted to some degree? If it is correct to say that culture does not engender the neighbor, it is also just as correct to note that within the space of culture, acts, events, artifacts and objects do appear as signs of the neighbor’s continued existence, furtive perhaps, but insistent. The aesthetic object is well known to provide that same spontaneous and irruptive force that rends social life and its ‘means’ away from state management. Hence the need for censorship from time to time, speaks the state, even in the realm of art. These days, it is galleries and other venues themselves that practice a form of self-censorship, and no doubt certain kinds of writers do as well. All of this in ‘liberal’ democracies. Would it then be illiberal to suggest that along with the scandalously ignorant evaluation of each younger generation as the safe harbor for ‘anything goes’ – Cole Porter’s jest is lost to our overly and overtly sensitive hearing in our day – that our response is yet more scandalous? That we scurry to cover our thoughts over with the fashion for the absolutely inoffensive? Could it be that the absolute authority of the benign corrupts absolutely? “And if any sceptic of the kind who denies the truth, factically is, he does not even need to be refuted. In so far as he is, and has understood himself in this Being, he has obliterated Dasein in the desperation of suicide; and in doing so, he has also obliterated truth.” (Heidegger 1962:271 [1927], italics the text’s).

An excerpt from Blind Spots: the altered perceptions of Anxiety, Remorse and Nostalgia. forthcoming in 2019.

Becoming Attached to History (confronting youth with our own youthfulness, good and bad)

Becoming Attached to History

Science, along with rationalism, are the twin adulthoods of discourse. They are never free of their self-doubts, their experiential insecurities, but they must often appear to be thus free. Not only for and against youth, but all the more so against the aged. Indeed, in an ironic movement, adulthood adopts the old to protect itself against becoming aged. The era that invented youth also invented nostalgia. The two walk hand in hand, the first unaware of its effects on those older than itself, the second only too aware that it has not only objectified youth, often leeringly so, but sabotaged its own self-understanding. In other words, by desiring and aping youth, it has traded in maturity for adulthood. This may not be its intent, but it is its effect. Because the emotions are tender just at this point – loss, and the realization that in our experience of history, most especially one’s own, what is lost is lost for good – they are driven into action, called to action. For the most part, youth remain blithely ignorant of our prurient interest in them – the advent of the internet has only further insulated adults against potential obloquy in this regard – and when they become aware there is almost always some kind of blatantly criminal act occurring. Too late for both parties, as it were. Thus nostalgia, answering the call to action spurred on by a lack of experience – this is still different from the will to actually repeat something that has occurred in the past; we can and do fall in love again as adults, for example – shows itself to be in league with a kind of gentrified pedophilia. It is less barbaric than the euphemisms surrounding the physical assault of children, for instance, but it is nonetheless a veneer. Like science divorced from human intent, rationalism devoid of romance, adulthood without maturity – youthfulness is yet different from youth, as everyone knows even if they have forgotten how to speak it – nostalgia could be accurately defined as time without history: “The example brings to mind the remark of Claude Bernard that feeling always takes the initiative in thought. If so, it is a methodological error in the study of thought to disconnect it from feeling. It is an error characteristic of the obsessive mind which, by ignoring the affective sources of thought, renders its study an impossible task.” (Cohen 1960:548 [1954]). Our desire for youth, shrouded in the sense that we only desire ‘to be young again’ and not at anyone’s expense – yet what should we be doing if we were once again to find ourselves incarnate as a past self? – is as callow as was our own youth, now distanciated from us and not merely distant. No, the qualitative distinction of adulthood – a social fact quality rather than a phenomenological essence, of course – is what provokes anxiety. It is real absence, and not just distance. One’s lover is not merely away for work but is truly gone, that sort of thing. So distanciation is a quality that is a phenomenological marker, just as is intentionality. Like the latter, it only begins the work at hand. The Wesenschau, or intuition of essence, is an idealized result of intentionality and categorical intuition etc., but it cannot be attained unless one is willing to replace one’s being with something other, something that one cannot be for it already was: “Dasein can never be past, not because Dasein is non-transient, but because it essentially can never be present-at-hand. Rather if it is, it exists.” (Heidegger 1962:432 [1927], italics the text’s). Even death does not alter this existential circumstance. Objects, however, can represent what is past because that world itself no longer exists, it ‘had-been-there’, and in a manner quite different from how an ancient object’s presence illumines our own day (ibid). So Goethe’s formulation, his cry directed back into time and back into his narrator’s own biographical history, resonates not in the realm of objects but in that of the memorialization of memory:

Nothing I had, and yet profusion

The lust for truth, the pleasure in illusion

Give back the passions unabated,

That deepest joy, alive with pain,

Love’s power and the strength of hatred,

Give back my youth to me again.

Youth says: ‘no one loves as I do’, and this is true insofar as it also must say to itself that no one can hate as fully. But mature being knows that compassion is more authentic, if not more ardent, than mere passion, and that love and hate can become virtually interchangeable, as anyone who has lost love can duly if wryly attest. And the ‘nothing’ of which Goethe speaks is of course the very opposite of that which invokes in us the existential anxiety the onset of which is dread and angst combined. For youth, nothing really is to be taken literally; one has not yet done anything or become anyone. There are no accomplishments of note, and there has not been time to understand the world around one, stretching out ahead and beyond, giving one the best and to a certain extent, lasting, impression that in fact the existential horizon does not approach us. Even our current cosmology reflects quite poignantly our sense of horizontal shifting that occurs to living human beings sometime in middle-age. The expanding universe of youth, a moment where gravity overcomes mass and pulls back on it, and then the universe contracts once again into itself in preparation for the next big bang. The fact that there is some debate regarding this aspect of contemporary cosmology suggests that we now have an inkling about indefinite human life. And we, of course, do have just that. The combination of stem cells, artificial prosthesis, the so-called AI and even, more outlandishly, contact with the very extraterrestrials we presume, somewhat romantically, to have themselves overcome human tribulations, point in this direction. But all of this is, so to speak, nostalgia in reverse. Unlike Binswanger, whom Needleman suggests is not analyzing in merely an ontic manner because “…his analyses refer to that which makes possible the experience of the particular individual.” (1962:125), Adorno’s concern for the eroding of praxis caused by the feelings we bring to it not only are generalizable on the positive side, but may also be implicitly fatalistic. There is, in mourning the loss of a critical and radical praxis – of late turned to an extension of hexis, once again – a kind of latent nostalgia. ‘Give back to me my praxis again!’, one might cry. And perhaps this sensibility is also there in Goethe’s verse. After all, both love and hate can fuel the action of getting action and carry it forward.

Nostalgia is also, in this sense, a fatal error with regard not only to history – it ‘laicizes’ it in the worst way – but also to memory and yet more: “Our entire theology will, by an unconscious and fatal complicity, itself have had to prepare the laicization of which it is the victim. The meaning of history: no longer need a God be born in the flesh to reveal it.” (Corbin 1957:xviii [1951]). If the death of god no longer provokes a conscious anxiety – after all, the idea of judgement, perhaps first understood to be the key to the afterlife in Egyptian mythology, must have had some anxiety attached to it, though our record of this is, as need be, a record of those with the most to be anxious over – and rationally speaking, death itself cannot be by itself anxiety producing – one either dies or something of one carries on; either way what is to be anxious about? – we are left with the possibility of having to mourn or having to lose in the first place. What is to be lost? Why history, of course. And not merely history but, as Corbin stated, its meaning. And this meaning is new, in the light of the ‘deincarnation’ of deity, and more than this, ever new. Thus “For Heidegger, as for Nietzsche, the past supplies the ways in which we understand ourselves, and it is in the light of these ‘possibilities of being’ that we project the future. It is this necessary historicality that makes possible the thematic study of history.” (Wood 1989:154, italics the text’s). Note immediately that history needs now to be studied. This is precisely because it cannot now be ‘revealed’. Learning something through patient study is the very opposite of revelation, where the all in all is suddenly and radically laid open before us. Its very suddenness, to borrow from Kierkegaard, has an evil about it, mainly because we are suspicious of rapid change. The radicality of revealed meaning disavows the human need to make something meaningful. Either way, it is clear we are much more comfortable with the study of history as long as it does not get in the way of making our own history in our own time. Yes, to a point. For history is also a reminder of one’s own humanity seen over eons, and we would like to also believe in our freedom from precisely that: “Above all, they believe that America constitutes an exception in the course of human history and will always be exempt from the usual limitations and calamities that shape the destinies of other countries.” (Sontag 2007:115). Any state at its zenith willed itself to believe this, from Athens and Rome to Venice, France, Britain and the Third Reich. Any revolution proclaims this new destiny made ‘manifest’ much in the same way that a God used to be made incarnate. At this level alone the state replaces the church but avails itself of its narratives. Our entire auto-cosmology has this sensibility: history is a burden from which we must free ourselves. Psychotherapy says the same thing to us at the individual level that the new state – a newly elected government assuming power by means quite gentle compared to revolution will speak this language as well, though we are, for the most part, wise to it – and at its most base, even baser than politics itself, the shameless shill of the advertisers heralds the ‘revolutionary’ change brought into your household by this or that improved product. Such a sham cannot be imagined by any ethical being, and yet it is a daily occurrence. And yet perhaps this is not the most base after all. What of the parents and teachers who tell the failing young person that they must ‘clean up’ their lives? What of the ‘boot camps’ for teenagers whose parents simply do not wish to work with them or have semi-consciously admitted their incompetence for doing so? What of the abusers who, under the guise of a ministry now decayed beyond mortal recognition, decoy souls into their lurid embrace? A ‘new teenager by Friday’, one popular book assures its would-be audience. This very Friday? In the time of a blink of an eye, the thief in the night, and all of that. No, suffer the ‘little’ children might be a more apt expression for all of this utter nonsense and worse. Why expect such changes in such a short time? And why would one want this for one’s own children in any case? What is so bad, so evil about our charges that we, as presumably mature beings, imagine that they are destined for a place that also no longer exists? Speaking of projected anxieties.

All of this is so commonplace that a noble philosophy might wash its hands thereof. Even so we must also question, in leading ourselves to confront the structure of anxiety, how we could turn away from these iniquities and speak in an airy manner of ethics and nobility itself. Surely these projections are only the observable aspect of a larger whole. As Binswanger suggests, this is not a matter for either organism or instinct. There can be no ‘partial’ reaction from either or both, to such a ‘falling’ (cf. 1962:198). This ‘giving way’ – and Needleman notes that in English the metaphoric sky is reserved for those with phantasmagorical dreams while in German it is usually a place for those with hopes ‘deeply felt’, though the expression ‘cloud cuckoo land’ tempers this sensibility somewhat (ibid: 222) – is something that is experienced as reality: “The nature of the poetic similes lies in the deepest roots of our existence where the vital forms and contents of our mind are still bound together. When, in a bitter disappointment, ‘we fall from the clouds’, then we fall – we actually fall.” (ibid:223, italics the text’s). The ‘Fall of Man’ is but one sequence of this anxious longing, its cycle pronouncing upon us a judgement in kind. Not necessarily from ‘on high’, but precisely at the point at which we are now. The judgement may be stentorian, encouraging, gentle, heraldic, but it appears before us and thence within us at the moment of self-realization that says, ‘I am now here’. I may be where I wanted to be or not, where I thought I would be or not, but in any case, I must confront myself as I am and not as I would be. This is the more humane and existential meaning of psychotherapy, apart from its more dubious exhortation to transfigure oneself as if one were a God in the making. Depth analysis most specifically recognizes both the immediacy and the profundity of language to this regard, and “…that language of itself, in this simile, grasps hold of a particular element lying deep within man’s ontological structure – namely, the ability to be directed from above or below – and then designates this element as falling.” (ibid:224). So history’s meaning, shorn of any revelatory source but not necessarily bereft of revelatory qualities, becomes that of the day at hand first, and only after which a matter of record and objective discourse. Its own judgement arcs with the living. To be ‘effectively historically conscious’, to borrow from Gadamer, is to be aware of the relationship between one’s own existence, furtive yet fulsome, fretful but also flying – and yes, also falling – and thus is also to attain a certain distance from the sway and swell of the historical tide: “…a neutral sympathy becomes attached to history; engagement and the risk of being mistaken becomes associated with the search for truth.” (Ricoeur 1965:49 [1955], italics the text’s). Here, for the first time, ‘truth does not involve belief’. But just so, Ricoeur is quick to state that history may also be understood as an ‘evasion of the search for truth.’ Perhaps we are uncomfortable with the self-recognition, radical and also even absurd, that we must make our own truths without regard for either belief or yet believers, including ourselves. ‘Belief in oneself’, no doubt another slogan of decadent religiosity lurking under the sly guise of popular youth development tracts, is at best trite, at worst, some rationalization for narcissism. There is a suggestion of shunning others, of distrust, and in no way can such advice promote a healthy confrontation with anxiety. Yet it is also not the case that just because the thinker is charged with the search for truth, whatever it may consist of, does that mean that history’s meaning will be fulfilled if and only if all the rest of us similarly engage. This would be overstating the human case, at least to a certain degree. Rather, an analysis of the relation that holds between myth, the poetic, and the everyday use of language – simile, idiom, euphemism included – reveals even to the casual thinker something that might after all be cautiously understood as revelatory: “…as the power of the historical Dasein, which we ourselves are condemned or called to be.” (Heidegger 1992:131 [1925]).

from Blind Spots: the altered perceptions of anxiety, remorse and nostalgia forthcoming in 2019.

Who’s not J.R.? An essay in anti-morality

Prologue:

A recent story out of Fairfax VA notes the tragedy of a double murder and suicide. A young man with Neo-Nazi interests was barred from seeing his girlfriend. He was discovered in her bedroom in the early hours by her parents and he promptly murdered the both of them before turning the gun on himself. No motive could be ascertained, the story reported, and the parents were eulogized as simply attempting to save their daughter from a dangerous influence. Given that all those involved were of the same ‘race’ and both families had sent their respective children to an elite private school – which in itself smacks of a kind of lingering fascism – the young man’s politics could not have been the deciding factor and were perhaps used as a well-intended rationalization for keeping the pair of them apart. No, the two young people were in love and when such a love is denied things can become dangerous very rapidly. The story recounts that an ‘intervention’ was made and that the young woman had been convinced to stay away. This seems an open question given the subsequent visitation. And indeed, the young man manufactured an intervention of his own. Love of this youthful and incandescent variety works like this: if you cannot be with your beloved then all those who have stopped you from being so must be eliminated. Since in doing so you have also eliminated any further chance of reunion yourself, you also might as well die. For life without the beloved is simply not worth living a moment longer. This is the motive for the events in Fairfax and others besides, including the Canadian example discussed in the essay below. Yes, the logic is irrational in the extreme, and adults who are in love do not love as do those with nothing further to lose or those who have no perspective on what might be lost  (the elderly and youth among us respectively, are the only ones who actually love freely and unconditionally in this manner, more power to them, perhaps). In any case, the avoidance behavior associated with the contrived puzzlement regarding youthful love exposes the rest of us for what we have become: guarded, resentful, jealous, and controlling. We have become that not generally or originally through any calculated maleficence, but simply because we have loved and lost repeatedly, and the mystery of how that occurs and continues to occur is something as deep as it is abiding.

Read on if you are interested in a more detailed case and ethical argument concerning the nature of human love and its ambiguous character.

                                    Who’s not J.R.? An essay on anti-morality

 

Back in the 1980s, the popular television soap opera Dallas, a melodrama chronicling the life and times of a dynastic oil family, titillated its viewers with one of the most famous cliffhangers in media history. The principle had been gunned down by an unknown assailant, and for a time the world of popular culture was regaled by a simple query: ‘Who shot JR?’ No doubt the super-wealthy magnate had made many enemies in his checkered career, including members of his own family. At length, the issue was resolved in typical Hollywood fashion and we viewers got on with our very much more mundane lives and times.

On May 6th, 2016, our very own J.R. was released from all further obligations to Canada’s justice system, having after about ten years completed successfully her psychological rehabilitation. She was now able to get on with her life, and the community of Medicine Hat got some closure to a traumatic affair that had, at the time, shocked the nation and promoted, in a rather different way than a soap opera cliffhanger, a flurry of fashionable querying as to just what had occurred. Because what the RCMP walked in on back in 2006 was a grotesque horror of undeniably bestial proportion. Three people, one an eight year old child, had been brutally murdered. It was no ordinary affair on at least two counts: One, the murders were as far from being ‘professional’ as one could imagine. Their detritus spoke volumes about the hatred and fury that must have been present in the murderers’ minds at the time of the slayings. Two, one of the criminals was the victims’ own twelve year old daughter, that is, J.R. herself.

Now we’ve perhaps gotten all too used to the brutality of murder, not least because of how it is portrayed in our entertainment fictions. The more gruesome, the more credit for the heroes – from the famous detective on down to the technicians of CSI and everyone in between – who solve the case. But solving isn’t quite enough, after all. What we seek is not merely the solution to such cases, but also their resolution. This sensibility isn’t important for television because in order to keep the series or the plot rolling along we need to always be on the edge of our moral seats, anxious that the next time, just maybe, our heroes may not be able to solve the problem. It certainly keeps us watching. But in real life, we know things to be a little different. In our day to day world there are plenty of ordinary heroes and villains, and plenty of events that cannot seem to be resolved, from world peace on down to a family dispute. Even so, the fact remains that we also know that we should resolve these issues, even if we do not appear to have the means at our current disposal. Peak time viewing cannot bear a real tragedy for overlong.

So when J.R. was deemed worthy of the great socially sanctioned grace of human freedom, the media turned back for a moment to the original events, if only to reset the circle that was now, at least officially, resolved. The case itself was closed long ago, but this is not of interest to us. It is almost as if we can hear some version of Sherlock Holmes reminding us that ‘murder is common, morality rare’. Our fictional heroes are often great moralizers. After all, they defend society and its mores, legally and sometimes, to our delight, extra-legally. The anti-hero is often still a hero. Whether it was Holmes himself, pushing his loyal partner into breaking the law to catch the real law-breaker to the Dark Knight of comic book land, we remain entranced by the idea that sometimes you have to play dirty to get the dirt on things. What separates our heroes and villains is not really their means, but their motives. In spite of the moral caveat of which we are also very aware – that the ends cannot justify the means – nevertheless we celebrate those who transgress in the name of righteousness. This attitude surely descends from religious outlooks wherein the messianic voice was always a revolutionary one: ‘you have heard it said, but I say unto you…’. The key word, the radical term, is ‘but’.

It seems like a simple little word. Yet it is the harbinger of change. It announces itself by pronouncing in an entirely different manner a language we thought we knew well enough. Its speaker claims that we have been living in a dream-world, but he or she knows the truth of things and is going to, gracefully or no, bestow it upon us. Most attempted religions are a flop for just this reason. Not enough of us are convinced by the new meanings to get a viable social movement begun. Those that are successful, however radically announced, tone themselves down considerably – often after their founder has died; all the more so if they are executed or murdered – and begin to look very much like what the rest of us have been used to all along. In spite of this, there is some change. Over long periods of time, we find ourselves living in a different world.

But, sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we can’t bear to wait for change a moment longer. J.R. was one such person. Her parents had, no doubt amongst other things, forbidden her to continue to see her twenty-three year old boyfriend, a Mr. Steinke. We actually know his name because he was a legal adult at the time of the crime. Indeed, it is safe to assume that ‘J.R’. are not even the other person’s real initials, but no matter. Let’s examine this situation from the outside, using what we think we know about adolescent intimacies and also love of all kinds.  Wait a minute, you’re saying, what’s this about ‘other things’? The attending officer was interviewed briefly in 2016. He had clearly not been able to vanquish the original scene from his mind. I doubt many of us could. All of the evidence that the courts were interested in was present. But there was also a surfeit of more profound evidence of the type that is truly disturbing because it forces us to confront the character of both our personalities and our social conditioning. The murderers, in their violence, appeared to sink below the level of animals, for no animal kills in this way. Indeed, one of the dubious marks of our humanity is that we do not simply kill, but rather murder. The unethical rationalization that warfare transmutes murder back into mere killing is just that. Of course, neither the twelve year old nor her adult accomplice had any practice at murder. They were manifestly not assassins of any ‘level’, let alone of the type that provides yet more dubious entertainment in video games and films alike. The stabbing, slashing, cutting, gutting, impaling and garroting that greeted the gutsy RCMP officer produced a sight that was not for the faint of heart, to say the least. But the ferocity of the attacks tells us of their authentic motive. And that motive was as far removed from what one would first imagine as it could possibly be.

In the Phaedrus, Socrates famously defines love as a form of madness. Sent by Aphrodite, it afflicts mortals because, though we have imagined love from the vantage point of heaven, the metaphorical wings we grow when in love cannot help us actually ascend there. We are thus fated to love on earth even though our attention is arrested by a vision of the beyond. This is why lovers appear to be so disinterested in the world around them and others outside of their blessed dyad. Now in Plato’s day, such a definition was to be taken as ‘value-neutral’. That is, when in love, human beings were known to be capable of extreme emotions, thoughts and acts. They might be deemed great and worthy by the surrounding society, ourselves, who might not at all be in love at the same time, but might recognize it because we had been in love or in fact because we still were in love. But such acts of love could also be vile, vindictive, and violent. For to be in love is to desire only its continuation. Its ‘visionary’ quality allows one to pretend that the things of the mundane world are of little import. No sacrifice for the beloved is too high to accomplish, no need too desperate to give succor. Even as recently as the beginning of the nineteenth century, this antique notion of love and how it transformed human consciousness and rationality was still taken as a given, indeed, celebrated famously and infamously by the Romantic movement in the arts. But with the rise of psychopathological discourse over the course of the Victorian period, our definitions of both love and madness were altered.

The first became the lighted space of all that was good and pure about human character. To be in love was to be one’s best self, to raise both self and other out of the slough of bestiality and to become role-models for one’s fellows, marking not only the good life but also the good society. The second became the ever darkening space of non-being, a disturbed reliquary of all that was evil and irrational about us. Love and madness were thus separated, almost at birth. The problem of irrationality was partially solved along these lines, though one could argue that it was psychology which invented the problem in the first place. But what psychology neglected to resolve was the ongoing reality of the tension between two new forms of being human: society and the individual, both scions of the eighteenth century Enlightenment. Yes, community, group, ethnicity, tribe, cult and sect, amongst others, hailed from much earlier times. People, figures, roles, positions, and even the self, likewise. But society in the sense we know it today, and the individual, the sacredness of which we in North America particularly prize, were new. Their advent was both the result of and the catalyst for the political and intellectual revolutions to which we owe our current state of being. You might say that we are, as a collective, in love with them, because we would simply not be ourselves without their presence in our consciousness.

We too suffer from a collective madness, even so. What truly mature species jealously guards and feeds the means of its own destruction? Our love is strong, no doubt, but it does not yet extend to those we feel nothing for. We have not at all reached that pitch of ethical maturity that the contemporary philosopher Paul Ricoeur reminded us characterizes authentic love, stating ‘the love we have for our own children does not absolve us from loving the children of the world’. Quite so. Our kind of love remains selfish and parochial, in other words, a little mad. And this at the best of times, for no child can be cajoled, manipulated, or coerced into murdering her own family if that family was itself not already the space of violence, danger, abuse, and hatred. We speak of discipline, obedience, ‘oppositional defiance disorder’, civility and maturity. We school our children to conform and to ask mere technical questions. We threaten them with our absence, neglect, emotional and even sometimes still, physical violence. In the name of love, we do these things to and ‘for’ our children.

Clearly, in spite of modern psycho-social discourses, the nature of human love still looks more like the thing Socrates was talking about long ago. One wonders if today, love itself being also a commodity, we use it to secure for ourselves status and security more than anything else. Children, with their incomplete socializations and their almost innate ability to be pests, are a constant threat to our fragile control over the petty kingdoms we hold ever so close to our breasts. What contemporary psychology does tell us that makes sense is that children do not tend to develop relationships of any kind with older persons who are not family members unless there is some pressing need being unmet in the family itself.

I can, barely, recall being twenty-three. I am grateful for my failing memory. Nietzsche was right, of course, about those unable to forget being existentially doomed. Aside from living in the past – is it a coincidence that so much of our entertainment is nostalgic in character? – the mourning of lost youth, the jealousy and even resentment we feel towards adolescents who can seemingly do and feel all that we seemingly cannot, contributes bodily to a sense that we, as adults, have at once to protect youth from itself, but as well, and more darkly, to keep youth from having too much fun, for having such is seen at our expense. After all, what would children be without us, we ask? They’d starve on the street. Canada would look like Bulgaria after the fall of state socialism, with untended orphanages, child prostitutes and sexual predators alike, gangs of Dickensian youths of all stripes and skills.

But aren’t team sports fun? What about science camps? How about music and theatre? These days, even homework, that time-honoured extension of the surveillance of the schools into the homes, should be ‘fun’. But we adults know better. Being in love is fun. And forget love, sex is real fun. Now you’re talking. But don’t tell the kiddies! At the time of the Enlightenment, twelve and twenty-three was a normal, socially sanctioned age match for marriage. The girl was always younger, but old enough to bear children in at least a short while. The man must be older, for he was the one who had to earn the family’s keep. Now no one wants to go back to the social formations that made this work for millennia. Most men as servants, women as chattel, children as property, animals as tools or worse and so on. But just here we can note something of import: the rights of children are not the same as those of adults even in our own day. We say that is because they are not expected to have the same obligations, and this seems sensible so far as it goes. Even so, we have extended our notion of what rights children do not, by definition, hold, into the realm of their consciousness and emotional experience. This isn’t a case of not being able drink or vote. This is, rather, a case where young persons must be not only allowed, but encouraged, to explore their nascent humanity with one another.

At twenty-three, I was not much more than a child. My emotional age was probably around sixteen, and this is quite typical of young males in our culture. No need to read the criminal news to divine that. In spite of being half-way through a Masters degree, in spite of having placed second for the Governor General’s Silver Medal and having received monies bestowed on only the top one percent of students, I was nevertheless fully capable of falling in love. Yes, with some other ‘teenager’. If an actual fifteen year old girl had come along I would have known I had met my match. Indeed, physically, as well as cognitively, such an age gap makes far more sense than what we actually do sanction, as females mature far faster than males in far more than just smarts. Our ancestors recognized this as well, though their goals were hardly about two young people exploring love together. So Steinke, if he was a typical guy, was more or less like me, like most guys. Not a lunatic. Not a child molester. Not a manipulator. He was about ‘sixteen’, and J.R. could well have been a few years older than her chronological age. Many twelve year old girls are. If we presume the two of them to be typical – there simply isn’t enough public information available to know for sure, and what there is has been seriously compromised by our desperate predilection for confining and limiting such relationships given their threatening quality; threatening, that is, to our bad conscience about how we not only raise our kids but also to what we ourselves have become in the meanwhile – they could easily have been in love to the extent that the madness of being in love was readily available to them. And one thing we all know about being in love is its absolute impatience with anything in its way. Love cannot wait. It will not wait. No sacrifice is too great, no act impossible. And such acts carry themselves well past any morality of the day. Love is an essentially anti-moral or even non-moral phenomena. Nietzsche famously proclaimed “That which is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil’.

So all those who were interviewed in the ensuing weeks of 2016 who claimed they ‘could still not imagine how a child could do such a thing’, need to get a grip. And those who, with a little more public grace, suggested that J.R. had earned the right of a second chance, might consider spilling more of their apparent ellipses. Does this mean they knew something about this particular family? The idea of a second chance does not adhere as well to adults. Karla Homolka has become a Canadian archetype for this side of the coin. Yet surely she must have grown up wrong as well. Who could do such things and not have done so? And, in spite of ourselves, she did get her second chance after all was said and done, though we are skeptical of it and rather rightly so. And the idea, also rife in the interview material, that ‘children don’t really know what they’re doing’ is likely a calculated nonsense, martialed to decoy our suspicions away from the real problem: the family as we know it doesn’t work.

The question is not, ‘how could a child do such a thing?’ It is rather, ‘how come more children don’t do such things?’ It is the same question we can ask of other arenas which house our social inequities and inequalities. How come more women don’t murder men? How come more Blacks, or other subaltern ethnic groups, don’t murder Whites? Yes, I have heard the song from Jamaica, Mon. It was a man who murdered at the Polytechnic. Personal delusion was his ‘excuse’. But such murders in their very occurrence are already part of our wider social expectations of men. Women, and all the more so, children, do not figure on the debit sheets recording what we consider to be such incivility or worse. So we come up with the wildest rationales whenever they do make their rare appearance, including the manner in which such cases are handled. One person interviewed wondered if J.R. had somehow ‘tricked’ the rehabilitation program and justice system, and thus society at large. Oh, really? Oh wait, I forgot, she’s a demon-child, capable of super-human manipulation and trickery verging on sorcery. If anything, she’s been denuded of both her madness and her sense of being able to love. After all, ‘you can’t have one without the other’.

As a professional social scientist, my gut feeling was that I would want to actually meet J.R. and find out what really happened, at least, according to her perspective. But if our much-vaunted psycho-therapies were successful, I probably shouldn’t try: “Hey everybody, look, I just killed the philosopher and culture critic. He’s the true menace to society. I only killed my family but he wants to kill THE family. I only killed people but he kills morality itself. See, the therapy worked. I’m now so fully on your side that you can rely on me to defend society to the knife. This I vow. Surely killing the thinker more than makes up for what I did as a kid? The balance is restored and all of you have nothing to fear!”

She might be right. But a couple of last things remain of note. We know that our society could stand some improvement, and equally, we know killing people isn’t the answer. But where are the opportunities to question the authority of institutions, discourses, ideologies and social formations such as the family and gender relations that make the way things are seem as if they could only be this way? As if there were but one ‘human nature’. As if we were happily divorced from our own humanity.

J.R. was released, somehow fittingly, on Freud’s birthday. Proverbially, part of his theories concern the killing of one’s parents and their subsequent replacement with lovers. However allegorical, the idea is nonetheless in our heads. Steinke was in her life for a reason, Freudian or otherwise. Falling in love like that was a mark of both grace and desperation. Believing what they shared could be saved if only those who prohibited it were removed was a mark of adolescence at best, but what ended up being done was done out of love, nonetheless. Perhaps the one thing the rest of us can learn from this disaster is that the next time we find ourselves justifying something in love’s name, we’d better think twice about what love really is, and what it can do.

 

Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of over two-dozen books on such diverse topics as ethics, education, art, religion and science.