Ktismatics

9 March 2007

Authentic Angst

Filed under: Ktismata, Psychology — ktismatics @ 7:05 am

Heidegger’s Being and Time contextualizes man absolutely. There is no essential human nature that transcends existence in the world, in culture, in history. “Being” is always “being-in,” or Da-sein, thrown into a pre-existing world and inextricably entangled in it: that’s the take-home message of the first half of the book, my favorite half. It’s a message that has profoundly affected subsequent thinking in ontology, epistemology and hermeneutics. In the second half of the book Heidegger says that “to be-in” also always means “to be-toward” in time. Man doesn’t live in eternity, nor does he live in the pure present; he is always pointing back to his birth and forward toward his death. This last bit, this being-toward-death, points forward to the existentialists and their angsty successors. But it also points backward to Hegel’s absolute Master.

As long as you are entangled in the world you can never be whole, but it’s impossible to disentangle yourself from the world without leaving the world; that is, without dying. So every effort to transcend, to attain pure being for oneself, means being thrown forward toward one’s own death. I am always “not-yet,” always moving forward in time toward that moment that simultaneously completes me and ends me. Is my not-yetness like a ripening fruit? No, says Heidegger: death is the opposite of ripeness; not the fulfillment of possibility but its loss. As soon as you’re born you’re dying: being-in is always already a being-toward-death. Being attuned to this inevitability, to this absolute potentiality is what Heidegger calls Angst.

Succumbing to the temptation to cover over this awareness of being-toward-death Heidegger calls falling prey. It manifests itself in idle talk, in an everyday sociability with “the they” that constitutes a constant tranquillization about death.

The they does not permit the courage to have Angst about death… The they is careful to distort this Angst into the fear of a future event. Angst, made ambiguous as fear is, moreover, taken as a weakness which no self-assured Da-sein is permitted to know. What is “proper” according to the silent decree of the they is the indifferent calm as to the “fact” that one dies. The cultivation of such a “superior” indifference estranges Da-sein from its ownmost nonrelational potentiality-of-being. Temptation, tranquillization, and estrangement, however, characterize the kind of being of falling prey. Entangled, everyday being-toward-death is a constant flight from death. Being toward the end has the mode of evading that end — reinterpreting it, understanding it inauthentically, and veiling it.

Da-sein, being-in the world, is characterized by ambivalence, always simultaneously a being-toward-death and a flight from death. What, then, constitutes the existential project of an authentic being-toward-death? Not seeking one’s death; not brooding over death; but rather understanding, cultivating, enduring, and expecting death as possibility. There is no self-actualization in authentic Angst.

It is the possibility of the impossibility of every mode of behavior toward . . . , of every way of existing… Death does not just “belong” in an undifferentiated way to one’s own Da-sein, but it lays claim on it as something individual.

Death is non-relational. I can take care of the world or I can be distracted by the they, but ultimately my death is my own, something to be faced by myself alone, with a resoluteness. Resoluteness means letting oneself be summoned out of one’s lostness in the they.

Heidegger doesn’t dwell on master-bondsman. Instead he zeros in on Hegel’s “absolute Master” and the individual’s relationship to him. Losing myself in the they, even taking care of the they, is a distraction from my truest essential being, that which is always available to me as an autonomous self thrown into the world. It is the perpetual presence of my inevitable absence, the desire of dread, the one thing that is truly mine: my being-toward-death. Or, as angstmeister Jackson Browne once said:

Just do the steps that you’ve been shown
By everyone you’ve ever known
Until the dance becomes your very own
No matter how close to yours
Another’s steps have grown
In the end there is one dance you’ll do alone

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20 Comments »

  1. Ktismatics…As long as you are entangled in the world you can never be whole, but it’s impossible to disentangle yourself from the world without leaving the world; that is, without dying. So every effort to transcend, to attain pure being for oneself, means being thrown forward toward one’s own death. I am always “not-yet,” always moving forward in time toward that moment that simultaneously completes me and ends me.

    Succumbing to the temptation to cover over this awareness of being-toward-death Heidegger calls falling prey. It manifests itself in idle talk, in an everyday sociability with “the they” that constitutes a constant tranquillization about death.

    So, I’m wondering if we can flesh out this “falling prey” idea and “the they.” What do you think are the dis/similarities between this and a Buddhist conception about emptying one’s self of desire? To divorce the self from the suffering of the world? The eightfold path?

    It seems that Heidegger might sympathize with certain Buddhist ideas of relating with the world, but perhaps he might disagree with the end goal of reaching a pinnacle like “nirvana” or “enlightenment”.

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 9 March 2007 @ 4:37 pm

  2. I think Heidegger does seem sort of dispassionate in discussing subjects like death and angst, but hey, he’s a philosopher, and a German at that. Here’s a little more Heidegger on falling prey to the they:

    Being-with-one-another in the they is not at all a self-contained, indifferent side-by-sideness but a tense, ambiguous keeping track of each other, a secretive, reciprocal listening-in. Under the mask of the for-one-another, the against-one-another is at play… As an authentic potentiality for being a self, Da-sein has initially always already fallen away from itself and fallen prey to the “world.” Falling prey to the “world” means being absorbed in being-with-one-another as it is guided by idle talk, curiosity, and ambiguity… Da-sein prepares for itself the constant temptation of falling prey. Being-in-the-world is in itself tempting… In the self-certainty and decisiveness of the they, it gets spread abroad increasingly that there is no need of authentic attuned understanding. The supposition of the they that one is leading a full and genuine life brings a tranquillization to Da-sein… This tranquillization in inauthentic being, however, does not seduce one into stagnation and inactivity, but drives one to uninhibited “busyness.”

    I could go on: this part of the book I like a lot. Heidegger here does not seem particularly formidable and inaccessible. I think he’s right on track. He’s not calling for tranquility or a merging into the oneness of the cosmos; he’s looking for a fully-aware, fully-engaged individual. But there’s just something about being-in that makes this sort of falling prey inevitable and part of la condition humaine. For Heidegger there’s a certain joy to be found in resolute Angst, in facing squarely the inevitability of death and avoiding the trivial distractions that get in the way of a resolute engagement in and caring for the world in hope. The pallid mood of indifference to everything, which clings to nothing and urges to nothing, and which goes along with what the day brings, yet in a way takes everything with it, demonstrates in the most penetrating fashion the power of forgettting in the everyday moods of taking care of what is nearby. Just barely living, which “lets everything alone” as it is, is grounded in giving oneself over to thrownness and forgetting. It has the ecstatic meaning of an inauthentic having-been. Indifference, which can go along with busying oneself head over heels, is to be sharply distinguished from equanimity. Like I said, I could go on.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 9 March 2007 @ 10:19 pm

  3. Ktismatics says:
    ….and a German at that….

    Just for the record, I do take offense.

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 9 March 2007 @ 10:49 pm

  4. Well at least you’ve got some philosophers to talk about. When was the last time you read an Irish philosopher?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 9 March 2007 @ 10:58 pm

  5. Irish philosopher? Bono, ha ha (student: “What about the fact that Bono cusses a lot?”; Eugene Peterson response: “Uuhh…I think that’s just how Irish Christians talk”)! Oh but when was the last time a bunch of Chistian German fellas got into a good brawl in a bar over religios sectarianism? Passionless Germans! Just kidding Johnathan…

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 9 March 2007 @ 11:41 pm

  6. If this is what being an individual is…and to a degree turning inward away from the world…then where does the whole “introver” and “extrovert” thing come from? I’ve always thought those were pretty bogus anyway, relatively groundless. But even still…originally…what did they actually MEAN…in light of this death stuff from Heidegger?

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 9 March 2007 @ 11:52 pm

  7. Ktismatics…As an authentic potentiality for being a self, Da-sein has initially always already fallen away from itself and fallen prey to the “world.” Falling prey to the “world” means being absorbed in being-with-one-another as it is guided by idle talk, curiosity, and ambiguity…

    I’m wondering what it means to be “absorbed”? Specifically, is Heidegger recommending detachment from the world?

    At first it seems as though we might answer this, “no”. One can be “in the world but not of the world”, as it were….He’s not calling for tranquility or a merging into the oneness of the cosmos; he’s looking for a fully-aware, fully-engaged individual.….But then Heidegger also speaks of avoiding the trivial distractions that get in the way of a resolute engagement in and caring for the world in hope.

    So, to what extent are we to engage the world? And to what extent are we to disengage?

    Or perhaps it is a matter of avoiding the “idle-talk”. But what is this? This question brings me back to the Buddhist and eastern mystics who seek to escape the so-called “triviality” of the world. There is a purification of mind and body through various means. The life of a Buddhist monk, in this regard, is incredibly practical in terms of giving a specific strategy for rising above the world. Would Heidegger concur? Perhaps in the method? But perhaps he might disagree that one can reach some sort of “enlightenment” or “Nirvana”.

    And how does this relate to Da-Sein-feld episodes that I’ve been seeing on television? Would Heidegger consider these trivial sitcoms to be “idle-talk”?

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 10 March 2007 @ 12:00 am

  8. Seems like Jason and I might be going for the same thing here in regards to how to dis/engage the world….

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 10 March 2007 @ 12:02 am

  9. Johnathan,

    I’m pretty straight, I feel, on what Heidegger meant here about not being absorbed into the trivialities of the world. Death is the hinge here. What you do with it, from that hinging point, is what distinguishes various positions oftentimes…at the core. But its my understanding that mysticism is a later historical development that is basically in reaction to certain cultural and historical developments…in and over time. I also think, in general, that monasticism is a pretty Roman reaction to a Roman disaster.

    And me in particular…I don’t really know enough about Buddahism, for the most part, to be asking about it in this context. I do think Heidegger and Buddahism are realted when it comes to how the Da-sien is formed (Zen Buddahism’s take on concepts as an illustration). I think Heidegger is pretty Western, but I don’t really understand Buddahism’s take on death well enough (nor many Eastern religion or thought in general) to ultimately do a compare-contrast exercise between them and Heidegger, in terms of their relating to “the world”.

    I was asking pretty specifically about Heidegger’s relationship to modern psychology…and in particular where exactly the whole introver/extrovert thing came from. From Freud? If Freud…did they (ideas of introvert/extrovert) relate to death similarly to how Heidegger is relating to death here? Like many other things, have they just been trivialized and taken from the higher tragic stage to the more common-place comedic one, or were they relatively meaningless from their origin?

    Jason

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 10 March 2007 @ 12:59 am

  10. The whole “relationship with the world” thing is very interesting to me….On the extreme side of theology you have certain gnostic belief systems that look at the whole physical and material dimension as being inherently evil. Only those who have the secret knowledge (gnosis) are redeemed, and they will not be fully redeemed until they escape the “flesh”. The Docetism aspect of gnostic heresy held that Jesus Christ only “appeared” to be a human being. They said this because to them Jesus could not have actually come in the flesh or his status as a Redeemer would have to some extent been compromised by his coming as flesh….I know that Heidegger probably would not go so far with his views, but it all ties back with how we view reality and our interaction with the world around us…

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 10 March 2007 @ 3:57 am

  11. I don’t think of Heidegger as Gnostic at all really. I was facing the material world squarely and face to face like a good Greek. That’s precisely why he talks about death the way he does. Among lots of other things. For the Gnostics death is freedom. For Heidegger its angst. There’s a certain freedom in H’s angst, but not at all like the Gnostic’s freedom.

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 10 March 2007 @ 6:41 am

  12. I agree with Jason that Heidegger’s position isn’t gnostic, mystical, or transcendent. For H. there is no transcendence possible: the human condition is inextricably tied to the world and to mortality. Neither the ecstatically pagan, animalistic merging with “the they” nor the otherworldly rising-above through asceticism or idealism or achieving oneness with the universe is an authentic stance of Da-sein, of being-in.

    I do see certain similarities, as Jonathan points out, to the disciplines of Buddhism. There is a praxis of going beyond the trivial flux of the world and the they in order to pursue a more authentic way of being an individual self in the world. So too with many of the great religious praxes, including (per Jason) Stoicism and other Greek disciplines of virtue, Confucianism, and Christianity. “Religion without religion” some call it.

    Curiously, H. doesn’t completely disavow the afterlife. He just says it’s so completely other than mortal human life and so entirely unknown that there’s no use in trying to live it. We are mortal beings embedded in time and place, determined to a large degree by our past and pointed toward our inevitable death. No sense trying to deny or avoid it; the thing to do is live it authentically.

    I don’t think intro-/extraversion has much to do with H’s discourse here. H. doesn’t advocate withdrawing from the world, mostly because there’s nowhere else to go — we are inextricably in the world. It’s more of a conscientious caring for the world rather than a losing oneself in the triviality and pointless busyness of the world. Not unlike a relentless Christian stance of the Augustinian/Protestant, non-monastic variety.

    As for Seinfeld, I suspect Heidegger wouldn’t have watched. Too Jewish, for one thing. It also goes back to Zizek’s comment on H’s “extreme unpleasantness,” at least by reputation. I suspect H wasn’t much fun at parties.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 10 March 2007 @ 7:22 am

  13. Well then where on earth DID introvert and extrover come from? Are they really relatively trivial without much good real grounded meaning?

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 10 March 2007 @ 8:01 am

  14. Here’s something I didn’t know, copied from Wikipedia: Karl Jung was the first popularizer of the introversion/extraversion idea. According to Carl Jung, introversion and extraversion refer to the direction of psychic energy. If a person’s energy usually flows outwards, he or she is an extravert, while if this energy normally flows inwards, this person is an introvert. [2] Extraverts feel an increase of perceived energy when interacting with large group of people, but a decrease of energy when left alone. Conversely, introverts feel an increase of energy when alone, but a decrease of energy when surrounded by large group of people. This personality dimension has stood up well to empirical verification. Still, your intuition was on target: there’s a gnostic theme to the concept.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 10 March 2007 @ 3:33 pm

  15. I have heard it said that an oriental philosopher of religion once said that Heidegger was the only western philosopher who not only understood eastern thought, but seemed to have a sort-of intuitive understanding of it….

    Nice quote on introvert/extrovert thing. I’m going to post that on my blog.

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 10 March 2007 @ 9:05 pm

  16. Jonathan –

    I don’t know later Heidegger that well. I’ll stick with my contention that Being and Time doesn’t strike me as particularly Eastern. Maybe I don’t understand the book or Eastern thought well enough. There is a certain passivity, or maybe a receptivity, in the way Heidegger talks about “uncovering” truth from the trivial crap of living in the world that hides truth from view. This would be contrasted with a more aggressive Western emphasis on actively separating truth from falsehood, or the pragmatic approach of digging truth out with power tools.

    Interesting that you like the quote about Jung and intro-/extraversion. The whole “psychic energy” thing is kind of mystical. But it does turn out that I/E is a pretty stable variable in personality surveys, even though Jung’s theoretical underpinning has been pretty much abandoned.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 10 March 2007 @ 10:18 pm

  17. Thanks Sir Doyle for the intro/extro thing. That makes a whole heck of a lot of sense, acutally. Particularly that “personality dimension has stood up well to empirical verification…does turn out that I/E is a pretty stable variable in personality surveys, even though Jung’s theoretical underpinning has been pretty much abandoned.” NO WONDER I was confused all this time. Freakin’s such a confusing mess of characters at play in that story, jeez. I’m tempted to call them stupifying characters (partially in reference to modern empiricism), but I don’t know the history of psychology well enough to go making a statement like that. Although I’d put money on it that the reason psychologists have even continued to look for it on in surveys in the first place is its “empirical verification”. Even though there’s nothing left thats really being “verified”, sheesh.

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 11 March 2007 @ 11:28 am

  18. I just put up a post with a link to a short personality questionnaire. Intro/extraversion is one of the traits it measures.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 11 March 2007 @ 8:22 pm

  19. Good day people, just become a member of ktismatics.wordpress.com . I’ve spent five hrs researching in the world wide web, until i’ve discovered this community forum! I feel, I shall stay here for a long time. kool forum.

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    Comment by JaraTrirl — 16 May 2011 @ 8:02 pm

  20. I was surprised that your link didn’t work, Jara — I thought maybe you were selling something. Forgive my jaded skepticism, and welcome to this forum. Feel free to continue your research — I won’t be jealous.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 16 May 2011 @ 9:43 pm


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