Archive for the ‘finitude’ Category

Francois Hartog “Regimes of Historicity”

January 21, 2016 Leave a comment

Hartog, Francois 2015. Regimes of Historicity. Presentism and Experiences of Time. New York: Columbia University Press.

Presentism – stop gap or new state
[…] “presentism”: the sense that only the present exists, a present characterized at once by the tyranny of the instant and by the treadmill of an unending now.

As for why I have opted for (regimes of) “historicity” rather than of “temporality,” the latter has the disadvantage of referring to an external standard of time, such as can still be found in Braudel, where the different durées are all measured against an “exogenous,” mathematical, or astronomical time (which Braudel himself calls the “imperious time of the world”).

A regime of historicity is, rather, an artificial construct whose value lies in its heuristic potential. And it should be classed alongside Weber’s ideal type, as a formal category. Depending on whether the category of the past, the future, or the present is dominant, the order of time derived from it will obviously not be the same.

Today’s presentism can thus be experienced as emancipation or enclosure: ever greater speed and mobility or living from hand to mouth in a stagnating present. Not to forget a further aspect of our present: that the future is perceived as a threat not a promise. The future is a time of disasters, and ones we have, moreover, brought upon ourselves.

Introduction – orders of time and regimes of history
[…] in a lecture from 1935, Valéry drew an even sharper picture of this experience of broken continuity, where “each person” feels he belongs to “two eras.” “On the one hand,” he continued, “there is the past that can neither be abolished nor forgotten, but from which we can derive almost nothing that will orient us in the present or help us to imagine the future. On the other hand, there is the future without the least shape.”

In 1968 the Western and Westernized world was convulsed by a movement of contestation targeting, among other things, capitalist progress. It gave expression to a loss of faith in time itself as progress, that is, as an agent moving to overturn the present.

At the time, I defined “regime of historicity” in two ways: in a restricted sense, as the way in which a given society approaches its past and reflects upon it; and in a broader sense, as “the modalities of self-consciousness that each and every society adopts in its constructions of time and its perceptions.”

[…] how, depending on the way relations between the past, the present, and the future are configured, certain types of history are possible and others are not.

For Koselleck, the temporal structure of the modern period is characterized by an asymmetry between experience and expectation that is produced by the idea of progress and the opening of time onto a future. This asymmetry grew ever more extreme from the end of the eighteenth century, as time speeded up. The history of modernity could thus be summarized in the words “The lesser the experience, the greater the expectation.” In 1975, Koselleck tried to formulate what an “end” or “exit” from modern times might look like. Maybe, he suggested, it could be captured in a formula such as “The greater the experience, the more cautious one is, but also the more open is the future.”

Has a somewhat different configuration not taken over since then, in which the distance between the space of experience and the horizon of expectation has been stretched to its limit, to breaking point? With the result that the production of historical time seems to be suspended. Perhaps this is what generates today’s sense of a permanent, elusive, and almost immobile present, which nevertheless attempts to create its own historical time.

2 – from odysseus’s tears to augustine’s meditations
„Suppose I am about to repeat a psalm which I know. Before I begin, my expectation is directed towards the whole. But when I have begun, the verses from it which I take into the past become the object of my memory. The life of this act of mine is stretched two ways, into my memory because of the words I have already said and into my expectation because of those which I am about to say. But my attention is on what is present: by that the future is transferred to become the past. As the action advances further and further, the shorter the expectation and the longer the memory, until all expectation is consumed, the entire action is finished, and it has passed into the memory. What occurs in the psalm as a whole occurs in its particular pieces and individual syllables. The same is true of a longer action in which perhaps that psalm is a part. It is also valid of the entire life of an individual person, where all actions are parts of a whole, and of the total history of “the sons of men” (Ps. 30:20) where all human lives are but parts.“ (augustine)

Now Odysseus is unable to organize the events of his life according to this model, shuttling between memory and expectation. One could say that he has distensio but not attentio. As Auerbach noted, the Homeric hero, unlike biblical figures, lives each day as though it were his first. I have already mentioned that Achilles can exist only in the present, and he knows no past or future. But even he is obliged to “let [these things] be as past and done,” to put behind him the outrage of Agamemnon’s insult, to get beyond it: in other words, to consign it to the past, without which he must cease in a certain way to be Achilles. His heroism must include overcoming his thumos, so that the action can start up again and he can be wholly himself, Achilles, the “bane of the Trojans,” living to the full his brief life in the present.

Odysseus has not read Augustine in yet another sense. Augustine’s phenomenology of human time is embedded within the structure of an eternal God who has created all times, such that “distension” must additionally be understood as integral to the human condition. Man’s lot is dispersion: “I am scattered [dissilui] in times whose order I do not understand [ordinem nescio]. The storms of incoherent events tear to pieces my thoughts.”

The Christian order of time to which the believer may aspire thus involves the passage from the mutability of the many to the immutability of God’s eternity. The path leads from dispersion to tension, reaching out by means of an effort of intention (and not simply of attention) toward those things that lie before (ante) (and not simply toward the future). Augustine is here simply following Saint Paul in his Letter to the Philippians: “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The image is that of a runner in the stadium. A similar order is suggested at the beginning of The City of God, in which the Christian “in this fleeting course of time [in hoc temporum cursu]” walks “in the midst of the ungodly [inter impios peregrinatur]” and “waits for [expectat] the fixed stability of [the City of God’s] eternal seat.” And Saint Paul once again: “whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing…for our conversation is in heaven.”

It was not Christianity, however, that conceived and experienced time as an expectant tension or an opening of anticipation. This relation to time was already present in Yahweh’s promise to Abraham: “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great.”

As regards relations to time, Christianity’s specific contribution was the decisive event of the Incarnation—the birth, death, and resurrection of the Son of God made man—which broke time in two. A new time started, which was to end with a second and last event, the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment. The in-between time was a time of anticipation: a present inhabited by the promise of the end. Jesus himself announced this: “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.…But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.…Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.…Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” Vigilance is, quite literally, what is required: “Banish slumber,” says Saint Luke’s gospel.

Besides this eschatological present, what is really new in the New Testament is “the tension between the decisive ‘already fulfilled’ and the ‘not yet completed,’ between present and future.”69 On this founding tension is constructed a properly Christian order of time, and history as the history of salvation. But the already does not balance out the not-yet like the two sides of a set of scales: the already carries more weight, since that “decisive point” has irreversibly changed the course of history.70 The world has already been saved. The present ushered in by this “already” is consequently a privileged time.

All in all, the Christian order of time retained a certain malleability, which allowed present, past, and future to be articulated against a backdrop of eternity. It was not a single regime of historicity, nor can it be reduced to one, not even to its predominant regime of historia magistra.

3 – chateaubriand, between old and new regimes of historicity
Western civilization’s relation to time was profoundly and lastingly structured by the couple “the ancients” and “the moderns.” The many quarrels punctuating its history each time expressed the tension inherent in the pair.9 The notion of “the savage,” which figured already in the first travel writings from the New World, introduced a new term. Arguments no longer hinged on two elements but on three and, most often, on one-plus-two, that is, the moderns versus the ancients/savages.

For Rousseau, the movement thus went from the past to the future, or rather toward a future yet to be brought into being, as a goal on which to set one’s sights. But even if, in the Social Contract, society had something of an ideal Greek polis about it, every society (including ancient society) was nonetheless a mutilation compared to the state of nature. Hence the figure of the savage, which the young Chateaubriand invoked and brought to life: “Oh man of nature, you alone make me proud to be a man! Your heart knows no dependence.”11 For Chateaubriand, far from unrest and revolution, the savage resembled an island on which the shipwrecked traveler could find refuge;12 Rousseau had been left far behind.

Koselleck’s by-now classic analyses have shown how the development in Germany of the modern concept of history (die Geschichte) around 1760–1780 gradually devitalized its understanding in terms of exemplarity and repetition.32 History in the singular (die Geschichte), understood as a process and conceived as history in itself, with its own proper temporality, abandoned the exemplum and redefined itself around the uniqueness of the event. A gap and a tension opened up between individuals’ space of experience and their horizon of expectation.33 The modern concept of history enabled the production of this gap to be understood and explained, and it could even illuminate historical progress in general. Although these theories from the German historical school were already in circulation earlier in the century, they were really put to the test by the French Revolution, which many experienced as a time of acceleration forcing apart, to breaking point, the space of experience from the horizon of expectation.

How do space and time interact here, or, more precisely, what effect does movement in space have upon Chateaubriand’s relation to time when, having returned from America and left the Army of the Princes, he begins writing the Historical Essay? Time is above all the time of getting older: “When I left France I was young; four years of misfortune have put years on me.”65 Time’s ravages are such that, as we have seen, this travel diary of a self in search of himself is presented, via Tacitus, as the writings of a dying man, or even as writings from beyond the grave.

Time flies, swifter than the pen, and the craft caught in the storm is swept past an unrecognizable or unknown coastline, which races along. These remarks, from the 1826 preface, are crucial. They demonstrate what contemporaries were most struck by, namely, time’s acceleration and their resultant loss of bearings (the boat is swept away and the coastline races past). The present is ungraspable, the future is unforeseeable, and the past itself has become incomprehensible.

Besides, who can take an interest in the “collapse of the old world” when one is living the “collapse of the new”? Be that as it may, whether Chateaubriand was writing a history of France’s present (as in the Historical Essay), or its past (as in the Historical Studies), he seemed always to miss the moment, to be out of step: always, ineluctably, too late. So what other option was there but to go on writing nonetheless, to exploit this gap as the mainspring or even the motive of his writing? When he began writing the Historical Essay he was not yet at that stage; he had simply experienced the impossibility of escaping the maelstrom of time. And, having crossed the Atlantic again, from West to East this time, the New World’s island-in-the-storm and its untouched forests reverted to nothing more than utopias, which could be visited only in memory or in writing.

So the America of Chateaubriand’s travels no longer exists, and the dreams of his youth have evaporated. He did not discover the Northwest Passage, French influence was eclipsed, and the savage is dying a slow death. Yet suddenly, at the end of this requiem for a dead America, the reader is presented with “a wonderful spectacle,” painted in the glowing colors of modern freedom.87 The Historical Essay ended on a hymn to the freedom (or independence) of the savage, as the only authentic freedom (in relation to which all others, including the freedom of the ancients, appear false). The Travels ends on the recognition and celebration of modern freedom: the United States’ discovery of a representative republic is “one of the greatest political events that ever occurred.” From this assertion Chateaubriand is led back to the familiar pair, ancient and modern freedom. The case of the United States has proved that there are
„two practicable types of liberty; the one belonging to the infancy of nations, the offspring of manners [fille des moeurs] and of virtue, the liberty of the first Greeks and the first Romans, and the liberty of the Savages of America; the other born in the old age of nations, the offspring of knowledge [fille des lumières] and reason, the liberty of the United States, which has superseded the liberty of the Savage. Happy country, which in less than three centuries has passed from one liberty to the other, almost without effort, and by means of a contest which lasted only eight years!“

Unlike in the Historical Essay, Chateaubriand here historicizes the freedom of the savages, and also that of the ancients, which is thereby rehabilitated. The native Americans, the first Greeks, and the first Romans all belong to the same moment of freedom. That is the deeper meaning—and the miracle—of American history (which is the product of an acceleration of time).

The principle of historicization he introduces (freedom as “offspring of manners” leading to freedom as “offspring of knowledge”) situates the United States not only as the birthplace of a new sort of freedom, but also as the place where “almost without effort,” and at great speed, the former gave way to the latter.91 The Scythians had embodied an “abridged, but complete” history of the three ages of humanity. Here, the United States achieve a similar synthesis, but of their own past with their own present: they embody a historical development.

Above all, the American discovery of modern freedom ruins the whole system of parallels on which the Historical Essay has been constructed. In the 1826 preface, Chateaubriand writes: “I have always based my reasoning in the Essay on the Ancients’ republican system of liberty, liberty the offspring of manners; I had not sufficiently reflected upon that other sort of liberty, liberty offspring of knowledge and a perfected civilization: my discovery of a representative republic has changed the whole matter.”

In short, Tocqueville preserves the model of historia magistra, but inverts it; the lesson to be learned comes from the future, not the past. He himself explicitly recognizes this, toward the end of his work: “Although the ongoing revolution in man’s social state, laws, ideas, and sentiments is still far from over, it is already clear that its works cannot be compared with anything the world has ever seen before. Looking back century by century to remotest Antiquity, I see nothing that resembles what I see before me. When the past is no longer capable of shedding light on the future, the mind can only proceed in darkness.”129 One can no longer, as Chateaubriand still thought possible in 1794, “with the torch of past revolutions in our hand,…boldly enter into the darkness of future ones.” The previous regime of historicity, in which the past precisely illuminated the future, was over for good. A world which is “totally new” requires a “new political science.” This was precisely what Tocqueville set out to develop from his vanguard position, perched in his lookout to scrutinize the future.130

4 – memory, history and the present
Returning to the schematic parallel I made between Chateaubriand and Nora above, what is immediately striking are their different relations to time. The “new plan” required by the “progress” of reason implied a vision of time as a process of improvement and progress, which ushered in freedom “offspring of manners,” as discovered in America. The Historical Essay’s many revisions show this clearly. Yet Chateaubriand could not ignore that the way liberal historians worked, taking this new world as “a revised scale by which to measure the old one,” was poles apart from his own way of writing, constantly crisscrossing, and crossing out, from one world to the other.6 By contrast, when Nora set out on what was to become the Lieux de mémoire, not only was there no question of a progressive time, but he remained entirely within the circle of the present. He aimed at a kind of inventory prior to a death foretold: “The rapid disappearance of our national memory seemed to me to call for an inventory of the sites where it had chosen to manifest itself.”7

There are cogent arguments for situating the modern regime of historicity between the two symbolic dates of 1789 and 1989. I would suggest, at least provisionally, that the two dates mark the entrance and the exit of this regime on the stage of History. At the very least, one can suggest that they constitute two caesuras, or breaks, in the order of time.10 11 September 2001 poses no serious challenge to this outline, unless the American government has decided to make it into a new beginning of world history, a new present and one alone, that of the war on terror. That said, with 9/11 the contemporary event reached its logical limit. Under the glare of the TV cameras, the event exhibited itself in the making, undergoing a real-time transformation into history that was simultaneously, and already, a (self-) commemoration.11 In this sense, the structure of the event had become absolutely presentist.

Koselleck’s by-now classic analyses, which we mentioned earlier, summarize the modern regime as the passage from the German plural die Geschichten to the singular die Geschichte, History. “Beyond histories,” he says, “there is History,” History in itself. In Droysen’s words, as cited by Koselleck, History must become “knowledge of itself.”13 More importantly, it is conceived as a process, with the idea that events do not simply occur in time but also through time, with time itself as an agent, and even the agent. Since, today, the past no longer makes the future comprehensible, history’s lessons have become obsolete, and what is required are, rather, predictions. Historians are no longer in search of the exemplary, but of the unique. The topics of historia magistra had allowed the past to connect with the future through the exemplary model to be imitated: in looking back at famous men, I could also find them in front or ahead of me.

The modern regime replaced the exemplary with the nonrepeatable. The past was, a priori or due to its position (which amounts to the same), outdated.

The future illuminating the past and giving it meaning constituted a telos or vantage point called, by turns, “the Nation,” “the People,” “the Republic,” “Society,” or “the Proletariat,” each time dressed in the garb of science. If history still dispensed a lesson, it came from the future, not the past.

The twentieth century, in retrospect, combined futurism and presentism. It started out more futurist than presentist, and ended up more presentist than futurist. It was passionately futurist, blindly so, and, as we know, embraced the worst. In futurism, the imperative dimension of the order of time decrees that the viewpoint of the future shall prevail. It is an order that presents itself as constantly accelerating. History is made in the name of the future, and it must be written in the same way.

But the Futurist Manifesto also showed how one could move from futurism to presentism, or how futurism was also (already) a presentism. When Marinetti declared: “Time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in a world of the absolute, since we have already created eternal, omnipresent speed,” the present became “futurized,” or, equally, there was already nothing but the present. Speed transformed the present into eternity and Marinetti, at the wheel of his racing car, could imagine himself to be God.

The linguist Émile Benveniste noted that the etymology of praesens is “what is ahead of me,” hence something which is “imminent, urgent,” and “will not permit delay,” in the sense of the Latin preposition prae.23 The present is imminent: it is the runner’s body tensed forward at the very moment he or she leaves the starting blocks.

“The present is never our aim, and while it and the past are our means, the future alone is our end. Thus we never live, but are always hoping to live, and, constantly preparing ourselves to be happy, it is beyond doubt that we never shall be happy.” – pascal

Perhaps the clearest sign of the radical exclusion of anything but the present in the Swinging Sixties was the slogan “forget the future.” Revolutionary utopias were nothing if not progressivist and futurist, even if they were also backward-looking and retrospective (the revolutionary barricades and the Resistance). But henceforth they had to adapt to the narrow circle of the present. The slogans covering the walls of Paris in May 1968 were “Sous les pavés, la plage” (“Beneath the pavings, the beach”) or “Tout, tout de suite” (“All, all at once, now”). But they were followed shortly by “No future,” in other words, no revolutionary present.

the present’s expansionism increasingly eclipses death, as the poet T.S. Eliot noted already in the 1940s: “In our age…there is coming into existence a new kind of provincialism which perhaps deserves a new name. It is a provincialism, not of space, but of time; one for which…the world is the property solely of the living, a property in which the dead hold no shares.”44 The dead no longer have a place, or even, as Philippe Ariès declared in his historical study of the phenomenon, “In towns, everything goes on as if nobody died anymore.”

Would it not be true to say that any self-respecting person today owes it to him- or herself to have no time for anything?

additionally the present, in the very moment of its occurrence, seeks to view itself as already history, already past. In a sense, it turns back on itself in order to anticipate how it will be regarded when it is completely past, as though it wanted to “foresee” the past, to turn itself into a past before it has even fully emerged as present.

To ensure that one is the first to cover the news, what better solution than to announce that something has already taken place when it is yet to come!

[Halbwachs]: Collective memory is “a current of continuous thought” (it retains from the past only what is still living), whereas the historian “can truly achieve his task only by deliberately placing himself outside the time lived by those groups that participated in the events concerned, which have more or less direct contact with these events and can recall them.”66 History, which “extracts changes from duration,” forges “an artificial duration having no reality for the groups from which these events are borrowed.”67 The bird of history can thus spread its wings only when night has fallen entirely, that is, when the present is absolutely dead.

However, if the historian who is thus excluded from the field of memory does not recognize himself in this portrait, then the rigid opposition between history and memory ceases to hold, whereupon the historian’s “hunting ground” may include collective memory or, better still, collective memory may feed into contemporary history. Nora always rejected the idea of a break between the past and the present, which he considered artificial and illusory. Unlike the authors of the report to the minister, Nora argued that it is for “the historian of the present” to make “the past consciously emerge into the present (instead of making the present unconsciously emerge in the past).” Nora’s reflections on the event additionally suggest a relation between the new status of the event in a consumer society and the perception of time: “Does our treatment of the event not transform time itself into something to be consumed, in which we invest analogous affects?”69 This idea points to another aspect of presentism: time itself, Nora suggests, is trapped in the time of consumption, and itself becomes a consumer product.

[Nora] For “our form of memory” is “nothing but history, a matter of sifting and sorting.” We have become obsessive archivists, transforming everything into memory, in furtherance of the present’s immediate self-historicization, which we mentioned above. Memory has become a private affair, entirely psychologized, introducing a new economy of the “self’s identity.” “An order is given to remember, but the responsibility is mine and it is I who must remember.” Hence “to be Jewish is to remember that one is such; but once this incontestable memory has been interiorized, it eventually demands full recognition. What is being remembered? In a sense, it is memory itself.” Lastly, “our” memory is based on a relation to the past in which discontinuity predominates. The past is no longer “solid and steady.” Hence we have moved “from a history sought in the continuity of memory to a memory cast in the discontinuity of history.” Today’s form of memory “is no longer what must be retrieved from the past in order to prepare the future one wants; it is what makes the present present to itself.”74 It is an instrument of presentism.

Given that “the Nation” and “Progress” had been so powerfully welded together in the nineteenth century, how could the idea of the Nation return when that of Progress was no longer sustainable? What was left of the Nation? It was often figured as a Nation without prospect(s), a retrospective and nostalgic entity, basically a refuge, linked to a form of history enthralled once again to the charms of historia magistra.

So we commemorate “Bastille Day,” in which 1880, 1789, and 1790 prefigure and echo each other.113 Péguy, in his Clio, had striking terms for this: “The storming of the Bastille was a genuine feast-day, it was the first celebration, the first commemoration and in a sense the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille.…The Fête de la Fédération, the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, was not its first commemoration. It was the storming of the Bastille itself which was the first Fête de la Fédération, a Federation avant la lettre.”114 Today, this phenomenon has become the norm, with every event already incorporating its own commemoration. This was the case in May 1968, and it was true again, in extreme form, for 11 September 2001, with all the television cameras trying to catch on film the moment when the second plane would crash into the World Trade Center’s second tower.

… the present’s tendency to transform itself instantly into history.

The end of the tyranny of the future also had the effect of making the past inscrutable again, and at least partly unpredictable too. This was not simply linked to the issue of contingency, which Raymond Aron highlighted in his critique of causality in Simiand.122 The past waiting to be rediscovered was neither linear nor unambiguous, and it was construed as a field crisscrossed by pasts that had for a time been possible futures, including those which had begun to exist and which had been prevented from doing so.

Our doubly indebted present: the reign of presentism
According to François Ewald, responses to uncertainty have taken three forms: foresight, prevention, and, today, precaution.23 The paradigm of responsibility (linked to the advent of liberalism) can be associated with foresight, that of solidarity (represented by the Welfare State) can be associated with prevention, and perhaps a new paradigm, for which a name has yet to be found, will come to be associated with precaution. Ewald proposes the paradigm of “security” and the concomitant emergence of a “Precautionary State.”24 “Foresight” implies not overlooking the ups and downs of life, “prevention” means evaluating risks on the basis of scientific knowledge, and “precaution” acknowledges that even science is not infallible. With it, a new relation to harm and to time is introduced: “there exist the irreparable, the irremediable, the unpardonable, the harm which is beyond compensation and the crime whose prosecution is beyond time restrictions [imprescriptible].”25 Irreversibility and sustainable development are concepts whose temporalities carry with them the idea of time as continuous and seamless, from us to future generations or from future generations back to us. Of course we look toward the future, but on the basis of an extended present, without interruption or revolution.

[…] Ewald has drawn our attention to an “extreme form of the figure of precaution,” according to which development itself would constitute a risk. Let us imagine a product with “an undetectable and unforeseeable defect, which only becomes apparent after a certain length of time. Moreover, the responsibility for the defect can be imputed to the product or producer only due to a scientific context different from the one existing when the product was first put into circulation, used and consumed.”26 How determine civil or criminal liability in such a case? How can someone be held responsible after the fact for something he or she could not possibly have known at the time?

Yet with development risk, when a danger is discovered at some future date, the past (in which the danger was unknown) is still considered to be part of the present of the risk’s discovery. This means that we never leave the present (or at least a legal present). The as yet unsuspected risk is (already) present, and once it has been proven, after the fact, it will continue to belong to that present; it will not be considered as past.

The lifting of statutory limitations here means that the criminal in crimes against humanity remains contemporary with his crime until his death, but by the same token we too are contemporary with the facts to be judged.

The present has thus extended both into the future and into the past. Into the future, through the notions of precaution and responsibility, through the acknowledgment of the irreparable and the irreversible, and through the notions of heritage and debt, the latter being the concept which cements and gives sense to the whole. And into the past, borne by similar concepts such as responsibility and the duty to remember, the drive to make every-thing into heritage, the lifting of time limitations, and last but not least the notion of “debt.” This double indebtedness, toward the past and the future, but derived from our present and weighing upon it, is another hallmark of our contemporary experience. The figure of debt is what transports us from the genocide of the Jews to the risks threatening the entire human species, from the obligation not to forget to the imperative of responsibility:29 in order that future generations may still have the life of human beings and never forget man’s inhumanity to man.

We “start out from” the present, but never really “leave” it? It is the source of all enlightenment. And in a sense there is nothing but the present, not as infinite, but as indefinite. The managerial response to uncertainty is called “flexibility,” where the idea is not so much to anticipate change as to be as flexible as possible at every moment, that is, to be able to be immediately present (“on the case”). It is worth noting that the centrality of uncertainty and of the present applies not only in relation to the future, but also in our approach to the past

[…] however eternal this present might appear, it also avidly or anxiously sought to historicize itself, as though it were forced to project itself ahead, in order to turn back and see itself as already past, forgotten.


Iain Thomson “Death and Demise in Being and Time”

December 17, 2015 Leave a comment

Thomson, Iain 2013. Death and Demise in Being and Time. – Wrathall, Mark A. (ed). The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger’s Being and Time. New York: Cambridge University Press, 260-290.

In a crucial passage in Being and Time (which I shall refer to subsequently as P1), Heidegger distinguishes between three terms we might otherwise tend to use interchangeably, namely, “perishing” (Verenden), “demising” (Ableben), and “dying” (Sterben): „[P1] The ending of that which [merely] lives we have called perishing [Verenden]. Dasein too “has” its physiological death of the kind appropriate to anything that lives . . . but [“has” it] as co-determined by its primordial way of being [namely, “existing” or “standing-out,” Ek-sistere , into temporally structured intelligibility]. Dasein can also end without authentically dying [eigentlich stirbt], although in this latter case it does not, qua Dasein, simply perish. We designate this intermediate phenomenon as demise [Ableben]. Let the term dying [Sterben] designate the way of being in which Dasein is toward its death [Tod]. We must thus say: Dasein never perishes. Demising, however, is something Dasein can do only so long as it dies. (247)“ (264)

Derrida misses the crucial point that, for Heidegger, Dasein can experience its end (indeed, as we will see, this experience is precisely what Heidegger calls “death”). (265)

Heidegger thinks that the converse is also possible; one can experience one’ s own end without yet having demised. As this suggests, after distinguishing perishing from demise, Heidegger then goes on to distinguish demise (the “intermediate phenomenon”) from death. Heidegger insists that we need not demise in order to die, in large part because of his aforementioned conviction that Dasein can experience its own end. Indeed, Heidegger thinks we can experience our intelligible world’s having ended (and that we do so in what he calls “death”), even though, by all appearances, we cannot live through our own demise in order to experience that end from beyond it. (265)

[…] how can Dasein – an entity whose being is constituted by worldly projects that stretch into an unknown future – ever comprehend itself as a whole? What most readers seem to miss, however, is that Heidegger is able to solve this problem only by introducing his existential-ontological conception of death in distinction from demise. […] As he puts it: “In such being-toward-itsend, Dasein exists in a way which is authentically whole, as that entity which it can be when ‘thrown into death.’ Dasein does not have an end at which it is simply stops, but instead [it has an end at which it] exists i nitely[existiert endlich].” (329) (266)

Bereft of all its worldly projects , Dasein can fully grasp itself in its own “finitude” for the first time – and thereby come to understand itself as a “primordial existential projecting” (330), as we will see. (266)

[…] we can die without dmising is that „death“ nor „dying“ (nor even „authentically dying,“ to which we will return) requires us to suffer the terminal world collapse of demise. (267)

„Death is a way to be, which Dasein takes over as soon as it is.“ (245) (267)

To anyone familiar with Kierkegaard’ s brilliant text (as Heidegger was), it is clear that Being and Time’s phenomenology of existential death seeks to secularize the mystical Christian idea that, in order for one to be born truly into the life of the spirit, one must first die to the material
world – so that one can be reborn to the world in a way that will unify the spiritual and material aspects of the self . (267)

For when not just one but all of our life projects break down in what Heidegger calls “anticipation” (Vorlaufen) or “running-out” toward death, we experience ourselves as a kind of bare existential projecting without any existentiell projects to project ourselves into (and so understand ourselves in terms of). We can thereby come to understand ourselves as, at bottom, a “primordial existential projecting” (330), a brute projecting that is more basic than and independent of any of the particular projects that usually give our lives content and meaning. (269)

In fact, Heidegger’s insistence on the “uncanniness” or “not-being-at-home” in the world seems to be his way of secularizing – and so preserving the core phenomenological insight contained in – the Christian idea that we are in but not of the world.) (270)

To grasp what Heidegger thinks the self ultimately boils down to (in this existential version of Husserl’s phenomenological reduction), it is crucial to remember that when my projects all break down or collapse, leaving me without any life project to project myself into, projection itself does not cease. When my being-possible becomes impossible, I still am; my ability-to-be becomes insubstantial, unable to connect to the world, but not inert. My projects collapse, and I no longer have a concrete self I can be, but I still am this inability-to-be. Heidegger calls this paradoxical condition revealed by anticipation “the possibility of an impossibility” or death. In his words: „Death, as possibility [i.e., as something we project ourselves into], gives Dasein nothing to be “actualized,” nothing which Dasein could itself actually be . It is the possibility of the impossibility of every way of comporting oneself toward anything, of every way of existing. (262)“ (271)

Nevertheless, it is by embracing this finitude – giving up our naïve desire for either absolute freedom or a single correct choice of life project and instead accepting that our finite freedom always operates against a background of constraint (in which there is usually more than one “right” answer, rather than none at all) – that we are able to overcome that paralysis of our projects experienced in death. It is thus important that Heidegger sometimes hyphenates “Ent-schlossenheit” (literally “un-closedness”) in order to emphasize that the existential “resoluteness” whereby Dasein freely chooses the existential commitments that dei ne it does not entail deciding on a particular course of action ahead of time and obstinately sticking to one’s guns come what may, but, rather, requires an “openness” whereby one continues to be responsive to the emerging solicitations of, and unpredictable elements in, the particular existential „situation,” the full reality of which only the actual decision itself discloses. (273-274)

By “death,” we have seen, Heidegger means the experience of existential world collapse that occurs when we confront the ineliminable anxiety that stems from the basic lack of i t between Dasein and its world, an anxiety that emerges from the uncanny fact that there is nothing about the structure of the self that can tell us what specii cally to do with our lives. By “dying,” I have suggested, Heidegger means the mere projecting , disclosing , or ek-sisting (“standing-out”) that we lucidly experience when our projects collapse in death. By “authentically dying,” let me now suggest, he means the explicit experience of undergoing such world collapse and thereby coming to understand ourselves as, at bottom, a mere projecting , that is, a projecting into projects, a fundamental existential projecting that survives even the (nonterminal) global collapse of these worldly projects. (274-275)

Heidegger’s phenomenological attestation of death thus begins with an analysis of our everyday understanding of demise . After isolating and “formally indicating” the most significant structural characteristics of the ordinary ontic phenomenon of demise (in which, however, these formal characteristics have quite different meanings), Heidegger then seeks to flesh out these structural characteristics, collectively, in a way that will reveal the heretofore unnoticed ontological phenomenon of “death” that supposedly conditions the phenomenon of ordinary ontic demise. (276)

[…] what we are really afraid of about demise is what he calls death, namely, losing our world and still being here to experience that loss. (280)

For there is an experience in which what we are afraid of about demise – namely, not being, or, more precisely, being our not being – can actually happen to us. […] this strange experience of being in a way in which we are not able to be anything is precisely what Heidegger calls death. (281)

Stephan Käufer “Temporality as the Ontological Sense of Care”

November 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Käufer, Stephan 2013. Temporality as the Ontological Sense of Care. – Wrathall, Mark A. (ed). The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger’s Being and Time. New York: Cambridge University Press, 338-359.

[…] temporality is the transcendental condition of existence, that it unifies the various aspects of existence, and that it constitutes the structure of the self. (339)

[…] the sense, the „upon which“ Heidegger wants to make explicit in paragraph 65 is not the sense of this or that type of entity, but the sense of the understanding of being in general. (341)

[…] the question about the „sense of care“ is about Dasein’s self-understanding. (341)

Inauthentic Dasein identifies itself with a role or profession (college professor), while authentic Dasein identifies itself entirely as being-possible. So authentic existence comprises a thoroughgoing self-identification with being-possible. (342)

Nevertheless, Heidegger does not reject the notion of the self altogether. His point in paragraph 64 is that the self is not a substrate, but that selfhood is already implicit in the care-structure. To understand the self, we must interpret the care structure more carefully: „Fully understood, the care structure includes the phenomenon of selfhood within it.“ (343)

This phenomenon of being your beenness Heidegger calls the originary past. And, finally, resolute being-amidst entities is only possible in making present or „enpresenting“ these entities. This enpresenting is the originary present. With coming-toward, having-been, and enpresenting, Heidegger thus points out three aspects of originary temporality. He calls these the temporal „ecstases“, in order to emphasize their character of „standing beyond“. Together they form the „unitary phenomenon“ of temporality. (345)

[…] Heidegger spells out two consequences of his conception of originary temporality: first, that the future has priority over the past and present; and second that originary temporality is finite. Both of these highlight a more basic claim, that originary temporality is not to be conceived in terms of ordinary notions of time as a flow or sequence of moments. In the ordinary conception, time is infinite, and the future does not have priority. Although Heidegger calls the originary ecstatic unity „temporality“, he is quite explicit that he does not mean time in any straightforward sense. Time as we ordinarily think of it is not originary because it is derivative from, that is, arises out of, orignary temporality. (345)

The transcendental claim is that any comportment toward particular, factical possibilities (compare: empirical synthesis) presupposes the general ability (compare: pure synthesis) to disclose possibilities as possibilities and constitute them within a horizon of possible Mirzugehörigkeit, that is, disclose them as possibly mine. This general ability is originary temporality. (351)

Here is a good way to characterize Heidegger’s transcendental claim in analogy to Kant. For Kant, the empirical synthesis provide us with determinate representations. These are made possible by the pure temporal order in which representations can have their determinacy. For Heidegger, care discloses the world as meaningful, constituted by solicitations and purposes. These are made possible by the temporal ecstases that first constitute you as a discloser in such a way that the possibilities can be yours and the solicitations have a grip on you. (352)

[…] Heidegger analyzes the self as an existential structure that is already implicit in care, that is, a self that consists of ability-to-be and disposedness. (354)

Part of the concept of a self is that it stands in a relation to itself in which it identifies itself as itself. In Kant and in most of the philosophical tradition, this self-relation is cognitive. In fact, Kant claims that there are two types of self-identification. On the one hand, „through inner sense we intuit ourselves only as we are internally affected by out selves, i.e. as far as inner intuition is concerned we cognize our own subject only as appearance but not in accordance with what it is in itself“. On the other hand, „in the synthetic unity of apperceptionm I am conscious of myself not as I appear to myself, nor as I am in myself, but only that I am. This is a thinking, not an intuiting.“ So we know ourselves both as we appear to ourselves in intuition and as the subject of thinking the unifies experience. This doubling of self-consciousness is a special case of the transcendental idealism that underlies Kant’s analysis of cognition in general. (355)

In contrast to Kant and the tradition, Heidegger argues that self-identification is not a cognitive but an existential one: „The self must be able to identify itself as existing. It must be able to understand itself in every concrete instance as the self-same futural-having-been, uniting the resolve to a possibility and the commitment to the past. This displacing-yourself-into-yourself (Sich-in-sich-versetzen), extending into all dimensions of temporality, makes up the real concept, the existential concept of self-identification.“ (355; Heidegger, 395)

The only possibility that is unavoidably yours is this paradoxical one – that you exist as being-possible, as projecting and pressing into possibilities, without being able to safely be any one of the possibilities you disclose. This is death, the „unsurpassable“ and „ownmost“ possibility. In disclosing possibilities, you also understand this „nullity“ that you cannot safely be any of your possibilities. Originary temporality is finite because you come toward yourself against the background of the limit or impossibility of your existence. „The originary and authentic future is the toward-yourself, toward your self, existing as the unsurpassable possibility of nullity.“ (357)

Philippe Ariès “The Hour of Our Death”

December 8, 2014 Leave a comment

Ariès, Philippe 2008 [1981]. The Hour of Our Death. The Classic History of Western Attitudes Toward Death Over the Last One Thousand Years. New York: Vintage Ebooks.

Part V – The Invisible Death
In the course of the twentieth century an absolutely new type of dying made an appearance in some of the most industrialized, urbanized, and technologically advanced areas of the Western world – and this is probably only the first stage. Two characteristics are obvious to the most casual observer. First is its novelty, of course, its contrariness to everything that preceded it, of which the reverse image, the negative. Except for the death of statesmen, society has banished death. In the towns, there is no way of knowing that something has happened: the old black and silver hearse has become an ordinary gray limousine, indistinguishable from the flow of traffic. Society no longer observes a pause; the disappearance of an individual no longer affects its continuity. Everything in town goes on as if nobody died anymore. The second characteristic is no less surprising. Of course, death has changed in a thousand years, but how slowly! […] Today, a complete reversal of customs seems to have occurred in one generation. […] Phenomena that had been forgotten have suddenly become known and discussed, the subjects of sociological investigations, television programs, medical and legal debates. Shown the door by society, death is coming back in through the window, and it is returning just as quickly as it disappeared. (530-531)

It is useless for Tolstoi’s [Three deaths] heroine to protest that she is being treated like a child, for it is she who has placed herself in that position. The day will come when the dying will accept this subordinate position, whether he simply submits to it or actually desires it. When this happens – and this is the situation today – it will be assumed that it is the duty of the entourage to keep the dying man in ignorance of his condition. How many times have we heard it said of a husband, child or relative, “At least I have the satisfaction of knowing that he never felt a thing.” “Never feeling a thing” has replaced “feeling his death to be imminent.” (532)

Curiously, he [Ivan Ilytch] is frequently on the point of crying out while they are telling their little stories around him, “’Enough lies, we all know that I am dying! Stop lying to me, at least! But he never had the courage to do this.” He is himself the prisoner of the character [merely a man who is sick, and not dying – sickness masks dying; instead of death, thought is occupied by the floating kidney – O.P.] he has allowed them to impose on him and that he has imposed on himself. The mask has been on so long that it is stuck, and he cannot take it off. He is condemned to live out the lie. Compare Tolstoi’s phrase, written in the 1880s, “This lie that degraded the formidable and solemn act of his death,” with the last words of Père F. de Dainville to Père Ribes in 1973 when he was lying in an intensive-care unit with tubes all over his body: “They are cheating me out of my own death!”. (537)

After the concealment of death by illness and the establishment of the lie around the dying man, the other new element that appears in Tolstoi’s writing is the dirtiness and indecency of death. In the long accounts of deaths of the La Ferronays or the Brontes there is no mention of the uncleanness of the great terminal diseases. Why? A Victorian modesty, which shrank from mentioning bodily excretions, as well as long habituation to disagreeable smells and to the disfiguring effects of pain. (537)

The agony of Emma Bovary is described in merciless detail, but it is brief. The illness of Ivan Ilyich, however, is long, and the odors and the nature of the treatments make it disgusting and – something death never was with the La Ferronays, the Brontes, or Balzac – indecent, improper. (537)

During the second half of the nineteenth century, death ceases to be always seen as beautiful and is sometimes even depicted as disgusting. It is true that Ronsard and the other macabre poets of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries had felt a sense of repulsion in the face of the decrepitude of old age, the ravages of disease, the devastating effects of insomnia, decaying teeth, and bad breath. But they were only amplifying the theme of decline in an age when a more brutal and realistic imagination was discovering the decomposed cadaver and the unspeakable interior of man. This interior seemed more repellent than the exterior of the old man and the invalid. (538)

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the decrepit old man of the late Middle Ages was replaced by the handsome patriarch of Jean-Baptiste Greuze, an image more suitable to the romantic theme of the beautiful death. But in the late nineteenth century, we see a return of the hideous images of the era of the macabre, which had been repressed since the seventeenth century. The difference is that now everything that had been said in the Middle Ages about decomposition after death is transferred to the period before death, the agony. (538)

The dying man’s bedroom has passed from the home to the hospital. For technical medical reasons, this transfer has been accepted by families, and popularized and facilitated by their complicity. The hospital is the only place where death is sure of escaping a visibility – or what remains of it – that is thereafter regarded as unsuitable and morbid. The hospital has become the place of the solitary death. In a study of English attitudes conducted in 1963, Geoffrey Gorer showed that only a quarter of the bereaved in his sample had been present at the death of a close relative. (539-540)

[Vladimir Jankélévitch]: “Is not the taboo word death above all others the unpronounceable, unnamable, unspeakable monosyllable that the average man, conditioned to compromise, is obliged to shroud modestly in proper and respectable circumlocutions?” (540)

After the funeral and burial comes mourning in the true sense of the word. The pain of loss may continue to exist in the secret heart of the survivor, but the rule today, almost throughout the West, is that he must never show it in public. This is exactly the opposite of what used to be required. In France since about 1970 the long line of people offering their condolences to the family after the religious service has been eliminated. And in the country the death notice, which is still sent out, is accompanied by the dry, almost uncivil formula, “The family is not receiving,” a way of avoiding the customary visits of neighbors and acquaintances before the funeral. (546)

As [Geoffrey] Gorer says, “At present, death and mourning are treated with much the same prudery as the sexual impulses were a century ago.” One must learn to dominate them: “Today it would seem to be believed, quite sincerely, that sensible, rational men and women can keep their mourning under complete control by strength of will and character, so that it need be given no public expression, and indulged, if at all, in private, as furtively as if it were an analogue of masturbation.” (547)

From now on, the denial of death is openly acknowledged as a significant trait of our culture. The tears of the bereaved have become comparable to the excretions of the diseased. (547)

It is significant that when this attitude began to emerge, psychologists immediately pronounced it dangerous and abnormal. They have never stopped insisting on the necessity of mourning and the dangers of repression. Freud and Karl Abraham went to some pains to show that mourning is different from melancholia, or depression. […] Their view of mourning and its role is exactly the opposite of the attitude of society. Society regards mourning as morbid, whereas for the psychologists it is the repression of mourning that is morbid and pathological. (548)

Whether we like it or not, we have all been transformed by the great romantic revolution in feeling. It has created ties between us and other people, ties whose destruction seems inconceivable and intolerable. It is this first romantic generation that was the first to deny death. It exalted death, it deified death, and at the same time it transformed not just anyone, but the loved one, into an inseparable immortal. This attachment is still with us, despite an apparent relaxation that has to do with a more discreet language, a greater modesty – the modesty of Mélisande. At the same time, for other reasons, society no longer tolerates the sight of things having to do with death, including the sight of the dead body or weeping relatives. The bereaved is crushed between the weight of his grief and the weight of the social prohibition. (550)

The hospital is no longer merely the place where one is cured or where one dies because of a therapeutic failure; it is the scene of the normal death, expected and accepted by medical personnel. (551)

Death has ceased to be accepted as a natural, necessary phenomenon. Death is a failure, a “business lost.” This is the attitude of the doctor, who claims the control of death as his mission in life. But the doctor is merely a spokesman for society. When death arrives, it is regarded as an accident, a sign of helplessness or clumsiness that must be put out of mind. It must not interrupt the hospital routine, which is more delicate than that of any other professional milieu. It must therefore be discreet. (553)

What today we call the good death, the beautiful death, corresponds exactly to what used to be the accursed death: the mors repentina et improvisa, the death that gives no warning. “He died tonight in his sleep: He just didn’t wake up. It was the best possible way to die.” (553)

The opposite is the “embarrassingly graceless dying,” the bad death, the ugly death of a patient who knows. In some cases he is rebellious and aggressive; he screams. In other cases, which are no less feared by the medical team, he accepts his death, concentrates on it, and turns to the wall, loses interests in the world around him, cuts off communication with it. Doctors and nurses reject this rejection, which denies their existence and discourages their efforts. In it they recognize the hated image of death as a phenomenon of nature, whereas they had turned it into an accident of illness that must be brought under control. (554)

Death no longer belongs to the dying man, who is first irresponsible, later unconscious, nor to the family, who are convinced of their inadequacy. Death is regulated and organized by bureaucrats whose competence and humanity cannot prevent them from treating death as their “thing,” a thing that must bother them as little as possible in the general interest. (554)

[Nowadays, at the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s] It is the dignity of death that is at issue. This dignity requires first of all that death be recognized, not only as a real state but as an important event, an event that should not be conjured away. One of the conditions of this recognition is that the dying man be informed of his state. English and American doctors have yielded to the pressure very rapidly, no doubt because it enabled them to share a responsibility that they were beginning to find intolerable. Are we on the eve of a new an profound change in attitudes? Is the rule of silence becoming obsolete? (556)

The most recent model of death is associated with the medicalization of society, that is, with the segment of industrial society in which the power of technology has been most widely accepted and is still least contested. For the first time, people are questioning the unconditional benevolence of this power. It is in this area of the collective consciousness that a change in contemporary attitudes might well occur. (559)

Our modern model of death was born and developed in places that gave birth to two beliefs: first, the belief in a nature that seemed to eliminate death; next, the belief in a technology that would replace nature and eliminate death more surely. (561)

It is of paramount importance to create the illusion of life [in funeral rites]. This illusion enables the visitor to overcome his intolerance, to behave as if the deceased were not dead and there were no reason not to approach him. In this way he is able to circumvent the prohibition. Thus, embalming serves less to preserve or honor the dead than it does temporarily to maintain the appearance of life in order to protect the living. (564)

The most ridiculous and irritating aspects of the American ritual, such as the making up of the body and the simulation of life, express the resistance of romantic traditions to the pressures of contemporary taboos. (565)

Conclusion – Five Variations on Four Themes
Having abandoned my preconceived ideas along the way, I turn and cast my eye over this thousand-ear landscape like an astronaut looking down at the distant earth. This vast space seems to me to be organized around the simple variations of four psychological themes. The first is the one that guided my investigation, awareness of the individual. The others are: the defense of society against untamed nature, belief in an afterlife, and belief in the existence of evil. (566)

The tame death
The ritualization of death is a special aspect of the total strategy of man against nature, a strategy of prohibitions and concessions. This is why death has not been permitted its natural extravagance but has been imprisoned in ceremony, transformed into spectacle. This is also why it could not be a solitary adventure but had to be a public phenomenon involving the whole community. (567)

Death may be tamed, divested of the blind violence of natural forces, and ritualized, but it is never experienced as a neutral phenomenon. It always remains a misfortune, a mal-heur. It is remarkable that in the old Romance languages physical pain, psychological suffering, grief, crime, punishment, and the reverses of fortune were all expressed by the same word, derived from malum, either alone or in combination with other words: in French, malheur, maladie, malchance, le malin (misfortune, illness, mishap, the devil). It was not until later that an attempt was made to distinguish the various meanings. In the beginning there was only one evil that had various aspects: suffering, sin, and death. Christianity explained all of these aspects at once by the doctrine of original sin. There is probably no other myth that has such profound roots in the collective unconscious. It expressed a universal sense of the constant presence of evil. Resignation was not, therefore, submission to a benevolent nature, or a biological necessity, as it is today, as it was no doubt among the Epicureans or Stoics; rather it is the recognition of an evil inseparable from man. (568)

The death of the self
The second model, the death of the self, is obtained quite simply by a shift of the sense of destiny toward the individual. We recall that the model was originally limited to an elite of rich, educated, and powerful persons in the eleventh century, and still earlier to the isolated, organized, and exemplary world of monks and canons. It was in this milieu that the traditional relationship between self and other was first overthrown, and the sense of one’s own identity prevailed over submission to the collective destiny. (569)

It was inevitable that such an exaltation of the individual, even if it was more empirical than doctrinal, would cause some changes in the third theme, the nature of the afterlife. […] The strong individual of the later Middle Ages could not be satisfied with the peaceful but passive conception of requies. He ceased to be the surviving but subdued homo totus. He split into two parts: a body that experienced pleasure or pain and an immortal soul that was released by death. The body disappeared, pending a resurrection that was accepted as a dogma but never really assimilated at the popular level. […] This new eschatology caused the word death to be replaced by trite circumlocutions such as “he gave up the ghost” or “God has his soul.” (569)

This fully conscious soul was no longer content to sleep the sleep of expectation like the homo totus of old – or like the poor. Its immortal existence, or rather its immortal activity, expressed the individual’s desire to assert his creative identity in this world and the next, his refusal to let it dissolve into some biological or social anonymity. It was a transformation of the nature of human existence that may well explain the cultural advance of the Latin West at this time. (569-570)

Remote and imminent death
[…] profound changes were beginning to take place by the end of the sixteenth century, to some extent in actual customs and conscious ideas, but more especially in the secret world of the imagination. […] Where death had once been immediate, familiar, and tame, it gradually began to be surreptitious, violent, and savage. Already, as we have seen, the old familiarity had been maintained only by means of the artifices of the later Middle Ages: more solemn rites and the camouflage of the body under the representation. In the modern era, death, by its very remoteness, has become fascinating; has aroused the same strange curiosity, the same fantasies, the same perverse deviations and eroticism, which is why this model of death is called “remote and imminent death.” (571)

At first sight it may seem surprising that this period of returning savagery was also characterized by the rise of rationalism, the rise of science and technology, and by faith in progress and its triumph over time. But it was at this time that the barriers patiently maintained for thousands of years in order to contain nature gave way at two points that are similar and often confused: love and death. Beyond a certain threshold, pain and pleasure, agony and orgasm are one, as illustrated by the myth of the erection of the hanged man. (571)

An early manifestation of the great modern fear of death now appears for the first time: the fear of being buried alive, which implies the conviction that there is an impure and reversible state that partakes of both life and death. (572)

The death of the other
If the momentum really did carry from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, it hardly seems that way to the unsophisticated observer. The continuity exists on deeper levels, but only rarely does it show above the surface. This is because in the nineteenth century, which saw the triumph of the industrial and agricultural techniques born of scientific thought of the previous period, romanticism (the word is convenient) gave birth to a sensibility characterized by passions without limit or reason. […] Affectivity, formerly diffuse, was henceforth concentrated on a few rare beings whose disappearance would no longer be tolerated and caused a dramatic crisis: the death of the other. It was a revolution in feeling that was just as important to history as the related revolutions in ideas, politics, industry, socioeconomic conditions, or demography. (572)

An original type of sensitivity now came to dominate all others, a type that is well expressed by the English word privacy. It found its place in the nuclear family, remodeled by its new function of absolute affectivity. The family replaced both the traditional community and the individual of the late Middle Ages and early modern times. Privacy is distinguished both from individualism and from the sense of community, and expresses a mode of relating to others that is quite specific and original. (572)

The ancient and intimate relationship between death and physical illness, psychic pain, and sin was beginning to break down. Our fourth theme, the belief in evil, which had long been stationary, was preparing to withdraw, and the first stronghold it deserted was the heart and the mind of man, which was believed to be its original and pregnable seat. What a revolution in thought! It is a phenomenon as important as the return of untamed nature within the human psyche, and indeed, the two are related; it is as if evil and nature had changed places. (573)

The first barrier that fell in the eighteenth century – perhaps as early as the seventeenth in England – was belief in hell and in the connection between death and sin or spiritual punishment. […] No sense of guilt, no fear of the beyond remained to counteract the fascination of death, transformed into the highest beauty. (573)

The nineteenth century saw the triumph of another image of the beyond. The next world becomes the scene of the reunion of those whom death has separated but who have never accepted this separation: a re-creation of the affections of earth, purged of their dross, assured of eternity. It is the paradise of Christians or the astral world of spiritualists and psychics. But it is also the world of the memories of nonbelievers and freethinkers who deny the reality of a life after death. (573)

The invisible death
Our contemporary model of death is still determined by the sense of privacy, but it has become more rigorous, more demanding. (574)

It is obvious that the sense of the individual and his identity, what we mean when we speak of “possessing one’s own death,” has been overcome by the solicitude of the family. But how are we to explain the abdication of the community? How has the community come to reverse its role and to forbid the mourning which it was responsible for imposing until the twentieth century? The answer is that the community feels less and less involved in the death of one of its members. First, because it no longer thinks it necessary to defend itself against a nature which has been domesticated once and for all by the advance of technology, especially medical technology. Next, because it no longer has a sufficient sense of solidarity; it has actually abandoned responsibility for the organization of collective life. The community in the traditional sense of the word no longer exists. It has been replaced by an enormous mass of atomized individuals. (575)

If the sense of the other, which is a form of the sense of the self taken to its logical conclusion, is the first cause of the present state of death, then shame – and the resulting taboo – is the second. But this shame is a direct consequence of the definitive retreat of evil. As early as the eighteenth century, man had begun to reduce the power of evil, to question his reality. Hell was abandoned, at least in the case of relatives and dear friends, the only people who counted. Along with hell went sin and all the varieties of spiritual and moral evil. They were no longer regarded as part of human nature but as social problems that could be eliminated by a good system of supervision and punishment. The general advance of science, morality, and organization would lead quite easily to happiness. But in the middle of the nineteenth century, there was still the obstacle of physical illness and death. There was no question of eliminating that. The romantics circumvented or assimilated it. They beautified death, the gateway to anthropomorphic beyond. They preserved its immemorial association with illness, pain, and agony; these things aroused pity rather than distaste. The trouble began with distaste: before people thought of abolishing physical illness, they ceased to tolerate its sight, sounds, and smells. (575)

Evil was no longer part of human nature, as the religions, especially Christianity, believed. It still existed, of course, but outside of man, in certain marginal spaces that morality and politics had not yet colonized, in certain deviant behaviors such as war, crime, and nonconformity, which had not yet been corrected but which would one day be eliminated by society just as illness and pain had been eliminated by medicine. (576)

But if there is no more evil, what do we do about death? To this question modern society offers two answers. The first is a massive admission of defeat. We ignore the existence of a scandal that we have been unable to prevent; we act as if it did not exist, and thus mercilessly force the bereaved to say nothing. A heavy silence has fallen over the subject of death. […] And yet this attitude has not annihilated death or the fear of death. On the contrary, it has allowed the old savagery to creep back under the mask of medical technology. The death of the patient in the hospital, covered with tubes, is becoming a popular image, more terrifying than the transi or skeleton of macabre logic. There seems to be a correlation between the “evacuation” of death, the last refuge of evil, and the return of this same death, no longer tame. This should not surprise us. The belief in evil was necessary to the taming of death; the disappearance of the belief has restored death to its savage state. (576)

Gilbert Hottois “De l’anthropologie à l’anthropotechnique?”

December 4, 2014 Leave a comment

Hottois, Gilbert 2005. De l’anthropologie à l’anthropotechnique ? Tumultes 25(2) : 49-64.

Que comporte ou comportait la valorisation traditionnelle, directe ou indirecte, du langage ?
– Le langage n’est pas un outil comme les autres, utile seulement à la communication entre les humains et à leur organisation ;
– il est l’instrument de l’hominisation, du devenir humain : il institue l’humanité en général et chaque sujet individuel en particulier ;
– cette institution langagière de l’humain est constitutive de la raison et de la liberté, caractéristiques traditionnelles de l’homme ; c’est parce qu’il a la capacité de se représenter symboliquement des possibles avec leurs contextes, justifications et conséquences (représentation rationnelle) que l’homme peut délibérer et choisir entre ces possibles (liberté) ;
– intimement solidaire de ce qui fait l’être humain, le langage apparaît aussi comme le seul instrument légitime du progrès authentiquement humain tant au plan individuel que collectif. Vouloir substituer au langage un autre moyen d’évolution ne pourrait donc être qu’aliénant. (50)

Les techniques matérielles ne font pas partie de la culture au sens noble du terme qui identifie culture et ordre symbolique. Empiriques et mécaniques, les techniques n’aident pas à l’institution de l’homme en tant qu’être rationnel et libre. Elles s’appliquent au monde matériel, au milieu extérieur à l’homme. (51)

Ce qui s’oppose donc à l’idée d’anthropotechnique est la très ancienne idée « anthropo-logique » elle-même : c’est par le logos exclusivement (aujourd’hui : le langage) qu’anthropos se constitue et progresse. (51)

Signalons toutefois que des courants utilitaristes anglo-saxons soulignent l’importance de la sensibilité des êtres vivants, commune aux humains et aux nonhumains, plus que du langage, et voient dans l’accentuation de la différence anthropologique sous la forme du logos une expression du spécisme anthropocentrique, c’est-à-dire d’une sorte de chauvinisme étroit de l’humanité, qu’ils dénoncent pour des raisons éthiques et de philosophie générale. (51)

Un postulat anthropologique est que les techniques matérielles s’appliquent au milieu : c’est par rapport au monde que l’homme est légitimement homo faber. Par rapport à lui-même, il est légitimement seulement homo loquax. (52)

Parce qu’elle est médecine toujours tributaire de la philosophie traditionnelle, la médecine contemporaine ne peut pas en principe intervenir dans un sens autre que thérapeutique. Mais ses capacités opératoires et les demandes, individuelles et collectives, auxquelles elle ne cesse d’être confrontée, la tirent de plus en plus du côté de ce qu’on devrait appeler « biotechnologie appliquée à l’homme », c’est-à-dire « anthropotechnique ». (52-53)

Nous retrouvons ici le nœud déjà signalé : il est permis à l’homme d’être créateur symboliquement, libre inventeur d’images, de représentations (quoique cette liberté soit déjà pernicieuse, car elle peut être sacrilège). Il ne pourrait pas, en revanche, être libre créateur techno-physiquement, bouleverser l’ordre de la nature et, surtout, modifier sa propre nature, sans précipiter l’apocalypse. (53)

L’homme reste créature avant d’être créateur : sa transcendance doit demeurer symbolique ; elle ne peut se faire opératoire. N’étant pas Dieu, mais seulement à Son image, l’homme ne peut être créateur qu’au plan des images. (54)

Pourquoi ne pas considérer que le corps humain (y compris le génome et le cerveau) constitue, en réalité, le milieu physique le plus proche de l’homme ? Pourquoi faudrait-il respecter les limites, les servitudes, les contraintes, toutes contingentes, qu’il impose ? Pourquoi ontologiser la finitude physique et n’accorder à l’homme qu’une transcendance symbolique ? (55)

Répétons-le : le débat ne porte pas sur le caractère indispensable de limites, c’est-à-dire aussi de règles — structures, stabilités, repères. La viabilité de la nature et de la société repose sur leur existence. Leur absence est synonyme de chaos, c’est-à-dire d’anarchie au plan social et de folie au plan individuel. La question est : avons-nous besoin de la fiction de limites absolues, de structures ontologiques ? Ce type de fiction — la fiction de la Vérité — est-il compatible avec notre type de civilisation ? Le problème vient donc de la demande de limites immuables et universelles qui sont des impératifs — principalement des interdits — catégoriques, c’est-à-dire non conditionnels, non contextuels, non évolutifs, non révisibles. De telles limites ont pour fonction non seulement d’interdire certaines applications technoscientifiques, mais les recherches elles-mêmes qui permettraient de concrétiser certains possibles déclarés absolument mauvais. (57)

L’exemple spectaculaire le plus récent de ce type de limites est l’interdiction du clonage humain reproductif (CHR). L’éventualité du CHR est une parfaite illustration d’un bouleversement anthropologique radical à partir d’une possibilité d’anthropotechnique dans le domaine de la biotechnologie appliquée à l’homme. (57)

Sauf à adopter une position métaphysique spiritualiste traditionnelle ou d’adhérer à une sorte de principe anthropique qui place l’homme tel qu’il existe depuis quelques millénaires au sommet final de l’évolution cosmique ou encore à considérer que l’espèce humaine n’a pas d’avenir lointain et qu’elle est condamnée à être emportée dans quelque catastrophe cosmique ou technologico-historique majeure, il nous semble pertinent de concevoir l’invention du futur de l’humanité comme anthropotechnique autant qu’anthropologique, ou en un mot comme anthropotechnologique. Cette articulation n’est pas du tout inconcevable ni impraticable : le langage n’est pas étranger à la matérialité et à l’opérativité, et la matière étend, elle-même, son énigme de la physique quantique jusqu’au cerveau conscient. (64)

William Blattner “Temporality”

November 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Blattner, William 2005. Temporality. – Dreyfus, Hubert L. and Mark A. Wrathall (eds). A Companion to Heidegger. Malden; Oxford; Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 311-324.

Being and Timesets out to “pose anew the question concerning the sense of being” (SZ: 1). To answer this question, to say something about what being means, requires us to acknowledge the role of time: time is the “horizon of all understanding of being,” i.e. being makes sense in terms of time. (311)

[…] for Heidegger “time” refers ultimately to something more fundamental than time as ordinarily conceived. It refers to originary temporality. Time is not the abstract “container” that we imagine “clock-time” to be, but a basic structure of Dasein’s being. (311)

Existence is that aspect of Dasein’s being that it always is what it understands itself to be. Dasein understands itself by projecting itself forward into some way of life, or as Heidegger puts it, possibility of being. (312)

Facticity is that aspect of Dasein’s being that it is concrete or determinate. Facticity is Dasein’s distinctive form of factuality. This determinateness discloses itself to Dasein through affectivity, which is the way things matter to Dasein. Everything Dasein encounters, from the most significant and oppressive events of one’s life, to the most trivial and irrelevant, matter to it. (313)

Existence and facticity do not just both happen to characterize Dasein’s being. Rather, they are equally important (“equiprimordial”) and interwoven. In II.2 of Being and TimeHeidegger describes facticity as the ground or basis (Grund) of existence. That is, we project forth into the possibilities we pursue becausethey matter to us as they do. I press ahead into being a father becauseit is fulfilling, into being a teacher becauseit is rewarding. If those possibilities did not matter to me as they do, I wouldn’t pursue them. (313)

Finally, the third element of Dasein’s being (of the “care structure”) and of disclosedness is falling. Before diving into a description of falling, however, we must cut through a significant terminological ambiguity in Being and Time. On the one hand, falling refers to Dasein’s tendency to fall away fromauthenticity and ontothe world of its mundane concerns in fleeing from the anxiety of a confrontation with death. On the other hand, it names Dasein’s essential encounter withand absorption innon-human things in the course of pursuing its possibilities. Equipment, paraphernalia, gear (das Zeug) are available (zuhanden) to Dasein as it goes about its daily business. (313)

“Future” does not here mean a Now, which not yethaving become “actual,” sometime will be, but rather the coming in which Dasein comes toward itself in its ownmost ability-tobe. (SZ: 325) Temporalizing does not mean a “succession” [“Nacheinander”] of the ecstases. The future is not laterthan beenness, and this is not earlierthan the present [Gegenwart]. (SZ: 350) In other words, Dasein’s possibilities are not the sorts of items that can be actualized in the present. I never can have become a musician, even though I am now pressing ahead into being one. I call this claim the Unattainability Thesis (Blattner 1999). (314)

In II.1 Heidegger defines death as the “possibility of the impossibility of existence” and characterizes it as a “way to be Dasein.” Heideggerian death is a way to be Dasein and, therefore, not non-existence per se. The latter, the end or ending of a human life, Heidegger calls “demise” (Ableben), in contrast with death (Tod). For clarity’s sake, I will call Heideggerian death “existential death.” Existential death is the condition in which Dasein is not able to be or exist, in the sense that it cannot understand itself, press ahead into any possibilities of being. Existential death is a peculiar sort of living nullity, death in the midst of life, nothingness. (315)

To tie all this together, Heidegger accords the phenomenon of existential death ontological importance, because it signals something about the very nature of human possibilities. If existential death looms constantly as a threat to who I am, then who I am, my possibilities, can never characterize me in any settled way. If they did, then I could never find myself unableto be them. Hence, my originary future is not the sort of thing that can bepresent, not a property that can positively characterize me in the way in which a determinate height or hair color, or even a determinate social status, can characterize me. It is a future that is not later than, that does not succeed, the present. (315)

Just as the “ahead” in “being-ahead-of-itself” describes a future that can never come to be present, so Heidegger argues that the “already” in “being-already in a world” picks out a past that never was present. Dasein’s originary past is, recall, its attunements, the way things already matter to it. I am always already “thrown” into the world and into my life, because I am always attuned to the way it matters to me. […] My attunements were not at one time present, after which they slipped into the past. Rather, at every moment that an attunement characterizes me, even at its first moment, I am already thrown into it; it is already past. (315)

Time as we encounter it in our everyday experience is not originary. How do we encounter time in our everyday experience? Heidegger distinguishes, in fact, two sorts of everyday time, world-timeand time as ordinarily conceived. Time as we ordinarily conceiveit (der vulgäre Zeitbegriff) is time as the pure container of events. Heidegger may well build the term “conceive” into its name, because he wants to emphasize that when we disengage from our ordinary experience and talk about and contemplate time as such, we typically interpret time as such a pure container, as the continuous medium of natural change. When we are pre-theoretically engaged with time, however, we experience it as world-time. World-time is the sequence of meaningfully articulated,
everyday times: dinner time, bed time, rush hour, the Great Depression, the Cold War Era, the 1960s, and the like. (316)

World-time differs from ordinary time in that the times of world-time are overtly defined in terms of their relation to human interests, whereas ordinary times are conceptualized as independent of human interests. (316)

World-time is world-time, both because it is the time in which worldly events are measured and ordered, and because it belongs to the very structure of the world. The world, in Heidegger’s technical sense, is the concrete social milieu in which the available has its place and in terms of which human beings understand themselves, hence in which human beings lead their lives. (This is the world in the onticexistentiell sense, sense 3, defined on SZ: 65, as elaborated in ¶18.) As Heidegger writes, the world is “that ‘in which’ a factical Dasein ‘lives’” (SZ: 65). (317)

Ordinary time, however, is the pure flow of clock-time, meaningless, empty, and potentially precise. It is, as Heidegger says, a “pure succession” (SZ: 422). The characteristic “datability” and “significance” of world-time are missing. (317)

„There is, in itself, the possibility that humans not be at all. There indeed was a time when humans were not. But strictly speaking, we cannot say: there was a time when humans were not. In every time, humans were and are and will be, because time only temporalizes itself in so far as humans are. There is no time in which humans were not, not because humans are from eternity and to eternity, but rather because time is not eternity, and time only temporalizes itself in each case in every time as human-historical.” (Intro to Metaphysics: 64) (317-318)

Time is not an entity, but rather an ontological structure. For this reason Heidegger rarely says of time that it “is,” except when he is articulating a common or even philosophical misconception. Rather, he uses the verb sich zeitigen, which in ordinary German means “to ripen” or “come to fruition.” (318)

Just as ordinary time is a leveled off version of world-time, so world-time is a leveled off form of originary temporality. Just as immediately above, we have a reduction in complexity or features, a narrowing down of understanding from a full-blooded phenomenon to one that is thinner. In this case, however, the thinning out is not the thinning of a now. Originary temporality, after all, does not consist of nows. Rather, we have a disconnection of the now from the ontological horizon in terms of which it makes sense. (319)

Heidegger calls the ecstasis of the originary present enpresenting (Gegenwärtigen, making-present). The horizon of enpresenting is, Heidegger says, the in-order-to (SZ: 365). The in-order-tois Heidegger’s general term for the involvement relation that binds the available to the human practices in terms of which they make sense and are defined. Contact cement is involved in home repair, because it is in order to bind objects together. The in-order-to constitutes the significance of the available. Various uses of equipment are appropriate or inappropriate only in virtue of the equipment’s defining in-order-to relation. It is, furthermore, only in terms of the web of in-order-to relations that nows themselves can be significant. Significance, the worldliness of the world (die Weltlichkeit der Welt), is constituted by the in-order-to. This in-order-to is made accessible to Dasein in enpresenting. (319)

We can recognize phenomenologically that the now experienced in engaged everyday practice is part of a larger whole, the whole that is the care-structure of Dasein. Heidegger calls the structural unity of care originary temporality. When we considered this above, however, we quickly arrived at the question of why originary temporality should be thought of as a sort of timeat all. Heidegger answers by showing how if we do classify originary temporality as a form of time, we are able to explain aspects of ordinary time that otherwise remain mysterious, such as its continuity. The continuity of natural time is the way in which natural times stretch back to their immediate predecessors and forward to their immediate successors. This continuity or unbrokenness of natural time remains a brute fact about time, unless we can explain it metaphysically. For this reason, metaphysicians have long sought to do so, but always failed. Heidegger’s suggestion is, then, to explain the continuity of natural time as a reduced or leveled off form of the span of world-time. The spannedness of world-time, what is more, is merely a leveled off form of the inherent unity of originary temporality, the way in which the originary future and originary past are intrinsically bound up with one another and with the originary present, which opens up the now for us. In short, originary temporality should be called a form of time, because it is explanatorily fruitful to do so. “Apotiori fit denominatio”: the name derives from the more powerful (SZ: 329). (Heidegger believes, moreover, that he can offer explanations of the irreversibility and infinitude of time as well.) (321)

Therefore, Heidegger aims in one stroke to answer two central questions: why call originary temporality “time,” and why hold that time is dependent upon originary temporality? In both cases, the answer is that the three varieties of time (originary temporality, world-time, ordinary time) form a degenerating series. If we view ordinary time as a thinned out version of world-time, and if we regard world-time as a disconnected abstraction from originary temporality, we gain explanatory leverage on time. We can now see why ordinary time is continuous, infinite, and irreversible, where beforehand these were bald mysteries. Moreover, if we accept this account in terms of degeneration, we have an excellent reason to regard originary temporality as a form of time: it is a fuller and explanatorily more fundamental form of time. (321)

The concept of historicality aims to capture the distinctive way in which Dasein stands in time, distinctive in virtue of its originary temporality. In a nutshell, Dasein is historical, in that it inherits its possibilities from its forebears and inherits them as already mattering. Dasein’s possibilities are handed down to it by way of tradition. Heidegger’s discussion of historicality may be illuminating for its own sake, but it does not spell out originary temporality itself. (321-322)

As we saw in the preceding section, the three modes of being are all fundamentally structured by modes of time and temporality. These varieties of time are bound together by the complex relations of degeneration and dependence we have explored. Ordinary time is a degenerate form of world-time, and world-time a degenerate form of originary temporality. In some sense, we are learning to see time as ordinarily conceived as a superficial and degraded version of originary temporality. We are learning to see what time “really is.” At its conceptual core – which is not a pared down logical scaffolding, but a fuller whole that makes sense of its degenerate faces – time is originary temporality. Because time is at bottom originary temporality, being is at bottom Dasein’s existence. “Of course, only as long as Dasein is…‘is there’ [‘gibt es’] being” (SZ: 212). This is to say that being at large depends on Dasein. It is not to say, however, that entities depend on Dasein: were all humans to pass from the scene, the stars would not blink out of existence. (323)

Stephen Mulhall “Human Mortality”

November 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Mulhall, Stephen 2005. Human Mortality: Heidegger on How to Portray the Impossible Possibility of Dasein. Dreyfus, Hubert L. and Mark A. Wrathall (eds). A Companion to Heidegger. Malden; Oxford; Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 297-310.

[…] there is a specific state-of-mind through which Dasein discloses itself to itself in a simplified way; and its very simplicity is what allows it to give Dasein access to itself as a structural totality. This is the phenomenon of anxiety (angst, dread), a distinctively objectless state-of-mind; and what it reveals is that the being of Dasein means beingahead-of-itself in being-already-in-(the-world) as being-alongside (entities encountered within-the-world). In short, it tells us that the being of Dasein is care. (297)

[…] for as long as Dasein exists, it can never achieve wholeness; it will always be ahead of itself, essentially related to a possibility, to something that it is not yet. As Heidegger puts it, Dasein’s mode of being is such that something is always left outstanding, or say incomplete; but if Dasein
cannot bring its own existence into view as a whole, then how could it produce an existential analytic of its own kind of being that might bring it into view as a whole? (298)

[…] in being-ahead-of-itself, Dasein does not simply or solely relate to itself as standing out into the future, and hence as incapable of or beyond completion; it also understands itself as relating to – as standing out toward – its own future completion, toward a point at which there will be nothing of itself outstanding. But this endpoint, the point at which Dasein’s span of existence completes itself, is also the point of its own nonexistence, its “no-longer-being-there” – its death. (298)

The most obvious strategy for gaining access to death that Heidegger contemplates is to make use of the already-established fact that Dasein’s being is being-with-Others; for if we cannot directly grasp our own death, can we not experience as intimately and directly as possible the dying and death of other Dasein? (300)

Heidegger in fact thinks that our tendency to think that being-with-Others in their dying and death might allow death to be phenomenologically representable is an expression of a more pervasive tendency on our part to think that one Dasein might represent (go proxy for, substitute or otherwise stand in for) another. To be sure, one Dasein can vote for another Dasein, or take her place with respect to some specific task or object of concern, or even die in another’s place (say by placing oneself in the way of harm that would otherwise be inflicted on another); but no one can take another’s dying away from her. Death is not, is never, theend; it is my end or yours, or hers. Death, in other words, is in every case “mine,” the death of some particular Dasein, the being to whom mineness belongs. Hence, if dying is constitutive of Dasein’s totality or wholeness, it must be conceived as an existential phenomenon of a Dasein which is in each case one’s own. (300-301)

No present-at-hand or ready-to-hand object’s particular relationship to its end can stand in for Dasein’s particular relationship to its end because none manifests the kind of being as such that
belongs to Dasein. (301)

He tells us that, while we can refer to the end of anything living as its perishing, and although Dasein “has” its death, of the kind appropriate to anything that lives, it cannot be said, quaDasein, to perish. Rather, it either dies authentically, or it suffers “demise” (which occurs when Dasein ends “without authentically dying” (SZ: 291) – without, that is, realizing that way of being in which it “is” toward its death, of which more later). (302)

[…] the central negative points Heidegger wishes to make here seem coherent enough, turning as they do upon his unwavering employment of the term “Dasein” as an ontological or existential category, and hence as essentially not synonymous with any biological or zoological category. If “Dasein” is not a synonym for “Homo sapiens,” any more than it is for “soul” or “self-consciousness” or “human being,” then any analysis of Dasein’s relation to its end cannot be fruitfully furthered by taking for granted the ontological presuppositions of the results of the ontic life sciences. (302-303)

Since no Dasein can directly apprehend or encounter its own death, we must shift our analytical focus from death understood as an actuality to death understood as a possibility; only then can we intelligibly talk of death as something toward which any existing Dasein can stand in any kind of substantial, comprehending relationship. In other words, we must reconceive our relation to our death not as something that is realized when we die, but rather as something that we realize (or fail to) in our life. (303)

[…] death is not just the possibility of our own non-existence, of our own absolute impossibility; it is an impossible possibility – or more frankly, an existential impossibility. But if it amounts to a contradiction in terms to think of death as an existential possibility, of however distinctive or even unique a kind, then it would seem that Heidegger must be wrong to think that he can achieve phenomenological access to death by analysing it in existential terms. (304)

Heidegger’s point in calling our relation to our own end our “being-towarddeath” is to present it as an ontological (that is, existential) structure, rather than as one existentiell state (even a pervasive or common one) of the kind that that structure makes possible. In short, we cannot grasp Heidegger’s account of death except against the horizon of his account of the ontological difference – the division between ontic and ontological matters. (304)

[…] although we can’t coherently regard death as an existentiell possibility, neither can we understand our relation to our own end apart from our relation to our existentiell possibilities, and thereby to our being-ahead-of ourselves. More specifically, Heidegger’s suggestion is that we should think of our relation to death as manifest in the relation we establish and maintain (or fail to maintain) to any and every authentic possibility of our being, and hence to our being as such. (305)

Precisely because death can be characterized as Dasein’s ownmost, non-relational and not-to-be outstripped possibility, and hence as an omnipresent, ineluctable, but non-actualizable possibility of its being, which means that it is an ungraspable but undeniable aspect of every moment of its existence, it follows that Dasein can only relate to it in and through our relation to what is graspable in our existence – namely the authentic existentiell possibilities that constitute it from moment to moment. (305)

In other words, just as Heidegger earlier reminded us that death is a phenomenon of life, so he now tells us that death shows up only in and through life, in and through that which it threatens to render impossible – as the possible impossibility of that life. (305)

Or, to put matters the other way around: being-toward-death is essentially a matter of being-toward-life; it is a matter of relating (or failing to relate) to one’s life as utterly, primordially mortal. (305)

A mortal being is one whose existence is contingent (it might not have existed at all, and its present modes of life are no more than the result of past choices), whose non-existence is an omnipresent possibility (so that each of its choices might be its last), a being with a life to lead (its individual choices contributing to, and so contextualized by, the life of which they are a part), and one whose life is its own to lead (so that its choices should be its own rather than those of determinate or indeterminate Others). In short, an authentic confrontation with death reveals Dasein as related to its own being in such a way as to hold open the possibility, and impose the responsibility, of living a life that is authentically individual and authentically whole – a life of integrity, an authentic life. (306)

[…] it is the objectlessness of anxiety that allows Heidegger to claim that its peculiar oppressiveness is generated not by any specific totality of ready-to-hand objects but rather by the possibility of such totalities: we are oppressed by the world as such – or more precisely, by being-in-the-world. Anxiety gives Dasein access to the knowledge that it is thrown into the world – always already delivered over to being ahead of itself, to situations of choice and action which matter to it but which it did not itself fully choose or determine. In other words, anxiety confronts Dasein with the determining yet sheerly contingent fact of its own worldly existence. (307)

Angst is no more a specific mode of Dasein’s thrownness than death is a specific possibility of its projectiveness. It is rather an ineluctable aspect of its thrownness, the omnipresent ground and condition of Dasein’s specific states-of-mind. One might say: whatever Dasein’s particular state-of-mind and project, it is always already anxiously relating to its mortality, whether in resolute anticipation of it or in irresolute, self-alienating flight from it. (308)

If Dasein’s being is inherently being-ahead-of-itself, no meeting of any particular demand in action can eliminate or silence the need to re-encounter that demand (or to choose not to do so) in the next moment of our existence. If we are in this sense essentially incomplete or lacking (Heidegger goes on to call this our being-guilty), then we are also essentially irreducible to what we have hitherto and presently achieved or attained. We are, in other words, inherently self-transcending or transitional, always capable of becoming more or other than we presently are. (309)

Human mortality and finitude is accepted only insofar as one avoids conflating one’s existential potential and one’s existentiell actuality, and instead accepts one’s inevitable failure to coincide with oneself. (309)