Life On Angst


Stages Of Self Despair
Jan. `78 Existentialism And Mysticism continued

The second stage—ethical stage:

“Into human nature,” according to Kierkegaard, “was built a view to
being spirit, a forward impulse that would eventually inspire a person
to move through immediacy (the temporal) and approach the eternal
within.” Man, again according to Kierkegaard, was like an apartment building
with the more hospitable living spaces being found on the upper
stories. It was an unfortunate fact of life that man preferred to live
in the cellar. Living in error and delusion was what cellar dwellers
feared least. No amount of persuasion could spark in them a desire to
climb heavenward. Rather, it was misfortune that got their attention.
Becoming conscious of the bottom (and hence despairing of being on the
bottom) began to manifest itself only after some tragedy shook the
ground of one’s existence, only then would the cellar dweller be
forced into recognizing the eternal within. Once the eternal was
recognized, however, a transformation became possible, a
transformation that would eventually find one despairing at willing to
be oneself instead of not willing to be oneself.

At first a person denied the eternal within. It made demands, and
dwellers of the cellar only obeyed enforced earthly demands. But, for
some people, only a glimpse of the eternal was needed to heighten
consciousness and motivate the cellar dweller to climb out of the
cellar. The sticking point, though, was that the higher the climb, the
more one’s behavior had to comply with ethical demands. Ethics, in
those airy domains, dominated the cellar dweller’s experience, so much
so, that according to Kierkegaard, no cellar dweller could withstand
the downward pull. In fact, it was impossible for anyone to withstand
the downward pull of the aesthetic way of life for very long. All
climbers fell victim to the despair of wanting to be oneself, the
eternal part of the self. That part of the self could never be fully
attained. Tapping into a higher power–a divine power, was the
climber’s only hope, and for that he had to enter life’s religious stage.

Heidegger didn’t call Dasein’s movement toward authenticity ethical,
but breaking through the they-self barrier certainly wasn’t unethical,
and one might go as far as to say that without that break, ethics
might not even be possible. In Kierkegaard’s aesthetic stage of life,
everybody wanted to be somebody else until the despair over the loss
of earthly particulars, up to and including one’s own life, forced the
individual to confront the eternal within. Likewise, in Heidegger, a
loss of another kind (a despair of another kind) produced the same
result. For Heidegger, it was (at least initially) fear and anxiety
that forced Dasein into extra meaningful levels of existence. The fear
that emerged from turbulence, entanglement, and alienation forced
perspective upon Dasein. Dasein began to see itself as a foreign
substance, totally replaceable, totally in vain. Anxiety turned into
anguish, and anguish into dread. Once the they-self was totally
transparent to Dasein, Dasein became free to understand the world in a
different way, a way that would send Dasein deeper into itself.


About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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2 Responses to Life On Angst

  1. Thank you for expanding me.

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