Thursday, April 05, 2012

On the Anxiety of Everything and of Nothing: Learning to let go

"Whoever believes in reason has to be able to excuse it as a believer excuses his god. After all, because not everyone believes in reason." 
Hans Blumenberg, Care Crosses The River

Is there such a thing as “anxiety?” Or do you transform an experience of your existence in a world, a life – neither entirely your own – into something to be possessed (by), grasped (by) – that you can at least perceive and know as an object. It is by turns a burden, an affliction, an essential part of your self, and finally, a threat: anxiety, does it not sometimes appear as a menacing, overwhelming force, from which there is no escape, that threatens the integrity of the “I” and the self you know?

And yet, it seems that anxiety has been so close and continual a companion to you – virtually ever-present – that it escapes you at the moment you wish to write. Anxiety, in other words, could just as well have been the object of Augustine's meditation on Time in the Confessions: “What this is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to a questioner, I do not know...” Perhaps "anguish is the horror of time” (Bataille) precisely the fact that “if the present is only time, because it flows away into the past... For it is, only because it will cease to be.... [and] that time is only in that it tend toward not-being.” [1] Like our existence in time, anxiety accompanies experience so closely that you know it without knowing precisely for what you take it.

After fifteen centuries had passed since Augustine's death, in Being and Time (1928) Martin Heidegger would at last develop this analogy. Anxiety, for Heidegger, is – like time and being – no entity [Seiende], but rather a “fundamental mode of being in the world.” Stopping us in our tracks, the experience (mood, he calls it) of anxiety is one of the ways in which we find ourselves in-the-world: in the grips of an anxiety attack the world is unreal, the world reveals itself as nothing. Does not anxiety give a sense of the uncanny(-ness of the world)? We read the following in What is Metaphysics? (1929): “All things and we ourselves sink into indifference. This, however, not in the sense of mere disappearance. Rather, in their very receding, things turn toward us. The receding of beings as a whole, closing in on us in anxiety, oppresses us. We can get no hold on things... Only this 'no hold on things' comes over us and remains. Anxiety makes manifest the nothing.” [2]

I could ask “what makes you anxious,” which you yourself have done, but to answer the question would be to reduce anxiety to mere fear. Rather, anxiety is anxious about nothing. Not the existential dread (in both German and French, the words for anxiety and dread are one and the same) that recently overwhelmed me, for that touched upon a certainty, a paradoxical something, the truly in common of all humanity, all life. No. Anxiety reveals to us that our world, our reality, is without reason, founded solely upon chance, and the manifest nothing the “unknown, painted in the image of a sun” [3]: the uncertainty of all that is now and all that is still to come.

Anxiety gives way to a metaphysical vertigo: it is not nothing, it is the uncertain and unknowable nature of all that will henceforth come to be. We can as little grasp our futures as can we chart our lives' course firmly in advance: none of us knows from whence we came and toward what we go. Should one listen quietly enough and carefully enough in the night of anxiety, a barely audible voice can be heard whispering these words of wisdom: one must above all learn to let go...

Anathema - The Untouchable, Part 1 (from Weather Systems, out this month).

First Epilogue 
Time, flowing forth along the Copernican course
Runs detoured from its absent center
Led astray no longer into dead-end
Wrong-Way Streets
Subverted by its privilege of nowhere
Now, now and necessarily again
The eccentricity of time forever de-centered
Arrives, enters, in moments coursing with time.

Second Epilogue
That singularity that is the irreducible core of consciousness that subtends the self we know, it is at once parti(cular) and wave(-like undulation traced by our peregrinations). The ensemble of the existent and what is to be (virtually): absolute immanence can only be de-composed into the still coherent entangled multiplicity that it is, that we are and in which we are one - one entangled system of awareness. Separated and confined by the macroscopy of bodies having extension, we are permitted this hope: that in the uncertain beyond, in the paradoxical time following the collapse - kairos or bardo - hope for the freedom to become an other, any other, to begin anew as an other self - ignorant of our past and of our origin, as are we all, even in this very moment, now.


[1] St. Augustine, Confessions

[2] M. Heidegger, What is Metaphysics

[3] G. Bataille, The Impossible

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