I have been watching Examined Life, which is a documentary that follows around different philosophers and has them discuss something or other. I have also been reading about Soren Kierkegaard (whose grave is posted here).

I have a lot of fragmented thoughts on all of this.

Cornell West is brilliant in this. He, like most philosophers, talks about philosophy being our meditations on death. We are constantly learning, dealing with, making sense of how to die. We do this by being thinkers and examining our lives:

(I wanted to post the Cornell West clip here, but for whatever reason, this isn’t working, so here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1Q6v1xsvcI&feature=related)

This concern about how to live (in preparation for death) is what concerned Soren (from now on shortened to SK). SK thought that philosophy shouldn’t tell us what it knows, philosophy should tell us how to live; what we should do. But that should do becomes tricky because everyone has to choice it very purposefully.

I see much of the same concepts here that Heidegger will pick up later. Both are concerned with subjective moral truths; both reject the easy life of following the crowd. SK was concerned with authentic living and existential dread much before Heidegger, Sartre, or Camus. SK has the idea that existence is something more than what you are born with and says that it is something, rather, that one strives to, which is much like Heidegger talking about Dasien’s possibilities that Dasien takes up.

Just as Dasien is this Being-towards, a being that is thrown ahead of itself in the world, Sk, too, talks about existence as a thrown forward– existence is the choices one makes and lives with wholly.

This brings me to another point which I would like to explore. If Dasien is this Being-towards-others-towards-death, which is to say that being is constituted in context to its culture, society, history, present, future, language, etc, and its project is only completed at death when it no longer has any possibilities to take up, then that is to say that when someone dies, MY (some of my) possibilities end as well.

If part of the structure of Dasien is its possibilities, then when someone dies, those possibilities become less because if my wife of 50 years dies, my best friend from grade school, my family member, or anyone I know dies, then I no longer have the possibility to explore a “towards-others” with that person any longer. Therefore, we must always live towards this death. This is why it is so important to fulfill ethical imperatives because if we do not, a little piece of our own Being dies as well.

This is what the poets, musicians, artist know so well. This is the pain of heartbreak, of mourning, of loss– because our possibilities that we can take up become more limited when someone close to us dies. The melancholy that follows these events is that melancholy that Zizek talks about, in a way. Zizek describes the melancholic as the person who is frustrated because he has acquired the object of his desire but has lost his desire for it. I am interested in his later description of what is going on with the melancholic:

In this precise sense, melancholy (disappointment with all positive, empirical objects, none of which satisfy our desire) is the beginning of philosophy. A person who, all his life, has been used to living in a certain city and is finally compelled to move elsewhere is of course saddened by the prospect of being thrown into a new environment–but what is it that makes him sad? It is not the prospect of leaving the place that was for years his home, but the much more subtle fear of losing his attachment to this place. What makes me sad is my creeping awareness that, sooner or later–sooner than i am ready to admit– I will integrate myself into a new community, forgetting and forgotten by the place that now means so much to me. in short, what makes me sad is the awareness that I will lose my desire for (what is now) my home (Slavoj Zizek. How to Read Lacan 68)

When we look at this language, this explanation, isn’t this what is going on in mourning an other? When we are separated from a close other (family, dear friend, lover, etc), the sinking heart feeling we get when we know that the relationship with our girlfriend is changed (heartbreak), when we know that we will never see a loved one (death)– all of these events is, as Zizek describes “..the subtle fear of losing his attachment to this place,” where this place can be the same exact physical place, only changed by the lack of the person you shared the space with.

This is the melancholy of having less possibilities to take up (in Heideggerian terms). It is also the reminder of death, of how things can change, of how things will change, of being forgotten after death, of forgetting when someone else dies. As I sometimes forget I had a father because it has been so long since he was a part of my environment, and then I become melancholic when that comes back to me. It is these mixed feelings of guilt and nostalgia. A desire to return to something better, but knowing that maybe it wasn’t “better” but just different.

I have to go back to Heidegger and Lacan and Zizek and explore this idea of the melancholy being a result of Dasien’s possibilities being narrowed, and I would like to explore the ethical implications of the ethical life in the face of this Being-towards-others that feels melancholy when there is one less other to be towards. I wonder if this is what Nancy explores?

Well, I leave this fragment to try to go read more…

Advertisements