Thursday, July 06, 2006
(1:01 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Between Boredom and AnxietyIn Being and Time, Heidegger situates "anxiety" as the fundamental attunement or mood of Dasein. As we know from the reading group over The Open, however, Agamben makes a good case that in later writings, boredom comes to seem more fundamental even than anxiety. What I propose in this post is to make a crucial clarification to Heidegger's existential analytic, one that may well lead to a complete rewriting. My contention is that while he was right to move away from anxiety as the fundamental attunement, Heidegger overshoots the mark in the shift toward boredom. We cannot fully understand the meaning of Being until we grapple with the truly fundamental attunement of Dasein, that attunement that is located between boredom and anxiety: namely, awkwardness.
This contention may strike some of my readers as frivolous, even sarcastic, but it is deeply grounded in Jean-Luc Nancy's critique of the existential analytic. That is, Nancy argues that while he "officially" positions being-with (Mitsein) as cooriginary with Dasein, Heidegger does not follow out the consequences of this insight in the analysis that follows. Perhaps more tangentially, my argument also relies on Nancy's crucial insights into what might be called Heidegger's own "cultural biases," leading him to show disdain for the everyday, even though the logic of his text leads necessarily to the conclusion that the content of "authenticity" (or, as Nancy argues it should be translated, "the proper") is nothing other than ordinary everydayness.
Based on Nancy's work with Heidegger, I argue that awkwardness is uniquely suited to be a starting point for a fresh approach to the existential analytic. First, unlike either anxiety or boredom, it is a fundamentally social attunement -- to anticipate an argument that cannot be fully elaborated here, one is constrained to say that "awkwardness is always the awkwardness of the other." Second, awkwardness deals with ordinary everydayness as ordinary everydayness, whereas both boredom and anxiety represent an abstraction away from the particular situation.
Aside from meeting the challenge issued by Nancy's critique, awkwardness deeply coheres with the structure of Heidegger's argument in Being and Time. When we reflect on the experience of awkwardness, we find that the social links that normally function quite smoothly present themselves as somehow disrupted. Is this not exactly parallel to Heidegger's analysis of the broken hammer, which only presents itself as such in its very failure to function as expected? The content of the experience of the broken hammer is identical to the experience of the working hammer, but the disruption allows for a different way of grasping that same content. This is rooted in a particular situation, however, and cannot be construed to somehow call human existence as a whole into question, as one gets the impression that anxiety does or should do -- that is, Heidegger makes an unwarranted leap from the inert thing to what might be called (not entirely sarcastically) "religious experience," without really addressing interhuman relationships. Awkwardness presents "being-with" as such, always in a particular place, and thus properly presents "being-there" (Dasein) in its ontical thrownness, presents Dasein's proper impropriety.
Simply put: Awkwardness is Ereignis.
If Nancy is correct that Heidegger's thought is fundamentally ethical, that can only be insofar as his thought draws us necessarily to think awkwardness, the fundamental attunement of Being-there (Dasein) as Being-with (Mitsein).