The Shattering of Form
When Heidegger wanted a way to characterize the “totality of Dasein’s structural whole,”1 he searched for a single term capable of constellating and evoking all the various aspects of Dasein’s Being-in-the-world. It needed to include both Dasein’s “thrownness” (its Being-already-in, or character of finding itself in a given situation not created by itself) and its capacity for “projection” (Being-ahead-of-itself, or living into and toward the particular possibilities that it chooses for itself). In addition, Dasein is in the world with other things and other beings (Being-alongside).
What kind of all-embracing term could characterize and subsume all these interwoven, sometimes contradictory but equally primordial aspects of Dasein? What name could suffice for “Being-in-the-world which is falling and disclosed, thrown and projecting, and for which its ownmost potentiality-for-Being is an issue, both in its Being alongside the ‘world’ and in its Being-with Others”?2
Heidegger chooses the term Sorge, or “care,” to serve this purpose. He immediately moves to distinguish this term from others which might come to mind and be confused with it. Care underlies, but is distinguished from, possible variations such as worry, concern, or solicitude. It is also not to be equated with or reduced to “special acts or drives like willing and wishing or urge and addiction.”3 What, then, does Heidegger mean by this “basic existential ontological phenomenon” he calls “care”?4
Heidegger first attempts to specify what he means through a definition, drawing on terms he has developed throughout Division One of Being and Time (thrownness, projection, Being-with, Being-alongside, etc.); but he remains unsatisfied. Eventually he seeks a more satisfying way to express what he intends by this overarching name for Dasein’s Being, and finds a singular and surprising solution. At this point, interrupting the painstaking, detailed, and logical development of the existential analytic of Dasein, appears an ancient Latin fable about “Care” and the creation of humanity.5
Heidegger cites the fable about Care as a “pre-ontological testimony” in which “Dasein is expressing itself primordially.” He emphasizes that this “testimony” or “deposition” “should make plain that our existential Interpretation is not a mere fabrication, but that as an ontological ‘construction’ it is well grounded and has been sketched out beforehand in elemental ways.”6
Before we attempt to interpret the appearance at just this juncture of a section so uncharacteristic of Being and Time as a whole, let us reproduce the text itself.
Cura cum fluvium transiret, vidit cretosum lutum
sustulitque cogitabunda atque coepit fingere.
dum deliberat quid iam fecisset, Jovis intervenit.
rogat eum Cura ut det illi spiritum, et facile impetrat.
cui cum vellet Cura nomen ex sese ipsa imponere,
Jovis prohibuit suumque nomen ei dandum esse dictitat.
dum Cura et Jovis disceptant, Tellus surrexit simul
suumque nomen esse volt cui corpus praebuerit suum.
sumpserunt Saturnum iudicem, is sic aecus iudicat:
“tu Jovis quia spiritum dedisti, in morte spiritum,
tuque Tellus, quia dedisti corpus, corpus recipito,
Cura eum quia prima finxit, teneat quamdiu vixerit.
sed quae nunc de nomine eius vobis controversia est,
homo vocetur, quia videtur esse factus ex humo.”
“Once when ‘Care’ was crossing a river, she saw some
clay; she thoughtfully took up a piece and began to
shape it. While she was meditating on what she had
made, Jupiter came by. ‘Care’ asked him to give it
spirit, and this he gladly granted. But when she wanted
her name to be bestowed upon it, he forbade this, and
demanded that it be given his name instead. While
‘Care’ and Jupiter were disputing, Earth arose and
desired that her own name be conferred on the creature,
since she had furnished it with part of her body. They
asked Saturn to be their arbiter, and he made the
following decision, which seemed a just one: ‘Since
you, Jupiter, have given its spirit, you shall receive
that spirit at its death; and since you, Earth, have
given its body, you shall receive its body. But since
‘Care’ first shaped this creature, she shall possess it
as long as it lives. And because there is now a dispute
among you as to its name, let it be called ‘homo,’ for it
is made out of humus (earth).”7
This fable about Care is, to be sure, a charming narrative means of expressing what Heidegger has been attempting to say about Dasein’s “possession” by care as long as it lives. But why did Heidegger choose this particular route? The passage is uncharacteristic of Heidegger’s work in so many respects that it deserves closer scrutiny. First let us look at the ways in which it calls attention to itself.
(1) In only one other instance in Being and Time does Heidegger call on “pre-ontological evidence” to support his argument. This is in connection with his interpretation of “phenomenology” as letting entities be taken out of their hiddenness, uncovered, or discovered.8 He has recourse to ancient, primordial, or “pre-ontological” understandings at only these two junctures in the entire work.
(2) The fable of Care is the sole appearance of any form of extended story, mythological or otherwise, in the work. The only possible exception of which I am aware occurs shortly after this one, and again briefly refers to a divine female figure: “The goddess of Truth who guides Parmenides, puts two pathways before him, one of uncovering, one of hiding; but this signifies nothing else than that Dasein is already both in the truth and in untruth.”9
(3) Heidegger is not ordinarily concerned to justify or “confirm” his interpretations by reference to others’ ideas. On the contrary, he constantly attempts to overcome or undo misleading impressions created by traditional ways of looking at human existence and at Being. He never worries elsewhere about a charge of “fabrication” or “invention,” yet here he says, “In explicating Dasein’s Being as care, we are not forcing it under an idea of our own contriving, but we are conceptualizing existentially what has already been disclosed.”10 He reiterates that his interpretation is “not a mere fabrication,” and that the fable will make this plain.
(4) Although Heidegger’s footnotes contain a modest number of references to contemporary works relevant to his own, it is uncharacteristic of him to include within his text proper an extended illustration such as this one. His footnote to the introduction to the fable begins, “The author ran across [stiess auf] the following pre-ontological illustration of the existential-ontological Interpretation of Dasein as care in Burdach’s article. . . . ”11 Nothing else that Heidegger “happened to meet with” or “stumbled across” in the course of his composition of Being and Time was accorded such a conspicuous and radically discontinuous place in its schema.
(5) Finally, the “illustration” is a formal anomaly as well. It is a lengthy passage in Latin, set up as a poem, with fourteen lines of approximately equal length, and it occupies the single page in Being and Time where the margins are altered. In the German text, even the German translation of the fable is indented two spaces from the usual left-hand margin.
What is the significance of this radically discontinuous passage? Why does Heidegger depart so dramatically from his usual procedures at this point in Being and Time? According to our reading, Section 42 is the “turning point” in Being and Time, the point at which the voice from “the other side,” the side identified with the semiotic, begins really to be heard. It announces the conclusion of Division One, the completion of the “preparatory fundamental analysis of Dasein,” with its emphasis on Dasein’s usual and normal in-authentic modes of existence, and points toward the task of Division Two, the description of Dasein in its “temporality.”
The figure of Care presides over this transition in the work. She is, according to the fable, a goddess who creates humanity. She disputes with Jupiter and Earth over who shall name the new creation, since each of them contributed only spirit or matter, while it is she who “thoughtfully . . . shaped” the creature, and “meditated” on what she had made. Only Saturn, “Time,” is qualified to resolve the dispute, and Time decrees that Care shall possess Dasein as long as it lives.12 As long as Dasein is in time, existing in the world, it belongs neither to Jupiter nor to Earth, but exclusively to Care, who made it what it is.
Being and Time from this point on moves into an analysis of Dasein as it is in time, and as it can be in relation to Care. This “goddess” is no comforting, tranquilizing force in Dasein’s existence, not at all a stereotypical “mother,” as culturally conceived, but altogether a challenging and disturbing force, one truly allied with the semiotic dimension that shakes up identity, one whose call “issues from those borders where signification vanishes.”13
Care calls Dasein into its “ownness,” into authenticity, out of the secure but deadened precincts of the symbolic. The effects of Care’s call on Dasein are not comfortable but unsettling; they disturb Dasein’s condition of “fascination” by the “they”; they move Dasein into an uneasy state of not-knowing, of questioning, of awareness of its precarious and tenuous grasp on its own existence. Care’s call deprives us, as Kristeva might say, “of the reassurance mechanical use of speech ordinarily gives us, the assurance of being ourselves, that is, untouchable, unchangeable, immortal.”14
She shows us that we are indeed touched; we do change; we will die. Such awarenesses are normally repressed, and are next to impossible to admit in the symbolic disposition. They are constitutive of authentic Dasein, however, and for Heidegger, it is Care who calls Dasein into the position where it can, and must acknowledge such realities.
In Heidegger’s terms, Care calls Dasein out of its tranquillized familiar “they”-world into a situation characterized by such terms as “anxiety,” “freedom,” and “guilt.” In what follows, we shall trace the connections between such possibilities and the semiotic dimensions in language.
Called Away from Home
The introduction of “Care” as a name for the “totality” of Dasein occurs in a chapter called “Care as the Being of Dasein,”15 a chapter which opens with a discussion of anxiety (Angst). Anxiety is seen as “the phenomenal basis for explicitly grasping Dasein’s primordial totality of Being.”16 The state of anxiety, in other words, allows Dasein to become aware of the demands of Care upon it. Although Heidegger’s section on anxiety precedes the fable of Care itself, it seems appropriate to deal with anxiety as one of the evidences or effects on Dasein of the call of Care, since anxiety is the condition that acts as a symptom and point of entry, a pointer to the possession of Dasein by Care. In what follows, we will look at anxiety, Being-toward-death, conscience, and “anticipatory resoluteness” as the effects of the call of Care. We will also argue that these phenomena of authentic Dasein are related to the semiotic dimension as described by Kristeva.
Heidegger distinguishes anxiety from fear, which is the response to a definite threat. By contrast, anxiety is unfocused:
That in the face of which one has anxiety is Being-in-the-world as such. . . . [It] is completely indefinite. . . . what threatens is nowhere. Anxiety “does not know” what that in the face of which it is anxious is. . . . It is already “there,” and yet nowhere; it is so close that it is oppressive and stifles one’s breath, and yet it is nowhere.17
Anxiety takes place in no-place, beyond the boundaries of thetic or symbolic consciousness. No particular or definite objects threaten Dasein here, and it is in fact the falling away of Dasein’s normal involvements that allows the indefinite threat of this “unknown” to surface. Although it is “nowhere,” it is nonetheless “so close that it is oppressive and stifles one’s breath.”18 The subject’s freedom and power to identify and place other entities within the meaningful everyday world of the symbolic are compromised by the emergence of this strange, suffocating, all-encompassing, and surrounding threat.
Heidegger describes the demise of meaning we suffer in anxiety: “[In anxiety] the totality of involvements of the ready-to-hand and the present-at-hand discovered within-the-world is, as such, of no consequence; it collapses into itself; the world has the character of completely lacking significance.”19 Consequence, significance, and meaning, all achieved or constructed within the boundaries of the symbolic realm, collapse in the face of the semiotic irruption of the “nowhere.” None of Dasein’s ordinary engagements, constructs, or projects seem any longer to have the firm foundation we normally ascribe to them; an abyss has opened up across which for the moment it is impossible to see.
As this “world” is withdrawn, Dasein has no choice but to confront what is making it anxious, instead of fleeing from it as it usually does in falling. Dasein must confront its “authentic potentiality-for-Being-in-the-world.”20 This confrontation “individualizes” or “isolates” Dasein, “brings it back from falling, and makes manifest to it that authenticity and inauthenticity are possibilities of its Being.”21
We are reminded here of Kristeva’s description of the “no-place” between symbolic and semiotic, which we are suggesting bears a marked resemblance to the suspension between falling and authenticity discussed by Heidegger. Kristeva writes:
On the one hand, there is pain—but it also makes one secure—caused as one recognizes oneself as subject of (others’) discourse, hence tributary of a universal Law. On the other, there is pleasure—but it kills—at finding oneself different, irreducible, for one is borne by a simply singular speech, not merging with the others, but then exposed to the black thrusts of a desire that borders on idiolect and aphasia.22
Thus the call of Care may correspond to Kristeva’s “call of the unnameable . . . issuing from those borders where signification vanishes.” Different, irreducible, exposed, and responding to a call from the borders where signification vanishes, the subject in process/on trial bears a remarkable likeness to Heidegger’s Dasein, individualized or isolated, faced with a collapse of significance and consequence.
A final characteristic of anxiety deserves attention here. Heidegger asserts that:
In anxiety one feels “ uncanny” [unheimlich], . . . here “uncanniness” also means “not-being-at-home” [das Nicht-zuhause-sein]. . . . That kind of Being-in-the-world which is tranquilized and familiar is a mode of Dasein’s uncanniness, not the reverse. From an existential-ontological point of view, the “not at home” must be conceived as the more primordial phenomenon.23
Anxious Dasein feels not at home. Called out and away from “home,” from the symbolic, Dasein confronts its own unique potentialities and its relation to the caller, imaged by Heidegger as the goddess, Care. Here indeed is a powerful questioning, although almost certainly an unintended one, of the image of woman as domestic and domesticating. This “mother” is one who summons her creation to uncanniness, to wandering, to “straying on excluded ground,”24 beyond the borders of home and the familiar.
Freedom towards Death
Division Two of Being and Time begins with a chapter called “Dasein’s Possibility of Being-a-whole, and Being-towards-death.” Heidegger’s analysis of death and Dasein’s possible stances toward it again distinguishes between an inauthentic or “falling” relationship to death and the possibility of an authentic Being-towards-death. Here, too, as in the discussion of anxiety in the preceding chapter, Dasein seems to be suspended between two possibilities that resemble Kristeva’s symbolic and semiotic dispositions in language.
Ordinarily, in the everyday or “falling” mode, Dasein flees the thought of death as a possibility, in fact an inevitability, for itself. Dasein, encouraged by the “they,” is tempted to hide from itself its own susceptibility to death.25 It is tranquilized away from appropriating its death by others whose own anxieties are raised by one’s death.26 Finally, the “they” encourages an attitude of “superior indifference,” thus alienating Dasein from its “ownmost” possibility, its own death.
Heidegger interprets all of these reactions as aspects of “falling,” of the inauthentic mode of relating to one’s own existence and its potentials. He writes:
Temptation, tranquilization, and alienation are distinguishing marks of the kind of Being called “falling.” As falling, everyday Being-towards-Death is a constant fleeing in the face of death. Being-towards-the-end has the mode of evasion in the face of it—giving new explanations for it, understanding it inauthentically, and concealing it.27
Evasion, explanation, inauthentic understanding, and covering death up are all ways of trimming death down to fit into the realm of things capable of interpretation by the symbolic. Forcing death into that universe of “interpretation, faith, and truth,”28 a universe to which it is totally antithetical, is a desperate bid to avoid the realm of non-meaning, of the nothing, which it opens up to us.
Heidegger proposes that another way of Being-towards-death, another way of “dying,” is possible.29 This alternative stance is one which, again like anxiety, “individualizes” or “isolates” Dasein. It “wrenches Dasein away” from its immersion in the “they” or in the symbolic. Heidegger writes: “Death does not just ‘belong’ to one’s own Dasein in an undifferentiated way; death lays claim to it as an individual Dasein.”30
A person cannot die in an impersonal “they”-self way: “Dying is something that every Dasein itself must take upon itself at the time. By its very essence, death is in every case mine, in so far as it ‘is’ at all.”31 Called by death, required by death to take it on in a personal, individual way, Dasein again finds itself “different, irreducible,” in Kristeva’s terms: alone, unique, called out of the structures that guarantee identity, meaning, continuity, and some degree of mastery or control.
As Heidegger approaches his description of the authentic mode of “Being-towards-death,” his language begins to confirm this connection between the theme of death and the “semiotic” as described by Kristeva. Heidegger writes a powerful and pressured passage about the effects on Dasein of facing its own death, of developing an authentic relation to it:
The more unveiledly this possibility gets understood, the more purely does the understanding penetrate into it as the possibility of the impossibility of any existence at all. Death, as possibility, gives nothing to be “actualized,” nothing which Dasein, as actual, could itself be. It is the possibility of the impossibility of every way of comporting oneself towards anything, of every way of existing. In the anticipation of this possibility it becomes “greater and greater”: that is to say, the possibility reveals itself to be such that it knows no measure at all, no more or less, but signifies the possibility of the measureless impossibility of existence.32
Death is the “possibility of the impossibility”; it confronts and explodes all logic and all foundation for thought within the symbolic realm. It gives “nothing” that Dasein can grasp and try to actualize. It is there as pure possibility, challenging Dasein’s wish to actualize its possibilities. It is the ultimate paradox. It removes the option of “comporting oneself toward anything,” of pretending to any sort of “mastery of meaning,” in Kristeva’s terms. It becomes “greater and greater”; it seems to have a power of its own that grows as one contemplates it. “It knows no measure at all, no more or less, but signifies the possibility of the measureless impossibility of existence.” Here the original German betrays a bit of alliterative release: “die überhaupt kein Mass, kein mehr oder minder kennt, sondern die Möglichkeit der masslosen Unmöglichkeit der Existenz bedeutet.”33
The passage goes on to indicate that the possibility of death “offers no support for becoming intent on something, ‘picturing’ to oneself the actuality which is possible, and so forgetting its possibility.” Death frustrates the impulse to make it the object of intentional or thetic consciousness, to picture or image it as one’s own, to force it into the realm of representation, and thus to create something “forgettable” out of it. Death, one’s own death, lays claim to the individual Dasein, from beyond the “borders where signification vanishes,” from the region which we have been calling the semiotic.
The chapter on death ends with a remarkable evocation of freedom. For Heidegger, Dasein’s anticipation of its own death, its resolute attempt to be towards death as its “ownmost” possibility, results in a paradoxical liberty from self. Dasein is finally capable of “understanding” (although not in a rational way) that its ownmost possibility consists in not being “its own.” “Anticipation discloses to existence that its uttermost possibility lies in giving itself up, and thus it shatters all tenaciousness to whatever existence one has reached.”34 When one’s tenaciousness has been shattered, one is freed from one’s unconscious and total addiction to the symbolic, from the discourse of others, and even from “whatever existence one has reached.”
Heidegger summarizes his picture of authentic Being-towards-death in a six-line sentence, unusual even in his typically convoluted prose. He writes:
Anticipation reveals to Dasein its lostness in the they-self, and brings it before the possibility, primarily unsupported by concernful solicitude [besorgende Fürsorge], of being itself, but itself in a passionate, released from the illusions of the “they,” factical, certain of itself, and anxious FREEDOM TOWARDS DEATH. . . . 35
This translation is not good English, but it shows the sense of pressure and urgency behind Heidegger’s formulation. The entire sentence is emphasized in the German text, and the last three words quoted here receive double emphasis. Worthy of note in this summary is the distinction Heidegger draws again between the realm of the “they,” in which one may be lost and subject to illusions as well as “concernful solicitude,” and the possibility of “passionate, released, factical, certain of itself, anxious freedom.”
Finally, only implied in the sentence is the relation to death of Sorge (Care). Earlier Heidegger had distinguished care from concern (Besorgen) and from solicitude (Fürsorge).36 Here he associates these notions with the “support” provided by the illusion of the “they”-self. Sorge itself is not mentioned here, but given Heidegger’s earlier discussion, we may conjecture that when Dasein loses the support or foundation of the symbolic dimension, which includes “concern” and “solicitude,” and goes passionately into freedom towards death, it does so called by Care.
The Call of Care in Conscience
After his discussion of death and the possibility of achieving an authentic freedom towards death, Heidegger seeks a way of “attesting” or substantiating his claim that Dasein does indeed have a “potentiality-for-Being-its-Self.”37 He finds this “testimony” in the experience of conscience, which becomes the central topic of a chapter entitled “Dasein’s Attestation of an Authentic Potentility-for-Being, and Resoluteness.”38
Our exploration of this chapter will focus on four aspects of the experience of conscience as Heidegger describes it: the call of conscience; how it calls and what it says; the question of “who calls”; and, finally, the effects on Dasein of the call. Dasein is, as we have seen, usually submerged and lost in the “they.” It is primarily concerned with average, everyday existence and not at all with its potentiality for being itself, especially since this potentiality conflicts with the tranquilized existence achieved through one-sided participation in the “symbolic” realm. Heidegger asserts that Dasein may be “brought back” from this “lostness of failing to hear itself,” from the condition of “listening away to the they.”39
This happens through the interruption of “another kind of hearing,” through hearing something else that breaks in on what Dasein is normally listening to, the voices of the “they.” This call, this other voice, is very powerful; it breaks through the hegemony of symbolic discourse and “calls back” Dasein from its lostness in the “they.” Heidegger writes: “In the call’s tendency to disclosure lies the force of a shove, of a staccato shaking-up. Calling happens out of the distance into the distance.”40
He uses forceful words such as “shove” (Stoss) and “shaking-up” (Aufrütteln) to indicate the radical heterogeneity of this phenomenon. It calls “out of the distance into the distance” and yet has the power to “shake up” Dasein in its falling. The phrase “in die Ferne” here is reminiscent of Nietzsche’s use of it in his Gay Science section “Die Frauen und ihre Wirkung in die Ferne.” We conjectured in our discussion of that section that the “distance” into which women make their influence felt is, for Nietzsche, “integrally implicated in the process of the subject’s self-creation in relation to language.”41 Here too the call from “out of the distance into the distance” may be an evocation of the gap or split in the subject in the endless process of coming to be. This interpretation seems consonant with what follows regarding this “call.”
How does the call make itself heard, and what does it say? Heidegger asserts that it is a “mode of discourse,” and he refers to it as the “voice” of conscience. Yet it is a mode of discourse that says nothing, that maintains silence, and that speaks completely unequivocally, or unambiguously. He writes: “What does the conscience call to him to whom it appeals? Taken strictly, nothing. The call asserts nothing, gives no information about world events, has nothing to tell.” The call of conscience occurs not only without “content” or words, but without sound as well. “Conscience discourses solely and constantly in the mode of keeping silent.”42
In spite of the wordlessness, the nothing-saying, and the silence of the call of conscience, its message is “unambiguous” and “unequivocal.” The call of conscience is, then, diametrically opposed to the mode of discourse in which Dasein is usually entangled. Heidegger sums up the contrast between Dasein’s ordinary Benommenheit and the characteristics of the call of conscience: “If in this lost hearing, one has been fascinated [benommen] with the ‘hubbub’ [Lärm] of the manifold ambiguity which idle talk possesses in its everyday ‘newness,’ then the call must do its calling without any ‘hubbub’ [lärmlos] and unambiguously leaving no foothold for curiosity.”43 Saying nothing and discoursing in silence, the mysterious caller whom Heidegger has so far identified only as “conscience” yet manages to project a message that is uniquely clear, uncontaminated by the mixed and mystifying realm of the “they.”
Although he has provisionally named the caller “conscience,” Heidegger raises the question of who calls. He formulates various answers to the question, but always within the clearly established context of the caller’s essential irreducibility to ordinary discourse. The caller, if it is “asked about its name, status, origin, or repute,” bears a remarkable resemblance to some of the appearances of la mère qui jouit in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. Heidegger says about the caller:
. . . it not only refuses to answer, but does not even leave the slightest possibility of one’s making it into something with which one can be familiar when one’s understanding of Dasein has a “worldly” orientation. . . . That which calls the call, simply holds itself aloof from any way of becoming well-known. . . . To let itself be drawn into getting considered and talked about, goes against its kind of Being.44
Although it “will not let itself be coaxed,” and is both “indefinite” and “undefinable,” Heidegger attempts a few ways of saying what it might be. He has of course already asserted that the caller is “conscience.” But perhaps this explanation does not say enough; do we know what we are talking about when we use this word? So he goes on to argue that “in conscience, Dasein calls itself.” Conscience is a call from Dasein to itself, but from some part or level of Dasein that remains free from entrapment in falling. This seems also to be an aspect of the self that is inaccessible to one’s “own” decision or control; it seems unfamiliar, even “alien.” “Indeed the call is precisely something which we ourselves have neither planned nor prepared for nor voluntarily performed. . . . ‘It’ calls [‘Es’ ruft], against our expectations and even against our will.”45 Involuntary, out of control, counter to wish and preference, the caller is yet somehow also Dasein itself, calling itself out of engulfment in the “they.”
“The call comes out of me and yet over me.” (“Der Ruf kommt aus mir und doch über mich.”)46 The verb kommen with the preposition über and an object in the accusative case can be translated as “fall upon” or “befall.”47 Thus this sentence also suggests that “the call comes out of me and falls upon me.” It attacks or ambushes Dasein; so unexpected and involuntary is it that it seems like “an alien voice.”48
Dasein, as it involuntarily and unexpectedly calls itself to confront its own potentiality-for-Being, is Dasein open to anxiety and death, open to the threats to its world, meaning, and existence that are always present, but normally covered over. “ . . . the caller is definable in a ‘worldly way’ by nothing at all. The caller is Dasein in its uncanniness: primordial, thrown Being-in-the-world, as the ‘not-at-home’—the bare [nackte] ‘that-it-is’ in the ‘nothing’ of the world.”49 Undefinable, or definable by nothing, uncanny, not at home, naked in the “nothing” of the world, Dasein is left alone, unprotected by the defenses of inauthenticity, face to face with its potentiality-for-Being.
“Undefinable” though the caller of the call of conscience may be, Heidegger has so far identified it as “conscience” itself, and as Dasein itself. Finally, he tells us, “Conscience manifests itself as the call of care. . . . The call of conscience—that is, conscience itself—has its ontological possibility in the fact that Dasein, in the very basis of its Being, is care.”50 Thus care is the final characterization of the caller, the last name proposed for this “unnameable” whose call issues “from the borders where signification vanishes.”
Forsaken and Abandoned
How does Dasein respond to the shaking, unsettling call of Care? What are the effects on Dasein of that call? Heidegger’s portrait of Dasein in its authenticity so far might seem to describe a good candidate for treatment on Kristeva’s couch, and the resemblance is not purely coincidental. The call of Care disrupts Dasein’s easy fit into the alienated world of inauthenticity, and leaves it anxious, guilty, and reticent. Yet out of this troubled existence also arises, as we shall see, the possibility of a mysterious and paradoxical joy, a jouissance in finding oneself the called yet forsaken child of la mère qui jouit.
We have seen how the possibility of authentic existence is manifested in anxiety; experiencing the call of Care leaves one anxious. This existential anxiety is not a discomfort over any particular decision to be made, but is the effect of a generalized awareness of the possibility-character of existence itself.
Since the call of conscience is a silent one, it calls Dasein out of the noise of the idle talk of the “they,” and into its own silence. Just as the call of conscience is, for Heidegger, a “mode of discourse,” so too is Dasein’s keeping silent in response to the call a kind of discourse.51 Heidegger calls the newfound silence of Dasein under the effects of the call Verschwiegenheit: “secrecy, discretion, reticence, reserve.”52
As we shall see below, this characterization of the discourse of authenticity as silence or reticence is ultimately unsatisfactory for Heidegger. He will eventually find himself in the same position as Nietzsche, who confronted the question of whether and how it is still possible to speak in the absence of the ground or foundation of truth and representation. Heidegger’s later version of the question focuses on developing a way of being in language that does not do violence to the Being that language “houses,” a way that avoids capitulation to the symbolic disposition. For now, however, and for as far as Being and Time was able to go, Dasein in its possibility of authenticity is consigned to reticence or reserve. So far, this reticence seems to be Heidegger’s only alternative to the distortions of idle talk, the language of the “they”; it is his only proposal for how Dasein’s discourse might become authentically responsive to the call of Care.
If the “state-of-mind” evoked by conscience is anxiety, and the “mode of discourse” is reticence, what of the third of the existentialia, “understanding”? How does Dasein understand or interpret itself as a result of the call of Care? It is not surprising that Dasein in the grip of conscience should understand itself as “guilty.” But Heidegger’s analysis of the phenomenon is original and striking. He interprets guilt not as related to some actual misdeed or omission, but rather as one of the basic conditions of Dasein’s existence, resulting from the inherent “not” character of “thrownness.” Dasein does not choose its circumstances; it is thrown into them and must project itself forward into its possibilities on the basis of what it has not chosen. It has to make its own that over which it can never have control:
The Self, which as such has to lay the basis for itself, can never get that basis into its power, and yet, as existing, it must take over Being-a-basis. . . . Thus “Being-a-basis” means never to have power over one’s ownmost Being from the ground up. This “not” belongs to the existential meaning of “thrownness.” It itself, being a basis, is a nullity of itself.53
Not only is Dasein’s basis a “nullity” or “nothingness” (Nichtigkeit), but even when Dasein projects itself onto its possibilities from this “basis,” it generates further nothingness. Every time Dasein chooses one possibility, it must implicitly or explicitly reject countless others; choosing and projecting therefore become actions permeated with negation. The burden of this constant taking over of one’s own thrown basis and of one’s own negating choices is what Heidegger means by “guilt.”
Dasein ceaselessly both builds on and generates nothingness. “This means that Dasein as such is guilty.”54 To be sure, Dasein also can become “factically” guilty; that is, it can become responsible, or punishable for offenses, but this possibility is founded, for Heidegger, on the “primordial Being-guilty” that Dasein is.55
Heidegger sums up the effects on Dasein of Care’s call: “The disclosedness of Dasein in wanting to have a conscience is thus constituted through the state-of-mind of anxiety, through the understanding as self-projection onto one’s ownmost Being-guilty, and through discourse as reticence.”56
Anxious, guilty, and reticent, Dasein also discovers that the call of Care, far from offering any security or haven (as one might expect a “creator goddess” to do!), leaves Dasein to itself, alone and “naked” in the face of its own potentiality-for-Being, and the nothingness that its existence entails. Dasein under the influence of the call is stripped of the illusions and ambiguities of the “they” and left to confront itself as itself. Heidegger describes this situation in terms that evoke the very earliest of negative infantile emotions. He says: “What is it that so radically deprives Dasein of the possibility of misunderstanding itself by any sort of alibi and failing to recognize itself, if not the forsakenness [Verlassenheit] with which it has been abandoned [Überlassenheit] to itself?”57
The call of “Care,” who was originally introduced into Being and Time as a divine female figure, one who has possession of the earthly creature as long as it lives, thus has the paradoxical or unexpected effect of leaving Dasein naked, forsaken, and abandoned, left to its own resources in the welter of circumstances and choices, deprived of the sustaining yet deluding supports of inauthentic identification with the “they.”
Care, Cure, and Jouissance
Is Care Heidegger’s early vision of la mère qui jouit? She radically interrupts Being and Time to effect the turn from the analysis of inauthenticity to that of the possibility of authenticity. Her entrance into the book is heralded by the section on anxiety, and followed by those on death and conscience. She comes to stand as an emblem for all that calls Dasein, however silently, out of its infatuation and fascination with the phallic, symbolic order. She is the mother who will not be named, claimed, or controlled; heterogeneous and opposed to the domain of the Father, she liberates Dasein into a strange, “not-at-home,” unfamiliar world, a place where signification vanishes and from which the possibility of jouissance arises.
Heidegger translated the “Cūra” of the Latin fable as Sorge. “Cūra” in Latin may mean “care, charge, or healing,” and it is the root of the English word “cure.”58 What if it is not “care” but “cure” that possesses Dasein as long as it exists? As we have seen, some sort of “cure” is the goal of Kristeva’s practice. She hopes to work with the jouissance produced by her patients’ suspension between the symbolic and the semiotic to enable them to articulate and understand that suspension. Abandoned and forsaken they may be, as we all are, but it is between the experience of that nakedness and the experience of the security of the “mastery of meaning” that we exist in jouissance. “Cure” is jouissance. We are possessed by jouissance as long as we exist.
Heidegger seems to speak from an understanding of this jouissance when he discusses the “resoluteness” of authentic Dasein. He defines the newly introduced term thus: “This reticent self-projection upon one’s ownmost Being-guilty, in which one is ready for anxiety—we call ‘resoluteness.’ ”59 A few pages later, putting together the “anticipation” of death and this “resoluteness,” he discusses the “anticipatory resoluteness” of authentic Dasein, and speaks for the first time of “joy”: “Along with the sober anxiety which brings us face to face with our individualized potentiality-for-Being, there goes an unshakable joy in this possibility.”60
The word “unshakable” here is Macquarrie and Robinson’s translation of gerüstete—“armed, ready, prepared.”61 In fact, far from being “unshakable,” this is a joy that has been shaken, one that derives precisely from the shove (Stoss) and “shaking-up” (Aufrütteln)62 administered by the call of Care. It is a joy that is armed, prepared, ready for more jolts and jars, but still joy.
Cūra and Chora
. . . how much risk there is in a text, how much nonidentity, nonauthenticity, impossibility, and corrosiveness it holds for those who choose to see themselves within it. . . . if this heterogeneous body, this risky text provide meaning, identity, and jouissance, they do so in a completely different way than a “Name-of-the-Father.”
—Julia Kristeva, “The Novel as Polylogue,”
Desire in Language
This reading has interpreted the unexpected appearance of the goddesslike figure of Cūra in Being and Time as an indication that Martin Heidegger, like Kristeva, makes a connection (however obscure and unintentional in his case) between the “semiotic” dimension and the “feminine.” I have suggested that the disruption of ordinary signification and meaning which allows Dasein to confront its potential for authenticity is also a shaking-up of the hegemony of the “symbolic” dimension, in Kristeva’s terms.
Kristeva herself, however, does not make these particular associations. In fact, far from claiming that there is even a hint of a practice of jouissance in Being and Time, in her work Revolution in Poetic Language she lambastes Heidegger for remaining strictly within a phenomenological perspective, and in fact for using the concept of Care as a “primordial mortar in the phenomenological edifice” (p. 128). The main problem, she argues, is that this phenomenological perspective rearmors or protects the subject from the power of negativity. It provides finally a “stasis in which the unitary subject takes cover as if in a religion” (p. 129).
Kristeva sees this subject as harbored in a not-so-new formulation which merely repeats a religious or mythological definition of humanity. She focuses on the “anxious” side of Dasein (which, it must be admitted, is dominant in Being and Time!) and doesn’t glimpse the hints of jouissance implied by Dasein’s situation between inauthentic and authentic. She writes, “Obsessed by what is lying in wait for him outside, this subject decides not to get involved unless he does so with ‘devotedness,’ ‘carefulness,’ and ‘anxious exertion’ ” (p. 129). Kristeva here seems to discount the extent to which the Dasein of Being and Time is indeed not-at-home, in the nothing, permeated by nothingness, and yet capable of experiencing an “armed joy.” Dasein’s situation is both more threatened and more jouissant, I believe, than Kristeva thinks.
Kristeva misinterprets what I have argued is the crucial clue in the symbolic / semiotic interpretation of Being and Time. She writes that Heidegger borrows his key concept of “man” “from a Latin fable representing Jupiter, Earth, and Saturn creating man” (p. 129). But, as we have seen, in that fable Jupiter and Earth merely contribute elements to be used in Care’s creation of homo, and Saturn arbitrates the dispute over its name. What has happened, in Kristeva’s reading, to Care as the creator and lifelong possessor of humanity? She calls Heidegger’s use of this story a “logically and chronologically regressive mythological travesty.”
All of this may surely be construed in this way; but why does Kristeva not see in Cūra (who she says “is a metaphor for the wet-nurse, the mother, the nurse”) any resemblance to the chora, the maternally connoted “receptacle . . . , unnameable, improbable, hybrid, anterior to meaning, to the One, to the father. . . ”?63 It may be true that Heidegger “tames” this agent or figure of negativity; Being and Time, after all, in the form in which it was originally undertaken, failed to find a language appropriate to the saying of Being. Jouissance is mostly unachieved in this work, but I must argue, against Kristeva, that indicators and clues pointing forward both to the project of Heidegger’s later works and to Kristeva’s own investigations into the relations between symbolic and semiotic, are discernible as early as Being and Time.
Throughout the middle sections of the book, Heidegger signals his own anxiety and jouissance with regard to the notion of Care. The chapter on anxiety immediately precedes the introduction of Care into the discussion; Care makes her entrance by means of a singular formal interruption of the book; and the discussion of death implicitly draws but also represses the connection between Care and death. Care’s call does not leave Dasein sheltered and protected under a unifying “mortar,” but rather leaves it shaken up, anxious, guilty, reticent, forsaken, and abandoned, yet possessed of an “armed joy.”
To be sure, not much of that “joy” is readily apparent, and the text itself of Being and Time only rarely admits linguistic evidence of semiotic interruption; Heidegger for the most part remains ensconced in a difficult and weighty style. In the context of our interpretation of Heidegger, that is one of the main reasons his work changes so radically between Being and Time and the later essays. La mère qui jouit requires a more artful, poetic, and playful way of saying, one that can transmute into language the tensions sustained by the subject in process. If Being and Time does indeed, as I have argued, demonstrate an early intuition of this, it does so primarily by providing a portrait of the subject suspended between idle talk and silence.
But that suspension, when it does not become mere contradiction or vacillation, provides the opportunity for transmutation into jouissance. Heidegger’s practice of the text evolves, after Being and Time, in the direction of a fuller embrace of la mère qui jouit; he seeks ways of being in language that are neither idle nor reticent, and that will enable Dasein to go on speaking in relation both to meaning and to that which is beyond meaning. In the next section we will examine some of the evidence of this search in Heidegger’s later essays.