Why So Anxious?: Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Lacan on Anxiety
What follows is an essay I wrote about eight years ago. In it, I provide summaries of the theories of anxiety we find in the works of Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Lacan. I use these theories to examine why capitalist society is plagued with anxiety. After introducing these theories of anxiety, I use them to form my own concept, which I call the circuit of anxiety. If I were to rewrite this essay today, I would change many aspects of it. I would refine and clarify the concepts and the arguments, which, at times, I admit, can be somewhat difficult to understand. In fact, I’m planning on reformulating this essay for a book I’m currently writing. However, some of my philosophy friends have requested that I share this version with them, so I’ve decided to go ahead and post it here on my blog. I hope it sheds some light on anxiety for you.
“That anxiety makes its appearance is the pivot upon which everything turns.”
— Søren Kierkegaard | The Concept of Anxiety
Why has the number of anxiety disorders skyrocketed within the last 5o to 60 years? A good question. Based on prescription drug sales the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) estimates that more than 40 million people suffer from anxiety disorders in this country. But what is the cause of our anxiety? Human beings have long been acquainted with this affect, but at no other point in history has it had such a strong hold on humanity at large. It seems as though there’s a systemic problem here. Could it be that late capitalism itself has a intrinsic element that provokes anxiety in us? There certainly seems to be a correlation between the two, since this era of capitalism began around 1945. Let us see if we can gain an idea of the cause of the social ubiquity of this phenomenon.
In pursuing the cause of anxiety and of its increase, we should look to the insights of the great thinkers of anxiety: Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger and Jacques Lacan. In my opinion, Lacan is the greatest thinker of anxiety since Heidegger. Lacan’s brilliance in relation to this affect is largely due to the fact that he was able to formulate a psychoanalytic mechanism for the assault of anxiety, that is, of the anxiety attack. Lacan’s most concentrated inquiry on this subject is found in his 1962–1963 seminar entitled Anxiety and it is this work that will be one of our main guides on the journey to the why of our anxiety. But first we must place ourselves in the proper context.
Kierkegaard on Anxiety
“Whoever has learned to be anxious in the right way has learned the ultimate.”
— Søren Kierkegaard | The Concept of Anxiety
Kierkegaard was the first philosopher to examine anxiety in great depth. The Concept of Anxiety was, to my knowledge, the first book to ever focus exclusively on this phenomenon. In it Kierkegaard (writing under the pseudonym, Vigilius Haufniensis), formulated a concept of anxiety that would influence all of the thinkers who came after him that wrestled with existentialist motifs. For Kierkegaard, anxiety is without a determinate object, that is, it’s unintentional or unfocused. Of anxiety he wrote, “it is altogether different from fear and similar concepts that refer to something definite” (The Concept of Anxiety, 42). He went on to say, “anxiety is freedom’s actuality as the possibility of possibility” (The Concept of Anxiety, 42). What anxiety is about is human freedom, but this is certainly no object, that is, it is no-thing. Anxiety turns out to be the condition of freedom and this is precisely why Kierkegaard claimed that ambiguity resides at the core of this affect; as he put, “Anxiety is a sympathetic antipathy and an antipathetic sympathy” (The Concept of Anxiety, p. 42). In other words, anxiety is paradoxically something unpleasant from which we derive enjoyment and pleasure as well as something enjoyable that causes us pain and discomfort.
Heidegger would also claim that there’s something pleasurable in this discomforting mood: “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” (Being and Time, p. 358). Anxiety’s strange tension, i.e., pleasure in pain, also brings to mind the Lacanian concept of jouissance. But why is it that anxiety creates this tension? We find it enjoyable because it reveals to us our freedom, at the same time, we also find it unenjoyable precisely because it reveals to us our freedom. On the one hand, we love freedom for freedom’s sake, and on the other hand, the thought of being completely responsible for our actions and their unforeseen consequences is terrifying. Kierkegaard famously expressed this tension or “dizziness” in the following way:
“Anxiety may be compared with dizziness. He whose eye happens to look down into the yawning abyss becomes dizzy. But what is the reason for this? It is just as much in his own eye as in the abyss, for suppose he had not looked down. Hence anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into its own possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself.”
(The Concept of Anxiety, p. 61)
The image of a person standing at the edge of a skyscraper or a cliff really captures the temptation of anxiety. In this moment a person can surely be struck by the fear of falling, which is determinate and intentional in structure, but one can simultaneously be assailed by anxiety. In that moment of staring over the edge and down into the abyss, a frightful impulse suddenly rises up in the individual — the impulse to purposely throw oneself into the abyss. This experience provokes anxiety because we are confronted with the radical freedom we possess. Thus, for Kierkegaard, the point at which the individual becomes anxious (what Lacan referred to as the “anxiety-point”, that is, the mechanism through which the subject becomes anxious at a specific moment in time) is when he or she is confronted by the possibility of freedom. However, normally and usually, we simply make choices without having any anxiety, which is why Kierkegaard went on to qualify the relation between anxiety and freedom: “Anxiety is neither a category of necessity nor a category of freedom; it is entangled freedom, where freedom is not free in itself but entangled, not by necessity, but in itself” (The Concept of Anxiety, p. 49).
Kierkegaard centered his investigation of anxiety around what he believed to be the very first instance of the affect in human history, that is, the anxiety Adam experienced when God forbade him to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Kierkegaard argued that Adam, in his state of innocence, couldn’t have truly understood what “good”, “evil” or “die” actually meant. But what Adam was able to understand was that he had been forbidden to eat of the tree’s fruit, i.e., that he was free and that his freedom had just been restricted. But as any parent knows, prohibiting a child from doing x only creates the desire for x in the child. Lacan wrote, “But what does experience teach us here about anxiety in its relation to the object of desire, if not simply that prohibition is temptation?” (Anxiety, p. 54). According to Kierkegaard, it was anxiety that led Adam to sin.
“What passed by innocence as the nothing of anxiety has now entered into Adam, and here again it is a nothing — the anxious possibility of being able. He has no conception of what he is able to do; otherwise — and this is what usually happens — that which comes late, the difference between good and evil, would have to be presupposed. Only the possibility of being able is present as a higher form of ignorance, as a higher expression of anxiety, because in a higher sense it both is and is not, because in a higher sense he both loves it and flees from it.
After the word of prohibition follows the word of judgment: “You shall certainly die.” Naturally, Adam does not know what it means to die. On the other hand, there is nothing to prevent him from having acquired a notion of the terrifying, for even animals can understand the mimic expression and movement in the voice of a speaker without understanding the word. If the prohibition is regarded as awakening the desire, the punishment must also be regarded as awakening the notion of the deterrent. This, however, will only confuse things. In this case, the terror is simply anxiety. Because Adam has not understood what was spoken, there is nothing but the ambiguity of anxiety. The infinite possibility of being able that was awakened by the prohibition now draws closer, because this possibility points to a possibility as its sequence.
In this way, innocence is brought to its uttermost. In anxiety it is related to the forbidden and to the punishment. Innocence is not guilty, yet there is anxiety as though it were lost.”
(The Concept of Anxiety, pp. 44–45)
However, it’s only fitting, given the Janus-faced nature of anxiety, Kierkegaard also believed that this affect, while being capable of bringing about our downfall into sin, can also lead us to salvation. This is why he held that “Whoever has learned to be anxious in the right way has learned the ultimate” (The Concept of Anxiety, p. 155). Anxiety awakens us to the responsibility we have for our actions, which, in turn, can awaken us to our guilt and sin before God. Anxiety, thus, precedes self-consciousness and self-examination. It is the condition for the pursuit of authentic selfhood and true identity, which, for Kierkegaard, always involves having a passionate faith in God through Christ. The words of Hölderlin resound: “But where danger is, grows the saving power also.”
Early Heidegger on Anxiety
“Anxiety is anxious about naked Dasein as something that has been thrown into uncanniness.”
— Martin Heidegger | Being and Time
As we have seen, it was Kierkegaard who first argued that anxiety is objectless. This concept of anxiety obviously had a big influence on Heidegger’s own thinking in Being and Time. For Kierkegaard, the mechanism of anxiety or the “anxiety-point” is the presencing of one’s own radical freedom and possibility, or, in the specific case of Adam, the moment of the prohibition — this recognition is the trigger of anxiety. In what follows, I’ll discuss Heidegger’s relation to the anxiety-point. But, first, we need to understand the early Heidegger’s phenomenological description of anxiety.
“That in the face of which one has anxiety is Being-in-the-world as such. What is the difference phenomenally between that in the face of which anxiety is anxious and that in the face of which fear is afraid? That in the face of which one has anxiety is not an entity within-the-world. Thus it is essentially incapable of having an involvement. This threatening does not have the character of a definite detrimentality which reaches what is threatened, and which reaches it with definite regard to a special factical potentiality-for-Being. That in the face of which one is anxious is completely indefinite. Not only does this indefiniteness leave factically undecided which entity within-the-world is threatening us, but it also tells us that entities within-the-world are not ‘relevant’ at all. Nothing which is ready-to-hand or present-at-hand within the world functions as that in the face of which anxiety is anxious. Here 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. In anxiety one does not encounter this thing or that thing which, as something threatening, must have an involvement.”
(Being and Time, pp. 230–231)
So the “object” of anxiety, for the early Heidegger, is no object or entity at all, rather it is Being-in-the-world or existence (Existenz), i.e., Dasein’s mode of Being, and, remember, “The Being of entities ‘is’ not itself an entity” (Being and Time, p. 26). So, for Heidegger, anxiety is objectless, but, yet, it still has some-”thing” positive about it, which to say the world itself. Heidegger put it like this:
“Accordingly, when something threatening brings itself close, anxiety does not ‘see’ any definite ‘here’ or ‘yonder’ from which it comes. That in the face of which one has anxiety is characterized by the fact that what threatens is nowhere. Anxiety ‘does not know’ what that in the face of which it is anxious is. ‘Nowhere’, however, does not signify nothing: this is where any region lies, and there too lies any disclosedness of the world for essentially spatial Being-in. Therefore that which threatens cannot bring itself close from a definite direction within what is close by; 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.
In that in the face of which one has anxiety, the ‘It is nothing and nowhere’ becomes manifest. The obstinacy of the “nothing and nowhere within-the-world” means as a phenomenon that the world as such is that in the face of which one has anxiety. The utter insignificance which makes itself known in the “nothing and nowhere”, does not signify that the world is absent, but tells us that entities within-the-world are of so little importance in themselves that on the basis of this insignificance of what is within-the-world, the world in its worldhood is all that still obtrudes itself.”
(Being and Time, p. 231)
“Being-in-the-world itself is that in the face of which anxiety is anxious.”
(Being and Time, p. 232)
“That about which anxiety is anxious reveals itself as that in the face of which it is anxious — namely, Being-in-the-world.”
(Being and Time, p. 233)
This amounts to saying that Dasein cares about nothing while overcome with anxiety. Nothing whatsoever matters to it because the world has momentarily ceased to be meaningful, i.e., ceased to signify. We must remember here the crucial distinction Heidegger made between the world and the ‘world’. The former being the totality of all referential totalities (systems of meanings, assignments, involvements, in-order-tos, toward-whichs and for-the-sake-of-whichs), whereas the latter would simply be the universe or the totality of objects (objects in the standard sense). Let’s filter this phenomenon of anxiety through Lacanian terms. This would mean that in anxiety the subject ceases to desire for a period of time, since the Symbolic order (reality) as such has ceased to have anything worth desiring in it. Of course, this would have to relate in some way to the subject’s relation to the objet a (the object-cause of desire). In anxiety something cuts off the desirability of the object at the core of the fundamental fantasy. If the formula of fantasy is $◊a, then in anxiety the lozenge itself gets barred. Desire presupposes a lack, but when desire itself is “castrated” we are faced with the uncanny lack of a lack. When meaning and significance are drained from the world all that is left for the senses is the full-on buzzing of beings in their alienating positivity (perhaps this is a glimpse of the Real?). It would seem as if desire itself gets castrated through the objet a vanishing momentarily from reality. Perhaps this is why anxiety can be such an ambivalent mood.
So, for the early Heidegger, we are anxious about Being-in-the-world (Symbolic order) as such, but what he has to say about anxiety isn’t exhausted in this one statement alone. He goes on to say that in anxiety Dasein essentially comes to see that it has a whole range of possibilities that das Man (the One, the They, or, in Lacanese, “the big Other”) conceals from it, and this realization enables Dasein to establish an authentic relation to itself. “The “They” does not permit us the courage for the anxiety in the face of death” (Being and Time, p. 298). So Heidegger says that anxiety is about both the world and death, but we can easily synthesize the two and say that anxiety is about Being-in-the-world-as-a-finitude. Authenticity (a relation to oneself and the world) always involves a resolute confrontation with death (Being-toward-death). One’s death is one’s “ownmost possibility” in Heidegger’s eyes, since one must face death absolutely alone, that is, no one can die your death for you or with you. In facing this possibility, Dasein begins to realize that it is finite, that its possibility of having possibilities has a indefinite expiration date, which means that it must stop wasting its time in gossip, inauthentic curiosity, superficiality, mindless consumerism, etc., and start existing for itself.
“Anxiety individualizes Dasein for its ownmost Being-in-the-world, which as something that understands, projects itself essentially upon possibilities.”
(Being and Time, p. 232)
“Anxiety liberates him from possibilities which ‘count for nothing’, and lets him become free for those which are authentic.”
(Being and Time, p. 395)
“Anxiety makes manifest in Dasein its Being towards its ownmost potentiality-for-Being — that is, its Being-free for the freedom of choosing itself and taking hold of itself.”
(Being and Time, p. 232)
Here we can see Kierkegaard’s influence on Heidegger’s description of anxiety. For Heidegger, it “individualizes Dasein” and enables it to “become free” for its possibilities “which are authentic”. His concept of authenticity is basically an atheistic reconceptualization of Kierkegaard’s concept of Christian salvation (individualization via a faithful relation to God). Heidegger was also following in Kierkegaard’s footsteps in claiming anxiety reveals an individual’s freedom to his or her self, that is, the individual’s “Being-free for the freedom of choosing itself and taking hold of itself”.
The early Heidegger also perceived that anxiety has an essential connection to uncanniness, in fact, he seemed to identify the two, or, at the very least, seemed to make each one a side of the same coin. Whenever anxiety occurs we find that the world is suddenly alienated and unfamiliar. We’re abruptly no longer at home in the world — our tacit familiarity completely breaks down.
“Again everyday discourse and the everyday interpretation of Dasein furnish our most unbiased evidence that anxiety as a basic state-of-mind is disclosive in the manner we have shown. As we have said earlier, a state-of-mind makes manifest ‘how one is’. In anxiety one feels ‘uncanny’. Here the peculiar indefiniteness of that which Dasein finds itself alongside in anxiety, comes proximally to expression: the “nothing and nowhere”. But here “uncanniness” also means “not-being-at-home”. In our first indication of the phenomenal character of Dasein’s basic state and in our clarification of the existential meaning of “Being-in” as distinguished from the categorial signification of ‘insideness’, Being-in was defined as “residing alongside . . .”, “Being-familiar with . . .” This character of Being-in was then brought to view more concretely through the everyday publicness of the “they”, which brings tranquillized self-assurance — ‘Being-at-home’, with all its obviousness — into the average everydayness of Dasein. On the other hand, as Dasein falls, anxiety brings it back from its absorption in the ‘world’. Everyday familiarity collapses. Dasein has been individualized, but individualized as Being-in-the-world. Being-in enters into the existential ‘mode’ of the “not-at-home”. Nothing else is meant by our talk about ‘uncanniness’.
(Being and Time, p. 233)
The last factor we must understand in Heidegger’s description of anxiety, which is of the utmost importance to grasp, is its relation to Dasein’s Being-towards-death. Heidegger wrote, “Anxiety arises out of Being-in-the-world as thrown Being-towards-death” (Being and Time, p. 395). Being-towards-death is an existential structure of Dasein’s existence, i.e., Being-in-the-world: “The ‘end’ of Being-in-the-world is death” (Being and Time, pp. 276–277). What is meant by “death” here isn’t the actual demise or physical death of a biological organism, but, rather, the existential death, or the possible death of Dasein. Existential death is something one “has” only as long as one is alive in the biological sense, so oddly enough, actual death is the negation of existential death — this latter form of death is a possibility, and a very special one at that. “Death is the possibility of the absolute impossibility of Dasein” (Being and Time, p. 294). Death, then, turns out to be “Dasein’s ownmost possibility” (Being and Time, p. 307).
“The full existential-ontological conception of death may now be defined as follows: death, as the end of Dasein, is Dasein’s ownmost possibility — non-relational, certain and as such indefinite, not to be outstripped. Death is, as Dasein’s end, in the Being of this entity towards its end.”
(Being and Time, p. 303)
“We may now summarize our characterization of authentic Being-towards-death as we have projected it existentially: anticipation reveals to Dasein its lostness in the they-self, and brings it face to face with the possibility of being itself, primarily unsupported by concernful solicitude, but of being itself, rather, in an impassioned freedom towards death — a freedom which has been released from the Illusions of the “they”, and which is factical, certain of itself, and anxious.”
(Being and Time, p. 311)
Heidegger went on to say, “No one can take the Other’s dying away from him” (Being and Time, p. 284), i.e., only I can die my death and no one can die my death for me. What he was attempting to reveal was that no one can cease to project his or her self onto the possibilities established and opened up by my facticity (the individuality of thrownness) except for me. If existence is essentially projection, and if projection is grounded by individual facticity, then the possibility of the complete cessation of taking a stand on my existence is a possibility that is mine alone — it is a possibility only I have, thus making it my ownmost possibility. This must be viewed from the perspective of facticity-as-a-whole and not merely aspects of facticity. People may have in common the factical conditions necessary for both of them to do or be x, for example, many people have aspects of their facticity which allow them to become professional basketball players. This possibility is not something most Daseins’ facticities allow them to be. However, while Daseins may have certain aspects of their facticities in common, no two Daseins have their facticities-as-a-whole in common. The unity of a facticity always belongs to one Dasein and only one Dasein. Facticity-as-a-whole is the key to understanding Heidegger’s statements regarding death. The possibility of taking a stand on my facticity-as-a-whole is a possibility only I have, therefore, the possibility of the impossibility of the possibility of taking a stand on my factiticity-as-a-whole is a possibility which belongs only to me. This statement could be modified for the sake of clarity in the following way: The possibility of taking a stand on my facticity-as-a-whole is a possibility only I have, therefore, the possibility of losing this possibility is a possibility which belongs only to me.
Death (the possibility of the impossibility of having anymore possibilities) can be said to individuate Dasein in the sense that the confrontation with it leads Dasein to choose for itself. A situation can be responded to in many ways but most of the time Dasein responds to it as One does, that is, as das Man does. Take, for example, the lives of Jesus, Buddha, etc. They disclosed and established new worlds by responding to situations in ways that broke with the One. Living in total submission to das Man can make life easier and very comfortable, but it’s also unfulfilling in the long run. Dasein usually lives in quiet desperation, always desiring to own itself and take control of its destiny. But the banality of everydayness and the pressure to conform put on it by das Man tends to suppress the desire for authenticity. An experience or event is needed to give Dasein a push in the right direction. Facing the possibility and inevitability of death head on can cause a massive disruption in the dictatorship of das Man, and it is anxiety that serves as the condition of this resolute confrontation with death. “Anxiety brings Dasein face to face with its ownmost Being-thrown and reveals the uncanniness of everyday familiar Being-in-the-world” (Being and Time, p. 393).
When Dasein, through the disclosure of anxiety, realizes that the annihilation of the possibility of being its self could fall upon it at any moment, and that it has not truly been exploring all of the possibilities it has, then it can take control of itself in a vibrantly authentic way. When Dasein realizes that its death is just that — its death, it realizes that it is not absolutely identical with the One, since the One will continue to exist after Dasein’s death. Anxiety’s unconcealment and presencing of the possibility of death has the unique power to disclose to Dasein that it has possibilities open to it that were not given to it by the One. And seeing how Dasein is its possibilities, it has come into a fuller relation with itself and its existence. It can then resolutely make decisions for itself, which is a way of being individuated and unchained from the generalities of the They-self.
We can come at this function of anxiety in another way. In this mood the world suddenly becomes meaningless. Dasein momentarily ceases to skillfully cope in the world, that is, abruptly experiences the equipment it uses to take a stand on its existence to be utterly insignificant, which means that anxiety brings about a breakdown of selfhood, since Dasein is what it does with equipment. But the good thing about this is that it can serve as an existentiell reboot so to speak. Dasein is forced to face itself in its ontological nakedness, and this can allow it to see just how inauthentically it has been living. Anxiety is the path to authentic selfhood.
Now let’s discuss if Heidegger posited an anxiety-point. It’s true that authentically facing death can make one anxious, but people are anxious all the time without standing in the shadow of death. It seems to me that while death is certainly a sufficient condition for the emergence of anxiety, it isn’t a necessary one. Heidegger (both early and later), never really posited an absolute anxiety-point. His descriptions of the phenomenon of anxiety are brilliant, but it’s true that they leave us wanting more, namely, the cause of the onset of anxiety in all cases. There’s something arbitrary about holding that we simply become anxious at certain times. However, he most likely avoided pursuing the anxiety-point due to his phenomenological description of moods or attunements (Stimmungs) in general. He said, “A mood assails us” (Being and Time, p. 176). By this he means moods arbitrarily fall upon us or take us over, which, from a purely phenomenological perspective, appears completely accurate. In some sense, we’re at the complete disposal of moods. Of course, we can attempt to put ourselves in new situations that change our moods, but nothing can absolutely guarantee that this will in fact change them. Sometimes it can actually intensify the mood. Anxiety overtakes us at moments that seem to have nothing in common. Just for clarification, the early Heidegger believed that anxiety is without an object while still being about some-”thing”, which turned out to be Dasein’s Being-in-the-world-towards-death as such. This means that, for the early Heidegger, anxiety is about a mode of Being, but not about Being itself. At this point, we are ready to consider what the later Heidegger thought of anxiety.
Later Heidegger on Anxiety
“Being held out into the nothing — as Dasein is — on the ground of concealed anxiety is its surpassing of beings as a whole. It is transcendence.”
— Martin Heidegger | What Is Metaphysics?
Heidegger reexamined the phenomenon of anxiety in ‘What is Metaphysics?’. “Anxiety reveals the nothing” (Basic Writings, ‘What Is Metaphysics?’, p. 101). Simply put, the later Heidegger believed that anxiety is about the nothing: “Does such an attunement, in which man is brought before the nothing itself, occur in human existence? This can and does occur, although rarely enough and only for a moment, in the fundamental mood of anxiety” (Basic Writings, ‘What Is Metaphysics?’, p. 100). He goes on to say:
“That anxiety reveals the nothing man himself immediately demonstrates when anxiety has dissolved. In the lucid vision sustained by fresh remembrance we must say that that in the face of which and for which we were anxious was “properly” — nothing. Indeed: the nothing itself — as such — was there.
With the fundamental mood of anxiety we have arrived at that occurrence in human existence is which the nothing is revealed and from which it must be interrogated.”
(Basic Writings, ‘What Is Metaphysics?’, p. 101)
The nothing actually turns out to be Being — more accurately an aspect, function or activity that belongs to Being. He said, “The nothing does not remain the indeterminate opposite of beings but reveals itself as belonging to the Being of beings” (Basic Writings, ‘What Is Metaphysics?’, p. 108). It’s important to note that this “nothing” isn’t the nothing of Dasein’s existence that Heidegger discussed in Being and Time — this nothing is not the nothing at the core of Dasein, but, rather, something unto itself. The nothing is the nihiliation or the slipping away of beings into meaninglessness within the clearing, which persists in its presence as the nihilation of beings occurs. But when all that stands before Dasein is the clearing itself, then all that is present is the nothing of Being insofar as the presencing or there-ing of what is normally present and there (beings) is not a thing at all. This is the ontological difference: “The Being of entities ‘is’ not itself an entity” (Being and Time, p. 26). The two most important concepts for Heidegger throughout the entirety of his career were Being (Sein) and truth (aletheia/ἀλήϑεα). Being and truth are really the two essential structures of presencing as such, and the nothing of Being turns out to have an essential relation to truth:
“In the clear night of the nothing of anxiety the original openness of beings as such arises: that they are beings — and not nothing. But this “and not nothing” we add in our talk is not some kind of appended clarification. Rather, it makes possible in advance the revelation of beings in general. The essence of the originally nihilating nothing lies in this, that it brings Da-sein for the first time before beings as such.”
(Basic Writings, ‘What Is Metaphysics?’, p. 103)
With this in mind, the later Heidegger reemphasized that the “object” of anxiety is indeterminate, i.e., not a being, and that meaninglessness or indifference always accompanies anxiety:
“The nothing reveals itself in anxiety — but not as a being. Just as little is it given as an object. Anxiety is no kind of grasping of the nothing. All the same, the nothing reveals itself in and through anxiety, although, to repeat, not in such a way that the nothing becomes manifest in our malaise quite apart from beings as a whole. Rather, we said that in anxiety the nothing is encountered at one with beings as a whole.”
(Basic Writings, ‘What Is Metaphysics?’, p. 102)
“By this anxiety we do not mean the quite common anxiousness, ultimately reducible to fearfulness, which all too readily comes over us. Anxiety is basically different from fear. We become afraid in the face of this or that particular being that threatens us in this or that particular respect. Fear in the face of something is also in each case a fear for something in particular. Because fear possesses this trait of being “fear in the face of” and “fear for,” he who fears and is afraid is captive to the mood in which he finds himself. Striving to rescue himself from this particular thing, he becomes unsure of everything else and completely “loses his head.”
Anxiety does not let such confusion arise. Much to the contrary, a peculiar calm pervades it. Anxiety is indeed anxiety in the face of . . ., but not in the face of this or that thing. Anxiety in the face of . . . is always anxiety for . . ., but not for this or that. The indeterminateness of that in the face of which and for which we become anxious is no mere lack of determination but rather the essential impossibility of determining it. In a familiar phrase this indeterminateness comes to the fore.
In anxiety, we say, “one feels ill at ease.” What is “it” that makes “one” feel ill at ease? We cannot say what it is before which one feels ill at ease. As a whole it is so for one. All things and we ourselves sink into indifference. This, however, not in the sense of mere disappearance. Rather, in this very receding things turn toward us. The receding of beings as a whole that closes in on us in anxiety oppresses us. We can get no hold on things. In the slipping away of beings only this “no hold on things” comes over us and remains.”
(Basic Writings, ‘What Is Metaphysics?’, pp. 100–101)
“In anxiety beings as a whole become superfluous. In what sense does this happen? Beings are not annihilated by anxiety, so that nothing is left. How could they be, when anxiety finds itself precisely in utter impotence with regard to beings as a whole? Rather, the nothing makes itself known with beings and in beings expressly as a slipping away of the whole.”
(Basic Writings, ‘What Is Metaphysics?’, p. 102)
Heidegger goes on to give us a strikingly powerful description of the moment of anxiety and the breakdown of selfhood it causes; on other words, we lose the concrete content of ourselves — anxiety strips Dasein naked. Here Heidegger is basically saying that anxiety alienates us from our everyday identities that are grounded in the social positions or roles the world offers us to exist in. We, therefore, become uncanny to ourselves. In Lacanian terms, this would be both a breakdown in the ego with its secondary identifications in the Imaginary and in the chains of signifiers within the Symbolic the subject uses to represent itself.
We “hover” in anxiety. More precisely, anxiety leaves us hanging because it induces the slipping away of beings as a whole. This implies that we ourselves — we humans who are in being — in the midst of beings slip away from ourselves. At bottom therefore it is not as though “you” or “I” feel ill at ease; rather it is this way for some “one”. In the altogether unsettling experience of this hovering where there is nothing to hold onto, pure Da-sein is all that is still there.
(Basic Writings, ‘What Is Metaphysics?’, p. 101)
Another strange feature of anxiety is that it lurks around us with a “repressed” or latent ubiquity: “The original anxiety in existence is usually repressed. Anxiety is there. It is only sleeping” (Basic Writings, ‘What Is Metaphysics?’, p. 106). The later Heidegger thought that Dasein is always in a perpetual state of anxiety, but on random occasions it explicitly makes itself known.
Original anxiety can awaken in existence at any moment. It needs no unusual event to rouse it. Its sway is as thoroughgoing as its possible occasionings are trivial. It is always ready, though it only seldom springs, and we are snatched away and left hanging.
(Basic Writings, What Is Metaphysics?, p. 106)
To summarize, for the later Heidegger, anxiety is about the nothing, which is essentially Being itself (the difference between Being and beings). Now that we’ve clarified both Kierkegaard’s and Heidegger’s concepts of anxiety, we are ready to move on to a discussion of Lacan’s radically different concept of the affect.
Lacan on Anxiety
“The most striking manifestation of this object a, the signal that it is intervening, is anxiety.”
— Jacques Lacan | Anxiety
Unlike Kierkegaard and Heidegger, Lacan believed anxiety has an object, or, as he put it “it is not without an object” (Anxiety, p. 89). But this object isn’t an ordinary kind of object — it’s the objet petit a (also referred to as “objet a”, “the Lacanian object”, “the lost object”, “the remainder” and simply “a”. This object is closely related to three of Lacan’s other concepts: 1. fantasy, 2. jouissance, 3. the Real. The concept of this object is arguably the most difficult to understand out of all of the Lacanian concepts, but it’s absolutely necessary to get at least a preliminary understanding of it in order to follow Lacan’s thinking on anxiety, since the two (objet a and anxiety) are essentially connected: “This year, the object a is taking centre stage in our topic. It has been set into the framework of a Seminar that I’ve titled Anxiety because it is essentially from this angle that it’s possible to speak about it, which means moreover that anxiety is the sole subjective translation of this object” (Anxiety, p. 100).
Lacan also said of the objet a that “it only steps in, it only functions, in correlation with anxiety” (Anxiety, p. 86). Throughout the course of this seminar, Lacan gives us different definitions of anxiety and it’s not immediately apparent that these are all compatible with each other. This seminar was given at the point in Lacan’s career when he was rethinking many of his essential concepts, so it has a very exploratory feel to it. One gets the impression that Lacan was thinking out loud while giving this series of lectures. But before we consider the different definitions, we must answer, to some degree, the question what is the Lacanian object? Žižek offers us a helpful analogy in the pursuit of this answer.
To mention the final example: the famous MacGuffin, the Hitchcockian object, the pure pretext whose sole role is to set the story in motion but which is in itself ‘nothing at all’ — the only significance of the MacGuffin lies in the fact that it has some significance for the characters — that it must seem to be of vital importance to them. The original anecdote is well known: two men are sitting in a train; one of them asks: ‘What’s that package up there in the luggage rack?’ ‘Oh, that’s a MacGuffin.’ ‘What’s a MacGuffin?’ ‘Well, it’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.’ ‘But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands.’ ‘Well, then, that’s not a MacGuffin.’ There is another version which is much more to the point: it is the same as the other, with the exception of the last answer: ‘Well, you see how efficient it is!’ — that’s a MacGuffin, a pure nothing which is none the less efficient. Needless to add, the MacGuffin is the purest case of what Lacan calls objet petit a: a pure void which functions as the object-cause of desire.
(The Sublime Object of Ideology, pp. 183–184)
What we must first understand about the Lacanian object is that it’s not an object in the standard sense of the word. Put another way, this object is not the object of the metaphysical tradition — paradoxically, it is a “substantial” lack. This “object” is not a present-at-hand entity. It does not consist of atoms and it cannot be weighed, or measured, or experimented on, i.e., by its very nature it is beyond the reach of science. This virtual object also eludes the traditional phenomenologist, since one can only catch a glimpse of it at work while being situated within the psychoanalytic horizon. In other word’s, this object only makes itself known in the clinical setting, and this is precisely why it’s of the utmost importance to always connect Lacan’s concepts back to actual analysis. It was only because of the symbolic position Lacan occupied as an analyst that he was able to sense such an evasive “phenomenon” as the objet a.
Simply put, the objet petit a is the “object” that causes desire: “To set our target, I shall say that the object a — which is not to be situated in anything analogous to the intentionality of a noesis, which is not the intentionality of desire — is to be conceived as the cause of desire. To take up an earlier metaphor, the object lies behind desire” (Anxiety, p. 101). The objet a is the “object” we lost upon entering the Symbolic order, that is, the register of language, custom, social necessities, the Law, etc. Lacan says, “The objet a is something from which the subject, in order to constitute itself, has separated itself off as organ. This serves as a symbol of lack, that is to say, of the phallus, not as such, but in so far as it is lacking. It must, therefore, be an object that is, firstly, separable and, secondly, that has some relation to the lack” (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, p. 101).
For Lacan, “symbolic castration” or “alienation” — basically socialization — involves the traumatic and liberatory loss of the maternal body, i.e., preoedipal jouissance. This blissful tension is the child’s whole world prior to the onset of the Oedipus complex. But this process eventually leads to the signifier (the Name-of-the-Father) “cutting” the child away from the full presence of its own jouissance and goading it to repress the signifier of the mother’s desire (the imaginary phallus), which brings about the inscription of the subject of the unconscious — of course, this is only how the Oedipus complex unfolds for “healthy” and “normal” neurotics. In the simplest terms, for most people what life is all about, unbeknownst to them, is their relation to objet a: “Effectively, everything turns around the subject’s relation to a” (Anxiety, p. 112). Yet it should be said that this object is not like an ordinary lost object. Sean Homer clarified this for us:
The objet a is not, therefore, an object we have lost, because then we would be able to find it and satisfy our desire. It is rather the constant sense we have, as subjects, that something is lacking or missing from our lives. We are always searching for fulfilment, for knowledge, for possessions, for love, and whenever we achieve these goals there is always something more we desire; we cannot quite pinpoint it but we know that it is there. This is one sense in which we can understand the Lacanian real as the void or abyss at the core of our being that we constantly try to fill out. The objet a is both the void, the gap, and whatever object momentarily comes to fill that gap in our symbolic reality. What is important to keep in mind here is that the objet a is not the object itself but the function of masking the lack.
(Jacques Lacan, pp. 87–88)
What, at bottom, we desire, without consciously knowing it, is a sense of wholeness and completion that we once had with our mothers (or primary caregivers). The loss of the mother establishes a fundamental fantasy within the subject of the unconscious, and this fantasy will go on to shape all of the ego’s conscious pursuits. Of course, the ego isn’t aware that what it desires isn’t the cause of desire in and of itself. The structure of fantasy, at least for the average person, is $◊a, which means the barred (lacking) subject of the unconscious ($) desires (◊) the objet petit a (a). Bruce Fink explains all this well:
[M]an’s desire to be desired by the Other, exposes the Other’s desire as object a. The child would like to be the sole object of its mother’s affections, but her desire almost always goes beyond the child: there is something about her desire which escapes the child, which is beyond its control. A strict identity between the child’s desire and hers cannot be maintained; her desire’s independence from her child’s creates a rift between them, a gap in which her desire, unfathomable to the child, functions in a unique way.
This approximate gloss on separation posits that a rift is induced in the hypothetical mother-child unity due to the very nature of desire and that this rift leads to the advent of object a. Object a can be understood here as the remainder produced when that hypothetical unity breaks down, as a last trace of that unity, a last reminder thereof. By cleaving to that rem(a)inder, the split subject, though expulsed from the Other, can sustain the illusion of wholeness; by clinging to object a, the subject is able to ignore his or her division. That is precisely what Lacan means by fantasy, and he formalizes it with the matheme $◊a, which is to be read: the divided subject in relation to object a. It is in the subject’s complex relation to object a (Lacan describes this relation as one of “envelopment-development-conjunction-disjunction” [Écrits, p. 280]) that he or she achieves a phantasmatic sense of wholeness, completeness, fulfillment, and well-being.
When analysands recount fantasies to their analyst, they are informing the analyst about the way in which they want to be related to object a, in other words, the way they would like to be positioned with respect to the Other’s desire. Object a, as it enters into their fantasies, is an instrument or plaything with which subjects do as they like, manipulating it as it pleases them, orchestrating things in the fantasy scenario in such a way as to derive a maximum of excitement therefrom.
(The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance, pp. 59–60)
Fantasy isn’t merely a falsification of realty — it is our window or portal to reality. Žižek wrote,”With regard to the basic opposition between reality and imagination, fantasy is not simply on the side of imagination; fantasy is, rather, the little piece of imagination by which we gain access to reality — the frame that guarantees our access to reality, our ‘sense of reality’ (when our fundamental fantasy is shattered, we experience the ‘loss of reality’)” (The Žižek Reader, p. 122). To put this in Heideggerian terms, for Žižek, fantasy is the individual aspect of the clearing, fantasy is the mineness of disclosure as such. What makes the shared and social clearing mine is the fantasy through which I comport myself towards it. For Heidegger, authentic-Being-towards-death is that on the basis of which Dasein could be truly individuated, but Žižek thinks we’re always already individuated in relation to das Man (the big Other, the Symbolic Order) before we ever have a resolute confrontation with death, since fantasy is the individualizing existentiale of Dasein’s existence. Fantasy is thus the pre-authentic individuality of Dasein. With fantasy (individuality) and das Man (generality) as both existentialia, Dasein is ontologically a paradoxical being. However, and here’s the problem, our social identities, as we experience them everyday, are conditioned by the signifier (the differential nature of language), which means that to get what we want would be to lose it, since it would be the destruction of our selves. Thus, the “lost” object, this excess, this left-over of the Real, is a surplus of enjoyment (jouissance) we must remain separated from, even though it is us in strange sense. But what does it mean to speak of the objet petit a as a “surplus jouissance”? Once again we turn to Bruce Fink for clarification:
In Seminar XVI, Lacan equates object (a) with Marx’s concept of surplus value. As that which is most highly prized or valued by the subject, object (a) is related to the former gold standard, the value against which all other values (e.g., currencies, precious metals, gems, etc.) were measured. For the subject, it is that value he or she is seeking in all of his or her activities and relations.
Surplus value corresponds in quantity to what, in capitalism, is called “interest” or “profit”: it is that which the capitalist skims off the top for him or herself, instead of paying it to the employees. (It also goes by the name of “reinvestment capital,” and by many other euphemisms as well.) It is, loosely speaking, the fruit of the employees’ labor. When, in legal documents written in American English, someone is said to have the right to the fruit or “usufruct” of a particular piece of property or sum of money held in trust, it means that that person has a right to the profit generated by it, though not necessarily to the property or money itself. In other words, it is a right, not of ownership, but rather of “enjoyment.” In everyday French, you could say that that person has la jouissance of said property or money. In the more precise terms of French finance, that would mean that he or she enjoys, not the land, buildings, or capital itself (la nue-pmpriété; literally, “naked property”), but merely its excess fruits, its product above and beyond that required to reimburse its upkeep, cultivation, and so on — in a word, its operating expenses. (Note that in French legal jargon, jouissance is more closely related to possession.)
The employee never enjoys that surplus product: he or she “loses” it. The work process produces him or her as an “alienated” subject (S), simultaneously producing a loss, (a). The capitalist, as Other, enjoys that excess product, and thus the subject finds him or herself in the unenviable situation of working for the Other’s enjoyment, sacrificing him or herself for the Other’s jouissance — precisely what the neurotic most abhors!
Like surplus value, this surplus jouissance may be viewed as circulating “outside” of the subject in the Other, It is a part of the libido that circulates hors corps.”
(The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance, p. 96)
But what is the essential relation between objet a and anxiety? Considering that Anxiety is about 340 pages long, Lacan obviously said a great many things about the affect that we cannot discuss here, but there are three essential aspects of anxiety Lacan pointed out that we must understand. First, anxiety is about the lack of a lack. Second, anxiety is a signal from the Real. Third, anxiety is about not knowing what the Other wants from you. We’ll discuss each one and, then, see if we can form a unified concept of the three of them.
Anxiety is about the lack of a lack — a presence of something that was and/or is supposed to be absent. Anxiety is about some overbearing presence that threatens to consume the subject. Lacan, controversially I might add, argues that the concept of separation anxiety is misguided to some degree. It’s not the absence of the mother that brings forth anxiety in the child, but, rather, her presence:
Don’t you know that it’s not longing for the maternal breast that provokes anxiety, but its imminence? What provokes anxiety is everything that announces to us, that lets us glimpse, that we’re going to be taken back up onto the lap. It is not, contrary to what is said, the rhythm of the mother’s alternating presence and absence. The proof of this is that the infant revels in repeating this game of presence and absence. The security of presence is the possibility of absence. The most anguishing thing for the infant is precisely the moment when the relationship upon which he’s established himself, of the lack that turns him into desire, is disrupted, and this relationship is most disrupted when there’s no possibility of any lack, when the mother is on his back all the while, and especially when she’s wiping his backside.
(Anxiety, pp. 53–54)
To truly understand this passage, we must state that for Lacan there really isn’t one objet a, that is, we shouldn’t always speak of the Lacanian object. Strictly speaking, there are four types of objet a — there’s an objet a that corresponds to each of the drives, or, more accurately, around which each drive circles. Thus, in relation to the oral drive there is breast-as-objet-a; the anal drive circles around feces-as-objet-a; to the scopic drive corresponds gaze-as-objet-a; and to the invocatory drive there is voice-as-objet-a. Of course, these drive-objects are always susceptible to the substitutive (metaphoric/metonymic) function of desire and drive, e.g., money can take on and fulfill the function that shit had as the anal object. Lacan said in the above passage that “it’s not longing for the maternal breast that provokes anxiety, but its imminence”. What he’s getting at here is that it’s the presence of objet a, in this case breast-as-objet-a, that causes anxiety. But why should this be so? The reason why is because the presence and proximity of objet a is the presence of the desiring subject’s potential satisfaction and completion, which, in turn, is the annihilation of the subject ($) qua lack-of-being. This is precisely why Lacan held that “desire is a defense, a defense against going beyond a limit in jouissance” (Écrits, “The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire”, p. 699).
The subject only exists as a desiring lack, so the presence of objet a, the Real of jouissance, is the presence of imaginary-symbolic death. For fantasy to function, objet a must remain off its stage or out of its frame — that is, it must remain something absent that we’re unconsciously searching for (◊) in order to work. In Heideggerian terms, for the objet a to enter the scene of fantasy is for it to become unready-to-hand (remember that Heidegger argued in Being and Time that usually equipment only becomes present to us when it cease to work). For fantasy to function, objet a must withdraw like equipment: “The a, desire’s support in the fantasy, isn’t visible in what constitutes for man the image of his desire” (Anxiety, p. 35). On this theme, Lacan also wrote: “The base of the function of desire is, in a style and in a form that have to be specified each and every time, the pivotal object a insomuch as it stands, not only separated, but always eluded, somewhere other than where it sustains desire, and yet in a profound relation to it” (Anxiety, p. 252). Of course, it goes without saying that the objet a is not a piece of standard equipment, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it is like equipment in some respects.
So when Lacan claims that anxiety is a signal from the Real, we can now understand that what anxiety is warning us of is our imminent demise (Symbolic death). Here “signal” basically means what Peirce meant by “index”. An index or an indexical sign is a sign that “points” to its referent, e.g., smoke points to fire, a scab points to a past injury, and, for Lacan, anxiety points to objet a. Anxiety qua signal, then, turns out to be an ontological warning mechanism; it alerts us to the proximity of the lack of a lack that can shatter our identities.
Now that we see how the first two aspects of anxiety relate to each other, let’s consider the third one: anxiety is about not knowing what the Other wants from you. To illustrate this Lacan presented a very memorable image, though one that isn’t immediately clear.
For those who weren’t there, I’ll recall the fable, the apologue, the amusing image I briefly set out before you. Myself donning the animal mask with which the sorcerer in the Cave of the Three Brothers is covered, I pictured myself faced with another animal, a real one this time, taken to be gigantic for the sake of the story, a praying mantis. Since I didn’t which mask I was wearing, you can easily imagine that I had some reason not to feel reassured in the event that, by chance, this mask might have been just what it took to lead my partner into some error as to my identity. The whole thing was well underscored by the fact that, as I confessed, I couldn’t see my own image in the enigmatic mirror of the insect’s ocular globe.
(Anxiety, p. 6)
What Lacan has in mind is the hypothetical experience of standing before a giant praying mantis while wearing a mantis mask without knowing what type it is. In other words, you don’t know if the mask you’re wearing is the mask of a female mantis, a male mantis or even a baby mantis. In this moment, you would be completely anxious about what the giant insect desires of you, since you have no way to unconceal the specific nature of its desire. Lacan said that this image of being present in the presence of the giant praying mantis “bore a relation to the desire of the Other” (Anxiety, p. 22). What, then, makes us anxious is not knowing what the Other wants from us (Che vuoi?). But why should this be? It most certainly can be a frightening thing to find yourself as the object of the Other’s desire, or to be connected in some way to one of the Other’s objet a(s) as the organ of surplus jouissance. “The nightmare’s anxiety is felt, properly speaking, as that of the Other’s jouissance” (Anxiety, p. 61). But how can we reconcile this aspect of anxiety with the other two? Desire (◊) is one of three structures of fantasy, therefore, no desire = no fantasy. Desire arises from the cut of the signifier — the “scalpel” of the big Other. Lacan said, “Desire is always what is inscribed as a repercussion of the articulation of language at the level of the Other” (My Teaching, p.38).
But as Lacan loved to emphasize, “Man’s desire is the desire of the Other” (Anxiety, p. 22). This can be understand in three different ways: 1. desire is the desire for what the Other desires (I want what the Other wants), 2. desire desires the Other’s desire (as Cheap Trick put it, “I want you to want me”), 3. desire itself emerges out of the Other’s desire (for example, the reason why parents have children, i.e., babies that will become desiring subjects, is because they themselves desire to be happy). However, owing to the fact that desire is always related to the Other’s desire, the Other’s desire can actually block us from the object of our desire. The melodies of desire are far from harmonious. Thus, the Other’s desire can actually break apart our fantasies — the desire of the Other is always potentially a threat. Now, insofar as desire always has a metaphoric and metonymic relation to its object, desire itself can always “slide” away, therefore, making it beyond epistemological mastery. Yet in getting to know a person, you come to have a relative familiarity with his or her desire, and this brings about a sense of security in connection to your own desire, since the radical Otherness of his or her desire has diminished. Nevertheless, the Other’s desire can always, to put it bluntly, fuck up our own desire. While Lacan focused on how the proximity or nearness of the presence of objet a is what provokes anxiety, we must also remember that a entity can become conspicuous by its very remoteness. Just as equipment can become present to us as unready-to-hand (nonfunctional or inoperative) in its proximity, so, too, can it become unready-to-hand by missing.
Similarly, when something ready-to-hand is found missing, though its everyday presence has been so obvious that we have never taken any notice of it, this makes a break in those referential contexts which circumspection discovers. Our circumspection comes up against emptiness, and now sees for the first time what the missing article was ready-to-hand with, and what it was ready-to-hand for. The environment announces itself afresh.
(Being and Time, p. 105)
Whenever a person is faced with the possibility of her fantasy never coming true, she is suddenly overwhelmed with anxiety. And seeing how the Other has it’s own fantasy that often is in conflict with her own, it’s no wonder why not knowing what the Other desires from her can also make her anxious. To find oneself connected to the Other’s objet a is to have your own fantasy threatened, since, in your fantasy you are not the objet a, but, rather, the barred subject in pursuit of it (unless you happen to be a pervert and not an obsessive). So here’s the final formulation of the Lacanian concept of anxiety: anxiety is the affect that functions as a signal from the Real that alerts us to the lack of a lack, the presencing of the proximity of the objet a on the stage of fantasy, which is always a stage on which the Other’s desire is positioned as a threat to the subject’s desire, that is, positioned to drive away the subject’s objet a into remoteness. For objet a to be operative it must not be too close or too far away. It can’t be on stage nor can it be in the lobby — it must be in the audience.
We have arrived at the end of our summaries of the concepts of anxiety formulated by Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Lacan. We can now see the precise similarities and differences between them. From a Heideggerian perspective, we can say that Kierkegaard’s concept of anxiety is ontico-ontological (more specifically existentiell-existential), i.e., it’s “object” is the Being of Dasein, i.e., freedom or transcendence. Freedom isn’t an object in the present-at-hand sense, but it is related to the Being of a being. For Kierkegaard, anxiety is about human freedom which is the possibility of having possibilities, thus, anxiety is anxious about a possibility. The early Heidegger’s concept of anxiety is also ontico-ontological (existentiell-existential), since it pertains to the totality of Dasein’s existential structures (existentialia). What anxiety is anxious about is Dasein’s Being-in-the-world — especially Being-toward-death, which is a possibility, and in recognizing the “object” of anxiety as a possibility, the early Heidegger was once again thinking along similar lines as Kierkegaard. The later Heidegger’s concept of anxiety is ontological insofar as the “object” of anxiety is the nothing (Being), which is to say anxiety has absolutely no object at all, since, unlike Kierkegaard and the early Heidegger, it’s “object” isn’t even a possibility belonging to a being. Lacan’s concept is ontic, since anxiety is about an object (though a virtual one) — the object is the objet petit a.
Oedipus in Eden
Since Lacan’s concept of anxiety is arguably the most difficult to understand, let us take a moment and see how it applies to the “first” instance of anxiety — that of Adam’s. Let’s read the story of the Fall from a Lacanian perspective. As we saw, Adam couldn’t understand the prohibition of the tree. But why? Because the Garden of Eden as a whole was Adam for Adam: Eden was the Mother without any Otherness (Mother-as-I). From his perspective, there was no mediation between himself and Eden-as-Mother. The prohibition of the signifier didn’t function because there was no Other for Adam. The “Other” is here the fundamental Heim (home), thus, not the Other at all. Prohibition and the signifier presuppose the Other. God’s prohibition of Eden as such was the instance of the function of the Name-of-the-Father.
God’s first prohibition is actually the first flicker of Otherness — Adam can neither assimilate it nor reject it. It means that, strictly speaking, signification presupposes Otherness, but the signifier itself is the Other in a larval form. The signifier has not yet cut the child away from the Mother, making the Mother the (m)Other. After God issued the prohibition of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam started to experience lack for the first time. This prohibition (Name-of-the-Father) set the process of Adam’s symbolic castration or alienation in motion, thus, transforming him as a proto-subject into a proto-barred subject. I say that he was a “proto-barred” subject here because he couldn’t have fully repressed the phallus (the signifier of the mother’s desire) under the Name-of-the-Father at this point and thereby become a “healthy” neurotic. But why is this so? The paternal metaphor couldn’t fully function here insofar as Adam didn’t really understand the prohibition. While Adam had a relation with the real father, that is, God, at this point, he still didn’t have a full relation to the symbolic father. Of course, here the real father will be the instance of the symbolic father or the Law.
Now, it’s only with this first prohibition that the preoedipal triangle (Adam-Eden-phallus) begins to take shape. The first prohibition disrupted Adam’s “preoedipal” unity or jouissance with his Mother (Eden); it drove a wedge between him and his enjoyment of the “breast” (the fruits of Eden’s trees), which, in turn, transforms the Mother into the (m)Other. This separation led him to desire the blissful unity he once knew and initiated his desire. It also initiated his first hypothesis: the phallus. Eden would be the symbolic mother and God would be the real mother (as well as the real father). On some level the two had to have coincided. Eden fulfilled the function of the mother, i.e., it met all of Adam’s physical needs — it was his caretaker. Yet Eden had no desire of its own — but God did. And contained within the first prohibition is the desire of the (m)Other. And just like the giant praying mantis, God’s (the Other’s) unknown desire threw Adam into anxiety, thus, giving rise to Adam’s own freedom. Freedom is born from anxiety before the Other’s desire (God’s desire in the case of Adam).
There is no freedom outside the traumatic encounter with the opacity of the Other’s desire: freedom does not mean that I simply get rid of the Other’s desire — I am, as it were, thrown into my freedom when I confront this opacity as such, deprived of the fantasmatic cover that tells me what the Other wants from me. In this difficult predicament, full of anxiety, when I know that the Other wants something from me, without knowing what this desire is, I am thrown back into myself, compelled to assume the risk of freely determining the coordinates of my desire.
(The Puppet and the Dwarf, p. 129)
Thanks to Žižek, we can see how to connect Kierkegaard’s concept of anxiety to Lacan’s. Now, insofar as the prohibition cut Adam away from a part of himself, his jouissance, it will come as no surprise what role Eve plays in this reading. Obviously, she’s Adam’s objet a, the lost object of jouissance. Eve was made out of Adam’s rib, i.e., a lost part of him, and remember that the objet a is the remainder of the subject — the subject Otherized and externalized. Adam’s anatomical incompleteness fittingly symbolizes his ontological incompleteness. So just as the objet a functions as the substitute for the phallus and the mother, Eve was the substitute for the maternal body of Eden. But how are we to think about Adam’s choice to eat of the fruit? How are we to conceive of his passage to the act (passage à l’acte), his exit from the Symbolic Order?
We must look to Lacan’s interpretation of one of Freud’s patients: the young homosexual girl. The young women, Freud reported, was spotted by her father while walking on the street with the woman she loved. At this moment he cast an angry and disapproving look at his daughter. After receiving this glance, she immediately hurried off and threw herself over a bridge, yet she didn’t die, since it was actually the side of a cutting onto a railway line, that is, she landed on some kind of platform. We must understand that her father’s gaze was the objet a; it was the cause of her desire for her beloved and determined everything she was doing at the time. Lacan argues in Anxiety that this suicide attempt was the young woman’s passage to the act; it was not an instance of acting out, since it was not a message addressed to anyone. Symbolization had become impossible for the young woman in this situation. Confronted with her father’s desire (desire like that of the giant praying mantis), she was suddenly consumed with an uncontrollable anxiety and reacted in an impulsive way by totally identifying herself with her father’s gaze (gaze-as-objet-a). Thus she “fell down” like the objet a, the leftover of the signifier.
God’s prohibition was what caused Adam’s desire to come into existence and led to Adam’s lack-of-being. The objet a has been lost, yet is embodied in Eve. When Eve tempts Adam with the fruit, it is the temptation of ontological wholeness. Adam had been fantasizing about this ever since the prohibition. In eating the fruit he sought to break free from the Symbolic identity bestowed on him by the Name-of-the-Father by merging with both Eden and Eve. Here Adam is made anxious by the presence of Eve’s voice-as-objet-a and gaze-as-objet-a while also being made anxious by not knowing what the Other (God) desires of him. Adam eats so as to escape into the Real of jouissance, thus, negating the possibility of his own freedom. We can easily connect this to Kierkegaard’s Adam. The fruit and Eve are both objet a/jouissance, thereby, both are self-destruction. Here Adam is faced with the possibility of Lacanian self-destruction (passage to the act/return to the Real) and with the possibility of Christian self-destruction (sin). The point is that Lacanian anxiety and Kierkegaardian anxiety are both about freedom to some degree. Well, Adam ate the fruit and the rest is “history”. We can now ask ourselves the question concerning why our era is so anxious.
Enframing and Capital
For Heidegger, the real problem our epoch is facing isn’t an ontic one, for example, the problems concerning new advancements in technology, revitalizing the middle class, terrorism, income inequality, or how people will live in society with the decline in the quality and quantity of job opportunities. Of course, these are serious problems, but the biggest problem of all that we’re facing is ontological, which also happens to be the most invisible and subtle one. This problem is our epochal understanding of Being: enframing (Gestell). We’re in a very dangerous place in the history of Beyng, since it is Beyng itself that is the danger. Heidegger wrote, “Enframing means the gathering together of that setting-upon which sets upon man, i.e., challenges him forth, to reveal the real, in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve. Enframing means that way of revealing which holds sway in the essence of modern technology and which is itself nothing technological” (Basic Writings, ‘The Question Concerning Technology’, p. 325). This basically means that our technological understanding of Beyng or background familiarity “teaches” us that to be a being is to be usable-then-disposable. By “standing-reserve”, Heidegger means waiting to be used up. Enframing most fundamentally means extracting more out of x than is directly given by x and, then, storing up this “more” while discarding x itself. This is precisely the structure and movement of capital, i.e., surplus value. Capitalism is, then, the economization of enframing. The Event of enframing was and is ground of the capitalist world. And just as Christianity was a marginal practice operating in the background of the Roman world, so, too, was usury a marginal practice in the Christian world. Usury (M→M’) was capital in its larval form.
For Heidegger, we don’t fundamentally relate to entities as the Greeks did. For the Greeks, to be was to be phusis: a wondrous rising up and presencing for a little while before falling back into unconcealment.
In the age of the first and definitive unfolding of Western philosophy among the Greeks, when questioning about beings as such and as a whole received its true inception, beings were called phusis. This fundamental Greek word for beings is usually translated “nature.” We use the Latin translation natura which really means “to be born,” “birth.” But with this Latin translation, the originary content of the Greek word phusis is already thrust aside, the authentic philosophical naming force of the Greek word is destroyed . . . Now, what does the word phusis say? It says what emerges from itself (for example, the emergence, the blossoming, of a rose), the unfolding that opens itself up, the coming-into-appearance in such unfolding and holding itself and persisting in appearance — in short, the emerging-abiding sway . . . phuein means to grow, to make grow.
(Introduction to Metaphysics, pp. 14–15)
In both of this books, Richard Capobianco does a masterful job of explaining what Heidegger is getting whenever he talks of phusis or the “Ur-phenomenon” of the Greek world:
The Ur-phenomenon that he always had in view, that he understood ancient Greek thinking to have originarily brought into view, albeit glancingly, with the word eon, Being, is the temporal-spatial, finite and negatived, appearing of beings in their beingness, which calls forth and even compels from the human being (Dasein) a cor-respondence in language that allows both what appears — and appearing itself — to be made manifest meaningfully.
(Engaging Heidegger, p. 4)
Yet it was, after all, the proper character of Nature-physis, as well as the proper relation of Dasein to Nature-physis, that most concerned him. With respect to this core matter, his view was perfectly clear . . . Nature-physis is the temporal manifestation of beings in their beingness, and Dasein dwells in the midst of this manifestness. The “Greek experience” is the counter, the foil, to our modern philosophical and psychological preoccupation with grounding everything in the “subject” — and it is the remedy as well. To recover the “Greek experience” is for us to recover the joyful wonder and astonishment at the inexhaustible giving-showing-shining-forth of all things and to accept with humility the limit of all our saying, language, meaning concerning what is. To the contrary of certain recent readings of Heidegger, the core matter of his thinking is not our meaning-making, as important as this is, but rather what calls for and calls forth meaning, namely, Nature-physis-Being. No matter the breadth and depth of our words and meanings, we do not — we cannot — exhaust the manifestation of Nature.
(Heidegger’s Way of Being, p. 47)
Phusis is like a blossoming, so, to the Greeks, to be meant to “blossom”. The Christian understanding of Being was different. For them, Being was ens creatum: to be is to be a creation of God. Both phusis and ens creatum instill in a person a certain reverence for beings. They lead us to value beings just the way they are, qualitatively speaking. By contrast, enframing does not. It leads us to ignore the natural qualities of beings and find ways to quantitatively exploit and transform them for our own purposes. The technological understanding of Being has us existing as if all of reality (the totality of entities) is there simply to meet human needs, i.e., it’s nothing more than a means to an end — our end (perhaps in more ways than one). In enframing, it’s as if Beyng, instead of God, said to us, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). This is incredibly dangerous! It’s obviously the main reason why we are now living in what John David Ebert calls “the Age of Catastrophe” (the age of living with one climate change related disaster after another).
There seems to be no escaping it.
With record tornados and floods in the Midwest; a massive drought from California to Florida; a gigantic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident in Japan; anomalous floods in Vermont and New Jersey unleashed by Hurricane Irene; more flooding in Australia; an earthquake in New Zealand; devastating fires in Texas; and another earthquake in Turkey, the year 2011 has gone down as the most expensive for “natural” disasters ever.
Catastrophe, it seems, is becoming something of a way of life for us. Indeed, it has become the new norm of civilization.
But, of course, the word “catastrophe” means a “reversal of what is expected.” It is a Greek word, a compound of “kata,” meaning “down,” and “strophe,” meaning “turn” or “reversal,” as in “a reversal of fortune.” Catastrophes, then, are supposed to be exceptions to the normal run of things. They are disruptions of the banal world of seriality and repetition, of days carbon copied from one another, in which the hell of the same unfolds with single-minded and relentless monotony. Catastrophes are singularities which irrupt into such sequences with bizarre and atrocious anomalies of human suffering.
But on a planet in which catastrophes are becoming a daily occurrence, the classical understanding of the world no longer seems to fit. It has to be revised — along with everything else — and modified to fit the changed circumstances of an upside down world in which catastrophes are now the norm and banality is increasingly becoming the exception.
Catastrophe has become our new environment, a total surround, inside which we exist, but without noticing the strangeness of it, precisely because of its very ubiquity.
(The Age of Catastrophe, p. 1)
What humankind needs now more than anything is an Ereignis (an Event, an ap-propriation, or a coming-into-view) that sends to us a new understanding of Being. A fundamental change in our basic comportment toward beings must happen if we are to survive on this planet.
Elsewhere Heidegger wrote, “The world now appears as an object open to the attacks of calculative thought, attacks that nothing is believed able any longer to resist. Nature becomes a gigantic gasoline station, an energy source for modern technology and industry” (Discourse on Thinking, “Memorial Address”, p. 50). Part of our problem is reducing the qualitative to the quantitative, which is exactly what techno-science and techno-capitalism both have a tendency to do. As Guy Debord wrote, “The loss of quality so obvious at every level of the language of the spectacle, from the objects it lauds to the behavior it regulates, merely echoes the basic traits of a real production process that shuns reality. The commodity form is characterized exclusively by self-equivalence — it is exclusively quantitative in nature: the quantitative is what it develops, and it can only develop within the quantitative” (The Society of the Spectacle, pp. 26–7). Enframing and hyperquantification go hand in hand. The problems with capitalism we’re seeing are rooted in Beyng. Capital is the worldly “incarnation” of enframing. Think about the two different circulation processes Marx described in Capital: Volume One: M-C-M’ (money to commodity to money + profit) as opposed to C-M-C (commodity to money to commodity). Profit contains the seeds of hyperquantification, social unrest and division. Besides, this form of circulation is unnatural. Marx put it better than I can:
The path C-M-C proceeds from the extreme constituted by one commodity, and ends with the extreme constituted by another, which falls out of circulation and into consumption. Consumption, the satisfaction of needs, in short use-value, is therefore its final goal. The path M-C-M, however, proceeds from the extreme of money and finally returns to that same extreme. Its driving and motivating force, its determining purpose, is therefore exchange-value . . . The simple circulation of commodities — selling in order to buy — is a means to a final goal which lies outside circulation, namely the appropriation of use-values, the satisfaction of needs. As against this, the circulation of money as capital is an end in itself, for the valorization of value takes place only within this constantly renewed movement. The movement of capital is therefore limitless.
(Capital: Volume One, Chapter 4, pp. 250–253)
This limitless movement of capital is the true greed of capitalism. Capitalism (M-C-M’) deworlds human beings by failing to take account of their qualitative facticity (capitalism has always presupposed some version of the leveled, atomistic, Cartesian self). It, then, builds its concept of freedom on this concept of the self. But if freedom means either starving or selling the only commodity I have (labour power) to a capitalist, then freedom, factically speaking, is merely post-feudal serfdom. M-C-M’ is ultimately a destructive and deworlding force due to the fact that it only sees through the neutral lens of the quantitative. It is blind to nature, suffering, inequality, beauty, love, facticity, etc. And, again, M-C-M’ is rooted in the technological understanding of Beyng, which unconceals beings as nothing more than resources to be consumed or stored up. So, indeed, our problem is primarily ontological rather than economic (ontic).
One of Žižek’s most famous refrains is: “It’s much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism.” A Heideggerian could restate it like this: It’s easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more radical event in our technological understanding of Beyng. There is certainly a pessimistic bent to all this. Despite Heidegger’s negative comments on both pessimism and optimism, his work on enframing seems to be much more intrinsically pessimistic than even Žižek’s thinking on our epochal situation is, since the former believed we can’t just up and radically change Beyng, which by extension, means that we really can’t do it with capitalism either. We can’t unthink Beyng-as-enframing, since it wasn’t thought out in the first place. Beyng is our background familiarity in the world that is pre-linguistic, pre-conceptual, pre-theoretical, etc. We didn’t learn it in any cognitive sense. We appropriated it in our social practices and in simply existing in the world with others. We can’t fundamentally reorient ourselves in our primordial dealings with reality. Something must change us! Yes, we can become aware of the problem, but what that entails is really just being open to the possible Ereignis of a new understanding of Being.
The Circuit of Anxiety
Now, let’s bring Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Lacan into discussion with each other on the topic of anxiety. If all human beings ceased to exist, then so would human freedom, worldhood, Being-toward-death as well as the objet a. In saying that anxiety is without an object, Kierkegaard and Heidegger meant that it is without a substance or a present-at-hand entity, and Lacan would have to agree with them in this regard. What these thinkers have in common is that anxiety is about some x dependent on humans, or Daseins, or subjects. All of their nonobjective “objects” (freedom, the world, death, object petit a) are unintentional, i.e., we can’t directly fix their position in the phenomenological field or pinpoint their location in physical space — this is their commonality.
However, all of them, while not being substances, are in fact real in some sense of the word. To use Locke’s old distinction, none of them can be said to be the bearers of primary and secondary qualities, but, as Heidegger showed, substances do not exclusively comprise the economy of Being. In Being and Time, for example, he established three different modes of Being: 1.existence, 2. readiness-to-hand, 3. presence-at-hand. And he went on in ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ to show that artworks also have their very own mode of Being. Now, freedom (transcendence or projection) and Being-towards-death are structures of Dasein’s Being, so we can understand them through their relation to the other existentialia. We understand Being as the clearing, presencing or unconcealment of beings as such. To ask about the Being of Beyng is obviously far too difficult a question to consider here; suffice it to say that Beyng is Ereignis, or the epochal presencing that holds sway while differentiating itself from what it brings to presence.
But what is the Being of objet a? Where does it fit into Heidegger’s taxonomy of modes of Being? Well, there’s a number of beings that don’t seem to fit into any of these modes, e.g., mathematical entities, abstracts concepts and the images of the imagination. But as far as I can see, the objet a is not merely some ontic relation or a projection of the imagination. An example of the former is the image I just projected onto my kitchen table of a dancing leprechaun — whatever objet a is, it is not like this image. It seems to me that it is, far from being a mere psychological, psychoanalytic or existentiell “property”, an ontological structure, i.e., one of Dasein’s existentialia, which means that it ek-sists (here we need to work out the relation between care and desire, or Dasein and the subject of the unconscious, but this is far too complicated to sort through at the moment). Once the subject undergoes symbolic castration in the Oedipus complex and the imaginary phallus (the signifier of desire) is repressed under the Name-of-the-Father, the objet a, as the symbolic substitute of the phallus, is lodged in the space between the clearing and the beings cleared within it. This is why the objet a is never directly perceivable — it occupies the rift where in Beyng is cut away from beings, i.e., the in-between of the ontological difference.
Here we must recognize the fundamental role Beyng plays in our lives. Desires, fundamental fantasies, signifiers, specular images, the Names-of-the-Father, etc., all rest on the foundation of Beyng. These functions must all be there in some sense in order to be operative — even in the case of an operative lack like the objet petit a, there must first be the presencing of what is present in order for there to be a lack somewhere. The objet petit a can only stand out in the clearing as an “object” or “being” against the backdrop of Beyng. To be anxious of the objet a presupposes the ontological difference. However, the Lacanian object isn’t just another being among beings. Proximally and for the most part, objet a is in the background of the background — it’s withdrawn to the second power.
Lacan said that anxiety, following Freud, is a signal. But where does this signal come from if considered from a Heideggerian perspective? It’s a signal from Beyng itself that serves to warn us of itself. Beyng, in the virtual sense, is a multiplicity, meaning that there is a plenitude of singularities of Beyng in the background during anyone one epoch of Beyng. Beyng is never fully drained of singularities — not even in the in-between. What Heidegger failed to emphasize is the ontic’s role in the relation to a new destining of Beyng. Can we really imagine that Beyng would send itself to Dasein as ens creatum without the actuality of the Gospels, Paul’s epistles, Paul’s evangelism, the Church fathers, the vision of Constantine, the Counsel of Nicaea, etc.? Can we imagine the Christian understanding of Beyng coming to hold sway in the clearing without these ontic factors along with many more of them? Of course not! What we must recognize is that the Christian ontic-constellation, it’s onticonstellation, was not sufficient in and of itself to cause the Ereignis of ens creatum — however, it was still necessary. (What’s radically strange and mystifying about the Event is that it’s essentially causeless — it would even be a mistake to consider it as being “overdetermined”. While an Event obviously has ontic-necessary conditions, we could never actually formulate its sufficient condition(s), since it simply just happens. On some level this inability to formulate a mechanism of the Event is unsatisfying, but, on the other hand, it also can generate wonder in the primordial Greek sense and that’s an achievement in and of itself.)
While there is no dialectical determinism or necessity between the various epochal sendings of Beyng, i.e, a new destining of Beyng isn’t the synthetic child of historico-dialectical antagonisms, and while no onticonstellation necessarily “transmits” itself to Beyng, Beyng nevertheless requires an ontic support in its Ereignis. Beyng never pivots in an ontic void. The Event of Beyng events-forth from out of the background. Early on, Christianity was a mere marginal practice in the background of the Roman world and there was nothing that insured that the Christianizing of Beyng would ever happen — it simply happened. But just as ens creatum had its own onticonstellation, so, too, did enframing. But what ontic factors comprised it? While the organization of this specific onticonstellation was extremely overdetermined, it’s fair to reduce this formation to three main ontic-factors: 1. the emergence of capitalism, 2. the technologico-scientific revolution, 3. subject-oriented philosophy. Why would Beyng send out the signal of anxiety into the clearing? What is Beyng itself anxious of? Beyng is anxious about itself. But why? Because it is set to collapse itself in on itself — it is set to kill itself. This isn’t just the abandonment by Beyng of Dasein we’re talking about. This is something far more dangerous — the absolute threat is the implosion of the clearing itself. It turns out that capitalism in particular is the manifestation of Beyng’s own death drive.
The objet a is the object of our fantasy even if not the conscious object of our desire. Nothing means more to a person than his or her fundamental fantasy. This is what structures a person’s entire life and gives it meaning and purpose. Whatever the object of someone’s desire turns out to be it is always something particular to that person. Even if x is the object of more than one person’s desire, each person’s fantasy will be unique in a number of ways, thus, given the individuality of the fantasy x will turn out to be different in some sense as well. Now, Lacan has shown that anxiety is always about the objet a (the fantasmatic object), but the signal of anxiety actually runs according to a circuit. This triangular circuit is comprised of objet a, the self (ego/subject/Dasein) and Beyng. This circuit has taken form in the clearing due to Beyng’s status as enframing — Beyng threatens fantasy. Beyond the objet petit a looms the danger. Enframing is not just a danger — it is the danger. As of right now it’s positioned to be the demise of human civilization, which means that our fantasies are on the line, which in turn means objet a is on the line. This is where we must recognize the paradox at the heart of our type of anxiety, namely, that anxiety both has and has not an object.
Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Lacan were all correct, or at least half correct. What is essentially meant by my term the circuit of anxiety is the structure of anxiety, which, like Being-in-the-world, is a “unitary phenomenon”. Just has Heidegger focused in on specific structures (existentialia) throughout the course of his analytic of Dasein in Being and Time, it, too, is possible to turn one’s attention to a specific structure of anxiety for the sake of analysis and this is precisely what Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Lacan have done in their respective investigations on the affect. However, thanks to our indebtedness to their investigations, we are now able to stand back far enough to see anxiety’s circuit as a whole. The signal of anxiety runs according to the circuit to signify to us that objet a and our fundamental fantasies are in danger to Beyng itself and to our own freedom. The threat to our fundamental fantasy is no longer simply the Real or the actual attainment of objet a and our lost jouissance, which must always be off stage or in the background to be operative in the functioning of fantasy, now the ground of our Symbolic matrix itself, that is, the “principle” upon which our particular world was established, is the danger — anxiety is now a signal from the Real and the Symbolic. Prior to the destining of enframing, anxiety was a type of signifying relation between a human being and itself (its freedom, its death, its objet a, its not knowing what it is for the desire of the Other), but now there’s a third element to this phenomenon — Beyng.
When we put all this in the context of capitalism, it becomes easy to see why people are so anxious nowadays. On a tacit level or in relation to the background, we know that the way the world currently operates will not endure and cannot sustain itself forever, but, oddly enough, what provokes anxiety from out of the background is the background itself. Yet our background familiarity is constantly trying to inform us of this. Capitalism is certainly resilient, and I remember Žižek predicted that it would bounce back from the economic crisis of 2008, but nevertheless there are certain things that capital itself cannot defeat and Nature is one of them. Capital cannot master the Real. So the reason why those of us living in the era of late capitalism are so anxious, and the reason why anxiety is on the rise, is because Beyng itself is anxious. This no doubt sounds strange, but it’s as if Beyng desires to be saved from itself and is afraid of its own death coming by way of its own hand. One is reminded here of the sequence from Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn in which Ash William’s (Bruce Campbell’s) right hand becomes possessed by an evil force. After battling his own hand for a while, Ash is finally driven with a crazed fortitude to sever his own hand with a chainsaw — unfortunately, for Beyng, enframing isn’t a hand.
Let’s now get a clearer picture of the circuit of anxiety. Our freedom can make us anxious insofar as we can choose to do something that might unintentionally bring us too close or too far to the realization of our fundamental fantasy as well as inadvertently actualize our ownmost possibility as Being-towards-death. Our free actions, proximally and for the most, also reinforce enframing, that is, how things appear and function. An authentic confrontation with Being-towards-death can provoke anxiety, since it discloses the possibility of the fundamental fantasy never coming true; it also reveals that we’ve been misusing our freedom insofar as we really haven’t attempted to save the earth and the world from enframing for future Daseins. The proximity of the objet a makes us anxious because it threatens to undermine our position in the world, and send us back to the Real of jouissance, which would be the collapse of the ontological difference, thus, the annihilation of Dasein and Beyng as such. Standing before enframing, the nothing of Beyng (Beyng-as-Other), sends us into anxiety as the result of not knowing what it wants from us (not knowing how to use our entangled freedom to save ourselves from enframing), and that this not knowing and the status of Beyng itself threatens the fundamental fantasy. We have now arrived at a preliminary idea of how all of the different aspects of anxiety, all of the various anxiety-points, form a circuit, that is, a rhizomatic circuit. One can become anxious simply by finding oneself located at a specific nodal-point in the rhizome of anxiety. This ends our discussion of why we are now so anxious. Much more could have been said and there’s most certainly much more that needs to be clarified about the circuit of anxiety, but we’ll have to return to this subject at another time.
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