Saturday, October 14, 2006

Being Groundless

At several points Patočka distances his work from existentialism, by which he means chiefly Heideggerian existentialism. He has two basic critiques: (a) Heidegger's analysis of Mitsein (being-with) is too shallow, and (b) Heidegger's conception of movement into the world as "falling" is negative. Otherwise Patočka does understand his ideas about the personal structure of experience as being ontological in the full sense, as describing the conditions of possibility for forming judgements about what is and what is not. In my view Patočka does qualify as an existentialist on the face of it, but his disagreements with Heidegger are worth exploring.

Patočka's first objection needs little amplification. Many thinkers who have followed Heidegger's path have, while still doing existential phenomenology, placed a greater emphasis on being with others than Heidegger did. Both Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, for instance. Levinas would present an extreme case. However, Patočka doesn't go so far as Levinas, or, in a sense, he goes farther with his phenomenological analysis and isn't inclined to reject the whole of existential phenomenology on the grounds of this problem of co-existence.

Patočka's second objection seems to be exclusively a problem with Heidegger in particular rather than existentialism, though many thinkers who have been influenced by Heidegger have followed this path. Grassi's "abyss," for example, clearly derives from the theme of groundlessness in Heidegger, though Grassi sees this abyss as having both a positive and a negative aspect.

In Patočka's view, all postures, including postures of repose, relaxation, and meditation require an effort of the same kind that is required to stand upright or to physically move from point A to point B. All are equally efforts. This intuition is one basis of his rejection of the world as fallen according to Heidegger, the other being his strong sense that what is common with others is in actuality integral to what existence does. Does Patočka's view hold water? It seems to be true that, for example, some effort is required to relax, that this too is an orientation rather than a state that we might simply fall into. I'm curious though, what would Patočka make of a phenomenon like the hypnagogic jerk. Isn't this a sign that we do carry with us a fear of falling? Here I'm thinking of Ludwig Binswanger more than Heidegger. Anyway, I'm not sure existence works properly without this possibility of falling. I agree with Patočka's rejection of Heidegger's bias against what is common, but I aslo feel that Binswanger in particular had a keen insight into the negative pole of everything that is implied by the upright posture. This groundless horizon, I'll call it, does it accompany our every movement? Is it negative in itself, or is it too structured with a negative aspect, namely falling, and a positive aspect, say flying. Or what about floating? Have you ever dreamed that you walked on air? I have. What's that about?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 12:10 PM.


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