Heidegger and Post-Enlightenment Anxiety
Although I had intended to post something this evening about John Donne’s poem An Anatomy of the World, while I was looking up some reference material online I happened upon this essay by David Rosner “Anti-Modernism and Discourses of Melancholy“. Rosner’s essay touches upon some of the things that I wrote about in the last post, and I recommend reading it in light of those themes.
Nonetheless, you may discover (as I did) a number of shortcomings in this essay. Rosner defines “modernism” only as the period after the first World War. This is far too constricting a definition (for it is actually post-modern). You will also note that Rosner’s “melancholy”, associated with the Angst of the human condition after the Great War is not historically broad enough given our discussion of the epidemic of Melancholia that attended the beginning of the Modern Era almost 500 years ago. As a result, Rosner’s essay, while valuable, suffers from a too narrow contraction of historical horizons.
And a third point to consider while reading this essay: Heidegger’s anxieties about groundlessness as homelessness (the “unheimlich” in German) contrast very starkly with Buddhism’s (and Rumi’s) embrace of groundlessness as emancipation and realisation of the Absolute. This is very important insofar as there is no ‘ground of Being’. Being itself is the ground. Heideggers anxiety and melancholy — the modern condition as we also find it expressed in John Donne’s poetry — was a result of trying to ground the modern self and identity in itself as a for-itself and an in-itself. This is futile. And this futility in the ego’s trying to ground itself in itself (or in its possessions) is the cause of anxiety and homelessness (alienation). Rosner is actually describing Heidegger as being the Prodigal Son.
The other word for “groundlessness” is “formlessness”. Groundlessness is total freedom. Groundlessness is the meaning of don Juan’s encounter with infinity, for infinity is groundlessness. It is also formlessness. And that very groundlessness and formlessness is what allowed Rumi to write,
“I am the morning mist,
and the breathing of evening.
I am the wind in the top of the grove,
and surf on the cliff.
Mast, rudder, helmsman and keel,
I am also the coral reef they founder on….
Both candle and the moth
crazy around it…
I am all orders of being,
the circling galaxy,
the evolutionary intelligence,
the lift and the falling away.
What is and what isn’t…”
Do you see the error in this modern anxiety and malaise about groundlessness and homelessness? For Rumi, “home” is everywhere, not just somewhere or anywhere that the ego can ground itself in. Rumi’s groundlessness is the result of having abandoned mere egoic being in exchange for becoming everything. Rumi’s groundlessness and formless is the precondition for the absolute freedom of his consciousness to assume any form it wants to be or become. This is what it means to become “infinite”. It also means to become groundless and formless.
To know the thing you must become the thing you want to know. And you can only come to know all by becoming nothing in yourself — by becoming, egoically speaking, groundless. This is non-attachment. This is absolution in the realisation of the Absolute as groundless Being itself.