Ranting About Despair

And yet, we are each touched once, maybe even now and then, by the concealed power of this question [“Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?”], without properly grasping what is happening to us. In great despair, for example, when all weight tends to dwindle away from things and the sense of things grows dark, the question looms.

– Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics

The characterization of despair above makes me wonder. I haven’t been terribly happy recently, and it seemed to me that things had more weight. Every little thing that went wrong after the initial problem arose had a major siginificance, and a melancholy still rests on everything I perceive.

The easy way around my discussion of my personal problems, though, is to say that I’m not in “great despair.” But I think I’ve suffered to a reasonable extent, and that I should be able to see what might exist in what Heidegger calls “great despair.” For if Heidegger is mistaken about when the weight of the world makes itself present – if things grow weightier in great sorrow, and become more present to us – and if joy for him also depends on a distance from things (he claims joy is like seeing the world anew, seeing “that” things are only more than “how” or “why”), then he is mistaken about when the originary question arises. He seems to imply that it is in reaction to Nothing that we contemplate why there is any sort of Being, but again, if things growing weightier propels us into such a questioning, then the implication would be that it is not through confronting our loss that we achieve any sort of depth, but through confronting our hopes.

I say that because the world has had a weight because I saw – still see, to some degree – every little event as connected with my ability to hope. And hope, perhaps, does not really emphasize Nothing, even though it could be said to be a nothingness by someone awfully cynical.

All that having been said, I think Heidegger is probably right when I think it through. To see the world through the lens of one event is to collapse all things into one thing, and that one thing might not even exist. There is a weightlessness, a distancing, even as one feels heavier – darkness does that to one. There is also an all-consuming self-absorption in despair, and one can see this in mere unhappiness.

A further consideration is whether the originary question coming about can make some good of what is most problematic for one. I like to think so, but then again, I see hope in some unusual places.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.