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Absent Longing and Aimless Looking

Who has ever shown that longing is something merely human?
Who has ever completely dismissed the possibility with adequate reasons that what
we call "longing" and live within might ultimately be something other than we ourselves?
Is there not contained in longing something which we have no reason to limit to man,
something which rather gives us occasion to understand it as that in which we humans
are freed beyond ourselves? Is not longing precisely proof for the fact that man is something
other than only man?

Desire can also take the form of "longing."

The Old English form of the verb "to long" is langian. It literally means "to grow long" in the sense that something gains distance away from where it was before. The exact opposite obviously is "to grow near" which indicates the shortening of the distance as if in a slow approach towards the subject. Langian or "to grow long" eventually became the verb "to yearn," which in turn, literally means "to seem long," that is, what grows long will have to seem far. Longing, like yearning is then the desire of that which has acquired distance and now seems unreachable.

The word grow in "to grow long" is telling. It tells us that what acquires distance or becomes far does so slowly or unknowingly, like the growth of a green blade of grass or a newborn baby. All natural growth takes time; and if you look at and notice it all the time, you will never really see it grow. Thus, what grows long does not only acquire spacial distance; that spacial distance is only made possible by a more fundamental temporal distance as well. In short, what grows long from us is something that slowly "slips away" from us; and most of the time we do not notice it slowly leaving us--perhaps until the time we see that it has completely abandoned us.

This tells us something about the nature of longing. We long or yearn for what was previously there, what was within reach because of its nearness, or practically speaking because it was our possession or something we owned. And when this slowly moves and shies away and finally-- because completely--leaves us (little by little and without our knowing or our consent), it is only then that we see that it suddenly acquires a great distance from us which can only surprise in dismay because we had "taken it for granted," that is, it was granted before--given to?--us and now is taken away from us. Surprises us? To be sure, because we are as possessive as we are wont to neglect what we possess. Yet it is that acquired distance--in space and time--that challenges that very inclination to possess (anew) and to have (again) because we never consider as ours what is far, or more so, what we cannot see anymore. And that which was hitherto ours but grows too long or becomes too far is what we call something we lose. And we can only lose something because it was ours before as we can only grow distant from something which was near to us before.

Now a question asks to be raised: Can we long for something that was never near? Can we yearn for something that was never ours? Initially and for the most part, it does not make sense for something to "grow long" from me if it never "grew near" me. In the same fashion, I can never lose what I did not have.

I long for something because "I miss it," that is, I had a (pleasurable) experience of it before, and now that it is far--or gone--from me, I wish to experience it again (my favorite dish, a foreign country I enjoyed visiting, a loved one now gone, etc.). I "miss" it because I was "hit" by it previously; and now I wish to hit it again, to aim at it again, to catch it again by "giving it another try." The only thing that informs my decision to try again so as to experience it again is my past experience of it which I now fondly recall as pleasurable, and being so, something that I would again want here and now so as to relive it and merely repeat it. As in the game of darts, I try to hit the bulls eye repeatedly by aiming for it incessantly because of the sheer thrill it gives me--even if I miss it most of the time.

I can also only try to recover something lost because it was under my cover before. When it was with me, I held it securely because it had value to me; and now that I lost it--misplaced it, forgotten it, even stolen from me--I now wish to reclaim it again (as mine) and repossess it (again as mine). When what I lose has no or of little value to me (a penny, a pair of socks, even a dead acquaintance I was never really fond of), I may think about it for a while and even be bothered by it for a time; but just quickly I forget about it because I can replace it or settle it as an insignificant loss. But when what I lose is something of value to me (e.g., a favorite fountain pen, a stolen car, a lover), I try to find it, search for it in order to win it back because its loss troubles me because I know I can never replace it anymore--and even if I do, "it won't be the same" (pen, car, lover). What is valuable to me can only be so because it was one of "my most cherished possessions"; and it can only be cherished because of the compound experiences I had of it or with it or because of it (e.g., all the letters I wrote with it, the places I have been to driving it, and the happiness we shared). I try my best to look for what was lost because it is an irreplaceable object due to its being a carrier of (fond) memories and (happy) experiences. That which I seek for (again) is not merely sought for because of its "listed price," but more so because it stands in place for the gathered lived experiences I had, which taken together, have accumulated into a far greater value for me--it acquires a "sentimental value," that is, strictly speaking, the values of the different feelings and sentiments evoked by it in my memory.

Clearly, we can only long for what was near or what was ours before. We can only miss something because we remember it; we can only try to recover what was ours to begin with. It does not make sense to miss something I have no experience of--what is alien to me, strange, new. In the same way that it does not make sense to look for something that I never lost because it was never mine.

But why this longing with no name? Why this yearning without knowing what is it that I yearn for? Why this need to seek something of which I have absolutely no idea? Why this desire to love without yet a lover in sight?

Phenomenologically, to long for something that was never near means to long for something which is not only distant but more so absent. This essentially means that it was never experienced--not even at a distance. Also, to look for something that was never lost means to look for something which was not only never possessed but more so something that is not known. This essentially means that it was also never experienced--not even as a loss. This longing for what is absent and looking for what was never possessed, we now call "absent longing" and "aimless looking"--in the strict sense that this longing does not know what it longs for and this looking does not know what it is looking for, respectively. Some may call it "absurd longing"--because without knowledge or reason--and "pointless looking"--because without a visible point to look at as to aim at.

How is such a thing possible--this absent longing and aimless looking? This is the more crucial question because the reality of both are already evident.

The happy housewife who gazes through the window after all the work is done and before the hardworking husband comes home, asking herself if this was the life she truly wanted to have. The distinguished but dying old man about to face the God wondering what he will say to him when asked what he had done with his life. The maiden in midlife who never knew a man she didn't like but never knew a man that liked her. The child under the rain selling garlands, wondering if she should stay on the wet streets or go home to a shanty that is sure to be flooded by then. And two lovers who loved until all love was gone only to separate knowing full well that there will never be another great love.

"Absent longing" longs for what is other than everything that is near; it precisely is absent longing because it absurdly longs for what is other than what is present. Why? Because what is present--whether near or far matters not anymore--no longer fills the gaping longing which floods everything from near to far. No desirable object--near of far, no matter how wonderful or pleasurable--is now able to withstand the tide of such a longing which, as sheer longing without restraint or remainder, oversteps and overcomes all possible desirable objects that propose to be able to contain and restrain such an overwhelming rush of longing. "Absent longing" escapes the grasp of any desirable object--and its trap to catch it--as it knows full well that any cup or dam will never be able to contain what amounts to its longing which has become as deep as the sea.

In the same fashion, "aimless looking" precisely looks without aiming at any visible target within the horizon, even if targets present themselves to be that which such a looking really looks for, even if such targets try to lure (and fool) the aim to settle on it--so as to become available to the aim if it (foolishly because fooled) tries to focus on it and attempts to hit it. But the gaze of "aimless looking" does not stop at any visible object--glittering or otherwise; in order to remain aimless, this looking must keep on looking without settling on any visible object because to settle on an object means having found what it was looking for--and this cannot be because such a finding annihilates its its being an "aimless looking." Any visible object or target before the horizon is thereby disqualified as seen; this means all such visible objects become not-seen or more precisely, not-aimed-at. Then if "aimless looking" looks without aim, at least in what direction does it gaze? "Aimless looking" only gazes in the direction of horizon itself, overstepping all before it, and in the end looks at that imaginary line which in fact has no being and is in reality nothing.

Absent longing longs for what is absent. Aimless looking looks for what cannot be aimed at. Then what do they long for or look for? Precisely that which is a non-being and that which is invisible. What then is that which is an invisible non-being?

It has no name. Or better: it cannot be named. How could it?

An impasse for thought? To be sure. But it does not mean that because that which is longed for absently and looked for aimlessly has no name, then this longing and looking should be crossed out as absurd or merely a clever trick by poets and dreamers. Even if it does not speak a name, it tells us something. Even if it does not let itself be seen, it shows us something. What then can be known of this unknowing and be seen from this unseeing?

Only this: that what can truly be known and seen is that this longing and looking within us both point to that which cannot be named. Named inversely, that which is longed for and looked for points to that which is within us that once "be-longed" to it but now is separated from it.

Longing is called to long for what it truly longs for. Looking is called to look for what it truly looks for. Longing and looking are called by the absent and by the aimless to long for it and to look for it. Or better: that which is longed for longs that which longs for it as that which is looked for looks for that which looks for it.

That which cannot be named can only be named as that which has left a trace of its name as the longing and yearning in one's heart. An absent but present trace, an invisible but visible face.

Longing and looking point to something else. They point to an elsewhere, an otherwise, and perhaps to a Wholly Other.


[1] Heidegger, Schelling's Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom, 124.


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